Friday, October 2, 2015

Unintentional Freddy Krueger

Fall is my absolute favorite season. The crisp air screams possibility. I love that I can start wear my favorite sweaters and scarves but that it's still warm enough for just a light jacket. Of course there's also candy corn and apples and a small amount of pumpkin flavored things (I prefer pumpkin cookies and pie - that's it). I've been looking forward to getting my crock-pot out so I can make stews and soups and what about casseroles!? It's perfect casserole weather. My favorite holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving, are just around the corner. They always seem to get the short shrift as Christmas creeps into our lives earlier and earlier every year. I know Christmas can't help itself but we can all play our parts in keeping the madness at bay. I bought some new Halloween kitchen towels and a skull cup from Target earlier this week. The skull cup looks nice on my desk at work.

It's unfortunate that our first truly fall like weekend happens to be accompanied by the impending doom of Hurricane Joaquin. I'd like to believe that this weekend will just be a weekend of rain and heavier than normal wind rather than a full out hurricane. Regardless of which weather event actually occurs, I decided it would be best if I focused on the positive side of needing to spend the majority of my time indoors this weekend. There are only 29 days left until Halloween and we have lots of movies to watch.  And frankly, 13 Nights of Halloween just aren't enough.

Three years ago I wrote a post centered on my favorite Halloween movies. I suggested 50 whole movies to get you through until Halloween. This year I thought I'd help you create the ultimate movie marathon by suggesting groupings of these movies. I like a little bit of everything when it comes to scary movies and more family friendly seasonal fare. In addition to the list of movies let's rejoice in the return of American Horror Story and the premiere of The Evil Dead tv series on Starz (on Halloween of course).

What do you need to really enjoy a fall movie marathon? Popcorn, Twizzlers (never Red Vines - we're not animals), wine (your choice), and a pillow to hide your eyes behind if you're so inclined.

Let's begin...

Sleeping with the Lights on for the Rest of the Week - these are serious horror films that involve exorcism, creepy little girls, and a clown. Just remember I warned you.
  • The Exorcist
  • The Shining
  • IT
  • Carrie (mostly because of the creepy Jesus statue and the very end of the movie)
Funny and Mostly Family Friendly Fare - I know Raul Julia is no longer with us but what do you think it would take to get another Addams Family movie? We could pick up with Wednesday as an adult or maybe Morticia has finally been able to join the dark forces' hellish crusade.
  • The Addams Family 
  • Addams Family Values (although this really is more of a Thanksgiving movie)
  • The Worst Witch
  • Hocus Pocus
  • Haunted Honeymoon
  • Coraline
  • ParaNorman (although this movie is a bit scarier than I expected)
Tim Burton's Brain - Some of my favorite movies are Tim Burton movies.
  • Corpse Bride
  • Beetlejuice
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas
  • Edward Scissorhands 
  • Frankenweenie
  • Sleepy Hollow
Old School Villains - I bought a sweater this week that unintentionally evokes the image of Freddy Krueger. It's my new favorite sweater.
  • Halloween
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • Nightmare of Elm Street
  • Friday the 13th
  • The Mummy, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolfman (old school Universal creature features)
Cult Classics - None of these are particularly scary (although Near Dark and Repulsion are close) but they're all awesome.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Cat People 
  • Freaks
  • Near Dark
  • Repulsion
  • Evil Dead trilogy 
 Creepy Not Scary - You can also add any other movie Vincent Price was in. He was never overtly scary, just creepy and sinister.
  • The People Under the Stairs
  • The Haunting (1963)
  • Rosemary's Baby
  • Let the Right One In
  • House on Haunted Hill (1959)
  • The Others
I've provided six movie marathons to get you started. Add more to the comments because yes, I've left off almost every vampire movie ever made, Ghostbusters, and Child's Play. Don't get mad, give suggestions. If these weren't enough Crimson Peak opens October 16th. I'm not saying I took the day off to go see it but I did take the day off so I should probably use that time wisely and go see this movie. That's really all that makes sense. 
Unintentional Freddy Krueger sweater - do you think I should use this on my online dating profile with that caption?

Hurricane Joaquin

Monday, September 28, 2015

This is 83

I have several concert goals in life: seeing the remaining living members of Led Zeppelin play together one more (last?) time, not getting boxed out of tickets to The Replacements (sadly, this happened already and no plans for a future tour), sitting as close as possible to the stage for a David Bowie show, and seeing my musical icons, Loretta Lynn, Patti Smith, and Liz Phair in concert (not together although that would be amazing).

Last night I checked another of the goals off the list: seeing Loretta Lynn in concert (I've seen Patti Smith too). Loretta is currently on tour and celebrating her 54th year of performing. She stopped in DC to play a little show at the Lincoln Theater. It was an interesting and odd concert but always enjoyable. Loretta sounds exactly like she always has; strong voice, sassy, and ready to knock you down if you even think about stealing her man. Time has been kind to her voice which is not always true of lifelong performers.

I've always liked Loretta Lynn. I don't know if it was my grandfather's influence (he was a rabid country music fan later in life) or the influence of growing up in the south that brought me to her. Classic country and honky tonk songs are incredibly appealing; there's great storytelling, clear voices, and attitude that I think more modern (and I include most country from the 80s in this category) country music lacks. It's not to stay that there aren't talented country artists today; I just don't listen to them (except the Dixie Chicks). Loretta Lynn's music is a lot of things: funny, feminist (more on this in a few minutes), heartfelt, and above all identifiable. She sang about her life and her love and the things she saw around her. You always knew that Loretta wouldn't take crap from anyone and that she'd fight for what was hers even if it might not always be worth keeping. That's the kind of woman she is.

