Archive for October 2008

October 31st, 2008

Beer of the Unknown

Happy Halloween everyone! Do you all have big plans tonight? Big spooky plans?

You all better not have big spooky plans because we moved the Halloween Party at our house to tomorrow night to accommodate all the “really important” and “serious” and “non-celebratory” things everyone claimed they had up, like “working” and “visiting an ailing relative.” Who’s ever heard of a Halloween Party the day after Halloween? The costumes will seem ridiculous! The jack-o-lanterns will be wilting into abstraction! The candy will be on sale for like 80% of…. Nevermind. You all are geniuses.

Tonight Steph and I will probably be cleaning up in preparation for tomorrow, and…handing out candy to trick-or-treaters? Do kids still trick-or-treat? On one hand, I hope so, because this is the first Halloween that I’ve had a front door that faces a neighborhood street with a small porch in front of it with a light I can leave on, letting dressed-up children know it is cool for them to come up and ask for candy and that I will make a big deal about their costumes and let them take a handful of fun-size Snickers (not just one) as 90% of the adults in my childhood did. Oh yes, I will pay it forward. On the other hand, I kind of hope kids don’t trick-or-treat anymore ’cause: more candy for me.

October 31 is an important date in Steph-and-I lore, as on this day in 1999 we made the transition from two people who constantly hung around in each other’s dorm rooms and walked each other to class and ate virtually every meal together, to two people who constantly hung around in each other’s dorm rooms and walked each other to class and ate virtually every meal together and kissed on the mouth. So much to say about those days, but I’ll save it for another time. All I’ll tell you is that Halloween was on a Sunday that particular year and that we went to a costume party on Friday night — Steph as a 1920s flapper, me as a straightjacketed mental patient — and that we walked home from the party together, both sort of knowing this thing we had was going somewhere, and that it was pretty chilly out and that I took off my straightjacket and wrapped it around her! I’m sorry, but that kind of quirky, endearing shit is only supposed to happen in movies. This is the one moment we have that is like this, so I never miss an opportunity to share it. Steph and I used to mark our “dating anniversary” with presents and fancy dinners (Applebee’s), but now that we have a “for real anniversary” two weeks before, we’ve whittled it down to making sworn statements that we comprehend the significance of this particular day while we are on our way to various Halloween festivities. I’m grateful for this, because Steph’s birthday is two weeks later in November and then we’ve got Christmas right after. A guy could injure his brain trying to come up with all those gift ideas in a row.

Overshadowing all the candy and costumes and acquisitions of true love, however, is my unbearable curiosity about how the beer is going to turn out. If you’ve been keeping up with Witchger Projects you know that my neighbor Jerry and I made a batch of Pumpkin Spice Ale, and our plan is to serve it at the day-after-Halloween party.

I was completely clueless as to what was going on throughout the entire brewing process, but Jerry seemed to understand it, plus he was already in possession of all the necessary tools and equipment, so I have reason to be optimistic about it.

Homebrewing requires a lot of patient waiting, as you let the yeast do its job and just sort of keep an eye on it and not let the container get too gunky or hot, and it’s killing me. I want to know how my beer is going to taste. Now.

After spending several evenings in my kitchen, pacing the floor in front of my fermenting container, I decided that just because our very first beer wasn’t even ready to drink yet, that didn’t mean it wasn’t time to take things to the next level.

We call our fake brewery “Sheffield Brewing Company” because we live on Sheffield Road. I sat down with pen and paper and Adobe Illustrator and made us some graphics. The one thing that kept coming up when I looked “Sheffield” up online was the English town by that name, and its mention in Canterbury Tales. Something vaguely medieval seemed appropriate for a brewing company, so here’s what I came up with:

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The logotype.

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The (probably too illustrative) mark.

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The combination of the logotype and mark.

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The logo with a (playing-it-safe) slogan.

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A layout for the Pumpkin Spice Ale, which can be turned into signage for the keg and labels for the bottles.

Ironically, I spent far more time designing this stuff than I did actually brewing beer, but I figure an elaborate visual identity can only improve our beverages. (“Geez, this stuff is bitter! I can’t stand it. Wait, look at all those boxes with words in them. These people clearly know how to make good beer. I will keep drinking ’til I acquire a taste for it.” “There are large chunks of malt floating in my glass! Wait, does this packaging make use of the classical typeface Janson? Ok, this stuff is actually pretty good.” “Dear God, this has the exact same odor and consistency as motor oil! Wait, is that a 3-point stroke around that logo? Bob and Jerry: please accept the key to the city.”)

Of course I hope our ale doesn’t need the aesthetic enhancement. 24 hours from now, we’ll find out! I’m clinging to the edge of my seat. Most suspenseful Halloween ever.

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October 23rd, 2008

Weaving Home

Poor Charlotte. She probably never saw this coming. She probably thought things were going just fine, then, out of the blue, the house gets turned upside-down.

