Category Midwest

Chicago: Surgery and Stamen, Puerperal and Purpurea

It was our last day in Chicago as a triad, and we started it at the International Museum of Surgical Science. I haven’t often considered the great debt I owe to history’s physicians, and I take the relative ease with which many formerly deadly ailments can be healed for granted. Which, when I really think about it, is wild. It was just 100 years ago that a broken femur meant an 80% mortality rate. An 80% chance of dying from a broken bone! The Thomas splint, introduced in 1916 by Hugh Owen Thomas, the father of orthopedic surgery in Britain, reduced the mortality rate from 80% to 20%.

About 200 years ago, doctors started to believe in germs, but there were holdouts into the mid-late 1800s who staunchly refused to accept or understand their role in transmitting disease from patient to patient.  Before the germ theory of disease was accepted (the idea that microorganisms invade the bodies of humans and animals and it is their growth and reproduction that cause disease), doctors would go from patient to patient or from an autopsy to a birthing without washing their hands or changing their clothes despite their being “most thoroughly imbued with effluvia“. Disease was thought to be caused by an “imbalance of humours” or by walking through bad air.

Anesthesia was developed around the same time, with the first successful anesthetized procedure occurring in 1846, and while many doctors were excited about its surgical possibilities, there were, again, some holdouts who considered its use wrong and even immoral. “I think anesthesia is of the devil and I cannot give my sanction to any Satanic influence which deprives a man of the capacity to recognize law! I wish there was no such thing as anesthesia! I do not think men should be prevented from passing through what God intended them to endure!” remarked William Henry Atkinson, physician and first president of the American Dental Association, which makes me wonder what I’m intended to endure when I purchase a toothbrush or paste endorsed by the ADA. 

Still, even doctors who embraced anesthesia for its ability to allow more invasive procedures often found that their successes ended in the death of the patient, and this is the direct result of antiseptic measures not yet being in place due to the idea of germs being rather newfangled. Thanks to the work of individuals like Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister (who promoted the sterilization of operating rooms and equipment in the 1870s), the risk of contracting an infection after surgery has been dramatically reduced. And so, on the few occasions I’ve been under the knife, I haven’t had to gnaw on a belt, conscious, while a doctor rooted around in my insides who may or may not have washed his hands beforehand. Modern surgical science has given us all that.

The Hall of Immortals, sculptures by Louis Linck and Edouard Chassaing

The Right Honorable Sir Joseph Lister, surgeon, pioneer of antiseptic surgery, and for whom both Listerine and Listeria are named.

Marie Curie, physicist and chemist, who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.

Louis Pasteur, biologist, microbiologist, chemist, discoverer of the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation, and pasteurization.

The books at the International Museum of Surgical Science are soft packed in tissue paper as a means of preservation. 

With all the natural sunlight spilling into the room, I would not be surprised if the top of the desk is discolored around and thus ironically damaged by the sign they placed to protect it.

Antique glasses case made of shagreen, a rough-textured leather that is traditionally from a shark, ray, or horse and dyed a pale green.

Medical device or chill piece of fashion? 

Things that came out of people. And maybe animals? For sure people.

A fascinating series of illustrations demonstrating pioneering techniques for nasal reconstruction by using adjacent flaps of skin. Making your armpit the first thing you have to sniff with your new nose is the medical profession’s way of keeping you humble about your new nose.

It’s going the extra mile in your medical illustration to not only finely render your subject but add a whole rhino in the background. 

All that talk and video of invasive surgery gave me the kind of renewed zeal for life that it takes to eat a slice of deep dish pizza at Giordano’s or any place that deals it Chicago style. I used to be defensive about whether Chicago style was “real” pizza or not (it is!) , but I will now begrudgingly admit that it is not the style that springs to mind when the word “pizza” is uttered within earshot. Chicago style is pizza but it’s pizza that’s being extra by basically being a pizza stacked on top of a pizza.  A pizza casserole,  stuffed with more mozzarella than I’m comfortable contemplating when I’m not eating it. When I’m eating it, I’m more than fine with the amount of cheese in there. 

We drove past this place on our way to the Chicago Botanic Garden and I just…why would you name your outlet for luxe furniture The Dump? What on earth do you think is appealing about that name? Would you name a fancy ice cream shop The Squirts?

