Archive for the ‘Activitays’ Category

Guess what I did??

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

I left the house! I left the house, I went out into the world at 5:45 in the morning and I took a hot air balloon ride. Now, if you know anything about me you know this is a plethora of things I don’t like: fire and loud noise right next to my head, movement, flying, the outdoors, the morning, etc. But I did it and it was AWESOME. Someone asked me what it was like and I said it was the closest I’ve ever gotten to feeling real, Harry Potter magic. I snapchatted the whole thing and put it all in a video. You will note in the video that I begin with much trepidation but as soon as we lifted off I was hooked.

Here’s how it works for people who have never been: You pull up at the takeoff area (in our case it was a small airport in Orange County, NY) and the van pulls in with a trailer attachment carrying the basket. Several strong burly men pull an enormous bag out of the back of the van that looks like it could hold a child’s trampoline. That’s the balloon. The manly men tip the basket on its side, pull the balloon out to its full length and hook it to the basket. Then four industrial fans come out and blast all the air in the world into the balloon. Once the sufficient amount of air is in there, the propane burners go on and heat that air which causes the balloon to rise and the basket to tip up. That’s the cue for the people who are riding in the balloon to run to the basket and hoist ourselves in because we are what keeps the whole situation from floating away immediately. Once the passengers a.k.a. bags of sand are in, the guy in charge (ours was named Chris) blasts the flamey truck-horn-pull thing and… you kinda lift off the ground. You don’t even notice. If you have your eyes closed you would have no idea, it’s that tranquil. In addition please note in the video that any jerky movements are my hands, the ride was buttery smooth. I spent the whole time quietly staring off at the mist rising out of where the glacier cut through 10,000 years ago. (Fun fact: Chris told us the valley caused by the glacier has the perfect kind of soil for growing onions. The Germans who moved here recognized the soil type from back home and was like, “We got this. Hermann, plant onions.”) We drifted up to 1800 feet in the air but you could have fooled me. I had no clue. It all happens so slowly that your ears don’t pop. Landing is pretty neat. Since you can’t control where you go in a balloon and the wind carries you, the van follows you on the ground and when Chris gave the signal he was coming down the van hustled to meet us where we ended up. Where we ended up was in some rich lady’s spacious front yard. Chris said most of the people in the area are psyched to see him land. This lady sure was. She came out in her PJs to greet us. Chris gave her a bottle of champagne as is the tradition. When the two first guys to do this ballooning started in France in 17-something-something, when they landed in a farmer’s field he attacked both them and their balloon with a pitchfork, thinking they were the devil. The two French guys realized at some point that if they greeted the farmers with a bottle of champagne the farmers were far less inclined to attack them with sharp equipment, so the tradition continues. Within ten minutes the manly men had loaded the now deflated balloon back in the trampoline bag and put the basket back on the trailer attachment and we were back on our way to our cars at the airport. I enjoyed every second of it. Even the landing was pleasant. It was a joy from start to finish.

balloon

If it wasn’t so pricey I would do this every week. If you live in the NY area I highly recommend the company we went with, Above the Clouds.

http://abovethecloudsinc.com/

 

Happy New Year!

Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Yes, I know it’s January 17th or whatever. It’s been a hellish two weeks. Would you like to hear about them? No? I’m telling you anyway. I was on a pitch, a global pitch. I had meetings with various European offices here in NY, as well as South American offices and Asian offices. Every one of them had sections of the Keynote deck they needed designed. I would meet with each office, incorporate their pages, then meet with the heads of the pitch, make their changes, back and forth and back and forth. THEN, when everything was hunky-dory a major not-to-be-meddled-with executive would come in and change everything on this 120-page document, causing me to have to stay up all damn night to make those changes. It was like this for two weeks. It got so intense I ended up getting a hotel room across the street from the office so I could grab four or five hours of sleep everyday with a minimal commute. The rest of the time was spent working. In my 12 years of being in the advertising industry this was one of the top five most stressful pitches I’ve been involved with. However it is now finished and I can return to my life of watching the Discovery Channel and writing blog entries. Let’s start with what I did on New Year’s Day. I have always wanted to do the Coney Island Polar Plunge. It’s held on New Year’s Day and people run into the ocean off of the Coney Island Beach in Brooklyn. Since I went to the Oase in Germany last year and had ice water thrown at my naked flesh I feel like I am emotionally and physically prepared to engage with the Atlantic. It wasn’t a coincidence that I picked this year because it was warm. Well, the air was 46 degrees and the water was about the same so maybe “warm” is the incorrect term, but glacier-like it was not. I was not aware that it is a charity event so I was delighted that my entry fee went to a camp for children with cancer. The theme is “freezin’ for a reason”. We arrived very early so we could be the first group in the ocean (so many people show up they space out the plunges). The police were cordoning off the beach and it totally looked like they had found body parts a là Dexter.

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We headed out to where we decided we would park our stuff and waited for our cue. A ton of people showed up to cheer on and/or mock the plungers.

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It started with a person in a full polar bear costume entering the ocean surrounded by women in bikinis playing trumpets. I would expect nothing else from Coney Island.

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And then we were told to line up. We stripped down to our bathing suits and went in. It was surprisingly not bad. I was surprised. I thought the cold water or the cold air would hurt but it didn’t. I would describe it as “excessively refreshing.”

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Afterwards we went for Russian food in the Brighton Beach area. Nothing warms the cold toesies like cherry dumplings and hot tea served in glass cups. I don’t know if I would ever do this again but I definitely would encourage others to because it’s a fun convivial atmosphere and it’s nice that it raises money for a good cause. I give it two shivery thumbs up.

Addendum: Here’s a super-cool picture of Coney Island from above.

coney-lsland

Learning!

