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jumper cables

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
Ever since my accident in 2008 in New York City, I feel like I'm walking around holding jumper cables. In every performance, every song, every play, every mass that I sing, I would try to plug my jumper cables into an electric socket to try to get juiced up about performing again. Something died the day of my accident in 2008. I wish I could put everything behind me but it's still such an obstacle. It's actually the core of what I'm trying to attack right now. One of the many reasons I moved was to try to nip this loosely post traumatic stress situation in the bud. Four years is enough already. I am on a quest to end all of my white knuckling. I was doing pretty well in the first two weeks of New York. Besides a raging sinus infection resulting in me having to schedule an appointment in July to have my adenoids removed, I was still eager to perform and looking forward to the opportunities that lay ahead. I loved my new apartment, and it was wonderful living near Matt and Sean again. Matt and Sean are definitely going to be two co-stars of the this blog. Both of them are from the Bay Area, and both of them are ridiculously talented. Sean is your comedic lead with the killer tenor voice. He has great comic timing that would also translate well in cabaret and emceeing. He's witty, he's quick, and he can SANG. Matt is a leading man, blonde and dashing- an actor with a musical theater background, he can sing, dance, and act. I secretly believe he belongs on TV. He recently had to be naked for the second act of the off-Broadway show called "Next" about young men in the army in line waiting to lose their virginity or have relations with prostitutes during World War II. I had seen Sean play an Irish man who gets himself in so deep he has to take his own life onstage. Between the three of us, Matt, Sean, an I have faced bold challenges with the roles that we've gotten to play, and we've grown and learned how to be better actors from them. It's definitely part of my conversations with both of them. It is an odd common ground that we all share but with the parts that we continue to play and audition for, it's a topic that's always evolving.

Matt and Sean and I were spending time together whenever they didn't have work. I feel lame because I can't apply for a job until June 11. I've had a trip planned with a friend for over a year now to go away for his graduation from June 2-10. I can't exactly go in and apply for jobs and say “by the way I need 9 days off. Right now." I just decided that from March 22 till June 10, I would be settling in and getting things working and ready in my apartment. When you're trying to get Internet, cable, a desk, chairs, an ergonomic chair, a dining table, a sofa, lamps, light bulbs, extension cords, a printer, furniture, it all kind of piles up on you at once!! And then there's the assembly of the desk from IKEA, ( still so wobbly, but it's  cheap right?and of the television shelf DVD holder thingy from West Elm... paying delivery fees to bed, bath, and beyond, as well as Pier 1, Jennifer convertibles, The Food Emporium, Best Buy, The Apple Store, and everything else you can possibly think of that you need to move into a new place. STRESSFUL DOES NOT BEGIN TO COVER IT. I feel like all of my spare time has been devoted to fixing things that arrived broken or were the wrong color or won't work under any circumstances no matter how many 800 numbers you have had to call multiple times in the last 5 weeks. then there's the pharmacy switch. “yes I really am on all of those antidepressants...." and why does the television need 3 remote controls? I'm sorry if I sound like a grumpy old man but I got a bad router installed, mail rerouted to Mars ( I swear I will never get copies of Backstage Magazine at this point....) and after calling two Staples locations and being connected to Bombay 3 different times, I still can't scan. My friend Jennifer back home had just become a homeowner in Gilroy, and she and I were both lamenting on the phone about bad connections, Internet problems, broken items that we have to take back to the store, and she told me that her washer and dryer stopped in her new place and that her refrigerator didn't work. It was then that I gained some perspective that even though I didn't have television I still have to clean clothes and a place to store my food so I shut up for a while about all the little abnormalities attached to moving into a new place.

