Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pop Quiz and Halloween Photos

Pop Quiz!

While blanching green beans, or haricots verts if you are somewhat French or Martha Stewart:

boiling beans

which of the following do you think of?

1) Blanche Devereaux, sexpot Golden Girl
2) Blanche DuBois, who has always depended upon the kindness of strangers
3) Blanche Hudson, crippled prisoner of her sister Baby Jane
4) What the hell is blanching, and how do you do it to beans?

While any answer is acceptable, mine involved me stirring the pot while muttering, "But ya are, Blanche, ya are in that chair!" and giggling. I was blanching the green beans because I was making a bean and potato salad for our office soup and salad luncheon on Wednesday. While we don't have a fixed date for it, we've had one every year I've worked here to celebrate the change of seasons from summer to fall, the season of my birthday and of Halloween.

Even though the official holiday is today, my Halloween festivities started a little early when I was invited to judge the floor decorating contests in one of the halls. While some of them were pretty haphazard and low effort, some of the floors went all out in terms of theme and effort:

"Wicked" wall decor

Apple bobbing horror

Jack and Sally

I voted for the "Nightmare Before Christmas" floor, but have not heard who actually won. I also forgot to take pictures of the "Batman: The Dark Knight" floor, which also had a student-made video playing for us, but it was very impressive. On my way back to my car afterward I also saw this impressive graffiti in one of the bus stops:

bus stop men

I love the way it looks like the heads are actually made out of the map. I didn't examine it closely enough, but it's possible that they actually are.

Today, Halloween itself, was also a home football game, and I was working. I wasn't sure what would happen when we mixed a dress up holiday with football, but other than a random costume here and there:

tipsy teletubby

Super-football fan-man

and a line stolen from "The Exorcist" to compare our football coach to Jesus:

compelling sweatshirts

there wasn't much difference from normal. The rain probably had something to do with it, but also the fact that most of what people wear to the football games borders on costume on a normal day means that we didn't see anything really outlandish.

Unless, of course, you count the Vols Team Grill:

Vols Grill

or the Vols office chair:

Vols office chair

but even those aren't that bad if you remember the basic rule that you can paint anything in Tennessee Volunteer orange and someone will buy it.

My shift at the game only went to the end of the first quarter, and since it was dark and raining I decided to just head back to the parking garage and go home:

bridge to the garage

but on the way I had to walk past Ayres Hall. According to internet legend, the lawn of Ayres is haunted by spectral phantoms of Civil War soldiers, a story grounded in the fact that the building where Ayres now stands was a hospital for the injured of the Battle of Fort Sanders. Ayres is a beautiful, collegiate-looking building, but is currently closed for renovation. Given that it is empty, fenced off, dark, allegedly haunted, and that it was night, raining, Halloween, and that I was alone, I crossed the lawn for a closer look in spite of the knowledge gleaned from years of horror movie viewing:

Ayres Hall by night (1)

Ayres Hall by night (2)

No ghosts, but plenty spooky.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Twenty Questions, Weekend Edition

1) Why does soup in a breadbowl come with extra bread?

broccoli cheddar, breadbowl, F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm sure the reason is that Panera has an "all soups come with bread" policy, but if you're paying the extra charge to have your soup served inside an entire loaf of bread, why would you need more? When I ordered, she asked if I wanted crusty french, and I assumed that meant the breadbowl would be crusty french. I'm not complaining, as I enjoy dunking bread in my soup, but it just seems odd that when you order the breadbowl they don't ask if you want more bread or offer to swap it for a cookie or something.

2) Why is Tender is the Night such a slow read?

Normally I fly through F. Scott Fitzgerald, who is my literary crush (sometimes I daydream that he and I are best friends, and we drink and listen to jazz and sometimes make out; shut up, it's totally normal), but I've been slogging through that book for a week and it just kind of creeps along. I read it through my entire dinner at Panera before meeting people at the movies, and I think I only made it through five pages.

3) Why can't the people who put the letters on the shopping plaza sign spell correctly?


Beautful? Really? Normally I wouldn't call them out, but this is the third time I've spotted mistakes in the same place:


all sorts of trouble

Even if the guy getting paid to put the letters up doesn't catch it, shouldn't the store managers?

