Category Reviews

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!

A closer look at 2018: ren faire, archery class, Director’s Cut


I spent a summer afternoon at the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire and once again, fully enjoyed myself. I finally have enough body confidence to not care if my ass looks wide if I drape it with a period-inaccurate but very festive jingly coin bellydancer’s sash, so I jingled my way around the shoppes and bought myself a very nice Mongolian horse archery bow which I have yet to really use because I don’t have the right kind of glove to keep my hand from being cut by the fletches (there’s no arrow rest on a Mongolian bow, or any horse bow to the best of my knowledge). I could just buy a glove but I’ve been wanting to get into leatherworking, and the possibility that I could make my own at some point in the future exactly how I want it has prevented me from buying a glove which means the bow has sat. Just buy the damn glove, Melissa. Just buy the glove.


I signed up for a six week introductory archery course at Next Step Archery and half-filled the twelve person class with friends. I was glad to finally get some in-depth instruction as I’d just been shooting from instinct up until that point. My skills really leveled up over the course of class, and it was so much fun to learn with friends. The six weeks flew by. If I had signed up for the next course, I could have stayed with many of the same people, but timing wasn’t good with my France trip and each subsequent class is shooting with a more complex bow with more gadgets and balances and finer adjustments, and the goal I’m working toward is horse archery with a bow with…none of those things. I’m signed up for a two day horse archery clinic in southwestern Washington in June, so I’ve got between now and then to get good enough at riding to be comfortable hands-free at a trot. I’m thinking I’d like to take a private lesson or two with this bow in order to be more comfortable without the rest, which will also necessitate buying the damn glove already.

When I shot from this distance…

…this is what my target looked like.



My archery school was right near Arashi Ramen (perfect dinner for a chilly evening) which is next door to 99 Ranch Market which means I found myself browsing though specialty Asian groceries more often than usual. I had a brief, intense love of garlic cracker nuts (it’s a nut! encased in a shell of cracker!) but I must’ve eaten them too often because just the thought of their taste makes me feel a little nauseated. Because why enjoy something every once in a while when you can have a whole bunch of it at once and ruin it for yourself for life? I’m operating on broken logic.

On one trip to 99 Ranch market after lunch at Arashi with Erika (the same trip where she introduced me to cracker nuts!), I bought this tea, and we discussed that 3:15 is about the perfect time in the afternoon for a little caffeinated pick-me-up. Later in the afternoon, I was feeling a little snoozy from lunch and decided to try out my new 3:15pm coffee milk tea to see if would indeed perk me up and I looked up from the box to find it was precisely 3:15pm. The tea was…not good.

I know for a fact this package says oat noodles. But literally every time I see it, I think it says “cat noodles” and I’m left to wonder what kind of cat demands freshly-cooked noodles. One with fiber issues, I guess.


And here I thought it was a painful reminder to use protection.


I’ve been to Casa Que Pasa a bunch and never blogged about it. It’s this dive in Bellingham that serves as a community art gallery, with many pieces for sale. I go there for their potato burrito, but the best version of it is the deep fried fame: the potato burrito deep fried like a chimichanga, especially when I pony up for added carne asada (for flavor and texture variation, it’s important in a burrito this large!) or carnitas (they’re triple cooked for a crispy exterior and a meltingly soft interior) and get them to slather it with extra potato sauce, because whatever is in it, it’s creamy-spicy-tangy and gives potatoes a reason to strive.



I was able to make it to the SAFE show at Donida this summer to see my friend Alex compete in some rail classes with his horse, Jesse. Would you believe this horse is a senior citizen? He is RIPPED. They took third in their last class of the day!

I’m thinking about going to a show or two with Navani this summer, but I also don’t know how well I’m going to do losing to a six year old.


My husband is the handsomest. 


Leg courtesy Christopher Bragg

I realized at the end of the summer that I’d bought a smoker and hadn’t had a single purposeful gathering of peoples for the consumption of smoked meats. I put together a bbq party for Labor Day weekend, and the plan was to culminate with watching the movie I’d helped crowdfund but had never seen/just received in the mail, Director’s Cut, ideally on a screen in the yard. As it turns out, Labor Day weekend is a popular weekend for outdoor screen rentals and none were available. I briefly pondered buying an outdoor screen setup so that my vision could continue unhindered but now that I’ve seen the movie I can say it was absolutely positively 100% for the best that this was not playing on a screen in my yard where my neighbors could see and/or hear. Its number of strip club scenes rivals or exceeds that of Showgirls and I’d like to remind you that in that movie, the main character was a stripper.

