Month: August 2014

Wish You Were Here: Campers, Glampers & Me

People can be divided into three groups: The Campers, The Glampers, and the “I Won’t Go Anywhere Without Hot Water, Flushable Toilets and Soft Beds.” The Campers are an amazing bunch. My father-in-law Steve and his wife Jill are in that group. They pack their tent, their bikes, some water and some power bars and head off, sending us pictures of the Appalachian Trail, the Mason Dixon Line and Civil War historical sites from the road. They look so blissed out, relaxed and in love. Their missives to us are like siren songs from the natural world: gorgeous, live, oak trees and shade giving sentinels, weeping willows bending and dipping so gracefully, Spanish moss that makes me feel damp just to look at it, pine needles on the ground that we know smell of dirt forest floor, and lakes sparkling in the sunlight just begging you to take a dip. “Wish you were here.” The Glampers, God love them, are seen in super porny shots in magazines and travelogues — their pimped out Airstreams, yurts, …

Two Friends — One Black, One White — Talk About Ferguson

We break from our regularly scheduled “Camp” theme for this special piece. Given the recent, horrific, bizarre and revealing events in Ferguson Missouri, we asked two of our regular TueNight contributors, both close friends — Heather Barmore and Stacy Morrison — to have a brief online chat. We asked them to talk about Ferguson from their own perspectives, black and white respectively. Here’s what transpired:   Let’s do this thing. So, Ferguson.  Yes. As I typed that my stomach turned over. It’s so upsetting. It is, and yet it’s good to see this community finally feel empowered to do something. I agree on that. And to see that complicated and complex conversations starting to happen. People who I don’t normally discuss race are outraged and saying something. But conversations also don’t even feel like enough. I really wanted to get on a plane on Monday. I emailed churches. I reached out to community organizers. I wanted to see A THOUSAND WHITE PEOPLE down there in a line facing the (white) police. I still do. On the one …

The Microcosm of Bunk Life

In many ways, life inside a summer camp bunk is a microcosm of the adult social world, especially for females. The atmosphere can be simultaneously congenial and competitive, intimate and exclusionary. In a space the size of typical two-car garage, a variety of personality types are thrust together, forced to navigate an often-complicated jumble of events and emotions. And, if you were like I was some 40 years ago, you loved it. For me, camp was a place to both be myself and test myself, to slip into my beloved pair of broken-in Tretorns even as I tried out new skills. Those dusty, musty cabins provided us temporary inhabitants with stability and solace even as we pushed boundaries during the day. At camp, there are no parents around to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do, or catch you when you fall. It’s a place to figure out stuff on your own, be that how to soothe yourself to sleep on a homesick night or stand up to a snooty bitch. But it’s also …

Recipes: Fancy S’mores, Cowboy Beans & Tamara’s Treat

All recipes serve six people. COWBOY BEANS These beans are a variation on a special-occasion go-to at my house: “Borracho,” or drunken beans. They are full of smoky flavor and can be as spicy as you choose. INGREDIENTS (2) 14.5 oz cans pinto beans (1) cups water Olive oil (1) large onion (4) cloves garlic (1) tablespoons ground cumin (1) 14 oz can diced tomatoes (1) 7.5 oz can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (1) 12 oz can of beer — cheap is fine DIRECTIONS Drain the pinto beans and pour them into a 3- or 4-quart saucepan. Rough dice the onion and garlic. They don’t have to be perfect or uniform, just cut into small pieces so they can melt into the beans. Pour a glug of olive oil into a medium size frying pan. Sauté the onion, garlic and cumin on medium high until onions are translucent — about 6 minutes. Keep them moving with a wooden spoon to make sure they don’t fry or crisp up. Add the sautéed onions, the can …

