Sunday, May 30, 2021

Vaxxed and Ready to Go Places


Well!  It has been a whirlwind of a month for me!  I'm fully vaxxed and back in action!  Exactly two weeks after my second vaccination I boarded a plane for Chicago.  Upon landing, I had originally intended to take the Van Galder bus to Madison, Wisconsin to help Amy move her stuff into storage for the summer (and drink delicious beer and mess around by the lake) but there were no hotel rooms available in Madison because of graduation, so I had two glorious nights alone in a Chicago Aloft hotel.

After checking in to my hotel, I walked around the corner to a Lou Malnati's and ate a medically inadvisable amount of deep-dish pizza and drank two large beers.  I stumbled back to my hotel, where I thought I would recline on my bed and read for a few minutes.  Twelve hours later, I woke up.

I had booked a ticket for the Art Institute of Chicago and was eager to embark on my Big Day at the Art Museum, but first I had to eat something as cafes in museums are still closed.  My Lyft driver from the airport had pointed out the enormous McDonald's down the block from my hotel and told me it used to be the Rock 'N Roll McDonald's.  A couple of years ago, it was completely remodeled and is now a "Green" McDonald's with plant walls and a rooftop garden.  The sausage McMuffin was delicious, as always, but I'm sorry I missed seeing the kitschy old rock 'n roll memorabilia.

I had a fabulous day at the Art Institute.  I will share a family joke and see if you also find it amusing.  There is a New Testament story about how Salome danced for Herod and he enjoyed it so much he promised her whatever she wanted, and she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a plate.  This touching scene is depicted in a lot of paintings, and whenever we find one in a museum, one of us will say, in a world-weary voice, "Not head for dinner AGAIN"


When I got too hungry to look at any more art, I went across the street to the Chicago Athletic Association, a former men's athletic club that is now a fancy hotel with a lobby bar and restaurant with lots of fireplaces and leather sofas.  I had a couple of Manhattans and a hamburger by a fireplace topped with a frieze panel of homoerotic wrestling, or some activity involving a lot of naked men.  It felt awesome to be indulging in something that was denied to women for so long (having drinks and a hamburger on my own, I mean, not the naked wrestling).


The next morning I made my way to the downtown Chicago train station and took the Van Galder to Madison.  I stayed in the hotel that was the closest to Amy's apartment, the Canterbury Inn.  It is a six room boutique hotel above a bookstore, and each room is painted with scenes from a different Canterbury tale and is crammed full of bookshelves, club chairs, low-wattage lamps, and red brocade drapes.

I think this could actually serve as a litmus test of how well we would get along.  Does this sound intriguing to you, or just weird?  Amy and I enjoyed the Knight's Room very much.


After a few days of wrapping up Amy's affairs and treating her friends to meals, we got back on the bus to the downtown Chicago train station.  Amy and I were on our way to visit my parents in Springfield, Virginia and my friend Colleen suggested that we take the overnight train.  We had a tiny roomette on The Cardinal, the Chicago-New York Amtrak train.  The Cardinal leaves Chicago at 6 pm and stops in Alexandria, Virginia 24 hours later.

It was great!  We were shown to our roomette by our car attendant, Joyce, who was remarkably unenthusiastic about, well, everything.  Amy and I, on the other hand, were SO excited to be on the train.  If you've never been in a roomette, it's a tiny compartment about the size of a large dining table and contains two facing upholstered chairs that turn into a bed, a fold-down table, a top bunk that drops down, and a toilet and sink between the chairs and the compartment door.  Here's a picture: the pink lid next to the blue chair lifts up to reveal the toilet, and above it is a metal sink that drops down from the wall.


Okay, so at first I was like "We are not going to use this roomette toilet, we will just go down the hall to the restroom in the coach car."  The first time that we did that, however, we encountered the train's resident drunks: a thin man in his seventies and a fat man in his thirties who had seated themselves right next to the restroom and were harassing every woman who came near them.

I had my suitcase whiskey with me, and after a few tots of that the roomette bathroom did not phase me any more.  It was actually quite handy to slide one seat over, do my business, and slide back.  Amy and I stayed up way too late playing gin rummy and listening to bluegrass music on her portable speaker.


