the shrimp dumpling gang

Realizing we had a rare uninterrupted family day ahead of us, John hollered the magic words into the morning air to send the boys scrambling around the house for their shoes…  “DIM SUM!!”

There are just a couple of phrases that send them into such immediate action. The other is “How about a 5:00 bedtime, then, because that’s where you’re headed,” but the circumstances are usually less jovial, and my brow is likely furrowed.  But when we yell “dim sum,” they know what that means: “Today is special, we’re going to the city, find your shoes.”

Years ago, my college roommate, Liane took us to a Chinatown bakery, and bought a dozen shrimp dumplings for about $4. She doled them out when we emerged from the crowded closet sized storefront onto the bustling sidewalk.

Much as one would divide their histories into “before and after kids,” or “before and after the career change,” or “before and after I got a smart phone,” I have pre and post dim sum, marked by that first taste of shrimp dumpling on a crowded San Francisco street.  It squirted all over my awesome kid-sized Curious George T-shirt, ruining it forever – a small price to pay for dumpling shaped nirvana.  Perhaps it was also a sign that even as a pseudo hipster 20-something, it was time to stop wearing the kid-sized Curious George tee in public.

Before we knew it, our favorite San Francisco Saturdays as newlyweds were spent convincing the bakery lady that, yes we did want 42 shrimp dumplings and 2 Cokes so we could have lunch at the cold beach. Or when we were feeling fancy, we’d wait for the good stuff to be pushed by on a cart in a dim sum restaurant. There’s a tripe incident I don’t like to talk about, but if you have the opportunity to select your items from the cart, don’t put your face directly over the bamboo steamer basket when they open it. A tripe facial is not something one soon forgets.

Our Richmond District neighborhood that bordered what is considered by many to be San Francisco’s “New Chinatown,” still boasts Ton Kiang which is delicious and perfect if you can take off at 11:00 on a weekday and head that far down Geary Blvd., because then you can totally…probably… maybe get a table. For the bakery experience, we head to Good Luck Dim Sum. I don’t know how God feels when I do this, but when we venture here, I start praying for a parking space when we’re within a mile radius of the place.

But, alas, we usually end up at Hong Kong Lounge. It has pink awnings, and at some point within the last decade changed their name from the far classier Hong Kong Flower Lounge.  Now that the beautiful old theater where we saw “She’s All That,” is shuttered and forlorn, Hong Kong Lounge is that block’s reigning crown jewel. It sits between the old biker bar John ended up at when he locked himself out of the apartment, and the Ross Dress for Less where I went when it was my turn to lock myself out.

We moved away from the city years ago, but manage to find our way back on chilly days when we are feeling a little nostalgic, and a lot hungry.

We’ve dragged along dear friends like our seminary compadres, Megan & Harold and their kiddos. As we’d wait outside for our name to be called, our little children would press their faces against the glass to stare at the diners inside, or they would tuck their arms in their shirts and huddle together for warmth on the cold sidewalk.

“Stand up before someone tries to give you a dollar,” one of us would say, “Well, never mind, it’s ok, go ahead and stay there.”

Sometimes we come with our college buddy, Bouncer. When he’s there, the hurried wait staff takes a look at our order sheets, and asks us if we’re serious. We nod proudly, and take their doubt as a challenge. It’s delicious at first, then funny, then scary as we try to convince each other to “please, pretty please eat the last bun, they don’t think we can do it, and I cannot. I cannot do it, but I know you can.”

(If you go to the Hong Kong Lounge, whatever you do, don’t ask them to split the bill, because then it’s a whole thing, and every level of management gets involved, and your kids get really embarrassed.)

On this day, when our little foursome gets seated, I go all 1950’s and hand the menu/worksheet to John to make the selections on our behalf. Ordering is like a long and deliciously complicated word problem:

Two adults and two kids go for dim sum. There are three pork buns to a plate, and four shrimp dumplings. Shrimp and chive dumplings come six to a plate, as do potstickers. The 6-year old eats one half the pork buns as the 11-year old, but twice the potstickers. The mom will eat any shrimp dumpling that passes by if her fellow diners are not careful. The dad bats clean up, and assumes responsibility for the consumption of the ‘adventure plate’ if it is not liked by the rest of the group. What combination of plates should they order?”

John taps the tiny little pencil against the paper, and I can see his eyelid twitch with all that thinking.

