Archive | February, 2013

A drink and a thought

25 Feb

DraftBeerBar

I put my drink down on the table. The bar was emptying out and just a few stragglers remained. A friend had sat across the table, his hand clutching a bottle of pale ale, but now only a water ring sat in remembrance. Staring into the dark wood, I began to wander. The argument had between us, the underhanded comments, the words left unsaid. I drift further. To days, months, years past.

There was a meadow that I used to visit as a child. I would lay in the green, feel the warm air, and wiggle my toes – feeling the tickle of the grass blades. I’d stare up at this enormous expanse. Blue dotted with pieces of cotton. Squinting, I could reach out toward the white, picking the material from the sky. I’d expand my fingers, allowing for the fluff to change. Closing my eyes, I’d awaken to something new, a thing of magic.

I’m at my locker, using my shoulder to close the door. Straining, I hear the click of metal and turn my body towards the hallway. A sea of faces, the clatter of voices, and I wait anxiously. Half smiling, a group of students walk past toward their next activities. One girl looks up at me and I start to form the word “hi”. She quickly glances back down at her notebook, as if interesting didn’t begin to describe the object. With the grace of a bear trap, my mouth closes. Pretending it never happened, I clench my hands into nervous balls, the moisture ever present.

Sitting at the side of the bed, my fingers grasp at the rough blanket covering him. His eyes look wildly around for a sense of calmness in the room. There is none. A blink, then one, and two. “I don’t want to go back home,” he manages to croak out. To start over, to forget, perhaps to die – that is what he wants. I bring his hand into mine, feel the dry skin and see the age spots and wrinkles left behind from years’ worth of work. He is at a cross, and while he needs encouragement, I do too. Age is supposed to give us answers not more questions. Yet, he looks like a child in search of a parent’s strength.

Perhaps that is why I haven’t left my spot. Perhaps that is why for years I haven’t left this spot. In a place of transition, in between conversations, I sit in the grey. What is next? My elbows upon this walnut table, the pub’s jukebox spinning out a hit, I wait. A life sequenced out in memories, while I continue to stare at the condensation sitting on the wood. Regret, anger, hope even, and it feels as if I am still waiting to begin. “We’re closing up, it’s time to go.”

I look up in search of this voice’s provider. In his gruff manner, I agree. It’s time to go, venture into the unknown.

I walk toward the heavy door and smile. Three o’ clock in the morning is always a good place to start.

Happy Friday: Kenny G and Michael Bolton Shred

22 Feb

Michael Bolton and Kenny G shred it up at this concert. Wow.

Nickelodeon favorites of the ’90s

20 Feb

Warning: I was going to list my favorite television shows of Nickelodeon. Can’t do. Too much stuff to list off. Was going to list off favorite middle school programming. Uh, again, a lot to list. So this is just one segment of my favorite 30-minute to hour-long shows of childhood past.

I can hear the "splat" sound right now.

I can hear the “splat” sound right now.

I watched a lot of television growing up. A lot. Some of it was educational, but a lot of the time it was just crazy garbage. Jerry Springer accidentally getting hit in the face by a baby mama or a woman gladiator in a spandex suit swinging on a rope.

But the Nickelodeon programs that were geared toward middle-school children, now that was some good stuff.

During the summer, if it were too hot, I’d turn on some Nickelodeon and tune in to their programming.

I had a lot of babysitting gigs. So a lot of times I would turn on the TV and see this:

RIP Face

RIP Face

He would get things moving right along. Not only that, but he was quite entertaining to the two-year-old twins that were in my care.

Now, babysitting in the summer while all my friends were at the pool wasn’t a favorite thing of mine. So I compromised with the kids. We’d watch one of their boring shows as long as I could catch at least an hour of Steve and Blue.

Everybody love's Blue's Clues. EVERYBODY.

Everybody love’s Blue’s Clues. EVERYBODY.

If there were ever a job opening and the main requirement was to recite all the songs from Blue’s Clues, I’d be in like flint. I even carried a lunch box in the shape of Steve’s notebook (complete with large green crayon!) with me in high school. In homage.

Alright, early in the afternoon they would sometimes show re-runs of this favorite. I just wanted to go down the tongue slide so bad. I also wanted that green slime to run down my back. I imagined it smelled like a mixture of plastic and Play-Doh.

My brother and I would have creamed the other contestants. I am absolutely sure of it.

My brother and I would have creamed the other contestants. I am absolutely sure of it.

This enjoyable team competition show was quickly overshadowed by my favorite-ist of all time game shows. THE LEGENDS OF THE HIDDEN TEMPLE. GET IT, GET IT.