We finally put the cards away, folded up the table, turned the chairs into my bed, and cranked Amy's top bunk down from the ceiling.  It was very novel to fall asleep to the rocking of the train.  We woke up in West Virginia, which was very green and beautiful.  Joyce brought me a Jimmy Dean sausage sandwich and a coffee, which I enjoyed in my pajamas on my bunk while watching bald eagles catching fish in the New River.

After we got off the train in Alexandria, Amy wanted to enjoy being outdoors for a little while before we got a Lyft to my parents' house, so we hid behind a war memorial and drank beer out of paper bags and soaked up some sun.  

It was great to see my parents again.  My Mom had a list of tasks for me and Amy.  Mom is devoted to her garden, and there was weeding and mulching and planting to do.  Unlike me, my Mom has amazing will power and self-control, and when she told me she hadn't eaten pizza in years, I knew what I had to do.


My Dad can't leave the house and my Mom won't leave him alone except to go to the grocery store, so Amy hung out with Dad while Mom and I went to all her favorite stores.  Mom had a lot of pent-up shopping to do.  We spent hours in Marshalls and Tuesday Morning and Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  

My brother Doug and his wife Shelby and daughter Stella came up from Richmond.  Doug was a classics major, as is Amy, so they had a lot to talk about.  Shelby has been doing research projects for the University of Richmond, and Doug has been helping her.  Check out their research about the old slave burying ground on the grounds of the University of Richmond: 

https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=59690b2c313e42a8b112862f4dce2b28

Doug and Amy and I took a walk around Mercer Lake.  It was such a beautiful day.  Look at these two cuties:


My Dad has been spending a lot of his time watching The Great Courses on his Roku TV.  He may be the only person who has ever truly gotten their money's worth from The Great Courses.  If you ever want to know something about the historical accuracy of the New Testament, famous explorers, ancient Egypt, country music, the Vietnam War, or Hitler, he'd be happy to enlighten you.

Mom has a disturbing habit of mailing the girls cash in envelopes.  None of the girls have very reliable mail service, so we devoted a day to setting Mom up with Venmo to satisfy her generous urges.  Amy did her valiant best to explain Venmo to me and Mom, and although I'm not sure either of us really understands it, we finally got it set up.  

We are back in California now, but I am raring to go on another adventure!!






Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold

 


Lately, when I plop down on our crappy old sectional sofa (known to our circle of intimates as "the comfort turd"), the phrase "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold" rattles around in my overstuffed head.  Upon googling the phrase I learned (presumably re-learned) that it is a line from the poem "The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats.  The phrase was written about the bleak political landscape of post WWI Europe, but I feel it also accurately describes the state of the comfort turd.

My family has been on me for quite some time to acquire alternative seating to the comfort turd, which is now so full of duct tape that it leaves sticky residue on one's clothing.  One day last week, after meeting a friend in Mountain View for an invigorating neighborhood walk, I finally decided to investigate my options.

I felt I would lose momentum if I went home and showered first, so off I went in my capri pants, stretched-out t-shirt, sweaty headband, and arch-supporting athletic shoes.  I decided to first try the Home Consignment Center, which is where we found the comfort turd many years ago, to see if lightning might strike twice.  

The Home Consignment Center is in Campbell, across the street from a diner called The Hash House, where I had an excellent plate of chilaquiles to fortify my search.  Then I sauntered into the Consignment Center, where an excited older gentleman, who probably is an employee, accosted me and showed me a metal patio table with attached stools that fold up under the table.

I allowed him to demonstrate the wonder of the table to me a few times and then scooted off when his attention was diverted.  As I made my way around the store, I saw him repeat the performance with every new person who walked through the door.  It's like, he wants to sell the table, but if he does, what will he do to occupy himself?

Sadly, there were no adequate sectional sofas in the Home Consignment Center, and also no public restroom.  I had to go next door to a Safeway, so as long as I was there I bought some beer.

Is Elysian Space Dust the best IPA I've ever had?  Who knows, but isn't the can cool?  I love the alien hophead blowing glittery dust.

My next stop was La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries.  Once I saw the floor models, I pretty much knew that a La-Z-Boy sectional with electronic recliners and cup holders was my destiny, but I decided that I had to do a little due diligence and check out some other furniture stores.

