Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Muppets Take Virginia ...

It was like she was on a game show. JCrew, in the weeks after we had decided to travel to our friend Oregon's wedding, knew at any moment how much a plane ticket to Virginia was running. She kept me apprised of the fluctuations during our regular 4:05 p.m. debriefing in a dark alley in downtown Duluth.

Price forecasting websites, "one free checked bag" deals, her Delta dollars or whatever the hell she collects went in one ear. I barely listened. Much like a dog, I take my conversational cues with her by listening for changes in inflection. This gives me plenty of time to think my own thoughts, yet still respond appropriately when she pauses. Like a good friend. She does the same thing.

JCrew is a planner and a deal hunter. I knew this. One of those "I got this $200 coat for $38" people. But I didn't know-know this. Not to this extent. And learning this was weird. Like I hadn't noticed she has three breasts or a lisp or that she's actually a dude.

The day after we finally got what she thought would be the lowest possible fare she asked "Did you tell Chuck that I got you one free checked bag?" I gave her a blank look. Not only had I forgotten, it wasn't the kind of fact that would end with Chuck and me rolling around in a pile of 25 singles, clutching each other and shrieking hysterically.

Chuck and I don't travel like this. We're more like:

"Shit. If we're going to go to LA tomorrow, we better buy our tickets."
"Meh. It's not even noon yet. Plenty of time."

This is not to say I did not appreciate JCrew's freakish fluency with travel planning. I did. If I'd taken the reigns we'd still be in Detroit panhandling for gas money. This was like being a lazy trust fund brat who lands a choice gig shuffling papers and reading Gawker all day long while my personal assistant puppeteers me onto the cover of Forbes.

"My God!" I said to her boyfriend Seadawg. "She's amazing."
"She's good, isn't she?" he said proudly, still tan from a New Year's trip to Florida.

***

Our itinerary: Fly to Norfolk on Thursday. Stay with our friend BriGuy. The three of us drive to Richmond on Friday. Back to Norfolk on Sunday. Fly back to Duluth on Monday.

***

BriGuy looks like BriGuy 2.0, now with the beginnings of a beard. He conducts baggage handling with his trademark chivalry. He's also taken to carrying a lighter though he doesn't smoke. It's engraved with his name.

I'd be lying by omission if I did not say here that JCrew and BriGuy dated a hundred years ago. They remain friends. There is some residual mind reading between the two of them. It is not at all romantic. More like bumping your head and suddenly knowing Spanish.

He takes us to a restaurant he selected keeping in mind JCrew's keen palate. She'd read the menu online, approved, and made a reservation more than a month in advance. At 9 p.m. there is only one other active table.

"Christa looks like a bag lady," JCrew snorts. I'm wearing an oversized sweatshirt and the stink of travel. "Yeah, a bag lady in BCBG," I respond. Seven hours with her and I've picked up brand name dropping like it's a case of the yips. I will have to shed this when I return to my real life. It doesn't suit me.


The server is leaned against the bar talking to a man with whom she is probably engaged in a sexual relationship. She comes to us ready to upsell and recommend. We order Pumpkin Soup with Cinnamon Croutons and Toasted Sesame Seed Oil, Rappahannock Seafood Low Boil, Shrimp and Grits with Smoked Chili Hollandaise Sauce, Black and White Mac & Cheese, the Fish Special I can't remember, Creme Brule and Bread Pudding. These dishes are passed among us family style. I horde the desserts, pleased to find that my companions know when to say when whereas I just want to motorboat a trough of chocolate flavored sugar.

BriGuy takes us back to his condo in Virginia Beach. We chat with his roommate, one of those sunny and clean girls who looks like she would smell like fresh air. JCrew unplugs an okay red, then trades it for a delicious white wine. I'm too full. My face throbs with a tooth ache from a pesky molar I'll later have ripped from my face with two twists of a dentist's wrist. I can't drink with any sort of purpose. BriGuy sips a beer-colored juice. We talk until 4 a.m.

JCrew and I take over BriGuy's bed. We lay there and discuss "Sweet Valley High" in very serious voices for an hour. Maybe two. She's chatty from the wine. I make my first silent appeal for an epic weather catastrophe to rip open the roof and knock her unconscious when she says: "Let's see how many characters we can remember. ... Lila Fowler ..." I fall asleep listening to her recite a poem by Christina Rosetti.

***

I wake not nearly enough hours later. JCrew is standing next to the bed naked. If there is a towel anywhere near her, it's wrapped around her head. She's showered. Does she sleep? In nine years of friendship, I've never asked her.

We hit the road. The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg on the William and Mary campus. Cute shops. Buskers. It feels smart and collegiate and John Irving-y. Like every weekend could be Homecoming weekend. I bet this place makes parents proud.



I eat Prosciutto and Provolone on Focaccia. Drink a San Pellegrino Lemonata. I rub contacts into my eyeballs in a public restroom off of the wine cellar. We drive further to an outlet mall. We split up so as not to torture each other with our individual preferences. I leave with a pink coat from Guess; Off-white wedge booties from Aldo.

"Helloooo Colonial Williamsburg," JCrew trills with a British accent.
"Ye Olde Williamsburg," she adds.
This is funny every single time she says it. And she says it a lot. And not just about Colonial Williamsburg. She says it about inanimate objects and other Virginian towns. 
"She thinks that fake accent makes her a historian," BriGuy says.

***

We check into our hotel in downtown Richmond. I go exploring. I need a toothbrush, black tights, a black bra, a Coke. This is a restaurant and pub neighborhood with cobblestone streets and a used bookstore. I stand on a corner, frustrated, and notice a massive white building with a lush lawn greener than a golf course. I make for the capitol building and sit on the steps.

I'm really not a history person, as far as who signed what and Patrick Henry where. Shoes with buckles. Robes and muskets. Still, I try to generate some sort of "stuff happened here" connection to the land and fail. Instead I think about how everyone here has brown hair. Who do you have to know to find a Coke?



