Category Everything is Terrible

Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland

Jason and I flew to London on yet another screaming deal from IcelandAir. The plan was to arrive hungry, ready to hit the Borough Market, but on our flight, Jason broke down and ordered the admittedly delicious-looking pizza and hummus as a snack. And while I know that jokes about the quality of airline food had their time in 1991, what the flight attendant delivered to his seat in the name of each of those foods is, if not a violation of the Geneva Convention, at the very least, a crime against humanity’s tastebuds. The hummus was dry and crumbly and I refuse to call to that odd, sweaty cheese tart “pizza”. The pizza in the photograph and the congealed food item that arrived look like they were made on different planets. It’s like it was made by someone who had only ever read about pizza in an illustrationless book but was intrigued by the concept.

Jason still ate some of it, though. And later, when we were waiting in line at Heathrow customs to see one of the two customs agents who had bothered to show up for work that day, and I was getting hungrier and hungrier…did you think I was going to say I wished I had eaten some, too? Hell no! I thought back on that hockey puck of crust and coagulated dairy patty and added IcelandAir to the list of entities who have deeply betrayed me.

We were spending the night at The Morton Hotel in Bloomsbury, just across Russell Square from The British Museum. The Russell Square tube station exit involves cramming oneself onto an elevator with a lot of other people and a staircase with a stern sign at its base. “This staircase has 175 steps (equivalent to 15 floors) Do not use except in an emergency”. Well, my emergency that day was that I didn’t want to ride in an elevator with an entire tube carriage’s worth of people, and I started heaving myself up the stairs. I made it, but paid for it with the deep, racking cough of the consummate non-runner and someone who definitely hasn’t climbed fifteen continuous flights of stairs in a good long while. That cough continued through check-in at the hotel, and I can only assume that they thought I was bringing a new plague to their doorstep but were polite enough to wait to talk about it until I was out of earshot.

As this was a backpacking trip, I was glad of the opportunity to stop at the hotel and strip out all unnecessary items from my bag to lighten the load. In addition to my camera, I’d managed to fit everything I needed to keep myself clean and presentable-ish for a week in my travel backpack with a little room to spare, but even travel sized everything and the bare minimum of clothes and paper took on what felt like a mighty mass when carried on my shoulders, especially when said carriage involves fifteen flights of stairs for some reason. But I didn’t need spare underwear or the noise-canceling headphones I’m too spoiled to travel without for the rest of the day’s activities: the aforementioned sandwich-eating and Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park.

My sandwich at Roast Hog was perfect (again), greasy, crunchy, chewy and absolutely restorative. Here’s the photo from last time, I was too busy eating to take another.

Afterward we rode the tube to the vicinity of Hyde Park and its spectacular Winter Wonderland, host to 2.5 million visitors annually, and based on the number of prominent warning signs throughout the grounds, a fair portion of those visitors are in good standing with the Pickpockets’ Guild.

We were there primarily to meet some friends at the ice bar but since we were going to be there, I prebooked tickets for us at the Magical Ice Kingdom presents: The Secret Forest.  We were supposed to arrive 10 minutes prior to our appointed time, which was rapidly approaching, so after we got through the security line, we hustled back through nearly the entirety of the grounds so as not to be late and forfeit our sole opportunity to experience to this hotly-anticipated attraction. Their website really emphasized the importance of prebooking tickets, and particularly when I’m planning an international trip, I take website recommendations very seriously. Very seriously. So I created an account, I bought those tickets, and when I say “we hustled back” I mean that I walked so fast that I could’ve set a small fire between my thighs and Jason had no choice but to keep up.  And when I arrived, ashen-faced and distraught and two minutes late, hoping they’d still admit us, I realized the Winter Wonderland website may have oversold the public’s keen desire to view ice sculptures. And while purchasing tickets in advance may indeed be necessary during the high periods, on a Monday at 4pm, not so much. In wintry terms, the crowd was more “scattered snowflakes” than “snowpocalypse”. However, that may just be the genius of a perfectly timed ticketing system working precisely as it should. 

One enters The Secret Forest through a door underneath a sign clearly marked “Secret Forest” so…the secret’s out. The snow and ice sculptures contained therein were in turns realistic and whimsical, and they had some fun photo opportunities, including the ability to photograph yourself as half ice-faun or half ice-centaur and on a throne of ice surrounded by icy battle unicorns. The ice throne was obviously my favorite, and it’s the kind of thing where I’d be tempted to show up with a costume if not for being 4700 miles from home and constrained by what I could fit in a backpack. Speaking of the backpack, I learned that one does not slide particularly well down an ice slide while wearing one. It was day one, and my resentment against this backpack was already growing.

After hanging out in a refrigerated warehouse for a while, then scooting down a ramp of ice like a dog across carpet in front of some British teenagers offering suggestions about my technique, I was more than ready to be somewhere warm with a similarly warm beverage. We settled on the Arctic Lodge Bar, an open rectangle with a bar, a series of benches, and roaring woodfires. My wish for a warm place to drink a warm drink was granted; I thought the condition of “breathable air that doesn’t leave you with the start of a fine smoke ring” was implied, but alas. The smoke would have driven me out eventually but the only seats in the house were directly across from a couple engaged in some vigorous displays of public affection and the layout of the seats were such that there was nowhere to look to as to avoid knowing the finger points of a stranger’s kissing technique, so that got me out first because I am evidently a prudish American. 

Also because there was plenty of stuff I wanted to see before we went to the ice bar, and I am referring in particular to the giant man looming over the Bavarian village that I had noted from a distance. I spent some time watching this enormous puppet do its thing, and finally concluded that it was the dirty, independently-moving fingers that were the creepiest, and not the the little shudder of flesh under its chin when it spoke, but it was a close thing. 

This was Jason’s third hot chocolate or thereabouts and the glee is starting to kick in.

Jason and I were both drawn to Dr. Archibald, Master of Time, and his vaguely threatening steampunk owl looming over the midway. It was a combination physical and virtual reality ride, and either one of us would independently admit to this day that we would have rather kept the admittance token as a souvenir. The ride itself is fine (it’s not my favorite thing to put VR headsets over my glasses, and I like having a ride attendant jam one over them far less) but that token is spectacular and handing it back after a few steps felt wrong. 

We met our friends Sean and Colleen outside the ice bar, where we were issued parkas and (damp) gloves. This “sub zero” ice bar sounds on the edge of perilous until I remember that -10°C is equivalent to 14°F, or vastly warmer than most winter mornings I spent waiting for the school bus in a hooded sweatshirt in Wisconsin. The gimmick of the ice bar is fun for a bit but after you’ve sat on an ice chair and drink from your awkwardly thick ice cup, you’ve fairly well plumbed its depths. I did have a wonderful time catching up with them both and hearing about their adventures over the past few months, like hiking Hadrian’s Wall–the kind of action-adventure travel that probably doesn’t begin with someone hacking their lungs out after climbing fifteen flights of stairs.

Shiny and Oh So Bright: Smashing Pumpkins at United Center

When I was thirteen years old, I stood at the sink, washing dishes, wearing a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt, and informed my father, who was drying, how lame it is that bands go on “we still hate each other but we ran out of money” reunion tours and how lame the middle aged people are who go to them, trying to recapture their lost youth. We had a lot of discussions like that, many centered around the center of my life, The Smashing Pumpkins. 

And I was obsessed. Obsessed in the way that an awkward, often-lonely person can be when they feel understood for the first time in their lives. I channeled that obsession into spending my time on the internet discussing the band on Listessa. I scoured the at-the-time brand new website eBay for memorabilia, rare cd singles, a print of their first album before it was slightly remastered and reissued under the parent label, fan-made merch…anything I could get my hands on and my babysitting budget would allow. I had a closet full of Smashing Pumpkins t-shirts and when I saw them live (my first concert, Summerfest ’98, opening bands were Blonde Redhead and Hum), I bought four more. I got in trouble with my parents for using too much printer ink printing photos of the band I’d found online. I bought that hundred dollar (or more?) black and white hard shelled mini suitcase of singles and b-sides. I committed to memory track names, song order, lyrics. I started taking guitar lessons and bought Smashing Pumpkins tablature books so I could know the music. I lip-synced in the mirror. I drew fan art. I waited in line for nine hours to meet the band on their Machina signing tour. I would evangelize the band to anyone who would listen. If they were willing, they could also listen to the music on the portable cd player I carried during the only years of my life when I had pants with pockets generously sized enough to accommodate a portable CD player. (They were so generous I probably could have wedged a smaller boom box in there.)

