Feeling the Burn, Part II
July 1, 2009, 5:21 pm
Filed under: art, Pop Culture, traveling, Uncategorized, World of Wonder
Prow of SS Bacon

Prow of SS Bacon

It seems I am so literal I am damn prophetic, as I made it to Lakes of Fire but I missed the historic burning of the SS Bacon.  Temperatures on Saturday were above ninety, about ten degrees higher than expected, and after very little sleep it was all I could do not to throw up or pass out.   At that point it was clear I was just a burden and I didn’t want to rain on anybody’s fire processional, so I wound up crashing at the Fairfield Inn while my spouse and daughter stayed for the festivities.  I am sometimes picky about my hotel accommodations, but I have never before in my life been so grateful for a room on the ground floor facing the parking lot.   There I showered, slept and nursed my sunburn, grateful to have met some lovely folks at Lakes of Fire and reasonably at peace with my own physical challenges.  I had no regrets for going, which became even clearer when I realized I was mentally surveying workarounds that would allow me to attend next year without bailing.   I had felt the burn alright, just not the one I asked for.

I’ve always been alternately fascinated and repelled by Burning Man.  The culture and spectacular art installations in the starkness of the desert landscape were enticing, but I’m afraid of camping, heat, and dust storms.  The cost of traveling to Black Rock is prohibitive and the size of Burning Man seemed overwhelming, but I thought a few days in Southern Michigan with several hundred people might just be doable.  As I’ve remarked already, I was intrigued to get in on the ground floor of a new regional event and hopefully help shape it.    For much of the time I was there I was not in any shape to do much shaping, but I was lucky enough to enjoy and hopefully contribute to the congenial atmosphere of the family zone.  One of several reasons I’d decided to go was frankly that I wanted to see what the experience would be like for my daughter.  The only bad thing I have to say about this was that my heart stopped when I saw her climbing trees above my head, but since that and the burn were her favorite parts of the weekend, I can hardly begrudge it.



I think one of the best things about this event was the mix of seasoned and new Burners, imposing enough of a structure to inspire those of us who were just figuring it all out for the first time.  I would suspect this process was infinitely more challenging for those of us with children on board, and I was pleased to see the event planners had obviously gone to a great deal of effort to accommodate families and anticipate their needs.  Within the spatial limitations of the property, they placed Hushville as far away from the loudest music as they could have.  There was also room for kids to run and play, although the terrain was just rough enough to mandate socks and sneakers.  The atmosphere was mellow and respectful, people shared, and the youngsters managed to amuse themselves with no Disney Channel in sight.   Who needs Hannah Montana when you can shoot water balloons or make sock puppets as you attempt to process the equally unsettling and intriguing information that your parents are not fazed by naked people walking around in public?

Speaking of naked people walking around in public, this seems like a good time to announce that I see Burner culture as  perhaps our best avenue to provide our daughter with a sense of community and spiritual foundation.  Since we are Atheists and our daughter is an only child, we have puzzled over how to nurture positive humanistic values in the absence of a church.  We want our daughter to learn to treat other people as she would like to be treated, but we also want her to learn self-reliance, cherish freedom of expression, and respect her surroundings.

Burning Man events are organized in such a way as to help and support parents who wish to raise open-minded children without exposing them to sights that will sear their eyeballs, because eyeball-searing should be reserved for those of us over eighteen.  They were also very strict about checking IDs and issuing wristbands for drinking.  As for drinking, there was plenty of alcohol around but I saw very few people who were visibly intoxicated.   The expectation that you will do basically whatever you choose within the three main ground rules of the event is paired with the expectation that you will not make yourself a sloppy nuisance to others.   Freedom and responsibility are two of the main tenets of existentialism, so perhaps that explains why it all made so damn much sense to me.

The short version of the Lakes of Fire rules were as follows:

1) Ask first

2) Protect the community

3) Leave no trace

Granny may not exactly have asked before he and his cohort quite abruptly but nonetheless endearingly reeled my spouse and I out of the woods into a Hunter-S.-Thompsonesque encounter I’ll never forget, but I’ll forgive him because, well, he was Granny.