Moving forward: searching out my inspiration… The continuous quest for jumper cables. I had done the Perry-Mansfield Art of Cabaret Program in Steamboat Springs Colorado back in 2009 about a year after my accident. I was no longer slurring my words, and my jaw was mostly working alright, but I still had pain in my head and neck and I lacked confidence that words would come out correctly when I sang... Also, my hearing was pretty much stabilized. The staff was sensitive to me and they assured me that I was sounding fine. On the staff of the many amazing teachers was Karen Mason. Now Karen brought the role of Tanya to life in Mamma Mia- She's the sassy friend of Donna who sings "Does Your Mother Know That You're Out?" She also took over as Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray on Broadway and closed that epic run. She originated the Queen of Hearts in Frank Wildhorn's Wonderland and she was Glenn Close and Betty Buckley's understudy in Sunset Boulevard where she went on as Norma Desmond many times both on Broadway and in Los Angeles. Here is Karen as Norma: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvpeDDzl2I8. She has had numerous other Broadway, Cabaret and TV credits. Working with her was an honor. I felt so lucky because the staff at Perry-Mansfield stressed that once they were our teachers? They were always our teachers. They would be there for us with any industry questions and help us with directing and music directing and help us with our connections as a cabaret artist. Karen Mason and I had more in common- we both did theatre AND cabaret. Karen is actually a really realistic person for me to look up to. I am so grateful to her. She took me out for lunch within my first week in New York. I know she was my teacher and I know her that way, but I couldn't help but feel a little excited/starstruck that I was going to have lunch with someone who I look up to. She's fabulous. Lunch was wonderful "You're like Mini-Me!" She said, across the table from me. I almost fell onto the floor when she said that. "What?" I said? "You do cabaret AND theatre!!" "Oh yes," I said "But I don't hit a high F." Karen can belt a high F. I.... can't. She and another Broadway star were going to be sharing the stage at Birdland, singing Kander and Ebb in a few days. I was going to bring my dad to her show. I couldn't wait. Back to the lunch: Over split pea soup and grilled chicken, we talked about everything in life: family, Broadway, cabaret, and I told her how I'd sung the role of Diana in the Concert Version of Next To Normal. We were on the subject of belting.... so Next to Normal immediately comes to mind. "I mixed the whole thing Karen, and I have no idea how it came across. I hope it was still as effective..." "Marin mixed the whole thing!" Karen said. As in Marin Mazzie. We're on a first name basis here in NYC :-P Seriously, coming back to earth now, lunch was wonderful. I am so thankful to my friend Russ for pointing me down the path to the Art of Cabaret. Also what I think is coincidental is another influential teacher of mine happened to be the "Rosie" to Karen's " Tanya" in Mamma Mia. Judy Kaye, one of Broadway's current divas was another one I was hoping to connect with soon. Judy Kaye is a whole other blog. I will recap that experience soon. Here's Karen and Judy on the Rosie O'Donnell Show for Mamma Mia! http://www.karenmason.com/media-mainmenu-39/video-mainmenu-80/50-mamma-mias-dancing-queen-rosie-odonnell-show-.html . bottom line: if you're a character actress who usually plays broads, crazy people, anything that's not a romantic lead, nasty villainous wenches and next-door neighbors AND you do cabaret? Karen Mason is pretty damn inspiring. I meant to tell her about how I totally stole hers and Christopher Denny's ( another Perry-Mansfield instructor) arrangement of “Now I Have Everything” from Fiddler On The Roof and “Marriage” from Cabaret, and taught it to my old coach in college and then he and I performed it for about 200 people, for our friend Ann's wedding in Burlingame, California. It's hands-down one of the best arrangements ever, and even though it was never meant to be mine, it was definitely meant for Ann and Terrance Krentz.

Days later, Barry Kleinbort, another teacher from the staff of the Art of Cabaret, was seated across from me at a restaurant called Cognac. I was smiling nonstop. Barry was beyond my favorite teacher. Barry and I are able to talk, and I don't think he thinks I'm insane -or if he does he embraces it- I'm not sure, one way or the other- Barry is awesome and he's my director. He's patient and he is silent but deadly. He is this quiet soul who has so much to say- bursting with knowledge and lyrics, and he writes poetry and he writes about France and he's so fascinating I don't even think he knows that about himself! Anyway, one of my biggest performance breakthroughs of all time was in front of Barry, literally in front of, like inches away from his face, on a chair, on a stage, in front of the class. The song was a Bette Midler cover called "Lullaby in Blue." It's a beautiful storytelling perfect–for–Cabaret song. It's a narrative song, it's the birth mother's perspective... of giving up her baby for adoption lyrically crafted by Adam Cohen, who is Leonard Cohen's son! I relate to the back story just a little bit- I have definitely used the piece in a class before or as it's a really sensitive subject song that definitely could benefit from some acting coaching. I try to make it less predictable, more authentic, more real.... it was a good growth piece for me. It's also footnoted should I ever actually grow a pair and do the "adoption cabaret." There isn't enough black comedy, poignancy, or tasteful anything to make that show less than a step above Jerry Springer. Anyway so it's like a million degrees outside in Colorado, in a town where it's like population 150 or something (okay maybe more) and the theater that we are working in looks like a barn, and what's going on in this small room in the middle of the country- well middle and to the left- is me at age twenty-six, growing into a better performer because of the work that Barry did with me on this song in front of my classmates. Barry co-directed, contributed, edited, and acted as soundboard for “Bewitched, Bothered, and Bipolar,” "Somebody to Love: My Musical Tribute to Freddie Mercury," and he put together from start to finish with recycled material and new, “Carly: Queen of the Desert!” For mine and Joe Wicht's Palm Springs debut at Blame It On Midnight, a club now closed! Barry is my director for my upcoming show in November at the Rrazz Room, I'm hesitant to announce the title since my titles and ideas seem to change like the wind, but I'm pretty sure it's going to be called “Shift Happens." I was thinking of calling it “Shift or get off the pot!” But that was a wee bit vulgar for me. I've already written a good chunk of my show and now Barry has to tell me whether or not it's actually good. This is where I am experiencing self-doubt and I've been really beating myself up lately. I guess in the move I dropped my confidence somewhere. I even watched “Do-Re-We, The Sound of Twosic" starring Alyssa Stone and Eliza Leoni- the 2 funniest singers in San Francisco (now that I've moved... kidding!) And I paid extra attention when they sang "We have confidence In Us," which I tried to apply singularly to myself ;-) Jumper Cables. I'm carrying them around! Something is going to wake me up with the jolt of life and I'll be functioning again, right?