Sunday, May 24th, 2015

My friend Børrke, who is getting married in a little over a month, had a bachelorette party. Normally bachelorette parties involve strippers and penii-shaped straws and hats and I dislike these festivities intensely. Luckily Børrke’s sister Blürrr made way better plans. The day started with a private tour of the Museum of Natural History. Something called MuseumHack, created to encourage people to visit museums and see all the awesome stuff housed inside without being a tourist or feeling obligated because they have kids. It’s a great idea. I highly recommend it if you live in or are visiting New York. Our guide was a lovely young man named Jared who works during the week teaching children at the Bronx Zoo (swoon). He knew we were a classy bunch from the second we arrived with Børrke. She was sporting a tiara, a pink sash that said “Bachelorette,” a t-shirt that said “Feyoncé” and a pimp cup emblazoned with “Ho Fo Sho” that she was required to carry around.

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Yeah. A group of non-drunk (yet), well-educated, mouthy dames. Good luck Jared. He did a stellar job I must say. Jared took us from interesting exhibit to interesting exhibit telling us all kinds of things we would not have known from reading the little placards. One of the things we learned:

Right after the ticket counter, everyone always goes right into the African Mammals Room so it’s always packed, but the Asian Mammals Room is right off to the side and it’s never packed, so go into there. The taxidermied mammals in the Asia Hall are equally awesome and in surprisingly good condition considering that they were mounted in the early 1900s. The primary animal collector/taxidermist for the museum was a man named Carl Akeley and he’s a swell guy and all, but his back-up guy was a SUPER-special fella named Walter Potter who, in his free time, would make anthropomorphic tableaus featuring kittens and bunnies. Like this:

Rabbits’ Village School, Circa 1888

And this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 8.00.33 PM.

Now the reason many taxidermied things previous to Carl Akeley were absolutely terrible was that the industry used pre-built stands for each beast and it was irrelevant whether the animal skin fit over the mount, they would tug it and yank it and make it fit. That’s fine and all that but the problem with that is that you end up with pieces like this:

bad_taxidermy2

Which are not great, Bob. What Carl Akeley did was immediately after he shot an animal he took extremely detailed measurements and mailed those back to the museum so a form could be created. The smaller forms could be made from clay and paste, but the larger ones like the elephants were hollow iron covered in papier-mache. When the animal’s skin got home it could be stretched over a form made especially for it, a one-of-a-kind. They also created the diorama around the animals so it appeared like they were in their natural habitat. Jared said that due to the curved walls and ceilings of the diorama rooms, Renaissance painting techniques were implemented. All of this combined helped to make the animals in the dioramas extra-realistic and they have totally stood the test of time. Jared then had us pretend to be water buffalo and tigers and elephants in the middle of the Asian Mammals section. I was a water buffalo and I was promptly eaten by a tiger so I had to lay on the floor and be dead while another member of the bachelorette party pretended to be an enormous feline consuming me. Way better than a male stripper.

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Other things we learned from Jared:

  • The gigantor boat that is hanging from the ceiling in one of the halls? It used to sit on the floor and it was filled with sand. At that time there were also cats that patrolled the museum taking care of the mice. You may not know this but cats use sand for their litter box so one of the tasks of the museum workers was to clean the kitty poop out of the boat every day.
  • The big blue whale that the museum is famous for was incorrectly rendered until fairly recently. It was based on a big ole dead whale that had washed up on the shore and was in the process of decomposing. In the last few years the scientists decided, hey, maybe we should paint it, you know, BLUE and not gray since blue is the color it’s supposed to be and maybe throw a bellybutton on up there so it’s vaguely accurate? Yeah, let’s do that.
  • Sea otters are not cute and delightful all the time. Yes, they hold hands so they do not float away from their beloveds (squee) and they have a pocket in their fur for their favorite rock (additional squee) but sometimes darkness befalls the sea otter. Otters used to be all the way up and down the Pacific Coast but due to that horrible time when they were almost hunted to extinction they are now only in pockets. When the teenage males come of age and there are no females available, the males get ornery and horny (hornery?). Aaaaaaaand then they rape baby seals.

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  • In the oldest room in the museum (museums are very expensive and are often built over many years) the Pacific Northwest Collection is housed. It smells really good in there because of all the giant cedar sculptures. There are also murals on the walls depicting Native American village life. Recently there was a bit of a flood on an upper floor and some of the collection was destroyed which is terrible but also a blessing in disguise. Jared showed us one mural that had been damaged in the flood, and a good thing it was. It was called “The Dog-Eating Ceremony” and it was so very clearly painted by some white guy in 1860 who had no idea what these “savages” were doing. On the outer edges are various tribesmen carving something into stone tablets a là Moses on Mount Sinai and in the middle is a woman about to start chewing on the back end of a still-alive poodle. I mean, really. White people, this is ridiculous. The ignorance, it is palpable.
  • Why are there only skyscrapers in the Financial District and Midtown in Manhattan? Well, it’s because the bedrock in both those places is 30 feet below the surface. Elsewhere on the island it is 100 feet below the surface. No one wants to dig that deep so areas like the Upper West Side and Chelsea get normal-heighted buildings.
  • Speaking of bedrock, you know the humongous iron meteorite that is in the middle of the museum? It’s not sitting on the floor. The meteorite is so heavy if it was sitting on the floor it would smash through all the levels of the building. It’s sitting on a giant pillar that goes directly into the bedrock under the museum. If you were granted permission to go into the floors beneath the museum you would see the pillar. Apparently it’s painted red.

Jared took through many other sections. He had us pretend to worship a giant stone in the gem section and then since we were in the minerals and metals section he gave us all Hershey’s nuggets because we were all his little “golden nuggets.” He had us take the best picture of diorama testicles in the primates section and the winner got astronaut ice cream from the planetarium gift shop. This was so damn fun. If you have someone coming in from out of town or you need to come up with a cool gift for that hard-to-shop person, definitely consider Museum Hack. It’s a jolly good time had by all.

