Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Sooner or later, everyone goes to the zoo."

Last night, as often happens around here on Friday nights, I lay sprawled upon my fainting couch, flipping through a cookbook. I decided earlier in the day that at some point this weekend I wanted to make some kind of soup, as I feel vaguely unhealthy after eating pasta for dinner four out of the last seven nights and sandwiches on two of the other nights remaining (the odd night out was corn dogs), so I found myself paging through 400 Soups and trying to decide between a carrot and orange soup and a pear and blue cheese soup. I went with the carrot soup, making a last minute addition of a little ground ginger while I was cooking it tonight, and ran out this morning to pick up the ingredients before I had to go pick up Kristin.

I was picking up Kristin because I decided to surprise her with a Saturday activity. Kristin will be leaving Knoxville in the next few weeks, so I thought about things that we should do before she goes, and I realized that there was one that she's mentioned multiple times but we have never done together. I informed her that I would pick her up at 10 AM, and that she should wear clothes to walk around outside in and appropriate shoes.

"Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise."

"I want a hint! I want clues!"

I offered two:

1) We would be surrounded by the laughter of children.

2) Our destination appears as a setting in the classic Val Lewton film Cat People but not in the sequel, Curse of the Cat People.

I worried that my clues might be too obvious, but somehow Kristin was unable to guess correctly until this morning, when we were two miles from the exit:


It was.

I took Kristin to the zoo, where we saw animals great:


sleepy rhinos

and small:


and lots of animals in between. Now that I think of it, though, we didn't see any tigers, and I know they have them at the zoo. I'm not sure how we missed them, because I remember signs directing us to the tiger habitat, but nope, no tigers. Weird.

We went at 10 because the zoo opens a half hour before that, which meant we'd already be deep into the zoo before the crowds came and things really picked up. At many of the exhibits, there were only a few other people there, so we had good views of a lot of the animals, like the pink birds that I saw last time I was there but still haven't learned the name of:

pink bird (1)

pink bird (2)

We also saw prarie dogs:

prarie dog

various kinds of monkeys:

hanging monkey (1)

hanging monkey (2)


zebra (1)

(I think that's a great photo; second best one I took today)

zebra (2)

hogs of assorted types:


a lot of birds:


various reptiles:



and a bunch of other, less photogenic animals.

I also laughed way too hard at this sign:

you otter

and was shocked to discover Dippin' Dots:

dippin' dots

since I read an article a few years ago that said they were going out of business. Whether they actually did or not is irrelevant, because they still had them at the zoo, and they were delicious.

Just like the soup I made for dinner.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Random Travel Photos

I spent most of today in transit, as I am at a conference that I am helping facilitate in Minneapolis until Thursday, but I still managed to squeeze in some minor adventures and to visit two famous places along the way.

My connecting flight was through O'Hare airport in Chicago, an airport that always seems sunny and bright no matter what time of year I connect through it:


as opposed to the Detroit airport, which should be cool but somehow always makes me feel sad inside:

beneath detroit

While at O'Hare, I saw a plane flown by "Dutch" O'Hare, the airport's namesake:

o'hare plane

and I saw a dinosaur, because they just straight up have a fossilized brachiosaur in the airport:


I also walked by the Garrett's Popcorn stand:


I was sorely tempted to buy some, just because the main store in downtown Chicago is a semi-famous tourist destination and my friend Keri, who lives in Chicago, has ranted for years in capital letters about how it isn't worth standing in line for and how only stupid mouth-breathing tourists in fanny-packs and track suits with words written across the butts would ever wait in line for hours just to buy it. I was going to get a small popcorn today and take a photo of myself shoving handfuls of it into my gaping maw so that I could post it on Facebook and taunt her with it, but I wasn't really hungry and I still had to get to my gate.

I had a salad instead.

I eventually landed in Minneapolis, a city of tall buildings:

downtown minneapolis (2)

and friendly people, but before I went to see the buildings or the people I made time to visit something famous in the airport.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the restroom where Senator Larry Craig propositioned an undercover policeman for sex in 2007:

the Larry Craig bathroom

I wasn't sure it was the right one, even though I had directions, and it isn't the one pictured on the Wikipedia page for the Larry Craig Scandal, but when I asked a nearby employee if it was the Larry Craig Bathroom they said yes. It might be airport policy to just identify any bathroom as such, though, so who knows?

Back to Minneapolis, though, I found out that my hotel is attached to the Crystal Court, which is gorgeous inside:

crystal court (1)

crystal court (2)

and I walked around and found the statue of Mary Tyler Moore:

Mary Tyler Moore

who could turn the world on with her smile.

