Saturday, February 26, 2011

J & K Do Portland Food Carts: Month 2.

Waffles & Cheesesteaks edition! Those things go together, right?

For those just tuning in, you can get the lowdown on the Portland food cart scene, and our attempt to correct our almost total lack of knowledge about it, here. We were able to dine on some delicious cart food twice this month, the first of which was for breakfast, which is Kathy's and my favorite meal to dine out for (as attested to here). So for some gals who love breakfast, and are on a journey to love food carts? Imagine our delight in discovering that there's a cart within walking distance of our apartment which is solely devoted to the art of the waffle. Yes, life is good, my friends. Big Top Waffles is located at one of the newest food cart pods in Southeast which is just starting to get to its feet, at Foster and SE 52nd.

For most of the time that we have lived in our somewhat-pathetic-yet-lovable neighborhood of Foster-Powell, this corner was a desolate stretch of parking lot surrounding an abandoned doggie daycare place.  Peeling paint of adorable doggie faces haunted me each time I passed it: "Look at us! People probably just sell drugs here now! Woof!" In addition to the food carts starting to build in the parking lot, I hear rumors of the doggie daycare building being rebuilt into a brewpub. In other words, the most amazing thing to possibly happen to this little corner of our world is happening. And this is why I love Portland: hope springs eternal, via young people and small business.

What I Had: The Magician--nutella, bananas, chocolate, whipped cream. You had me at nutella.

What Kathy Had: The Fire Eater--a cornbread waffle topped with chili and cheddar cheese. You had her at cornbread.

The Conclusion: Okay, I have to be honest and say I was slightly disappointed with mine, mainly because it was half the size of Kathy's (not sure why) and the waffle wasn't as light and fluffy tasting as I was hoping. But, still, let's be honest, when you have nutella and bananas and chocolate it can never be that bad. And my opinion of the cart overall was buoyed when I had a taste of Kathy's, which was pretty darn delicious. You might think that chili would be a bold choice at 10AM (okay, I thought that, a little), but bold decisions are the spice of life, people. Especially if that decision involves chili and green onions, because, it's, you know, literally spicy.

Also, the prices are really, really reasonable, and there's a plethora of other waffle options to be had.

There are a few other carts starting up here which look promising, and we definitely plan to return and support our most local food cart pod.

A few weeks later we were actually on the hunt for some good thai food, and decided to head over to the pod on Belmont and SE 43rd, Good Food Here, to pursue a well-reviewed thai cart with the delightful name of Yum Zap. Much to our distress, the mythical Yum Zap was closed when we got there, but our distress was lessened pretty quickly when we realized when we were surrounded by a bunch of other tempting choices. We almost walked right by Dog Eat Dawg, a cart specializing in hot dogs and Philly Cheesesteaks, until we started looking at some of the pictures and the guy working called out to us and quickly sold us on his food with his charming demeanor and our thai desires quickly sizzled in favor of good ol' cheese and meat. This is the power of good customer service/selling skills, people. Also, in case a cheesesteak wasn't enough, I also ordered a bowl of their chili, because it was cold and rainy and it just sounded really good. The guy said, "Well, our bowls of chili are pretty big, you know," while giving me a little bit of a look, and I said, "Yep," and he said, "Want me to top that with some Tillamook cheddar cheese?" and I said, "Yep."

Man oh man were these cheesesteaks good. REAL good, even if I was shamed when I put ketchup on mine. I even said as I was applying it, "Shhh, don't let him see!," because I already knew this guy knew what he was talking about and would shame me if he saw it, but then he asked for our cheesesteaks back so he could put them in another container to keep them hotter when we told him we were going home with them, and he said, "Wait, what is this red stuff on here?," and I looked at the ground, and he shook his head, but decided to still let me have it back, which was kind.

What we'd like to eat if we went back: something nice and fattening from a brightly decorated cart entitled Euro-Trash; a sandwich from the equally well named Lardo; something fancy and French from the fancy French place; and pretty much anything from the fabulously named Lucille's Balls, which I think mainly serves plates of meatballs.

Lucille's Balls.

People are freaking geniuses.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Five songs.

Even though my eardrums are still normally ringing with mostly Beach House and Mumford & Sons these days, here are five other tunes which have been tickling my fancy.

1. Sweet Disposition, Temper Trap
This song has been played on a few car commercials, as well as a bunch of TV shows and movies, which would probably be the epitome of being sold out, but oh well. I still love this song to DEATH. I have listened to it hundreds of times and still think it's just as cool each time I listen to it, which is pretty remarkable. Talk about epic. The pulsing beat and melody throughout the whole thing just begs to be the soundtrack to awesome things. Hence, I like to picture it being the soundtrack of my life when I listen to it, if my life involved a lot more exciting stuff.

2. Rolling in the Deep, Adele
Phew, mama, this song gives me chills from the first note she sings. (The official video by the way can be watched here; I cannot embed it due to the wonderful Vevo, whoever the hell they are.) Her voice, especially in the badass verses of this song, simply commands you to stop everything you're doing and listen. In my first few listens of this song I wasn't sure if the chorus was a little too much for me--a little trill, or something--but man, I loved those verses so much!--but now I love all of it, all of it. The lyrics are wonderful, too--so exquisitely angry and righteous. The background singers throughout the chorus add to all the layers of awesomeness of this song. Oh man. So much soul for a white British girl. Chills!

3. Treasury of We, Glasser
Like most of the songs on this list, this song is so layered and such an interesting journey. It starts out kind of trippy-sounding with cascading marimbas and her floating heavenly voice, then transitions into brief Enya-esque pulses of nonsensical chanting-type-singing, and then at about four minutes in a repetition of this line begins: We beat our heads against the wall we press our eyes into the ground, and while I can't tell you what the heck that means, what I can tell you is that I can't get enough of her singing it. It beats its way into my brain and I end up singing We beat our heads against the wall we press our eyes into the ground all day.

4. Tightrope, Janelle Monae
I can't embed the official videos for this, which is highly unfortunate, since they are so awesome they rock my socks off so emphatically that they fly off my feet and hit the wall. I say "videos" since there are two awesome versions of this song: the original by Janelle, and then the remix featuring B.o.B and Lupe Fiasco. The video for the original is the one that really rocks those socks of mine the hardest, although they are both thoroughly enjoyable. The dancing--the dancing! Even in my DREAMS I cannot be as beautiful and talented as this woman. Like "Rolling in the Deep," although they are extremely different songs, the verses are so fast-paced and awesome they reel you in from the first words and never let you go. Seriously, the awesomeness of this lady cannot be understated.