From babes in arms to folks who clearly get the senior discount, everyone at Lakes of Fire was friendly as can be without crowding me.  I’m a hard-of-hearing classic introvert and was fighting the quease, so I struggled a bit to communicate and didn’t interact as much as I would have liked.  Nonetheless, I felt welcomed and I valued every opportunity I had to get to know these fascinating people who had all descended on this rustic space in the Midwest for the first time and created magic.   Folks around our camp gave me my space because they knew I wasn’t feeling well, but I knew they were there if I needed them.  Even when I felt to ill to talk or approach the fire, I just sat in my camp chair and took it all in.

I think everyone remembers the first time they saw day turn into night at a Burning Man event.   The premises looked a bit scrappy at first sight in daylight, but the magic comes at night when the lights transform the place into a wonderland.  I particularly liked the vehicle tricked up to look like a tent with lights on the outside, which I think may have belonged to rangers.   Watching it glide through the grounds in the darkness inevitably made me smile.  The lights also transformed many of the art objects and installations including the SS Bacon into sparkling oases of enchantment, with fire spinners further adding to the luminosity of the event.

If you are intrigued by Burning Man but not sure if you can handle the environment or the sheer sensory overload, I would highly recommend attending Lakes of Fire or another one of these regional events as a way of testing the waters.  I learned from this experience that my delicate constitution probably precludes my attending Burning Man unless I can afford an Airstream but when all was said and done I did not feel the aversion you would expect from someone who spent at least half of her time there trying not to hurl or pass out.  Instead, I found myself strategizing for next year, plotting workarounds that would enable me to participate more fully without unweaving into a basket case.  I’ve also found myself exploring some of the history and culture of Burning Man  and salivating over the stunning array of theme camps available on the playa this year.   Sometimes I’m not quite sure if I’ve liked something or not (like a first kiss) until I get some distance from it, and in this case the clear answer was a resounding yes indeedy.  Besides, where else am I going to wear my shiny silver pants?

Nothing is perfect, least of all a first attempt at anything as incredibly complex and labor-intensive as this event.  I did hear at one point that not quite as many tickets had been sold for Lakes of Fire as had been hoped, but in fact my only concern for the event is that I don’t think this space would accommodate a lot more people without feeling overbooked and cramped.   I could see the organizers did as much as they could to separate the family area from the camps playing the loudest music, but as I lay awake and felt the persistent bass thump vibrating in my absurdly skinny sleeping bag Friday night I couldn’t help wishing Hushville had been, more, well, hushed.  Folks have also suggested both more showers and a shuttle or a few to the Lake to cool down, both of which I think are fine ideas.  So, for that matter, would have been a Slip ‘n’ Slide or sprinkler system, but for that we would need running water.

I did not slink home from Lakes of Fire like a scurvy dog of failure who fled to a chain motel with her tail between her legs.  Once I’d showered, slept, and decompressed, I felt so energized I came home and did 90% of the unpacking before I even sat down.   I’ve been writing, thinking, dreaming, jotting notes on projects I may or may not ever get around to doing, all of which is as it should be.  Things may not always go smoothly when I stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, in fact they rarely do.  But like my literary totem animal Mole from Wind in the Willows, I am compelled to occasionally leave the comforts of my home to seek adventure in the company of other breeds.

Back in the safety of my lair, I feel stronger for having tested my limits.   Sure enough I bumped right up against them, but I’d rather barf in a tent than give up seeking new experiences and I’d rather brave a group hug in Tick Town with a wonky gut than be a poor sport.   The nausea passed long ago, but I’ll be chuckling about that hug for as long as I live.  Kudos to the organizers of Lakes of Fire, as your work and planning obviously didn’t go to waste.  I’m quite sure I’m not the only attendee who came home inspired and energized, and I look forward to seeing how all this collective energy manifests next year.  I may be a camping wussy, but I know a good thing when I see it.  I may not have been in any shape to contribute much to the community in real time, but perhaps my best contribution is to share these few thoughts and impressions.  Burning Man events are not for everyone, but these communities are about as close as we can get to Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone.  If you have a dream of being, doing, making, or just living in the moment with no golden arches in sight, here is your golden ticket to come and fly your freak flag high.



