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Remembrance of Things Past: in memory of my grandmother, Margaret ‘Margie’ Hendler

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On October 30th, 2014, my grandmother Margie died.

It wasn’t a surprise. If anything, it was somewhat of a relief for those of us who’d been watching her deteriorate over the past two or so years, from a vibrant, active woman to a shaky, blind, deaf, confused, withering soul with no escape from the confusion in her head, no outlet except to sit and gaze at the ocean. I didn’t spend much time with my grandmother that last year, because what remained of her wasn’t the woman I knew. And the woman I did know would hate for people to see her in that state: mentally unsound, confused, her eternally kept up black hair a snowy, untended white, her clothing covered with stains from food that went uncleaned. My grandmother was always a meticulously neat and stylish woman. She went to the hairdresser once a week to have her hair dyed what she referred to as brown, which the rest of the world regarded as black. Her mornings began with the ritual of ‘putting on her face': a lengthy makeup process involving fake eyelashes, drawn-on eyebrows, lipstick, rouge, eyeliner, until she emerged completely transformed, so completely that it was jarring to me when as a teenage girl traveling with my newly widowed grandmother and sharing a hotel room, I discovered that beneath the heavy makeup, she had a totally different face. This isn’t intended to sound negative: my grandmother was a whiz at maximizing her features, a makeup magician drawing on what wasn’t there naturally. As someone who’s never worn more than lipstick, it was impressive.

So I kept my distance, preferring to remember my grandmother for who she always was to me rather than that scared, frail, failing woman. Maybe that sounds terrible and selfish to some people, but in order to debate that, we’d have to break down into a discussion about opinions on death, which is messy, long, and completely unresolvable.

I could ramble on about my memories of my grandmother, as I have spent months struggling to come to terms with how I feel. She had a rich, long, incredible life. She outlived my grandfather by almost two decades, something I think she never fully accepted. They had a fantastic, loving, happy marriage. She traveled around the world. At 32, I am extremely fortunate and grateful that I had my grandmother around as long as I did. So I accept her death as timely and inevitable.

I have taken on the task of cleaning out my grandmother’s belongings from her condo and storage. It’s here that I’m discovering the complexities of my grandmother, secrets and sides of her that a grandchild would never know, and the purpose of this blog is to pay some kind of tribute to who she was, a human being whose physical legacy is at times moving, funny, tragic, and dark.

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My grandmother collected handkerchiefs and scarfs, to an extent that I could never imagine. Her dresser was crammed full of them, many monogrammed. And then I found this one. My grandmother was always, as mentioned, a snappy dresser with a unique sense of style. Many of her belongings look like they belong on some hipster Etsy and not on a 94-year-old woman. She had a collection of rompers that rival my own.

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She was always plagued by dental problems–something my mother and I didn’t inherit–but for some reason I was unaware that she wore false fronts. We found two sets of these in the house.

IMG_0534My grandmother was always known to have mints in her purse at any given time. We found this impressive collection of altoids in a drawer.

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She was a secret sugar fiend with a sweet tooth that she passionately denied. She loved M&Ms, apparently so much that she kept this secret stash of them in her bedroom.

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She was a card-carrying Jew. Literally.

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While cleaning out her things, we found literally hundreds of pieces of paper with addresses and phone numbers written on them. Although she had dozens of address books, this seems to be her chaotic system of preference, because we found tons of similar papers in storage, too.

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Another thing Grandma collected to the point of hoarding: business cards. There were hundreds, if not thousands of business cards, often for the same shop that she frequented weekly.

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An anniversary card from my mother, handmade, 1967. All of my mom’s cards to her parents were carefully designed artistic endeavors.

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As I mentioned, my grandmother was spotlessly clean her entire life, but she did have some odd habits, likely developed as a result of the Depression and growing up quite poor with a large family (five brothers). This envelope was, for reasons unknown, completely filled with used tissues.

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Pretty much my grandmother’s ideal itinerary, as penned by a caregiver for her to reference. My grandmother was an atheist, pretty hardcore about it, but as she got older, there was something she found very calming and beautiful about specifically the Wayfarer’s Chapel. She accumulated an impressive amount of information on the place, although her interest was largely in the architecture and landscaping.

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As she got older, she struggled with incontinence and IBS. You can tell we’re related because neither of us can spell the word diarrhea without spellcheck.

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My mother says this cigarette holder was part of a Halloween costume.

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A list of all the immediate family birthdays, in extra large font. She suffered from Macular Degeneration and by the time she passed, was pretty much entirely blind. At the point where she was almost completely blind, she began seeing detailed hallucinations or projections of things, largely oddly medieval. It turns out this is a relatively rare condition known as Charles Bonnet Syndrome.

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She was shockingly sturdy and healthy most of her life, so when she began falling, she actually pulled through injuries that most elderly people would have been killed by.

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One frustrating thing I’ve discovered is that almost none of my grandmother’s old pictures are labeled, leaving me with piles of photographs dating back to the Victorian era with no clue who anyone is in context to me. For example, I have no idea who the woman to the left of my grandmother is in this picture. I would guess this is from the 1940s and she is in her early twenties here.