5. When I Find You, Joshua Radin
I'll end this with a sweet one. Kathy made me listen to this song because of a Naomily fan vid made by Rin (if you need a refresher on this terminology, see Fandom), and while it seemed nice, it also seemed kind of generic-folky-sappy, and while I do like generic-folky-sappy as a general rule, it's also easy for these to blend into the background a bit. However, after having numerous sing-along-sessions to this tune with Kathy in the car, it has grown on me a lot and, gosh darn it, has seeped into my bones. However, I do have to say that my world was just rattled because part of the charm of this song was my previously held belief of him being Australian (or some such nationality), a belief confirmed by my favorite line to sing along to: CAHN'T you see that when I find you, I find me. That is not the way Americans sing "can't," people. But Wikipedia just told me he was born in Ohio. OHIO. I don't know what game you're trying to play, Mr. Radin, but it's tricky and makes me feel suspicious. But, I'll let it go this time, since your song is really super nice.

(ETA: Upon further listening to this song, his "can't" sounds pretty much like a normal American "can't." Maybe I missed this because when I sing along to it I sing "CAHN'T YOU SEE" with such vigor that I can't hear the way he actually sings it? But where did I get this assumption? Did I just assume he was Australian because Rin is Australian and I associated the song with her even though I don't even know her? Which is way weird?! Also, did I just write almost two paragraphs about the pronunciation of one syllable, which in the scheme of a whole song really shouldn't matter? Why yes, yes I did. You're welcome.)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher

I spent almost all of today laying on the couch and reading. Let me tell you: there is nothing in the world I like more than this! I mean, okay, ice cream, and Kathy, and my animals, and barbeque sauce, and traveling, and cheese, are all maybe tied for this title, but you get the picture. And most of this reading time was spent consumed with this book, Almost Perfect, by Brian Katcher, which I picked up from the library earlier this week because it won the ALA's Stonewall Award for Young Adult Literature this year. (For those who are not as informed about the GLBT community--which is okay!--you can start informing yourself by reading  a little about what the significance of Stonewall is.) This is only the second year the Stonewall Awards have had a Children's & Young Adult category (read my babbling about the first winner here), which I feel is Kind of a Big Deal, and awesome. It signifies many different things: 

1) The recognition of the increasingly high quality of literary works for children & young adults. 
2) The increased amount of high quality literary works for children & young adults concerning GLBT issues, enough to sort through and have an honest debate about assigning an award (and honors) to. As you may know, I made a website concerning this topic for a class last year which I am proud of, although I haven't touched it since I made it. I keep wanting to update it, but the truth is the amount of books I have listed on there is so paltry compared to the actual amount of books available to children and teens now about GLBT issues that it is daunting even thinking about it. 
3) We are slowly acclimating to the reality that it is okay and healthy and important to discuss GLBT issues with children. Some may even say it's essential.

Back to my main point, I had started reading this book during sporadic bus commutes and the occasional exhausted five minutes before bed (such a poor way to read, but often all we have time for), and shockingly, hadn't been too into it at the beginning. I know the course of today helped change that: when I sit down and read something for hours in a solid block of time, I always enjoy it more. My brain is allowed to really sink into the story, to transport to this imaginary time and place more deeply and satisfyingly. As another recent hero of mine Kelly Gallagher explains in his book Deeper Reading, reading comprehension does not always depend on how great of a reader you are; it often depends on your current situation, how tired or alert you are, your current state of mind. You need your brain to be on the right reading channel, and sometimes that channel is fuzzy or plain out of service. (But if you're a student and you don't pass a state mandated reading comprehension test on a particularly bad day, you obviously must be a bad reader--and also probably have a bad teacher.) If you're only reading a book in brief snippets on the bus while your mind is on a million other things? Guess what, you might not like it as much. So I'm not sure if it was just me, or the book, but suddenly, I was loving this story.

There were things I found frustrating at the beginning of the novel--on purpose, I believe--which I was able to wrap my head around and understand more as I got more sucked in. And, hey, I guess I should get around to actually telling you what this book was about, eh? Logan Witherspoon is our protagonist, a senior in high school in a small town in Missouri who starts the novel aching over his ex-girlfriend-of-three-years. All of his friends are telling him, "Move on, man! She cheated on you! She doesn't deserve you! Get over it!" and he's saying, "Leave me alone, jerkfaces!" Until Sage Hendricks enters his life. Sage is new in town, which is interesting in itself since new people hardly make an appearance in their small town. She's especially interesting however, considering she has funky fashion, is over six feet tall, and is bold and funny and confident and just different. Another important detail: she likes Logan. He likes her. They make each other laugh. She bakes him cookies! She sews him a blanket! His cheating ex never did any such things.

Then the other shoe drops. She tells him the truth after they kiss for the first time: she's a guy--technically, physically. Everything about her is all woman, and always has been, except for the penis between her legs. His reaction is to almost punch her in the face.

Their relationship is an extreme roller coaster of ups and downs from then on, with at times euphoric results and other times devastating ones. The decision to tell the story from Logan's point of view was a really interesting one. There are things that he says, things that he does, at first, which are infuriating--but at the same time, probably realistic of an 18 year old boy. He tries to convince himself of different things each day, and each time convincingly so--I don't like Sage because I don't like dudes but I can be her friend, to, When Sage and I go off to college everything is going to be perfect and we'll hold hands every day and that other thing doesn't even matter! He is almost adorably naive at points but his emotions, from rage, to confusion, to love, are all acutely realistic.

While all GLBT youth (and adults) are at risk of suffering injustices, there is no one who is more at risk than the T (for transgender) part of that acronym. People who are transgendered are without a doubt the most vulnerable for not just teasing or bullying but for serious physical violence or death, on a daily basis; the most at risk for undefended discrimination and legal struggles; the most at risk for suicide and self-hate. There are statistics I could bring up for you, but it would make me too depressed. While most of the general population is at least aware of differences in sexual orientation (even if they don't agree with them), for a majority of folks, meeting someone who says they're a woman when their genitalia says they're male (and vice-versa) is like that person saying the sky isn't blue--a shock to the system almost impossible to accept. You can't decide what color the sky is! It's just blue! When in reality, the person has to explain, sadly--it has never been blue for me. I've only ever seen red--and no one else can see it but me. And it makes me feel so alone.

