Yule blog. Christmas catchup part 1.

Ok – back on the wagon. No excuses, Christmas…family…tryptophan – you know how it is. PS Bob says that the whole turkey/tryptophan thing is a myth. I refuse to accept this – any excuse for sleepiness I can get I’m clinging too. Bob is myth-informed. So – when last we spoke I promised you that I would catch you up the luncheon we had with the President of the Chamber of Commerce. It feels like that was 1983 now, but it’s certainly worth bloggage. So…

Right after I got back from my second trip to New York we had a lunch scheduled with the Chamber of Commerce. Now Rich swears up and down that he briefed me fully on exactly what this was going to be…but I have no recollection of this whatsoever. Which of course means that he DID tell me and I wasn’t paying attention. Rich very often, before telling me something important, says “ok Etch a sketch” meaning I need to shake my head and get the slate clean ready for fresh intake. Cuz sometimes with me it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other…it by passes the ear altogether. I DO remember that he said we were having lunch with the President of the Chamber – and I THINK I remember him saying something about the incoming mayor…but other than that nope. I thought it was gonna be a nice little meal.

Nope.

We get to the chosen locale – a place called the Coach and Horses where we had never been. Which was a shame because it’s really beautifully decked out place. It’s off the main road – which I think is a huge problem for them… cuz we’d been there for six months and not known it was there. I don’t remember the whole story – but the owner is Welsh so the whole place kind of looks like a large modern English pub. Which is great cuz it makes me feel all homey-like. There are rugby jerseys up everywhere and flags and all kinds of fun stuff. Including a full size reproduction of a British telephone booth. Which I had to climb inside of course. It’s a very large space – there is an actual pub and then main dining halls and some separate private rooms. Anyway we arrive and we are greeted by Bob Brown, the President of the Chamber. As you may recall, the first time we met Mr. Brown he said “So this is the famous Po” because I was carrying the wiener in my arm like a James Bond villain. Well, Bob it seems, is still a Doxy Devotee because the first thing he said when we arrived at the restaurant was “I know which one is Po but I get Joel and Rich confused.” This apparently is a Huntington-wide epidemic. Which is kind of a first experience for us when we got here – because Rich and I almost always met people separately doing separate things. Most of our friends we met through work or something – so they would meet one of us, become friendly, and then get introduced to the other. So this is really the first time we’ve been consistently introduced to people as a unit. So the mixing up is kinda new to us.

So anyway – Bob greets us wearing a festive bright red blazer and, after some chit chat, leads us into the private dining area where we’re eating. “Wait a minute… private dining hall… for four of us????”. This was when it all started to dawn on me. We came into this fairly large room that was laid out with this long bank of tables in a horseshoe shape so they could all see the apex of the horseshoe. This thing had seating for twenty people. And apparently we were sitting at the apex. Rich, of course, is in no way phased by this. I am completely flabbergasted and internally running around like a chicken with my head off. Clearly, Rich did NOT say ‘Etch a sketch” before this conversation. I believe the thought going through my head was “arghgh eeep arghgh eep.” I whisper to Rich “did you know about this?” and he says “of course I knew about this – you did too, idiot”. Eep. Literally, honestly, it looked like a press conference. For an undiscovered Harry Potter book. There were a lot of seats.

Anyway – we get sat down at the center of the whole thing and Bob starts introducing us to all these people – contractors, and accountants, and lawyers, and politicians etc etc. And the new Mayor and practically half of his new staff. All people Bob figured would be good for us to know…or good for them to know us. And they are all here to meet Rich and Jo Jo. So we sit down and lunch orders are taken (and any restaurant that serves jumbalaya and has pitchers of diet coke is good in my book). During which time I quietly keep saying to Rich things like “aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa”. After the orders were taken – Bob asks us if we’d like to introduce ourselves or have other people introduce themselves and then take questions. Questions?! Please let Alan Funk be somewhere behind a door. We opted to introduce ourselves first – because then, as people went around the room, they could ask us questions they had about what we’d said. Or rather what Rich said. Because I knew that I would garble like an idiot. See abject terror for me is a very good thing – because I keep my trap shut. Of course the problem is, abject terror only lasts so long – and then you start to get more relaxed – and then I start feeling like I can talk. And THEN I have ample opportunity to make an idiot of myself. But at the beginning of the whole thing I was still in Janet Lee shower mode, so Rich did all the initial statement stuff. Very well, I might add.

