Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy HalloWeekends


As I mentioned before, last Thursday the 20th was my birthday. The day after, the 21st, was the one year anniversary of my father's passing. I vowed last year that I would do something big, fun, and distracting to commemorate both dates this year. Thus, on Saturday the 22nd, I and a rather large group of friends journeyed to Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio for HalloWeekends.

In addition to most of the usual rides, Cedar Point puts together haunted houses and haunted outdoor walkthroughs to celebrate the season. First we hit up the Cedar Creek Mine Ride, which is a little bigger than Thunder Mountain at Disneyland, because my favorite coaster Iron Dragon was closed. (Big tears!) I am not really a huge fan of coasters, so me and my splinter group ended up not doing many. The lines were super long anyway.

We also ate ice cream sundaes and introduced my roommate Kimmy to elephant ears, which apparently California does not have. She decided an elephant ear (a flat round of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar) was like a flattened churro (a tube of fried dough covered in cinnamon and sugar). Neither is to be confused with a funnel cake, which is flat and braided and coated in powdered sugar.

At five o'clock, the haunted houses opened, so we headed up front for Club Blood, which was exactly like going to goth clubs in California! The entryway reminded me strongly of DNA Lounge in San Francisco, and the music was totally danceable. I honestly wanted to stay and hang out, but we were ferried along and out the exit. Alas.

Other haunted houses included Eternity Infirmary, which we skipped, G. A. Boeckling's Eerie Estate, which was amazingly awesome and is totally how my future home will be decorated, and Happy Jack's Toy Factory, which didn't seem to have a lot of people jumping out at us, but was visually appealing and the women dressed up as human dolls were gorgeous.

As for walkthroughs, Terror Island, the pirate themed one and probable reason why Iron Dragon was down, was fantastic! CarnEvil was also fun, as always, and the new Blood on the Bayou was slightly terrifying because it felt like it wasn't exaggerating much. (I'm sure my boyfriend lies and everyone who lives in the bayou are perfectly sane, friendly individuals.)

Maniacal, Mechanical Screamworks, the new steampunk themed walkthrough was actually disappointing. It was horribly crowded and no one jumped out at us. The steampunk swan was pretty badass looking, and the green laser dots everywhere were pretty, but compared to the others, just not that haunting. The few screamsters (people in costume who work for the park) we did see looked great, so I hope that next year, should they keep this one, it is much improved with more people and more stuff.

Fear Faire, the renaissance/medieval themed walkthrough, was set up very well in the summer-time picnic area. Rather than walking down a set path, it was large and open, and we could wander around it, rendering the way out a little hard to decipher.

HalloWeekends isn't all monsters and scare tactics, though! The daytime is full of kid-friendly activities like magic shows, gypsy fortune telling, and goofy rock bands in costume. And, of course, all the rides! The midway carnival games are also fun, they just cost extra. While waiting in line for Terror Island, one woman was offering to guess people's ages, weights, or birth month for $1, so my friend Dale went over and had her guess his weight. I won't reveal what it was, but she was way under. His prize was a large stuffed orca named Willie. Many jokes ensued.

If you go to HalloWeekends, be sure to gather with the other in-the-know types around 7:30 pm by the projector stand. The giant projector screen is located between Iron Dragon and Wildcat, and the projector is found on a little building, almost. At a little after 7:30, all of the screamsters march up the midway and gather here, and the head dude comes out and gives them a pep talk. Hundreds of monsters and ghouls marching with determination straight at you en masse is an awesome sight! We had to run out of their way.

I'm now thinking of buying a season pass to Cedar Point. HalloWeekends would be paid for next year, plus if I go twice during the summer, it'd be worth it. I live only two hours away, and I can totally see killing an afternoon hanging out at the park. Also, it's allegedly haunted, and I know Kimmy wants to investigate that!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ghost Stories

Said to be haunted by a woman named Thelma.
Candles in glass jars clutched in skeletal hands. Warm cider and rum. The patio door open to the rain pattering on leaves. A black beast winding around ankles. The perfect night for tales of stickball players afraid of the dark, a mad woman scientist, and unnatural creatures in the woods. 

Last weekend, my good friend Crystal invited a bunch of her writer friends to her home for a reading party. The theme was the supernatural to get us in the mood for Halloween. There was much snacking and storytelling and a grand time had by all. At our parting, we agreed this had to be at least a yearly occurrence; perhaps even continued in the future with other themes a little more often than once a year. I certainly feel reinvigorated to return to my own work with fresh zeal!

Also that evening, Kimmy and I went on the Ghosts of Kalamazoo's haunted downtown tour. I only learned of its existence last year, but was unable to participate. The tours are conducted by the Kalamazoo Jaycees and proceeds go to Warm Kids, a group "dedicated to providing new coats, boots, hats and mittens for children in need" in Kalamazoo county. 

There weren't very many ghost stories, but I did learn a lot of local history. For instance, the widow of one of the Gilmore brothers, founders of a long-lived local department store, married another very prominent citizen, W. E. Upjohn, whose pharmaceutical company later went on to invent life essentials like ibuprofen and antibiotic ointment. (Well, essential to me, anyway.) 

Also, I was reminded, if I ever really knew since I can't recall the incident, that Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers died at the Radisson hotel in Kalamazoo on November 5th, 2003. It is sometimes speculated that he now haunts the hotel. Incidents of dishes being thrown and the jukebox turning on by itself have been reported. Other alleged ghosts may be to blame, however, and not Mr. Hatfield.

But Bobby Hatfield is not the only singer to allegedly haunt Kalamazoo. Elvis Presley, a huge fan of Gibson guitars which was founded and at the time located in Kalamazoo, is said to still hang around his old hotel room at what is now the Columbia building. There is even a little homage to the late great Mr. Presley in one of their conference rooms. 