Bonus: a picture of Børrke sharing some imaginary liquor from her “Ho Fo Sho” goblet with the gorilla bust. That one is going in the album.

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Lightscapes.

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Around Halloween a couple years back I went to something called The Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze at the Van Cortlandt Manor. I blogged about it. I guess it was a big moneymaker so they decided to have a summer version using a garden theme. They used recyclables and it’s lit predominantly by LEDs so it doesn’t use a great deal of electricity and isn’t too taxing on the environment. It was like a fairyland. I went with Cricket and I loved it. I imagine one might love it even more on LSD or peyote or ketamine, but that’s not how I roll so I enjoyed it unaffected by mind-altering substances.

At the entrance, there’s a blinking swirling rainbow arch.

lightscape-entrance

And then you walk past a giant field of tulips made from old milk jugs. It was immense.

tulips-everywhere tulips-and-house

Followed by an explanation of how trash was used to make almost everything there.

trash-to-treasure

There was a corridor of chest-high mushrooms:

mushrooms2 mushrooms1

A trail of ants, trees full of ladybugs:

milk-jug-ants1 milk-jug-ants2 ladybug-hillside1 ladybug-hillside2

And a grove of butterflies.

butterflies-in-trees

Butterflies was a big theme. This was a large butterfly made from bubble wrap.

butterfly-bubblewrap

There was a maze with projections of butterflies on the ceiling and Christmas lights with butterflies on them lining the route.

butterfly-maze butterfly-maze-butterfly-green

Some of the things I felt could be worked on for the future. Like this bug kinda all by himself in a corner looking all weird:

bug

And this rabbit that looks substantially more like a viscacha than a lagomorph. Plus they were playing trippy Indian sitar music near it. What that has to do with this bunny, I do not know.

rabbit

There was a caterpillar cave to walk through:

caterpillar caterpillar-inside

There was a turtle made from a jungle gym:

turtle

A ten-foot-tall mushroom that if I had tall enough ceilings I would want at my apartment:

big-mushroom

And a kaleidoscope pattern being projected on a wall of a side building. I only took one picture, but it kept morphing, you know, how kaleidoscopes do.

kaleidoscope

But most would agree the piece-de-resistance (aside from the gigantor field of tulips) would be the praying mantis watching over everything. He guarded a variety of plants like lilies and what I think are dandelions.

mantis-and-hill lillies hillside-lilies

As you near the end, you walk past the main house that had music playing. There were giant flowers on the house that changed colors and blinked in time with the music and vines that “grew”.

house-vines

The whole thing was awesome and I highly recommend it. If you live in or around Westchester you should make an effort to go. And as with the Jack O’Lantern Blaze, my college classmate Jay Woods was in charge of lighting and once again he did a stellar job. Here’s the website: http://www.hudsonvalley.org/events/lightscapes

Diametric opposites.

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

I haven’t had a chance to post about these things, but I went to two rather different events recently. First, I went to see Mythbusters: Behind the Scenes Tour.

mythbusters

Even though it was clearly geared towards their primary audience (11-year-old boys) I enjoyed myself quite a bit. Cricket came with me and I don’t think he liked it nearly as much due to the fact that he actually took adult-type science classes in high school like chemistry and physics. I did none of that. My senior year of high school I was assigned to Biology for Football Players and Poets where all we did was watch National Geographic videos. The school had given up on us at that point, probably for the best. My classmates and I were not going to be working in a lab anytime soon. But, due to my child-like knowledge of science, I found many of the experiments Jamie and Adam did on stage fascinating. They did this thing where a small boy from the audience lifted a chubby man simply by altering the pivot point of a lever and I was all, “Magic!” Cricket turned to me with a dumbfounded expression and said, “Yeah, it’s basic physics. It’s a lever. You didn’t know that would happen? Have you never lifted anything?” and I responded that I had not and Cricket was disappointed in me, the Rye school system and humanity in general. I learned what a “Bleve” is, and I learned that Adam grew up in Sleepy Hollow and his mom was in the audience (she stood up and we all cheered, it was very nice). During the audience Q&A, someone asked Adam what the scariest myth he worked on and he refused to answer because his mother is not allowed to watch that episode. The finale was taking an audience member, dressing him up in a medieval suit of armor and firing paintballs at him with one of those giant guns that you see in war footage. I found a video online and while you can’t see much, you can hear it.

http://youtu.be/8LaPnDx4t9A?t=37s

Great finale. If it comes to your town and you know a kid around the age of 11, take them because they will love it.

The other thing I went to was NOT geared towards children and while informative, it was not educational in nature. I went to see Nutcracker Rouge.

sign

I saw online that Shelly Watson was performing in it, and I loved her so much at Gotham Burlesque that I decided to go and check it out. It is a rough retelling of the Nutcracker ballet with elements of circus arts, burlesque and cabaret and it was, without a doubt, THE GAYEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN. I don’t mean “gay” in that unacceptable derogatory way meaning “lame” or “less than,” I mean “gay” like “The Logo Channel would explode from this.” Shelly did an operatic version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” in French. That gay. Look, see for yourself.

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I had a jolly good time. The audience was comprised of 75% meticulously groomed gay male couples and 25% other. There was a bunch of elderly foreign tourists in line with me at the ticket-taker’s station, I suspect they saw the sign and thought, “Huh, I guess we’ll go see this performance of The Nutcracker,” and I really wish I could have seen their faces when, near the end, the entire cast forms a can-can line where everyone is humping everyone else. Is this what you expected, Nana and Pop-Pop? Is it? I don’t want to tell you too much in case you go to see it next year, but my two favorite people was the woman who played the peppermint candy cane, Courtney Giannone. I found a picture of her online.

tn-1000_courtneygiannone

She performed in that gigantic hula hoop that spins and I always expect their fingers to get crushed but they don’t. Here, a video of one in action. She did it all topless and smiling, and her back muscles were intense. I wanted to chew on them. Here’s another pic I found of Courtney.

