Life After Luxury

17 11 2014

Starberries

I am writing this on a new computer. I am writing this on a new desk. I am a different person, writing.

I think we’re all pretty self-aware of our romanticisms. We day-dream about things we would like to have, places we would like to live, and the people we would someday like to become. But this is a confusing internal process. We make excuses, reason with ourselves, and attempt to justify our limitations with sudden bursts of comfort that never last long enough to matter. Sometimes, we share these secrets, hoping for encouragement to settle the dispute of insanity—rarely gathering the courage that people so often see in others, and never within themselves. To change is the ultimate journey—to let go of yourself, long enough to feel alive. I can feel it in the marrow of my bones and it’s metastasizing. It hurts and it’s uncomfortable and it’s wonderful and I hate it. When I quit my job in August, I left like I was going to die. Then suddenly, I realized I was already dead.

There was once a time, while making introductions, that I would introduce myself as a workaholic—a person that braves a 15-hour day without breaking a sweat. I indulged in the thought of slaving over my profession, and wore my disciplined dedication like a suit of armor. It was a safe and metallic suit that made me feel like I deserved more than everyone else—I deserved to be successful. And it was more exceptionally true because I wasn’t always rewarded for my effort. On paper, I had the best job in the world. However, while working for a luxury publication, my skills became stale and expected, eventually agitated and angry. One day, I decided I didn’t really like that.

But that was a difficult conclusion to draw. By all accounts, working for a luxury brand has its perks. I interviewed celebrities, went to fancy parties, and got to drive exotic cars. I traveled for free, stayed in nice hotels, and everywhere I went doors would open because I had an official press pass. The company’s brand was so strong, that I often felt like my life was becoming just like it—an illusion. There are too many tired euphemisms I could use to describe the gold and glitter. Suffice it to say, the underbelly of this dream was a sober awakening.

Slaving over work is not something to brag about. But at the time, I was surrounded by people who fed on this distinction. For a long time, I never sat down to consider how I felt about what I was doing and to what end. For a long time, I assumed that what was around me mattered a lot more than it actually did.

The truth is, I don’t want to work 15-hour days. The truth is, I want to work as little as possible.

There were logistical problems. I had no idea how to start a business, or generate income. I was not a legal entity, nor did I know how to go about becoming one. But I read some books, talked to some people, and figured all that out. The resulting education was exciting, liberating, and terrifying.

Sometimes, I go to bed and just sweat anxiety—milling over the insurmountable burden I have placed on myself. In the morning, I’m overwhelmed by the potential each new day brings. I feel bipolar. I get scared that I’m not good enough. I worry that the people I love will think I failed. I am afraid to fail.

When my family asked me what I wanted to do while I sorted out my future, I told them I wanted to pick strawberries. In hindsight, that was a fairly romantic response. I imaged the sun and the clouds. I’d wear a hat so that my face wouldn’t get burned, surrounded by people who don’t speak my language. I would listen to music on my iPhone and dance when necessary. This was my fantasy. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to be away from conversation, away from the clatter of bodies hitting the steps as they fall from the corporate ladder. I wanted to come home after a long day of using my hands and know physical exhaustion, instead of feeling mentally ill from philological warfare.

But I’m a realist. And I’m also compulsively dramatic during times of transition. So, I got a morning job at a warehouse.

My hands are cut, my manicure is ruined, and my arms are strong. After I got the hang of things, the warehouse crew gave me my blade—which is really just a box cutter, but I call it my blade. I was surprisingly humbled. They even taught me how to drive a forklift.

I don’t go to parties. I rarely wear makeup these days, and I really don’t give a s*** about San Diego socialites. Instead, I have focused my effort towards building my freelancing business, and after four months of uncertainty, self-doubt, and more rejection letters than I care to mention, I am finally ready to leave the warehouse and work full-time for myself.

Just last week, I secured the first three contracts for Butler Ink & Media, and I got notice from the San Diego Reader that my latest writing project may be an upcoming cover story. I have checks coming to my house in my businesses’ name.

I’m doing all right.

My old boss use to tell me, “There are a million girls out there that would die for your position.”

I guess I don’t feel like dying.





