Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sinkhole Slaw: Weekend Culinary Adventure 1

Sunday was an interesting day.

It began pleasantly enough, as Husband and I went to church together and saw some of our good friends.  A couple of them orchestrated a lunch after church for us twenty-somethings to spend some quality time together that didn't necessarily involve hymnals.  Don't get me wrong - I adore hymnals - but sometimes you just want to crowd around a table with coffee or beers at some local "institution" and get to know each other.

Well.  Our friends planning this lunch knew of one such local "institution" - let's call it Homer's - that we non-natives had not yet tried.  Homer's is a 24-hour diner near our church that has been there for decades, a bastion of Pittsburgh cuisine.  We had no real objections to Homer's for lunch, so about eight of us set off walking and arrived just as the Sunday brunch rush was beginning to die down.  Homer's has crumbly linoleum tile, rickety booths, tabletop jukeboxes, the works.  I thought for a few minutes that perhaps we were in for a real vintage treat.

Homer's has several specialties, one of which is affectionately referred to by regulars as the "swamp salad," so called because it is prepared in advance and splashed so liberally with dressing that the limp lettuce and spongy croutons seem to float in a pond of salad oil.

I'm told they also have good spanakopita.

Our waitress brought us water and coffee and asked us what we wanted.  I ordered something called honey-fried chicken in this exchange:

ME: So, what does it mean, dipped in honey and then fried?  Like, the honey is in the batter?
WAITRESS: Yeah, it's - um, it's really good.  It's not sticky or anything.  It comes frozen, so - it's good.
ME: It - comes frozen?
WAITRESS: Yeah.  I mean, not served frozen.  It's served hot.
ME: Oh... okay.
WAITRESS: Whaddya want for your two sides?  Fries, baked potato, mashed potato, coleslaw, succotash...?
ME: Fries, please, and... whatever your green vegetable is.
WAITRESS: ... Green vegetable?
ME: Do you have a green vegetable on the menu?
WAITRESS: ... Well, the succotash has lima beans.  They're green.
ME: ... I'll just go with the coleslaw, thanks.

What was wrong with this picture?  She tried to sell me on the fried chicken by telling me IT CAME FROZEN, the menu had no green vegetable, and now apparently legumes count as vegetables.  I'm not a health nut by any means, but I just didn't feel like shoving frozen fried chicken, (probably frozen) french fries, AND mashed potatoes down my gullet for lunch.  I didn't realize how very wrong the picture was, however, until a few minutes later, when our trusty waitress deposited THIS dish upon our table:










GOO!



(I say GOO! because the collective reaction at our table to the coleslaw was a spot-on reenactment of THIS cinematic gem:

)



Husband tried it - nobody else dared - and let's just say that it tasted like it looked and leave it there.

We wanted to ask for something else, but weren't sure how to do so without sounding like foodie snobs.  While waiting for our waitress to return, everybody at our table tossed around excuses - "She just remembered she's allergic to coleslaw"... "The cook texted us from the kitchen and wants it back"... "It's too - pretty to eat"... but when she returned, all Husband could muster was this:

HUSBAND: (poking dish) She - uh - doesn't want this.
WAITRESS: ... Yeah, I didn't think so.
ME: Uh... applesauce?
WAITRESS: Yep.

In one fluid matter-of-fact motion, she plucked the sinkhole slaw off the table, whirled and dropped it into the nearest dirty dish bin, and trotted off to the kitchen.

I cannot fully describe how natural these actions were.  Like muscle memory.  Like she had done this several hundred times before.  Like they were trying to get rid of some leftover slaw from the Clinton administration as discreetly as possible.  Like she TOTALLY anticipated our rejection and was just giving us some kind of Oh-Kee-Slaw torture test to prove our mettle as Pittsburgh diners.  If so, I don't know if we passed or failed.  I just know I got applesauce, which tasted mercifully like Mott's, and I was really glad I didn't get the succotash, like Husband did.

Again... GOO!


PART II: Sunday's Gastronomic Redemption
coming as soon as I get some sleep.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Reasons #1007, 346, 1562, 8, and 23 why Husband is fantastic

(WARNING: This post is meant to be humorous and occasionally heartwarming.  If your heart is two sizes too small, minor burns may result.)

Reason #1007:

Husband lets me braid his hair while we watch TV (even though it's not really long enough to braid).

(now THAT is some serious man-candy.)


