Friday, September 23, 2016

The 299th Post: 1997 Called. It wants its Doc Martens back.

I graduated from high school in 1997. Of course this means that my 20th reunion is fast approaching. I've never been to a reunion before so I have no idea how reunions actually work. Here's what movies have taught me:
  1. The reunion will take place at the high school and have an open bar despite the fact that most high schools have zero tolerance policies.
  2. The mean girls will finally get their just desserts (or whatever awkward, old-timey phrase you'd like to use) at the hands of the class weirdos or outcasts who are now wildly successful and amazing. Of course, the weirdos were always amazing and now everyone knows it.
  3. The mean girls will also be married to their high school sweethearts and have lots of babies. They're all unhappy and drink lots of chardonnay (white for rich, bored, white women). The husbands are douche-y and will try hard to hook up with a former classmate for no apparent reason.
  4. The outcasts/weirdos are single and awesome but at least one of them (maybe more) secretly hopes to reconnect with their crush from high school and run off together. This is despite the fact that the high school crush is an incredibly disappointing human being. And PS, he probably always was.
  5. You will be judged for everything even if you're a normal person, living your best life.
  6. At some point, a random assassin will follow one of your classmates to the reunion and said classmate will kill the assassin with a ballpoint pen given to him by another classmate who is now a successful banker or real estate agent (or some other profession that your 17 year old self would find depressing). You will help your classmate move the body to the boiler room and then come to terms with the fact that your classmate is also an assassin and drink more to dull the fact you just witnessed someone being murdered by a ballpoint pen. 
  7. You'll then realize that your high school has a boiler room and become convinced that Freddy Krueger lives there and you're terrified he will now haunt your dreams. (This did not happen in any movie about a high school reunion; Freddy Krueger will always terrify me.)
  8. Hugh Grant will appear because he's actually a washed up pop star in real life now and he'll sing passably amusing songs to classmates while dancing in a way that makes you believe that he's about to break a hip. 
  9. If you don't live anywhere near where you went to high school and you've come to town expressly for the reunion, you'll drive around looking at all the things that have changed since you left. Like how your childhood home is now a convenience store that the now dead assassin is about to blow up in an attempt to assassinate you. (This happened prior to his death by ballpoint pen.)
  10. At the end of the night, you will lead the entire reunion in a choreographed dance that is flawless and everyone loves you and crowns you Queen/King of the reunion (or whatever title there is) and your high school experience finally makes sense.
 (Guess what movies I really like?)

I didn't grow up in Burke, VA where I attended high school. My family moved to the area when I was in the seventh grade. Lots of my classmates had been in school together since kindergarten but thankfully, this area is where the military and government is so many of classmates were like me and came to Burke at some point during our high school years. I didn't hate high school but I didn't love it either. Most people didn't like high school or if they did, they went to one of those magical high schools where everyone gets along and there are no cliques and the most popular boy in school dates the art girl. The mascot is also a unicorn and everyone has perfect hair. This place does not exist. My high school was big; my graduating class had 600 people in it. I was a theatre kid and I understood how high school worked (thank you John Hughes) so I stuck to my people. My favorite memories from high school involve my theatre family; they were good people then and they're good people now. Through the wonders of Facebook, I keep in touch with many of them. They're leading cool, interesting lives. It makes me happy.

My parents didn't return to Burke when the Army brought them back to Burke before my dad retired. They live about 45 minutes south of Burke now and I live in Arlington so none of us have spent that much time in Burke for the last say, 15 years. All of that changed this summer. My mom injured her ankle pretty severely and is staying at a physical therapy center in Burke. It happens to be directly across from our old neighborhood. I drive past my high school on the way to visit her at least 2-3 times per week. I've spent more time in Burke in the last six weeks thank I have since I graduated from high school. It's weird to be back. It's made weirder still by the fact that the big '17 is up by the football field. It's a constant reminder that I'm old.

Yes, this is the photo of the '97 from my yearbook. Yes, I have my senior yearbook just lying around.

I assume that my extended time in Burke this summer/fall is life's way of reminding me of the passage of time or the good things from my teen years. I've enjoyed dining at all the restaurants we used to go to back in the day. (Reminder: you can only use the phrase "back in the day" if you're over 25.) The owners at Spartans still remember my parents despite the fact they haven't regularly dined there since 1998. It's comforting in some ways. Some things change but just as many stay exactly the same.

My high school looks much like it did when I went there, at least from the outside. In addition to the senior class year sign, the bruin is still greeting everyone. I assume he's only made of paint now, layers and layers of paint. The LBT sign is there too. That sign went up during my tenure as theater Business Manager. I spent many an afternoon putting up the sign and organizing the letters. We never seemed to have enough of certain letters like "I" and "R." Anytime I see the guy changing the movies at the Arlington Cinema & Drafthouse, I think back to my sign days and feel a little bad for him.

