Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dirty Water but a Nice Day

Monday was a disappointment, but at the same time, a good day.

It was spring break here, the kids and Tori were off from Thursday through Tuesday. Between stuff we had to do, and the weather forecast, we picked Monday. Tori and I were taking a drive, just the two of us, a road trip out to find some beach.

John on the Gulfport, Miss. beach.
We hadn't been to the beach since we left the island. Even in Oregon trips to the coast weren't just an outing, they were a necessity, almost a pilgrimage. From Albany, the Oregon coast was about an hour drive. It was beautiful, rugged coastline, with quaint beach towns catering to tourists in funky, cheesy ways. The water was – bracing? Try freezing. You couldn't walk barefoot in the surf for more than a few minutes before the cold was painful. You'd occasionally see one or two people surfing – clad in wet suits – but I can't remember ever seeing anyone just wading into the waves and swimming. Too cold.

Still, we loved visits to the coast. Tori in particular needed them.

Moving to St. Croix, of course, was paradise. Instead of an hour drive, it was three minutes to one of the most beautiful beaches on the planet. The water was as warm as a bath. I'm not much of a swimmer, but even I could float in the blue, blue, blue crystal clear water, bobbing in the swell.

So we were excited for the chance to have a road trip to find the Gulf Coast. I'd heard about it – white sand, warm water. We were aiming for the Mississippi shoreline, driving down the shore highway to see what there was to see.

First, Weather Underground really let us down. The weekend was supposed to be rainy. So the sky was sunny both days. Monday was supposed to be clear and warm. It was cloudy and overcast all day, and the temperature never cleared 65.

As we crossed Bay St. John and headed down the coast highway, the water looked murky, lead gray. There was a white sand strip on the south side of the highway. The north side was mostly a long collection of strip malls, chain restaurants and gas stations. Literally, it seemed like there was a Waffle House restaurant every three quarters of a mile. In one place there were three within four blocks of each other. Never want to be caught without a waffle, I guess.

I suppose if you live up in the northern part of the state, or Arkansas or Tennessee, it'd seem pretty neat. By Oregon standards it was a letdown. By St Croix standards? Don't make me laugh.

Dirty water in the Gulf.
We made it all the way to Gulfport before we saw any reason to pull off the road – a beach that included a public restroom. They'd done a nice job of giving the beach some amenities, tables and benches. No trees, no dunes, no grasses. A couple of dozen people were on the beach.

We went to the water and it was beyond filthy. Black leaves and debris washed up on shore. Standing ankle deep in the cold water – not Oregon cold, but cold – you literally could not see your toes. And the feel of the water was sludgy. We wanted a shower.

We used the facilities and drove on, through Biloxi, which is full of casinos, and found ourselves in Ocean Springs. The water wasn't any better, but it was a little nicer. My favorite part was the Ocean Springs Yacht Club. The name was probably not meant to be ironic, but there was nothing there but a bunch of day sailors, 20 feet or so. And a bar.

Statue of Iberville, who established
the French settlement at what it now
Ocean Springs, Miss.
But there was a really nice park, on the site of what apparently was the first French settlement established on the Gulf Coast. Really nice playground for kids, old trees. That's where we had our picnic lunch, cold fried chicken and potato salad. We had forgotten to bring forks, but Tori discovered if you bit carefully into a drumstick you could shape it into a sort of spoon, not much but serviceable.

There was also a long pier where you could walk out. There was a guy fishing who'd caught a couple of catfish, and we watched the pelicans diving for their lunch. Even the pelicans suffered in comparison to the islands. On St. Croix the pelicans would fly about 20 feet over the water, then wheel and plunge down to snag a fish. In Mississippi they skimmed the surface, then suddenly dropped to grab something. I guess the water was so cloudy that from more than a few feet they couldn't see the fish.

Tori at Gulfport. Any beach is better than none,
but we've seen much better.
Also saw something I'd never seen before – each pelican was accompanied by a gull or two. When the pelican splashed down and grabbed a fish, the gulls would join him – sometimes actually sitting atop the bigger bird – to steal a bite or two.

Anyway, we finally decided we'd had enough for one day. We could have kept going east and been in Alabama within half an hour. But home was beckoning and we turned our heads west. On the way back we changed across a cool NASA science center at the Mississippi-Louisiana border. It was closed, but it's only an hour away so we'll likely go back for a visit.

