Sunday, December 28, 2014

Miami Nice

The last photo I took before leaving Miami.

I had a final 20 minutes a few weeks ago to spend soaking up the last bit of warmth and sun in Miami before I had to get to the airport and return to the cold and perma-cloud of Cincinnati.

I was on my way to the patio by the pool when I was stopped by a hotel security guard who asked to see my room key. I showed him my baggage tag (I had already checked out) and he said, "Aww, you should have kept your key, you're about to leave and now you can't even get back in the gate to go see the beach... where are you from?"

I told him Cincinnati.

What followed was a true, genuine conversation. This is what I learned from Sandy, the security guard at the hotel.

Sandy has a coworker at the hotel who talks about Cincinnati all the time. Specifically, Over-the-Rhine. His coworker is actually from Cleveland - "the mistake by the lake, he calls it," Sandy said. But his coworker considers Cincinnati his real home and wants to go back there. But Sandy personally has never been to Cincinnati.

Sandy doesn't like Miami because no one is genuinely nice. "Miamian's don't do anything to be nice," he said. "Everything they do is because they want something from you."

When he first moved back to Miami after being in the Army some guy called him "Carlos." My name isn't Carlos, he told the guy. "All you Mexican's are Carlos or Juan or something," he told Sandy. Some people are very racist, Sandy said, so it left a bad taste in his mouth as soon as he got back.

When he was wearing his Army fatigues, people in other parts of the U.S. would come up to him and thank him for his service and hug him. Not in Miami, he said. Everyone just ignores you. No one cares.

He has a wife and a child now so he can't just pick and move like he wants to. Plus, Sandy worries that racism might be even worse if he lives outside of Miami. Even though he "looks white and has blue eyes," he says his accent gives him away. And at least in Miami he can get the type of food he likes. But he'd love to move away.

Sandy's favorite place he's ever been is Raleigh, North Carolina. And he's been all over because of the Army.

"The people are so nice. Genuinely nice. They say hello and ask how you are. They hold the door for you if you're coming in behind them. And I love the accent," he said.

He came from Cuba to the U.S. when he was 3 and grew up in a Spanish speaking household but his wife doesn't speak much Spanish and they are way behind on teaching Spanish to their daughter, even though he knows it would be good for her to learn.

He doesn't understand why people think he is not an American. He served four years in the Army, he grew up in the U.S. and he couldn't care less about Cuba.

"My dad and uncle constantly talk about Cuba. All I hear about from them is Castro and baseball, Castro and baseball. I don't care if I ever hear another word about Castro and baseball. I don't care about either of those things."

What Sandy does love is country music and car racing, so he thinks he'd fit in well in Raleigh.

For my part, I told Sandy I had never been Raleigh, but I felt he'd fit in well anywhere.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

In A Suprise to Absolutely No One

Well, technically, I didn't win the office bake-your-face-off bake-off.

And, technically, I didn't bake because I brought Rice Krispie treats. And, well, if you want to get really technical, I didn't even make them. Rachel did.

What's better than bake-off cheating? Double bake-off cheating. (It's like a double oven, only much cheaper.)

I would have made them myself (maybe), but I was dying. Or nearly dead. Or at least severely dehydrated. I woke up the Sunday before the bake-off throwing-up off the side of my bed in my childhood bedroom. (We were visiting my parents for Thanksgiving.)

Ray was so pumped to be sleeping in a full sized bed (read: nearly the smallest bed possible), next to someone barfing. That afternoon he drove us back to Cincinnati while I drank Gatorade and swore-off Thanksgiving leftovers forever.

So when Rachel texted me Sunday night asking how the treats were coming along, I told her my dreams of wowing everyone were dashed.

'Want me to make them for you?'
'You have Rice Krispies and marshmallows?'
'I had a feeling at the grocery something might happen.'
'You know me too well... I'll owe you forever.'
'It takes like five minutes, dude.'
'Ok, I'll owe you until at least Christmas.'

An hour later, the cat-shaped Rice Krispie winners of 2014 were at my home, and they were pure purrrfection. (Sorry, not sorry.)

I ushered them into the bake-off headquarters Monday morning (read: the office conference room), proudly stating the obvious: 'They're shaped like cats!'

I told everyone they were no ordinary Rice Krispie treats, they had a secret ingredient.

Cat hair, I said.

No, not really. I told the truth: It's love.

Ok, not that either. The secret ingredient is better than love, it's white chocolate chips. And they're the best you've ever tasted. The treats made the barfing totally worth it.

The cupcakes, lemon bars, mousse pie and brownies limped out of their fancy plastic storage cases and left the room. 

But being a good sport, a sampled a few other desserts and cast my ballot. Well, actually, I cast two ballots - one for the mousse pie (it was crazy delicious) and one for my Rachel's cat shaped Rice Krispie treats. (It's not voting for yourself if you didn't actually make them.)

When the ballots were counted I learned that "technically" I didn't win. But I did get three votes, which means two other people either a) recognized their greatness amid the wanna-bes or b) are crazy cat people.

That cat-shaped treats consider that a win.

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Hyde Park Griswolds

We spent the weekend being so festive that when it was over, a decorated tree and Christmas lights had spontaneously appeared at our house. I filmed the occurrence as our annual offering to Santa Claus in the hopes that he brings us everything on our list.

(Ray wants an impact driver. I want Ray to make me a desk from an old door and saw-horses. Unfortunately for Ray, my gift is dependent on him being Santa Claus.)

We put up more lights than we ever have this year and to be honest, when Ray flipped the switch I thought, "Holy crap, we're the Griswolds!"

Sorry neighbors, it wasn't our intention to sap the electric from your homes... Have you met my husband Clark?

Next year, I'm thinking a gigantic inflatable lawn snowman will really pull it all together.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bring The Noise

Who needs Le Creuset bakeware and a convection oven and when you have these guys.

There is a bake-off coming up soon at my office, and I am going to win.

Granted, I don't actually bake unless it's that chocolate chip cookie dough from a tube, but I'm going to bring Rice Krispie treats to the bake-off, thereby assuring my victory.

Everyone loves Rice Krispie treats. People mistake them for being the humble underdog, but they win at everything, especially bake-offs.

My colleagues are already intimidated. I was explicitly and pointedly (firmly, even) told that I am not "allowed" to bring them because they are "not made from scratch" and because "they are not cookies and are not baked."

But I know that is really code for, "You cannot bring them because they are delicious and you will win."

As for them not being cookies, ridiculous. I will cut them into circles with a cookie cutter. Voila! Rice Krispie treat cookies.

Take that, American's Next Top Naked Cake Boss.

Rachel is an excellent baker and I considered asking her to whip me up a batch of her most prize-winning cookies and giving her the spoils of my winnings in return. (Which is probably a ribbon. Or maybe a trophy.) But that wouldn't be fair to everyone else to go up against Rachel like that. Their cookies would probably combust into a heap of flour and butter if pitted against her's, and I'm not trying to be mean at the holiday bake-off.

