What’s That Thing On Her Head?

I know, I know. I like to start the week off with a recipe, but I don’t have one. Mea culpa. I plan on getting into the kitchen later to do some cooking so I can share it all with you, but it was a weird weekend and when I did cook, I didn’t have the luxury of time to take photographs. Which is a little bit of a drag, but, silver lining! I’ll be forced to make yummy food all over again.

In the meantime, I want to present you with….this ad. I have carried this ad with me for years, it’s survived two moves, through Texas and back east to my little home in central PA. After a decade of puzzlement, of staring at this ad and shaking my head, I confess I am no closer to comprehension than I was ten years ago. I’ve spent more time trying to understand the mindset of the advertising agency that gave this the green light, than I have most pieces of abstract art. I still have no idea what this ad is getting at. Ok ok ok, here. Feast your eyes. (Identifying details removed. Mostly. :))

Hey...what's that thing on her head?

Hey…what’s that thing on her head?

In case you’re staring at this ad in stricken disbelief–which is totally understandable–I will explain. This is an ad for stores that sell jewelry. A jewelry mall, if you will. Glamorous, high-end jewelry, not the “Buy three pairs of earrings, get the fourth free” kind that I usually buy. And the model, in her LBD and thick golden rope of a necklace, is wearing a cat on her head. A cat. On her head. Here’s a closeup.

Shmexy.

Shmexy. Hey, wait. Is that terror I see lurking in her eyes?

Indeed, this is certainly all I’ve imagined and more. I know that when I think about which lovely lady ought to get the fancy jewelry, it’s almost always the one wearing an animal on her head. 

Only opposite. “Give in to the luxury”, the ad says. But how does wearing a cat on one’s head indicate “luxury”? Or something that should be given in to? I fight the urge to accessorize with my cat every day, and I feel like I’m a better person for it. Because if she were wearing pajamas–and you know I’m right here, people–she would be a crazy cat lady. This should be instant birth control. Instead, this ad was meant to create allure.

Herein lies my befuddlement. I don’t understand. I mean, if I want to buy shoes I don’t look for someone with an egret perched on her head so I can think, “Oh, wow, that must be a great shoe store I can’t wait to shop there.” Maybe I just don’t grok high-end jewelry in this way, but…why is this lady wearing a cat on her head? And what does that say about…oh, good Lord, about any and everything that’s weird about the advertising business?

Please, internets, if you can explain, I would be most grateful.

NYC 4-D Puzzle and Sammy, Master of All He Surveys

George’s father died two years ago this month. He was a good man, and nice, and whenever George and I went to visit his parents, his father and I would inevitably end up working a puzzle together. It was a gentle, charming way to bond with his family and I keep those memories close. It was sweet. After he passed away, and because I was a puzzle-buddy, George’s mother gave me his father’s New York cityscape puzzle to complete. It’s 4-D because it also looks at New York through the lens of time. The base, a standard cardboard puzzle cutout, shows New York in the 1700s, huge expanses of farms in what’s now midtown, the already-emerging alphabet city on the east side. The base is far and away the most difficult part of the puzzle, with a lot of incredibly similar-looking pieces and not a whole lot of distinctive features to work from. But eh, I got it done. I regret now that I don’t have any pictures of that layer. Hindsight is 20/20.

The second layer of the puzzle brings you into the modern NYC layout. It’s made from thick foam with heavy paper overlay, and has pre-punched squares to accommodate various NYC landmark buildings. Buildings are color-coded to indicate the era in which they were constructed, so you can see the spread of vertical development over the course of 200 years. Plus, it’s super-cool. And it’s done.

To you historians and nit-pickers who claim that this puzzleis not entirely accurate…I understand, I get your point. But it’s also a puzzle, a toy meant to spark interest, not something meant to be sourced for a dissertation. Get over it.

So. New York City in 4-D.

Be real, people. The first thing you’ve got to see in New York is the Statue of Liberty, amirite?

IMG_0002

Hey, whassup, you tired, poor, huddled masses?

Then we go up around Battery Park and check out the gateway to the Financial District.

IMG_0004

Personally, I dig the lineup of bridges in the background.

Have a look straight down Broadway.

Give it my regards, will you? And remember me to Herald Square.

Give it my regards, will you? And remember me to Herald Square.

