Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Things I Am Getting Rid Of: Eat, Pray, Love

#69 on The List was to read something suggested by a bookstore employee. The perky woman at River Run Books recommended Eat Pray Love, which had just been published. She didn't know that I was asking her for a suggestion because it was one of the One Hundred Things I Had To Do Before I Fell In Love For Good (whew), so she wasn't specifically suggesting this book about a woman who travels the world after her divorce to a woman following an ambitiously random list of goals following a breakup. To her, I was just another customer asking a polite question because I was sick of being asked if I needed any help. Which I was.

It was around the same time I was nagging Penguin Guy to get his stuff out of my basement. The night he finally did it, I invited a bunch of friends over for an I'm the Rhoda rehearsal, which of course involves sangria. It was a very Eat, Pray, Love moment - we were a gay best friend away from a chick flick.

This was before the book was a best seller, before it was in paperback and everyone was reading it. I rarely buy hardbacks, and suddenly I realized why people do. It's fun to read something before everyone tells you what it's about.

I've held on to it for sentimental reasons, but I'm planning a yard sale and decided I can part with it for a dollar. It served it's purpose and it's everywhere now. If I need it, I can get it at the library.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Dear MTV: Please Steal My Idea

I'm sure I'm not the first one to notice that MTV has been playing videos since Michael Jackson's death was announced. Not only that, they're playing them in their long-format glory, so we get the backstory about Bad-era Michael being a gang member/straight-A student and the extended ending with the a capella chorus.

I wonder what the ratings will be, and if the generation hooked on High School Musical are ready for a music video renaissance.

And then there's YouTube, where there are thousands of fan-created music videos and montages. Most of them are drivel, but between 10% and 17% of them are good.

So here's the set-up: A band releases a single. There's a nationawide contest for fan-made videos (following legal rules and blah blah blah), which are aired as a series of specials, then the public calls in and votes, and the winner gets (whatever) and the band plays live. Said song was only available as a special download, so money is made off of that. Product placement could be encouraged.

Please, take my idea, make money. If you make lots of money, please give me free cable. ALL the channels.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Chicago Postcards, Days 5 & 6

The last days of vacation are the hardest to enjoy. You're so conscious of everything you want to do and how little time you have to do it. The more you try to do, the more you wear yourself out and don't enjoy it.

On Saturday I woke up as early as I could and made my way to the Art Institute of Chicago. It was my third visit, once for each time I've visited the city. It's hard to admit, but I'm not able to connect with the Art Institute. I know their collection is amazing and I do find things to look at, but I've never been able to get lost in any of the art there. I want to love it, I really do, but it ends up on the list of things I can't get into, right between the Harry Potter series and yoga.

There's a okay collection of religious paintings from the 16th century, which is what I'm most interested in seeing. There are a number of Monets which I'm sure look lovely reproduced on tote bags. The miniatures room supports my argument that dollhouses are wasted on the young. The new modern wing is very nice, but didn't really have anything that grabbed me.

I decided to leave when I overheard a guy looking at solid-color canvas say "I could've done that in an hour with a roller." Later I told Jill the story and she sneered "Yeah, well, you didn't." This led to a good old-fashioned session of reminding ourselves of why we went to art school. We were both in the SIM program and were in a class where someone submitted a project that consisted of getting on his bike and riding home. It's an education that left us uniquely qualified to explain that the emperor has no clothes and that's the point.

After two hours at the Art Institute, I walked over to the Field Museum. I didn't know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. There are several galleries of Native American art and artifacts, and a great exhibit on evolution.

I met Jill and Sara at their hotel, enjoying the irony of my visiting their city and staying in their building while they stay in a hotel (their apartment was still damaged from the plumbing incident earlier in the week) and we made a pilgrimage to Hot Doug's, the world-famous gourmet hot dog stand. We stood in line for 90 freakin' minutes and I ordered:
Duck fat fries: Good, but not worth the wait.
Classic Chicago style dog: Amazing, and worth the wait. Celery salt is made of pixie dust and laughter.
Smoked Mole Chicken Sausage with Jalapeno Mayonaise and Habanero-Jack Cheese: Quite good, but not as good as the classic dog, and I resented it for being my last sausage. I'd saved it for last because I knew it was spicy and I was afraid I'd ruin my palate.