Q&A: Rachel Sklar, Entrepreneur and Diehard Camper

If Rachel Sklar is putting on a show, you’d probably find yourself asking, where do I sign up? The co-founder of Change the Ratio and The Li.st, a “visbility” network for professional women, has a knack for rallying colleagues. The same is true for motivating campers. This summer, after an 18-year hiatus, she returned to her beloved Camp Winnebagoe to direct two plays and assist with the Ontario-based camp’s overall Drama program. We chatted about what it was like to get back to a summer of sing-a-longs and s’mores, and the life lessons Rachel’s learned on the campground. Why do you love camp? Camp was a huge part of my life growing up, and a huge part of shaping me into who I am today. I spent 12 summers at Camp Winnebagoe — four as a camper and eight as a staff member. Camp was the locus of all my early creativity — it was my musical theater school, my songwriting lab (I wrote the opening summer theme songs, all day program songs) and gave me intense training in interpersonal skills. It …

What I Found When I Unpacked My Kids’ Backpacks

It’s always fun to unpack the kids’ backpacks after a day at camp. Here, some of my findings: My son: Exploded ketchup pack, possibly multiple packs Several rocks. Important-looking Candy wrappers, various Muddy socks, heavily worn, freestylin’ in the main compartment Rain poncho from yesterday, still wet Favorite baseball hat with ketchup damage Three napkins, unused My daughter: Upside-down water bottle, half full, half of contents in formerly dry change of clothes One clean sock Wildflower book. Not ours Rain poncho, wet Uneaten yogurt from two days ago hidden in a secret compartment Random sticks One makeshift white headband Three napkins, one obliterated   And this:

Front to Backlist

Camp: It Was the Best and Worst of Times

Recently, an Australian author I interviewed told me that the American concept of sending children off to summer camp is entirely foreign to her fellow citizens. “We just don’t do it,” she said, “but to me, it sounds like a very good thing.” A wholly unscientific rifling through my mental file drawers leads me to believe that a random sampling of TueNight readers would find that just as many of us think summer camp is a very bad thing. It’s not all s’mores and pillow fights; there are just as many miserable meals of mystery meat and choky, smoky campfires to endure. Thus, this week’s Front to Backlist brings a recent novel about the best of camp, and another recent novel about the worst. I recently wrote about one of Meg Wolitzer’s earlier works, but her latest novel, The Interestings, set the bestseller lists on fire when it was released in 2013. It seemed everybody and her grandmother was reading this hefty novel about a group of creative, talented teenagers who bonded at their artsy New England summer camp. …

If You Were at Camp Kweebec, You’d Be Home By Now

“Welcome home.” You’ll find this simple greeting on a wooden sign at the end of a short and very bumpy dirt road in Schwenksville, Pennsylvania. Schwenksville (zip code 19473) is as epic as it sounds — it’s a hilly, leafy town in the exurbs of Philadelphia that had a small cameo in the book The Corrections. Schwenksville is also home to Camp Kweebec, an overnight camp for boys and girls founded in 1935, and, for more than a decade, my summertime “home away from home.” I both attended and worked at Camp Kweebec in the 1970s and 1980s, spanning ages nine to 19. Once school was out every June, I jumped on the camp bus from a Lord & Taylor parking lot in suburban Philadelphia and never looked back. My sister and both of my brothers went to Kweebec, as well. So did at least five of my cousins. I’m not trying to one-up my fellow campers, but I also got married at my camp, in a gazebo overlooking the lake. Anyone who was there will …

My Wet Hot American Playlist

I’ll be the first to admit my obsession with all things camp is a wee bit weird. I watch informational videos about other camps. I troll camp websites. I’m hooked on movies about camp. (Meatballs is one of my all-time favorites. But I also recommend Wet Hot American Summer, Camp, Indian Summer and Little Darlings.) Yet music is the art form I associate most closely with camp. I hear songs on the radio, at a wedding or in an elevator, and I am immediately transported back to my summers in Schwenksville at Camp Kweebec. (Also included in this group of memories: the one summer I spent on an all-camping teen tour out West with one of my bunkmates, and the summer she and I don’t like to discuss because my parents sent me to a “nicer” camp under duress.) So here is my camp playlist timeline,  starting the summer when I was a junior camper and ending when I was a group leader and counselor. Ah, the memories. 1977: “I Just Want to Be Your …