(It perhaps should be mentioned that for some people, the sky is neither blue nor red, but purple, and the idea of even having to see it one way or the other is offensive. And having to transition fully from one gender to the other is simply reinforcing the gender binary. For instance, in the novel, ever since Sage was a little girl, she knew she was a girl because, among other things, she wanted to wear dresses and be a princess, and now as a teenager, she loves shopping and makeup. To which people may cry, "But that's just playing into stereotypes!" However, I always say that stereotypes--while still stereotypes--exist for a reason. Meaning, they're normally true for some people. There are some people who know 100% that they are a woman--and love shoes and makeup, or not--or 100% a man--and love trucks and sports, or not--and others who are somewhere in between. What's important to stress, in any shape or form, is that any of these are okay, any of these are normal.)

A problem I've seen in certain GLBT novels for young adults, and other books which deal with "issues," is that it's easy to turn didactic--to do too much explaining instead of just storytelling. In one way, it's hard to have an issue with that--because often these things need to be explained to people, hence the purpose of the book! (For instance, I loved the incredible amount of information disclosed about Muslim identity in Randa Abdel-Fattah's Does My Head Look Big in This? Sure, at times it felt like the narrator was just spewing out a textbook, but, at the same time, an important and eye-opening textbook!) Yet because Logan--and Sage--did struggle so much with both of their feelings and identities, the story felt organic to me--there weren't any easy answers or solutions for either of them.

Two things I had small issues with: one dealt with another issue entirely, that of fat phobia. One of Logan's friends, Tim, is overweight, and it seems like this is the only real character trait assigned to him. Every time he's mentioned, it is also mentioned how he is overeating like a maniac. It made me uncomfortable, but thinking about it at the end of the novel, I comforted myself by believing that perhaps Katcher was making a subtle point through the fact that Tim was the only guy of their friends who had a true, stable relationship with a girl by the time they graduated. The other issue had to deal with the deep homophobia which often lies behind transphobia--even though being transgender has nothing to do with a person's sexuality, why it often makes other people uncomfortable is because it makes people re-examine theirs. The reason Logan was so angry at Sage, and himself, was because he felt she duped him into being gay--he kissed her, and she was a dude, so if people knew, they would think he was a fag, and he was NOT a fag, man! He repeated this sentiment quite a bit when struggling with his physical attraction to Sage, and I kept wanting someone to jump into the narrative and shake him and say: "First dude, obviously you are not gay, but why are you SO TERRIFIED of even the thought, as if it's the worst possible thing that could ever happen to a human being? And stop saying fag, alright." But surprisingly, I found myself getting over this one pretty quickly. Logan is not perfect. In the end, he's still a small town boy in Missouri. He loves a transgendered woman. That is enough for one novel. He may not break down all of the prejudices in his mind, he may not crack all of the realities of the universe, but it would be unrealistic and forced if he did. 

While this post has wandered quite a bit, from talking about reading in general to talking about GLBT issues in general, what I really wanted to say was that I started this novel ambivalent and ended it in tears. Logan and Sage are complex, developed characters who wormed their way into my heart, and their ending made me ache. What I also wanted to say is that books such as this can save lives. I'm sure this one already has. And that is why I will keep reading them, writing about them, and defending them until the day I die.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mac & Cheese.

Kathy and I were invited to a Mac-n-Cheese-Off this past weekend, which yes, DOES sound like the best thing ever. It was especially the best thing ever for me, since I love mac & cheese so much I almost live off of it. Only, seriously: half of ALL of Kathy's and my meals (okay maybe more than half) are box mac & cheese (Velveeta shells and cheese when we're feeling fancy). It should be noted that this is also due to being extremely poor: a 59 cent Fred Meyer/Kroger brand box of mac & cheese is a solid meal for both of us, making it approximately 30 cents a portion! And by 'solid meal,' I mean, 'contains no nutritional value whatsoever but makes us feel satisfactorily full'! I mean, we are so poor, people, that we rarely even reach high enough for Kraft these days. (Kraft can be close to a dollar! Excuse me.) I used to mix in peas with our box mac to include at least some semblance of nutrition, but haven't mustered up the energy to even do that in months. We DO completely smother our mac in hot sauce now, though, so...maybe, uh, we get some vegetables via peppers? Maybe?

But this was a competition, and people who are actually serious about Real Food (not Poor People Food) were going to be there. As evidenced by this conversation I had with a classmate who was also going, a few days earlier:
Me: "Mine's going to have bacon in it!"
Ajay: "So's mine."
Me: "Dammit."
Me: (regrouping) "Mine's going to have blue cheese in it!"
Ajay: "Mine's going to have cream cheese in it."
Me: "Dammit."
So, I made this recipe which I had read about on Cat's blog, and it was delicious: super creamy, super cheesy, and REALLY blue-cheesy. As you probably know, this was no problemo for me, but the blue cheese flavor was quite potent, so I don't know if everyone would go for it. (And her recipe calls for 6 oz; the biggest container of crumbled blue cheese I could find was 5 oz, so I actually used LESS than I was supposed to.) As mentioned, I added bacon to the mix for some extra cholesterol, and I also used whole milk which I normally never buy. Can't you just feel it clogging your arteries now? Doesn't it feel great?

Ajay had attended this same event last year and told me, "I have NEVER been so sick of mac & cheese." The idea of being sick of mac & cheese was so absolutely blasphemous to me that my mouth dropped open and I stuttered, "Uh, I don't think that's POSSIBLE, dude." To which he responded, "Oh, you just wait."

Okay. So. As much as it pains me to say this, I was wrong, he was right. There were fifteen delectable macs at this shindig, and even though I only took a few small bites of each, by the time I reached number nine, I was hurting a little. It should be mentioned that I was also consuming large portions of beer, so it was pretty much Carbs Fest 2011. There were cajun macs, macs with veggies, macs with some really interesting and unique cheeses, macs of all pasta shapes and sizes. There was even a mac with beets, which was surprisingly good. The only sad thing about this competition is that it's kind of hard to keep 15 macs hot with one tiny kitchen, and some of the macs--including mine, which was #11 to come out--were only lukewarm or kind of cold, and a mac really loses its creaminess, and hence its deliciousness, with temperature. However, I still enjoyed them all! Even when I was feeling horrible! There were others who actually gave up, but I said, hells no! I will conquer you, overabundance of starch! Because I am a Guccini, and eating until we're on the verge of throwing up is what we do!!

