Friday, July 30, 2010

Bon Voyage, Larry!

Ballsy Larry at my 43rd birthday party, with help from Howard the Tongue and Tami Bonos on French-Fry Penis.
It's always hard when cool, funny people leave one's sphere. Such is the case with Larry Epstein. I've known him for years now as a fellow comedian and a key member of one of Denver's funniest comedy improv troupes, Monkey's Uncle.

What with his fancy PhD and all, he's scored an important job in Boston (Harvard, specifically) to help some troubled kids deal with that nasty bitch called Life. Honestly, I can't think of a better guy to have on their side.

The Monkey's had a kick-ass show earlier this week to send Larry on his way. So glad I was there to celebrate. 

You will be missed, Dr. Larry!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Garden of the Gods

After living so close to Garden of the Gods for four years and yet, never actually seeing it, I finally got to investigate for myself. Oh, and it's fuss-worthy, I can assure you. GoG is 3,300 acres of jaw-dropping beauty located within the city of Colorado Springs. The park offers tons of hiking trails, bike lanes and an endless amount of immense orange boulders, ideal for scrambling over - all totally free.

Reid had made arrangements to stay at Glen Eyrie, a genuine American castle (if there is such a thing) built in 1871 by General William Jackson Palmer, the founder of Colorado Springs. Conveniently located next door to GoG, Glen Eyrie is Tudor gem, boasting 67 rooms and 24 fireplaces. It is also - we couldn't help but notice - THE perfect place for a haunting.

Our redonkulously huge room, The Castle Suite.
Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Palmer had Glen Eyrie built to comfort his wife, Mary, who'd been homesick for her native England. Glen Eyrie was purchased in 1953 by The Navigators, a Christian ministry that regularly hosts conferences and seminars on-site. (Nice of them to let heathens stay there too.) The grounds were lush and filled with giggling children and super mellow Bighorn Sheep. We found a herd of 16, with their famous Joan River 'dos, just chillaxing. Incredible.

Glen Eyrie
We spent the weekend 'ooohing' and 'aaaahing' over the castle's majestic grounds and the stunning GoG next door. The whole area is like one big geologic porn palace. Honestly. Not sure why but the landscape consistently reminded me of food. It had nothing to do with cravings or hunger, it just seemed that food was always the best description.

Exhibit A: "Petrified Bacon"
I also had another one: "Spilled Root Beer Float." Once Reid understood where I was coming from, he offered up his own example: "Chocolate cake with melted strawberry ice cream."

Bighorn Sheep at Glen Eyrie: Are they cool or what?
Other than oogling the scenery and shopping/eating/drinking in Old Colorado City, we noted two things. First, there was something very Twilight Zone going on all weekend with regards to signs and directions. It felt similar to being trapped in the Gaelic section of Ireland (true story) with everybody advising you to take mysterious Trail 14, although never meeting anyone who had actually done so themselves. The situation was repeated on car and on foot ("Um, what are we dong in Manitou Springs?") and we began to wonder what mystical GPS-related hex had been put upon us.

Pottery store in Old Colorado City
Second, I had perceived Colorado Springs as a bastion of white conservatism and unyielding Christianity. It is, after all, the home base for the evangelical Christian group, Focus on the Family, whose website currently offers helpful marriage survival tips: "When a spouse struggles with homosexuality." Good Lord, do they think it's like having a migraine or something?

Hiding you from what?
 Colorado Springs is also home to the U.S. Air Force Academy. I only saw it from miles away but that sucker is ha-yuuuuuuuge. We also spotted some serious Sky Cops during our visit, which is just fine by me.

ANYHOO, the fact that we were lodging at a Christian compound only confirmed my perception. But then, something else happened too. First I noticed that in addition to those attending the conference at Glen Eyrie, there were other regular guests, two of them bi-racial couples. Not a big deal but still surprised to see it. (I have to wonder if Reid & I had been a gay couple, how that would have gone down.)

Bighorn Sheep were all over the grounds at Glen Eyrie.
Then, on Saturday evening, Reid and I ventured 'downtown' to the strip of bars and restaurants along Tejon Street. There, we saw all kinds of people, all races - many of them dressed up and partying down.

We made the smartest decision ever by setting up camp at Jack Quinn's Irish Pub, which provided an ideal outdoor spot for people watching, a super friendly waitress who sounded exactly like Paula Poundstone, yummy fish & chips, and one of the best bands I've heard in a long time - Big Paddy. It's just two guys that play there every Saturday night but the place was rollicking. There were even big, hairy dudes in kilts doing traditional Scottish jigs. FUN. Of course, the Jameson on the rocks helped too.

