Searched For denver

Happy 33rd Birthday to Me!


I turned 33 yesterday, and had my most sacrelicious birthday celebration yet: Mellzah’s Last Supper. A group of us met up at the Lunchbox Lab and indulged in a stupidly decadent meal that may or may not have involved tater tot and milkshake communion. Yes, I’ve totally gone there for a different birthday and I don’t even care that I’m repeating myself, but I am a little bummed that The Last Supper Club couldn’t hang on juuuust a little longer because it would have been the perfect venue for this theme.

For her 31st birthday, my friend Boolia came up with a really impressive list of thirty-one things she wanted to do in her 31st year, and I watched in awe as she checked them all off–go skydiving, fly a helicopter, basically be a badass for an entire year. What I think makes it so much better than a bucket list is that you really have no idea when you’re going to die, so it’s easy to put off all of those experiences and goals with “someday,” “later,” “maybe next year,” whereas the one year deadline is hard and fast. Either you make it a priority and do it, or you don’t. Some of these things are big, and some are small–I can’t cram all of the huge experiences I want to have over the course of my life into the next year because there are always time and money constraints, but I can make sure this year is both exciting and fulfilling for myself instead of wondering where in the hell the last year went…which I’m kind of doing this year. I mean, when I really think about it, I did do a lot of stuff last year– I united some friends in mawwage, packed in a bunch of activities in Denver including the world’s most exciting restaurant, was miserably sick in and around NYC but still managed to have my mayoral photo taken, took SoCal by storm, took a day trip to Vancouver, went to some museums, checked out some festivals, read a bunch of books, wrote some stuff, cooked some stuff, did some house renos, made some stuff, and saw a hell of a lot of roadside attractions,while still leaving time for all-important puppy cuddles. But there’s always that drive to do more, that fear that I’m wasting what little time I have. I think I’d have that fear even if my consciousness was uploaded into an indestructible super-robot. “Why didn’t I go and see the Florida Keys before the ocean swallowed them?” I’ll moan on my 300th birthday. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

33 things I’d like to do in my 33rd year

  1. Finish that app I’ve been working on hahahaha no
  2. Swim with sharks
  3. Become confident using my camera in full manual and overall improve my photography These days I use manual more often than not, and I feel like I’ve improved but there’s always room for more improvement.
  4. Go somewhere I’ve never been (city, state, country…I’m open! A new restaurant or grocery store does not count.) New Orleans. Iceland.
  5. Become more comfortable with having my picture taken I’m getting there. Slowly.
  6. Fill a sketchbook from front to back. Not necessarily good sketches or things I’d want to show people, but make the time to draw. I made good progress on this one but didn’t finish. I will, though!
  7. Float in a sensory deprivation tank
  8. Hike in the Olympic rainforest
  9. Make myself and Jason an awesome Halloween costume I did this, eventually I’ll post about it. Who doesn’t like really out of date Halloween posts?
  10. Feast at Camlann Medieval Village
  11. Have a lifecast made of my face so I can…
  12. Learn to make foam appliances  FAILED I waited too long to get started on these two, I wanted to mostly lose the weight first so I’d have a better cast to work from (if I’m doing it, I want the stuff I make to work with my face for more than ten minutes)  and since I’m still losing, it’s not yet time.
  13. Visit the dinosaur town with volcano toilets
  14. Go to Diablo Lake
  15. Check out an actual ghost town
  16. Run a 5k FAILED
  17. Plant a tree
  18. Try an average of one new recipe a week to avoid boredom and advance my cooking skills. I had a huge success with this, I tried so many new things and techniques, and I feel like my cooking has improved a lot and I’m not as reliant on the same couple of tricks.
  19. Achieve my ideal weight FAILED This one is not going to happen–while I’ve lost in the neighborhood of 70 pounds this year, I still have more to go. I did well, but some things just take a little longer.
  20. Fly in a hot air balloon   FAILED. I booked a trip to fly over the tulip fields, and two weekends in a row, I woke up at the asscrack of dawn, only to have the weather shut the operation down…and then tulip season was over. I am hopeful that this is something I can do next March–if I’m going to spend the money to do it, I want it to be special.
  21. Learn a new language or take my Chinese or Spanish from utterly pathetic from disuse to closer to fluency. FAILED. I worked on both Spanish and Chinese this year but neither are close to fluency. I will keep plugging away.
  22. Take a hike before dawn that ends with a spectacular viewpoint for the sunrise
  23. Dye my hair a fun color FAILED. I wanted to wait until I was less fat and then time got away from me. It’s still going to happen, it just didn’t happen this year.
  24. Indoor skydiving (baby steps!) FAILED. I bought the pass but I just did not get it scheduled before my birthday. Soon, though!
  25. Go river tubing  With the drought this year, this one is not going to happen. Instead, my goal is to fix the back deck so I can have parties out there without fearing that it’s going to crumble right off the house and kill everyone. Hey, not all of them can be exciting. DONE! And holy balls, it was expensive. But worth it.
  26. Get to the point where I can hold a freestanding handstand. FAILED. That’s another thing that I wanted to wait to do until I got thinner so it would be easier and as it turns out, I still have more weight to lose.
  27. Throw a party that doesn’t revolve around movie-watching (I love B&G&P&P but it’s a very passive kind of party and it feels like the only kind I’ve had recently)Done, I had a good Halloween party. It *did* feature a power hour, but the point of the gathering was not to watch TV.
  28. Go to Tillicum Village
  29. Go to Cape Disappointment
  30. Go horseback riding on Orcas Island
  31. Have afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress (Scheduled but past my birthday, the place is currently under renovations and if I’m going to do it, I want to do it right, by gum.)
  32. Go on the Elk bugling tour at NW Trek Done, post coming eventually.
  33. Go to Viking Fest