In 2004, Loretta teamed up with another favorite of mine, Jack White, for Van Lear Rose. She wrote or co-wrote every song on the album. After its release, I spent the better part of a year listening to Van Lear Rose, The White Stripes Elephant, and Green Day's American Idiot in heavy rotation. Sometimes I still listen to these three albums in a row; makes me feel good about life. Van Lear Rose is amazing; beautiful and rock and roll and quintessential Loretta Lynn. Hipster cool kids "discovered" Loretta and were entranced by her stories and her voice. The hipsters occasionally get things right.

I missed her on the last few tours she's done and literally (ask Pumpkin) freaked out when I found out that she was going to be playing at the Lincoln Theater yesterday. I bought two tickets almost immediately after they went on sale. I asked my mom to go with me; who better to see Loretta Lynn with than your mama?

Some highlights from the evening:
  • The opening act was The Von Trapps, the great-grandchildren of the Captain and Maria. They are exactly what you would expect the Von Trapp great-grandchildren to be. They did a lovely rendition of "Dream a Little Dream" and a random version of the national anthem of Rwanda, "Rwanda Nziza". Apparently, they were invited to Rwanda and sang this for President Kagame. He enjoyed their rendition so much that he gave August Von Trapp a cow.
  • Of course, The Von Trapps ended with "Edelweiss" because Von Trapps.
  • Three of Loretta's children, Ernie, Peggy, and Patsy, are part of her band. Ernie plays guitar and all three sing a few songs before their mother comes on. Peggy and Patsy are her youngest, the twins, and Patsy is named for Patsy Cline. All three are talented but I can't help but think that if their mother wasn't Loretta Lynn, they may not have had much of a country career.
  • Loretta dresses like the lady she is. This time, a pink number, sparkly and lovely. I can't help but think that it must weigh a ton. 
  • My uncle mentioned that she tends to forget the lyrics to songs. I would too if I had released 114 records (#115 is due out this year) with countless hits and I was 83 years old. The only time it was evident was when she sang "Portland Oregon" from Van Lear Rose. She and a member of her band were singing it together and they both forgot the second verse. She did enough of it to make everyone happy and made a little joke about not knowing where Jack was, pausing like he was going to appear to sing with her. 
  • She sang three songs that were (and still are to some extent) considered among her most controversial, "Dear Uncle Sam", "The Pill", and "One's On the Way." Loretta had around fourteen songs banned from country radio over the years and they were all one's that dealt with the topics of the day and in several cases, bordered on or were, feminist in theme. "Dear Uncle Sam" is about a woman who opposes the draft during the Vietnam War; "The Pill" is about birth control, and "One's On the Way" is about the struggles of having children for the average or poor woman (she juxtaposes images of Liz Taylor and Jackie Kennedy with a woman in Topeka who has one on the way). Other songs like "Wings Upon Your Horns" (teen girl loses her virginity) and "Rated X" (doubled standard faced by divorced woman), were among others that were banned. I was disappointed that she didn't play "Rated X".
  • "You Ain't Woman Enough" was great - this was the first number one song penned by a female country artist (in 1966). She also sang another favorite, "Don't Come Home a Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind)" was also great to hear. 
  • Poor Loretta had the worst time on stage. Apparently, the ragweed in the area hit her hard last night. She spent most of the concert wiping her eyes and nose. We all felt really bad for her. 
  • My mom's first Uber experience - I didn't want to drive to U Street and my mom doesn't always do well on Metro so we took Uber. Both of our drivers were excellent and there was no wait. We had a nice conversation with the second driver; she was lovely and drives for Uber in her spare time (she's a realtor).
Loretta ended with "Coal Miner's Daughter" probably one of her best known and one of my favorite songs. It was a fitting end to a great show and a great night out with my mom. If you get a chance to see her on this tour, do it. If not, go ahead and watch Sissy Spacek as Loretta in Coal Miner's Daughter and then watch countless hours of Loretta videos on YouTube. It's a great way to spend an evening.

Van Lear Rose

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Lazy Movie Weekend: Little did he know...

I suspect that I may not be the only person to wonder, on occasion, if I am living in a comedy or tragedy. It's an easy road to go down: have a string of bad days or unpleasant events occur regularly, you might think tragedy is following you. I'm guessing there are also people who experience the kind of tragedy only found in Greek drama or Shakespeare. Conversely, when everything is going well and there's a hint of fun and lightness in life, then maybe just maybe this life is comedy. Personally, I think I'd prefer my life to be a musical comedy. So many things would be more entertaining if I could sing and dance about them.

