Saturday, April 18, 2015

RSD 2015: Toaster Strudel Day

I love Baltimore. It's one of my favorite cities in the US. I once described it as what would happen if New Jersey and Savannah had a baby. I mean this with all the love in my heart. To me, Baltimore is an interesting and odd mix of Southern charm and Northeastern industry that is both grimy and endearing. If the commute were better I'd probably live in Baltimore. Since I moved back to the DMV I've celebrated Record Store Day in DC and Virginia so it's time to take a little trip and visit Charm City and one of my favorite record stores, The Sound Garden.

Joining me on this year's adventure are RSD champion Anita and RSD newbie Matt. Our planning was relatively easy: there was an email circulating yesterday that involved snack planning (we're counting this as a road trip), coffee orders, and an inexplicable picture of a kangaroo. I also made mix CDs (yes I burned them on actual CDs). This was a major conversation topic on the way home - Matt is convinced that I need to sign up for Spotify immediately. Anita complimented my extensive liner notes. I'm a person who buys records so I don't see mix CD making stopping anytime soon.

I digress.

If I had to pinpoint what I enjoy most about RSD it would come down to two things: the record hunt and the feeling of community that you feel in a record store. I get that digital music is easier in many ways (accessibility, storage, sharing) but I have never felt the same downloading a song as I do listening to it on a record or a CD. Or physically giving someone music or finding that one album that completes a collection. It's satisfying in a way that downloading music is not. Nick Hornby said it best, "Record stores can't save your life. But they can give you a better one." I like to believe that the majority of people who come out for RSD feel the same way or at least love a band or a musician enough to enjoy the spirit of the day rather than buying up special releases and selling them on eBay. I can dream.

Today was an absolutely beautiful, sunny day; more summer than spring. I dare say it was the perfect day for waiting in line outside a record store and for a privateer festival. That was our first surprise of the day: a privateer festival was going on just up the street from The Sound Garden. I had no idea this was going on but was wondering why a guy was getting into a costume in the parking garage where we parked. As we joined our newest friends in line at The Sound Garden, a stream of pirates (ladies too) and privateers and fans of pirates and privateers paraded by on their way to the festival. (Fun fact: a privateer is basically an authorized pirate; a government wants to use the ships and crews so they authorize them to attack vessels on their behalf.) I give them all credit for excellent costumes and enthusiasm that can only be matched by an RSD fan in line in the hot spring sun. Pro tip: always bring sunscreen to RSD - I am paying for forgetting this as I type.

I've had to wait in line before but not like this. The Sound Garden just expanded their vinyl room and set up a great flow for the day. The entrance was actually the back entrance of the store and then you exited through the front where the used CDs and DVDs are. That way, people who didn't want to come to RSD could still shop. However, they could only let so many people in at a time so we waited about two hours just to get in. Hats off to The Sound Garden staff though; the line moved as fast as it could, they were super helpful and friendly (as they always are), and the new vinyl room is wonderful. It was easy to find the RSD special releases and browse the regular new and used vinyl. 

What was most fun this year was waiting in line. I know that seems silly but it was. We made friends with the people in front of us and chatted with them throughout the wait. Matt and Anita had not met prior to today but got along famously so our conversations were fun and interesting (and didn't involve work talk or mega awkward lulls). There were Wayne's World jokes ("Car", "Game on") and a discussion with the couple in front of us about what the new vinyl room would smell like (Matt's answer: Dave Grohl's hair; true answer: new paint, fresh wood, and plastic). Anita and I also did a mildly dramatic reenactment of past RSDs that was both funny and a little sad. The best part of our line friends had to be the guy who told a young woman who asked him why we were waiting in line that it was Toaster Strudel Day and we were waiting for free toaster strudel. She believed him. I'm not sure what this says about him or her. Of course this led to a discussion of how else we could answer this question and my absolute failure when a guy asked me the same question. I told him the truth and Matt called me on it. The guy was on the indie/punk rock boy spectrum of my "type" so I wasn't going to lie. Full sleeve tattoos are distracting.

So what did we end up with for two hours in line, a parade of privateers (which honestly was a gift in itself), and a sunburn? For the first time in four years I actually bought almost exclusively RSD releases with only three non-RSD albums in the mix (Big Star and Johnny Cash). I was pleasantly surprised when I found the Alex Chilton 7" special release (the only special release I really wanted); I may have squealed when I found it. Matt had initial RSD newbie panic when he first started looking around but recovered quickly and found several items on his list. Anita was really just browsing but did find an odd Heart record where they sing with Sarah McLachlan. Who knew?

All in all a successful RSD. We all got some new additions to our collections (special releases and stuff we just like), we made some new friends, my plan to dress like an extra in a John Waters movie worked (apparently), and we ended our day with the Matt College Tour through Baltimore. This culminated with a very late lunch at Ryan's Daughter (excellent food by the way) where we ran into one of Matt's friends, Derek with whom we discussed how Baltimore and Detroit are similar (this may explain my Baltimore love a bit more - you know how I love Detroit). This is my fifth RSD and I believe it's my favorite so far. It was exactly the day that I wanted it to be without doing anything but enjoying myself and my friends. It wasn't overly planned, there were privateers, and I spent time hanging out with a bunch of people who love music the way I love music. And who don't mind a plastic dinosaur coming along for no apparent reason (his name is T-Rex Manning). Until next year...