I was soundly mocked by my family for announcing that I wanted to change my name to Starla because of my love of the band, and endured another round of mockery when we watched the episode of The Simpsons where perpetual loser Kirk Van Houten introduces his new hard-living special lady friend, Starla, who almost immediately proceeds to steal his car.  I will admit now that name would probably not be my first choice; I think at the time I was just tired of being the least popular of the six Melissas in my school, and it was another way for me to be able to demonstrate my dedication to the band.  Somehow, only one of my two stupid tattoos is even incidentally Smashing Pumpkins related–how I got out of the 90’s without the SP heart tattooed on my ankle remains a mystery and a miracle.

That was the band. But only one member wrote the lyrics that spoke to my soul, the music that was the soundtrack to my teenage disenchantment: Billy Corgan. I idolized him for it. There’s no other word for it. In the early days of the internet, I even ran a fairly popular fan site* that was solely dedicated to tongue-in-cheek “worship” of Billy Corgan and definitely portrayed him as a messianic figure, and though I did not worship him as a literal god, I gave his words and thoughts and actions such power that I may as well have. When I got my first real job at a family run music shop, I bought myself an American-made Fender Stratocaster in Inca silver (the kind Billy had) and I replaced the pickups with lace sensors (the kind Billy used, in the same configuration–it turns out that the tone of my original pickups wasn’t what was holding me back, it was my lack of talent). I’d use my mouth to speak his opinions. When he sang “believe in me”, I believed him. When the band broke up and he said “There’s nothing wrong inside the band. But the way the culture is and stuff, it’s hard to keep trying to fight the good fight against the Britneys.” as though the teen pop star and her ilk were somehow responsible for the band’s decline and the lessening popularity of alternative rock, you’d best believe that for a while, I blamed Britney, too.  

This was taken in ’98 or ’99. Although there’s a lot going on here, note the Pumpkins shirt. As a side note, if you ever see someone who looks like me but aren’t certain: if the photo is flattering, it’s not me.

When I was thirty-six years old, I flew to Chicago for the express purpose of seeing the Smashing Pumpkins’ reunion tour. I hadn’t listened to the band heavily in many years, and it had even been several since I’d listened to my favorite of their albums. I downloaded them all to my phone so I could refresh myself on the plane ride over. I don’t remember the track order as viscerally as I used to, anticipating the first note of the next song, but all the lyrics, every vocal inflection, every drum fill, every feedback squeal and hopeless wail…they’re all inside me. I could hear them in my head as clearly as I could hear them through the headphones. I don’t think I could forget them even if I tried.

It’s been not quite twenty years since I abandoned that fan site, and in the intervening period, as I’ve grown up a lot and cast off the obsession and the idolization that came with it, I’ve come to see Billy Corgan as a person. A disappointing, petty, vindictive, bewildering person. From the aggressive way he reacts to a fan’s criticism, to his multiple appearances on Infowars (the unhinged, far-right American conspiracy theory program hosted by Alex Jones), to offering himself up for a charity lunch where the high bidder is also responsible for the lunch bill, to dating Jessica Simpson after indirectly blaming her for breaking up his band, to releasing five different versions of the same album to really stick it to his fans in a misguided attempt to game the Billboard charts, to kinda-sorta trying to start his own religion, to wielding his power in a petty fashion, to whatever this is.  The public beefs and self-aggrandizement lost its allure to me, especially after a “reunion” tour  ten years ago where Billy was the only original member of the band after Jimmy had enough and fucked back off to his own band, The Jimmy Chamberlain Complex. I’d reached my ridiculous behavior to life-altering music ratio lifetime limit. I couldn’t reconcile that the person who had written the songs that made my heart thrill, that gave me comfort and an outlet in a world that hurt too much, hates people like me now. It’s like preeminent Pumpkins writer Ian Cohen of Pitchfork muses on this excellent podcast if you’ve ever loved the band, “It’s just incredible that we actually got records like that out of this guy.” But I was still going to this reunion concert (now with most of the original lineup!). I was going to meet my friend, I was going for me, and I was also going to make little know-it-all thirteen year old Melissa a hypocrite. 

____________________________________

Dianne, Dee and I started our evening at the Revolution Brewpub, which we slipped into after being followed down the street by a man who proceeded to pace outside the front of the restaurant and peer through the windows, looking for us, and where I goddamn well should have ordered the Yukon potato, spring pea & cheese curd pierogi that I wanted instead of that bullshit salad I ordered so there were two reasons to be sad and scared. I know why I ordered that sad salad, because I’m recently middle-aged and I was afraid that eating a plate of carbs wrapped in carbs would make me fall asleep in my expensive concert seat before midnight. It was a responsible, flavorless choice. Or perhaps the sense of taste was driven from my mouth by the man still staring through the window, head scanning, which I could see from my seat on the balcony. Thankfully, he was not still waiting by the window when we finished our meal, nor was he waiting beside Dee’s car, which he had seen us exit and could reasonably expect that we’d return to at some point.

Metric

My emotions quickly took a huge swing in a different direction when we arrived at United Center. In addition to music, I also listened to some Ted talks on the flight to Chicago, one of which was a talk by Ingrid Fetell Lee about finding and embracing joy in our lives, and I realized as the bass thudded through my body from opening band Metric’s performance as we walked the hallways of the event center to our seats that I was experiencing joy, there in that moment, and in anticipation of the near future. We looked at the merch booth and it was the usual: t-shirts, hoodies, and vinyl. Dianne and I joked that they’d be more likely to appeal to our demographic if they had a nice silk scarf with the Mellon Collie art on it, or perhaps a flowy dolman-sleeve top. A line of scented candles–Appels + Oranjes seems like an obvious first choice, but I can easily imagine an entire range of song and album inspired scents and at least one band member belittling a frazzled nose that the “Kaleidyscope” blend doesn’t contain enough essence of mechanical child ghosts OR vetiver and that he’d just do the whole thing himself or burn down this candle factory trying. One guess as to which band member I’m picturing.

When we got to our seats, we were all surprised to learn that we actually skewed young for this audience, which was full of ill-fitting jeans and “I would like to speak to your manager” haircuts and no actual young people to speak of anywhere. When the band came out, the audience didn’t surge to its feet so much as shuffle, including the human bowl cut seated in front of me, and this low-energy feeling persisted throughout the show. Some of that has to do with the music–it’s not super danceable or headbangable and the songs that are usually change gears a few times so people just kind of stand around and nod their heads. It also didn’t help that the stadium seemed half full.

The Smashing Pumpkins’ set started with Mellon Collie played over a video referencing a lot of their album and liner art, and next was a solo acoustic performance of Disarm, which made it pretty clear that while the audience had paid to see The Smashing Pumpkins, they were at The Billy Corgan Show. It wasn’t until the rest of the band joined in on Rocket, Siva, Rhinoceros that I realized the video playing behind the band, cuts of music videos and new material, had been edited in such a way as to make it appear that former bassist and founding member D’arcy Wretzky never existed and that is when my joy died and I started to cry. I couldn’t stifle them, they were the kind of furious and bitterly disappointed grief tears that just punch their way out of the duct. It wasn’t enough to have invited D’arcy onto the tour and then renege. It wasn’t enough to disrespect her by playing all of her parts on two albums. It wasn’t enough to hound her so much during the recording of another album that she had a miscarriage from the stress,  nor was it enough to disparage her contributions after she quit the band. No, every bit of her contribution had to be obliterated, replaced. How could he do this to her, how could he be so cruel? She was in the band before Jimmy! This is her life’s work, too. I knew beforehand that she wasn’t going to be on this tour, but I didn’t know that it would be so hostile to her. This atop of all of the other messages Corgan has sent through the years about women musicians and their value, abilities and interchangeability proved to be too much. It took my breath away when I realized what a disservice I had done to myself by elevating this petty man’s opinions above my own for even a little while.

Who else but an utterly self-indulgent megalomaniac would have a double sided staircase wheeled onto the stage solely so he can ascend dramatically in an awful hooded silver lamé cape while performing the most tortured, overwrought cover of Space Oddity since William Shatner touched it

Who else but a rampant narcissist would see a video of himself driving a car and think, “Do you know what this needs? Another, larger me looming in the backseat!” I bet if we flipped to a side view, his spinning face would be on the hubcaps.

