Gold Shoes, Chicken Salad, and Stingrays

Life in Auburn continues to be pretty entertaining. I am still doing a lot of unpacking and arranging, running errands, and doing laundry. A lot of laundry. But in between the mundane aspects of getting settled into a new place (like needing to go buy something ridiculous like a dust pan, because I expressly remember choosing not to pack something that costs one dollar to save space), I’ve found a few fun things to do as well.

A couple weekends ago, I went to a Valentine’s Masquerade Ball, which was a benefit for a local nonprofit arts group. It was held at a local historic property called Pebble Hill — an antebellum cottage with great Civil War history that is now owned by the university and houses their Center for Arts and Humanities. We went with a big group of friends, and it was so much fun to get dressed up for something for the first time in a long time. I generally don’t enjoy being dressed up and prefer my tattered hemp pants and long-sleeve t-shirts to hose and heels. But every once in a while, it is kinda nice to feel all pretty and feminine and dare I say hot, to get dolled up and accessorize and play that role for an evening.

Adding to the excitement was the fact that this event required an arts-and-crafts session AND thrift store shopping. Carter and I spent an afternoon making our masks together. We bought parts at Hobby Lobby, like the eye covering, handles, and decorations like feathers, flowers, berries, and ribbon. And glorious things like glitter, paint, and glue. Putting the parts together required a little elbow grease. I got to bust out my jewelry making supplies to wire things together. I also got to wield my Dremel (one of my favorite things in life) to cut some of Carter’s metal flower stems and to drill holes in her mask for wiring. I really wish we had filmed it — Carter holding a stem of fake flowers as far away from her face as possible, and me slicing into it with my diamond-chip Dremel bit, sparks flying, trying to shield my eyes. Both of us laughing hysterically at the scene. It was like freaking light-saber action! I felt so powerful! God, I love my Dremel.

I found the perfect red belt to go with my outfit for a dollar at Goodwill and selected an awesome retro-fabulous 1960s-esque dress at Sears for $25 — black brocade, with a knee-length full skirt and cinched waist. Black alone is a little boring to me, so I found a cute pair of red patent-leather peep toe pumps, and accessorized further with a black-white-red chunky bangle bracelet and a white scarf, which I only sort of carried around but did not wear. It did come in handy when taking smoke breaks in the chilly night air, so I wrapped it around my shoulders and felt good that I had an actual practical accessory to my outfit. I have an awesome black beaded clutch that is very turn- of- the-(20th)-century that went perfectly. So the red belt I found at Goodwill actually was from the 1960s — geometric resin buckle on wide elastic — and it accentuated the cinched waist of my dress and complemented the red of my shoes and in my bracelet. When I was completely dressed, with smoky eye-makeup finished, my date said, “You look hot. Is that supposed to be an ‘Alice in Wonder-ho’ look?” I could have died, I laughed so hard! Leave it to a man to equate “retro” with “fairy tale.” Actually, I could totally see why it reminded him of the dress Alice wore, white with the blue sash. And why my red-and-black motif seemed to say “reminiscent of sweet and innocent, but actually fierce and sexy.” I think I’m okay with that! Truth be told, it probably sums up my mojo pretty well. We all had an awesome time enjoying the performance art, music, open bar, and extensive buffet, and afterward we ended up at the Olde Auburn Ale House, a cool bar downtown with live music, not wanting to take off our finery too early.

I’ve decided that so far my favorite restaurant here is Chappy’s Deli. They have a lot of Southern charm, complete with an explanation for being closed on Sundays on the door (“Resting and being with family”). The reason it’s my favorite is that they have the best chicken salad I’ve ever tasted. I’m a connoisseur of chicken salad, among a few other things, like French onion soup, french fries, salmon, grilled chicken sandwiches, guacamole, and fried oysters. These are things I will order over and over again, at various restaurants around the globe in hopes of finding the perfect and best one in each category. It’s like my own private Food Network program that I’m living out, and no one cares but me. Chappy’s chicken salad is perfectly Southern — creamy, smooth (not chunky), without too many additional ingredients to add interest. Essentially mayonnaise, shredded chicken, maybe some finely diced celery and onion, salt, pepper, and a dash of lemon juice. This is served on a kaiser roll, with lettuce, tomato, smoked cheddar, and bacon. Oh, my lord. Best. Chicken salad. Ever.