Get an aerial view. (Uh…seems that a building got a little wibbly-wobbly….whoops!)

IMG_0006

Go home, Chrysler Building! You’re drunk!

And check out Manhattan from the other side.

Surprise! Not all of Manhattan is pure skyscraper.

Surprise! Not all of Manhattan is pure skyscraper.

While I was doing this, Sammy–who is without question the boss of this house–jumped onto his loveseat to acquaint himself with all goings-on. Sorry to break it to you, New York, but Sammy is the master over all he surveys.

All shall love him and despair.

All shall love him and despair.

 He is an imperious task-master, but not tyrannical. There are worse gigs, so long as you keep him in a steady supply of thyroid boosting cat food pellets. You’ll get used to it.  :)

So there we have it! This was a lot of fun, and sweet and poignant for me to complete. And it’s good to let the world know Sammy is bent on world domination, one puzzle-city at a time.

Thanks, I guess? For the memories…

Recently I came across an article on the internets featuring photos of abandoned Pocono-area honeymoon resorts. I don’t know if this was something people knew about across the US, but for east coasters, the Poconos dominated the honeymoon and couples-getaway market with a plethora of romantically-themed resorts to choose from. I can recall the theme songs from the commercials pretty readily, because that’s the kind of effluvia that clutters up my synapses.

This article took me for a walk down…ummm…not quite Memory Lane, because everything about the upcoming story is just so weird. Should Have Been An Acid Trip Lane? I Must Have Made This Up In My Fevered Brain Lane? Here’s the deal:

A thousand years ago, when I was but a slip of a paisley, I was married. For the purposes of storytelling, I’ll call my ex Snidely. Snidely had a very good friend who had just ended a very bad relationship; a few weeks after that ugly breakup, this friend was at his office holiday party and won a romantic weekend getaway for two to a resort in the Poconos. Since friend was unattached and had sworn off women for a while, and his vacation package came with an expiration date, he gave his vacation to Snidely and me–here you go, Merry Christmas, have crazy fun. So far, so good, right? We picked a weekend (off-season, of course, because that’s the block of time the voucher was good for), booked a room, and planned to whoop it up.

In all honesty, I don’t remember exactly which resort we stayed in. I suspect it was, indeed, Penn Hills (see the above commercial), but the Poconos are littered with abandoned resorts that shared similar sensibilities. These are the hotels that kitschy dreams are made of; the places with heart-shaped tubs and round beds with mirrored canopies. With red accents on every available surface and shag carpeting on the wall. Because carpet on the wall is for lovers.

Hot cha cha! Image from roadtrippers.com

Hot cha cha!
Image from roadtrippers.com

As an aside…is anybody else interested in spraying shag-carpeted honeymoon suites with Luminol? I’d imagine we’d need sunglasses. And I digress.

The thing is, there’s a desperation to these sorts of places. They wink at you and grab your hand before you can stop them. They’re designed with this message: You? Are saucy. You? Can finally let go of your inhibitions! You? Can do IT. That’s right. The big IT. And we all know what’s going on, because we’re doing IT too. It’s like you’re obligated to have sex while you’re there, because it’s racy and naughty and expected and then you can go to breakfast the next morning and do that shy smile-giggle as you see your freshly-laid neighbors coming out their hotel rooms too. 

Can we also take a moment to consider how mirrored-everything is a nightmare for anyone with body image issues?

Oh, no, that's just...great! I'm...naked. And can see myself from every angle. *kill me now* Image from dcist.com

Oh, no, that’s just…great! I’m…naked. And can see myself from every angle. *kill me now*
Image from dcist.com

We pulled up to the parking lot and of course, this resort had a sign out front to announce events or welcome special visitors. You expect them to say something like, “TONIGHT! MAGYCK MOMENTS PERFORMING LIVE IN THE TIKI LOUNGE” or “GIVE HER SOME MORE MEAT WITH OUR TUESDAY NIGHT PRIME RIB SPECIAL FOR TWO”, right?

What you don’t expect to see is this.

Who brings the party?

Who brings the party?

That’s right. Accordion players.

I’m sure I had photos of this, at one point. I looked for them last night. If I had any, they are long, loooooong gone. Please enjoy my artistic rendering.

