Spotted on the Roadside: A Rocket to Saturn

As is only right and proper for “the center of the universe”, there’s a rocket smack in the middle of the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. Built from military surplus and originally displayed next to a surplus store in Belltown, the rocket launched to Fremont when its former location was scheduled for demolition in 1991. For the next three years, the rocket lay dormant in a back lot. There was a failed attempt to erect it in 1993, and it wasn’t until 1994 that it was finally reassembled in its current location. The rocket is branded with Fremont’s crest and motto (“De Libertas Quirkas” or “Freedom to be Peculiar”) and for a time, one was able to feed a coin into it and “launch” the rocket with a burst of steam from the bottom. That function is no longer operational and it appears there are no plans to restore it. At one time, there were plans to turn the rocket into a local FM radio station, but they have either been put on hold or abandoned entirely.

Twenty years later, across the street, a developer with roots in Fremont installed a giant fiberglass Saturn on top of his commercial building for the cost of about $25,000. That is some damn expensive whimsy! It’s not just decorative, however–Saturn has solar panels installed on its rings which feed into the building’s electrical grid and allow the planet to glow brightly as another integral element of Fremont’s weird galaxy.

Spotted on Evanston Ave, Seattle, WA.

Snow Day

This winter has been super mild in the PNW.  The only snow we got was one light dusting and even that was gone after a day–heck, it had started melting by the time I bundled up and went outside. (Sorry to rub it in, east coasters!) Spring is on the horizon. The breezes are blowing warmer, the days growing ever so slightly longer, and the frogs living across the street sing me to sleep every night with their lusty croaks. My mind is occupied with thoughts of things that grow. Still, I couldn’t resist one more look back at winter and thumbing my nose at the season.

The Deep Discount Bin: A Field Guide to Demons

a basic demonSummoned by reciting Katy Perry lyrics into the mirror at midnight.

Every once in a while, I will troll the clearance section of Half Price Books and bring something home that’s dirt cheap and looks amusing. While there recently, I found yet another book that I couldn’t possibly leave in the store*: A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels and Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K Mack and Dinah Mack. You know, another sort of useful, everyday item to have around the house.

Here’s the bad news for you at-home exorcists, demonologists, and aspiring Ghost Adventures cast members: in the guide to identifying basic demons, the book essentially says that anything and everything can be a demon.

Demons, using only their energy, can appear as smoke, as temptresses, animals, grains of sand, flickering lights, blades of grass, or neighbors**.

Now, I would buy that there’s the occasional neighbor out there who is actually a demon in disguise. Demonic possession makes a lot more sense than any other reason I can think of as to why  a former neighbor mowed his entire lawn with a weed whacker over the course of two days in thirty-second spurts. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Either that guy was a demon bent on driving me crazy or he was trying to wipe out his demonic grass infestation. Grains of sand, though? Ain’t no one got time for that. If I accidentally build a demon-inhabited sandcastle, I’m just going to call it Demon Manor and be done with it.  For an identification guide, it’s not very useful. Same deal with fairies:

There is no certainty about their essential form, but the consensus is they are transparent.

Man, whatever would you do without this truly helpful guide?

After the basic introductions to demons and fairies, the book is broken into sections of all of the places that demons can be found: water, mountains, forests, deserts, the home, and the mind. In each section is a smattering of creatures, their history, and how they can be defeated. Once you reach the section about demons of the psyche, however, things start to fall apart as the authors reach further and further for things to include. The Id. Jung’s Shadow. Mr. Hyde. Granted, you are just as likely to run into Mr. Hyde in your bedroom as a tengu or a djinn, but it seems misplaced to include a fictional portrayal of a real mental disorder as a demon you can fight, especially in light of the fact that the mentally ill have long been accused of demonic possession and treated brutally (or even killed) during exorcisms.