Note the hairy meatballs in the pock marks - hidden by God, of course.
Then there was the couple who made me rethink everything I'd heard about Colorado Springs. One half of the couple was a tall, tough looking cowgirl in full Western get-up. The cowboy hat, vest, jeans and boots didn't appear to be a costume, it looked like what she wore every day. Her girlfriend was much shorter and rounder, with deep black skin, bright pink hair and some crazy outfit straight from a New York runway. Anyone looking at them could see they were in love and honestly? Nobody (except me) looked at them twice. This was not the Colorado Springs I was expecting.

Guess there's room for Goddesses there too. Who knew?

See more photos from my trip here.

Friday, July 23, 2010

At Long Last ... Vindication

"In the past, you rented if you didn't make enough money. You rented if you weren't ambitious. You rented if you weren't sort of smart enough. But as it turns out, as we look in recent years, renting turned out to be a pretty smart thing to do."

--Nicolas Retsinas, director of Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studie, as told to NPR


Monday, July 19, 2010

Over the River

Several months ago, I signed up to attend a public meeting with Christo, the world-famous artist whose large-scale outdoor installations ("The Gates" in New York, "The Umbrellas" in Japan and California, "Surrounded Islands" in Florida) brought he and his late partner/wife, Jean-Claude, much acclaim.
"Jean-Claude is with me always." 
--Christo, on the recent death of his lifelong artistic partner and wife, Jean-Claude (They were born on the same date: June 13, 1935.)
 (Photo Credit: Richard Lacayo)

A few months goes by and I receive an email reminder to get my butt downtown, pronto. So I hopped on my bike and arrived at the Seawell Grand Ballroom, sweaty but curious, about what brought Christo to Denver.

Turns out, his next big project - in the works for over a decade now - will likely take place in south-central Colorado. Called "Over the River", it will consist of 5.9 miles of silvery fabric suspended over the Arkansas River along a 40-mile stretch between Salida and Cañon City. The temporary exhibit is slated for two weeks in summer 2013. And yes, it will be high enough from the river (15-18 feet) that folks can float under it. Very cool.

The room was packed with other curious citizens and leaders in the Colorado arts/business community, including Don Marostica, the head of the Economic Development Office. (I'd worked with him before on a previous project - nice fellow and a real friend to the arts.)

Christo, a delicate gentleman with Bulgarian roots and a shock of white frizzy hair, could not have been more gracious and open. He gave a detailed slide presentation that offered full explanations on his personal life, how projects are created and financed, the full blueprint of the OTR project and details on the many, many, many meetings he must attend with governmental agencies to secure all the proper permits. (At one meeting, Christo, Jean-Claude and their team are seated across from tie-wearing representatives from 11 different U.S. agencies.)

Thankfully, standing microphones were set up for a Q&A session. Of course, I had to get my big mouth in there and began my question with this: "First of all, I just want to say how happy I am you are in Colorado." Much to my surprise, this set off a wild burst of applause and people thanked me later. (I only found it odd because two scheduled speakers had basically said the same thing; perhaps I was speaking for the 'little people'?) Christo's humbled response to my comment was a low bow with his hands pressed together, a very Dalai Lama move.

I can't remember that initial question but when I got greedy and returned for a second question, Christo laughed at me: "You again???" I simply wanted to know if, with all these large-scale global projects, it made him see the world differently - like one big canvas.

Also, was he setting his sights on the moon? He chuckled in his response: "Funny you should mention it. Jean-Claude was once asked that question and she said we would create a space project once other people are more established there." 

The public meeting lasted over two hours and I'm so glad I went. Not only will OTR will bring increased tourism to the region and global focus to Colorado but it's a real community-builder. Before even getting started on this project, Christo went to the small towns along the river and made his proposal to the residents, disclosing every detail. "Without the support of the local communities, the project would not exist," he said simply. "This should be a celebration, not an intrusion."

At the event's closing, Christo's local lawyer got up and explained how we can help. With the environmental impact statement now submitted, Christo and Team were asking us to speak out in support of OTR by attending public meetings and commenting online. They have made it very, very easy - just go here.

Despite being mobbed by fans after the event, I ended up riding the escalator with the charming artist. I told him I couldn't wait to float under OTR and I'd hoped we hadn't overwhelmed him. "Not at all," he said, "I appreciate the support and thank you for your questions."

With that, I hopped on my bike and rode home along Cherry Creek, thrilled all over again to be in Colorado where strange things sometimes happen - like internationally famous artists bowing to sweaty citizens.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Gold In My Forest

 On this week's visit to San Francisco (pang! pang! pang!), a friend took me for a drive through the Presidio, a sacred forest that was my personal backyard for nine years. He wanted to show me the many changes that had taken place since I'd left four years ago. Mainly, he wanted me to see the complete upgrade of Rob Campground, once the site of our famous "Camping in the City" parties, which I'd co-hosted with my roomie, Michelle.