It seems that we had booked our romantic, couples-only resort weekend on the same weekend that an accordion players association was hosting a convention. And while I appreciate the works of the noble accordion, we were surrounded by two hundred men (and only a tiny handful of women; ladies, you gots to represent!) with a country mile of great bushy eyebrows between them all, decked out in tuxes, accordions strapped to their chests. They would play accordion all day long. As they walked down the hall. If they took a smoke break and went outside. You couldn’t get away from it. This doesn’t say “sexytime” so much as it does “polka party”.

If we had gone there for a polka weekend, it would have been perfect.

To get away from the 24-hour polka party people, we stopped in the hotel bar. And indeed, Magyck Moments (or whoever they were) were playing in the lounge, torching up songs that shouldn’t have been torched. (Wait…I remember having to get up and go to a different seat, because from where I originally sat at the bar I could still see and hear the goings-on at the accordion banquet, while listening to the bewitching sounds of Magyck Moments. It was pure sensory overload.) The Magyck Moments singer, a woman, was murdering something totally poppy, taking “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” from bubblegum to dirge. I remember she had a Linda Evans, Dynasty-era haircut, only it was screaming red, and she was wearing some kind of holdout, ’80s-leftover prom dress. It was blue and had copious amounts of sleeve. Like this one; though I remember hers being even more shiny.

Everybody wang chung. Toni-i-i-i-iiiight. Image from liketotally80s.com

Everybody wang chung. Toni-i-i-i-iiiight.
Image from liketotally80s.com

Since she was clearly past the age of prom, I can only assume she pilfered it from her daughter’s closet.

I can’t tell you much more about that weekend. I remember things were kind of tense with Snidely because the whole situation was so weird, and this was at the point in our relationship where we still liked each other. Since we were there off-season, all the activities they advertised–things like horseback riding and nature hikes and tennis and golf–were not operational, so there was a lot of wandering around relatively quiet hotel grounds. It was as though I dreamed of all the ways that weekend could become an insane, not-romantic spectacle and it all came true. All it was missing was some sort of brute strength. If there was an assemblage of Scotsmen playing highland games, it would have been ahhh. maaaa. zing.

You know what else I remember? I remember that the burger I got at Flood’s was excellent. Please note: the honeymoon hotels are reduced to monoliths, sad reminders of the limits of kitschy romanticism. Snidely and I have long split. But Flood’s is still in operation. It seems that a good burger withstands the test of time.

Photo credits

Heart-shaped tub: www.roadtrippers.com

Round bed: dcist.com

Welcome sign: Me :)

Prom dress: www.liketotally80s.com

The New Year Thus Far

Yes, I know, it’s been a while. Christmas always seems to knock my blogging off-kilter. There’s just so much to do, what with decorating and festivities and a bajillion cookies to make and some writing and teaching shoehorned into the middle of all that…

What’s that? You think I exaggerate when I lay claim to a bajillion cookies? Oh ho ho, my friends. Behold!

Bajillion.

Quantity: One bajillion.

Plus pumpkin fudge and green tea marshmallows (OMG YES) and Turkish delight, which is like eating soft and beautiful rose-flavored clouds. I could hoover that all day long.

The last few years have had rough beginnings/endings to them. Two years ago, January ushered in back-to-back funerals and the most vicious stomach flu I’ve had in a decade. A year ago in December, George and I got into that terrible car accident and totaled our Honda.

And just last week, as I was getting set to emerge from the Christmas cocoon without a funeral or a car accident in sight (all good things!), I dropped my external hard drive and broke some kind of connector thingie inside. The hard drive had EVERY SINGLE PHOTOGRAPH I’VE EVER TAKEN (more or less, minus what was on my phone, and the few files I’ve loaded onto the new computer) on it, moved there after my old computer’s hard drive died on me earlier this year. It is dead to me and all my photos are completely inaccessible. Yes, I know I should be in the cloud and your well-meaning point has been taken, but that advice? Is no good to me right now.

To say I laid around for two days wallowing in despair…that’s not so much of a dramatic re-interpretation of my days as it is a spot-on description of what I did. Every. Photograph. Thousands and thousands of them. (For those of you who know I’ve written a book, don’t worry. The book is the safest thing I have, backed up in several places–including a copy in my email–and sent in full to the writing partner. At least there’s that.) As we speak my hard drive has been sent off to a data retrieval service, and so I wait. And wait. At least I’ve crawled out of my apoplectic coma. The howling in my head has stopped. And I feel the need to write again. These are all good things.

