Northampton Confusion

ball of plastic bags

plastic bags on Earth Day

It is very confusing, learning to live here in Northampton. When someone’s sick, consider the politics of cut flowers before calling the florist. Don’t wear too many dry-clean-only clothes. Dry cleaning is an abomination; why not visit the local hemp outfitter instead? When going out for a fancy dinner, no need to change out of your Sam’s sportswear, but don’t forget to put on your dressy clogs.

Tonight at the Haymarket Cafe, when trying to throw away the remains of a goat cheese, beet, and sundried tomato salad, I had a mental meltdown in front of the compost bin. What can go in it? Why are there plastic cups on the top? Are napkins legal? What about food?

So I made sure no one was looking, put everything in the trash, and ran away.

New fringe fave: Cankerblossom


Pig Iron's Cankerblossom

I’ve been going to the Philadelphia Fringe Festival since it was still called the Fringe Festival. These years of lint monsters, El buskers, Prospero in a wading pool, toilet racers, and many other assorted characters have been fun, and Philly is truly lucky to have two weeks a year devoted to unorthodox performances in unexpected venues.

That said, only a handful of shows have made a lasting impression on me. For example: Planet Lear, Thaddeus Phillips’ one-man, mini-golf-based, King Lear re-telling; Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, in which the men truly were hideous; and AdShock, my introduction to the world of Brian Sanders’ JUNK.

This weekend another show made my Fringe all-star list: Pig Iron’s Cankerblossom, a charming and musical play about a couple’s adventures among the inhabitants of a two dimensional world. Two online reviews admit that the play’s cardboard characters have charm but complain about the lack of narrative and resolution.

While it’s true that the show is fifteen minutes too long and the storyline goes adrift somewhere on the way to the Flats of Flat, to say that Cankerblossom “ultimately proves to be a sweet but laborious fable in desperate search of a point” (NYT) misses the spirit of the production and the festival itself.

Animated water drops and hang gliders lept from the cardboard sets to the actors on stage, the animals were enchanting, and the music was sweet and perfect. Quests were completed! A finale with an octopus, a bear, and a trumpet! Somewhere in all this was a story, but even when it got lost, the individual scenes were fun, clever, and worth the ride.

Cankerblossom was a worthy experiment by Pig Iron, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I left the theater a little teary-eyed.

Christopher Elbow Chocolates

Christopher Elbow chocolates

Christopher Elbow chocolates

I was lucky enough to grow up in a town that smells like chocolate. Lititz, Pennsylvania is the home of Wilbur Chocolate, and I remember the sweet smell that would waft through the air as the neighborhood gang played ball or built forts or terrorized the old lady next door.

Though I’m not a chocolate aficionado, my early exposure to Wilbur Buds made me realize that Hershey and Mars fall short. So needless to say, I was thrilled when my friend J Bubbles (another Lititz native) gave me a box of Christopher Elbow artisnal chocolates. Seriously, have you ever seen such a display? And they taste as good as they look.

spiced drinking chocolate Ms. Bubbles helps out at Christopher Elbow headquarters, located in downtown Kansas City. We visited the store last week, and I am now the proud owner of “drinking chocolate infused with chilies, cinnamon, and vanilla bean.” It’s THE BEST–the chocolate is quality, and the chili is warming.

In the spirit of the season, I shared the chocolates with my family and some New Year’s Eve guests, so I didn’t taste each flavor. Starting in the upper left-hand corner and going across:

  • Top: Venezuelan dark, fresh mint, Vietnamese cinnamon, rosemary caramel, Morello cherry, maple spice, sterling champagne
  • Middle: Grand Marnier, black currant, caramel with fleur de sel, honey vanilla, Jamaican rum, Spanish saffron, citrus caramel
  • Bottom: espresso with lemon, raspberry, bourbon pecan, Earl Grey tea, lemon verbena, passion fruit, Venezuelan dark.

Tough town

police log
The main police log entry in a recent edition of the Lititz Record Express.

Dear (John) Produce Guy

Dear Produce Guy,

Let me be frank: the thrill is gone from our relationship. Recently, I’ve lost the urge to harass you about the strawberry harvest. When I went to the market on Saturday, I didn’t even stop by your stand.

After the years we’ve been together, I think you deserve an explanation. The truth is that I’ve found someone else. Last weekend, when I walked by your stand without a second thought, it was because I knew I’d soon be seeing my new produce guy.

berry farm
Though the new relationship is long distance, I’ve never been so fulfilled. The other strawberry guy is flexible. He loves it when I pick my own berries; if I’m not in the mood, however, he is happy to do the work and sell his wares pre-packaged.

Not only does my new squeeze provide options, but his fruit is cheaper, less bruised, and better looking. I know it sounds shallow, but nothing makes my knees buckle like a firm, juicy, sweet, perfectly-sized strawberry.

Though I’ve enjoyed our time together and have learned a lot from you, I need to see other produce guys–at least for the duration of strawberry season. Let’s talk when the raspberries come in and see if any of the old magic is still there. Until then, take care!

Best wishes,
Becky S

This is the Week That Is

One of my favorite Philly Christmas traditions is seeing 1812 Production’s annual holiday show. Since 2006 (mostly), that show has been This is the Week That Is, a political satire sketch comedy.

After a weaker year in 2009 (Bush was out, and Obama was still on his honeymoon, so maybe there just wasn’t as much material?), This is the Week That Is is back with a vengeance in 2010. Scott Greer rejoins the cast, which is huge. He is a very funny man.