RSD 2015: The Playlists

If you're not making your way out today for Record Store Day, you can still listen to the mix CDs I created for our trip up to Baltimore. Check back later tonight for a full rundown of RSD 2015!

RSD 2015: On to Baltimore
  1. Good Morning Baltimore - Nikki Blonsky
  2. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes
  3. Be Impressive - The Griswalds
  4. Learn to Fly - Foo Fighters
  5. Who Loves the Sun - The Velvet Underground
  6. Take to the Sky - Tori Amos
  7. In The Street - Big Star
  8. Liar - The Cranberries
  9. Portland Oregon - Loretta Lynn & Jack White
  10. Alex Chilton - The Replacements
  11. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley
  12. There Is So Much More - Brett Dennen
  13. Thunderstruck - AC/DC
  14. Rebel Rebel - David Bowie
  15. Rock The Casbah - The Clash
  16. Wild Child - Lou Reed
  17. New York Groove - Ace Frehley
  18. She's A Rebel - Green Day
  19. I Love Rock N Roll - Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  20. Gimme Danger - The Stooges

RSD 2015: The Return
  1. Congregation - Foo Fighters
  2. Lord Send Me An Angel - The White Stripes
  3. No Anthems - Sleater-Kinney
  4. The Ballad of El Goodo - Big Star
  5. Snakeface - Throwing Muses
  6. Satellite of Love - Lou Reed
  7. Jolene - Dolly Parton
  8. The Man Who Sold The World - David Bowie
  9. Life Is A Highway - Tom Cochrane
  10. Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon - Urge Overkill
  11. Home - Daughtry
  12. This Time Tomorrow - The Kinks
  13. Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco
  14. Apple Blossom - The White Stripes
  15. In The Garage - Weezer
  16. Saddam a Go-Go - GWAR
  17. Beyond Here Lies Nothin' - Bob Dylan
  18. Home - Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros
  19. This Is The Day - The The
Enjoy! Off to Baltimore...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Prelude to Record Store Day

My sniffling means two things: spring is finally here and Record Store Day is right around the corner! I always seem to get a cold/major allergy attack right before RSD. It would make more sense if it happened afterward since I spend the better part of a day in record stores, digging through bins of dusty records. Maybe it's my body's way of building up a tolerance for dust before the big day. I'm not a doctor so I really can't say.

One of the things I enjoy most about RSD is that I get to add "new" music to my collection of both CDs and records. By "new" I mean things that are probably older than me and are by bands that either don't exist anymore or haven't put out new music lately (with some notable exceptions). I've never been the kind of RSD participant that gets up at the crack of dawn to get in line to get the special releases; I tend to go a little later in the day and enjoy the live music (if I'm at a place with live music) and search the stacks for items that will fit into my musical library. I have a running list in my head that I look for anytime I go to a record store:
  • Bowie
  • Lou Reed and/or The Velvet Underground
  • The Replacements
  • Classic musicals
  • Random 70s hard rock bands
  • Big Star
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
  • Sleater Kinney
  • Johnny Cash
  • Dolly Parton
  • Any 80s movie soundtrack
  • New York punk bands from the 70s
I also like to find unusual album art just for fun. I also keep a second running list of things that my friends or brother might enjoy. You never know what you're going to find and it might be the thing that makes your friend happy. Win win as far as I'm concerned.

I like to collect things, not in a hoarder kind of way, but in a these are the things I enjoy and that make me an interesting person to talk to way. I always have enjoyed collecting things - books, stuffed animals, Legos, Barbies, Rainbow Brite toys, Russian nesting dolls, owls, music, shoes. Collecting is comforting; that's actually one of the psychological aspects of collecting. It provides the collector with a connection to a memory or a place or a person. Some collectors do it for money but most of us just like our things and stuff (to be technical). I don't consider my collecting of anything a hobby per se; with the exception of RSD, I don't really go out of my way to get any of the things I like and I have a limit on what I will spend on most items. I was reading an article this week about a man who basically bankrupt his family to collect coins. The story ends happily with them getting something like $30 million when the collection was sold but why would you want to put people through that type of stress for stuff you like? That I don't understand.

Collecting is actually a characteristic of one of my top five strengths according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment.  The strength is input and this is what the assessment has to say about input and the need to collect:

You are inquisitive. You collect things. You might collect information -- words, facts, books, and quotations -- or you might collect tangible objects such as butterflies, baseball cards, porcelain dolls, or sepia photographs. Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives. If you like to travel, it is because each new location offers novel artifacts and facts. These can be acquired and then stored away. Why are they worth storing? At the time of storing it is often hard to say exactly when or why you might need them, but who knows when they might become useful? With all those possible uses in mind, you really don't feel comfortable throwing anything away. So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It's interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day some of it will prove valuable.

This description makes me feel good about lots of aspects of my life. Why do I feel the need to memorize quotes from my favorite movies or random facts or the names of presidential assassins? Why do I read constantly? Why do I collect records? It also helps to prove that I would make an exceptional addition to any trivia team and would probably kill it on Jeopardy. If I combine my third strength, learner, with input I can actually combine several aspects of learning into my person: loving learning for the sake of knowledge collection and its use AND loving the actual process of learning. Not only does this help explain my collecting but it also makes my career trajectory make sense when I step back and consider the jobs I've had and even the things I do in my free time (tour guide, docent). To some extent everything has been learning centered in either the input or learner way. Finally something makes sense.