Charlotte is the fourth resident of our house, and the last one who moved in, doing so about a month after Steph, Lilly, and I. She’s an ideal housemate: Quiet. Always tidies up her messes. Likes just hanging out. And I don’t think Steph would mind me telling you, she has a great set of legs.

This, incidentally, is Charlotte.

Some may not abide a creature such as this on their back porch, but, considering the volume of mosquitoes in our yard, I’m ok with it. I wasn’t even bothered when she produced a gigantic, slimy egg pouch (this is how we determined her to be a girl, by the way) which is still suspended on a strand of her old web, like the world’s most disgusting golf ball, frozen mid-flight.

So I did not want to make Charlotte feel unwelcome by any means, but something had to be done about that back storm door. We inherited a back storm door that could not close properly. The top hinge — which, like the rest of the door and frame, is made out of the cheapest aluminum — had shattered into pieces. (I now realize that this door had been “conveniently” propped open every single time we walked through the house before buying it, including when we did the home inspection. Nicely done, previous owners.) The “V-shape” created by the braced door and the exterior wall of our house was where Charlotte chose to stay when she took up residence with us. But this open space was also the reason the door would bang, one second against the concrete block we used as a stop and the next against the corner where the brick wall ended, each time there was a strong wind. It was beating itself to hell and making all kinds of racket, and I had struck out when trying to find a replacement hinge that would work, and even when trying to remove the broken pieces of hinge from the rivets that held them so something new could go on there.

I ended up unscrewing the aluminum frame from the wooden frame behind it and putting the entire thing in the shed, but before I did that I thought I’d help Charlotte relocate. This was a tedious process. As I said, I’m ok with Charlotte, but that doesn’t mean I want her scurrying up my hand and across whatever other parts of my body she sees necessary at top-speed. Having selected a stick that seemed sturdy, maneuverable, and several feet long, I attempted to gently slide it under her. I was going to place her a few feet higher, on top of the downspout from our gutter. You always see cobwebs in those types of spots right? And, I don’t know who assembled this particular downspout but they were the Michelangelo of downspouts. The angles are all “45!” “Schloop: 45!” “Pwow: 90!” You could calibrate your protractor with it. A web-builder could do a lot with that! It’s like scoring the corner office! At least that’s what I was saying to Charlotte, out loud, at my normal speaking volume, as she reared back further with every approach from the stick, and flashed her spider-fangs, which, like the rest of her, were substantial in size. Growing impatient, I finally just swept through the web, which was going to be destroyed anyway. (I’ve always heard they build a new one every day. I hope that’s true.) I came up from under her and the momentum had her clinging to the stick as it quickly made its way up to her new room. Then, sure enough, she started down the stick, towards my tender flesh, those black, needly front feet digging at the branch in front of her at a breakneck pace. But before she reached the halfway point , or “shriek, drop the whole shebang, and run inside territory,” she tied a silken thread on to the side of the stick and rappelled straight down, off the side of the porch, at twice the speed she’d been running at. I was Tommy Lee Jones to her Harrison Ford, watching her take this death-defying plunge, knowing she’d somehow survive and, that once she got to the bottom, she’d vanish like a ghost. Sure enough, I immediately descended the steps and searched the ground and the plants and side of the porch, and I have no idea where she went.

Charlotte,

If you’re reading this on the web (puns!) I can see why you’d be upset, but I hope this helps explain why we had to dismantle your nesting spot. I don’t know what spiders do when it gets cold, but we’re having a Halloween party next weekend, and your creepy form hanging off the side of the house would be quite an addition to the decor! And your eggs are still bundled on the side of the house! Won’t you think of your hatchlings!?! Who will raise/eat them!?! I truly hope you’ll see fit to return.

Sincerely,

Tommy Lee

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October 17th, 2008

Hold Your Applause

Dad, Kevin, and I played a wedding reception this past weekend. The bride requested that we prepare a set of more subdued stuff for the dinner portion of the event, and seeing as how there is nothing subtle or innocuous about the banjo (something you’ve no doubt learned from Steve Martin, if you’ve ever spent 30 seconds with him), we decided I’d switch to the guitar for this section of our performance.

I haven’t played guitar before an audience in almost 10 years. My skills have improved a lot since then, just by virtue of the fact that I still spend a lot of my downtime around the house picking and strumming songs I know and/or learning new ones. My old guitar however, hasn’t gotten any better with age. This is unfortunate, given that it was not a very nice guitar when I bought it, brand new, 12 years ago. Its main flaw, I believe, is that it is comprised almost entirely of plastic. Armed with that fact, my fellow guitar players have wagered a guess as to what kind of guitar I have, and they are cringing. They are assuming that I own an Ovation — the strange, bowl-backed instruments that appeared on the scene in the mid-70s, were embraced by a few singer-songwriters, were subsequently discovered to be not-so-great and sort of disappeared, and then, somehow, experienced a short-lived resurgence in the mid-90s at the precise moment when I was in the market for my first ax.