I don’t mean to imply that the show was bad. It wasn’t bad, but the thing about this being The Billy Corgan Show means that how I felt about The Smashing Pumpkins in that moment was intrinsically tied to how I felt about Billy Corgan, and how I felt about Billy Corgan in that moment had taken a steep dive from mere minutes earlier which was already way down from its all time peak in 1996. And that’s the problem with the band, and the problem with the concept of a reunion tour for this band, when one man has made it so clear over the course of his career that he’s done everything himself and that everyone else is replaceable. I am convinced that The Smashing Pumpkins would be Billy Corgan and three+ mini Corgans grown in a vat if he only could figure out the technology. Billy Corgan and his Corgestra.

The band played a lot of hits and a few deeper cuts, powering through three hours and fulfilling the role of a reunion tour by finally embracing their back catalog as they’ve been historically loathe to do. In the background were more videos of widely varying technical skill and artistic merit featuring Billy Corgan in religious, magical and prophetic iconography, along with more Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray notoriety in a vaudeville outfit than anyone ever asked for. Corgan dedicates a song to his mother, the one where the official music video is about a homeless pregnant couple with addiction issues and behind him on the blazing screens a glimmering starlet nods out, her eyes shimmering with tears. In the audience, Dianne and I turned to each other in that moment and exchanged a very meaningful look. Out on the arena floor, an electric virgin Mary was slowly wheeled around the audience; from where I was seated I was unable to ascertain whether or not she cradled an infant Billy but I can only assume she did. 

The setlist covered a wide segment of their career but did stick to albums released before their initial breakup, with the exception of a new song written by this lineup, Solara. If I could have made changes, I would have eliminated the covers (all of them, even Landslide) in favor of a few less likely candidates from my favorite era of the band: Set The Ray To Jerry, Obscured, Jellybelly, Bodies. I can’t complain because the last time I saw them, the only song they played from Mellon Collie that wasn’t a single happened to be my favorite, Thru The Eyes of Ruby, and it was so unexpected that I felt like the luckiest person alive on the happiest day of her life. I was glad this time to get a live Porcelina and Muzzle. The scope and the vaudeville and the iconography of this glittering stage show was exactly the right amount of bombast for this band.

There wasn’t a lot of stage banter at the Chicago show, nor at the nearly-identical Seattle show which was broadcast online, and in that latter, it felt so…typical that he’d use his short time talking with the audience, his time introducing the last song pre-encore, to get after “the people who left early to go home and do heroin”. Typical to focus on the empty seats instead of the packed ones.  Typical to be so small, to snatch an insult from a few people leaving when literally thousands of people spent the last three hours listening to what he wanted them to hear and looking at what he wanted them to see. Typical to take this opportunity to introduce himself to a whole new worldwide audience and punch himself in the face with just three songs to go. He immediately followed it with “That was a joke, come on. It’s ok. We have heroin in Chicago.” and while his lack of empathy for people outside himself (including, clearly, Jimmy and his struggles with the drug) is Billy Corgan canon, I think it’s more telling that in reviews of other dates I’ve read, he has made a point several times in several other shows of calling out people who left early in a joking-not-joking fashion, and that speaks to a larger problem of someone who still thinks he’s not getting something he deserves at the worldwide arena tour dedicated to his ego where people are screaming for him. 

I think I will always love the music that spoke to me when I needed it. It would sure be easier to call myself a fan, however, if Billy Corgan would adopt some measure of generosity of spirit, grace, forgiveness, and gratefulness in his life in addition to singing about it. But D’arcy is probably right.

 

 

*An archived version of that page still exists online, to my complete surprise. I looked at it for the first time in since I abandoned it and while it’s not a good website, and it’s very of its time, it starts off fairly sensible (entertainment only, don’t stalk him, be cool). I expected a full-body cringe so intense that my guts could produce diamonds and I didn’t get one…until I landed on the page where I attempted to define the cardinal sins in music and I expect to pop out the Koh-i-Noor sometime tomorrow. Yikes. Good thing I’m not doing anything embarrassing on the internet anymore!

Chicago: Designer toys, metal burgers, and buckets of blood

Situated at the corner of W Belmont and N Francisco in Chicago, the original Kuma’s Corner has been dishing up gourmet burgers with heavy metal flair for fourteen years, and I swear I’ve been hearing about it from my local friends for just about that long. At least one of those friends even made a special trip for their Bleeping Blagojevich burger in “honor” of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who was removed from office and is currently serving fourteen years in prison for corruption for what basically amounts to trying to auction off former President Barack Obama’s open Senate seat to the highest bidder–that burger was topped with a thick slice of salty balogna, had grilled cheese sandwiches as the bun, and was served with a dollar symbol emblazoned in mustard on top. Just like the cost of that Senate seat, the price of the Bleeping Blagojevich was negotiable, but not available for free.

Kuma’s Corner stopped serving that particular burger a while back, because you can’t rest on your laurels and also because no one remembers a political scandal longer than a week anymore. Our group had tried to get in a couple of evenings previous at their West Loop location (also on a corner) but it was so full that we ended up at another nearby restaurant whose name I have forgotten which is for the best because I couldn’t say anything nice about it even by accident, how do you cut up a sausage for a slider and not notice that it isn’t cooked through?  …ahem.

We found it much easier to pop into the original Kuma’s for lunch on a Monday, metal blasting from the speakers, movies playing on their screens instead of sports. Their walls are painted crimson, their ceilings and fixtures black. On the wall behind the bar, a disheveled bear reaches with arms outstretched to wrap them around the beholder, its mouth and chest covered in blood as it proclaims its desire for MEAT. Adjacent is the chalkboard that informs patrons which charity they’re helping if they order the monthly draft special. 

Kuma’s also stocks Jeppson’s Malört, Chicago’s most infamous liquor. Originally advertised as a “challenge to the braggart who claims he can drink anything”, Malort is flavored with wormwood (not gasoline, as is rumored). It doesn’t appear that any bar or restaurant outside of Illinois serves Malort, so I decided to seize the opportunity, ordering a shot along with the recommended beer to wash it down. Malort tastes like bitter dirt that is on fire somehow, and that fire infuses your tissues from your tongue all the way down. Malort’s flavor is so aggressive that its own creator concedes that “The first shot is hard to swallow!” but ominously adds “Make it past two ‘shock-glasses’ and with the third you could be ours…forever” which sounds like exactly the kind of devil’s bargain that goes down in a metal burger bar on a Monday afternoon.

I kept up my goat streak and ordered the Goatsnake: a thick, medium rare patty of their proprietary ground beef blend, topped with a hockey puck of herbed goat cheese, poblano sweet corn relish, a Cholula lemon vinaigrette, and buttermilk breaded deep fried red onions on a pretzel bun. The resulting burger is THICK, hard to pick up, hard to eat, but harder to put down because it was so delicious. It’s the kind of burger that you need to smash down a little and then hold on for dear life. I loved the flavors at play here–it brings a lot of tang to the table between the goat cheese, the lemon vinaigrette, and the buttermilk breading which pairs so beautifully with the richness of the beef. I love a mountain of fried onion so this was going to be a delight to me regardless, but that hearty pile was exactly the right amount of crunch to balance all that soft cheese. 

Hell Kitty Kitty

The same beer from above plus a shot of Malort.

The beer from above minus the Malort plus the Goatsnake and its fried onion mountain.

After lunch, we walked to nearby Bucket O’Blood Books & Records, a resale shop with a curated collection: sci fi, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, metal, punk…you get the drift. I have some thoughts on why “romance novels” were specifically called out as an entire genre that they do not accept even though, for example, books like Kushiel’s Dart have fantasy and blood to spare, but instead of getting into it, I’ll just say that I think it boils down to a pervasive problem that rhymes with “schizogeny“, even if it’s unconscious schizogeny.  We browsed for a while; I didn’t end up leaving with anything* as I was saving my limited carry on room potential for our next stop, Rotofugi. 