My Kids’ Camp Re-Entry Period

My baby, Max, is 15. Well, almost 16. When he asked to go to leadership camp for five weeks this summer, we agreed, with the caveat that he pay a portion of the tuition. After all, we all appreciate things more when we have skin in the game, right? We drove him five hours north to Lake Como, Pennsylvania, in the Pocono Mountains. He’d packed a huge duffel bag, a sleeping bag, some stamps and stationery. The teens learned how to lead meetings, how to communicate with parents and community, how to lead social action. They learned how to motivate their peers. They bonded. My son had an amazing, all encompassing and life-changing experience — so much so that he did not have time to write home. Did I mention there was no cell service? I did not hear from my child for five weeks. Five weeks! [pullquote]The camp smell is definitely not a smell that translates to home. It needs to be eradicated.[/pullquote] It was a little odd being so out of touch, I …

How I Tried to Get Kicked Out of Camp — And The Life Lesson I Learned

I was six years old when I first went to camp. It was a month-long sleepover camp in Canada, hundreds of miles from my house. It was also my very first time away from home. My best friend was going, so of course it was all that I wanted in the whole wide world. For God knows what reason, my Mom said yes. I was all big glasses and big heart and I couldn’t wait for camp to start. My mom and I bought a trunk. We neatly packed summer clothes. We hid contraband Twizzlers and other sweets that wouldn’t melt. We packed stationary, stamps and addresses. Once we arrived and my cabin was assigned, I met my fellow campers and got the grand tour. Everything seemed a-ok. The first few days were filled with meeting new people, playing games, going to free swim and electives like arts & crafts. But starting around day six, I got tremendously homesick. It started as a small trickle at first. I missed my bed, my house, my mom. …

Margit’s Note: Are You My New Bunkmate?

For some, camp is first-time-away-from-home ecstasy; for others, it’s the ultimate bug-juice-induced torture. And this week — as former campers and parents of campers — we cover the gamut. I happened to experience both. The first camp I attended, around the age of 12, was a quaint Poconos Lutheran camp where we crafted rainbow God’s eyes and sang vaguely religious campfire songs. It was also the site of my first massive crush — a stone-cold-fox boys’ camp counselor who always wore a red flannel shirt and black sailor’s cap. Now, he was heaven. The hell: At 13, I found myself in a much fancier Chesapeake Bay camp featuring the nastiest bully I’ve ever encountered, albeit one in a monogrammed pink polo. She slept in the bunk below me and would nightly shove her feet repeatedly in the back of my flimsy bed and call me Fatso as I flew into the air. Thankfully I bonded with an adorable Swedish sailing instructor who spoke little English. “Ja, ja, ready about, hard alee!” Sigh. A camp crush can heal …

Your Weekend: Big Rock Shows, Small Gigs & Everything in Between

Music matters to me more than most things in life, and live music has changed me — my physical state, my mind, and yes, my heart and soul — on more occasions than I can count. Wherever you are, whatever genre you love, you can find live music pretty much anywhere. (Although you lucky ducks in places like Austin, NYC and New Orleans pretty much just have to walk out your door.) Plus, now that there’s an inexhaustible supply of live music on the internet? Who even needs to even go out? Well, sometimes I do. Hence… Big Rock Shows Nine Inch Nails and Soundgarden is the show I’m sorriest I missed this summer, mostly because of my deep love for Chris Cornell. This weekend, the retro-awesome double bill rolls into Woodlands, TX on Saturday night and Dallas on Sunday. Mötley Crüe brings their final tour with special guest Alice Cooper into Pelham, AL tonight, Alpharetta, GA tomorrow, and Tampa on Sunday. Madness — and a lot of fun — is a guarantee for this one. The …

What Makes an Amazing Live Show? It’s All in the Secret Sauce

A hot damp breeze blew across the infield as a bank of dark clouds rolled in. The crowd collectively braced against the first fat drops of rain. On stage, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss moved through a set of songs from their collaborative album, Raising Sand, with Plant’s grizzled tenor the salty counterpoint to Krauss’ angelic soprano. No doubt, this was a good show. Then the whole damn thing kicked up about a thousand notches as the band played the opening bars to the Zeppelin classic “The Battle of Evermore.” The raucous crowd fell silent. Grown men had tears in their eyes as they recognized a song that had meant so much to them back in the day. The wind whipped through Krauss’ hair, her image huge on the screens that flanked the stage, her voice wrapping around the tune like a cashmere throw as Plant growled in jagged harmony. At that point, the performance entered some other plane entirely, far above the dusty N’Orleans racetrack where we stood, transfixed. In the minutes that followed, …