Ray suggested, "Just buy a bag of those Soft Batch cookies and put them on a plate. No one will know."

I told him that not only did people in my office look at me with pity and contempt when I said the exact same thing about tube cookies, but they all wholeheartedly disagreed. "Everyone can tell," they said. "They don't taste even remotely the same."

Ray scoffed. "What would they do if you brought in Oreos and put them on a plate? What, are you not going to advance to the medal round? Are they going to escort you from the building?"

"Maybe not for the Oreos," I told him. "But possibly for tube cookies, which they basically said are horrible and disgusting and shameful."

I felt shame for even bringing them up, I confessed to Ray. For about .257 seconds.

None of this matters though because I am going to win with the cookie-shaped Rice Krispie treats. Well, technically, I guess Ray is going to win since I asked him to make the treats. (The last time I made them they were terrible. They tasted like burning.) But with Ray at the stove, ain't nobody gonna have room for their salted-caramel bon-bons or red velvet cookie lumps or whatever.

Snap, crackle and pop, suckas.

P.S. Hey, does anybody have a cookie cutter I can borrow?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

They Grow Up So Fast

Chuck Norris and Hunter S. Tomcat turned one year old this summer.

We threw them a big party with a pinata filled with Pounce. It was pretty amazing watching them hit it with tiny little bats.

Chuck Norris is a natural athlete, able to leap tall buildings - with style and grace - in a single bound. He eats shoes (awesome) and his favorite subjects in kindergarten are nap time and bird watching.

Hunter S. Tomcat is a true cat's-cat - meaning, he will prowl up on you, debate eviscerating you but then just head-butt you for affection. He favorite subject is entomology, specifically, eating stink bugs.

They've both joined a old time string band. They play at the Southgate House Revival if you ever want to see them.  

Needless to say, we adore them. And they've really grown into their ears and personalities.

Kittens, age 3 months.
One year old.

Turns out, it's much harder to hold two grown cats than it is kittens for a family portrait.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Like A Boss

Don't I look fantastic in this corner office?

I mean, just look at me. Talking on the phone, wearing glasses, drinking cappuccino.


Some people who have corner offices think they are the boss, but they don't own it like I do. They can't just put on someone else's glasses and expect to get things done (because the glasses are so thick they can't see out of them), but I can. Because I don't need to see... I can send 40 emails in less than a minute, and I can write them while holding a phone and coffee.

I write them with my MIND.

I'm so busy one computer isn't enough for me, I need two. Two computers. Two computers to send emails, give orders, write content, edit copy, retouch photos... create beauty.

All that while reading children's books, shuffling papers and printing edicts.

And I do all this with my foot up.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

We'll Always Have Paris

The first place we ate in Paris was the mall. It served steak and had a stained glass dome.

It was a kind of upscale food court with windows lining the dining room that looked out over Paris. You could see the Eiffel Tower. Which, I guess technically, was the first time I saw the Eiffel Tower - from the mall food court.

What I remember most about our first meal in Paris wasn't the food, but rather, the wine fountain. It was like a soda fountain, only instead of Diet Coke, you put your glass under the fountain and got Chardonnay, or rosé, or whatever. So we all had wine with our food court food steaks. 

Gabriel, who is well traveled in Paris and speaks French - he doesn't consider it a "good year" unless he's visited the City of Lights -  insisted we go to this mall first thing because the view from the top is a hidden gem, he said.

And he was right. The rooftop terrace rewards you with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower, the Opera House and the Paris rooftops. 

The view from the Galeries Lafayette.   

But the first real "Parisian" meal I remember was at Le Fregate, across from the Louvre. It was the real hidden gem. The Louvre is so enormous, so many city blocks, that Le Frégate was a bit out of the way for Louvre goers, and when we went that first night we had it nearly all to ourselves. Plus, restaurants in Paris don't really stay open that late. When we arrived about 9, it was nearly empty.

It isn't the best restaurant in Paris, and we probably didn't drink the best wine. But it was my favorite because it was the first, and because we sat outside on a cool fall evening and overlooked the Seine in those classically Parisian wicker chairs at one of those round, classically Parisian tables.

Gabriel speaks French and told the waiter that I wanted my filet with no pink (well done), and I thoroughly enjoyed the waiter hardly and hilariously tolerating me pouring my own wine. (It was his job and he wanted to do it, so he stopped me when I tried to do it myself. If this is the notoriously bad French service, I'll take it, I thought.)

Gabriel and I post-dinner at Le Frégate in Paris.

Sean and Gabriel, our travel companions to Europe that trip, eat at Le Frégate whenever they go to Paris. It's their thing.

It's soon to be Ray and I's thing as well.

We went to Paris this time three years ago, and we're returning in a few weeks for my birthday. Definitely on our agenda is having dinner at Le Frégate again.

When we first went to Paris I wasn't sure if I'd ever be back, you know how way leads on to way... But, happy birthday to me! We are celebrating October 17 with a picnic at the Eiffel Tower, followed by a stroll across the famed Pont des Arts 'lovers bridge.'

On our last visit, we stumbled upon this gorgeous pedestrian bridge that links the Louvre and the Institute de France by accident.

We had hopped off the double decker tour bus at the Louvre when we idly decided to walk across. It was filled with people milling about, some of them sitting on blankets having picnics and drinking wine. (Life is better in Paris.)

Ray noticed the locks first. On closer inspection, they were everywhere, all the way down the bridge, on the fences down both sides.

Engraved. Blank. Ornate. Simple. Masterlocks. Antiques.

Locks of all kinds with names from all over the world - Alan, Stephanie, Amelie, Bikounet, Lulidle et Doudeu.

We poured over the locks - the names and dates and types.

I especially loved the message on this one.

Leaving a lock is controversial now, but stumbling upon this lover's bridge is one of my favorite memories from Paris. This time around, I hope we're one of the people on the bridge having wine.

But my favorite place in Paris is the Latin Quarter, just over the lock bridge on the Left Bank.

The famed Shakespeare and Company bookstore is right across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral. It gets all the ink and is a worth a visit because of its history, of course. And it makes an excellent cameo in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. (Love that movie.)

But the true wonder for bibliophiles are the outdoor booksellers in the Latin Quarter, whose bookstalls line the Seine with stall after stall of paperbacks for next to nothing. The titles are all in French, as opposed to Shakespeare and Company, which is English speaking, but I preferred the French books. Browsing titles in French was much more fun.

I told Ray I wanted a copy of something very American, in French. We opted to search for something by Hemingway, which was harder to find than you'd imagine given that Hemingway is intertwined with Paris.

Is there a Hemingway in here?

But what a great mission to be on - to find a French copy of a Hemingway among the thousands of titles in French along the Left Bank.

Finally, Ray found a copy of A Farewell to Arms. L'adieu aux Armes.

It is one of my most prized souvenirs ever. It is still covered in the cellophane that was used by the seller to protect it from moisture and wear. It sits prominently on our dining room bookshelf among the English Hemingway titles.

Me among the books.