"WHY NOW, MR. PACK LEADER, SIR? WHY HERE?" helenthomas.jpg

And then they all went round from one end of the table introducing themselves, and telling us about what they do and asking questions and things. It was actually a very nice way to meet people… It was just, as Rich keeps saying, we aren't really ready to meet anybody yet. Damn that freaking pumpkin. But Rich did incredibly well…and I did ok. Once I got more comfy I started to talk more… and I tend to become loquacious when I actually try to explain things and I’m nervous – so I end up saying too much about things that don’t matter as much as I think they do. But I didn’t screw up – so that’s good. Part of it is that because I spend so much time as a director and or/a teacher I tend to instruct rather than converse. I tend to speak about something as if I am there to educate a person rather than chat with them (when asked a question). It’s tricky. Anyway – we got through our Q and A session pretty well. People asked us questions – first and foremost, “why Huntington?” (The short answer to which is pretty much “because the building was here” (although I did add, “because studies have shown that theatre-goers like fried pork and the building boasted a close proximity to Nick’s Kitchen”.) But we were seeming terribly professional and polite…

And then Bob Brown decided it was important to educate people about the blog. Ok, fine. Nothing wrong with that. But Bob seems to REALLY like the blog. Which is awesome. But it created this other worldly exchange where Bob is telling people about the blog and says “And there are frequent recurring characters on the blog - Rich, perhaps you should tell them about that...” Ok. So Rich told them about his parents, and and Po dog…” All slightly surreal in a business setting… and Bob adds that there are frequent appearances by local characters (I love people consistently think of the blog people as ‘characters’ ☺ Like I could make this crap up…) like Jean Anne etc… (Bob perhaps trying to help us out by pointing out that local vendors might end up with product placement and free blog-vertising…bless). Anyway – so it’s all a little odd to be talking to the mayor about wiener dogs and pork… but then…

Rose. Rose, lovely, delicate Rose from the visitors center, with great glee and enormous vocal projection says:

“And they have a house called the SHIT BOX!”

I thought Rich was going to choke on his roast beef sandwich au jus. Au crap. Really his eyes bugged out of his head. So much for young urban professional. It could have been worse I suppose. Ok, probably not.

Of course - as we can see from this photgraph - sometimes Rose's exuberant Italian roots come to the fore:

"You're gonna visit the Dan Quayle Museum, and you're gonna LIKE IT, CAPISH?" rose.jpg

But anyway – the whole thing was actually really pleasant and interesting. The new mayor seems thrilled to have us here. Of course, if we fail… they’ll all arrive on our doorstep with pitch forks and torches.

But we survived. People were surprisingly open and candid about Huntington and Huntingtonians and the challenges we could face starting out. Things like “don’t always expect people to do things quickly” – which we had already discovered since we’re still waiting for a roofer to return a four-month old phone call. And basically, don’t expect people to support an idea until they realize it’s going to be good for them. But luckily we’ve figured that (it's usually a universal truth)– and we think theatre IS good for them…so with the right amount of information dissemination (when we’re READY TO DO SO (damn pumpkin)) we’ll be ok on that front. The new mayor, Steve Updike, was really, really enthusiastic and stayed after everyone left and chatted with us for quite a bit. During which time, the head chef/restaurant partner’s wife, who was really lovely, started plying us with endless desserts. I mean endless. She brought out like eight different cheesecakes and cakes and things and wanted us to try them all. It was like those tastings when brides pick out their wedding cake. She hopes we’ll be able to come there for functions and opening night parties and things, so she was practically offering us the entire menu to try. Which was very nice – but yet another onslaught onto my complete failure to avoid pie-like substances. Ah well, the holidays were starting – and it doesn’t count then, right?