4) Did the building on the Wall Avenue corner of Market Square, which has been boarded up and under renovation for three years now, always have faces on the front panels?

face panels

If it did, why didn't I notice them before? I'm down there probably every two weeks, if not more, and the faces are pretty striking:

face panel (1)

face panel (2)

They look kind of like Clive Barker's drawings, but I doubt he was here in Knoxville marking up buildings.

5) What does this mean?

Speaking of Clive Barker, this looked and sounded just like something out of Imajica or Everville:


Poetry? Doodle? Message from beyond? If I were actually in one of those books, then reading the poem and taking the picture would ensnare me in a magical adventure which I may or may not survive, so if I vanish suddenly everyone will know where to start looking: somewhere in the beyond.

6) Would you park your car here?

Pryor Brown Garage

I realize it is expensive to build parking garages, but I've said before and will say again that it does little good to revitalize and refurbish downtown if the places where you have to park to go there look like the places where Batman's parents got shot.

7) Is it true that there is beauty in distortion?

I think there is. I've heard people say it before, and I agree even if I can't articulate exactly why. There's something noble about ruins, a sense of history and loss and things that are gone, and contemplating that can be beautiful:

United Shoe Repair

A friend said once that I take too many pictures of boarded up windows and rusty doors and signs with the letters falling off, but these things speak to me. Everything ends, entropy will claim us all, and you can't ignore that by not looking at the effects of it. Tarot card dealers always tell me that Death is a card of change, and change isn't always a bad thing. Decay can give you hope, and it can teach us things about ourselves that we otherwise wouldn't have known or considered.

8) Who is Dr. John Mason Boyd?

I've noticed his monument on the courthouse lawn many times but never gave it any thought before yesterday, when I went for a walk down there:

Dr. John Mason Boyd monument

The monument is pretty scant on information, other than that it was a gift from a grateful public. It turns out that he was a surgeon in the Confederate Army, but I didn't find much else on him online. I'll keep my eyes open for information next time I tour a Civil War exhibit.

9) Did you know that Knoxville was the first capital of Tennessee?

first capital

I didn't. Based on that marker, it was also the capital again a couple of times after that.

10) Did you know the first governor of Tennessee, John Sevier, is buried on the courthouse lawn with his wife?

Gov. Sevier monument

Their original tombstones are also set into the wall of the courthouse:

original tombstones

I'm not sure how I went to the courthouse to renew my driver's license and didn't notice any of this then or any of the other times I've been down there, but I guess I learned something. Also, I always thought this statue, which I've only glanced at from the road, was some kind of Civil War monument:

Spanish American War Veterans Memorial

but it turned out to be for the Spanish American War. It's amazing what you pick up when you actually read things.

11) Why haven't I ever seen a movie at the Bijou?

There are two renovated movie houses downtown that show vintage movies, and even though I've been to the Tennessee Theatre about a dozen times I've never gone to the Bijou Theatre, which is only a block away:

the Bijou Theatre

I need to get out of my shell more, and break out of my routine of going to the same old places for the same old stuff, so I'm going to see at least one movie there. Also, it is listed on several websites as one of the city's haunted places, so there's always the chance that I could get some really good pictures.

12) Does Lyle Lovett have another, smaller band?

Lyle Lovett's large band

Or is his band so large that it's famous just for its size?

13) Did you do anything this month to fight breast cancer?

Reruns' Breast Cancer window

I donated at the grocery store, and got a nice t-shirt from the American Cancer Society.

14) Is campus close enough to the restaurant for the Cafe 4 delivery cart?

Cafe 4 lunch cart

I'm betting our office is too far away, which is sad because the grilled cheese and tomato bisque that I had yesterday for dinner was really, really good:

grilled cheese dipper

I don't normally like tomato soup, but the cream in tomato bisque cuts into that acidic tomato flavor and makes it tolerable. I didn't really taste the squiggle of cilantro cream across the top, but I'll take Cafe 4's word for it that it contributes to the dish. Personally, I thought it was way too subtle and easily overpowered by the soup's flavor.

15) How can something fun also be sad?

Yesterday was the first ever international bout for the Hard Knox Rollergirls, as they took on the New Skids on the Block from Montreal, Canada, after an opening bout against Athens, Georgia's Classic City Rollergirls:

derby poster

It was sad because it was the last home bout of the season, and I probably won't see our girls again until spring. It's odd that with college sports and the local baseball and hockey teams nearby that the team I feel most like a loyal fan of is our roller derby league, but derby is awesome. It's less commercial, a little more rowdy, and easier to get more involved because you are sitting right on the track. Girls crash into you if you're in the wrong seat, and it's part of the fun. A lot of people look at derby and don't see a real sport, but those girls practice hard, and they take a lot of pride in what they do. I'm happy to support them.