Reason #346:

At the ends of long days, Husband sends me random text messages like THIS.

"You're trying to steal their identity, aren't you?  Don't even think about it!  They have identity hawk."

He's referring to the fantastically awful IdentityHawk ad, which had us rolling the other night after we saw it on TV.  Just do yourself a favor and watch it here.




Reason #1562:

Moments like this one, from our anniversary.



Reason #8:

Husband tells me that I'm going to be a published author -- especially when I'm having trouble believing it -- and that he'll love my stories and books no matter how many other people read them.


Reason #23:

Husband is on his way RIGHT NOW to pick me up from work, because I stayed late to work on my blog and missed the bus. =)


Have a great weekend, everybody!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Brief Announcement

I just conquered Blogger and moved the posts from my old blog over here!  So now everything's in one place!  VICTORY!!!*



*except I just realized that while I was conquering Blogger, my dog chewed my Burt's Bees lip balm.  I guess you can't win them all.

Monday, August 22, 2011

It wasn't the Rapture; they just wanted curly fries.

I'm going for the most random-sounding post title tonight, so I hope you enjoy it.

But it actually applied.   How, you ask?  Read on...

I took the Megabus to Columbus to visit my family this weekend, and the ride reminded me of a story I haven't yet blogged.  Way back in May of this year, there was a lot of talk by a fellow with a radio station about the beginning of the Rapture.  On May 21 at 6pm, to be exact.


(though nobody was exactly clear on where 6pm was guaranteed.  Time zones, you know.)

Just to be clear, I see nothing funny about the people who genuinely believed this man, to the extent of jettisoning their livelihoods and worldly possessions, and who now find themselves woefully unprepared for the current continuation of planet Earth.  I also am not amused by atheists/antitheists who used this as an excuse to lambaste Christians en masse -- heck, as a Christian I don't assume that all atheists are terrible people because of that one crazy heckler in college who assaulted the free-speech-zone-preacher!

However, this does make me chuckle.


Anyway, I wasn't too concerned about the Rapture commencing on May 21, 2011 -- my concern was so miniscule that I went ahead and booked a Megabus ticket that day to Columbus to see my sister in a production of The Drowsy Chaperone at The Ohio State University.  So unperturbed was I that I booked the bus departing Pittsburgh at 3:30pm, arriving at 7:20pm.  If the Rapture indeed arrived at 6pm, I figured I would be scooped up from somewhere along I-70.

The bus left just a little behind schedule, as buses tend to do, so we were trying to make up time when we took our single rest stop in Zanesville, Ohio (not named for Billy Zane (though it should be)).  Though I was not seriously concerned with the End Times, I did find myself checking the time a little more frequently as 6 o'clock approached.  Coincidentally, we reached Zanesville just a couple of minutes before the hour.  We all hopped off the bus and trotted in to use the facilities and fuel up at the gas station's adjoining Arby's restaurant.

By 6:15, I was thoroughly un-Raptured, back on the bus, enjoying my curly fries and roast beef.  We rolled out just as a different Megabus pulled up to the rest stop, proceeding on our journey to Columbus, the land of Butter Cows and Nationwide Insurance.  We petered along, past a cemetery, past a cornfield, past a grove of trees...

And then the driver pulled off the road without a word and turned around.

We drove back past the grove of trees, past the cornfield, past the cemetery, back towards the rest stop, because the driver had miscounted passengers by two.

My Rapture-fear-o-meter ratcheted from about a 2.3 to a 9.7 in the span of two minutes.

"Were they taken?"  I thought in a panic.  "Did the rapture actually happen?  Why are we going back along where we just were?  Is this PURGATORY?!"

Circling I-70 in eastern Ohio on a bus seemed pretty purgatorial at the time... but honestly, I would have expected purgatory to be a Greyhound, not a Megabus.

Within a matter of minutes, the whole snafu was sorted out -- a pair of college students had seen the other bus that had pulled in and thought that our bus hadn't left yet, so they were waiting in line for Arby's curly fries when they should have been re-boarding the ColumBus.  They hadn't been Raptured.  Nobody had.  Because it wasn't the Rapture.  It was just another Saturday at 6pm in (not Billy) Zanesville.

As the news reports followed about the Rapture that wasn't, I found myself thinking back to that Saturday at 6pm.  The bus really DID seem like Purgatory for a while, but I supposed the curly fries should have clued me in.  There are no curly fries in Purgatory.

