Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Old Lady Concert Rules: This entire city is that guy

There is a startling epidemic in the city of Memphis. No, I'm not talking about crime or gentrification or drugs. No, I'm talking about something completely frivolous: it's a city of people being that guy.

If you didn't grow up on a steady diet of 90s era comedies like me, let me refresh your memory on what "being that guy" means. In the 1994 campus comedy PCU, Jeremy Piven's Droz leads a group of weirdos from "the Pit" in a crusade against a massive wave of political correctness on campus. In one scene, he stops Gutter (Jon Favreau) as Gutter is leaving to catch his ride to a concert. Gutter is wearing the shirt of the band he's going to see. Droz stops Gutter and tells him he needs to change because you can't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy.

Other than the fact that PCU was probably the last time anyone truly enjoyed Jeremy Piven, it has the distinction of inspiring my first Old Lady Concert Rule: don't wear the shirt of the band you're going to see. Don't be that guy. Over the years, I've added more rules to this list and the shirt rule is now number two on the actual list I created. I get it; you go to a show, buy a shirt, and then you go to see the band again, and you think, "I'll wear the shirt I bought last time this time and I'll be awesome. Everyone will know I've seen them before and I'll be super cool. It's going to be epic!" Concert shirts used to be the way to identify your people; people who share a love of the same band or musician you love. That is not how the world works anymore. I can buy literally any band/concert shirt I want on the internet. It'll be delivered to my home in a few days or immediately with a drone if I give Jeff Bezos my first born. This takes a little fun out of the community of concert goers. I don't know if I'm talking to someone who actually likes AC/DC or someone who bought a cool shirt at Urban Outfitters. The internet ruins so many things.

We were in Memphis to see the Foo Fighters show. Graceland was an added bonus because we were there and it felt wrong to go all the way to Memphis and not visit the King. Also, I'm a huge Elvis fan so it would actually be a violation of some fan rule somewhere (probably). Anyway, the day of the Foo Fighters show, we decided to see the Peabody ducks, walk around Beale Street, day drink, and tour the Memphis Rock 'N' Soul Museum and Memphis Music Hall of Fame.

Please enjoy this video of the Peabody ducks:

We saw the first guy (and girl) at the Peabody. We were having breakfast before the ducks came down and this couple was at the table next to us. They were both wearing Foo Fighters shirts. Then we saw a few more people at the duck ceremony, one of whom was carrying a Foo Fighters record. I guess he wanted to bring it to the show? Maybe he had tickets for a meet and greet; I don't know. It seemed odd. It didn't stop with the people at the Peabody; we saw Foo Fighters shirts all day, from wandering down Beale Street to day drinking to having dinner. We reached peak "being that guy" experience as we sat outside the FedEx Forum waiting to go in. Everywhere we looked, there were people being that guy. In some cases, there were entire families in matching shirts being that guy together.

My brother and I made jokes about this all day and discussed whether there were sub-rules for the "being that guy rule." Here are some possible sub-rules we came up with:
  • When in a group or couple, don't wear the same shirt of the band you're going to see. If you're going to be that guy, at least be unique.
  • If the shirt is more than 10 years old, you may wear the shirt to the show if you actually went to the original show 10 years ago or you inherited said shirt from your parents. I'm calling this "the Tim Rule" in honor of my friend Tim who deserves to wear the shirts he has collected over the years. He is an excellent rock and roll citizen.
  • Teach your children not to be that guy. If you're going to be the cool parents who take their kids to shows and are lucky enough to have kids who like the same music you do, make sure they end up as good rock and roll citizens. They don't need to be that guy.
I know some of you are saying, "Geez, Erin, I thought you liked the fact that music brings together a community of people. You're always saying that. Maybe you should acknowledge the shirts as a way to do that. Also, why are you being so un-fun?" Yes, I am always saying that and I do love this about music. It's one of the things I love most about music, generally speaking. I love finding people who enjoy the same bands and musicians I do and listening to music with them. I love arguing with people about music. But I have never walked up to a person wearing a Foo Fighters shirt and just started chatting with them. That's not my style and given our less than civil society, they'd probably be uncomfortable with a stranger randomly talking to them. People are weird that way. That's why this is an old lady concert rule; un-fun is okay in the world of old lady concert rules.

It's also very possible I negated the t-shirt rule anyway since I stood for almost the entire Foo Fighters show. Granted, we were in the last row of our section and the box seating was directly behind us so no one was going to miss out if we stood. That's the kind of show you get when you go to a Foo Fighters show; it's the sort of show that makes you want to stand and dance and sing along. It's three hours of rock and roll awesomeness. I can't think of another band that exemplifies rock and roll citizenship like the Foo Fighters. And yes, they did play the "Imagine/Jump" mashup. It was the perfect way to end a day of wandering around music history.

Did I mention the goat? We had time to kill between museums and the concert so we decided to visit a bar called Silky O'Sullivans. It's a bar on Beale Street known for its BBQ, New Orleans-y vibe (the owner was king in five different Mardi Gras krewes in the 80s and 90s), and beer guzzling goats. Apparently, the goats used to dive off the goat tower (one of only four in the world) and would drink beer so they were also drunk goats. According to our waiter, the goats went to rehab and are now sober (PETA complained). You can feed them crackers and watch them wander around their pen and walk to the top of the tower. We didn't feed them, but we did watch them as we listened to a local band and day drank. I highly recommend the Pink Cadillac and friend pickles. It might sound like a weird combination, but it's delicious.

We had dinner at Dyer's Burgers - the secret is in the 100 year old grease they use to cook the burger. They were damn good.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Misfit Toys Road Trip: Thank you. Thank you very much.