I went back to the apartment for a disco nap before heading out to Irving Park to visit the ray of sunshine that is Craig. Craig and I are improv friends, and I've missed him since he moved out west. His new glasses are really cool, he has an awesome job as a scientist in a toothbrush factory, and his condo is a real grown-up house. He says hello to all of the Boston friends.

I had fun at the party and overslept on Sunday. I quickly got my things together and Jill and I took a trip to Kokorokoko, a vingtage clothing shop that our friend Sasha owns. (Sasha is also a SIM alum and was Live Girls.) This place is totally awesome, gnarly, like way cool, and other 80s cliches for "great". I bought a Pop Swatch and Jill bought a convertable duffel bag and in the car we both admitted that we each had an eye on the other's purchase before the decision was made.

I wasn't allowed to leave Chicago without trying deep dish pizza. We went to Edwardo's, which is not as famous as other restaurants but I was told had the best pizza. It was like a cheese and tomato sauce sandwich. I quite liked it and brought half of it home on the plane. Which leads me to home, which is where I am now. The pizza is gone.

Chicago Pictures

I found Nemo. Now he's it.

Nothing is better than a good diorama. I miss having reasons to build them.

Saint Apollonia holds her dental instruments and Saint Margaret has her dragon on a leash. As it should be.

Rock out with your Bach out.

This guy had a squirrel companion on the other side of the door. Why does he look so worried?

The detailing on this shoe is thrilling, isn't it?

This guy looks friendly. "I made a Fluffernutter. You want half?"

Creepy burned-out doll heads from the Chicago fire exhibit at the history museum. Haunted dolls keep turning up in my life and I love it.

Chicago Postcard - Day 4

I came to Chicago to stalk the Bubble Gum Princess.

When I came here in 1995, I spotted her in the lobby of my hotel. She was about 12 years old, with a haircut that better suited a woman of 40, and she was wearing a pink hat/blouse/skirt ensemble better suited to an eight-year-old in 1983. I was sketching people as they walked by, and I labeled the drawing of her "sad little bubble gum princess".

The name has been stuck in my head for 14 years. Every time I tried to write about her, I stalled. It's gotten to the point that I don't care if her story is worth telling, I just want to know what it is.

She wasn't on my mind when I set out today. Still looking for that bookstore I can't remember much about, I wound up in Lincoln Square. I had no idea what I'd find and was delighted to discover a quaint German-American neighborhood. It was early afternoon, and the streets were quiet except for a street fair being set up for later that evening. My first stop was Merz Apothecary, an old-fashioned drugstore with high wooden counters stacked with exotic grooming products from all over the world. Concentrated mouthwash from Germany? Check. Carmel flavored toothpaste from Japan? Got it. They also carry homeopathic remedies.I envied the woman with a sore throat because the man behind the counter so confidently recommended a remedy. Needless to say, I was in product-junkie heaven and had to force myself to stick to purchases I could carry on to the plane.

The Chicago Brauhaus was across the street, and I knew when I saw it that I had to eat there. I questioned the decision when I walked in and found just a handful of people in the giant restaurant. The hostess assured me that they did serve lunch, so I settled in and looked at the folk instruments on the wall. The decor is mid-70s Tyrolean, kitschy but earnest. Imagine the Hilltop Steak House as decorated by the Von Trapp children. (Yes, I know that's Austria. It's hard to think of a famously quaint German.) There's a stage in the corner where a traditional oom-pah band plays at night, but this afternoon I was listening to a muzak version of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.

