Beach Day

Am I ever going to catch up writing about vacation? Do you ever have the intention of writing deep, soul-searching rambles, letting your mind wander and return refreshed? Would you ever let your mind bend, commit a perambulatory dimension shift, jump up an energy level or two to uncharted parts of the brain?

You would? Good for you. I’m just going to talk about the beach.

We decided to go back where it all began, at Jacksonville Beach, where Reilly proposed to me.

When we got to the parking lot near the pier where we lost Jenny’s keys, it had started to rain. We waited for a little while then headed to a nearby gas station to get something to drink. When we returned to the parking lot, it was raining even harder. Because we are supreme nerds, both of us brought books to read and talk about. We cracked a window and read while it rained.

About 45 minutes later, the rain stopped, and we carried our books, drinks, and towels and found a nice place on the sand. The sky was still overcast, so it wasn’t very hot.

THE pier.

We stayed at the beach for the next two hours. Here is a list of things we did while we were there:

  • Applied sunscreen
  • Read and talked about books
  • Remembered seagulls from our engagement day
  • Drank our drinks
  • Got sandy feet
  • Took photographs
  • Watched people
  • Made fun of people
  • Peed in the ocean

Squinty photo

More clouds

Still more clouds

We only peed in the ocean because we’d been drinking those drinks from the gas station so we had to go, and the parking lot bathrooms were locked, and we thought it would be sort of fun to pee in the ocean. I mean, let’s be honest. We walked casually enough to the water and allowed enough space between us so that we wouldn’t by grossed out by the each other’s warm current. We walked to where the water was about to our hips. We didn’t talk to each other for a few seconds, then I asked Reilly if he was done. Then we let the ocean gently roll in and rinse us.

But here’s the thing: Do you know what acid rain is? So, because people pee in the ocean, and water from the ocean evaporates and forms clouds, and some of these clouds make rain, I wonder if we often think about how often we pee on ourselves. Despite this, I still and will always love the beach.

After a couple of hours it was lunchtime, and we decided to eat at the Metro Diner. It’s a small Jacksonville chain with some distinct charm. It’s just a few blocks from the beach. If it weren’t for my friend Jenny’s recommendation, we wouldn’t have thought to go there.

Yummy food here

Reilly had a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, and I had an enormous fish sandwich. The staff was really nice, and I took half my sandwich to go.

It was a sunny December afternoon when we got engaged a year and a half ago. As is typical for Florida summer afternoons, it rained on our way back to my parents’ home. But not very much. And maybe we had driven far enough away from the ocean and the wind hadn’t blown the clouds to where the familiar smell in the rain wasn’t my own urine.

The Childhood Home of a Southern Gothicist

Have you read any Flannery O’Connor? You need to. She writes some seriously fantastic stuff. Reilly and I went to her childhood home in Savannah, Georgia.

Does she know where you live?

Touring the author’s home was the last thing we did in Savannah, and I have to say it might have been better than touring Hemingway’s home in Key West. Some reasons are more substantial than others.

The tour was small. The touring hours neared an end when we decided to take the tour. An older couple were the only ones there with the docent. They seemed nice enough, but neither of them had ever read any Flannery O’Connor, but the woman said that a friend of theirs likes O’Connor’s writing, so I guess that piqued some curiosity. As the docent told us various stories in different rooms of the house, the woman in particular made comments about how creative O’Connor was. She commented constantly. Like, constantly. And the broadness of her comments confirmed that she hadn’t read any of the author’s work. She also showed that she wasn’t listening by asking questions about topics the docent already covered. It was annoying, but I also felt bad for being snobbish, because we and the docent discussed how O’Connor’s childhood stories had affected her writing that the other couple had read zero of. I guess I’m glad they were there so they could learn how cool this author was. Except that when we described Flannery O’Connor’s writing to them, the woman expressed that that type of writing didn’t interest her. So maybe I felt that the tour was an overall waste for her. And that makes me a little sad. This sadness is different than the sadness I felt learning that many of Hemingway’s relatives suffered from depression and committed suicide. In Savannah, the proximity of dumb tourists gave me quite a thrill, albeit a sad one.

"Not a very good book."
“Not a very good book.”

