not my dad.

This picture reminds me of my dad. Something a dude sitting on the floor in dark pants and a plain white shirt, drinking a beer amid tools and a half-finished project. That image just calls up my dad to me. No idea why.

Maybe it's the way he's looking off into nowhere, thinkin'. My father is a man of looking off into nowhere, thinkin'.


mama's restaurant.

The most noticeable thing about Mama's Restaurant is the vents. There are lots of other things to notice, too. There are pies that look homemade sitting under glass domes on the lunch counter. The walls are littered with black and white pictures of old, unsmiling men holding up dead, unsmiling fish. Speaking of fish, there is also a singing one hanging above table 4. There is a painted sign made from a raggedy board that reads "Tennessee Wind Chimes" and has four rusty cans hanging from string. And if you order your salad with ranch, you can dress your greens using a squirt bottle. People round these parts don't have time to wait for pourin'.

And really, with all that going on, you might not notice the vents at all. They're just regular air vents, and we're all so used to seeing them that they sort of fade into the background, behind the old pictures and the Big Mouth Billy Bass. The thing with the vents is that there are about twenty on one wall. Mama's Restaurant is apparently incredibly well-ventilated.

We discussed possible reasons for the vents while we waited for our food. After deciding that actual, reasonable answers were boring, we made some up. Josh said it was where they piped the gas in, which was morbid. I said they were raccoon cages. No one laughed at my answer. Well, I did. There, I just did it again. Raccoon cages, HA HA HA, I kill me.

The food arrived and we were all happy to find it to be delicious. Mama's Restaurant is a greasy spoon, and until you try the food, you can never tell whether a greasy spoon is an undiscovered gem or the kind of place with real, live unwashed silverware. After making short work of my open-faced roast beef sandwich, I was feeling friendly and expansive, so I asked the waitress just what was the deal with all the vents. She said it was her first day. Poor thing. She probably studied the menu all morning before her shift, just so she would be able to answer any question the customers asked. She knew all the available dressings, she could tell you where the fish was caught, and she was absolutely prepared to let you substitute a salad instead of the vegetable of the day. And then I come in and start asking questions about the design of the building. She went and asked another waitress, one with big hair and a kiss-my-grits air. The second waitress didn't know either, but she did know that no one else knew, which indicated that it had come up before. She said the vents didn't even go to the kitchen.

Then she offered her own joke answer: security cameras. It's a pretty good joke answer, because it makes Mama's Restaurant seem like something out of Mission Impossible, where your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to procure an open-faced roast beef sandwich and a squirt bottle of ranch dressing. But be careful, because there are cameras everywhere, and if you set of any alarms, you'll immediately be gassed.

And then they'll release the raccoons.

Note: Despite what you might think from this picture, Mama's Restaurant is not actually blurry in real life. It is full of vents, though.


ah, youth.

Oh, I've been so slack. I promised you old photos months ago, and then never got around to posting the rest of them. To make up for it, I'm bringing you three today.

Again, I don't know what these are from, who these people are, or why these pictures were made. I just bought an old photo album at an estate sale and now these ladies are hanging out in my house. We can make up stories for them, or we can just appreciate them as snapshots of people in their primes. It's a celebration of beauty, sure, but it's also a celebration of innocence and of potential. Ah, youth.

Maybe these women are dead now. Maybe they died young, shortly after these pictures were taken. Maybe they died after long, fulfilling lives. Maybe they're still alive somewhere, showing pictures like these to their grandchildren. They look at these pictures and wonder whether they were ever really so young.

"Oh, Grandma, you were so beautiful!"
"Yes, dear, I was."


yard sales, august 7.

Do you know the difference between a piece of junk and an antique?

2010-08-08 12.43.25Dust.

I’ve been looking for a birdcage lately, which was probably not something you knew about me.  It’s not for a bird, but just to hang up.  Maybe put a plant inside, but maybe not.  I did find a super nice one several weeks ago at an estate sale.  It wasn’t really what I was looking for, though.  Well, okay, in my wildest dreams, it was exactly what I was looking for, but I didn’t get it, because it was $75 and I could have fit inside it (when I was four).  2010-06-26 11.57.41

No, I wanted something a little more understated, but still old.

I found this. 

2010-08-08 12.43.172010-08-08 12.43.35 2010-08-08 12.43.42 

When you spend so much time shopping in driveways, you have to be able to see past a certain amount of, well, ick.  Something might be broken, but fixable.  Another thing might be ugly, but functional.  But mostly, things are just really stinking filthy.  Sometimes, they even have upsetting plastic animals inside.  I felt obligated to make a Monty Python joke about the bird, even though I was pretty certain no one would know what I was talking about (I was right).  Here’s an additional creepy thing about the parrot.  I noticed that there used to be two fake plastic birds on the perch, but the other must have been broken off, leaving only its little fake plastic feet, still clinging to the fake plastic stick.