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My grandmother was a volunteer at UCLA Medical Center for many years, where she provided tours for young doctors. She loved being there, but after she lost her license, it was impractical and so she stepped down from her post. I’m not sure why she wrote this information on this particular note, or why it was on her mind at that moment,but I do think retiring from her volunteer work was probably one of the hardest things she ever did. No idea what the whooping cough is a reference to.

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As mentioned previously, my grandparents were very happily married for over half a century before my grandfather died from lung cancer. This particular greeting card must date back to the first few years of their marriage, and it’s actually a little booklet filled with illustrations and reasons why he loves her.

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More greeting cards. They had very traditional roles: she was a homemaker and he went to The Office.

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Like I said, she had a strong, unique sense of taste. Why she had a neon pink ’80s jacket featuring slam dancers and the words Hardcore ’88 on it, I do not know.

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Not sure what the current market is for 60-something year old baby teeth.

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I have no idea what this is from but perhaps she worked on a lot at some point.

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In her later years, my Grandmother LOVED Hallmark cards.  At least once a week, she would wobble down to the shop where everyone knew her name and carefully pick through all the cards until she found ‘the perfect one’. As a result, she accumulated hundreds of greeting cards for all occasions–birthdays, baby births, weddings, bereavement, graduation–which will never be sent to anyone.

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I know very little about my great-grandfather. He died when my grandmother was still a teenager, and from what I gather, he used his heart issues to validate not working, so my great grandmother toiled as a seamstress to provide for the large family. After he died, my grandmother dropped out of junior college to help take care of her family. She never spoke very much about her father except anecdotally, likely because behind the stories of him swatting an owl out of the attic and whatnot, he was not a very admirable man, a man whose only act of affection she could remember was to pet her head and cry when she was very sick as a child. Still, a diary she kept that has very few entries noted the day he passed and that ‘he fought like a champ’, and she saved all of the Western Union correspondences she received from around the country expressing sympathy.

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My grandmother was a huge traveler. My grandfather…not so much. Still, he loved her enough to take her away as often as possible to as many exotic locations as possible. Here are two not so exotic ones with the original Greyhound flyers from the forties.

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My great-grandmother Bella was born in Kiev to what we presume was a relatively well-to-do Jewish family, based on the few heirlooms we have of hers–a fur wrap, some pearl opera glasses. Little is known about her emigration to America, other than the fact that she came through Ellis Island. It was always explained to me as ‘like An American Tale’, in case I wondered. She was, from all accounts, a vibrant, eternally cheerful woman no matter what the circumstances, who danced with my mom to the Beatles and wrote weekly letters to Eleanor Roosevelt. When she passed away, my family had several trees planted in Israel to honor her memory.

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Photobooth picture of my grandmother when she was likely in her late teens or early twenties.

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FYI SHE BELIEVED IN IMMUNIZATIONS.

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Toe tag from my mother the day she was born.

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TB x-ray card

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Self-explanatory

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My great-grandmother’s will, written considerably before she died. Fun side note, she was also quite tall.

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My grandmother loved taking pictures with shitty disposable cameras. Until stumbling across these, it never occurred to me that I never saw most of them. And so I found a large treasure trove of pictures from my childhood I’d never seen before. Above are pictures of my with my brother and my two cousins.

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My grandma saved locks of my mom’s hair. Fun fact: she was blonde at some point.

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Speaking of my mom, here’s a picture of her and my uncle in their groovy band, “Home Brew”. Things to note: the one guy who was like ‘fuck no, white flares’. and the guy to the far left who seems to have at least a semi going on. To the right is a picture of my mom being incredibly awkward in middle school that makes me feel a lot better about how goddamn disgusting looking I was at that age.

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I thought this was kind of a neat thing. It appears to be a photo taken at some ‘Hollywood nightspot’ in the thirties or forties of my grandmother’s brother and his ‘gal’. This was the outside envelope. A nice little piece of nostalgia for the days of classic Hollywood.

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Additionally, here’s an autographed photo from some starlet who my great-grandmother did seamstress work for.

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I’m optimistic that the other half of this picture will show up, although I won’t be any closer to knowing who anyone is. They’re all family from Russia, likely Bella’s brothers and sisters, and they’re all having a fucking great time.

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In a box I affectionately dubbed “The Box of Broken Dreams”, I discovered a ton of photographs of all the family exes, including this family portrait with my father. My brother is dressed up like a taxi cab.

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I lived a couple of blocks from her my entire life, so every year, her house was my last stop on my trick or treating route. She hated Halloween, hated the kids, hated the entitlement that accompanies expecting free candy, but every year she would grudgingly dish out candy to children through gritted teeth, making unnecessary old lady comments to the older looking ones about being ‘too old for this’ and chastising chubby kids for being greedy while questioning their need for candy. Needless to say, she was a target for heavy egging and toilet papering, which went well with my step-dad’s agenda since HIS favorite thing in the world was to hide in the bushes and hose off any potential teenage assholes. He would literally hide there, giggling in anticipation, for hours.

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Speaking of my step-dad Kevin, who I was also very close to and who passed away in 2003, this picture I recovered last week from my grandmother’s is the only picture I’ve seen that I’m in with him. This is because as a punk rock weirdo in high school, I was extremely uncooperative and camera shy. As a result, there are very few pictures of me from that period of my life.

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Except for the tons and tons of them I discovered that my grandmother had taken, because I can’t say no to my grandma.