As far as “Shift Happens” goes, I have about 10 songs so far, and again if it's any good, then a lot of work will be done, and I can go into rehearsals. A whole other entry is going to be devoted to accompanists and trying to find one, as well as the performances I've had here thus far… all one of them (but at least 3 are in store in the near future!) Oh and Judy Kaye, oh and my new acting class that I'm starting, and.... THE MEN. Oh the juicy gossip. It's only been five weeks and New York is proving to be as bitter as it is sweet.

A Humble Abode.

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
I just moved to New York City and was contemplating blogging about it. I suppose I could, now having finally installed Dragon Dictate which is typing every word I say right now. Let's see what to begin with. There are a couple of things that I would like to write about but I believe that a few people may have to die first before I can let it go public (mwa ha ha). Seriously, my best friend Jen said that absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the first 5 weeks of New York City. But, before the juicy gossip, first things first. I arrived here on March 22, and my parents and I were working with a broker who arranged for us to visit 9 different places in one day. The scouting of the residential terrain began on March 23. The first apartment seemed to be a winner on the inside, but you have to go through the outside in order to get to the inside. The outside of the building looked pretty basic, beginning with a dark short hallway to an elevator, and just as we were about to enter the building, two people walked by me and into the building. They were carrying a key so they definitely lived there or had access to the building somehow, and they looked like crackheads. They were missing teeth, they were around my age, and they were scary. The broker acted like they weren't even there! It was kind of funny. My mom and I glanced at each other and then we glanced at him, and he was acting like they didn't cross our paths at all. Like " maybe if I pretend to not see them my clients won't see them either!!” We rode up in the elevator to the top floor, and walked into a hallway that smelled like Band-Aids. Ew. We entered a beautiful one bedroom apartment with gorgeous hardwood floors and- wait for it- my own washer and dryer in the unit. The broker even exclaimed "that never happens in New York City!” Alas we still had 8 more units to look at and it was only 9:45am. We went down to the second unit which was just blocks away, and from the moment I walked through the revolving door past the doorman down a long narrow black hallway, I instantly liked the feel. It was very svelte and sleek- very modern- we walked down towards the elevator and in the middle of the hallway, from floor to ceiling on both sides, were glass windows. From there, you look down into a woodsy, ivy dotted, Muir Woodsy environment- one you would never think would be in the middle of New York City's Hell's kitchen! We went up just 2 floors. The two tall towers went jetting up towards the sky. There were several different entrances. It's a pretty big red brick building that takes up a big chunk of the block. On the 2nd floor was unit 225. To our immediate right was a ton of closet space, followed by a nice sized bathroom, and then one bedroom. There wasn't much of a view out onto 54th street, but that's okay, I really liked the feel of the apartment. There were nice hardwood floors and white walls and lots of windows to let in light, and it really was the perfect size. I decided to bookmark this apartment in my mind. It was a great neighborhood for what it is. I have to get used to the fact that there is no neighborhood quite as fantastic as the Castro district in San Francisco. It's just what I have to accept. This has come to my attention more frequently as I have been without the Castro now for close to 2 months, and I am convinced that I am one of the luckiest people because I got to be a resident of the Castro district for 6 years of my life. I've never missed Peet's Coffee and Philz more. I've never missed baristas I barely know saying good morning to me by name more. I have never missed waking up on a Saturday morning and going out for a walk and seeing all the cute gay boys and men of all different ages carrying gorgeous bouquets of flowers home to their loved ones, more. This part of Hell's Kitchen was very gayly influenced I noticed, and some of the businesses even had dog bowls outside of their stores.... there was a hint of gayborhood to it. And it's just what I needed.