There was also an scandalous murder almost 100 years ago of a woman killing a wealthy elderly lady, claiming the latter was a witch and needed to be stopped. Her accomplice killed himself, leaving her to take the rap all by herself. No mention of any ghosts here, however. 

If you'd like to read a more in-depth description of our tour, check out Kimmy's blog entry at American Haunts: Kalamazoo and Ghost Tour, Too!

After all that, I am totally in the mood for the season.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Night Out

This week brought more shenanigans in downtown Ann Arbor.

First up, Kimmy and I went twice to see if we could find Violin Monster, one of our favorite features of this city. On our second attempt, we spotted him playing on the corner of Main and Liberty while we were driving on Main, but by the time we ran there after parking, he was already packed up. Nooooooo!!! So instead of dancing to some killer tunes, we introduced ourselves. He is very nice and bares a striking resemblance to David Tennant, I swear. He told us the website should be up and running soon, and he hopes to persuade local shops to carry his new post cards because selling them online makes them rather expensive. (But I will probably buy them anyway.)

I am really hoping that one day Violin Monster will have a poster that I can purchase and frame along with the fairy doors of Ann Arbor poster that I fully intend to pick up one of these days. Which brings us to item number two.

After stopping in at Sweetwaters Coffee and Tea (not to be confused with Sweetwater's Donut Mill) for some hot caramel apple cider and to check out the first location of a public fairy door in A2, we decided to hunt down the other fairy doors in the area that we had not yet found, most especially the much sought goblin door, which took a couple of internet searches on my phone and some careful scouring.

Goblin door!
The goblin door is very well hidden! Look very closely just to the left (toward the Ark) of Seyfried Jewelers on Main St. If you hit the big empty shop, you've gone too far. The goblin door is a few inches taller than the fairy doors, but still decorated with offerings from visitors. I, myself, left a peppermint candy for the goblins, and then, so they wouldn't feel left out, a spearmint candy for the nearby fairies at the Ark. Kimmy left the goblins a nickle and the fairies nothing. (Shhh! Don't tell. They might get angry!)

We checked the internet again via my phone and located a few more exterior fairy doors downtown. There are a few more inside shops that we couldn't get to at the time, and more sprinkled around town that we intend to visit another time. More doors have popped up in Dexter and other surrounding areas. There are two that need posting in my apartment, though they must be for very tiny fairies as they are much smaller than the doors around Ann Arbor.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Madhouse Poetry Series at the Ugly Mug

Last Friday, after some wandering around looking for winter boots and a wizard's wand, Kimmy and I ended up at the Ugly Mug Cafe in Ypsilanti where my coworker had previously informed me we would find a poetry reading. Having majored in creative writing at university, I have been to a very small amount of readings, the majority of which were during class and the presenters were myself and my fellow classmates. I am not sure how I feel about poetry readings as I am somewhat biased against poetry, despite being a closet poet myself. I guess there is just too much crap out there for my dim view of poetry to brighten, but I am trying to think more positively about the subject as of late. Thus, we arrived at the Ugly Mug for the Madhouse Poetry Series, which included some live art done by Eric Steiger and my aforementioned coworker Ray Swaney

The Ugly Mug is exactly the kind of place I picture modern-day beatniks congregating. Kitschy decorations with concrete walls painted blue and fresh-made fancy coffee drinks served by girls in black plastic glasses and knit caps. So basically, my kind of place. It was a little crowded due to the reading and painting, but not uncomfortable, and I didn't mind waiting for what turned out to be the best hot caramel apple cider I've ever had, which I was persuaded into ordering by Queen Grimhilde in hag form.

While waiting in line, I listened a little bit to Kat Steih read, and I remember thinking this sounded like a good start to the evening. I was quite distracted, however, but the two painters. I've never heard of live art in a coffee house before, and I've always enjoyed watching artists on the street work during festivals and such. 

I was quite drawn to Eric Steiger's tortured faces in red and black on white paper. The contrast of the two paint colors was stark, startling, and delightful. I'm a huge fan of faces and expressions, and love to draw them myself, so this seemed a natural attraction to me. If I saw one of his pieces up for sale, I would probably buy it.

Ray was doing something very interesting that has me wanting to try my own hand at it: painting on a door. Ray's work is the kind of modern art I can appreciate. A little red square in the corner of a giant white canvas is stupid to me, but a shape on a vivid, evocative background reminiscent of a fish or a spinal cord I can get behind! Other work of his that I have seen brings to mind cubism, a movement that I rather enjoy because breaking things down into their basic components is one of my favorite things.

As for the poets, I didn't really hear too many of them. One in particular seemed to exemplify everything I hate about poetry readings. I will call him Bird Man because his work contained a lot of aviary imagery, either directly or implied. His ideas weren't particularly new, but when has that stopped any writer? What should have stopped him was phrases like "I looked up at something; it caught my eye." Well, duh, it caught your eye. If it hadn't, you wouldn't be telling us about it, now would you? He was exactly the kind of person I had in my college workshops whose work we spent the better part of class going over. 

Leo Jarret, the organizer, was the most powerful speaker. He was aggressive in his reading and his words were blunt. It was difficult not to pay attention to him. I sincerely hope that the Madhouse Poetry Series continues and draws in more assertive writers like him. Kimmy mentioned wanting to read her poetry one night, which I highly encourage. If I weren't so skittish about being spotlighted in body, I'd consider reading my own work. It's too bad I can't have someone else just read it for me. (Maybe if it were a performance piece...) 

Check out the next performance on October 28th, 7pm to 9pm at the Ugly Mug in Ypsilanti.