Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Shopping Trip

Dramatis personae:
Rick, a middle-aged hipster doofus wannabe, checking out at Lowe's, at the end of an expedition to buy a new garbage can, toilet seat, and shower curtain. And maybe some other things, but he left the list in the truck. Or maybe it’s back at the house. Or in the pocket of his other jacket. He’s just not sure.

Pat, a middle-aged-and-then-some cashier, whose deceptively cheerful visage and bad haircut disguise the fact that she’s less than happy about the holidays.  

Cashier Pat: I have to look in your can. It’s one of the rules. You wouldn’t believe what people try to do here.
Shopper Rick:  Well I’ll be. Have at it. It’s empty. 

Cashier Pat looks inside the garbage can and seems satisfied that it’s not filled with almost shoplifted bidet parts.

SR: I can’t believe you have Christmas things on display. It’s October.
CP: (Expressing severe dismay) I know, what about that?!

SR: How long have they been out?

CP: Since the beginning of the month. It’s just horrible.

SR: It’s not even Halloween, I haven’t festooned my house with orange lights or anything.
CP: People don’t give out candy bars any more. I hate it.

SR: I know, I know. I have a harder time sticking razorblades in things!

Cashier Pat chortles with way too much evil enthusiasm. Actually Shopper Rick wonders if he's the only guy who still hands out candy bars. What’s up with that?  He toys with the idea of telling her he saw a Craigslist posting of someone looking for an old crone to live in a gingerbread house in the forest near Cape May. Uncharacteristically, he keeps his trap shut.

SR: So what about the inflatable Santa in the outhouse, do you sell many of those? I thought that the holidays were supposed to smell like Christmas trees and cinnamon and stuff like that. Guess I was wrong! 

CP: It’s disgusting! 


SR: Did you see the light up wire dachshund? It’s called a “sausage dog”. No Rick did not suggestively tug at his crotch as he said that. But he did think about it. Long and hard. I don’t think of a dachshund as a symbol of Christmas.
CP: (Lighting up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree) Oh wow, that’s great!! I should get my sister one, she’s really into flamingos!

SR: Hmmmmm....exactly!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Keeping Up with the Joneses

After I went to my second or third viewing in Altoona, Pennsylvania, it occurred to me that someone should do an architectural or photographic survey of the city's funeral homes. Funeral homes are to Altoona as roadside vegetable markets are to southern New Jersey. They're practically ubiquitous yet still manage to be visually interesting. No two seem to be alike, and they can be a well maintained oasis in a neighborhood of dilapidated eyesores in the making.  

Although I've driven through Altoona--and yes, I mean through downtown Altoona, not whizzing by on the Bud Shuster ("Pork: Not Just The Other White Meat") Highway--a zillion times, I never noticed the Jones Funeral Home until I went to a viewing there. It's on 13th Avenue, quite near the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament. My friend's sister couldn't have picked a better place in which to be "laid out".

The building is a celadon green Art Deco ceramic tile box on a pink granite base. It's been grafted none too delicately onto the front of a 19th commercial building and what looks to be an old house. The building's large recessed entrance is on the left side of facade and is shielded by an aluminum marquee. When it was built, it must have been the height of style. A bunch of small American flags had been stuck in the planter box by the entrance. Veterans are welcome.

The marquee seems fit for a movie theatre, with the words Jones Funeral Home spelled out in sans serif letters in a backlit frieze. The building looks as if it's ready to host a funeral for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. That is, if they lived, no make that died, in Altoona.

The small metal sign bolted to the front of the building casts a handsome shadow on a sunny day.

I recall that the interior featured a couple of large reception rooms that needed to be redecorated about 30 years ago. That's mostly a faint memory, since most of that sector is filled with a file of my friend telling me (and showing me) that she didn't like how they did her sister's hair. (It never looked like that!) Her sister, of course, was the deceased, the star of that particular matinee. My friend's nephew and I talked about the era when the dearly departed was "laid out" in the family living room, and how that gave to meaning to inviting friends over for a cold one. Even at a viewing, I find myself so amusing.

The Jones Funeral Home must also occupy the skanky house next door to the funeral home. For there, right on the front porch, is a gaggle of No Parking Funeral signs that have clearly seen better days. While people may be jonesing to get into the Jones, reserving parking spots with 'Funeral No Parking' signs isn't something the home needs to do on a weekday morning. I was the only car parked on the street. That's the way Altoona is: there used to be a lot more there there than there is now. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Cute the Edith Piaf Tunes!