What does one wear to Graceland? I probably thought about this more than a lot of other trip planning items. Elvis loved fashion and I didn't want to disappoint. Should I go full on retro and dress like an extra from one of Elvis's movies? Should I go full on Priscilla - lots of belted waistlines and elegant dresses? Or should I go straight up American tourist: jeans, t-shirt, obscenely large bag, possibly a hat? Let's say I landed somewhere in the middle of all of these ideas, vintage-y capris, basic tee, Converse sneakers, no hat, and a moderately sized bag. Yes, I'm aware no one cares, but I care and that's what matters most. Visiting the home of musical royalty is nothing to take lightly.

Seriously, ask the millions of people who have visited Graceland since it opened to the public as a museum and shrine to Elvis in 1982. They come from far and wide to see the home of one of the most beloved musicians in history. Graceland welcomed its 20 millionth visitor in 2016 and expanded to include an entire entertainment complex across the street from the mansion property. I have wanted to visit Graceland since I started listening to Elvis when I was around 10 years old. I have loved Elvis from the very moment I heard my first song. Elvis was a good transition from the boy bands I was into at the time to real deal rock and roll bands I love now. Elvis didn't invent rock and roll, but you're crazy if you don't understand or acknowledge his role in creating the genre. My favorite album of his will always be Aloha from Hawaii; I've watched the special at least a dozen times. My favorite songs include "That's Alright" (his first single on the Sun label), " Can't Help Falling in Love", "Suspicious Minds", "Blue Hawaii", "Fever", "Kentucky Rain", and "Little Sister." I could listen to Elvis records all day and never, ever be bored. 

When my brother and I decided to drive to Memphis to go to a Foo Fighters concert, we agreed to add Graceland to the itinerary. My brother is a great human being and understands my love of Elvis. For an early birthday present, he booked us on a VIP tour and included the planes because now you can tour Elvis's planes. Have you really visited Graceland if you skip the planes? 

Presley purchased Graceland for his parents, Gladys and Vernon, in 1957. They were looking for a larger home and Gladys found Graceland (the name is original to the house), just outside of Memphis. It underwent extensive renovations before the family moved in. Gladys, Elvis's beloved mother, would only get to live in the house for a short time before her death. Elvis and his mother were close; ultimately, the house was a gift for her. He wanted to provide for her and take care of her as she had taken care of him all his life. Graceland is not an ostentatious house from the outside; it's a pretty ranch style house with sprawling land. It's not until you go inside that you really get a sense of the grandeur and extravagance that Elvis brought into the house. 

Elvis grew up poor in Tupelo, MS. His family lived in shotgun shacks and boarding houses most of his life. I'm not surprised by the over-the-top nature of the house given his upbringing and how much he wanted to take care of his family. According to the narrated tour (John Stamos, by the way), Elvis thought of Graceland as his oasis, where he could be with his family, relax, and work all in the same place. He liked to decorate and enjoyed changing up the furniture and the style of the house. You can joke about Elvis all you want, but as far as I'm concerned, he was allowed his Jungle Room, weird monkey statues, gold-plated everything, and sequin covered pillows. The man earned it.

Our adventure at Graceland started with a VIP tour bus from the entertainment complex, Elvis Presley's Memphis, to the mansion. We were the only people in the 10:30 am tour so we had a private bus and viewing of the introduction video; Scott and I know how to roll. We were given tablets with headsets, allowing the dulcet tones of John Stamos to wash over us and lead us through the house. The first room is the living room, complete with peacock stained glass, portraits, and a white sofa that I can only imagine was a bitch to keep clean. One of the many pianos on the property can be seen through the living room in the music room. It's gorgeous. 

From the living room, the tour continues to his parents' room, complete with custom poodle wallpaper, the dining room, and the kitchen. The kitchen was 1970s panel gloriousness, dark and smaller than I thought. A large portion of the house is dark, with paneling and elaborate ceilings that made it feel a little more closed in than I expected. Elvis was a tall man and I have to wonder if he ever felt too tall for parts of the house.

Downstairs includes a mirrored staircase, the billiard room, and a tv room that featuring a wall of televisions and the first of the questionable monkey statues that appear in the house. The monkey is a little creepy; Elvis did have a pet monkey, but this statue is not a pet. It reminded me of something that would come to life in a horror movie and try to steal my soul. See for yourself:

The path out of the billiard room brings visitors back upstairs directly into the Jungle Room, probably the most famous room on display at Graceland. Eventually the Jungle Room would be converted into a studio. Elvis recorded his last two studio albums in this room. It's another dark paneled room, with Tiki statues, more weird monkey statues, and furniture that doesn't look comfortable, but apparently was (thanks, John Stamos). 

The rest of the property includes the stables, Vernon's office, and the Trophy Room, which now houses a display about the family, the house, and various furniture and pieces of fan art sent over the years. The only commissioned portrait of Elvis is also here and it is extraordinary. The last part of the tour includes the racquet ball court and another music room. It happens to be the last place where Elvis played music before he died. After viewing this room, the outside path leads to the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are all interred. A small memorial for his twin brother is also here; he's buried in Tupelo. It's a quiet space where fans can pay their final respects to the King. Elvis's tombstone includes script written by his father and is a lovely tribute. You can tell how much love there was in this family.

After leaving the mansion, we were bused back to the entertainment complex where we continued our almost five-hour experience at Graceland. From the mansion, we toured the car museum, saw exhibits on Elvis's time in the Army, his birthplace in Tupelo, and smaller exhibits on Sun Records, Elvis in the movies, and the archives. There's also a large exhibit on Elvis's clothing. It's amazing the sheer volume of stuff that exists in this place and I'm sure what's on display is a fraction of what actually exists. My parents' basement is tame comparatively speaking.