I've been thinking about comedy and tragedy lately. There are two reasons for this:
  1. It's that time of the year where things change rather rapidly at work and there's an air of mystery and "intrigue" as people move around (promotions, new jobs, etc.) that often feels very cinematic and clandestine.
  2. Earlier this month, I started prepping for National Novel Writing Month. My last two NaNoWriMo novels have been my version of romantic comedies. I don't know that I want to write a tragedy but my idea for this year could lead me down that road. However, I feel very strongly that I am not a dramatic, tragic writer.
With these things in mind, I decided to focus this week's Lazy Movie Weekend on a movie that gets right to the heart of life as comedy or tragedy. What would happen if one day you woke up and began hearing the a voice narrating your life? Grab your thimbles and Socialist reading materials and settle in for 2006's Stranger Than Fiction.
  • This movie boasts and impressive cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Queen Latifah, Tom Hulce, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Will Ferrell. It's the least Will Ferrell movie you'll ever see. It's also my favorite of his (yes, I love this movie more than Elf).
  • What's most impressive about the beginning is that the narration doesn't seem out of place. It's just narration, a standard dramatic device used in countless films. Watching Harold (Ferrell) realize that the narration is happening is wonderful to watch.
  • Fun fact: All of the characters' last names are inspired by famous mathematicians, scientists, philosophers, or artists (Crick, Eiffel, Pascal, Escher, etc.). There's also a running visual reference to Rene Magritte's painting "Son of Man." 
  • Harold is an auditor for the IRS. Absolutely makes sense.
  • Two of Harold's co-workers are the guys from all the Sonic commercials. 
  • Visually, the film is incredibly interesting. The watch/clock motif is used throughout (since Harold's watch will change the course of his life) and the settings, the apartments, the college campus, the bus, are all fun to watch. It was filmed in Chicago.
  • Buster Bluth! Dave is Harold's only friend and has a dream of going to space camp. Don't we all Dave?
  • Enter Emma Thompson (Karen), Queen Latifah (Penny), and Maggie Gyllenhaal (Ana). I question how Penny got into Karen's apartment (did she have keys?) and Ana's story about how she got into Harvard Law. 
  • Karen: "I don't know how to kill Harold Crick."
  • Linda Hunt as the psychologist. Instead medicating or committing Harold, she suggests he go talk to a literature professor since Harold believes that he is hearing narration not going crazy. SeeIms legit.
  •  "I'm not an expert in crazy. I'm an expert in literary theory." I love Dustin Hoffman's Professor Hilbert. He goes from no interest in Harold to fervent interest in 10 seconds. All because of the narrator's choice of the phrase "little did he know" in her narration. He's written papers on "little did he know." A nice wink to the over-analysis of some academics.
  • "I left my thimbles and Socialist reading materials at home." Harold's attempt to flirt with Ana, the owner of the bakery that he is currently auditing. This is one of my favorite lines of the movie. 
  • Professor Hilbert devises a questionnaire to determine the type of story that Harold is in. There are twenty-three questions (another math reference) including, "Are you the king of anything?" and "Have you met anyone recently who might loathe the very core of you?" From these questions, we learn that Harold is not in a fairy tale, Scout Finch, any number of Shakespearean characters, or a Golem.
  • "Let's start at ridiculous and move backwards." Excellent life advice.
  • I like the idea that Ana would like to make the world a better place through cookies. That's probably one of the better ideas I've ever heard. 
  • Professor Hilbert tells Harold to go live his life. He believes Harold has never really done this so Harold does. He lives his life: buys a guitar and learns one song, stops wearing ties, and falls in love. He should have eaten nothing but pancakes as the professor suggested. 
  • The whole sequence in the guitar store is genius.
  • Harold brings Ana flours! What a delightful play on words. I love this scene.

  • Of course just as Harold's begins to live his life, he figures out who the author is narrating his ultimate demise. Professor Hilbert's reaction: "She kills people." 
  • I appreciate Harold using his IRS power for good to find Karen Eiffel. I also like the use of payphones and landlines in this movie. Cell phones weren't as ubiquitous in 2006. It's refreshing. 
  • This movie brings up so many questions: What would you do if you were a character in someone's novel? How would you deal with knowing that the author was going to kill you in the novel which would mean you would die in real life? If someone told you, "You have to die. It's her masterpiece?" would you go on with it or punch the person in the throat?
  • It's amazing to me that Karen gives Harold the book in the first place. If your hero all of the sudden appeared in the flesh and asked you not to kill him, would you give him the novel? 
  • I won't reveal the ending because that would spoil the whole thing but I'll leave you with this: Harold's watch does, in fact, save the day.

There are so many wonderful and magical moments in this movie. Every time I watch it, I find something else I didn't notice during my previous viewing. Harold is a little bit of all of us; stuck in his day to day, believing that life is just the number of steps from bus stop to office door or the brushstrokes when brushing his teeth. We can choose to continue counting or go learn to play the guitar. I don't know that I've solved my novel conundrum but I can be soothed with this line from Professor Hilbert, "The hero dies but the story lives on forever."

This is the song Harold learns to play:


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Writing Date Day, Part Two: Al's Place

Al's Place

Driving from Seattle to New Orleans sounded like a good idea at the time. The wedding dress wouldn’t have survived a flight even if I had carried it on. I couldn’t let a plane ride ruin the dress I had worked on for almost a year. Truth is I really like road trips. The music, car snacks, stopping at weird places along the way; all of it appealed to me in a way air travel never did. Maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me.

Twenty hours is a long time to drive by yourself. My musical companions, Bowie, Lou, Metallica, and girl groups from the 80s, were started to lose their magical touch. I needed to stop again soon or I’d never make it to my hotel. Originally I thought I’d drive the thirty eight hours straight but then I realized I’m not that crazy or stupid. My hotel was just over the Colorado/New Mexico border. I was about three hours away but I needed a break. Badly.

As if the road trip gods were listening to my inner monologue, a sign appeared on the side of the road for Al’s Place. It was at the next exit and it was open all night. Diner food sounded like heaven at 2 am.