I bought this book for a couple of different reasons. I’m deeply into mythology, and I like having books on hand as reference materials for art and for pleasure reading. I wasn’t sure when I bought it if it was going to be a detached compendium of folklore, a painfully earnest guide to demon hunting, or some lighthearted farce. The problem with this book is that it doesn’t know what it wants to be, either. The authors refer to the guide as an essential resource leading one to believe they are in earnest, but then they undermine it with half-assed graspings at things that could only be tangentially related to the subject matter. It’s missing too much to be comprehensive (the authors explain this as making the guide “highly selective”) but at the same time they include things that have no relation to folklore, a “demon” that they blatantly made up, and three different entries on Satan. The result is that it’s hard to use the book as a mythological resource as it’s not clear what is in the actual storytelling history and what they’ve manufactured from whole cloth. Add in the “this is how you disarm and dispell demons” ridiculousness especially as pertains to real mental illness and deep psychological trauma, and the book becomes a hot mess. It would be much more interesting and useful if it was fully a “we believe this is real” field guide or fully a mythological resource, but the half-mocking tone doesn’t serve it either way.

I guess they can’t all be mega-discount winners. Maybe this time the clearance section of Half Price Books trolled me.

 

*Incidentally, this may lead to my hoarder style undoing, crushed by mountains of my own schadenfreude.

**It’s also possible that this blog post is a demon.

Spotted on the Roadside: When Life Gives You The World’s Largest Lemon…

giant lemon

lemon grove

I try not to go anywhere with preconceived notions about what it will be like, because that road leads to disappointment nearly always. With the giant lemon in Lemon Grove, however, it was almost impossible to not imagine the lemon in front of a literal grove of thousands of blossoming lemon trees, wafting their scent out into the sunshine. I may have also pictured a lemon farmer selling cool, refreshing glasses of lemonade nearby. So needless to say, my vision could not have been more wrong if I was James Van Praagh trying to cold read. The Lemon Grove lemon is a metro lemon, flanking both the trolley and the bus stop, and if you’re looking for refreshment, you can buy a pack of smokes at the shop across the street. There were some lemon trees behind it, though, because even your average shitty psychic gets lucky once in a while.

Lemon Grove’s lemon was originally built as a parade float for San Diego’s 4th of July parade in 1928. In 1930, it was plastered and has proudly proclaimed Lemon Grove’s slogan for 85 years: Best Climate on Earth. The town wasn’t incorporated until 1977, however, so clearly the paint job has been updated at some point during that time period. Nowadays, Lemon Grove is more notable for being the place where some stolen mummies were stashed in a garage for over a decade than lemon trees, but the giant lemon remains as a testament to the town’s roots.

Spotted on Main Street in Lemon Grove, CA.

A visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain

los angeles sunset

Depending on the time of year you ask me, I have one big regret about moving to the Pacific Northwest. If you ask me during winter, it’s winter: the short days, the long dark, the dreariness, the relentless soggy wet-hem shoe-leaking mold-growing constant drizzle glasses-spotting hair-frizzing dampness of the season. If you ask me any other time, it’s the lack of roller coasters in the immediate vicinity. Sure, there’s a couple at Wild Waves (missing bolts and all!), but it’s first and foremost a water park. I used to practically live at Six Flags Great America in the summer. With a season pass, I had very little incentive not to. After all, it’s not like you can feel face-rippling g-force induced exhilaration on the couch. At least not easily.

When I lived in California, the nearest Six Flags park was Magic Mountain. The two hour drive to get there (with no traffic, and when is there ever zero traffic in Los Angeles?) plus college, plus two jobs meant that I generally made it to the park once or twice a year at most. The last time I went was in 2010, and the entire day was an ordeal, to put it lightly. This time, I was hoping for a better experience.

