Ramble With Me.

He Told Us Where We Stand.

Source: RiffRaffStatue.org

There’s a statue of Riff Raff, the traitorous servant from Rocky Horror, on a street corner in Hamilton, New Zealand. That might seem like an unlikely place unless you know that Richard O’Brien, the musical’s creator and original butler, lived there and worked as a hairdresser, which might be why they gave the statue Riff Raff’s climactic look, after he decided to get his hair done at Dairy Queen.

There are also instructions on the statue’s base on how to do The Time Warp, the great dance that’ll take ya back to the moon-drenched shores of Transylvania, and a camera you can use to catch others doing The Time Warp if you can’t make it to New Zealand, and this is added to my list of approximately three thousand other reasons I’d really, really, really like to go to New Zealand, but that’s another story.

Why does Rocky Horror survive? It was a surprise hit on the London stage, a dud on the New York stage, and the film was a commercial and critical disaster that turned around into the biggest selling midnight movie of all time, developing a huge cult following, spawning a sequel, and I’m pretty sure it’s still a critical disaster because like anything campy it does everything wrong and does it brilliantly.

It’s also prescient in a weird way. It’s not just that Rocky Horror aggressively challenged gender norms. The sequel, Shock Treatment, would too, with Brad locked away like a fairy tale princess and finally rescued by Janet only after her rise and fall as a reality star. The never-to-be-made third film, Revenge Of The Old Queen would, if you can believe the bootleg scripts floating around, take things even farther: Janet goes her own way, Brad is dead and buried wearing nothing but a pearl necklace and high heels, and Riff Raff makes an unceremonious return to Earth, his teleporter putting him under a running shower head. If you wanna get really deep there’s even a fitting kind of symmetry in Tim Curry originating the role of Frank N. Furter but making a comeback of his own in the 2016 remake as The Criminologist—the life of the party reduced to a voyeur.

Way back in the early 1970’s when it all started O’Brien was riffing—no pun intended but let’s say it was intended anyway—on the glam rock of the time that killed the rhythm and blues rock that came before it (sorry, Eddie!), but he knew glam would burn out, or be taken down by whatever came next. When Riff Raff and Magenta crash Frank’s orgy they are the embodiment of punk rock, which makes it fitting that it’s the vengeful, murderous Riff who’s immortalized down under. Richard O’Brien knew the times they were a-changin’, and would keep changing. History doesn’t repeat but it does rhyme.

Because of the time difference whenever I check in on the Riff Raff statue it’s almost always tomorrow there, but it doesn’t matter. It’s always time to do The Time Warp.

One Star Review.

This place is, like, really really off the beaten track. We wouldn’t have even found it if we hadn’t shut off the GPS. We started out on I-10 but it was late afternoon and truckers were going by us in the fast lane like they’d lost their minds. We got off at an exit, I don’t remember which one, and just started driving until it got dark. We were driving slow along this back road and could smell some kind of plant, or maybe it was churros or something. And we heard an old church bell off in the distance.

This place was really brightly lit and it looked nice so we thought it would be a good place to stop. Even after we saw the big gold Mercedes Benz up on blocks out front. We just thought that was funny. It didn’t seem like your usual B&B but that’s what we liked about it. There was a woman standing right out in front and we both thought, places like this can be really great or they can be terrible. Or kind of meh.  

The front room was pretty nice too. They had, like, a ton of Tiffany lamps all around. All done up in what I guess would be 1920s style. The woman who met us at the door lit a candle and showed us to a room, which I especially thought was nice, very atmospheric, and there must have been some kind of party going on because we could hear voices down the hall saying “welcome, welcome.”

Here’s where things got kind of freaky. The room was nice, with Shaker style furniture, but there were mirrors on the ceiling. I swear, mirrors! On the ceiling! What was that about? And you know how hotels always used to have a Bible in the table next to the bed? Some still do but this place had The Magus by John Fowles. Maybe an English major or somebody stayed there last?

Our room had a nice window that looked out over the courtyard and there were a bunch of shirtless young guys out there dancing. Some guy in robes and a pointy hat like Gandalf I guess was playing a guitar out there and that’s what they were dancing to. Not that I’m complaining but they were kind of sweaty. It wasn’t loud but I wondered if they would keep going all night.

We were still looking at the room when the woman who checked us in said, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device,” and, wow, I got chills, but we just laughed it off. We figured it was, like the theme of the room or the place. Creepy but you go with it, you know?