We have dinner reservations. The place is packed. We move into the bar area, three feet from the tables. Close enough to join conversations. I stare a little too long at a woman's sheer shirt and wonder where I could find one of my own. We read the menu written on a giant chalk board mounted high on the wall. Servers and the hostess need us to shuffle this way, scooch that way. We're in their way for ice; We're in their way to pick up drinks at the bar.

We watch a parade of plates go past, judge the aesthetics, then bone up on what's hot here and what's not on Yelp from our iPhones. Pomegranate Spritzers get raves.

I pick a book off a shelf. It is by the guy who wrote "Dune." A server tells me it is his copy. When he walks away I continue to flip pages to be polite. What if this book is a plant. A lure. His soul mate will read the first page. When I pick it up, he wonders if it is me. When I put it down, he knows I'm not. We get a table upstairs.

I'm cranky. My face hurts. I'm starved. JCrew and I order Pomegranate Spritzers. We order Oysters with Hot Sauce Aioli, Short Ribs, Ricotta Gnocchi, Thai Vegetables, Steak. The oysters ooze and have kick. I lick the emptied shells. JCrew Tweets something vulgar, BriGuy Tweets something more vulgar. The Ricotta Gnocchi is rich. The steak dissolves on contact. This is the best food I've eaten in months. They won't let me get dessert.
Oregon and her fiance had gone to a bar after the rehearsal and they're at a table filled with friends. Some I recognize from dirty missives they posted on Oregon's MySpace page in the early 2000s. She looks exactly the same except instead of a hoodie she's wearing cleavage with a dress wrapped around it. Her fiance is making googly love eyes at her from across the table. 

"These two are high," she says, pointing at her fiance's friends. 

It's hard to tell if it has been 10 years or 10 minutes since Oregon moved away from Duluth, a day I vowed to never make another friend ever again. It has been five years. I hadn't yet met Chuck. I still had a cat. I sometimes drank Peppermint Schnapps and listened to "Thunder Road" on repeat. JCrew still drank on week nights back then. Now she's been solidly dating the man who signed Oregon's time card. There is really no point of entry for any sort of "catching up." We do it willy-nilly, like digging in a closet and pulling out buried trinkets one at a time in no specific order with no specific rhyme or reason.



We leave before the betrothed. There are scientific things to handle. Namely, that we have eaten a lot of rich food, digestive tracts are gridlocked, and the only bathrooms in the bar are single stall and high traffic. The button has already fallen off my new coat. "Factory outlet," Dr. JCrew diagnoses. Oregon's friend from college, J, has joined our group. She's come to the wedding by herself, and BriGuy plucks her up as a solo-guest sympathizer. He's welcome wagon-y like that. Plus, ladies dig him. He has a real "not-a-rapist" way.

"How do you say ebullient?" JCrew asks.
"You-ba-lent," I say.
"That's wrong," she says.
"Ee-bue-lee-ent," BriGuy says.
"You-ba-lent," I say.
"No," JCrew says.

We get lost between the parking garage and the hotel. We're a single file line moving through hallways, up stairs, down stairs, finally landing in the lobby of our hotel.

There is an Amway convention at our hotel. Activities run from 9 a.m.-2 a.m. The Amwaytiers gather in a restaurant, a bubbling pack of exclamation points. They clap. Men in suits are lodging next door. They are young. Fontanels like Nerf footballs, probably. Vaguely cult-ish. JCrew and I crawl into bed with matching food memoirs. BriGuy reads the newspaper. Doors slam. Men shout. A fist meets skin. BriGuy ignores it. JCrew and I sprint to the eye hole. Take turns peering. I had no idea we had this in common, this unabashed staring and fan-fiction about the lives of strangers.

On the other hand, she's furious about the clatter whereas I'm just curious. She's a fiery sort, prone to tourette-like bursts of expletives. I love having this kind of annoyance. Blood at a rolling boil. Harmless cardio that makes for a good story over breakfast.




The Amwaytiers will keep her up all night. She will score the three of us free breakfast buffets when she narcs on the fuckers at the front desk in the morning while I sit on a bench in the lobby imagining she is my super embarrassing mother. JCrew as justice seeker has its merits though, I think, eating free Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fruits, eavesdropping on runners at the next table, a few mimosas into a post-race Saturday. 

We move to a new room down the hall in an area reserved for business travelers. I worry that we are annoying BriGuy. Two high-pitch voices encroaching on his bachelorhood, his brain. Not to mention his car. Like me, he seems to need room to breathe. He doesn't drink, so there is nothing to dull our omnipresence. 

***

We pick up J and head to a Picasso exhibit. "I wasn't impressed with this exhibition when it was in Paris," a man in front of me says. "I just love his blue period," says a woman. R. Crumb-shaped women run on the beach, breasts freed from dresses and holding hands. A dying matador. A bug-eyed man. A cat with talons.

I catch up to JCrew who had gotten stuck in a loop with a woman who was explaining each piece. "Fucking art history majors," JCrew spits. "I heard a guy say 'Ah. Of course they would end with 'The Bathers.'" She apes his chuckle, rolls her eyes. I take her upstream, back to the painting of the women on the beach. "That's us," I tell her.

Then she ditches for the impressionists and I make for modern.


  ***

"Do you want to borrow my blush?" JCrew asks. We're sharing space in the hotel bathroom mirror. This new hotel room's bathroom outlets don't work. I only think "The outlets in our old bathroom worked" once.
"I'm wearing blush," I say.
"Oh," she says. "Can you straighten the back of my hair?"
"I'm busy putting on more blush," I say.
Then I straighten the back of her hair.
It takes a village to help her get ready, I tell BriGuy. He ironed her dress.


The wedding is at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum. Outside in the garden. The centerpiece is a fountain. White folding chairs. It's raining. BriGuy has two umbrellas. We skitter into the museum's gift shop. Stuffed ravens. Biographies and compilations. Key chains.