Al’s Place was the only thing I could see as I exited the highway. Bright lights shone on the building and a huge sign took up most of the sky. The sign had a 60s vibe to it and it moved. The figure on the sign, Al I’m guessing, had mechanical arms that were moving as if to flip a pancake. This place was going to be amazing. Maybe I could find some kitschy souvenirs for my friends. They’d love this place.

The first steps after sitting for so long were agony. I walked around the parking lot a bit to wake up my limbs. I took a few pictures of the sign and posted them to Instagram with my road trip hashtag. All of my friends were using it as we made our way to New Orleans for the wedding. It was going to be an epic “photo album” for Stewart and Janie.

There were a surprising number of cars in the parking lot. Given the hour, I figured they were either desperate travelers like me or people who worked night shifts or really early morning shifts. We weren’t that far from Pueblo, CO so maybe they were all on their way there. A friendly waitress named Marge seated me at a booth by the window. Marge looked exactly like a diner waitress in a movie; a little older, a little tired, and super sassy. She had big blondish teased hair and perfectly applied eye makeup. Her peach colored uniform fit her as if it had been made for her and she wore the kind of sensible shoes I never consider buying. She poured me some coffee and told me she’d be back in a few for my order.

The menu was huge like most diner menus; a little bit of breakfast and lunch and a dessert menu that rivaled any I’d seen before. I opted for my standard diner order of pecan pancakes and bacon. Marge brought me orange juice even though I didn’t order it. She said it was good for me.

I’m the kind of person who likes going to restaurants alone. I like to people watch and diners are perfect places for people watching. Especially at 2 am in the middle of nowhere Colorado. The diner was pretty large and old fashioned in the way diners tend to be. I guessed it looked like this the day it opened. The other patron even looked a bit old fashioned, not out of place just worn. There wasn’t anyone near me; most people were seated around the counter or across the room along the side window. There was a family of five eating in a corner booth. The youngest child had made a mess of his scrambled eggs and his parents looked too tired to care. His siblings, a boy and a girl around 9 or 10, were blowing straw papers at each other. Behind them was a table of guys in work boots and coveralls. I couldn’t hear what they were saying but I matched them with the big truck in the parking lot with Marvin’s Repairs painted on the side. They were all enjoying dessert, pie if I wasn’t mistaken. The rest of the people around the counter were your typical late night diner crowd. There were quiet conversations, lots of coffee refills, and the constant call of food orders. It was all very soothing.

Marge refilled my coffee and promised my food would be right out. As she stepped away from my table, I noticed another single diner across the room from me, staring out the side window. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew him. He looked so familiar but I couldn’t place him. I didn’t know anyone in Colorado so it was strange. I couldn’t figure it out and I didn’t want to be that person who creepily started at another person at a diner at 2 am. Nothing good ever came out of being that person. I distracted myself with browsing on my phone until my food arrived. I dug in as soon as Marge placed the plate in front of me. I am not exaggerating that these were the best pecan pancakes I have ever eaten. The syrup was homemade and the combination of that with the pecans hit the spot after a long day of driving.

I noticed that the man across the room had a guitar and was getting ready to play something. It wasn’t anything I recognized and no one seemed to mind his playing. Scrambled Egg Kid stopped making a mess and focused entirely on the man and his guitar. The workers finished up their pie and sat back to listen. I had never been to a diner with live music before. It seemed to make absolute sense. I took a few covert pictures of the guy. I didn’t think any of my friends would believe me when I told the story later.

He kept playing softly but loud enough that I could hear him across the diner and above the din of food orders and forks scraping on plates. He played a bit of everything, classic rock, country, and an acoustic version of “London Calling.” He even threw in a stripped down version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” He never sang, just played the songs.

Marge came back to check on me.

“Who is that guy? Does he play here all the time?” I asked as she refilled my coffee cup.

“The guitar guy? I think his name is John or Jim. He comes in every now and then late at night or early in the morning and plays for bit. Doesn’t bother anyone so we let him do it. People think he’s someone famous but I don’t know. Can I get you anything else?”

“I think I’d like a slice of cherry pie. I shouldn’t have it but I will anyway.”

“Always eat dessert honey, life is too short.”

I didn’t really need the pie but I wanted to stay and watch Guitar Guy more. No one else seemed like were leaving anytime soon and I didn’t want to be the one to break the spell. I posted a photo of him to my friends with the following caption “Guitar Guy at a diner in the middle of nowhere. What are the odds? #stu&janegethitched”

As I started in on my pie, a few comments came in on my picture. My friend Marnie thought the guy looked familiar too, “Is that that “musician” you dated in college? LOL!” Another friend asked if I was bringing him to the wedding. It was the third comment that stopped me mid-bite, “Doesn’t he look like a bit like Jim Morrison?” That was it! That was who this guy reminded me of; he looked a lot like Jim Morrison. He was dressed like the Val Kilmer version of Jim Morrison but with facial hair. He wasn’t old enough to actually be Jim Morrison (if you were one of those people who believed Morrison was dead). Guitar Guy could be his son.

He looked at me at this exact moment. He didn’t stop playing. He nodded his head as if to say, “I get that all the time.” I didn’t know what to do except smile. He went back to playing and I quickly finished my pie and paid my bill. It was time to get back on the road. I left a tip for Marge and took one last look around the diner. The magic of the moment seemed to have passed; Scrambled Egg Kid was throwing eggs again and the workers were paying their bill. Guitar Guy finished his last song as I walked out the door.

