Friday, February 26, 2010

Thumbs-Down Friday

I won a contest for the first time in my life two nights ago: Metromix's giveaway of State Radio tickets. I'd never heard of the band, but hey, NOMOFOMO! ...That's what I thought when I signed up. And I won!

But here's the problem - three hours before I won, I got free basketball tickets for the same night. Good ones. And if there's one thing I like, it's the giant Chipotle zeppelin that zooms around at half time. I wanted to see that Chipotle zeppelin.

Then the first person I offered the State Radio tickets to suggested something brilliant, considering I was once again down to double digits in my checking account: why give them away when I could resell?? The tickets were going to be under my name at will call, right? So I'd just give a Xerox of my ID and a note of permission to some Craigslist rando for less than face value and everybody wins! Sure! A lovely woman from Germany bought them, I gave her the ID copy and confirmation email and my phone number in case anything went wrong, and off we went.

Facepalm. The Chipotle zeppelin was just zooming out of the arena when I felt my phone vibrate. I opened it: two missed calls from the German woman. Uh oh.

Turns out you can't resell contest tickets. And the show was sold out. And so instead of watching the Wizards lose to the Knicks in what was apparently a very exciting overtime, I spent the end of my evening in front of the 9:30 Club apologizing to the irate manager, who was eyeing me like I was some heartless internet grifter, and buying the equally horrified German woman and her friends the two tickets I forfeited because you apparently can't give away contest tickets either, and feeling like a heartless internet grifter. Now I'm cowering in anticipation of the "you are a heartless internet grifter" email from Metromix, aaaand...well, at least the night ended with a redemptive margarita at Alero.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Adventures at CPAC

Another thing that happened recently was I went to go see Matt sign books and moderate a debate at the Conservative Political Action Conference, which was something I didn't know existed until last year.

1:30 p.m. Look at how popular Matt is!! Oh wait, these people were all lined up to see Newt Gingrich. Oof. But can Newt Gingrich say he's on the West Wing's Wikipedia page??? I thought not.

Don't worry, people eventually came to see Matt. And when they did, I went for a walk. There was about a 5:1 whackadoodle-to-normal ratio: one guy luxuriantly picking his nose here, a group of smart-looking people having a spirited debate about academic freedom there, guy in a mink coat wearing gold dollar-sign cowboy boots there, and then:

(From a review of 'Avatar' on this group's web site: "Pandora is the perfect world toward which we must progress. The basic message denies any idea of creation, original sin, redemption, the sacraments, grace, judgment, heaven or hell. One legitimately asks if the Na'vi tribe is part of creation, did they participate in original sin, were they redeemed by Our Lord Jesus Christ, will they go to heaven or hell? Perhaps Cameron’s strange idea is nothing more than a modern rendition of the Communist mantra; imagine no heaven, no hell, just nature and man, and when we die, it all ends.")

Birchers! They still exist!

Why was the table for the Indian American Republican Council manned by two white people massaging each other?

Excellent marker work on those signs.

In sum, after CPAC I had facial spasms from arching my eyebrow so much. BUT out there in the sea of jelly beans, haters, and giant yellow NRA tote bags, there were a handful of people who someday (please, please) are going to restore American conservatism to something a little less tacky. A girl can dream.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Watch Out For My Body Rolls: Leslie and the Ly's at DC9

At one point earlier this month, after Vegas and several boozy nights on the town, I had precisely $55 in my checking account. What did I do with my precious remaining cash? Buy food? Tuck it away? Spend $10 to stay out super-late on a work night to watch a live performance by a bizarro woman I'd seen in a YouTube video in 2006?

Ding ding ding! Gem Sweater woman was coming to town, and I just couldn't say no.


"Gem Sweater" was the production of one Leslie Hall, native of Ames, Iowa, and her band, Leslie and the Ly's. Was she serious? You honestly can't tell from that video, or at least I couldn't. So Neil and I headed to DC9 on Sunday night to scope things out. And what we found was...well, I am hesitant to tell you because I don't want her show to sell out even faster next time. But - but - oh fine. IT WAS THE BEST LIVE SHOW I HAVE BEEN TO THIS YEAR!!