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The other person I loved was a woman named Katrina Cunningham. She was a lovely dancer and singer and I found out later she is a graduate of SUNY Purchase’s Dance Conservatory! Hooray alma mater!* Katrina was beautiful and she helped answer a question that has been plaguing me for years: who the hell buys that crazy giant sparkle-encrusted jewelry and the dresses so covered in rhinestones and sequins they weigh eighty pounds? These people do. This cast does. Katrina wore several.

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So if you’re looking for a sexy opulent good time held together by a threadbare plot, this is what you need. There are chandeliers as stage lights. People do ballet wearing stag horns. Cannons shoot glitter all over the audience. Cross-dressing flamenco dancing. Drag queens. Whips and leather. Absolutely delightful.

 

*I didn’t graduate from the Dance Conservatory. I was in the Theater Arts Conservatory, but I still like to look out for my fellow conservatory graduates because hooo boy does being in a conservatory suck.

My week of exciting activities – Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

The rest of my Week of Culture was less spectacular, alas. I’ll explain. On Thursday I went to see Behind the Scenes of The Colbert Report at the Town Hall.

colbert

It was most interesting in the beginning. For the first half-hour, Stephen and the twelve writers on stage with him talked about how they constructed the show. Basically, it’s crazy hard work and you cannot have a life while you’re working on it because you’re working on today’s episode and the second you’re done with that you’re working on tomorrow’s episode. Or a field piece. Or getting props. Or an animation. Or learning about who Stephen is interviewing. It’s a never-ending cycle. After they all explained their day, they opened up to the audience for questions. FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF. THE PUBLIC WAS ALLOWED TO SAY WHATEVER INTO MICROPHONES. The level of fremdschämen I felt for these people was overwhelming. One woman stood up and said, “How do I become a writer on your show?”

Stephen said, “You have to submit a script with jokes in it.”

“Can I tell you a joke?” she said.

“Sure,” he said.

“What’s green and has wheels?”

“What?”

“Grass. I was lying about the wheels.”

*The entire audience groans*
*I clutch my face and try to gouge my own eyes out*
*An angel loses its wings and falls screaming*

Here’s the deal: I purposely do not go up to famous people or people I admire and try to talk to them because I get very excited and basically piddle on the floor like an incontinent cocker spaniel. I feel like an epic loser, the famous person is usually not thrilled to be in the presence of someone having an episode of some sort, nobody wins. It’s not unusual, that’s what most people do when they meet someone famous. Now, knowing that that kind of thing is going to happen, why didn’t they have notecards in the entry hall for people to write their questions on and then, when the Q&A started, just read a bunch of those questions? You can curate the crazy while still having people feel like they are participating. Nope. I had to listen to people spazz out for an hour and a half. It wasn’t all bad. One of the intelligent questions I liked was, “Is there any topic that you won’t do?” The writers mentioned that they write jokes all day and it makes them desensitized, so when they write something they think is too much Stephen will say, “Is this fit for humans?” and they will pull a human out of the hallway and read them the joke. And then Stephen said, “Any joke where the victim is the punchline,” which I think is pretty classy. Here’s a Vulture article on the other things that were talked about.

http://www.vulture.com/2013/11/8-things-we-learned-stephen-colbert-report-nycf-panel.html

Then on Friday I went to see Bill Burr at the Beacon Theater with Cricket. The Beacon has a gorgeous chandelier in the entry hall.

chadelier-beacon

Underneath the chandelier were two bars set up on either sides of the room. Cricket went to the bathroom before the show started and I waited in the corner. It became extremely apparent to me that Bill Burr’s audience is primarily made up of the douchiest, frat-iest, date-rape-iest men I’ve ever seen in my life. It was like the Duke lacrosse team had been put through a copy machine and now there were a hundred of them. One guy standing next to me said to his friend, “Hey, I’m going to the bar, you want something?” and his friend said, “Yeah, I dunno, a mixed drink or something,” and the first guy said, “A mixed drink? What are you, a fag?? FAAAAAAG!!” And then he smiled at me and I tried to tamp down my feelings of disgust. Bill Burr does a bit about that, talking about his youth and how his guy friends do that, but then he talks about how it eventually kills them because they’re not allowed to express their feelings. You know what, buddy? You’re not Bill Burr. You’re not making a statement about society. Shut it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LRcmg9mxRQ

Then Cricket and I went in and we watched Bill Burr perform and he was great and it would have been great if the drunk fratboy behind me would stop yelling. Every time Bill said something really clever the guy would say, “Here we go!” or “Yeah B.B.!” or something of that ilk. I’ve come to the conclusion that I really enjoy going to things, I just don’t enjoy the people around me. They ruin everything. Either they’re unwrapping a cough drop for fifty years, or they’re checking their phone, or whatever. I don’t like my co-audience members. Does no one know the unwritten social contract we all signed? The one where we can do whatever the heck we want in our homes, but when we go outside we say excuse me and don’t shout and close our legs on the train so others can sit? I feel like we as a group should re-address this. If I can follow it anyone can follow it. Seriously. People. Get it together.

Then on Saturday my friend K. had an extra ticket to the Justin Timberlake concert in New Jersey. I always say “never look a free ticket to anything in the mouth” so even though I’m not a huge Justin Timberlake fan, I was down with it. It was a great show, I must say. The set design was phenomenal and we had really good seats.

stage

Hexagons! The set was covered in hexagons! I love hexagons, I really do. There was light painting and video footage and part of the hexagon background was made of scrim so lights showed through, it was just killer design. The only complaint I had was the lights above the stage were organized to form a sad, disappointed face. Occasionally it would appear to be a deity was looking down on Justin and his crew and thinking, “Has it really come to this?”

sad-face

And then – lasers! All over the arena!