The beach was a disappointment, but Tori and I had a great day together, one of the first no hassle fun days we've had since we moved. It was a nice trip. Next time, probably this summer, we'll get on I-10
 Pensacola is only two hours away, we're told, and Fort Walton Beach only about a half hour past that. We're willing to give the Gulf another try. If nothing else, it's a chance for the two of us to get away together.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Turning the Table, Part 2

So, as I said, one day about a month ago Tori took a close look at our ugly but very solid coffee table, and decided to do something about it. What she did was kind of amazing.

This is the table 'before.'
Whenever we go to Home Depot, she makes a point of checking out the orphan paint. These are gallons or quarts (or whatever size paint cans) of paint that got mixed and for some reason never bought. At Home Depot they're usually kept right under the paint desk, they're always cheap and often interesting. That's where she picked up the deep blue that now adorns our front door.

Sometimes she buys the paint without having a specific use for it. Just because it interested her. And about a month ago, when she was looking for something to use in our bathroom, she found something pretty cool.

Two quarts of "chalkboard paint." It's that deep green color you remember from your school days, and when you've put down three or four coats, it actually makes the surface a chalkboard. She did it on half this odd wall we have in our bathroom, and now leaves messages on it. The four of us in the house keep very different schedules, but the bathroom is almost always the first place any of us head when we start our day,

And there was plenty left over. So to the table. It has a roughly two-inch moulding around the edge, then a narrow crevice, and the central flat surface.

First she painted the whole thing white. She then applied four coats of chalkboard paint to the central surface. That was very cool. But that wasn't the genius part. In white, the two-inch moulding was kind of boring. So we went to the local comic book shop and bought some cheap comics. Those she cut up and glued them down all around the surface, covering them with a decoupage coating.

I think you'll agree the result is amazing.

The only downside is the chalk dust. It's probably a good thing that I can't just pile books and papers on the thing, but the chalk dust is kind of annoying. After folding laundry and stacking it on the table, as per usual, I found I had to rewash the items at the bottom of each stack. 

But it's a small price to pay for one of the coolest coffee tables I've ever seen.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Turning the Table

It started with the paint.

No, it started with the table, but it was just a table for more than a year. A beat up, chunky, water-stained, worn coffee table. I big, hefty chunk of wood, still a perfectly serviceable coffee table, solid. Heavy. Makes vacuuming the living room a chore. But was it ugly? Oh yes.

I had a picture of it, but managed to delete it recently, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Tori and Millie brought it home one night from a Craig's List curb call. You know, where someone posts on Craig's List "I've got some furniture," or bag of books, or a lava lamp or – seriously, this one was in Sunday morning – a bag of assorted animal bones. They give their address, say they're putting it on the curb, first come, first served. And you're off to the races!

Sounds tacky, I suppose, but it's fun. A come-as-you-are scavenger hunt. A couple of times I was just getting ready for bed around midnight and Tori would say, "We've gotta go! There's a something or other on the curb at ..." and we'd be off. Or the afternoon or morning, whenever. Sometimes you get there just as another person is driving away with it. Sometimes you get there and think, "This is crap. I'm not putting this in my hand, let alone in my car."

But sometimes it's just what you need, whether you knew it or not. And it's an adventure.

One evening Tori and Millie dashed out – so it had to be between August and October 2012, between when we moved into this house and when Millie left for school. When they came back they had, among other things, a coffee table.

Big, heavy, ugly coffee table. Still sturdy, but ugly. For a year it was good enough. It got the job done. In our house, the job for almost any flat horizontal surface is to let me pile paper and books and whatnot on it. And it did that well. There was usually so much stuff on it you couldn't really see how ugly it was.

Then one night not too long ago, Tori gave the table a good look. She started thinking.

This is where the paint comes in. And the comic books.

And since this is long enough, the rest of the story – which is pretty amazing – will be told tomorrow.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spending an Evening with Ben

Great day Thursday, driving up to Jackson, Mississippi, to see son Ben, who was in town to do an acting gig for the ABC news show, "What Would You Do?"

I hadn't seen him in seven years – since 2008 when I was in L.A. for Jeopardy and 2007 for the Talk Like a Pirate Day hoopla at friend Talderoy's Ye Olde Tattoo Shop, when I drank a lot of rum and got ye old tattoos on my arm. Tori saw him last summer. For Max is had been even longer than it was for me.

So Tori, Max and I drove up. Jackson is about a two and a half hour drive, a straight shot north from NOLA. It was an easy drive and well worth it. And Linda (our car, pronounce the name with the Latin "leen-dah) was a champ. Got better than 30 miles per gallon, which ain't bad for a car older than both Max and Millie. It's a '92 Tercel, and on the way up it rolled over 100,000 miles.