It was sweltering when we visited the Chicago Botanic Garden, hot and humid. The kind of heat where you don’t know if you’re sweating or the moisture in the air is condensing into droplets and rivulets on your skin or large amounts of both. The two pounds of mozzarella rolling around in my stomach probably didn’t help matters. It was so steamy that my glasses started to fog up even as my eyelashes spritzed the lenses with sweat for what amounted to a constant blurry filth filter on the world.

We sweatily unfolded the map and determined that the one place on the entire 385 acres we definitely didn’t want to visit was  “Spider Island” so of course we found ourselves on Spider Island almost immediately. It’s the same kind of magnetism that draws a cat over to fawn on a visitor who isn’t particularly fond of cats. The spider hivemind on Spider Island sensed that Dianne and Dee were both vehemently uncomfortable with their kind and by the powers granted to them by Newton’s Third Law they thus reoriented the earth so that they might love us, placing our feet on the bridge even though we were trying to get to the sensory garden.  At least once they had lured us near, the spiders deigned to reveal themselves. Repelled by our sweatiness, they preferred to just peer at us from above. And behind. And below. And just next to the nape of your neck.

Echinacea purpurea

Sphex pensylvanicus, the great black wasp. The gothest of the wasps.

Dahlia

I love a willow draping dramatically over anything.

I feel like I will never have truly lived if I don’t see a martial arts movie where someone uses this kind of banana as a flail.

Gardenia

There were plenty of other visitors, but most had gathered on the lawn for the music event, so we mostly had the grounds to ourselves. And the spiders, of course.

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. 

The Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin

My hometown has one of the best Renaissance faires in the country, and I was so excited when Dee suggested going there for one of the days Dianne and I were going to be in town. YES. YES. It’s so great. I remembered it being really good but it had been fifteen years since my last visit and many of the details had faded, no doubt dulled in my mind and muddled by my feelings that nothing that great had ever come from my hometown*, myself included. I had even blogged about my 2004 visit but that post got ‘lost’ in a digital purge because pretty much nothing about how I portrayed myself from that era of my life was a good look for me or anyone around me. Regardless, the Bristol Renaissance Faire is not merely really good, it’s great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After we parked in one of the fields that serves as their lot, I strapped on my (mandatory) jingly bellydancer’s coin sash to jangle my way around medieval-adjacent times. Not only does wearing one make me feel like I’m throwing a parade for my ass,  it also makes me a lot easier to find in a crowd, as without it I can just disappear, like any short person. It’s one of our powers. Stringing myself with noisy metallic coins that crashed about at the slightest movement was really the only responsible thing to do, so as to aid the people who didn’t know me well to be able to track me and simultaneously deny they know me if I start to sound too much like Santa Claus at a bell convention.

As the renaissance faire exists so that we might feast like kings, shop like lords, and befoul ourselves like…most everyone, we immediately set to feasting upon entry. Dianne and I got some some surprisingly good iced coffee (“surprisingly good”, my Seattle is showing) and Dee beelined directly to these amazing deep fried cheese fritters which she shared and I gladly partook. They were crispy, dark brown, stuffed with gooey monterey jack, and came with honey mustard and barbeque sauce for dipping on the side. You go to Wisconsin, you eat fried cheese. It’s what you do. Fried cheese is the Eiffel Tower of America’s Dairyland. 

There wasn’t any cheese eating on at least one of my previous Bristol faire visits with my family.  I was about twelve or thirteen, and my mom had us all on the cabbage soup diet.  If your family never participated in group disordered eating, the cabbage soup diet is basically a week of starving yourself with as much bland, horrible cabbage soup as you care to eat with extremely rigid rules about supplementary eating. Day two is the hardest day, when your food for the day is cabbage soup, raw or cooked vegetables, plain, with an emphasis on leafy greens, and, in the evening, one medium baked potato with a tablespoon of butter or oil. That sad potato was the high point of the day, the rest of it being spent alternatively peeing gallons from all of the extremely low calorie soup you’re eating, trying to generate enough saliva to swallow dry leafy greens, and wishing you could eat something that would actually stop the gnaw in your stomach so you could forget you were on a diet for even five minutes. And of course it’s all for nothing because you’re mostly just shifting water around and the weight you lost comes right back on when you start eating normally again.