Feeling the Burn
June 13, 2009, 2:15 am
Filed under: art, Pop Culture, traveling, Uncategorized

Those who know me know I do not do camping, so I struggled mightily to decide if I should grace Lakes of Fire (the first Great Lakes Regional Burning Man event) with my erstwhile presence.  Pros were the lack of sandstorms and the relative closeness of the event as compared to Nevada, weighed against my general intolerance of noisy crowds and my distaste for anything that might remotely be described as “roughing it,” given that my need to urinate tends to increase exponentially in relationship to my distance from the designated receptacle.  Having devoted serious thought and research to such urgently pressing matters, I think I have found a solution.  That is probably more than you need to know about the distribution of my biohazardous fluids, but I can’t resist a pun.  As it happens I also cannot resist the opportunity to be a part of great public spectacles and art happenings, so I shall brave the insects and other petty inconveniences in hopes of being moved and amazed.

Lakes of Fire is happening in Michigan from June 25 through 28, and registration has just been extended through 11:59 CST on Sunday June 14.  If you want to know more, the main Web site is here and the event also has a Facebook page.  I don’t know what to expect, but I do know it will be more fun if you and your monkey come too.

The Things I Do For Ru

Fan ticket presales don’t always work the way they are supposed to, but when they do, they get me into all kinds of trouble.  Way back in October of 2008, I visited his fan site to see what was new and discovered Rufus Wainwright was performing at Verizon Hall in Philadelphia on Valentine’s Day with sister Martha opening.  Philly seemed vaguely do-able and the fan presale had just started, so I punched in a request for a single seat to see what would come up.  Expecting something in Row L that would be decent but not remotely worth  traveling to the East Coast, I saw instead Row C and what looked like piano-side.

I did some quick Web research just to ascertain this was as good a seat as it seemed, and found that indeed it was not–it was true second row, even better.  True second row at what looked to be a stunning venue, unlike the Hammond, Indiana casino at which I had recently seen Rufus exhibit his usual professionalism in a room with all the warmth of Rave Motion Pictures, with an audience 3/4 of whom appeared either drunk or comped.  Just like last year’s Valentine’s Day show at Radio City Music Hall with Sean Lennon opening but with a much better seat, I felt driven to go in a way that is admittedly not rational on the surface but makes perfect sense to me.   Certainly the impulse is impractical and may even seem selfish, but I know from my own experience that I do these things because one can’t assume there will be another chance.

It was important that I make this trip as inexpensive as possible, so when I saw I could save at least $60.00 by taking Amtrak instead of flying, I told myself how much reading I could get done on a 27-hour train ride.  I had taken one long train trip before–that time to Denver–so I knew I could survive it.  I just figured I would bring a lot of reading, my computer, a notebook, and some headphones, sleep when I could, and cross my fingers no one sat with me, especially at night.  Had I realized that trains don’t always have their bathrooms on a lower level I would probably have thrown all fiscal responsibility to the winds and flown, but we’ll just have to consider this a learning experience.

The ride from Chicago to Philadelphia was tolerable, mainly because the car was not crowded and I had two full seats to myself.  The day had been so frantic– getting packed and then trucking my daughter downtown, dropping her off with my spouse, and hotfooting it to Union Station with two overpacked bags in the midst of evening rush hour–that I never had that hoped-for chance to pick up a sammich for the train.  By the time I finally made my way back to the 7-11 on wheels they call the “Cafe Car,” I was so famished that my microwaved hot dog was actually quite delicious.  I consumed it back at my seat, accompanied by a cheap mini-bottle of white wine and a titch of Simon Doonan’s Wacky Chicks.

I owe debts of gratitude to the always-entertaining Mr. Doonan and the visually stunning state of West Virginia, which took most of the next day to get through.  At one point after a somewhat restless but at least solitary night, I fell asleep reading and woke up to see what I believe was the Kanawha River, just to my right.  We rode alongside the Kanawha for a good, long time, a welcome and refreshing distraction from the encroaching odors emanating from the lavatories.  After that it was mountains and more mountains, and then cities and a slightly late arrival in Philadelphia.