Next stop was Direct Factory Furniture, or maybe Factory Direct Furniture?  It is a small store down the street from La-Z-Boy run by a friendly Asian man with a great business plan.  He carries two models of everything: two sectional sofas, two reclining armchairs, two dining sets, two bedroom suites; and he knows EVERYTHING about those models.  He doesn't have to refer to a catalog or a computer, he just knows.

So after I sat on one of the sectional sofas, he came over and told me my upholstery options: fabric, leather, or fox leather.  He prattled on but I wasn't really listening after the words "fox leather".  Then I realized that he meant "faux leather", and I wondered how many years he had been saying it wrong, and who was going to be the person who finally told him.  Not me!  La-Z-Boy was still winning.

Years ago we bought a very nice dining set from Ethan Allen, so I headed to their showroom.  I stepped through the doors onto the plush oatmeal-colored carpet and found myself in the sort of extremely tasteful demonstration living room that has large beaten brass bowls full of woven wooden balls.  As a beautiful dark-haired lady in palazzo pants wafted toward me on a cloud of subtly perfumed air, I became intensely aware of my grubby appearance.

"May I help you?" she purred.  "Uh," I stammered, "Do you have any reclining sectional sofas with cup holders?"  She paused a beat and said, very nicely, "Sweetheart, there is nothing for you here."  I beat a hasty retreat and got my confidence back by going into the Goodwill next door and buying a Jesus statue.


Equilibrium restored, I headed to my final stop, Rose Design Fine Furniture, a shop which only sells custom-order sofas.  I was the only customer, so the proprietor, a talkative man of Eastern European extraction, had plenty of time to explain to me that none of his sectional sofas reclined, and furthermore, that I did not want or need to recline, because reclining was bad for my back.

"I still want it though," I said, channeling Dwayne The Rock Johnson from the very funny SNL sketch "Enhancement Drug".


All in all it was a very productive day, and it felt like a normal pre-pandemic day, except that we all had masks on.  A few days later Larry and I went to the La-Z-Boy and ordered ourselves a reclining sectional with cup holders.  And this time we paid extra for real cow leather, so we won't end up trying to duct tape the fox leather back together.  Also, the sofa model we selected is the Aspen, which Larry dubbed the Ass-Pen, so we have the nickname sorted already.

It will be a bittersweet goodbye when the Junk King comes for the comfort turd, but I'll have lots of time to get used to the idea, as it will be six months or so before the La-Z-Boy arrives.  In the meantime, I'll just have to make do with this Lazy Boy.








Saturday, February 20, 2021

Rats All The Way Down


The virus times have been awful for everyone.  I've frankly always hated all those feel-better mantras such as "Whenever God closes a door, he opens a window".  I mean, what the hell, why not just leave the door open.  So I'm not in any way saying there is an upside to the virus times, because there isn't, but, since we can't do anything else, we've been spending a lot of time on the back patio, and we've learned to appreciate just hanging outside.  It's nice to see all the stars.

The virus times have allowed me to do the sort of entertaining that I love - extremely half-ass entertaining.  I can invite people over and not do *anything* but ensure the patio chair cushions are dry.  Sometimes I will also shake you a martini, or bring out my tray of jank candles, or give you an electric blanket, or light the fire table.  But mostly we just sit on my patio chairs and talk.

It's winter now, so a lot of patio time happens when it's dark outside.  Behind our back patio is a lower field, and then Adobe Creek, which is usually free of water, but full of wildlife.  During the day there are lots of animals to see, such as deer, jackrabbits, little bunnies, crows, and squirrels.  During the night there are lots of animals to hear, such as rats, rats, rats, opossums, raccoons, and coyotes.

In the bay area we have many, many Norway Rats.  They can be up to 8 inches long and make nests in trees, in creek beds, under the hood of your car, in your potting shed, in crawl spaces under your house, basically anywhere.  At night, when we sit outside, we can hear the rats foraging for food.  And we tell ourselves that maybe the noises are emanating from some marginally cuter animals, such as opossums or raccoons, but deep down inside, we know it's rats.  It's always rats.  It's rats all the way down.