I try to keep the boys from using their chopsticks to stab each other, poke themselves in the eye, or dig at that hole in the padding of their chair.

The waiter whisks the sheet off our table and John informs us our adventure plate will be the doughnut noodle roll, which arrives first.

Yup, there it is. Imagine you had a doughnut, then you rollllllled it up into a big rice noodle. The man poured brown stuff on it for us, and we debated whether it was syrup or soy sauce.  Three doughnut noodle rolls already cut in half. That’s six pieces. I’ll take one of those, and save room for the other stuff. (It was strangely good by the way, and the brown stuff was soy sauce.)

The shrimp goes fast & furious, and then come the potstickers and fried and  steamed pork buns.  “Darn, I meant puffs,” John mutters to himself, “I like the puffs with the shiny tops.” He notes it for next time, and we talk strategy and what we’ve learned for the future; one more order of shrimp dumplings, two fewer orders of pork buns.  John rethinks this by the time we walk out the door, “I don’t know,” he says, “I think I ate too much shrimp in my 20’s.”

The visit isn’t complete without us driving slowly by our old apartment, which looks exactly the same as it did 11 years ago, cracked glass front door and all. “There’s our old bank,” I say enthusiastically. Kids love seeing their parents’ old banks. “The hobby shop is still there! The card shop! The video café is gone, where we saw the guy lick the ketchup off the bottle, but they still have the poster up for ‘The Green Mile.'”

“Mom?”

“Yes, dear?” I look back at the boys who are blissfully staring out the window, their faces shiny from our feast.

“Can you please turn up the radio?”

If I had to be pick him being super pumped to see my old bank branch or excited to share a dim sum meal with us – I’ll take the doughnut noodle roll, thankyouverymuch.

*The restaurant above is actually yummy Ton Kiang, and I snapped that pic of Good Luck one day as we were probably looking for parking. That building there to the right is our old San Francisco apartment. That might be our former neighbor’s car. Wow, Gary & Linda – I’ll save them for another blog.

speaking….and other ways to embarrass a middle schooler

We are hot wing loving people, and we drove a good 20 miles this day to get them. We said, “Let’s celebrate Labor Day! And the end of a great summer! Tonight….we feast!” We didn’t say the feast part out loud, but I sure thought it.

With one week of middle school under his belt, Jake plopped down next to me at the restaurant table. Instead of getting to talk to my older kid’s face, however, I was granted access only to the back of his head. We were surrounded by no fewer than 30 televisions covering every possible surface in the new chain restaurant. I looked nervously at the giant projection screen hanging precariously above my head. Baseball, football, college football, high school football, what looked like Dr. Oz, and even America’s Funniest Home Videos blurred soundlessly together while music played in the background.

I didn’t harp on the boys about watching the TVs, there were just too many to ignore. I couldn’t help but watch either, just like everybody else in the crowded dining room. When you have that many people together staring at TVs from every possible angle – weird eye contact will inevitably happen. I was sure the guy with the ZZ Top Beard was looking at me because he assumed I was staring at his beard, which I was for a minute. But really, he was probably just watching whatever game was above our table, or at the very least, waiting for the screen to fall on me before my wings arrived.

A girl across the restaurant with a 60’s beehive also seemed to be looking at us. Either that or she was watching the same thing as ZZ, which seemed highly unlikely. No, she was definitely looking at me, and my utter lack of a beehive hairdo, for which I was now very self-conscious.

“Focus, people, focus.” John used his natural leadership skills to bring us all back to the task at hand – ordering wings. The menu was six pages long with an insert. There was a chart, and a graphic of a giant bottle of hot sauce with what looked to be dozens of different wing ordering variables.  There was the sauce side and the dry rub side. There was sweet on one end of the heat spectrum, a picture of flames on the other. We settled on a big platter of very exotic “medium.”

Exhausted from the hardest thinking I’d done all day, I settled back, and my ears perked up. I knew this song. I loved this song. “It’s Dead or Alive!” I yelped, “I don’t feel right saying the name of the song, because it’s not entirely appropriate… but it’s Dead or Alive…the band!” I girly clapped for unnecessary emphasis.

They all nodded.

“Eeeeee.”

“What?”

“Depeche Mode! It’s Depeche Mode.” I girly clapped again, because now it was a terrible habit.

The TVs may have been silent zombie-creating light boxes, but the stereo system was loud and clear, and apparently set to “80’s Stun.”