Last night was also sad because my favorite skater, Lady Pain, was sidelined last night and couldn't skate. I saw her between bouts and she explained that she's bruised her knee pretty badly and is not allowed to skate for a month, but will be back next season. Unfortunately Bruisey Quatro will not be, as last night was her last bout with the Hard Knox Rollergirls, and she took an emotional final lap around the track to the cheers of the audience. We wish her the best.

16) When did it become acceptable not to take your hat off during the playing of the national anthem?


This is not ok. I know society has become lax on things like white shoes after Labor Day and it suddenly being acceptable to wear track suits and pants with the word "Juicy" stitched across the butt pretty much anywhere, but keeping your hat during the national anthem is disrespectful and unacceptable.

Taking photographs during the national anthem, on the other hand, is hopefully ok.

17) What happened to our old mascot?

We still have Sphere This, our mascot, but suddenly she's no longer a she, and is instead played by a man:

the new Sphere This

It's hard to tell from that picture, but it's a large man, and he needed a shave. Where did our old girl go, and is she coming back?

sphere this

18) Who is this?


Momcore is not in the program, and I don't recall seeing her skate before. Where did she come from? Why isn't she listed? At least she did a good job of knocking those girls from Georgia down, whoever she was.

19) Aren't Canadians supposed to be tree-hugging pacifists or something like that?

How did girls in bright, cheery colors:

New Skids on the Block

who skate their intro to the New Kids on the Block's "Hangin' Tough":

Hangin' Tough

end up kicking our asses? They were fast and rough, and their blockers were an impenetrable wall that our jammers barely got through:

tough pack

Our girls fought for every point they got, but the Montreal girls were like some kind of genetically engineered uber skating team that danced around us like we weren't there.

Also, their coach was kind of scary, and looked like a mid-80's member of Duran Duran. You wouldn't think that would be frightening, but it somehow was.

20) Why do I only have 19 questions?

I don't know, but Nineteen Questions is kind of a dumb name for an entry.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sightseeing Adventures

I'm not sure I could ever fall out of love with Tennessee. Where else could I see a cursed crypt, a tow truck museum, a touching memorial with a laughably awful statue, a hall of fame, the world's steepest inclined railroad, chocolate birdhouses, fake bronze statues, the world's largest something, a metal ice cream cone, and a restaurant that my mom saw on TV, all in one day?

I'd actually planned this day trip back in late August, but then football was upon us and the other day that was open there was rain, so I didn't get to go until now. My friend Bryan, who you may remember from the Ten Commandments Road Trip and numerous roller derby bouts agreed to go with me and to drive, which was a bonus since it frees me up to take pictures out the car windows. Not that I wouldn't be doing that anyway, but it's at least mildly safer when someone else is driving.

Our day started with a drive to Cleveland, Tennessee, to view the Bloodstained Crypt of Little Nina Cragmiles. I initially heard about the crypt on a "haunted places in Tennessee" website, which offered the following story:

"In 1871 a little girl from a prominent Cleveland family, Nina Cragmiles, was killed in a buggy accident. Soon thereafter her grieving parents had a white marble crypt built in her honor in the churchyard of St. Lukes Episcopal Church, downtown Cleveland. No sooner had the crypt been completed than pinkish red stains appeared on the white marble. Local residents tried scrubbing the stains away and even replaced some of the white marble stones, but the stains reappeared. As other members of the Cragmiles family met tragic ends over the years, the 'bloodstains' seemed to grow larger and more prominent."

Spectral non-removable bloodstains? I'm in!

The church was pretty easy to find, and the crypt, too, since it is for some reason the only crypt in the churchyard. Did the Cragmiles family also build the church or something? Where are all the other Episcopalians buried?