I'm in the middle of one of my new hire training classes right now and I caught myself saying the exact same thing to this group that I have said to at least the last four or five groups: we are very good at teaching students what their weaknesses are and what they're not good at but we don't spend enough time teaching them what their strengths are and how to use those strengths to be the best them they can be. We do this as adults too; it's easier to focus on the negative than to really have a vocabulary of positive when it comes to who we are and what we enjoy. I don't mean to say that we should never think about improvement or anything. We just need to do it in a way that doesn't make us feel bad all the time.

If none of this makes any sense, blame the cold/sinus/allergy medicine I'm taking. I feel like my brain might be a jumble of things right now and I'm surprised that this isn't one long string of words like "bicycle, unicycle, unitard, hockey puck, rattle snake, monkey monkey underpants."*

Next weekend: I'll take you on my annual RSD adventure all the way up to Baltimore at the Sound Garden. Check it out!

*From Lorelai's famous rant in the Gilmore Girls episode "Santa's Secret Stuff" (season 7, episode 11).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Claire did it.

Like Samantha Baker, the heroine of 1984's Sixteen Candles, I can remember a lot of things. Birthdays, family vacations, what my friends wore on dates so they wouldn't repeat an outfit, quotes from every movie I've every watched - you know, important things. However, one thing that I can't remember, at least not in any grand amount of detail, is the first time I watched The Breakfast Club. Arguably one of the most significant teen focused movies of all time, The Breakfast Club was released in theaters when I was 6 years old (1985) so I was not a first generation Brat Pack/John Hughes fan. I was a child of the late 80s/early 90s; I watched the movie for the first time on a VHS tape at someone's house at some point before the 8th grade. That's all I remember from an event/location perspective.

What I do remember from that first viewing is the actual movie and how it became an obsession of mine immediately following that experience. I have probably seen The Breakfast Club over 200 hundred times (probably a low estimation). I have owned it on VHS and DVD (two copies because I wore on of them out). I have the soundtrack on cassette tape and CD and it's in my iTunes library as we speak. I know the movie by heart, including most of the songs, and occasionally find myself quoting it just because. I listen to the song "Don't You (Forget About Me)" multiple times in a week, sometimes multiple times in a day. I've read books about the film and John Hughes and written by the cast members (Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald primarily). I've even been to the high school that was used for filming and the one that gave the movie it's name (perk of my training job). I may have gotten all teared up with the movie and the song were used in Pitch Perfect. I wrote a post for this blog about my ideal fan conferences one of which focused on John Hughes movies and meeting Molly Ringwald. I guess this means I'm a super fan.

All of my friends know of my obsession and have to some degree, participated in it over the years. Whether it was simply watching it with me again (thanks Heather and Kelly) or putting up with my need to put "Don't You (Forget About Me)" one every mix tape I make (everyone I have ever made a mix tape for), they've been supportive and a bit indulgent. That's what friends are for I guess. And thanks to Anita, I have now seen the movie in a movie theater like God and John Hughes intended me to. You see, it's the 30th anniversary of The Breakfast Club. How do we celebrate such significant events? By going to a Fathom Events special screening of the movie with other super fans. Anita was kind enough to not punch me as I quoted the majority of the movie. This is a mark of true friendship.

This was my first time attending a Fathom Events movie screening. With regular films, there's always a bonus of some form and for this screening of The Breakfast Club it came in the form a special anniversary feature preceding the film. This included actors from the film like Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson (looking very 2015 New Jack City), Anthony Michael Hall, and John Kapelos who played Carl (and who is awesome). Also featured were screenwriter Diablo Cody and author Hank Stuever. If you haven't read his book Off Ramp, I suggest you do so after finishing this post. It's a favorite of mine. There were also some other "authorities" on pop culture and 80s movies (why isn't this my job?). Anyway, one of the topics of discussion was the transformation of Sheedy's character at the end of the film. I have a lot of opinions on this particular topic; probably as many as I have about that horrible dress at the end of Pretty in Pink.

Sheedy's character, Allison, is the weirdo of the detention group. She doesn't speak for the first 39 minutes of the movie and she does things like use her dandruff (Parmesan cheese by the way) to decorate an intricate sketch she's drawn on the library table. She also eats a sandwich comprised of white bread, mayo, Cap'n Crunch, and Pixie sticks. Eventually, she does talk and we find out that her parents ignore her and that she's a compulsive liar. We all knew an Allison in high school (or were Allison in high school to some degree). She's pretty but is not the teenage ideal when it comes to fashion or beauty and she doesn't really care. Allison is the only one of the group that is comfortable with who she is before coming into detention even if her home life is "unsatisfying" as she describes it to Andrew.

By contrast, Claire is the princess, the most popular girl in school. She is pretty, fashionably dressed, her makeup is impeccable, and she is what high school guys want (at least in 1980s teen movie standards). By the end of the movie, the characters have fulfilled their duties as the stereotype/archetype they are representing but have also come to realize that those roles are stupid and unnecessary. As the day winds down, new friendships have been formed (maybe they'll hang out on Monday) and two possible couples emerge. The other thing that you should notice at the end is that Claire begins to orchestrate the end of the day from getting Brian to write the paper for everyone to surprising Bender with a kiss. She knows Brian is the smartest and that Bender got her in some way and she has to admit that in order to actually learn anything from the experiences of the day. That brings us to Allison's makeover.