Ben, dear OLD dad and Max. Don't
you LOVE my shirt? Neither do my kids.
I was dressed specially for the occasion. Tori suggested I wear my dashiki, a shirt I'd bought on the island for a couple of bucks. You have to understand that years ago I started basing my wardrobe choices solely on comfort and shock value. Anything that will startle the children is good enough for my closet. I don't care about fashion. I also brought my maroon polo shirt, what I call my, "don't embarrass the kids" shirt that I wear for parent-teacher conferences, and planned to change into it once the dashiki had had the desired effect. But once Ben finished laughing at me, he was comfortable enough to say I didn't need to change.

I should have worn one of my Hawaiians, I guess.

Ben and Max in Ben's room.
It was great to see Ben, of course, and catch up on his life and steady climb up the entertainment ladder. And Ben was a little shocked when he saw Max – hadn't seen him since Max was about 8. He's grown a bit, to say the least. Max has shown people Ben's picture and they say, "No way that's your brother, he's too hot." (Seriously, they say that.) So we made sure to get a picture of them together.

But one thing we all agreed on, Jackson is a hole. The worst city I think I've ever been in, drab and ugly and falling down at the seams. Definitely the worst state capital I've ever seen. The only part that looked OK was the downtown area, which was heavily torn up by urban renewal construction and you could see it would look kind of nice if/when they finish. But it was all the more telling that, as rundown as the city is, the only place them seem to be putting any effort it the downtown

Driving up we'd passed by or through a series of comically named towns on the edges of swamps and wondered, "Why does anyone live here? What made them decide, 'This is the place?'" Once we saw Mississippi’s capital we decided the residents of those other places had said, "Well, at least it's not Jackson."

It led to one of my best lines in a while. As we passed through one town, Tori read the name and asked, "What's a Tickfaw?" I replied, "Fer suckin' blood!" (It works if you read both lines aloud in a southern accent.)

Saucy ribs mean sticky fingers! Great
food from E&L Barbecue.
But they did have fantastic ribs! Ben had "yelped" (oh these kids today) for a good place to eat and found E&L Barbecue. The woman at his hotel front desk told him it was good, so we headed off and found it. A hole in the wall. There's a security guard at the door and a sign that says "No firearms permitted inside." So that had us on edge. Lots of tables inside but no one sitting at them. It seems to be takeout only, and there was a line, about 18 or 20 ahead of us, and as we moved up more people filling in behind. The air was sharp with the tangy smell of wood smoke and barbecue sauce. We got our order and went back to Ben's hotel to eat.

Wow! It was great. I had the pulled pork sandwich and it was delicious. Then started looking over the plates of the others, all of whom had way more than they could eat. Three ribs later I could hold no more.

Anyway, Ben's doing well, and we hope to see him on TV soon. We'll update on that when the day nears. We drove up, saw Ben for about three hours and had a good visit, then drove home another two and half or so hours. A day well spent.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NOLA Pyrate Week

Had fun last weekend at the opening of NOLA Pyrate Week. Hung out for three hours or so with a group of pirates who had descended on the Pirates Cafe, met a lot of the freebooter folk.

Sadly, the camera was acting up so we didn't get a lot of pics. Here are a few we did get.

Me, with what I regret is the only picture that worked of Seika 'Hellbound,' right, quartermaster   of NOLA Pyrate Week. Sunday she officiated at a pirate wedding of Cherokee Jenny Dubs & Master Edward ‘Doc’ Lawless. At least, also with his back to the camera, is Charles Duffy, who heads up the NOLA Krewe of Pirates. We affectionately refer to him as Max's "drunken bastard uncle Chuck."

 Do not know these three, but they seemed very nice. And you've gotta love the guy's leatherwork.

Also do not know this fella's name, but he was a great guy, reminded me of several other pirates I esteem, and shared with me both a drink from his gigantic flask and his recipe for what he called brandywine.

Amon and Merlot, a pair of fancy freebooters originally from Colorado. Funny story, she assured me we'd met before, in 2004 (or 2006, I don't recall) in San Diego at a pirate festival. I told her that wasn't likely, since I haven't been to San Diego since 1979. She was sure the Pirate Guys, the guys who'd invented Talk Like a Pirate Day were there. I asked, "Were they collecting money for anything?" She said yeah, as near as she could recall they'd been selling something. Bloody pirates!

 The wind didn't cooperate in fluttering this rather large pirate pennant, but it was a dandy. And look closely at the guy's garb and gear. Most of it is made from junk! Including his shoulder pads, made from old speakers. Very cool. Nice work!