Monday, March 31, 2014

Salute to 1921!

Today, a salute to two great movie palaces that opened this week in 1921:  the Allen and Hanna in Cleveland,   Because it's one of my favorite theatres, here's a link to some pictures of the Allen:

Since the pictures allow the Allen to speak for itself I won't babble on about it too much.  The Hanna is pretty swell too, but I couldn't find any pictures of it, and I doubt that anyone really wants to read lengthy descriptions of its interior. 

It seems odd that two fairly major theatres would open in the same week in one city, and even more odd that they would have opened in April.  Most big palace theatres opened in the fall, because they were trying to present themselves as a high-class form of entertainment.  They mimicked the "legitimate" theatres and opera houses. Since those venues typically started their season in the fall, the movie theatres followed suit. (Eventually people realized that stage shows are deadly dull and opera is all in Italian and who wanted to smell all that garlic anyway? and so the fall opening became less of a big deal.)

But open in April they did, and thankfully Clevelanders have had the good sense to keep both of them functioning for nearly a century.  Speaking of centuries... the Century in Baltimore opened in 1921 as well.  As did my very favorite theatre, Richmond's one and only Colonial (see picture on the right sidebar).  And the Stanley in Philadelphia, the State in Minneapolis, the Chicago in (surprise) Chicago, the Tivoli in Chattanooga...the list is pretty long.  1921 was a very good year for moviegoers.

It's common, among movie palace weirdos, to think of the late '20s as the real pinnacle of the idea.  Without a doubt the late 20s theatres were bigger and more grandiose, certainly more exotic--but I'll vote for 1921 every time.  The fad was for Adamesque decor, one of the most pissily formal, but also stunningly elegant, styles ever to leave a decorator's drafting table.  And an awful lot of those theatres were Adamesque.  (Richmonders clearly fell in love with the idea, because when the National opened two years later, it borrowed the Adam style from its older sister.)

Theatres seemed to come in waves.  1921 was probably the first real boom year for big picture palaces, though quite a few sprang up in 1917 and 1918.  That seems weird, given that we were at war, but maybe it was a pleasant diversion from the idea of war.  No such thing happened in the next war, though.  I suspect that we took World War II much more seriously than we took World War I -- which for most people on the home front was more of an opportunity to show off their patriotism, rather than the later war, which people understood was a pretty serious threat.  

1926 and 1928 were also big theatre building years.  I don't really know the historic economy well enough to say whether that was part of the cycle or not, though certainly after 1930 not too many things got built at all unless they were already under construction.  

It must have been an exciting time.  The war was over, prosperity was here to stay, skirts were going up and new buildings were popping up all over the place.  

Here's the Colonial's interior, just to give you one last glimpse of 1921.

Zoom In

Friday, March 28, 2014

Happiness is sticky and has a hole in the middle

Oh, get your mind out of the gutter.  I almost said "happiness is covered in white sticky stuff" but I knew you little pervs would really go nuts with that one.  Heheh, nuts.

I meant donuts, damnit.  Specifically Krispy Kreme donuts, which I am convinced are God's way of letting nice Southern people know that he loves us and wants us to be happy.  Fat, but happy. You know you're in a good place when one of your assistant principals walks around the building giving KK's to teachers.

There was a quiz floating around teh Facebooks a while back where you got to find out what kind of breakfast pastry you were.  Since there was no option for a pastry that farts first thing in the morning and then rolls over and goes back to sleep, I ended up being some kind of weirdass muffin.  I am not really into muffins in the first place; they're never sweet enough for my taste and they have a nasty habit of containing things that are supposed to be good for you like blueberries and cranberries.  Come on, people, if you're going to have a fruit-based pastry make it worth my while.  Or bran, which just makes you poop a lot.  Who needs a breakfast food that makes you poop?  I mean, I have a first period class; I can't exactly go hightailing it off to the "lavatory" just because I ate baked Metamucil.  The truly disturbing thing about the breakfast pastry quiz was that there was nothing normal on it.  No donuts, no Danish, and the only c roissant was also something weird.

I blame Panera for this.  I have to admit that I really like Panera for the most part, but they're kind of the Starbucks of the carbohydrate world.  They have managed to convince everyone that they're the only high-end bread out there.  Their stuff is supposedly "artisanal."  I know what an artisan is (that's the beauty of English-majordom) but really it should apply to things like porcelain and sculpture,  not broccoli-cheese bagels.  I think that where food is concerned, "artisanal" means "we threw some weird crap into the dough and are now charging six dollars for one roll."

Fortunately here in Dreamy Dixie we are still firm believers in the Donut Gospel.  Krispy Kreme is nothing short of heaven right there.  I am personally capable of eating nineteen of those suckers in one sitting and, diabetic coma notwithstanding, it's a sugar high you want to try.  Dixie Donuts on Cary street, right by the Byrd movie, is also pretty awesome and while they also have a tendency to do weird things with donuts, they are sugary versions of weird so it's OK.   I have just learned that the famed Duck Donuts, of Duck, North Carolina, is opening a Richmond store.  I have to keep reminding myself that the Easter Parade is coming up and I need to fit into my seersucker suit, and that bathing-suit weather isn't far behind, because otherwise with all these options I would be surfing a wave of lemon filling onto a Hot Donuts Now beach.

There is now a Krispy Kreme app for your iPhone that lets you know where the nearest KK is and if their Hot Donuts sign is lit.  Is it wrong that I decided to drive around just to test it out?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I am a good typist and therefore I am better than you are.