John took the little one to the restroom as I tried to explain to Jake the significance of Pat Benetar; “60% of her awesomeness must have been her haircut,” I said earnestly. I waved my hands around my head trying to pantomime the swoopiness of her feathering. He nodded again, and I took to my phone to find a picture.

When the guys returned to the table, I was flipping though my results from Googling “Pat Benatar Hair” images. I’ve Googled some stupid things, many of them twice, but this search was a first.

Jake looked at the photos, and then back to the bank of TVs, immediately guffawing at AFHV (when you are a fiercely loyal fan of crotch kicking, wedding-dance-gone-wrong, annoyed animal videos, you may also unapologetically call America’s Funniest Home Videos, AFHV), “Look at that cat. How does it do that?” he said, mystified. I looked around to find the screen with the crazy cat, and sucked in my breath when I spotted something awesome. I nudged Jake. “The woman directly behind you, has Pat Benatar’s exact haircut,” I whispered. He slyly looked over his shoulder, then looked to me, nodding in polite acknowledgement.

Another song came on that I recognized. I’d listened to it on my boombox in my room as a kid. “Catch Me I’m Falling.”  Who sang this? Who. Sang. This? I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable in my not knowing.

My darling husband has many gifts, one of my favorites being his awe inspiring ability to immediately recognize and name the title and artist of songs; and not just any dumb ol’ songs, but 1980’s adult contemporary classics. The more obscure, the better. His childhood weekends were spent with Casey Kasem and the American Top 40. It’s obviously one of the top 3 reasons why I agreed to marry him.

“I can’t remember who sang this,” he admitted. Now he looked uncomfortable too.

“Stacey Q?” I guessed. Wait, she couldn’t have possibly had another song other than “Two of Hearts.” Back in the day, my friend Jenni and I preferred to call it, “Two Pop Tarts.” Hilarious.

John, sounding like Sherlock Homes, began his process of deduction, “This song was out at the same time as a Taylor Dayne song.”

“Is it Taylor Dayne?”

He looked at me like I was asking if he was Taylor Dayne.

“Um, no.”

“Ok, so most definitely not Taylor Dayne, and not Jody Watley…right?” I was grasping now.

The wings were here and my hands were saucy, but it was worth the risk.

“I’m so sorry everybody, I hate to do this, but I have to do this.” I took my phone out again and quickly found what I was looking for. “Pretty Poison? What? I’ve never heard of them.”

“Pretty Poison,” John said nodding solemnly, “Yup, that’s it. Man, I knew that.”

Jake looked at me expectantly, perhaps waiting to hear what the singer’s hair looked like, or where I was when I first heard that song, or maybe how Pretty Poison was the best band in the history of music and a major influence on artists he listens to, like B.o.B and One Republic.

I had nothing, so he quickly turned away in his seat, going back to his wings and AFHV.

Oh no. Was he….embarrassed? Annoyed? Both? It didn’t matter that nobody in this place, whether they had a Pat Benatar haircut or a ZZ Top beard, was paying attention to us. Well, beehive girl was, but I knew that nobody need be present for a tween to be embarrassed. He was a sweet kid, and was doing his best to humor me as I waxed poetic about the old timey music I grew up with. I scrapped my plans to use photos of my freshman dorm to illustrate the lesson One Hit Wonders: 90’s edition.

Alas, he is in middle school, and I now hold more potential for annoyance and embarrassment than I did just a week ago – a milestone for us both. I would let him eat his wings and watch his falling down videos in peace. Just wait ’til the day though, he’s eating medium wings with his kids and he gets excited for the Black Eyed Peas on the classic hits station, and he really wants them to appreciate how the lady at the next table looks exactly like Lady Gaga.

VISUAL AIDES

*The photo at the top is not the most flattering of me by any means, but somehow, I’m delighted by how delighted I look to be there.

*The middle photo is my freshman dorm room that I shared with my roommate Heidi. We actually SLEPT in there, in the midst of the chaos.Please note the EMF poster.

*The bottom photo is my far more refined sophomore room that I shared with Liane. No EMF poster, but I do see a poster for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and L.A. Style, and that Johnny Depp movie they screened on campus, Benny & Joon. There is a rack of cassettes and cassingles AND a rack of CDs. Everything else, I would put up again today, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Depeche Mode, INXS, and the 34,000 photos I ripped out of magazines like Spin.

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it’s not you, mtv…it’s me

MTV is 30 now. 