The docent was very knowledgeable. Reilly and I stayed after the other couple left and after tour hours ended to talk some more with the docent, Toby. He answered questions about the estate, about where O’Connors moved after leaving Savannah; we discussed Flannery’s personality and how her parents managed such a precocious child. We even talked about Toby’s own writing goals and his writing process. This tour felt very personal. The conversation was very stimulating and much needed after eating ourselves into a complete stupor at Paula Deen’s restaurant.

It wasn’t as hot. The entire time we spent in the South the weather was rather pleasant. In Key West the year before, Hemingway’s house was shaded, but the doors were kept open. It felt more humid and much warmer even though Savannah is right on the coast. Also, it seemed a legion of polydactyl cats roamed the property. Because Savannah seems so magical and haunted, the town protected and preserved Flannery O’Connor’s house. I felt more comfortable there.

The power went out. With Grimm’s Fairy Tales on the toilet, of course. It was only a short power outage, but it was a cool effect that added to the creepiness of Flannery’s stories.

Bathroom reading, obviously.

Jerry Bruckheimer. Flannery O’Connor’s estate does not permit any film or theater adaptations of her work, but Jerry Bruckheimer’s name has quite a presence in this house. He happens to like Flannery’s writing, and he made major contributions to have the house restored and turned into a museum. Which is pretty cool. I just get a little scared when I think of what kind of movie Bruckheimer would make if the estate decided to expand Flannery’s work to other media. The work by itself powerfully engages the imagination and provides wonderful dialogue. Explosions or other ridiculous effects and bad acting would definitely detract from that. The estate has acted wisely, but maybe a play would work well sometime in the future.

He's so cute!

I really enjoy touring authors’ homes with someone who loves to read. We have fun discussions, and we make each other smarter. It doesn’t seem possible, I know. Just take my word for it.

Butter Makes Everything Not Related to Racism Better

We look at the menu, but we both order the buffet. This buffet isn’t like Golden Corral with its vast selection of mediocre food; the heated food island at Lady & Sons carries fewer items cooked to perfection. Workers from the kitchen are constantly replacing empty trays with hot full ones with aromatic food vapors rising from them. All the food represents true Southern cooking: barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, black-eyed peas, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, caramelized sweet potatoes. We want to try everything, but we also want to pace ourselves.

Reilly returns from the buffet with a fully loaded plate. We made a reservation that day before, because Lady & Sons often has long lines. Savannah charms with its old houses and trees dressed in Spanish moss, with branches sprawling toward the sky. The town sits along a river with the same name. We had been observing the sauntering citizens and anxious tourists during our walk to the restaurant. It is nice to sit down, and we are starving.

Southern cookin'

Everything I try is delicious. Reilly and I go back for a second plate, and we know early on that we’re almost done. The food tastes so good, but we don’t know if our stomachs have any more space. We start to slow down, but we still want to experience all the textures and tastes on our plates.

We have been on vacation for almost a week; we have been indulging for nearly every meal. Our stomachs should have been sufficiently stretched for a good buffet. But I have gotten to the point where I can barely lift my fork, and all I want to do is put my head down on the table or lie on the floor and wait for someone to step on my stomach and make me barf.

At first, I don’t understand why I got so full that quickly, but then it hits me: butter. If you know Paula Deen’s style of cooking, you know that she uses butter in everything. I tasted it in all the food on my plate. Butter makes everything delicious, but it also coats everything. It adds an invisible layer that makes you think you can eat more than your stomach can hold. The next time we eat at a restaurant like Paula Deen’s, I have to remember that food prepared with butter triples the volume of food without butter.

And then there is dessert. I take a tiny taste of the peach cobbler and the banana pudding, and then I’m done. I’m beyond done. I have packed my digestive system to nearly bursting. We take a few pictures outside and shuffle to a nearby square to recuperate and for Reilly to ask John Wesley for forgiveness for eating too much.

Lucky to lift the camera to take this picture.

Forgive us for eating too much, sir.

Sometime in the weeks after we return from Savannah, we hear news of a lawsuit. Headlines are everywhere. There are sexual harassment charges. There is a deposition with racial slurs.  There is vilification and a crumbling empire.

I feel bad for Paula Deen. She built her company from virtually nothing. She’s best known for cooking everything with butter and she was even coming out with her own brand of butter. She’s tackled her diabetes gracefully in the public, and she has all but completely disarmed America with her thick Southern accent, her strong personality, and her delicious food.