In Defense of Parrotheads — Really, There Is a Defense

Oh, haters. You just love to hate on my boy Jimmy Buffett. Do you think he’s too pedestrian? Too conformist? Too old? Too old school? Too silly? I can’t seem to figure it out. Perhaps you’ve only heard the ubiquitous party anthems “Margaritaville” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. They’re simple, harmless songs. Sure, they can get annoying — but anything can, if you hear it too much. Buffett has penned tons of those types of tunes— songs like “One Particular Harbor” and “Boat Drinks”. It’s all good fun. And those of us who dig him? We really love this shit. We like being transported to a place where sand in your shoes and waves crashing on the beach removes us from the mundane. I have to credit my brother-in-law for introducing me to Buffett when I was 18.  Just beginning college, I was struggling with my mother’s imminent death, and Buffett took the edge off by giving me an escape. Ed took me to concerts and I found a way to connect, laugh and smile. And get to …

Why I Stopped Being a Rock Critic

Adjust the radio dial to find the right frequency. Seek the perfect sound, skip past that uncomfortable crackle…. It’s 1975 and I’m a grade schooler, snuggled under my Marimekko sheets, waking up to my little clock radio. I’m tuned into Philadelphia’s WFIL-AM, listening: Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing,” ABBA’s “S.O.S.” and then….Bowie. More specifically, David Bowie’s “Golden Years.” The song snaps and thumps through the Solid State and I recognize, for the first time, that I love music. The righteous guitar riff, thudding bass drum, distant melodica and that bellowing, sinewy voice…it turns me on, like a radio. Music became my breath, my way of life. It relaxed me and it amped me up. I’d fall asleep to side two of Tattoo You. I’d dance in my bedroom to The Cars. I called i-92 to score tickets to The Police/Joan Jett/R.E.M/Madness at the old JFK Stadium (yes, that was a line-up). I’d make mixtapes for boyfriends. My life could be charted in musical moments. Fast-forward… I’m a music fan, a record and cassette tape collector, a …

A Music Journalist’s Go-To Spots in London

While known for its legendary performances, sticky floors and the place made famous by The Who poster, the Marquee Club will be forever remembered as the spot I met my UK BFF Katrina Kelly. We met in the graffiti’d dressing room after a show for a band we loved, Twenty Flight Rockers. Katrina was dating the guitarist Ian, while I was seeing the drummer, Mark. It was 1986, my summer abroad, and when I wasn’t in class or interning for Melody Maker, Katrina and I were inseparable. I was 19 and she was 22, and we were living on a stretched budget in the Kensington section of London. We lived for record release parties, gallery openings, guest lists, concerts and free drinks. We knew a ton of doormen, bartenders and musicians. Fast-forward 28 years and our tastes have matured and our wallets are a bit little fuller. Katrina and I still love being together in London, but we experience it with more sophistication. Since 2010, I’ve been visiting London regularly for my job, so I’ve …

When Booze Became More Important Than Bob Dylan

One could argue that Bob Dylan was not at his peak live performance level when I saw him in concert in 2005. Granted, this is coming from a one-time Deadhead who believed Jerry Garcia was a genius, even when he forgot lyrics and bumped his head against his microphone. But I was in no position to judge. While Dylan’s legendary, scratchy voice echoed from the stage, I was in the lobby of the Beacon Theater, practically begging the bartender to hurry up. Pour me my beers, man, and fast. It was just taking too long. My mother and cousin, who were both inside enjoying “Visions of Joanna” and now “Highway 61 Revisited,” were surely starting to wonder what was taking so much time. [pullquote]Music had become something that sounded so good when I was under the influence, like a triumphant anthem applauding my inebriation, but so dull when I was sober.[/pullquote] And what was taking so much time? The musty, slightly weed-scented lobby was practically empty since Dylan was on stage. Getting two beers, one …