A Night at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

2 11 2014

The doors to the 8th floor open from the elevator. The hallway of The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco is the color of cream, decorated with gold-framed photography and glittering sconces. A comfortable feeling of luxury is present, however, I don’t feel as though I might break something.

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I have expectations. Who doesn’t when they travel to a new city? San Francisco had been the center of my conversations for weeks. I had asked nearly everyone what I should do, where I should stay, and what I should eat. The result was an overwhelming number of personal anecdotes that took me north of Sausalito, to a hole-in-the-wall eatery above a laundry mat in China Town. Suffice it to say, after several days of traveling up the coast, I was exhausted and in no mood to entertain such friendly advice. What I really wanted was a cocktail.

“Good afternoon, Miss Butler.”

The concierge behind a desk sits handsomely in a suit. I laugh uncomfortably, unsure of how he knows my name. In jest, I ask him.

“Because I must.”

Well, aren’t you mysterious.

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It seems impossible to talk about San Francisco as a locale, a place to be, a place to visit. The City by the Bay and the stories it offers are transcendent, as though existing simultaneously betwixt millions of separate realities. The sum of San Francisco’s metaphysical equation looks like a kaleidoscope. Somewhere out there, Tony Bennet is looking for his heart, an artist paints a picture, a businessman gets ready for work—I find it all incredibly romantic, yet exhausting on my first trip here.

The Club level of The Ritz-Carlton is alternatively constant. It provides a welcome sense of order, shelter, and rejuvenation from the bustle of life just a few stories below. I wave politely as I pass the concierge and head straight for the Club Lounge doused in wonderful afternoon sun. Dozens of brilliantly crafted edibles await, a sommelier is discussing a vintage and pouring wine, a small refrigerator has several bottles of cold beer. In a city where literally anything can happen, it’s nice to know that should I need another glass of Malbec to accompany my smelly plate of fine cheese, I can surely get it, and with a smile. The food service inside this private lounge changes throughout the day: breakfast, lunch, light appetizers before dinner, and evening desserts. It’s complimentary for all Club-level guests and is a wonderful place to mingle with friends, make new acquaintances, and attempt to discuss the endless activities planned for an evening.

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Inside my room, the calming neutral tones of good taste further relax my mood. The recent renovations where done respectfully to not overshadow the history of Nob Hill, nor discourage the reputation one might expect from The Ritz. White crown molding, classic fixtures, and a deep, very deep, marble bathtub. Proof that contemporary design can coexist with tradition, if one cares to try.

Less than 50 square miles define the borders of the second-most densely populated city in the United States. The busy intersections, lengthy lines at famous attractions, and crowded nightlife can be overwhelming. Therefore, The Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco has all the facilities one might need to exercise or rejuvenate the body or soul, including a fitness center, luxury spa, and personal concierge services.

I press my little black dress, step into black stilettos, and head to the place my soul needed most: Parallel 37.

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In a city known for its epicurean cuisine, The Ritz-Carlton stands proudly behind Parallel 37 as a dining destination worth noting to travelers and locals alike. While waiting for my company, I enjoy a craft cocktail called 8th Street East. It’s prepared slowly with Hooker’s House Rye, Carpano Antica, Campari and burnt orange. I sip slowly, watching as fading light crawls through orange shades covering the windows. The day is about to end—quite deliciously.

Chef de Cuisine Michael Rotondo asks if I have any dietary restrictions before he devises a tasting menu. My response, and recommendation to anyone every in this situation, is complete abandonment. Don’t worry about carbs, gluten, or strange meats. Allow the artist and the team to work, and I swear you will be dazzled.

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The server opens a bottle of Lanson Rose Champaign to begin the meal, presented with delicate slices of tuna belly over lemon puree. It’s esthetically beautiful. My soul is at peace. The seaweed sorbet that rests over a salad of grilled octopus and garlic melts slowly as I taste Domaine Daulny Sancerre, a classic expression of Sauvignon Blanc from France. In the 4th course, and in true abandonment, I delight in my first taste of sweetbread, prepared alongside game bird from South Africa, and paired with Merry Edwards pinot noir. A final course of antelope and rustic assortment of mushroom and pickled beat is the last savory note, accompanied by Hendry cabernet sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Not to be outdone, pastry chef Andrea Correa presents a deconstructed cherry pie and pistachio crumble. The cherries are in season and burst with each bite. I contemplate the meal in its entirety—California cuisine with unexpected global notes mixed with exciting techniques used to amaze taste and presentation. I leave happy and full, rested and lively after good conversation and extremely professional service.