I've always been torn about this part of the movie. If you look at this moment on the surface level, it seems wrong. It's like Allison changes to fit into a cooler clique at school. She becomes a mini-Claire "without all that black shit under your eyes" and Andrew has a reaction to her new look that is very sweet and endearing. She is still defensive in this first moments with her new look but still her; she steals his patch, she gets a little tense when Andrew says she looks different, almost like she's going to lash out at him for saying something bad about her. She even says "Claire did it" as a way to justify the new look. In the pre-movie feature, Diablo Cody takes this argument and expresses her dislike for Allison's transformation. Up until a few years ago, I would have agreed. I always thought that Allison sold out at the end, that she conformed.

But I don't believe that anymore. If you think about the movie as a whole each character has created some form of mask or armor for themselves so that they can get through high school and move on with their lives. Bender is angry and defiant, Brian is the smartest kid in school, Andrew chooses to be whoever his family says he should be, Claire is perfect, and Allison is a mute weirdo. Their clothes, makeup (for the girls), and body language speak to this throughout the movie. It's only through their realization that they're not that different from one another that they shed these masks/armor. Allison reminds me of the work of the artist Mickalene Thomas. I discovered Thomas during my docent training this summer. Her work focuses on ideas of female identity and beauty, specifically for African-American women. What reminded me of Thomas during my recent re-watching of The Breakfast Club is this quote of hers about her work with rhinestones:

"I feel like the rhinestones in my paintings are like that really glossy lipstick that women wear. It's another level of masking, of dressing up."

I think for Allison the makeover is just that - dressing up. She's trying on a new persona, a new look as teenagers often do. We all went through phases growing up and maybe we still go through them as adults. We have to try on different looks and ideas to find the things that we truly believe in and that express who we are as a person. Now I like to think about Allison's makeover as just a part of her evolution as a person. Maybe in a few months she realizes she really misses all that black eye makeup and she brings it back. Maybe she decides pastels are really her thing. Maybe she throws all of that out the window and figures out her new look. Allison is not less Allison because Claire softened her eyeliner and brushed her hair. I think she's more herself at the end of the movie because she found her voice. She can wear a ton of eyeliner or a hairband and a pink shirt. That doesn't change who she is.

I leave you with this:

Claire & Allison image
Allison - Before & After image
Video clip from YouTube

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Your Resident Single Friend: Doing things by yourself vs. Being lonely

Loyal Island readers will be happy to know that I completed and submitted my Date Lab application this past Sunday. Y'all keep me honest and now we wait and see what the dating geniuses/mad scientists at The Washington Post come up with when trying to find a suitable match for me. I answered all the questions as best as I could and was honest. I used this as one of my allotted photos:

Teddy is my favorite and I do genuinely like going to baseball games. That makes me a catch right?

Rather than dwelling on the idea that TWP may not find a match for me, I decided that I need to address something that comes up every now and then when I discuss my love life with my friends (both single and attached/married friends). Without fail, we eventually make our way to the topic of doing things by yourself versus being lonely. There is a difference and it's always interesting to see where my friends' opinions fall on this. I could make a lot of grand statements about personality types or the relationship status of the person but ultimately, those things are only part of the equation.The collective we places a lot of importance on having friends and networks of contacts and being social while also praising independence and uniqueness (although not outward weirdness). Quirky is cool as long as you can somehow turn that into something mainstream and can diminish the independence of the subject (this is why the Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists). Frankly, this is messed up and it's what causes my friends (and me) to get into heated debates about how doing things by yourself is not the same as being lonely. They may occasionally be connected but my personal experience has taught me that they are not synonymous despite what society and pop culture would like us to believe.

People, my friends included, assume that because I do things by myself that I am sad and lonely. The truth is that I like to do things by myself. This doesn't mean that I am lonely. I'm a fairly classic introvert and I happen to need time to myself. I'm not a fan of things like small talk and extreme group situations. I love Susan Cain's book and Ted Talk about the power of introversion. It's given me a lot to think about in terms of my relationships and communication style. The true balance of being an introvert is that you need both alone time and meaningful time with trusted friends. I don't need to talk to a ton of people at a happy hour; I need to spend time with a few friends during said happy hour talking, laughing, and enjoying ourselves. When I go home from that happy hour, I want to watch a little tv or read or do some writing. It's how I recharge and think through things. I'm not being a recluse or antisocial; I just need a little down time. That shouldn't be a bad thing.

I'm also incredibly independent and am absolutely fine with doing things by myself. Going to the movies alone is one of my favorite things to do; there is beauty in sitting in a dark theater watching any movie and not having to think about whether your companion is enjoying the movie or what you're going to do after. It's about the film and the story. Now there are some movies that are designed for groups (comic book movies, Magic Mike, the Pitch Perfect movies) but for the most part I prefer going alone. I also have no problem going to a restaurant by myself. I've spent enough of my professional life traveling for work that this is a non-issue for me. I bring a book, observe people (and make up stories about them), or just focus on the meal that I'm eating. There's nothing embarrassing about this. I understand that it's not for everyone though so I'm in no way trying to make anyone feel bad if this isn't their thing. However, I do believe that we have created unnecessary fear about dining alone. Some people have social anxiety about this (which is totally legit); others have simply chosen to believe the lies that dining alone means you are sad and pathetic. You're not.

To me, being able to be by yourself is something that all adults should be able to do regardless of their personality type or sociability. We all need time to recharge, think in a more focused way, and simply not have to be in the noise of daily life. Even the most social people need a break from time to time and you should be able to take a break with yourself.