I meet the groom's mother and the groom's uncle and the groom's cousin. They have comical accents that seem born for my entertainment. Fifteen minutes before the ceremony it stops raining. The groom's mother will credit the groom's dead father with making the day perfect. Oregon will say "Or maybe the weather patterns changed." Shrug. BriGuy and other guests wipe down the folding chairs. JCrew and I pose with a Poe bust.


The music has to be re-started. Oregon has missed her cue. "If I were the groom I'd be nervous," JCrew says. Then comes the photographer, who is shooting journalism style, walking backward. Oregon winds her way into the garden. The second consecutive day she has strayed from what was her signature outfit five years ago: Hoodie, jeans, Converse. 

She's lovely. She has a great face, Oregon. Smooth skin. Nonintrusive features. Nothing to complain about, and if there was, she wouldn't. A reading from "The Little Prince." A reading from the Groom's family archives, an association I can't hear. Something about his mother and father.

And then our little friend is married. She's keeping her last name. It's not a political statement. She just doesn't want to have the last name Cox. I tell her some people would kill for that opportunity. She's unswayed.


The groom passes out mustaches to the guests. They are stuck above lips, on chins and in one case to the back of a bald man's head. I slip mine into my pocket. I can't get into the mustache thing, but pretend I'm opting out in solidarity with JCrew, who I know won't put one on. The groom's grandmother does, though.

***

The reception is at a two-level bar, closed for the private party, with a winding staircase. There is an open bar with beer, wine and a cucumber drink Oregon either invented or merely approved of. This is unclear.

JCrew orders us both a Mint Julep. We are in the South. The drink comes in a tin cup. It is whoa. Strong. Burn-y. I can either drink this drink and then immediately take a cab to the Betty Ford Clinic, or I can nurse the shit out of it and hope some of it just evaporates into fumes. Blotto me has been known to soil hotel furniture with urine spills. JCrew might find this funny, as long as I do it nowhere near her or her Kate Spade. I doubt BriGuy would see the humor, unless I did it near JCrew or her Kate Spade.

I choose sipping.

Most of the wedding guests are watching VCU play in the NCAA Final Four on the bar TV. About three hours into the Mint Julep, we realize that if we stir it, it is actually delicious. Minty. That's the key. To stir. Seasoned drinkers like yourself, BriGuy says, shaking his head.

There is a small-plate buffet on a long table upstairs. Fruits, vegetables, rolls and meat, grits with sausage and shrimp, meatless polenta lasagna -- Oregon is a vegetarian -- and cubed cheese. I'm shy on firsts. More aggressive on seconds. This is the best wedding food I've eaten.

I step outside to talk to Chuck on the phone. A man walks past me, looks around, whips out his dick and pees. He's about 10 feet away from me. I blame the basketball game. VCU lost. I'd hoped they would win and that we'd see a riot. Burning cars. People looting VCRs from pawn shops. Instead they lost and I'm down wind from a puddle of urine.

It's hard to say when the wheels come off. Probably after the toasts, during which the groom's sister calls Oregon the puzzle piece that completes the family. We linger upstairs.

A friend of the groom is talking about Ireland with JCrew. Telling her the lay of the land, the best places to visit, go here, go there, don'ts and dos. JCrew watches him skeptically, unsmiling.

JCrew is not the sort of person who just says "I'm going to Ireland." JCrew is the kind of person who first memorizes a map of Ireland, reads about each region, plots a route, studies menus, then says "I'm going to Ireland." So this guy has been to Ireland. He's not telling her anything she doesn't know, and she makes sure he knows that. You'd feel sorry for the guy if it wasn't so beautiful to watch.

"Why are you so angry?" he finally asks her. "I'm like Oregon. ... I'm dark," she says in total seriousness. I choke on my wine. Text Chuck: "JCrew just told some guy that she's dark."

A fortune cookie hits him in the head. Two tables away, a bunch of strangers have initiated a food fight. Another fortune cookie. Plunk. He grabs a cub of cheese from my plate and lobs it at them. They answer with a grape. Cheese, grapes, fortune cookies whiz through the combat zone. He scoops up a handful of cake and flings it across the room. This goes on for awhile. Until the caterers come and take away all the food.
JCrew takes over DJ duties from behind the bar, substituting her iPod's collection of pop music over the shoegazer music Oregon and the Groom compiled. This earns her easy access to the wine. Some people dance. The bride cuts off the groom. "Do not give him any more drinks," she tells the bartender. "Does he know he's cut off?" I ask her. "Not yet!" she says with a smile. The groom is taken back to the hotel. The short women in the room gather around a very tall man for photos.

We cram like seven people into BriGuy's car, including a woman in a poofy white dress. I sit in the very back. Like the last kid dropped off after a birthday party, riding in the hatchback of a wood-paneled station wagon. This is my idea. 

***

JCrew and I sprawl out in the hallway outside of our hotel room, digging through everything for a key card. We go inside and she orders a pizza and garlic cheese bread. Just as quickly she forgets she ordered a pizza and garlic cheese bread. A half hour later we wonder if she actually ordered a pizza and garlic cheese bread. And then the pizza comes.

Oregon and the groom come down to hang out. The groom sleeps on the bed. JCrew and Oregon cuddle on the other bed. We eat pizza and garlic cheese bread. JCrew falls off the bed. The bride and groom go back to their room. We all go to sleep.

But first I accidentally send a text message meant for Chuck to JCrew's boyfriend, whom I had been sending photos of JCrew to all night.

"Night Yum Yum," I write. 

***

I woke to the sound of JCrew turning on her camera, scrolling through a visual aid of the night.

We head to Carytown, a shops and restaurants area of Richmond we had driven through a few times. Breakfast at a French bistro with a surly and stained waitress. I order Eggs Benedict and stop paying attention to what those around me are eating.