Outside, the white and polished exterior of the luxury hotel hints at a San Francisco I will never know—the architecture belonging to days long since passed, repurposed by the Ritz Carlton to start something brand new. An eager bellboy asks me where I’m headed. And as the door to a black Lincoln Navigator is opened for me, I remember, anything can happen.

“Take me somewhere fun.”

And off I went.





Dirty Towel

30 04 2014

blue_bath_towel_3d_model_8f9c1e4c-00a0-4578-b107-9f421c1f6559It was Saturday—cleaning day—a time I use each week to collect my thoughts through the repetitive motion of putting things in their proper place. It was time to clean my bathroom.

What does a towel say about who you are? My towels say I don’t give a s*** about who sees them. They are a mix of old, beat-up, absorbent wannabes that have no style or any inclination that they ever did. They are a mix of colors, ages, and textures; brands and sizes that range from the small useless hand towel, to the oversized and neon striped beach blanket. The short and messy of it was that my towels looked like they belonged to a man (or perhaps the cliché of one), a man who lives on the fringes of town—on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. You know, a renegades’ arsenal of terrycloth.

It was then that I realized an outsider had not seen my towels in some time. I don’t entertain much in the way of towels, and I guess I’ve never brought them to lunch with me. But there they were. Hanging in effigy as I scratched my head and wondered when I had become so shamelessly lazy.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my towels. But I was considering my boyfriend seeing them for the first time and wondering what he would think about them. In an effort to be the perfect host and girlfriend, I concluded that this just wouldn’t do. How could he possibly dry himself off with you, faded-green-blanket-of-absorbencies-past?

Then I started thinking about all the other stuff that I own that could also inflict some kind of damage. Are my sheets new enough? Do these decorative pillows accurately communicate my need for unconditional love? So what if I don’t have any matching socks. I don’t even like socks! Does any of this matter?

I stood inside Bed Bath & Beyond, contemplating the Beyond part. The towering shelves made my heart beat faster as I looked up to see items of the domicile spread out over a plane of frivolous marketing. I feared that one of them might fall on top of me—would I survive? I walked out. No need to have an anxiety attack over the simple task of purchasing new towels for my bathroom.

I walked next door to Marshalls where the shelves were more manageable. After comparing the quality of Turkish and Egyptian cottons, I settled on some no-name brand that was the proper shade of gray. A savvy shopper would never allow emotional turmoil to sway a purchase, but my mood was stuck in the middle of one of those self-realization moments, where you evaluate the black and white of things. Gray looked really good.

In some ways, confronting my towels was like closing a very long, single chapter of my life. When you’ve been single for as long as I have, you get comfortable with the idea that towels don’t matter by virtue of their privacy. I myself am an extremely private person. I like secrets. I like mystery. I like leaving a party when I feel like it simply because I’m tired. And I like not caring about my towels or my dirty laundry that too often prefers to be an area rug.

I would like to say that this introspection went deep enough—that I was able to deny the fresh cotton of department stores and my need to feel unabashed by my very, very personal space. But alas, I am only human and towels tend to come in pairs.

And so, they sit. Still folded in the bag, until I am ready.

 

-Stay Strange

 

 

 

 





The Bridal Bizarre: Second Glance

16 02 2014

Screen shot 2014-02-15 at 6.48.27 PMNothing I’ve said about the modern marriage is a lie. Propaganda  has shaped our popular perception of this broken tradition—structurally maintained by religion, the status quo and a desire to foster safe environments for children. Romance is manufactured and consumed by our society at a startling rate—a sad truth among a love-starved populace more accustomed to debt than self-worth. But through all these factoids, the critical puns and witty historical observation, there is something lost in translation—something left that is unexplained. For me, the moment happened last Friday, when my research was met with humanity, my judgment with joy and my confusion eased by close company.