It wasn't a few blocks from here where we had another of our most memorable meals in Paris. I don't remember the name of the brasserie but we were exhausted, hungry and needed a break, and the outdoor tables were just what our weary legs needed.

We filled up on wine, bread and an assorted cheese plate. Despite the steaks and delicious crepes we had at other restaurants and take-aways, it goes down as our favorite meal in Paris.

The perfect meal.

Before we went to Paris I had written that I didn't want to do anything but walk around and eat and drink and see the city and the people living it. And that's my goal for our trip in a few weeks.

You can do a lot when you're doing nothing.

Lying in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
One more for scale.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Breaking A Leg

Ray and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the Lumenocity dress rehearsal this summer. I knew there would be a lightshow, but other than that, the only thing I knew about it for sure was that we needed to get there early. 

So for two hours we sat in Washington Park with nothing really to do but shovel pasta salad into our faces and look at Music Hall as we waited.

I knew there would be a light show but I did not expect everything to be so uniquely Cincinnati.

Ray’s favorite part was the Charlie Harper tribute. All of Harper's stylized animals - cardinals, mallards, lady bugs, flamingos - all playfully making their way across the building.

We giggled as alligators snapped up from an invisible swamp and looked on amazed as flocks of Harper’s birds flew 5 stories tall across Music Hall.

It was a whimsical and loving tribute to Cincinnati's favorite artist.

But it was the Cincinnati Ballet that took my breath away. Principal dancers Janessa Touchet and Cervilio Miguel Amador were staggeringly beautiful and graceful projected onto Music Hall.

When it was over, I looked at Ray and said, ‘That was delightful.’

It was understatement.

In truth, between the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's beautiful rendition of Nimrod, which I had never heard before, and the dancers elegantly pirouetting across the building, I debated tearing up it was so beautiful and lovely and sublime.

It all reminded me that I don’t see nearly enough classically trained dancers, musicians or artists.

It also reminded me, listening to the talented, hard-working musicians of the CSO, that I haven’t done anything with my life.

I do not play an instrument. I cannot dance with the poise of a Cincinnati Ballet ballerina. I couldn't have even run the light show. At best, I could have written the program for Lumenocity. (And I’ve have gladly written that program!)

And in truth, I saw Music Hall really for the first time. If there is a better way other than Lumenocity to expose people to our own unique cultural arts in Cincinnati, I don’t know what would be.

Bravo, Cincinnati.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Another List

Remember a few years ago when those '25 Things About Me' lists were going around on Facebook and you learned strange things about people, like that they're addicted to the ass-slap dance move?

Well, I love reading those lists.

Since a few of you might be new here thanks to Soapbox Media's feature Girl-Powered: 9 Must-Read Cincinnati Bloggers featuring yours truly, I thought I'd redo my own list of useless facts about myself.

1. A few summers ago I got caught in a rip current and had to be saved by a lifeguard. My husband (then boyfriend) had to be brought in with me. He says he wasn't going to come back without me, and that if I was going to drown, he was going to drown trying to save me. So basically, I saved his life by yelling for that lifeguard.

2. I've seen Bob Dylan in concert about 12 times.

3. I ride a baby blue scooter. For Christmas, Ray put racing stripes on it. It used to go 65 miles per hour, but with the stripes, it will go at least 67.

4. I have about 374 (roughly) unpublished blog posts in my draft folder.

5. It pains me to watch someone damage a book by bending a page corner (use a book mark, ya morons), crack the spine or deface the cover. That said, I underline passages and write in the margins of mine. (Completely different... I do that out of love.)

6. In my head, I look like J. Lo. Hourglass figure, honey-colored Latin skin, juicy booty, phenomenal dance moves. Imagine my surprise when I look in the mirror. But I do have phenomenal dance moves.

7. I am extremely practical. For example, my car is 10 years old. I flirt with getting a new car occasionally, but I will likely drive my car until the wheels fall off and burn. The conversation in my head goes like this:

Wow, look at that amazing new car. I bet it has a USB outlet. I could jam to some Katy Perry from my iPhone with that.
You don't need a new car, you love the Baby Blue Angel!
True, and she's paid for. What you love more than USB outlets is not having a car payment - more new shoes!
But not driving a stick shift would be terrific. It's really hard to eat sandwiches, drink a pop and shift gears, you know.
Yes, but the Baby Blue Angel would be very upset to be replaced. Others might have a USB outlet, but you, Gina, have a tape deck. No one else can listen to cassingles in their car but you.

SOLD on the Blue Angel!

8. I used to hide under my bed when I was a kid and when my mom would call for me that it was time for bed, I'd take swipes at her and pull on her pant leg. She was not amused, but my dad and I thought it was hilarious.

9. I also used to hide behind the curtains and under the kitchen table and spy on my parents when I was a kid. Prowling around the house was my favorite activity. 

10. I was also the only girl in school who could climb the rope to the top of the ceiling in the gym;  I also thought the Presidential Physical Fitness Award in elementary school was 'my time to shine.'

11. Quitting hobbies is my favorite hobby. My favorite thing to do is nothing.

12. I spend most Sunday mornings with the New York Times. I'm old school. I have it delivered - in paper form - to my house.

13. I like to host parties and then hunker down in the kitchen heating up appetizers from Trader Joe's and drinking. I am social but solitary.

14. This summer Ray thought I had drowned in Norris Lake (separate incident from when we had to be saved by lifeguards), but really I was getting tipsy at the Tiki Bar with one of our friends. We were waiting for Ray and the group to come get us from the marina and at first we were like, "Damn, where ARE they?" But after a few hours and a few beers we were like, "Oh bummer, there they come." We were sad to leave to the Tiki Bar.

16. When I was little I wanted to be Stevie Nicks. Now when I grow up I want to be Blondie.

17. I moved to Virginia for my first newspaper job. My apartment was at the corner of Stonewall and Jackson Streets; not to mention everyone still talked about the Civil War. It was a culture shock.

18. I keep telling Ray we should have kids, but what I really want is another cat. I know he doesn't want kids or more cats, but he definitely doesn't want kids more. So getting a kitten is only a matter of time.

19. I've had a pen pal since the 6th grade. She is a pediatrician at Brooklyn Hospital in New York and grew up in Florida. She's fabulous. We wrote letters to each other - actual letters! - up until a few years ago when we became Facebook friends. Stupid Facebook.

20. The first time I snuck out I was about 11 years old. I snuck out so I could dance under the street light. It was so exhilarating that I excitedly twirled and jump and did cartwheels at the corner of Poplar and 40th Streets in Marion, Indiana. I'm sure the neighbors were like, "Aww, Ray and Susie's daughter must be going bonkers. It's so sad... they seem like such nice people."

21. Things I like: Vinyl, record players, cats, kittens, scooters, swimming (which is to say, sitting by a pool reading magazines), books, traveling, photos, blogs, art, delicious food, Totino's Party Pizzas and sitting on the front porch.

22. Things I do not like: The band Rush, noise, the book Eat, Pray, Love, double spaces after periods, and like every other sane person, moving.