Until I walked into a classroom for the first time (as a teacher, that is) in 2003, the only class I'd ever taken that was worth a flying shit was Mrs. Gibson's typing class at Walkersville High School (pronounced Wockersveeyul Hah Skoo) in 1985.  Why, you ask?  Because despite my lofty education, the only job you can get as an English major is a teaching job--or utter crap.  Since I was convinced for several years that I didn't want to teach, my jobs tended to the utter crap.  Which meant that the only skill I needed was my ability to type.

This is becoming a rare skill indeed.  No one learns to touch type anymore.  Like cursive writing, it's "old-fashioned" and "unnecessary" because the computer fucking does everything except for how it doesn't.  See what a computer has? Oh, I don't know, could it be A KEYBOARD?  WITH LITTLE BUTTON-Y THINGS THAT YOU HAVE TO PRESS TO MAKE A LETTER HAPPEN?  IN OTHER WORDS--TYPING????

As I've mentioned, my students can't type.  They have Chromebooks, but they try to use their thumbs to type, because that's how they text. Also my students may be retarded.  (Call off the PC police, I don't really give a damn today.) I'm surprised by the number of adults who can't type, or at least hunt-and-peck somewhat functionally.

This morning, while my little darlings were ostensibly reading silently (hah!) I caught up with The Bloggess (who may or may not be a minor deity).  Apparently someone criticized her for putting two spaces after a period.

All six of you who follow this damn thing know that I am a grammar Nazi and I will, in fact, persecute and possibly torture/kill people who misuse English unless done in a way that I have personally sanctioned.  So listen up, you little bastards: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH PUTTING TWO SPACES AT THE END OF A SENTENCE (i.e., after a period).

Here's why:  the convention of a "space" was really created by typewriting in the first place.  Before the existence of typewriters, a "space" existed only in the mind of its creator.  Written material was either created by hand or a printing press.  If you are actually writing, the amount of space you leave between letters or words or sentences is entirely up to you, alt h ou  gh  i              f    yo u  wr  it      e   like this it looks really weird and people will think you're a sped.  Printing presses, too, were left to the whim of the typesetter, who hand-set the slugs.  If he left one space, or       ten between words, it was at his own discretion.

Typewriters didn't allow for such things and so demanded a uniformity that had never previously existed.  The convention of leaving two spaces after a period was born because it just plain looked better and helped to set sentences apart.  There was never a rule regarding this before typewriters.  There are those who claim that "this rule was invented for typewriting and so it's irrelevant now."  Of course it was invented for typewriting.  Why does that make it irrelevant? Guess what I'm doing right now--I'm typewriting, just not on the Underwood that still sits on my desk.  Why does the rule still apply?  BECAUSE IT STILL LOOKS BETTER, which was why it happened in the first place.

I double-space after every period.  So does The Bloggess.  She's really cool and I'm really easily pissed off, so either double-space yourself or a)incur my wrath or b)don't be a jerk and keep your single-spaced assholery to yourself.

Today's rant over.  Here, listen and watch as Wally Cat enjoys hearing one of his favorite dance numbers ("Wishing," played by Isham Jones and his Rain-Bo Orchestra).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Fun with Technology in the Classroom

No one will ever accuse me of being an up-to-date teacher.  Far too many teachers rely on technological doodads to cover up their complete ignorance of their subject material.  They will then huffily tell anyis is critic that they are keeping up with the times and that "kids don't need to know _________  because it's all available online."  This is the mental equivalent of a toupee.  Case in point: the young teacher with whom I worked a few years ago who honestly did not believe that there was such a thing as the second person, but who had a daily Power Point presentation for anything imaginable.  I still wonder what her presentations were actually about, since she clearly didn't know jack shit about her subject (which was, supposedly, English).

So it will not shock you that I cast a dim view at the myriad Google apps and smart boards and power points and other educational magic beans.  I'm sure they can be helpful, but they're not necessary and they get on my nerves.  I have enough to do without having to learn how to use all this crap.  You know what I can use? Chalk. And a blackboard.  My current school is old enough that the boards are indeed black.

There is one issue.  The erasers we have don't work.  Apparently if one MUST be so antediluvian as to use your hands to write something, for the love of all that is holy, one should do so on a white board. (This is a cultural flip--these days, people will do anything to deride white things in favor of black things, unless it's a writing surface...) So I have a white board which I loathe because chalk dust is easier to clean off the ass of my trousers than dry-erase marker, and also because dry erase markers have a life of approximately fourteen minutes.  I use the damn blackboard.  Except for how the erasers don't work.  Let me demonstrate:

I want one of those old felt jobs that you had to beat outside for hours, making everything in your vicinity white and yellow and unable to breathe. 

Or maybe I'm just really jazzed that I figured out how to post pictures on here. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I live with retarded cats.

Fine, fine, I know it's not politically correct to call anyone or anything retarded, but you tell me how to refer to an animal that rips apart an entire trash can to get to a greasy paper towel.  I am aware that cats tend to go for fatty things; they're sort of pre-programmed like that.  But seriously, cats? A paper towel.  Admittedly, t" his was the paper towel that I had used to drain sausage after I'd fried it, but it was not actual sausage.  Further, one would imagine that having discovered no sausage and only a paper towel, one might be dissuaded from ingesting said towel.  This would be a rash assumption.  Because what I found when I got home was not simply a trash-strewn kitchen, but horked-up blobs of greasy paper towel ALL OVER THE GODDAMN APARTMENT because apparently Bounty, Now Available In Tasty Breakfast Sausage Flavor, is every bit as tasty as actual breakfast sausage except not quite as readily digestible.  (On that note, I've been perplexed for years with the cheery statement on the thing of Crisco that "It's Digestible!" Well, I bloody well hope it is, since I'm eating the stuff.)