Prior to us leaving for the holidays it was all a flurry of activity – tragically nothing to do with renovations or anything remotely useful. Rich is really upset that we haven’t managed to make any real renovation headway in about a month and a half (another reason why the blog hasn’t been all that frequent) – but it’s been practically impossible. We had visitors, and I had two trips to NY, Rich had huge amounts of work for his web clients AND Columbia, and we had to do Christmas shopping, and the youtube video… so it was a lot. We’ve brought the theatre plans along with us to try and sort out our layout for the stage area etc. while we’re here – which hopefully we’ll manage to get to. I know that should be “to which we will hopefully manage to get” but seriously, that just sounds WEIRD.

Anyway – before we left we were wined and dined several times by the most glamorous women of Huntington. Both Jean Anne and Rose invited us over for dinner. Rose’s husband, Dick, it turns out is a remarkably impressive cook. And, you will be happy to know, I have every intention of avoiding any and all “confirmed bachelors liking Dick” jokes. The meal was really pretty incredible – he made Yorkshire pudding – which I’ve NEVER had in America, and I was ridiculously excited about. For you American folks, Yorkshire pudding isn’t a pudding at all – it’s a kind of puff pastry, usually served with a roast, that is kind of like the equivalent of a popover. And they are awesome.

YORKSHIRE PUD... MIGHTY GOOD. yorkshire-pud.jpg

They served asparagus, and a standing roast, and roasted potatoes… All delish. Apparently, however, there had been great consternation over the menu. They had originally wanted to serve pork – but felt that considering how often we eat at Nick’s, that we might like a change from pig-related food products. (To which I say “can you EVER have enough pig-related food products?). Anyway in the process of this discussion, and Rose telling us about their menu permutations, at one point she said they had thought of serving lamb but worried “lamb might be too risqué”. After a moment of clarification we realized she meant “lamb might be too risky” (Dick says there are lots of Rose-ims ☺), since not everyone likes lamb, but for a minute there I had this vision of something like this:

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Before dinner Dick also whipped up something called a Tom and Jerry which we’d never heard of. It’s kind of like egg nog for people who think vodka straight up is a wine-cooler. I’m not a drinker and I took one sip of this thing and knew that if I tried to down a mug of the stuff I’d be down for the count through New Years. Which is a pity because I’m a fan of any nutmeg related beverage.

ONE SIP OF THIS AND MERRY GENTLEMAN WILL REST FOR MONTHS. tom-and-jerry.jpg

Rose also has a bunny. A pet rabbit, named, not-so obtusely “Bun-bun”.

BUN BUN MEETS JO JO bun-bun-jo-jo.jpg

BUN BUN - TONS OF FUN FUN bun-bun.jpg

Bun Bun is pretty awesome. He just hops around the house and kept me highly amused and entertained for hours. In fact, the next time Rich needs to tell me something important like “we have a lunch meeting with the entire planet” I think matters would be assisted if he strapped a bunny to his head. We tried to figure out how Po would react to Bun Bun – she might think Bun bun was a chew toy – OR think he was kind of like a cat and just try and sniff him to death. But, considering the chew toy possibility – we figured it wouldn’t be so good to test the hypothesis. Anyway – at some point we’ll have to have Rose and Dick over for dinner to repay the favor and I will probably be forced out of culinary inferiority to get take out from Joseph de Quis and LIE about making it. Seriously – Dick is a WICKED cook. Although after one swig of that Tom and Jerry, he could have served me a dishrag and I would have thought it deserved four Michelin stars.