[Since I can't think of anymore things about myself, I am going to write things about Ray.]

23. Ray really is addicted to the ass-slap dance move. I don't even think he knows he's doing it.

24. He was super fat when he was in middle school; and he had an afro. (Those girls who turned him down obviously had no idea he'd grew up into the stud he is today.)

25. His first job was as a garbage man. He was 15 and rode around on the back of the garbage truck dumping people's trash. It's also how he lost a bunch of weight and became normal sized again.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hey-Ho I'm Going To Idaho

Icebergs near Palmer Station, Antarctica - photo by Kelly Jacques, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

In the span of three hours on Saturday, this happened:

  • Reading the preface, I discover the book was written as an accompaniment to a museum exhibit called Race to the End of the Earth.
  • An exhibit?! Ooh, I wonder if it's still open.
  • I Google the exhibit and find that it started in New York and received wonderful reviews.
  • I breeze through the exhibit photographs, details and YouTube walkthrough.
  • I Google where the exhibit is now and find that is at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.
  • Idaho?! Sweet.
  • I realize the exhibit ends Sept. 1 and recognize there probably isn't enough time to get there before then.
  • I call the Museum of Idaho to find out where it is going next; the operator tells me, "I think it's going to France."
  • I go outside to tell Ray that there is an exhibit on the race to the the Sole Pole featuring Scott and Amundson and depending on where in France, we should maybe go see it when we go to Paris in October.
  • "Wouldn't it be easier to go to Idaho," he wants to know. I tell him about the time crunch.
    (Ray was mowing the lawn; our tiny lawn looks like a very tiny golf course when he's done.)
  • I go back inside and email the author of the book and curator of the exhibit, Dr. Ross MacPhee, of the American Museum of National History, to ask where - exactly - the exhibit is going in France.
  • I look at a map of Idaho Falls and notice the exhibit is currently driving distance from Yellowstone.
  • Ooh… I've never been to Yellowstone.
  • I Google "how much are flights to Idaho Falls."
  • Those prices seem reasonable, I think.
  • I go back outside to show Ray calendar dates of when we could make this trip to Idaho work. Then I tell him how much flights are to Idaho Falls.
  • I casually remind him that we didn't go on vacation this summer.
  • "No way. That's too expensive," he says.
  • [Ray is covered in sweat from mowing and he's wearing his little clear safety glasses that he got so that he doesn't get a stick in his eye. He looks adorable in those glasses.]

    I push aside my feelings of his adorableness and respond firmly:
  • "It's not that expensive because it's all the way across the country. It seems like a pretty reasonable price for a flight to IDAHO."
  • I tell him there are only four flights left at that price. "And Yellowstone is right there."
  • "You in or out? Come on, let's go… We'll see the Scott and Amundson exhibit and go to Yellowstone!"
  • That's in three weeks and it's peak vacation season, he reminds me.
  • "Oh my god, you're right, I'll go book it right now!"
  • "At least call a travel agent," he says. "Everything will be booked in Yellowstone. We'll get out there and have to camp, and I'm not camping unless it's at a Marriott."  
  • I call a travel agent who tells me that National Park Service bookings go through Xanterra.
    "Go to their website and see if there is anything left. Call me back if you can't get anything in Yellowstone and we'll try to get you somewhere nearby. Good luck!" the lady says.
  • I call the National Park Service and say we need hotel rooms in Yellowstone in three weeks. The guy actually laughs at me. When he's done he offers to look to see if there are any cancellations. They have one room available for each date, but the rooms are in different spots each night.
  • "Great! I'll reserve them."
  • "There are 38 other agents on the system looking at rooms," he tells me.
  • "We've got to hurry then!"
  • We bond over our winning the race to the rooms and he tells me he went to some training at Milacron way back in the day in Cincinnati. 
  • He emails me the confirmation and I tell him, "I guess I better book the flights now, eh." He says, "Probably."
  • I go outside and tell Ray that I reserved us some rooms at Yellowstone and that they have a fun looking bus that will drive you around to the big sights.
  • "Oh, and by the way," I add this as if it's such a non-event it's hardly worth mentioning, "the rooms in Yellowstone do not have Internet, radios, telephones, TVs or air conditioning."
  • So basically, it's not like the Marriott at all. (But I don't say that.)
  • Ray is painting a portion of the privacy fence in the back and says, "Well, it's a National Park. What can you expect. I'm sure it's fine. Plus, we've never been to Yellowstone."
  • Hmm... don't even know who this person is who just said this to me, but I'm running with it.
  • By 8 pm I've booked the rooms, the flights, a rental car and researched and planned our entire itinerary, complete with must-sees, hikes and an excursion through Grand Teton National Park.

In sum: That beautiful, $20 book cost us about $2,000 by the time we go to Idaho for the exhibit and go on to Yellowstone.

But! This is actually much cheaper than the cruises I was originally looking into at Antarctica itself, which between flights to Buenos Aires to get to the boat plus the cruise itself, the price was astronomical.

The way I see it, I just saved us about $15,000. (I'm not kidding.) I mean, just the coats and boots and thick socks you'd have to buy to make it through the cruise and not freeze to death would probably be $2,000. 

Meanwhile, Ray has essentially been widowed the entire summer because I am gripped by the book The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Gerrard, which is what started this whole preoccupation with Antarctica in the first place, and how I ended up ordering Race to the End.

I've spent the last several months completely transfixed by Cherry-Gerrard's account of the Scott expedition to the South Pole - the men, their science, the horrible conditions, the penguins, the fate of the ponies, the dogs, the entire exploration team.

Adélie penguins, Antarctica  - photo by Sean Bonnette, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

I recount details of the book to Ray as though it just happened, and the journey ended in 1913. I make these "news announcements" while he's trying to fall asleep, or when he's painting a fence, or making dinner.

(I would help do these things but... I'm reading.)

"Ray, are you awake? Two of the ponies fell off of an ice floe and they couldn't get it back onto the ice; they had to shoot them. I'm sorry to tell you this."

"Ray, the dog sledge team fell into a crevasse. They were able to rescue 8 of the dogs with an Alpine rope and the other two Scott fished out of the crevasse after being lowered 60 feet down. Only two of the dogs died, so that's good news. But a few of them probably have internal injuries from hanging for over an hour in their harnesses into a crevasse. It's very sad."

"Oh. No... Ray, you're not going to believe this... The depot crew woke up with their tent having broken away from the ice barrier, so now they are floating out to the sea on an ice floe and killer orcas are surrounding them and conniving to eat them."

"Hey, what are you cooking? Is it pemmican? Just fyi, the Winter Journey to the penguin rookery is bad, really bad… the temperature is -60º and the tent just blew away in a horrific blizzard. They're singing hymns to stay awake and trying to not freeze to death. They're pretty certain they're going to die. Things are grim in Antarctica right now."

I even cried got a little upset the night they had to shoot the two ponies who fell into the Ross Sea.