This is the diet the whole family is in the trenches of in the middle of this renaissance faire. Everyone was hungry and crabby, and our misery was compounded by all of the awesome smells wafting on the wind, reminding us of all the things we couldn’t have. It was day four: banana day, the day that with your soup, you can eat unlimited bananas and drink unlimited skim milk, both of which were verboten every other day. That morning post-soup banana was almost heady, intoxicating, after days of it literally being forbidden fruit, but it couldn’t hold a candle to funnel cake. I don’t remember precisely how it went down, but I remember my younger brother and I inhaling funnel cake while my parents made disappointed noises about not finishing the things we start and willpower, like the cabbage soup diet was something we wanted to do instead of something in which we had no choice but to participate, like somehow any one of us was going to peel off enough weight over the course of this week to make a difference, to make this utter misery worthwhile, to ruin an otherwise grand day out. We went home shortly thereafter, missing the final joust that I’d very much wanted to see. My parents were too hungry to stay any longer.

Also absent from that trip with my parents was any activity that cost an additional fee above and beyond the cost of admission, because it was understood in my household that those things were for suckers and no self-respecting person would spend money on them. As a person who lacks self respect and understands that additional fees tend to be opportunities to try something novel, I jingled straight up to the first knife throwing booth I saw, even if it was luring me down the path of financial ruin, five dollars at a time. Those of us participating were given a basic rundown on how to fling a knife with deadly force and accuracy and then we were set loose. We didn’t get to choose our targets; mine was an innocent merperson. I fired a good seven warning shots and never delivered a killing blow but I did manage to stick a knife to the target which was significantly better than I did axe throwing at the 2018 Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire when I accidentally hurled an axe into a field.

I’ve spent more than a little time thinking about the three-legged roving crotch target in the middle, what it could represent, and ultimately decided that when rotated and viewed from another angle, it probably looked like this** (not NSFW but at first glance it could register as somewhat obscene, but what did you expect from a crotch monster?) keeping with the mostly water creature vibe they had going on.

Sassafras, one of many beverages I genuinely enjoy for about three sips.

This instrument is a hurdy gurdy and I want one.

We made sure to get decent seats for the joust, which made us a captive audience for a variety of vendors. The first was the flag seller, a foppish red leather crown on his head, his deeply low cut medieval toppe baring his chest, which also glistened red in the sun. He beseeched us for five dollars for a flag to support the knight of our section, Sir Maxmillian, by telling us that the funds raised would go toward the feed and care of the horses, and that after the show, Six Maxx would autograph them. And another five dollars I crept toward financial ruin.

After him came the meat wench, a box of three flavors of beef jerky strapped to her waist as she walked through the crowd bellowing “MEAT.” “MEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.”

After her came the pretezel vendor, bearing a wooden pole, crossbraces strung with salted pretzels, and a satchel filled with individual portions of liquid cheese for dipping (Wisconsin), and after her, the flower crown vendor with a similar setup minus the cheese (I think), and in the distance “ᴹᴱᴱᴱᴱᴬᴬᵀ“.

The joust was full of pageantry and fanfare and feats of athleticism and at least two very cool people seated directly behind me who made certain to audibly mock me every single time I led our section in cheering for our knight. And the real kicker is, why am I the one who feels shame when I was contributing positively for the enjoyment of all, including the turd golems behind me and all those guys contributed to was my desire to turn clear and just skulk about for the rest of my days cosplaying as a ghost? But I’m the one that’s gonna go read a self help book about it while those walking chaw stains are just gonna continue to inflict themselves on people by existing. Regardless, our team’s knight won and I didn’t stop cheering him despite knowing I was going to get jeered and that seems like two kinds of victories.

After the joust, we did wait in line to meet Sir Maxmillian. I told him that I wanted to get into his line of work (true!) and about the horse I was potentially looking at to buy. (Dragon at the time.) He gave me a business card and told me to drop him a line, which I have yet to do but have a feeling I’ll get around to soon. The stick for the flag that he signed was too long to fit in my carry on, so I got to cheer him with my flag waving all through the airport.

Goddamn we looked sultry in this swamp. I’m not dripping buckets of sweat, MY SKIN IS DEWY.

 

On our way out, we stopped to see part of a fire-whip-cracking show that looked quite promising–there was actually a lot on their entertainment schedule that I didn’t get an opportunity to see. The only thing for it is to come back! And no one had better be on a diet. 

 

 

 

 

 

*And then I looked it up and it turns out all these very cool people came from my hometown, like Orson Welles, Mark Ruffalo, and both the inventors of the answering machine AND the QWERTY keyboard! And a whole bunch more but you could just look at the Wikipedia page yourself.