I’ll publish this “as is” for now but I will have more to add once I’ve unearthed my grandparents’ wedding portrait from the tons of boxes in my garage.

it’s a funny thing. People have often critiqued my habit of saving old notes, greeting cards, and other seemingly worthless, sentimental ephemera. They argue that I’ll have no use for it, that it’s unlikely I’ll ever look at them again. Just a couple of weeks ago, I saw a heated discussion on Facebook that concluded with the general consensus that keeping a diary is a narcissistic hobby. Funny thing is, I’m willing to believe most of those people maintain blogs, which are just the ultimate narcissistic diary, right? A public accounting, such as this one, which is why I’ve had little interest in blogging. Something where you get instant gratification and approval for sharing intimate details of your own life and your opinions. People confuse that with a diary, which is generally used by people who feel the need to explode emotionally on paper in order to pluck the words in their heads out and put them somewhere safe and quiet. They are tomes that are never meant to be read by anyone until after they’re dead. They’re the ultimate privacy, a place to store your brain, often kept locked up and hidden.

And long after your blog has disappeared, those diaries will remain. They are solid evidence of existing, of the tiny moments in life that make up a whole person. The internet is a tricky, faulty thing that with one minor mistake or misstep, can erase entire memories, decades of a person’s life and efforts. So I keep my notes and my greeting cards, not for me but because maybe some day my granddaughter will be going through my things after I’m dead, and she will find some kind of insight into her own identity. Or at least get to know that she inherited her shitty PE grades from me via my old report cards.

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C? I’m on to you, Mom.

Etsy, I just can’t: Etsy Versus The Occult

Like the majority of American women, I spend way, way too much time on Etsy. I buy very little. Mostly, I flip through objects I want but object to the exorbitant shipping prices, and I make fun of shit.

Regretsy is dead, but its memory lives on.

I have some favorite Etsy searches. One is ‘occult items’. In case you don’t know, there are a lot of people out there selling ‘haunted’ or ‘cursed’ or ‘magical’ items for THOUSANDS of dollars. And presumably, SOMEONE has paid this money, because they must have some incentive to continue.

Usually the items consist of some dilapidated book or doll, purchased at a local thrift shop, or a box someone bought at his or her neighborhood psychic supply shop. They are decorated with cheesy ‘spooky’ items: black cats, satanic symbols, etc., and then passed off as some kind of mystical token.

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There’s looking at Etsy and thinking ‘I could make this’ and then there’s looking at Etsy and thinking ‘I could find this in the trash.’

CHECK OUT THIS FUCKING BULLSHIT, who needs a Tesla when you can get this haunted warlock ring or whatever the fuck it is since it’s so haunted they couldn’t even get a functional picture of it.

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Apparently, this person doesn’t realize you can get a Ouija board for $20 at Toys R Us.

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Is that a genuine plastic planchette I see?????

Then there’s this dickhead selling a pretty common book that costs $5 on Amazon for $90.

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Oh and some people will sell you spells. And take pictures of themselves casting them so you know it’s not A TOTAL hand job.

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The more seasoned magic practitioner may prefer to just download a spell and conduct it his or herself.

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Don’t expect much if you go for the discount items, you cheap fuck! This chick REALLY knows how to remove a curse, I suppose, considering her download is $1200.

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And don’t worry, there’s a spell for stuff besides curses.

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Sometimes, worlds collide. Take, for example, this ‘hooded jacket/cloak’ as its creator describes it. It appeals to me on an aesthetic level. However, I have a few hesitations beyond the $119.00 plus shipping asking price.

Let’s just look at its sale page or whatever the fuck Etsy calls them:

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First of all, why is it DARKNESS hooded jacket cloak? Why is DARKNESS all uppercase? Has that increased its magical powers? Instantly, that’s so high school goth that I’m kind of ashamed to want it.

Second, that picture. What in the fuck eighth grade glamour shots is this shit? Those crossed arms? I am so confused.

Oh, Etsy.

That is NOT the Addams Family House. THIS is an “Addams Family” House.

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Lately, my facebook thread has been inundated with repeated links to the same shitty article with the catchy title ‘Addams Family House on The market for the first time”. It is a spot-on example of exactly why I pretty much never blog and hate all blogs, because the title is misleading clickbait. When you click on it, it’s some random old house in Australia for sale. For over 2 million dollars. In obviously dilapidated condition. Let me be frank: whoever buys that house must be a wacky millionaire or a fucking idiot. Because that house is incredibly overpriced to begin with, and because it could not have less to do with the Addams Family. IT IS JUST AN OLD HOUSE. No one from the Addams Family ever set foot in that house. Charles Addams didn’t live there. It was never used as a set. It doesn’t even look remotely like the Addams Family cartoon house, which they thoughtfully added at the bottom of the article. It’s the wrong Victorian architecture, to begin with. By the article’s own admission, it’s a Queen Anne. Well, the Addams Family house was A SECOND EMPIRE you silly goons.

Perhaps I seem to be taking this too seriously. Maybe I am. I am, after all, a rabid Charles Addams fan with two Addams Family original comics tattooed on me. I own every one of his original omnibuses. I’ve engaged in countless delightful arguments with fuckwit guys at bars who think it’s going to turn me on to ‘school me’ on MY OWN TATTOOS like I DON’T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK I GOT TATTOOED ON MY OWN BODY HOLY SHIT EVEN A JUGGALO CAN EXPLAIN HIS TATTOOS FUCK’S SAKE MAN. So I can be defensive. Yeah.

