APRIL 2005
Thursday, April 28, 2005
My mom and I like to play Scrabble when I go home for a visit. Or I like to play. I think she likes it, but I always beat her, usually by a lot, so I'm not sure that she likes it so much, even though I always tell her that she should be happy she has smart kids. Our games usually go pretty high as far as points go. Or so I thought, until last night, when I watched Word Wars, a documentary on professional Scrabble players. (You didn't read that wrong: it says "professional Scrabble players.") A good game for me is over 300, but these people were scoring 400 and 500 per game, easily. And you know how hard it is to use all seven letters in one turn? These people did it six or seven times a game. Six or seven times a game! And they would do things like read the dictionary and do palindrome drills and memorize all kinds of words that most people couldn't define if you held a gun to their head. (Fun side note: My favorite palindrome? Lisa Bonet ate no basil.) But as obsessed as these people were about Scrabble, there's something inherently admirable about dedicating yourself to one thing so completely, even if that one thing is a board game. Seriously: the people interviewed in the movie don't have jobs. All they do is play Scrabble. All they do! Is play Scrabble! In America, you can get paid for anything, I guess. The DVD is definitely worth a look, especially if you have a strange fascination with people who fixate on odd things. And if you like Scrabble.

And today I got to have lunch with Steve James. Who is Steve James? He produced the critically acclaimed documentary Hoop Dreams. Have you seen Hoop Dreams? It's like three hours long, but it's really good, even if you don't like basketball. Anyway, he's a very interesting and talented and nice person, and if you get the chance, you should have lunch with him, but you should not get the chicken and goat cheese quesadilla, because it's kind of gummy and doesn't have nearly enough goat cheese in it. If the name of an ingredient is in the name of the dish, you should be able to taste that ingredient. I tasted very little goat cheese. But Steve James was cool.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Things from the past few days, in no particular order:

  • Made a strawberry-rhubarb pie. Was good.
  • My brother Evan, who usually likes wussy, namby-pamby music, told me that I might like Elkland, and I do! They sound just like Erasure, only not so Erasure-y, you know? Like, similar voice, similar sound, similar beat, but I just can't hear them doing Abba covers. Not that there's anything wrong with Erasure's Abba covers. I like them. But I also like Elkland, and I must get their CD. They're good.
  • Had a screening of my documentary on Saturday. About 80 people showed up. Was good.
  • I had a glass of three buck chuck last night and had a headache all day today. That was not so good.
  • Altoids makes liquorice flavor now. No, I didn't spell that wrong: it's liquorice, with a "Q." They're really good, but oddly hot, like they're flavored with some strange combination of licorice and habaneros. But I think I like them. (Mom, you would not.) They're good.
So, as you see, things are mostly good.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005
I'm drawing a blank.

Thursday, April 21, 2005
Hey look, me and Ken Burns. Last night, I got to see prolific documentary filmmaker Ken Burns speak at a local college. I expected his talk to be good, but it was beyond great. He spoke a lot about everyday history and a lot about the subjects of his three very long documentaries: the civil war, baseball, and jazz. While his talk was obviously rehearsed, he had so many interesting stories about all kinds of Americans, and everything he said was way more intelligent than I expected. During the question and answer period, someone asked him his feelings on the Confederate flag, and his answer was excellent: it's a part of our history and shouldn't be ignored, but it should be removed from the flags of southern states because it was added to all of them after 1954 as a reactionary measure to desegregation. Historical document: yes. "Fuck you" to racial equality: no way. I didn't know any of that about the states' flags. I asked him a question (very very nervously) about the costs of using images under copyright, and his response was that history shouldn't be documented only by those who can afford it. Right fucking on!