Awww, MTV, Happy Birthday! To celebrate, I think I might try watching the ol’ network; it’s  been a while, and it might be fun to catch up.

I realize just how long it’s been when I can’t find MTV in my channel guide. We have about 900 channels, and I can tell you where to find Hoarders, Mickey Mouse Club House, Barefoot Contessa and Barefoot Contessa in HD.

I scroll through the channel guide at least twice, getting distracted by the fact that the Giants game is still on, and that movie Zodiac is about to start on IFC.

After I finally find it buried between between channels where the letters don’t mean anything to me (what is CSN+H and PLDHD?), I see that tonight’s MTV offering is Jersey Shore. What I know about this show I’ve learned from more sophisticated programming like Saturday Night Live, and The Soup. The format is instantly familiar though, and not entirely different from the first five seasons of Real World that I watched unapologetically back in the day: voice over narratives by the young cast, quick cuts and edits, and a roomful of 20-somethings arguing over whatever someone said that was like… the worst. I squirm; “What are they talking about? Why are they so mad? What’s that girl’s name? Why is she wearing that? Why am I so bored with this?”

Mercifully, a commercial comes on, and I flip to Zodiac. I shouldn’t watch this: it’s going to be scary, but I think it’s kind of a newspaper drama around the San Francisco Chronicle, and hunting for a killer they never capture (spoiler!). Intrigue, and mystery like All the President’s Men — same era, same typewriters. No Robert Redford, but there’s Robert Downey, Jr.! And Jake Gyllenhal! Mark Ruffalo! Chloe Sevigny! And an obviously nuanced and thoughtful performance by Anthony Edwards from Revenge of the NerdsTop Gun and ER.

I should really change the channel back to MTV, and finish what I set out to do tonight: watch MTV.

But I can’t. This movie has my favorite movie thing – exciting research scenes. The characters are pouring through file boxes, and the background music is pulsing, and watching these guys read is downright thrilling. (Helllloooooo, All the President’s Men!)

At the commercial break, instead of using the time to flip back to MTV, I listen to the ads for IFC’s Whisker Wars and look up facts about Zodiac’s director, David Fincher. He lived in the same little Bay Area town we did for a while, and he’s directed some of my favorites; Social Network, The Game, Se7en (could only watch that once), Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Apparently I’m a David Fincher fan, and so I guess I’ll have to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even though I was physically incapable of finishing that book.

So now, I am officially failing miserably at watching MTV. By the time I get back to it, Teen Mom is on, but that makes me a little more uncomfortable than the movie about the Zodiac Killer.

Ok, so I’ll watch this movie, and not MTV; I don’t want to miss any more critical plot points, and MTV won’t miss me. Even though my musical taste wasn’t frozen in time with A-Ha and Tears for Fears, they don’t need me anymore. I’m not their demo, though I was once.

When MTV started on basic cable, I was old enough to be very aware of its significance and also old enough to beg my parents for basic cable. I was, however, young enough for it to be a significantly formative part of my formative years. I knew that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were going to change the world.  I loved everything MTV had to offer: House of Style, Club MTV, Remote Control, Daria, 120 Minutes. John and I watched Beavis & Butthead on study breaks. My friend Liane and I went to sit in the stands at MTV Rock & Jock basketball in LA. At half-time, Tag Team performed their smash hit of which I owned the casingle,  “Whoomp! There it Is.”  Liane went so far as to go on to work for MTV, becoming the envy of us all.

So even though I’ve entered the next stage of life, the VH1 years, It’s not like I think Snookie is the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, I’ll  just leave her chronicles in the very capable hands of a generation who needs a study break.

Bring back Yo! MTV Raps though, and we’ll talk.

**That photo up there? That’s John and I on a study break, watching Beavis & Butthead.

giving the boot to getting the dirt

I hit rock bottom last week on something that nobody should really hit rock bottom with.

It was a Friday night, and as I was about to go to sleep I perused the entertainment headlines like I tend to do, oooohhhh…every night and every morning, every day of the week. There it was… a horrible terrible headline insinuating in a snarky tone, that I might have enjoyed under different circumstances, that my favorite celebrity couple was on the outs, and on the verge of a breakup.

I read the words over and over in disbelief. What was the feeling that was welling up? No…it couldn’t be… what is that? Panic? Sadness? Worry?