But it’s more than that. It’s what I said above, the clickbait phenomena. The jumping on to any random thing being passed around. The way history is being rewritten or the present is being ignored in favor of a flashy title. It’s everyone protesting the Duck Dynasty guy for being homophobic without even reading the actual article where you would realize his perception on black Americans is considerably more offensive. If you are going to pass on information to your friends, you have a responsibility to read the articles you link, or maybe even research the validity and background of what you’re sending. I have no more patience for inflammatory and blatantly false articles from my liberal comrades than I do for completely insane ‘Obama Hitler’ articles sent by an embarrassingly stupid relative. FACT CHECK.

Additionally, the people behind this article are attempting to brand and promote this house falsely. It would be akin to someone in an alt-country band randomly changing his name to Kurt Cobain in an attempt to acquire followers. The article doesn’t put Addams Family in quotes, nor does it add an ‘esque’ to the description, as it tries to profit by alluding that it is somehow related to the Addams Family franchise. This disingenuous advertising, to say the least, has been enabled by 21st century technology that no longer adheres to any kind of responsible sourcing when attempting to sell something by riding the coattails of something else. 

Okay, so that’s the bad news. Here’s the fun thing. That house? Not an Addams family house. Wrong, wrong, not even close. However, about a year ago, when I first started taking tentative steps towards homeowning, I DID find an Addams Family house, aesthetically speaking. It was perfect: spooky, nice interior, observatory, huge yard, IN A TOWN WHERE CHOCOLATE IS MADE, 45 minutes from NYC. And only $400,000. Unfortunately, I didn’t make a move on it because I wasn’t taking myself seriously, and now I live in regret every day that the Jacob C Allen house in Hackettstown, New Jersey (yeah, New Jersey, shuddup) will never be mine.

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In conclusion, this is the real Charles Addams’s house and it was less than spooky.

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High Concept Catch Phrases that Should Catch On: Dropping The Cougar

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Dropping the Cougar has nothing to do with ‘cougars’, the trendy phrase used to describe older women who prey on younger suitors. By the way, isn’t it funny how young women seeking out older guys are gold diggers or have daddy issues, and older women are feline predators, but both young men and older guys walk away unscathed? Huh. Thought I’d point that out. Mull that over as you’re like ‘ugh Sabrina just ruined this blog with her damn feminist theories.’

No, we’re talking about the old school Cougar. Not the Puma. The John Cougar Mellencamp. What you don’t know about JCM is that he is very cool. He was all posed to be the new Bruce Springsteen with Pink Houses and songs about the heartland and left wing politics. And then it all went wrong. ‘Wild Nights’ came out and his music somehow lost its hipness and relevance. There’s no one blowing off dust on his ‘Nebraska’ and declaring it a lo-fi classic, although he’s a talented, smart guy. No doubt about it, between Jack and Diane and Wild Nights, he’s considered a novelty.

So what happened? Well, we believe it can all be traced to one moment: the decision to drop the Cougar from his name and become simply John Mellencamp. This moment shall here after be referred to as ‘Dropping the Cougar’, when you make the decision to change or rid yourself of something distinctive that makes you more intriguing, although you seem to judge it as a hindrance. See also: Jennifer Grey’s nose.

I’m Getting Old

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It’s that time for me as a woman. Thirty is a mere four months away. I can already taste the ashes of my youth in my mouth. Sure, people say, thirty is the new twenty (which, why would anyone want to be twenty again? Twenty sucked! Twenty, you were stupid and still a nervous teenager! 23 was the goddamn bomb). My generation is experiencing a renaissance of relevance. Most people’s careers at this point don’t get kick-started until they’re thirty. It could be worse, I could still live with my mom. And so on, and so on, comfort comfort back pat back pat.

But I can feel the change. It spreads over me as I stand, pensive in front of my wardrobe, realizing I don’t want to wear my novelty t-shirts. Much like the Game of Thrones meme Winter Is Coming, age is wrapping its cold, withered arms around me. I am getting….old. And these are the signs.

1. I want babies. I don’t SUPER want babies because let’s face it, babies are horrible, boring, shitting, crying, non-communicative wiggling piles of dictatorship who dominate your life and destroy your sleeping patters. For years, I’ve kept my secret OMG BABIES urge repressed by reminding myself that I can’t even handle the concept of pregnancy without cringing. I think those 3D ultrasounds look like parasitic demons have taken residence in your womb. Yet, I want. I want my own kid. I know that’s selfish and shitty.  There are so many needy kids in orphanages. But what if I get one of those Russian babies with attachment disorder? If I’m going to get a fucked up, crazy kid, I want it to be because he or she inherited my fucked up, crazy genetics. It’s narcissism, I know. BUT anyway, stop judging me, fuck you. So let me go on with why this is worse than any other time when I’ve supplemented some creepy urge to parent with a pet. I am worried about my reproductive parts. Yes, we’re living longer and having babies almost disturbingly late in life, but my mother went through menopause pretty young. So the window of time for me is narrowed. Which, of course, puts an undo amount of stress on any future relationships I will probably continue not to have. So, after giving this careful consideration and putting it forward to a couple people, I concluded that by 35, I would request one of my very handsome, tall, gay male friends help me with this dilemma. As soon as the deal had been made, I looked at the mirror and almost screamed. Somehow, in the last decade, I have gone from aspiring to be Gloria Steinem to being Jennifer Aniston. Fuck my life.

