Saturday, June 30, 2012

Neon Trees - Everybody Talks

Sunday, June 24, 2012

18 Costume Changes -- 1 World Record -- 0 Edits!

The history of Rock & Roll...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Call Me Maybe MIMEs

And you have to check out the NPR host version on their blog.

Okay and one more, a parody...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Epilogue

After the time that I spent "abroad" this week, and I use that term loosely because I am fully aware that the shrink wrapped experience of a cruise excursion is hardly comparable traveling to the country and spending two weeks wandering through its cities and experiencing the culture, I have decided that I don't ever need to go to Jamaica again. I am starting here because it was the most recent of our stops and the one for which I feel the most conviction. I'm not entirely against a cruise-like excursion at some point, but a pretty significant change will have to occur for me to want to ever travel there as a destination and spend time walking around. There is only so much time one can be there before the mask of congenial attitude and jerk chicken drops and all the short-comings surface.

And it seems of the people I have spoken to since returning who have also been to Jamaica, all have a story, which either involves being almost kidnapped or being kidnapped.

I am not against spending more time in Grand Cayman. It seemed that there were many more intriguing things to do there, aside from the turtles (but rest assured, turtles would be one of the stops), and given  it seems less depressed, it would be a more enjoyable destination for a period of time.

If I ever need to go to Key West again, I'll drive. It's an interesting place, but it doesn't exactly scream out, "let's shell out a thousand bucks to see polydactyl cats and have mashed potatoes!"

As for Florida, I know we will return again at very least to visit Nana. And there are plenty of things to do here. For example, I'm sure we will return to Orlando at some point and have the Disney world experience again. There are lovely beaches and a million restaurants, good ones, all along the Atlantic coast.

But I do not picture myself moving here, for another 80 years, or until they solve that pesky hurricane problem.

This morning, we ate breakfast at a restaurant so boring I don't remember the name. It was the most boring eggs, grits and hash I have ever had. After that we had to liven things up. So having a few hours before our flight, we basked for a few hours on Haulover Beach, which is a clothing-optional beach, and the only official one in Florida.

Signs line the walk ways cautioning, "you may encounter nude bathers beyond this point." The thing that surprised me most about this place is there were a LOT of people. This was quite possibly the busiest beach-going experience I have ever had The official parking lot was completely full, and we parked at the second lot, which was huge and also quickly filling up. As we swam about in the amazingly clear water, we noted the beaches on either side of the clothing optional area were comparatively vacant. There were both men and women, and the unofficial gay area was on the north section of beach, so we went there, but even that was mixed. Being a state-sanctioned locale, there is no funny business allowed, beach goers are there to enjoy the sun and the ocean. The instructions state clearly to bring lots of sunblock and keep your hands to yourself.

To satiate your curiosity, reader, I did not exercise the option, and kept my swim trunks on. However in the future, who knows? There were all body types, and I mean ALL. All types, all ages. I would venture from early 20's to 70's, though most were in their 40's and 50's. It was an interesting experience and I can see myself returning there, but mostly because the beach is REALLY nice. Very clean, and the water was very clear, and now that we know the deal with parking, very easy parking for $6.

Interestingly, the water felt a little colder than when we visited the beaches near Del Ray last week, possibly due to the storm while we were gone. It wasn't dramatically colder, only a little. And I'm not sure if it was the 90-degree heat on our skin, or what. You could still walk right in and in a second, you would be used to it.

We saw a big school of very tiny fish and a few small barracuda, clearly smelling our blood. I guess today wasn't the day to be eaten by a school of tiny fish, as they avoided us when we swam near.

As for the cruise experience, I just don't think I could do a cruise again that wasn't a gay cruise. I'm going to try to explain what I mean. We are very discerning people, so we know when it is appropriate to hold hands, or steal a kiss, or pretend "partner" means "as in a law firm." I feel like if we had walked around the ship holding hands, that we would have been in some kind of danger of a certain kind of reproach, and that is not acceptable to me. Here's the thing, there would not even be a second look if a straight couple were holding hands on a gay cruise, other than, "did they book the wrong ship?"