I'm dying to spend money on an item of clothing never seen north of Wisconsin. We split up and wander in and out of shops, but nothing catches my eye as the quintessential costume piece. Up and down the blocks, in contact via text messages with BriGuy as home plate. Eventually JCrew and I find ourselves using the same slimy bathroom in the same 7-11 and we are able to ditch this shopping cock block.

We veer off the highway again in Colonial Williamsburg. This time we're going to tour around. Look at pieces of silver and men in tights. See taverns and canons. Homemade soup and penny candy. Up a path and around. Huge estates and small shops and college kids playing Frisbee.

"Helloooooo Colonial Williamsburg," JCrew trills.


"Musket ammunition is called balls," BriGuy tells me. There is a level of travel exhaustion that makes this seem like the most hilarious piece of information that could ever pass from his lips to my ears. Mostly we just walk slowly and take in the sights. I suddenly understand the appeal of Sundays.



We close the day at a candy shop, each selecting chocolate truffles and drinks to carry us the rest of the way to Virgina Beach. There are places alone this highway where you travel beneath the water or along low bridges bookended with blue. In a Northern clime, the shoulders would be a flea market of homemade crosses from the time Uncle so-and-so drunk drove home, caught a patch of ice and cartwheeled his truck into the bay. There isn't really ice here.

BriGuy takes us to a seafood restaurant right smack dab on the water. It's a shack sort of place filled with regulars and I experiment with eating food that had spent the morning performing water gymnastics among its peers while tiny brown ropes of waste exited his plump and delicious torso. JCrew introduces me to She-Crab Soup. Never have I ever had my mouth explode in such an amazing way. First I sample from her bowl, then I buy some of my own.

Back at BriGuy's we close up shop early.

***

I wake to those two making breakfast. BriGuy's on waffle duty; JCrew is manning the scrambled eggs. I take over hash browns and bacon and we all sit at his kitchen. Then BriGuy takes us to the beach, where it is warm-ish, sunny and windy. I run ankle-deep into the water to mark the second ocean I've seen in a month.

Sand whips in our faces, fills any gaping orifice. Hair everywhere.


***

BriGuy drops us off at the airport in Norfolk. It's been a good trip. We hug our goodbyes, send him on his way.

Our flight has been delayed.

This is bad news, as our layover in Detroit was to be less than an hour. Passengers have descended on the Delta employee charged with troubleshooting. She's got an edge to her, and seems to delight in telling a man that there is no way that he will get to Canada in the next 12 hours.

We throw a dozen options at her:

Get us to Chicago.
Get us to Minneapolis.
Just get us as close to Duluth Minnesota as you can and hell if we have to we'll take a rickshaw that last 200 miles.
For as fun as this trip has been, it is time for it to be over. We both have somewhere to be the next morning.

I buy four magazines. JCrew calls a handful of people who care about our fate. I read about Rhianna and a serial killer in New York. I picture us in a dank Detroit hotel room plopped amid a circle of airline tequila bottles and burping "Como Esta Usted" at each other before collapsing into giggles. I bet that Detroit delivers a unique form of hangover.

Eventually we board our plane. According to math, there is a possibility that we will land in Detroit with a handful of milliseconds to catch our flight to Duluth. We watch the clock and plot.

"We are going to push our way to the front," I tell JCrew. "Get off as fast as we can. We're not going to be nice about it."
This is easier for her than me.

We land in Detroit with about 13 minutes before our flight leaves. We bust our way to about the mid-point of the plane and it takes forever for them to open the door. In the meantime, the man in front of us has looked up our departure gate. We file solemnly from the plane and then bam! Dead sprint.

I'm not jogging. I'm running. Boots pounding the tiles, eyeballing signs and following arrows. People are backing out of my path, hugging toddlers and gaping. My backpack is pounding against my back like a heartbeat. I'm sprinting on moving sidewalks, checking the time, pushing harder. I look over my shoulder and JCrew is doing the same. Down a hallway, turn, it's been 7 minutes of full-on sprint. My lungs have collapsed and I've wet myself a bit.

When I get to our gate, the door is closed and a few people are standing around.

"ARRRGGGGGGHHH!" I say, keel over with my hands on my knees. Cough. I start to tear up. No offense to Madonna and Eminem, but I don't want to be in Detroit.

"Where are you trying to get?" a woman asks me.
I wonder if maybe they've held the plane for us.
"Duluth?" I gasp.
"We're waiting for the flight attendants," she tells me.
It takes a second to realize that these are my people. The plane hasn't yet boarded. That doesn't mean I can breathe yet, but it is good news. If I'd known this seven minutes earlier, the crotch of my jeans would still be dry and urine free.

I text JCrew. Tell her to take her time. Then I see her. She's wearing trouser socks, her shoes in her hand. Later she'll rip the flimsy material from a blister she earned from her run. We recap our journeys from Terminal to Terminal.

Our flight doesn't leave for two more hours. We were on a plane, then off the plane. We moved to a new terminal. I have a murderous desire for a Cheeseburger, but all of the restaurants have closed. My stomach has started to eat itself. We board. Finally. JCrew counts her money and finds she has enough for two Bloody Marys. We mix mini Vodka with a can of tomato juice. Swirl to stir. Sip.

"It's like a meal," she says.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
* I'd like to thank anyone who read this post in its entirety. I know it was a bugger. But I really wanted to write something long and detailed. And maybe no one read it in its entirety. That's fine, too. There is no quiz.
* Most of the images in this post are by JCrew and BriGuy and Picasso.
* A special thanks to Delta Airlines for adding another crap chapter to the trip and teaching me that my cardio is pretty shitty.

Two doors down ...

I stepped out on the porch tonight at the same time as two people two doors down. They seemed festive and I watched them as the dude turned away from the girl in that certain way. Talked to her over his shoulder as he unzipped facing me.

"Holy shit," he said to her. "There's someone on that porch!"
"I know," I said. "And you just tried to pee in front of me."

He turned the other direction, this time looking over his shoulder to talk to me, an arc bursting from hip-level.