A few weeks ago I was at a concert (Cheap Trick, Joan Jett & Heart - Joan Jett was terrible, the other two rocked it) with Anita, one of my friends from high school. Actually, Anita was one of my first friends when I started at our school in seventh grade. Anyway, she asked me if I wanted to be added to the 20th reunion Facebook page. Apparently, that's how reunions are organized now. I told her to add me to the group. So far the only suggestion that I hope doesn't happen is that the reunion has the same theme as our prom. The theme was "In Your Wildest Dreams." (I had to look it up; I didn't just know that.) Why was our prom theme a Moody Blues song? It was 1997; we couldn't have come up with anything else? Maybe a better theme would be "My Mom Threw Away My Doc Martens & Other Things That Make Me Long for 1997." It's more realistic and probably more in line with what most of us feel about our high school years. My mom may have thrown away my Doc Martens; this is a point of contention between us and has been since 1998. She thinks I took them to college with me and someone either borrowed them or I lost them. I'm not sure how one loses shoes but this is probably an argument I will never win.

Anyway, I think we should skip repeating our prom theme and make the reunion exactly like what I did for Homecoming that year. Instead of going to the dance, my friends and I decided to dress up (in Homecoming appropriate dresses) and go bowling. Yep, we went to dinner first and then went to Bowl America. After bowling we ended up at one of our houses to watch movies. I believe they were Molly Ringwald movies but my memory isn't that great. That sounds like a super fun reunion to me. We can all get dressed, no one needs to wear uncomfortable shoes, and it's so much fun. Bowling also involves alcohol, junk food, and the possibly of making poor life choices - everything a reunion needs.

Get planning, reunion committee. There's a reunion committee right? 

You're welcome.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Road to 300: For those about to rock

AC/DC is not my band. That's not to say that I don't enjoy AC/DC's music. They're just not my band. I've been thinking a lot about this concept since the third from last episode (is there a term for that?) of Showtime's Roadies. The episode, "The All Night Bus Ride," was probably my favorite episode of the season followed closely by the last episode. You might think that means I didn't enjoy Roadies but the exact opposite is true. I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would and more than it might deserve. And yes, I know Showtime agreed and the show will not be back for another season. Their decision doesn't lessen my Roadies love; I totally understand why the show is not coming back. I might even agree with some of the reasons. But at the end of the day, Roadies hit me hard so I have to at least talk a little bit about it.

In the episode "The All Night Bus Ride," the crew is on the bus to the next gig, a long overnight drive perfect for storytelling and music. I have zero idea of what happens on tour buses; I suspect this is part of the charm of this show for me. I'm in the middle of finishing my novel. Part of the plot revolves around my protagonist, a travel writer who writes about music, joining a famous rock band on the road for the last part of their tour. Band tour buses fascinate me and this episode of the show is the only one where we really spend time on the bus. Phil, the band's road manager, settles in to tell the group the story about how he became "King of the Road." He wasn't always in music but a chance encounter with Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynryd changed his whole life. As Cameron Crowe, the show's creator, tells it Phil soon becomes the road manager for the band. He sees them through tough times, getting clean, and opening for The Rolling Stones. The story is based on the actual band (Crowe covered them when he worked for Rolling Stone). Throughout the story, Phil is able to humanize a rock band in a way that makes you wish for a different ending for Ronnie Van Zant (he die in a plane crash in 1977) but you know it's not going to happen.

Phil describes Skynyrd as "his band." The way he talks about them is not the way that a casual fan or even a very involved fan talks about a band. It's the way a religious person talks about their beliefs or their deity. The story leads up to two events: the band opening for The Rolling Stones and Phil's last stand with the band on tour in Japan. In describing the band opening for The Rolling Stones (which is one of the hardest jobs in music), Phil describes a band who was so passionate about what they were doing and the music they were singing that they went for it. They were better than the headliner.
As Phil puts it, "On any one day, any band can be the greatest band in the world."

There's a lot of other stuff happening as Phil tells his tale. I won't go into any of these things since it's worth it to watch the season and let this episode unfold where it does. The episode includes an acoustic version of the Skynyrd song "Simple Man" by the road crew. I don't know that Phil convinces us that The Stanton House Band (the show's band we barely see) is anyone's Lynyrd Skynyrd but I'm fine with that.

I've listened to the original version of this song on repeat pretty heavily since the episode. Lynyrd Skynyrd is also not my band, by the way, but I'm digging this song right now. I think a lot about music and I like to talk about music even if no one wants to listen. So who is my band? How does one figure out who their band is? Phil doesn't give us a list of things that have to occur in order to determine if a band is your band. I sort of wish he had as I love a list. But that's not particularly rock and roll. Maybe it's because the experience is different for everyone. Not all of us meet famous rock stars by chance and end up as their road manager. This isn't the 1970s when things like this actually did happen (at least according to Cameron Crowe and he knows). What makes a band yours?

I could think of it in terms of physical things: seen them in concert (multiple times), own their entire catalog, own and/or read a biography about them, follow them on social media but these things all seem like the things any fan could do. Do you have to be a Band-Aid like Penny Lane in Almost Famous or a groupie like Natalie on Roadies? I don't think so. Is it that you can't imagine a day going by where you wouldn't listen to their music? Maybe you don't listen to them everyday but the idea that you could and that you would is there or that the music just sort of goes around with you at all times. As Phil describes it on Roadies, it just happens so he's totally unhelpful in my quest to figure this out. 