In addition to being overwhelmed by the amount of information and things to look at, I kept thinking about Elvis's legacy. If you consider yourself a rock and roll fan like I am, you can't ignore Elvis. He created a sound that influenced every rock musician that came after him. As we drove to and from Memphis, we listened to Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, and Big Star. Elvis is a presence in each song, as are the other early rock musicians like Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Ike Turner, and so many more. I could hear it as I listened to the Foo Fighters too. I'm always surprised when people tell me they don't like Elvis, but they like rock music. As far as I'm concerned, you can't like rock music without Elvis. He was a great guitar player, which people often forget, and a gifted performer. He held an audience like no other musician. Watch the 1968 television special or Aloha from Hawaii to see what I'm talking about (or watch the documentary, The Searcher, currently airing on HBO). Dude could wear a jumpsuit like nobody else. And fans love him; it doesn't matter that he died in 1977. People will visit Graceland forever, or at least as long as rock and roll exists. They want to experience a little bit more of the music they love and the musician who created what they love. That's what Graceland is.

Some observations and recommendations for visiting Graceland:

  • Elvis went through caftan phase at some point. Eventually, we all go through a caftan phase. I'm planning mine for when I'm in my mid-80s, but it could happen at any time.
  • John Stamos is the perfect narrator for the mansion tour. I'm trying to figure out what else he should narrate. I'm sure I'll think of something.
  • The jumpsuit - iconic, controversial, versatile. There is a section of the larger fashion exhibit that I can only assume is "the Jumpsuit Room." There are so many and they're all amazing. There's even one with unicorns. 
  • I don't think I realized how tall Elvis was. Only a tall man could rock a jumpsuit as the King did.
  • The planes were sort of a let down. I feel bad saying this because I made a big deal out of the planes. The furniture is covered in plastic and it smells like an attic, so it's basically like going to visit someone's grandparents' house. The only thing missing was a dish of hard candies.  
  • The only way to enjoy a grilled banana and peanut butter sandwich is with bacon grease. What's most enjoyable about this sandwich is that the peanut butter didn't get melty like it does when I toast bread for my PB&Js. It's like the bananas form a glue to keep the peanut butter in it's creamy, delicious format. 
  • The cars and motorcycles - this was my second favorite part of the extended tour after the Jumpsuit Room. If you love cars, it's a must. I spent a good portion of Thursday afternoon day drinking Pink Cadillacs so seeing Elvis's actual pink Cadillac was pretty awesome. Don't skip the cars.
  • Schedule your tour for earlier in the day so you have enough time to see everything. We started our tour around 10:30 am and left around 3:30 pm. We still had time to enjoy Beale Street, eat dinner, and hang out in a haunted dive bar to end our day. 
  • Elvis's motto was "taking care of business" and TCB is everywhere at Graceland. I bought a travel coffee mug with this on it and have decided to live my life with this in mind. 
  • Go to Marlowe's for BBQ. We stumbled upon this place the night we got into town. It's not too far from Graceland (we were staying out that way) and was one of the only places still open when we arrived. They have pink limos that double as shuttles between Graceland and the restaurant. According to our absolutely delightful waitress, the limos were originally used to deliver takeout to Graceland and became a thing. They've stuck (the place opened in 1974) and now there are seven limos. The restaurant is Elvis themed; we watched the end of G.I. Blues while we ate and enjoyed a beer from Ghost River Brewing Co.  

Later this week: A bonus Memphis post about rock and roll, the blues, the Foo Fighters, and a Duck Master.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Lazy Movie Weekend: The Potato of Injustice

 "Friends, there comes a time in every man's life when he has to look the potato of injustice right in the eye. There's a powerful evil force in the universe that lives at Channel 8 and I've seen it. And I don't want to go pop its ugly greasy head around here. Do you?"
-Stanley Spadowski, UHF

Fighting the man is exhausting. No matter where you are in your activist/"Damn the Man, Save the Empire" journey, I'm sure you can appreciate this statement. There was a time when we could gather our rag-tag group of friends or loosely connected compatriots, turn on our moxie and can-do attitudes, and save whatever needed saving. We didn't need to be superheroes, gods of thunder, or really, really attractive people who are also assassins in order to make this happen. (No, I haven't seen Avengers: Infinity War yet. I'm seeing it on Tuesday. Don't ruin things for me.) Back in that magical time before our movies involved multiple heroes named Chris, we could throw in some break dancing or maybe get Demi Moore to sing awkwardly in a dive bar to save what needed saving. I miss these times and today, I'm here to bring these moments back to you.

