Ruminations on the Bookstore

bookstoreI think that I shall never adore, a place as lovely as a bookstore. Okay, maybe that doesn’t roll from the tongue as easily as Kilmer, but the sentiment is just as heartfelt and true. Technology is killing off bookstores like a plague, sweeping through the landscape with an indifference reserved for the most trivial things. But these are not trivial things, these are the hallowed houses of the written word where the most heartbreaking, the most sublime, the most fundamental stories are held and told. A bookstore isn’t just a point of retail as it has been so callously reduced by the scourge of the Kindle and all of its ilk. The bookstore is a place to escape, to learn, a sacred sanctuary for literary repose that must be experienced at least once by everybody and anybody who considers themselves a civilized human being. (more…)

On Drinking The Cheap Stuff

whiskey cocktailWine, beer, whiskey; pick your poison. You just don’t need to spend large amounts of money to do so. There are some staggering misconceptions about the quality of your alcohol as it relates to the price you pay for it. Yes, there are bad brands out there that cost very little money and, yes you will pay the price for it the next day.

Cheap vodka and cheap champagne are both particularly notorious for causing those kinds of bad hangovers where all you want to do is crawl into a dark hole and promise whatever deity you call your own that you will never touch the stuff again. Only to break that promise just a few short days later. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find inexpensive brands that taste good and won’t wreak havoc on you the morning after. (more…)

Some Songs Work. Some Songs Don’t.

burlesque musicThe choreography is never right. But I continue to keep at it. Burlesque is equal parts music and performer. Perfectionists such as myself have battled this combination for as long as time itself. Your skill as a dancer is never up to snuff. Some songs work, some songs don’t. The music is what brings them into the story, you are the one who keeps them within it. If the combination isn’t working, then one of you isn’t doing your job correctly. The right song can make or break your routine. Sometimes the right song simply does not exist. I have a diverse library of records, CD’s, music I keep on my hard drives, in my iPod. Old, new, timeless. Sometimes none of it works.

Then there are the songs that will always inspire me. They may not always be the songs that are right for the act, but they are building blocks to something else spectacular. Or a spectacular failure. I’ve experienced both. You can design, create, break it down and build it back up again. This can take weeks, months. All that work, all that self-doubt, all that success in the rehearsal. None of it works on stage. Those songs are never re-visited ever again. You know which song I thought would be perfect? Big Spender by Shirley Bassey. An old classic, right? Should be a no-brainer. But I realized the old classics don’t always get the audience engaged. It’s tired on it’s own. The execution is in the performer. Look, it’s not Shirley’s fault, it’s mine. I didn’t bring enough to the performance. Not enough tease, not enough imagination.  I’ll never use it again. But does it get me thinking about other songs? That it does.

The routines I’ve been developing lately are all solo works. Nothing comprising an entire show yet. Besides all of this is being done in the privacy of my own room. I’m not taking it on the road at the moment. But the music has me. The ideas have been flowing through my psyche, my very soul, and I can’t get certain songs out of my head. These are the ones that demand to be heard, forcing themselves upon me until I do what they want me to do. Create. Perform. Give everything I have until there’s nothing left but the applause.

Here are some of the best offenders that I can’t get out of my head:

The Cramps – Queen of Pain

Rigor Mortis – TittyShaker Sleazy

The Hollywood Vines – Cruisin

Ace Kefford Stand – For Your Love

Rezurex – Don’t Mess With Me

The Bikinis – Bikini

The Instrumentals – Are You Nervous?

The Twiliters – Shakin All Over

Jack Hammer – Wiggling Fool

Edgar Allan and the Po’ Boys – Panic Button

You’ve never heard of these, but if you have, then maybe I’d like to dance just for you. You have good taste and I like other humans with good taste. Give them a try, you can find most of them on YouTube or iTunes. Expand your horizons and listen to these songs. This is real music. Real good music.

Haunted Chicago

hauntedI was in line for a movie over the weekend where I met a police officer from California. He was here with his wife and they had been spending the day visiting some of the haunted areas of this fine city, with its rich history of murder, tragedy, gangsters, and serial killers. Chicago has more than a few locations where many claim to have seen some kind of spirit or apparition in attendance. I guess you have to believe in such things in order to see them. I know a lot of people who don’t believe in ghosts. Those people think there is always a rational, scientific way to explain weird phenomenon. It’s a coincidence or a trick of the light or anything but an actual ghost floating along the upstairs hallway or in the attic.

I, on the other hand, believe in ghosts. Why not? I’m quite sure there’s a spirit world that exists. Do I have proof of this? No sir, I do not, but that does not mean it’s not there. I have never seen an actual ghost appear before my eyes but I have a few friends who claim they have. I had one friend who claimed her old home in Connecticut had a strange wispy woman living in it. She would see her ghostly form hovering by her bed some nights. The ghost never appeared angry or threatening, it just sort of looked at her curiously and then moved along.

I don’t know that I would still be living in the house if I saw that, but it didn’t seem to faze my friend. She lived there much of her young life and even into her adult years she would still go back to see her parents who remained in the same home. Neither one of them ever saw any ghosts and my friend says she never told them about it, she didn’t think they would believe her. But there are many places in Chicago that people claim are haunted, either by way of a hard sell to tourists or through long-standing folklore. Some of the places you hear about are just too obvious. Like Calvary Cemetery in Evanston.