Maybe it has to do with the way in which a person discovers a band. In Phil's case, he meets Ronnie Van Zant and the rest of the band at a time in his life where he thought he knew what he was going to do (work for his dad, stay in his small town, raise a family). It's not just the lifestyle of the band but he gets the message behind their music and sees how hard they work to produce their albums. The band starts to feel like family to him; you can see it even more when he talks about walking away from the band and the eventual death of Van Zant and others on that plane. This was my favorite hour of television in a very long time (not counting my experience with Stranger Things this summer). If finding your band is about actually finding them, I guess I'd have to say Big Star or The Smiths would by my band. They're two bands that I "discovered" entirely on my own rather than liking them because my older brother or someone else (usually my aunt or one of my uncles) said, "hey you might like this."  Of the two, I'd say Big Star is the one. Not because it's cool to be a Big Star fan but I truly love them. I rarely go a day without listening to at least one Big Star song (at least in the last five years) and I get excited when I hear one of their songs out in public or referenced somewhere unexpected. I was super excited when my tweet of Pumpkin and a recent release of a live album was retweeted by their account (run by their studio and the sole living member of the band, Jody Stephens). 

As Paul Westerberg sings in "Alex Chilton", "I never travel far without a little Big Star" which is 100% true in my case. I think that's really what Phil is talking about with finding your band; you carry the band around with you no matter where you are. They're just a part of the person you are. That's true for Phil and Lynyrd Skynryd and it's true for me and Big Star.

While I'm sad Roadies won't be back for another season, I'm glad I had this summer with them. The whole season felt like a summer concert; breezy, slightly dizzying like you've been out in the sun too long and maybe had one two many concert beers, and a little maudlin when you realize all good things, including summer tv and concerts, must come to an end. 

PS: I thoroughly enjoyed the AC/DC concert this weekend. While Axl Rose wouldn't have been my first choice to fill in on vocals, he didn't suck AND created one of the weirdest onstage dynamics I've ever seen. I don't know if he and Angus Young don't get along or if their personalities are just too big to be on the same level of the stage at the same time but something was up with them. Axl did his famous shimmy and also spent time dancing like Claire and Allison in The Breakfast Club; it was odd. It was also very exciting to see Dave Grohl in the audience, air drumming away as God or whichever higher power you ascribe to intended. So AC/DC may not be my band but they put on a good show (which includes cannons) and I'm pretty certain more than half of the people in attendance would tell you that AC/DC is their band.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Road to 300: National Writing Date: Mystery Cake

I begin fall by participating in National Writing Date. It's a great opportunity to take a break from my current writing projects (my novel, technical writing at work, witty blog posts about lady parts) and have a little fun. Enjoy this year's entry entitled "Mystery Cake." 

Lily found the recipe by accident. Her grandmother’s handwritten recipe book was a favorite of hers. When she wasn’t at the bakery or making goodies for her side business at the farmer’s market, she loved to spend time with the book, tracing her grandmother’s even script and inhaling the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg. The smells were faint but always present, permanent reminders of recipes past. Lily grew up making most of these recipes; the ingredients and instructions were as much a part of her life as breathing and walking. Banana bread, blondies, pumpkin cookies, peach pie with the perfect pie crust, blueberry coffee cake, German chocolate cake; each recipe evoked a memory for Lily. Each recipe made her happy.

She loved these recipes like they were family. When she was at work making yet another batch of petit fours or some other complicated confection, she let her mind wander to the simplicity of banana bread or the flavor combination that was the pumpkin cookies (with her own addition of brown sugar frosting). Macarons and eclairs could be such temperamental little guys; the perfectionist in her and the perfectionist in the desserts didn’t always play nicely. Where she to live the rest of her life never making another petit four again, Lily would be a happy woman.

The new recipe surprised her. It literally fell into her lap. She thought she knew every piece of the recipe book. She sat in the window seat in her living room, flipping through the recipe book. Lily was looking for a little inspiration. Her farmer’s market project was going like gangbusters, but she wanted to introduce a new recipe for the fall season and was stumped. Her standards for this time of year included banana bread, two types of pumpkin bread, various apple desserts and breads, and pumpkin cookies. She also made cookie bars by the trayful; she couldn’t bake them fast enough. But she felt something was missing. Then this recipe fluttered into her lap.

She picked it up carefully not wanting to damage the fragile paper. It was folded over and yellowed with age. Lily could also see the spots of use. That was a sign of a great recipe; smudges from oil and other ingredients showed the love a baker had for it. Lily carefully unfolded the recipe, seeing it was cut out from a newspaper. The date read February 12, 1930. She didn’t know which paper it was from; no name appeared anywhere on the page. In the margin, there was a name written in cursive script “Mrs. Gibson.” Lily had no idea who Mrs. Gibson was. The handwriting was similar to her grandmother’s but she couldn’t be certain. Along the bottom of the page, her grandmother had written (she was sure of the handwriting) “Use vanilla buttercream frosting or cream cheese frosting if you must.” Lily laughed at the “if you must”; her grandmother had never liked frosting despite the fact that she made excellent buttercream. Lily could hear her grandmother’s voice as she read those instructions. Her grandmother had also written another note on the back of the paper: “Make for Pop’s birthday - favorite cake.” Pop was Lily’s great-grandfather. She didn't remember him except from pictures; he died a few months after she was born. 

The recipe was an odd one; it was called Mystery Cake. She scanned the ingredients: oleo, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, flour. It looked like a normal spice cake recipe. Then she saw it, the last ingredient on the list. Canned tomato soup.