I will concede that there are some events/situations that do not belong in the "do by yourself" category and can potentially be the stuff that causes a person to feel lonely. I've done several of these things by myself and have, on occasion, felt lonely while doing so. These are the times when it's good to call in your friends or a family member or bribe someone to be your date:

  • Weddings - Being the single person at a wedding is the absolute worst (destination weddings are the worst of the worst especially if it's somewhere secluded or on the romantic side). I would never not go to a friend's or relative's wedding because of my single status but I would still know how potentially lonely it can be. Emotions run high at weddings and going alone often makes that worse. I have at least two weddings in the next year or so and I would rather beg/bribe any of my single guy friends to be my date than go alone. 
  • Certain types of travel - I love to travel by myself but there are some types of trips that are better with a group or a friend or two. Road trips, cruises, and theme parks are so much better when others are around. I loved my solo trip to Paris but my one regret is not spending as much time out at night because I wasn't comfortable doing so alone. There are also certain countries I won't go to by myself. Traveling alone makes me feel brave and free but I also know that I have to be incredibly careful when doing so. Such is the world we live in.
  • Concerts - Yes, I have been to concerts by myself and had a great time. However, I have more fun when I'm with friends or my favorite concert buddy, my brother. I'm especially fond of going to outdoor concerts with groups.
  • Sporting events - I don't think I've ever gone to a sporting event by myself. Like concerts, games are more fun with a crowd. And I love to people watch so sharing those observations with someone else makes them even more entertaining. 
  • Certain holiday events - I'm mostly thinking of holiday parties from around Thanksgiving through New Year's and then social holidays like Memorial Day and the 4th of July (picnic/BBQ season). It's the small talk that gets me at these types of events. I always want a partner in crime to get me out of awkward social interactions with strangers or acquaintances.
  • Parties where you only know the host - This is the one type of social event that gives me social anxiety. I often find excuses not to go to these parties if none of my friends are going or I can't convince a friend to join me. I'm not the type of person that would just walk up to someone new and start a conversation (except at work because it's part of my job). I'd probably end up hanging out with the pet of the host rather than the other guests.
  • Buying furniture or other significant purchases - Second opinions are helpful and insightful. Just because you have a vision about that new couch or car doesn't mean that the vision actually works. Or maybe it is absolutely perfect and your friend confirms your awesomeness. Win either way.

I think it's important to consider this as I think about the Date Lab application and the possibility of trying online dating again. Since I do like to do things by myself, how much of that will I lose if I start dating? Do I need a more introverted person in my life or would I be better suited to be with an extrovert? How much of this is tied to the fact that I don't want to have to have the "by myself vs. alone" conversation/argument with my friends anymore?

It goes back to the idea of a balance for the introverted - being able to be confident enough in my own need of alone time while balancing the desire to spend time with those important to me. Maybe I've missed that balance for all these years and that is why I'm Your Resident Single Friend.

Introvert Problems meme
Party image

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Short Story: Return of the Peeps, Part 2

 Read part one HERE and the story that started it all HERE.

Monday afternoon
The soft rustle of paintbrushes on canvas was the only sound in the studio. Margaret walked around the room, observing her students and occasionally making suggestions or answering questions. Her Monday afternoon class was a quiet group, none of the friendly chatter of her Friday groups. Normally the quiet was soothing and gave her time to truly observe and teach but today it just made it easier for her mind to wander back to her kitchen and the evil waiting for her at home.

She supposed she should have called the police but what exactly would she tell them? Every explanation sounded ridiculous. It had been too early to call Sam when it happened; she'd talk with him when she got home. He would want to her to call the police. He was rational that way. She had been going over and over opening the box in her head since leaving her apartment. Who would have sent something like that to her? Why would they do that? Who else knew about the diorama she made? She hadn't told anyone and had sworn Sam to secrecy. No one else had known. That was what troubled her the most.

Margaret didn't suspect Sam of anything. If she were to follow horror movie formula, Sam would be the first suspect for the Peeps Murders and for the package. She knew in her heart that he was not involved in either. There had to be someone else.

The end of class pulled Margaret out of her thoughts. She wrapped up the lesson with her students and made end of class small talk with several as they gathered their things to leave. Margaret had one tour left to give and then she could call it day and figure out what to do next. She closed the studio and made her way to the 4th floor galleries to meet her group. She did a few deep cleansing breaths to prepare for her talk on contemporary photography. Thankfully, none of the artists used Peeps in their photos.

Later that evening
The conversation with Sam was not going as she had planned. He couldn't believe that she hadn't called the police. "You're being threatened, Margaret. That's a serious thing. You have to hang up right now and call them. You need their help." Sam's tone was one part stern parent and one part concerned boyfriend. Margaret knew this would be his reaction but that didn't stop her from being annoyed with him.

"You didn't tell anyone about the diorama did you? You kept it a secret like you promised right?" Margaret had to ask.

"Of course I did. Who would I have told anyway? And don't change the subject. You're hanging up and calling the police. Now." The phone clicked. He hung up on her. Margaret moved from annoyed to angry.