There are a lot of dogs in NYC... and I was so happy to find out this building allowed pets. I began my day looking for an apartment where it didn't matter if it did or didn't take dogs, but as the day progressed I realized that a dog was going to be in my future. So I switched it up in the middle of the day told my broker “I sort of hope many of these units are dog friendly because I'm starting to realize that I probably will want to get a dog...” as luck would have it most of the units were welcoming of pets. After we viewed the apartment we took the elevator to the top floor and walked up a flight of stairs to the roof. Not knowing what to expect, I pushed open the heavy metal door thinking I was going to see a wide open space… Maybe a couple lounge chairs… I never thought I would see what was being kept upstairs; beautiful plants that were well-maintained and many seats and lawn chairs and tables. There was room for a whole community to exist upstairs. It seriously could even work for wedding. I was blown away. Who knew that someone would mix city life with a nice balance of nature? Complete with a small gym and laundry in the basement, it was a freaking great place to live! “And there's no crackheads!” I yelled, and my mom not missing a beat on the exact same page having the exact same thought yelled back “I was just going to say that! no crackheads!" and the broker shot us a look and said “You saw them? Oh, I was hoping that you didn't see them!” “Of course we saw them!” I shot back, “How could we not have seen them?!” We all kind of laughed and moved on to see the next 3 or 4 units in the late morning. Our last unit that we saw before a very late lunch break in the day was a ridiculous unit. The find was incredible. I'm not going to lie–it was pretty legendary. First of all, our broker, David, called this his “mothership find.“ Here's why: the place he found for me was in my rental price, but it was considered a penthouse STUDIO on top of this huge skyscraper down towards W. 34th St. It was right next to Penn station, and it overlooked the Hudson River in its entirety. It was basically the most epic front row seat to the Fourth of July fireworks spectacular that goes on every year. I bet this place had wild parties. I bet that every tenant was a crazy partier and they all brought their crazy parties to the clubhouse and it became an even crazier party. There was a clubhouse on top of the penthouse made out of marble, with a grand piano and a full bar leading out onto a patio that made the last unit roof top look puny in comparison. The “middle ground” I like to call it, was because it was an elevated patio that connected to all of the towers and it was the only way you could possibly get to all of the towers that were part of this complex. It was like a campus. A fabulous elevated sky campus... absolutely no view could compare to this. It was slightly a surreal find. Mom and I were kind of overwhelmed, kind of intrigued... kind of disgusted actually. Again it was very sophisticated looking, and while the bells and whistles were plenty, and it would be a swell place for parties, I asked myself “ would I ever be able to really feel like an artist in a building like this?” I mean it was grand, it was glorious, it was exciting to imagine inviting Michael Feinstein over to have him play the grand piano in the marble-clad room that was our upstairs clubhouse... ( I heard from a very reliable source that Michael Feinstein still puts on a dinner jacket every night before dining). For just a moment more looking around this penthouse… I imagined throwing soirées for people who used to listen to Bobby Short, talking about how they "just don't make 'em like that anymore" referring to the Gershwin's, or Bernstein, Cole Porter, Noel Coward... Also in attendance would be New York's contemporary new cabaret artists and this could be the meeting place where every one who's anyone in the NYC cabaret scene would go! They would attend and ogle over the view and the piano would always be played by great New York musicians and I would be invincible... But… In the end? It just wasn't me. I said goodbye to the “mothership find” and we headed onwards to look at other options for me and my lifestyle. At the end of the day we found ourselves back at our 2nd unit with the woodsy ivy walk and the still–very–impressive– roof top (even if it wasn't looking over the Hudson!), complete and intact with small gym and laundry room in the basement! This is the place. And how cool that I was able to find an apartment in one day? My mom liked it too, and we immediately submitted our request for apartment 225. We were informed 2 days later that the place was ours.

The Secrets of the Soho Salon

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
I found my people today. In simpler terms, The Gays.

I got my hair cut because I like to get my hair done in different places I visit. Nothing special, just a trim and my stylist "G" (short for Guilliam) was hilarious. From Brazil, he had been on his way to try to build a life in Italy but it didn't work out. Instead of going home to Brazil, he went as far as England. He's been here for only six months. He has a new boyfriend, and the relationship is only two weeks old. That opened up a whole new conversation since I have recently just started seeing someone and it's also, very new. It's funny how hairdressers can be some of the best temporary friends in the world. For the hour you're there, you find yourself telling secrets to each other, talking about risque things and giggling like crazy. The receptionist wanted to join in too, as did a couple of the girls waiting for their various appointments, and pretty soon, I was holding court in the Soho Salon.

Now, Helen and Nick need to understand that they have become characters in a story. That people they've never met (you, dear readers) know who they are, have looked at the wedding pictures from their big day, and are liking and commenting on photos and statuses from Facebook and my picture website. When people find out I'm American, they ask what I'm doing here. I say "I came to sing at a wedding…." and usually, if they're girls or gays, they want me to tell them alllll about it. From start to finish. So, magically, my barber's chair turned into my stage as I began the story telling. The receptionist seated herself, waiting to hear about the wedding. I went through the details, the location, the people, and then I got to the part of the Scottish Dancing. I actually got up and demonstrated in the salon, some of the steps we had to do. They found it intriguing and began asking about the menu. Was it catered? What was served? All in all it was a quite entertaining way to get a hair cut. Then, "G" asked me if I'd been to New York, and I said "of course! I just did my show there." He then proceeded to tell me that he was supposed to go there with his ex but opted out because he wants to experience his dream with someone he loves. So I thought…. a dream…what dream for him is in NY? I asked him and his his thick Brazilian accent he looks at me in the mirror and says "When I go to NEUYERK? I want to get drunk? And have the sex in the limo witha the top down."

???? That's your dream? It takes all kinds I guess!

Earlier that day, I went window shopping, and okay okay, I bought some things too. To be fair, some things were not for me, so it's okay. Right?

I walked along Monmouth (pronounced Monmuth) and felt this Haight-Ashbury vinatgey…artisty vibe and suddenly I came to the place I KNOW I would call home if I ever lived here permanently.

Tatty Devine, my beloved independent jewelry store that I discovered years ago happens to be across the street from Dress Circle. Dress Circle is where ALL the albums and all the cabaret and musical theatre notices are.

It was here that I copied down all sorts of dates of shows that sound interesting that I may be able to attend while I'm here. There's a variety here like in the states, from Drag to burlesque, Cabaret and West End, plus albums that are on sale. I saw Spencer Day's album! Way the heck out here! I saw the Ethel Merman book that Klea Blackhearst does a prologue for, way out here! And…of course. There's a new book about Memphis the Musical that's been published and there were copies EVERYWHERE because….that's just the way my life works.

After copying down all potential cabaret ideas and even a few voice teacher's numbers, I wandered over to Tatty Devine's to buy my ONE piece.

It's awesome, I love it and you'll have to see it when I come home. This is the company I bought my Horse and Carriage necklace and my little dachshund pin, and it's a store that I just adore.