One day last week, I drove up to Atlanta to meet a friend who was in town interviewing for a fellowship. We spent a really awesome day at the Georgia Aquarium. I absolutely LOVE aquariums. I’ve written here before about my water fascination, and I really think I must have been an ocean dwelling creature in another life because I just connect with it so much. As a kid, I always really loved interactive museums, and as an adult, they’re still one of my favorite things. Museums of any kind, really. I can remember visiting Disney World as a kid and being somewhat disappointed that it was mainly entertainment and not so much educational. And their educational exhibits are kinda boring. I was that nerdy kid who wanted more “Hall of Presidents” type things and less “Tea Cups.”

Anyway, the Georgia Aquarium was amazing. Usually the otters are my favorite, and I was a little disappointed that two of the three otter installations were on hiatus at the time of my visit. The Charleston aquarium has great otters, full of personality. The only ones we saw were trying to nap while their pack leader pranced around preening atop rocks and looking cute for the onlookers. I was very happy to get to go down the kids’ whale slide, as the children waiting in line in front of me kept looking back at me like, “What’s she doing here?” And I got to pet a stingray, which came to me when I beckoned it with fingers underwater and spewed a stream of water at me as I stroked its fins. Who knew stingrays were somewhat intelligent? Not me. We saw beluga whales desperately trying to engage in coitus as if on cue when the exhibit’s lecturer began his spiel. Who knew whale dicks were enormous,, and seem to come out of nowhere, like a dog’s lipstick unrolling? Not me. Although it seems appropriate. I mean, they are whales. Observing the reactions of the people around us at the time was priceless, though. We saw whale sharks that were bigger than the beluga whales, and stingrays that I couldn’t have wrapped my arms around, giant grouper, dragon fish (they look like really colorful and really lazy seahorses), sea turtles (love them!), lion fish, and a whole hall of Amazonian fish and reptiles. It seems like every time I go to an aquarium they’re doing an Amazon installation. Which is cool, because I get to relive my trip to Brazil. There were lots of other exhibits going on that you had to pay extra to go into, but sometime I’d like to do all the rest of it. I’d particularly like to see the dolphins after watching “The Cove.” I have a new respect and admiration for them now, even beyond what I did previously.

It was also great wandering around and catching up with my old friend from high school, who I only see on rare occasions nowadays. It reminded me that some friends are forever, even after things change immensely for both parties in life. There are some people you just connect with, feel at home with, and enjoy every second with. No explanations necessary. No buffering of the true self needed. Birds of some sort of feather…perhaps a spiritual sort. My soul wants to connect with everyone, but it only gets to experience the real connection every few years or so. As a result, I spend a lot of time feeling a sense of loss for the ones who didn’t qualify. But there are few better feelings than seeing one of those old soul connections again, and being reminded that it does happen sometimes if we let it, and we’re looking. I cherish all of mine…the special, the few.

Land of Sky vs. Camel City

I would say that I am equal parts a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full kind of person. I think it’s the Libra in me. The whole balance thing. Choosing one over the other seems dishonest, because life is just not that black-and-white. It depends on the day. It depends on the circumstances. It depends on my mood.

Lately I’ve been trying to make an effort at positive thinking, and while that is not something that really comes difficult for me, lately it’s been an effort. Since I’ve moved to Winston-Salem, I think I’ve noticed a lot more negative things about it than positive, and I’m not sure if that’s due to my current mindset or if it really just doesn’t measure up to Asheville, from whence I came. So I’m going to do a little contest. If you are familiar with both places, you can weigh in if you like, and I encourage that. But I’m still going on the assumption that no one reads this blog, so it’s mainly a private contest.

Here are some things I miss and some ways that W-S tries to make up for it.

AVL: My Iraqi friend, Fred (actually Faraq), at the Citgo,clov who imported my favorite clove cigarettes for me and always tried to talk me into buying lottery tickets so he could get in on that action if I won.

W-S: Jay (we call him “The Auctioneer”) at the Shell station who always makes me laugh and tries to talk me into buying lottery tickets so he can get in on that action if I win.