2. The Youth Music Sucks: Okay, not all of it. I quite like some of the snazzy tunes, but for the most part, when I turn on the radio, I just hear a constant stream of derivative shit. I carefully combed through the Pitchfork top 100 and NME top 100 singles of 2011 and 85% of them were horrible. Mumford and Sons? GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE. I mean, they make Coldplay sound like the Sex Pistols. Occasionally, I stumble upon the odd Jay-Z single, nod my head gently and say NOW THIS I LIKE, the way my grandparents would whenever a swing revival band popped up.

3. Speaking of youth music, I now hate Ben Gibbard: It occurred to me while letting my iTunes just do its thing: he annoys the shit out of me. His voice once registered plaintive pathos; now I find myself telling him to shut the fuck up. ‘Someday, you will be loved’? Really? That’s the most patronizing sentiment of all time. Fuck you.

4. Old guys are getting a lot hotter and young guys look like fetuses: I felt like a child molester when I was watching  American Horror Story and ogling Tate (he was born in 1988, it’s safe!) For the most part, guys in their early twenties look like pretty little babies to me. I’m suddenly much more interested in the Jon Hamms and Michael Fassbenders and the guys with flecks of gray in their hair and scars on their faces.

5. I judge the way my dates live: This sounds bad. It sounds mean and bitchy. And honestly, I will say: you are exempt from this if you are a male under thirty. However, when a 35-year-old guy is living in a rundown apartment with no furniture but a mattress on the floor and his guitar collection, a kitchen sink overflowing with molded dishes, and a non-functional shower, I realize: this is your life. You really don’t see anything wrong with living in constant debt/fear of eviction and don’t care that the last show your band played was at The Cobalt three years ago. I can no longer envision dating someone who doesn’t at least aspire towards somewhat nice things. And I know a lost cause when I see one. And when I have children, they have to be of the non-adult variety.

6. I want nice things: I am no longer sated by cheap crappy furniture from Ikea. I want to own…antiques. I want things to be organized. I want a housekeeper who comes in twice a week because I admit that I loathe cleaning but want things clean. I don’t want to live like a college bum anymore.

7. I’m too old for Forever 21: Okay, I still shop there, because I’m kind of not rich, but I hate it. I want to be able to shop in nice stores where everything isn’t chaotically crammed into non-organized piles and a teenager isn’t following me around, asking if I need a dressing room/sort of making sure I’m not shoplifting. I don’t want to buy horribly sewn together, cheap clothing that dissolves in the washing machine. I want to afford Les Habitudes and top of the line vintage.

8. I’m patronizing teenagers: I always hated them a little, especially when I was one, but now I have become one of those eye-rolling assholes regarding youthful idealism.  I know it’s their time. It’s their time, down there, and I’ve already ridden up Troy’s Bucket of Crushed Naive Political Notions. They need to march around in their Amebix back patches and shout ‘No Justice, No Peace!’ and really feel like they’re CHANGING THE FUCK OUT OF THINGS and pierce their faces and whatever it is that makes being a Super Liberal College Freshman so awesome. So I don’t pull over and point out they spelled college wrong on their signs advocating free education (although I suppose that would be evidence in their favor that it’s a necessity) or that they’ve incorrectly credited ‘The revolution will not be televised’ to Zach De La Rocha. Or lecture them on the idea that looking super punk rock may not be as important as dressing like an adult in order to get people to take their point seriously. Because hey, I was there. I used to be them. I went to Black Bloc meetings (and, admittedly, got into constant fights with everyone because I was a Debbie Downer pragmatist) got detained with anarchists, having many harrowing stories about almost getting maced in the face. So who am I to sneer at their ambitions?

9. I enjoy Frasier: There, I admit it. I find the bantering between Rozz, Frasier Crane, and his brother Niles to be absolutely delightful. Cheers still bores me, though.

10. I hate 90s Nostalgia: I now understand how the generation above me felt when everyone in the early 2000s started grabbing their neon exercise pants and grooving to Olivia Newton John, while waxing nostalgic about the eighties. Because now the 90s are back, and no one is old enough to remember that they mostly sucked. Especially the fashion and music. Sure, there were like two years where grunge and Brit pop were promising, but by 1995, the airwaves were dominated by plastic, shitty hip hop and Rolling Stone was predicting the death of rock and roll and the rise of rave/electronic “culture”. And by culture, I assume they meant “repetitive, shitty sounds played over loudspeakers in warehouses crammed with white people with no rhythm sucking on pacifiers and tripping balls”. The movie Go is not exactly the Fast Times of Ridgemont High of the mid-nineties, okay? And dressing like Stephanie Tanner or Kimmy Gibler on Full House is not ‘ironic’, it’s ‘ugly’.

The myth: 

The reality:

11. I am out of touch with slang: I realize that the expressions I use now are as awkward, clunky, and dated as when my mother describes something as ‘bitching’.

12. Calling oneself an ‘alcoholic’ is now a depressing admission.

The myth:

The reality:

13. Realizing there are fundamental life skills I will never develop: I will never be magically good at gift wrapping or interested in cooking fancy meals or know how to/want to sew things. I want to pay other people to do those things.