I’m already excited!

Carnies built this country–the carnival part of it, anyway: A visit to Coney Island

Amusement parks could be found in all major cities: at Boston’s Paragon Park and Revere Beach, Philadelphia’s Willow Grove and Atlantic City, Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Park, Cleveland’s Euclid Beach, Chicago’s Cheltenham Beach, St. Louis’ Forest Park Highlands, Denver’s Manhattan Beach, and San Francisco’s The Chutes. Yet although many of these parks could boast of their size and splendor, none could compare on any dimension to the famed New York City mecca, Coney Island.

-Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit

coney island pay toilet

coney island wonder wheel

coney island boardwalk

If you have any interest in the history of carnivals, theme parks, freak shows, and competitive eating in the United States, there is no ignoring Coney Island. It is their beginning, their epicenter. Even today, when the corporate chain park rules and smaller amusement parks are shuttering left and right, Coney Island still survives, and that speaks to its ability to give visitors an experience they can’t get anywhere else, its ability to evolve as times change. What makes Coney Island different? It’s connected to the community instead of set apart from the community; it’s far enough from the other boroughs to feel like a vacation destination, but it’s also easily accessible. Because it’s a set of independent amusement parks and stores, there is no admission fee, which keeps people moving in and around when they otherwise might not. It’s a draw as much for its beach as it is for its boardwalk. It has a little something for everyone, and even its grittier parts are in a spirit of fun. They have the annual Mermaid Parade, which anyone can join, and is a celebration of art in New York. They offer sideshow classes. They have burlesque at the beach. They have a fourth of July celebration that has elevated gluttony into a sporting event. They put on shows. They create art. Everything is done with a wink and a nod to give the attendees the feel of being in on the joke, a consumer of pop culture and a reflection of pop culture at the same time. Nowhere is this summed up better than in the description of Coney Island’s 2013 Creepshow at the Freakshow presentation, which states that the show includes: cigar smoking, blank gun fire, profanity, anachronism, ethnic stereotypes, sexual situations, dramatic license, and ballistic pasta. coney island scream zone

brooklyn beach shop

To a great extent, traveling sideshows were as dangerous, dirty, degenerate, and exciting as Disneyland is safe, clean, wholesome, and bland.