Start Me Up: My Very First Stones Concert Was a Rite of Passage

My Dad did a killer Mick Jagger imitation in which he put his hands on his hips, stuck out his tush and made fish lips. I had a patch with big, fat Rolling Stones lips on the back of my jeans, stitched on the right ass pocket. We all laughed when my Dad once brought a seat warmer to one of their stadium gigs. When Some Girls came out, I got special permission from my parents to stay up late and watch them on SNL. As you can see, this love for the Rolling Stones was a family affair. In 1981, when the tour for Tattoo You was announced, I was finally old enough to go see them in person. The question was with who, and how. They’d only scheduled one date in Florida. Orlando was too far away for me to go with friends unchaperoned. My older brother and sister had left the house, and over the years I had watched them go to concert after concert, to see whatever groups came to South …

Front to Backlist

Peace and Love, Man: Two Books Revive the Free Wheeling ‘60s and ‘70s

The very first concert I ever attended was of the classical type. I was nine or 10, and my best friend and I were being allowed to stay up late to see a famous symphony orchestra play in our hometown with our violin teacher. My mother took extra care helping me select a dress and shine my mary janes, which let me know that this was a big event. I’ve never lost that feeling of a live music performance being a big event. Whether listening to alt country in Austin, hearing opera in Berlin, or dancing on the grass at Wolf Trap, concerts are different and special. Spectators become part of something as the band or singer or ensemble attempts to connect with the audience. The iconic American example is, of course, an event that many of us were too young to experience: Woodstock, 1969. Fortunately, for your summer reading delectation, there is a new book out about the festival, and it may make you feel (almost) as if you were there. Barefoot in Babylon: …

Margit’s Note: Lighters Up

In the ‘80s and into the ‘90s, stadium concerts were smoky, sweaty affairs. Pot was prolific, security was meh, the shows legendary. You’d always ditch your ticketed seat to try and push to the front and, once arriving at the third row, jettison one fluorescent polka dotted earring at the stage, nearly missing Simon Le Bon’s butt. Regaling everyone with that moment for months. A quick list of concert highs and lows: First Concert: Paging Dr. Noah Drake. Rick Springfield. There, I said it. Nope nothing even remotely cool. Best Concert: Too many to even try to quantify. But… a nearly five-hour Parliament Funkadelic extravaganza at Philly’s Trocadero in 1993, presided by George Clinton wearing a Sponge Bob Square Pants bed sheet. Give up the funk. Worst Moment at a Concert: Someone throwing up on my back at a Bruce Springsteen show at the Spectrum. What was your first, best, worst concert? Tell us in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook with #firstconcert #bestconcert or #worstconcert  — we’ll share! This week, we’re jamming the following stories: …

I’m Married, But Don’t Call Me Mrs.

I was absolutely terrified and not sure at all that I wanted to step out of the car and into the church. I was all of 24 years old and about to marry a man whom I loved deeply and who I wanted to share my life with. Have children with. But wife? Wife. WIFE. I felt not unprepared or ambivalent but rather, resistant and fairly resentful of both the word and the reality of “wife.” Or at least the reality I envisioned. I went into marriage with a fair amount of pre- (or rather, ill-) conceived notions of what a marriage “should be,” what it meant to be a wife and how my life and world would change. Part religion, part society, part too many hours spent reading and watching overly romanticized, conventionally and poorly written beach novels and Lifetime For Women television specials. And part me and my own family baggage and mythology. My mom married my dad at 18 after being sweethearts (what a term!) since they were about 12. My mom …

What Lurks Behind the Word ‘Wife’?

My young son recently asked me why some words are “bad.” He’s at the age where saying an illicit word brings a certain measure of delight and thrill due to the reaction of others, namely me, his Mom. He lets a naughty word slip, I admonish him, and we do it all over again. My daughter has a workaround. “I may think those words, Mom, but I just don’t say them aloud.” So when he asked me: “What makes a word bad, Mom?” I had to think about it. We, the users of language, assign meaning to words. If a society agrees on a meaning, it sticks. But language is a living thing. It changes. The meanings of words that have been around for thousands of years often transform, over time, into different meanings. So while I’ve been busy correcting his language for polite company, I’ve also been thinking about my own “bad” words. I surprised myself with the revelation that there has always been something about the word “wife” that bothered me deep down. …