"Come on over," he said.
"I can see your pee," I said.

I had six minutes to kill, so I wondered up the sidewalk in socks and a robe. He met me halfway and the girl stayed on the porch.

"Who are you?" he asked.
"Christa. I live there," I said.
"By yourself?"
"With my boyfriend," I said.
"I've never seen you before."
"We've lived here a year."
"I guess I haven't been here for awhile."
"Why?"
"I've been in jail," he said.
"For ...?" I asked.
"Selling weed," he said.

I laughed.

"How come everyone laughs when I tell them that?" he asked.
"Because you were in jail for selling weed," the girl said from the porch.

I walked toward the girl and listened to these two skip from topic to topic for about four more minutes. Which ones of his friends she has hooked up with, six months in jail. He took a second to text someone. She told me she liked my robe.

"We're like brother and sister," she told me.
"Sounds like you'll probably hook up tonight," I said.

Then they got into more banter.

"Don't forget to drop by my bar for a Bloody Mary on Sunday," she said as I backed away quietly.

"You should come in and have a drink!" he said.
"Can't," I told him. "I'm working on a project."
"What?" he asked.
"I'm writing," I told him.
"What? Like poetry?" he asked.
"Psh. No. Gross," I said.
"What do you write if it isn't poetry?" he asked.

I had no idea how to answer that.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Hope you remember all the times I made you purr ...

I come to you with blackened soles, a case of Hepatitis Q, and a missing pink coat. The most-anticipated wedding this tiny town has ever seen was Saturday night, a rock and roll event that included 12 minutes of ceremony, a pig roast, a handful of the finest local bands, 400 of my closest friends, and the security of knowing that no matter how hard one tried, she would not be the drunkest person to totter out of that basement bar at last call.

That's a good feeling.

My friend Hotrod is one of those rock and roll dudes. Sleeves ripped off his T-shirt, his T-shirt featuring a white skull. Thumb rings and mirrored sunglasses. Size 6x jeans from the girls side of Gap Kids. A real natural with the kind of front man antics that whip groupies into a froth, young boys into air guitar seizures. He was Chuck's friend first, a legendary character I'd heard plenty about before I met him. Helicopters. Limos. Sharpie mustaches. Tuxedo T-shirts. He married K, who I don't know as well, but who can bust out mean backup vocals and is dexterous with rock and roll horns. She's exactly who you want to see in the front row of a show. Her flip flops with a bottle opener on the bottom.

The wedding was at Sacred Heart, once a church, now a place to see a certain style of band perform. There are still stained glass windows and an organ. Candles. Before it started, guests had already uncorked cans of PBR. The 13 groomsmen filed out and lined up like a Vienna Boys Choir reunion. T-shirts under coats with jeans. The groom's T-shirt featuring a white skull.

One of Hotrod's former bandmates was up front, playing Pachebel's Canon on an electric guitar as the nine bridesmaids strolled in. Then he cranked up the tempo, the doors to the former church ripped open and K came busting in wearing a long grayish, purplish, blueish strapless dress. The ceremony took like zero seconds, and then everyone filed out to an instrumental of a Bone Appetit ballad about a car. The wedding party party hopped on a shuttle, cigarettes dangling from open windows, and took off.

The reception was pure chaos. A collection of 80s cover bands and dinner band provided by a man in a tall paper chef hat and apron. He'd roasted a pig in his back yard that morning. This fluffy white cake with flecks of raspberry. K changed into this sassy black dress with a shiny belt; Hotrod took over the microphone for a mini Bone Appetit reunion that had everyone grabbing at the stage and singing along like it was some sort of summerfest in 1983 where you come home with beer in your hair, mud in your cleavage, impregnated by a roadie. And of the 400-ish people in attendance, I think everyone knew at least 350 of them.

What exactly happened? Heck if I remember. Cork1 dumped candle wax in JCrew's drink, then kept chanting "Ghost Busters," to which his brother took me aside and said "I think what he's trying to say is: Ghost Busters!" Later in the night, Cork2 began chanting his half of every conversation. JCrew and I slow danced to "Every Rose Has its Thorn." I spent a ton of time outside on the deck in the mist talking to Radzo and Tuska and tried to weasel my way into an 80s cover band. Again. Last call at RTQs.

Twas a good night. I don't think I've been to a better wedding. The secret, Hotrod said, is not letting ones parents have any control over what happens. You should let these two plan your wedding.

I spent Sunday trying to remember whose beard I stuck my finger into. Not as simple of a riddle as one might think. This is Duluth, afterall. We have a lot of beards.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Swimming in coconut milk ...

This past weekend I went to an excellent rock and roll wedding with about 400 of my favorite people. Still working on writing about said wedding, much like I am still working on writing about the last wedding I went to. Suffice to say, I've been to two hot shit weddings in the past two months, both which oozed with the personalities of the Mr. and Mrs.

In other news, here is what I ate, watched and read this past week.

FOODS
Foil-Roasted Beets with Wasabi Vinaigrette with Tricolor Quinoa: Chuck made this meal from The Urban Vegan: 250 Simple, Sumptuous Recipes from Street Cart Favorites to Haute Cuisine

The gist: Roasted Beets, slathered in a Vinaigrette that includes Garlic, Wasabi, etc. The quinoa is made with a mix carrots, garlic and kale. This all went together really well, tasted super clean and gave me a Sugar Free Rock Star level of life enthusiasm.

I've like everything we've tried from this cookbook, so it is worth it for those who are Urban Vegan curious.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchilada: Well. The time has come. Chuck has upped the ante on veganism and has thrown in an added level of intrigue. Gluten Free. Zoiks. Later, pizza. It's been real. I kid. Like the vegan thing, it's not a rule, so we're cool.

Anyway, so I found this recipe which was easy and good and spicier than one might expect. I don't think it's hard, but Chuck did all the heavy lifting prep work like handling the sweet potatoes and the chilis, leaving it with all the other ingredients for me to assemble when I got home. Tag-team, bizzos.