The sausage-towel incident was just the latest in a string of what I sincerely hope is just Kitty Spring Fever and not actual mental degeneration on the parts of my fuzzy little best friends.  It's tough to tell, because they have differing levels of thought processing and physical finesse anyway.  Wally and Pickle are both pretty bright but also insane, and Pickle tends to the evil side of insane.  Daisy is dumber than a box of hair and also isn't particularly coordinated. Elmira is just sort of there and doesn't do much except hiss at Pickle and meow a lot.  So, I'm not really sure who is responsible for these things.  I'd  blame the dumber ones but the smarter ones are more likely to figure out how to invade trash, etc.

Other interesting cat related events of the past few days:
--Hear series of popping noises from bathroom. Go to investigate; discover Pickle still hanging from the shower curtain, which she has successfully pulled off its hooks.
--Discover Christmas light bulb in litter box. Mystery: did it actually pass through a cat?
--Trail of wet footprints leads to a completely soaked Wally, who has evidently taken a dip at La Piscine du Toilette.
--Desperate yowling from kitchen proves to be Daisy, who has somehow gotten inside a cabinet and has become trapped. With the bag of cat food, which she has now broken into and gorged on and promptly yakked up.

As a Profeshunul Edumacator, I know that we're not even supposed to say "Special Ed" anymore.  It's now "Exceptional Education," because it's no longer enough to be afraid that we're going to hurt someone's feelings. Now we have to go out of our way to make the kids who can't read at 18 feel as though they are in fact better--more exceptional--than everyone else.

But I'm pretty sure my cats are just plain retarded.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Purple tainted eclipses

I'm not sure what the night school folks were studying last night, but when I got to my classroom this morning the words "Music of the 80s" were on my blackboard.

I wonder what it is about the cycle of musical fashion that makes people fascinated with tunes that came out two decades previously.  I was born in 1969 so I didn't really see much of the 60s.  I do remember though that the big craze of the 70s and early 80s was the Fabulous Fifties.  This was probably in large part thanks to Happy Days and Grease. Teenagers waxed nostalgic over a time period they'd never seen and parents, who did remember it, sighed for their youth.  It kind of carried into the mid 80s but then we all discovered the 60s and hippie music.

By the time the 90s were in full swing I had checked out of the popular music scene (at least, of my own era) and was so mired in 10s and 20s dance music that I had very little idea of what most people my own age were listening to.  I do remember that there was some rediscovery of the 70s and let me tell you, I just don't get that one.  The 70s were possibly the tackiest decade in the history of the world.  Don't bother telling me about the musicianship of Jefferson Airplane and Cream and all that crap.  All I have to do is take one look at doubleknit polyester and my mind is made up.

The 80s rediscovery has been going on for some time now.  While I don't mind it--I can relive my misspent youth, though without the hair mousse this time--it's strange to see people half my age rockin' out to Purple Rain. I was sort of excited about going dancing at a place just off Boulevard for "Eighties Night" and found that I was  one of maybe three people in the room who could actually remember the 80s.

Even more interesting than the phenomenon itself is the choice of actual songs.  I observed some years ago that no one ever quite gets it right.  People think about the '20s and they think of "Baby Face" and "Ain't She Sweet."  Both were somewhat, but not overwhelmingly, popular. "Valencia" was the number one selling record of 1926 and no one except me remembers it.  Now the kids all think we went around in 1984 singing the aforementioned "Purple Rain," "Tainted Love" and "Total Eclipse of the Heart."  Huh? Sure, I remember them but they weren't all that.  "Purple Rain" actually was a big hit though I never got why Prince was supposed to be a big sex symbol. The dude is shorter than I was in 9th grade, weighs 90 pounds not counting the Jheri-Curl, and is swishier than a palmetto in a hurricane. "Tainted Love" is really nothing but five minutes of a synthesizer going "BOOP BOOP"  and "Total Eclipse..." is not a bad song but was way too depressing for real 80s kids.  We were all too busy wearing Jams and neon crap and getting our ears pierced.

There are a couple of things I think I'm going to bring back: Jams and OP shorts.  OP shorts are actually short and when the rest of you has pretty much gone south but you still have good legs, well, that's an advantage.  Jams were just cool.

Unfortunately the last time I attempted to wear my surviving pair of Jams (which were supposed to be baggy, if you recall) I forgot that they had been bought by 135-pound me and not 200-pound me. They looked like a Hawaiian sausage casing and left absolutely nobody asking "Where's the Beef?" because it was pretty obvious.  Note to self: when bringing styles back, buy new.

Y'all have a good day. I'm going to go melt with somebody.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Two nice movie palaces and a small rant about my crappy computer

I am getting a little better at managing the fancier new (to me) features of blogger, so I can add groovy things like pictures and links without sending myself into a tailspin of confusion.

I need to point out that this is no thanks to my--er, Chesterfield County's--computer, which despite being a laptop was manufactured in approximately 1903.  Its touch pad is possessed by an extremely retarded demon and ifxcept for how (see what happened there?) I breathe on it the cursor zooms somewhere weird buttcrack wallaby which is how I end up with sentences, such as this one, with nonsensical text stuck in them somewhere.  Except for  how when you want the touch pad to work it doesn't and sometimes the cursor goes the wrong way.  In trying to highlight "want" to italicize it, I had to bribe the thing because no matter how many times I swiped the touch pad it just kept hovering in one place.  Asshole computer.

Now I've ranted about people and their lack of theatre etiquette and stupid barely-functional computers, so I'm going to stop and use my powers for good.  Here are some pictures! Yay!