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The red lasers went up and down all over the audience made me feel like a can of corn at the self-checkout in Stop-n-Shop. I said quietly to myself, “Please move your items to the bagging area.” And then I chuckled because I amuse myself. I thought that was the extent of the coolness that could be brought, but I was wrong. The entire front edge of the stage was glass that lit up and during one song it came off, rose up on pneumatic lifts and rolled down the aisles so Justin, his trumpeters and his back-up singers could slide past the entire audience on the ground level. Kind of amazing.

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Here’s a video someone took of the glass part moving.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAd8Xn8Q-lU

He did a bunch of songs there (including the best rendition of “Heartbreak Hotel” I’ve ever heard) and the the stage slid on back and went down and it was like nothing happened. So very rad. And then his did “Poison” by Bel Biv DeVoe! With the cheesy 90s dancing! I was so happy! I found footage from a different show, but it was the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DIvY0k7hD0

Anyway, after I see Richard III tonight, that is the end of my evening galavants for a while. It’ll be good for me to get away from the public and go back into my little hole and craft. I need to build up a tolerance to humanity.

You know what I’m not good at?

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Taxidermy. The answer to that question is taxidermy. I have a totally new-found respect for taxidermists. It does not all “come together” at the end or something. You need to know what you’re doing. By the way, warning, some gross pics in this post. If you’re a squeamish person, maybe skip this one. Look at some nice charts.

I saw this article in Gothamist and it sounded interesting, so I asked Cricket if he was interested in going as a romantic 11-year anniversary present. He said yes so I signed us up. Cricket and I arrived outside the appointed place the class was being held. Neenernator (she of the glorious fishtank fame) joined us and we went into the first floor of a stunning brownstone apartment in Brooklyn Heights. Whoever lives there, I guess to supplement their income, lets people hold classes in their front two rooms. There were three lunch tables set up, covered with plastic tablecloths and ten place settings with tools, a paper plate and an oddly-shaped frozen chipmunk covered in salt.

chipmunk-burrito-and-supplies

The teacher, a lovely woman named Divya (watch this video about her!), knew a taxidermist who was moving and cleaning out his freezer and had these ten chipmunks so she offered to take them off his hands so he didn’t just throw the little guys out. They had been in sandwich bags and that’s why they were shaped like burritos. I guess if all your muscles go squishy you take on the shape of the vessel you are placed in. I grew very attached to my little guy. Look at him now. This is the best he’s going to look. After I’m done with him, he’s going to get very very unattractive.

chipmunk-burrito

After all ten students had arrived, Divya gave us gloves and had us warm up our chipmunks in our hands. I gently caressed my new friend until he unfroze a bit and we could finagle his arms and legs out so he was lying face-down splayed out. Like this. That expression I am rocking is the look of, “I… don’t know if I can do this.”

chipmunk-thaw

“Okay,” said Divya. “We’re going to make a dorsal cut, meaning down the spine from the base of the neck to the base of the tail. All the way down. Figure out how much pressure it takes to cut through the skin and use short strokes.” You may be wondering why we didn’t make a cut down the front of the chipmunk. That is because when you slice down the back, you bump into the spine and can’t cut too deep. If you slice down the front and you screw up, you open the sac that holds the internal organs and Satan’s demons are released in the form of smell and everyone has to leave. Speaking of smell, as our chipmunks thawed I noticed a distinct funk in the air. Chipmunks smell unbelievably gamey, like mutton or certain types of lamb. I mouth-breathed for five hours. I could smell that freaky stink on me for hours after I left. It only started to dissipate the next day. Stupid adorable stanky-ass chipmunk.

I made my dorsal cut like a brave soldier and then was told to use my fingers to slide the skin off of him “like taking off a jacket.” Lemme tell you, that jacket does not come off easy. There’s such a fine line between tugging the skin off and ripping it. We were told to pull the skin off up to the wrists and ankles and I accidentally ended up yanking off my chipmunk’s hand. This is a photo of me skinning my chipmunk. I made this face for the entire class, I couldn’t help it.

the-face

After we unskinned our friends, Divya had us cut the joints at the wrists and ankles so the hands and feet were still attached to the skin. “That’s the easy part,” she said. “Now comes the hard parts.” We had to pull the face-skin down to the end of the snout. I kinda ripped the eyelids. A part of my childhood died, never to return. “My chipmunk is bleeding from his butthole,” I said. “That’s not a problem,” said Divya. “He has limited blood flow, it’ll stop momentarily.” We were told to pick up our scalpels and cut right behind the skull to separate the head from the body. So many crunchy noises. Now we had to clean all the flesh off of and from within the skull. Getting the eyeballs and brain out was easy. As it said in the Gothamist article:

Using our sharp needle tool, we scooped out the cerebral matter. It came out in gobs roughly the color and consistency of raspberry sherbet.

Yep. Same for me. We had to clean out the cheek pouches of any seeds that might be in there, get the tongue out and pull all the cheek flesh off. It took forever. Seriously. It’s a tiny skull and those bits of flesh that hold that muscle on is tough. It required copious scoring with the X-Acto knife, then pick-pick-picking with the tweezers. When we were done, it looked like the chipmunk had thrown up so hard he had flipped inside out and barfed up his own skull.

inside-out

Then came fleshing. You lay the skin furry side down, take a dull curved blade and scrape all the remaining fat and muscle off the inside of skin. Moisture is the enemy of taxidermy, so you need to get everything that isn’t skin and bone out of there. Fleshing is hard and time-consuming, especially on something so small. You have to go everywhere – in the armpits, where the tail attaches, etc. Then, finally, we gave all our tools to Divya and went to wash our chipmunk skin n’ skull thoroughly in the sink with soap and water. We didn’t throw out our leftover pink chipmunk bodies because we were going to use them as guides to measure the internal forms we would be making.