"He hung up on me!?" Arthur circled her as he had done earlier in the day. He settle down and stared at her with those all knowing dog eyes. "You're right, Arthur. I need to calm down. I shouldn't be mad at your dad and I should call the police." She picked up her phone to do just that when she noticed something outside. Her apartment building was made up of two towers; she was in the east tower and her view was across the courtyard was of the west tower. She never paid much attention to the apartments across the way but today she noticed one apartment in particular. It was directly across from her apartment and there were two posters in the window: a Peeps promotional poster and the original Halloween poster. She couldn't recall if they had been there this morning. It was all too coincidental.

"You have got to be kidding me." Margaret said to herself. She was clutching her phone and remembered what she was supposed to be doing. She called the police and explained what had occurred as she watched the apartment across the way. There was no movement but Margaret couldn't help but feel as if she was being watched.

The police arrived promptly and spent over an hour going through the events of the morning. Since the Peeps Murders had never been solved, they were taking this call very seriously. The boxes, paper, and note had been collected and taken away. She eventually told them about the Peeps diorama from two years ago. The detectives, Arnold and Roberts, had given her an odd look but both agreed that diorama was a coincidence. Weird but coincidental. She hadn't taken any photos of the diorama but had found one sketch. The detectives took it as evidence as well. 

"Was there anyone else that knew about the diorama? Friends? Co-workers? An enemy?" Detective Arnold asked.

"No. Sam was the only person who knew about it. He helped me with the more mechanical parts of the diorama. We never really got to those parts of it because I burned everything." Margaret wasn't sure if they thought she was crazy or guilty or just had an incredibly morbid sense of humor.

She thought about it for a second, "I mean, I guess someone could have heard us in the elevator here. We talked about it on the way up to apartment a few times. You never know if someone is listening to you in an elevator." 

"Okay Margaret. I think we have all the information we need for now. Do you have anyone who can stay with you this evening?" Detective Arnold knew the young woman was scared and definitely not a killer. He also knew that now he and his partner would be interviewing all the tenants of this building.

"I called my friend to come over; she should be here soon. Sam is Denver right now and trying to come home. I'll be fine."

"Margaret, if anything else happens call us immediately. Patrols have been increased in the neighborhood for now. We'll be in touch soon." Detective Roberts gave her his card. She thanked them and showed them out. She hadn't mentioned the posters across the courtyard. She figured that was just another coincidence.

A week later
No more packages had been delivered. The detectives talked to Sam once he made it back home. Arthur kept following Margaret around the apartment but nothing else out of the ordinary happened. Margaret insisted that she was fine but Sam knew she was frightened. They were having dinner earlier in the week when she pointed out the posters in the window. Since she first noticed them more had been added: another Peep ad, Freddy Krueger, and Leatherface were now staring at them. He hadn't noticed them until Margaret pointed them out. Sam made her call Detective Arnold. The detective promised to check out the apartment. He was sure the person was already on their interview list but didn't share that with Margaret. The Peeps Murders case had always been weird and these recent developments made it even more so.

They were watching The Daily Show when they heard a loud thud against the front door. Arthur immediately began growling and standing in front of Margaret. Sam approached the door cautiously and looked out through the peephole. No one was in the hall and he couldn't see down. He chained the door and slowly opened it. A bigger box, wrapped like the first one, and addressed to Margaret lay at his feet. He unchained the door and kicked it into the apartment. No one was in the hall.

Margaret was already on the phone with Detective Arnold. He gave her strict instructions not to touch the package and to stay put until he and Roberts arrived. The tenant interviews had been going on all week and they had a few  people of interest from the building. One happened to live in the west tower across from Margaret. They were trying to get a search warrant for the apartment. The tenant, Edwin White, was unable to recall his whereabouts when the Peeps Murders occurred, he had a record (harassment, animal cruelty, and a bar fight or two) , and a fascination with horror movies. It was flimsy but the detectives needed something.

The new box revealed a more intricate Peeps display: Jason at Crystal Lake with the phrase Fridays will never be the same again along the bottom. It was one of the taglines from the original Friday the 13th.

After the detectives left without providing any additional information just reassurances that they were safe, it was decided that Margaret and Arthur would stay at Sam's place for the rest of the week. Margaret argued at first but gave in after it was agreed that they could leave in the morning. She was too tired to pack for herself and the dog tonight. They got ready for bed and both feel asleep almost immediately. Arthur had taken to sleeping by the door in protector mode. He was a pretty solid dog so an intruder/crazed Peep killer would probably trip over him and maybe break something before any real harm could be done.

Around 2 am Margaret woke up. She had been dreaming but couldn't remember what her dream was about. She laid in bed a moment trying to will herself back to sleep but it didn't work. She carefully got out of bed and went into the living, stepping over a sleeping Arthur. She had forgotten to close the curtains so she could see the other apartment tower. This time instead of thinking someone was watching her she saw someone in the window. He was dressed in all black and a white mask. It took her a moment to focus on the mask. It looked like a mash up of Jason's hockey mask and Michael Myers blank face with something else. Margaret's heart was beating fast and she couldn't move or call out to Sam.

What else was on the mask? Peeps - it was Peeps. The mask was made up to look like a Peep villain. The man (she assumed it was a man) held up a sign, Everyone is entitled to one good scare. Another tagline.

She was finally able to move from the living room. She ran back into the bedroom, waking up Sam and Arthur in the process.

"We have to leave now." She shook Sam awake. "Put on your shoes, grab your keys. We have to leave now."

Sam struggled to wake up and make sense of what Margaret was saying. "What's going on?"

"It's him. He's watching from across the tower. I saw him in an awful mask. We have to go." Margaret already had her shoes on and her phone and purse. "Please Sam, move!"