This is the Venus, the Showplace of South Richmond.  If any theatre was ever set up by its builder to eventually become a p0rno theatre, this is the one. I mean, "Venus?"  but no one thought like that in 1924 and Richmond loves neoclassical things, so "Venus" just made everyone think "Roman Goddess" and not "naked."  It's still standing on Hull Street, but after a couple of decades as a furniture store, there's not much left of its interior.

Since I am not particularly concerned with being politically correct or a corporate stooge I refuse to use any of the new names for this stupendous building at Main and Laurel.  Note that I say "Building" and not "Theatre."  In addition to nearly four thousand seats--making it the second largest movie palace in the world on opening day in 1926--it houses a ballroom with enough space for five hundred couples to dance at once, five lobby levels, four smaller ballrooms or banquet halls, forty hotel rooms, a bowling alley, a pool, and a miniature golf course (on the roof).  Here is the Mosque:

Someone who was reading over my shoulder pointed out that I didn't say anything about the organs in these two places.  Fine.  The Venus had a 2/4 Robert Morton and the Mosque still has its 3/16 Wurlitzer.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I am less than enthusiastic about this development in the world of the movie palace--particularly because it involves one of my favorite theatres, which also happens to be my neighborhood theatre.

The Byrd's famously uncomfortable seats?  Really???

OK, OK.  I admit it.  Quite a few of the seats--particularly in the center section of the orchestra--are pretty badly sprung.   This doesn't mean they need to be replaced; it means they need to be reupholstered.


We have spent so many years plopped on our collective fat ass on a ridiculous couch in front of a big screen TV, wearing sweatpants or nothing, slopping frozen pizza and soda all over the wall-to-wall and passing it off as dinner, that we have forgotten how to dress, behave, eat--and sit--in public.

The author of the article seems a a little amused and mildly horrified that the Byrd's seats are the originals from 1928.  I'm a firm believer in the concept of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Some of the seats are broken and should be fixed.  Seriously, though, I have one sofa that dates to about 1835 and another one from 1880 something and they're every bit as comfortable as the day they were new.  Which is--if you sit like a well-brought up human being--fairly comfortable.  

The TV era and its unholy progeny, the video, DVD and Netflix (TM) eras have made us all uncouth slobs.  Draping your legs over the arm of the couch and scratching your nards while draining a Burriton Smoothie is fine at home.  Actually, no, it really isn't, but at least if it's YOUR home I will probably not be forced to look at you. Doing this at the movies is not fine at all.

But everyone thinks that it should be and so the Byrd's seats are uncomfortable because they're not conducive to such things.  I want nothing to do with these new French seats because if they're anything like French movies, they won't make a damned bit of sense in any language, they'll be moody, and no one will ever understand how they work.

Guide to watching a movie in a real movie theatre:
1)Find seat. It is OK to sit somewhere besides the five rows dead center.  It's a huge screen; you'll be able to see.
1.5)If you sit on one of the sides, you're less likely to sit in a seat that needs to be reupholstered.
2)Do not talk while the organ is playing.  There may be someone behind you who wants to hear "Turkish Towel."  If that person is me and you talk, I will drop wet JuJuBes down your back.
3)Sit up reasonably straight.  If you do, the seats aren't uncomfortable.
4)Do not drape your legs over the armrests. It's tacky.
5)Do not drape your legs over the seat in front of you. That wears out the upholstery and adds to the problem you've been complaining about.
6)Pick up your damn trash and flip the seat back up when you leave.

Now, don't you feel better being all civilized?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Experimental Post of a Picture which will probably not work, or at least a link that might work.

Just seeing if this will work.  Probably not because of how I really don't know what I'm doing.

Here--hopefully--is a screen shot of what the Colonial looks like now, for your comparison to the 1922 picture on the right.,-77.434703,3a,90y,90t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1svSXNWWubUgq7P3pKWmsQPA!2e0!4m2!3m1!1s0x89b1112330c6f121:0x5174f3e7bf5e8e5!6m1!1e1?hl=en

You are not stronger than a train.

There's a news brief in today's Times-Dispatch which just reminded me of a simple fact of life: People are really, really stupid.

This wouldn't have made the paper except that the man involved was from Virginia (actually, since he was from the DC suburb, Vienna, he isn't really from Virginia).  So, our suburban boy was driving through the metropolis of Ellendale, Delaware, when he got hit by a train.  Fortunately (for him, if not for the gene pool), he survived and the train didn't derail.

This is how I know that the guy was being just plain stupid.  I know the town of Ellendale.  It is a tiny town in Sussex County, Delaware.  The whole town has maybe 300 people. It is also as flat as a pancake and has no curves in the road. I also know where the train tracks are.  They cross the main/only road at a perfect 90 degree angle. What I'm hitting at here, good people, is that you can see and hear the damn train coming.  If you do not see or hear the train you do not belong behind the wheel of a car because you are either blind/deaf or drunk out of your mind.

Here's another thing: freight trains are not particularly fast, especially when they pass through towns.  It would be one thing if he had been hit by the Silver Meteor, which rockets along at 100mph.  But this was a freight train which was probably moving at 15-20 mph. So: he had to be really close to the train and still decided to go ahead and drive in front of it.

It is taking everything in my power to not be really judgmental and say that the guy was a typical DC suburbanite who felt all entitled, that he shouldn't be inconvenienced by the train, that he had the right of way, that the train should stop for him so he could get back to his Important Meeting.

Because I'm sure that's not what happened at all.  I think the reality is just that he saw the thing coming, heard the whistle, and is so damned stupid that he drove right in front of the train anyway.  See, that makes me sound better than if I were to condemn an entire regional culture.