The offending “article” was not even from one of my reputable high-end elitest go-to sites like E! Online, TMZ, or US Weekly. I died a little bit of embarrassment every time I clicked on one of 30 or so related headlines, posted on sites like celebritypoppycock.com and youretoooldtobereadingthis.com, and dontyouhaveanythingbettertodo.net. I scrolled through, thumbs flying and eyes scanning back and forth across my tiny screen like I was (best show ever) Alias’ Sidney Bristow trying to memorize and decipher pages of code before being discovered in the secret offices above the party she had infiltrated in another fantastic disguise while her partner Dixon pretends to be a bartender or a DJ downstairs… but I digress.

Each story cited the last terrible story as a legitimate source. I should have shrugged, turned off my phone and read something more worthwhile, which would have been absolutely anything else in the house. But no. I read every last gossipy word, then I lay there in the dark, sad. Sad for the couple*. Sad for myself. “Well,” I thought as I lay pouting, “there goes my weekend.” There. Goes. My. Weekend. That’s when I realized, I might have a problem.

Celebrity gossip was changing the trajectory of my day.

“Tomorrow…,” I thought. “Tomorrow, I will read those something elses, and I will regain the perspective of an adult with a thoughtful and well informed world view.”

And so I tried it. I pulled out a stack of magazines from our coffee table and picked the most serious looking back issue of Time I could find…Joel Stein’s Awesome Column wasn’t even in it. And I read it cover to cover, the entire time thinking, “I’m back to being a serious adult. I’m very actively not thinking about celebrity gossip. Who cares about that drivel? Look at me reading about the 2% economy, unemployment, our failing education system, troubles in the Middle East, stalled American innovation, rising airline prices, ugly Washington politics, uglier cancer, the Miami Heat, and rhino poaching. This is fun!”

I thought I was sad when I was reading celebrity gossip…but grown up news, consumed in large intentional doses, is much worse, thus answering my long lingering question, “why did I ever start reading celebrity gossip in the first place?”

Not wanting to turn to anemic summer TV, I needed something else as a distraction. iPad Boggle. I could dedicate my pursuit of intelligent input to playing this delightfully whimsical spelling puzzle game! I would be exercising my brain, which is the exact opposite of celebrity gossip. Then I remembered my iPad Boggle thing from a few months ago when I first got the app. I’d ended up on the couch nearly getting carpal tunnel syndrome from shaking the iPad to “toss” the letters into the wee hours of the night, my fingers flying (Sidney Bristow style again, I like to think) only to end up making the same stupid 1 pt. words just about every round: eon, eons, tones, tone, tons, ton, ones, one. What really killed it was John yelling from the other room, “I can hear you Boggling from here!”

So I guess I can’t avoid them any more; I’ll go back to books. Our house and offices are strewn with (mostly) very good books on faith and theology, in varying stages of being read, or studied, or annotated. But an occupational hazard is that those can sometimes feel workish when you’re looking for a summer read. John, while out of town, sent me books from my wish list like one would send flowers: Tina Fey’s Bossypants, and my own copy of Stephen King’s On Writing (brilliant!). John sends flowers too, but books keep better.  And now, thanks to my friend Margie, I also have The Help sitting right there. No matter what room I go to, it’s there, eerily calling out…. “Read me! Hurry, before the movie comes out. Everybody else has…they are going to take your girl card if you don’t.”

Books are longer, and bigger, and heavier, and they don’t tell me what was happening 27 minutes ago, but they will certainly be a worthwhile anecdote to fretting over the economy, or the celebrities who I don’t know, and who don’t know me, and who I’m almost certain aren’t lying awake wondering what I’ll be up to tomorrow.  

*I will not name the celebrity couple because I do not want this post coming up when some poor sap like me catches word of the hopefully not true rumor, and frantically Googles additional stories. Also, you’re better than that.

don’t call that vintage: grub

There’s a new pancake house in town.

That’s not a euphemism; there really is a new pancake house in town. And it’s kinda glorious. They put bacon in the pancakes…..yes, IN the pancakes. The waitstaff talks about the hand-whippedness of the butter with such passion that you think back with disdain about every stupid meal you’ve ever had that did not come with this butter.

Jake went there with my parents, and they hung his drawing of a leprechaun eating pancakes in the front window, creating three fans for life. A mere two days later, the rest of us were back to visit the drawing, and to procure more hand-whipped butter.