The lady told me to name my price, so it was mine for $2.  And I was so excited.  I took it home, put on my hazMat suit, and cleaned it up.  I burned the fake bird.

2010-08-11 18.59.28

See?  Now it’s an antique.  Or at least vintage.  I could spray paint it, I guess, but I like the rusty black metal.

2010-08-11 19.03.51In other ridiculous purchase news, I picked up a pair of sandals that I will likely never wear.  They are really uncomfortable, but they are hand made.  You just don’t see that many handmade shoes anymore, particularly with nice recycled tire bottoms like these.  I ought to donate them to some local theatre troupe, in case they do Ben-Hur any time soon.

In an unrelated note – don’t I have a nice front porch?2010-08-11 19.00.31

Moving on to the next silly thing, I bought a 1971 felt calendar that had been embellished with sequins.  See why I love yard sales so much?  Where could you even find such a thing nowadays?  People are wandering around the streets, lost in despair, because they want nothing more than a 1971 felt calendar with sequins, but they don’t know where to get it.  And I tell them that I don’t know, because I don’t want them coming to my house to look at mine.

The estate sale actually had seven more of these calendars from various years, 2010-08-11 19.04.25although all from the 70s.  I picked this one because it didn’t have any stains and had a nice design.  Actually, I really liked the one with the mushrooms on it, but as a general rule, I can’t stand 70s mushroom art.  No matter how nice it is, it will always remind me of a stoner’s dorm room.

Here’s a funny little story.  When I was paying for the, the cashier asked me if I was born in 1971.  Maybe that’s why I don’t get carded anymore; I look 40.

That’s all the interesting stuff that I bought, but I do have another story.  Being asked whether I had been born in the Nixon years was not even the most embarrassing thing that happened to me Saturday.  Oh, no, it gets better.  I was at a sale at some sort of VFW community building, where I saw, but did not b2010-08-07 12.29.09uy, this big print keyboard.

I should have bought it and hung it up at work, or maybe given it to that lady who thought I was 39 and holding.  Anyway, I was getting into my car after this sale, when my pants ripped, right down the left back pocket.  They weren’t tight pants, I hadn’t gone over the butt capacity or anything like that.  No, they’re just cheap pants that I bought at a yard sale last year.  Though a nice breeze on my derriere would have been welcome that day, I didn’t really want to let everyone know what color panties I was wearing.  Luckily, I had bought a long shirt earlier in the day, so I changed into it.  Crisis averted.  Although, walking around with holes in my clothes might be a useful bargaining chip.  “Look, lady, I’ve got a giant hole in my pants, so obviously, I can’t afford to pay more than $2 for this birdcage that has been sitting in your basement for fifteen years.”

Maybe I’ll keep those pants in the car for just such an occasion.


it's got something to do with the shimmer wall.

You could say that I saw this band ten years too late. But that's okay, because I only spent ten dollars.

I discovered the Barenaked Ladies after watching a live concert on VH1 back in 1996 or so. I went out and bought Rock Spectacle, a live album that introduced me to their Canadian hits. This was before that one song came out and gave them American hits. Back in 1996, they were still only famous in Canada. Rock Spectacle is a fantastic album. Every song is a winner, and the bonus live tracks reveal a band full of laid-back goofballs. After I had memorized that one by heart, I started buying from their back catalog.

Stunt came out in 1998, and with it, "One Week", which introduced American radio audiences to the Ladies. I bought Stunt almost as soon as it came out, because this was the late 90s, and people still bought CDs. Two years later, I bought Maroon, but it was more out of obligation. I couldn't name a single track off that one if I tried. I'm sure I listened to it once, maybe two or three times. At some point, I got rid of most of my CD collection, preferring to have my music in mp3 format. I got rid of Maroon and even Stunt, but I still have Rock Spectacle. You know how you can tell a great album? Your favorite song keeps changing.

Why didn't I listen to Maroon? I could not conclusively say that the band changed for the worse. I have no idea why Maroon failed to take hold of me the way previous albums had. It's easy to blame that kind of thing on success, to say that a band sacrificed craft to get an album out as quickly as possible while the public still remembered their last hit. I guess I would have to go back and listen to the album again.