I felt stinky and disheveled from the long train ride and knew I had a long day ahead of me, so my goal was basically just to myself to the Courtyard Marriott, eat something slightly better than a microwaved wiener, and hit the hay.  I did all that and washed off le eau d’Amtrak, got my monkey situated, and then settled into a surprisingly easy slumber.


I had planned to spend the first part of Valentine’s Day with an old friend having lunch and visiting the Mutter Museum.  The Mutter is the one thing you have to do in Philadelphia, forget the Liberty Bell.  I can only suggest you go on a weekday rather than a Saturday, because the place was packed beyond my comfort level.  There is something reassuringly human about the spectacle of hundreds of people lining up to peer at pickled parts of other people, but I would have enjoyed it a bit more without having to rub up so closely against my fellow rubberneckers.  We lunched at a charming local dive bar where they put coleslaw and Russian dressing on my roast beef sammich and had John Coltrane and The Who on the jukebox, and then all too soon it was time to go back to my hotel and rest up for The Rufus.

I’m not one for writing detailed concert reviews because I feel it somehow takes away from the magic, but if you are looking for setlists and such, you can find them here, along with many photos of the night.  All I have to offer is a few impressions and observations from Cloud 9, a place I can now return to in my head on those days on those days to escape when domestic chaos threatens to overwhelm my delicate sensibilities.  In case you are wondering, Cloud 9 looked a lot like this:


Being true second row, this was the best seat I’ve ever had at a Rufus show with the possible exception of third row at The Joint at the Hard Rock in Las Vegas.  Having walked to the show and appreciated the flow of human and vehicular traffic streaming to the venue, I squeezed down the long row of seats to my spot just slightly left of center.  Pausing to hug an e-chum from the U.K. that I didn’t know was going to be there, I plopped into my seat and explored this wondrous venue with my eyes.

Verizon Hall is part of a larger complex called the Kimmel Center and was the first major concert venue to open in the 21st century, and photos of the place do not begin to do it justice.  Wood is everywhere, there is a pipe organ, and it is grand and immense on a spiritually  inspiring scale.  Rufus said “I feel like I’m in court . . . but I’m winnin’ the case!”

Oddly enough, the only time I teared up was when Martha strode out with her guitar (in killer heels and a bustier top, no less), and launched into “This Life.”  This was the third time I’ve seen Martha open for Rufus, the first since 2004, and it was a revelation.  No longer the little sister clamoring for attention, she has grown into her ancestral boots and can now fully command prestigious venues the likes of Verizon Hall.  Mixing songs from her first and second albums, she was by far the strongest I’ve ever seen her and left us wanting more.  Fortunately this was not the last we were to see of Martha  this evening.

Rufus was in fine voice and looked adorable, with his longer (almost Poses-era) hair and thematic attire.  He performed a lot of older songs and left out some that I expected, which was fine by me.  By this point in his career, Rufus has assembled such a stellar catalogue of material that he can hardly go wrong in my book, but then I may just be a wee bit biased.  The greatest surprise was hearing “In a Graveyard” from Poses, which he may have done the first time I saw him perform in 2002 but that I surely haven’t seen him perform since then.  I’m just sorry I couldn’t have been in Red Bank, New Jersey two nights before to see him do “Imaginary Love,” because that would have been like winning the lottery.

Rufus was ebullient in Philadelphia, frequently referring to his boyfriend Jorn, his sister, and his fans.  At one point he thanked the Ru-bus, a contingent that has followed him around the world and given him so many scarves he said he felt like Stevie Nicks.  Just to prove it, he came out and twirled around the stage in them for the encore before sitting down and draping them around his shoulders at the piano.  It was almost as much fun as seeing Jorn pick Rufus up and carry him on his shoulders at the Pabst in Milwaukee in 2007, although minus that frisson of danger inspired by the knowledge that one’s object of adoration might fall and crack his pretty skull on the stage at any moment.

For me and for many others, the highlight and revelation of this show was the duets.  Rufus and Martha did five songs altogether, three during the set and two for the encore, and the general concensus is that the time has come for them to record a duet album.  Each strong and distinct in their own right, their voices blend so beautifully together to create a whole new entity that deserves to be captured in this moment.  My favorite of their performances was on Martha’s “Don’t Forget,” but the best video I’ve found of that night was for “April Fools.”  Although incomplete at both ends, this clip is a welcome reminder of a stunning moment in time and a performance that ranks in the top handful of us freaks who will follow this man to the far ends of the earth, just because he’s Rufus.