The sun is shining and I am having a steak and ale pie accompanied by a strawberry-lime cider. Yes. A Strawberry-lime cider. It's new. It's quite sweet and I'm not sure if I'd get it again.

I have managed to get a copy of the Evening Standard, a free London publication that's handed out for the tube ride home. It's handed out by every underground station. There seems to be quite a literacy campaign going on here. There's a major amount of children who can't read, here in England. Every night, front page in white letters on a blue background reports the progress in the campaign. Today, Camilla has gotten involved. Oh joy.

There's also been a huge secret leaked that the wife of a famous athlete hs been cheating on him with his BROTHER for the last 8 years. Poor Bugger. Every day photos surface of him looking crestfallen and defeated, but he is determined to keep on.

When I read headlines like:

"The Duchess Is Thrilled to Partake in Funding"

or see the red guards with bear skinned hats, I almost don't think it's real. They sound like fairy tale names and it looks like they are costumed. But this is a real world here, in London, and it's so different than ours.

The waiter actually walked by just now and asked "Are you all finished, my lady?" and every ounce of me wants to retort with

"Why yes, good Sir. Please be gone with my nearly finished plate and then, be gone with thyself!" But alas, I just nodded and paid my bill.

I Still Love You

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
"It's Overrated."

"It's a disappointment."

"It's not worth going."

These are what I've gotten from the web and from a taxi driver last time I visited when I ask about seeing Freddie Mercury's house. BUT I DON'T CARE. I never got to see him live and the closest thing I can do, (arguably) is see the home that he spent his last days in. I say arguably because a very nice comment on my Facebook from a friend stated "The way you really got as close as you could was by singing the repertoire in your own voice!" And I suppose he's right, but still, I wanted to see his house. Even if it was just the roof and the border of a window. Hell gimme a blade of grass, I'll take it. My love for this man is so incredible that every time I perform his music, no matter what state of mind I'm in, it gets me out of any negativity in the present moment. Have you ever loved something/one like that? Someone you've never even met? You hear one thing that they sing or say and it's like waking up for the first time.

I grabbed my press kit. In it was my headshot, my resume, my quotes about the show, my set list, my postcard with all the names ever involved with the show written on it, pictures, a business card, reviews from SF, my stellar review from New York City and an outline of the show. I hopped on the Tube and transferred to get to Earl's Court. I walked out of the station and bought a map. I was heading to #1 Logan Place. I was doing what I could to prove that I was still continuing his path even though he's no longer here. I was supposed to turn right out of the station, and walk alllll the way down to Cromwell Street and it would eventually get me to this tiny little nook called Logan Place. On the other side, was Marlborough Court which held high brick apartment buildings and apparently, a theatre inside somewhere.

I turned right onto Logan Place and immediately looked for #1. The numbers were all OVER the place. Seriously there was like….#13 and then after that was #37. Something crazy. I walked by two people taking photos against a plain green wall. I didn't see #1 anywhere, but I observed that there was nothing else worth photographing, so that was probably the place. I wanted to give a good look around anyway…. maybe see a tiny bit of what he used to see. So I walked around….. I came to the Logan Mews (which means Street or Avenue) and they were apartments so I knew that wasn't it. I walked all the way around to meet Marlborough Court and walked all the way around. A woman with two kids and a stroller came out of the apartments and I said "Do you know where Freddie Mercury's house is?" and she looked at me and said "No, I'm sorry." I was so confused. Wouldn't you know where one of the biggest rock stars of all time lived if it was in your neighborhood? Breeders....

I put my bag down to take the map out again. Yep. I was in the right place…. I am not spiritual and I'm actually way too cynical for signs (most of the time, except for when it comes to manic acts of desperation) , and afterlife mumbo jumbo, but just as I put my map down to look up again, a cat came out of nowhere. Now. cats hang out where there are homes. Just saying'. They usually live in the homes. With their owners. But this cat was totally NOT a house cat. If he was, he was someone's illegal pet. This cat looked like a wild and crazy lynx-related bobcat member of the kitty clan. Seriously, he looked like this:

(much smaller, but same markings and hair sticking out of the pointing ears)
He looked at me, and kept walking. I raced to get a photo, but the stupid kids with the stroller scared him off. I didn't see him after that. But he was one of a kind.

For those of you who don't know, Freddie devoted his life to his Felines. He had many cats. He even wrote a song called Delilah about one of his babies. The song was goofy, but still, a testament of his love for his pets. His cats were in his bed, by his side, when he took his last breath in the arms of his friends when he wanted to get up to go to the bathroom and died while trying to get out of bed. His cats were there. Even CAT Fancy Magazine did a huge spread about his cats.

It was quiet and I walked back to the green wall where the two men had been taking photos. An older woman was walking out of her home and I said "excuse me, but do you know where Freddie Mercury's house is?" And she says "Yes, oh yes, just down there by that green fence…."

Me: But there isn't even a number! Not even a #1 on the door

"Yes, well you know, he wasn't a big deal to Britain like he was to Asia…. he lived he died… that's it." She said matter of factly.