So. Here is one of the few photos I currently have in my possession, taken in a nearby corn field on a cloudy, yet bright, day.

What happens to corn stalks in the winter.

What happens to corn stalks in central PA in the winter.

Ever forward.

Just Say No: Selfies With Bears

Apparently, there is a new and incredibly stupid trend making its way around the interwebs these days.

You know, I am a fan of both animals and nature photos. I post a daily squee on my Facebook page so we can start the day off by looking at something cute and fluffy. And I will be among the first to admit that bears–all kinds, all sizes/shapes/ages–can be pretty frickin’ adorable.

Bears. Cute, even when wet. Image from matyuphoto.com

Bears. Cute, even when wet.
Image from matyuphoto.com

I mean…look at those wet baby bear ears. D’awwww! D’oh! Who wants a skritch?

My point is, I like cute animals. Right? Right.

Unfortunately, Lake Tahoe officials have had to issue warnings lately because people have been taking too many selfies with bears.

That’s right. Selfies. With bears.

Apparently, in the Taylor Creek area of South Lake Tahoe, bears have been out in relative abundance, primarily to get in a good feeding at the ol’ fishing stream before hibernating. Nature photographers get great photos of bears when they’re eating, sure. From a distance. With a mega-powered zoom lens.

What they don’t do is stand in front of a bear with their iPhones at the ready.

Bear: Pardon me, miss. Can I talk to you about our lord and savior GRAHTHTMTHMAGRRRAMACHUKCHUK *nom* Image from buzzfeed.com

Bear: Pardon me, miss. Can I talk to you about our lord and savior GRAWRRAWRGRRR *nom*
Image from buzzfeed.com

I don’t normally try and blame the victim but seriously, this girl would have had it coming.

I thought I would lose my mind with fury when I read this. Initially, I was mad because it’s just so stupid. Bears are unpredictable, kind of territorial, and (if they’re on their way to fish), hungry. And you, dearest friends and readers, sport a relatively fragile body made almost entirely out of meat. And the thing is, if a bear mauls someone who’s doing something incredibly stupid and provocative around a bear, then people will still go after the bear. And kill it in revenge, while the bear’s all like, “What did I do?”

#Truth Image from allthatspam.blogspot.com

#Truth
Image from allthatspam.blogspot.com

And then I was extra-furious, because…people…the world is not one big Disney amusement park. Not everything is sanitized for your protection, all situations are not rendered safe, and bears aren’t all friendly creatures with whom you can eat honey and trade belly rubs. This isn’t reality TV, this is reality. If you saw that weird, twitchy guy at the mall, you wouldn’t pose for a selfie in front of him, would you? No, you’d give that guy some space in case he’d snap. So…why on Earth would you pose in front of a thing with less capacity for reason, who’s got, essentially, scimitars on the ends of their paws?

Ready to open up a world o' hurt.

Bear claws: more than just a pastry. Image from delong.typepad.com

Please, people. In the interests of bears, and sanity, stop living as though your world view has been taken from a Disney movie. It’s not fair to the bear. And it’s potentially really…really…detrimental to your well being.

I realize that now, bears are going down for the winter, so this information most likely won’t be relevant until the spring (though, of course, bears can be woken up fairly easily during hibernation, so…no rattling cans of bear chow on winter hikes, people). But for the love of all that is sensible, leave the 600 pound killing machines to themselves.

Here’s what to do if you find yourself on the wrong end of a bear attack.

And for the members of the gay community who love their big ol’ bears…go to it, friends. This has nothing to do with you.

Here’s a little ditty by The Magnetic Fields to play you out.

A Restaurant Rant

I just read this excellent article by Amanda Cohen, chef and owner of the NYC restaurant Dirt Candy (get it? It’s a vegetarian restaurant? Dirt Candy? I like it! And after reading her menu, I’m dying to try celeriac ice cream, but I digress…), and I’m with her. She discusses how most restaurant employees honestly do want their patrons to leave happy. It’s true. I did my time in the restaurant biz. For the most part, my objective was to try and make sure customers had a good time. That they liked their food. That the service and overall restaurant experience was positive. That they’d want to come back.

