Sunday, November 14, 2010

Charles TOoowwn Races and Slots

Every Washingtonian has at some point wanted to chiffonade their brains due to one of the following songs:

2. "CHARLES TOOOOWN races and slots," a tune I can't find online, but if you've heard it before I don't think there's any need. Along with Miley Cyrus's "Party in the USA," this radio ad has ruined many a Monday morning for me. But after last Thursday, I forgive it. Because I finally gave in and went to said races and slots, and do you know what was there? UNLIMITED FREE SODA. And people in paisley vests and a restaurant unironically named the Epic Buffet, and a tower of cubic zirconia rings available for purchase.

My friend Richard was in town from London:

He told me he wanted to take a road trip somewhere "weird." The weirdest I could come up with was Harpers Ferry, site of John Brown's revolt, but fortunately for me, someone on the website I was looking at had commented something like "RACES AND SLOTS fifteen minutes away if you hate history lol"! So that's where we went, and afterward we stopped in Harpers Ferry to eat frozen custard and watch choo-choo trains go by. (P.S. we don't hate history. Just ask the guy in the big overcoat who was giving the lecture next to the armory on Abraham Lincoln the "giant racist." We listened until we became uncomfortable.)

The slots were definitely better than the races. There were at least several thousand of them, making that wonderful angelic noise they make when they're all playing sound effects and music at once.
The race track, however, was empty, except for a guy eating a sandwich.

Las Vegas this was not. This was Las Vegas right on the edge of emphysema, grabbing its Diet Pepsi and eyeing you beadily from the corner. If this casino had a Christian name, it would be Lurleen Gummit. There was one cocktail waitress that we could see waiting on a labyrinthine casino the size of several football fields. She was about 60, and she was wearing an outfit with shoulder pads and sensible shoes. Minimums on the slot machines were so low that $30-$32 each bought us 3 hours of CRIPPLING LOSS FOR RICHARD HA HA I mean a lot of action.

But you know what? It was outrageously fun. The casino had everything you'd do in Vegas (roulette, poker, baccarat, craps), only for like half the price - the buffet was $16.99 ($10.99 between 11:30-1:30 am!); the roulette minimum was $25, or even less before noon. If you come to this place determined to comp every penny of your losses in free soda, you will leave a jittery, loud, paranoid, giddy mess. Which is just the way gambling should be.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

NOMOFOMO NYC: Dead or Alive

By guest blogger Caitlin

Confession: I am a Halloween glutton. I don't mean I binge on candy- I binge on Halloween activities. This year's include: macabre walking tour of the village, steampunk haunted house, steampunk fashion expo, Edward Gorey brunch, parties Friday and Saturday night, all the Halloween episodes Netflix and Hulu have to offer (recommended: Pushing Daisies' season 1 episode, "Girth"), reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book and some Poe, and the Tompkins Square Park annual dog parade.

But best of all these was the NYC Museum of Arts and Design's exhibit Dead or Alive. I don't think I've ever before grinned so much at a museum. WARNING: This exhibit has closed. Read on at peril of feeling you missed out.

Dead or Alive consisted of art made out of dead things or their byproducts: plants, bones, feathers, and insect and bird carcasses. There were plant pieces of astonishing, ethereal beauty, particularly the dried-kelp lamp, a construct made by painstakingly gluing white dandelion fibers onto a series of little lights, and what looked like a Japanese parchment painting but, when viewed from the back, was revealed to be shadows of organic matter cast against a screen. Then there was the bone stuff. With the exception of a baroque frame spilling over with bone and antler imitating floral patterns, the bone stuff, while eye-catching, didn't really speak to me. It wasn't transformed; the bones stood for bones, just in strange configurations.

It was the bug stuff that really spoke to me: delicate backlit sepia pictures of a skull, heart, hand and foot made out of cockroach wings, a brilliant green and gold metallic skull, made out of what turned out to be scarabs, chomping down on a stuffed pigeon. These got at what Halloween is all about for me. Dark whimsy. The invitation to "come as you aren't," transformed into something frightening or gorgeous or whatever you choose. And best of all, wonder. For the cynical, the world can feel drained of magic. What remains buried deep in our brains, however, is reptilian fear, which can override rational thinking and make us dread ghosts and ghouls, the dark, or bugs. The dead bug art churned up my instinctual fear and disgust and, by transforming uncanny dead-alive elements into beauty, transformed that fear and disgust into enchantment.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Fall Fun

Guess what this is?


This weekend, Matt and I made a spontaneous trip up north to Frederick, Maryland, and its environs. That there is so much surreality within 90 minutes of Washington (and for a very reasonable price!) has warmed my she-cockles for at least the next month.

Our first stop was Volt, the restaurant I have been dying to visit since Top Chef 2009 (head chef Bryan Voltaggio was the runner-up; his brother Michael won). Me and about 5,000,000,000,000 other people. Getting a reservation is impossible, especially if like me you're about as on the ball as Robert Green, the 2010 World Cup goalie from England.