Stuff I Do When I’m Not Here

On my nightstand/in my kindle:

I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son by Kent Russell – I loved this book. I read an excerpt, Mithridates of Fond du Lac, on a recommendation by my friend Felix, and was so hooked by Kent’s style that I immediately bought the book. Whether the subject is the gathering of the juggalos, Tom Savini’s school of makeup, or a man who is attempting to become immune to all snake venom, Kent captures them with interest, respect, and care, not mockery, in a fashion similar to another book I loved, Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream by Jason Fagone.

The Pirates! In an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon Defoe – The Pirates! series holds a special place in my heart, and this new adventure with Charles Babbage, Mary Shelley, and Lord Byron is a perfect addition. I cried with suppressed laughter more than once, choking it back so as not to irritate everyone on the plane. Have an excerpt from an argument the Pirate Captain is having with a Swiss banker: The Pirate Captain tossed his beard about and waved his arms. ‘Oh, it’s all becoming clear to me! Shall I tell you what the problem is? It’s that you don’t know what it is to live and laugh and love and run a man through! You’ve never tasted the salty air on your tongue or waved heartily at a mermaid! It would be impolite to call you a shrivelled little bean counter who wouldn’t know drama if it kissed you on the mouth, but nonetheless – I’m afraid that’s exactly what you are. You people have no flair, no romance, no sense of adventure! Everything’s just numbers for you! Well, you can’t reduce passion and flair and eating ham to numbers, sir! Good day to you!’

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson – Jason is a huge Brandon Sanderson fan, and he convinced me to try The Way of Kings. It starts off a little iffy, but it didn’t take long for me to get sucked in, and the book later revisits those earlier chapters from a different perspective and by then, you understand what’s going on and it’s much more gripping. By the last quarter of the book, I was saying “What? WHAT?! OH SHIT” about every five minutes and seconds after finishing it, I bought the second book, Words of Radiance, which I’m now plowing through at record speed.

On my TV/movie screen:

Grace & Frankie – I enjoyed the first season of this show but didn’t love it. The acting is phenomenal, but the writing is sitcomm-y and sort of obvious.

Mad Max: Fury Road – I actually was not excited about going to see this from the trailer. But I fucking loved it. LOVED. IT. I would like a war rig for traffic jams, please.

Mad Max –  How did something as great as Fury Road come from something so bad? I fell asleep. Twice.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron – I really wanted to love this movie, but it was just OK. I’d listen to James Spader read the phone book, enthralled, so Ultron is not the problem here. The whole thing just came off formulaic, low-stakes, and sadly, a bit boring. I read this post about the movie’s problems later and couldn’t agree more.

Poltergeist – It was a nice homage to the original, but like so many horror movies, suffers from the ubiquitous jump scares. There’s no horror, no existential dread in that style of movie, and that’s a huge shortcoming.

Maleficent – Hated it. I feel it could have had a variety of different subtitles. Maleficent: Portrait of a Stalker. Maleficent: Cottage Creeper. Maleficent: 90 Minutes of Filler.

Man with the Iron Fists 2 – I couldn’t make it twenty minutes into this movie, it was so godawful. I’ll admit to enjoying the first movie, but it didn’t exactly call for a sequel, especially not a straight-to-video sequel.

Game of Thrones Season 5 – I’m loving and I’m hating the show this season. It probably doesn’t help that they’re drawing from my least favorite book in the series, but the substantial deviations they’ve made from the book are occasionally frustrating and upsetting. I’m not going to really get into it here so as to avoid spoilers for those who are not yet caught up with the show.

House of Cards – I’ve watched a few episodes and so far I hate it. Unless the showrunners are winking at the audience and making a show about about a guy who thinks he’s a puppetmaster but isn’t nearly as smart as he thinks he is, I just don’t get it.

Jurassic World – I’m going to see this on Friday and I am so damn excited. Jurassic Park came out at an age when I was primed for dinosaur based adventure, and this one looks like an actually good sequel. I may have shed a tear the first time I saw the trailer.

In my kitchen:

I’m keeping up with my “try at least one new recipe a week” goal (smashing it, actually). It’s been a great way to try new ingredients, use parts of a plant that I might not otherwise (like carrot tops), make the most of what’s been growing in my garden, and increase my low-carb repertoire. Here’s some stuff I’ve been cooking recently: Bora Bora fireballs, velvety carrot soup with carrot top pesto, easy thai shrimp soup, and low carb meatballs. Tonight I’m making asparagus, leek, and green garlic soup!