This did teach me that I dig corn tortillas more than I thought I did. Ugly photo alert. I didn't have enough of the chili sauce. Next time.



Caribbean Curried Black-Eyed Peas with Plantains: Ya-Uh-Um. I liked this soupy mix of spiciness swimming in Coconut Milk. Not sure I would make it again with Plantains. They're always a little disappointing and I always think an exotic spider is going to hitchhike home in my shopping bag.

Chuck suggested trying it with Sweet Potatoes, which I'm totally up for trying.

MOVIES
Herb & Dorothy

Marwencol: This one is about a dude who got beaten up outside of a bar, suffered a major brain injury, and in his recover invented this fictitious world called Marwencol that is populated by Barbie dolls and GI Joe Action figures. It's all very elaborate and Barbie Doll Dreamhouse if the Dreamhouse was like an entire town. Then, he starts taking photos of the scenes his characters are involved in. And he likes to dress in women's clothing. And he is featured in an art show.

BOOKS
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Full review will be here.

Now Reading: I'm still working my way through The Four Fingers of Death: A Novel

I keep wanting to tell people about this really fantastic scene, but saying "Let me tell you about this part in this book," is about as interesting as saying "Let me tell you about this dream I had."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Monday Memoir: All Girls Must Be Everything ...

I wanted the loose waves of the girls on the cover of Teen magazine. Shiny curls thick as a coffee can. That just-brushed lightness. Whenever I expressed this to my mother, she gave the same answer:

Why not get a home perm?

A home perm. That remarkable bit of hair technology, a transformation that could occur at ones own dining room table. My mom wrapping quarter-inch sections of hair around a piece of hard plastic, then squirting egg-fart flavored solution over my head, the metal of the sink against my chin, then wrapping this toxic event in a plastic bag and waiting while it fried itself pretty.

In the end I would always look more like Rhea Perlman than Heather Graham. The worst part is that I fell for this every year.

"It'll relax," my mom would say over the sound of poodles barking in my own head.

It never relaxed. Sections would straighten. My own unruly natural curl would overrule the Tony Home Perm uniformity in other places. Throw in acne, braces, and armpits hospitable for growing Brie, and I was pretty lucky to go to a small friendly school where we mostly all liked each other even if one of us looked like she was in a sci/fi tale of pubescent disfigurement.

I can't think of when I become comfortable with what I look like, but it happened. Ish. Happened-ish. I'll say it was when I was 30, because in the revisionist history of my life I use 30 as this magical line when my self esteem issues completely dissolved overnight along with a few annoying lifestyle ticks. But I'll say -ish because I got my hair cut last week and my bangs make me look a little like a 1990s beat cop. Instead of lying in bed with the lights out screaming about how my life is over (Age 29), I now look in the mirror, frown and think about how this is two more weeks of looking like Jackie from "Roseanne" (Age 35).

Being comfortable with what I look like is not the same as being a knock out. I'm not going to slay anyone or make eyeballs pop cartoonishly from a head. I know what I look like. In fact, the harder I try the more I appear to be dressed in drag. And sometimes I come across like Anime. As a rule, one photograph of me every 14 years is flattering. But this all makes it easier for people to take me seriously as a karaoke artist and no one ever bugs me when I'm reading a book in public.

Here is a personal inventory of my body parts:
  • Very thin hay-hair that, an entire summer after setting this goal, has not grown long enough for me to go shirtless like "Splash." Also: At some angles I have a visible bald spot and I'll probably greet my 50s rocking a skullet
  • Almond-shaped eyeballs that eat contact lenses. 
  • An ess-curved spine and rounded shoulders, which I like to think make me look so Olive Oyl-y that I can't carry myself upright, but is genuinely just proof that no matter how much time my mom spent yanking on my shoulders and threatening to tape a hanger between them, I would never learn to stand up straight. I think it is my personal preference for the fetal position.
  • A face that looks cheery in its resting position, and if it falls to neutral makes me look mad just because it isn't wide-eyed gawking chipper mouthed. 
  • Small chubby-boy boobs. 
  • A habit of chewing on my thin lips that makes me look like my mom if I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror.
  •  White and puffy water wing upper arms that I show in public only 1 percent more often than I show my Hot Dog bun upper thighs, fetus faced knees, and curiously monkey-paw like toes. 
The Monday Memoir series is a writing project that uses Tina Fey's memoir "Bossypants" as a template for my own life story. I'm using her subjects as a prompt. Tina Fey's memoir is very funny, by the way. It just seemed so easy to do. In Chapter Three she talks about standards of beauty and does a personal inventory of her healthy body parts.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fake bacon and galaxy porn ...

The bad news is that I have spent the past four days like so super sick. On Friday night I thought I was going to just have my address changed to our couch because I couldn't move from it.

The positive of this is that I experienced every. single. minute of the past four days in a way I never would have if I'd been able to do anything fun or vertical-shaped. So four days has felt more like 10. And our basement is super clean, our laundry is almost done and strides have been made toward having an awesome bathroom. And I started watching Gilmore Girls.

Anyway, here is what I ate, watched and read.

THINGS MADE IN THIS HOUSE POSSIBLY BY ME BUT MAYBE NOT


Lentil Loaf
: True story: Chuck has been watching "Six Feet Under." On a recent episode, the Joe Lies girl from "Say Anything" plays a superhippie living in Seattle, Nate's former friend with benefits. When he and Claire stay with her in Seattle, she feeds them vegan meatloaf. There are visible chunks of tofu. Claire dumps hers into the toilet, which falls under the bathroom rules of "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown flush it down."

Despite this anti-endorsement, two days later Chuck asks me to look for a vegan meatloaf recipe.

So this is the one he went with. Lentil loaf. It's actually pretty good, has a gazillion ingredients, needed to cook a lot longer than it said and I have a feeling will be good on a sandwich.