Lily had never heard of using canned tomato soup in a cake. Would it taste like tomato sauce? Tomatoes are fruit so maybe it added sweetness. Would the cake be red? Personally, Lily found tomato soup nauseating. It tasted like it didn’t know if it was a fruit or a vegetable. The only way she’d ever been able to eat tomato soup was with grilled cheese. Something about the cheese and bread balanced out the weird tomato taste of the soup. Lily grabbed her laptop off the coffee table. She opened up Google and typed in “mystery cake.” Lots of hits but none that included tomato soup. She added “tomato soup” into the search and finally a few helpful links appeared, including an article about Sylvia Plath and baking. Lily quickly learned Mystery Cake or Tomato Soup Cake, as it was also called, was a favorite of the author’s. Who knew?

Several of the links took her to articles on the history of the cake from its origins during the Great Depression (aligning with the date on her recipe) and its resurgence in popularity in the 1970s when carrot cake was all the rage. From what Lily gathered, both cakes were seen as “healthy” alternatives to other types of cake despite the fact that this was also when cream cheese frosting got added to most recipes for the tomato cake. She also learned the recipe was the first recipe Campbell’s ever featured on a soup label. Fascinating. Lily knew she had found her new recipe. The mystery cake would spice up her fall offerings.

Surveying her cupboards and baking closet, Lily found everything she needed for the recipe including three cans of tomato soup. The soup surprised her; she had no memory of buying it. The expiration date was two years from now so she felt confident in its usefulness. She shot off a quick email to her booth partner, Hallie, letting Hallie know about the cake. Hallie handled the business side of their enterprise. Lilly was hopeful she would be able to come up with a fun and creative way to market the new product.

Subject: New recipe - something fun

Hi Hallie,
I think I found a new recipe for our fall menu. It’s called Mystery Cake but it’s real name is Tomato Soup Cake. It’s basically a spice cake with tomato soup in place of some of the normal wet ingredients. The recipe was popular during the Great Depression; I found it in my grandma’s recipe book.

Anyway, since I have everything else ready for the weekend I’m going to play around a bit with the recipe. I’m trying it as a sheet cake and as individual cakes with two different frosting options.

What do you think?

Lily got to baking. She opted to use Crisco instead of oleo as the recipe suggested. The sheet cake version came together beautifully. The batter was reddish; more like the color of red bricks than of a tomato. The other ingredients seemed to tame the tomato red to a more palatable fall shade. It looked like a spice cake with no hint of the mystery ingredient. She tasted a little bit of the batter. Lily couldn’t taste tomato at all. Instead she tasted fall and crisp air and warm sweaters. Yes, one lick of batter conveyed all of that. She could only imagine what the finished product would taste like. She got to work making the individual cakes. They wouldn’t take as much time to bake. Her phone chimed with an incoming email as she finished pouring the last of the batter into the individual cake pans.

Subject: Re: New recipe - something fun

Hey Lily,

Tomato soup cake! It’s just weird/normal enough to work especially at our market. The history angle of the cake will definitely appeal to our regulars especially the little hipster children who like everything retro. I have a feeling a few of our older patrons will enjoy this even more. Let’s do a little contest to see if people can guess the mystery ingredient. They can put their guess and name on an entry form. The first winning guess we pull gets a free pastry on their next visit. We can also have people vote if they want it to stay. Why don’t we use the sheet cake for samples and sell the individual cakes?


Lily fired off a quick reply. Hallie was brilliant as always. The contest would be a fun way to get their patrons involved in the booth which Lily hoped would one day translate into them being involved in their brick and mortar bakery whenever that opened. She set to work making another batch of individual cakes and prepping frosting. The sheet cake was cooling and Lily was counting down the minutes until she could taste a little corner of the cake. The aroma of fall, spicy and crisp, lingered in her kitchen. She decided she couldn’t wait for the cake to cool. She cut a small piece from the corner. There was a hint of sweetness but no trace of tomato. She could taste the spices, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, clearly. They were the stars of the cake. It didn’t need frosting, her grandmother was right on that. The samples would include frosting-free options too. It was the only way to really show the versatility and simplicity of the cake. Lily knew she had a hit.

Two Days Later - The Farmer’s Market
“I can’t believe we sold out of everything by 10 am. That has never happened in the entire time we’ve had a booth here,” Hallie sat down, exhausted from the busy morning.

“Do you think the Mystery Cake had anything to do with it?” Lily began breaking down the booth. 

“Could be. People definitely came by to try it and guess. And they stayed to buy. Unless our informal survey tells us differently, I think you can add Mystery Cake to the fall menu. Maybe give it a new name though.”

Lily laughed. “I already have a new name; Pop’s Surprise Cake. It was my great-grandfather’s favorite cake according to the note my grandma left on the recipe. I think he’d like having something named after him.”

“Works for me. Let’s get all this packed up and out of here. I have all this free time back in my day. I feel like should do something really frivolous.” Hallie folded up their booth sign.

“Let’s pick a winner before you run off and I don’t know, buy expensive shoes.” Lily knew that was Hallie’s definition of frivolous.

“Good idea. Let’s see what we’ve got in here. I hope someone gets it right. This one says “applesauce.” Next we have “licorice.” Not even close.” Hallie read through ten more entries, all of them wrong. Other guesses included pumpkin, brown sugar, cardamon, allspice, and apples.

“You try, Lily. Maybe you’ll have more luck.” Hallie handed the box to Lily.