Overall, I was really blown away by the depth of his knowledge, and his ability to expertly answer all of the questions thrown at him, and his references to books and facts, and just the amount of thought that he's obviously given these things. I would definitely consider him an expert on every topic he's made a film on: the big three, plus Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, and everything else. He was really gracious and nice, too: he signed baseballs and programs for people, and he even let my boyfriend Paul, who got me into this thing in the first place, take this picture. (I'm the one on the right, by the way.) And maybe it's because of all this Nashville business lately, but I think he bears a striking resemblance to the lead singer of Alabama. But that's getting off topic. Anyway, if you ever have the opportunity to hear Ken Burns speak, go. He's incredibly smart and articulate, and after hearing what he had to say about it, I kind of want to go read Huck Finn again.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Today is the tenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, and like with most other Major Historical Events That I Have Lived Through ™, I remember where I was when I found out the news. I had the flu -- possibly the worst case of the flu that I have ever had, and I'm pretty sure one of the top ten worst cases of the flu anyone has ever had in the history of the known universe. Bad. It came on the day before in the classic manner: one second I was walking my bike down the hall of my dorm and wondering if I should listen to my walkman while I biked to class, and the next second the carpet looked like it was made of gravy, my knees buckled, I dropped my bike, and I don't know what happened after that. Somehow I got back to my dorm room with my bike and fell asleep for about five hours. When I woke up, I wished I hadn't.

On the morning of the next day, which was April 19, 1995, I somehow got myself on a bus and over to the student health center. I was in the waiting room watching one of the morning talk shows. I would have read one of the magazines, but by that point I was so dizzy that reading wasn't on my short list of abilities. Anyway, I was watching the talk show, and suddenly there were images of a bombed out building instead of Montel Williams nodding. And I remember thinking that I must seriously fucking sick to be so delusional that I was seeing things like an American building destroyed by terrorists. I think I even asked one of the aides what was happening, and if what I was seeing was what everyone else was seeing. And even after one of the NPs told me that yes, I indeed had the flu, and after she gave me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers that I filled in the little student pharmacy in the basement, and after I got back on the bus and back to my dorm room, where I knocked back a handful of pills and ached and slept for the next week and a half, I still had to wait until I was fully recovered before I was able to comprehend what had happened.

Monday, April 18, 2005
Look up, see bridge. When I take road trips, I usually take the interstates. I like driving, but ultimately, I usually just want to get to wherever it is I'm going. I tend to avoid the slower, sometimes more scenic drives in favor of the shorter travel times that highway speeds allow. But on our trip down south, I got talked out of taking the 85 to Athens, Georgia and into taking a rural route through the Chattahoochee National Forest. (Chattahoochee -- don't you just love that name? It sounds like something you'd call a slut who talks too much.) It was 100 miles and almost three hours longer, and even though I was cranky and starving by the time we finally got to Athens, I'm kind of glad we took this route. Basically, we went through the mountains, which was a little scary at times, but mostly it was really pretty. The trees were freshly green, and everything smelled good. This tower to a footbridge bridge is somewhere in northwestern North Carolina, and it was good to get out of the car and stretch after driving very cautiously up and down and around the mountains.

The drive back? Interstate. All of this was great to see once, but I didn't really want to do it again, especially on a 13-plus hour travel day . As much as I like seeing cool new things, I'm probably happiest on road trips when the cruise control is locked above 70.

Friday, April 15, 2005
Pimp my closet. One of the things I wanted to see in Nashville was the Grand Ole Opry, but it wasn't quite what I expected. I expected a building in the middle of the city with lots of character. Well, that may have been the case 60 years ago, but for the past 31 years the Opry has been about 15 miles outside of town in the parking lot of an outlet mall. And it's no longer the Grand Ole Opry -- it's the Grand Ole Opry presented by Cracker Barrel. Christ on a biscuit, is nothing sacred?

So that part was disappointing. Also a little unfortunate was that we were in Nashville from Wednesday afternoon through Friday afternoon, and Opry shows are Friday and Saturday nights. But that wasn't much of a big deal, and it's reason to go back one of these days.

But still, we were there, and there's a free Opry museum out at Opryland, so we walked around there for an hour or so. They did have some cool artifacts, including these totally pimped out cowboy shirts, a few interactive exhibits featuring old Opry stars, and a whole wall of photos under the words, "Can you name these Opry performers?" Umm...yeah, I could name most of them. Oh, and there was also this neat set-up that you could walk onto and feel like you were on the Opry stage with several dozen country music performers watching you.

(Side thought: There's a definite "break" in the Opry look that happened maybe around 1991. Before then, all of the performers had a definite cowboy/cowgirl look. After then, the performers take on a contemporary urban country stud/diva look. The one exception to this is Barbara Mandrell, who just looks like the desperate housewife next door. Sure, she can play the pedal steel like no one's mother, but check out those bangs, will you? In fact, I'm not even sure how her music is considered country. Yeah, she had that song about being country when country wasn't cool, but I can't think of any songs that she does that are in two. They're all goofy adult contemporary songs. Anyway.)