Overall, it's been a busy day, and I need to study my presentation materials for tomorrow, but so far I'm having fun.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

My Father Made Models

Back during April's 30 Days of Blogging, I received a topic that I never got around to using:

Share a memory about one of your parents

I didn't deliberately avoid the topic. It just happened to be the end of the month and I hadn't used it yet, so I thought, "I'll save that for Mother's Day or Father's Day." I thought about writing about my mom back on Mother's Day, but my mom gets a lot of attention here since we share recipes and go shopping when I visit home, so I decided to save the topic and give my dad a spotlight entry, because he's awesome and he loves me and I love him, too.

When I was little, my father spent hours making plastic military models.

This was a fascinating process to watch, which you were allowed to do if you were quiet and didn't touch things. Dad would take a box of plastic mold racks, slowly snap pieces off of them, use a dremel tool to file off the places where the model piece and the rack had joined, and then, depending on the model, glue and then paint or paint and then glue. Sometimes there was also an extra step with the dremel tool where he might use it to give a plastic wall texture, or to drill some tiny bullet holes in something, or maybe to give something a slightly mangled edge. He also sometimes singed the edges of things with a match after painting, like papers on a table or posters on walls, or sometimes the walls themselves.

There were walls because he often made dioramas around the models, using a picture frame laid flat as the base, painting the glass sheet as brick or mud or water, adding green or brown dust from hobby stores while the paint was wet to give it texture, burning and sanding and texturing premade plastic brick wall sections for troops to peek around or hide behind. Like I said, these were fascinating, intricate models.

The painting was also important, and something I have never been able to master. My dad has extremely steady hands, and could use brushes that were apparently only one or two hairs to paint eye whites and then irises on tiny soldiers who were only an inch tall. Military medals the size of pinheads were painted on chests with historically accurate colors. History books from the post library (no internet or wikipedia when I was little) were consulted to see if Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, was a blond or a brunette, and he was painted accordingly.

Sometimes these models were given to my brother, who enjoyed military things. They were rarely given to me, as I didn't care for them, but once a specific model was made for me: a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. It was ten inches long, and the wheels turned if you rolled it along the floor or a tabletop. The hood opened to reveal a detailed engine, the trunk opened, and the doors opened to show textured leather seats. The same care spent on tanks, jets, and soldiers was spent on my Rolls, with a license plate number that matched our car at the time and tiny painted dials and guages on the dashboard. The Silver Ghost didn't survive my childhood, as I played with it often and plastic models held together with airplane glue are not built to the same standards as Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks. Over the course of a year or two the Rolls slowly disintegrated, losing an antenna or a door or a running board, and eventually was no more, but for years afterward I saved one of the wheels.

None of the models survived my childhood, actually. We moved a few times, and movers tend not to be gentle people. Despite hours or work, my father treated them as completely disposable, and once broken they were usually thrown away rather than repaired. Eventually he stopped making models as a hobby, although I'm not sure why. After we moved from Alaska to upstate New York (real upstate, by Canada, not New York City media upstate where everything above the five boroughs is "upstate" because it's above them) he just moved on to other things, and didn't make models anymore, with one exception, notable because it may also be the only surviving model my Dad made:

Before I went away to college, I spent $20 on a set that would make the Enterprise 1701, 1701-A, and 1701-D, all in scale to each other and sitting on a little display stand. My Dad put these models together, applying decals, painting warp nacelles and deflector dishes according to my specifications, and I kept them on my desk for all four years of college. Each time I had to pack my dorm room each ship was taken off the stand, wrapped in several layers of paper towels, and all three were packed together in a sturdy shoe box. They remain in that shoe box today, somewhere in my parents' attic, and that's why I'm not sure if they have surived or not. My parents' attic is neither heated nor air-conditioned, so those models have been subjected to over a decade of bitter cold and blistering heat, and I have no idea if those are conditions that model glue can withstand.

So, it's possible that somewhere in my parents' attic I have a shoebox full of Enterprise fragments, or I have the only models my father made that survived my childhood. Next time I go home, I may want to find out, but the odds are slim since I'm going in December and trips to the attic are weather-dependent.

In the meantime, Happy Father's Day to my dad, who made models.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Trip to the Batcave

I've been in the same room as Adam West, TV's original Batman, twice, but I've never met him. The simple reason for this isn't that I'm shy, it's that I didn't want to spend the $40. See, both times I've seen him have been at comic or collectible conventions, and both times have been the exact same experience: Adam West sits at a table behind some sort of barrier, next to a large bodyguard. Despite the fact that these conventions always take place in large, windowless spaces dimly lit by fluorescent lights, Adam West wears large, dark sunglasses the entire time. A minder keeps you from taking photos of Adam West from afar, lest he be deprived his $40, and another minder keeps the line moving to make sure you don't get to speak to Adam West for more than a moment.