On the project docket:

I bought a beautiful desk on Craiglist that I’m refinishing; once I’m done with that, I’ll move it upstairs and do some furniture rearranging, which I’m sure thrills Jason to no end. “Help me carry this desk to upstairs to this room and then we can move the desk that was already in there to another room and take the furniture that was in there downstairs.” It’s the endless shuffle of the never-quite-satisfied. I’m also working to finish up a couple of house project loose ends so I can start the new stuff that interests me more. I’ve also been making progress on Jason’s Halloween costume because if I’m going to make two detailed outfits to wear absolutely nowhere, damn it, I need as much time as I can get. Plus I’m out in the garden more often than not lately. Sometimes weeding, sometimes grazing, sometimes battling wasps. You know, the usual.

Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good: Pinata Bash 2015

skarsgaard

I heard about the Pinata Bash about six months before the actual event date, which was plenty of time to make a killer pinata. Naturally, given six months to make it, I really only got started in earnest the week of the event, because time pressure makes me excel, or at the very least, gives me a primo excuse for not making something to the best of my abilities (“What did you expect, I put it together in ten minutes?“). I ultimately ended up making a dragon pinata primarily out of cardboard with a thin skin of paper mache, because I remembered all too well how quickly the last pinata I made was sliced in half.

The rules were as follows:

-Your pinata must contain a prize pocket

-The contents of the prize pocket can be anything so long as it’s not liquor, liquid, or potentially hazardous (but it was indicated that it would be ideal if you put in things that people would actually want)

-The pinata can’t be bigger than 5’x5′ or too heavy to lift with a rope and pulley

 

That was pretty much it! My dragon rolled in at just under five feet long, with jaws that snapped up and down when he moved, and was stuffed with seven pounds of atomic fireballs and chocolate coins. I was happy with my construction and my chances at snagging a prize until I got to Re-bar and realized that some people had worked way, way harder on theirs than I did and deserved the prizes way, way more than I did.

clash of the titansClash of the Titans

death starDeath Star

emoji twinsDancing Emoji Twins

ghostbuster pinataGhostbusters

kandi kidzKandi Kidz RaverBallz

romy michelle escape helicopterRomy and Michelle’s Escape Helicopter

smash the patriarchySmash the Patriarchy

sadzillaSadzilla

The first portion of the evening was the judging portion–the judges checked out all of the pinatas, made some initial notes, and then each builder was invited onstage to answer questions about their pinata. Seattle’s Mayor of Burlesque, Jo Jo Stiletto, wanted to know my dragon’s name, backstory, and magical powers, and I was suddenly thankful for all of the bullshit I make up on a regular basis, because while I walked into the club with a generic nameless dragon, I was able to come up with something on the spot. “He’s an…uh… Icelandic dragon who goes from house to house at night, breathing in his minty fresh breath through the windows. Whenever people wake up in the morning and say “Ooooh, it’s crisp!”, that’s him. His name is, uh, Skarsgård.”

After everyone talked about their creations, the judges conferred and selected the winners.

First place: Clash of the Titans. Obviously! This thing had light up eyes and the creators spent a full six months perfecting it.

Second place: Smash the Patriarchy. This one surprised me–sure, the name and concept were funny, but I would have pegged the death star or the ghostbusters ghost for this slot.

Third place: Ghostbusters. It even came with a proton pack smashing stick!

Last place: Sadzilla, where the only prize was a hug from the judges. They were openly cruel to this girl, not just about her pinata, but about her–one said she seemed retarded, and I was appalled. It doesn’t seem like this is how you should treat someone who spent time, effort, and money creating something so you could have an event to destroy it AND paid more to enter a pinata than they would have if they’d paid cover as a smasher. That was the big bummer of the evening to me.

The other bummer was how damn stingy builders were with their prizes, which is what I found out when we got to smashing. The entire point of smashing open a pinata is to get at the goodies inside, so yes, it is a total dick move to stuff your pinata full of glitter, opened fortune cookies, and old dirty socks. Or three starburst.

glitter floor

one sad smiley face

skarsgaard strung up

emoji twins swingSkarsgård went down in one hit (the pinata curse continues), and the crowd fell on him and pocketed his guts within seconds. Someone carried around the head like a trophy, eyeless, because someone else had ripped them out as their trophy. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’m even more convinced that I would not do well in a mob-type situation. Someone get these people some candy, stat! And take away their sticks!