When I'm not reading the book I'm marveling at the photography of the expedition's photographer, Herbert Ponting. (You can see all of his photographs of the journey thanks to the Scott Polar Research Institute's website.) And I spend my free time absorbed with more books about Captain Scott, his rival Amundson, Antarctica, Emperor and Adélie penguins and ice floes. 

If you haven't read The Worst Journey in the World, start on it immediately. We can live the summer of 2014 in Antarctica together. It's truly riveting and deserves it's status as National Geographic's best adventure book of all time. And I cannot wait to see the exhibit.

[I am still waiting to hear back from the exhibit curator and author to see where it is actually going after Idaho. If he tells me Greater Cincinnati, I'm just going to keep that information to myself.]

UPDATE: Dr. MacPhee (author, curator, professor) wrote back thanking me for my charming note and stated: "The show goes next to Lyons, France, for an October opening at the Musee des Confluences. There are, sadly, no other venues on the horizon at the moment."

So basically, we've all got until September 1 to get to Idaho!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's a Grass Farm

There is this sod farm on the way to the Newtown Dairy Corner, which we go to a few times a week occasionally. When we had our front yard redone last month I asked Ray where the sod comes from. 

"A sod farm," he said.

I thought he was joking. 

"A sod farm? That's ridiculous. It's grass. It's comes from grass farm?!"

Umm, yes, and we pass it all the time, apparently. The last time we drove by Ray pointed out the sign that says "Sod Farm." 

I still think it's hilarious. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

An Ephemeral Feast

There is a chapter in A Moveable Feast in which F. Scott Fitzgerald invites Ernest Hemingway to lunch and tells him, over a cherry tart:
"You know I never slept with anyone except Zelda... Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
The title of the chapter is "A Matter of Measurements," and what Fitzgerald wants to know - truly - is if he has a small penis, like Zelda says.

And this, my friends, is exactly why I don't like to know too much beforehand about the books I read - because they spoil the fun of being surprised by a scene like this. I read this exchange with my eyes and mouth wide-open in stunned amazement and amusement. 

Oh my gosh, Zelda told Scott he had a small penis!
Oh my gosh, Fitzgerald told Hemingway he had a small penis!

To tell him 'truly' about his measurement, Hemingway leads the author of The Great Gatsby to the men's room and checks out his goods.

After giving him an inspection he pronounces Fitzgerald "perfectly fine," adding that the only thing wrong with him is that he's married to Zelda.

"Forget what Zelda said. Zelda is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. … Zelda just wants to destroy you,” Hemingway says.
Fitzgerald is unconvinced, so Papa Hemingway walks him around the Louvre to size-up the naked statues. 

I don't happen to know what male nude sculptures the Louvre displayed in the 1920s when Hemingway and Fitzgerald went on their beefcake tour, but if I could go back to any moment in history, I would opt to go back to this moment, when these two literary giants went walking around the Louvre to size-up what the ancient Greek and Roman antiquities were packin.'

That's right. I'd chose this moment over dinosaurs, the dawn of life, Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, pyramids, Roman gladiators, all of it.

The possibility that these two novelists were roaming around discussing Fitzgerald's "measurements" is so fantastic and otherworldly that it's nearly magical.

And if tidbits like this exist in a brief book about Hemingway's first years in Paris with his first wife, then what similarly amazing stories are buried in other lesser-known memoirs?

It's too rich to imagine.

We will all have to read very single memoir ever written, examine every scratched-up notebook and decipher every penciled book margin lest we miss some marvelous story like this.

Zelda and F. Scott, 1919, via

But anyway, back to A Moveable Feast.

Published posthumously in 1964, it is Hemingway's memoir of when he lived in Paris in the early to mid-1920s with his first wife, Hadley. 

He's in his early 20s in the book. He is young, he is in love and he is experimenting with his craft.

The Paris expatriate luminaries are all here too, in all their strange glory: Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound and Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Hemingway's interactions with Fitzgerald are marvels of insight and also possible jealousy. He paints him as a drunk who can't hold his liquor, who pines for Zelda and who overall behaves strangely. But there are some tender moments here too.

Hemingway on reading The Great Gatsby for the first time:

"When I had finished the book [The Great Gatsby] I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. …   If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him."
I'm not sure if that last statement resonates because it is such a harsh indictment of Zelda or if it's because Hemingway, in his look back at those early years, feels genuine sympathy for Fitzgerald.

(Hemingway is writing this memoir 40-years after the fact, likely remembering that The Great Gatsby sold poorly and received mixed reviews when it was published. Fitzgerald died in 1940 believing his book was a failure. It's revival and popularity didn't happen until after World War II.) (Fun/sad fact for cocktail party conversations: Fitzgerald's funeral was attended by only about 30 people.)

A Moveable Feast is filled with all kinds of wistful, sad retrospection like this.

Hemingway tells us: ”… this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” 

Ernest and Hadley, 1922, via

Looking back on his first marriage 40 years later, Hemingway paints his second wife, Pauline, as a homewrecker who set out after him by first befriending his wife Hadley. He blames Pauline almost entirely for his failed marriage, and he is writing about it four decades later with such guilt and sorrow that you can't help but feel bad for the man.

"Then, instead of two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is wonderful and fun and it goes on that way for a while… You love both and you lie and you hate it and it destroys you… Everything is split inside of you and you love two people now instead of one.

"...When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the stadium, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her."
Death over love for anyone but Hadley. Damn Ernest, you poor bastard.

But remember, Hemingway had four wives, each left for the next after a miserable love triangle. So he can't feel that sorry. (Or maybe he just never learned from his mistakes.)

But still, it's a deeply sad chapter. You realize that while his life had gone the way he chartered it, the remorse tortured him. 

But don't cry for Hadley. She went on to have a lasting marriage to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Mowrer.

Hadley was 73 years old when the book came out in 1964. Here is a wonderful audio clip of Hadley's response to A Moveable Feast. 

Hemingway had been dead for three years and yet, here was this detailed, loving tribute to their time together, the cafés where they ate and drank, the streets they walked. It must have been other-worldly to read such a personal account of a part of your life, and yet so long ago it must have seemed a past lifetime or to have happened to another person.

And that is the other character in this book, Paris. 

The details are wonderful. The stories, the famous friends, the glimpses into the cafés where he wrote. Some of the cafés are still standing, and his notes are so specific you can trace his steps along the Left Bank. This page and this page even maps them out for you. 

It's been over 90 years since Ernest and Scott and Hadley and Zelda roamed those Paris streets, but isn't it wonderful to think about what streets and coffee shops people will look back on 90 years from now and navigate in the footsteps of a famous author.

I loved A Moveable Feast. It is a fantastic snapshot of a life as it was remembered, and that's always a little bittersweet, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

There's Only One Love, Yours And Mine

It was actually raining when Lionel Richie was singing You Are last Sunday night. We had pavilion seats at the show, but the storm that rolled through brought with it a nice wind, so it rained on us even in section 400.

As he sang "You are the sun, you are the rain," I watched the fine, sideways mist catch in the stage lights and thought, I am standing in the rain... with Lionel Richie! 