I’d try and hold the perspective that my job in a restaurant wasn’t centered around a battle between Us and Them but rather, it needed to be seen as a healthy and productive working relationship. It didn’t always work, and I wasn’t always perfect at it, but I tried. It’s hard to maintain because you’re basically part dirty grunt/part performance artist, and the surly, tired, my feet hurt, I’m exhausted, I’ve already had to clean vomit, make $2.13 an hour and I’ve still got five hours left on my shift, I’ve got a ton of homework/bills/housework/family concerns that are distracting me, human, non-performer side of a restaurant worker can break through the veneer of pleasantries pretty easily. However. Generally, in response to a customer’s special requests, my answer (and the answers of most of my fellow restaurant peeps, who were often well-intentioned waitstaff and bartenders and hosts and managers who don’t go into that biz because of a relentless desire to stoke the fires of inner rage) was yes. Yes, we can deviate from the menu, yes we can accommodate your allergy, yes we can seat you as soon as possible, yes we can get you that extra whatever on the side.

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

Image from crayonsglueandtyingshoes.blogspot.com

Because that’s how it works.

Because that’s the nature of the job.

I get insanely offended when restaurants aren’t managed, at the very least, decently.

Recently, I was told something wouldn’t be done by a kitchen, for all the wrong reasons. I’m still shocked.

George and I called a local restaurant (for the moment, staying nameless) to order some take-out food. George did the talking. Hi, he said. We’d like dinner A and dinner B, and we’d also like an order of your extra-spicy sauce on the side. The woman taking the order was new, writing everything down with someone watching her to make sure she got all the information she needed for the order. She conferred with the trainer in the background then got back on the line. “I’m sorry.” she said. “I can’t give you that sauce.”

What? We just want an order of it on the side.

Sorry, she said. The chef says it will make the dish you ordered a different dish. He won’t do it.

Fine. Whatever. We were hungry, we’d already mentally committed to dinner from this place. Don’t sell us the sauce. Be that way. We’ll be by to pick it up in 10 minutes.

Twenty minutes later, George came home, full order and extra sauce in hand.

Here’s what happened: when George gave his name, the new waitress wrote it down, and the owner recognized it. Oh, him!, the owner said. He’s a nice guy! And so, they did make George’s order as he requested, which is bad enough. Because for real, just do it in the first place, no?  But then, when George got there, the owner/manager ACTUALLY SAID, “Yeah, when you first called, I thought you were one of these entitled jerks in town so I didn’t want to make it for you. But you know. It’s you. So that’s different.”

Image from imgflip.com

Image from imgflip.com

He didn’t say, “We misunderstood your initial order and said duh when we realized our mistake, here you go.” He didn’t say, “I was having an aneurysm during your phone call. Of course we’ll make this for you.” He didn’t say, “I was temporarily possessed by Satan. Sorry ’bout that.” Instead, he justified his change of heart by winking and nudging, because we’re special. Awwww. Shouldn’t I feel all warm and fuzzy now?

What? No! Hey, manager dude, let me get this straight: you didn’t want to sell us an item that’s on your menu, because you thought we might be dicks? Not because we were being unreasonable or making insane demands, but because you had a bug up your ass? And when you found out who was doing the ordering, you decided to let us in your petty fiefdom of a club? And you’re training new employees to behave this way? Holy. Moly.

Here’s the thing: I don’t want to learn the secret handshake, I don’t want to know the password, and now? I don’t want your food. We ate the food that night and I felt dirty. I just want to be able to order off a menu, without a hassle. You’re in the restaurant biz, you’re going to deal with people EVERY DAY. Some of them will be total pains, some of them will be awesome, but all of them deserve a fair shake at the start of your interactions.  This manager is someone who’s recently talked about being dedicated to growing his business. He’s sure got a funny way of showing it. It’s too bad, really, because I’d prefer to support local businesses, and the food was pretty good. But we haven’t been back since.

I’m still not going to say which restaurant it was, but feel free to circulate this among local folks and restaurant friends. Maybe the owner/manager will see it and recognize himself. Maybe he’s been wondering why we haven’t been in for the last two months. This is why. View this as a huge learning opportunity, and you’re welcome. Other restaurant folks, if you see your own behavior reflected in my story, then take my advice and get over yourselves. If you don’t, then I recommend a job in an accounting office, or perhaps filing books at a library, where human interaction will be kept to a minimum.