Now we have a tough choice at breakfast, as the new shiny place is down the street from one of this town’s famed institutions of culinary indulgence. For being an institution, I find it curious that nobody really knows the name of it, because when it’s spoken about in hushed whispers, everybody calls it something different. The source of the confusion would the multiple signs out front – one says “The Chef Burger” and the other says “Giant Chef.” I’ve also had the experience of raving about it to more than one somebody, and they cock their heads in bewilderment, until a look of realization comes over their faces and they say, “ooooh, you mean The Burger Chef.” At our house, it’s known as Giant Chef, of course, because that is the most fun to say and to visualize. Frankly you could call it “Stinky’s” and I would eat there.

A friend at work clued me in to it. I think I said “biscuits and gravy,” which if you’re around me enough, you will inevitably hear me mumble. Apparently, it was the secret password. The way I like to remember the transaction is that she looked around stealthily then leaned in to whisper the location before disappearing back into the cover of night. Or the office. Whatever.

The waitresses have worked there only forever, and your coffee cup never even gets down to half full. The biscuits & gravy are a steal (comes in handy at a cash-only joint) and they taste exactly as they should, only better. If you know biscuits & gravy – then you know exactly what the biscuits should be like, and you know exactly what the gravy should be like. Well – these are like that. And if you aren’t intimately familiar with biscuits & gravy, then I would recommend the corned beef hash, and then after that, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s always the donut place across the street that’s nestled in between the Army and Navy recruiting centers. And the friend who slipped me the intel on this place? Well, I’ve seen her there about a dozen times, and one of us usually has a ballcap on. Zach always spots her and announces her presence, much to her delight, I’m sure.

My kids are breakfast kids and have easily embraced diner culture– I’ll say it – they’re naturals. They chat up the waitstaff, use their manners and compliment the food. They’ll pay together at the register, usually in their dirty and dusty sports uniforms, and talk about baseball with the regulars at the counter. And when they are offered a free lollipop even though the sign says $.25, they say “thank you,” look over their shoulder at us and you can practically hear the little cartoon tooth twinkle thing happen.

In high school, I would drive 20 miles for good pancakes. It may have been IHOP, but it was worth it because they had German Pancakes which were really crepes with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Sophisticated, right? I was savvy enough to know this was a dish I would not likely learn to make anytime soon. As a friend recently reminded me, we wrote a hard-hitting article about these pancakes in the high school newspaper.

Before you start worrying about my cholesterol, I want you to know that I’m an equal opportunity breakfast lover. I don’t just partake in greasy spoon diner culture, but the brunch culture too. Yeah, I like berries and compotes, and stuff made with buckwheat. I think I’ve said “lox is my middle name” and the closest I’ve gotten to a scuffle was with the girl who cut in front of me in the hour long wait for brunch in the West Portal District of San Francisco (My brunch rival, as John called her). As a kid, I would lazily lay in the backseat of my parents gigantic Chrysler, one knobby knee crossed over the other and imagine the day I would eat brunch in San Francisco, looking at the bay and listening to Christopher Cross, and maybe drinking Riuniti on ice, whatever that was. That, I decided would be my benchmark of adulthood…when I know I’d finally made it into the utmost realm of sophistication.

I recounted this childhood dream to John early in our relationship, and he has since caught me many a time affirming my adulthood and ascendance into the utmost realm of sophistication, when a) I’m eating brunch and looking out the window or B) I’m listening to Christopher Cross, which happens more than one might guess. Now if only I could get my hands on some Riuniti.

*Up there is a photo of the one, the only, Giant chef. Over there is the pancake picture by the renowned breakfast artist, Jacob. (One of his oil pencil drawings of my morning coffee hangs in our kitchen.)

This likely wraps up my vintage series. I have a couple of other vintage topics I want to get out there, but they just haven’t come to fruition. Watch out, I may use them to pay homage to this series that pays homage to vintage stuff that we love. Blows your mind, right?

don’t call that vintage:snaps

My designer friends would probably tell you that the resurfacing of the 70s and 80s aesthetic sensibility is so five years ago, but I am aware of it now, so I’ll just say that it’s “new.”  Maybe it’s because I realized my son is closer to the age of 21 than I am (oh, *&%$!) Maybe it’s because I visited a Swatch store on vacation, I don’t know, but I am seeing pieces of my childhood resurface in the oddest of places. Only now, the hipster at American Apparel is telling me it’s ironic, and fresh, fashion-forward, but still, gulp…vintage.