I wanted to punch her in the face. Excuse me. NOT A BIG DEAL TO BRITAIN? Have you seen the God Awful WEST END musical that's been running for 9 years in the Tottenham Court Road? It's dreadful but it's making his estate billions! It's a freakin' rock concert at the end! So much so, that everyone gets up on their own out of their seats, and basically reenacts the Wembley Stadium performances because that encore right there? IS WHAT IS LEFT of the feeling of Wembley and Freddie and Queen's AMAZING performances that sold out every single time….FULL OF BRITISH PEOPLE.

He lived? he DIED? THAT'S IT?!!!!! THAT'S IT?! Ok I'm providing dramatics here for possible comic effect but really, just an ounce more credit here would make me a little bit satisfied.

AllofthisIkepttomyselfofcourse.

I nodded, and said "Well, thank you. " And went along down to the home.

It was so sad! A giant green wall leading up to a barbed wire and electric razor fence over a story high. All you could see was the tip top of the roof and the top of a window. There was even paint on the street light that was "anti climb" paint. Can you imagine? The lengths the next owners did to keep their home private? If you're going to buy the home that belonged to someone so important, why would you destroy anything that's left? They even put plastic up across the brick walls so as to keep sharpie markers, paint and other messages from "vandalizing" their property. There was a security camera so I suspect that if you tried anything you'd get caught anyway.

I just think it's so sad. It was then, a gentlemen came by and I was all ready with my fisticuffs ready to knock out the next person who said he "wasn't a big deal." I just said out loud "They didn't even leave the Number. Not even the Number "1" remains." The man stopped and said "You're the first American I've ever seen here." THAT surprised me. "Really? I mean I'm sure there have been many others…" He said "Mostly Italians. I've lived here for awhile." I was in awe. Why wasn't there something? A plaque? A sign? A BLOODY BUILDING NUMBER?
I turned to him with my press kit, and just said "I do a show about him." opening it, and showing him a little bit. He was actually interested. "You are the first American," He said again. Well I'm sure I'm not, but still. "They let people leave candles and flowers, and they pop up a bit…" he said, gesturing to the sidewalk…"Just no writing….no taping signs or painting anymore…. they want to keep their home…their home." "I understand that, I suppose" I said, "I just am sad that the one who took over the property didn't leave anything intact. It is musical history after all." He nodded back. He was very pleasant unlike the hag down the street though. I shouldn't call her a hag. That's not nice. I mean… I was just disappointed in people. It wasn't that seeing the fence or home was disappointing, that was enough for me, to know I was standing somewhere so close….and seeing the kitty at that perfect time. The colorful, unique kitty that stood out amongst other house cats that's for sure….. The man said good-bye and left me alone outside the green wall with the two doors with no numbers. The camera made me feel like I wasn't totally alone, but I was by myself. No one walking by, no one even driving through. I sat down on the pavement and in my Chris Titus influenced inner voice I thought "What are they going to come out here and try to throw me out, too? I will LIE down here until I am done." I sat down though not against the fence because I was afraid of getting electrocuted. I whipped out my sharpie marker and a piece of paper from my notebook and on it I wrote: Please know I leave this out of respect for a fallen artist, not to clutter what is now your home." I scotch taped that to the kit on the front.
On the postcard, I taped that on too, facing outward, with our picture (Mine and Freddie's) with Somebody To Love: My Musical Tribute to Freddie Mercury in bold red. On the back, before I taped it on, I wrote the words "I Still Love You." Simple. Any fan would get the reference. And I propped it up against the front door, took some pics, and turned my back to walk away. I glanced one more time, and saw my folder disappearing as I walked farther away from it, back down to the tube.

It Don't Mean A Thing.....

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
The owner of Pizza Express is a smarty pants. Or smarty trousers. I learned that pants here mean underwear. Pizza Express is in charge of four different music venues. It's a chain restaurant all over the UK where you actually get decent food- the Pizza Fiorina is my personal favorite, because it's just perfect. It's like a margherita but with light tomato sauce and a free range egg smack in the middle of it. It's tasty. They also serve banoffee pie, my favorite British dessert here.

Pizza Express own these music venues and they're in the basements of their restaurants. The other night I ventured to Soho (London's Gay District) and I was going to hear the Denmark Street Big Band. Many of you who have seen me perform know what kind of music I do, but a lot of you don't know that I love Big Band music. I don't like to Swing Dance (it terrifies me) but I love the sounds of a full Big Band. It's really hard to find that in San Francisco, or anywhere. Usually what I've seen is "claims" to be a big band, and it's….. a trio playing the Big Band Hits. IT'S NOT THE SAME THING!

I saw Sun Valley Serenade with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in Sun Valley, Idaho on the black and white movie screen years ago, and I have never ever heard a live comparable sound.

I found my Glenn Miller Orchestra on Monday night at JAZZ Pizza Express. I think the titles here are so funny. I would have FREDDIE MERCURY Pizza Express were the world mine!

I walk through SOHO Square and take a right onto Dean Street. At the end of Dean Street is JAZZ Pizza Express, a restaurant above ground, that looks seriously like California Pizza Kitchen. Now, if CPK had a black and red basement where you have to go down a flight of stairs on the side of the street, secretively to the side, that would be badass.