In the end my blue cheese mac didn't even make it to the top five, but I was okay with it, because I was able to take the leftovers home, which I of course consumed the next day for lunch. And I hadn't really had anything for breakfast, which made this about a 24 hour cycle of sole mac & cheese/beer consumption. You could perhaps call this a personal low--or, high! My mind was trying to tell me high, but my body was kind of leaning towards low.

In any case, this weekend led me to revisit memories of some of my favorite macs of all time. I feel like mac & cheese has become a somewhat popular appetizer/happy hour type dish at many restaurants, and most of those I've had end up being just eh. But here are two macs which have really made my life better, one from each city I've loved.

#1: The Mac & Cheese at Sweetwater, Boston

Sweetwater is the Trashiest of Trashy Bars Which Owns My Heart. It's located in the alley near Emerson on Boylston, which is literally an alley but is officially called, creatively, The Alley. (It's hard to describe, but it's funny somehow, trust me. As in, people would specify their location as, "Hey, we are in The Alley."  Okay, I can tell you don't get it. Moving on.) We spent many hours there in the last few years we lived there, most during their Tuesday night trivia. Sweetwater trivia was such a legendary part of our Boston social lives that it deserves its own entry and I won't get into too many details. But even though this was the trashiest of the trashy, I dearly loved some of their incredibly overpriced food.  One of those items was their Sweetwater tenders--that Sweetwater sauce, so tantalizing! The other was their mac & cheese, served with garlic bread AND a salad. I really cannot describe what made this mac & cheese so good, other than it was always swimming in a bowl of abundant creamy white cheddar-y cheese. I love this mac so much that when we visited last summer and made the necessary Sweetwater trek, I ordered it even though I had just eaten dinner a couple of hours earlier--a McDonald's dinner, at that. And then after the mac, I ordered the Sweetwater tenders. And then we went to a late-night diner and I ordered the largest plate of sweet potato fries that man has ever made. This night has affectionately been referred to as That Night Jill Ate Four Dinners.

(Interestingly, upon just visiting Sweetwater's website, they describe themselves as "a well-kept secret for local professionals." And by "local professionals," I am assuming they mean, "lots of drunk and obnoxious Emerson students.")

#2: The Spold & the Tomato Basil Pesto Mac at Montage, Portland

Montage is one of the best restaurants I've been to in Portland (and believe me, there are a lot of good restaurants up in here).  It's also in one of the strangest locations--in an industrial-type area which is literally under a bridge. The Morrison Bridge, to be exact. Perhaps a good location for a punk club, a little stranger for a somewhat-fancy cajun restaurant, but, hey, it works. This place has a whole mac & cheese portion of its menu with a delicious variety to choose from. I'm sure all their other food is delicious as well, but the macs are SO GOOD that I could never stray. My favorite two are the Spold & the Tomato Basil Pesto. The Spold is a combination of their The Old Mac, which is described on their website as thus: GARLIC, HEAVY CREAM, PARMESAN, and their Spicy Mac, described as: CAJUN GRAVY, JALAPENOS, TOMATOES, PARMESAN. Um, what could be a better, more heart-stopping combination? And the Tomato Basil Pesto mac speaks for itself. You might think it sounds healthier, but don't you worry your little head, it is still smothered in cheese. As any self-respecting mac should be. Seriously, some of the best food I've ever had.

Also, they wrap up your leftovers into really elaborate animals and shapes made of tinfoil, as my mom and sister are displaying here. Which, you know, is extremely wasteful, but, fun!

While my pretty-sick-of-mac&cheese feeling lasted through the day after the party, I should reassure  you that it passed quickly. In the few days since then, after our leftovers ran out, I've consumed one box of Velveeta and one box of Fred Meyer brand mac. Thank God. My body is only used to foods whose color resembles radioactive waste, so it's good to be back to normal.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Debbie Harry Sings in French, by Meagan Brothers

I looked back at her. She was just sitting on the bed, reading the back of the album cover. I wanted to believe she was honest, that she wasn't making fun of me. That she was on my side. But she was real. And that's the problem with real people. They can form opinions about you, just like you form opinions about them. Unlike posters, or album covers, or voices on records that always say the same thing whenever you put them on. Real people can feel free to voice their contrary opinions any damn time they please.
I bought this book on a whim because I thought the title was really kickass. In addition, when I read this on the jacket flap: "This witty and tender novel introduces shades of gray into the black-and-white ideas of sexuality and gender," I thought, double score! Pleasantly, it did not disappoint, at all.

The book revolves around Johnny, a teenager living in Florida dealing with some serious family trauma and some pretty crappy friends. Accordingly, he drinks too much and ends up almost dying from an overdose, after which his mom ships him off to South Carolina to live with his uncle. Herein two beautiful things happen: he discovers Blondie, and he meets Maria. Maria, who is the coolest of the cool, who has her own vicious demons to contend with. What I like about both Johnny and Maria is that they are both supremely likable; while they both have serious issues going on they are also really smart and witty and funny, which offsets the Drowning in Angst Young Adult Character typecast which can get to be just a little too much sometimes in these books. I love all of their dialogue, and I was really rooting for them, and their relationship, throughout.

In addition to the characters, another thing I feel like Meagan Brothers writes really well about is music. I love the paragraph above, and she just explains what a vital force it is in both Johnny and Maria's lives without being over the top about it. Anytime I find a book/author who really gets the music thing right, I want to jump and cheer. Then, there is the gender stuff.

