Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Recent Acquisitions

RECEIVING, FEB. 23 - Recent Acquisitions:

1. Wiz shoes

I haven't bought a new pair of running shoes in 22 years. My last pair, a set of solid, pre-boycott, rubber & durabuck Nikes, caught me some guff from people who felt I should toss perfectly good shoes lest I give the Nike swoosh any extra publicity. I stood firm and wore the shoes into the ground. Shopping last week, I found myself secretly happy that Nike's child labor mishaps have made my choice one brand easier. I'd forgotten how unpleasant shoe shopping is.

So unpleasant, in fact, that I bought the store's gaudiest pair of nonleather running sneakers just to get out of there. These Asics gels were made in China, which, in 2010, could mean just about any range of labor conditions. The harsh metallic colors are listed as "copper" and "lightning black". When I wear them I feel like an extra in Sidney Lumet's "The Wiz". That's fine, except when I'm wheezing on a streetcorner 1/9th of a mile from my house, hoping that when my heart explodes it won't get gore all over my fancy new shoes.

2. Chuckles

Anyone who enjoys life needs to make at least one pilgrimage to Galco's Soda store in Highland Park. It's exactly what it sounds like - a store that sells almost nothing but soda. The prices are cheap and there are all sorts of weird little brands from distant pockets of America and/or distant pockets of America's past.

I have only one complaint with the place: Mission Creep. A soda store excels when it sells only soda. Why, also, offer two huge bins of gloriously outdated candy? Why then stock the bins with Chuckles, the nemesis of my youth (and teens and early 20's)? Beverages, after all, are deemed honorable by society; there's a reason why Sprite made a catchphrase of "Obey Your Thirst" while nobody cashed in on "Obey Your Hunger". I left Galco's with several dozen tinkling bottles of micro-root beers and watercress sarsaparilla, and I didn't get the feeling that anyone was judging me. I did very much feel that I was being judged as I then quickly chain-scarfed 3 sets of Chuckles - that's 15 little jelly tombstones - in the car outside.

3. The Haunting Of Hill House

Last week, I caught the first 90 seconds of Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" at The Landmark. It wasn't the movie for me. The theater staff gave me a refund, leaving another 142 minutes to kill before my companions exited. So I walked over to Barnes & Noble and found this paperback on the shelves.

Shirley Jackson has constructed the greatest opening paragraph of any book in the English language. But it's a little sad that the setup, brilliant as it is, strips all the mystery from the tale at the outset. Will there be a disgruntled chauffer in a rubber monster mask at the end of the book? Read the first two sentences and find out. Don't most successful ghost stories require at least a little of that tension between X-Files creepiness and Scooby Doo cynicism?

4. Memories of disgusting meal

Speaking of cynical creepiness, we made the trek to Riley's Farm two weekends ago. This is the "living history" site located in Oak Glen / Yucaipa, a hillside town of gnarled, evil trees that apparently bear fruit in the summer. To get there, one has to drive far, far east, past San Bernardino, past even Riverside, up into the Mountains of Nowhere.

Riley's Farm is unique because it celebrates east coast history. Its brochure promises red coats and civil war reenactors. Except for the occasional gold rush prospector and big band WW2 blowouts, there's not much to do with California. The brochure seemed to further promise a reenactment of Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty" speech. Since I'd never really heard of any historical site that borrowed its history from somewhere else, this place seemed kind of mandatory.

I don't want to wound the fragile Oak Glen / Yucaipa economy by writing anything bad about the place. After quickly ascertaining that we'd missed the main tour and that no Patrick Henry speech would be forthcoming, we settled in for lunch. I ordered a plate of stilton cheese with bread, sat through 20 minutes of dreadful 18th century guitar, and was eventually brought this;

I mention this on a public blog only because I want credit for doing the right thing (eating a few polite bites, leaving a tip) and not the wrong thing (throwing the salty, dung-colored slop to the floor and doing the goddamn Patrick Henry speech my own self). Exiting through the back door, I passed an unguarded revolutionary war jacket that I also want credit for not taking, despite the fact that I badly wanted and deserved it.