Rotofugi is the other kind of adult toy store, the kind with limited edition art toys and a gallery of original work by current and emerging artists and two full aisles of blind box toys. If you’re not familiar with the concept, blind box toys are an assortment of toys sold in identical boxes but you don’t know what you’re getting until after you open it. It’s like gambling except instead of winning money, you end up with a bunch of the same toy you didn’t want, because the odds of getting the really rare toy you do want are approximately the same as you being crushed by the toy factory falling from the sky. Trading cards but non-biodegradable. They can be fun if the concept is unique or you’re not overly invested in what you get–I bought a Stink Box featuring art by Jason Limon and any plastic kitty pooping in that box would be just as funny as any other. I also bought a blind box of tiny glow-in-the-dark realistic looking magnetic mushrooms that now cling to the side of my fridge. But generally I feel that blind boxes are just ways for manufacturers to hide what they’re selling to you so they can (1) get you to spend more money and (2) sell out the edition so retailers don’t end up with a stock of less-popular figures/poses that they can’t move. The art toy world does lay claim to starting the blind box trend but I honestly can’t help but think of the utter wave of trash this trend has created and will continue to create when people get tired of having fifty dusty reminders of a TV show they used to watch. Or of a plastic kitty infinitely squatting in a cardboard litter box.

I really enjoyed browsing their art gallery, and I seriously debated buying a Jason Limon original, Cinq. It’s a 2013 piece and especially interesting to me as I didn’t know sculpture was in his body of work and yet his style translates to it clearly. I didn’t bring it home but I still think about it sometimes and I feel like it belongs in a room next to a plant in a macrame hanger.

Sea Horse Tim Shumate

A Star in the Darkness Tim Shumate

Cinq Jason Limon

*I know it’s basically a Crime Against Books to admit this but really old paperbacks that don’t belong to me gross me out, especially when they turn that awful yellow-brown and they get that extra soft texture on the page that kind of lingers on your fingers along with that musty book smell. I get that some people really dig the smell of old books but I cannot ride that ride with you. I bought a book from 1943 online for a friend for her birthday about a goat who goes around causing mischief, and when it arrived, I intended to read it (so we could later discuss goat mischief) but I could not read more than a few pages at a time because the experience of handling it was just too awful. And then, to top it off, I ran into the passage where Billy Whiskers gets racist because why not ruin an otherwise charming story about a whimsical goat with some casual racism? So of course I couldn’t even send it to her because it’s not going to be Auntie Melissa’s fault her kids learn old timey racial epithets. NO. 

Chicago: Boating & Goating

Ever since the first AOL disc was inserted into my dad’s work laptop, I have lived on the internet. Back then, the closest thing we had to social media was email message boards, where people of a common interest would sign up to be part of a group and then you’d get a digest email of messages from group members. It was like the comments section came to you, daily, and all those commenters had your email address, but you were excited about it instead of horrified. My special interest/obsession at that point in my life was The Smashing Pumpkins, and one of the things I did after I first fumbled onto the internet was join a Smashing Pumpkins email group. I was thrilled to have all of these strangers’ opinions of albums and songs and band member rankings delivered to me daily, but the overall group size was a bit overwhelming, and eventually I broke off with a smaller group onto a different Smashing Pumpkins-but-not-exclusively list, and these people transformed from strangers into friends I’d never met. We haven’t all kept in touch over the past twenty years, but some of us have. So when the Smashing Pumpkins announced a reunion tour and one of these friends floated a suggestion that we meet in Chicago to see their hometown show and make a weekend of it, I immediately agreed, because I feel like if someone is planning to abduct and murder a person, gaining their trust at 16 is a good move but twenty years is too long a time to lie in wait, so I could probably risk it. 

Our party was three: Me, Dianne, and Dee, a fellow Pumpkins fan and someone Dianne had met through their mutual interest in Sphynx cats. Dee lived in the city and wouldn’t be able to join us on the first day because of work, so we decided to hit up some tourist spots and see where the day took us. First, we walked to the riverwalk to buy tickets for a riverboat architecture tour–the next available time was in a couple of hours, which was more time than we wanted to spend just dinking around the waterfront but not really enough to do much of anything else. 

So we walked south to Millenium Park and spent a little time there. Its most well-known feature is Cloud Gate, otherwise referred to as “the bean”. Cloud Gate was designed by artist Sir Anish Kapoor and officially unveiled to the public in its final polished state in 2006. When I looked up that date to confirm it, a little bell went off as I know I had seen it before then, in 2004–it turns out, I had seen it during the brief window it was unveiled to the public before its seams were polished off.  

2004

It took me a minute to find me but then I couldn’t stop seeing myself everywhere.

August 2018

People were zumbaing across the great lawn as we walked to the Lurie garden. I grew up in a town about an hour drive north of Chicago and had an almost visceral reaction to the garden, as no smell is as immediately familiar as the smell of the sun warming the plants and dirts of your childhood, the years when you spent the most time out in among those plants and that dirt, skinning your knees, picking cattails and growing up. My nose took me back decades in an instant.

Before the architecture tour, we decided to grab a quick beverage and a snack somewhere, and settled on Le Pain Quotidien, where they defy the very laws of nature and existence itself with how long it takes them to whip some dragon fruit into a smoothie.  Parties came and went and I drank my entire turmeric latte and Dianne ate her meal and still my gloppy snack had yet to arrive. I tried to cancel the order but they took another ten minutes to pack it for me to go and carry it on my lap in the hot sun on a boat for an hour and a half and threw away afterward because for some reason a long slow warm-up in the sun doesn’t do much for an amalgamation of coconut yogurt, key lime, avocado, and cashew butter.

We made it back to the boat with mere minutes to spare before boarding…and still we were not the last in line.  When the queue got to our turn, we sat front and center on the boat, as most of the seats to the back and either side had been claimed already, which was fine by me as it meant no one’s head was ever blocking my view. I bought myself a beer for the tour, which sweated into my hand and onto the bag that held the aforementioned Warm Yogurty Mistake, I got a mild stripey sunburn thanks in part to the fancy shoulder cutouts on my shirt but mostly to my perpetual failure to ever apply enough sunscreen everywhere, and friends, I could not tell you really anything that I learned on this tour which means that I would be happy to go back and do it again anytime and see if it sticks.

We ended up going back to the hotel to freshen up and take a bit of a rest, and the struck out again with intentions to go to Girl & the Goat, a Chicago fine dining restaurant with plenty of vegetarian options which could not be said of the highly-lauded Au Cheval, which is literally across the street and where I wanted to go to all the more because it turned out Girl & the Goat was closed for a private event that evening. Never fear, just down the block was Little Goat Diner, serving diner fare with the same top quality ingredients and care they use at Girl & the Goat. 

Their menu is enormous but I went nearly as goaty as possible, with a little goat latte, a lil caesar salad, and a sloppy goat sandwich on brioche topped with coleslaw. …I may have gone a bit too goaty overall. I think the goat milk from the latte and the goat from the sandwich came from goats who clearly knew and hated one another and decided to continue to butt heads in my guts. It doesn’t look like they have the sloppy goat on the menu at present, but when I had it, I didn’t love it–it was too big, too rich, too soft, the goat flavor a little strong. But I also think that’s what a sloppy joe should be, and thus I can’t fault them for serving me what I ordered. I think I was just bad at picking what I wanted that day.

 

This didn’t deserve its own post: Texas

When I take a trip somewhere, if I don’t do a day-by-day recounting, there’s usually a bunch of tidbits left over that I either couldn’t write more than a few sentences about or don’t have any photos for or would drag out the series far beyond what any human could be expected to tolerate.  All combined, however, they make for something a little more substantial, so here’s yet another one, this time about Texas.

There’s a donut shop in Round Rock that’ll sell you a donut the size of Texas for just under eight bucks. This behemoth, weighing in at around two pounds, is the equivalent of twelve regular donuts, and it absolutely dwarfs the largest donut I’d had prior, at Universal Studios. I may, in fact, never eat a larger donut in my life…but one can hope. Round Rock Donuts sells ’em glazed, chocolate frosted, and for the indecisive like myself, a split donut. Both sides had their charms, but ultimately I preferred the glazed half as the chocolate frosting can overwhelm the flavor of the donut itself, and it’s a donut worth tasting, tinted yellow from all the golden yolks of the farm-fresh eggs they use in their yeasted raised dough recipe. But y’know, maybe share it with a friend. I was particularly delighted to know that the donut could support its own weight when being picked up to do a size comparison selfie with, say, one’s own head.

I was so excited to go to Chicken Shit Bingo at the Little Longhorn Saloon, which they do every Sunday between 4 and 8pm, in four rounds. There’s a live band, and an array of picnic tables around a central tent, providing shade and protection for a large chicken wire cage, lined with a board with 54 numbered spaces and littered with feed to encourage movement(s). The band announced a table number, and it was from that table that the first round of tickets were sold. Excuse me, “exchanged for a donation”. Tickets are sold exchanged first to kids under 13, then adults over 92 (with ID), and then they’re exchanged with whoever hustled over to the line fast enough, one per person. I saw a man straight vault over a table and determined that the only way for me to win was not to participate. When the chicken finally came out, people crowded around the cage six deep, shouting at the chicken and cheering. Between them and the whole camera crew in there, I could not see anything and I didn’t feel like elbowing a bunch of people to try and see a chicken take a shit, so I left.