Essentially, Johnny doesn't just love Blondie's music, he loves Debbie Harry: he wants her style, her fierceness, her female toughness. It's Maria who first encourages him to wear a dress, to put on heels, because she can sense that he wants to, and she's the force he needs to actually submit to these feelings. This is why Maria is the best girlfriend ever: she encourages her boyfriend to wear a dress. I love this storyline, and I love that while he's exploring this cross-dressing side of him, he never loses any of his certainty of his love for Maria. In other words: you can be fluid in your gender without being gay, which is an issue I feel is hard for many to understand, or even really know about. He is not anti-gay in the least, and gay-bashing from others who perceive him as gay/too effeminate is another intense storyline of the book; he's just not gay, himself. What I really like about this book is that, while the jacket flap does kind of insinuate this, it's not really just a book about a guy who wants to wear a dress. This is a dominant theme, yes, but it's done subtly, and smartly, which achieves the right affect: it's not a book about an "issue," it's a book about people.
"John, do you wish you were a girl?"
I had to think for a minute. Did I really want to be Debbie, or any woman? Did I want to be myself but with a different set of equipment? Was that the key? It seemed like a whole new set of problems.
"I like--I love women. They're beautiful and--they're just different. Sometimes I wish I could be gentle and beautiful and not be called a queer. But I don't hate myself or anything. I'm doing better, right? My grades are okay. I'm not getting into trouble. So what's wrong with putting on a dress every once in a while?"
"Nothing, John," Briggs said after a while. He put down his pen. "I'll see you next week."

Friday, February 11, 2011


I don't write about TV that much on here, which is a shame since TV is awesome and I like it a lot. The fact that I currently internet-stalk many people/blogs who write about TV extensively and write about it quite well makes writing about it even more intimidating. My problem with writing about things I like which I don't have enough practice writing about always come back to the fact that I often can't articulate much more about a subject than, "I like it a lot!" According to my tags web over there on the right side of the page, I clearly do not have much trouble blabbing my opinions about music and food, probably  admittedly because music and food have for a long time been my lifeblood, the things that help my arteries and organs keep on ticking. But other things--mainly, books, TV, and movies--also inspire me to actually throw back the covers and face the world everyday, yet I often can't express more than "I liked it! A lot!" about said novel/episode/film. Which is annoying. So, I'm making it a point to practice more starting now. Phew, okay, meta-cognition time over.  

Although there are always countless cool shows on channels like HBO and Showtime and the like to obsess over, and to discuss as frequently as possible with everyone you know about how awesome they are (see: Stuff White People Like #85: The Wire), basic cable really has a lot going for it the last couple of years, mainly due to the addition of Modern Family (which I'll write about eventually) and Parenthood. Parenthood has SO MUCH going for it, people, starting with the cast. There's Peter Krause, from the dearly beloved Six Feet Under; there's Lauren Graham, from my favoritest of all favorites, Gilmore Girls; and there's Coach--from Coach, duh. I think the biggest sign that this show has done its thang is that I am starting to no longer see Peter Krause as Nate Fisher, or Lauren Graham as Lorelai Gilmore, or Coach as Coach--they are all truly now Bravermans. (Okay, it can be a little hard sometimes with Lorelai/Sarah, although I do think there are important differences in their characters, I just know Lorelai SO WELL.)

Another thing it has going for it: a GREAT theme song. Bob Dylan laced over baby photo montages? Yes, please! I feel like the art of the theme song has been slowly lost over time, but it's important, man! Remember when Grey's Anatomy used to have a great theme song, as well as the L Word (for like a nanosecond)? Six Feet Under had one of the greatest theme song openings of all time (of all time), but nothing else is really coming to mind. Which is sad, people, since I have watched a lot of TV. But Bob singing Forever Young, now that is a good choice. The Rod Stewart cover would have been a little cheesy (although let's be honest, I love it), but Bob's ability to sing sentimental lyrics without any sentimental tinge in his voice, ever, makes it just right.

As the name suggests, the show follows the highs and lows of parenting and life of one extended family, starting with the matriarch and patriarch of Camille (Bonnie Bedelia) and Zeek (Coach), and the families of their four children: Adam (Peter Krause), Sarah (Lauren Graham), Crosby (Dax Shepard), and Julia (Erika Christensen). This show has an almost monstrously huge cast, but somehow, I like every  one of the characters and find each storyline plausible and engaging. I even like Julia, even though she is high strung and kind of crazy, because it's so easy to laugh at her high-strung-craziness; I also even like Kristina (Monica Potter), Adam's wife, even though she's neurotic and also kind of crazy, because you can feel that her craziness comes out of the intense overprotective love she has for everyone in her family. Although, I guess I can't actually say that I love everyone, since I really hate Sydney, Julia's spoiled brat of a daughter. Some higher minded people might just think she's sassy and independent; I think she's a bitch. Yeah, I don't care if she's six. She's a horrible person. Yeah, that's right.

What I really admire about this show is how it deals with issues which aren't really addressed elsewhere on basic cable: most obviously, autism, since Max, Kristina & Adam's son, has a pretty serious case of Asperger's. Max Burkholder, who plays the character of the same first name, acts his part so well that Kathy and I have had serious discussions about whether he has autism in real life (as far as I can tell from my scant internet research, he doesn't). Kristina & Adam's frustration, stress, and ultimately intense love and protection of him is also highly realistic and moving. In addition to the Asperger's thing, I feel like they have had some really apt story lines about the recession, which would seem like a pretty boring topic to address, but in terms of reflecting what could be a "real" American family, is actually an incredibly important one. While the struggles of Adam's shoe company is a recurring plot line, I was actually most impressed by an episode from last season in which Zeek has to reap the fallout from a bad investment and thousands of dollars lost. While they unfortunately haven't touched back on it, it showed how these types of things happening to an older generation creates not just a loss of money but a sense of loss of self, a loss of certainty and self-confidence in their ability to control their world.

Best Characters: The two teenaged girls are fantastic: Haddie (Sarah Ramos), Kristina & Adam's daughter, and Amber (Mae Whitman), Sarah's daughter. Amber may be one of the most true-to-life teenagers I've ever seen on TV, and what makes her great is that her aloof angst, her deadpan sarcasm and her general cynicism about the world doesn't become an Angsty Teenage Character Cliche, because it's offset by her moments of vulnerability and her huge heart. See: her freaking out over nerves before playing a song at an open mic night; also see: any touching bonding moment with her mom. Any time she OR her mom cry I just about lose my shit. What I've learned from Parenthood: Mae Whitman and Lauren Graham are two of best criers, EVER. While Amber's personality can easily take the spotlight, I actually think Haddie, the smart, "good girl" who's also struggling to find herself, with an equally strong ability to roll her eyes at her parents, is a fabulously real character as well. I am ready for the love-fueled drama between her and her parents to be over, but still, I think Haddie's strong reaction to being told she can't date someone she's fallen in love with is a realistic one. What could be worse than that as a teenager (or just as a person in general?) Not much.