I happened to come across a limited time offer of Barenaked Ladies tickets for $10. I have no idea what they usually go for, since I hadn't been in the market for them anyway. It was just serendipity that I found out they were going to be in town at all. I bought two tickets for their July 31 concert at the new Raleigh downtown amphitheater. I bought the tickets months ago, and I had to keep reminding myself of the event. Since the Barenaked Ladies are no longer sitting at the front of my mind all the time, I was actually afraid that I would forget to go to the show.

What did I expect? I expected to see a band that I used to really love, but that is past its peak. They haven't had any big hits in over a decade, one of their principal songwriters left the band, and they were selling concert tickets for $10. Maybe you could blame that last one on the recession. I didn't expect to know any of the new songs, nor did I expect to be particularly impressed by them, but hoped they would play a couple of the classics. That's all I wanted - to be reassured that whatever they are now, they used to be the Barenaked Ladies that appealed to the teenager that I used to be.

The downtown amphitheater is new and shiny. We took our seats on the lawn, deciding to forego the $9 24-ounce Bud Lights. I realized just how long it had been since I'd seen a big concert like this, where the band is so far away you can't make out their facial expressions. For someone who goes to an awful lot of concerts, I sure don't see very many different bands.

The Ladies might be on the downward slope of their career path, they are still a great live band. Each musician has a microphone, and they've got the banter nailed. But then again, they've been playing together for more than twenty years.

Whenever I comment that I like or dislike something about a band, Josh asks me why I think that. Being a part of the uninformed masses rather than a musician, I always grate for a minute at his question. Can't I just like or not like something without having to figure out why? Is this any time for analysis? By now I've been asked so often that I've started asking myself. I suppose that makes me more thoughtful or something, I don't know. Stupid smart boyfriends making me grow as a person.

Here are some ways that the Barenaked Ladies are a great live band. They know the right mixture of old favorites and new stuff. They are likely tired to death of playing "One Week" and are very excited about their new material. But they know what the audience wants to hear, so they mix it up. They add interest to their old stuff, changing an obvious line here and there, adding a couple of new guitar licks. Undoubtedly they've played these changes a thousand times, but to us, it seems like brilliant improvisation just for those of us who know the albums well enough to recognize the difference. They tell interesting stories about the songs, ones that make you listen to the lyrics with a different outlook. They goof off. They do a boybandesque dance in the middle of one of their songs, highlighting the fact that they are not a boyband at all, but middle-aged Canadians in plaid.

And they nail the hometown stuff. Everyone says that it's great to be in Raleigh tonight, but the Barenaked Ladies tell us that it's great to be in Raleigh because they had North Carolina BBQ for breakfast, lunch, and dinner today. And me, I think there are few things better in life than North Carolina BBQ, so I cheer so hard right then for them. OMG, BNL NC BBQ? Me too!

The Barenaked Ladies also wrote a song about the Shimmer Wall.

The downtown amphitheater is a part of the Raleigh Convention Center and is across the street from the main building. Directly facing the stage where the Ladies stood is a giant wall of the building that, well, shimmers. It's a mosaic of tiny pieces of something (metal?) that hang from a grid. And when even the slightest breeze makes those individual tiles move, it makes the whole picture shimmer. It's impressive and lovely, clever and still traditional. I have been a fan of the Shimmer Wall since I first saw it.

But I never knew what to call it until the Barenaked Ladies sang a song about it. Maybe they improvised the song, maybe they wrote it that afternoon after a BBQ lunch, maybe it's just like a form letter where they fill in something different for each town. But they talked about the Shimmer Wall, and such is their easy-going manner, it was as if we were all just sitting around shooting the breeze, making jokes about the Shimmer Wall. Now, it's like I personally have an inside joke with the Barenaked Ladies.

That's a great live band.

So I had a great time at the Barenaked Ladies concert. It was not the pants-wetting good time I would have had at one ten years ago, but it was an older and wiser good time for me and the Ladies. Their audiences are smaller and some of them only had to pay $10. The people may not know any of their new songs, and the band has to play the same tunes they've been playing for ten or fifteen years. But I feel like they understand their place. Just like individuals, there is a concept of aging gracefully as a rock band. They don't expect the kind of fame and money they briefly had. But heck, they still make a living travelling around playing music with their buddies for screaming audiences. That is in itself a dream come true, and those guys deserve to have it.


permission to learn.

My niece Sarah is fifteen years old and has her learner's permit. Let's go ahead and note that the term "learner's permit" is kinda goofy. It implies you need a permit to learn, as if learning were the same as burning brush or selling cocktails. Did you know that I was learning a whole bunch for the first years of my life, without a permit? Luckily, the statute of limitations has expired or they could come and take me away.