The Bloodstained Crypt of Nina Cragmiles

Anyway, we approached quietly, as instructed by the egraving on the step beneath the doors:

chained doors

Through a bizarre coincidence, we managed to visit one day before the anniversary of Little Nina's death, which is stamped on the door on the right. From the door we could see both Little Nina's resting place:

Little Nina's resting place

and the largest of the spectral bloodstains:


Now, I don't want to be skeptical or anything, but Bryan was quite vocal in his belief that the stains were actually discolorations in the marble. He maintained this belief even as we inspected them more closely:

bloodstain closeup

and then added insult to injury by being inappropriately mirthful on the playground equipment that's located, for unknown reasons, right next to the crypt:

Inappropriate mirth?

Now, I'm not saying whether the bloodstains have a supernatural explanation or not, but I would say that if Little Nina decides to enact some spiritual vengeance on the anniversary of her death, one of us was polite and respectful, and one of us was irreverant and pretty loud about it. In case that's still not clear, go for Bryan, Little Nina, not me, ok? Thanks.

On the other hand, I was struck with an equally inappropriate attack of the giggles a half hour later at the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum's Wall of the Fallen, honoring tow truck drivers who have been killed in the line of duty:

Wall of the Fallen

I was kind of ok until Bryan whispered, "I think there's some trash in the water" and I realized it wasn't trash. It's a sculpture of part of a car:

car corner

The whole thing is supposed to be some sort of rescue tableau:

wall of the fallen statue

but for me the fake tail light sticking out of the reflecting pool moved the whole thing from serious to absurd. The giggles got especially bad when I wondered if it lit up at night.

The giggles didn't stop when we got inside the museum, either. They settled down for a while as we viewed the various antique tow trucks and exhibits:

green tow truck

hooded headlight

service car

"Bubble Nose" grille

horse hood ornament

including the Cadillac tow truck, of which only two were ever made:

cadillac tow truck

and the quilt commemorating various models of towers and wreckers, including the original one, which was invented in Chattanooga where the museum is located:

tow truck quilt

but I totally lost it when I realized many of the signs are written in Southern grammar:

lubrication equipment

"Oils was pumped"? Was they really? And the museum had been so educational up to that point. I would say up until that point, but am worried about spelling "until" after reading this sign:


Maybe I'm the one who has it wrong? Probably not. Anyway, after we'd seen enough of the museum and exited through the Hall of Fame corridor:

hall of fame

we headed just down the street to Chattanooga's famous Incline Railway, the steepest inclined railway in the world:

Incline Railway lower station

It doesn't look that bad from the ground, although it is immediately obvious that the car is rather slanted:

slanted car (1)

slanted car (2)

You climb into this weird slanty car at the bottom station, and by the time it gets to the top the seats are level and the car is more like a staircase:

incline railway upper station

As you get closer to the top, you get to watch the horizon move from the front windows to the ceiling:

horizon line

and you can stop leaning way back in your chair because it becomes upright:

blurry rocks

It was a strange ride, and if getting to the very top of Lookout Mountain still isn't enough for you, you can walk through the gift shop:

chocolate birdhouses

and to the observation deck on top of the train station, where you can allegedly see several states on a clear day:

incline railway observation deck

We did not have a clear day. Not only was it overcast, it was cold, unseasonably cold for October. Shivering, we decided to tour Point Park anyway, since we'd driven all this way and it was kind of the point of the trip. Lookout Mountain is the scene of the Battle Above the Clouds, one of the major engagements of the Civil War, and the entrance to Point Park, which was built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the shape of their castle emblem, is the largest representation of their emblem in the world:

Point Park entrance

I learned these things while touring the park. I also learned that most of the battle took place on the slopes, not on the top of the mountain itself, but that there were a lot of artillery emplacements there to shoot down at the enemy:

cannon facing Chattanooga

that the water fountain at the lookout point is broken:

broken fountain

and that sometimes your travel companions just don't listen to you:


There's no need to be that close to the edge, especially when you have the car keys and I don't.

After we finished touring the park and hiking the steep trails that veered dangerously close to sheer dropoffs, we took the train back down and debated getting lunch at the pizza place across from the station:

Mr. T's

It has a giant metal ice cream cone like the one I love on Chapman Highway:

kay's ice cream

but we decided we weren't hungry enough to eat yet, and waited until we got back to town, where Bryan suggested we get pizza at the locally famous Pizza Palace restaurant:

the Pizza Palace restaurant

As you can see from the sign, they've been featured on the Food Network. Now that I've eaten there:

pepperoni pizza

I'd have to agree that it's pretty good, even if that means I have to agree on something with Guy Fieri on something. I guess these are the sacrifices we have to make for a day of adventure.