Oh, I don't want to forget to show you the chocolate cakey thing Rose made - cuz she used one of those Martha Stewart powdered sugar stencils I've always wondered about - and look how pretty it came out:

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So between the Rose dinner and the Jean Anne dinner the entire youtube thing transpired. Which I’ve already blogged about. Believe it or not we are STILL gaining hits on a consistent basis…now up to 14,000. Which is completely amazing. I mean we were amazed during the two ‘crunch days’ that we amassed about seven thousand hits…and that was emailing and calling and begging everyone to help us (which they did, in spadesa)…but to comprehend that after all that was over, and we haven’t been soliciting anyone to look at it… to have doubled our numbers since then is awesome. The whole thing was totally unbelievable – all the support we got from people. And, Rich really thinks it will be like the the pumpkin, that something cool will come out of it that was completely not part of the original intention. The whole competition, post announcing the winners, actually turned very nasty. We were REALLY bummed not to win… but the Home Depot message boards after the announcement was posted, got extremely nasty. Before the announcement all these people were posting things like “I don’t care if I win…this has been so much fun…and I just want world peace etc. etc.” and fifteen milliseconds after the winner was posted it turned into this feeding frenzy. Some of it was completely wacky – like people saying the contest was rigged or racist or any number of things. But the real problem was when some people actually realized a LEGITMATE reason to be pissed. See there had been this one family with Lou Gherigs disease that had managed to get an article about their video in the Rochester New York newspaper – and therefore had generaged a lot of attention and about 70,000 hits on their youtube video. Now, Rich and I were convinced that Home Depot was going to have a heck of time with this entry because it had this huge ground swell of support and all this attention... BUT their video didn’t really score very well if you were going by the judging criteria. See the rules said originality was 20 percent and creativity 20 percent of the scoring – and no matter how worthy these people were of needing the prize money – their video was not particularly original or creative. It was very simple, very straightforward. People sitting and talking to the camera. So – Home Depot was going to have a problem because they had this video everyone thought should win, but according to their rules they were going to have a hard time swinging it. Well. They didn’t win. And people started getting very pissy about it. And THEN Home Depot posted this message that said that the family’s entry had been disqualified because an immediate family member worked at Home Depot (which, as any six year old reading the back of cereal box competitions knows…means you’re not eligible to enter). But, very wisely, Home Depot said that they were going to help the family independent of the competition and work with their local store to find a way to help them. Great. HOWEVER… they said they had eliminated a huge popular favorite entry because they broke the rules.

And then people noticed that the winning entry broke the rules. Big time. And hell broke loose. See the winning entry is actually this cute rap video with a guy and his kids. And I didn’t begrudge them winning because from the very beginning Rich and I had said “this is the one to beat”. So we thought it was good. (Although, we did get way more hits than they had AND there were three other rap videos which didn’t make it alllll that original or creative…but I’m not bitter.) Anyway – in the middle of this rap, the Dad says something about “We’ve got the Right Stuff”. And he shows the movie poster…a still image… the only thing on the screen… of the movie ‘The Right Stuff’. Problem. The rules said categorically that you could not use any image, footage or music for which you did not have (and could not prove) the rights. Which is why the pack leader insisted that we use a) a piece of music from the public domain, and a recording of that piece of music to which we could prove we had the rights. And that’s why the end of our video has the thing listing where we got the music and the fact we paid for the usage of it. Anyway – this guy, clearly, did NOT have permission to use the right stuff poster. So as soon as people realized this it was like pirhanna on the Home Depot Youtube chat room. It got very, very, very unpleasant. And, frankly, people were not wrong to be upset BECAUSE Home Depot eliminated this one family for breaking the rules…but let this other family win who clearly had ALSO broken the rules. For about three days people kept posting…and people continued to be upset about it… and Home Depot was very, very silent on the message board. And finally they posted something that says they had decided to lead the family through the process of editing their video to remove the offending material. And now the winning video on youtube has that image cut out PLUS about five places where things are blurred out because of additional issues.