I called Volt on Friday morning to see if they'd add us to the wait list for the weekend, just in case, and I found out something revelatory from the lady who answered. They have a lounge and bar area. It is first come, first serve. You don't need a reservation, and they serve the whole menu!! Best-kept secret in the entire world of trend-obsessed half-informed DC food snobbery!

Matt and I got there for lunch at 1. There was no competition at all for spaces, and within minutes we were seated at the bar, dining on shiitake veloute, delicate ravioli with frothy sage foam on top, pillowy chevre cheesecake...honestly, I have no idea what I was eating, but it was heavenly. The bartender was as attentive and friendly as any server. Volt lives up to every single bit of hype it has received. I can't believe Bryan didn't beat his brother.

The only problem with the bar area is that you have to share it with all the other "back door gourmet" cheapskates like you. In our case, these included a woman who wordlessly seized all three different bread options when asked which one she'd like, and another who insisted the bartender dump out her mostly-consumed wine and give her a new glass because hers was "sediment-y."

Less worth the calories eaten, but equally riveting, was our dinner destination, the Cozy Village in Thurmont, Maryland, about 14 miles outside of Frederick. The Cozy Village's centerpiece is its restaurant, an all-you-can-eat buffet with various nightly themes (ours was "Land and Sea").

But there is so much more to the Cozy Village.

You see, the Cozy Village is near Catocin Mountain, home of the Camp David presidential retreat. Once, after eating there, a couple of Kennedy's aides stumbled into an abandoned house nearby and ripped down some wallpaper they liked and later, Jackie Kennedy used a similar pattern to decorate a room in the White House (or something). In recognition of this humbling moment of international glory, Cozy Village is also an altar to Camp David and the American presidency. You can stay in one of many presidential themed suites! (All sold out, sadly, by the time Matt and I got there.) Pose under a sign that says "Camp David!"

Read all about our great president's and the palm tree's Herbert Hoover's wife used to decorate her room's in the White House!

...And then dine on fried chicken and whole crayfish! With the heads still on!

I probably seem a little snarky right now. Let me explain. Cozy Village is, in many ways, a nomofomecca ("nomofomo Mecca")--an outpost of homemade root beer and kitsch so profound I wanted to kneel down and make out with the ground when I got there. But when I went inside, I couldn't help but notice there was something a little odd about the Cozy Village, particularly the museum. Something...missing. And it was more than just good grammar on the signage.

Reagan, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Eisenhower, Clinton, Nixon, very nice...wait. Where was Barack Obama? In a museum about the presidency?

He was in the gift shop. Next to a Jesse Jackson bobblehead.


Anyway, enough with the culinary adventures...this post is already getting too long. Between the best and one of the most interesting meals I've had in a while was the MOTHERF-ING PUMPKIN CANNON. Lawyer's Moonlight Maze [and Pumpkin Cannon] was the reason we went out to Thurmont in the first place. The farm consists of a 7.5-MILE corn maze in the shape of two superheroes and a tank (something I guess you can only appreciate from the air), a pumpkin cannon firing range featuring giant robots made out of old junker cars and oil barrels, and a nice little fire where you can roast marshmallows.

Matt and I totally cheated on the corn maze (our motto: when in doubt, blunder through the corn toward the sound of the pumpkin cannon). Parts of the maze made us feel like we were doomed extras in Battlestar Galactica, as we emerged into a clearing only to see enormous, angry robots looming in the distance.

We had to wait in line for two hours to take aim at those cylon bastards, but eventually we did, and I totally hit one. Look at how mad I made him.

...Yeah, take it.

We weighed driving home to Washington after that, but instead we decided to make it a weekend and keep driving to Gettysburg, which was only 20 minutes or so away at that point. We pulled over to stay at the Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center despite one Yelp user's warning that he had spent the night there being eaten alive by spiders and spent all of Sunday afternoon communing with Civil War ghosts and lazily eating fajitas. Then we finally came back. I spent the whole drive asleep and snoring with my mouth open, but Matt tells me it only took an hour and a half. Hard to believe this was all so close to DC.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Apples and the Absurdity Addiction

It has been so long since I've been to this blog that my browser was confused when I typed "NOMO" into it just now. "Ann Arbor-based post-afrobeat dance explosion?" it suggested. (I listened. No thanks.)

Here are the past 4 months in a nutshell: DC, Virginia, Jamaica, Switzerland, England, Michigan, mediocre attempt at home tomato farming, successful attempt at home chili pepper farming, kickball league, book club, wine, yadda yadda. Once I let one of these things pass without blogging, I felt like I couldn't write about anything else until I'd blogged about that one thing, and then like so many of the dead hobos I have buried in my crawlspace I couldn't get to them all and I just ignored everything.

BUT NOT ANY MORE! Matt and I went apple picking on Saturday!

Do you know how many apples are in that cart there? Two large garbage bags of apples! $65...of apples! Apples, the cheapest fruit commercially available!

Boohoohoohoo so many apples. We just couldn't stop. There were so many different varieties. Jonagold. Braeburn. Sun Crisp. Pink Ladies "weren't ready" yet and were marked off with yellow tape, but, well, I snuck in there anyway (lacerating myself on several apple trees in the process) and picked the dozen or so that were.