I enter a black and red dimly lit room and it was like "Oh? OH? YEAH I'm home. " I walked over to the bar and saw an old sign up from 1976 and was for the legendary Susannah McCorkle who played there for a mere 2.50 per ticket! Barry Lloyd had introduced me to who Susannah McCorkle was years ago, but then told me of the tragedy of her bipolar disorder/depression that led to her jumping off her building at 55 years of age. When I was crafting Bewitched Bothered and Bipolar, I thought about touching on that, and perhaps doing some kind of tribute to her, but she was an intense jazz musician and her music choice just didn't work with mine (i.e. I couldn't sing the stuff she could.)

That sign in there was the first thing I saw walking into my first London Club, and it got to me a little bit, because of a myriad reasons; I wish I could have met her, but her leaving us in 2001 cut off potential timing of my entry into the world of all music no money… I mean…. Cabaret. But she lives on- in many forms- in recordings, and on the wall of this club since 1976! I take some comfort in that, just a little. When we have our various struggles, be it mental or other, performers can leave behind a legacy that is unique, something in the form of a CD, or record, or a sign. Something to show that we were there.

"This is my key to the portal
How I can leave something immortal....
Something that time cannot make disappear
something to say "I Was Here"

-Ahrens and Flaherty, The Glorious Ones

I hope I can achieve something that is significant enough for something permanent to go on a wall somewhere public that when visitors come in, I'm there, no matter where my mental struggles take me. Okay. Back to living in the moment (which is sometimes so hard to do)

Round little tables were stationed all around the room with candles, and a little bit bigger than Rrazz's stage is against a wall with a painted emblem of the Pizza Express Sign with a Man blowing a Saxophone in the middle of it. There are white booths against the wall with grey couches facing the stage. I was seated RIGHT NEXT TO THE PIANO. I can literally reach out and touch the keys. And I may just because the pianist, each time he walks by me, keeps throwing funny, snarky comments my way! Do I have a sign on my face? Sometimes I wonder.....

I ordered my pizza and waited for the show to begin. I had picked up free brochures and what looked like the Jazz version of Cabaret Scenes Magazine to browse through while waiting. Now while I don't identify with Jazz at all, I wanted to see what kinds of opportunities were over here. I couldn't believe the abundance in choices. The fact that Pizza Express owns a big percentage of jazz/cabaret land over here, these are obviously the people I need to know. This franchise extends all the way across Scotland. The owner is rolling in more than just pizza dough, that's for sure. While waiting for the show to begin, I decided to play the role of reviewer and got out my tiny notepad and pen and thought it would be a fun experience to review the show.

This is so great, so rare to hear a big band with such a great brass section. This evening resurrects Glenn Miller, Count Basie and the like with traditional respect, filling the whole room. With seventeen men on that tiny stage, this is the soundtrack to the life of long ago. Today, singers and musicians bore me to tears with their standards and their constant redundancy with this material. As horns blow harmonically across the rooms, I see the black and white photos of artists who have graced the stage. Lets not neglect the carved out saxophones, clarinets and trumpets in the black pillars holding up the roof that these brass instruments are currently blowing off.

I float out of technicolor and into the days of black and white where smoke would have filled the room and couples in gowns and suits would have taken to the floor. It wouldn't need to be re-created like tonight, it just would have been the norm. The first chair saxophone player takes his solo in the ballad. The brassy in-your-face moments are so much a part of this band's presentation, one HAS to mi it up with some smokey tunes as well. How I am secretly hoping that, because they have the right ensemble, they might do my favorite song of all time "A Nightingale Sang in Berekley Square." However, they seem to be on a Count Basie kick at the moment.

What's this? A Female vocalist, Beverley Stone (great name) comes up in a smooth satiny maroon dress and she really is an Idina Menzel/Lea Michele clone. She has a great voice, but sadly, (recurring theme here, I am learning) the sound is drowning her out. COME ON PEOPLE. WE ARE WORKERS TOO! I don't know…maybe if my table wasn't practically onstage with them, I could hear her too. The monitor is behind me after all.

This is one of my major dreams. To be backed up by seventeen men you ask? Why of course! No but really. I want to sing the classic "I Know Why And So Do You," the timeless Mack Gordon classic with AT LEAST seventeen men backing me up….but don't stop there….. more strings, please. This is the struggle I face with this type of music however, I feel like I do not sing the songs of the 1930's/40's well. It doesn't show off the instrument I was given. There are only a handful of songs I can do justice to. While I am grateful for what I CAN bring to the table, the grass is always greener. So now, I have decided to do a Swing Queen Show. I'm TOTALLY KIDDING. I think that would be absolutely terrible. I think it should be called Crazy Little Thing Called Swing. Yoshi's anyone?

*smack*

Obviously Beverley Stone was told she looks like Lea Michele because she's bursting into "Don't Rain on My Parade." She's great though, I must say! I can so work with a Big Band if they can play musical theatre like THIS! Now she moves onto Hard-Hearted Hannah, which is one of my FAVORITE SONGS! I want Trauma Flintstone to sing this song. I think it would be amazing.
Trauma Flintstone: Swings All Ways. Anyone?

I think Mae West would have been triumphant with this number. Does Sharon McNight do this song? I think she'd be brilliant. I remember an episode of True Blood, that trite horrific vampire show where the main vampire, Bill Compton sang this, while accompanying himself on the piano, and True Blood definitely got five more points for having this in the show.