-Hammer, Carl & Bosker, Gideon. Freak Show: Sideshow Banner Art

bump your ass off

coney island thrills

The first structures in Coney Island were erected in the 1840s; many people protested development of the land and wanted it preserved as a natural park, as one of the features of the land’s orientation is that the beach is never shaded. Eventually a compromise was reached where development beyond 1,000 feet south of Surf Avenue was prohibited. For eleven years between 1885 and 1896, the Coney Island Elephant was the first manmade structure immigrants to the United States would see, not the Statue of Liberty: a beacon of our commitment to leisure and fun. However, it wasn’t until the first half of the 20th century that Coney Island reached its zenith.  

Coney Island saw its first freak show in 1880. A circus man who had brought his unemployed troupe to the beach for a holiday was struck by the business potential. Setting up banners, he began a practice that would prosper at Coney Island for at least sixty years. From these small beginnings, Coney Island became a center for freak shows. During the period of 1910-1940, no single place in the world had more human oddities on exhibit.

-Bogdan, Robert. Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit

It was the unique combination of beach, freak shows, and three competing amusement parks that made Coney Island insanely popular. People would flock to Lilliputia or “Midget City”, a miniature city built to look like a half-scale Nuremberg, Germany that housed 300 little people who lived and worked there. They’d line up to ride the Cannon Coaster, which had been designed for the car to leap a gap in the track (and redesigned when it didn’t work as planned), and whispered to one another about the rumors they’d heard about the deaths that happened during the initial test phase. They’d stand in outer space in the Trip to the Moon cyclorama. It was an exciting, dangerous, sexy place to be, and Coney Island thrived.

After World War II, public sensibilities changed. Not only had the general area declined due to neglect and the proliferation of crime, but it also became less socially acceptable to gawk at the disabled. The virtual elimination of the freak show in the United States was both a positive and a negative thing: negative because performers who had spent their lives giving performances and being on display found themselves without work almost overnight and made their already difficult situations even moreso. Positive because at that period in history, xenophobia ruled the day, and, appallingly, people of different races were exhibited as oddities–Filipinos as “dog-eating missing links” and blacks as “savages of Darkest Africa”. While freak shows can be said to have given certain disadvantaged people access to a community they would not have had otherwise, freak shows as they were can only be a relic of a less-educated past, a historical curiosity, as they have no place in a civilized society.

coney island freak show

 Nonetheless, Coney Island showman Todd Robbins has continued to keep the magic of sideshows before the public. He has worked at the last ten-in-one, Sideshows by the Seashore in Coney Island, and he is dean of the Coney Island Sideshow School, which continues to teach fire eating and other essential arts and secrets of the the ten-in-one era….Perhaps it is not yet time to fold the last tent. In the meantime, we ask you to please step this way. The egress is just ahead.

-Nickell, Joe. Secrets of the Sideshows

However, the revitalization of the freak show is a wonder. Groups of self-identified freaks around the country and particularly in Coney Island have turned the old shows on their heads. The performers today, both natural-born and self-made, choose to perform. They have agency and their own reasons for participating; the show is about who they are as people and what they can do, not what they look like. 100 years ago, Erik Paluszak, stage name The Velvet Crayon, a man born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, may have had no option in life but to be put on display for his anatomy. Today, he chooses to be part of the 10-in-One on Coney Island and while he invites you to look at him and ask questions if you’d like, his act is about his buzzy psychadelic rock music: songs about legos, songs about being a freak, ruminations on monsters, and responses to The Flaming Lips. In the modern freak show, audience members are invited to participate, to be an exhibit themselves. In the modern freak show, we’re all freaks.  

spook o rama coney island dragon

spook o rama coney island

luna park coney island

Coney Island, as Gersh Kuntzman says, is a dump. He means it as a compliment. Its grittiness is refreshing…The stage has been set up in front of a giant Nathan’s billboard that runs along Stillwell Avenue on the side wall of the hot-dog stand. The left side of the wall is home to what the Sheas call the ‘two-dimensional Mount Rushmore of competitive eating”: a giant photo montage of past contest winners, incorporating a digital clock that counts down the days, hours, and minutes until the next contest…Coney Island is still surprisingly dirty, for all the talk of revitalization. Right across the street from Nathan’s is a line of frumpy stores spilling trash into the sidewalk gutters.