When this came on. I shut up and listened, and then started shouting obscenities at the screen.

When this came on I shut up and listened, and then started shouting obscenities at the screen.

Damn, I wanted to be on this show soooo bad. I was always rooting for the red or purple team at the beginning. But the entire time, I was just waiting in anticipation for the last team to run through the temple. BUT WHY IN GOD’S NAME COULD NO ONE EVER PUT THE FREAKIN’ SILVER MONKEY TOGETHER? WHY? And why did they always run into the temple guards when it was so obvious where they were stationed? Also, their mouth guards were obscenely huge. AMIRIGHT?

I could have entered the Shrine of the Silver Monkey and nailed that task. Nailed it.

I could have entered the Shrine of the Silver Monkey and nailed that task. Nailed it.

You may have been at the pool or T-balling it up. I was instead catching up on my favorite-ist show ever. SALUTE YOUR SHORTS. Budnick and Donkey Lips were seriously so cool. I was always ticked off that Budnick always got a bad rap and I secretly had a huge crush on the redhead. Also, I wanted to be Z.Z. and hang out with Telly and Dina in our cabin.

Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts ...

Camp Anawanna, we hold you in our hearts …

Was anyone else super happy when they replaced Michael with pransker Ronnie? And did anyone know that the super hottie became lead guitarist of Rilo Kiley?

Usually, this show aired before Salute Your Shorts. And I loved it.

Hey Dude, and dude, and dude, and dude, and dude.

Hey Dude, and dude, and dude, and dude, and dude.

I wanted to visit the Bar None and hang out with Ben Stiller’s wife Melody and date Ted. He was hot, hot, hot. I just never want to wear shorts down to my ankles. The girls seemed to dig those.

While these shows were great afternoon exploits, what I most enjoyed was SNICK (Saturday Night Nickelodeon).

Snick_2610That was when the quality programming came out to play.

Over the years, the shows changed, but here are a few of my favorites.

images-6

The Secret World of Alex Mack. Yes.

I love me some Pete & Pete. I still find this to be a brilliantly written show.

I love me some Pete & Pete. I still find this to be a brilliantly written show.

The irreverent characters of Ren & Stimpy. They made me cringe and laugh all at once. Does anyone remember the episode where they were scraping a tongue for a good minute?

The irreverent characters of Ren & Stimpy. They made me cringe and laugh all at once. Does anyone remember the episode where they were scraping a tongue for a good minute?

I needed Clarissa to explain it all. Someone had to.

I needed Clarissa to explain it all. Someone had to.

I have seen each and every episode, and I want to take home Chuckie Finster and be his surrogate mommy.

I have seen each and every episode, and I want to take home Chuckie Finster and be his surrogate mommy.

oug's theme song was the catchiest thing ever written. And I loved every character. Doug was like a middle-aged balding man stuck in a cartoon teenager's body.

Doug’s theme song was the catchiest thing ever written. And I loved every character. Doug was like a middle-aged balding man stuck in a cartoon teenager’s body.

And last, but definitely not least, is the best show ever made for teenagers (in my opinion). This show can still freak the ba-jeez-us out of me. I catch it every once and a while on YouTube. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was my go-to, and I looked forward to every weekend that a marathon was playing. I have two favorite episodes. The first was where a babysitter and the two kids she took care of get trapped in an old mansion in the middle of nowhere. The second was about a kid obsessed with video games, and he gets stuck in an arcade game in a mall where he has to save the princess. SOOOO GOOD!

I am deathly afraid of the dark, and still can't watch this show before bedtime.

I am deathly afraid of the dark, and still can’t watch this show before bedtime.

What were your favorite Nickelodeon shows of the ’90s? Was it Keenan and Kel? Or All That? I just named a few of my favorites. Next up will be Saturday morning cartoons. And then a look back at TGIF. Because we all need to ride that rollercoaster of life that was the beginning of every Step By Step episode.

Chili and cinnamon rolls: A match made in food heaven

19 Feb

Chili & Cinnamon Roll

When I think of Iowa food, the first items that come to mind are bacon and sweet corn. I would also pay homage to loose-meat sandwiches, pork chops and an assortment of garden vegetables.

Whenever I have ventured off to another area of the country, I always try regional food from Chicago hot dogs to the seafood in Boston. There are always questionable fare options which make visitors wonder – who signed off on that?

When I’m visiting with people from out-of-state, when it comes to food, they don’t ask me how good Iowa sweet corn is or how juicy a piece of bacon can be.