AVL: The Orange Peel, Stella Blue, Emerald Lounge, Jack of the Wood, Barley’s, and Westside Pub for seeing awesome bands.

W-S: The Garage, for seeing bands only really known locally.

AVL: Hitting up Usual Suspects every Thursday night with my work peeps to have some drinks, swoon at the cutest bartender in town, and bitch about work.

W-S: I have one single friend here, and we work opposite schedules. I don’t socialize with the people I work with because they have other things to do (and children to look after) than hang out at the bar in the middle of the week.

AVL: Beautiful Blue Ridge mountain landscape surrounding you at all times. Particularly nice rush hour drives due to stunning sunrises and sunsets.

W-S: Sometimes I catch a glimpse of Pilot Mountain (the doorknob) on my way home from work, if traffic is just right and it’s a really clear day.

AVL: A town full of people who are not showering every day either, or else they’re okay with the fact that you aren’t. In fact, you’re cooler because of it.

W-S: You mean you don’t use a curling iron? What about pastel business suits? What would your husband say?

Okay, okay. I feel like I must point out some cool things about the Camel City now, because I do have a handful of good friends here, who are proud of it. And it’s not all bad. Especially when I don’t consider the alternative.

1. There are actually decent jobs here. In fact, that’s why I moved here. The job market in Asheville blows. Everyone wants to live there, but unfortunately unless you’re willing to wait tables or work at a resort, there is not much in the career department. After all, it’s a heavily tourism based economy. Some people are fine with that. Most people do it for a while, get sick of it, and move someplace where there are “real” jobs. “Real” jobs don’t matter that much in the grand scheme of things societally, but when you’re just trying to make enough money to afford a place that’s in a semi-safe neighborhood and within 20 miles of your place of employment, that is a lot easier here than there.

We used to marvel at friends in Asheville who would move away to big cities and come back saying “Man, my apartment is like one-sixth of this size now! And it costs twice as much!” It’s interesting to me that just moving a couple hours away means I can make more money and pay less in rent. One of the big issues since I moved to Asheville has been the whole “living wage” thing. Because no one really gets that there. And twelve years later, they’re still fighting that battle. Nothing much has changed. I don’t know what will make it change, if anything.

2. We may not have natural beauty at our doorstep, but at least it’s within driving distance. I can still go hike on the Parkway with my dog — I just have to get up a lot earlier and drive a bit farther. When I lived in Asheville, it took at least an hour of driving up the Parkway to get far enough away from crowds to feel relaxed and comfortable anyway. Now I drive an hour straight to places that are isolated and beautiful and rugged.

3. It’s a different, more challenging, but positive experience to be a weirdo while living amongst the rest of society. I loved being around like-minded souls in Asheville. I loved not feeling weird because there was always someone way more weird than me. But there are days here when I think, it’s a good thing I am me, living here, because how else would these people ever get exposed to anything different?

I think it’s a similar mindset that led my parents and their hippied-out friends to settle back in Rutherford County, just to add to the diversity and open up some minds that might not have had a reason to open up before. It’s very entertaining to me now when I go shopping and someone looks at my patchwork pants or tie-dye skirt and smiles or strikes up a conversation just based on that. It’s so much more rare to find that like-minded soul here, when you do see them, you recognize it immediately.

4. It’s a dead tie between the two towns for quality Japanese food and sushi. This is a good thing. The places in Asheville have better atmosphere, but W-S is more of a take-out town anyway, so the quality of the food is really what matters. People here are less concerned with the authenticity of the dining experience because they’re trying to get home to watch American Idol with their California Rolls.

5. People are people everywhere. The people I’ve met here are great people. They just have different interests. Different focus. Perhaps a little less open-minded in general. Perhaps a little more materialistic. A little more conservative. In Asheville it seems like there really aren’t any “odd groups” of people. Here, it’s minorities. There is much more of a divide racially. If I was a minority living in Asheville, I might disagree with that statement. This is just my perspective.

I may have to postpone this diatribe until later. My brain is a little fried after nearly a week of intensity in the corporate world. I’m not done with good things about Winston, though, so stay tuned!