Kualoa Ranch: Home of the World-Famous Stick

kualoa ranch

Before our trip to Oahu, I spent some time researching different things we could see and do, which ultimately led to this conversation. “Honey! There’s a ranch that you can tour and see the famous log from Jurassic Park!” “So you’re telling me that we’re going to fly six hours to go see a stick?” “…yes.” There’s more to Kualoa Ranch than their stick. I opted to take their movie site bus tour, which runs about 90 minutes and was the least strenuous of their tour options, which was unfortunately a consideration because I somehow managed to get sick on vacation again. The worst was behind me so I wasn’t creating a plague bus ground zero situation, but I definitely wasn’t up to anything more difficult than sitting on my ass and listening to someone talk. Luckily, the tour bus driver was serving up exactly what I was looking for, telling us about the history of the ranch, local flora and fauna, movie and TV info, and the occasional joke. The movie stuff was actually the least interesting part of the tour, which I never would have anticipated. While we drove to the first stop of the tour, the bus driver told us about Hawaiian land divisions, or ahupua’a. Land divisions would be determined by a chief, and they would generally go in a wedge shape from the mountain all the way to the water, encompassing all the land in between. In this way, not only did each land division contain all of the things that were needed to survive (and thrive), but it was also ensured that the land was being worked to its greatest potential. Hawaiians didn’t believe in owning land, rather, they were its caretakers. Land divisions were not private ownership, but they did share similarities–each land division would stay in care of the same family, passed down from one generation to the next. Those who cared for the land paid taxes back to the overseer, whose job was to collect goods to support the chief. It’s my understanding that Kualoa Ranch comprises the land that was once a land division. In 1850, an American doctor bought the land from King Kamehameha III. Since then, the land has been home to a sugar plantation, been occupied by the US military during World War II, and is now a cattle ranch, farm, movie site location, and tourist destination. Our first stop on the tour was at one of those World War II bunkers, built and abandoned by the military and reappropriated by Kualoa Ranch to display movie posters and other memorabilia. The bus driver warned us about the wind before we exited the bus, and I still almost lost my hat–I think the only thing that saved it was it getting momentarily caught in the rat’s nest I call my hair which gave me enough time to reach up and grab it. Much like the Pali Lookout and the Vista House at Crown Point, you could conceivably be blown away if you caught the wind just right.

pillbox kualoa

gorgeous ocean view kualoa ranch

It wasn’t the wind that took my breath away, though. Look at that gorgeous water! After we finished walking through the bunker and gawking at the view, we re-boarded the bus and drove into the valley.  On the way, we saw some of Kualoa’s pipi (cows, but pipi is a much cuter name), a wild boar, and a native duck that is now endangered which the bus driver says is a tragedy because it’s supposedly delicious, which may or may not help to explain its endangered status. herd of pipi

wild pig

One more curve in the road, and we were in the Kualoa valley, filming location for dozens of movies and home to one famous stick in particular. kualoa valley

misty mountains fake easter island head

jurassic park log

There it is, in all its glory! Granted, it’s deteriorated somewhat in the intervening years since 1993, and you could basically throw down any log and tell me it’s the one from the movie and I’d believe you, but I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to pose with it anyway. Because have you really lived if you went to see a famous stick but didn’t then pose with the stick and maybe photoshop a few dinosaurs into it later? I would venture to say you haven’t. there's a dinosaur

gallimimus t rex kualoa

After reboarding the bus, we saw some of the tracks from Godzilla (don’t get excited, it was from the Matthew Broderick one)–they had to fill them in substantially because the pipi were falling in at night and getting trapped. We also saw Hurley’s golf course from Lost, and a bunch of stuff from movies that didn’t crack 20% on Rotten Tomatoes. godzilla track

hurleys golf course

kualoa ranch valley

On our way back to the visitor center, we stopped at a spot with a beautiful view of Kamehameha’s Turtle and Mokoli’i, and then we were released and given the run of the ranch–to check out their petting zoo, pat horses, view their educational video, and (of course), press a penny or two. I made sure to do everything, and while their petting zoo was far from the world’s most exciting, I did greatly enjoy their tree goats. And I’ll always make time for horse snuffles. turtle and dragon tail

sleepy kitty

goatloaf

tree goat

tortoise

The stick may have been what brought me to Kualoa, but if I’m on Oahu again, I’d totally go back. The zipline tour looks fun, and I have it on good authority that the ATV tour is so fun it might make you pee a little. So maybe I’ll pack an extra pair of underwear, too.