Here is the worst part of it: I AM ALLERGIC TO APPLES. Mildly. (I can eat them, but itchily.) What is wrong with me? Why did I bring home all of these apples??

I think it's because I'm addicted to absurdity. Coors Light, and absurdity. If I have an opportunity to do something in comical bulk or quantity, I cannot say no.

It's not hoarding. I don't want these comical things around forever. It's just, well, the ha-ha factor. It's what guides me through life. The world's oldest ham. My dream vacation: indoor skiing in the desert.

This is why I don't shop at CostCo. It would be a disaster. This is why when Papa John's offered a stupendous twelve-toppings-for-$9.99 deal on pizza on Tuesday, I ended up calling the pizza place to order because the online ordering form only went to 7 and I was just so curious what twelve toppings on a pizza looked like. (It looked like grossness.) This is why the website Great Big Stuff (believe it or not, not NSFW) speaks to me on so many levels.

Anyway, I guess we didn't pick THAT many apples--Matt does eat about six of them a day, and we've already made an apple pie.

Also, when I said "oh my God, why did we pick so many apples" as the lady at the checkout counter rang us up yesterday, she turned to me with a world-weary look and shook her head. "Uh-uh," she said. "This is not a lot of apples. Believe me, this is not a lot of apples." Then she sighed and looked into the middle distance, clearly reliving some past trauma.

...Oh well, at least I'm not alone in my pathology.

* * *

Venue: Homestead Farm. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I'm going to start blogging here again soon. For real! Life has basically been like this cartoon this summer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

After 25.16 years of being alive, I just watched Pretty Woman for the first time. Is it just me, or is that movie super sexist? But I liked her spunky hooker friend.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

BSB at Wolf Trap

When did you realize you were grown up? First apartment/car rental/ job/hangover/ baby/hangover baby? That time you went to the junkyard and screamed for no reason in the pouring rain with Natalie Portman and that guy from "Kinsey" who was really brave to go full frontal in that movie because, well, maybe he was in the pool, haha, oooh, umm, err, baby carrot?

Not me. I knew I would never be a grown woman until a treasured band from my adolescence showed up at Wolf Trap, gentle pasture for has-beens. Amidst the stellar summer lineup of Hall and Oates, Pat Benatar, Earth Wind and Fire, and REO Speedwagon, there came, on an ordinary Wednesday night, with little fanfare, The Backstreet Boys. Yes, The Backstreet Boys. They are still on tour.

The last time I saw them was February of 2001 - already past the prime years of "Backstreet's Back (All Right!)" and "Everybody (Rock Your Body)", but still in front of a sold-out house at MCI Center. The middle-aged woman in front of me had a giant tattoo on her back that featured all of their names, in cursive, orbiting the disembodied head of a unicorn. I am not lying. Ask Julia Scarborough. She was there too.

Those were halcyon days for The Backstreet Boys. First of all, there were still five of them. Taut-bodied and fancy-free, they shot up onto the stage in plumes of smoke, like bullets of awesome. I believe they did several of their hip-hop moves while suspended from wires in the air. The crowd was hysterical, and huge.

Flash forward ten years. As the house lights at the modest Filene Center dimmed for the beginning of the show, a five-year-old toddled out onto the stage in a single spotlight. Several of the girls in the audience cheered wildly, but most were confused.

"You ready to see The Backstreet Boys? My dad and The Backstreet Boys are behind this curtain," he lisped, grinning. Because, you see, The Backstreet Boys have children now. Cogent children. Children in school. This concert was going to be a different animal entirely.

...Yet the fans were still there. In a space a tenth the size of MCI, granted, and for half the cost of what BSB tickets used to command, but they were there, packing Filene Center to the gills: women in their 20's like me and the five girls I went with; women in their 30's and 40's, driven to new heights of lust by the Twilight books on their bedside tables, looking a little deranged, clutching "WE LUV U BSB!" signs; and finally, inexplicably, hundreds and hundreds of 10-12-year-old girls. Did Justin Bieber say he liked BSB? Did their mothers and babysitters play their old CD's for them? How confusing.

The concert didn't disappoint. Fortunately, like Marco Polo heading into steppes unknown, camels laden with spice, The Backstreet Boys (or their managers) seem to have thought ahead in the 1990's as they decided which songs written by other people would constitute their hit catalogue. Their songs were designed to age: Everybody, rock your body, Backstreet's back. Oh my God, we're back again. I have to hand it to them: they were pretty smart!

Pretty smart, if now no longer all that pretty. Brian Littrell, who moonlights as a Christian rock artist, looked like an elementary school teacher dressed up in costume for the annual school variety show: vanilla as un-dipped DQ, goofy grin on his face, hamming it up through lyrics he once delivered with a stone-cold sex face. AJ, whose self-esteem issues are evident in the fact that he performs solo as "Johnny No Name," is now completely bald and tried to rock a hoodie with the hood up the whole time to cover for it.

Howie was as forgettable as ever. (Poor Howie - I hear he's the only one of them who can actually sing.) And Kevin Richardson left the band in 2006.