Bean and Hominy Pot Pie: Aside from the part where I had to peel a butternut squash, a slipper weirdly shaped butternut squash, this was amazing.

Like, really amazing.

I'm kinda a sucker for hominy though. I like how it is a weird tooth-y poof of vegetable. So this is pretty winter-tasting, but damn it's interesting. It has a ton of clashing seasonings (oregano and cloves and cumin?) and squash with nachos on top.

Eggless Butterscotch Chip Cookies: One of my favorite things about being an adult is the ingredients. Knowing that most of the time I can stand up, walk into the kitchen and make cookies or something spicy with lentils. Fun fact: We actually now seem to regularly stock butterscotch chips.

On this occasion I wanted cookies in the frantic way of an addict. We were out of eggs, so I found an eggless version, which is awesome because you can lick the beaters.

FOOD PRODUCT ENDORSEMENT

Morningstar Bacon Strips: This is my new favorite food. And not in a "I like bacon but I'm resisting real bacon." I don't care about real bacon. I just love this fake stuff that looks like Pla-Doh and tastes nothing like bacon. Part of it is a scientific curiosity. Like how it doesn't really change at all when it is cooked. And it is so damn weird. But it tastes so freaking good.

WATCHING
Barbarella: Queen of the Galaxy: Holy inter-galaxy porn.

Gilmore Girls: The Complete First Season

Friday, May 13, 2011

Clown car of broken plates ...

Mediterranean Night: I made garlic hummus, chopped up some vegetables and boiled some couscous. Chuck loaded up a plate. I opened the cupboard and an entire pile of mini plates and bowls cascaded from the top shelf. It was visually stunning. Like the opposite of fireworks. All these things falling and breaking, pieces everywhere -- including in the hummus. We both just stopped and watched. Later I would find green pieces 10 feet away by the refrigerator.

Haunted house or precariously balanced dishes. Either way it was interesting. I ate the hummus anyway, risking the shards. I didn't really care about the loss because who needs like 30 small plates? I'm sure I'll eat these words when I host a bunch of blue hairs for some sort of tea party. Until then, I love an excuse to throw stuff away.

***

I have four days to do with what I will. My plan was to live like a novelist. Crank out some words on the piece of fiction I have in the hopper. Be wholly dedicated to this. See if I can dedicate time to writing when I have endless time to write.

I woke up Thursday morning with a wicked cold instead. A debilitating cold. I can't remember the last time I had a cold-cold. Was it last year? Was it this past winter? Was it three years ago? Who knows. I had to ask Chuck to remind me how long they last, how to get them to go away. Instead of spending Day 1 living like a novelist I spend Day 1 living like an invalid. If I hadn't had the day off, I'd have taken the day off.

Then it was like trying to stop every part of my body from leaking fluids, even though the fluids were exclusive to my nose. So many explosions of sneeze. I went to Walgreens and played supermarket sweep, loading up a shopping cart with drugs and orange juice and Gatorade and cough drops. This is my favorite part of being sick.

Then I watched a mini documentary about Justin Bieber, just because I was sick. And curious about this child heartthrob.

***

Sometimes I need to go in public and sometimes this interferes with my need to live like a yurt owner who hasn't experienced running water in the past decade. When this crisis pops up, I dress in all black, pull a hat over my eyes and try to distract people into thinking I'm a celebrity on a Starbucks run. Britney Spears caught slumming by TMZ.

***

Pro Tip: When there is a long line at the cash wrap at Barnes & Noble, you can cheat and buy your books in the cafe. It's very edgy. The barista will recognize you as an insider when she asks "Do you want anything to drink?" and you say "No. Just the book." That look she gives you is a look of respect. "How did you know?" she's asking with her eyes. I used to work at Barnes & Noble.

***

A woman is walking down the street with a wiener dog. He makes a beeline toward our yard. Something is off in his gait. She comes after him, lifts him up and puts him back on the sidewalk. "We're rehabbing," she tells me. She's got leashes wrapped around his hind end. The wiener dog is a paraplegic wiener dog who recently had surgery on his back. The surgery didn't take. Now when she walks him, she has to keep his back to legs elevated while he sprints along on his front legs. He's a speedy little sucker. Full of zip. "You should buy him one of those little carts with wheels," I say. How cute would that be? "I know," she says. "They're like 300 dollars." "No!" I say, imagine making one for him myself.

The Monday Memoir: Growing Up and Liking It ...

NOTE: Blogger has been down for like a day and I lost this post with the original comments.

We studied each other like cigar-chomping spectators about to bet on the ponies. Statistically speaking, we had discovered some tells:

If you played defense on the youth soccer team, forward on the St. Pius X basketball team. If you had full-fledged breasts, rather than squinched and barely-flated rough drafts. If you were in the back row for the Christmas program. If your forehead looked like an acne-graphical map of the Rocky Mountains. If you had ever experienced the mushy wet mess of French kissing. If you had an older sister.

You were probably next in line to get your period.

Men-struuu-ate, our sixth-grade teacher would call it. Fannie's mom dubbed it The Dot. We called it Izing. Slang for "Periodizing." As in: "Look at the back of my shorts. Can you see anything? I think I'm Izing." Or "I saw Betsy take her Sport Sac into the bathroom. I bet she's Izing."

Mine came in the winter of sixth grade. At a hockey game. Gina and I had invented this way to pass time: We would shout "No Sleep 'Til!" Then bust through a metal door and scream into the cold arena "BROOKLYN!" I had no idea that the subtle strobe-light throb was cramps. Later, faced with the indisputable evidence, I kind of forgot what the clues actually meant.

Well nuts, I thought. I dreaded telling my mom. I had to tell my mom. She was hoarding all the deceptively pretty packaged supplies in her bathroom, off of her bedroom. Even Johnny Carson wouldn't be able to drown out my rustling. I considered asking my brother to run covert ops for me, but sensed that might not be the protocol in such situations. Ugh. My mom. All that beaming, the certain hug, it was all going to be like a giant "I told you so."