It’s a good thing this was a damn fine show, because my trip home was a flipping ordeal of misery.  I would like to apologize right now to anyone who was forced to deal with me on that trip, because I was inexcusably surly.  Part of the blame for this must go to Amtrak, who did not do right by me.  While Computer Guy across the aisle had to sit with someone only briefly, I had seatmates for almost the whole trip including overnight, which might have been marginally tolerable if not for the freezing cold and fecal stench that burned its way into my nostrils and carved its name in them so deeply I could still smell it a day later.  Wuss that I am, I had booked the trip based solely on my previous long train trip to Denver, but in that case the bathrooms on the train had been downstairs.  Oh well, at least this time I didn’t vomit.

Every time I take these trips I find myself wondering at some moment why I subject myself to such indignities, and then I come home and recover to bask in the memories.  I can theorize that Cloud 9 wouldn’t mean so much if I didn’t have to descend to at least the seventh circle of hell to get there, and thus far I’ve always found my way back.  Rufus Wainwright never really seems to stop performing, so I do suggest that you see him if an opportunity presents himself.  You can take a plane or a fast train, you can even drive for all I care,  but I cannot recommend you take the Amtrak Cardinal line without a gas mask and a supply of sedatives.

Desert Dreaming
The Last Supper, Goldwell Open Air Museum

The Last Supper, Goldwell Open Air Museum

It’s been way too long since I’ve seen the desert, which I maintain runs in my blood like spaghetti sauce and caffeine.  My mother is from Nevada and we traveled by car from Peoria to Las Vegas and then on to Huntington Beach, California numerous times as I was growing up.  My most vivid memory of traveling through Death Valley was that we always filled our thermoses with cold water just in case we got stranded in the desert.  The name of the place was a grim reminder that some unfortunate folks never made it out, but you couldn’t beat the scenery.

We never went to Rhyolite, probably because it was a real ghost town and not a packaged experience like Virginia City.  But my peripatetic friend and ace photographer Francisco Arcaute recently visited Rhyolite and the Goldwell Open Air Museum, and he was kind enough to share a few images with yours truly (As always, click on an image to see a larger version).  The Goldwell Museum did not exist when I was growing up, as it was established in 1984 when The Last Supper (shown above) was installed by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski.  My parents probably would not have gone anyway, because it was art.  The only reason I ever got to see the Cadillac Ranch was because it was visible from Route 66.

Like all great outdoor art, the pieces in the Goldwell Open Air Museum were created in the context of a landscape that must be experienced to be truly appreciated.  I would like to see the place for myself someday, but for now Mr. Arcaute’s images are serving to whet my appetite.

Fred Bervoets, Tribute to Shorty Harris

Fred Bervoets, Tribute to Shorty Harris

Open 24/7, the Goldwell Open Air Museum is located near Rhyolite.  The Museum Web site has a ton of information and images, including images from the latest exhibits at Red Barn Art Center an artist residency and workspace in Goldwell.  As I write this they are currently showing Indra’s Jewels by James Stanford, an exhibit of photomontage art executed with Adobe Photoshop that looks quite intriguing.  As an artist, I can hardly think of a more exciting and inspiring place to work than Goldwell, and I look forward to seeing what else emerges from this space.

If you plan to visit Rhyolite, the main Web site recommends that you print out their info before you go.  Apparently there is none on hand at the ghost town, further reaffirming that this is not a packaged experience on the order of Virginia City.  Among the sights on view in Rhyolite is the bottle house and attached garden, built by saloon owner Tom Kelly in 1906.

Rhyolite Bottle House

Rhyolite Bottle House

At about 80 miles from Las Vegas, Rhyolite is perhaps a bit of a haul for most day-trippers.  Those visiting LV for the first time might not want to venture quite this far, but the intrepid may find it to be a worthy side trip that combines impressive scenery, massive outdoor art, and a genuine Nevada ghost town. Consider this a teaser for the forthcoming second installment of my guide to Las Vegas for Solo Travelers, published on Google Knol.  I look forward to including more of Mr. Arcaute’s work in that section (eta unknown), and it is rumored he has more projects up his sleeve, of which I shall keep you appraised.