I got back into my car, popped in a Doors CD, and made my way back to the highway. I could see the lights from Al’s Place in my rearview mirror for about mile down the highway. Jim Morrison sang “Roadhouse Blues”. I knew in my heart that Guitar Guy was not Jim Morrison but the possibility of it would keep me awake for a few more hours. Maybe all the way to New Orleans.

Based on the prompt: You've been on the road driving for almost twenty hours. At 2 am you drive up to a restaurant that's open all night. Describe the experience and the people you see.  From 1000 Awesome Writing Prompts by Ryan Andrew Kinder.

Writing Date Day, Part One: Fall

Today is National Writing Date Day! For the second year in a row, I join the wonderful Jessica (check out her blog, Neek Confessional) to stretch our writing skills, get ready for NaNoWriMo, and hang out despite there being 1500 miles between us. The goal is to write for two hours using two writing prompts and see what happens. I have not edited either piece so please excuse any grammar or spelling errors.

The nail salon opened to no fanfare. One day the building was dark with a “For Lease” sign in the window. The next day there was a banner announcing “Mimi’s Nails” hanging outside and a small “By appointment only” sign in the window. There was no opening celebration, no flyers or ads went up, and no one ever seemed to go in or come out of the salon.

At first I didn’t think it was odd. There were two other nail salons in the neighborhood so maybe it was taking time to get a client base. My coffee shop was on the opposite corner from Mimi’s. I could see the front of the salon from my counter. When it got slow after the morning rush, I’d watch the salon waiting to see someone go in. I’d occasionally catch a glimpse of a tall, middle-aged woman opening the front door. I could never see her face and I never saw her leave. Mimi’s remained a mystery.

Six months passed. Nothing changed at Mimi’s. As the new school year started, my watching became less frequent but I’d still catch myself glancing across the street every now and then. Nothing ever changed. It was almost time for me to roll out my seasonal menu for fall. Last year I introduced an apple crisp that sold out so quickly I had to triple the recipe for the remainder of the season. I also offered a spiced chai bread and pecan pie bars that made a nice afternoon treat. Of course, my regulars wanted more and they were demanding the one ingredient I didn’t want to deal with...pumpkin. It’s not that I don’t like pumpkin; I love pumpkin pie and pumpkin cookies. The problem is that it’s just become too much. Everything is pumpkin flavored or scented so it’s not special anymore.

I was considering my pumpkin conundrum and half listening to Angela Thorne, president of the Franklin Street Small Business Association, discuss plans for the upcoming Fall Festival when Davis Stephens, owner of many of the buildings along Franklin Street, elbowed me in the ribs.

“Sammy, Angela just asked you a question.” He stage whispered to me.

“What? I’m sorry, Angela. What did you ask?” My cheeks were a fine shade of red and I felt guilty for not listening.

Angela shook her head and repeated the question, “I asked if you would be interested in running the baked goods booth again this year.”

“Sure. Of course. I have some new fall desserts to add to this year.”

“Excellent. Thank you, Sammy. I hope you’ve got something pumpkin planned.” She winked at me and moved the conversation on to other Fall Festival related topics and I drifted back to my own thoughts.

And then I saw her. Sitting in the back of the room behind the two guys who owned the hardware store and Doris Smith who owned the donut shop. It was the woman from Mimi’s. She never came to meetings.

“Davis, do you know who the woman in the back row is?” I whispered.

Davis followed my gaze to Mimi (as I thought of her). “Nope, never seen her before.”

“I think she owns that nail salon, the new one across from my shop. I never see anyone go in or come out. It’s strange. And she never comes to meetings.”

Angela shot me a look and I mouthed my apologies. The meeting wrapped up ten minutes later. I tried to make it to the back of the room to meet Mimi but she was gone before I could get there.

“So weird,” I said to Davis.

“Maybe she’s shy. Maybe she thinks we’re all idiots for spending a perfectly good Thursday night discussing baked goods, booth placement, and whether this year’s logo will scare children.”

“Maybe. Or maybe she’s hiding something.”

“No one has secrets around here. Small towns don’t work that way.” Davis said goodnight and walked towards his car.

I didn’t buy it. I decided to make an appointment and see for myself.

During a morning lull, I went back to my office to make my manicure appointment. The phone rang and rang. No message, no voicemail option. I tried a few more times, hoping someone would pick up. No one ever did. The salon didn’t even come up on or the town business directory. It was like Mimi’s Salon didn’t exist. I decided I’d have to be bolder. I’d have to go over and visit. I put together a basket of baked good and coffee samples and headed across the street.

The windows were dark. They were covered with a film I hadn’t been able to see from across the street. Whatever it was made it virtually impossible to see inside. I couldn’t see any movement and the front door was locked. I knocked, hoping someone was around. No one answered. I should have just given up and gone back to the coffee shop. But I couldn’t. I had to know what was going on in that salon. There was a back entrance to the building. All of the buildings on Franklin Street have them. I walked around the building and found myself in an alley just like the alley behind my shop. Just a dumpster, nothing out of the ordinary. I tried knocking on the back door. Again, no answer. When I tried the doorknob it opened. I had found a way in.

Cautiously, I took my first step into the salon. It was dark, as dark as it had looked from the outside. It smelled strongly like a nail salon; I recognized the sting of polish remover and the fumes of nail polish. I could make out the shapes of massage chairs and footbaths for pedicures and what looked like rows of tables up front. A door was to my left; I assumed it was an office or storage room. I opened the it and found myself staring down a dark set of stairs. Did this building have a basement? I had already entered without permission so it was too late to go back now. I left the basket on the floor and started down the dark staircase.