Every generation nods with a wink at a generation or two from before. I wore John Lennon glasses for a while, and for no reason. Maybe it’s fine for the kids who are enjoying it the first time around, but isn’t there some kind of rule preventing me from whole-heartedly embracing dingy bad photos and questionable shoulderpads, because I lived through them already? Maybe.

I’d like to welcome you to part 1 in my blog mini-series. “Don’t call that Vintage – I bought that new.”

I am about a year late to the hipstamatic party, but I am completely hooked on taking early 1980’s photos with my smart phone, which I realize is weird on about 7 different levels. I posted some of my work (may I call them “pieces?”) on Facebook, and almost immediately got a snarky remark, from a favorite snarky remark giver – a college freshman currently living across the country.

“Someone just discovered the hipstamatic app,” she wrote.

I had, and it was a problem, and I knew that.

I was lounging around in quarantine AGAIN with a flu-ridden kid when I downloaded the app to my phone. Hipstamatic takes what would be a perfectly good photo, and subjects it to vintage film, lens and flash effects. The kid with the flu was actually the one subjected – to me taking multiple photos of him sitting on the couch, taking a nap, watching tv, or pretending to take a nap in the vain attempt to get me to perhaps go away.

I showed John my results, and he nodded. After about the 10th oddly lit and grainy shot, he sweetly said, “They’ve made many advancements in photography, you know. On purpose. Pictures are much better now.”

“I know, I know. But look how gritty it is. It looks like the 70’s.”

“But why would you want it to look like the 70’s? The 70’s really didn’t look very good. We knew that while the 70’s were happening. And we were kids.”

When we met up with some old friends at a Starbucks (sure it was a Starbucks in Las Vegas) I showed them my handiwork. Megan was nice enough to play along with me. I’d snap one, and then we’d quickly look at it, critiquing each shot…the flash, the composition, and how our hair looked. Our husbands looked at each other, rolling their eyes the way only grown men and 12-year-old girls can, and went back to talking about basketball.

Other than the photo of a “Tigers Love Pepper” t-shirt, the rest of my Las Vegas photos were taken this way, as were the bowling photos a couple of days later when parents from our church went out for a high-brow night on the town. There is something about Las Vegas and bowling that seem to be the perfect vehicles for gritty, grainy images, and face-distorting lighting.

After 11 grueling minutes of Internet research, the dormant cub reporter in me was intrigued to find out that there is actually a backstory to the hipstamatic craze. (I will call it a craze, because I am currently very interested in it, though I don’t actually have any research to back up its popularity. Apparently, I am currently not that thorough of a cub reporter.) There is even a touch of controversy and a hint of burgeoning urban legend. Suppooooosedly, two brothers manufactured a handful of all-plastic hipstamatic cameras in 1982, that were inspired by Kodak’s instamatic cameras. The brothers were tragically killed in a car accident a short time later, and nearly all of their photos were lost in a housefire in the early 90’s. The story goes that a third surviving brother strives to continue Hipstamatic photography to cement his brothers’ legacies and further the artform that they loved.  However, conspiracy theorists boasting more than 11 minutes of Internet research claim that no such story can be substantiated, and that it is a clever marketing ploy designed specifically for suckers like me, and kids being ironic.

Whatever the story, I love these ridiculous pictures. 1980’s flash does wonders for my vintage skin.

Three of the four photos above are from my camera. The other one is legit. (Hint: my mom’s pants are also legit.) The one with the female humans (girls? ladies? moms? women? that’s a whole different issue) is me and my friend Megan (she’s the adorable pixie on the right). We’re waiting for the fountains at the Bellagio entertaining ourselves while our husbands rolled their eyes. Again.

the terminal

I fly some. Not a lot, but some. Usually not very far and there has never been a passport involved. That will change someday, I’m confident. And hopefully on the other end there will be either insane sunsets and tropical breezes, or scones and Big Ben. I’m certainly not complaining. I will never complain about flying to New York, or Las Vegas, or to Lubbock where they have the…coziest….airport I have ever seen. Not when there is an amazing friend waiting 11 feet from the gate to pick you up. ( think I could have almost tapped her on the shoulder in the official waiting area from my seat on the plane.) Yes, I’ve become pretty adept at fitting magazines, books and gum in my purse, putting my license where I can grab it and strategically wearing slip on shoes.