And I'm too exhausted to evangelize. After spending most of my life 15 minutes late for everything, fuck it, I'm on vacation. I just want to relax and have fun. It's not a teachable moment, and it shouldn't be. The only reason I feel it is worth mentioning is I didn't see another gay couple displaying any affection toward each other publicly either, probably for the same reason. There were other gay couples on the ship, at least four that I saw, and they probably felt the same way we did. It seemed most of the people on the ship were from Georgia and Alabama. And at a time when people are so needlessly divided about gay rights, it's hard to do what is natural for the sake of what is safe. Does that make it right? And if so, for whom? I love my husband, and I don't understand what is so controversial about that. Love is as simple to understand as anything, yet I feel relegated to constant self censorship.

I guess I'm getting to the age where I'm not as willing to do that anymore unless it is a really good reason. Which is why I prefer to simply avoid situations where people might kill me with sticks. The word to describe my takeaway: illuminating.

So one vacation/adventure/experience down for the year, and I'm predicting two--maybe three--more to go. I look forward to each in their time. Until then, I will happily reflect on time spent with Nana, and the rest of the family, eating too much food, among them key lime pie, playing with turtles and then eating them, going to hell while in paradise, flying through a rainforest in a myriad of ways, surviving unbearable heat and humidity, and falling asleep to a lightning storm at sea, and best of all, getting to experience it with Jill and Gregory. I wish Ron could have been there too, but according to Jill he would have hated every minute.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening Day 9: The Great Debarkation aka Land, Ho

We were up before sunrise because the world hates me, in order to leave the ship. Jill was chomping at the bit to get the hell out of there. I suspect she packed on Tuesday. As though if a crazy man on a raft came by she was ready to toss her luggage and join him while he rowed toward the main land on his wood slab.

Leaving was easy, too easy, but there were some physical elements that have stayed with me all day. For example, I have felt as though I am still on the ship. Everything is swaying gently back and forth, though I'm pretty sure the Starbucks I was in earlier and the Best Western were not afloat on gently rolling waves, but it sure as hell felt like it. It's like getting mini-vertigo every few seconds. If that is the price I have to pay in order to have avoided any serious motion-sickness, I'll take it.

The day started off nicely as we ran up to the buffet to grab a quick bite to eat. Then grabbed a hot chocolate and returned to the room to gather our things. As soon as they called our level, we were headed down the stairs.

After we got through customs, we waited what felt like several hours for the rental car shuttle. I was becoming part of the bench. After what felt like several more hours we arrived at said rental car office. The next step took forever as I waited in the line for the one guy to walk over, get in the car, and drive it 15 feet over to us. Finally it was my turn and instead he helped some other lady who just walked up; hadn't waited at all. I was getting mad. Dollar rental car, you're on notice.

So after getting our rental car, we decided to head toward Key Largo and a Jim-Thompson-recommended restaurant for some delicious key lime pie: Hobo's. It was going to take about an hour and a half to get there, so we decided to stop at a Dunkin Donuts on the way. I have mentioned before that I don't get the draw, but now I'm actually pissed off. First of all the place we went, none of the people spoke or understood any English at all, and we were not in an ethnic neighborhood, and most of the customers in the place were all conversing and ordering in English. Secondly, half the donuts Gregory and Jill wanted, they didn't make at that location, and the lady didn't understand that Gregory was asking which location had the donuts they were seeking. And the thing that was really annoying, Jill discovered they screwed up her order. And all of this wasn't the worst part of the experience, it was the attitude like it is somehow the customer's fault. I'm not expecting out of this world customer service, but I do expect the bare minimum, and if you can't do at least that, failure. As in zero-star Yelp review, and/or a strongly worded letter to some corporate sympathy bot. Every corporation has one, it's the one office where they allow feelings, which are administered to the outside world by a robot.

We tried once again at another location and they didn't have the donuts either. Does Dunkin Donuts, not actually make and sell donuts anymore? Apparently in South Florida, they don't. I was pretty whatever about Dunkin Donuts before, but I have to say that I actively hate them. I might actually have some T-Shirts made.