Lily pulled the next entry. The handwriting was a little shaky, but still legible. “We have a winner! This man guessed tomato soup.” It wasn’t one of their regulars but Lily remembered the man from earlier in the morning. She’d seen him around the market before and he occasionally bought cookies or bread from them. Today he bought two of the mystery cakes after trying a sample. Mr. Franks. He’d introduced himself and told her it was the best cake he had ever eaten. Hallie took down his contact information so she could call him later about his prize.

“Lily, there’s a note here on the back. It’s definitely for you.” Hallie handed her the paper.

“Really?” Lily took the paper back.

Thank you for making my favorite cake. My mother used to make this for me for my birthday. We didn’t have much money back then but she always made birthdays special. For years, she wouldn’t tell me what was in the cake; she probably thought I wouldn’t like it after I found out! On my 18th birthday she finally told me and we had a great laugh over it. I would have never guessed. I haven’t had a tomato soup cake since 1955 so thank you for bringing back a little bit of my childhood. I’ll be back for more!

“This is the best note ever. Pop’s Secret Cake is definitely going on the fall menu. I don’t care what anyone else says.” Lily showed Hallie the note. “I never even thought about the fact that an entire generation of people grew up on this cake and probably haven’t eaten it in decades. What a cool find.”

“You’re the baker; I just work here,” Hallie replied, jokingly.

The women finished cleaning up and set up time to meet on Monday to discuss next week's menu and update to their business plan for the bakery. Hallie left to go buy shoes and contact Mr. Franks; Lily decided to head back home and she what other treasures she could find in her grandma’s recipe book. What else had she missed?
This post was inspired by the prompt "Your favorite recipe" from the book "642 Things to Write About" by the San Francisco Writer's Grotto. Follow my adventures of making a mystery cake here.

Friday, August 26, 2016

We Need a Hero

To get you in the mood for today's post, we begin with a song...

Or maybe you'd prefer the spoken word version...

If you haven't seen The Way Way Back, check it out sometime when you're not binge watching whatever it is you have to binge watch to keep yourself entertained before the Gilmore Girls revival begins.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't watch television. That's not entirely true; I probably shouldn't watch television in which I will become attached to one or more of the characters on the show. I can't help myself with certain shows. I become so invested with a character or characters that watching the show becomes stressful. Or I get irrationally irritated with a character because he or she makes a choice I deem is a bad one. My poor neighbors have heard me yell "Make smart life choices!" at my television more times than I care to admit. And when a character dies? No thank you. This is the worst part of watching any halfway decent show; a favorite character will always die. I believe this is related to being a very dedicated reader; the same thing happens to me when I read a book or series. I become so invested in characters that I don't want the story to end OR I want them to be real. Such is the life of a fan.

Among my invested characters we have Rory Gilmore (seriously wanted to shake her most of seasons 5 and 6), Lane and Zach from also Gilmore Girls, Terry and LP from Treme, everyone on Firefly, Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Detective Mike Logan from Law & Order (before he was Mr. Big). I love Detective Logan so much I watched the movie NBC did featuring him trying to redeem himself or some such nonsense. Mike Logan was and always will be Law & Order. Everyone else is just an imitation.

There are others but these are really my go-to list of fictional friends. I have very specific opinions about them (#TeamLogan) and will argue with other people for hours about minutia within the universe of the show. I would like to believe that these opinions will serve some purpose for me later in life but I'm not entirely sure how that will work. More than likely, it'll just be more information to store away for trivia or when I go to an Escape Room with interns who weren't born in the 1980s and I need to use my knowledge of the era to solve the puzzle to get us out of the room. This is how the world works.

I recently finished watching the Netflix series Stranger Things. I don't normally binge watch television shows even on Netflix. Sometimes I get into a Gilmore Girls binge but that's about my level of tolerance for the practice. I like the unfolding of a show over the course of season. I like looking forward to something each week as I anticipate a new episode. To me, that is the beauty of watching serialized television. I realize I'm in the minority on this. However, with Stranger Things I definitely binge watched the show. I watched four episodes last Friday and the second four episodes last Saturday. It is a remarkable and enjoyable show, made better by watching it all at once.

I don't want to talk about Eleven (who is amazing and badass) or the boys (also wonderful) or Barb (#justiceforbarb) or even the fact that I want to smack the smug off Steve Harrington's face so badly every time he's on screen. No, we have more important things to discuss. And by more important things, I mean Chief Jim Hopper.

Chief Hopper is the true hero of Stranger Things. He is the glue that binds this crazy town together and he is the man that gets shit done. No one else broke into a secret government facility with the cool and attitude he did...multiple times. No one stared down the creepy blonde government agent and dared her to disagree with terms of his plan. No one else faked his way into the morgue to make sure that his suspicions about "Will" were right (this was a hard scene to watch). No one else didn't call the librarian after they hooked up and then thought she'd help him with research for the case. No one else agreed to go with Joyce to multiple locations that could have gotten him killed. And frankly, no one else really believed Joyce until Chief Hopper did. I don't know where that car was taking him in the last episode but you can bet he handled whatever it was like a boss.

Side note: The actor who plays Chief Hopper, David Harbour, is a fantastic actor and is so perfect in this role. He also feels really bad about Barb according to this Buzzfeed post.