You'll have to see her perform to understand. You won't believe me if you just watch her YouTube stuff. There's a sparkle to her live performance that you just can't see on a screen: the hilarious off-the-cuff humor, the stuffed tiger helmets, the giant dolls, the humorless drummer wearing pink sunglasses, the homemade gold shoes, the fact that Leslie's actually kind of pretty. She also, um, has BO. But to be fair, I was standing about six inches from her armpits the entire time (tiny venue), and the rankness was just one more part of the fun. You could never quite tell where the irony ended and Midwestern sincerity began.

I wasn't in the mood to have as much fun as I did. I was tired. I had a headache. The girl next to me was wearing a homemade "Vagina Dentata" t-shirt, complete with vampire teeth and a pom-pom clitoris. The first act onstage consisted of two guys, one art-speaking "Ray of Light" by Madonna over a techno loop while his friend, a fat guy with a beard, hit a cowbell at random intervals. But I held on, and like a slowly-opening lotus, "just plain weird" blossomed into "God I can't look away weird" as the second band, Christopher the Conquered, and its pelvically-flexible frontman took the stage...


...And then Leslie ran up on stage in a gold cloak and her backup dancers got behind her in purple tasseled dresses and started to boogie, and my jaw dropped.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Enrico, or: What is Wrong With Me?

Tonight I sat down to wait for a blue line train at Rosslyn, then looked over on the bench and noticed that someone had left a glove behind. It was all by itself, looking like it was waiting for the train too, and all of a sudden I felt really, really sad.

I remembered a catastrophic winter day that happened years and years ago, when I was maybe six. I was in the Shenandoah Valley, standing on an old bridge with my favorite pair of red choo-choo train mittens, when I leaned over and accidentally dropped one into the creek below.

I wailed and wailed as I watched what I considered a beloved friend eddy away from me forever. My poor parents felt so bad for me that they actually drove me to the local river the creek fed into. We stood there for like fifteen minutes, watching the water rush by, hoping to catch a glimpse of red. No dice. This was a bridge near my family's old hunting cabin in the forest, and every time I've been down to the creek since, I've instinctively looked around for a rotting little red mitten.

The glove on the bench was nothing like the one I lost. It was a man's glove, black, but it looked sad too, like it hadn't wanted to be left behind.

That's when I realized that this was cuckoo and I should stop anthropomorphizing everything. I turned away. I started playing Vortex on my iPod. I glanced up at the LED sign to see when the Franconia train was coming. Four minutes, three minutes, two, the lights began to blink, I got up. The doors opened. I grabbed the glove and stuffed it in my purse and jumped on.

I don't know why I did it. Now I have this weird glove in my house. I named it Enrico; it smells like cigarettes and cologne and something else--bad soap, I think. Hopefully not crack. Right after I got on the train, I felt this ooh-I'm-quirky rush, like I was a French movie heroine and the glove and I were embarking on the first of a series of great adventures. But actually, I think I'm so freaked out about the possibility of anyone or anything I encounter feeling lonely or sad that I will actually take it to the point of bringing a rank glove home with me. Yech.

Well, welcome aboard, Enrico.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nomo(ney) FOMO.

Life's tough when you're a twentysomething FOMOnster in a creative field. To illustrate, here's a Gchat conversation I just had:

3:00 PM me: OMG, mark russell is at ford's theater this week and i didn't know?? FOOOOH MOOOE
3:01 PM Neil: OHHHH NOOOOO
can you get tickets?
do they cost $90
3:02 PM me: they're a little expensive. the cheapest are $41 and i'm trying not to bankrupt myself this month
3:04 PM Neil: i'd go but i'm not that rich
me: same.
3:09 PM
Neil: i am saving up for a spray tan

Oh, Mark. You are the impossible dream. I can only console myself by watching this preview video on loop.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Exotic Fun By Myself

...OH YEAH.