Both locals and paranormal experts say there’s a ghost named Seaweed Charlie who wanders in at night. Well, of course he does… Then there are the places that have historic significance. Some of these places I’ve actually been, and never once seen or heard anything odd. No objects moving on their own, no strange lights or cold sensations. The Eastland River area where that steamship rolled over, killing hundreds. People claim that part of the water is haunted by the perished. The Excalibur nightclub, where many of the ship’s dead were brought, the facility used as a makeshift morgue back then.

Also has a reputation for being haunted. The original building burned down in the Great Fire, killing more unfortunates so the building that currently stands in it’s place has two connections to why strange things happen. They even hold seances there now from time to time. The Museum of Science and Industry allegedly attracts ghosts of people who died during the 1893 World’s Fair, since the structure is the last remaining building left. The most interesting perhaps, is the Congress Hotel. Famous for all kinds of horrific tragedies and murders. Al Capone used to dine there a lot. The staff still to this day claim to see and hear unexplained things, many of them committed by the ghosts of the people who met their unfortunate end in the hotel.

Do I believe all of these specific stories as much as I believe in the possibility of ghosts. I believe that there are people like me who do believe…and people out there who believe that we will pay various sums of money to visit such places. A cynical view, no doubt. But then ghosts are sometimes good business. Just ask the police officer and his wife from California, who flew all the way here to visit some of them. Because they also believe.

Making Chocolate. You Can Do It Too. I Can Teach You.

Make chocolateBenjamin Franklin once famously said: “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Truer words, and all that. A good beer is unlike anything in this world that can bring such particular happiness. Chocolate, however, brings a whole other kind of exhilaration to life. A taste of chocolate can recall so many different memories; the places you’ve been, the people you’ve loved. Chocolate triggers endorphins. Makes us feel good. It’s a release, a pleasurable experience that some claim is better than sex. Chocolate affects the same parts of your brain as marijuana. Ever had pot-infused chocolate? Maybe you’re not ready for that. But don’t tell yourself such things, you’re just denying the pleasures you so richly deserve.

How was your day today? Was it stressful? Was it perfect? Good, you’ve earned some chocolate.

I’ve hardly perfected the exact science of making chocolate. But I like to think I’ve found at least a somewhat successful formula that brings joy and bliss to my fellow human beings. Today, I’d like to give you some insight on how to do the same. Now I’m not going to give you my exact formula because not only would that be cheating you and me both, I simply don’t have all the answers. I do what works for my tastes and those who like my chocolate. You have your own palette and you are duty-bound to explore the depths of it. I will give you the fundamentals, you will build upon them and create something that’s thoroughly yours, and yours alone. Or don’t. I’m not here to tell you what to do.

You’ll start with cocoa beans. You’re going to roast them on a flat cookie sheet. You’re going to preheat your oven at around 300 degrees and you’re going to put them in there for about 10-15 minutes. But check on them periodically, you’ll want to see them begin to crack. This is all trial and error. There is no right or wrong way to do this, just be sure you’re not burning them.

After that, you’ll crack your beans. You want the nibs inside. They’re your prize. Go get them. Remove the husks, get rid of those. Try a hammer or a Stephen King novel. The Stand is 1,153 pages. Make sure you get rid of all last remnants of husks. You want nothing left. Blow on them with a hair dryer or a fan to make sure they’re all gone.

You’ll then need to grind the beans down to a liquid. This is your cocoa liquor. You’ll need a serious grinder for this. The blender will not work. Most juicers will not get it done either. I use a Champion Juicer. You can find them online. They’re not cheap, but then neither are you and your chocolate certainly shouldn’t be. I know its called liquor, but don’t drink it.

You’re going to add your ingredients now. Cocoa butter, sugar, nonfat milk powder, vanilla; whatever you want to add. But keep in mind, it all has to be in relation to how much cocoa liquor you’ve made. About 15-20% cocoa butter compared to how much cocoa liquor you’ve made. Sugar should be 15-20% if you want bittersweet and about 80% for sweet milk chocolate. The milk powder is for milk chocolate only.

You then want to conch and refine the chocolate. This is a process in which you melt the chocolate and cocoa butter, then add the other elements, along with lecithin, and pour it all into a wet grinder until it’s all a liquid. This takes awhile. Maybe a day and a half, depending upon your mixture. You can look up more about this process online. There are a few good websites out there. Don’t worry, you will find them and they’ll walk you through the specifics as they consider them. My process is my own. You will discover yours.

Then you’ll temper your chocolate. This is how you get it shiny, the way chocolate is supposed to look. You’ll melt it down to a temperature of about 120 degrees. Keep mixing it. You can do this by slathering it on a hard surface, marble, wood, whatever you want. Pour it out gradually, mix some with a spatula across the surface, add some more. Keep doing so until it’s the look and consistency you want, but keep it warm at all times, around 80-90 degrees. Hey, if you screw up, you can do it all over again. There’s no way to ruin it. Trial and error. That’s how you make chocolate.

Get your molds. Pour it all in. Let it harden.

You’ve made chocolate. Enjoy. You deserve it.