If I lived in Hawkins, which I would never do because it is truly a terrifying place to live, I would want Chief Hopper to be in charge and protect our town. Despite his drinking and other poor life choices, he gets into the investigation and gets into some real police work. I love shows and movies set in a pre-cell phone age; everyone manages to live their life and accomplish things. One of my favorite scenes with Chief Hopper involves him and Officer Powell sitting in the library scanning through microfiche. Microfiche!? There are people reading this blog who don't know what that is and probably had to look it up while watching the show. That's just sad. And what about the hat? Normally, I have ambivalent feelings about hats in terms of men's fashion, but the hat is as much a part of the character of Chief Hopper as his cigarette, his sense of humor, and his perpetual hangover.

And let's admit it, he's hot. Chief Hopper is, by far, the hottest dude in Hawkins. I'll give you the cute factor of Officer Callahan; he's cute in a "nerdy boy you date in your first year of college" sort of way. Hopper is the older gentleman you move onto after you realize nerdy college boys will always be a disappointment. Yes, he's a womanizer but I'm okay with this for some reason (normally I would not be) and I've come to terms with it as a part of his character. I want to sit around with Chief Hopper listening to Big Star records and talking about life and love. I don't know why Big Star because I don't actually think Chief Hopper would be a Big Star fan but that's how I feel. 

I don't condone smoking but I approve this image:

Or maybe this is better:

Of course because Chief Hopper is my new television show crush (Is a Netflix show considered a television show? I don't know how that works.), I spent a large portion of every episode suffering anxious feelings because I thought that he was going to die. (Spoiler: he doesn't.). This is what a good character does to us. We get so wrapped up in their life, we can't help but only want good things for them. Television (or a movie or book) becomes stressful. It's not normal. I never felt this way about any television character before I started watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Was it the shows that changed or was it me?

Chief Hopper & the boys
Smoking Chief Hopper
Hopper and Indy
My Dream Man

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The Brownie Friendship Song

I was never going to be a good Girl Scout. I'm not good at selling things, we moved a lot when I was younger, and I'm not a fan of the outdoors. I was in Brownies (girls aged 6-8 I believe) but never made it past there. We moved and I moved on to do ballet, gymnastics, softball, and eventually found a true home in theatre. I support the Girl Scouts despite my failure as one.

Sometimes, for no apparent reason, the Brownie friendship circle song "Make New Friends" pops into my head. If you're not familiar with the song, take a moment to listen:

We used to sing this song at the start of our meetings and yes, we sang in a round. Our meetings would typically end with another friendship circle with the added bonus of a friendship wish. Basically, a friendship wish is making a wish and passing it on to the girl next to you by squeezing her hand. That's how Brownies roll. The squeeze thing also happened when I joined the theatre department; we did something very similar during our pre-show circles. Friendship is friendship no matter where you are.

Anyway, this song gets in my head randomly from time to time. Sometimes I know why the song pops into my head; there was that time I found my Brownie sash and it had my friendship patch on it. Or another time when the Girl Scouts were out selling cookies and were having the best time hanging out with one another despite the fact that it was 10 degrees out. Other times, it's a lot of little things that make the song appear. This week has been one of those week; stressful, kind of stupid, and the type of week that needed to be over the second it started. I decided to treat myself to some new books for my Kindle (for gym reading) and stumbled upon the thing that finally caused me to hum "Make New Friends".

There is a fifth Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book.

I had no clue. It's called Sisterhood Everlasting and takes place about ten years after the last book. If you're not familiar with these books or the two films based on the first two books, the story is centered on four friends who literally grow up together. Their mothers, all pregnant and due around the same time, meet in a fitness class for moms and become friends. While the moms drift apart, the girls remains friends throughout school and into college. They share a "magical" pair of pants that fits each girl perfectly despite each one being a different shape and size. There's drama, heartbreak, humor, trips to Greece, nerdy boys, and above all else, friendship. The first book was released in 2001 (the year I graduated from college). I didn't read any of the books until later, maybe around 2008. By then, the first four books were all out and I was able to read them back to back.

The books are solid YA fare but aren't patronizing and don't feel totally like YA novels. I liked many of the characters, particularly Tibby, Carmen, and Brian, and even though I was much older than the main characters when I started, I could see myself in them and in their struggles and successes. I felt for them and laughed with them. I had friends sort of like the girls in the book. At the time, I was moving a lot, first back to Virginia following Hurricane Katrina, then out to California because everyone should move to California once in their life. Adult friendships are challenging. As a slightly more introverted person, they're downright stressful. I've written about this before; adult friendships are almost as stressful as dating.

What I liked most about the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants books was that they followed female friendships in a realistic way. The girls fought, they shared secrets, they kept secrets from one another, they just knew when one of the others was in trouble or needed the rest of the group. They were jealous of one another, which does happen. Sometimes friends move past it; sometimes they don't. This group always found a way to work through the bad things without diminishing them or making light of something sad or upsetting. They also celebrated when things went well and laughed and had inside jokes. Ann Brashares, the author of the series, captures all the complexity of friendship in a way that many novels fail to do, especially when the characters grow up.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a fifth book exists. It was released in 2011, well after I stopped reading the original series. I don't remember hearing about it but am excited I found it. I'm only a few chapters in and already I'm back in the world of Lena, Tibby, Carmen, and Bridget. Already, I'm a bit of an emotional wreck (a very sad thing happened already to a character I really love). The book picks up as the friends are approaching their 30th birthdays and they're all in various states of unknown. They're still friends but maybe not as close as they once were, maybe not as in each others' lives as they were back in the day. And of course, they're spread around the country and the world.