That leaves us with Nick Carter, the Golden Boy, Teen People's Sexiest Man of 1999. His contemporary resemblance to Liza Minelli was so shocking that I half expected him to stop dancing and sob in the middle of the act: "Why, Mama? Why?" He managed the occasional hoarse, off-key solo and did his dance moves like--well--me in gym class the year I discovered donuts. But the important thing was: he tried.

They all tried. Very hard. And--this was crucial--they understood what they had become. They only attempted a couple songs off their new album, mostly sticking to the oldies. They spoofed themselves in little movie clips they played while they ran offstage every three minutes to catch their poor late-thirtysomething breaths.

And a crowd full of women who'd first heard them on middle school dance floors in the arms of a first crush or in a circle of giggling friends remembered some pretty great times. I for one remembered the only real celebrity crush I've ever had, at age 12, on Prince William (of course). The week I wrote him a letter and walked it to the post-box with fingers crossed, I listened over and over to BSB: "I don't care who you are / Where you're from / What you did / As long as you love me." In my mind, of course, Prince William was singing this to me, the overweight 7th grader from Bethesda whose letter dripping with perfume and flower stickers had just pierced his noble soul.

I wondered where that letter had ended up. I wondered if 12-year-old me would be proud of who I was now. (Sorry, younger Anna, no ascension to English royalty.) Then, as Nick Carter stumbled through another dance move, I realized I really was an adult now--and thank God, because boy bands are really much more fun with half a bottle of wine.

Thanks to Liz B. for having the idea to go out there in the first place!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Weekend Part 2: Moments of Grace

Most honeysuckle plants are blooming this week, which means this is one of my favorite weeks of the year. The smell of honeysuckle gives me the God feeling. You know - that deep longing for something you can't put your finger on. It's kind of like nostalgia, kind of like love, kind of like anticipation, but not really any of those things.

C.S. Lewis (and probably many people before him) used to say that that feeling proved the existence of God, because why would we spend all this time longing for something so vague and esoteric if we weren't designed to have a relationship with the divine?

I have no idea if he's right, but I do know that I feel that feeling whenever I smell honeysuckle. I also feel it at Gravelly Point park, where I took Matt for the first time this weekend. It's been more than 10 years since my dad took me there for the first time.

In some ways, Gravelly Point is very, very wrong. It's a public park on the end of the runway of DC's most important airport, where senators and congressmen and dignitaries fly in and out every day. Planes fly so low overhead that they're sometimes no more than 100 feet from you - easy weapons range. The park is accessible at all times of day and night. It's just one of many reasons National Airport is a disaster waiting to happen.

But it's also one of the best places in the country to sit and think about just how amazing air travel is. Watching these 200-ton pieces of metal take to the sky with hundreds of people on board, seeing the pilots make their initial giddy turns as the landing gear retracts, hearing the roar of the engines at close range, you can't help but think: I live in a time of miracles.

If you go anywhere near Gravelly Point's half dozen horribly-maintained port o' johns, the God feeling is somewhat diminished. Ick. All I can say is: if you bring a picnic, try not to drink too much. But go to this place if you can.

Another place that gives me the God feeling: a good cemetery. Any good cemetery. And I found a new one today: Holy Rood in Georgetown.

That's the Washington Monument in the distance.

And the National Cathedral.

I can't believe how long it took me to walk up to this place. I'd passed it for years and years--I think I first noticed it when I was 12--but always in a car on my way down to Georgetown. I assumed it was the churchyard for the Christian Science church a little up the way. I assumed it wouldn't be very big.

I was driving back to Arlington from the festival at St. Sophia's today and impulsively pulled over and got out and walked up the hill. What I saw took my breath away.

This is the best cemetery in Washington by far. It's as wild and green as the prettiest cemeteries in England--it actually looks a lot like Holywell in Oxford--and it's huge, full of tangled ancient yew trees and flocks of grackels and cracked tombstones, mostly from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Ninety percent of the names are Irish, so I'm guessing it was Catholic, but no one really comes to pay their respects anymore. It was utterly quiet when I was there; I couldn't believe I was still in Georgetown. One of the most familiar streets in the whole city was suddenly alien to me.

You can see the whole sweep of Washington here, from the monuments to Mount St. Alban. Seriously, if you're a cemetery geek like me, it will make you want to cry. Especially when you come home and read the Wikipedia entry on it and discover that it's now owned by Georgetown University, which wants to raze it and redevelop ASAP! @#$*&#$.

Go see it while you still can.

I'm Back!

Like the mercury in a May thermometer, my mercurial commitment to this blog is once again HOT! And how. I crammed in adventures this weekend like a fat kid cramming Nutter Butters. Here they are in no particular order.


When I was 8 or 9, my mother brought me and my sister to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm Market Fair, a thrice-yearly festival at the DC area's low-budget alternative to Colonial Williamsburg. This was at the height of my home herb-growing craze--I had convinced myself that the lavender plant I had in a pot on the back porch was a solid first step on the career path to medieval enchantress--and so words could hardly express my glee at what I found when I got there: a $1 make-your-own-sachet stand, complete with big tubs of dried herbs and a real mortar and pestle.