"I guess you were right. I am a woman after all," I'd say all aw-shucks-like. Then we would embrace with a box of Always denting between our bodies.

"The talk" had happened three years earlier. I initiated it in a way that still brings shame flashbacks that I'm hoping to finally exorcise by posting it on the internet:

I'm wearing a long pink silky nightgown. I notice that I have developed tiny buds of breasts. Like someone pinched the skin on my chest and they didn't elastic back to completely flat. I walk upstairs to the living room. My parents are lying next to each other on the couch.

"I'm getting fat," I say.
"You are not," my mom says. She would never humor this kind of talk.
"No," I say. "Up here." Point at my chest.

Shudder.

A few days later, one of those highly-illustrated, super pastel books about how bodies change, with a Catholic bend, passed off like a Hallmark card. I saw it in her purse days before she gave it to me. Then she gave it to me and told me to get back to her with any questions.

Telling your friends that you got your period for the first time is something I now understand to be a humble brag. It's like, "Sorry Gina. You keep playing that stupid 'No Sleep Til Brooklyn' game. Frankly, I'm so hopped up on Midol that I can't even feel my left foot, let alone my fallopian tubes. Does this pad make me look like I have a tail?"

A few days after I got mine, another friend humble bragged her way into the club.
"She's faking it," the rest of us decided. "I mean, she's short. It's scientifically impossible."
She caught wind of the nay-saying and dragged a couple of us into the girls' bathroom after lunch and showed us.
"Food coloring," one of my friend's said afterward. "It wasn't even the right color."

The Monday Memoir series is a writing project that uses Tina Fey's memoir "Bossypants" as a template for my own life story. I'm using her subjects as a prompt. Tina Fey's memoir is very funny, by the way. It just seemed so easy to do. In Chapter Two she talks periods and gynecology. I'm sticking with periods, no offense to gynecology.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Recluse gone wild ...

Well the past two weeks have been pure chaos. Non-stop go-go-go. I've had to reintroduce the couch to the size and sphere of my kiester, in addition to whispering sweet nothings about how I'll never let anything come between us again. I've barely read a lick. I've written only unintelligible nothings.

But my list of things I've done is pretty impressive considering my natural lean toward recluse.


So, in answer to Q's email, here is the haps:

From the files of things I wish 19-year-old me knew: I saw G. Love & Special Sauce play at Clyde Iron Works. My god G. Love is an amazing performer.


I also was a dealer for the casino portion of a local organization's fundraiser, saw a band that had it's own arts and crafter on stage, watched a bunch of homemade music videos starring songs by local bands and ate an amazing flour-less chocolate cake.

I caught a trippy 1970s band that featured a trumpetier, a sassy songstress and a barefoot tambourine player and I saw Trampled By Turtles, chilling with my homey Cork1 who claimed to only be there to watch the college girls freak to Wait So Long. "Know who else is gonna freak out to that song?" I said to him. "This girl." Pointed at myself.

"It is unreasonably good," he agreed.

Saw belly dancers, sang karaoke, watched a gorilla dance in a cage during a metal set at a bar in Superior. I hit about 80 minutes of the Elton John concert, and got wrecked while a guy mauled a deer heart on stage. Then my friend Hotrod's band played last night and I got a free kazoo.

Today I probably won't see another living soul, beyond the people with whom I shared public transportation with so I could retrieve my car from the place where I ditched it for the weekend.

I'm not sure how people with active lives do it all. I'm going to sink my face into my boyfriend's hair and not come up for air for about a month.

And so: Here is what else I found time to make, watch and read in the past two weeks.

FOODS

Thai Curried Noodles with Broccoli and Tofu: Honestly, this wasn't a memorable meal although I think I liked it and Chuck told me I made the noodles perfectly. Shallots, cilantro, curry paste, coconut milk, broth, tofu, broccoli. He also said it tasted better as a leftover.

For some reason Vegetarian Times hasn't posted this on the website. So I've linked to a kind citizen foodie.


Stovetop Fideos: This was one of those things were I blindly jump into making something with no idea if I should rely on science to do what it is supposed to do to the noodles. But it was a total victory: Toast noodles, cook up onions, garlic, beans, tomatoes and corn, add the toasted noodles and broth and it becomes this warm, mushy, Mexican-flavored dish. And yes. I did OD on Asiago Cheese.

MOVIE
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans This is what we call around here "A movie your dad would hate." The old man's not a fan of bad cop fiction. Luckily I am. And this one is fantastic. Weird, complete with a whacked out Nic Cage shaking down club goers for their stash, pocketing powder, screwing their ladies and sending them back into the night. It all starts when he gets a back injury being a hero, then moves into decidedly not heroic behavior to keep himself in non-OTC meds. Totally, totally dug it.

Alfred Hitchcock's 39 Steps We tried to watch this Alfred Hitchcock movie from the 1930s and it was so boring and everyone talked weird.

BOOKS
Bossypantsby Tina Fey:
Obviously I wasn’t expecting the Dalai Lama or Haruki Murakami with this book. What I expected is exactly what I got. But it kind of feels like someone just told Tina Fey to find a way to fill 250 pages, make it funny, and then had a good chuckle about how people just want to read something by her, a little something-something. So she stitched together some stories, some satire, some alternative formats for storytelling and added some of her kickiest punchlines.
That is to say it is a little hollow with hilarious frosting.

Full review here.

The Broom of the System: A Novelby David Foster Wallace: What if David Foster Wallace wrote a super accessible novel without end notes, but still filled with his signature loony characters, absurd situations and hilarious dialogue. Dum-dum-dum. He did! Before his brain got too so super big, while he was still honing voice and construction, DF-Dubs wrote a pleasant little novel that doesn't require holing up like an agoraphobic and conceding defeat to muscle atrophy.

Full review here

Right now I'm reading Say Her Name: A Novel by Francisco Goldman and so far it is tops.