This is exactly what happens in real adult friendships. Whether you've know a person since preschool or met in college or at work, eventually everyone has to start their lives. People get married, they have kids, they move for jobs, they get divorced, they grow up. Friendships shift and change and sometimes, they fade. It's sad but it doesn't mean you failed as a friend or a person. I've struggled with this over the years; losing touch with friends or investing time into friendships that I shouldn't anymore, not because of anything negative but because they've come to their natural end. I don't expect Sisters Everlasting to solve all of the problems of changing friendships. But I like the comfort of the story more than anything else.

On the same day I started reading Sisters Everlasting, I watched the first four episodes of the Netflix series Stranger Things. I won't spoil anything about the show but in the first episode, the boys, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas are explaining to Eleven what a friend is. She's never heard this term before and is genuinely confused by the concept. Mike tells her, "A friend is someone that you’d do anything for … and they never break a promise … that’s super important because friends tell each other things; things that parents don’t know." I had no idea this show that so many people love for so many reasons would get friendship, at least for the group of boys and Eleven, so right. The fierce dedication they have to finding Will and the protectiveness of the boys towards Eleven and her towards them makes me think of the girls of the Sisterhood too. My only other comment on Stranger Things, for now, is #PoorBarb.

I don't expect Sisters Everlasting or Stranger Things to solve all of the problems of changing friendships. But I like the comfort of the stories more than anything else. Sometimes my fictional universes make me feel better about my actual universe.

You may now form your own friendship circle and sing "Make New Friends" in a round. Now that song is in your're welcome.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

That cat on the internet

I follow Nacho Flay on Instagram. Nacho Flay is a majestic and handsome Maine Coon cat.

He also happens to belong to celebrity chef Bobby Flay. I had no idea Nacho existed despite the fact that he and Bobby Flay are the coolest cat/owner duo around. During the last season of The Next Food Network Star, there was a random episode (the finale maybe?) where we got to meet Nacho Flay and Bella De Laurentiis (Giada's cat). I think Bobby Flay mentioned that Nacho has his own Instagram account so I immediately followed the cat. I assume this is why the internet was invented.

As you can imagine, Nacho lives a pretty great life. I dare say he lives a better life than most people. He naps in glorious sun patches. He is always on the counter and no one seems to mind. He seems to have knowledge of tequila and knife technique. He sits in bowls. He hangs out with other celebrity chefs. He goes to press conferences. He likes hiding in bags and boxes. He looks startled and uncomfortable when his owner holds (sometimes). He is a weirdo just like every other cat in the world. He also has a brother named Taco.

We should all hope to be reincarnated as a celebrity's pet but only a celebrity who really seems to enjoy being a pet owner. Bobby Flay seems to be that celebrity pet owner. I missed out on all the early press about Nacho and Bobby; they have been bro-ing it up since 2015 with Nacho being declared the pet to watch on Instagram. People seem really taken with their story. I'd watch a cooking show consisting of Bobby Flay hanging out with Nacho just living their lives, being dudes. They could make brunch food and maybe on occasion, nachos. Or maybe brunch nachos. I don't know if brunch nachos are a thing but if Bobby Flay puts them on the menu at one of his restaurants, I would like credit.

Nacho Flay has over 64K followers on Instagram with just 91 posts. Many of those posts have well over 10K likes. Nacho also has a Twitter account (I don't follow him on Twitter) with a smaller fan base but equally amazing presentation. I don't even follow Bobby Flay on social media; I only follow Nacho. And yes, I am aware of the fact that Bobby Flay is the person behind most (if not all) of the Nacho Flay posts but it's not the same. I'm not interested in what Bobby Flay is doing; I'm interested in what Nacho is doing. Cats on the internet doing cat things is the best reason to be on the internet. Sure, we can look up just about anything on Google and learn things from a variety of sources (credible and not) but the true joy of the internet, particularly on social media platforms, is animal videos and pictures. And Nacho Flay is winning on social media every time "he" posts a new picture or video. He is giving his followers a little oasis in their day. He is living the life we all dream about.

Which, of course, brings up the most important question: does Pumpkin need her own Instagram account? Let's take a quick look at this lady's range:

Sweet, cuddly cat
Sun worshipper
Adventure - Pumpkin is up for anything!

Or maybe this gem:
Is it Pumpkin? Is it Batman? I don't know.

She may not be hanging out with celebrities but you can't argue that Pumpkin isn't out there living her best life on the internet (and in real life). Since she doesn't currently have her own Instagram account, her work is seen on my account instead. I created my account in 2011 but didn't really start posting until 2012. Pumpkin has been featured in 242 of my 1029 posts. That's 23% of my photos. While I didn't really have time to look into the numbers, I know in my heart that her photos are my most liked. This is particularly true when the photo features Pumpkin with a look on her face that screams "I'm judging you and your life choices." People really enjoy Pumpkin's judginess (not a word).

Look at all the shade

I've written 10 posts (not counting this one) that prominently feature Pumpkin. Three were written this year garnering 157 combined views. If we look back at the posts from 2013-2015, Pumpkin-centric posts garnered another 396 views bringing the grand total to 553. I've also written 6 posts about a fictional cat named Pickles, who may or may not be loosely based on Pumpkin. The Pickles posts add another 212 to the mix, bringing our total to 765 views for posts about Pumpkin or that reference Pumpkin. That's a lot of people reading about a cat who doesn't belong to a famous person.