Oh, sure, there was a blacksmith forge and a woodworking stand and an 18th-century playground with a rope swing and one of those hoop and stick contraptions. But I didn't care. I only had eyes for the sachets. And...the food, the food. Sausage on a big fire and cheese and bread and root beer. If this was what colonial life was like, I thought, count me in. I demanded we go back and back to that market festival something like half a dozen times. And then I forgot about it and 15 years passed.

...Until today! Neil and I went back, and I got a little choked up when I realized that nothing, absolutely nothing, had changed in the intervening years.

Still the same sausage.

Same people who've waited all year to whip out the period costume.

Same funny signs with s's that look like f's.

Same...freaking...sachet stand.

And there was so much more. Claude Moore Colonial Farm operates year-round for the delectation of elementary school students from every corner of a 5-mile radius, and so we made sure to check out the regular exhibitions as well: the orchard*, cattle herd**, farmhouse***, and freshwater spring****. (*: actually just a weed-choked field full of stumps. **: actually just one bull. ***: temporarily closed to the public. ****: stagnant.) Neil fell off a log. I harassed a goose. It was a good day.

And it wasn't over yet! Mid-May is festival season in DC, and no good nomofomist could possibly stop at just one. So we headed over to...

St. Sophia's Greek festivals are a well-known commodity in DC. If you live here, chances are you've been to one and know the score: phenomenal gyros. Live bouzouki music. People selling Orthodox icons. A stand where you can get 3-liter canisters of EVOO and tubs of balsamic vinegar the size of frat house beer kegs. (Hmm. That gives me an idea.)

DC's Greek community was proudly showing off its culture. I loved to see the twinkle in people's eyes as they danced in a circle in front of the band or pronounced "tzatziki" the right way as they ladled it onto my plate. But after a day of sausage and cheese and gyros I couldn't really do anything but appreciate it with my eyes while slumped at a picnic table. Basically all Neil and I did here was wait in line for food and then eat it.

The Claude Moore Colonial Farm Market Fair costs $5 for admission, but most food and activities are either free or less than $2 when you get in. Nothing was really free at St. Sophia's except admission, but the food was great. May in DC is the best.

FUN FACT: the Claude Moore Colonial Farm is located directly behind the George Bush Center for Intelligence, i.e. the headquarters of the CIA. Neil thinks they built it here so no one would live on the outskirts of the property. Coincidence...or COLONIAL CONSPIRACY??

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Like This

From Neil Gaiman's Twitter: "An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered." -G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The FOMO Low-Mo of the Year, or: You've Got to Be Eyjafjallajok-ing

A week ago this afternoon, as I started typing out LONDON PACKING LIST.doc on my computer, gleefully adding check boxes next to "Lucky Charms, chocolate wine, mascara, bikini, eyeliner, potato vodka" and sending follow-up emails to the 28 people I was supposed to meet at the London Book Fair, if someone had walked up to me and said "oh hai, an Icelandic volcano is going to ruin everything," I would have laughed them out of the room.

We're talking about Iceland here. Land of this:

And this:

Needless to say, I have learned my lesson.

I spent last Thursday in blissful denial. Concerned coworkers kept coming by to ask whether my flight was cancelled. Oh, no, I said. I'm sure it'll run, and if not, hey, I'll be there by Sunday, Monday at the latest, champagne in hand, cake icing smeared across my face, laughing it up with my friends in the suite they had rented in the picturesque Wiltshire countryside to help celebrate my birthday OH GOD I AM STILL SO NOT OVER THIS. But I digress!

I went to an Owen Pallett concert after work, and 3/4 of the way through, right after this song, I got an email from my friend Richard. I could only read the first line: "Shit." It was time to get on the phone with Virgin Atlantic customer service.

I called. I waited. And waited. Two hours passed, and then at last, "Vicky" answered. Vicky was in control. Vicky knew the score. I was still optimistic: Sunday, Monday at the latest. "Oh, hello, my flight seems to have been cancelled, and I'd like to reschedule," I said, smiling into the phone.

"Okay, great," said Vicky. She sounded like Mary Poppins. This was going well. "Don't worry, Anna, we'll get you rescheduled."

"Oh, I'm not worrying!" I said, full of smug. Oh, Vicky, I was thinking. I once worked in retail just like you. I know how crazy some people get. You are in luck. You are going to end this call wishing all your customers were as delightful as this Anna Spr--

"Here we go," she said, still upbeat. "We can get you scheduled for Sunday, April 25."

"WHAT???!" Pop went the denial balloon.

"Yes, we've got you for Sunday, April 25."

"No. No. That's not acceptable. I can't. No. Oh Jesus no. I have to be in God, can you please look for something earlier?"

"Okay, right, we have an upper class ticket for Sunday, April 18, but you will have to pay the difference."

Bye bye, Wiltshire. "Oh...oh Lord...okay...what is it?"