THE MORAL OF THIS "STORY":

Keeping in mind that second billboard -- "No one knows the day or the hour" -- it is possible that you might find yourself on a bus at the time of the actual Rapture down the line.  If you do, check for curly fries.  If there are curly fries, you're fine.

But even if there aren't, it's probably still not Purgatory.  Traveling by bus might just seem like it.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

REBECCA BLACK versus THE WORLD!!!!

REPOST from a March entry of my old blog, because I was just reading about Rebecca Black switching to homeschooling after being bullied by her classmates.  Rebecca Black is just too darn cute to be downtrodden by masses of haters.

-----

People are still talking about Rebecca Black, right?

The pint-sized aspiring pop tart with an affinity for the start of the weekend (and for having cereal in a bowl) recently rocketed to Youtube infamy with her hit(?) song "Friday."  Almost immediately, the song was lambasted by listeners far and wide for its simple, auto-tuned melody and inane lyrics.  Web trolls suggested that Rebecca Black should consider acquiring an eating disorder or maybe perish in flames. 

That's pretty darn harsh for a 13-year-old.  I don't know about you, but when I was thirteen I was somewhere between drooling over a cute boy in class and figuring out which Halloween costume would make me look young enough to garner the most candy.  I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I wouldn't have been AT ALL ready for a life of fame, fortune, and web-haters.

(... though I'm totally ready now.  Bring it, stardom.)

Anyway, this whole Rebecca-Black-gate got me thinking about the state of pop music.  Is she REALLY any worse than the other super-successful yaps we listen to on the radio every day?  The ones who are routinely topping our charts, filling our stadiums, and lightening our wallets?  I decided the only way to really give Miss Black a fair shake is to compare her to some of these current pop "icons," considering such variables as musical ability, lyrical prowess, and overall presentation.  Therefore, I proudly present

REBECCA BLACK versus THE WORLD!!!!

A la Scott Pilgrim, Miss Black will now face off against the Seven Evil "Exes" (as in, "Ex-pert at making the public believe he/she has any musical talent")

First up... JUSTIN BIEBER

Yes, this one is a softball comparison.  Both Bieber and Black got their start on Youtube, both are proponents of highly repetitive music, and both were born during the Clinton presidency (cringe).  It would be easy to compare Bieber's hit "Baby" to "Friday", as Drew Grant so skillfully does in this piece for Salon.  However, I decided that a less-traveled comparison to "Friday" might be this piece of JB's musical soul:



First of all, has Li'l Justin even learned what a common denominator IS yet?! 
Secondly, he sounds like an auto-tuned Cindy-Lou Who. 
And third, lyrics like "And through all the heart achin'/jealous females hatin'/I'ma hold it down for you, whoa, whoa" make about as much sense as basing a "love" song on a sixth-grade math concept.  That is, not much sense at all.
Bieber can't sing any better than Black, his lyrics are no better, his melodies no less repetitive.  And pretty soon his voice will change, morphing him into nothing more than a musical version of Hayden Christensen.

EVIL EX #1: DEFEATED.




#2: KE$HA

Really, this isn't much more of a stretch than Justin Bieber.  Ke$ha boggles my mind, because she occasionally seems so self-aware in her own over-the-top-ness that I can't help but wonder if she's secretly researching for a doctoral dissertation, titled something like "A Culture in Ruins: The depths to which the American public will sink in its consumption of popular music." 
For example, when it was revealed that she received no compensation for her career-starting feature in Flo Rida's "Right Round," Ke$ha explained that she chose to not appear in the music video because
"if you want to be a legitimate artist, it’s more important what you say no to. I knew [Mr. Rida] would want me to be some sexpot, shake my booty, and whatever." [1]
Cut to two years later:
Kesha embarked on her first headlining world tour, Get Sleazy, in spring 2011. [2]

Regardless of whether Ke$ha is a secret genius, studying the human fascination with glam-trash-pop stars who will do anything (ANYthing) for a chart-topper, there's no excuse for the crap she produces.  Case in point - this little number, her SIXTH-STRAIGHT TOP TEN SINGLE.