My latest trip to Harris Teeter was also my first since the snowstorms, and after six days of ground beef, bread, and fried stodge, I went a little bananas buying produce (though ironically I didn't buy any bananas). Asparagus! Organic vine tomatoes! Peeled red onions! Mesclun greens! Fresh cilantro! An entire carillon of bell peppers! 2 Many Avocados! Spicy spicy jalapenos!

Then I stopped in awe in front of the exotics shelf. At long last, I thought, this would be the week that I Tried Weird Fruit.There were only two I had never heard of in my life: something called "Uniq Fruit" (above, left) and "Sharon Fruit" (right).

Tonight I had a little one-woman tasting party. First came the Sharon Fruit. I had no clue how to eat it--looking it on the Internet first would have taken away all the fun--so I just cut it in half.

It was weirdly solid inside: no pulp, no seeds, very stringy. I kept cutting, hoping to get a seed pocket or something. Was this, like, some kind of pomegranate? No dice. A weird smell filled the room, like oranges mixed with flour and corpse. And did I smell...overripe avocados?

Time to taste!
GROSS. No wonder no one was raving about these babies.

Once, when my sister and I were little, under the supervision of our nanny, we made our mother a “birthday cake” to surprise her when she got home from work. We dumped indiscriminate amounts of flour, milk, sugar, salt, lemon juice, and egg into a bowl and microwaved it together for about 2 minutes, creating an oddly gelatinous end product. I remember Mom trying to eat it and Catherine bursting into tears when she couldn’t quite choke the whole thing down.

That’s what a Sharon Fruit tastes like: what happened when Nature played “let's make God a birthday cake while he's out." It was a nice try, guys.

(Here's what I found out when I Googled: it's a kind of sweet and juicy persimmon, and I probably ruined its flavor by putting it in the fridge and letting it ripen for too long. Also, it's supposed to taste like a mango; its nickname is the "Korean mango," and boy do I not like mango.)

Next there was the Uniq Fruit. After the Sharon disaster, I didn’t hold out much hope for its shelfmate, but a glimmer remained. It was obviously citrus: how bad could it be? We were talking Osage at worst, Clementine at best.

Hooray! The result was pure deliciousness, like a very mild and juicy heart-shaped orange. Vitamin C *and* a thirst quencher—the only downside was that juice ran everywhere. I felt like I was eating something friendly but mischievous.

Turns out I'd heard of this fruit before. I didn't realize that these were otherwise known as the Ugli Fruit. My guess is that team Ugli Fruit thought their product had more of a chance with a cuter name. Like Greenland!

I'll be getting this one again soon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

DREAM COME TRUE: The World's Oldest Edible Cured Ham

What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than to drive five and a half hours through grueling post-snowstorm I95 traffic to a sparse and desolate village in southern Virginia to visit a museum dedicated to a ham? But not just any ham. THE WORLD'S OLDEST EDIBLE CURED HAM. And, as it turns out, the World's Largest Cured Ham, The World's Oldest Peanut, The World's Largest Ham Biscuit* (the asterisk means "just pictures, because we ate it several years ago"), and several other peanuts and hams that are not notable but are there because you can't create a museum out of just two hams and a peanut.

Those of you who know me will know that a pilgrimage to the Isle of Wight County Museum in Smithfield, Virginia--town motto: "hams, history, hospitality, and heart"--has been my wildest dream since I read about it on Roadside America nine months ago. I finally succeeded in convincing Matt to go this weekend (it was my Valentine's Day present to him! Kind of like the bowling ball Homer Simpson gave to Marge with his own name on it). And it. Was. Awesome.

A little back story:
This is Pembroke Decatur Gwaltney, Jr., scion of the Gwaltney Foods Empire. One hundred and eight years ago, he discovered and befriended a ham that his factory's shippers had accidentally left behind. He saved it, wanting to see how long the Gwaltney curing process would keep it "alive."