About halfway down the stairs a smell hit me. It was a comforting smell, like baking or mulling spices of some kind. I could pick out cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla but there was something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It was earthly and fruity all at the same time and it worked perfectly with the spices. Then it hit me.

Pumpkin. Lots and lots of pumpkin.

The stairs ended just as I figured out the smell. Another door was in front of me. I could see light around the edges and the smell was even stronger. I opened the door.

It took a second for my eyes to readjust to the light. It was a lab or a lab-like room. There were a five or six people in white coats at a table, conferring over something. They hadn’t seen me so I ducked down and crawled closer to where they were. I hid myself under another table two rows behind them and listened.

“I think this one gets the pumpkin pie scent just right. It’ll be perfect for air fresheners and candles. Maybe even for scented soap although it might be too much for soap.” This from a male voice, the person standing closest to me.

“Since when do we care if it’s too much for something?” A woman replied. The group laughed at this little inside joke.

I could make out the figures a bit from under the table. One of the woman was Mimi. She was one of the scientists or whatever they were.

She continued, “We need to ship six more distinct fall scents before the end of the week. Four of them have to feature pumpkin so let’s work on the levels of this a bit more make it more palatable for soap and perfume. Gerald might be right about it’s potency.”

The man, Gerald, seemed pleased with the response. They moved to another table and a second woman started passing out samples in tiny cups.

“These are the new pumpkin flavored potato chips. I think the added cinnamon gives them a little something.” The group seemed to agree.

“We’ve also got a new pumpkin yogurt, pumpkin Pop Tarts, an improved pumpkin spice Oreo, and my personal favorite, pumpkin Goldfish crackers.” The woman passed out samples of each. The group approved of everything.

“You would think people would get tired of pumpkin flavored things but we can’t work fast enough to get the flavor out there.” Gerald spoke to no one in particular.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing. This was where all the pumpkin flavored things came from? A basement laboratory on Franklin Street hidden beneath a nail salon? It seemed completely ridiculous.

But then again, it made sense. Using an appointment only nail salon as a cover was genius and the odors of nail polish remover and nail polish covered the pumpkin smell. I was close to the lab door before I realized what it was. These guys were geniuses.

They still didn’t know I was there. I could have said something but I decided that it was better to get out of there before I was discovered. I crawled back to the door and moved as quietly as possible back up the stairs. I made it back to the top and closed the door without making any noise. I almost tripped over the basket I’d left. I thought about taking it back across the street with me but then I decided to leave it for them to discover. They would know that I knew what they were up to. I would send them a little message with cookies and coffee.

I walked out the backdoor and back across to my shop. I immediately headed to the kitchen and threw away all of the pumpkin desserts and pumpkin I had. I didn’t want any part of it anymore. The pumpkin madness would stop with me.

A few days later I noticed a “For Lease” sign at Mimi’s. Message received.

Based on the prompt: There is a nail salon near you that never seems to have customers. You discover the real purpose of the business. From 1000 Awesome Writing Prompts by Ryan Andrew Kinder.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Rendezvous on Mystery Street

Instead of spending time talking about something that happened 10 years ago this weekend, I thought I would devote this post to telling a little story about New Orleans via the protagonist of my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel. This is a brand new chapter of the novel, part of my current editing project. Harper's adventure is inspired by my own 2005 Jazz Fest experience; I did get in for free that year because of a friend and we did have to rendezvous on Mystery Street to make it happen. We wanted to see The Meters like everyone else. I hope this honors the spirit of New Orleans as much as anything else I could write.

I Never Travel Far, Without a Little Big Star
May 2005
Rendezvous on Mystery Street
by Harper Monroe

There are certain places that no matter how many times you visit remain as you saw them the first time. Much like the postcard you tuck into a book or memory box, the image is a little worn around the edges but never less vibrant than the first time you were there. If you close your eyes you can see that place and hear it and smell it and remember the feeling of the sun on your face as you walked around and got to know it a bit better. No matter how long you stay away or how often you visit, that first experience is fixed forever in your brain.

New Orleans has always been that place for me. My first trip to the city took place the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. My dad was big on road trips. My older siblings would have preferred a cruise or maybe Hawaii. My mother wanted a nice hotel and no amusement parks.While I don't believe that I was able to truly appreciate all that the city had to offer at the time, I knew in my fifteen year old heart that I would never be able to get New Orleans out of my system. I vividly recall hearing snippets of music as we walked around the French Quarter (I was too young to go in most places) and I have a stack of Polaroids of colorful people and beautiful buildings to take me back. Jackson Square was full of musicians and artists and psychics. My mom wouldn't let me get my palm read in the shadow of St. Louis Cathedral but did allow an artist to draw our family for a nominal fee.

New Orleans is probably the most alive place I have ever been. I would never pretend that it is without its problems (all cities have problems and New Orleans seems to have many of them) but there is still something more vital and more spirited about New Orleans despite those problems.

One of my father's favorite albums is Fire On The Bayou the 1975 release from The Meters. I was obsessed with the song "They All Ask'd For You" as a child. We used to dance around the living room every time it would come on. If you don't know The Meters, I suggest you go out and find some of their music...STAT. The band has not appeared with its origin lineup in decades but as fate would have it, they are reuniting for this year's New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. I have never been to Jazz Fest. This is my year.