-Fagone, Jason. Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream*

days until nathans famous hot dog contest countdown clock

Another modern sideshow comes in the guise of competitive eating. Nathan’s Famous has held a hot dog eating contest on the 4th of July annually since they first opened, but in the late 1990s/early 2000s, the event began to attract national attention. Today, competitive eating is both legitimized and reviled,  a celebration of excess and uniquely American, the gurgitators celebrated and pointed at for being what’s wrong with America, all reaching inside themselves to find their limits and push for something greater: a transcendence in their spectacle. And that, too, is Coney Island. It grows and shrinks. It recovers from economic and natural disasters. It rolls with the punches. It reinvents itself for the future while being utterly of the moment. Long live Coney Island.

“No man can hope to be elected in his state without being photographed eating a hot dog at Nathan’s Famous.”

-Nelson Rockefeller, former governor of New York and Vice President of the United States

coney island mayor mellzah

coney island mayor jason   *All of the books cited are excellent resources on their respective topics, but Horsemen of the Esophagus is a particular favorite of mine. Fagone looks beyond the spectacle during the time period when competitive eating was experiencing its largest recognition on a nationwide scale and paints an intimate portrait of a few of the gurgitators : their motivations, their struggles, their humanity, while maintaining his objectivity about what the popularity of the sport means in terms of American culture, and the very real dangers that the competitors face. It’s in turns charming, concerning, and deeply moving. I bought it because I thought the title was funny. I never expected that it would resonate as it has, and I recommend it to anyone who thinks they may have even a vague interest in the subject matter or American culture as a whole.

Casa Bonita! Casa Bonita! Food and fun in a festive atmosphere!


It takes a special sort of restaurant worth packing an extra pair of pants in case you shit yourself after eating there. “That sounds horrible!” you say. “Why would you even go there? What’s wrong with you?!” I’ll tell you. Because it’s the most exciting restaurant in the world. The Disneyland of Mexican restaurants. I’m talking about Casa Bonita.

I first heard about Casa Bonita on South Park, and I assumed it was a joke, some fantasy Matt and Trey made up. Friends, it’s real.

I haven’t spent much time in the greater Denver area, so I can’t tell you for a fact that Casa Bonita is located in the worst part of town, but it has to be one of the worst. As you get closer, the streets are lined with nothing but cheap motels, pawn shops, liquor stores, and check-cashing joints. Casa Bonita itself is located in a strip mall, nestled between the empty shells of former businesses, multiple dollar stores, and a furniture rental store, rising above them like some sort of elaborate magical behemoth. It couldn’t possibly look more out of place if it was a giant dancing dildo at a child’s birthday party. It’s a wonderland, nestled in the sort of neighborhood where you want to be certain to lock your car doors, and you may find yourself relieved that you purchased the additional rental insurance, just in case it happened to disappear while you were busy having the time of your life.



You are not allowed to enter Casa Bonita without buying food; after entering, you join a cafeteria style queue where your food is slapped onto your tray by people who clearly hate you. A friend of mine told me to think of this part of the process as buying an admission ticket that is inexplicably shaped like an inedible plate of tacos, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay $20 for “Fajitas! Fajitas! Fajitas!” and not at least try them after going to the trouble of packing extra pants. They also serve all-you-can-eat deluxe dinners, but I didn’t want to press my colon luck.

After you receive your food, a server selects a table for you. We visited on a Monday in the hopes of getting a more primo seat near the cliff divers, and this tactic proved successful, especially after I pressed upon them that it was Jason’s birthday. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I took my husband to a restaurant with notoriously terrible food on his birthday in the hopes of leveraging a better seat. I don’t know why he puts up with me, either.

IMG_3586But seriously, this was a pretty good table!



It’s warm and humid inside the restaurant, which was actually a nice change from the cold dry air outside; Denver had given me my very first nosebleed the day before, so I was glad for the moisture. In the summer or on a crowded day, the inside conditions could easily go from warm to unbearable. The tang of the chlorine in the air was present but not overwhelming, more of a nasal tickle than an ether-soaked rag.