Vicky shuffled off for a minute. I heard hundreds more people in the background talking to people in very cheerful, very loud Mary Poppins voices. She came back. "Right, Anna, that's going to be five thousand, five hundred dollars," she said.


A pause. "See, we're moving you from the very bottom of economy to the very upper upper class, and, well, there's just a difference in the..."


"Right, Anna," she said. Less Mary Poppins now. More: Vicky Mad. Vicky Smash. "I am a supervisor."

"PLEASE. I KNOW MY EU TRAVEL RIGHTS. [I had seen some news piece earlier that day called "Know Your EU Travel Rights," although of course I hadn't read it.] THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT OH GOD CAN YOU GET ME ON ANOTHER CARRIER OH GOD PLEASE..." I was thinking, how much does the QE2 cost? What about a kayak? Can I kayak? Flippers. Water wings. Snorkel tube. Four thousand miles isn't that far. Right? Right?

"You see, Anna," she said, forcing herself back into Mary Poppins, "all of the planes are on the ground right now."

So I gave up. I got my refund, hung up, curled up in the fetal position, and spent twenty minutes sobbing so heartily I ended up looking like this the whole next day:

Neil and Caitlin and Matt were spending the night. They fed me cake and gave me there-there pats. I eventually got it together. I realized this was nine days in the UK, not a freaking death. Trips can be rescheduled. England is not going anywhere. I can tide myself over with Cadbury bars from Classic Cigars and British Goodies in Clarendon. (Caitlin and I went there on Friday morning.)

And, perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when a FOMO disaster occurs: you can always find an adventure if you want one. My birthday ended up being different than I imagined, but wonderful. I slept until a slothful hour. Had three different birthday cakes. Giggled with my grandma, who turned 82 on Sunday. Took a long walk and looked for wildflowers with my mother. Met someone who'd been wrongfully imprisoned for an IRA bombing for fifteen years. Ate lasagna at his house. Blew out the candles on someone else's birthday cake because his birthday wasn't until Monday and he was nice enough to share. Met Janet and Cecilia and Akili for PBR's with beautiful arty types at a house party in Bethesda, then capped the whole night off with a big fat plate of cheese fries. Way leads onto way. I am a lucky woman.

And I rescheduled my London trip for July. In your face, Iceland volcano.

(P.S., can you BELIEVE that's what Val Kilmer looks like now?)

Friday, April 2, 2010

Cherry Blossoms

Yeah, I'm in a work binge until mid-April, so don't expect much exciting material here. BUT: I did manage a solo trip to see the cherry blossoms today!

Photo Credit: Tourist in socks and sandals

Would you believe in nearly 25 years of living here, I've never been down to see them before? (Well...I guess I've only been in the area for around 20 years of those 25...but whatever.) I grew up in near Kenwood, a neighborhood with some pretty impressive cherry trees of its own, not to mention houses with turrets, which I like looking at better than tourists. I never thought I was missing out by avoiding the Tidal Basin.

Or so I thought. The air was warm and fragrant tonight, and people from all over the world were smiling and giggling and running around between the branches. Since it was dusk, not just the cherry blossoms but the whole sky was pale and pink, and petals were fluttering down over everyone. Some teenage girl shouted to her friend, "now THIS is the kind of snow I like!", and I thought God that's so cheesy, but then: yeah, I agree with her. I sat on the water's edge and hummed this song to myself and felt pretty in that way that has nothing to do with your physical appearance.

There were people out in paddle boats, and I wanted to be on one so badly. But I've long since learned my lesson about trying to steer a paddle boat alone.

Envy! But it was all right--fun as paddle boating is, there's nothing better than a dreamy walk by yourself in your hometown when it's looking as beautiful as can be.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

36 Hours in New York: A Subway Grope and Some Flaming Cheese

Hello from the Boltbus! I was up in New York on some freelance writing business for the past day and a half and managed to fit in after-hours visits with Mancini and Caitlin.

I got groped on the subway while I was there. It was gross. I thought someone's purse was wedged against me, and then as the #2 stopped at 72nd street I realized it was a hand--a cupped, stroking hand. I jumped and turned around just in time to see the doors open and the groper--a relatively professional-looking guy in a Burberry coat and premium denim--stop on the edge of the platform and turn around and watch me neutrally as the doors closed.

Subway gropes are a relatively common problem in NYC--I would say 80% of my female friends have endured one--but that was the first time it'd happened to me. When I lived up there, I always wondered what I'd do if it did. When I read a magazine article about a woman who grabbed a groper's hand, thrust it up, and said "who does this belong to??", I thought yeah. That's me.

But it wasn't. I froze. I barely even mustered a dirty look while he stared at me from the platform. Then I got off at the next stop and furiously went through all the great reactions I could have had. Scenarios ranged from the obvious (SMACK!) to the esoteric ("Excuse me? Are we in the Bauhaus Village? Because I think I just felt Walter GROPE-i-us!"). Then I began to feel like George Costanza, thinking all day about the line he should have shouted in that movie theater, and then I felt even dirtier for thinking that because George actually wants to go back into the theater so he can shout "that's gotta hurt" and what did that make me if I was fantasizing about going back and...