It was indeed better than last time, but that would not have taken much. The visit got off to not a great start when we pulled up to the parking lot and were informed that their credit card system was down, and we’d have to use their on-site ATMs to pay for parking, buy our tickets, etc. With the cost of two adult tickets plus parking, we were already bumping up against their ATM withdrawal limit, which meant that we were blessed with being able to pay their exorbitant ATM fee more than once.

six flags magic mountain

The first ride we hopped on was X2. It has seats that pitch forward and back on a separate axis from the track, and the result is a ride that’s incredibly intense. This ride used to be my absolute favorite, and I don’t know if it’s that I’m getting old or less used to coasters or what, but after the first drop, when it pulls you up backwards, it was almost too much for me. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and not in an “I’m having so much fun” sort of way, more in a “I think I might be dying” way.

Our next ride was Viper, and we were able to hop right on the ride with zero wait. It’s the last remaining Arrow Dynamics Megalooper coaster in the world. This is a more standard seated coaster with an over the shoulder harness; it reaches speeds of 70 mph and turns riders upside down seven times.  I remember its former twin, Shockwave, at Great America, and it had the same drawback–it rattles your head between the shoulder restraints like those mixing beads in a can of spraypaint. The only way to sort of deal with it is to press your head as hard as you can against one side of the restraints to minimize the amount of times it crashes into the other side. With better padding, this ride could be as awesome as it used to be.

Hands down, my current favorite coaster at Magic Mountain is Tatsu. This coaster has you sit down, restraints lock in your upper body and your legs, and the seat is then pulled up so you’re looking at the ground. It’s like flying in the claws of a giant eagle. On every roller coaster, you’re trusting your life to the machine–Tatsu feels extra scary because it’s more evident than ever that the restraints are all that’s keeping you from an unpleasant splat on the pavement.

The one ride I’d urge you to stay away from at all costs is Green Lantern. It’s another ride where the seats pitch on a separate axis from the track, which is back and forth in a ribbon pattern. They need to rename this ride The Migraine Machine, because it gave me one of the worst headaches of my life. Jason ended up having to backtrack halfway through the park to find a kiosk that was selling aspirin, while I waited around because the thought of walking with my head pounding so badly made me want to barf. So instead, I scoped out a small area of shade and basically prayed for death. In other words, I don’t recommend it.

gotham city park magic mountain

We ended up riding nearly every roller coaster that was open that day, which was a far cry from my previous visit, when I rode only a couple due to high winds closing the rest. The only one I took a pass on was Superman, and that’s because the line was ridiculous and didn’t move once in ten minutes. Very few of the other coasters had extended wait times. Some were so short we only had to wait for one or two cars before riding. It was one of those rare sorts of days where buying a fast pass wouldn’t have been worth the added expense because you wouldn’t really save any line time. We walked straight on to Batman: The Ride, which is always exciting for me, because I remember when it was hot shit in 1992 and you had to wait for five hours to ride for 45 seconds and it was still totally worth it. I loved it then and I love it now.

burned collossus six flags

The thing about remembering what Batman: The Ride was like when it was new, and the park in general in its heyday is that it is beyond evident how much it’s declined since then. So much of the stuff that’s supposed to create an atmosphere now serves to create a very different atmosphere: one of disrepair and neglect. Things are broken, tagged, falling apart, trash is everywhere, and even some of the rides operated in a way that suggested penny-pinching, which is not what you want to see when you’re trusting the park literally with your life. It shouldn’t be that way, especially at a park that boasts the largest number of roller coasters in the world. Clearly they’re making enough money post-bankruptcy to continue building; it would be nice to see some of those funds diverted to upgrading and maintaining what they already have. They’ve already stopped dropping millions for temporary licenses like Terminator, so that’s a start.  Although I can’t directly compare Six Flags to all of the competing parks in the area (I haven’t been to Disneyland for over twenty five years, though I have read that their park standards are by far the highest), I’ve been to three different Universal parks in the last few years, and Universal Studios blows Six Flags out of the water in terms of creating a clean, welcoming, functional atmosphere that sometimes feels downright magical. In every way, Six Flags is trying to compete with these other parks–they’re charging a comparable ticket price, they’re selling similarly expensive food and souvenirs, they’re licensing properties to widen their appeal, they’re even expanding their Fright Fest offerings to try and go toe to toe with Halloween Horror Nights and Knott’s Scary Farm. But they’re just not there. Right now, they’re only pulling ahead in the “rides that spontaneously and mysteriously light on fire” category. I love roller coasters, and I have a lot of love in my heart for Six Flags and the time I’ve spent there, but with two mediocre visits in a row, I don’t see myself making the effort to go back to Magic Mountain.