Weather or not I believe in marriage, weather or not marriage is passé, broken, ridiculous or suicidal—whatever marriage fails to accomplish with expectations and promises of forever, it still somehow manages to bring people together (for better or worse) and produce a uniquely human experiences—an experience that makes people remember (if only momentarily) that they’re alive, that we are human.

I watched two small children walk down the aisle in hand with an adult who kept them on course. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know these small children. I looked upon their faces and saw my own youth, saw the misunderstanding, the confusion and endless possibility that lay before them—extending out so much further than the petal covered grass. Then, the mother and father of the groom (still married) hand-in-hand and I saw the past—a past far less complicated than what we have grown to inherit. I smiled thinking that even if they were the only couple in the world not separated by circumstance, that would be good enough. The bride entered from the eastern lawn and the alternative music playing was a symbol of this couple’s sense of self.

I don’t understand what makes some marriages last and others end—whether marriage is about forever, religious commitment or a strange way of collecting property. But marriage is something that I can’t imagine our world without—we need reminders of how delicate and precious we are in-between moments where promises are often broken.

The officiate asked everyone in the crowd to express a prayer, to exchange energy—a thought for this couple’s future through a brief moment of silence. Heads lowered as I stared upon the sweet couple and it was a total mind f***. I swear I could feel the effort of every person within 100 feet of me push their hope, their dreams, their love upon the bride and groom. I felt the whole energy of the beach shift as if they were the last two people on the planet—the earth projecting all of its resources so that they might have the strength to carry on the human race.

I was tripped-out. There was so much love on the beach as the sun was setting—I thought this must be why people go to church. Collectively.

Maybe it’s not marriage that’s broken. The ideas seem fair. They seem like they’re the basis for good intentions. Maybe it’s easier to not believe in marriage because then there’s no responsibility to succeed, no judgment of failure. It’s easier to point a finger in a spouse’s face than look in a mirror. I’d rather be reminded of being human.





WWJD? No, seriously.

4 02 2014

Apparently my soul is going to burn for all eternity in a fiery hell while my boyfriend’s soul enjoys basking in the eternal light of the golden city. I’d ask hell what’s up with that, but currently, that feels cliché.

Religion is an incredibly sensitive subject for most people, myself included. I don’t pretend to be anything other than Switzerland in most religious conversations. Any judgment I pass on a bouquet of religious doctrine is about as informed and  thoroughly thoughtful as proclaiming, with no particular authority, “Yeah, that Joel Osteen guy, he’s a big douche.” That’s where it ends for me. It gets a laugh from people who might agree and it’s dumb enough to not legitimately threaten any Christians. My views on religion are completely unsubstantiated, probably incorrect, and reinforced by a populace of wacko hypocrites. Sure, I know and respect some wonderfully religious people—Christian, Witness, Catholic and probably a few Muslim extremists—but I’ve never pretended to be a model citizen, let alone a religious martyr. Judge not yet ye be judged.

So when my boyfriend told me a few days ago that he had been saved, I was at a loss for words.

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I felt like Rex :(

We read fantasy, enjoy discussing society, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, share a cynical view of the world and a uniquely obsessive fondness for one another. It’s disgusting, and I wouldn’t change it for anything. So how would you feel if suddenly using the F word produced a bitter taste in your lover’s mouth?

He had been going to apologetics classes and church services for a while. He’s in Afghanistan right now and I guess that makes sense. He’s one of the most intelligent people I know and while I miss him dearly, they’re lucky to have him because he’s doing a world of good out there with his boys. I don’t know exactly when his quest for truth manifested into said activates. Nor was I was ever threatened by his search until his salvation suddenly compromised my perception of our equal partnership and general appreciation for magic.

I felt left behind. I felt self-concious. It was like my best friend suddenly started speaking Latin, and I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this but I don’t know how to speak Latin.

While I’m not a religious person, I have at one time or another been so moved by beauty that I can hardly breath. I’ve tried to write about it, but like faith, it’s something that can’t be tangibly held or coveted without loosing its intrinsic excellence. I’ve given up on that idea and pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude—know thyself.

And I know that beauty and truth and love can exist in the world despite how often it seems easier to believe that humans are just another species on this planet waiting out their inevitable extinction. My relationship with him makes me believe in the good and to see him smile or make him laugh is worth any fire and brimstone that may await me on the other side. But I feared that might not be enough.