All images in this post by Francisco Arcaute, all rights reserved.

Ring of Cheese

I thought for once I would try and experiment with composing this blog while I’m still awake, inspired, and freshly caffeinated.  Whatever else the calendar might have to say about it, I consider Labor Day to be the official end of summer.  September brings a birthday, fall, at least two concerts, and perhaps other delights yet to be revealed.  This weekend went by all too fast with little downtime, but I have no regrets.  I reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in six years, fed my face, stayed in a stunning Lake House, took a few pictures, swam a bit, slept very little, spent too much time in the car, and regretted yet again that my friend lives in Seattle, so far away.

As we finally headed out the door Saturday morning, I declared “No food ’til the Cheese Castle!”  I was referring, of course, to the legendary Mars Cheese Castle near Kenosha, where I fully intended to eat my lunch if at all possible.  A bit down the road, my daughter asked my spouse “Was Mommy joking when she said we couldn’t eat until we got to the Cheese Castle?”  Like a damn fool he said yes I had been joking, on which point I sternly corrected him and clarified my determination to stake my lunch claim on the overpriced yet atmospheric tourist attraction rather than the usual fast-food establishment or Illinois Tollway oasis.  I knew this was the closest thing I would have to a vacation in who knows how long, and I wasn’t about to let such an opportunity or cheese curd sample slip through my greedy fingers without fully savoring each moment.

It so happened this was the weekend of Harley Fest in Milwaukee, which was why we had no hope of obtaining a room anywhere in the area on the relatively short notice we had for this trip.  This otherwise-unfortunate concurrence did compensate us with a great deal of entertainment and a few choice photos, as there were bikers, bikers, everywhere all weekend, everywhere we went.  Bikers on the road, bikers at the oases, bikers at the Kiltie, bikers zooming past the house where we were staying and waving back at us when we waved at them.  I have to say, this was an exceptionally well-behaved bunch of bikers.  I don’t think I have a single complaint about any of them, and taking their pictures gave me something to do on the long, slow ride.

Born to Be Mild

Born to Be Mild

I highly recommend you click on this image for the full effect of her stunning buckskin fringe, because I went to some great effort to get the shot.  Befringed Biker Lady had a rather surly expression, but I like to think she might finally manage to crack a smile if she knew she made me happy.  Making me happy is a goal that all people should aspire to, so if you aren’t grinning from ear to ear as you read this, I damn well want to know why.

My other favorite couple that I managed to obtain a shot of was this one, who apparently saw the fringe of the others and raised them two ‘coon tails.  As before, click on this image and open it up for the full effect.

What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry?

All this work and excitement made me hungry, so I was relieved when we spied the looming signage of the venerated Mars Cheese Castle on the left side of the road.  I informed my daughter we would soon be leaving earth for an alien atmosphere, having already failed to convince her the attraction was an actual castle made of cheese, and I was absolutely right.

Earth Needs Cheese

Reading the reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor, the Mars Cheese Castle is one of those places about which people tend to vehemently disagree.  Some despise it for high prices and claim everything there can be found at your local Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for less, but my love for the place is based as much on the sheer visual appeal and iconicity as the food.  More than just cheese, it stands for all cheese and for Wisconsin itself, not to mention they have a bathroom and free samples of cheese curds.  My daughter said her hot dog was the best she’d ever eaten, and while I’m not sure I’d say quite the same about my bratwurst with sauerkraut, it was char-grilled to order and entirely delicious.

Shopping there was as overwhelming as usual, but I grabbed a t-shirt (a gift), peppered salami, pretzel crisps, a bar of soap, a Skyway Bar, and a Jelly Belly Dino Egg and forced myself to head to the checkout before I did any further damage.  Reluctantly passing up the cheese curds and Kringles, I told myself there would be more than enough food where we were going and the last thing I needed was to consume a full bag of cheese curds on the way there.  You see, unlike Jay’s Potato Chips, I can’t stop eating them.  As for the Kringles, I thought there just might be some of those where we were going.  I was right, but that was understating it.