I couldn't decide what to get, so the waiter suggested the boiled spareribs. They came with a liver dumpling soup that stopped the vacation in its tracks. It was a giant liver meatball in a cup of the most comforting, fortifying broth. It tasted familiar. It tasted experienced. This soup knew what it was doing. As I ate, I looked around the room and was drawn to a wooden carving of a man with a moustache. The waiter didn't know who it was, but told me a little bit about the restaurant. I'm glad they haven't really changed since the 70s. These are the places I want to survive, the independent stores and restaurants that have character. What's the point of traveling if you find the same chain food and the same mall stores everywhere. The world needs more places where you can be served things you've never heard of. I started writing about why I'd never find the Bubble Gum Princess in the Brauhaus, why she wouldn't have even been in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. And that's when I found her, or at least a part of her story that I hadn't expected.

Apophenia is the mental process of linking unrelated elements. I've become very aware of the phonemenon watching LOST, a show where clues are so numerous that nearly every scene can be twisted around to suit the story as you want it to play out. That's what I'm doing with Bubble Gum Princess on this trip. Something catches my eye, and I imagine how she would have seen it. Chicago is her town. She's leaving clues for me everywhere.

My plans for the night were dinner and Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind with Jill and Sara. The show has been running for over twenty years and changes every weekend. They do 30 short experimental plays in 60 minutes. It's a wild mess of thrown confetti, topless men, confessional monologues, a woman holding her head underwater, and whipped cream. It was amazing, as expected.

I got back to the hotel a little too awake and fell asleep watching Carrie on the Sci-Fi channel. Not the good one, a recent remake where Emilie De Ravin from LOST played the mean girl. I fell asleep wondering what that had to do with the island.

Chicago Postcard, Days 2 & 3

My brother Paul lives in Minneapolis. We're 13 years apart and he's lived in the midwest most of my life. He went to college in Indianapolis and started his career there, moved back to Boston when I was in high school, and relocated to Minneapolis two years ago. Despite the age difference and distance, we've always been close friends. He managed the start of my pop culture education, recommending movies and red-faced explaining my questions about the subtext on Three's Company. Since Minneapolis is only an hour's flight away from Chicago, we made plans for him to visit while I'm here.

He flew in on Thursday morning, planning to buy tickets for a Cubs game. We took the El to the Wrigley area and found an unremarkable place to eat lunch. Over a reuben (him) and eggs benedict (me) we discussed our shame at following the Jon & Kate Plus 8 situation and the progress we've made in turning into our parents. Afterwards, he went to find tickets and I headed to Lakeville to find a bookstore I can't remember the name or location of. I never found it, but I did find Ragstock and some thrift stores, and bought a crochet beret that I will wear all summer and see in pictures next year and wonder what the hell I was thinking.

On Friday morning we were off to the Chicago History Museum. It's field trip season and we were there at the same time as Ms. Hayward's class. A short summary: Chicago is named after a stinky wild onion, it's perfectly situated to be a trading post, race/class riots, Mrs. O'Leary's cow didn't really kick over the lantern that started the fire, trains are awesome, and the 1968 Democratic Convention was held at the Conrad Hilton. Each time I read the hotel name my brain immediately asked "The Conrad Bain Hilton"? and I pictured a crowd of Yippies chanting "The whole world is wat'choo talking 'bout Willis?"

Paul had to head to the airport to catch his flight, and I headed towards Old Town without any plans. My stomach brought me to Minnies, a restaurant that takes the whole sliders fad to a new level. Their menu is full of mini sandwiches, and you order several of them. Their frite sauce doesn't live up to the hype, though. I resorted to catsup.

On my way back to the El, I found Aroma Work Shop, a fantastic little place where you can mix your own fragrances and add the scents to beauty products. I was the only one in the store, had the perfumer's full attention, and went full olafactory geek as I sniffed everything. They have a "baby" scent, which I mixed with honesuckle in an exfoliating scrub, which pairs with a grapefuit & pink sugar bubble bath. As I was leaving, I found the perfect keep-it-forever souvenir of this trip: a little pomander to wear around my neck, filled with lilac scent. The lilacs have been in bloom the entire time I've been in Chicago, and every few blocks I'd be hit by the scent and I'd have to stop to find the source so I could literally stop and smell the - well, lilacs.

I started to feel a headache coming on, no doubt brought on by the schedule distruption and not having had any caffine. I went back to the apartment to get rid of it and ended up getting some work done even though Jon & Kate Plus 8 was on. Again.