**You have no idea how much I regret attempting to draw in those insect mandibles. No idea.

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: Ohio Edition

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 Ohio. Six weeks of Ohio is long enough, right?

CINCINNATI

Spotted this cool book fountain outside of Cincinnati’s public library, the water flowing over the books symbolizing the free flow of information and ideas thanks to the printed word. Neat, huh?

Metrobot is back outside the Contemporary Arts Center after more than a five year absence, during which time it was refinished and beefed up to include a scrolling LED and a tummy screen. Even with the more modern upgrades it still feels charmingly retro, thanks to the 10¢ pay phone embedded in its leg. 

Near the metrobot, Cincinnati also features an outdoor chandelier, which is unfortunately outdone by…

CLEVELAND

Cleveland’s outdoor chandelier, which happens to be the largest outdoor chandelier in the world. 

If a city happens to build an even larger outdoor chandelier, Cleveland’s can be called The World’s Largest Outdoor Chandelier Adjacent To A Building That Looks Like The Headquarters Of A Batman Villain . 

Cleveland also has the world’s largest rubber stamp. It has the word “FREE” on it, embodying the desire of anyone in Cleveland. A large desire to be free. Free from this place, free from life, whatever. and it was commissioned  by Standard Oil of Ohio. Between commission and delivery, the company decided that, actually, they didn’t want this thing, so they dumped it on the city as a tax deductible gift of public art. The city demurred until the company, now Amoco, agreed to pay for all transportation, installation, and upkeep costs. That is how much they didn’t want it. Imagine listing something large and bulky in your home in the Craigslist “free” section and being so desperate to get rid of it that not only do you offer to deliver it, but also to pay for any future maintenance on it, forever. Cleveland knows that free stamps ain’t free. 

I got hollered at in Cleveland by a driver who told me I was gonna get run over — while I was crossing at a crosswalk with the pedestrian signal lit. Uh, are the laws different there? Or are we just to assume that anyone behind the wheel of a car in Cleveland is going to floor it through intersections and careen around corners regardless of traffic signals due to the sheer desperation of trying to be free of Cleveland? 

COLUMBUS

In Columbus’ brewery district, there’s a large statue of Gambrinus, the mythological king of beer. What I would have never guessed about it is that it’s actually been in Columbus for a hundred years. Gambrinus originally stood in front of the August Wagner brewery, and when the brewery closed, the statue was purchased and preserved by the local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, and placed in its current location. Gambrinus survived Prohibition, he survived the brewery demolishing, no wonder he raises his glass in a perpetual toast!

We had lunch at Hot Chicken Takeover and it was great and I loved it. Sweet cheesus, the mac & cheese was awesome, the chicken sandwich made me weep tears of joy and tears of pain, and I couldn’t eat it all even though I really, really wanted to. Don’t forget to grab your free sweet tea and spice-combatting house made ranch to drizzle on that sandwich! What’s also super cool about this place is that they hire job seekers with criminal records, because American society often fails people who have had dealings with the justice system. If there’s no legitimate work available for those with criminal records, how can we be shocked by recidivism? I’m glad they’re helping give people opportunities to succeed, and this philosophy certainly seems to have not impeded Hot Chicken Takeover in any way, as they’ve rapidly expanded to three locations. None near me though. Bah!

I love Fiona the chunky lil hippo and I will do anything she tells me to, including buying her special limited edition ice cream. In this case, however, I’ve gotta say that not listening to her is the better option, because the supreme ice cream at Graeter’s is their black raspberry chocolate chip, with its thick soft hunks of shaved chocolate rippling through its rich black raspberry ice cream base. Especially in a pretzel cone. Yum. So good I’d consider having a case of it shipped to me but so good that I really, really don’t want a case of it shipped to me. I’m better off without the unholy knowledge of how fast I could rip through twelve pints of outstanding ice cream.

This is the photo I’m going to give to the landscape designer I desperately need to hire this year. If my back patio looked like this, I would spend so many more summer afternoons/evenings out reading. The Book Loft in Columbus is an excellent labyrinthine bookstore–they were having a Bruce Campbell signing the night I visited. I had a good time winding my way through the sections–in one of the rooms, I found a woman sitting on the floor lightheartedly groaning to her friend about how they never should’ve come because she’s going to spend far too much money. I bought a new title and took photos of the ones that I thought might make me face some scrutiny from my shopping companions so I’d remember to look them up later.