Fans scattered and squeezed toward the center of the pavilion as it got wetter, which only added to the ambience if you ask me.

We were all damp, singing and happy. Or at least, I was.

Dear Lionel: I'll stand in the rain for you. I don't mind and I don't miiiiiiiind... xxox, Gina

I was completely star struck by Lionel, I'll admit. I looked up at the stage in awe, my hands clasped together like a fangirl, and I belted out the hits along with him.

And so did the woman next to me. She was from Mississippi and had come to the Tri-State with her friend who wanted to visit all 50 states before she turned 50. They were able to cross Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky off of their list while the woman next to me got see Lionel in the process.

She was the perfect seat mate. We were both super thrilled to be there, and I had a companion in singing and dancing... all night long. When she kamaru'd left, I kamaru'd left. When I fiesta'd right, she fiesta'd right. We were sisters in Lionel.  

And Lionel, what I can I say. He hasn't lost an ounce of range or soul in his voice. He was as smooth sounding on stage at 65 as he was in videos I danced to in my living room decades ago. (Who I am kidding, I was dancing to his videos in my living room last week!)

And he was just as fit. Obviously ol' Lionel has made a deal with the devil because neither his face nor his body have any signs of aging. Good on him. (Yo, Devil, I'm interested in a deal, call me.)

He was such an affable entertainer too, telling funny stories and bantering about song origins. He looked and acted as though there was no where else he'd rather be than on stage in Cincinnati, Ohio, burning through his hits. And true to the tour's name, All the Hits, All Night Long, he played nearly two hours of solo and Commodore's hits. You've got to give it to an artist who can play nearly two hours of songs everyone knows the lyrics to.

"We've been through a lot together!" he told us. "When you were in love, I was in love! When you fell out of love, I fell out of love! It was a disaster, then it got worse! So you got your albums, your 8 tracks, your cassettes.... And who'd you turn to? Lionel Richie!"

And then he played Still, Oh No and finally Stuck On You in succession.

That was the bad, the worse and disaster of love, apparently. And I believed him. I felt like I had been transported to every breakup I've ever had and lived it all over again, only this time better, and with more feeling, because it was with Lionel!

By the end the three song 'love disaster' trifecta, when he asked us who we would turn to in our new hardships and love affairs - with our CDs, our cassettes, our digital music - everyone yelled, "Lionel Richie!"

"Damn right, you will," he said, as keyed the opening notes to Stuck on You.

He really was a funny and charming storyteller. I left the show feeling like I had been through things with Lionel Richie.

The crowd of course loved All Night Long and Hello, enjoyable but weaker songs in my opinion. (It would have been better if there was a fake blind woman on stage molding a bust of his head from a hunk of clay. Hello!)

But he really shined with his other hits, and by the end we were all swaying and singing together, united by our love of Lionel Richie.

My favorite moment, other than singing "You are the sun, you are the rain" in the rain to Lionel, was the stunningly beautiful My Love. When he hit the chorus I felt faint. I grabbed Ray and looked at him like, We are going to have a moment right here, right now, whether you like it or not.

I sang to Ray like I wrote the lyrics from the deepest recesses of my heart, serenading him with the love that Lionel Richie once had for his wife. (But not anymore, because they're divorced.)

I think Ray was into it.

But even with nearly two hours of music there were still plenty of hits we didn't hear. While not one of his bigger commercial hits, Do It To Me is one my favorite Lionel jams, but it didn't make the All the Hits, All Night Long cut.

Lionel and I are going to have work through this, just like we did all of our other highs and lows.

Dear Lionel: Let's work this out. I love you. xxox Gina

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Two Wheelin'

I spent the majority of the weekend on two-wheels on Route 8.

Saturday was the Mods vs. Rockers rally. Scooters and motorcycles of all shapes and sizes - vintage, café racer, Vespa, Triumph, three-wheelers, aggressive looking eat-your-family-bikes, and those that looked rode hard and put away wet.

But mine was the coolest.

You like my new pinstripes? Ray got them for me for Christmas and put them on last weekend so I'd have them for the rally. It gives the Baby Blue Angel a whole new vibe I think.

But if I had to chose second place, these two would win.

For one thing, that bike looks menacing, like it was an extra in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

But the little guy who rode side-car was the real highlight. He rode the entire rally with his Doggles on, taking it all in like a boss. He was the coolest rider out there. His owner told us: "The bike is his. He just lets me ride him around."

Saturday was a beautiful day to spend with 400 of my closest scooter and motorcycle riding friends, and at about 1 pm we all broke-up into groups to head through rural Kentucky.

Both sides of Plum Street downtown were packed with scooters and motorcycles. The Baby Blue Angel soldier'd up and got in line.
She says 'what up.'

I hadn't spent much time on the blue highways of Northern Kentucky before this weekend and wow, what lovely stretches of road. We went over hills and through valleys and watched the hay bales rise up on the sides of the foothills. We zipped past farms and churches and outpost gas stations and broken down cars.

An adorable little donkey (redundant: donkeys are always adorable) watched us ride past, along with a couple of gigantic white horses.

Also pretty excited to see us were the cicadas, who I think were attracted to the sound of our motors. They came buzzing out of the tall grass and trees, pelting us with their rock hard little bug bodies. If you haven't taken a cicada to the chest or face shield at 50 miles per hour, really you must. One hit me in the rib and I thought I'd been shot.

'How many cicadas did you eat' was a legit question by the end.

We rode every bit of 90 miles round trip, all the way to Augusta, Kentucky. On the way there we took mostly rural backroads and I had no idea where I was or where I was going. And that's the beauty of a group ride, you get to sit back and follow the other scooters.

We cruised into Augusta about 3 pm and it was already packed with scoots and motorcycles and town-people, all there for a little art gallery walk.

Todd and I in Augusta. His scooter inspired me to get pinstripes.

Funny thing about Augusta, Kentucky - there are only 1,190 people, and yet they have a little 'downtown' packed with restaurants and shops. For such a small place, they've got patios and food and ice-cream shops and cafés on lock. Ol' Augusta has life figure out.

And you really haven't seen it all until you watch a bunch of tatted-up motorcyclists and scooter enthusiasts eating ice-cream cones in what looks like Mayberry. Because nothing says bad-ass like a twist cone bent to your face by an arm with a tattoo sleeve.

On the way back we followed the river exclusively down Route 8. Unfortunately, the ride back was way too fast, much faster than I prefer and I was silently complaining into my helmet that I was 'hanging on' rather than enjoying the ride.

And sure enough, on one of the hilly S-curves, a rider went too wide and ended up driving off of the side of the road and crashing his scooter.

I saw his bike lying on the side of the road (I was about 2 seconds behind him) and my heart went into a tailspin thinking he might be seriously hurt and that I might hit him, his bike or something else.
Fortunately, I saw him come up out of the mud so I knew he was at least mostly ok, but it scared the hell out of me. We all pulled over and called 911. He was mostly ok but pretty shook up.

Lucky for him he landed in the mud and not the road or gravel or a pole or a car, but it was scary and a reminder for me that I don't need to go any faster than I feel comfortable, regardless of what the 'group' is doing.