The house we stayed in was one of the more lavish I’ve ever seen, second only to the Hearst Mansion.  It was right on the lake, with huge windows showcasing the view.  So lovely was it that when I staggered back to my bed after my daughter awakened us shortly after dawn, I stopped to feast my bleary eyes on the sheer beauty of it.  The tone of the trip was set shortly after we arrived, when my friend’s mother and in-laws emerged bearing three of the most immense cheesecakes I had ever seen.  Click on this image at your own risk if you love cheesecake as much as I do.  Cheese may bedevil my waistline, but it rocks my world and may very well be the ultimate comfort food.  Gouda, Swiss, Alouette, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, pizza, macaroni and cheese, Cheetohs, cheese danishes, quesadillas, and those delicious Kaukona cheese balls rolled in chopped nuts, but not the port wine ones.  J’adore carrot cake almost as much as cheese, which is why I am at least a bit proud that I only had one immense slice of the carrot cheesecake pictured on the right.

Cakes of Cheese

Cakes of Cheese

We had eleven people there; seven adults and four children.  That’s a lot of people, but I count ten slices on each of those cheesecakes, allowing for almost three slices per person over a 24-hour period.  Even in the wildest excesses of self-indulgence, this is not and should not be within the realm of possibility.  Besides, we had to leave room for our trip to the Kiltie on Saturday night.

After the initial round of eating and a dip in the lake, the three grandparents headed off to a movie and the rest of us piled into two cars and headed for the Kiltie Drive-In, located in Oconomowoc.  The Kiltie has been there for sixty years and is beautifully preserved, right down to the Scotch plaid light fixtures above the serving area.  The menu hasn’t changed in many years, nor does it need to.  If you go for just one thing, go for the ice cream.  Along with a pork tenderloin that was not at all the fried monstrosity I expected, I had the lime Pike’s Peak, a shake topped with vanilla custard.  How sweet is was to have two meals out in one day, both freshly prepared and non-cardboard.

The ride back home on Sunday was hellish and exhausted, but we took some recovery time today and got in a final swim at Evergreen Aqua on the last day of the swimming season.  I knew it would be mobbed because it was Labor day and hot, but I’ve never seen the place so crowded.  It was more a symbolic swim than anything, given that barely could you move without nuzzling someone’s armpit or having a kid plow into you.  I can’t complain, because living two blocks away has provided us with so many opportunities to have the big pool nearly to ourselves.  Sometimes they blow the whistle and the kids all have to exit, leaving me the only adult in the immense middle pool.  Other times a few other adults stand or walk around in pairs, chatting with each other as I skim around them on my back.  Swimming is the most effortless form of exercise I know, and I’ll miss it.  We do have a high school pool that has open swimming hours, but I have only hellish memories of high school swimming pools.  Now and then I wonder if Valerie remembers putting her hand on my shoulder and pushing me down into the deep end quite as well as I remember her doing it, but somehow I doubt it.  She is probably still prettier than me, but I’ll bet she can’t string a sentence together worth a damn.

Since I am a hippie-dippie weirdo, I sometimes like to consult my Q Cards before I undertake a major endeavor.  I don’t particularly believe the cards have the capacity to tell the future, but they do serve to help jump-start my creative thinking and to frame events in ways that are meaningful to me, much like Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies. This time I drew a card I don’t think I’ve ever had before:

  1. On Saturday night, my friend’s mother told us a story about an alleged long-ago act of tax fraud involving a ring.
  2. Also on Saturday night, my friend played me Johnny Cash’s amazing Spanish version of Ring of Fire, entitled “Fuego d’Amor.”
  3. A ring appeared on Sunday, but not on anyone’s finger.

Rings on my fingers and bells on my toes, I leave you to ponder that with Johnny Cash while I nibble that last piece of chocolate cheesecake:


Is it just me, or is there a strange resemblance between Russ Tamblyn as the suspiciously giddy Dr. Lawrence Jacoby of Twin Peaks and Wayne Coyne as the suspiciously giddy frontman of Flaming Lips? Lately I’ve been revisiting my favorite television program of all time, courtesy of the recently released Definitive Gold Box Edition DVD set. At the rate I’m going, it should take me about six years to get through all ten DVDs, but it will have been well worth it. It seems almost incomprehensible that this show was ever aired, just as it seems incomprehensible that in 1972 you could hear the Rolling Stones, Harry Nilsson, the Temptations and Deep Purple back-to-back on AM radio.