I wandered by this place while waiting to get into my movie at the nearby Alamo Drafthouse. Or so I thought. You see, the nearby Alamo Drafthouse, on S Lamar, was busy with SXSW screenings, and the ticket I had purchased was actually for a movie showing at an Alamo Drafthouse in Fort Worth, which is also on S Lamar, just a mere three and a half hour drive away. 

In general, I really really liked Alamo Drafthouse and I’m pretty devastated that there aren’t any locations nearby. The food is delicious, the service is unobtrusive, and they’re serious about ensuring your good experience which includes none of the ubiquitous modern commercial advertising before the start of the movie, choosing instead to take you on a nostalgic tour through tv clips, movie clips, and old timey cartoons and ads for toys and candy, curated from what must be an extensive collection by someone who has love for media. And I cannot confirm this, but I think they may have invented the endless popcorn bowl, because I happily munched on herbed parmesan popcorn all throughout Annihilation and when the movie ended, I still had 70% of it left. Some of the volume left may have had to do with my drive to eat as quietly as possible so as not to disturb the other moviegoers with my excessive crunching. 

The Jackalope was…a bar. With a Jackalope. That I tragically had no one to take my photo riding.

Looking for dinner one night, neither Jason nor I could resist the allure of “Jason’s Deli” for obvious reasons. It was, sad to say, kind of mediocre. My baked potato was almost unfathomably big–it was like they crossed a potato with a loaf of bread and planted it in radioactive soil. But it was bland and the chili was unpleasantly sweet and I was glad I’d paid the extra whatever to have access to the salad bar.

We took a ferry from Galveston to Crystal Beach and regretted it almost immediately. Jason got some freezer burned ice cream, I used the bathroom, we laughed at the “BUY SHRIMP I NEED MONEY” sign, I witnessed a wholly brown wave crash onto the “crystal” trash-littered beach and turned around and headed back to the ferry. 

I wrote one word in my travel notebook for the Houston Space Center: “Yeesh.”  It’s almost like a chaotic evil engineer designed it so that the high pitched shrieks of children reverberate endlessly. 

I like that this building looks like a cockatoo.

Umlach Sculpture Garden

I saw lots of couples taking engagement and wedding photos in Mayfield park. It’s also a lovely place for a stroll or to sit and read a book, punctuated with the haunting, mournful screams of the two dozen peacocks and hens who have the run of the place.

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Colorado River

And that’s it for Texas! Anything I didn’t talk about really didn’t deserve its own post.

GŎNG Bar at The Shard

I should’ve used Jason for scale, this door is much smaller than it appears in this photo.

After touring a structure with nearly a thousand years of history, we headed across the Thames via the Tower Bridge to a much newer addition to the London skyline: the Shard. Side note: I adore the nicknames for London buildings, which include among their numbers The Gherkin, The Walkie-Talkie, and The Cheese Grater.  Completed in 2012, the Shard is 95 stories of neo-futuristic steel and glass looming over the city, complete with an indoor/outdoor observation deck located at its upper reaches. A costly observation deck, particularly if you don’t purchase tickets in advance, so I thought I’d be clever and go to the nearly-as-high GŎNG Bar instead for my sweeping city views and spend what I would’ve on elevator tickets on drinks instead. It’s twenty floors lower than the observation deck, but they craft a mean cocktail and you don’t have to pretend to be impressed at the “opportunity” to shop at “the highest gift shop in London”. Oh boy! 

The thing I should have gleaned from the name alone, with its insistent all-caps and needless diacritic, is that GŎNG Bar is also pretentious as fuck. And so whilst I saved myself an admission fee, I paid a different sort of price. The sort of price that sticks long after the temporary pain of parting with money has passed.  It began with the wait–reservationless, we were directed to a couch in the lobby to wait. And wait. And wait. Ostensibly, we were waiting for a table, but when we were finally allowed up, the many empty tables conveyed to me that during said waiting period, GŎNG Bar was also waiting: for me to leave.  Well, joke’s on them, as an object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted upon by an outside force. (I’m talking about my butt*, of course, which stayed firmly planted on the couch until the receptionist heaved a sigh, hobbled over in the floor length red gown and heels that was her uniform,  and invited me up.)

Am I certain that I was unwanted at GŎNG Bar? No. No one ever said to me “You don’t belong here.” But no one needed to say it aloud. The appraising up-down look (I didn’t look like a slob, but I certainly wasn’t wearing a gown), the artificial wait, the cruddy service: it spoke volumes. I felt unwelcome. Jason felt unwelcome, and he’s usually the one telling me that I’ve got it all wrong, that it’s just my inner critic dialed up to eleven and projected onto other people. It left us both feeling vaguely uneasy the entire time we were there.

The drinks, as mentioned before, are excellent–creative, complex, well-crafted. I truly enjoyed my drink, an ode to Peter Jackson with rum, New Zealand wine, beetroot, and pine honey, redolent of the deep forests of middle earth, served in a silver pipe. The views of the city with fireworks peppering the skyline? Also excellent. But I also could not see myself visiting again on a future occasion: I like myself too much to be subjected to an entire bar’s negative opinion of me.

 

 

*Their toilets are also incredible, and I’m not the only one who thinks so

Happy Place Los Angeles

In early December, someone shared a link on Facebook to the new Los Angeles pop-up museum, Happy Place. It was one of those made-for-Insta places where the whole point of the thing was to get whimsical photos to share on social media, with the tagline “find your happy place” and for some reason, it sucked me right in. Jason had been encouraging me to take some trips on my own, and this is the sort of thing he would more tolerate than enjoy, so it seemed like a good opportunity to dip my toes into the water of solo travel. I bought a ticket for one of the only dates in January on which they had a ticket available, found a cheap flight for a day trip to LA, and prepared to find my happy place. 

So, of course, not long before my trip, I got an email from Happy Place “reminding” me that the museum would be closed on the date on which I’d bought my ticket. What?! I checked my inbox to see if I’d missed any earlier messages: nope. Nice, guys. Thanks for the awesome communication. THIS IS NOT HOW YOU MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY. Later that day, I received another email stating that after “tireless work trying to gain the necessary approvals to get re-opened, it is clear at this time that the needed steps will not be complete until after the holiday season at the earliest.” In other words, they’d been shut down by the city. Great. Great. Evidently their person in charge of the permitting process was just as capable at their job as the one assigned to email. 

Well, I was not about to let some bullshitty “museum” I never should have purchased a ticket for in the first place ruin my day trip, and thus I visited Los Angeles determined to find my own happy place. I did do some preliminary research (I don’t know if I’m capable of full spontaneity) and determined that if I wasn’t going to rent a car, taking the flyaway bus was my best option. While I waited for my bus, a number of other buses and shuttles came and went, including some shabby vans supposedly bound for Disneyland but looked like a one way ride to Murderville. One of them had “Mickey sent me” written on the side, which didn’t so much evoke the warm umbrella of Disney so much as the stranger who pulls up next to your elementary school, rolls down his window, and says your mom sent him to come get you. Nope, not today, buddy. Especially if you don’t have candy OR puppies.

Waiting with me was an elderly woman, who asked me about my plans and told me all about her granddaughter, who she said is first clarinet for the John Williams orchestra, and that he’s a delight to work for. Cool, right? Before I could ask her a million more questions, her bus arrived, and she thanked me for the conversation. No, thank YOU, ma’am. 

My fly away bus finally arrived, and I took the one headed to Hollywood. Not because I particularly wanted to go to Hollywood (I’ve been. A few times.) but because it was the sort-of closest stop that would put me within walking distance of the places I wanted to start my day. So of course immediately after arrival, I put off my other plans and had pie for breakfast at The Pie Hole. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, after all. 

I had a nitro cold brew and a warm strawberry lavender hand pie. The crust on the hand pie is just meh, but the other flavors were on point, and I was glad to have some food in my belly before I proceeded on foot to my next destination, which was about an hour walk away. I briefly considered hanging around Hollywood until the Museum of Death opened, but since the day was about pleasing myself and not the harsh realities of life, I decided to give it a pass this time. And last time. And maybe I’ll just keep passing even though people keep recommending it to me. Either way, I knew that having a bunch of strawberry goo churning around in my insides while looking at gore wasn’t going to do me any favors. 