It’s a shame that instead of presenting a mighty dynasty before us, she has now reminded us that racism is alive and well in today’s society. It may be that she testified to saying certain things decades ago, and we may argue that because she said those things a long time ago doesn’t mean she’s racist now. And we can’t necessarily know Ms. Deen’s thoughts from moment to moment.

Yet, the instant that people reacted to Paula Deen’s statements or the media’s treatment of her is when the story became bigger than the icon. Racism is bigger than Paula Deen and her apologists.

A few days ago, I read this blog post that uses deposition excerpts to explain how a lot of reactionaries still hold on to a racist mentality. The author makes a good argument for a civil conversation. Like Ms. Deen’s butter-style of cooking, many of her defenders coat current racism in slippery justification that seems more appealing and more palatable. They ingest each dangerous illusion. Their guts fill quickly with these exquisite excuses, but they eat more. And more. Over time they become diabetic, and they lose circulation, then limbs, and ultimately, sight. They don’t see that Paula Deen has become the whipping boy for racism, and they’re going to keep saying and thinking racist thoughts as if it’s not the same.

Or maybe they’ll learn and improve themselves for a change. Maybe they can take an antacid or something and reduce the bloating and the blindness. Let’s hope.

The Effects of Butterbeer

Last month Reilly and I visited family and friends in Florida. Part of that trip included three days at Universal Studios in Orlando. Everyone who has visited Universal Studios since June 2010 has explored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

If you’ve never been, it’s as amazing as everyone says it is. Even those who haven’t been enchanted by this ubiquitous enterprise will have a wonderful time at the park. The Hogwarts ride is inside a giant Hogwarts-looking castle. Portraits of various HP personalities adorn the heavy stone walls, and a lot of the people in the paintings move and talk to you, just like in the books/movies. Harry, Hermione, and Ron holograms come out to tell us what to expect during the ride. The effects impress, the ride thrills, and I talked to (at?) Harry during the whole ride experience. Both times.

We also rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster twice. Two dragons go out at the same time on different tracks, and they chase each other, twist around, and pass each other at high speeds. It’s one of my favorite rides.

Harry Potter World teemed with lots of British tourists. Some may ask why British people would come to a place that simulates where they come from, but having so many of them around actually added to the authenticity of that part of the park, especially the Londony town. You can wander the town and browse various toy and souvenir shops. Ollivander’s wand shop is very popular because many children buy into the idea of a wand choosing its wizard. (We didn’t go inside the shop; the line stretched endlessly, and I wasn’t sure about the open carry laws for magic wands in Utah.)

After our first time riding the Hogwarts ride, we decided to split a butterbeer. You can find butterbeer stands scattered throughout the town, and you can choose to drink it hot or cold in a throwaway plastic cup ($3.75) or a souvenir mug ($7.50-ish). I remember from the books how delicious butterbeer seemed. It sounded so creamy and sweet, and it was one of the most popular beverages the Hogwarts students drank whenever they visited London. I got the impression that because butter was so delicious, it was also very addicting, and kids would drink it until they nearly exploded. This was my impression. Butterbeer was magical because its bubbles tickled the taste buds, and the sugar went straight to the brain.

However, I did not know about the intoxicating effects of butterbeer. Your brain does not recognize the tipsiness it causes, but apparently you can capture proof of being utterly lit on camera. Neither Reilly nor I felt drunk while we drank the butterbeer; we walked in straight lines, we didn’t pocket-dial anyone; we felt no nausea, we woke up without hangovers the next day. As much as we wish we could deny being under the influence, we know that the camera doesn’t lie. The camera has no mercy. While Reilly and I are generally a photogenic couple, the camera caught us quite out of sorts while we drank butterbeer:

Exhibit 1

Exhibit 2Doesn’t it look like we were having a great time? Notice the level of the butterbeer in the cup, and you can figure out what lightweights we are. (Remember that we split that cup between us!) I mean, we did arrive at the park around 9:15 that morning, and we had been standing in line in ponchos so we wouldn’t get soaked from the rain for nearly an hour. So while I didn’t know we’d get sloshed at the time, I’m glad we treated ourselves so early in the morning.

I just don’t know why it didn’t affect any of the kids around us that way.