T2 disapproves.  Image from tvtropes.org

T2 disapproves.
Image from tvtropes.org

And please, everybody (that includes you, you difficult customers) stop perpetuating the Us vs. Them mentality. It hurts all my brothers and sisters in the service industry. We’re all in this together, folks. Start acting like it.

I’m Still Processing The Death of Robin Williams

The news this week, it was shocking. Shocking. Robin Williams. Dead at 63. I grew up on a steady diet of Robin Williams. I remember when he, bizarrely, showed up on Happy Days and had an epic thumb battle with The Fonz.

And I watched Mork & Mindy almost greedily every week, because–particularly in first two seasons–there was nothing quite so aggressively funny on TV.

My mom even got me a pair of rainbow suspenders, which I wore until the clips gave out and just stopped gripping. (And I’d think they were secure and would go out and then a clip would slide up until it reached the end of my waistband. Once it did, it would indeed fly, be free, right into my face. Oh, embarrassment on the playground fer sure.)

Like so many others out there, I loved Robin Williams for his energy and razor-sharp wit, his lightning-fast ability to find the joke, to make anything (a basket of eggs? Really?) hilarious. And I loved him for his ability to handle dramatic roles, too, bringing human complexity and an astonishing depth of emotion to a character that, in the hands of a different performer, could easily end up being too one-dimensional. I’m looking at you, Dead Poet’s Society.

He was brilliant. He was admired. And now he’s gone. If he’d died of a heart attack or was killed in a car accident…we have mental scripts in place to cope. But Robin Williams took his own life. He’d always been open about his long-standing struggles with depression, and also with substance abuse, so it was no secret that he had some malignant, tenacious demons. But still. In a society that views “success” as the answer–which he had, at least outwardly–Robin Williams’s suicide is inconceivable. 

The commentary surrounding his death has been interesting. I have, for the most part, stayed away from anyone who’s completely vitriolic; I don’t need to read articles written by socially stunted hatemongers to know they exist.  But the one statement that I can’t stay away from, which I’ve seen expressed in various media outlets and have heard from people I know and love, is that his act was selfish. And I recognized myself in that statement; ten years ago I might have said the same thing. I have since moved past it, realizing that depression is far more pernicious and illogical and lying and thieving than those of us who aren’t depressed can understand. Still, I get why it’s part of the public patois about suicide. I just don’t think it’s right or fair. We’re never inside anyone else’s head. We don’t know what’s happening anywhere else except in our own noggins…and even then, if you find me someone who’s legitimately got it all together, I will pass out in shock. Mental illness is so dreadfully misunderstood. As a society, we need to bring the same sensibility to the treatment of depression that we bring to, say, the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Both can cripple. Both can kill. But you don’t tell an RA sufferer to “get over it”. 

When I was a little kid–maybe 9 or 10 years old–I was at the beach and got caught in an undertow. I was pulled out in the waves, and slammed back on the beach, and pulled out, and slammed back. Over. And over. And over. I didn’t see a way out, there was no way to break the cycle of being sucked out into the water, and slammed back to the shore. Finally, something solid loomed up in front of me and in desperation I grabbed it; I remember breaking the grip of the waves, and how the waves felt resistant to my release. Luckily, the solid thing turned out to be the feet of a man doing surf fishing. It could have been a shark, it could have been an electrical box that was on fire, it could have been Jason Voorhees in full machete-and-hockey mask regalia. The point is, I didn’t care at that moment what I grabbed, so long as it got me out of the crazy cycle I was trapped in. 

While I don’t claim that that’s what was going on in Robin Williams’s head, I will say that for that split second, for that one miniscule moment in time, I understood what it’s like to not care any more about what the exit looks like. Desperation isn’t selfish. It’s just desperate. We tend not to revisit these moments, since they’re usually unpleasant and force us to contemplate our own mortality. But I’d make the bet that if everyone took a good, long look at his or her past, we could all find at least one moment where logic and presence failed and desperation took over.

That’s a spot from which compassion can grow. I challenge everyone to find it.

 Rest in peace, Robin Williams. 

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 – National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

No more posts.