When I Traded in My Girlfriend for a Wife

Wife is such a loaded word for lesbians. When I married my girlfriend, it took at least six months before I could call her wife. I’d skate around the issue; she was my partner, my spouse, my lover. All of those words seemed more appropriate than wife. Wife comes with ownership — baggage neither of us could carry. My wife makes quite a first impression, a large personality that no one could tame, let alone own. She is at once personable, caring, totally funny and wrong — my favorite traits in a woman, self possessed and completely open to the world’s possibilities. We had been friends for 10 years, a common ex introduced us (how very lesbian). We watched each other date the wrong people, bitched about our crazy current and ex-girlfriends while shamelessly flirting with the next bad plan. We both needed each other and had no idea. In town for a freelance gig, I brazenly teased her across the bar, claiming I was free and in control. Didn’t need anyone. Ready to explore what …

A License to Self-Unite: Why We Decided to Marry Ourselves

First, I was a single person. Then, I was a mother. Next, I became a homeowner. Finally, I became a wife. As you can see, I didn’t become “wife” in the order that most people would expect. It’s a long story. The short version is that my husband and I met, dated, broke up, got pregnant, had a baby, lived apart, had other relationships, rekindled our romance, went to therapy, lived together, co-parented a child and then finally, and only when we had decided that we needed to move to another city together for work, got married. It was a functional decision, one based in the idea that we should be more committed if we were going to tough it out through an enormous change, like moving to another state. Plus, we’d already survived more ups and downs than most newlyweds. And we didn’t get married in the traditional sense. If you happen to be from Philadelphia, then you may have heard of the “self-uniting license.” It exists in Philly because of that city’s relatively …

My Quick and Quirky Vegas Wedding

Wife. Even at a relatively young age, I knew I was never going to be a wife. In the books I read, the wife stayed at home while the husband went out and did “things.” The wife took care of the children, cooked, cleaned house and all that sort of stuff, but I hated cleaning, didn’t much care for cooking and I was never going to have children. So why would I need to be a wife? I grew up in the 1970s and 80s, a card-carrying member of Generation X. I was a latchkey kid, during a time when it felt strange if your parents were still together. Divorce was the norm. In my 20s, I attended friends’ weddings, big affairs with white dresses and bridesmaids and tuxedos and catering halls. I was incredibly happy for my friends. But each wedding cemented the idea that all this frou-frou was not for me. I knew I was going to be a lone wolf. A drama teacher once told me that he saw me in my 30s …

Front to Backlist

Must Reads From Wolitzer and Greene on Infidelity, Academia and Wifery

The words we use in English for spouses of opposite gender do not simply indicate sex (e.g., “epouse” and “mari” in French), but also denote a power system that dates back to when the word “husband” came into common use around the 13th century. Previously, the verb “to husband” meant to carefully use or manage something, such as a resource, and was often used in the context of breeding animals and farming land. When the concept of romantic love became a popular trend in medieval Europe, authorities married it to (see what I did there?) the idea that someone had to be “In Charge.” Guess who it got to be? We’ve been living with inequality between husbands and wives ever since (and beforehand, too, but the words were different). Husbands were legally their wives’ owners until the 19th century. While I’m here to write about books and not give you a long history lesson, I think all of this is important to the two stories I’m writing about today. My Frontlist title, which came out just …

Margit’s Note: The Wife Issue

“This is my wife…” At a cocktail party, the phrase is inserted before my name. It says, “I go with this person.” Does it immediately imply I make casseroles and iron shirts? No, but roles have been identified and a claim has been staked. This is my territory, these are my Hawaiian Islands, there is a fence, watch out for the moat. The word “Wife” is beyond loaded, as we’re exploring this week — and as we’ve debated for decades. Personally, I struggle less with the word than with the activities it implies. And I don’t mean doing dishes or sewing buttons. After I got married, there was suddenly a ridiculous new assumption (not from my husband, mind you) that I would be the one to remember details and follow-up on things — birthdays, thank you notes, vacation details. People would suddenly connect with me about activities that had to do with both of us, or even just my husband. I was suddenly the Julie McCoy of our partnership. Little did they know, I will almost always accidentally direct you …