So – a lot of people were peeved. I can’t blame them. A bunch of people said they were going were going to use their twenty dollar gift card (every entrant received a twenty dollar gift card for entering) and shop at Lowes forever more. To which Rich considered posting something that said “Please send your gift card to ME”. So that’s the Home Depot saga… A number of people who we don’t even know posted on our video and on the Home Depot message board (which Home Depot took off youtube the other day because it was not exactly flattering) that they thought we should have won – which made us feel really great.

One more final Home Depot moment of amusement. See it was supposed to be announced in the afternoon of that Monday… and then after waiting and waiting they said it was going to be posted the NEXT morning. And THEN they said it would be at one o clock. And THEN they said it would be a little longer. Finally, they said they would have the winners posted in exactly ‘ten minutes time”. So we were glued to the computer. And then AT EXACTLY the minute the announcement was supposed to go up the doorbell rang. Ok, so I’m idiot. And I had this vision of some Ed McMahon type situation with people arriving at our doorstep with cameras and stuff. And we zip downstairs and Rich gets to the door and I hear some guy say “Are you rich” – so clearly it’s NOT the usual doorbell ringers (Jean Anne, Jean Anne, and um…. Jean Anne). And my heart was pounding and I was for a split second CONVINCED that we had won. Well, it wasn’t Home Depot. It was actually two very nice friends of faux English Paula who had heard about us and wanted to be neighborly and drop off some (extremely tasty) holiday cookies. And normally a visit like this would have been absolutely delightful. But the entire time all I can think about is that the winners have been posted and I wanted to get upstairs and find out if we’d won. Finally I made some brief excuse and ran upstairs and found out we hadn’t won. But, not wanting to be rude, I was in such haste to get back that when I scanned the list I didn’t see Rich’s name at all. So I thought we had not even been a runner up. So I came back downstairs completely crestfallen and for the next twenty minutes (doorway stranger visits in Huntington are never shorter than twenty minutes ☺ ) I had to seem perky, neighbourly and polite while I actually wanted to run around screaming. Finally after these gentleman left I told Rich that we were big fat losers, and he went upstairs and realized we were, actually, second placers. Apparently I do not have a career in speed reading.

So anyway – these two guys were very nice and are very eager for us to come over and visit them after the New Year. One of them teaches socialogoy at IPFW and I’m not sure what the other does. But, although when middle aged gentleman arrive at your doorstep and say they baked you Christmas cookies – you FIGURE they are probably confirmed bachelors – all suspicions were confirmed when they mentioned they had just finished watching Season Two of Dantes Cove on DVD. Which, oddly enough Rich and I currently had been watching the night before. And, although I’m sure many of you have never heard of Dante’s Cove it’s about as confirmed as confirmed bachelor television can get.… Basically it's a television drama of the highest possible dramatic calibre involving a lot of confirmed bachelors in bathing suits fighting warlocks. The warlocks also wear bathing suits. It's like Buffy with far less talent, plausibility, or clothing. Normally I would post a picture on here of SCENE from Dante’s Cove…but the chances of it making it through Pack Leader blog prescreen…not all that good.

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So – new friends. Heck, new friends who bake. What’s not to like?

In the middle of all this somewhere Rich opened his birthday presents - since it's Dec 21st I always try and give him his gifties a little early to spread it out (there should be some sort of fine for conception in the month of April, right?). Anyway - since this year we were trying to make as many gifts as useful and practical as possible, I decided to turn the Pack Leader into a walking billboard. With weeks of intrepid and top secret conspiracy, Jean Anne and Janice helped me arrange to have a local embroidery place upload the theatre logo and put it on a bunch of, to use the Hollywood term, swag. He seems particularly fond of the sweatshirts and hats - which, and I never expected this, he wears together. So basically he's now a mobile commercial.