While out on my walk, I was stopped by a queen and asked if I had a dollar to spare for breakfast, saying she’d had a rough holiday. I told her I could do better than a dollar and gave her enough for breakfast. She pulled me in for a hug, told me I’d made her day, and that if I ever needed anything and saw her around the neighborhood, her name was Jasmine. 

Here’s some stuff I saw on my walk:

I have to assume that the reason it’s a gym for actors is that there is no gym equipment so one has to be adept at pretending one is getting a good workout.

I finally made it to my first destination: The Never Open Store. This place has notoriously unusual hours and equally notoriously unusual things for sale, but was, when I arrived, not open, with no indication that it would be opening soon, as the hands on the clock on their door were conspicuously missing. I’m not saying I needed an opium jar, but it would’ve been nice to have a look. 

Around the back side of the Never Open Store were a lot of different pieces of street art. I walked around the back of the block and circled around, because there was another place I wanted to visit, directly across the street: Gallery 1988. There were a few prints I was debating online and I was hoping to have an opportunity to look at them in person before I made a decision. Unfortunately, I caught them between shows and they, too, were closed. Siiiiigh. So I was thankful that I knew my next destination, about another mile away, was definitely open.

If there’s not, you’re in the wrong place.

I dig this bush a lot, it looks like it moved out of an ocean bed into someone’s front lawn. I’m thinking it’s a foxtail fern

That destination was ScentBar Hollywood. No one could have predicted when I was kid that I would grow up to be a complete and utter perfume hoor, considering I used to get a migraine whenever anyone with heavily-applied scent would walk by. Either I’ve built up a tolerance, or the choking oriental cloud style of the 80s has fallen out of favor, but I haven’t experienced a scent trigger for ages. It’s fun to dabble in scent, and there’s so much to try in the world of niche perfumes and oils. I’ve been buying little samples from LuckyScent for years, because the descriptions almost always suck me in, but I’m not always thrilled by the scents themselves, and who wants to splurge big bucks on a bottle of scent that they don’t like? ScentBar is one of LuckyScent’s physical locations, and I was excited to have this opportunity to go in and sniff ALL the perfumes I’d been intrigued by online and some I’d never considered. ScentBar also offers up to four samples free of charge, so in addition to a small bottle of scent I’d been eyeing for a while, I was able to walk out with four new things to try: Hummingbird (the floralest floral to ever floral), Kismet (recommended to me as an ambery vanilla that doesn’t read too gourmand), Confessions of a Garden Gnome (green and playful), and La Danza Delle Libellule, which is honestly something I never would have reached for based on its notes (apple? fruity? Naaaaaah) but I fell in love with at one sniff, because it smells like a warm secret garden where everything good lives. Which just goes to show me that I don’t always know what I’ll like, so I shouldn’t write things off before trying them.

After ScentBar, it was time for lunch, and there was no place I wanted to eat lunch more than Trejo’s Tacos. I once received a book as a gift that was essentially making fun of actors’ headshots–very “look at how stupid this person is, wanting to be a star”. It was deeply cruel, and I remember seeing Danny Trejo’s photo inside, so literally every time I see him in a movie or a show I am completely stoked for him. I’m also stoked that he was able to take his new fame and turn it into six thriving restaurants. 

When I arrived, I ordered a jackfruit taco, a carnitas taco, the street corn appetizer, and a strawberry lemon agua fresca, and I took a seat outside, because being able to eat outside in January is peak Happy Place. 

The street corn was charred grilled corn with a chipotle cream and popcorn, and it was totally bomb. The popcorn was a surprising element but it worked. The standout, however, was by far the jackfruit taco. I’d heard that cooked jackfruit takes on a texture like pulled pork, and that it soaks up the flavor of everything around it, much like tofu, but I don’t know that I believed it. Well baby, I’m a believer now. The cooked jackfuit was shockingly meatlike. Juicy, flavorful, delicious. I vastly preferred it to the carnitas taco–the pork was a tad dry and had me looking around for salsa or hot sauce. The jackfruit taco needed nothing because it was everything. EVERYTHING.

This was across the street from Trejo’s Tacos, I wonder how many of these pink signs to God there are throughout the city?

After lunch, I made my way to Velveteria, a museum dedicated to black velvet paintings, located in Chinatown. This place deserves its own post, and it’s going to have one later this week. Watch for it! In brief: it’s weird and great and everything I hoped it would be.

From Chinatown, I made my way to Culver City, primarily because I wanted to be closer to the airport as my time grew short. I had fun just walking around, checking out some more street art, peeping in some more shop windows, and eventually ending up at Coolhaus, a super premium ice cream shop. I’d tried one of their frozen ice cream sandwiches from their grocery store line and was really unimpressed, but I also think it’s difficult to translate that fresh ice cream sandwich experience into a prepack, so I wanted to give the original a try. Verdict? Much, much tastier, particularly their ice cream. I tried their brown butter french toast ice cream (aces) and their churro cookie dough (even better), but their cookies leave something to be desired, and overall, I still think The Baked Bear is a better place to get your ice cream sandwich fix. 

I’m certain I saw a piece by the same artist in Iceland!

And then it was time to head back to the airport, where I finished the excellent book I was reading and met an aspiring novelist who bought me a drink and regaled me with the tales of her past twenty-two days in Mazatlan.

There’s no denying that I was pretty ticked off when my reason for purchasing nonrefundable airline tickets was going to be closed, but ultimately, I’m glad, because I’m certain that I had a much better time carving out my own happy place than I would have had there. I also learned that I do well traveling by myself, and that if I have a problem, I can figure it out. I also learned that people talk to me a lot more when I’m alone, which I’m generally down with, because I’m interested in people. Overall, I’m declaring this experiment a success and am looking forward to booking more impulse flights!

The Bestest Beach Weekend for the Bestest Boy

In late September, I knew my time with Napoleon was coming to an end. His dementia was starting to take a toll–he was withdrawing from us, he lost interest in toys and playtime, he would get lost in the house, he would pace the hall at night. It was hard to watch him slipping away from us, and after a lot of talking and crying, we made the decision to euthanize him at home before things progressed to the point where he was having more bad days than good. It was a hard choice, and I questioned my decision nigh-relentlessly. 

But before that, we decided to take him on a weekend trip. He was in heaven the last time we took him to the ocean, so we decided to go to the beach, so we could walk him out on the sand as much as he wanted to. We stayed at the Hallmark Resort Cannon Beach, because I had a wonderful experience with them last year in Newport, and remembered that they had this second location and were dog-friendly.  We arrived late in the evening on Friday, and this was waiting on check-in:

Awwwwww!

Napoleon was a bit agitated that night–it could be that it was an unfamiliar place, it could be the dementia, but I’m pretty sure it was that he knew we were at the flippin’ ocean and hadn’t gone out to it yet, gigantic staircase and pitch darkness be damned. So we were up at the crack of dawn for our first beach walk. 

We rushed down the stairs and finally, finally, we were at the beach. Which we immediately charged across to solve The Problem Of A Rock With A Moat Around It, at least until we got distracted by a bird.

I don’t believe I was aware that Jason was recording this but now I’m glad he did.

Damn, I love the Oregon coast. 

After we tuckered Napodog out with a morning walk after his all nighter ocean anticipatory vigil, we packed him in the car and headed to Tillamook for a grilled cheese and some ice cream, some of which we shared with the pup and some which we did not, because the goal was to give him an exciting, happy experience, not churn his guts like so much rich creamery butter. He had many admirers on the Tillamook patio seating area, which helped to assuage his sense of hurt justice that somehow his cute face did not warrant an entire grilled cheese sandwich plus everyone else’s sandwiches as well.

After filling ourselves full-to-bursting, we headed back in the direction of our hotel on a different route, one that went through Rockaway Beach. I remembered from on our previous trip up 101, we were going to route through Rockaway Beach and stop at Pronto Pup, purportedly the inventors of the corn dog. That trip, however, we rerouted to save time after Tillamook since driving on the coast loses its appeal at night, and thus never made it to that stretch of road. This time we were gonna stop, no matter how full. Jason and I rode their mechanical corn dog, and then sat out in the sunshine with our dog, waiting for our other dog to be ready. 