 

One the master, one the apprentice

balloondog

 

Napodog’s desire for the things others have never wanes, be it food, toys, random pieces of paper, socks, musical instruments, or the magic detrius found at the bottom of a purse or garbage can. Sometimes it’s impossible to discern what he actually wants, you can just barely hear him grinding down your willpower and your sanity over whatever else it is you might be doing. A former roommate called these his “whisper whines”. I’ve taken to automatically lifting him up to my bed every night just to stave off the pathetic cries–I know this is basically giving in to dog terrorism, but frankly, sometimes it’s just easier to let him win.

The Lights of Christmas in Warm Beach, WA

Over one million lights twinkle at The Lights of Christmas in Warm Beach, WA. Having seen a number of places tout the one million number this year, I have to assume that one million is the “stop counting” point for everyone. What I don’t know is how anyone can bill themselves as the largest light display if everyone sort of throws up their hands after the one million mark.  I need to know which is actually the biggest without doing any tedious counting myself. I must see the best, the biggest! GIVE ME YOUR DATA! Ahem.

It’s hard not to feel the holiday spirit when the night blazes bright around you, strains of music hang in the air, and all around is your fellow man filled with wonder and delight. We buy a grease-spotted paper bag filled with piping hot doughnuts crusted with cinnamon sugar and kiss the sugar off each other’s lips. A choir sings carols, conducted by a woman whose elaborate arm and body movements look like nothing so much as airbending.  Children labor as “elves” in a real workshop, and if you have cash, you can hang their fruits on your tree. One eyes me suspiciously as I take photographs. A gift shop hawks Santa-themed wares, including some cheerily painted on gourds. Trees shine so brightly that I have to turn away, dazzled, as the image hangs on my retinas. It’s a festive sort of pain.

One of the attractions at The Lights of Christmas is Bruce the Spruce, their talking Christmas tree. You may not know this, but approximately 98% of your time waiting in line to talk to a tree is spent panicking about what in the hell you could possibly say to a talking tree, and this panic is exacerbated when you overhear him asking other people to tell him a joke. Immediately, you will forget every joke you’ve ever heard, except for the ones that are entirely inappropriate to tell around children, and even then, you’ll only recall scraps of the lamest vaguely dirty Dad jokes, all the while moving ever closer to the front of the line. When my turn arrives, I manage to squeak out a question about whether he was the only talking tree and if he was “pining away” for friends, to which he responded with no fewer than three puns in a row, including bidding me farewell with “Cedar later!” I felt a deep and abiding shame that I had been beaten at wordplay by a tree, and spent the rest of the night constructing ever more contrived puns and sad jokes.

Why shouldn’t you be afraid of a talking tree? Because his bark is worse than his bite.

What did the talking tree do after he said his first word? Take a bough.

What did the talking tree do after he was getting too big for his beeches? He went back to his roots.

Why doesn’t a lumberjack make a good bedmate for a talking tree? He spends all night sawing logs.

What does a talking tree wear to Warm Beach? His swimming trunk.

What’s a talking tree’s best friend? A dogwood.

…There were more. So very many more. I stopped counting at one million.