As the decades went by, he and the ham grew closer. He called it his pet. He bought it a brass collar. He insured it for $5,000. He took it to state fairs. Not a joke.

The ham lasted longer than he did. But the people of Smithfield have carried the torch of his devotion through the ages. Today, it's kept in the reverential silence of the three-room county museum, with veritable handfuls of people paying homage every month. A bored-looking seventy-year-old woman reading a book stands solitary guard, and also sells T-shirts and will take a picture of you with the ham if you ask nicely.

When you're done gazing at the ham, there's so much more to see. We had to pack it all into thirty minutes thanks to all the traffic jams on the way down. There's a peanut cured in 1890 by by Pembroke Decatur Gwaltney, père!

Photos and bios of beloved Gwaltney factory employees past and present, including this one of Dee Dee Darden!

A tapestry!

And finally the pièce de résistance: a full-room reproduction of a turn-of-the-century general store. Push a button that says "please only push once" and be instantly transported to the sights and sounds of a bygone era:


All in all, the Isle of Wight County Museum was beyond what I ever thought possible. Matt didn't quite feel the same way. He had come wanting to EAT the World's Oldest Edible Cured ham, or at least some kind of ham, and to our great dismay there was no ready-to-eat ham in the museum or on offer anywhere in the entire city. We visited all but one of the places on the Smithfield visitors' bureau's list of local restaurants that serve Smithfield Ham and discovered it was available...nowhere.

There were plenty of hams to buy at the Genuine Ham Shoppe, along with blueberry wine and peanut butter with cookie dough in it, but we were kind of just hoping to stuff a ham biscuit or two down our gobs and go. No luck. We had to content ourselves to carouse with the locals:

And enjoy the interesting wares in other shops:

We did find one restaurant that served delicious food in the end. But as we ate, we began to get this...weird feeling. Thirty-three percent of Smithfield's residents are minorities, but 100% of this restaurant's patrons, plus all the people in the posters, murals, and ads on the wall, were white. Then there was this sign:

That plus a recurring series of jokes about how they only offered "vanilla" ice cream = a very uneasy 45 minutes with our nachos and meatloaf.

...Umm.

SMITHFIELD BOTTOM LINE: Quaint, quiet, possibly a little racist in places, possibly not and I'm just being paranoid but come ON; lots of Southern hospitality; not enough ham made after 1902. And a county museum for the ages.

Cost of staying at the Smithfield Station "waterfront" hotel, and by waterfront they mean a small river: $130/night; cost of buying a t-shirt from the old lady at the museum to prove I'd been there $12; going on a V-Day adventure with Matty, meeting the ham of my dreams, having the t-shirt to prove it: worth all the MasterCard debt I accrued this weekend, and then some.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

BRAINS: An Antivalentine's Party

As the second of the #HASHTAGPUNPOCALYPSE! @OHNOES! blizzards falls outside, here's New York nomofomist-at-large Tamar Zeffren ("It," above) on what I missed in New York this weekend:

Dispatched on the eve of a snowstorm--

While much of the East Coast lay quiescent beneath a winter wonderland blanket, a different sort of hush enveloped “Brains,” the second installment in Ms. Campbell’s New York-based anti-Valentine’s Day soirees designed to test the hypotheses: does misery—in this instance, of the lovelorn—indeed love company?

As the brain and its attendant rational impulses has been commonly positioned in classical philosophy against the tangible and the fleshly desires, a celebration of the cerebral was deemed an appropriate theme. Ms. Campbell's painstaking attention to detail manifested itself in the décor, the choice of background black-and-white film (Donovan's Brain, a 1953 adaptation of a cult novel about an evil brain, starring Nancy Reagan, née Davis) and, most notably, the foodstuffs--head cheese (ersatz), gray-matter-colored M&Ms, and gelatin brain-shaped candies, all surrounding a plastic skull worthy of Hamlet's monologue.