Not far from the Book Loft is this house featuring this teeny tiny door for the Littles family, complete with a doormat and teeny tiny topiaries. 

Neither of us were worthy to pull the sword from the stone in front of a dentist’s office in Columbus, which is fine, because if I’ve got to be queen of something, I’d rather it be something more exciting than a dentist’s office. Plus no matter how benevolently I ruled, I’d still be portrayed as an evil monarch because of all the black I wear and the fact that dental drills strike fear into the hearts of literally everyone. Nobody is ever going to call the queen of root canals a good gal. You see how much thought I gave this as I was approaching the sword, preparing to give my speech declining the monarchy. Freedom ain’t free.

 

 

And that’s it for Ohio! The stuff that didn’t make the cut really didn’t deserve its own post. 

Spotted on the Roadside: The World’s Largest Ping Pong Paddle in Columbus, OH

No, it’s not right there on the roadside–you’ve got to go inside Pins Mechanical Company to see the world’s largest ping pong paddle, which is totally fine because Pins turns out to be an awesome bar where it doesn’t feel totally weird to get day drunk. In addition to this almost 12′ x7′ behemoth that could crush a smart car like a ping pong ball, Pins has a wide selection of pinball games, duckpin bowling, and has outdoor jenga games capable of reaching such heights that the shorter among us have to climb on a stool to take their turn. In brief, this place is totally cool and I’d definitely come here again. 

Spotted on US 33 in Columbus, OH

Newport, Ohio, the Basketiest Place In The World

I have never seen a basketier place than Newport, Ohio. I do not believe a basketier place exists in this entire world. Legend holds* that the basketweavers guild summoned the devil long ago to ensure that when the world goes to hell, it will be in a handbasket and not some other, more useful mode of transportation. If indeed that is the case, Newport is the place from whence those baskets will proceed before beginning their initial descent.

Allow me to make my case. Within a small radius, this portion of Ohio contains:

  • The world’s largest basket that is also a building
  • The world’s largest basket that’s an actual large basket
  • The world’s largest apple basket that’s an actual large basket but not as large as the world’s largest basket and also holds large fake apples 
  • Approximately one shitload of basket stores

All these landmarks stemmed from one company: Longaberger. Back in the days before the internet when you had to leave your house and put on pants to buy goods, companies found another way to sell: get suckers to host house parties where their product lines would be shown to the unsuspecting guests of the hosts who would then feel a sense of obligation to purchase something, anything before they left. And if they were really pliable, they’d be signed up to host a party themselves the following month so as to loop in a whole new set of unsuspecting social acquaintances. I have some familiarity with this model, as when I was a kid, all kinds of product parties were held in my home while my brother and I were forced upstairs and threatened not to make a single goddamn sound while my parents’ friends were coerced into purchasing tupperware, pampered chef, mary kay, and more. Longaberger also followed this model, though I don’t believe they ever made an appearance at my house**–I can’t be certain, because, again, I was upstairs trying to stay silent as the grave while fervently hoping my parents’ friends wouldn’t eat all the cheese puffs***. 

 

The World’s Largest Basket That Is Also A Building

This building was Longaberger’s former headquarters: 7 stories, 180,000 square feet, or 160 times larger than its “medium market basket” inspiration. This building was vacated in 2016 and very recently sold, though no plans have been specified as to the new buyer’s intentions with the property: to restore it, to raze it, or to stick some giant apples in it as a middle finger to that apple basket down the road, reducing it in stature to the world’s second largest apple basket. It would be a shame to raze it as the building is quite impressive/distinctive: instead of being just another building off in the distance somewhere, it’s a giant basket looming on the horizon, which is delightful. As no one was around, we engaged in some light front lawn trespassing, which I will justify as being way less egregious than the literal dozens of dog turds someone allowed to let lay from their pack of dogs I have to assume they let loose on the lawn.

The World’s Largest Basket That’s An Actual Large Basket

It’s hard to sell this basket as the World’s Largest Basket as its label proclaims, given that we already know that basket building down the road is significantly larger and vastly more impressive, but just remember that when playing the game of world’s largest anything, it’s all about semantics. It’s why there’s an endless debate for what “counts” when determining things like the world’s largest building, because it’s more polite for architects to argue about that than unzip their pants and whip it on the table. So this is the world’s largest basket, in that it’s an actual woven basket and not just made to look like a basket. It’s also the former former Longaberger headquarters, because I’m assuming each new headquarters is christened by smashing a bottle of champagne on an adjacent giant basket. No word on whether they use it to store the world’s largest picnic supplies, but I certainly hope so. 