FREE GLAD-VERTISING :) rich-embroidered.JPG

So as the final wave of Christmas shopping madness concluded and Rich informed me that I needed to learn to drive simply so that “next year he WOULDN’T have to DO THIS with me again and be forced to kill me”, it was time for dinner at Jean Anne’s and Kenny’s. And… since Malibu Blend was not on the menu…it was awesome.

jean-anne-cookin.jpg

Dinner was super yummy, and it was also time to exchange presents – or rather part of our presents. See, we had heard through the grapevine that Cindy was cooking up some sort of gift extraordinaire from the two of them to us… about which we should be justly terrified. Cindy was supposed to come to dinner that night – but she wasn’t able to for some reason – so THAT part had to wait until the next day. So we exchanged our normal-people gifts after dinner. Absolutely hysterically we actually gave each other one of the EXACT same gifts. We had found this little pig keychains that were flashlights and when you pressed the putton to turn on the light it oinked. She gave them to us – we gave them to her. We also gave her a ceramic pig watering can…

THIS GIFT HAS THE SOW FACTOR pig-watering-can.jpg

and, believe it or not, some non pork related items. Jean Anne and Cindy however (apparently Cindy has been planning our Christmas gifts since, like, August), managed to cook up the most ingenious gift. For Janice’s Half Bath (or haaahhhhhf bahhhhth as New Englander’s call it) she gave us towels for the in-laws. That match the pistachio wall color with astounding perfection...

TOWEL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS towels.jpg

Amazing.

The next morning – our final day in Huntington – with great trepidation we arrived at Nick’s Kitchen to receive the present which we were told HAD to be given to us in Cindy’s presence. I would attempt to explain it… but there are no words:

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And, please note the hand painted pig box in which the tree sits.

pig-box.JPG

All I want to know is, how does a woman who has five children and works a full time job manage to have THIS MUCH time??? This is a woman who should have to be legally obligated to register her glue gun as a dangerous weapon.

Since we were leaving very early the next morning for the airport, we had to drop of Po the night before.

RICH SUFFERS PO TRAUMATIC STRESS SYNDOME goodby-po.jpg

Cindy’s daughter has wanted to baby sit Po since, um, the second day we arrived in Huntington. See Madeline wants a dog…bad. Apparently the Po-sit is a testing ground for Madeline’s learning how much responcibility the a dog will be. Which Po was happy to demonstrate for Madeline by peeing on the carpet one minute after we arrived at her house. About which, Cindy was insanely cool. But since Madeline is DESPERATE to get a dog we have this feeling that Po will have never in her life gotten so much attention. She’s probably going to get walked about seventy times a day – because the way we can see this working – if the dog has an accident – it ain’t gonna count against Po…it’s gonna be demerits for Madeline. This is a clear illustration of how, after having five children, you learn a few things. So Po is in good hands.

CLEARLY SHE WILL SUFFER po-sitters.jpg

Probably much better hands than when she is with us. She was dropped off with full paraphernalia including her santa outfit (although getting her to wear the hat without several doses of horse tranquilizers is a challenge). Oh, and if you have never seen the Santa outfit....well this picture is a year old - but it's worth it:

SANTAS LITTLE YELPER xmas-rich-n-po.jpg

When Cindy asked if Madeline could sleep with Po in bed, our response was “you try getting to sleep WITHOUT letting Po sleep in bed with you.” Po is always very excited to have a new place to explore – the entire time we were there she was sniffing around happy as a clam. Even though we always leave her in good hands, it’s always pretty rough to leave her. So we were doing really well sucking it up, but then when we said good bye and got in the car, Cindy was holding Po up to glass door. So as we drive off we have this view of Po staring out the window watching us drive away with a completely baffled expression which had shifted from “this is a nifty new place to sniff” to “um…wait….um…aren’t I supposed to be going with you. Um excuse me… Guysssssssssssss” as we drove away. She looked like one of those children in the “for only a dollar a day you can feed an entire third world country” ads. Guilt. Major. But, according to reports from the Pork News Network, she is happy as a clam and has no particular interest in our coming back.

And so, the holidays begin…