Guests disported themselves in 'thoughtful' attire: Dr. Flanagan arrived as the unfortunate Phineas Gage; the affianced Mr. Katz and Ms. Gross as, respectively, Melatonin and Serotonin; Mr. Schwartz as the Absent-Minded Professor (TM); a glamorously attired Ms. Kuperberg, the esteemed moderator, as "a mind that is made up"; and the Kilmer laureate Mr. Rueda and our esteemed hostess Ms. Campbell as dual Freuds, a circumstance which promptly caused the minds of all present to explode.

--Your humble guest correspondent

Thanks to Caitlin for the pictures.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Magnetic Fields Redeeming Itself?

OK, animosity for Stephin Merritt winding down with this video, in which he composes a catchy song for NPR in less than 48 hours. It's a complete David Byrne ripoff, but NPR kind of set him up for it with that weird picture of the man in the baby suit. (Thanks to Sam Gross for the link!)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Woe-MO: Reliving the Ben Stein Incident

Well, 1 month into this blog, here I am sitting at my dining room table, missing out.

This has been a frustrating FOMO week. Tuesday's book talk was postponed. I had to miss out on the wedding crash and So You Think You're a Drag Queen because I thought leaving Friday was the only way I could get to New York and "Brains: An Antivalentine's Day Party" ahead of the Snowpocalypse here in DC. Then the snow hit in the mid-afternoon, and although my 5:30 p.m. bus wasn't cancelled, I was so freaked out about getting stuck somewhere on I95 that I decided not to risk it. Now I realize that it probably would have made it, only it's too late. So instead of downing cocktails in a phrenology-head costume with college BFF's tonight, I will be getting to know my landlady's bread machine.

Grump! For me, this is the bitterest kind of FOMO: when you probably could have made it to something, something you know was going to be lots of fun and memorable, but you have a very legitimate reason not to go (personal safety, responsibility), so you agonize all day and pick the safe route, then you think about how maybe you could have swung it with the right spirit of adventure and...

There's a reason why it's particularly painful for me, and it's called the Ben Stein Incident. I still shudder at the memory. It was the FOMO Low-Mo of my adult life.

Six years ago, Columbia University celebrated its 250th anniversary. Ben Stein, Mr. Bueller-Bueller himself, came to give a talk as part of the celebration. Stein was an old member of the Philolexian Society, the pseudo-Edwardian absurdist literary debate group I had joined the previous semester, and a bunch of the current members were going to go watch him. They told me I should come too.

I had an essay to write for University Writing. I can't remember if it was due the next day, but I was convinced that I would never be able to turn it in on time if I didn't spend that whole night writing it. I hemmed. I hawed. I agonized. Then I decided not to go.

Five hours later, my friend and fellow Philo Michelle came stumbling back into our dorm. "OH MY GOD THAT WAS THE BEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE!" she slurred, with a look on her face like she'd just had a chocolate milkshake and then won the lottery. The Philos had gone up to introduce themselves after Stein's talk, and he was so thrilled to see them that he took them out drinking. He was fascinated with Michelle, drunkenly insisting that she sing folk songs of her native Louisiana. Everybody drank and sang together and it was BEN STEIN! And what had I done that night? Written three paragraphs in Microsoft Word.

If Ben Stein shows up at Brains: an Antivalentine's Day Party, I think I'm just going to wander out into the 30" of snow outside my front door and give up.


The worst POSSIBLE side effect of flu: FOMO. (Picture courtesy Catherine Sproul)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You Didn't Miss Out: Magnetic Fields

Here was the best thing about tonight's Magnetic Fields show at Lisner Auditorium: what the band looked like. A Google image search won't tell you that Stephin Merritt has an endearingly dumpy quality in person, like Chris Ware or a deflated Charlie Brown. He speaks with the same Sonorous Eeyore voice that he uses to sing, and although he looks as though he could wilt out of his chair at any moment, he plays the ukelele beautifully.