Since we haven't had a movie marathon in a while, I thought we'd kick off spring (it's spring, right?) with a marathon. Grab your favorite spatula, some day-glo crop tops, and as much wine as you need to sustain yourself through "The Potato of Injustice" Movie Marathon. Thanks to everyone on Facebook who suggested movies for this marathon. Alas, they were not all selected. Sometimes the potato of injustice limits the choices we have. Enjoy!
  • UHF (1989): If you've not seen this classic Weird Al movie, stop what you're doing right now and watch it. Not only is UHF the reason we know about the potato of injustice, it also gives us the genius that is Spatula City, Fran Drescher pre-The Nanny, and Victoria Jackson before she got all hateful. Weird Al stars as George Newman, an unemployed guy who takes over managing his uncle's UHF tv station. With the station, he inherits a weird tech guy (played by the guy famous for being Luke on General Hospital), a bunch of bizarro shows that make absolute sense in the world of this movie, and Stanley Spadowski, a janitor turned kids' show host. Of course, the station takes off and causes the local network station manager to try to ruin everything that is good and right with Channel 62. In the end, this band of zany folks band together to save the station in a plot that involves a telethon, a bookie, and a homeless guy who collects rare coins. Despite my aversion to Michael Richards, the "potato of injustice" monologue is one of my favorite movie moments of 1989. 
  • Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo (1984): I don't know about you, but I'm certain we can solve all the problems in the world with break dancing. I'm not sure what the rules would be to say, get the US back into the Paris Accords through the magic of break dance, but I'm pretty sure it could be accomplished. In Breakin' 2, we rejoin Kelly, Ozone, and Turbo on their quest to bring break dancing and joy to everyone they meet while wearing crop tops, ridiculously large pants, and questionable hats. Kelly has returned to LA and her dancing partners as they struggle to keep a community center from being bulldozed and turned into a mall. We get to witness a break dance fight (it's amazing), Kelly's very wealthy, very white parents becoming her biggest break dance fans, an unnecessary scene involving dancing on the ceiling, and so much friendship. One of my favorite things about this movie is Ice-T, making a fashion statement with his S&M inspired club wear. There is so much neon in the finale sequence of this movie, I'm pretty certain the evil developer would have given in eventually just to get a break from all the neon green. Fun fact: the singer Martika, of "Toy Soldier" fame, is a dancer in this movie. 
  • The Goonies (1985): What's not to love about The Goonies? A Corey, a young Josh Brolin and Sean Astin, a delightful Martha Plimpton, pirates, Sloth, and buried treasure - this movie has everything. "The Goonies" are facing foreclosure on their homes so they set off to find the lost treasure of a pirate named One-Eyed Willy, hoping to use the treasure to save their homes. Along the way they tangle with the rich kids, developers, and a criminal family headed by Mama Fratelli, played by Anne Ramsey. We learn how to do the Truffle Shuffle and are treated to a theme song by Cyndia Lauper (the video features 80s era wrestlers and the cast of the movie). In the end, the Goonies save the day and One-Eyed Willy gets to set sail once again.
  • Empire Records (1995): This is one of my favorite movies of all time. I watch it at least once a year on or about April 8 in honor of Rex Manning Day. When an employee, Lucas, finds out that the owner of Empire Records is about to sell it to Music Town, he does what any loyal employee would do: he takes the day's money, goes to Atlantic City, and tries to double the money so he can save Empire. Things do not go as Lucas plans. The rest of the movie follows the store employees through a day of shop lifters, fake funerals, Rex Manning and his terrible hair, love, revealing uniforms, a rooftop concert, and other antics. Not only do the helpful staff at Empire stick it to Mitchell (the man), they also rid the store of Rex Manning and help us all appreciate the musical genius of The The.
  • Big Night (1996): This may not seem like it belongs on this list, but hear me out. The movie takes place in the 1950s on the Jersey Shore. Two Italian brothers, Primo and Secondo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci), are trying to make a success of their failing restaurant. Despite Primo's amazing cooking, the brothers aren't realizing the American dream. Another restaurant owner, Pascal, promises to bring Louis Prima to their restaurant for a very special dinner rather than giving Secondo a loan. The brothers, along with their waiter (played by an almost silent Marc Anthony), their friends, and Secondo's girlfriend, Phyllis, put together a night no one will forget. Did I mention Secondo is sleeping with Pascal's wife? Does Louis Prima show up? I can't tell you that. Do you want to eat all the pasta ever and wish we all still dressed like this? Absolutely. Are Primo and Secondo the underdogs who prove they're better than Pascal will ever be? Pretty much. 
  • One Crazy Summer (1986): I will never, ever get over my love of John Cusack. Not only was he adorable in his earliest movies like this gem from his collaboration with Savage Steve Holland, he aged into the greatest assassin who attends his high school reunion we could ever want. In One Crazy Summer, Cusack plays Hoops, a lovable loser who spends a summer in Nantucket with his lovable loser friends. They meet Cassandra, played by Demi Moore, a down on her luck singer, on her way to take care of family on the island. Cassandra's grandfather dies and his house is taken over by the island's wealthiest family, the Beckersteads. Hoops joins forces with the Stork twins (Bobcat Goldthwait is one of the twins), Ack-Ack (Curtis Armstrong), and his buddy George and George's sister, to save the house. Their plan involves Cassandra singing in a dive bar and a regatta, even though Hoops doesn't like boats. This movie is the very definition of rag-tag band of losers with a can-do attitude winning the day. Come for John Cusack. Stay for literally everything else that happens in this movie. 
  • The Legend of Billie Jean (1985): At the heart of this movie is the idea that adults don't listen to teenagers. When Billie Jean and her brother report bullying and vandalism, the local sheriff dismisses them, telling the teens to just wait it out. Of course, things escalate quickly after Billie Jean is threatened and her brother shots and injures the man who threatened her. They go on the run, and Billie Jean becomes a folk hero after demanding justice for herself and her brother. Not only is Helen Slater's haircut iconic, but the movie featured the theme song "Invincible" by Pat Benatar. If you don't want to be Helen Slater at the end of this movie, I can't help you. 
  • Sing (1989): This is one of those odd movies that I used to watch all the time when I was younger. It's not particularly good, but it's not really bad either. Our heroine, Hannah, is trying to finish her senior year of high school in her Brooklyn neighborhood. The neighborhood is in decline and Hannah's family is struggling to keep their diner open. The annual SING! competition is the only thing keeping anyone's spirits up. It helps that Patti LaBelle is one of the teachers. Anyway, bad boy Dominic tangles with Hannah and new teacher Miss Lomardo (Lorraine Bracco) before landing the lead role in the senior's SING! contribution. The school district decides to shut down the school and cancel the competition. Of course, that can't happen and everyone bands together to make the final SING! show happen. If the final song doesn't get you, Hannah's speech will.
Remember, the potato of injustice takes many forms. Hopefully, these movies show you how to look the potato of injustice in the eye and tell it you're not going to take it anymore. Damn the Man! Save the Empire!