Okay, I have to admit, she got Dawson for her music video.  And unicorns.  Creeeeptastic, demon-sheep-like unicorns, to be sure, but still.  And the witty repartee in the middle is just deadpan enough to be clever.  Ke$ha's stage presence is years ahead of Rebecca Black's (which makes sense, considering that Ke-dollar-ha is eleven years older), but her auto-tuned lyrics consist of such gems as "We're pretty and sick/we're young and we're bored/It's time to lose your mind and let the crazy out/Tonight we're taking names, 'cause we don't mess around/This place about to blow-ow-o-o-o-o-ow (4x)"

Evil Ex #2: DRAW.




#3: MILEY CYRUS

Is there even much to say here?



This is ridiculous.  Her best lyrics in this song are "I go through guys like money flyin' out their hands/They try to change me but they realize they can't/And every tomorrow is a day I never planned/If you're gonna be my man, understand/I can't be tamed, I can't be saved/I can't be blamed, I can't, can't/I can't be tamed, I can't be changed/I can't be saved, I can't be (can't be)/I can't be tamed." 
Maybe Miley can't be tamed, but she can certainly be blamed.  This whole song is one exercise in sexualized corporate tripe.  And feathers.  RB's little "Friday" ditty is cute and catchy by comparison... and feather-free.

Evil Ex #3: DEFEATED.




#4: BRITNEY SPEARS

Ah, yes, Miley's inspiration.  Here's the lead single off her latest album:



Does Britney even qualify as a performer anymore?  I kind of get the impression that she rolls out of bed, goes to the studio, and growls into a microphone for a couple hours, and then they auto-tune it into something resembling a melody, stick it over a drum loop and some synthesizers, and have her stand around in costumes and wiggle her arms while she mouths the words on camera. 

I am old enough to remember well when "Baby One More Time" was released in 1999, and it was awesome... for a 17-year-old.  If this kind of laziness was what Britney started with, we would never have heard of her (I mean, Youtube wasn't even invented until 2005).  Maybe Rebecca Black's debut is no "Baby One More Time," but it's at least as good as this.

Evil Ex #4: DEFEATED.




#5: KATY PERRY

Well, I'll say this for Katy Perry.  I think she's getting better.  Of course, when you start with the bored vocals and one-dimensional beat of "I Kissed A Girl," you've kinda got nowhere to go but up.  Her latest hit offering, "Firework," quickly gained traction as an anthem to being yourself.  The Slant magazine expressed my feelings about this song well:
"[It's] not an actively painful listen. Sure, the would-be inspirational lyrics ('Baby you're a firework/Come on show them what you're worth') are nonsensical, and the vocal lines, which sound like they were written for someone like Leona Lewis, are well beyond Perry's capabilities, but the chorus gains some momentum and the song would work well enough in a club setting that you could forgive its otherwise glaring weaknesses." [3]

Couldn't you say the same about "Friday"?
It's not an actively painful listen.  Sure, the would-be inspirational lyrics ('Partyin' partyin' (yeah)/fun, fun, fun, fun, lookin' forward to the weekend') are nonsensical, and the vocal lines, which sound like they were written for someone like Taylor Swift, are moderately beyond Black's capabilities, but the chorus gains some momentum...

Evil Ex #5: DRAW.

On second thought, Perry has a Friday ditty of her own on her latest album, with, er... more colorful lyrics than Black's song.  (The music video even features Miss Black, in an homage to her earlier viral vid).

Alas, "Last Friday Night" has ABSOLUTELY NO additional musical prowess.  Rather than chanting "Gotta have my bowl/gotta have cereal" like Black, Perry simply bleats, "Think I need a ginger ale/that was such an epic fail."  Epic fail indeed, Katy.

Evil Ex #5: DEFEATED.




#6: LIL WAYNE

In researching for this blog post (read: browsing Wikipedia), I discovered something surprising.  Lil Wayne, born Dwayne Carter, was once a Gifted Ed/Honors student!  However, he dropped out of school at age 14 to pursue a "musical" career.  Oh, Dwayne, what possessed you to do that?  You could have had a PhD by now, and called yourself Doctor Wayne!!!
(sidebar: does it seem a little disingenuous/creepy that Lil Wayne has a single titled "Prom Queen", when he never legit-attended a prom?  Just sayin')

Anyway, here's Lil Wayne's latest track.

(WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS.  I can't speak to the video itself, because I could only make it through about the first thirty seconds before my ears started bleeding and I had to stop it... but I'm guessing the video is NSFW as well)



Can anyone tell me WHY this exists????