WWJD?

I didn’t pray. I steeped—in a warming concentration of the worst possible feelings known to the human experience: jealousy, anger, resentment and above all fear. This is where I become my best impersonation of Hemingway. I see everything in shades of blue and grey, lose my appetite and suppress the urge to drink scotch and chain smoke. I reminisce about The Running of the Bulls in Spain, though I have no particular recollection of ever being there. I try to pretend I’m okay when I’m not until those crazy, bovine mother***** push me to feel something I don’t want to feel.

At the time, it felt like it would be safer to steep than try to understand his choice. But safe has very little to do with relationships. More importantly, I realized that his salvation has nothing to do with me. It’s about him and his journey, not mine. I know who I am.  It’s other people that scare the s*** out of me. And when it’s your best friend, your parents, your boss or your gorgeous boyfriend that’s doing the scaring, it can be really f****** scary.

We like people to behave the way we expect them to behave, do the things they normally do and so on. It gives order to relationships and insight to guide our interactions. I was sitting at my work desk not working when I realized I was being an idiot.

If I ever want to get anywhere in relationships, I have to let people change. I should support people’s self-discovery not confine them with expectations. I was scared that our relationship would change because he was changing. How many times have you ever been in a relationship and thought to yourself, “they just wont let me be who I am”? I’m taking steps to encourage change rather it define my relationship.

I told him all of this, and like a good Christian, he explained to me that nothing I’d ever known about Christianity was correct.

I was saved.





Finding my Spirit

20 01 2014

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way…

It was Christmas actually, and I wanted to catch some spirit not so easily found at the bottom of…well, you know. San Diego started to feel stale and I was a year older. The cool air from the west made my skin crawl as I contemplated 2013. I felt the horizon closing in, so, I headed east.

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Just the sound of Detroit from my silent Insatgram photo was enough to warrant strange questions from people who find no need to investigate a city that recently announced its bankruptcy. Point taken my friends. But this isn’t about Detroit or what’s broken or damaged in Michigan. Detroit just happened to be were my plane landed—about 30 minutes east of my destination, Ann Arbor. It’s the worst of times for some people in Detroit. For many, their pensions are gone, entire futures missing—the cold, hard reality of a story made of cold, hard American steel. I was just passing through.

I didn’t have to look hard for Yuletide. That’s all over the place this time of year in Ann Arbor. Downtown’s Main Street was decorated in lights and green wreaths to ensure good will towards men or perhaps to encourage boutique shopping. Long scarves—not the decorative kind—were tied-up tight around people’s faces, as hands swung free in mittens and gloves. Intellectual conversations chirped away about city council and various governing bodies responsible for public art commissions.

A short car ride away from Detroit there seems to be no sign of disadvantage, no sign of loss or sadness over things not yet collected. For the townies and students of Ann Arbor, it’s always the best of times. Sure, expect to freeze your ass off in the winter, but what else is new in the Midwest? And what else is there to do when said ass is freezing? Brewery tours, of course.

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Ann Arbor Brewing Company

The Michigan campus employs nearly 60,000 people and educates (presumably) approximately 40,000 students. Campus sits in the middle of everything and includes dozens of satellite locations for particular departments, miles a part from each other, in a spooky, omnipresent kind of way. And betwixt all the busy intersections of academia, world-class museums and North Shore apparel, there is an unbelievable thing happening—some of the most educated and community-minded people I have ever met, are getting hammered and eating some incredible food.

The notion seems counter intuitive that someplace so close to a city nobody wants to visit, might actually be thriving in culinary wonderland—literally, some of the best food I have ever eaten. Something so strange could only mean one thing: I was in the right place.

For example, the complex and Polish, Dill Pickle Soup from Amadeus Restaurant on Washington Street. House-brined grape tomatoes in spiced vinegar from Mani Osteria & Bar on Liberty. Ever hear of something called Lardo? It’s cured fat from the back of a free-range pig and they cut fresh slices to taste at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, world-famous delicatessen. The bounty of fine dining and craft beer and cocktails was ripe for the picking in the dead of winter, and although I had come to recharge my weary spirit, the spirits themselves where enough to take me away. So, away I went.

The butchers at Zingerman's Deli.