Next weekend: It's the Misfit Toys Road Trip 2018! I'm heading to Memphis to see the Foo Fighters, visit Graceland, and see if I can find any Big Star sights along the way.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

RSD 2018: Be strategic and send in the raccoon*

I missed Record Store Day (RSD) 2017. Last year was the 10th anniversary of the annual celebration of independent record stores around the world. RSD was conceived at The Soundgarden, one of the best record stores I've ever been to, and has helped to renew interest in collecting vinyl and supporting independent music stores. I try to visit record stores throughout the year, so RSD is more of a fun day spent browsing in record stores I don't typically visit and finding records I "need" for my collection. Yes, I'll pick up an RSD special release every now and then, but it's not a tragedy if I don't find a special release or don't buy any at all. Usually, it's the non-RSD finds that are much more interesting.

This year marks the first time I didn't actively plan RSD shenanigans. My RSD buddy, Anita, took over the planning. Her plan took us to the wilds of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties and included three never before visited record stores, DIG Records (Leesburg), Right On Records (Herndon), and Vienna Music Exchange (Vienna). We ended up going  to a fourth store, Record & Tape Exchange (Fairfax), a store both of us regularly visit. Four record stores in one afternoon is the most we've ever visited in one RSD. We also made a stop at Caffe Amouri, a great cafe in Vienna not too far from Vienna Music Exchange. Visiting Caffe Amouri made me wish I lived in Vienna so I could drink their excellent coffee everyday, but alas, I don't live in Vienna.

As has always been my experience, it was an absolutely beautiful day to spend indoors digging throough stacks of records. Like the cherry blossoms, RSD is a harbinger of spring. Once it happens, I know the weather will improve, my allergies will worsen, and I will start to long for summer concert season. We brought T-Rex Manning with us and I made embroidered record buttons. We were ready for shenanigans.

Since we started our day early (9:30), we added Record & Tape Exchange to the plan because it opens early on RSD although it can be a bit hit or miss from a selection perspective. I've never had great luck finding albums at RTX, but I still enjoy browsing. The staff is great and they usually play good music. I don't know if someone died recently and left all their records to RTX, but man, did they have the best stuff out in their used section. Most of the RSD releases were gone to the RSD faithful who get in line at midnight and wait, but I was able to get the Lou Reed release Animal Serenade, a live LP from a 2003 show. That, however, was not the most exciting thing I bought at RTX. Whoever died or recently brought records in really, really loved David Bowie, The Beatles, and Rod Stewart. The sheer volume felt like we were going through someone's collection and it was all awesome (even some of the more horrifying 70s-era Rod Stewart album covers). I could have spent all of my money (and I mean all of it) on Bowie albums alone. None of these were reissues; these were all from the 1970s and in excellent condition. I had a hard time deciding on which one I wanted. I ended up with Resurrection on 84th Street, a double album from his 1976 US tour. I'm listening to it as I write this. The strangest thing about this album is that the album labels are completely different from what you'd expect.

The label that issued the album, The Amazing Kornyfone Record Label (TAKRL) was one of the first bootlegging labels in the US. The artwork on the albums and the labels weren't always reflective of the album itself. They occasionally used fake Sex Pistols labels and a label for the song "Je T'aime" on albums from that period. I don't know what happened to the original owner of this album, but thank you for taking such good care of it so I can enjoy it now.

We finished up at RTX after finding a several fun 45s for Anita to take to her work event and deciding she should buy the Prince album and we'd share custody. Sharing custody of a record is a real thing. I know this because we were not the only people to mention doing so during our RSD adventure. This is what true friends are for.

Our second stop was Vienna Music Exchange, the only store of the day with a focused collection. It's a metal/punk/hardcore fan's dream...if they can fit in the room. The store is located near the Vienna Train Station and is in a building that was at one point a single family home. The rooms are now offices and small retail spaces. I imagine this was a bedroom at one time and now houses a huge collection of vinyl, CDs (new and used for both), and other random things that have made their way into this room. The guy who owns it reminds me a little of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons if he owned a small, niche-ish record store. While I would have liked to spend time searching through the bins, there was no room and too many people (five) to move comfortably. We decided it was worth a return visit on a weekday when it might not be crowded. We took a break at Caffe Amouri, which has excellent coffee and walls decorated with records. Anita and I do love a theme.

After coffee, we headed to Herndon to another small store, Right On Records. It happens to be across the street from where I get my haircut. I didn't even know it was there. Right On Records occupies a second floor space in an office building that reminds me of every 70s cop show I've ever watched when the detective is tracking down his (it's always a dude) informant and he traces the informant to a shady office building. We didn't find any shady dealings, just another great selection of used records. I found the one thing that I really wanted to find: R.E.M.'s Murmur. 