Lately the nighttime rat noises have been interspersed with the yipping of coyotes.  Coyotes actually yip.  It's kind of cool to be sitting outside and hear the coyotes yipping, and then to hear all the outside dogs in the neighborhood losing their collective minds and howling back.  It's like a free concert!

We have an intercom system built into the house that enables us to play music inside and outside, so sometimes we do that.  I try to remember to turn off the outside speakers when we come back in, but sometimes I forget.  One time I forgot for weeks, which led to this interesting situation.

Our property adjoins the back fences of several houses on Middlebury Lane.  The residents of Middlebury Lane have been kind enough to include us in their gatherings, and over the years we have gotten to know them fairly well.

One year as we were drinking and socializing at one of these events, my neighbor Tim came up to me and said, very politely, all things considered, "Do you think maybe you could stop playing music at 7 am in your back yard?"

And I had one of those moments they show in films where a series of events replays rapidly in your mind.  Weeks before we had used the outside speakers, I never turned them off, and in an effort to get the kids out of bed for school, every morning at 7 am I had been blasting the Fountains of Wayne song "Bright Future in Sales" which features the lyric "I've got to get my shit together, cause I can't live like this forever..."

So, yeah, I was pretty embarrassed.  Ever since then I sort of obsessively check to make sure we aren't blasting the neighbors with my current musical obsession.  Lately I'm really into my curated Pandora station, Cake Radio, featuring, you guessed it, the songs of Cake.  Also a lot of Bowling for Soup, They Might Be Giants, Barenaked Ladies, All-American Rejects, Sugar Ray, etc.

I love that dumb plaque people put in their kitchens that says "I Love To Cook With Wine, Sometimes I Even Put It In The Food".  It's funny because it's true.  I find that cooking with wine goes really well with blasting Cake Radio.

I've wandered away from my theme of patio entertaining, but you can blame it on the entire bottle of Liquid Light Sauvignon Blanc I drank on my back patio earlier tonight.  I know I drank the whole bottle because everyone else was drinking red wine and the Liquid Light bottle is empty...



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Some Anecdotes Involving Boats




It's been a real mood booster having outdoor dining open again, and I'm sure the restaurants and their owners and employees appreciate it also.  We had a lovely socially distanced dinner with our friends Steve and Colleen at La Scala in downtown Los Altos last night and somehow the conversation turned to canoeing, which fired some deep-seated neurons and caused me to remember a few light-craft oriented anecdotes from my past.

Winter Canoeing in Kentucky

My dad was career Army and we were stationed in Fort Campbell, Kentucky when I was in the 6th-8th grade.  My mom had a good friend on base, Mrs. Franks, who, like my mom, had one daughter and two sons.  For reasons that I will have to consult my mom about, she and Mrs. Franks established a Girl Scout Troop, which also involved all four of their sons.

We did a lot of camping and hiking with our two families and whatever Girl Scouts cared to join us.  The trip that I recalled last night was a winter canoeing trip along some creek or river.  As I remember (which isn't saying much, it's been many years and many mixed drinks since then and I may have this completely wrong) I was in a canoe with Julie Franks.

Julie saw something interesting on the banks of the creek (river?) and stood up to look back and point and tell the other canoes.  And this is where it gets cinematic - as she was looking back she got clocked in the back of the head by an overhanging branch and went straight into the water.

I remember this as being highly inconvenient but also undeniably funny.

Summer Rafting in Virginia

In the middle of my 9th grade year, my dad got reassigned to the Pentagon and our family moved from Kentucky to Northern Virginia.  If you are thinking, "Oh, I bet it was fun to change schools in the middle of 9th grade", I can assure you that it was not, but that's a boring and sad story that I am sure you can imagine for yourself.  Let's just say that I read a lot of books and became overly involved with the Catholic Youth Organization at my church.

I think it was with a CYO group that I went rubber rafting on the Shenandoah; I'm not entirely sure but the organization I went with is not germane to my story, so, whatever.

Our group got into our rubber raft with our cooler containing lunches and set off down the river.  It was a pleasant day, and the rapids were not challenging, and we were having a good time, and then we saw two rocks ahead of us.