What worries me about this kind of thing is that, if it happens enough, more and more ridiculous regulations will be put in place to keep people from getting hit by trains--as if it were the railroad's fault and not the idiots who drive in front of them. This is like the warning on coffee cups that says "Caution! Contents may be HOT."  Well of course it is.  It's coffee.  Or the warnings that tell you not to stick your fingers into a spinning saw blade.  You know, if people can't figure these things out for themselves, I really can't feel much sympathy for them.

I bet the next time we see this guy's name in the news, it'll be because he didn't stop when the draw of the Wilson Bridge opens.  The Potomac River will probably be less forgiving than the Norfolk Southern Railroad.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Oops. It's my name day. I should probably say something about that.

It just dawned on me that today is the actual St. Patrick's Day. This invariably confuses me because Richmond does the St. Patrick's Day street festival on the preceding Saturday, and Baltimore does its parade the Sunday preceding, so unless the day happens to fall on the weekend I always think of it as having happened already.  Since it is also a Monday this year it feels especially anticlimactic. I didn't even bother to wear anything green which I suppose is bad but I think I can get away with it since I actually do have some Irish blood and Patrick is my patron saint.

This always confuses people, who say "But your name is Daniel!" Why, yes, it is. Did it not occur to these people that I might have a middle name? It's the same when people find out I also have Austrian and Italian blood. "But Gibbs doesn't sound..."  No, it doesn't, because it's English.  Apparently these people believe that my father married his sister, or something.  Chances are pretty good that my mother had a different last name before she got married. (She did.)

That said, I don't really get St. Patrick's Day.  Every saint has a feast day.  How has St. Patrick's Day turned into the biggest amateur night of the year?  I think it's even supplanted New Years Eve, though Halloween may be giving it a run for its money.  I get it if one really is Irish, but I doubt that applies to every last one of the binge drinkers.  Of course, the Irish are known for their drinking skill, but so are Southerners.  Then again not many Southerners are Catholic, so that sort of does away with saints' feast days.  Except St. Patrick's Day because somehow everyone in the South becomes Irish for the day, even if ordinarily they wouldn't hire Irish people.

Does this imply that I didn't use the excuse for a day of partying? Of course not.  My old friend H. was visiting from Baltimore so we did the traditional drinking tour of Richmond.  This is an easy task since the city is fairly linear; you can literally start at one end (the East End) and work your way west, stopping at a variety of choice establishments along the route.  It's a pleasant way to see the city and you can legitimately claim that you're being all cultural too, because most of the stops are close to something of actual historic interest. ("No, really, we're not here just to drink our faces off. We are studying the architecture of Church Hill and also contemplating the implications of St. John's Church on American freedom.")

That was Saturday, and I really did wear green that day.  That counts, right?

Not Quite a Snow Day

Isn't rapid temperature change supposed to make things crack and fall apart? If that were really true there would be a giant fissure down the middle of Main Street right now, because this is the second time in two weeks that the temperature has dropped forty some degrees in the space of a few hours.  On Friday and Saturday I was happily zooming around in t-shirts.  Last night it started slaining (that's combined rain and sleet; I reserve the right to make up words as I go) and then that turned into snow (or maybe snain) and now it's just damp and cold (aka Winter In Richmond).  Everyone I know has some sort of weather-based illness and is generally cranky.

I am perfectly well aware that spring does not actually happen for a few more days, but seriously, Weather Gods? You need to stay away from the hallucinogens. I learned that many years ago when I did something I shouldn't have done and the columns on Broad Street Station formed a kickline. The last few weeks are concrete proof, Weather Gods, that you have done something similarly ill-advised.

The upshot of this day was that we had a two-hour delay at school.  I have a serious love-hate relationship with delay days.  I appreciate the extra sleep time, but since the automated thingy that calls to tell you about the delay invariably comes at about 5:30 AM, I end up being awake anyway.  Sure, I can go back to sleep, but let me tell you those are the fastest two hours in the history of, well, ever.  When you do get to school you discover that most of your students interpret "two hour delay" as "closed," so you can't really do too much.  And the weather is still crappy so you've slogged your way in only to more or less do nothing because you have four out of eighteen kids in class.

Still, it's better than bees.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I am seriously a time traveler.

More later, but for now...

The guy over at has done a great job of finding cool pictures of the city throughout its history. Sadly he hasn't updated for a while.  I really need to find him in person; we could probably waste hours picking apart the minutiae of old Richmond over a few drinks.

Some time back he posted a shot taken on Broad between 7th and 8th in about 1905. I've noticed this before but I pulled it up to show a colleague, so I figured I'd post it as well.

The picture is interesting in that most of the buildings you see are gone. The sizable building on the left is the old Colonial. It was torn down to build the new Colonial, which appears on the sidebar of this page.  Down the street is the brand-new Bijou.  The only building clearly visible which remains standing is City Hall (the spiky Gothic horror down the street on the right).

Note also that the picture must have been taken fairly early in the morning or in late afternoon.  This is and was a very busy block--there are awfully few people wandering about and in fact there is a dog dittybopping up the middle of the street.

Also, on the left, note the group of somewhat shady gentlemen gathered around a streetlight pole. One of them is clearly marking something down, using the pole as a desk.  I'm pretty sure they're taking bets on something.  

Closer examination reveals something curious, though:

Look at the guy on the left.

...and now at me.  (Pretend I don't have a chinstrap in this picture.)

I totally time traveled to 1905 and, unsurprisingly, was doing something vaguely unsavory on the sidewalk in front of the Colonial.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A tale of breakfast sandwiches, clean bathrooms, and maybe beach trips.