At least a dozen times I have been asked if the state’s residents really eat cinnamon rolls with their chili. The first couple of times, it caught me off-guard. One, why would they ask that question, and two, who doesn’t eat that combination?

I hadn’t thought that the chili/cinnamon roll combo was considered regional cuisine and had mistaken it for a common delight shared across the nation.

“What does it taste like?” and “Have you always eaten it that way?”

First off, I’m not sure how you eat chili another way. Sure there is always cornbread or crackers, but those are not as satisfying as a frosting-covered sweet roll that probably qualifies as half your daily calorie allotment.

Almost every other week at public school, I could expect a bowl full of red bean chili and a giant cinnamon pastry on the other side of the plastic tray as one of the meals. Probably not the healthiest – but definitely one of the lunches I looked forward to most as a child. When the lunch lady would scoop the roll off the tray, you hoped that it was the biggest, chewiest, and with the most frosting.

So imagine my surprise to find that the idea is contained to the Iowa/eastern Nebraska area of the U.S., according to the blogosphere.

People are really missing out.

It’s hard for me to even ponder why the pairing tastes so good. Maybe it’s because both the entree and dessert give off that made-from-scratch aroma. Two smells that say ‘I’m home’ and give comfort when its needed. I’m not usually into eating my feelings, but in this case I am.

The people I talked to found the combination a disgusting mix, and shuddered when I suggested that chili makes a great dipping sauce for the roll.

There are many Iowa foods that I do find unappealing and rather disgusting though.

It seems that any good potluck can be ruined with one too many casseroles with that cream of chicken flavor and a sprinkling of crunched-up potato chips. Without fail, every one of those casserole tastes the same.

And the joy women seem to get by putting vegetables and fruits in gelatin. I don’t know many kids that enjoy a good carrot Jello or its ugly cousin the gelatin/whipped cream concoction, but they continue to make it.

With all these soggy foods, I wonder if we Midwesterners are yearning for the times when we used to eat out of baby food jars, or whether we are too lazy to use our jaw bones and would rather swallow food whole.

Relatives in Dubuque have told me about the city’s staple turkey and dressing sandwiches. Now that’s one food item that I have a hard time swallowing.

But when it come’s to Iowa’s beloved cinnamon roll/chili combination – when people ask the question “why,” I now just reply “why not?”

The Valentine’s Day from H-E-double hockey sticks

18 Feb

A little late, but I just remembered this instance after the fact. Maybe for the better.

What I feel about this experience. Yes, still.

What I feel about this experience. Yes, still.

Perhaps this is one of those experiences that people repress and only remember in a flashback of horror. It has to be. So it makes sense that this instance was only remembered when the Valentine’s Day was almost over.

Middle school sucked. That is all there is to say about it. Perhaps that is why I’m drawn to writing for children, as my biggest escape was books. I don’t even try to give advice to kids who are in this age group, and only say, “I’m sorry” in response to “how can it get better?” Dude, I know that I’m not an exception and that everyone had a horrible middle school experience.

Seventh grade was the worst. That is why so many books and movies feature this awkward age. So how could the Webster City Middle School administration and teachers make it better? Oh, I don’t know, throw in a few mandatory dances, let us mingle with the opposite sex. I spent a considerable amount of time in the bathroom hiding during each of these experiences.

Valentine’s Day was legendary. Passed down information from the classes that came before us told of this day. Weeks before the event, every kid in my class whispered about the legendary seventh grade dance. A “computer” would set us up with a Valentine’s date, and we would have to dance with said student at the event that took place during the school day. So there was no getting out of it, unless you somehow luckily came down with a bad case of the flu. Those kids were lucky. A week before the dreaded dance, a printout of the pairings was placed next to our English teacher’s door. I remember moving my sweaty finger down the list until I found “Carrie Olson.” It wasn’t that I had a bad date, I just had never talked to this kid before. Not only that, but I had barely talked to any boy before. I wanted to throw up then and there.

It was funny, though, that the kids who were already dating were magically set up together. Funny, huh? That computer was smart. And by the way, dating in middle school meant sharing lockers, holding hands in between periods, and dancing at the Asbury Methodist Church dances together. It wasn’t the quintessential term of “dating” whatsoever. I remember trying to feign sickness that day. It didn’t work. Honestly though, I never told my parents about the dance. I was too embarrassed and nervous about the situation. My mother told me if she had known, she would have had no problem pulling me out for the day from this torture. Finally, an adult with some common sense.