The butchers at Zingerman’s Deli.

The talent in Ann Arbor is surprisingly young, cool and way more into sustainable farming than any hipster I’ve ever met in Encinitas. The chefs, farmers, manufactures and brew-ha-has are doing a lot more than talking about what they eat and where it comes from—they’re actually making a difference in the way people consume their food. Walk down Main Street and you won’t see much of corporate America. These restaurants are one of a kind and a result of two important things: the city’s close proximity to major foodie destination, Chi Town, and the steady economic lifeblood pumped by Michigan University.

I sat down with Frank Fejeran, executive chef at The Raven’s Club—one of downtown’s newest additions—to learn a few things about how he ended up in Ann Arbor. Turns out Fejeran trained under Grant Achetz, decorated chef and culinary mad scientist based in Chicago. Coincidentally, Fejeran also worked briefly at 150 Grand in Escondido, Cali., a restaurant from my hometown, before he finally opened up shop in Ann Arbor. We exchanged euphemisms that implied the world is a rather small place to live and laughed at how ridiculous the traffic is the San Diego. Long story short, when the competition gets tough, the young professionals got moving, and many educated and talented people have wound up in smaller towns like Ann Arbor where it’s easier to make a go of things in such tough economic times. Rent is certainly cheaper.

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“Professional” beer tasting at Wolverine State Brewing.

Another thing people in the Midwest seem to be really good at is making beer. San Diego receives accolades for being the mirco-brewing capital of the country. But that doesn’t mean s*** to the people of Ann Arbor. And I’ll bet these corn-fed, bearded worriers could drink any frat-boy from San Diego State under the table with one of the high gravity beers their brewing in old bourbon barrels and wine casks. Seriously. Have you ever had a sour beer? It’s delicious. It’s weird. But it’s good. From light to dark, IPA to stout, there is something for everyone who enjoys a cold glass and good head. Some of the best advice I got from the brew master at Wolverine State Brewing was that everyone can enjoy an IPA, “…if you drink the right one.” I was skeptical, and already buzzed. But even this half-drunk, SoCal stranger found a hoppy friend to call her own. Bells, Two Hearted. If you ever get the chance, drink it.

And if you ever get the chance to eat Cuban food, I mean, really good Cuban food, do that too. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from Ann Arbor on this culinary adventure, but I was deliciously surprised not once, but twice, and in two very different food joints. Lena, an art deco, flash-back and cocktail factory, offered up a variety of Cuban confections like Ecuadorian Humitas. Holy corn cakes batman! Lemongrass-tomatoe stew, chimichurri and melted queso fresco? I was literally burning calories as I ate it. For dinner, I ordered a traditional Cuban Sandwich, press-grilled on Avalon Telera bread with smoked ham, braised pork shoulder, manchego cheese, pickles and mustard aioli. Yep. I’m a traditionalist. After a long day of brewery tours, nothing is more satisfying than food without pretense. Nosce te ipsum, sandwich. The Cuban was the perfect accoutrement to my Hot Pepper & Peach Margarita, infused with hot pepper and peach tequila, fresh peach puree—house-made to order, which I did, twice.

The Cuban at Lena.

The Cuban at Lena.

Adding a little celebrity to the  culinary scene in Ann Arbor, is chef Eve Aronoff, a Top Chef contestant and owner of Frita Batidos on West Washington. Casual picnic tables lined the interior, encouraging group dinning and stranger conversations. Blue Ribbon cans in the cooler and real guacamole served alongside seriously addictive Cuban fried plantains was about all it took to make my list. Each picnic table came standard with a set of dominos, so plan on staying a while for happy hour. Hands down, a must eat in Ann Arbor—I tired half a dozen menu items and everything was superbly fried and awesomely terrible for you.

Freelance writing doesn’t pay well. One of the few, if not the only perk to the job, is getting sponsored to travel to obscure places and explore the people, the food—the alcohol—the history, and the amazing things that are happening simultaneously all around the world, all the time; existing regardless of our appreciation or acknowledgment, while we all continue to live our proverbial, self-absorbed lives. I like being a stranger in a strange place—it reminds me to stop being such as a** hole.

A rainbow of colors at Ashley's.

A rainbow of colors at Ashley’s.