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Weekly Wrap-Up

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I am super pumped for this weekend–it’s the last weekend of the Moisture Festival! Game of Thrones returns! There’s an Easter II feast on Sunday! Plus I just made some homemade butter which practically begs for the buttermilk to be used in some lilac scones. I was hoping to get some time out in the backyard this weekend since I’ll be out of town for the next three and the blackberry bushes are already getting a little too bold in their advancement  (let’s just say it won’t be a surprise when they bust through my bedroom window and attempt to strangle me in my sleep), but it’s supposed to be cruddy out so this may be the excuse I was looking for to rent some goats to take care of business for me.

Speaking of upcoming trips, I’ve got a short jaunt to Portland in the works and a longer one to Hawaii, so I should have some good stories to share soon. There are already tentative plans in the works for insect eating and ghost teasing, both of which I’m sure will go swimmingly and not at all like last time.

This week, I rekindled my love for the gifsounds subreddit–here are my three recent favorites: 1 2 3

I’ve also been catching up on The Walking Dead this week, which means that my zombie burnout has come to an end, at least in this instance. No spoilers here, but it makes me laugh that Judith always looks like she’s confused and angry to be growing up in a world without Cheerios and animal crackers. I’ve also come to realize how profoundly irritating loudly chewed gum can be.

Also on my TV recently: Face Off Season 8. I called Emily Serpico as the winner in episode one, so it was exciting to see her make it to the finale this week. Everyone left is a talented artist, though, and at this point, I think they’re all deserving of the prize. It’s been especially gratifying to see a bunch of women kicking ass and taking names this season, since I’ve complained before about men dominating the positions of authority. No matter who wins, I’m so glad that Face Off has stopped the “not here to make friends” format. I haven’t watched most of the seasons because of the typical backstabbing present in the earliest seasons, and I didn’t think it served the artists to trash their reputation before they ever made it into the SFX industry–it’s so small, and it’s hard enough to get work (much less paying work) without someone thinking you’re difficult or obnoxious. The only aspect of this season I’d call a swing and a miss is the “coaches/team” aspect. Yes, the coaches are there for guidance, but it’s not quite clear what the coach gets out of participating, and whenever they’re on camera, it’s generally worrying about how one of their team members doing poorly might affect them personally. I’m just not feeling it.

In my kitchen this week: gyro lettuce wraps and animal style in and out in a bowl. I’ve been doing the low carb thing six days a week for a few months and it’s working out well for me–I’m fitting into my smaller pants and I don’t feel deprived, and those are both good things.

On my nightstand/in my Kindle:

Mothers Who Can’t Love: A Healing Guide for Daughters – This book is a tough read, but it’s been helpful for me to come to terms with an aspect of my past that has had a long-lasting impact on my life and personality. I’m sure that it’s something I’ll keep referring back to, and if you have a strained/difficult/nonexistent/toxic relationship with your mother, you may find it helpful as well.

Bad Trips – I’ve been looking for travel writers I like outside of Bill Bryson, and now that I’m 75% of the way through this book, I’m fairly confident that I won’t be finding what I’m looking for here. They’re all such twats! There’s a guy whose bad trip was actually a good trip for him, it’s just that a woman he met during his journey was raped twice in short order, and he wondered if she hadn’t been able to shake it off and have a good trip like him that it would have been some fault in her upbringing instead of, you know, the trauma of having been raped at knifepoint twice. There’s a made up story about a tour group going on ‘safari’ to Central Park to watch a woman getting sexually assaulted and blaming her for her own assault. There’s a piece by Umberto Eco complaining that a hotel isn’t decorated to his taste. There are a few pieces where people merely imagine what a bad trip would be like, namely concerning doing the sorts of activities that your average tourist engages in and you already know that I loathe that sort of elitism. I’m finishing it out of stubbornness.

The Queen of the Tearling – I picked this one up mainly because I saw that it was being made into a movie starring Emma Watson, and I wanted to be in on the hype loop for once instead of wondering why everyone is so pumped for a movie I’ve never heard of. I’m really torn on this one–I read through it in two days, and while I was reading it, I was 100% sucked in, but now that I’ve finished it, I have no desire to read the next book in the series. Even with its interesting setting (a return to medieval structure postdating our current technological society, in a place where magic is a thing), the characters and the storyline just felt too familiar. Plus, with the chapter intros being excerpts from books written about the main character at a future date, there’s not really any question as to whether she will prevail.