R.E.M. fans don't often part with their vinyl so finding this was a treat. It figures heavily in the college years chapters of my novel and having the actual album rather than a CD or digital version is exciting to me. The novel is based on my character's love of music. I admit that since I started writing it, I often think about how she's experience RSD. I look for albums she'd buy while researching an article or a new pilgrimage. Obviously, she and I share many musical loves since I created her and she is loosely based on me (very, very loosely). I'm in the research phase for the Athens chapter so listening to Murmur on repeat is going to be amazing. What I really enjoyed about Right On Records was the knowledgeable staff (maybe it was the owner?). He knew what he had in stock and it seemed like he listened to most of what came in before it went out to sell. He remembered people and made recommendations. Despite it's shady location, it's the kind of place I want to come back to and browse some more. I'll admit Right On Records had me the second I saw the framed Warriors soundtrack.

Our final stop of the day almost didn't happen. We drove from Herndon to Leesburg to visit DIG Records. What we didn't know was that yesterday was also the Leesburg Flower and Garden show so parking in downtown Leesburg was a challenge. We circled the block, deciding that if we couldn't find a spot after the next pass, we'd skip DIG and come back another day. As we turned the corner after not finding a spot to head out, we found street parking almost directly across the street from the record store. Clearly, we were meant to visit. Of the four stores, DIG is my favorite. It has a vibe that just feels right. I don't know how else to explain it other than to say I'd live there if that was allowed. It's on the small side too, crowded on a special event day, but not in a bad way. The selection was solid and there was a mix of new and used vinyl as well as vintage clothes and accessories. The owner (I'm guessing he was the owner), Kevin, was friendly and played the original Footloose soundtrack while we were there to "get everyone pumped." We were a tad disappointed he didn't let it get to the Bonnie Tyler song, but we fixed that by listening to it in the car. Anyway, I don't hang out in Leesburg ever, but I'd definitely come back to visit DIG.

Record stores create communities, like coffee shops and bars do with their regulars. That's pretty much the entire point of the movie Empire Records. People come together over their shared love of music. They might not like the same genres or musicians, but they can come together in one place and find something they enjoy. Or come together in one place and obsess and complain about music or music fans or whatever they want to obsess and complain about. I look forward to RSD every year, not just because I get to hang out in record stores all day, but because I get to hang out with my friends in record stores all day. We have the best time and the oddest conversations on RSD. I hated missing last year, but I had a good reason. I feel like I made up for this year. The only thing to do now is listen to my new records and start planning next year.

Get out there and support your local record stores!

*This has nothing whatsoever to do with RSD. As we were walking down the street to cross over to DIG Records, we overheard a couple and this was the part of the conversation we heard. I don't what it means. I don't know if the racoon is an actual racoon or code for a person or object. I'm not really sure I care. It's going on a button.

Coming Soon: I finally write a Lazy Movie Weekend about those pesky kids who save the community center with can-do attitudes and break dancing, the Misfit Toys Road Trip 2018 takes us to Memphis, and I decide to embroider all the things. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

A Cottage by the Sea: Epilogue

I recently finished a book called The Little Cafe in Copenhagen. It's one of the countless rom-com/chick lit books I read while at the gym. I like to rotate between these books, mysteries involving a baker who solves crime with the help of a meddling ghost, and memoirs by former cult members. Sometimes I throw in a biography or historical novel for giggles. Anyway, this particular novel was about a young woman responsible for taking a group of British journalists to Copenhagen to learn about the art of hygge. It's all part of a campaign she's working on, promoting a Danish department store opening in London. The owner believes this group of journalists would benefit from experiencing hygge in person. Along the way, our heroine learns about herself, what she really wants to do with her life, the true meaning of hygge, and of course, she falls in love. It's a very typical example of one of these books with some Danish culture thrown in for good measure. Reading the book made me want to buy some cozy sweaters and drink copious amounts of tea. Oh, and make cinnamon rolls everyday. Imagine what my house would smell like if I made cinnamon rolls everyday.

What I also realized upon completing this book was that it's been a full year, almost to the day, since I declared myself your resident chick-lit heroine in my series A Cottage by the Sea. You can read the original posts here (scroll to the end to start with the first entry). Yes, I celebrated Rex Manning Day as I always do with a viewing of Empire Records, but I was also devastated with the reality of being laid off, dealing with my aunt's death, and generally feeling awful. I felt unmoored, not quite prepared for a job search (although I recovered on this one pretty quickly) and certainly not prepared to be so fucking angry and defeated at the same time. Like a crappy boyfriend or a terrible friend, a toxic work environment eventually gets the best of you and you may not even realize it until you're no longer part of it. That's where I was and it wasn't pretty.

If I think about it now, I was lucky. I found a job relatively quickly (two months) and have an awesome group of friends and a super supportive family who were all there through this. I've been in my new job for about ten months now. This past week, I hosted the "graduation" event for the leadership development program I was hired to manage. Despite a recurring dream about not inviting the CEO to the event (I did, he attended and thoroughly enjoyed the event), it went smoothly. The presentations were successful and the participants seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience despite it being intense and a lot of work. It was satisfying to see the conclusion of something I've worked so hard on go well. Honestly, it's helped me feel more like me. It made me feel more accomplished and capable, something that I wasn't feeling a year ago.

Has it been easy? Absolutely not. It's hard to start a new job. Yes, it's exciting and new, but it's also terrifying and uncomfortable. In my experience, not just with this job, everyone wants to focus on the excitement and the fact that something new is starting. You have to be grateful that you even have a job. These are all true things, but they're also 100% devoid of reality. It's exciting, yes, but it's also stressful and scary. First, there's the new job stuff: learning new responsibilities, new technology, new processes. Then you have to build relationships with team members and other co-workers. Add to all of this navigating the hierarchy of an organization and the politics, which you probably have to figure out on your own, even if your manager is well-meaning and helpful. Everyday is a mix of being vulnerable and confident, making mistakes and being awesome. It's exhausting. Exciting, sure, but exhausting.