Even more likely to be hidden behind these two strong girls is Drew (Miles Heizer), Sarah's son, but I think he's a quiet gem. His quiet awkwardness is just SO. GOOD. The fact that his thoughts and feelings are normally a mystery to his mom and pretty much everyone around him is so good; the episode where he struggled to fit as a Normal Cool Guy with kind of awful boys from high school, all of whom were obviously just as inwardly insecure but showed it on the outside less, was SO painfully good. I also really have a soft spot for Zeek. First of all, his name is brilliant. Second of all, he is so blustery in his old ways, but tries so hard to be a good, sensitive guy for his faltering relationship with his wife, and also for the rest of his family, that he is just ADORABLE. I love him, even when he says offensive things. I love him most when he says the perfect thing.

Weakest Characters: With such a huge cast it is obviously difficult to have each and every character fully developed, but there are a few that leave me either feeling nothing, or feeling like I want a lot more. One is Joel (Sam Jaeger), Julia's husband. Other than knowing that he somehow puts up with a crazy wife and a bitchy daughter, I really don't know much about this dude, even though I still like him. Then there's Jasmine (Joy Bryant), Crosby's fiancee. I know she's a really good dancer, and I know that she's super duper hot, and I know that I was real pissed at her when she took Jabbar, their son, away from Crosby for awhile. Maybe I still haven't gotten over this, even though they're both back and living together and happy now, because I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY love Crosby, and so really want Jasmine to be deserving of his love. I also feel like I want more out of Camille. She is definitely slightly more developed than Joel or Jasmine, but I feel like we see more of Zeek's inner turmoil and growth than we do hers. But she is also super duper hot for a grandma--that hair, and her fashion! Phew. So good. Also, have I mentioned yet that I want her and Zeek's house/compound/gardens? It is the most amazing home in the world and fuels my dreams of when I will someday be a grownup. I WANT IT. REAL BAD.

So, uh, apparently I CAN write about TV. For a long time. Congratulations if you made it all the way through. Aaaand may you stay forever young. Ba da bum.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beach House, Teen Dream.

Beach House dreams up some of the loveliest alt-pop music I have ever heard, and while I feel the term alt-pop is somewhat of an oxymoron, these days you can be alt-anything, and whether it's the correct term for Beach House or not, it's the best one I could think of. They are so dreamy that this album has an almost hypnotizing effect on my synapses, to the point where I am shocked that I don't drive off the road in a stupor when I'm listening to it on repeat in the car, as I have been ever since I took out Mumford & Sons a week ago, or, when I'm listening to it on the computer, that my head doesn't relax so much into my shoulders that I accidentally slump face first onto the keyboard.

Although both Kathy and I have been enamored with these folks for awhile now, we only JUST discovered, via YouTube, that the lead singer is a woman. This was the conversation we had before Kathy threw this discovery at me:
K: "Jill. What gender do you think the lead singer of Beach House is?"
J: "Oh. Wow. Uh. Hm." - realizes how hard it is to answer this question - "Uhm. A guy!"
K: "No."
J: - watches video of an attractive, hipster-y lady singing Norway - - brain explodes -
I mean listen, as a self-identifying queer person (if I had to choose a label, and my, are there many to choose from), I am all about effing all those gender norms in the A, so I don't want to be offensive or anything. It just seems like the voice that comes out of her body should not be coming out of her body, and strangely I can't stop thinking about it when I listen to it now. Again, this is no detriment to her at all, she clearly is a talented lady with a unique, amazing voice, it just changed my experience somehow. And clearly, change is uncomfortable. So from now on I am declaring that the voice of Beach House exists on its own, an androgynous, floating idea.

One of my favorites on this album is the second track, Silver Soul, which is the track on the non-video video above (although the audio on it isn't that great). There is just something about the way his/her voice rollercoasters in the chorus, swooping forward and then pulling back again all through the expanse of just one word--It is happening again. It is happening aga - ay - ay - ay - aaainnn--that completely sucks me in and holds me there.

Used To Be is another stellar one, starting timid and gentle with a piano following the vocal melody, and then after a minute or so in, a gentle hi-hat on the drums jazzes it up a bit, but overall the song maintains a tone of accepting sadness--the lyrics reluctant but realistic about a love that simply changed and moved on, which can be the hardest kind of fallout to accept sometimes.

The album--overall short but sweet, perfectly in both senses--ends just gloriously with Take Care, a song which for me now rivals The Luckiest in terms of absolute heart-wrenching-ness. The lyrics of The Luckiest are much more impressive, in my opinion, but the feel of Take Care, the entire song but the last three minutes in particular, wraps me up in a warm cocoon. All he/she is doing is repeating I'll take care of you over and over, but there is something so sincere about this notion. That's what these songs do--they somehow take love and make it not over-the-top cheesy but just earnestly real in a magical way I could probably never replicate. And believe me, I normally will wallow happily in just the over-the-top cheesy stuff, so when I hear or see something that in fact really captures it subtly and genuinely, my socks are pretty much blown off.

PS. Credit should be given to Stacy for giving Kathy a copy of this CD awhile ago, previous to which we had never heard of these people; she is clearly a much cooler person than we are. I used to mooch coolness off of Keegan and Jill D. and Meredith and Allie and the like in Boston, but when you live far away from the really cool kids, you have to mooch it wherever you can get it, so I've been grasping it in pieces from Stacy and a bunch of CDs burned for us by Ashley, and also by pretending in a small piece of my mind that I live in Brooklyn.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Faneuil Hell.

The other day at work a man came in who could hardly walk nor hardly fully open his eyes. He stumbled around for a bit, then stood, wavering back and forth, while I helped another customer. He couldn't really make coherent sentences when he approached the counter, but I filled in the gaps: "Glass of water?" - blank stare - "Yep, okay, one second. All righty, here's some water, thank youuu!" Eventually, he walked away. Later, a woman who had been sitting in the cafe for awhile came up to me. "So that man, who was in here earlier," she started. "He made me really uncomfortable. But you, you were really good! You are really good with people!" She repeated this sentiment a few times, and it made me feel surprisingly good about myself. Which, perhaps, says something about what spending most of my time around 13 year olds lately has done to my self esteem. In any case, after the fact, I suddenly realized what I should have said: "Lady, I used to work at Faneuil Hall. You ain't seen nothin'."