Our choices, as we saw them, were to go left, go between the rocks, or go right.  We decided to go between the rocks, but as our raft snagged and expelled us and all our belongings into the river, we realized that it was only one rock lightly covered by water and we had just steered directly onto it.

We drifted down river as our raft stayed firmly on the rock and all our lunches, shoes, etc floated away forever.  Our group managed to get over to the bank and reunite, and we stood looking upriver at our water-imprisoned raft.

As we were on the riverbank bemoaning our fate, a helicopter hove into view, trailing a massive hook on a rope.  At this point, many other rubber rafts beached themselves on the banks to have a look, because, what the hell, a helicopter was hovering overhead.

The helicopter made several passes over the raft until it got the hook under the raft, at which point the raft popped up in the air and began floating down the river.  We caught it, and got in, and finished the trip.

Pirates of the Caribbean

We visited Disneyland for the first time when our youngest daughter Amy was about three years old, and we made a terrible error.  We took her on the ride "Snow White's Scary Adventures", which the rest of us did not find to be scary, but Amy absolutely did.

She found it to be so scary that for years, she refused to go on any so-called "dark" rides at Disneyland - any rides which are not completely out-of-doors.  The next time we were all at Disneyland, Amy was maybe five years old, and while Larry and Susan and Ellen did all the fun rides, Amy and I rode the f*&#ing carousel over and over.

After dinner, we went back to our hotel, and then up to our room, where Larry and all three girls fell asleep.  I was eager to get back to the park to ride all the things I had missed, and as any mother of young children will tell you, I was absolutely thrilled to be alone.

I rode the Haunted Mansion, and Indiana Jones, and then I headed to Pirates of the Caribbean.  Since I was alone, I was added to a lively boat of young men.  We set out in high spirits, and had proceeded about one-fourth of the way through the ride when our boat came to a sudden halt.

The lights came up, hitherto unseen doors popped open from behind the pirate tableaus, people in coveralls with wrenches began wandering about.

As we were stalled I began to chat with the men in my boat.  It turned out they were all current or former employees of Disneyland, all gay, and all super willing to dish.  It was the most fun I've ever had at Disneyland.

I asked them "Do you ever get tired of telling guests where the bathrooms are?" and the answers delighted me.  My favorite response: one of guys said "I don't mind telling people where the toilets are.  I mean, we all have to go, right?  But here's what I hate: I'll tell some lady where the toilets are and she'll say 'But is that the closest one?', and that just makes me crazy.  I feel like saying 'No, I just like that one better', or 'No, you just look like you could use some exercise', I mean, what the hell?"

God, I miss Disneyland, and random strangers.





Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Big Excitement in the Lang Household



For the last six weeks, I have succumbed to Virus Times Ennui and Rolling Waves of Dread and haven't posted anything on my blog.  To be fair, not much has happened.  Until today!  Big excitement in the Lang household - Ellen's video about Red Vine Salsa has gone viral on TikTok and is very near one million views!

Ellen's post film-school dream of performing in basement comedy clubs, in off-off-Broadway productions, and PA-ing for TV shows in New York fell apart last March, right after she moved to Brooklyn.  She spent the early pandemic sheltering with Larry's sister's family in rural New Jersey, where she became an honorary Powell and made some very funny videos.  (Check them out on Instagram at ellen_lang.)

She came back to California for the holidays and has continued to make videos.  In the inexplicable way of these things, one of her videos went viral on TikTok over the course of the last twenty-four hours.  Myself, Larry, and Amy are actually in the video as taste-testers of the Red Vine Salsa.  Amy has been getting a lot of love from the TikTok set for her cool androgynous vibes.  I, on the other hand, am wearing a dubious bucket hat and had just come back from a six-mile walk in our neighborhood.  I look like such a Mom, which, I mean, I am, so whatever.

Ellen is now in the kitchen making a Red Vine Pie, and she has inspired me to finally sit down and do a little blogging.

I Saw Something Nasty in the Altima

When Ellen moved out of Austin last January, I flew to Texas and we drove her Altima back to California, which led to more adventure than we had anticipated (see my blog entry "Rescued by Mormons").  Since Ellen moved to New York last March, the Altima has been parked outside next to our garage.  For the first few months, I was diligent about starting it up and driving it occasionally.  Then, as with most good intentions, I just sort of stopped doing that.