Oh, I'll get over it. Some creep touched my butt. It happens. It was just one more eye-opening experience in 36 hours of them. Caitlin told me that I've been mispronouncing "Bon Iver" this whole time. Was I literally the last person on Earth saying "bahn EYEver" instead of "bone eeVER"? I also discovered that in two years of dating a Greek American in my late teens, I managed to miss a delicious dish called Saganaki, which is flambeed cheese that they light on fire in front of you, terrifying fellow diners to your limitless glee. (Get it at Uncle Nick's Ouzaria if you can.) I ate a lot of cheese. I went to Dylan's candy bar and ate jelly beans. And I found out that Barnes and Noble now has free WiFi in all its stores, and I ended up spending about 10 hours there.

Net positive.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You Missed Out! Joanna Newsom

I'm one of those people who has to consume Joanna Newsom's albums in small doses, like Cowgirl Creamery cheeses, because they're so strong and tangy that I quickly get overwhelmed by the taste. With that in mind, I wasn't sure whether to go to her concert. Thank G. I did. It was awesome--even better than Leslie and the Lys.

There's nothing about Joanna that doesn't get ten times better live. She tours with two singing violinists, a trombonist, a drummer, and a guy who plays the guitar and recorder. She and her music giggle and sparkle in a way they just don't do in a studio.

She's also a lot hotter than she looks in pictures:

(Picture via)

I mean, she's not hideola there, but something about her is transfixing when you're in the same room. Maybe I felt that way because my whole idea of what a beautiful woman should look like comes from a sixth-grade Madeleine L'Engle binge. There's a passage in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (or is it Many Waters?) when L'Engle talks about how her nerdy girl hero, Meg Murry, has grown up and ditched her glasses for contacts and grown a long mane of chestnut hair. Joanna Newsom has that hair. She's also mind-bogglingly talented.

She's a very precise musician: last night, she was so freaked out that one of the F strings on her harp was going flat that she paused the concert several times to tune it. After a rendition of "Inflammatory Writ" that transformed the song from simple Newsom caterwaul to a melancholy Appalachian waltz--here's an approximation of the sound, although the real thing was so much better that it brought tears to my eyes--she threw up her hands and said "I messed up my favorite note!"

Nobody could tell. Her perfectionism was just a charming part of her monologue last night, but I think it accounts for why her albums aren't as lush as her live performance. She seems like the sort of artist in danger of tinkering the vitality out of things.

What a concert! It was a lot better than the last thing I saw at Sixth and I Synagogue: a big fat guy in a blue suit singing songs about Grover Cleveland's erotic relationship with his goddaughter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sorry I haven't posted in a while! I have been working a lot and also lazy about documenting my adventures, which have included another Britpop Night at the Black Cat with Caitlin and a lot of beer in Charlottesville with my sister. I'm going Joanna Newsom at Sixth and I tonight. That should be a great place to start fresh...maybe Andy Samberg will be there!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Adventures In My Middle School Diaries

I'm in my childhood bedroom right now. Sometimes when I'm here I'll pull out one or two of my old diaries to remember what it felt like to fall in love for the first time, take my first couple of big solo trips, first meet the people who mean the most to me now, etc. As I've said before, people with FOMO tend to write about themselves a lot (look at all the cool things I did! Look at how I am drinking life to the lees!).

The first diary I pulled out tonight was from creative writing camp, age 14. Turns out I was kind of a bitch.

One or two people told me I was a bitch back then. I never believed them. I thought I was maligned. I thought people just didn't understand me because I was awkward. *I* could never be mean. Oops.

God, 14 was such a hard age. So much rage and drama over such stupid things. Now I'm looking at another notebook from December of that year--I never could get through a whole blank book before wanting to start a fresh new one. There are a lot of rants against my parents. "She and Dad nearly grounded me for not picking up laundry a few days ago! They've never grounded me before, and they want to ground me now for shitty reasons like that???....I think they want to stop me from going out with [thoroughly disinterested 9th grade boyfriend]. ...Though I would never ever consider it myself (I can't stress that enough--I love life way too much), I now understand why some teenage couples commit suicide together after encountering friction from their parents."


Then there's the Christmas entry a few pages after that. Christmas was tough for me that year and probably baffling for my parents. It's really embarrassing to think about now: how I opened my presents with a mounting sense of dismay, looking at earrings and sweaters I judged unsuitable for a cool ninth grader like me and toys that I knew would end up with all the stuffed animals I'd just hidden in the attic. How I tore into one present in particular--a long rectangular box from the afore-mentioned boyfriend--thinking it was the first piece of jewelry I'd ever received from a guy, and found a pen. How after everything was out of the wrapping paper, I went up to my room, put on my new Billy Joel CD, hissed along to a few lines from "Piano Man" (And the piano sounds like a carnival! And the microphone smells like a beer!)...and sobbed. My parents saw the tear stains in my eyes shortly after that. I think we all shed more tears before the day was over.

Here's what I wrote in my diary two days later: "Got lots of new stuff...I loved a lot of it." I had spent the whole day with a heart that felt broken for no reason I could figure out, and then I went to my diary and smiled for posterity because I didn't want God or my mom or me in 10 years to see.