But beautiful ukelele playing doth not an audience electrify. That was the most soporific, anemic show I've ever sat through.

I understood what I was getting into. MF is a mostly down-tempo, twee band; they were playing in a concert hall, not a club; they were on acoustic instruments, so the fast stuff like "Long-Forgotten Fairytale" was out of the question. I expected the awkward intermission, lack of alcohol, and polite applause after every number.

But I still had high hopes. As I went in, I asked concert buddies Diogo and Neil whether they thought "Washington, D.C." was going to come at the beginning or the very end. They bet encore. I bet beginning. Why waste such a great opportunity to get the crowd going with the hipster DC anthem, the song that probably convinced half of us to move to, or stay in, this city when there are so many other exciting places out there? Yay, it was going to come first, I knew it!

...We were both wrong. THEY DIDN'T PLAY IT AT ALL. Nor did they play about 64 of their 69 Love Songs, their most famous album. Between playing mostly watered down, tired versions of the few hits they did cover--"I'm Sorry I Love You," "Summer Lies," and "100,000 Fireflies," with Merritt singing the last himself, molto ritardando--they openly mocked audience members who had come to hear more of their favorites. Their rousing encore? "I'm Tongue Tied," which, if you know this band well, would be a song you put on to nap if it weren't so self-indulgently whiny.

If I sound more enraged than mildly irritated, sorry. It's nearly 1 a.m., and what I really feel is the latter. I go to gigs to hear new and obscure material as well as hits. I love the feeling of discovering a song live, then going home and buying the mp3 and feeling it shot through with that live energy, even if it's studio. I like a lot of what the Magnetic Fields have done, before and after The Wayward Bus and 69 Love Songs, and got to know and like a few of their new songs tonight ("The Doll's Tea Party," "We Are Having a Hootenanny").

But the energy in Lisner was just bad, from the awkward, unadvertised opening act (a mousy woman who played the thumb piano and a guy on a glockenspiel) to the final barb from Claudia Gonson, who announced they were finishing with "their only genuine radio hit" but (she said with a big eye-roll) it was not going to be "The Book of Love," their actual most famous hit. Several members of the audience reacted with dismay, and on the way out, at least one guy started singing "Washington, D.C." very loudly, as if trying to prove a point. It was clear that the audience wanted something from the band, and the band had decided to prove an artistic point by not giving it to them. That's OK to do with albums, but please, not shows.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Nomofomo Downlow: Week of February 1

My picks for the remaining days of the week:

Tuesday: If I'm not out in Bethesda closing on a new car, I'm going to go hear about Book Reviews in a Changing World at 6:30 p.m.

Wednesday: I'm doing German night at home, marinating bratwurst and sauerkraut and making homemade pretzels using some awesome beers I picked up at the Lost Dog Deli. I'm trying to learn more about beer, so next time this happens, I'm totally going.

Thursday: Magnetic Fields at Lisner Auditorium at 8p.m.

Friday: evening out with Janet. Wedding crash followed by So, You Think You're a Drag Queen?

Saturday: I'm attending a party dressed as a phrenology head. Jealous? It's okay, you can eat free chocolate

Sunday: a good guacamole recipe for the Super Bowl, which I watch just for the excuse to make guacamole.

Every Day is an Adventure: Weird Pie in the Office Kitchen

Spotted in my office kitchen this afternoon: "Macapuno-Buko pie." What the hell is that? It looks like there are onions inside. Stringy. White. But "pie" makes me think different: this is clearly not a British dish, and the British are the only ones perverse enough to call something "pie" when it has onions in it.

People coming in to get Diet Coke stop and stare. "You know what that is," says one woman. "That's Hawaiian." She looks. She doesn't eat.

It tasted like coconuts!

(Google says: macapuno is a Philippine variety of coconut. "Buko" is the Philippine word for a young coconut. It was coconut pie, and it was delicious.)