My friend, Marilee, picked me up from the airport with the greatest news. "I got us free tickets for Saturday when The Meters are playing." No hello or how was your flight; just this little nugget of wonderful. I was expecting to pay for tickets but Marilee being Marilee had figured it all out. "I know a guy," she continued. "All we have to do is rendezvous on Mystery Street."

I did a bit of a double take as I gave her a hug. "Could you repeat what you just said?"

Marilee made a face at me and repeated, "All we have to do is rendezvous on Mystery Street."

"You're using the word "rendezvous" like it's something one says casually like 'meet' or 'connect with'."

"Well, it's what we're doing and it's more fun than just saying, 'We have to meet George on Mystery Street.' A rendezvous with a musician is what you need on this trip so we're rendezvousing." Marilee pushed past other arrivals and led the way to the car.

Now before you get all excited for me and envision my running off with a New Orleans musician, you should know that George is 70 and has been happily married to his wife, Dorothy for 45 years. I know, I know it was too good to be true. However, George plays in a jazz band that is on the lineup for the Economy Jazz Tent the same day as The Meters reunion and he has passes for us. We just have to drive into the festival with him as are the rules (or so I'm told). So we are rendezvousing on Mystery Street in two days.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was born in 1970 as a way to celebrate the unique musical culture of New Orleans and Louisiana. The first festival drew a crowd of about 400 people but would grow in popularity to attract hundreds of thousands by the late 1980s and early 1990s. In addition to the Louisiana musicians prominently featured on the multiple stages, international artists from around the world make up many of the main stage acts. Marilee's been going since she was a baby; there's a photo of her as an infant sleeping in her mother's arms as her mom sways to the whatever she was listening to. That photo is the reason she and I became friends in college.

The morning of our day at Jazz Fest dawned beautifully. I was up early despite a late night, drinking coffee on Marliee's porch with her cat, Tchoupsy, watching people walk through her neighborhood to the Fair Grounds. They would have to wait in the long line. I would not. Jazz Fest, like any music festival, has a packed, multi-stage lineup each day. Marliee presented me with two options for enjoying our day: schedule ourselves within an inch of our musical lives or wander the Fair Grounds, stopping when we felt like it with the goal of ending up at Sprint/Sanyo stage for the 5:30 Meters show. I selected the latter option. Normally I'm a planner but planning seems wrong for this event. I want to experience a little bit of every type of music I could from gospel to jazz to Cajun to rock and whatever else the festival could offer me.

After a liberal application of sunscreen and a borrowed hat, we set off to our rendezvous on Mystery Street. Marilee lives about six blocks from the edge of the Fair Grounds so it wasn't a long walk. Mystery Street borders the Fair Grounds and is an incredibly unassuming street. There are some lovely shady oak trees on the corner and that is where we found George. He was standing in the shade near his Jeep. He seemed to know everyone or was possibly just very friendly. He saw us approach and started towards us. After introductions were made, we climbed into the car and ventured into the Fair Grounds. George plays the trumpet but since he has the largest car of any of his band members, he was also bringing two trombones, another trumpet, and a tuba in with him. I sat next to the tuba.

George spent the short drive into the festival catching up with Marliee on her family (he went to high school with her grandfather) and recommending a few bands we should check out during the day. We made sure to get the time for his set so we could at least stop by. And then we were in.

What I love about music festivals is the access to so many different types of music and performers in one place. Jazz Fest does not disappoint in this regard; you can't help but be drawn in by the sights and sounds of each area of the fairgrounds. There is so much to see and hear and experience once you make it past the gates and onto the fairgrounds. Stages are arranged around the loop of the racetrack for optimal ground seating. The food booths are easily accessible in two main locations with others sprinkled throughout. I could have stayed all day at the Fais Do-Do stage. There's something addicting about zydeco music; I don't know what it is but it just drew me in. Watching the dancers took me back to my family's living room and dancing around with my parents and siblings (before they got too cool). It's both old-fashioned and modern just like New Orleans.

We did as "planned" and wandered the fairgrounds. Marilee pointed out interesting things (of which there was an abundance), gave me directions to the cleanest bathrooms (back by where they do cooking demonstrations), and outlined her plan of attack for food. Marilee takes Jazz Fest food very seriously. She goes both weekends so as not to miss anything. This weekend the focus would be on crawfish: Monica, bread, pies, fried,etoufee, and boiled. Mango Freeze, iced tea, and beer were also on the list. It seemed excessive but Marilee assured me that it would be just fine; she has this down to a science. By the time we stopped for our first food break, I was starving. I could eat crawfish Monica every day for the rest of my life. I would weigh 700 pounds but I'd probably be very happy.

Time flies when you're having fun and eating your weight in crawfish dishes. Before I knew it, it was time to make our way to the Sprint/Sanyo Stage (what a name) to find a spot for The Meters. It wasn't too crowded yet and we were able to find a place with a good view of the stage. By 5:20 the crowd had grown and people were ready. Since I don't write concert reviews, I'll just say that it was an amazing set. I challenge anyone to sit still when this band plays.Once they got to "Welcome to New Orleans" I had made up my mind not to leave the fairgrounds. I figured I could just live here for the rest of the festival and possibly forever. Totally realistic life goal.