Anyway, she's got her permit. I don't know what it means for her, but I was kinda surprised at how blase she was about the whole thing. I spent last week with her (and her brother and parents), and she didn't request to drive even once. I remember wanting to drive pretty much any time I was allowed, but maybe I am mis-remembering. Maybe it got old after the first month or so, but I only remember those first few weeks of supervised freedom.

We drove up to the mountains. She was riding with me and Josh, and I considered letting her take the wheel, because I want to be a supportive aunt. And then I thought about that stretch of I-40 where you're going up and down the mountain, the road curving this way and that, giant trucks looming over you. I like mountain roads, but not everyone is so enamored of them. Maybe those people should try a good, responsive Japanese car.

As it turns out, it was good thinking that I stayed at the helm. Right in the middle of our journey down curvy mountain roads, a tumultuous thunderstorm hit. It wasn't a sprinkle or a drizzle, but big ole fat rain coming hard and fast. Motorcyclists stopped under overpasses, skittish drivers slowed down to 55 and put on their blinkers. Even with my wipers going as fast as they could, visibility was limited.

You can imagine the kind of storm I'm talking about, because you've probably driven through several just like it. The experience is a little white-knuckled, but nothing that you can't get through. Slow and steady does it, and watch out for idiots. Don't worry about the guy behind you; if he's impatient, then he'll get over it. Had Sarah been driving through her first downpour, I would have repeated those bits of advice to her over and over in between words of calm assurance. I also would have told her that if she wanted to pull over at the underpass and switch seats, that would be just fine. She would have been alright, most likely, but I'm not disappointed that her first bad weather driving experience didn't happen in my nearly-new car.

I remember my first downpour. It was in my dad's truck, which was clunky to drive anyway. Also, the wipers were torn, such that each swipe scraped hard plastic against glass, while the useless rubber trailed along behind. I kept turning them off and then on again full-blast, unable to decide which gave me a less impenetrable view. It was absolutely terrifying. But I made it that time and I could probably do it again.

I remember my first blizzard, and I've since been through a few of those, too. The advice is mostly the same: go slow, no sudden movements. Don't panic. I credit my surviving the first one to my ex-boyfriend, who sat beside me in the passenger seat, talking me through it with equal parts advice and encouragement. He did a great job of acting like he wasn't scared. Driving through a snowstorm sucks, and I don't want to live in a place where it's common, but I've done it so much that I approach it with a kind of tense determination rather than wide-eyed terror. Ah, yes, this again.

What could have been Sarah's first big storm on her first mountain interstate passed. The motorcyclists came back out and everyone turned off their emergency flashers (except for the old people). I drove on, my responsive Japanese car hugging the turns and passing the trucks. We were headed for a cabin on the side of a mountain. We had the GPS, but we soon got to the point where the lady giving us directions became very confused about where we were. So we turned her off and just followed the instructions. From a marked two-lane country road to an unmarked two-lane road to an unmarked one-lane road, we eventually came to a fork. The right path was much like what we were on: steep, narrow, and paved several years ago. The left road was steep, gravel, and half washed out from springtime thaws, but we thought it might be the driveway. That's my only defense for taking what was clearly the road to insanity.

About halfway up the road less travelled, it became clear that my responsive Japanese car was not meant for this kind of terrain. It's possible that with enough initial momentum, we would have made it up, but instead we just parked halfway. Josh got out and determined that both roads off the fork went to the same place, and only a suicidal person would ever have picked the left road. I was much relieved that I would not have to attempt this road every day of my vacation; the mere thought of it made me tired. The only trouble now was that I wanted to either be at the top or the bottom of this road, and I was neither.

The situation reminded me of a time right after I first got my license. We had left my station wagon at a neighbor's for some forgotten reason, and my dad dropped me off so I could drive it back to our house. I had to back out of a driveway 200 feet long and covered in a couple inches of snow. The terrain was dirt, but completely flat. Really, it was no big deal, but I was so scared. I'm sure my dad thought nothing of it at all, but then he wasn't in the car to hear me holding my breath until I let it all out in a huge sigh of relief once I finally pulled out into the road. It was a complete non-event. It doesn't even make a good story: once when I was sixteen, I had to back out of a driveway. But it was sort of pivotal for me. Like everything when I was sixteen, it seemed important at the time.

There I sat, halfway up and halfway down the left road. I threw her in reverse and eased back down. In the backseat, Sarah listened to her iPod. Maybe she was aware that the situation was a little sticky or maybe she thought that grownups were confident in all their maneuvers. After all, I've been a licensed driver for nearly twelve years (gah). I wasn't really worried, but I was conscious of the fact that extra caution should be used. And I was thinking about backing out of that snowy, flat driveway.