14. I would rather die than work in retail ever again. 

15. I refuse to learn any of the names of socialites more recent than Paris Hilton.

16. I can never have sex with anyone who has a mohawk again. Because, I mean, if they’re my age, they’re retarded, and if they’re younger, it’s creepy.

17. Realizing all the youthful things I’m never going to do in my twenties: Well, fuck.

18. Wait, Miley Cyrus isn’t the face of tween life anymore?

19. WHAT THE FUCK IS A TWEEN?

20. This is what I’ve been listening to for the past month:

21. I want to live in a house. My house. Where I can start collecting old news papers and slowly evolve into the elderly witch lady I’ve always wanted to be.

22. I forget a lot: Seriously, I have a touch of the Alzheimer’s. To start with, I forget where my keys are, what I did over a weekend, important dates, doctors’ appointments, where I’m going, and a lot of really good topics I had for this list.

Greetings from Cassadaga, Florida’s premiere psychic community

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Greetings from Cassadaga, Florida’s premiere psychic community

Traditionally, the most frightening thing about Florida is how Wonder Bread it is. Tract houses, planned communities, street after street of strip malls, Walmarts, Ruby Tuesdays. And hulking in the center, like some monstrous heart, is Orlando, home to Celebration, the town that Disney built, which only recently experienced its first violent multiple homicide.

But for the most part, whereas the rest of the South relies on its Gothic history, overgrown swamps, and ghost legends, Florida is frightening in a John Waters kind of way. Sure, they have their fare share of homicidal toddlers, and at any minute, an alligator could snap its jaws around you while you’re pruning by the pool. And let’s not forget the pythons that morons released in the Everglades, unaware that a female python can lay 500 eggs in a lifetime. Yeah. Sleep on that for a second. But it’s not spooky. If anything, it’s just blatantly horrifying.

So that is why Cassadaga Spiritual Community seemed to be an anomaly in the otherwise homogenized landscape of Florida. Cassadaga Spiritual Camp is a psychic/Spiritualist community founded about 116 years ago, about forty minutes outside of Orlando. A road off the I-4 leads you past housing developments, commercial gas stations and a Winn Dixie, through some actually undeveloped forest (don’t tell any Florida politicians) to a rural town consisting of a scattering of paved streets that branch off into soft sandy dirt roads. As you initially enter the town, it may seem no different from any of the small, older towns falling into disuse in the South: Victorian and 1920s homes sag into the dirt, build upon in a hodge-podge manner and decorated by plastic windmills, American flags, and rusted cars on overgrown grass. But if you look closer, you realize they’re each adorned with nameplates and signs advertising an array of services: Mediums, Psychic readings, spirit healers, handwriting analysis. Some even offer psychic readings for pets.

Spiritualism has seen its ups and downs in popularity over the past hundred years, and so has Cassadaga. When the church was at its peak in the 1920s, people flocked to the so-called healing waters of Colby Lake and built up the town. After interest declined, the town became more insular, ‘those weird witches’ as most locals tend to refer to them when being asked. However, interest remained: the Southern Gothic culture will always incorporate a little  magic and witchcraft into its Christianity.

In general, Florida has found itself to be a strange cultural vortex that attracts the most curious of people: everyone from arch conservatives, land developers, Disney fanatics, and Jewish retirees to witches and the Ringling Circus. Just a couple of hours from Cassadega, Gibsonton has long served as the wintering spot for America’s carnie community. Locals still meet up in a dive bar called Showtown USA, which is adorned in Ringling posters and has a wide array of erotic games to play on the bar machines. In Venice, elderly people tan on the beach just a mile down from a trapeze school.

Florida is a weird place.

So of course, I had to go there. Not just to Florida, where I lived for one memorable year in third grade, splitting my time between an Embassy Suites hotel by Sea World and a home in Orlando’s Winter Park suburb while my mother and father worked on a television pilot for Universal. But specifically to Cassadaga.

Most people picture a Tim Burton movie when they envision a Spiritualist Community: imagine an entire town comprised of the weird witch lady down the block. But that’s not very fair. Mostly, Cassadaga, like other psychic communities in the US, is populated by New Agey types with faded Ankh tattoos, airy tye-dyed dresses, and long, graying hair.

My friend Jacquelyn and I got a late start exploring the town, because we’re lazy bastards. After checking into our hotel and observing the various faded signs for all sorts of spiritual cleansing, massages, and crystal healing, we headed to the bookstore across the street, which is also located in the Andrew Jackson Davis building, a town meeting hall of sorts. The sign outside advertised the schedule for Tuesday’s community events: Healing Services, a tour and lecture on Orb Photography, and Bingo.

It was the allure of Bingo that brought us to the town, because having grown up with a mom who went through a New Agey period of horror, (FUCK YOU, BODHI TREE BOOKSTORE. YOU ARE SO BORING) I have a fair amount of wariness regarding the rather predatory instincts of those who proclaim to have The Third Eye. After attending multiple Whole Life Expos, I pretty much realized what my mom didn’t want to see: that a huge percentage of this was, like every other faith, a scam to exploit people for money. Yeah, you don’t need a ten thousand dollar psychic hot tub to be spiritual in. I bet you can be just as in touch with your dead relatives in a regular hot tub.