Like any chick-lit heroine worth her own series, I've spent the last year thinking a lot about what I want in my life. That's what always happens in these books; the heroine rethinks her life plans, her ambitions, her views on love and family. This year has led me back to my novel (finally wrote a new chapter and have at least two more in progress). I started my creative practice again, mostly with my embroidery projects. I've embraced learning new things, like my upcoming drum lessons and learning to make croissants from scratch. I have a new big goal, which I'm not ready to discuss yet, but it's been forming this last year and I'm excited about making it a reality. It's taken a year, but I finally feel like me again.

Coming soon to the Island: a new Lazy Movie Weekend involving the potato of injustice, I finally make croissants from scratch, and we celebrate Record Store Day 2018! It's going to be an exciting April!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

This is probably a dad joke

I bought my dad an egg separator.

This is not a revolutionary gift by any means. Like many things related to my family, it has a back story: For as long as I can remember, there has been a yellow, plastic egg separator in my parents' kitchen. It may have been Tupperware, but I'm not entirely sure about that. We had a lot of Tupperware when I was a kid (as did any suburban family in the mid-late 1980s). It was the egg separator of every Sunday breakfast and of countless Christmas cookie baking days. This model was great because it would rest across the edge of the prep bowls perfectly, making egg separating a snap. It survived at least seven moves, including a move back and forth from Hawaii. One day, about two years ago, the yellow egg separator disappeared. No one seems to know what happened to it. I suspect it was accidentally thrown away. This is the only explanation that makes sense. 

Now my father has not gone two years without an egg separator. A replacement separator was purchased, but it is not the right egg separator. It's a metal, wire version. It's not the same. I admit, some of my feelings about the yellow egg separator are wrapped in the constant wave of nostalgia I've been riding since we began cleaning out my parents' basement. I'm both incredibly sentimental about the things we unearth, which have been hiding in the basement for at least a decade, but I'm also the first one to say "throw it away." Some things, like the wooden salad bowl we used forever, needed to go, but the egg separator was being used and felt necessary. The new separator is totally fine; my dad's egg prep is still on point (he makes the best fried eggs), but he doesn't like the new separator. It doesn't work as well and it doesn't fit over the little prep bowl he uses when he makes eggs. Little things like this shouldn't be so complicated or annoying. Since the yellow separator went missing, anytime I'm out and about and come across kitchen utensils, I always looks at the egg separators, hoping to find something similar to the one we lost. I usually strike out. Until last weekend.

After our morning at Crumbs & Whiskers, Anita and I made our way back to Virginia and ventured to a random store called Hollin Hall Variety Store off Fort Hunt Road in Alexandria. Walking into this store is like walking into an old-store general store, complete with a penny candy aisle and weird knickknacks that would make anyone who likes awkwardly adorable knickknacks incredibly happy. It's the kind of place where you can buy fabric off the bolt, ant killer, and puzzles all at the same time. Before there were dollar stores, there were variety stores. As I wandered down each aisle, because it's a requirement to walk down every aisle in a store like this, I considered buying completely unnecessary items like buttons I'll never sew on anything, cookie cutters, a dinosaur hobby horse, and Nordic Ware bundt pans. I came upon a display of kitchen utensils that made the baker in me sigh given the sheer volume of possibility. Among the utensils, I found the egg separator. It's not an exact match to the lost one, but it's pretty close. I texted the photo to my brother and asked him to ask dad if he wanted it. Even if he had said no, I would have purchased the egg separator. He did not say no. He's getting an egg separator for Easter. That's a dad joke waiting to happen.

This isn't so much about the egg separator, but about the idea of finding the egg separator. This is exactly the kind of thing my dad does. Things get mentioned to him, even in passing, and they eventually appear. Sometimes he's legitimately not listening, but most of the time he's listening just enough to make it matter. A few Christmases ago, he asked me what I wanted and I, being the smart ass I am, said a unicorn. Well, he bought me a unicorn pendant. It's one of the few pieces of jewelry I wear regularly. That's the kind of human my dad is. What this episode has made clear to me is that I'm turning into my dad in small ways. Mention something random to me and I will find it for you. It might take me years to accomplish, but one day I'll be wandering the aisles at a time warp variety store and whatever you wanted will magically appear. You might not need or want the item anymore, but I'm still going to buy it for you.

What will be next on the road to becoming my parents?

Want something more Easter-y for your weekend reading? Check out my short story series "House of Peeps" - who knew Peeps could be so dangerous? The original story can be found here. The sequel, "Return of the Peeps" can be found here and here

Saturday, March 24, 2018

DC Days: La Vie D'Un Chat

When I graduated from high school, my parents bought us tickets to see RENT on Broadway. This was 1997 so most of the original cast was still with the show and I was over the moon (see what I did there?) to see the show after listening to the soundtrack obsessively for months. It was also the first time I went to New York. We saw all the sites and a bonus show, Miss Saigon. If you're not familiar with RENT, shame on you. Get yourself together and listen to the original cast recording, catch a production somewhere out in the world, or if you must, watch the film version. It's not terrible; most of the original cast is in the film too, but it's not the same as the seeing it on stage. There's a song at the end of Act One called "La Vie Boheme." RENT is a modern retelling of the opera La Boheme, set in the East Village in the late 1980s. The characters embody New York bohemia as only a musical can depict. The song comes at the end of a fast paced first act; the group is gathered at the Life Cafe and sing about love, art, sex, life, and freedom. If you aren't dancing along by the end of this song, we probably shouldn't be friends. You can watch the scene from the film version here.