I don't think the importance of experience has ever really struck me before. I mean, duh, obviously it is, otherwise insurance rates wouldn't be so high for teenagers. But it's also why there is such thing as a learner's permit. We could raise the driving age or force kids to take more classes, but in the end, we have to let them get in the car and go down the road. It is terrifying at first, and maybe it gets worse before it gets better, but eventually they'll know what to do. They'll say, "Ah, yes, this again," and they'll deal with it.

There is probably some bigger message here, some parallel to life in general, but I can't think of it.


yard sales, july 31.

Guys, the people who work at estate sale companies are starting to recognize me.  I had a fellow ask if he’d seen me before (which is a stupid question, how should I know if HE has seen ME?), and since he was old enough to be my grandfather, I’m going to assume he wasn’t trying to pick me up.  Plus, I hadn’t showered that day, and my clothes didn’t really match.

Just like in the dead of winter, I’m finding that estate sales are keeping me busy during the hot summer months when everyone is on vacation and not interested in sitting in the front lawn with their old crap.  Thank goodness dying is always in season (gee, that was tasteless).

2010-08-01 16.12.58

Check out my pretty trash can.  It was two bucks, and the cashier looked at it like she wanted to hit whoever had priced it so low.  Sure, the bottom is a little shaky, and it’s got some mysterious stains that probably won’t come off, but I dig it.  It’s surely a lot more interesting than the plain round white one that I have now.

Here, let me teach you something about, uh, stuff.  This trashcan is an example of tole painting.  The picture in the middle is a print that was glued on somehow, but there is a hand-painted border around the picture, which is called tole painting.  I don’t know anything about tole, but I saw the word on the internet2010-08-01 16.11.20, which meant that I had to buy an example.  However, tole painting seems to be about making utilitarian items look pretty, and I am all about that.

Next up, we have a pitcher and three little mugs (not pictured).  I already have a few items of similar Mason Jar Chic, including four canisters and a salt and pepper shaker set so tiny, they are nearly useless.  My sister owns this exact pitcher, which she showed off to me a few months back.  And then I found this.  It’s entirely possible that I have seen this exact pitcher a bazillion times at a bazillion other yard sales, but this is the first time I’ve ever noticed it before, possibly because once you take notice of something, you see it everywhere.  Anyway, I have one now, and I will keep it.  The set was a dollar.

Do you know what this is?  If you do, I will be super impressed.  I will think you are the classiest person in all the land.  I bough2010-08-01 16.10.30t two of these, and they are now the classiest things I own.  However, since I am not a classy person, it was all an accident.

See, Josh told me that he wanted to have a nice liquor cabinet, complete with fancy glasses and decanters and an ice bucket.  When I saw these little tongs, I thought they were for ice.  Rich people don’t just stick their fat fists into the ice bucket, like us commoners, and they sure don’t use the ice dispenser in the refrigerator door.  No, they have little insulated buckets, and they use tiny tongs to pick up individual pieces of ice.  You’re not classy unless you’re inefficient.  Anyway, I saw these tongs, assumed they were for rich people ice, and took them up to the cashier.  The cashier asked if I knew what they were, because she snobbily assumed that someone whose clothes did not match would not know what they were.  I said I thought they were ice picker-uppers, the word “tongs” having escaped my poor unshowered head at the moment.

But no, they are snail tongs.  She couldn’t remember the word “tongs” either, so she called them snail clamps, which sounds like some sort of snail torture device.  The point is, they are used for escargot.  How freakin’ classy is that?  Pretty freakin’ classy, is the answer.

I bought one Saturday, then I bought the other one Sunday, when I brought Josh back to look at books.  We bought 15 books and one snail clamp for $5.90.  And now those people know me as the snail clamp girl.

Oka2010-08-01 16.13.41y, here is the find of the day.  I look at it and think that the world would be a better place if we all went on more picnics.  See, the problem with picnics is that no one ever goes on them.  And then when you do, it’s sort of half-planned and basically just eating Jersey Mike’s at a Ranger Station.  The picnics of reality never match the red gingham picnics of your daydreams.  And the problem is that you do not have this basket.  This basket guarantees you a lovely picnic full of delicious sandwiches and fruit and cake and wine for the grown-ups, on a lovely blanket spread across a lovely patch of rich clover on the loveliest day of the year, and it is all just so lovely.

I’m going to keep my video game stuff in it. 

I have good reason to believe that this is a Red Man basket.  According to the internet, Red Man is famous for its woven picnic baskets, and the ones being sold on various reselling web sites look exactly like this one, do2010-08-01 16.14.13wn to the pattern on the side. 

It’s so pretty.