 This was in 1997-98,  shortly after the Army had handed over the 1,480-acre piece of land to the National Park Service. Until then, the Presidio had been a fortified military base for 219 years and the NPS didn't start changes until the last seven years or so. I'd smugly hike through its woodsy terrain every day after work while the SF masses thronged to Muir Woods or Golden Gate Park. And other than the occasional sign warning me about buried mustard gas, I loved every inch of my secret forest. (Ironically, it was there I made the decision to move to Colorado.)

 Our 'Camping' parties were held at a scruffy site with a few BBQs and a log-encircled fire pit. Located less than a mile from our city apartment, we encouraged people to show up in cabs, with Starbucks and pizzas, just to get as much mileage out of the joke as we could. People would come in straight from business meetings in the city, delighting in the escape, and stay to sing songs and explore old Army forts.
In addition to a fabulous ocean view, the NPS generously provided firewood. They also informed M & I that we were pioneers - among the very first citizen campers on the site. They talked to us on the phone and sent us surveys, desperately wanting our feedback.

These days, Rob Campground is a full-service site, complete with cement walkways, helpful map signs and fancy showers. I hardly recognized it. I was happy for the kids who were running around that day but sad to see so much concrete where dirt once thrived. Still, I felt a certain pride knowing that my friends and I had essentially broke ground there.

Then, on the drive back, something grand caught my eye. "What is that????" I desperately wanted to know and made the car's driver seek it out. I was drawn to it like a monkey to a black obelisk. At first I thought it was natural but then it looked too ... purposeful.

I photographed the hell out of it until I could flag down an NPS dude who could provide an explanation. And then he said those magical words: "Have you ever heard of Andy Goldsworthy?" 


Here's the thing. Not only have I heard of Mr. Goldsworthy - a world renowned environmental artist - but for many years, I would give Andy Goldsworthy books as wedding gifts. This is a man who goes into nature and creates mind-numbing works of art using no tools and no other materials than what he finds there. I am NUTS for his work. NPS dude said he called it "Spire" although I prefer my friend's title: "Log Rocket."

And here, right before me, was a gen-u-ine Goldsworthy in my beloved forest. I couldn't believe it. Only my magical forest could provide me with such a perfect welcome home. Best part? No cement walkways.

Monday, July 12, 2010

No Rest

I returned home from Mississippi Saturday evening - just long enough to unpack and then pack again for my business trip to San Francisco tomorrow. Good Lord, who do I think I am? This is one of the many reasons that "Up In The Air" hit a little too close to home. 

This photo is from a very remote rest stop somewhere in New Mexico. I love the odd democracy in the anonymous survey and the generalized use of "We." With a baked brain, I stood there a bit too long wondering, "Do they mean me? Am I a 'We?'" 

Also, please enjoy one of my favorite photos from the recent family visit to Mississippi. As usual, it includes my sister-in-law, MaryAnn, who is pure love and hilarity. Here, she is entertaining us on July 4th at the Biloxi Yacht Club saltwater pool with her harrowing account of a recent boat excursion gone awry. 

While women and children were trapped on Horn Island overnight with little provisions, the men (including my brother) battled a storm and could not reach them. Circling the island and battling fierce winds, my brother even had to cut his anchor - always a last resort.

In the photo, she is reenacting her down-on-the-knees prayer to save her family: "Our Father....!" 

In the end, they were spared but came away with one hell of a tale.

Monday, July 05, 2010

July 4th in Mississippi

When my Dad picked me up in New Orleans on Friday, we got in the car and I had to laugh at his post-it reminder on the dash: "BOOZE STORE." A major priority here in the Deep South.

I've never been here in the summer and sure, it's hot, but my body is loving the moisture. My hair, my skin, my eyes - they're all drinking it up. It's just nice to not feel my skin pulled tightly for once.

Lots and lots of stuff fun activities on the water - got my ass dragged around on an innertube this morning - humbling. The fireworks last night were unbelievable. We watched 'em from the boat, where we could see the shows from Gulfport, Biloxi and Ocean Springs - and that was beyond the 'works being shot by the locals. I can't believe how many thousands of dollars were spent by so-called amateurs just for our entertainment. My brother was right, it did resemble Bagdhad - minus all the killing.

We also went to a great crab & shrimp boil party, put on by some Cajun friends. Here's a great shot of MaryAnn showing Reid how to get the most meat out of a crab:

I'm glad to say that the massive oil spill hasn't affected Mississippi too much yet, but there have been some - what my Dad calls - "globulets" wash ashore. I'll be digging into this in the days ahead but right now, I'm just enjoying the holiday from head to toes.