I recently spent some time at Lowe's in Rio Grande, NJ (Rio Grande is not just a place in Texas) looking for a new toilet seat. I didn't think toilet seats broke, but they do. Or at least mine did. In the face of two dozen different models,  I opted for the Bold Look of Kohler, though really, how Bold is it when you buy the plain ordinary while model? I thought about getting the NASCAR Jimmie Johnson #48 seat but number one, number two, and number forty-eight was more math than I wanted to think about as I perform my morning ablutions. 

Until  the toilet seat buying expedition--which entailed going up and down every aisle in the plumbing department--I never knew that the GoBidet Attachable Bidet System for Toilets even existed. What a great aftermarket accessory!  Who new that there even were aftermarket accessories for toilets?! If someone's selling a magazine rack that attaches to your American Standard, it's news to me. 

Oh wait, there is the Big John, a generously scaled toilet seat for folks who are especially broad in the beam, and I suppose that's an aftermarket accessory.  But seriously, if you want to trick out your toilet, I don't think that you don't have too many options.

The GoBidet is an add-on hose and nozzle dealie that turns your toilet into a bidet. Nice. There was only one left, which made me wonder if the Real Housewives of New Jersey had caravaned down to Rio Grande and and snatched them to speak. (Yes, I find myself so amusing.)

In my copious quantities of spare time, I went to the GoBidet web site (prominently displayed on the box) and learned that bidet is a French device for washing your you-know-what. Your place, to use the clinical term. The GoBidet web site points out the numerous benefits of a clean you-know-what while the rest of you is a cocktail of body odor, Chanel No. 5, Gauloises cigarettes, and garlic. These benefits include a fuller understanding of the metaphysical novels of Simone de Beauvoir, an appreciation of the comic genius of Jerry "Le Nutty Professor" Lewis, and quite possibly a clue as to how anyone could buy a car as ugly as the Citroen DS.

Sure the GoBidet comes with two warnings.
1. Don't turn it on at full blast. You'll learn why Third World dictators use water cannons to disperse protestors.

2. Don't squirt your you-know-what with water that's too hot or too cold. A scalded you-know-what is not a happy you-know-what.

To which, I'd add a third:
3. If you buy one, don't tell me.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Scenes from Penn State's 2011 Homecoming

The challenge of taking photos at the Penn State Homecoming Parade gave me a greater appreciation of Abraham Zapruder. 

Members of the Penn State Ski Team give new meaning to the expression "Fire In the Hole".

 I was quite surprised to see an entry from Los Angeles International Airport.

It wouldn't be a homecoming parade without a bunch of kids dressed up as cavemen. The cavemen, of course, complimented the parade's theme of "Fraternity Kids on Semi-Decorated  Hay Wagons" perfectly. I don't know what Bono was doing on the float.
I betcha won't forget the chardonnay next time, will ya, Denny?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Old Enough to Know Better

After an evening with the swells at Morven, I needed a drink. Since it was too far to walk to any licensed establishment other than Buffalo Wild Wings, I went to the lobby of the Inn at Darden and asked the desk clerk to call me a cab.

No, he did not say, “OK, you’re a cab.”

The desk clerk and I made small talk and found ourselves in agreement on the proposition that we didn’t care who sneaked into football players' rooms the night before a game as long as our team won. It was kinda like agreeing on the idea that night follows day.

Soon enough, a taxi drove up. I got in and asked the driver to take me to The Corner, the few blocks of student oriented businesses near the University Grounds.

Rick, to Charlottesville cabby: long have you been driving a cab?

Cabby, who sounded like Justin Wilson,The Cajun Cook: Two days.

Rick, to himself: (insert expletive of choice here).

Rick, to Cabby: Uh, wow. That’s not very long. How do you know where you’re going? Do you have GPS?

Cabby: Oh, I just knows.

Rick, to himself: Kill me now.

Then in a story longer than his career as a cabby, the driver shared that he was on disability and he was from Buckingham County and just driving the cab temporarily for his brother-in-law who was laid up with: 1) tax problems, 2) genital warts, 3) a bingo injury, or some combination thereof, I couldn’t really understand which. The locum tenens behind the wheel, as brief as it was, was going to necessitate a trip to Farmville to make sure his disability check kept coming even though he was driving a cab, which to me meant that he wasn’t disabled. But I didn’t bring up that point with him.

Please, Dear God, I prayed. Please get me out of this cab before he leaves for Farmville.