Many years ago my friend Mike was staying with me in Baltimore for a few weeks.  One Sunday afternoon that spring, we were terribly bored, because of course nothing is open on Sunday and we'd seen all the movies that interested us in the least, and it was too indecently early to start drinking.  As you know, this is not something that usually bothers me, but it bothers Mike, who is much more respectable than I am.  So, instead of just beelining for the pub, we snagged our friend Steve and went to Harrisburg.

Because, of course, all normal people go to Harrisburg.

The capital city of Das Pennsilvanienreich is an anomaly indeed.  It is a product of that weird movement in the early days of the nation that decreed state capitals must be centrally located.  It amazes me how far off they usually ended up being.  I think half the point was to shrug off colonial remnants by relegating the colonial capital cities to the back burner, but often what happened was that the state would end up with a small capital city in the middle of nowhere and the colonial capital wouldn't be the capital but would go right on being the most important city in the state.  This is precisely what happened in Pennsylvania.  As far as I can tell, Harrisburg pretty much exists purely to be the capital.

While it doesn't boast much in the way of amenities--except for an absolutely stunning, monumental State Capitol building that only the Teddy Roosevelt era could have produced--it does have a beautiful site along the Susquehanna.  (On another note I have a copy of sheet music for "On the Dreamy Susquehanna" which always just makes me think of traffic crossing the bridges at Harrisburg.)  It was there that I horrified Mike and Steve by, while walking along the riverbank, gesticulating wildly and shrieking "Wawa!!!!

To most people, "Wawa" means "convenience store." It meant this only in Pennsylvania until fairly recently, when the Wawa chain extended into Maryland and Virginia and, I'm assuming, other places that I find insignificant.  When they first expanded into Maryland their first major store was on the road to the Bay Bridge.

If you live in Baltimore or Washington, the Bay Bridge means "vacation," so anything you associate with the Bay Bridge is usually a good thing.  The Wawa on Route 50 is one of those things.  It was the first establishment of any kind on that stretch of road with anything resembling clean bathrooms.  It has a vast array of delicious and totally addictive snack food and, naturally, cigarettes.  In other words, beside a bar, it has everything I could possibly need.

It became a tradition with people in my group: head to the beach, stop at the Sacred Wawa of Route 50.  One time my friend Amy and I walked out of that place (having peed, which is always nominally the reason to stop) with six donuts, a pack of smokes, two milkshakes, a thing full of cubed cheese and pepperoni, four different breakfast sandwiches and a Twix bar.

The small problem, in my mind, was the ridiculous name.  I mean, Wawa?  Here I'd been picking on New Jersey for having town names like "Ho-Ho-Kus" (well, it IS pretty damn dumb-sounding) but I was happily buying my Twix from Wawa.  This was in the pre-wikipedia days and it took me a bit of research, but the net paid off and I learned what Wawa is.

It's a damn goose.

Now, you'd think I'd have known this for a couple of different reasons.  First, there is a goose on the sign.  Put two and two together, Gibbs.  Wawa means goose.

Also remember how I'm an English teacher?  That is why I should know Wawa, take two--because it's in the introduction of Song of Hiawatha. Admittedly I hadn't read that for some time but one of my students was looking it over today.  Here it is:

 "All the wild-fowl sang them to him,
In the moorlands and the fen-lands,
In the melancholy marshes;
Chetowaik, the plover, sang them,
Mahng, the loon, the wild-goose, Wawa,
The blue heron, the Shuh-shuh-gah,
And the grouse, the Mushkodasa!"


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An extra post for you today just because I had to run outside and, while the toasty warmth of yesterday is still here, it is also grey and rainy and bleh. 

Y'all, I'm gonna level with you, here. Springtime in Virginia ain't always what it's cracked up to be.  Only in storybooks does spring actually happen in March.  Here, winter toys with you until sometime in April and then it's just really really wet, even by Virginia standards, and I am pretty sure that before Richmond and Williamsburg actually existed as such, their Indian names were "Places where it Rains 370 Days a Goddamn Year And Yes We Know There Are 365 Days In Your English Year But We Gave You Five Extra Days To Hold All The Stupid Rain That Happens Here." And then when that part is done, it becomes summer in about 35 seconds and it's really hot.

However, I wish to point out that even the windy cold rain of Spring is tempered with wonderful things. Here are some of them.  

a)Nothing, no place, is more beautiful than Monument Avenue in the Spring. Unless it's Monument Avenue in the Fall.

b)Shamrock Shakes exist.  I'm usually not a McDonald's kind of boy, but dagnabit, those things are tasty.

c)Shamrock the Block exists.  There's nothing like an excuse to drink in public, especially with a lot of hot college students.   And this year it exists on the Boulevard, so I can walk to it.

d)Easter Candy.  I know, I'm not supposed to be eating the stuff during Lent, but I can't help myself.  The only thing that saves me is that it goes on 1/2 price sale after Easter so I hold out as long as possible.  We have several subsets of deliciousness: 
--Mary Sue Easter Eggs.  I may never want to see Baltimore again, but I can't resist its local candy.
--Peeps.  Say what you will, they're delicious. And cheap. And cute.
--Jelly beans, but only the spice kind.  The fruit kind are nast and should be used to stop plumbing leaks.
--And the crown jewel of Easter candy perfection--the Cadbury Creme Egg. 

It may be dismal outside; there may be mildew growing on every available surface, but: Cadbury Creme Eggs, y'all!

Schools are Bee Magnets.