We made it to Hobo's just before lunch, and ordered conch fritters, a lime-shrimp thing that was delicious and rich, a lobster po'boy, and some fried clams. They were all good, but this journey was all about key lime pie. We each got our own slice. The verdict is that, I'm sorry Jim, but I have to put it as second best. It was really, really good, great even, but about nine months ago, we had key lime pie at Rutherford's Grill in Rutherford, near Napa, and it was ecstasy in a graham cracker crust.

We heard the traditional way to serve key lime pie is traditional pie crust with meringue, but no one down here seems to do it that way. It is graham cracker and whipped cream topping. So I'm not sure what gives. At Hobo's, it is the one dessert they make in house, and you could really taste the love. Then our waitress gave us a few ideas of things to do nearby and we took her suggestions.

First stop, they Key Largo Bird Sanctuary. This was really cool. They had all sorts of birds that had been injured and were being rehabilitated. We each donated money and it was well worth it. The habitats were made with the best of intentions. It wasn't a small place, but it wasn't enormous, and some of the dwellings were a little crude, but it literally ran on donations and volunteerism. They were temporary homes, anyway. They had owls, hawks, cormorants, cranes, pelicans, a couple of parrots, some song birds, mourning doves, and more pelicans. Some were in enclosures and some were just hanging around. The property was on a wetlands, which was also being cared for, and it was right on the gulf.

We walked over to the water and we saw a crab walking toward the open sea, all creepily sideways, and suddenly a second crab rushed it, and their claws came out and we thought they were going to spar, but they avoided each other very warily and went their separate ways.

I'm only going to mention this quickly that they have these strange spiders in Florida with a triangular body and there were lots of them in the trees near the crab, and I had to walk through this living nightmare twice. They weren't doing anything, just sitting on their webs spidering about, but the problem is they were EVERYWHERE. And cue the chill up the spine.

Our next stop was called Robbies and it was a water-sporting place where you could rent jet skis, or go out fishing in the bay. There was also a flea market with some interesting local arts and crafts. They had cool picture frames made from old lobster traps, and they had been varnished and some were covered with shells and barnacles. It was very cool, because the shell/barnacle growth was real, but we couldn't think of a way to get them home in one piece.

They also had a tarpon feeding place, where you could pay $1 to see them, or $3 to feed them. I just wanted to see them since feeding them involved throwing little feeder fish to them from a bucket. I didn't want my hands smelling like dead fishies, so I opted to just watch. Tarpon are big. There was one that had to be five and a half feet long, and about as big around as a size 4 soccer ball. And there were a lot of them in all sizes, but throwing a feeder fish results in quite a little frenzy. It was pretty exciting for a while. And there were a lot of kids and dads on the pier that were having a really good time, the dads probably more so.

We decided we better head back toward town, and for dinner, we made reservations to have sushi at Asia Bay in Ft. Lauderdale. To kill a little time until then, we went to Sawgrass Mills and walked around. I felt like I was going to go crazy because this place was insanely busy and I still felt as though I was on the ship. Add the crowds and the shopping for crap, it was like I was still there. Finally this third level of hell (busy mall, screaming children, and the occasional inconsiderate cretin) came to an end, and it was time to head to our restaurant. I was, for the first time in several days, starting to feel a little hungry.

The restaurant was in a beautiful part of town, just at the edge of the row of fancy restaurants. It was a combination Thai and Japanese restaurant, so we ordered Tom Kah soup in addition to a variety of rolls. For dessert, Thai donuts, which were a basic light dough, fried and served with sweetened condensed milk and chopped peanuts. Delightful! It was a lovely meal to officially end our vacation.

Tomorrow we return to Los Angeles a little crispier and a little wiser. Jill will have to leave at 4AM to catch her flight. Ours doesn't leave until 6PM, so we have some time to kill tomorrow, probably spent at the beach, mentally going through the list of all the reasons why I don't want to live in Florida. For now I'm just looking forward to a decent night's sleep.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 8 - Final Day at Sea

This morning I intended to wake up and go to the gym before breakfast, but I overslept and since we planned to meet, I would have to rearrange my schedule. No problem. My only goal for the day was to spend as much time as possible in the sun and humidity. I was feeling a little guilty having taken a couple of days off. By this point in the cruise, even the ship feels fat. Which makes sense, being full of left overs, passed overs, and keeled overs.