When he didn’t go the way I would have gone, I resisted the New Yorker moment to tell him he was going the wrong way. But really, he should have taken University Avenue rather than Emmet Street. Even so, before my ear became adjusted to the Buckingham County patois, we arrived at my destination, in the midst of cute shoppes, and as I’m sure they say in Farmville, trendy boites de nuit.

As I was paying the fare, I had a brief out of body experience. I did not know that there were more taxis in Charlottesville than there are therapists in State College. Accordingly, I asked him if he had a card so that I could call him for a ride back to the hotel.  Apparently I thought I could download an app to my Alexander Graham Bell Autograph Model phone that would translate what he said into English. At least I think that’s what I thought.

My first choice of watering hole was too crowded, so I walked down the block looking for Plan B.

It was raining steadily so there were no young women out in heels and dresses that looked like a Project Runway challenge called Slutty Lilly Pulitzer. There were a couple of young women out wearing sensible shoes, but none so sensible that they spelled softball team. Frankly, I was a tad disappointed.

There were a few guys out, with phones stapled to their ears, looking for a better offer. Keeping some men from hunting for a better offer would be like stopping the tides. I imagined the conversations went like this:

Hey. You wanna hook up?


Oh crap, you’re not Lauren from Psych class. You’re a dude!….Fuck!!

(pause) wanna hook up anyway?

Soon enough I was at another place with a license. I’d been there once in the cold light of day and it seemed OK.

I got carded. Yikes. If the bouncer’s eyesight was that bad he must have been the world’s youngest person with macular degeneration.

I sat down at the bar and ordered a beer. When a bar, other than a beach bar, serves beer in a plastic cup, it’s just not a good sign. After about a half a beer, I looked around and realized I was the person who was old enough to know better. Unfortunately, it was raining too hard to go gallivanting about looking for a more age appropriate bar. So I did the only sensible thing. I ordered a second beer.

The two boys and girl on my left were earnestly talking about becoming physicians’ assistants. There wasn’t one joke about playing doctor or even an erection lasting more than four hours. How disappointing.

The multicultural group of kids on my right ordered grown-up drinks. But they obviously weren’t my age. They never once talked about putting their parents in nursing homes, their church friend who screwed the baby sitter, or their children’s unfortunate choices when it came to boyfriends, girlfriends, or realtors.

Since I was the oldest person there, I tried to look invisible. And it must have worked since no one acknowledged my presence. Once I’d seen all of that week’s football highlights on the flat TV the size of a drive in theatre screen, I decided to head back to the hotel.

As I was leaving, the people coming into the bar held the door open for me. Eureka, people my age! A young woman was with two people could have been her parents. The young woman and her father were unremarkable looking. He was wearing a windbreaker and Dockers. She was wearing some sort of skinny-ish jeans and sandals.

The person I took to be the mother was a sight. She looked as was pulled from the line waiting to get in one of Las Vegas’s lesser nightclubs. She was doing the full Kardashian in super spikey pumps in faux leopard, a skirt that was shorter than my attention span, and a top that looked as if it sustained heavy collateral damage during a Newt Gingrich glitter bombing. Apparently the phrase, “You’re not going out looking like that, are you?!” wasn’t in the family phrase book. If the mom was a product tester for Frederick’s of Hollywood, she was wearing the Slutty Receptionist at the Department of Motor Vehicles Ensemble. Yikes, I was leaving too early!

I walked up the deserted street and thought about going to The White Spot, but fortunately for my waistline, the thought passed.

Still, it's better than Buffalo Wild Wings.

I waited under an awning and called my cab. The cabby said—at least I think he said—he’d be there in fifteen minutes. He was at the hospital or Monticello or hooking up with a woman in a sparkly top and faux leopard shoes. I didn’t quite understand which. On the off chance that it was choice number three, I thought it was best not to ask for too many details on the ride home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Lyrical Moment

I walked out to the truck after a rainy night, and right by the driver's door, there it was. Someone had actually left the cake out in the rain.

As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up.

And of course my next thought was, "Will they ever have the recipe again?"

I am such a nerd.

And yes, I find myself so amusing.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Wearin' of the Orange

New Yorkers and arty architects seem to think that black and its upscale cousins anthracite, midnight, raven, onyx, coal, and whatever J. Crew calls black next is the height of chic.

You'd probably be sent to social Siberia if you wore orange (rust, apricot, persimmon, pumpkin, etc.) in New York. I can imagine orange trousers consuming an entire episode of The Real Housewives of New York City. Simon thinks he looks fabulous in his new orange vinyl trousers. A dust-up at the opening of a new Chick-Fil-A in The Hamptons ensues when Fake Countess LuAnn mistakes him for someone in a jumpsuit picking up garbage by the side of the road in a court-ordered program for fashion offenders.