If you get full on the fried stuff you can do one of two things. One, go to another brewery and drink light beer. Or two, keep eating, but get the salad. If you need a beer and you feel like mixing in with the 20-somethings, the best place to go is Ashley’s. This is the college go-to joint that sits across from the busiest intersection of campus. It’s old, it’s packed and it’s got more beers on draft than anywhere else in town. They’ve got beers you’ve never heard of and mixed with other beers in ways you didn’t even know where possible. This is where the last week of finals, ends. I had the privilege of sitting down with local beer historian, David Bardallis, to discuss his book, Ann Arbor Beer: The Hoppy History of Tree Town Brewing, to discuss how such an amazing brew scene could go so unjustifiably unnoticed by alcoholics the world over—disregard the inherent problem with that statement. He was a really nice guy and I wish I could remember more of what he said, but we had sampled near 40 beers that day and I was lit up like a Christmas tree. I think the gist of it was, “Cold weather equals drinking beer,” or “Major university plus college students to the power of hops.” Oh yeah, and a lot of German immigration.

Who am I kidding? I didn’t order any freakin’ salads. I was working, okay! For Ann Arbor’s version of Asian fusion a la Midwestern style, seek no further than Melange Bistro & Wine Bar on Main Street. This is where the far east meets steak and potatoes—a fine dining experience set in sexy lounge-style ambiance that makes you want to drink too much and kiss with tongue. I ordered the nachos—duck confit glazed in hoisin and served on a crispy wonton chip. The Duck Nachos were topped with manchego cheese, guacamole, fresh tomato and sriracha sour cream. Don’t worry, I ate them with my pinky up. From steaks to sushi, the menu is a globally influenced symphony of too-hard-to-pick main courses with a unique southeast Asian flare. After informing all of my dinner company that I would require a sample from each of their main course plates, I settled on the Short Rib, flavored with Asian accents and slow braised for 8 hours. Served with a natural braising reduction, yuzu daikon salad and whipped potatoes, I was not sharing. Paired with a glass of Clayhouse Malbec, I practically fell off my chair from sensory euphoria. Quite simply, perfection.

Short Rib at Melange.

Short Rib at Melange.

Small town America is a seductive mistress. Places like Ann Arbor romance the spirit with slow changes like the seasons—a tender leaf segment barely able to cling to the graying tree. Ann Arbor’s like a lot of hip, young cities: Portland, Austin, Asheville and so on—insert mustache and flannel joke here. It’s slow, it’s quirky and the community is fairly integrated economically. The result is more cooperative and less cannibalistic—though arguably there may have been some of that going on 30 minutes away. It remains unconfirmed.

The bad news was that I had fallen in love, again, with a place that discouraged the social  idiosyncrasies I dislike about southern California. Travel has that effect on me. The good news was that I had collected my sanity in an otherwise crazy time of year. I had gained some perspective on things—a real Christmas miracle. After my week in Ann Arbor, I was ready to go home and crawl back into my self-absorbed sand castle, this time a little wiser, a little happier to not live in a place that snows. And like all the amazing things happening in Ann Arbor, culinary or otherwise, this trip was a clear reminder that I set the table for myself each and every day. Somewhere, it’s the best of times. Somewhere else, it’s Detroit. The nice thing is that we all get to decide for ourselves.

Stay strange Ann Arbor.





Prose: Alone at a Café in Paris

19 01 2014

The seductive sounds of a four piece jazz band—a scat-cat afternoon buzzin’ on too much caffinee.

If there is such a thing.

Thank God I’ve got this music to fill me up.

I feel so empty.

I can’t believe I left him standing there—in the rain.

It rained last night.

It’s very sunny today.

The weather irritates my mood with its inconsistency.

How can a person be less predictable than the weather?

I’m a mess.

This trigger steadied by a shaky crook-hand up my back side and I feel angry.

What did she ever give him other than his drink?

A stiff drink is nice but not nearly as nice as her sex.

I can’t figure it out.

I kissed him!

And for what?

To discover that he had shaved himselfby coincidence?

I doubt that.

I wonder what it’s like to be a man? To make love to a woman…

I wonder if he thinks… what I think?

I doubt that.

I’m a mess.








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