Working at Faneuil Hall for two years was a special kind of hell which only those who worked there can truly understand. Luckily, I had a lot of friends who also worked there, including Kathy, so we were all able to bond over our time in hell together, which always makes hell even specialer.

For the unacquainted,  Faneuil Hall is one of Boston's most popular tourist attractions, located along the infamous Freedom Trail, a red line painted on the sidewalk which connects some of Boston's best historical landmarks. [PSA: A red line which is surprisingly slippery when wet--if you're in Boston when it rains, watch out. Seriously.] Faneuil Hall is steps away from the site of the Boston "Massacre," as well as Boston's monstrous, sprawling concrete City Hall, and many other things. While the term Faneuil Hall now refers to the entire general area, Faneuil Hall itself is a historic building where Revolutionaries such as Sam Adams used to make speeches, and such, and a National Park ranger will tell you loads of boring stuff if you go there, but you probably won't, because most people go to the other buildings behind and surrounding the actual Faneuil Hall. These buildings are marketplaces, the biggest and central one being Quincy Market, which is full of food, and which is where I worked, at Starbucks. (Very historical, obviously.) The outer markets are full of places such as the Gap, Urban Outfitters, Crate & Barrel,  Build-a-Bear, and American Eagle--you know, places the Founding Fathers liked to frequent.

I took a trip to Boston as a child with my dad, and I remember eating at Quincy Market, and we all thought it was so cool! A bustling market full of food possibilities, full of people everywhere! How neat-o! Oh, the naivety of tourists. So innocent.

Here's what you learn when you work in old, historical buildings: they are old, people. No matter how you clean, everything is dirty. Things are gross. There are rats and cockroaches everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Since Starbucks was one of the first things to open each day at Quincy Market, we were often the first to see all the critters who had been having a party during the night, before they scurried away when everyone else arrived. One of my old co-workers had a somewhat legendary story of coming in one morning to see two large rats in the midst of passionate love making, smack in the middle of the hall, where hundreds of tourists would soon be congregating. One time I was about to brew some coffee at 6AM, and in a half-awake stupor, went to swipe off the counter what I thought was a piece of corrugated cardboard. (We hadn't turned on all the lights yet, alright.) Much to my surprise, this chunk of cardboard skittered away from me--OH, BECAUSE IT WAS A BIG ROACH. (I screamed like a little girl.) Every month or so we'd have to cover everything in the place with plastic so that people could come in overnight and torch the place with chemicals, but that still didn't seem to do much. I should also add that it gets very hot and humid in Boston in the summer, and such a building definitely wasn't build in the 1700's with air conditioner. We had these pathetic fans which did nothing, and we were required to wear hats--for, you know, sanitation purposes--and sweat would pour from every orifice--very sanitary. Very hellish.

Yet, these stories of grossness aren't even really what define the Faneuil Hall experience, although they are still good stories to tell. What really fills my memories are the freaks that roamed its halls every day--and lots of other things. There are so many memories filling my brain right now, in fact, that the only way I can organize them right now is by making a list. This isn't just a list of freaks, but of other general experiences and feelings I lived for two years of my life. So here we go.

1. Smiley Face Guy. This was a guy who wandered around every day selling smiley face pins, which completely adorned his jacket, for a dollar. He would come to Starbucks every morning and tell us random, somewhat awkward, sometimes offensive jokes. For some reason, the one I remember best was: "What do you get when an Italian guy dates a Jewish girl? A pizza bagel! HAHAHAHAHA!" Or if he didn't have a joke, he would just bark out random slogans before wandering away. As in, I'd be in the middle of making a latte, and he'd walk up and shout, "NICE TO MEET YA, WOULDN'T WANT TO BE YA! HAHAHAHAHA!" and then walk away. Every morning.

2. Stacking Guy. This guy's mental health issues were much more acute than Smiley Face Guy's. Like many mentally ill folks in Boston, he was not specific just to Faneuil Hall, but hit up all the Starbucks in the downtown area. He usually came in at night, and would sit at a table for long periods of time, and stack things. Meaning, he would take whatever he would find--sugar packets, stir sticks, cups from the trash, what have you--and stack them, into intricate sculptures. He would stare at these structures for awhile, grunt, and then start over again. For hours. We liked to just stare at him, when we had a spare second. His inventions were quite remarkable. When not stacking stuff, he would come up to the counter and tell us about various conspiracy theories--one time he explained to me how the quarter I just gave him told of the end of the earth.

3. President Connor. Another mentally ill fellow, but a quite lovable one, who referred to himself as President Connor. And often. I can't count the number of times he shook my hand and said, "Vote for President Connor!" I believe he had some type of name tag, or T-shirt, or sign, or something, labeling himself as thus. I am disappointed in the murkiness of my memory. He was often prone to shouting, "Fuck Bush! Vote President Connor! Fuck Bush!" at unsuspecting tourists. One time he sat next to me on the T on my ride home from work. He sat down and said, "Hi! I'm President Connor!" I wanted to say, "Hi, I'm Jill, and I gave you free coffee twenty minutes ago," but didn't. Instead he asked if I had a boyfriend, and I said I had a girlfriend, and he said, "OH, you going to get MARRIED?" and I said I didn't know, and he said, "Why not, you should get MARRIED!" This conversation went on for quite some time. Strangely, although the T was pretty full, not a single other person was talking.

4. Murgitroyd. I do not know why we called her Murgitroyd. Maybe Zoe knows? Even Kathy can't remember. In any case, this was an overly paranoid, perhaps schizophrenic old woman with the most pronounced mustache I have ever seen on a lady. She always carried around a variety of wrecked plastic blags. Like all of these folks, her situation was probably horridly sad, but to shield ourselves from the brutality of the world, we kept ourselves amused by laughing at the times she yelled at tourists--again, so unsuspecting, so innocent--anytime they took out a camera or a phone in her vicinity: "STOP TAKING MY PICTURE!! I KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING!" Hunched over, clutching her bags, she would shake a very angry fist at them, and they would say, "Uh, sorry?" and give each other an uncomfortable look before running away.

5. Mafia Guy from Pizzeria Regina. Pizzeria Regina is a famous pizzeria in the North End, the Italian neighborhood of Boston, and they had a stall in Quincy Market, too. The guy who managed it was a hulking Italian man who I couldn't understand most of the time, and who most definitely was part of the Mafia. He also often gave out lots of free pizza--workers of Quincy Market had a kind of food-sharing-pact-thing going on in solidarity--and so when every now and then he'd come down to get free drinks, we would say of course, of course, and make his strawberry and cream frappucinos as fast as possible, handing them over and then breathing a sigh of relief when he walked away without shooting us. Or, at least I did. In fact, maybe just writing this will get me killed. Maybe I should re-think this before I press the publish button.