Divya said that since we were done with the gross bits and we had scrubbed our chipmunks, we could take our gloves off and work with bare hands from that point on, which we all did. BUT WAIT, it gets more disturbing! It had been many hours by then, so one of the other guys in the class went out for a smoke and came back with cookies for all of us, so we put our skins down and had cookie-time. With our naked hands! This happened! The plate in front of me has Neenernator’s and my chipmunk interiors. The runny red stuff around the edges is brain. The black blob is an eyeball. Seriously, it is astonishing how quickly you become immune to this level of gross. If you had shown me this picture the day before, I would have dry-heaved in the backyard for twenty minutes. All I’m thinking in that picture is how I’m going to get that skin over that wood-wool and twine form sitting in front of me.

cookie-time

The first step after washing is patting dry (remember, moisture = rot = fail), sprinkling some kind of preserving / drying powder all up in them, then putting air-drying clay all over the skull to replicate the fullness of the cheeks and to hold the glass eyeballs in place. I used tiger-eye beads that gave his expression a jaunty shimmer. Neenernator’s chipmunk was turning out quite good, as opposed to Cricket’s and mine, which looked like extras from the set of The Walking Dead. Here’s Neenerator’s with the wood-wool form and eyeballs in and additional clay for bulk.

twine-and-clay

Using thick florist’s wire, we slid them down the back from inside the skull down to the tail so we could position our chipmunks how we wanted them and then sew them up. I cannot express this enough, taxidermy is not easy. No matter how much wire I used or how I mushed the clay in the face, this thing looked terrible. Just horrible. The arm stump and jacked-up eyelids did him no favors, but he looked pretty darn bad all over.

not-good

Cricket’s didn’t look much better.

hurrdurr

See Neenernator’s chipmunk in the background there? Aside from having an exceptionally long neck, I thought it was a great job especially since this was her first time. She took to this like a dead duck to water.

Once Cricket and I had gotten our sad mangy friends into the position we wanted, Divya came over with a syringe filled with non-toxic embalming fluid. Non-toxic isn’t the right thing to call it, it would be very much toxic if you ate it, but it had no fumes and if you got it on your skin you could wash it off without it burning you or anything. She injected this embalming fluid in the hands, feet and snout since they still had meat in them. Then we had to put stick pins in the chipmunk so when the skin dried and tightened, it would tighten in the shape we wanted. For example, if you don’t card the ears they will shrivel up. Same with the hands. Divya pinned our atrocities against nature the best she could. Then the final step, blow-drying and brushing. It helps get the fur to lay straight, or so they say. Our fur was beyond repair. Cricket tried, bless his heart, but to no avail. Because apparently I hadn’t insulted my chipmunk enough, during the brushing process a chunk of his tail fur came off, leaving a substantial bald spot.

toothbrush

He put both our guys on a piece of balsa wood, propped up on an empty seltzer can, wrapped them in wire and we said thank you so much and left.

seltzer-bottle

Divya could not have been nicer or more helpful. Right now our rodent horrors are drying in Cricket’s garage (not in the house, because that stink is powerful) and maybe the taxidermy fairies will visit in the night and magically fix all of our sucky work with a swish of their wands (made from the femurs of mice). I hope. Neenernator ordered a small Luke Skywalker doll and she plans to take the outfit off of him and put it on her chipmunk. Chip Skywalker, she calls him. “These are not the seeds you are looking for.” If I can get pictures of that when it’s done, I will put it up here.

Bloomsburg Fair 2012.

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Five years ago I had complained to my co-worker A. that there were no state fairs in the New York area, the kind you hear about with the butter sculptures and deep-fried beer. He mentioned that three hours away where he’s from there is exactly that. So I went and it was everything a girl could want and more. Here’s the blog entry on that. I wanted to take my parents but every year when it would roll around I would be busy or my parents would be out of the country, whatever. But this year my dad had nothing going on, so we went. I had a great time. My father had a slightly less great time due to his disinterest in livestock and livestock-related activities. But still, a fun time was had. Since it was pretty much the same as last time (fried foods? check. tractors? check.) I’m not going to give a big ole overview again.

Yay fair!

As we came in, we skedaddled past the vendors selling threshers and tillers and backhoes to the livestock-judging area. We saw the standards – cows, horses, pigs, sheep. But some of the goats were new to me. These are small velvety goats. They looked really soft. These two were snuggling.

This one was napping. Look at him. Do you not wish to climb into his paddock and nap laying against him? I bet you do.

Now, every goat I’ve ever seen has big floppity ears. But because humans cannot stop themselves from screwing around with genetics, I saw this goat. And he was not alone. There were others like him.

Little finger-ears. What’s up with that, breeders? Is that a thing we need? I’m going to go with “no”.

There was the rabbit and chicken-judging area where I saw two bunnies that I seriously considered shoving into my shirt and fleeing off into the night with. They had great complicated titles too. They are “Lilac Mini-Rex Doe Jr.s”. They were wee and softy-soft and I wanted to have them in my life. Especially the second one who was starting to fall asleep but looks like she’s consumed with rage. ANGEE BUNNEE (really just drowzee bunnee).

There were a few new and different beastie-activities to engage in this year, and you bet your sweet patoot I went to all of them. In one giant shed there was a partitioned-off area where for $2.00 you could frolick with butterflies. The two dollars went to the local hospital, so I was totally going. Charity AND insects? I’m in. They handed me a Q-tip soaked in blue Gatorade (really) and sent me past two screen doors (to prevent escapees). And then there were a gazillion monarchs and other like butterflies fluttering around.

You know how when you go to butterfly enclosures, the butterflies never land on you and you leave dejected and disappointed? Not here. There were two people at the exit, and you had to turn around in a circle so they could make sure that none of the lil’ flappers were clinging on. I was looking at two little mothy guys when – whump! – a big hefty monarch landed on my finger and startled me. He was the biggest chubbiest monarch I have ever seen.