I'm glad I got to see the Opry, but it's maybe a little sad to me that it's not in Nashville proper. Still, the museum was definitely worth the drive through the highway construction zones.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005
Printing, old school style. Another cool place in Nashville is Hatch Show Print. They've been in business since 1887, and their business is making the coolest show posters in the world, especially for Opry performers and country music superstars. Now officially a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, Hatch is still located in downtown Nashville, and you can still see them turning the hand-crank presses and making signs. Their style is instantly recognizable -- block letters, bright colors, and elegantly simple. I got a Kentucky State Fair poster with bright red, green, and black ink. It has a picture of two kids on a rollercoaster, and the text reads, "Two corndogs, coming right up!" I thought it was funny. And I got a postcard for my grandma with a print of their old "WSM Stars of the Grand Ole Opry" design. Anyway, this is one of the walls at Hatch. You can see some of the posters they've done, as well as some of the letter blocks they use to create their signs. If you go to Nashville, do visit Hatch. Bring money and a big poster tube.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005
Twang is the thang. After lots of hours in the car, lots of pork fat, and lots of fun, I am back from my little trip down south. I had never been to Nashville, and it's really a nice little city. I saw and did several cool things, but since Nashville is the home of country music, I feel like I should talk about the Country Music Hall of Fame first.

As you may or may not know, I grew up listening to country music. This was not my choice, but rather my mom's, who found the popular radio of the time to be not enough country and too much rock and roll. I didn't exactly love it, but it wasn't bad, and to be fair, it wasn't the goofy country-pop they play on country radio today. After repressing my knowledge of country music for many years, I've recently come to accept that yes, some of those songs are pretty good, and yes, there's no shame in knowing every word to every Dolly Parton single. These things happen.

So right, where was I? Oh yes, the Country Music Hall of Fame. It's impressive, even, I think, if you don't like country music. The permanent exhibits get into the history of the music, both from the creative side and the business side. There are the expected gold records, old instruments, and photos, and then there are the outfits! Let me tell you, some of these old-timey country performers wanted to get noticed. The CMHoF's collection of rhinestoned, appliqued, and embroidered suits and dresses was great, and it's hard to believe that people actually wore those things, especially the hot pink cowboy suits with the glitter trim and embroidered birds.

What was most amazing about the museum, I think, was the acoustics. This is a museum about music, and as you can imagine, there are lots of songs playing and lots of video loops playing, and people want to hear all of it. The sound in the museum was such that if you were standing in a place where you were supposed to hear something, you heard it and nothing else, and it sounded good. Then if you walked a few steps away, you heard the audio of whatever you were walking toward. It was truly great sound design.

This guitar in the picture here was outside the museum. In fact, there were guitars all over Nashville. I guess since Chicago commissioned all of those painted cows, every city has to have a painted something. The guitars in Nashville made sense, though I didn't think any of them were spectacular. Of all of the ones I saw, I liked this twang guitar the best.

Thursday, April 7, 2005
Alright! I am in Nashville, home of country music, where the pompador is the official haircut and a meal isn't a meal unless it comes with a big slab of smoked meat. Sure, I've seen lots of impressive things here in the past 24 hours, and I will tell you all about them in good time, but right now I would like to tell you about where I just ate dinner. You like food, right? Good. Going on a recommendation in one of those freebie local entertainment rags, we headed out of town a bit to the Loveless Cafe. Those local rags tell the truth, right? And on a brochure we got at a local bruchure kiosk, there was a quote from Willard Scott, who says that the Loveless makes the best biscuits. Willard looks like he knows his way around a pile of biscuits. And there was also a quote from Martha Stewart, who said that the Loveless made the best breakfast she's ever had. Martha wouldn't lie! Well, not about breakfast. Ooooh, cheap shot. Let's move on.

The Loveless serves up good Southern cooking. At least it seems good to me, but I'm a Yankee, so I'm not really an authority. But the place seemed authentic, and by the time we got there, I was so hungry that anything would have been good. But this was really really really good. We ate ribs last night, which were rockin' but not so nice on my stomach (oh sweet sweet barbeque ribs, why must you play such games with my digestive system?), and I'm not much of a pork eater anyway, so I skipped the pulled pig and went for the smoked turkey breast. It came with cranberry barbeque sauce and hoe cakes (hoe cakes!), and I got candied sweet potatoes and greens with "pot liquor" on the side. I'm not sure what this pot liquor is (remember: I'm a Yankee), but I don't think it has anything to do with alcohol. I think it has everything to do with bacon grease. Yeah, the South. What can you do?