6. Almost Break Dancers. In front of Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall were designated areas for street performers, which again, were fun for tourists, but created even more mayhem for normal folk. (Especially when there was a particularly loud group in the large performance area right outside of Starbucks--say, a marching band, or the like--and during their entire performance we would have to perform our job in shout-speak: "OH, YOU MEAN YOU WANTED THREE EXTRA SHOTS AND THAT WASN'T ENOUGH EXTRA CARAMEL TO CLOG YOUR ARTERIES, AND YOU WANTED SOME EXTRA DOUCHY-NESS ADDED IN? OKAY, SORRY!") Our favorite to walk by on our way to work, though, was this group of break dancers who were really good at gathering a huge crowd in a circle, blasting beats through their boombox, and stepping back and forth and clapping their hands while asking the crowd to get pumped up, all while shirtless and in gym shorts. They were SO GOOD at stepping back and forth and clapping their hands. Yet, I don't know if any of us ever actually saw them, you know, break dance. Or do anything else. And we walked by them a lot.

7. Rami Salami. This was a clown, and although he had a legitimate little stand and would legitimately make children happy with his balloon animals, I had to walk by him every day, and I HATE CLOWNS. I also feel forever confused by his seemingly Jewish-Italian hybrid name.

8. School/summer camp groups. The thing about working in such a place is that you never knew what you were going to be hit with. During the summer, it was a good guarantee that you would probably always be somewhat busy. But the worst were the moments you saw the hundreds (well, it always seemed like hundreds) of small children clad in the same colored shirts running up to your counter and shouting at once: "CARAMEL FRAPPUCINO WITH EXTRA EXTRA CARAMEL PLEEEEEASE!" Times twenty five. The other most frequent occurrence were large groups of Asians, many of whom had cameras and wanted to take pictures of you making their latte, for whatever reason. Seriously, several Asians have pictures of me in their vacation albums. Yes, it is slightly disturbing.

9. That feeling in summer when you reach the top of the stairs at Government Center. There were two ways I took to Faneuil Hall--you could take the T on the Orange Line to State, or you could take the Green Line to Government Center. The latter was what I remember taking the most, and it should be noted that Government Center was the hottest, grimiest, loudest, and darkest T stop of all time, which we took to calling the Hellmouth. So you would make your way to daylight from the Hellmouth, and you'd walk past the monstrous concrete City Hall in the sprawling brick wonderland of Government Center Plaza, and then you reached the top of the stairs. There was a pretty massive set of stairs which led down to the whole Faneuil Hall arena, and it wasn't until you reached the top of these stairs that you saw it--the masses. The frenzied, hungry, crazy masses of tourists. So many people you can't count them--like a section of Times Square has been transplanted to these blocks of brick. And you know. They are all going to want Frappucinos. And the only thing you can do is sigh, and be resigned to your fate.

10. Going to the restroom. In a normal work environment, one might say, "Hey Jane, I'm going to run to the bathroom for a second." Jane says, "Okay, see you in a second!" Or, in an even more normal work environment, you wouldn't have to tell anyone this--you would just go. At Faneuil Hall, when you had to go to the restroom, you made sure you had enough coverage on the floor for the next thirty minutes, and then you took a deep breath and said to yourself, "Okay. Let's go, Jill. You can do this." And then you threw yourself into the heartless throngs of people, the hundreds of souls who, for some reason, all want gross food from Quincy Market. Many of them will be standing, in huge blocks, in the middle of the hall, trying to figure out what they want. Next to them will be approximately ten families with large strollers who had some inconceivable notion they could push their babies through this insanity. Small children abound, running into your knees and kicking your shins, as well as even greater numbers of hunched over ancient people, who you will inevitably accidentally punch in the face or poke in the ribs, each time further convincing you you are going to hell, but really, what can you do. After this treacherous obstacle course, you reach the restrooms! Hallelujah! Lord have mercy! Here, you will wait for another twenty minutes and then play an eenie-meenie-moe type game to guess which stall is NOT full of shit and toilet paper.

11. The surprising variety of names which tourists referred to Faneuil Hall as. "Oh, I'm sorry, is this Nathaniel Hall?" or "Is this Thanuel Hall?"were the most popular.

12. Stressed out tourists who ask for advice but then never believe anything you say. 
"Oh, it's actually really simple. You see right outside there's a bright red line painted on the bricks--look, you can see it from here--and you just follow it straight that way, towards the waterfront, and it leads you RIGHT TO IT."
- blank stare, as if you have not said anything at all - OR
- uneasy glance at significant other, "Hm, well, oookayyyyy." (heavy sigh) - OR
- "FINE, I'll just ask somebody else."
13. The fact that a historical landmark is almost completely run by recent immigrants (with a spattering of college students). As, I imagine, most historical landmarks around the country are. My favorite was the super sassy Latina woman who worked at a cart selling Irish memorabilia. Or the people who worked at the Cheers gift shop and had definitely never watched the show. One of my favorite co-workers was Rosa, who had escaped what I believe to be a somewhat dreadful life in El Salvador. I tried to practice awful Spanish with her sometimes and she just laughed her sweet little laugh and said that everything I said was good when it clearly was not. The people who worked at Quincy Market were some of the hardest workers I ever met and taught me so many things I now feel strongly about when it comes to working with the public and having humility.

14. The best part of the night. It's a summer night, I have just made approximately two hundred overpriced froofy drinks for people I will never see again. It's still warm but with a nice slight breeze. Most of the crowds have emptied from Quincy Market, but bad loud techno music emanates from the cheesy nightclubs which inexplicably exist in the top floor of the market. I make my way towards the looming set of stairs which lay between me and the Hellmouth at Government Center. At the top of the stairs is a man playing a saxophone. The sounds from his instrument cascade down the stairs, over the street and over the bricks and relax almost all of the muscles in my body. I walk slowly up the stairs and feel the night air on my skin and give him a small smile as I pass. It is a small moment but feels larger. It is one of the best parts of the night, one of the best parts of summer in Boston, one of the best parts of my life.