OK, so I’ve also been known to be the harried and disorganized looking woman at the security gate that makes you roll your eyes and ask the person next to you, “do you think she’s ever flown before?” But I swear it’s not my fault. This belt is practically part of these pants. I wasn’t aware my knee brace is held together by something that looks like a scythe. I didn’t know you’re not allowed to have too much change in your wallet. Did you know that? I did not know that. But I found that out when the nice TSA lady had to put on a rubber glove to go through my change purse.

I know about the liquid thing, but I forget how often I have a bottle of water at the bottom of my gargantuan handbag. I don’t talk back or get snarky when they speak slowly to remind me that I cannot take that on the plane. I just apologize profusely and chuck it into the recycling bin left there for the adorably forgetful and oblivious. When we flew to San Diego for a conference last week, we saw a guy chug a liter of Diet Coke so he wouldn’t have to put it in that bin. A liter! Like the kind you take warm to a staff lunch or a picnic that you really didn’t have the energy to bake brownies for. He looked like he was going to throw up when he was done, so I secretly hoped he was not going to be sitting next to me.

While I may work hard at projecting the image that flying is a mundane exercise that one must endure to get somewhere cool, there is still the 5-year-old girl in there somewhere who finds the process pretty glamorous and cosmopolitan. Have you seen “Catch Me if You Can”? If you haven’t, you have to. It captures the golden age of air travel like nothing I’ve ever seen. Everyone’s wearing a hat, and the ladies have scarves, heels, and red lipstick. Pilots are suave and revered and, as you will find out by watching this movie, can get away with anything. And going to the airport was a big deal.

I nonchalantly hook myself up to the airport wi-fi as if I do it every day, but in the inside I am high-fiving myself. I’m trying hard not to hop onto Facebook to update, “I’m at the airport! Me! At the airport!”  or “Guess who I just ran into at the airport!” or “Wow, the airport is crazy today!” 

John also looks nonchalant from the outside, but I think he feels that way for real. Like many of you, he has about a gazillion miles logged.  He’s traveled on one of the longest flights on Earth multiple times. (I said a gazillion for emphasis, but when I said one of the longest flights on Earth, I was being serious – JFK-Johannesburg.) As adept as I am at selecting, packing, and reading magazines, he’s actually honed the art of sitting and staring. He can actually just zone out for sport. When we climbed on board the short jaunt to San Diego however, his eyes lit up when he spotted a new issue of Sky Mall. He may have, under his breath, referred to it as his favorite periodical.

There are many of you who fit into this obscenely well-traveled category…who fly weekly or monthly, and to locales that I’ve never heard of. I know when it is such a regular part of your life, there is the inevitable drudgery of delays and cancellations and the person next to you who won’t stop talking (shockingly, that is NOT me – can you believe it? I am not an airplane talker!) The excitement must wear off, and you stop looking at everybody and wondering where they are going or where they have been. You probably have a favorite airport.

I do. Other than SFO, I would have to pick McCarran in Las Vegas and JFK in New York. Las Vegas purely for sociological research. This is the one airport on Earth where you can tell who is going and who is arriving just by looking at them; the faces full of hope and promise vs. the cloudy eyes that reflect defeat and a killer headache.

We landed in JFK on our first trip to New York. It smelled exactly how I imagined it to – It was utilitarian and kind of dirty and reminded me of that show Night Court that was on in the 80’s, and the old opening for Saturday Night Live where the city looked gritty, but exciting. Everybody at the baggage carousel seemed to be planted there for my benefit…the “Welcome to New York, F-you” package. The accents were almost as thick as the air, and I’ve never heard so much simultaneous swearing in my life. I tried to contain my traitorous giggle and keep my eyes down for they were surely full of wonder & delight and would quickly give me away as a non-New Yorker.

The last time John was at JFK he and a handful of adults had to usher 55 kids through customs on the way to Africa and as the last one through he was stopped for the full search which caused him to sprint to the plane only to make it to his seat as the doors were closing. SFO-San Diego with just your wife and a carry-on may not hold the same sense of challenge and adventure. Unless your wife has $11 dollars worth of dimes, a built in belt, half a bottle of Aquafina and a knee brace.

The jet-setting feeling of air travel goes away though when you are standing barefoot, arms in the air above your head in the full body scanner machine. Having your full body scanned (or body fully scanned – I don’t know which is less disturbing) while a bunch of barefoot strangers watch, does not feel very glamorous after all.