RB, you're just a little bundle of bubble-gum and cuteness next to this creeper.  Point to you.

Evil Ex #6: DEFEATED.




Ex #7: LADY GAGA

I saved Gaga for last, partly because I'm sure there are many of you out there who would have stopped reading in outrage if I had started with her.  But also, she's last because she exemplifies everything I loathe about current pop music: derivative, repetitive, artificially-enhanced spectacle.  For all the talk of "musical revolution" that she throws about, Gaga has yet to produce a song that to me sounds truly original or inventive. 

I'm putting this last part in big letters on account o' I think it's important.

While Rebecca Black's "Friday" may sound silly, repetitive, inane, and perhaps even stupid, Black has never claimed to be the guiding light for the next generation of music.  She's a middle-schooler, who wanted to make a music video, and her parents were willing to sink a couple grand into the idea, much like many other American parents who pay for space camp, or a study abroad, or a musical theatre camp.  Are we publicly flogging the progeny who haven't yet become brilliant astronauts, ambassadors, or Broadway stars?

Rebecca Black made a music video at age 13, with a song written by grown ups.  At age 11, Zac Hanson (whom I personally really like) had a worldwide #1 hit: the chorus consisted of "Mmmbop, ba-doo-ba-dop ba-doo bop." 

Lady Gaga's biggest hit to date, "Poker Face," simply prattles on, "Can't read my, can't read my, no you can't read my poker face/pa-pa-pa-poker face, pa-pa-poker face."  Her latest title track, "Born This Way," which she says she wrote in about ten minutes, is little more than a shameless "tribute" to Madonna's "Express Yourself."  What's impressive about that? 

and P.S. I could wear a dress made of meat, too, if I wanted (I'm just not a fan of e.coli).  It doesn't make me a fashion icon.

Evil Ex #7: DEFEATED.


(I have to admit, though, that when I caught the chorus of "Edge of Glory" on the radio, I kind of liked it.  I thought it was a Celine Dion song, but I kind of liked it.)



So, Internet, with these musings in mind, I'd just like to ask you to be a little easier on Rebecca Black and kids like her.  They're kids.  Let them have fun.  And if these examples mentioned above (excluding Hanson, of course) are truly the "shining examples" of pop music today, then maybe there's not even that much damage left for someone like Rebecca Black to do.

And if you, net-friends, disagree with my assessments, as some of you surely do, then isn't that just an example of the subjectivity of pop music altogether?  Can't we all just be a little nicer as listeners, and a little more creative as creators?  I'm going to go stare at my mounted James-Van-Der-Beek-head and ruminate on that.  I suggest you do the same.

-----

BONUS MATERIAL:

Rebecca Black's latest video, "My Moment," in which she offers a confident response to the haters.  Rock on, Miss Black.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Unconventional Storytelling

The focus of this blog is writing and words as used for storytelling.  I'm a self-professed word nerd, and I love old-fashioned written stories (and of course Disney films) more than just about anything.

HOWEVER --

I have recently come across a few unique forms of storytelling that have expanded, if not challenged, my viewpoint on how unconventional media can be used to artfully convey emotion, tension, and story.  I'd like to share these storytellings, in the hopes that you will enjoy them as much as I have.


GOOGLE SEARCH STORIES

Google ran this particular search story during the Superbowl, but since it's my favorite, I'm re-posting it.  I'd seriously like to shake the hand of whoever came up with this concept!  Taking a relatively new concept like web searches, and figuring out a way to tell entire, well-rounded, emotive stories (yes, most of them bring tears to my eyes)... it's brilliant.  And now, on Google's Youtube Channel, anyone can create his or her own search stories as well!




KSENIYA SIMONOVA

This storyteller also brought tears to my eyes the first time I watched this.  Simonova is a Ukrainian artist-of-all-trades who trained herself to animate in fine volcanic sand.  She was the winner of the "Ukraine's Got Talent" competition.  Her pivotal performance in the contest was this World War II love story, told to a nation greatly scarred by the twentieth-century wars. 

At first I was frustrated with how the cameras kept cutting away to members of the audience, but then I realized that their emotional reactions are a part of the story itself.  Take a few minutes and watch this:





If I can ever write stories with this depth and poignancy, I'll be a very happy person. 

What about you?  Do you favor any storytelling forms that are unconventional, yet effective?  If so, please let me know, and I'll add them to this post.  Until then, I'll just keep writing! :)