That day I was a bundle of nerves. While the clock ticked closer to 2 p.m., I clutched my Trapper Keeper ever closer to my body. Finally the bell rang, and we were all hustled into Washington Central Gym.

Middle school dances were never pleasurable, consisting of the couples taking center stage while the gawky wallflowers stood on the sides feeling absolutely miserable. I remember walking home from these affairs, totally crushed, reaffirming that I was alone, ugly, and unwanted.

This dance took the cake. We had to, and I repeat had to dance with our date at least one song. So the teachers made sure that we weren’t hiding in the bathroom or cowering in a corner. My date and I never made eye contact, let alone talked. We were only touching each other’s bodies with our fingertips, at least two feet away. It felt like those minutes stretched to hours. When the song was finally over, we ran to opposite sides of the gym, recounting how awful the experience was with our friends. We then stood there, eyeing the clock, waiting for 3:13 p.m. to appear so we could run away from that day. And when the bell rang, we bolted.

So that was it. An hour of pure hell. Did I learn anything from it? No. Did it make me a better person? Uh, no. If my teachers knew that I was only going to repress the memory and write about it later in life, then good job. But it wasn’t a helpful experience, to say the least. It was forced, during an absolutely hellish time period for adolescents. If their goal was to help kids learn to socialize, it was an experiment that had gone wrong. We’d all get there eventually, but it would be a few years later down the road. In high school, at least you had the choice of torturing yourself with a school dance. This was just plain wrong.

Middle school teachers – basically what I am saying is that I am thankful that this event was canceled a couple years after our class. And I’m pretty happy that something like this would never fly in today’s standards. Middle school is hard enough – don’t make it harder. If you can’t tell, I’m still bitter about the whole experience. Yes, still.

The burden of a fish sandwich

11 Feb
Beautiful. The perfect combination of grease, fish, and guilt.

Beautiful. The perfect combination of grease, fish, and guilt.

Temptation and guilt.

As a child, I had always been confused by the Valentine’s Day holiday intermixing with the season of Lent. We were given various treats in our handmade mailboxes, gum and chocolate, and I was always quite ready to indulge when that season came along.

Ash Wednesday meant going to church during the week, fasting, fish and a black dot on my forehead.

Although I questioned much, I have to admit that I always enjoyed the ash on the face part. Always amused with the smell of incense and ashes.

But I didn’t fully understand the concept of fasting. I always thought it meant that although we didn’t eat between meals, it meant that I would eat until I was under the table during lunch and supper. And the fasting meant no snacking in between (which I was so full by then, I wouldn’t have wanted to anyway).

And there was always the questions about certain drinks and foods. Was a milkshake off the list? How about vegetable soup broth? I was very willing to bend, if allowed.

There was also the question of who to ask when it came to these Lenten negotiations. Do I pray to God for an answer to my solid food questions? Would I ask my parish priest if I could indulge in my recent stash of holiday candy? I had other hesitations. Many others.

One included the fish issue. Where did that come from? When did Fridays become vegetarian/seafood day? Did Jesus come up with the concept?

All I knew is that I found it a tasty element of the Lenten season. Without fail, I could always count on eating my beloved McDonald’s Filet -O-Fish sandwich. Smattered with tarter sauce, this greasy concoction became an instant fave. I also didn’t mind hitting up the cheese and vegetable pizza combinations, as I have never cared much for the red meat variety.

So I became troubled at an early age. If I really enjoyed the food I was restricted to, was I really giving up something? Should I do a reversal? As I loved fish and vegetables, should I instead gag on a steak or painstakingly spread hundreds of pepperonis on my pizza?

At the age of 10, I was quite concerned with my contributions to Lent.

My biggest problem was with the idea of giving something else up until Easter. I have always needed more direction. If given the option to give up whatever I would want, I would start to get really thoughtful in a not-so sincere kind of way.

I would ponder soda. That would quickly be thrown out. Stop bickering with my brother and sister? No, we enjoyed that so. Usually I came up with the concept of being a “better person.” It was so vague, so uncertain. Even though I wasn’t technically giving something up, I always gave the excuse that I was giving up being a less better person. So it worked.

It could involve mentally being less judgmental, without having to give proof of my changed betterment. Or I could smile a bit more, so that others would think that I was nicer. Maybe it would just include cleaning my room or helping more with the dishes.

Unfortunately, even if that was my beginning thoughts, I seemed to find excuses for the season. If I did give up pop, I would always have leeway on Sunday, as that was the day of rest. (I had to obey other church laws too, you know).