Then another one took a liking to my pants. He landed on my pant leg and did that open, close, open, close thing they do. I didn’t want to startle him, so I dragged that leg around slowly behind me like I was a butterfly-encrusted zombie. “Ehhhhhhhhhhh, braaaaaaainssss… and pollen.”

Then further on there was a “pet a fawn for $3.00” area, and I was in there before you could say “potential to catch lime disease”. They were so sweet. I plopped down on a hay bale and commenced lovin’ on this little guy. Look at those eyelashes.

There were two smaller fawns in there, and one was all white. The non-albino one was all about licking, so he happily clippety-clopped over to me and started suckling on my fingers. Their mouths feel almost identical to ours. They have sharpish bottom front teeth, and they have a fleshy tongue as opposed to cats and dogs, who have flat tongues. It was very sweet. Other people offered to feed them milk, which seemed to sate the little fellers.

The other cool animal-thing I saw was on the opposite side. I’ve seen many horses before (like this one wearing neon green shoes):

but as I headed over to the stables on the other side, I saw two of the biggest horses I’ve ever seen in my life. Huge. HUGE. They are called Percherons, and they are draft horses, like Clydesdales. Twelve hands high, 1,500 to 2,500 pounds. Humongous. Here’s a picture of one of them. I thought his pattern was lovely.

And here are two people standing next to Percherons to give you a sense of scale. BIG HORSES.

After thoroughly examining all the beasties, my father and I headed over to the Horticulture and Home Arts and Crafts judging area. They had a flower-arranging area that blew my mind, and I’ll tell you why. I felt like I had wandered into 1972. The building was all wood paneling, there was a giant clock made of carnations in the center of the room, and Lawrence Welk-style music was piped in. Along both walls were cut, dried and potted flowers and plants for judging. Apparently the arranged-flower theme this year had a time motif (hence the carnation clock). There was every plant imaginable. I took photos of the clovers, the bonsais, the cactii and the dahlias. Look at the giant blooms in the center.

Also, whenever The Moomins and I buy a fern, we love it and care for it and give it food and light and water and it dies. Look at these guys. I am so jealous.

But what really made it feel like 1972 were the organized themed displays. Like the canning and jarring area. Anyone notice the open bible as part of the display?

Every fiber of my being wanted to yell out, “I got your implements of husbandry RIGHT HERE,” but I did not because I am classy.

The clincher, though, was this. Take it all in. The font on the signs. The scalloped, off-white display niches. And, of course, the Phyllis Diller daisy arrangement.

And there was a ton of produce. Everything you could imagine. I took a picture of the “Bean and Brussel Sprout” quadrant.

The top shelf is regular garlic. The second shelf is elephant garlic. That is some large garlic.

In the Home Arts and Crafts barn was, without a doubt, the whitest thing I have ever seen, ever, and that was the Angel Food Cake Bake-Off. It didn’t help that the booth was manned by Betty White’s doppelganger.

There was, not surprisingly, a ton of food to choose from. This is a very Polish area, so Polish cuisine made a strong appearance.

What are cactus taters? Anyone?

The thing I noticed this year was the church groups selling foods. I insisted on saying the church name followed by the foods offered therein in a loud monotone voice, which caused me to crack up and my father to distance himself from me. For example:

“BLACK CREEK METHODIST CHURCH BAKED POTATO!!”

or:

“STRAWBERRY RIDGE UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST ROAST BEEF SANDWICHES!!”

I amuse myself.

Here is a sandbox filled with corn.

And here is a typical cross-section of the people of the Yoo-Nited States of ‘Merka. We are not a beautiful people.

And finally, an organ that plays by itself. I couldn’t decide if I liked it or it was going to give me nightmares. I’m still undecided.

Anyway, I may go again next year because even though it’s a three-hour drive from my house, I get to see stuff that does not make its way to New York.

Activitays with Cricket!

Friday, July 13th, 2012

I found two deals on LivingSocial that Cricket was okay with doing, and since they were both in the city we did them on the same day. One was a nice experience, but the other one… that was an interesting experience. First, we went on a boat. Like, a real boat, with sails and stuff. Me, Cricket and 150 20- and 30-somethings piled onto this boat which took us up and down the East River and gave us beer tastings. I do not like beer, so Cricket got all my beer tasting samples. He was happy, and once I took sea-sickness meds, I was happy too. Here is a picture of the boat called Clipper City.

After about two hours of boating, we hopped off the boat and went to The Russian and Turkish Bathhouse (opened in 1892). Now, the only bathhouse I have ever been to was in Budapest, and it looked like this:

So I (unwisely) assumed that this bathhouse would be similar in style and layout. And I was WRONG. Right outside is a flight of stairs and a sign.

The first thing I noticed when I went in was it was dark and tight. Very dark. Very tight. There’s a series of chairs and tables on the left with a TV mounted to the wall, identical to what would be in a senior citizen’s home located in a rundown area of a major metropolitan city. Then there’s a tiny deli booth with a variety of shmears in a case. On the right is a series of wall lockers where they keep your wallet, keys, iPod, etc. Everything is dim, except where there is harsh fluorescent lighting. Oh, and because it’s so small, everyone is gently shimmying past each other to get around. And many of these people are just wearing towels. It is an inevitability that you will be brushed by a man-boob. My immediate reaction was fear. I was like, “Fantastic. I will go inside, where they will take my kidney and leave me in a tub of ice. I probably won’t even get the massage included on the coupon.” As we handed over our valuables and got our key, our path was blocked by a large, strong, shaved man wearing only shorts and flip-flops. He said in a heavy Eastern-European accent, “You came with voucher?” I nodded yes. He said, “Good. I am Gene. You go to locker room to change, I meet you here. ” Now, I had no idea who this man was. He never gave me any inclination that he worked there. But I didn’t want to be a noobie, so I went to the locker room (small, hot, grim) where I changed into my bathing suit and met Cricket outside the door. Gene then said, “Follow me,” and we went down a tight flight of stairs into the actual bathhouse.