The Meters finished the set with another favorite of mine "Hey, Pocky Way." People danced themselves to the gates and exited to Mystery Street. Jazz Fest is one of those experiences that you have to actually experience. Words don't do it justice. I feel the same way about New Orleans. Do yourself a favor and get there and enjoy it for yourself.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Postcards from Detroit

In 1932, Mexican artist Diego Rivera was commissioned to create a series of murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts. The murals were commissioned by the museum director and Edsel Ford, the only son of Henry Ford and president of Ford Motor Company. The murals known as The Detroit Industry Murals, are comprised of 27 frescoes depicting a variety of images of the production of an automobile at the River Rouge Factory Complex. Although an avowed Marxist, Rivera had a fascination with the industrial complexes of capitalism. He was particularly interested in places like the River Rouge Factory where the entire process of producing a car took place. Detroit, at the height of the Depression and the automobile revolution, controlled everything that went into producing cars. A factory like the Rouge not only housed every part of production but also the railway system to ship supplies in and out and ultimately, ship finished cars to consumers.

I don't remember if it was in reading his autobiography, My Art, My Life, or in some other article about the murals but if I recall correctly, Rivera spent three months at the Rouge complex observing the factory and its workers and machinery. He also had the assistance of the factory's photographer in documenting the factory. He would use those photographs as part of his preparation for the murals. The murals were finished in record time; eight months working his assistants and himself to almost to death. At one point, his assistants protested the poor wages and working conditions much like their brethren protesting the working conditions in factories around the country (when they could find a job that was).

What's interesting about the murals is the depiction of multiple themes of industrialization and industry. The entire production of a car is depicted, including Ford's famous V8 engine and the line workers (check out the DIA's website for an amazing interactive online exhibit; my photos are a little sad). The workers seem one with the machines (very Marxist but also very capitalist at the same time). He also depicts images of chemical manufacturing, showing how this type of science can be used to both harm (images of poison gas) and to heal (images depicting the creation of vaccines). He also weaves in references to an Aztec goddess (important in Aztec creation mythology) and to figures Rivera called the "Four Races" that line the top of each of the walls. There's a tremendous amount of symbolism and meaning within the murals; I'm sure you can find other resources out there to explain them better than I can. The murals were given status as a National Historic Landmark in 2014.

During my recent vacation, I spent part of an afternoon at the DIA viewing the murals again and visiting some other works within the collection. I have fond childhood memories of the DIA, mostly because of the suits of armor that line the Great Hall that leads into Rivera Court where the murals live. I can't say that I really remember the murals from these childhood visits but I know that we walked through that area to get to other parts of the museum my dad was fond of; Medieval and Renaissance art. I've visited a few times as an adult and am always a bit awestruck standing in front of the murals. There's a lot to see and take in. My brother overheard a docent telling a little boy about Rivera's signature; it's teeny tiny compared to the size of the work. I had never noticed or even thought to look before. A nice little discovery on this visit.

Our stop at the museum came after an afternoon out and about in downtown Detroit with my aunt. She's my mother's younger sister and lives about a mile and a half from where they grew up in Southwest Detroit. In the late 80s when others were moving to the suburbs, she and her husband bought and restored a house in the Corktown neighborhood across from Tiger Stadium (sadly now gone but finally open as a park; we saw kids playing baseball there on this trip). I admire my aunt for lots of reasons but her dedication to Detroit is high on the list. She is a Detroiter; she has the kind of attachment and sense of place about her that I only wish to have. She supports Detroit and fights for it and defends it and criticizes it passionately. She doesn't sugarcoat Detroit; that would be naive and naive is not a word I would ever use to describe my aunt. Every time I've come to Detroit alone or with my brother as an adult, she makes sure to take us around on a tour of what's changed and what's going on. I've never asked her but I think it's her way of anchoring us to our true home. She made a comment about Detroit being our "home" on this trip and in some ways, she's right.

Detroit has been undergoing a fairly radical revitalization in the last few years. It seems that everyone has an interest in Detroit these days from the billionaires to the hipsters to the bougie wannabes looking for the next "It" place. Some great things have come out of this; I'm not going to pretend that seeing new buildings and restoration of historic landmarks and homes and of regular old homes and buildings isn't a great thing. However, and I think my aunt would agree, there's a fine line between revitalization and gentrification. I think certain pockets of Detroit are precariously skating that line. Detroit feels a bit schizophrenic or maybe like it's having an identity crisis.

Which brings me back to Diego Rivera and the murals. As I looked at the murals on this visit to the DIA, I got to thinking: what would Rivera paint today? How would he define Detroit industry right now? Would it be the intricate work of the watchmakers at Shinola or maybe the purveyors of Detroit Denim? Or maybe it is Dan Gilbert and his Quicken Loans empire? What about the breweries and distilleries around town? Could it be the sports complexes downtown or maybe the casinos that have taken over Greektown? Maybe it wouldn't be any of these things; maybe Rivera would be a graffiti artist or work in found objects or something else terribly urban and modern. I don't have an answer to this question but I've been thinking about it since Saturday. What is industry anymore?

I'm going to guess that it's not going to be the random beach that's taken over part of Campus Martius Park. Apparently this has been a summer thing since 2013 but this is the first time I've ever heard of it or seen it. It's a beach as brought to you by Ikea. Keep in mind that the Detroit River is not that far away but there is no water here. Just the sandy part of the beach and a grill and tables to enjoy the sun. It seems pretty popular and I guess if I worked downtown something like the beach might be a nice distraction. Not the stuff of murals but an oasis in an urban landscape.

My aunt, brother, and I embrace our Polish roots.

A Rock N Rye slurpee - delicious although we were on the hunt for the Vernor's slurpee but no luck.