I'm almost crying again now. I am so glad to be grown up. I want to hug my parents. I want to hug 14-year-old me.

P.S. Have you heard about this play, Mortified? There's a DC chapter.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Two Things I Love Most in Life: Alcohol and Peeps

Peeps Week Happy Hour! Peeps Week Happy Hour! Peeps Week Happy Hour!

(March 23, 7pm, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St NW, $20)

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mad Men Drinks at Mad Men Prices

NEWS FLASH: I just learned via CityShopGirl that until March 31, Occidental Grill on Pennsylvania Avenue is serving happy hour drinks at 1967 prices. There are conditions: it's "with the purchase of any bar menu item," and you can only get one cocktail at that price. But hey, if you were planning on eating out anyway?

Another recent CityShopGirl deal: you can get a free $60 haircut with new stylist David Maier at XYZ Salon in Adams Morgan if you call them and book an appointment for some time before March 30. You have to mention the "CityShopGirl Deal." All their free appointments could be full at this point, but it's worth a shot. Fellow nomofomist Janet had her free appointment last week, and her hair looks AMAZING.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Honor of the People Who Nudge Into Me Repeatedly on the Subway When I Already Feel Gross Because I Overslept and Didn't Have Time to Shower

My name is William Tell:
When little oppressions touch me
Arrows hidden in my cloak
whisper, "Ready, ready."

--William Stafford

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ani D vs. St. V

9:30 Club and I are like an old married couple now. I’ve been there three times in the past week: St. Vincent on Feb. 24, Ani DiFranco last night, and the argument with the manager over those State Radio tickets in between. Along the way there’s been boredom, joy, rage, a little bit of dancing, a lot of Abita Purple Haze, and at least one affair with the Verizon Center (oh baby, I’ll never leave you for the NBA again!).

I think we’re in a good place now. Last night, I discovered that there’s a bar in the basement. I’ve been going there for 8 years and had no clue. How did I miss that?? The beer’s a little expensive—I drunkenly asked for “the cheapest thing you have” and was handed a $6 bottle of Miller Lite—but it’s a lot of fun to hang out after the show with the hardcore fans who’ve stuck around, hoping the artist will wander down from the dressing rooms.

As for the concerts: Ani won. Hands down. I wasn’t expecting to say that: I didn’t go into her show a devoted fan, even though I’d really liked the handful of songs friends had sent me over the years (“32 Flavors,” “Loom,” "Untouchable Face," etc.). But one too many teenage experiences with unhygienic weirdos in “Here Comes Little Naked Me” t-shirts shunted her into the area of my brain reserved for tie-dye and Manic Panic.

Indeed, there was a lot of tie-dye and Manic Panic in the audience last night. But then Ani got up on stage with a tiny tight little muscular body and big eyes and a brown bouffant and four tall, reedy male bandmates towering all around her, and with one strum of her guitar she created an electric energy that didn’t go away for an hour and a half.

Aesthetically, St. Vincent’s concert shared a lot with Ani’s. St. V came onstage with a blunt haircut and a band of dudes; she stopped to monologue every couple of songs. But as my fellow 9:30-wives Liz and Christine pointed out, she just completely didn’t know how to own the crowd. Ani did.

I had heard from friends in NYC and Edinburgh that St. V was basically the Second Coming live. But as she stood on the stage in an affectedly knock-kneed way and talked? In questions? About the fact that she had to cancel a gig in Ohio? Because it turned out to be at an S&M club?, she just looked very, very young. She’s got a lot of talent, but her songs are all bright and cool and hard, like strange little baubles from another planet, and they crumble to bits when delivered nervously.

I got the impression that she had the power to jolt an audience totally primed and ready to go, but she had no clue what to do when it wasn’t. And she was SOL this time thanks to Wildbirds and Peacedrums, the angrily hip steel-drum banging opening act from Sweden.

Plus, her new haircut kind of looked like this:

Finally, she didn’t play her most popular song, and in case you couldn’t tell from before, musicians who don’t play their sing-alongs are a pet peeve of mine. GRRR. I spent the entire evening leaning forward, thinking, oh, is this the beginning of ‘Now Now’? I bet this is going to be ‘Now Now.’

Nope. There was a five-minute one-note electric “jam session” at the end (think Sigur Ros at its worst), but no ‘Now Now.’

I am an easy concertgoer to please: give me a toy with my Happy Meal, a prize with my cereal, and whatever other crap you put in there, I’ll be happy. Most people are the same way. Why do so many bands pretend otherwise?

…Ani played two or three of her greatest hits, but that wasn’t the only reason she knocked it out of the park. Her choice to do that was just part of a goodwill-covenant she threw down on the audience the instant she got onstage. She was totally there in the moment: not whining about a cancelled gig, not dreamily strumming improvisations, just focused and white-hot.

She’s got 12 years of age and 16 of solo-act experience on St. V., though. We’ll see about that Annie Clark. In the mean time:

"Untouchable Face" - Ani DiFranco