Her tone got him moving. They got the dog leashed and made their way out of the building and to Sam's car. The figure had still been in the window; Sam had seen him too. When they got to his car, there were Peeps smashed on the windows. Surprisingly that was the only damage done to the car. Margaret could see the apartment window from the car; the figure had vanished. She called both detectives as Sam sped away. Detective Roberts answered and told her to head to the police station.  Margaret looked back and saw the mask. He was following them. Sam saw too and tried to lose the guy. The second car vanished.

Every horror movie she had ever seen flashed through her mind at once. Margaret knew the Peep Murderer was going to hit them and try to take Sam out of commission. That's how these things worked. Just as she was thinking this, it happened. Sam thought he had lost the guy but he came out of a side street and hit them. Sam hit his head as he tried to regain control of the car. He was out; not dead just out.

Margaret was dazed by the crash but not hurt. She tried to help Sam but he wouldn't wake up. She grabbed for her phone and dialed 911. "There's been an accident and there's a killer outside my car. Help me!" The dispatcher tried to get her to calm down and give more details but Margaret was too distracted by the other car. It was idling across the street, poised to strike again. She dropped the phone. She braced herself and Sam for another hit.

Nothing happened.

She opened her eyes and stared at the masked figure in the car. And then she got angry. She forced her way out of the car and faced him. "Too chicken to hit us again? Is this too close for you? Or not your weapon of choice?"

The masked figure didn't move. Margaret stepped closer to his car.

"You've been terrorizing me for two years and you're just going to sit there? You can't even get out of the car and chase me or come at me with a machete? What kind of crazed killer are you?" Margaret was suddenly a sassier version of Laurie Strode minus the 70s wardrobe and awesome hair. The sound of sirens was getting closer. Margaret stood her ground, waiting for a reaction from the masked figure. His inaction only made her more angry.

Before Margaret could taunt him again, police cars surrounded the crash. Margaret saw Detective Roberts approaching her. "He's not going to put up a fight," she told him. "The guy won't even come out of the car."

The detective led her back to Sam. He had come to just as the police cars arrived. Paramedics were helping him out of the car. One of them had Arthur too. Margaret rushed over to them.

"You don't get to be the Final Girl after all." Sam said as they embraced.

"It's not really my style. Too much running and screaming involved."

They sat in the back on an ambulance watching as Detectives Arnold and Roberts handcuffed the man from the car. The mask had been removed and she saw a man from her building. His name was Ed or Edwin or something like that.. She remembered seeing him when she first moved in; he had given her the creeps. He looked at her right before the detectives put him into the car. His face was blank but Margaret sensed he was testing her, seeing if she'd look away first. Margaret did not blink. She stared him down and let him know that he had no power here. She was done with this story. 


Margaret rearranged the flowers again. She had been rearranging the table setting all morning long. Sam took the vase from her and held it out of her reach.

"I wasn't done with that. Put it back."

"No, you're done. The table is perfect. The flowers are perfect. You have to stop." He placed the flowers back on the table.

"Fine." She smiled at him and walked away from the table. They were hosting their first dinner party in their new house and she wanted everything to be perfect. In the year since the car crash and capture of Edwin White, they had moved into a new house and had decided to get married. The party was a combination wedding party (they had eloped) and Easter party. Their parents and close friends would begin arriving soon.

Edwin White had confessed to the Peeps Murders. There had been plenty of evidence in his apartment to convict him even if he hadn't. He had included the Peeps after watching Margaret work on her diorama. He thought he had found a kindred spirit and was trying to get her attention. He realized his plan backfired when he saw her burning the diorama. The bloody Freddy she had found two years ago had been his first "gift" to her. He was sentenced to life in prison and had no prospect of ever being released.

Margaret and Sam made their way back into the house. The backyard setting was beautiful. They had done a lot of work on the house since moving in and it was home. She took a final look at the decorated table. Her flower arrangements were a mix of spring flowers and Easter decorations. Two of the vases were full of Gerber daisies and Peeps in coordinating colors. Peeps weren't so evil after all.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short Story Hour: Return of the Peeps

I wrote the short story "House of Peeps" as part of National Writing Date Day this past September. It was based on a writing prompt: make me afraid of the Easter bunny. I decided to work on a sequel to the story just in time for peak Peeps season. It's not particularly Easter-y but then again are sugary marshmallow bunnies and chicks really all that Easter-y?

It was getting harder and harder to avoid the seasonal candy aisle. Stores seemed to put the holiday candy out earlier each year. Of course, Easter was no longer the only holiday for Peeps; every holiday seemed to be in on the game. Margaret wondered how long it would be until there was a groundhog shaped Peep or awkward President shaped Peeps. There wasn't much difference between that and the pumpkins and trees and snowmen. If the added shapes weren't enough there were all the added flavors. It was too much.

Margaret did her best to avoid the holiday candy aisle whenever she went to Target or the grocery. At her local Target she had a route worked out that took her from electronics through toys and fitness to land at the edge of the regular grocery section. She could completely bypass the seasonal section. She employed this route strategy from late September (after back to school sales ended) through the end of April when Easter items gave way to summer. It was the only way she could avoid shelf after shelf of seemingly innocent marshmallow candy. She knew looks where deceiving and that the little bunnies and chicks were more vicious than anyone could imagine.