I can't help but think of "La Vie Boheme" and the Life Cafe as I visit my first cat cafe. For some reason, every time I picture what this experience is going to be like, the image of the cast of RENT singing "La Vie Boheme" pops into my head except the entire cast has been replaced by bohemian cats. The song is now about the awesomeness of these cats living their best cat lives at the cat cafe. In this vision, the human staff clean up at the end of the day and leave the cats to their evening of doing cat things. The second the last human leaves, the Collins or Angel of the group snaps on the footlights (because this is a musical so there would be footlights) and the cat cafe version of "La Vie Boheme" begins. Eventually, the cats get distracted because they're cats and by the time the humans return the next day, the show has ended and the cats are ready to hang out with human visitors all day and nap. This is really why cats sleep 18 hours a day; they're performing musicals at night.

I am aware this is not how cat cafes work, but it is how my brain works so you have to just go with it. As I've begun the process of thinking about adopting a new cat, the cat cafe is a step towards finding a new cat buddy. Cat cafes are new to the US, having started in Taiwan in the late 1990s, but really taking off in the early 2000s in Japan. The cats are all rescues and can be adopted (Homeward Trails is the adoption partner for the cafe I went to). The cafe I visited, Crumbs & Whiskers, has saved over 1200 cats from euthanasia between its two locations and almost 600 cats have been adopted (between the L.A. and Georgetown locations). For a small fee (which goes to taking care of the cats), I get 70 minutes of cat cuddling time. There's coffee and snacks and cats. What could be better?

Crumbs & Whiskers is the only place I've ever been that is 100% designed to be photographed for Instagram. There are comfy couches, so many throw pillows, and adorable papasan chairs ready for a cat or two to take a nap. There are also window perches, baskets beds, and so many toys. The staff is super friendly and refer to the cafe as a giant foster home for cats. That's exactly what it is. For cats that have been rescued, the socialization process can be long and painful. In some shelters, it's why a cat isn't adopted. Fostering, whether it's individuals or places like Crumbs & Whiskers, gives every cat a better chance of finding a forever home. Sure a cat cafe is a little bougie, but sometimes that's okay.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how I would react to going to a place like this. I haven't had a cat friend since August and I haven't actually been around a cat since Pumpkin died. I don't have many friends who have cats, at least not in the DC area, so I haven't been around a cat in almost eight months. Would I be overwhelmed by the number of furry friends lazying about the cafe? Would I be sad and spend the time in a funk? Would it be the greatest day of all time? I was a little nervous that none of the cats would like me and I was unnecessarily concerned about what to wear. Anita and I joked that I had my nails done earlier this week so I'd be Instagram ready. This is only partially a joke.

It was a little sad at first. There were several orange cats (all male as females are rare; Pumpkin was a true gem) and it was hard to see them napping and hanging around. After I got over my initial shock, it was easy to hang out and enjoy the experience. The staff at Crumbs & Whiskers are awesome; they're friendly and enthusiastic about what they do. Visitors aren't allowed to pick up the cats, but they can and they would bring cats over and share little stories about each animal. I'm sure it's an awesome job and probably one that's incredibly satisfying. I talked with one of the staff about the possibility of adopting a cat; she shared the process with me and encouraged me to come back and visit if today wasn't the day. Anyway, the staff is a big part of the experience. They help make the place safe for the cats and enjoyable for visitors. After talking with two staff members and seeing them interact with the cats, I felt more comfortable and settled in to enjoy my visit.

The cafe has two floors, both designed for optimal cat enjoyment. We spent most of the time downstairs, hanging out with a cat named Captain Otis (definitely not the right name for him), a newer cat who is getting used to being at the cafe. He is amazing, has a super smooshy face, is incredibly affectionate, and handsome. People who think cats aren't affectionate have never met the right cat; Otis is that cat. We also met a lovely lady named Anne Wheeler, a beautiful dilute tortoiseshell cat. She's the mom of the cats and you can see how much she wants to take care of everyone.

Obviously, we weren't the only humans at the cafe. Among the other visitors were a couple, another pair of friends, and a group of college age students. We were sort of surprised that many of the guys in the group were just sitting on their phones, not interacting with the cats. If you don't pet a cat at at cat cafe, did you even go? I don't know the answer, but my gut tells me it's no. One young woman inquired about adopting a cat while we were there; I hope she gets him. A few other cats went home with their new families while we were there; it was a nice bonus.

Even though I didn't adopt a cat today, I found the experience of being around the cats soothing and relaxing. Being at Crumbs & Whiskers reminds me of the things I love most about cats: they're playful and shy all in the space of a few minutes. They're affectionate, but also might not want you to pet them. They find that sun patch and hang on to it for as long as possible. They sleep the day away and don't care if you sit by them while they do it. They're not perfect and they don't care. Sometimes they're cats, sometimes they're centerpieces (see the photo below). They're the best and they don't let anyone forget it. My new cat friend will find me when the time is right.

Anita and I are already planning our next visit to Crumbs & Whiskers and a visit up to Baltimore's Charm Kitty Cafe. I'd like to take a random weekday off and schedule time to work on my novel or some other writing. I'd probably get very little done, but it would be a great experience. Also, the coffee and macarons from Oliva Macaron were amazing. Check them out even if you don't go to Crumbs & Whiskers (their store is just off M Street). Nothing goes better with coffee and macarons than hanging out with cats. Trust me on this.

Now because I know you, I know you really want photos. Enjoy the pictures taken by me or Anita. And go visit Crumbs & Whiskers!