Oh dear God.

Hot. Dim. Tiled walls. Exposed pipes. Giant drains in the middle of the floor. Water on every surface. Very rape-y. Very organ-steal-y. Gene gestured towards shower-stall-sized room completely filled with steam. “You go sit there. I come and get you in five minutes.” I followed Cricket into the steam room where I realized a very important thing: I am not a fish. I cannot inhale water, specifically hot water, when it’s mixed in with my air. I turned to Cricket, gasping. “I… can’t… breathe.” I threw the towel over my head in an attempt to filter the water out of my air and discovered that the towel smelled exactly like fried wontons. I suppose wherever they do their laundry is near a vent for a Chinese restaurant, so all their towels smelled exactly like fried wontons. Finally, after a million years, Gene came back. “You want massage?” I nodded. He took me into a tiny dark room off to the side and put Cricket in the one next to me. Good, I thought. At least I can be near the one I love when I die. He gestured to a massage table covered with towels. Gene looked at me. “You wearing anything under that?” he said, pointing to my bathing suit. I said no, and he told me to strip to my waist and lay face-down on the table. I lay down and he brought in a cup of mud. At least, I assumed it was mud. It wasn’t marked or anything. It could have been camel poop mixed with apple juice for all I knew. I tried desperately to relax and buried my face in the fried-wonton-infused-towel my head was resting on. He then rubbed me all over with this mud, covered me with towels and told me to relax and let it bake onto me. He then did the same to Cricket. When Gene came back, he had me flip over. Now, I’m not shy about my boobage, but I was interested to see how he would attempt to protect my modesty. I rolled over, where Gene looked at my boobs quietly, as if pondering their purpose, then gently covered them with a towel. He rubbed the mud into all my exposed front-parts, covered me with towels and left me to bake. When he came back, he had me sit up, took all the towels off of me, and hosed me down exactly how someone would wash a car. With my breasts pretty much in his face. So weird. And, as it always happens when you mix me and mud and gravity, all the mud on my torso washed into my butt and collected there, packing itself so I resembled a one-year-old with a full diaper. I pulled the top part of my bathing suit up, thanked Gene for his lovely job (he really did do a nice job) and he said, “Thank you. Now go to sauna.” I toddled off to the sauna which was HAWT. I found out later it was 190 degrees in there. Hooah. I quickly popped out, jumped into a shower, washed out the sediment from my rump, and soaked a towel in cold water. Holding it over my face, I went back into the sauna where there was a man, no joke, doing 150 pushups in the corner of the room, I assumed because his mother didn’t love him or something. In the middle of the sauna is constantly flowing ice water, and at any time you can pick up a bucket and dump it over your head, which I saw people do quite often. I lasted as long as I could in there and then I came out, took another quick shower and headed up to the locker rooms to change back into my regular clothes. On my way up I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and I looked exactly like a shiny pink pig. It was really cute. Here’s a photo I found of the actual bathhouse area.

And here’s an article I found on it. Notice how even the sexy models in the picture cannot temper the terrifying horror-movie-vibe of the place.

http://globomaestro.com/latestScoop/entry/158/russian–turkish-baths-new-yorks-craziest-spa-experience-since-1892/

Here’s the best part: I accidentally clicked “2” when I bought the coupon, so I have to go back. Now that I know what to expect I’m not nearly as scared, but I don’t think I’ll become a regular by any means. I think I’ll take Neenernator if she’s interested. Every time she goes back to Germany (where she’s from) she goes to a spa and tells me stories with sentences in them like, “…After they covered us with hot soapy foam, they blasted us with ice water!” I think this will be right up her alley. Apparently they have an aromatherapy room with lavender and eucalyptus oils. I will try that one out next time.

The Orchid Show at the Botanical Gardens.

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Cricket and I decided to check out the orchid show on its last weekend at the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx last weekend, and it was the bomb diggety. I was expecting a smattering of orchids here and there but they had actual walls full of orchids growing. I looked up the definition of orchid but I got a long convoluted description that talked about types of pods and seeds and had many science-y terms, so I will give you my definition. It’s a tropical plant that doesn’t grow in soil, has leathery leaves and flowers that either resemble dragon faces or ladies’ genitals. There ya go.

First, here’s a picture of the Botanical Gardens:

It was built in the late 1800s and both the building and the surrounding grounds are beautifully organized and maintained. The orchid show was predominantly in two major halls, but there were touches of orchid-ness throughout the whole building. When you first came in, there was a giant orchid wall. Remember, orchids don’t grow in the dirt, they use little “fingers” to attach to the bark of trees, so they can be vertical with no problem.

Near the end there was an gorgeous orchid corridor that you could walk down. I was blown away.

And then there were orchids all over the place hiding in pre-existing floral situations. I said hello to all of them.

There was a case of teeny-tiny orchids being all wee and precious.

And there was an orchid tower.

It was amazing. I’m going to go again next year. And I got to walk through all these non-orchid exhibition halls that had great plants in them as well. My favorite, as always, was the cactii room.

One of the coolest plants we saw was the wax rose. It was a large, exceptionally spiky plant with things that looked like triangular pieces of cheddar cheese on top. I was very intrigued.

There were also carnivorous plants, which I find charming for some reason. It’s a plant! That eats meat! Wacky! What will they think of next?

The water pond section was stunning, with the overhanging arches of some kind of creeper.

And there were various other awesome plants doing their plant thing.

After we had done a full circuit of the inside of the buildings, we went outside and saw the outdoor exhibits. The azalea and rhododendron field was just starting to bloom…

… and the crabapple trees was in the middle of its blooming season and were fluffy and fairy-like.

There were different varieties of pansies in pots scattered around, which delighted me because I love pansies.

It was a lovely experience, very scenic and zen. I’m already looking forward to next year.