The best sketch by far was an Alice in Wonderland trip in which the Alice character falls through the rabid hole, meets up with Twitterdumb and Twitterdumber, and finally arrives at the Tea Party. As in previous years, the production incorporates multimedia, puns, and Tony Braithwaite at the newsdesk.

Extremely recommended!

Jesus Christ Superstar

I’m a bit obsessed with Jesus Christ Superstar, especially the movie version. Carl Anderson is just too brilliant. The whole thing is brilliant.

A co-worker referenced this rock opera today, resulting in a revival of my one-woman “highlights of JC Superstar” production. Previous runs of the show have been panned by my husband and cat, but that never stops me from performing it every few months.

So I was happy to find this old article written by another fan, who articulates the brilliance better than I can and concludes:

Lord knows there’s no credibility to be had in proclaiming one’s love for “Jesus Christ Superstar.” In most quasi-sophisticated circles, finding JCS anything but pure drivel makes a person suspect, not just as a critic but as a music lover and perhaps as a human being as well. Witness all the terrible reviews the work has gotten over the years: “Bombastic kitsch that [doesn’t] rock,” said Rolling Stone. “The lyrics are pedestrian and often absurd,” harrumphed the Nation. “Flat, pallid, actually pointless,” sniffed the New York Post. Infidels, every one.


A story about drunk restaurant owners, dirty birds, and cigarette stashes

Last week, Whitebait tagged me for the “meme of four” that’s been going around. It’s a dilemma. As someone who was always picked last for the kickball team, I appreciate getting tagged; however, I’m not big on memes. Therefore, I present a consolidated meme, narrowed down to one question: name four jobs you’ve had in your life.

  1. Bus person at the General Sutter Inn in Lititz, PA
  2. Monorail operator, train driver, and general all-around ride jockey at Lancaster’s Dutch Wonderland
  3. Inspector #71 and clothes scanner at the QVC returns warehouse in Lancaster, PA
  4. Evening proofreader at a printing company in Lancaster, PA

I applied for the General Sutter job at the request of my high school friend Loopey J, who thought it would be totally cool if we, like, worked together. Without informing my parents, I walked down to Lititz’s oldest fine dining establishment, filled out an application, and was immediately offered a job by Drunky and Uptight V, the couple who then owned the restaurant/inn.

Drunky V had some serious alcohol issues. He started each dinner shift reasonably sober but usually had a stumble to his step by the time we were resetting the last table. Unfortunately, his impaired gait wasn’t the only clue that he’d spent too much time up at the bar; by nine or ten o’clock he would begin standing extremely and uncomfortably close to any female staff unfortunate enough to cross his path, and the smell of booze was unmistakable, even to someone as naive as I was. But the worst part about Drunky J at the end of the night was his habit of walking the birds.

Uptight V loved birds. She decorated the Inn’s coffee shop with empty birdcages and bird wallpaper that featured huge, terrifying–possibly carnivorous–indigo birds with eyes that followed innocent buspeople all around the room as we folded napkins and prepared for the dinner crowd. Three steps above the coffee shop was the Inn’s main lobby, which also featured birdcages. Except that the lobby’s birdcages contained real birds. Loud, squawking, dirty little monsters who lived disturbingly close to the main dining room. The only hope they had for a change of scenery was at the end of each evening, when Drunky V grabbed one from among their ranks, perched the chosen creature on his shoulder, and paced from the lobby to the bus station to the bar to the kitchen and then back again, over and over. By the third or fourth loop of this ritual, the back of Drunky V’s jacket was invariably covered with bird excrement.

Despite the escapades of Drunky V, it was a good year at the General Sutter Inn. As Loopey J predicted, it was totally cool to work together. We snuck downstairs and bought Benson and Hedges from the cigarette machine, hiding them in a doggie bag that read “Becky and J’s–DO NOT TOUCH.” Naturally, the head busperson found our stash, even though we’d hidden it on top of the coffee machine, and laughed her ass off at two silly high school juniors who smoked Benson and Hedges on the sly. On slow nights we went out back to hang with the cooks, who sat on the hood of an El Camino and alternated between treating us as comrades in the war against Drunky V and threatening to dunk us head-first into the fat barrel. Luckily, Unstoppable B, the shrewd and streetwise senior server and fifteen-year General Sutter veteran, was usually there to defend us against cooks, head buspeople, and inebriated proprietors.

Thanks, Whitebait, for inspiring this walk down memory lane. Those who did not like this walk down memory lane should feel free to e-mail complaints to Whitebait.

I should also mention that Drunky and Uptight V sold the General Sutter Inn many years ago. The birds are gone.

Boss-across-the-hall update: comprise versus compose

He is busy making a PowerPoint presentation for Important People. We had words.

Boss-across-the-hall: Please review these slides.
Me: [5 minutes later] Technically, what comprises the e-mail system is incorrect. The whole comprises its parts. The parts compose the whole.
BOTH: Really? Well, I like the way comprises sounds. I’ll keep it.
Me: What about The e-mail system comprises the following items?
BOTH: Nah.

Boss-across-the-hall’s boss’s boss

Yes, the big kahuna. A brilliant, scattered, Lebanese man with the attention span of a gnat. A celebrity executive who enjoys speaking at conventions and being quoted in the trade rags. Today he invited me to one of his presentations, so I met him at 6:45 AM, and we took a ride in his new BMW. Crawling along at 25 mph and listening to Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits was surreal, but one can’t be too picky about excuses to escape from the office.

So what do executives talk about when they get together? I couldn’t make it up if I tried:

  • ink-enabled devices that work through the mobility spectrum
  • business productivity advisors
  • “This is just a scenario. This is not a promise of something we’ll actually deliver.”
  • 38% of the day is spent not optimizing technology

Love that last one.