Needless to say, Todd and I moseyed on back into Cincinnati at a much more leisurely pace.

I got to experience the exact same scenery and cracks in the pavement on Route 8 on Sunday morning. Ray and I were up bright eyed and bushy tailed and early for the Ride Cincinnati for Breast Cancer Research.

I just realized that Ray and I kind of match. Sorry about that.
I absolutely love this event. There are so many walks and runs in Cincinnati, literally every weekend is packed with them from spring through fall, but there are few biking events. Ride Cincinnati is one of them.

Riders could choose between these distances down Route 8:

62.8 miles
45.2 miles
27.0 miles
18.4 miles
8.2 miles
and a 1 mile kids bike rally

Guess which one we chose? The 1 mile kids bike rally!

There was a clown. Actually, there were two "lady clowns," which Ray noted that "Nothing is scarier than lady clowns."

We actually did the 18-miler, but it turned into 20, so technically, we went way above and beyond. I haven't ridden more than 10 miles on my bike in about ohhhh, 10 years, so no surprise that my legs felt like jelly after about the 11 mile mark.

Thankfully, my trusty new steed got me through. (And there were animal crackers and Gatorade at the turn-around point. I hadn't eaten in at last 20 minutes during that bike ride.)

It's a Trek 7.4 FX if you're in the market for a bike that weighs about 4 pounds, has brakes,
handlebars, some aluminum and some carbon on it and rides like a dream.
I got a new bike this spring and have been bonding with it at Lunken and Armleder Park. And after Sunday's ride, we're officially a team. I also really love that it doesn't weigh 50 pounds like my old bike and that the gears actually change when you tell them to.

The bike practically rides itself; I can put it wherever I want it.

(I also realize that all of my modes of transportation are a shade of blue. The Blue Angel, The Baby Blue Angel and my as yet to be named Trek. This wasn't intentional, but maybe I have a transportation 'type'?)

The rides made the weekend seem longer and more fun, which is always the goal. But let me tell ya, I don't care if I see another scooter or bike anytime soon. I'm happy to be back in my car where there is a windshield to keep the wind and sun and cicadas off of me.

Now I need a weekend from my weekend. The normal kind, where I sit at the pool and read magazines books and my biggest 'activity' is either walking three blocks to Graeter's or driving to the Newtown Dairy Corner. 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Keeneland Is Decadent and Depraved

I picked Dance With Fate to win the Derby yesterday. Alas, California Chrome won the roses.

I'm terrible at picking horses it turns out, along with everybody else. 

A few weeks ago at Keeneland we picked all horses with cat-inspired names, and they didn't fare well either.

Emotional Kitten, Kitten's Point, Bad Ass Cat... all failures. And they cost us a small fortune.* Maybe next year we'll change our strategy from cat-named horses to horses that actually have good odds.

The last two years Ray and I have gone to Keeneland on a chartered bus filled with friends, friends of friends, complete strangers, beer and Jell-O shots. Last year, our friends got engaged on the bus.

Obviously, our crowd is less about horse racing and more about having a good time. But I never drink because I'm reluctant to have to pee 40 times on a bathroom bus. And this year, someone accidentally dropped the hand sanitizer into the toilet. So there's also the possibility of not being able to clean your hands. 

But anyway, I go to Keeneland to watch the real beasts perform, which is to say, people watch.

Drunk college kids decked out in their J. Crew seersucker suits and sunburns. Women in pressed dresses, giant hats and heels (the brave ones wear stilettos, the realists wear wedges), their husbands in navy jackets. The moneyed owners and hangers-on. The genuine gamblers with their crazy hair, cigars and studied knowledge of the horses and the drugs they're on.

How the good people of the Commonwealth tolerate this influx of characters each April and October is beyond me.

One of the natives was an older woman, probably in her mid-60s, who took our hotdog order like she was happy to see us. She was sweet and southern and her wiglet ponytail matched her real hair almost perfectly. 

'Look, Ray. That woman has a wiglet. It's just like Madonna on the Blonde Ambition Tour.'

That's when I had to explain to Ray what a wiglet is.

'They're like wigs, only smaller.'

The good thing about Keeneland is you actually see horses. I went to the Kentucky Derby twice and I didn't see a single horse. The Mint Juleps could have been to blame the first year, but not the second. (I still won't go near a Mint Julep.) 

Next year we've decided we're getting grandstand seats. And maybe we'll study up on odds, breeds and jockeys. Or we'll just take our $2 to a betting window where some kind woman or man won't flinch when we bet on cat names again.

*And by small fortune, I mean we could have bought a few more hotdogs and a couple of beers with that money.

Monday, April 21, 2014


I think the reason the internet was invented was for cat photos and this video. 

These two women charmed me completely and totally. It is one of the most joyous things I have seen in a long time. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Four Glorious Years!

I don't know why he complains when I take pictures of him. Obviously I ensure that we both look great.

Today is the four year anniversary of when Ray and I met.

We had brunch at Coffee Emporium in OTR, next door to where he lived at the time. It was a white hot occasion, marked by me wearing jeans and a t-shirt (is there any better way to make a first impression?) and Ray was wearing a pea green zip-up that I still make fun of.

I asked him, 'Are you going to a track meet after this?'

I sure am charming!

I made a fleeting reference to this auspicious occasion in a blog post that weekend called That Was Fun.

From the post:
Sunday at brunch I grossly over-syruped my waffle and learned that my worst injury is a "chick injury." And if Jack White were to wail on his guitar and come bleeding from his fingers into my apartment, the drops of blood dripping onto my hardwood floor would form into the shape of Jesus, holding a guitar.
Those were the highlights of Ray and I's first face to face conversation apparently. He said I had a "chick injury," which I'm not sure now what we were even referring to, and I obviously talked about my love of Jack White, who even bloodied, is awesome.

Sounds about right.

I'm surprised I ever saw Ray again given that he said I had a "chick injury." But he was funny and cute, which can get you a long way in life really. And he told me his condo next door had a rooftop terrace with a grill, and I thought I'd look real good up there that summer sunning myself and eating hamburgers. (And indeed, I did.)

Over the last four years I've occasionally kept track of the funny things Ray has said to me, in addition to insulting my "chick injury."