I'm one of that small minority of folks who not only thinks that orange trousers are great for other occasions besides the first day of deer season. So when I was in Charlottesville, I thought I'd check out the clothes you can't buy in State College.

Orange trousers are particularly good when it's dark and raining and you don't want to be hit by a car. 

And if you're going to wear a bow tie, bright green seems like a good bet. You can put the lime in more than just the coconut, you know. 

For the drag queen, this boxy blue and orange houndstooth Jackie-esque number would be just the thing to make a big splash in the President's Box at a UVa football game. It would perfectly compliment that Coach (yes, the outlet) tote bag holding the trusty Vitamin Water bottle filled with with Ketel One, charger for your old phone, four different kinds of breath mints, and an envelope filled with Val Pak coupons. You never know when you'll need a coupon for half off getting your draperies cleaned. Oh yeah, you'd need pants or a skirt or something too.This thing is guaranteed to make your ass look fat.

When I was in school Mincer's Pipe Shop ("This is Bobby Mincer. May I hep yew?") actually sold pipes--think Sherlock Holmes rather than Bob Marley. It also had a few tee shirts and a great selection of "hurt" books, which must have been what they called seconds. There was always an amusing impulse item next to the cash register. They had those things weeks before I found them anywhere else. I had a feeling that marketing people in New York conference rooms sat around and said, "I think it's funny and will sell, but I don't know what the public thinks. Get me Bobby Mincer! A phone call is placed : "This is Bobby Mincer, May I hep yew?" And the next thing you knew, C-ville was the first place with Pet Rocks, The Official Preppy Handbook, and the Toga Party in a Can. 

Bobby Mincer is now retired and is no longer around to hep yew. The place has morphed into the space next door, so it's twice as big as it used to be. There isn't a single pipe of the Sherlock Holmes or Bob Marley variety. Instead there is a remarkable selection of UVa wear, right down to the now familiar tee shirt with the Old School Tie imprinted on the front. Just the thing to wear to the opening of a Chil-Fil-A in The Hamptons or anywhere else.

Get Down and Give Me Fifty...

Tom of Finland 

Plus Inflatable Yard Santas

Equals the U.S. Marines' Recruiting Station at Beaver Stadium

Friday, October 7, 2011

Rubber Chicken Dinners

Last weekend, I went to Charlottesville for an Architecture School function. The school has an annual dinner to thank donors, and they try to hold it at an estate in Albemarle County. I try to go when it's someplace interesting, since I like to gawk at a fabulous estate as much as the next guy. Who knows, maybe I'll meet millionaire Bruce Wayne someday.

A couple of years ago, it was at an estate called Estouteville, built by Thomas Jefferson's master builders. It's one of the grander places in Albemarle County. And except for some fairly strange sculptures in the yard, it looked as one would expect it brick, white columns, bottle green shutters on the windows.

The interior, however, was another story entirely. It was Winterthur meets the Addams Family. The furnishings were mostly in a style called Early Bizarre, and there were about eight jillion flickering candles in the shape of human skulls. The walls were painted in an array of garish colors. There were paintings hung on the ceiling, furniture made from concrete, but with fur accessories. It was as if Sister Parrish had taken peyote with her English Breakfast Tea, and then decided to skip the tea and just stick with peyote.

The dinner wasn't in the house, but in a large white tent erected in the yard. After the tasty repast of food that's supposed to be served hot but wasn't, there was a post dinner speech by the estate's owner. Her name was Beatrix, Trixie to her friends. She wasn't dressed by top American designer Michael Kors, but instead was put together in sort of Isadora Duncan doing Kabuki sort of way. Her speech focused (ok, rambled is more like it) on how she and her husband, Ludwig, (aka Wiggie) decided to move from New York City and consulted a Ouija Board to find out where to move. The Ouija Board led them to Albemarle County. Most spirits can't spell "Albemarle" so theirs definitely had something going for it.

Once Trixie and Wiggie got to Virginia, they drove around  the countryside until they ran into a man in a sombrero who led them to Estouteville. The rest, as they say, is history. Some people have all the luck. I lived in Charlottesville for four years and never once saw a man in a sombrero.

Except for my friend Pam, who returned my "this woman is looney tunes" look, I couldn't tell if anyone else at my table thought the speech was the least bit out of the ordinary. When I returned to my hotel after the dinner, I Googled Trixie and Wiggie and found out that  he was under indictment for stealing from the textile company where he was CEO. Hey, candles shaped like human skulls are expensive!