There is, after all, a line of people waiting to give him $40.

I know I shouldn't begrudge the man for earning a living. It's well known that most of the actors from the old syndicated television series like "Batman", "Happy Days", "The Monkees", and shows like those got very little payment for syndication royalties, merchandising, DVD and video sales (especially since DVD's and video weren't invented yet when they signed their contracts) and the like, and most of them were also hopelessly typecast into their roles, preventing them from getting any other serious acting jobs, but both of the times I've seen him something about his attitude, maybe the sunglasses inside, has left a bad taste in my mouth. One of the times, I just didn't want to spend the $40, and the other time I spent the $40 instead on an action figure of Tyr that shot me in the eye and almost blinded me on the way home from the toy show.

Anyway, I'm starting with the story of how I never met Adam West because I just finished his book, Back to the Batcave, which is apparently out of print and worth more than the $2 that I paid for it. Before we get into my opinions of it, though, let's see if any prominent members of the Batman family would like to share their thoughts.

The Huntress?


Seriously? Maybe the Joker?


Batwoman? Could we take a moment to reflect on your adventures with Batman?


I'm not even sure how to respond to that. Bat-Girl?


Nightwing? You used to be Robin. Surely you have something to say about Adam West's book?


Indeed you have, since Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights (which is also out of print) seems to be about a completely different Batman show from the one that Adam West worked on. Burt Ward talks about working on a show that didn't take itself too seriously. The actors had fun, and enjoyed themselves, but nobody seemed to mistake what they were doing for high art that would stand the tests of time.

Nobody, that is, besides Adam West. In his book there are pages upon pages about his acting skill, and the extreme level of talent that he brought to this production. Despite testing a number of other actors, they were lucky to have him, because he was the only one who spent hours preparing his hand gestures and lower facial expressions to make up for the fact that his upper face, where most actors of lesser skill emote, was covered by a non-moving cowl. Adam West believes that he helped to craft a pop-art masterpiece on the level of Andy Warhol, and comes right out and says so more than once. It's actually a little bit sad to read, because as much as I love the Batman TV show it's not what he thinks it is. Groundbreaking? Yes. Beloved? Yes. But a masterpiece? No. Adam West thinks that he's Bette Davis in "All About Eve", but the truth is a lot closer to "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" than he would care to admit.

There are two parts that made me stop rolling my eyes and shaking my head long enough to smile: the first is when he outlines the difficulties of signing the quivering breasts of female fans without grabbing them, and the second is when he admits that there was one really awful time that he portrayed Batman, which was in 1978's Legends of the Superheroes. My parents bought it for me this year for Christmas, since it was on my wish list, but I've been waiting for the right time to settle in and watch it.

After reading that Adam West thought it was cheap, terrible, and vaguely shameful, I decided it was the right time.

And oh, God, was it cheap, terrible, and vaguely shameful.

A live action production, it stars West and Ward as Batman and Robin, and they are joined by an odd collection of allies that probably had something to do with licensing issues. Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Flash, and Black Canary are there, but instead of Superman we have Captain Marvel:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (1)

and instead of Wonder Woman we have someone who claims to be some version of the Huntress:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (2)

Scroll up if you forgot what the Huntress looked like at the time this was made, and then scroll down again and compare. I'm all for dramatic license and am willing to accept slight, logical changes to characters for the sake of the medium (for example, I love WB's "Arrow", a modernized take on the Green Arrow), but that looks terrible. Her clothes aren't even the right colors. I should have just turned it off and called it a day then, but I decided to press on, and things only got worse.

Our story opens with a collection of supervillains having what appears to be a board meeting:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (3)

The Riddler takes roll call, during which each of the villains tries to kill him for some unknown reason while the canned laugh track rolls in the background. Left to right, for those unfamiliar, we have Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, Dr. Sivana, Mordru the Merciless (who is apparently the leader, although why a wizard who fought the entire Legion of Superheroes including Superboy and Supergirl to a standstill on multiple occasions would need to be on a team with the Riddler, who has no powers, and Solomon Grundy, who is superstrong, is never explained), the Riddler, Giganta, and the Weather Wizard, and they have built a doomsday device that they challenge the superheroes to find and disable.

While the challenge is being issued, one of the villains (I can't remember if it was the Riddler or Sinestro, and it will be a while before I can force myself to watch again), pops the Batmobile's hood and sabotages it. Batman and Robin take it to the nearest repair shop, where a barely disguised Solomon Grundy beats them up and takes the Batmobile hostage. Acting as a true hero, Batman gives up, and he and Robin leave on foot to search for the doomsday device.