As an adult, I still find it quite impossible at times to follow the Catholic traditions of Lent. I understand the concepts, the stories and understand more of why my family have been active participants. I also have changed my perspective on the whole concept of “giving up” something for Lent. It could mean volunteerism or something more, rather than just giving up chocolate.

But still, Wednesday, I will pass an inquisitive eye over my Filet-O-Fish before I down it with my French fries and Coke. I will think WWJD? After pondering deeply (or not so much), I will then enjoy.

P.S. With Ash Wednesday coming up, I would super love it if a Culver’s would pop up in NYC. I love me some North Atlantic Cod with a side of seasoned green beans!

Up close and personal

4 Feb

This week I have a number of topics that I want to cover – from the Ram/Paul Harvey commercial on the Super Bowl/my lack of football knowledge/and taking constructive criticism. But I felt that meeting a celebrity was a bit more important to cover first :)

Absolute perfection.

Absolute perfection.

Being around famous people isn’t a new concept to me. Working at a summer stock theatre in Massachusetts, I had loads of experience with it. From sitting near Samuel L. Jackson at the local Thai restaurant to seating Bradley Cooper in a crowded theater – it became a bit commonplace to see these familiar faces.

My favorite experiences included conversations with actors that had meant a lot to me growing up – the grandfather from Gilmore Girls and a very pregnant Mary Stuart Masterson (Idgie from Fried Green Tomatoes). I ended up being around Mamie Gummer so much that I would awkwardly stare at her face, fascinated with the resemblance to her famous mother, Meryl Streep. Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) always played fetch with his beloved dog right outside my sleeping quarters.

But did it feel like a normal day in the park? Uh, no – it never did. Every time one of these experiences occurred, I would freeze up a bit in my body and then begin rehearsing short responses to the actors in case they ever asked a question. (Trust me, the conversations never went as planned. I always looked quite idiotic.)

At my last bartending gig, I worked at a festival where I served drinks to the likes of Olivia Wilde, Billy Crudup, and a couple stars from 30 Rock. It was a bit weird, to say the least. And a few months ago, outside of the East Village Comedy Club, I witnessed comedian Jim Gaffigan entering through the door. With all my experience, I just stammered, “You’re Jim Gaffigan.” He looked up at me, obviously puzzled and a bit preoccupied by the Twitter on his phone. Then, he walked through the door and that was that.

This weekend, I attended a writing conference that I had been to a year before. But this time, Julie Andrews would be there. I could hardly contain my excitement when I saw the news pop up on my computer screen. And while her hour-long speech was delightful, I was most looking forward to receiving her autograph on one of her children’s books.

I don’t usually hound people for their signature, but when it is Mary Poppins/Maria von Trapp, I couldn’t help myself. While I waited in the line for 45 minutes, I was able to contain my enthusiasm. I mean, only a couple hundred people would be receiving them – no personalization, no photos, and no autographed memorabilia – so I figured I’d get the book, say “thank you”, and done. Uh no, instead she signed the book while talking to you and only you. Oh no. As the line grew shorter and shorter, and my time ever nearing – I realized that I had about thirty seconds of awesomeness with your highness. I tried to think of something to say, something clever, and all of my freezing-up antics returned. For some reason, the words “hot dog” seemed to come up (I may have been hungry). I worried that I would utter that or something else bizarrely unexpected.

“Your turn.” I had been furiously trying to figure out something to say when I was called up to the table. She asked me how I had enjoyed the conference. I said I had enjoyed it immensely. She asked me my name, and I somehow remembered. Then it came to me. “I don’t know really what to say, but I have been fascinated with you ever since I played Brigitta in The Sound of Music in my hometown production.” What? Why would I even mention that? There were way better things to say, and that is what I had come up with. “How lovely,” she replied. I thanked her for my book, and went on my merry way. At least I didn’t say “infatuated” or “obsessed”, but I easily could have.

During the walk to the subway and on the train ride back to Jersey City, I thought of sentences that I could have said. I thought of phrases that would have been more appropriate or thought-provoking. But I couldn’t beat myself up too much about it. When put on the spot, I’m guessing that I am one of many that stammer out such nonsense.

I am greatly honored to have a book on my shelf signed by someone who has meant so much to me during my childhood. Julie Andrews is one person on my “celebrity bucket list” that I have wanted to meet during my lifetime (and by the way, she looks fabulous.) I doubt that this will be my last encounter with a celebrity, but even if I become more comfortable being around these people, I doubt I can shake my fear of having to speak with them. And I certainly doubt that is the last idiotic thing I will say in front of one them, either.

 

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