My fellow guitar players would be half-right. I couldn’t afford a real Ovation, so I ended up with an Applause. And now my fellow guitar players are double-cringing, because they know that an Applause is a product built to Ovation’s already undesirable specs, but in Mexico or Japan, with parts similar to, but not as nice as, those Ovation puts in their line of terrible guitars.

So, we start with that, then add me lugging it to every different place I’ve lived from 1996 ’til now, being an irresponsible youth and accidentally banging it on every waist-high surface in each of these places along the way, and never taking the time to clean it, have any adjustments made to it, or change the strings on it more than once every four years, and, well, for how much I still like to play, a new guitar has been on my list of purchases to make for a while now.

Things fell into place this month when Kevin discovered Taylor’s “Big Baby” at a guitar shop in Raleigh. Taylors are beautiful feeling, beautiful sounding acoustic guitars and they simply don’t make a full-size model that retails for under $800. Money I don’t have. The “Big Baby” is a 15/16 scale (a size difference I didn’t even notice) and, thanks to Taylor skimping on some of their typical frills like elaborate inlays and super-glossy finish, they sell it for $450. (Kevin decided this was the “Toyota of Taylors”: no fancy bells or whistles, but reliable, high-performing, and reasonably affordable.) Since I needed a better guitar I could play at this wedding, and we were paid generously for the gig, I went for it.

And I am one proud papa. Now that I own a Big Baby, I don’t see myself buying another guitar in my lifetime.

My Taylor — which Kevin explained to me is a “real” guitar made out of various “woods” — must be put back in its case every time I am done playing it to protect it from changes in humidity and temperature and my tendency to send beverages cascading onto surfaces they shouldn’t be on. And with my banjo and uke cases already taking up valuable real estate in our incredible shrinking house, there’s just no place for my old guitar and its case in our floor plan.

For a split second, I considered putting my Applause on Craigslist. Perhaps there’s someone out there who doesn’t care about tone or resonation, and would shell out $50 for an old beater they could learn on? I quickly realized I’d feel bad sticking a beginning player with this thing though, even if it is what I started on. (Actually 12 years with this guitar is probably why I’m not better than I am today.)

Also, awful or not, I once practiced sets of songs for hours and hours on this thing. I took it up onstage at open mic nights in college. My roommate was the singer in our act, and we enjoyed some moderate popularity at the bar we played at. A year later, when that roommate and I had a falling out of divorce-like proportions, that saw us dividing up friends and un-mingling our stuff from every shelf and container so I could move out, that guitar was one of the first things I took out of the room. And in the aftermath, when my grades were suffering and I didn’t feel like anyone was there for me anymore, I’d go back to my one-person dorm room and play it and somehow start to feel like maybe all wasn’t lost. And as I continued to go through good times and bad ones, that guitar was always there.

I believe, as a society, we are are too obsessed with material things and that we should all embrace Buddhist philosophy and discover the freedom of limiting our possessions, but when you’re a sentimental fool, this is quite difficult to put into practice.

Recently, the REI messenger bag that was handed down (or technically, up) to me by my sister my junior year of college, that I carried around for the remaining two-and-a-half years there, into all the jobs I’ve had since, and on almost every trip I’ve taken over that entire time, suffered it’s third zipper-malfunction and received a large tear in its main pocket. REI stands behind their products for all eternity and this was stuff that could be fixed. I’ve sent it back for similar repairs before though, and found that the mending never returns the bag to its original integrity and that being bagless for six weeks while it gets shipped around is pretty inconvenient. Thus I took the store’s offer to pick out a new bag and get the full cost of my old bag credited towards the new one. What I didn’t realize, as we finished the transaction, was that they needed to tag, re-enter into their system, and, ultimately, keep my old bag. I guess as hard evidence for the store manager when he has to appear in front of the REI tribunal for letting me buy an $80 messenger bag for $20?

Just after I realized what was happening, the cashier turned to take my worn, ratty old satchel that no one else would ever want away forever and the weight of all the places I’d ever gone with that thing on my back and all the different projects and love notes and life-altering documents I’ve ever hauled around in it hit me all at once. “Can you just give me a moment alone with the bag?” I blurted out. Ok, I didn’t say that, but that was what I meant when I said “Let me make sure I’ve gotten everything out of there!” I had carefully emptied it out at home before I ran my errands; there was no need to check it again.

I’m glad I didn’t have to trade in my old guitar to get the new one. It could have gotten ugly. Instead I packed it up yet again and, this time, moved it into the attic. After everything I’ve put it through, it’s probably thankful for the chance to rest.

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