Two years had passed since the Peeps Murders, as they had been called, rocked her Arlington neighborhood. Of course it had also been the one year she finally decided to enter the annual Peeps diorama contest. Margaret's diorama depicted four famous horror movie villains in iconic scenes from their films. In each of the Peeps Murders, references were made to the movies and Peeps were found smashed at the scene. Margaret was convinced that her diorama was evil and that the marshmallow characters were to blame. She had even found blood on one of the monsters she created. She burned the diorama and the killings stopped. Margaret vowed to never buy a Peep again.

Margaret's thoughts were interrupted by the ping of her cell phone. It was a text from her boyfriend, Sam. He was the only other person that knew about the diorama and its destruction. He had actually helped build part of it. He didn't think the Peeps were to blame (necessarily) but supported a Peeps free lifestyle.

Are you still at Target? I'm leaving now. Should be @ your place in 15."

Margaret quickly responded, Just got in line. You'll probably beat me there. Had to avoid the seasonal aisle. It seems to be growing.

She knew he thought her fear was getting out of hand but he was nice enough to hide that from her most of the time. She loved him more for that and knew she needed to address this problem but Target was not the place for therapy. Sam replied that he'd get dinner started and the movie ready. It was Friday night movie night.

Make sure to check on Arthur's water. I fed him before I left but you know how he is about the water bowl.

Arthur was her/their bulldog. He lived with Margaret but they adopted him together. When they adopted the dog, Sam wasn't ready to move in together but pet parenting was apparently okay. Arthur was a great dog but he tended to stand in his water bowl when full or flip it for no reason. They had tried all the suggestions to get him to stop but he didn't. Now they just let him do it and cleaned up the mess. Recently, they had begun looking at apartments together. Maybe Arthur's water bowl issues would be resolved when they all lived together.

The line was moving fast. The couple in front of her must have children or were planning a massive Easter party. They had everything you could dream of putting in an Easter basket and then some. Margaret didn't recall her childhood Easter baskets including action figures, Legos, and Barbies. Among the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, she spotted packages of Peeps in every color, shape, and flavor available. She focused on putting her items on the belt. Every bunny reminded her of the mangled marshmallow Freddy Krueger she created. She had to stop this. Peeps were not evil. It had just been a coincidence two years ago. Marshmallows couldn't be possessed.

Later that evening
Sam was snoring lightly as Margaret tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. She was having trouble sleeping. She had woken up two times already after weird dreams involving Peeps chasing her and demanding her soul. Sam and Arthur both slept through it all. She didn't want Sam to know anyway. Earlier in the evening, she told him she was done worrying about the Peeps and avoiding the seasonal candy aisle. He had been proud of her and excited that it was finally done. She couldn't wake him up now. She crept out of bed, heading to the living room for some television.

She flipped through her usual standard channels: comedy shows, Hallmark movies, cooking show, and travel programs. She settled one of those extreme cake baking challenge shows. Of course the featured ingredient was Easter candy with Peeps being a major focal point for most of the competitors. It looked like one had even made some sort of Peep filled city. Margaret had to force herself to watch the show until the end. It would be a first step to her letting go of her Peep fears. The show ended (Peep city did not win) but Margaret felt no more tired than she had when she started and no more at ease with the Peeps. She flipped to one of the movie channels and watched the end of a cheesy romantic comedy before returning her bedroom. Sam threw his arm around her as she settled back into bed. She eventually drifted off into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.

Monday morning
The weekend had gone by too quickly as weekends do. Margaret and Sam spent most of the time looking at new apartments and hanging out at the dog park with Arthur. Their leases were up in June so they had a few months to find something. Margaret was excited about the prospect of a new place and the next phase of her life with Sam. She dropped him at the airport Sunday night with instructions to keep the search going while he was away at a conference. They could look at places when he got back on Friday. She had slept well the rest of the weekend and had lots going on at the museum this week. She was teaching several art classes (mostly painting) and leading a few tours of the collection for school groups. Margaret loved her job and that she was making a living as an artist.

Margaret was startled by a loud thud right outside her apartment. Probably just someone leaving for work in a hurry, she thought. She didn't really know most of her neighbors that well. It was mostly nods and sort of friendly hellos in the elevator. Most people seemed totally fine; youngish professionals or government workers who lived in Arlington and kept to themselves. She knew her next door neighbor a bit and there were a few "eccentric" characters in the building but no one Margaret considered a friend.

She finished her coffee, checked on Arthur, and grabbed her bag. When she opened the door to leave she found the source of the thud. A package, addressed to her, had been tossed at the door. Margaret looked up and down the hall but no one was around. Packages weren't delivered to apartments normally so she was a little surprised it was there. She picked it up and went back inside. Should she open it? Throw it away? There was no return address on the box and nothing extraordinary about the packaging. Maybe one of her neighbors picked it up by accident and didn't think anyone was home so they left it. That had to be it. She decided to open it.

She grabbed kitchen scissors and sliced open the tape. Inside was another box wrapped in bright pink paper. The brightness of the paper immediately made her think of a Peep. It was the exact shade of pink. She hesitated before unwrapping the box.

Margaret screamed and dropped the box on the counter. Arthur started barking and running around her in circles.

Inside the box were four Peeps made up to look exactly like Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, and Michael Myers. They looked eerily similar to the Peeps she had created two years ago. But she had burned them. And then burned the ashes again just to make sure they gone.

A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. The words made Margaret shudder.

One, two Freddy's coming for you...