I've just finished teaching my first period class and let me tell you, Friday happy hour cannot come soon enough.  If I could send that happy hour a one way ticket to me, on the fastest known train in the world, I would but it still wouldn't be fast enough. (I am assuming that my happy hour, like me, is afraid of flying so it would have to take the train.)

Things have changed a little bit since I was in grade school.  For one thing, we no longer have to do our math problems by hammering the equations into flat pieces of rock.  Also, no one cares about fire engines anymore.  One of my unfavorite memories of grade school was being the only kid who did not freak out and run to the window every time a fire engine went past. I just never got the big deal. I mean, this was in Baltimore.  Big cities have fires a lot. It's not like you've never seen a damn fire engine; shut up and sit down.  No wonder windowless schools became de rigeur in the 70s. The teachers were all sick of kids spazzing over every siren they heard.

Allow me to share a few of the things that freak kids out today.

a)Computers. Oh, ye of little classroom-based faith! You think these young people today, they know all about computers, right?  I'm here to disabuse you of the notion.  They don't know diddlyshit about computers.  They know how to text-message each other and that's about it.  Even simply trying to Google search a topic is utterly beyond most kids' abilities.  Furthermore, they can't type because typing, like cursive writing, is considered a pointless old fashioned skill by most schools.  The hilarious thing is watching kids try to type with their thumbs because that's the way they text.

b)Furniture rearrangement.  I hope these kids' parents never even pull the chairs out from the dining room table, because they'll have some seriously traumatized youth on their hands.  I moved my desk--not their desks, mine--from the front to the back of the room.  This was met with "WHAAAAA?????"  "Awwww  NAAAWWWWWW!!!!!"  "Mister Gibbs-uh! Why'd you DOOOO that?"  Let me reiterate: their desks are in exactly the same places.  Mine is just in a different place. I also don't really use my desk during class anyway so it doesn't matter, but you'd think I slapped their mommas and peed in their Cheerios. (NB: Certain segments of the population, when upset, add "-uh" to everything. As in, "Oh my God-uh! You moved the desks-uh!")

c)Phone death.  I get this because, like everyone else in the solar system, I am addicted to my phone.  I do know that one does not use the phone in certain places, e.g., classrooms and church, but everything else is fair game. I've even distressed myself by sitting at a perfectly good bar and farting around on facebook.  Still, when the phone dies, I just go back to a normal activity like drinking and doing the crossword or annoying the other bar patrons.  I had a kid last week who was actually I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP reduced to tears because her battery died and I wouldn't let her charge the phone during class.

d)Bees.  Bees, bees, bees.  I do not like getting stung by bees.  I am reasonably sure that the segment of humanity that does enjoy bee stings is fairly small.  Still, age has brought unto me the wisdom that if you leave bees the hell alone, they will not sting  you.  Imagine that you are a person. You have stumbled into a room full of bees.  The bees are all just sitting there, but now they see you and start flying around like total nutjobs.  You are now freaked out, right? Now imagine that you are a bee.  You fly into a room of calm people.  All of a sudden they all start running around in circles and shrieking.  You are now freaked out, right?  And this is why you leave bees alone.  But teenagers are incapable of processing this logic, so they see a bee and are instantly reduced to screaming pools of terrorized Jell-O (TM). So, imagine my joy when this morning not one, not two, but THREE BIG SCARY BEES COME TO MURDER US ALL got into my classroom.  It was like visiting Bedlam.  Actually, I now understand the appeal of visiting Bedlam; if I weren't trying to teach a class it would be mildly hilarious to watch the crazy happen.

So, Friday happy hour, you now understand why I need you so badly.  Please up your game a little bit.

Monday, March 10, 2014

I feel somewhat validated and also seethingly angry.  

Despite the pretty hard-boiled fact that only about five people actually follow this thing (thank you, loyal followers. I am sure there is help for whatever mental and emotional issues you may have already had that have been exacerbated by reading my stuff),  I got an email asking me to put a review of some kind of weird health food product on here. I am not naming it because that might be construed as an endorsement or a review and I don't want to encourage that.  The only things I ever endorse here will be unbidden--i.e., I really like something and want you to know about it.  Also no one in their right mind would ever pay me for that because I'd probably make some snarky comment about it even if I wanted to nice.

I'm guessing this is because I posted something earlier today about a restaurant, though I don't remember saying anything about the healthy/unhealthy nature of the place in question.  So I got to feel like one of those big time bloggers who has zillions of followers and who publish books and stuff.  Actually I think these folks were probably just spamming bloggers to see if someone could be suckered into reviewing their crap--which, from what I can tell, it is.  It seems to be some kind of snack bar made of grains, dried fruits and bat poop.

What angered me was their approach:

"We will send you samples of blablaproduct..."  Feel free, folks.  I don't usually eat that shit but I'm always down with free food, unless of course it really does have bat poop in it.

"You will place a review on your page with a link bla bla bla."  "You will???"  I'm not sure I like that commanding tone there, Sparky.  Saying "you will" do something to me is a sure-fire way to guarantee that not only will I not do it, but that I may kick you in the harbls.

This appears to be a specialty of spammers, who are often from non-English-speaking countries and fail to sufficiently familiarize themselves with the language of their targets.  They really need to learn how the English-speaking world phrases requests.

Anyway, I'm cool because at least someone thinks I'm big time, even if it's only the maker of crappy bat poop snack bars.

Possibly the Weirdest Restaurant in the South

OK, so it's probably not really classified as an actual "restaurant," because even though it has seats most people get takeout.  So maybe it's a diner.  Or a food stand, or a takeout place. I don't know.  However you hight it (I've been teaching the Canterbury Tales over the last week so I'm dropping Middle English into conversation just to screw with everyone's head), the Eatery in the Carytown section of Richmond is just plain weird.