So I thought, what better way to REALLY get to know these people than by meeting them through an activity that doesn’t put anyone in a position of authority? You know, all the jokes about psychics knowing what the Bingo results would be aside, I assumed in this way, they wouldn’t be trying to give me a precognitive hand job and I wouldn’t be a condescending cynic and also, I might win the jackpot.

As we perused the bookstore, which also sold crystals, crystal-affiliated jewelry, and had book sections such as ‘fairies’ ‘2012’ ‘prophecies’ and, of course, ‘shapeshifting’, I struck up a conversation with the clerk about Bingo. She was utterly nonplussed and informed me that if Bingo was happening, she didn’t know about it and couldn’t give two fucks. Then she encouraged me to go on the Orb Photography tour, which was, incidentally, $25 bucks per person.

She was the only person who tried to prod me towards any purchase. Otherwise, for a town whose entire income thrives on luring in believers, no one suggested anything to me.  No Psychic Witch Community is complete without a rumored Devil’s Chair in the cemetery and stories about automobile trouble related to the area, or vengeful gypsy psychics pulling bad juju on cynical lookyloos who come to mock the town, but when we inquired, the woman at our hotel dismissed the stories with a cynical eye roll.

We decided to explore the Devil’s Chair, although the woman at the hotel told us it had been removed from the local cemetery, thanks to vandalism. Kids: ruining things since forever. A poorly-paved road that eventually just gave up and turned into sand led us to a sunny, small cemetery, holding a modest number of graves and plaques. Most of the trees had been cut down in the area and minimal landscaping held sway, so the cemetery lacked the spooky, haunted feeling other Southern graveyards so strongly emote: no low-hanging willows or cyprus trees, draped in Spanish Moss, hovering over crying angels. In fact, the cemetery felt fairly modern and more charmingly ill-kept than anything else.

Disappointed, we decided to head to the Colby Lake, where the healing waters supposedly convinced Cassadaga followers to set up camp. This was a little scary: not because of anything supernatural, but because of the clusters of rednecks in ripped up sports t-shirts, sitting in the beds of their trucks, drinking beers. At like, five p.m on a Wednesday. As we sat by a small inlet off the lake, dipping our toes in the surprisingly hot water and questioning the potential for alligators, we overheard this conversation:

Man: You’re like the son I never wanted! (proceeds to throw things at teenage boy)

That said, we decided to move on and have dinner. During dinner, we debated our actual desire to attend Bingo. I blame the influence of a bottle of wine on this, but we eventually decided we’d rather go to Winn Dixie and procure more liquor instead of play Bingo.

Keeping it classy, we ended up drinking wine out of styrofoam cups in our hotel room, up until we heard someone bumbling around in the hallway. Excited about capturing a very clumsy ghost, and also wanting to smoke a cigarette, we headed out and bumped into a group of ghosthunters.

And then things got interesting. Not ghosthunting interesting, but Florida interesting.

Two strippers, accompanied by three excited Orlando boys, were attempting to contact the ghost of one of the stripper’s friends, who was most unfortunately shot and killed before she could testify at the stripper’s custody trial. The issue? The stripper, let’s call her Thelma, was in an abusive relationship with a racist who hated her Cuban roots and resented her for forcing him to drop out of the army.The reason she gave for his discharge? She couldn’t sleep at night, because she was being haunted by ghosts, so he had to come protect her. THIS DEFINITELY WORKS AS AN EXCUSE TO GET OUT OF MILITARY DUTIES! Anyway, Thelma claimed to be ‘extremely sensitive’ to the spirits and hoped her friend could give her testimony from the beyond. Meanwhile, she was chugging from a hug of Carlo Ross white wine the entire time and her friend, ‘Louise’ was very aggressively chasing off the three boys despite the fact that Thelma sort of vomited sex everywhere. It became increasingly obvious that Thelma was completely oblivious to the fact that Louise was living out the plot of Notes On A Scandal with her.

The hotel conveniently had a seance/conference room (same thing, I guess) for us to contact the ghosts. Unfortunately, it seems we suffered massive interference due to the overwhelming amount of ghosts aspiring to speak with Thelma, who became freaked out, suckled from her Carlo Rossi bottle, and decided to go smoke a joint.

Curious, we follow the group outside. The three boys seemed normal enough, despite constantly showing me what was obviously smears on their cameras and proclaiming they caught orbs. Somehow, I made a comment about how the bookstore was overwhelmed, unsurprisingly, with David Icke books, not expecting anyone to really know who that was. The strippers gazed dully at me but all three boys snapped to attention and barraged me with their extensive knowledge of the New World Order and the Reptilian conspiracy.

Ooookay.

Between that and the excessive amount of wine imbibed earlier, we quit for the night. Both Jacquelyn and myself were utterly unmolested by ghosts throughout the night, although at one point I did walk into a closet I thought was the bathroom, and I’m pretty sure supernatural shenanigans were behind that.

The next morning, we packed into the car and headed to the Tampa airport, bidding Cassadaga and the rest of Florida adieu.

Catch us next summer at the Lily Dale Spiritual community in New York, meditating in the Fairy Forest or taking in  a lecture on Moon Magic: Waxing Fortune or Waning Glory.