As if I didn’t have enough stuff to not have time to watch, I also got a DVD of Inland Empire for Christmas. Since I was unable to catch it when it played here, I am looking forward to spending a couple of hours watching Laura Dern do unspeakable things with her mouth. This would make a perfect movie for New Year’s Eve, if not for the fact that we have a 7-year-old. As it is, it looks like we’ll be ringing in the new year with Captain Jack Sparrow. This will be arrr second attempt, having originally purchased it to watch last year but having been forced to change the programming to something without animated dead people.

Christmas is over, but I have yet to relax and take a deep breath. It still hasn’t even sunk in yet that I’m three-quarters of the way through grad school, mainly because there has yet to be a day that I’m not packing, shopping, wrapping gifts, running to the post office, or parenting solo. Thank goodness I don’t have to show up at school until January 13, as it will take me that long just to even begin to decompress. Believe me, you don’t even want to be around when that happens. They may have to call the crime scene cleaners.

Because I deserve it, I am spending Valentine’s Day in New York with my favorite person. Of course I am referring to myself, but I will also be seeing Rufus Wainwright perform his final show of the Release the Stars tour at Radio City Music Hall. To say I am looking forward to this is an understatement, as it will not only be a really big show in the Sullivanian sense but also a chance for me to escape and clear my head for a bit, not to mention (no doubt) emptying my wallet. The challenge is to find lodgings with a private bathroom and without bedbugs in Manhattan for less than a billion dollars, but this is the challenge for which I was born. I could save some money if I didn’t have bathroom issues, but I’ll be darned if I’ll have a bunch of strangers knowing just how often I visit the powder room.

Rufus at the Ryman: Decompression Phase
August 20, 2007, 5:06 am
Filed under: Nashville, Rufus Wainwright, traveling, Uncategorized

Despite having flown home from Nashville straight into a double whammy of upper respiratory illness and domestic chaos, I wanted to at least check in and share some of my fleeting impressions of Nashville and the show I traded my marbles for, Rufus Wainwright at the sacred Ryman Auditorium. I like Nashville and I have been there before, but my main impression of the town was of the godawful, stifling, oppressive heat that left me worried my fresh red dye job would be running in rivulets down my perpetually sticky neck. I normally love to walk and explore, but those activities were sadly curtailed by the overwhelming impulse to return to my air-conditioned hotel room with the Plasma TV and soaking tub. Besides, the postcards I saw this time were way too tasteful compared to some of the doozies I’ve purchased on previous trips. Stay tuned, because I’ll share a few of those with you as soon as I can dig them out of the rubble.

I stayed at Union Station, a Wyndham Historic Hotel built on the site of a restored train station. Both the hotel and the room were quite comfy and visually stunning, but my one complaint is that it took far too much effort for me to find coffee and food. Condemn me for my weaknesses if you must, but it was an unexpected jolt of culture shock to find myself out of range of a Starbucks. My room on the seventh (top) floor felt like an alcove, with a spacious walk-in bathroom stocked with Bath & Body Works True Blue Spa toiletries that I must admit smelled pretty yummy. The bed was one of those pillowtop mattresses that I wasn’t supposed to like because I’m used to a futon, but it was like sinking one’s body into an immense marshmallow.

This here pigeon must have thought the room looked mighty fine as well, because for a while it seemed determined to join me:

pigeon in window

I have so much I want to say about this show, but right now the thoughts are flowing slow as molasses due to a nasty cold and I’m still struggling to get both myself and my daughter ready for a new school year. For now, just know that I feel strongly enough about it that I have purchased two front-seat tickets for Milwaukee to see the show just one more time before Rufus heads on up to Canadia. You will rarely have a chance in your life to see a performance as thoughtfully structured and engagingly nuanced as this one, so don’t miss this rare chance to see Rufus McGarrigle Wainwright at the top of his game.