I’m not going to lie to you and say that the food was great, but it also wasn’t pants-shittingly bad, either. In the pantheon of nonauthentic Mexican food, I’d actually rank it above Taco Bell (which isn’t necessarily a compliment). The best part of the meal was the (free!) sopaipillas, which are warm, pillowy breads that you drizzle with honey. If you wanted more (or needed anything from your server at all), you raised a little flag on your table, which we didn’t really need as he checked on us three times before we even started eating.


They have shows scheduled at 15 minute increments at Casa Bonita, which all end in a cliff diving of some sort: gunfights, gorillas, pirates and plain diving shows. Each one was announced by loudspeaker, welcoming diners to “the most exciting restaurant in the world,” but people did not seem all that excited. In fact, nearly everyone seemed nonplussed, which is an attitude that I don’t really understand: this isn’t a restaurant that you eat at because you just happen to be in the area. Precisely no one is saying “Let’s go rent a TV because we can’t buy it outright and then pay $20 apiece for dinner!” You have to make a conscious decision to come here. So why come if you can’t even clap politely for the underpaid kids flinging themselves off of a cliff for you? When we shouted and cheered for the performers, they acknowledged our table specifically because we were the only ones in the entire restaurant doing so. Would these same joyless people make a sour face at Disneyland? Probably.

After the final cliff diving performance of the evening, we explored the rest of the restaurant, which is enormous. I would hate for you to think I’m exaggerating so bear this in mind: they can seat over 1,000 people at a time. The building is over 52,000 square feet.  They’ve got a haunted cave, two arcades, a gift shop, a caricature artist, an old timey jail,  a puppet show area, a magician area, and a banquet area set apart from the shows in case you’re a serious foodie and don’t want to risk the ambiance distracting you from eating as many beef deluxe dinners as your stomach could possibly hold.

We again lucked out by visiting on a Monday evening, as we had Black Bart’s cave to ourselves, when reportedly it’s usually filled with herds of screaming children and the occasional vomit pile.




IMG_3598  IMG_3601

IMG_3603Yarr, truly Black Bart’s greatest treasure is the legendary Tampax Pearl.





The arcades were somewhat of a letdown. We bought our tokens in advance and ended up with far more than we needed, because literally over half the games were out of service or broken enough that they should have been put out of service. Big Bertha, the terribly insensitive game where you play the role of a feeder, had apparently gone on a hunger strike as her mouth wouldn’t open. Games would accept tokens but not play. Games would allow play but not spit out tickets. We tried buying our fortune from two different machines and they both stole our money. There was a skee-ball lane with only two balls! It was also insanely hot in the arcade area, and it wasn’t just the Fajitas! Fajitas! Fajitas! roiling around in my guts. At this point, I didn’t know if it was the heat in the room or the shittiness of the arcade that was taking my breath away, so we traded in our tickets for a tiny stegosaurus and fled the stifling air.

 IMG_3625  IMG_3630

Aside from the arcades, however, there wasn’t much for us to do. Even though the restaurant was still open (though they had stopped serving food for the night) and there were plenty of people inside, everything had shut down: the caricature artist, the old timey jail, the cotton candy machine, the gift shop…everything. I wanted to give them more money, but they did everything short of making a “spend your tokens and get the fuck out” announcement over the loudspeaker. It’s really a shame, it would have taken so little to make our trip there truly excellent–keep everything open a little longer or at least make it clear that only limited parts of the restaurant will be open past 9pm, and have the arcade games in good working order.  It’s a little dishonest to push people to buy tokens as they’re purchasing their meal when you well know that everything that takes tokens is essentially broken.

On our way out, we ran into one of the cliff divers, and I asked him what sort of qualifications it takes to do his job. “Uh…look good in a swimsuit? That’s pretty much it. They wanted me to be able to do some specific dives but I do my own dives.”

IMG_3635The no profanity part I understand. No dancing, though? One of our party members may have been suddenly overcome by the urge to dance a jig while chanting “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you”. There may be a video.


 At the end of the South Park episode about Casa Bonita, Cartman is hauled away by the police. It seems only right and natural that when we left, there were no fewer than four (and I actually think there were five or six) police cars across the street at the pawn shop and a stranger approached us and asked us for cigarettes. Happy birthday, Jason!