They were still serving dinner so we went down. This guy in a navy double-breasted suit and a cap came over and asked if he could get us anything to drink. I asked for some wine and he said, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.” Well, I don’t know what that meant because I asked for the 2014 Merlot they had on the list. I guess they were out of it because they brought a couple of glasses of some rosé chardonnay, but they poured it over ice. I was like, what is this, 1976?

Then I guess there was some kind of special event because we were invited into another room in the back. This part…I don’t really want to talk about it. It was dark and I think they let a live pig or something loose in the room. They had given us these knives and there was a lot of screaming. We ran for the door and got out of there fast.

We went back to the front room and there was this, like, statue in there. We thought it was just a statue but it turns out it was a robot. It came on and said, “Good night, we are programmed to receive.” Then it sighed and said something about the diodes down its left side hurting and how it had a brain the size of a planet. It told us we could check out any time but we couldn’t leave which could make anybody paranoid if you think about it.

Well, we got out of there and I didn’t think anything about it until I just got the credit card statement and we’re still being charged! I’m writing this while I’m on hold trying to get it taken off our bill.

All this because we took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.  

Almost Like Being There.

Source: Wikipedia

I have a thing about islands. I’ve always been fascinated by them because I feel like they’re a place I could visit and know completely—the smaller ones, anyway. Technically Australia is an island but there’s  a lot of ground there to cover. Small islands, though, are fascinating places, even though many are remote and tend to be difficult to get to. Actually their remoteness and the difficulty of getting to them is part of the attraction. That’s why I was really intrigued to hear about virtual tourism of the Faroe Islands. It’s not just a virtual tour either. If you want to “visit” you can interact with a local through a headset and camera. You can tell them where to go and even ask them to run or jump, which seems kind of obnoxious, and very trusting on their part, and I hope no one’s taken advantage of that. Fortunately if you do get “control” you only get it for about a minute, and the local person will offer suggestions about where they can take you. It’s a great way to have a brief but semi-guided tour of the area, and if I were visiting a place I’d rather have a local show me around than just try and figure out my own way. Some of the time, anyway. Sometimes when I’ve traveled I’ve also enjoyed going off on my own, which is also part of the appeal of small islands. It’s easier to feel like there’s less chance I’m missing something in a place where there’s not a lot of ground to cover.

Dear John…

Restaurant patrons in New York have a problem: they can’t find the loo, the head, the john, the restroom, or the bathroom. Apparently the problem is that old buildings are being turned into gourmet restaurants, because with rising rent prices making it harder for people to actually live in the city the most important thing New York needs is more places that serve upscale kale, quail, yellowtail, pale ale, and escargot. And that reminds me of the time I was in an English pub and asked the bartender where the bathroom was. “Why?” he asked sarcastically. “Do you need to take a bath?” I said, “Well, we are in Somerset…”

What I don’t understand is why New York diners are treating the hard to find heads—such as the Crosby Street Hotel restaurant that, according to what I’ve read, requires people to go downstairs and through five closed doors, one with a sign that says “Beware of the leopard”—as an inconvenience rather than a feature. Why isn’t an outhouse that’s actually outside and probably formerly someone’s house seen as charming, fun, part of the adventure of going out to a restaurant? After all one of the rising industries is what’s known as—I’m not making this up—the “experience economy”, which is a new term for something that’s been around forever and encompasses everything from amusement parks to safaris. As businesses look for new ways to compete and attract customers many add features that may not be part of the original plan but that add that extra flavor that draws people in and keeps them coming back. And with these added features businesses can charge more, claiming to offer more bang for your buck, even if it is more like extra bangs you aren’t sure you wanted for more bucks than you really wanted to spend, or, as my grandfather used to say, “All the extras are free until you get the bill,” but that’s another story. A really good example of this I can think of is an Irish pub that used to be in downtown Nashville—although given its location I guess technically it was about as Irish as Lucky Charms. Still I liked it because it was a nice place to get a pint of Guinness, and they’d decorated the place to look like an old-fashioned Irish pub, and one room was even elaborately designed to look like a Dublin street from the 1920’s. They did kind of overdo it by having the waiters dressed up as Irish writers, though—having Oscar Wilde tell you “The only thing worse than having the fish and chips is not having the fish and chips” was a little odd, although not as bad as James Joyce bumping into tables and dropping hot soup in your lap because he couldn’t see anything, or Samuel Beckett who just never showed up. And then there were the restrooms. They weren’t that different from the restrooms you’d find in most other restaurants, but they had a recording of an Irish comedian playing on an endless loop, and I’d get so involved listening to his jokes that when half an hour later I got back to the table the only explanation I could give was that there was this nun and this priest forced to sleep in the same room, and the nun kept asking the priest to get up and get her another blanket. My wife would then ask me where the restrooms were located and, as she always does when we’re in a restaurant, she’d say, “Don’t point. Just tell me.” And, well, all those little extras the pub offered were enough to make the slightly higher prices, not to mention the headaches of trying to find a parking space in downtown Nashville, and for that matter the headaches the next morning from too many pints of Guinness, worth it.