I went there last night with an old friend because we were reminiscing about some of Richmond's long-gone Chinese restaurants.  China Chef, China Pearl, Suk Hing (yes, you read that right): thy names shall be great in the celestial moo shu.  And Peking--that was the really schnitzy one near the Westhampton Theatre.  It even had menus with little gold tassels and most of the spelling and grammar were somewhere approaching normality.

You see, I always forget that the Eatery counts as a Chinese restaurant.  Apparently it started its life as a sub shop called Mr. Moe's, and the franchisee was a Chinese guy who just held on to the place when Mr. Moe's went toes up, so he kept on serving subs but added Chinese food to the menu.

Then over the years he added a few other things, like fried fish, burgers and fries, and sometimes barbecue.  The end result is that pretty much anything the human race considers edible is occasionally available at the Eatery.

This is only part of the weird.  The signage outside is pretty elderly and nothing about the exterior fits in with its ultrachic Carytown surroundings. The first thing you'll notice, walking in, is a 40s linoleum fouled-anchor design on the floor.  While being confused by the vast menu of seemingly unrelated items, the patron will be further baffled by fruit-sherbet colored sets, orange/yellow/aluminum wallpaper from the 70s, and one wall with a not-especially-well-executed mural of cartoon pigs eating things.  Each one is labelled with a different Eatery specialty.  This is perhaps the weirdest thing.  I promise that I'll take a picture of it because it just kind of doesn't make sense.  I think you're meant to be looking down at the pigs from overhead because the ones at the bottom are upside down, like maybe they're seated around a table.  Also I'm not clear about the choice of pigs--in this part of the country, that usually means "We Serve Barbecue" which they do, but not exclusively.

Should you discover, while waiting for your order, that you have to pee, you can also make a pit stop to honor your ancestors at the Taoist shrine that's set into the wall in the bathroom hallway.

The Eatery is pretty reliably good and cheap--refreshing, in a neighborhood full of ridiculously expensive food.  Many Richmonders believe that if they eat there they'll get "the PTO-maine." This is beneficial in that it's never overcrowded and if you tell people  you ate there, they'll think you're really scary and give you a wide berth.  There are often sketchy characters in there (like me, after the bars close).

The Eatery also makes its own egg rolls completely "from scratch." I have observed vats of cabbage being prepared and dough, dough-ified.

Just be careful of going to the Eatery if you've had a few.   That damn mirrored wallpaper will do horrible things to you.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Divorcing your abandoned baby in Virginia

Just as a weird side note for the day:

I thought it might be fun to do some urban exploration (also known as wandering ill-advisedly through abandoned buildings).  Having already done a good bit of this around Richmond, I figured some other UrbEx types would be able to point me to some good sites further out, so I googled this:

"Abandoned houses Virginia"

and, among the usual slew of ghost story sites, got these results:

"Abandoned baby"   and
"How to get a divorce in Virginia."

I know that Google also searches content and therefore the baby must have been found in a house in Virginia, and that abandonment can justify divorce, but it was sort of unsettling because I got the mental image of a couple out in Mineral or someplace getting divorced and just sort of forgetting about the baby.

An open letter to my least favorite time of day.

Dear 5:30 AM:
     I am aware that you need to exist.  Without you, the whole concept of the clock and keeping time in general would be thrown off, and thus I respect your place in the scheme of things.  I do not, however, appreciate having to be awake for your self-affirmation five days per week (even though this week that was narrowed down to two).
     Let me take a moment here to raise an issue with your personal semantics.  I know you like to think of yourself as "5:30 in the morning," but I ask you to consider the usage of "AM."  Strictly speaking, "AM" denotes "ante-meridiem" or "before midday."  Your daily existence does happen before midday (and you should know this because having been around for a long time, you understand Latin).  
     You may like to think of yourself as part of the morning, but this is not correct by my analysis and personal definition.  In order to be "morning," one must follow a specific rule from my book: that the sun should be up.  Even when the days are at their longest, you never really happen before full sunrise.  Thus, you do not meet this requirement.  You are still part of the night time.
     Furthermore, please quit encouraging other life forms to celebrate your existence every day.  It is bad enough that my cats believe that you are the appropriate time to be fed, but do you really have to get birds and joggers in on the act, too?  I already resent having to be awake to see you.  I do not want to hear maniacal birds nattering away to greet you, nor do I need to hear panting joggers outside the window.  It's just annoying.
     I would like to suggest, as well, that you expand your horizons.  Try having some quiet time! Don't make so many people and animals hang out with you.  Think of the refreshing break it would be if, when you happened, no one were around.  (Since you're a time, you probably don't have actual work to catch up on, but don't you think some solitude would be a nice change?)  Also, ask around a little bit.  Poor 12:30 PM has never even experienced what "darkness" is, and is used to being the lunch hour.  Maybe it would like the relative peace and quiet of your situation. Maybe being the "fart before I wake up" hour would be cool for a change.  I'm sure 12:30 would be happy to trade slots with you. Or what about your cousin and nemesis, 5:30 PM? That poor guy has been stuck in a rut for centuries.  All he knows is "rush hour" and "cocktail hour."  Imagine going through existence seeing nothing but commuters and drunk people. For you, though, just for a day or two, it would be kind of a vacation in a bar.
      I don't really have anything personal against you, 5:30 AM.  It's just that waking up to see you so often has worn very thin.  What's that, you say? If I don't want to be awake I should take it up with the school board and get them to open schools later in the morning?  Believe me, 5:30 AM, I've tried.  I figured that you, an unalterable feature of existence, would be easier to persuade than a county school system.