We decided to have breakfast in the sit-down restaurant and it really wasn't worth it. There was only one unique thing about this experience and that was something called Nordlinger Bread or something like that, Nordhoff or whatever. It wasn't on the other menu. It was a dark dense, oaty, wheaty bread, that had a really nice flavor, healthy, just a touch of cinnamon. The waiter brought us a couple of pieces. Other than that, it was the same old shit. The only difference being that we had to wait for them to bring it to us, rather than just going to the buffet and shoveling it into our feed bags on our own. Go to the sit down restaurant if you want a slightly better illusion of portion control (or just order multiple entrees to continue your shame pattern).

After breakfast we split for a few hours so I could hit the sun deck and figure out my plan for the day. I intended to go to the gym, but as I laid there in the heat and humidity, I began to realize that it wasn't going to happen.

For lunch we went to buffet and I got a ruben from the deli. I was behind a family who had the cutest little girl. She had blond curls and dark prominent eye lashes and big brown eyes. The dad told me she was two and she was engrossed in a serious game, playing "got your nose." It was a little more like a tournament. But she would take the nose and then eat it, then pull it out of her mouth and put it back on. Clearly this family is teaching their daughter to be a bird. "Now regurgitate Daddy's nose, honey."

But the most disturbing part was she didn't stop at the nose. She took his lip and his tongue, and I think she may have seen that article of the man eating the other man's face. I wonder if she, too, dreamed of S. Epatha Merkerson and didn't know why.

Again we split and and I went out on the sun deck to do my lobster impression. Yes I got burned. I got my wish. I was thinking of getting some sunburn tattoos, coming up with a pattern and etching it into my skin with the sun. That would be fun. A bunch of people were walking around with hollowed out pineapples presumably filled with pina colada. By the time I admitted to myself that I wanted one, they were out of the pineapple shells. I decided at that point it was a sign I had enough for the trip and just drank water all afternoon.

For dinner we had reservations for the Sun King Steakhouse. I got a prime cut and Gregory ordered a flank cut. Jill ordered surf and turf. Sadly her lobster wasn't as good as a few nights ago, but her filet was excellent. Gregory's was really, really good, and I would say that my cut was great. They had some incredible mashed potatoes, probably a ratio of 3 to one, as in 3 sticks of butter to 1 potato. It was really good, though whipped too smooth to win the ultimate potatoes. That honor now resides at Sweet Tea in Key West. My steak was pretty big, and by the time I had eaten half, I felt like I had stuff myself with an entire cow leg. Well, I did also have tuna tare-tare as an app, followed by a tomato gorgonzola salad, so it is possible that may have also contributed to my fullness. There was no way I could eat another bite. I was already stuffed to the point of delirium.

For dessert, they had to back Gregory's cheesecake out with those orange light sticks normally used to guide airplanes to the gate. They had apparently chipped this off a cheesecake iceberg. It stood about four feet tall and said "mama," and was surrounded by chocolate swirls. It was very light and fluffy. Possibly the second best cheesecake ever? Best still goes to Pain. Vin. Fromage. in Paris. I ordered the chocolate sampler, which had four cups about the size of votive candle holders, which contained, banana panna cotte topped with champagne sorbet, a chocolate ganache topped with hazelnut ice cream (this was my personal favorite), tiramisu, and mango cardamom ice cream with a chocolate berry shazam. It was all so decadent. I wanted to throw myself on the table, and just have a tantrum. I just didn't know how else to react.

I went with my other option and said thank you and left the restaurant. I was tempted to ask for a wheelchair, but decided I really need to try to remember how to walk.

When we returned to the room, we packed up all our stuff, and surprisingly only purchased the rum and rum cakes. It made the declaration form a breeze. Now as our floating Gomorrah hotel of gluttony, excess, and other earthly delights speeds toward Fort Lauderdale, we are surprised and lulled to sleep by a beautiful lightning storm in the distance, flashes across the sky, bright jagged bolts to the ground of far away islands. And we fall asleep at sea, the last night of our cruise, our full tummies turning all that delicious food into poo.