This does not, however, answer the question of whether Pumpkin should have her own Instagram account. People, mostly my friends, enjoy Pumpkin so we could theorize that they would continue to enjoy Pumpkin on her own Instagram account. Strangers reading this blog seem to really dig her but is that enough? Do I have the time to manage another social media account? Would my Instagram account become boring without Pumpkin's antics and cuteness and napping?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions but I suspect the answers come down this: "Don't create an Instagram account for your cat. Don't be that person."

Such a lady #cutestcat #thoseears

Nacho Flay images from Instagram
Pumpkin images by me (all can be found on Instagram)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

The Road to 300: Lady Parts

I don't normally get political here on the Island; we all need a little break from politics and loudness and whatever else comes with living in the middle of an election season. Regardless of your personal feelings about Hillary Clinton, you can't ignore the historical significance of this election. While other women have run for President, no woman has ever been nominated by a major party for the presidency. She achieved this first just over a week ago at the Democratic National Convention. I admit that I teared up a bit during her speech; she is not the soaring orator that Barak Obama is but her words and the moment were enough for me. I'm not naive enough to believe the next 90-ish days are going to be easy or fun but they will be fascinating to watch. And I will be there with her on this journey, hopefully all the way to the White House.

However, today is not about Hillary Clinton or her historic bid for the presidency. No, today I want to discuss some other ladies who haven't had the easiest time of late but have chosen to rise above that and bust some ghosts.

Yes, I'm taking about the all-female cast of Ghostbusters.

Like most people, I love the original Ghostbusters. It's not a great movie but it's funny, a little scary, and featured a great cast who are the reason the movie works. The sequel is less exciting; I tend to watch it when I'm sick. It's one of the movies that I call fall asleep during, wake up in the middle, and still know what's going on before I fall asleep again. People, mostly men, lost their shit when it was announced that Paul Feig was going to be making a new version all female cast. Clutch your pearls or whatever it is dudes do when they're shocked by something. It didn't matter that the original cast was behind the film (and all make an appearance in the new one, including a lovely tribute to Harold Ramis who died in 2014). It also didn't matter that this isn't a remake in the way that other movies have recently been remade; Feig wasn't interested in recreating the same characters from the original films but creating a movie that exists within the universe of Ghostbusters. I didn't read this as a remake as much as an addition to the story in the way comic book stories often cross paths within the same universe.

What this movie makes abundantly clear is that people have zero chill and are incapable of simply being entertained. Everything doesn't have to be an epic masterpiece that will last the test of time. This could be the greatest movie of all time (it is not) and it wouldn't make a difference to a large percentage of the population who refused to see the movie because of ladies in lead roles. I cannot with these people. Are people with vaginas really that scary? Is that what's happening here? Interestingly, the movie plays to this theme in several places most notably with the character played by Kristen Wiig. Erin (great name) is a physicist, working towards tenure at a prestigious university. She is constantly being criticized for being uptight and dressing in a dowdy fashion. It doesn't matter that she's an accomplished scientist; she's still female so apparently it has to be hard to "make it" in academia. This is the reality for so many women in the world and not just in scientific fields. I'm not making this up; it's a reality. Hollywood isn't that much better and this movie is a clear example of that.

I liked the movie a lot. I would have liked it even if there wasn't controversy around it and if I didn't feel like I was required to go see it because I have lady parts and I need to support other humans who have lady parts. My favorite things included:
  • Leslie Jones as Patty Tolan, an MTA worker who also happens to know a ton of New York history. This comes in handy throughout the movie. I feel like Patty and I would be friends and go on history tours together.
  • HOLTZMANN! Kate McKinnon is freaking hilarious as the engineer/physicist who gives us some of the best moments and the best gear in the movie. She's probably the only character that has a true parallel to the original cast; Ramis's Egon, but she takes the weird and wacky to a completely different level. Egon was the straight man of the group; Holtzmann is something else. 
  • Cameos by the original cast except Rick Moranis (who declined the chance to be in the film and has been on a hiatus from Hollywood for the last 18 years following the death of his wife). My favorite cameos include Ernie Hudson, Sigourney Weaver, and the firehouse. 
  • Chris Hemsworth. Is it stunt casting? Yes. Was he funny? Yes he was. Did I objectify him a bit when he was wearing the white t-shirt and dancing at the end? Absolutely. It's hard being in a movie just for your looks isn't it?
  • The friendships between the women. It's great to see the Abby/Erin friendship evolve during the movie to what you imagine it was before Erin went all academic on Abby. Dropping Patty into the group changes it for the better. They don't compete with one another; they need one another to bust some ghosts and save the day.
  • The climactic fight scene. History, ghosts, cool weapons, slow motion fight sequences, improbability, and something seemingly innocent being turned into a rage filled ghost monster - this sequence had everything.
Seeing this movie didn't ruin my childhood memories of the original or discredit its originality. It added a new chapter to the Ghostbusters universe and let some seriously funny women showcase their talent. If the fact that they are female while being funny and busting ghosts bothers you, you need to take a long look at your life.

Ghosts are scary; feminism isn't. Ectoplasm is gross; funny, talented women are not. Considering a future led by an angry hornet of a man is terrifying; women as Ghostbusters is not.

Ghostbusters & Car