So when Ellen came back here in mid-December, it had been *a while* since the Altima had been moved.  I anticipated that her battery might have gone dead, so I wasn't surprised when the car wouldn't start.  I pulled my Cadillac up next to the Altima, popped my hood, popped the Altima hood - and then screamed and dropped the Altima hood.

There was a big, fresh rat's nest right on top of the battery.  And an actual rat.

I beat a hasty retreat to the house and called our local service station to ask if they could service rat-infested engines.  God Bless them, they could, for a price, which I was more than happy to pay if it meant that I did not have to interact with the rat.

I then called AAA who sent over a tow truck.  The driver declined to knock the rat's nest off the engine, even though I helpfully provided him with a broom.  Instead, he took some videos of the rat for his friends and commenced to tow the car to the gas station, assuring me that the rat would fall out en route.

It did not.  In fact, it took the service station guys THREE DAYS to get the rat out of the engine compartment.  I called every day for an update.  The rat managed to get the treats out of several traps before it was successfully trapped and disposed of.  I guess the rat really liked it in there.

I asked the guys if this was their first experience with a live rat.  It was not.  They have had to expunge live rats, mice, birds, and bunnies from engine compartments.  After thoroughly cleaning everything, they sprayed the engine block with peppermint oil, which rats supposedly hate.

I also stopped by our local hardware store to see if Henry had any rat prevention items.  He did!  He lives down the street from us and has also had a rat make a home in his engine compartment.  He carries a nifty device that attaches to the car battery terminals and flashes an LED light every few seconds.  Apparently rats also hate disco.



Thank You, Druids

For years I have been a member of Filoli Historic House and Garden up the road in Woodside.  For the Christmas 2020 holiday season, Filoli decorated the gardens with thousands of lights and offered nighttime tours.  My interest was particularly piqued by the "theme nights" - I love a theme.  

December 21st was advertised as "Winter Solstice Theme Night" and visitors were encouraged to "come in your solstice attire".  I almost fell out of my chair when I read that.  For the Lang Family Christmas Card in 2018, I had actually sewn us all hooded druidic robes with personalized runes.  As I packed them away after the photo shoot, I thought "When are we ever going to wear these again?"

Solstice in the garden, baby! When we got to Filoli on the evening of December 21st, you will perhaps not be shocked to learn that we were the only people who had donned "solstice attire".  The other visitors had no idea what to make of us.  They couldn't decide if we were staff, or paid entertainers, or just weirdos.

We scared quite a few children, and enjoyed listening to their parents trying to make up reasons why we weren't scary.  It was very fun to swish around in our robes.

After a most enjoyable evening, as we made our way to the exit, one of the staff members called out "Thank You, Druids!"  


The Great Migration

During the Virus Times, Larry has continued to keep a regular schedule, as he is still (Thank God) gainfully employed.  I, on the other hand, have been on no schedule at all, and have been keeping very odd hours.  I began sleeping in Ellen's room when she was in New Jersey so that I could listen to my audiobooks in bed without headphones at any hour of the day or night without disturbing Larry's rest.  Also so that he would not wake me at the ungodly hour of 7 am after I had stayed up until 2 am watching rom coms.

I discovered that I quite liked Ellen's room.  It has great windows and a very comfortable bed.  It was kind of like being in a long term AirBNB.  Over the months I moved a lot of my stuff into that room and the adjoining bathroom.

When Ellen returned in mid-December I realized that I would have to give back her room, but I wasn't prepared to give up my privacy and go back to the master bedroom.  Thus began what Larry dubbed The Great Migration.

I moved my toiletries and books and favorite blankets and pillows and sewing supplies and clothes down to the guest bedroom, which was luckily unoccupied.  It was like moving into another long-term AirBNB.  Susan used that room for her tutoring calls, and Amy used it for art projects, so every day when I got up I would make the bed and hide my things in drawers.  It was like my secret bedroom!

Just this week, after Amy left for Wisconsin, I migrated again, up to her bedroom.  Her windows have a great view of our neighbor's spacious and well-manicured lawns and gardens, so that's nice.  And her mattress is way better than the one in the guest room.  So, future guests, I will be getting you a better mattress, now that I know.