We dock at 6AM and hopefully are off the boat by 6:01. Tomorrow's destination: Key Largo, and a recommendation for REAL key lime pie. Cause apparently the pie they tote in Key West is a giant fucking fraud.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Va-cayman-tion 2012: The Cruisening: Day 7 - Ocho Rios, Jamaica

We parallel parked our floating gluttony box in Ocho Rios right at sunrise. I know this because we were awake, against the sensible laws of the universe. Gregory ran out to photograph it, and I stayed in slathering myself with the 50SPF. By the time I glanced at the--wait, was that a hill? Yes, Jamaica has hillsides, like 700 feet above sea level. Grand Cayman and Key West are flat.

We had be up early, early today for our day excursion into Jamaica. It started early and the boat was leaving at 2PM, so we had to get right to it.

We had been filled with nightmare stories of the horrors of Jamaica, and its very anti-gay sentiment, its aggressive 3rd world desperation, and its general seediness. I will say that all of that is true. However, the place we went to, Mystic Mountain, was awesome. It's basically a theme park, and was very polished and nice, but more of an adventure than say Disneyland. We had two things planned: the zip-line and the bobsled (or toboggan). But unlike a conventional theme park, it requires things of you, rather than passively being strapped securely into a ride vehicle and being spoon fed an experience in a specific and certain way, you need to be present and alert which made it really engaging.

In order to get to these attractions, the bus drops you off at the park, and then you have to take a ski-lift to the top of the resort. The only downside of this is how long the ride is to the top. It's not necessarily a huge distance, but it moves really slowly. I'm pretty sure I saw an entire tree grow in the time it took us to get to the top. The view is spectacular, though. You can see the entire bay, the ship, the beach and much of the town.

The vegetation is spectacular too, very tropical rainforest, lots of gigantic birds, huge bugs, I saw a bee carrying an arm, I saw a tree of spiders and then some gigantic spiders on a web, luckily nowhere near us, and heard but didn't see some velociraptors stamping around below.

We made it to the top and were instructed to do the zip-line first since it took almost 45 minutes to do, and they wanted to make sure that people who signed up for it were able to do it. We were saddled up with helmets and harnesses, and were taken over to the launching point. We had two guys helping us and they were awesome. And hot. Very athletic and charming. Messing with the guests is part of the shtick, so they would say things like "slow down" when there is no way to slow down, or as you were leaving, "no wait, not yet!" when there was no way to stop. They were transparent about it though, and everyone had a really good time.

The zip-line tour consisted of two zip-lines, a vertical drop, which they sold as rappelling. Then you cross a suspension bridge and then two more zip-lines. Rappelling my ass. They hooked you to a rope and then dropped your ass about 20 feet, catching you about a foot off the ground. Hilarious. They made jokes about, "don't pee-pee on me," and "no golden showers," which was a little strange to hear since since I typically associate that with a different context, and they just mentioned it like a casual term that everyone knew. The main guide kept calling Jill "Queeny," and his goal was to make her scream in terror, but he couldn't make her do it, no matter his antics.

All of this was through the tropical forest. You basically end up about halfway down the mountain, and you have to catch the ski lift on the way down, return to the bottom and stay on it going all the way back to the top. I had opened a business and it went bankrupt in the time it took us to get back (of course it went bankrupt. I know nothing of Jamaican commerce.).

At the top, we stood in the never ending line for the bobsleds. Luckily Gregory and I are professional line standers. We can deal with the worst of queues. The ride was a lot of fun and you could basically go as quickly or as slowly as you wanted. It was a very smooth roller coaster for one. This shit would never fly in the states, and I'm glad I got to do something like this. This attraction, too, took you down through the forest with drops and spins and twists, it was really cool, but rather than leaving you down there, you got hooked to a line and like a roller coaster, it pulled you back up the hill to the top, letting out back where you began.