So you can see why I like to go to the diner. As rubber chicken dinners go, they can be pretty darned entertaining.

This year's school dinner was held at Morven, the former home of John Kluge, one of UVa's most generous benefactors. The house was built in the early 19th century.

Though Mr. Kluge's furnishings were sold at auction by Christie's, the house is still quite elegant and easily holds 100 or so architect types, all of whom are wearing some shade of black. The University uses Morven for official functions, and various units of the University are undertaking research projects there.

The gardens are particularly spectacular, and there is a formal garden and also a Japanese garden, complete with tea house. There was an attendant at the door to the tea house who reminded us to take off our shoes before entering. I asked her if she was counting the number of people who had holes in their socks. She chuckled which I took to mean yes.

Dinner was in the "fun barn" which wasn't a barn at all, but a banquet room and adjacent movie theater. I was seated between the Dean of the Architecture School and the head of the School Foundation. Since the dinner is all about fundraising, I was a tad concerned that they thought I was low hanging fruit. So to speak. Alas and alack, not only did they not ask for money, no one even asked for my phone number.

The food was hot food that wasn't hot. It's apparently a local specialty. The acoustics in the dining room weren't very good, so it was difficult to hear others at the table, but they seemed nice and quite adept at making polite small talk over dinner. To there best of my knowledge, there wasn't a single joke about a Rabbi, a Priest, and a ham sandwich. I did tell my dinner partner, the Dean of the school, that I only came to the dinner when it was someplace interesting. She seemed a bit surprised, or at least surprised that someone would admit it. 

A short time later, she worked my admission into her after dinner speech. Not quite the same as mentioning a Ouija Board and a man in a sombrero, but it would have to do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A Horse is a Horse...

I went to Virginia last weekend for a school function. On the way home, I finally succumbed to temptation and stopped in New Market, at the New Market Battlefield. The battlefield is preserved, right next to I-81, with E-Z on and off, so you can commune with history and still make it to Aunt Edna's house in time for some apple pandowdy hot from the oven. The battlefield also includes a museum built in sort of Roger Moore as James Bond modernist style. 

The Battle of New Market, which occurred on May 15, 1864,  is noteworthy because the Cadet Corps of the Virginia Military Institute marched 81 miles in four days from their barracks in Lexington to New Market, where they saved the day for the Confederacy, driving the Union forces from the field. No matter how you slice it, that's quite an accomplishment for a bunch of college kids.

Because the battlefield is owned by the Virginia Military Institute, this rack card appears prominently next to those touting Virginia's Natural Bridge and Luray Caverns.

Yes equestrian fans, this is indeed Little Sorrel, General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's stuffed horse, telling you to saddle up and mosey on down to the Virginia Military Institute. I've seen Little Sorrel in person but that was a LONG time ago, and I thought by this time he might have been put out to pasture or at the very least sold to a Pennsylvania Dutch Smorgasbord that advertizes Seven Sweets, Seven Sours, and One Taxidermied Civil War Horse.

Little Sorrel was looking a little long (and dead) in the tooth when I saw him in VMI's museum. For all of you keeping score at home, this was shortly after Lee's surrender at Appomattox. However, according to the Virginia Military Institute, Little Sorrel had a spa day in 2007 with "conservators who specialize in 19th century mounted animal hides."

Yikes. That's a specialty?

So apparently Little Sorrel got a shampoo, dye, and extensions. No joke. He's sounding a lot like Lil' Kim to me.

L. S. was Jackson's horse thoughout the Civil War and Jackson was riding his trusty steed at the Battle of Chancellorsville, where, as we all know, the General was killed in what the Pentagon would call a "friendly fire incident".

After the war, the L.S. lived the life of a 19th century reality star, and appeared at county fairs, rode in convertibles in college homecoming parades, opened shopping malls, and dictated his memoirs by stamping his hoof on the ground. According to Confederate mares, the Little in Little Sorrel referred to his size and not, you know, to his size, if you follow me. He finished his days at the Old Soldiers' Home in Richmond.

According to VMI's press release, L.S., as we see him today, is the creation of  Fredrick Weber, the leading taxidermist of his day. He's not your standard sawdust and wood model, but is actually plaster, which is much better suited to the creating the shapely gams of a Confederate war horse. VMI also points out that Little Sorrel is "the oldest mounted horse in America and one of only about six historically significant mounted horses in the world."  Not exactly six, but about six. And no, they don't offer up the identity of the other about five.