It was the exact opposite of a dingy little dive where I’d worked years earlier, part of a chain of dingy little dives, but this particular one did have an added feature. Any woman who came in alone didn’t have to dine alone, even if she wanted to, because the manager made a point of always joining her. He also always made a point of letting a cigarette dangle from his lips while he cooked to give everything a nice smoky flavor, but that’s another story. Some women, I think, paid extra just so he’d go away, and I think his wife did too.

So anyway to come back to my original point, assuming I can find it, I’m pretty sure it was around here somewhere—I should have taken that left turn at Albuquerque—the New York restaurants with distant restrooms should advertise that fact and give out maps with the menus, or GPS coordinates, to diners. They should make it a game, part of the experience du jour, and since diners might get hot and sweaty in their long search for a water closet they should include a place to take a bath.

Look Around.

There’s a Nashville tour bus that passes in front of the building where I work. In the summer months it’s open and people hang out of the windows. I wave at them as they pass by. Some wave back which makes me happy. I want visitors to enjoy themselves and feel welcome and think of this as a friendly place then go home because there’s too much traffic, but that’s another story. Sometimes when the buses pass by me they’re completely empty, and you might wonder why they bother, but people don’t buy just one tour; they buy an all-day ride and can hop on and hop off wherever they want. I’ve been at the Parthenon when the tour bus is there and overheard people say, “We’ll get the next one.” So, unlike most tours, they’re not bound by the schedule can stick around and look spend time at a specific place that interests them.
It’s winter now and the buses that go by have clear plastic windows that hang down like curtains. I can sort of make out people behind them but if they wave back I can’t see it. And the buses have a wreath on front, which is something new, or at least something I’ve never seen before.
One day before a meeting a coworker and I started talking about the tour buses and travel in general, and I said I like small towns and I’m intrigued by islands–that if I could travel as much as I wanted places like New Caledonia, Tuvalu, and Yap are at the top of my list.
“Are you a completist?” she asked. I’d never heard that term before but I loved it. Yeah, I like the idea of a small place because I hate going somewhere and feeling like I’ve missed things. There are places I want to go back to–Chicago, Cleveland, and Los Angeles are high on my list–because there are still things in those places I want to see. And that’s one of the challenges of travel: do you go somewhere you’ve never been or back to someplace you’ve seen for something new? Because everywhere there’s always something new. Every place is always changing, every place has something you’ve never seen before. Even Nashville, where I’ve lived my entire life, has constant surprises.
Maybe one of these days I’ll take that tour to see what the city has to offer that I haven’t seen before, and by taking the bus I won’t add to the traffic.

Midsummer’s Not Over Yet.

The Nashville Shakespeare Festival’s annual Shakespeare In The Park play this year is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The set looks very impressive and detailed. It’s more than a little surprising to me that palatial doors form such a large part of the set and there’s only a little greenery on the left and right. This is strange because if you know the play you know that most of it takes place in the woods with events in Theseus’s palace only happening at the beginning and end. In the past the NSF’s productions have used more open, minimalist sets, so it’ll be interesting to see if the background changes as the play progresses.

I love the view from the stage.

If there’s a downside it’s that they’ve done A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And done it. And done it. This will be the fourth production in its thirty year history, although I get it. They’ve done some of the darker plays—like a brilliant and haunting production of the Scottish play—but when you’re hanging out in the park, maybe with your kids, you want to watch something light as the sun goes down. And actress Denise Hicks, who’s now the NSF’s director, played Puck in the troupe’s first production back in 1994. It was her idea that the spirits use tai chi moves and at dramatic moments would stomp on the stage, making the unearthly characters menacing, but in a good way. So if I happen to have offended think but this and all is mended: there’s always new life in an old play.

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