There was a red-flag point near the end of the fast part, where you needed to slow your vehicle yourself. In America there would be some fancy auto braking system. I wondered how many people slammed into the connection without slowing at all. And there was one guy stationed down near the red flag area, who was reading a book, helping people make the connection to the cable which connected to your ride vehicle and took you back to the top. It was funny because while the park is a nice setup, there are some things about it that are primitive, like this guy sitting in the middle of the forest at the connection point at the end of the ride. There is no concrete pathway to where he is stationed. There's no underground series of tunnels or "backstage." There is a trail through the forest and he sits there on a lawn chair reading a book making sure each customer slows down properly and makes the connection safely. But he just supervises this. There isn't actually anything he physically does. I just want to make that clear. They probably put him down there for the dumbasses that couldn't figure out what to do, or that didn't slow down and splattered their limbs all over the forest. That would at least explain WHERE the bee found the arm.

Speaking of eating arms, by now it was time for lunch and we were going to head back into town to find a restaurant that had jerk chicken, which, if you come to Jamaica and don't have Jamaican Jerk Chicken, what is your damage? Gag me with a spoon, mon! Mystic Mountain had a little restaurant and after taking some pictures from the rooftop observatory we decided for the sake of convenience to just go there. It was delicious, and one of the guys there brought us a couple of extra things to sample, just single bites of a plantain, something made from cassava, and a kind of hush puppy, a bread that was only a tiny bit sweet, just a kiss of sugar and cinnamon and then deep fried. They were all really delicious.

Before we returned to the ship, we were delivered to a small taste of the shopping experience here. Although similar to Grand Cayman in appearance, there is a palpable difference in the level of desperation. The way people hock their wares here has an urgency about it. Even the busses have signs, saying "It is customary to tip your driver upon safe arrival," or something to that effect. Two of our table-mates were saying their tour guide on the waterfalls (another excursion we decided to not attend), was very aggressive with them about getting his gratuity.

As we left this grouping of shops that all seemed to sell exactly the same thing, we walked a block back to the ship. You would think with only one city block to go, we could get to the ship without hassle. We were panhandled at by two legless people, shouted at by a man selling food, and a man with a guitar and a tooth asked us if we wanted to buy anything from him to smoke. I wonder what it could be?

As we crossed the security checkpoint and began to walk along the pier, there was a young boy probably around 14 or so, selling necklaces, three for $5. He had sneaked past the security point and was down on the rocks out of sight of the police. He was proffering black beaded necklaces to the guests returning to the ship. I thought about trying to buy some just so Gregory could get a picture of him, the blue water, and the white salty sand and rocks, and his dark skin, and the desperation. The problem with this exchange would be he was a good six feet below the railing, so am I supposed to drop my dollar bill down to him and he throws the necklace up to me? How about the fact the wind was blowing? I could not figure out exactly how that was going to work, other than that little fucker stealing my dollar and leaving. And I didn't want to have to shout, "come back here with my necklace!" or possibly have him shot by security for skipping over the gate.

We returned to the ship and I went out again to work on my tan. I desperately want this sun and humidity to be burned into me. I just know how cold it's going to be when we return to freezing Southern California. There has been so much that we've done and so much more that I have taken away already from this experience that I want to keep--more even than I have written. I looked for trinkets hoping I could find something appropriate to serve as a memento. So far, I have only found junk that I don't need or want. And I think of all the crap I already have back home, and feel even that is unwieldy at times.

We decided to attend our regularly scheduled dinner tonight. Jill wanted to dine in the buffet. They had some kind of self-award winning fish entree. Gregory and I weren't impressed. They had some kind of beef with a mustard crust and some really good mashed potatoes that was excellent. Dessert had us visiting Alaska. Baked. It was Baked Alaska. I had never had it before and was curious to try it, but I also wanted the amaretto cake, which was basically a chocolate ganache in a cake shape. It was amazingly chocolatey. I wish I had only gotten this. The Baked Alaska was good, but honestly that cake was amazing.

We decided to see the last comedy show of the cruise by the comic Macio. He was okay. He riffed on a bunch of racist stuff, because we all know how hilarious racism is, and the crowd laughed. Some of the jokes were genuinely funny and he did a lot with interacting directly with the audience. It was fine enough, but I was kind of glad when it was over, partially because we didn't have seats and had to stand in the back.

I'm so exhausted now, and I'm thankful we have a day at sea tomorrow. Our last full day of the cruise. I can sleep in and have real breakfast. I'm looking forward to that.


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