Oh my god. This was the best comfort food ever. The turkey was maybe the best I've ever had. You know that smoked turkey breast that you can get at the deli? This was nothing like it. It was real live turkey, smoked in a real live smokehouse, and it was fabulous. The cranberry barbecue sauce was tasty, but there was kind of a lot on it, and I maybe could have used less. The greens were amazing. How come I don't make greens? Probably because I haven't unlocked the secret of the pot liquor. But man, I like greens! And the sweet potatoes were great too. And the hoe cakes! Tell me where else you can get hoe cakes! Tell me! They were delicious -- like a really good corn pancake with corn kernels in them. I could eat a whole plate for breakfast.

And we got biscuits. They make a big deal about their biscuits at the Loveless. Big secret recipe, same recipe for years, blah blah blah. Apparently biscuits are big business around these parts. We waited a little while for ours, because our very nice waitress said that a new batch had just been put in the oven, and we wanted the good fresh ones. The biscuits were good. They were hot and fluffy, and I guess fluffy is a big deal when you're making biscuits. I thought they tasted pretty good, but I wasn't blown away. But again: Yankee. We eat bagels. I can pick a good bagel out of a line-up, but my tastes aren't as refined when it comes to biscuits. But the biscuits are fluffy, I'll tell you that.

Now listen: when we got to the Loveless, I was determined to get my own dessert. There was homemade banana pudding on the menu, and if there's one thing in this whole wide world that I love more than anything else...okay, it's not banana pudding. But I sure do like banana pudding a whole lot. And I wanted my own. But then I got so full that could barely finish my plate, so I figured, okay, I won't get my own dessert, I'll just have a bite of my date's pie and that's it. But then he was too full for pie (which is really something, I assure you), and we walked out without dessert. I guess comfort food ceases to be comfort food when it causes gastronomical discomfort, and we were straddling the line. We had a spoonful of the awesome blackberry jam that we got with our biscuits and left.

So again: I'm from New York. I don't know from country cookin'. However, I feel confident in telling you that the Loveless has truly stone-butt-good country cookin'. Even Willard Scott, Martha Stewart, and one of the local freebie rags agree. Find something else those three agree on! You can't! Just the Loveless. I'll be back one day. I gotta try that banana pudding.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005
Running late! Road trip! Spring break! Headin' south! Back in a few! Where are my keys?

Monday, April 4, 2005
I was at the mall earlier and saw something strange. I came up the escalator and saw water that looked like it was from one of those large fountains over by the food court. I wasn't real close -- maybe a few storefronts back -- but I saw it and it looked kind of nice as far as those things go. I thought that maybe the mall people put in some kind of fountain since I had been there last (it's been a little while). And there was a small crowd of people watching the fountain. But then I got closer and saw that it wasn't a fountain at all, but it was a serious leak inside the Maui Wowie smoothie kiosk. It looked kind of cool, though. And then I realized that I should have known, because if it were just a regular fountain, no one would be standing around watching it.

Sunday, April 3, 2005
I know we lost an hour of sleep last night, but daylight saving time -- I recently learned it's "saving" time and not "savings" time (oh thank you, NPR!) - always makes me feel more awake somehow. It's probably because, with the exception of two oddly warm years just south of the Mason-Dixon line, I've lived in a reasonably cold climate all of my life. I'm not way way way up in the higher latitudes, but let's just say I've never seen a winter without snow. So by the time April rolls around, I'm about sick of cold, snow, and more dark hours than daylight hours. It gets to me. Perhaps you read this site and have noticed this. Have you noticed this? Please say you've noticed this.

So I lost an hour of sleep last night, which is a small percentage of my overall night's sleep, but still, I'm wide awake! And it's not even 9:30 in the morning! And it won't get dark until well after eight tonight! (I should add that I'm at the western edge of the eastern time zone. By June, we're screeching daylight past 10pm.) It feels like there's more day in my day.

Or maybe I'm just excited that it's spring break -- spring break! -- and I have a fun trip coming up. What trip? I'll tell you about it tomorrow or something.

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