Yeah, I’d hit that: Dead Guy Edition

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The best thing about hot dead guys is that for the most part, they died before they could get ugly. Or, if they did get ugly and old, their death instantly erased that portion of their lives from our memory, forever immortalizing them as handsome youths. Let us begin.

1. Paul Newman: Despite the omnipresence of his elderly, lined face on nearly every household product (avoid the wine! Avoid the wine!) we remember him fondly as the handsome blonde cowboy of yore.

2. Ian Curtis: Who doesn’t love a wide-eyed, tormented poet torn between loyalty to the family and life he was raised to have and seduced by the possibility of an entire new world unfolding in front of him? Or someone who writes ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ to the wife who will never understand him but whom he still loves? 

3. Sid Vicious: It’s a bad idea, but there’s not a punk rock chick on earth who would deny it. His eyebrows were verging on unibrow status, but he was the style icon for every guy who wanted to bang aforementioned punk rock chicks, so he was doing something right.

4. Kurt Cobain: Yes, he has the tragic rock god thing going on, but that’s not what makes him hot. Neither is his status as a depressed, bad grunge poet. Because let’s face it, the so-called Voice of A Generation didn’t actually make any sense at all. But he was exceptionally attractive. Give that boy a bath and a bowl of soup, stick him in warm pajamas, watch him smile, and it makes you feel all glowy inside. He’s the grown-up, doomed future Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes.

5. River Phoenix: Granted, the more the years grow between us, the creepier I feel about my crush on River, since he died before he could fully evolve out of the youthful fetus phase. Still, he was exceptionally attractive, with more delicate bone structure than his brother Joaquin, who’s a handsome guy when he’s not doing stupid hillbilly hip hop hipster side projects. And he was another rescue project: raised in the Children of God cult and forced to act to pay for his parents’ bullshit.

6. Cary Grant: I think we all know that Grant was batting for the other team at this point, but I’d still toss him a grounder or whatever. Hey, cut me a break here, I know nothing about baseball. Also, check out this hot French guy doing Cary Grant movie commentary.

7. Clark Gable: Men, let me break it down. Dumbo ears aside, Clark Gable is quite possibly the only man who can saturate a mustache in sexiness. I’m sorry.

8. Sir Laurence Olivier: My first silver fox crush in Rebecca. I don’t know what happened to strong jaws like his. They seem to have been eradicated from the gene pool.

9. Marlon Brando: Yeah, he got fat. But let’s forget that Brando and focus on the one from Cat on A Hot Tin Roof.

10. Brad Renfro: Poor Brad Renfro, or as he was eternally immortalized, Brad Redfro. His career went to shambles thanks to his drug addiction, but prior to that, he was a pretty attractive dude. Remember Apt Pupil? Or even Ghost World, where you could see that it was going downhill, but he was holding on.

11. Lewis Powell: Who? You ask. Good question. This strapping young lad was part of the conspiracy to execute Abraham Lincoln, so he was probably a racist douche. Still hot.

12. James Dean: You know, I’m going to say it. He was hot, but his hair sucked. Stop emulating that five-head, rockabilly boys.

13. Young Elvis: Undeniably smooth, in his suits and tattered shoes, worn thin from forbidden dance moves. And even more so when he popped out of the army, fresh in leather. Then someone started handing him painkillers. Basically, this is Christina Aguilera’s path now.

14. Johnny Thunders: Sort of rat faced, terrible heroin problem, incredibly small, and probably smelled bad, but that’s what legends are made of! He was like Prince but fucked up and cool! Note: Prince is not cool. Sorry. You may love his music but any interview with him and his bat shit crazy, surprisingly homophobic for a man who used to wear fishnet butt pants, Christian rhetoric makes him crazy.

15. Lux Interior: Whatever, American Horror Story, Lux made the gimp suit bring out the dark side of a lot of us long before you thought about sticking Tate in one. Sexy, handsome, and had an epic, wonderful relationship with his wife. Basically, if he’d marketed a few more products, he’d be the psychobilly answer to Paul Newman.

16. Houdini: Diminutive, sure, but surprisingly handsome before he started to unfortunately look like PT Barnum.

17. Rudolph Valentino: Valentino was so handsome that he didn’t need to prove a modicum of talent to flood the streets of New York with grieving women when he died.

18. Layne Staley: His death rivals with Johnny Thunders’ for most tragic: left to rot in his apartment for days after overdosing. And his drug addiction left him barely able to contribute to Alice in Chains in his last years, but he was a good looking guy, despite all the wrong ingredients: weird potato nose, that creepy cotton candy blonde hair, gross goatee. Kind of the same reason some of us were like ‘you know, Mr. Tumnus is kind of hot in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.’

19. Ernest Hemingway: The man could carve a perfect sentence, and I’d get down with the young Hemingway, before he slowly morphed into a sea captain Anthony Hopkins.

20. Salvador Dali: The pin up of the art world.

21. Basquiat: Poor beautifully doomed Basquiat, whose fame happened too fast and who never found his niche anywhere. He meets all the standards of our favorite dead artists. Handsome, talented, and tragic.

22. Joe Strummer: I hate putting him on here, because I hate realizing he’s dead.

23. Johnny Depp: he’s not actually dead, but he’s been dead to me for about a decade. Still, we’ll always have the rockabilly rebel of Crybaby and the grungy What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

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