This large basket, however, is not a monolith, for if you open your eyes and look around you,  you’ll see:

Approximately One Shitload Of Basket Stores

 

I spy with my little eye: The Basket Guy, Smore Baskets, Retired Baskets Etc., Baskets and More, The Retired Basket Shoppe, and Basket of Dreams. How many basket specific stores does one town need****? How much basket business can one giant basket bring to an area? I had spent the morning looking at and feeling good feelings about baskets (I am EXACTLY the sort of person drawn in by the World’s Largest Anything) and yet no part of me wanted to bring a basket home, so who are these hordes of basket buyers? Also, what’s up with all these retired baskets? Are they retired in that they will no longer be performing basket labors? Are they the stores where old basket designs go to when their makers can no longer care for them? Are they retired limited edition basket designs and if so should they be used exclusively to store retired limited edition beanie babies? How does a town have this many basket stores and not change its name to Basketville with a mandatory pet shop named The Hounds of Basketville? Confused and yearning for a simpler time, I popped back in the car and headed toward something that would make sense. 

The World’s Largest Apple Basket That’s An Actual Large Basket But Not As Large As The World’s Largest Basket And Also Holds Large Fake Apples

 

This 20 foot tall baskety behemoth (also woven) stands on the grounds of the NEW Longaberger headquarters, lending credence to my idea that each new headquarters must involve the construction of a world’s largest basket that somehow doesn’t also remove the others from world’s largest status. I’m personally hoping for The World’s Largest Basket of Puppies next.

How could anywhere possibly be basketier?

 

 

 

*No it doesn’t, I made that part up.

**They made an appearance at Jason’s childhood home, however. When we got back from our basket extravaganza, his mom pulled out a Longaberger basket that she had been coerced into buying at a party years ago.

***They almost always did. Nowadays,  you don’t even get the cheese puffs, just an invitation to a facebook “party” from someone you haven’t spoken to since high school asking you to buy their nail stickers, essential oils, and life-changing juice, and the supposed benefit is that you can shop from your living room. Yeah, it turns out that with the internet, I can buy pretty much any product I want from my living room, obligation free. If you want to twist my arm into buying something I don’t want, you’re going to have to  have an actual party.

****I know that the Gilmore Girls’ fictional home town of Star’s Hollow is located in Connecticut, but the town that Longaberger built feels like the real Star’s Hollow to me if only because it seems like exactly the sort of place where a significant number of the townspeople would go apeshit over a charity picnic basket auction.

Happy Dog in Cleveland, OH

All that complaining about how much Cleveland sucks somehow didn’t affect my appetite, and thus the entire family wound up at Happy Dog, a Cleveland dive bar that serves the finest American cuisine: hot dogs and tater tots, each loaded up with as many toppings and dipping sauces as you want for the same low price. God bless Cleveland.

As you can see, there’s a huge variety available, and I selected mine with a fairly restrained hand:

Jason, conversely, couldn’t see spaghetti-os, froot loops, and a fried egg on the same menu without ordering them all, which is how we ended up here:

I can’t speak to Jason’s, because I’ve got some kind of egg allergy and also because gross, but mine was decent. Fair to middling. The dog quality was fine (not great, but fine), the topping options are thorough and fun, and the tot sauces are easily the best part (and between us all, we  had about half the dipping sauce menu represented on the table, so I’m qualified to talk about it)–but a quick blog search reminds me of a lot of dogs I felt a lot more enthusiasm about: Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs, the kobe dog smothered in chili at Slim’s Last Chance Chili Shack, downing a coney on Coney Island from Nathan’s Famous, the world-famous Icelandic hot dog stand, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, hell, even the hot dogs I fed to gators at Gatorland USA, or the chopped up dog on the burger that was so rich it almost made me crap my dress at the ballet (for the record, again, that is an ALMOST and not an actual occurrence, so you need only be mildly repelled by me). ALL of those hot dogs were vastly more exciting than anything at Happy Dog, which is not an indictment of their dog so much as saying that it’s just OK. It’s not the kind of place that’s worth a special trip, but if you’re already in Cleveland, it might be the better part of your day.

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.