The corn dog was excellent, and I have no problem crowning it as the best corn dog I have ever eaten, and I have eaten many an encased meat that has been battered and then deep fried. Still groaning from too much ice cream, however, a bite was all I tried. Napoleon had no such issues and also found it to be an excellent corn dog, though I’m not personally certain of his ranking system since I once saw this dog poop out an unused tampon and furthermore once engaged in a week long battle to acquire a corn cob he’d stolen from the trash and ate and threw up repeatedly, immediately eating it to begin the cycle again. “Leap towards the vomit with your bare hands” is probably not going to be the party game sensation of 2018, or ever. 

Napoleon also made friends at Pronto Pup, with several people coming by to pet him and tell him what a good boy he was. I was still having some trouble with my decision and was always struck by the weird impulse to tell people that our time with him was ending soon. I honestly can’t remember if I told anyone or if I managed to squelch it down to that place where all of my dumb impulses live, but I have to assume that it was coming from a place where I wanted them to appreciate even more what a good boy he was–how soft, how nice, how smart. I do remember that several of the people who approached us and asked to pet him mentioned that they’d lost dogs recently and my heart broke for them*. 

From Rockaway Beach, we drove back to the hotel and walked from there into the cute downtown area of Cannon Beach. We did some window shopping and some actual shopping, and we opted to walk back to the hotel via the beach–the mist had burned off since our morning walk and it had turned into a truly gorgeous day.  

His little paw prints are glowing as he walks toward the light and I definitely cut some onions while going through these photos.

After our walk back, we rested again in the hotel room until closer to sunset, when we headed back down to the beach. (So. many. stairs.) Our hotel was right across the beach from Haystack Rock, and a fair amount of people had gathered to watch the sunset, which is actually pretty special. We live in this world with so much entertainment and yet we gather with strangers to watch something that’s happened every single day of our lives and will never stop being beautiful. 

There’s this little gap at the base of Haystack rock, and at sunset, the light flashing and flickering inside gives the appearance of the wall being painted in gold. Napoleon, for his part, was way more interested in the activity on the beach than any glowy cave. 

Eventually we retreated to the beach chairs and watched the last of the sun slip over the horizon. Unfortunately, watching that late sunset meant that our options for patio dining (which was a must, given the presence of the pup) were zilch, so I popped over to the local hardware store (no, really) to grab some take out to eat in our room. I was met on my walk back by Jason and Napoleon, who had come out to find me after that little dog bean pitched a fit at not being able to have eyes on both of us at once. We watched a surprising number of movies over the course of our stay: Goonies (of course), Hotel Transylvania 2, and Ratatouille. Stuff that was kind of easy to just chill out and cuddle with one’s pup on the bed after a bunch of beach play time. 

The following day was a half beach day/ half drive home day, and we made the most of it, starting with another early morning beach walk to check out the tide pools and enjoy one another’s company. The beach cooperated by giving us an absolutely gorgeous morning, bright and cool, and wholly unlike the misty morning previous. 

When we decided it was time to wrap up beach time, and headed to Sleepy Monk to grab some coffee and breakfast before we hit the road. The line there is kind of ridiculous–you have to step to the side to wait for your drinks and food, but people just keep cramming into the building, forcing you to interrupt someone’s conversation about yoga three times as you elbow your way through to get your goods. Their coffee and pastries are totally great, though, and I dig their druidic vibe. I especially dig the teeny goat on top of their coffee sleeves. 

After properly fueling our machines with caffeine, we hopped in the car and promptly saw this Bigfoot themed steakhouse with what appears to be a werewolf with one hooked flipper arm chained up outside. When viewed from the proper angle, it looks like the Bigfoot on the side of the road and the prime rib sign merge to become Bigfoot’s, uh, prime rib. If you know what I mean, and if you read this blog, you do. 

Ostensibly this is a photo of the lady Bigfoot, but look a little more closely at the background to catch a glimpse of Bigfoot’s Prime Rib.

We also found this great big chair in Seaside, Oregon. 

Our route home took us through Astoria so as to visit their Sunday farmer’s market. I don’t have any pics because walking through a crowded market that’s almost universally not looking where they’re walking with a small dog, and furthermore not paying attention myself by fiddling with my camera is a great way to get someone’s tiny paw stepped on. It hasn’t changed a lot since the last time I visited–even if some of the vendors are not the same, there was someone there in that particular category, be they sign makers, leather workers, or popcorn vendors, so the overall flavor remains the same.  Napoleon met his first goat and stepped back in shock, trying to figure out what was going on with this strange dog. The goat didn’t have much of an opinion either way.

At some point on the way home, we stopped at a restaurant that advertised their famous pie, because Jason is a legendary pie hound, and while he went inside to buy a slab, I walked around with Napodog outside and saw this bird carving, while so. many. vultures. wheeled around in the sky. I don’t know what that’s saying about the restaurant’s food or their mainly elderly clientele, but I do know that Jason thought their pie was nowhere near as good as mine. I do make a mean slice

And, since it was such a beautiful day and we had plenty of time to spare, we stopped in Winlock to finally see the world’s largest egg, something that I had been driving past in a hurry to something else for the last decade. It was, indeed, a sizeable egg. 

The rooster’s not talkin’. 

 

A special treats and walk filled week later, the veterinarian made the visit to our house, and even though I had been second guessing my decision up until the time she walked in the door, I have no regrets. I called my buddy up onto my lap, and after he was administered the painkillers, it sealed the deal for me. I felt him relax in my arms, pain free, and that was not something I’d felt from him in a long time. It eased some of my hurt to feel him not hurting, and I handed him over to Jason so he could feel the same. He was in Jason’s arms when the final shot was administered, and we petted him and told him how much we loved him as he passed. I keep reiterating what a difficult decision it was, because it was difficult to voluntarily part myself from him forever, when he’s been the little light of my life for so long, my constant, unquestioning, loving companion. But at the same time, I know it was the right choice. To be at home instead of afraid in the cold, sterile vet’s office. To be lavished with love until his very last breath. To still know us, mentally, so that we could comfort him at the end, to keep his last days from being confusing and scary. When I think about it in that way, I know that I made the best choice I could.

That’s not to say that the loss of Napoleon hasn’t been crushing. It’s been months and I still step around the dog dish that isn’t there when going to the patio door. I feel happy and then sad whenever something causes his nametag to jingle against his urn, as though he’s here for just a second and then gone again. About once a year, I’d get one of those new super soft blankets from costco, and the old one would be given to Napoleon and derisively referred to as “the dog blanket” because no matter how many times I washed it, the smell of dog was just too ground in, so they’d line his beds and make them extra plush and cozy. In the aftermath, we kept some things that belonged to him, and a dog blanket. On days I especially missed him, I’d go and sniff the blanket, and it was like my stinky buddy was back. Recently, I was having a rough day and crept off to the closet and its stinky contents, only to discover that the smell I believed to be permanent entirely gone, and this, too, was like losing a bit of him all over again. I have waves of grief wash over me when I drive past our dog park, when I see those noseprint smudges on my car window that I know I will eventually have to wash away.

I miss my buddy. I’m glad we had this trip together. I hope that if there’s an afterlife, it’s full of so, so many beach critters to sniff. 

 

 

*The first time I pet a dog, post-Napoleon, I almost burst into tears. Thanks to everyone who allows me to pet their dogs for much longer than is socially acceptable for a stranger to do so.

Cleveland Rocks?

Sometimes I will arrive somewhere and think “Yeah, that fits in precisely with the stereotypes I hold about this area.” Cleveland, Ohio, is one such place. Cleveland looks like a city that someone forgot about and left in the rain to rust. Cleveland looks like it’s already living out a post-apocalyptic scenario where half the population is dead and the other half spends their time making bullets and then spraying them wildly. Cleveland looks like it could give your eyeballs tetanus. It comes as no surprise that their football team is called the Browns, because a compelling argument could be made that the entire city is a turd. Cleveland looks exactly like the kind of place where a river would accidentally light itself on fire. Repeatedly. The air in Cleveland in August feels as though one has somehow been trapped inside a jock strap that’s been worn for three straight days. I was already in a truly piss-poor mood when I arrived in Cleveland, and Cleveland did not improve it.

But The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame…that’s an icon. It’s one of the few museums outside of the Louvre to come up routinely in the news*. Like the Louvre, its architecture prominently features a large glass pyramid. There are probably Illuminati conspiracies about both. But only one of these two is a world class museum…and unsurprisingly, it’s not the one in Cleveland.