Little Italy Festa in San Diego, CA

little italy sign

grape stomp contest sign

grape stomp contest

bocce

3d wine chalk

audrey hepburn chalk

bela lugosi

chalk art san diego

chalk masquerade

classical chalk

cupid and babe

dog mosiac

garlic goiter

giant chalk drawing

holy family chalk drawing

italian fest chalk drawing

italian greyhounds with spaghetti

lady and the tramp

lemon mosaic

luigi chalk

mangia celesti chalk

mario mosaic

mona lisa chalk

natalie portman

stallone chalk

venetian mask

water liliesOn my most recent trip to San Diego, it was really important to me to maximize the amount of time I spent with my dad, so unlike non-family trips, I didn’t have every day planned down to the minute. Instead, I played it by ear so we could do whatever the group found most appealing. As it turned out, Little Italy Festa was that weekend, so the four of us made an afternoon of it. This year marked Little Italy Festa’s 20th anniversary, and they did it up right with chalk drawing competitions, bocce ball, live music, cooking demonstrations, and tons of dining al fresco. I can’t emphasize it enough: this is an opportunity to eat as much pizza as you would like in the street while waiting in line for more pizza. It’s like a dream come true! I am not making this up: after we left Little Italy Festa, we went out for more pizza. Because while the street pizza was decent, it didn’t compare favorably with the prospect of Lefty’s, which, with its perfect thin crust, zesty sauce, and spicy sausage, is a taste of my hometown.

The grape stomp contest was highly entertaining (the young girl won, which surprised me, as I believed that she was have been at a disadvantage owning to her smaller stature) and the only thing that could have improved it would have been if there was a freshly-foot-squeezed grape juice guzzling competition immediately afterward.

Visitors were encouraged to vote on their favorite chalk art, but I couldn’t decide. I loved how many different takes there were on Italian culture, and found it both sad and beautiful that they are impermanent by their nature. It was a reminder to appreciate things while they last.

Nom or Vom: Ice Cream for Dinner

salted caramel thanksgiving turkeyPhoto via Salt & Straw

Something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: someone has finally pushed the envelope and made ice cream for every course of your holiday meal–hazelnut rosemary stuffing, salted caramel thanksgiving turkey, honey bourbon corn pudding, sweet potato casserole with maple pecans, and spiced chevre pumpkin pie. I’m only picking one for today’s poll and since we already covered Sweet Corn Ice Cream back in 2009, Salt & Straw describes their Salted Caramel Thanksgiving Turkey flavor thusly: “A head rush of sweet and salty with a pinch of adventure. All the flavors of a roasted turkey, its juices and the caramelized onions underneath, are packed into a turkey fat caramel ice cream, then speckled with handmade fried turkey skin brittle.”

Pros: That feeling you get as an adult when you’re eating ice cream for dinner, there is absolutely no way this turkey is dry, that feeling you get when you’re eating multiple kinds of ice cream for dinner.

Cons:  So, uh, is the creamy part of the ice cream turkey fat, because I don’t know how to deal with that, and I also don’t know how to feel about fried turkey skin brittle and caramelized onion ice cream, and maybe the Thanksgiving meal flavors are just not meant to be ice creamized, or soda-ized for that matter.

Would you eat salted caramel thanksgiving turkey ice cream?

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Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Whatever you voted, I hope your meal is delicious and you’re surrounded by the best people.

Leveling the WoW Playing Field

poopstain debuff

I love playing WoW, but there are seriously some parts of it that are so terrible. On my server, there are people who sit in trade all day and talk about rape, say fucked-up racist shit, rant about politics and the n-word president, and are generally just awful examples of humanity all around. I’ve got an ignore list as long as my arm. Unfortunately, the same guys just keep turning up so I guess blocks are not permanent or they keep rerolling with very similar names. And then you’ve got the guys who will follow your low level characters across an entire zone, killing them instantly every time they resurrect and struggle to get away until you log out in frustration…and sometimes they’re still there the next day. And the day after that, because they have dedicated their shitty little lives to griefing. These people deserve one another. Decent players don’t. Please, Blizzard, give us the Poopstain Debuff.