Mr Mercedes: A Novel – I love me some Stephen King, and it was refreshing to see him go for a detective novel rather than supernatural horror. This is another book that I cracked through in a day or two. It’s fast-paced, deeply engaging, and I only wish that King wasn’t so comfortable with the n-word. I’ll be glad to see those same characters come back in Finders Keepers.

Too Fat For Europe – This is a self-published work by a friend of a friend, and is generally enjoyable. It reads like a long-form blog entry, though, and it could use the strong hand of an editor in a number of ways. If it were up to me, I’d also axe the photos entirely or swap them for illustrations. Granted, I have one of the older, cheaper Kindles which may be a contributing cause, but the photos are so muddy and don’t add anything to the experience.

 

What are you up to? Any weekend plans? What’s on your plate–food, books, or otherwise?

Blood & Guts & Punch & Pie: St Splatrick’s Day

leprechaun lucky clovers

It blows my mind a little to think that I’ve been throwing parties on nearly every Friday the 13th for the last five years. For the most recent iteration, I invited people over to partake in corned beef, fauxtatoes, Irish cupcakes with three kinds of alcohol, and most importantly, the cult classic movie Leprechaun. Leprechaun, at its surface, is your typical “monster stalks and kills” movie, but it’s also so much more. It’s the story of a “monster” who was robbed of his property, wrongfully imprisoned for years, and his eventual release and his attempts to reacquire that which is his. It’s the story of a “monster” who can’t help but stop to clean a dirty shoe when he sees it, because he knows the importance of grooming and presentation. A “monster” who enjoys riding around in an array of tiny vehicles. I’m going to come right out and say it: the leprechaun is an antihero who got a bad edit.

lep-33

Out of everyone in the story, the leprechaun’s intentions and goals are by far the clearest and most relatable. Don’t believe me? Your other options are: 1. A guy who went to Ireland to bury his mother and decided to go gold-hunting instead, shipping his treasures back in her urn, presumably having dumped her ashes somewhere along the way to make room 2. The woman who sees her husband holding a handful of gold coins and telling the story of how he got them, and deciding he’s just some goofball drunken liar despite the physical proof right in front of her 3. A man and a woman who appear to be in a winter-spring marriage situation except the old guy is taking his young wife to a filthy abandoned house in the country instead of, I don’t know, literally anywhere else, and the young wife is insufferably obnoxious with roving eyes and then later you find out they’re father and daughter which is even more strange because what are they even doing? 4. A paint crew dude with a sweet mullet and no personality save for making eyes at the daughter 5. A paint crew guy who appears to spend as much time eating paint as he does actually painting 6. The paint crew’s precocious little scamp kid sidekick who works with them? Or something? And they don’t mind when he hits them with slingshot debris and openly flouts labor laws? I don’t even know.

Actually, now that I look at that list of horrible people, I think I’m going to upgrade the leprechaun to full hero status. These people robbed him, trapped him in a crate, cut off his hand, poked out his eye, shot him repeatedly including in the face,  and he still polished their shoes and gave them so many chances to make things right. Sure, he does some light murdering, and a bit of mangling, but on the whole it’s mostly justifiable. lep-92

Man, I hope Warwick Davis has a stunt double.

The Deep Discount Bin: A Field Guide to Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Leveling the WoW Playing Field

poopstain debuff

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

The Battle of Five Armies and my Scumbag Brain

The third Hobbit movie comes out a month from today and I am so very very excited! I’ve been stalking the iPic website in the hopes of snagging recliner seats on opening weekend (soon, precious, soooooon). A number of my friends take issue with the splitting of a book you could read in an afternoon into three films and believe Peter Jackson desperately needs a heavy-handed editor, but I disagree because I would probably pay to watch 100 movies of this quality set in that world. If they want to make some pre-prequels, I’m in. I’ll be first in line for Lord of the Rings 17: Isildur Come Home and Middle Earth 9: Honey I Shrunk the Dwarf. Unless Michael Bay takes over on his quest to kill everything I love.

There have definitely been some unintended hilarious moments, though. I edited in what I think EVERY TIME I see this scene from The Desolation of Smaug. Every time.