Upon entry and ticket purchase, you descend into the basement of the pyramid, which is actually a little clever–starting in the basement like any number of bands. I also would have had a similar appreciation if the museum started in a garage adjacent to the pyramid.

At the start, there is a room dedicated to some artifacts from the most recent year’s inductees, which eventually get shuffled further back into the “Legends of Rock & Roll” area if they have room so if you’re a lesser-known legend I’m guessing your stuff is bound for a closet somewhere. There’s also some stuff from just about everyone you’d expect to see there: a room dedicated to Elvis, a room split between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, and a number of special exhibits, including one on John Cougar Mellencamp.

There was also a bunch of stuff from musicians not inducted into the hall of fame, including an entire room on Cleveland musicians, which I found to be a curious choice. There are currently more than 300 inductees in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and until an angry museum employee informs me otherwise, I am telling you that it doesn’t seem to me that all of those artists were represented on this, the main floor of the hall of fame in which they are supposedly being honored. Isn’t having to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to be included in it the entire point of the place?

They also had a horse with cannon turret titties.

Oooh, I have bad news for you, Ed.

According to their own rules, Katy shouldn’t be here until 2026 at the earliest.

Because the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is built in a giant pyramid, a lot of valuable real estate is lost on every floor ascended. And they made the least out of the space, with the second largest floor taken up entirely by ticket sales, a cafe, and an outrageously large gift shop.

As you proceed up the pyramid, you can wait for a booth to be available so you can listen to some one hit wonders (again, not Hall of Famer material), look at a genuine empty Rolling Stone office (Oh boy, I’ve never seen a real office before! Look, a chair!) and some covers of Rolling Stone magazines, and then, almost as an afterthought, the actual list of inductees on some half-assed plaques on one of the floors. It’s not like we have the technology available to give each visitor a broader look at the work of the inductees, the reasoning behind why they were chosen, and how they influenced music. Nope. We’re clearly still in the static list on paper phase of humanity. The inductees are such an afterthought that at the time of posting, their placement in the museum that, again, supposedly exists to honor them isn’t even mentioned in their online visitor’s exhibit guide.

The inductees actually get a better display on shit sold in the gift shop than they do in the actual museum, which is straight fucking ridiculous.

This may as well be another exhibit–hey kids, this is what a CD store used to look like back when physical media was a thing!

Our group split up on entering the hall of fame. We ran into Jason’s uncle halfway up the pyramid and asked him what he was taking photos of. “Crap, mostly.”

Couldn’t agree with you more, man.

 

 

 

*Now that I know how much this place sucks, going forward I could do without the yearly breathless discussions about the nominees/inductees/and why so and so continues to be slighted. It’s a subjective list, and literally anyone could start a new museum and call it The Musician’s Lodge of Awesome and set up their own arbitrary system of inclusion. But the glass pyramid thing is a little oversaturated, so maybe pick a different shape for your statement entrance. And if you’re gonna exist to mostly be a gift shop, do everyone a favor and just call it The Musician’s Lodge of Souvenirs.

Officially Too Old For This Shit: Cedar Point

OK, so I don’t *actually* know that I’m too old to enjoy the world’s largest rollercoasters. What I do know is that in the lead-up to going to the park, I did something stupid in the hopes of achieving something good. I was thinking about what a dumpster fire 2017 has been, and pondering a way for myself to take an action that was concrete good and landed on blood donation as a truly positive thing I could do to help the sick and vulnerable in my community. Unfortunately, this idea was coupled with some self delusion about my overall robustness and ability to regenerate blood cells, and my appointment was foolishly made very shortly before my trip to Ohio. I then proceeded to drag ass for the next week. On the morning I went to Cedar Point, I woke up with a scratchy throat and swollen lymph nodes. DAMN IT, BALTHAZAR! I will NOT get sick, I will NOT get sick, I will NOT get sick, I have been waiting and hoping for years for a chance to go to Cedar Point and I will NOT let this lack of blood and impending illness ruin my trip to Roller Coaster Nirvana.

So of course it fucking did. Because 2017.

I already felt cruddy when we arrived at the park: tired, achy, sweating and low energy, slightly nauseated and dizzy, which is just a spectacular combination of physical health characteristics when you’re looking to ride the most extreme roller coasters in the world. In addition to all those things, I was really angry with myself for doing this TO myself. Because this was ostensibly my one opportunity, and I screwed it up with my poor schedule management. Oh yeah, and I was also fraught with nerves about how I was actually going to get home as my flight routed through Houston which at the time was being slammed by Hurricane Harvey. Even though the airport was closed, my airline had yet to cancel the flight and I didn’t quite know what my options were. By the end of the day on that score, we’d decided that if an alternate flight wasn’t available, we’d cut the Ohio trip a day short and shoot for a one way car rental and drive home.  It would have been a hassle but I consoled myself with the idea that we could swing through my hometown and grab a sandwich from that baller italian deli, and maybe even see some some new sights along the way, since my last drive from Wisconsin to Seattle was done in one shot* which meant a lot of driving in the dead of night. That whole plan was later rendered moot because we were able to get on a new flight, but I wanted to paint the entire picture of what my day at Cedar Point looked like: exhausted, borderline sick, and anxiety sapping the last of my reserves. I’d look at some of those giant screaming coasters and think “Nope. That might kill me.” which was SO FRUSTRATING because I wanted to want to ride the rides. All of them. I guess at least I didn’t splurge on the rollercoaster fast pass or I might have blown a vessel fighting with myself about whether it was worth risking actual death in order to get my money’s worth. (The answer is: maybe, which Jason finds frustrating, as he’s firmly on team “waste ALL the money rather than risk death”.)

But that’s really all OK, because as it turns out, in addition to the world’s most insane rollercoasters, Cedar Point has a lot of things that the other amusement parks I’ve visited haven’t. Things like fine china shops.

 

 

I’m not sure what it is about about being hydraulically launched from zero to 120mph in seconds with all the corresponding g-force that entails which encourages the immediate acquisition of fine crockery which you’ll then need to pay to store in a locker for the rest of the day, but I can tell you for a fact that this shop makes money or it wouldn’t be there. 

Cedar Point also has a petting/feeding zoo where a variety of adorable fuzzy-faced animals will beg and plead and stretch out their fuzzy little lips for whatever nominal-additional-charge food you might have to feed them. The food is sold packed into a plastic cup, and there ended up being a bunch of tiny bits in the bottom that I wouldn’t have felt comfortable feeding bare-handed (I need these hands, they are my livelihoodthey are important to me, OK?), but the sheep felt very comfortable “drinking” them out of a tipped cup. And bonus, seeing them eating out of that tipped cup was also adorable.

They also had dippin’ dots, the ice cream of the future. While that is not unique (dippin’ dots maintaining its long term reign as the ubiquitous ice cream of the theme park present), the opportunity to consume said dippin’ dots in stocks is.

They also had animatronic dinosaurs and signs made that seemed to have had me specifically in mind.  

Oh, and some rides, I guess. Which I did ride! ..some of them, anyway. About a third of the roller coasters, which is pretty good considering that whole “nauseated, feel like I’m gonna die” thing. While waiting for one of the non-coaster rides, a kid who was ~9 years old joined the line by herself and started chatting with us, telling me matter-of-factly that she’s riding this ride by herself because her mom got sick and threw up on the last one. She was also very specific about which color she wanted to ride on, so I let her go in front of us in line so she could get the one she wanted because I was so glad she had shared that barf story with me, as it made me feel a lot better, having ridden that exact coaster and NOT thrown up. 

At one point, I got scolded by the teenage operator of a ride to put away my phone (my pockets are not large enough to accommodate it, friend! My hands can barely do the job!), and after the ride I was going to apologize to him for making his job harder but as I walked up, I saw he was picking his nose and decided it would be better if I just walked away lest the apology end with a hearty handshake. 

We didn’t quite make it the whole day from park open til close–if we were going to have to get an early driving start the next day, I wanted to get back at a decent hour and have an opportunity to rest up and maybe shake off the threat of looming illness, but we still managed to get in a full day of fun even if it wasn’t the rip-roaring rollercoaster experience I had dreamed about. And I still don’t know if I’m officially too old for extreme thrills, but what I do know is that whether I’m old and feeble or acting like an infant because I’m feeling old and feeble, it’s time for a nap.

 

*I used to have blog posts about this trip, but evidently at some point I thought they sucked enough to delete them, otherwise I’d link you back to those sucky, sucky posts. It’s probably for the best for everyone that they’re gone.