In honor of our anniversary, here they are:

  • I know yoga is no joke and all, but I don’t think you should tell people that you have a yoga injury.
  • Have you ever noticed that chicks who are really into horses have hair that is way too long?
  • You aggravate the hell out of me! Being mad at me, needing tissues, demanding tea, taking my photo all the time!
  • I don't claim to know a lot about housing and infrastructure, but I know a firetrap shithole when I see one. 
  • Are you feeling a Reds game tomorrow night? It might be kinda nice to drink an overpriced beer, eat some stale nachos, watch a ballgame and bail when we get bored.
  • If we were broke up and you texted me a year later, hours before you’re supposed to get married to someone else and said, ‘I’m in over my head, come get me,’ I’d come get you. But I’d still be pissed you almost married someone else.
  • You know, I don’t think I ever felt teen angst. I never felt put upon or confused or ill-at-ease. I just wanted to get the hell out of Greenville, Pennsylvania.
  • I don’t why they call them boyfriend sweaters because this doesn’t look like anything I would wear.
  • Gina, I would walk through hell in gasoline underwear for you. But if you asked me to drive back from New Mexico when there are perfectly good planes, we’d be in a big fight.
  • General Tso's is the bomb. It's fried chicken with sugar sauce on it.
  • We cannot ever break-up. You have to love me forever because there is no way we'll ever be able to get all the furniture out of this house. The dressers barely made it through the window. We just have to stay together until the end. 
  • It looks like the Easter Bunny took a pastel dump in here.
  • I swear to god that place was a Superfund site. We drove all the way to Indiana to pay $8 for a JTM burger that made us sick and a packet of Swiss Miss with some lukewarm water. They just handed us the packet and told us to put the water on it ourselves. Plus, it was the shittiest hayride ever. ...God I loved that place.

Everyone should be so lucky to have a Ray.

Happy anniversary to us! 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Two Turn Tables and A Half-Read Book

When I pulled this off the shelf to take the photo, I was stunned to see I got better than halfway through it.

The summer of 1996 was a formative one.

I was an intern writing features at the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, a city far bigger than the one where I grew up, working with people far smarter and more creative than I was, and those people listened to cool music.

I was learning more and writing more than anything three years of college had taught me, plus I met a cute weird boy who I would go on to date for several years.

Fountains of Wayne's Radiation Vibe was always on the indie radio station and Beck's Odelay was always in my CD player. I didn't have cable in my short-lease studio apartment, but I'd watch the Atlanta Summer Games on the newsroom TV.

The entire experience was transformative, like drinking from a firehose. But I loved it. 

I was also reading Naked Lunch that summer. Or rather, I was trying to.

I remember one of my friends/coworkers left me a message on my answering machine (it was 1996, after all) telling me:

'You're never going to finish Naked Lunch so just forget about it. It's too much, too weedy. We're going to The Emporium, all of us, to check out the scene. If there's no scene, we'll be our own scene. See you there.'

I was at once delighted I was invited to be part of the 'scene,' but also stunned. How could he say I was never going to finish Naked Lunch? I mean, other than the fact that it is impenetrable, how could he say that?

I was reminded of my storied history with Burroughs' seminal novel last weekend when I read a review of the new book Call Me Burroughs, by Barry Miles. 

From the review:

Miles charts in detail how dependent this singular iconoclast was on the inspiration and editorial skills of his friends. Without Allen Ginsberg, who spent 10 weeks establishing some kind of order on the pages of “Naked Lunch,” scattered around the floor of Burroughs’s room in Tangier… we wouldn’t have any of his major works in their present form. Though the first and last drafts were always his, collaboration rescued Burroughs from the terrors and falsities of single authorship, giving him access to kindred minds with different resources. He knew they made his work, as Ginsberg put it, more “decipherable.”

I was staggered to read that Ginsberg spent 10 weeks putting order to the book. I can't fathom what it would have read like without that influence, nor can I fathom spending 10 weeks in the vain exercise of reading Naked Lunch as a 'draft.'

Ginsberg, you poor bastard.

I can't say for certain but I'm pretty sure I went to The Emporium that night with my coworkers. I can say for certain that I never finished Naked Lunch that summer… because I still haven't finished Naked Lunch.

I've moved that book from Fort Wayne to Virginia to Ohio and to probably 10 apartments in Cincinnati. I will never part with it.

I will never likely finish it either. It is a bright yellow, bound reminder of a great summer.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Cassius Clay, The Greatest Kitty of all Time

Cassius and I lived in 9 different apartments together over 13 years.

This past summer, the day before we had to put him down, Cassius Clay, The Greatest Kitty of All Time, caught a mouse.

Technically, the mouse ran right into him as he was lounging around in the liriope. But still, he chased it and caught it fair and square, pinning it to the sidewalk by its tail.

Even at death's door, he was still a bonafide attack cat. No mouse would be tolerated running through The Greatest Kitty of All Time's liriope.

Say what you want about kids cats and "screen time," but I think all that practice with the iPad mouse game really paid off.

Cassius had several favorite iPad games and videos, including the bird feeder video. He also liked the squeaky cries for help that the iPad mice let out when they were 'caught.'

The next day we told him he'd soon be going to kitty heaven because of the tumor in his mouth.

We described to him the miles and miles of grass there was to eat in kitty heaven; how numerous the lawns were that kitties could trespass on; the stacks of ponytail holders that just sit and wait to be batted around; and how there is all the turkey and gravy baby food that a kitty could want.

At that point he hadn't eaten in five days. The tumor had severely distorted his jaw and left his tongue dangling outside of his mouth at all times. He drooled constantly.

Regardless, he remained a true threat to all mice and ponytail holders... when he wasn't asleep in a shoe box.

The Greatest of All Time

Cassius was no ordinary house cat. He enjoyed several careers in his nine lives, including serving as the hush puppy frier at Long John Silvers when he was a teenager. Unfortunately, he was fired for smoking cat nip before his management dreams came true.

After that he started his own limo service, Top Cat Rides. He worked the night shift driving partying alley cats to and fro, which explains why he slept all day and was always groggy. He especially loved wearing the little limo driver's hat and bowtie. (Very handsome.)

Later in life he became quite the outdoorsman, begging to be let outside where he always followed the same pattern - he jumped off of the porch, snaked behind the big evergreen bush, had a grass snack in the neighbors' yard and then headed to back to our yard where he would lounge in the liriope.

'All of the mice! All of the yards! All of the porches!'
This outward appearance of relaxing in the flowering yard plants was really a ploy to lull us into disinterest. Because as soon as we were diverted to other topics, Cassius would seize the opportunity to trespass into the other neighbor's yard and run up onto her porch.

For hobbies, he enjoyed criticizing neighborhood dogs - I saw him laughing at a greyhound once, which he said was the weirdest dog he'd ever seen - downloading apps on his iPad and offering his opinion, without being asked, on blog copy.

'It's ok. I've read better. Is there any Cat Sip in the kitchen?'

He was also a convincing liar. He once told Ray during an extended front porch petting session that he was a physicist. (There is no way this is true as he was 'held back' in kindergarten at least five times.)

Even with all of these achievements, his crowning moment was catching that mouse.

He was preceded in death by his frenemy, Cassady Daugherty, (RIP Cassie), and is survived by his mom and dad, Gina and Ray, and two little brothers he didn't meet, Hunter S. Tomcat and Chuck Norris.

Frenemies: Cassady Daugherty in the box; Cassius Clay horning in.

He went peacefully into that great good night with his mom and dad rubbing his head and ears, just the way he liked.

His final request was that we not forget to mention the mouse. Also, he would like to let aluminum foil  - that noisy, terrifying, substance of evil - know that it can go straight to hell.

Until next time, Cassius Clay.