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (4)

No, that's really what happened. Batman gets in a fight and gives up because he got shoved, walking off with Robin.

Actually, everyone in this is walking almost all of the time, because the special effects budget couldn't afford to have anyone fly. It renders the chase scene at the end kind of hilarious, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hawkman, who has wings and should be able to fly, walks up to the garage and is captured by Grundy. Black Canary tries to rescue him, and is also captured. Meanwhile, Weather Wizard disguises himself as a used car salesman and further delays Batman and Robin by offering them a selection of rundown cars whose doors and wheels fall off while the laugh track rolls, and then Sinestro disguises himself as a female fortune teller to stall Green Lantern:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (5)

The only thing worse is the scene where the Riddler disguises himself as a psychiatrist and talks Captain Marvel out of helping. Wait, no, there's also the fact that since they can't afford to have Green Lantern fly they instead have him travel by shooting himself in the face with his power ring:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (6)

And then this steaming pile of crap somehow sinks to a new low as Batman and Robin get too close to the island where the doomsday device is hidden and Mordru the Merciless, a wizard who has been able to crack planets in half and disrupt the flow of time at full power levels, distracts them by leading them on a high speed jet ski chase across the lake:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (7)

Seriously. Jet skis.

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (8)

Not only that, but since nobody can fly the rest of the heroes give pursuit in a variety of watercraft:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (9)

and I can't even convey how bad the rest of this was. They all end up at the villain lair, there's a lot of allegedly comical fighting with laugh tracks and pratfalls, and then as the doomsday clock counts down the show is suddenly over and I can't remember if one of them managed to shut it off or not. There's a second special on the DVD, which according to the description seems to be all of the heroes and villains at some kind of roast hosted by Ed McMahon, but I'm pretty sure that I can't watch that while I'm sober.

I'm willing to bet that Burt Ward and Adam West weren't when they made it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Asheville, North Carolina

At some point last week, Kristin asked if I wanted to go with her yesterday to Asheville. She was going to go help her friend Motor officiate some roller derby bouts, but we figured I could skip out on most of that if I wanted to and just get out of town for a while. She also invited our friends Logan and Becky, and we decided to just meet up on Saturday morning, head to Asheville, and wing it. After a bit of a slow start (I am the only one in the group who is consistently on time), we were in Kristin's car and heading east, and then:

Welcome to North Carolina

There we were.

I've been to Asheville once before, to tour the Biltmore:

biltmore exterior

biltmore house

which was formerly the largest private home in America (I say formerly because I don't think anyone actually lives there now and it's mostly operated as a museum and wedding venue), but we didn't really go into town and see anything, so I was excited to walk around for a while. I've heard a lot of good things about Asheville and everyone said that I would love it, and it turns out to be a nice city to visit.

Kristin didn't get to see much of it, because our late start meant that she had to go straight to derby. Logan and Becky were doing couple-type things, and I didn't want to do third wheel things so I struck off on my own and went solo for the day, and I had a really good time.

The business district of Asheville is very pretty and colorful:

Asheville buildings (3)

Asheville buildings (1)

Asheville buildings (2)

It's full of interesting stores:

yarn wars




random street sculptures:

kitty cat statue

giant iron (1)

giant iron (2)

and street musicians:

street musicians

So many street musicians.

I stopped counting them at thirty, but it seemed like there was one or more people playing a guitar, fiddle, bass, accordian, bongo drum, harmonica, or some combination of them roughly every five feet or so. On the one hand, it's nice to hear music everywhere you walk, but on the other hand it seems like there should maybe just be fewer musicians clogging the sidewalks.

Asheville also seems like a very dog-friendly city. I saw bowls like this:

water for dogs

outside of a lot of the stores.

I also saw a couple of famous landmarks, besides the giant iron pictured above. The convention center was right next to the Basilica of St. Lawrence:

basilica of st. lawrence

basilica statue

and I spent a lot of time at the Grove Arcade:

Grove Arcade (1)

Grove Arcade statue (1)

Grove Arcade (3)

It's an old building that's been completely renovated to house a lot of stores and restaurants, and is gorgeous inside:

Grove Arcade (2)

Grove Arcade bookstore

I had a really nice lunch there:

smoked turkey for lunch

at a counter by the window:

Grove Arcade statue (2)

and read my book for a while before going back outside for more shopping and walking. Late in the afternoon I also had an ice cream soda at the lunch counter in the old Woolworth's:

Woolworth's lunch counter

which has been converted into two stories of gallery space:

Woolworth Walk

went to a bunch of bookstores, bought a print at another gallery that I need to pick up a frame for, and eventually joined Kristin for derby:

Asheville roller derby

before we had dinner, piled back into the car, and headed home.