Now called to the stage is a dark and handsome Kevin Leo who has a great voice, but has his head in his lyrics. I only wish he would have looked up from his stand a little bit more than he did. Other than that, he was great, and perfect for the genre of music. He also looks smart and aside the all-caucasian band of seventeen, he, for lack of a better word, stands out a little bit (haha). What is the term here, African-English? Does anyone know? Also, the band started before he got onstage which is a BIG "NO." Anytime you are accompanying a singer, please PLEASE show the respect of letting the singer adjust the mic accordingly, adjust the stand if need be, and in this case? LET HIM GET ON THE STAGE. Thank you. Kevin serenades us with a very cool rendition of "How Sweet It Is to Be Loved By You." Some of his choices to sing alternative notes in the harmonic parts of the songs is very interesting and he definitely pulls it off as a good decision. His arrangement of "Sway" was also very entertaining. His was seductive, and slower with more of the musical responsibility belonging to the drums. Still to this day, my favorite version of this song is done by San Francisco's Amanda King, but his was a close second. I took some very cool photos of his performance, working with my new camera.

I feel like I should be in my 80's when I say "this takes me back" but it's the only phrase I could think of when I heard this next song, which ended this truly magnificent evening. "Sing, Sing, Sing" is the closing number. If you don't know this, you must listen to it. Go on youtube, download it, whatever you need in order to understand, that sitting practically on top of the piano and hearing this specific number LIVE surrounding you, blaring out the doors and up the steps onto Dean Street was beyond exciting for me.

I feel like a movie soundtrack has come to life, all around my little table and me. This is what Swing SHOULD sound like!
I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
It was time to move into my closet of a hotel to begin the next 10 days alone, to wait for Donald to begin the final leg of this journey, and my parents helped with my luggage and moved me into my…..quaint……. little…."wonderful" hotel.
It was at this time that a sequence of stupid had begun. Mom and Dad felt bad about leaving me in this bland little room. The Royal Norfolk is an old converted building, and it has staircases going nowhere, worn down red carpet and a broken lift. I have gone down the wrong staircase like….. five times now. My key is some ancient looking silver key that I have to lock myself in each night. Sometimes it turns...... sometimes.... it doesn't....

Before Mom and Dad took the high road to be in Scotland afore ye, we went to what I think was a really awesome part of the trip- The 700 Year Tradition of locking of the gates in The Tower Of London. It's after hours, and we get let in through a special gate and guided down the rocky, uneven cobblestoned roads secluded behind castle walls. I did not know that the guards dressed smartly head to toe in red and black were indeed residents of the Tower of London today. They have homes and families there. Can you imagine growing up as a child there? Your father being one of the Yeoman there? All the Yeoman of the Guard lyrics were running like racehorses through my mind. This is how I learn, world, and I identify nearly EVERYTHING through music. So….

The screw may twist and the rack may turn, 
And men may bleed and men may burn, 
O'er London town and its golden hoard 
I keep my silent watch and ward!

-Dame Carruthers, Yeoman Of The Guard,
Gilbert and Sullivan

I glanced around and everything was conducted so incredibly seriously, carefully done with thoughtful detail. We were standing at Traitor's Gate, where traitors were lead in, through the dank waters from the Thames, to meet their fate at the end, going up the dirty mossy steps into the Tower of London. It was revealed to us by the Yeoman that the prisoners lived quite well. There were peasants from the outside who would apply to be the Yeoman and to take the prisoners into their homes within the Tower Walls. This way, since many of the prisoners were political leaders, they had money, servants, and fine clothes, so they would send for the best food, the best fabric. The Peasants-turned Guards and their families would have to keep watch over the rich prisoners in their homes and get to partake in finer goods, food and a higher way of life. Sounds pretty backwards doesn't it?

They conducted their Ceremony of the Keys. Footsteps could be heard from yards away, clomping up the streets of stone towards us, and as the night fell, it all seemed a bit surreal and even spooky, even while being surrounded by other tourists. A Scottish Guard came by to yell the command "HALT! WHO GOES THERE?!" to which the head guard would say "The Keys!" Scottish Guard would state "Whose Keys?" and the head guard would reply "QUEEN ELIZABETH'S KEYS!" Then, with ancient rusty royal keys in hand, the guard asking says "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys and All's Well!" and the Yeoman Warder would proceed to the group of guards with keys in hand. Then he and the guards go to walk up to secure the gates, a trumpet sounds, where we have to observe in silence, and remember the fallen soldiers of the past.

This was probably my favorite experience so far. Londoners are SO Proud. They by law devote themselves to these practices. Can you imagine San Franciscans obeying traditions just because? I mean think about it. England has Parliament. They have their Washington D.C. right there in the middle of town. This Royal business is all in honor of a Monarchy and their rules and traditions. It's not a movie, it's not an act. We're not in Hollywood watching a reenactment, this is a job. A career for some soldiers and guards and it's how they provide for their families. The Queen is so respected and the traditions are so respected that they tend to their duties no questions asked. It's truly a different world. Just for moments, behind those castle walls, it's as if nothing else modern was going on around us. Even though a party river boat cruised up and down the Thames during the ceremony, and yes, we could hear the contemporary music blaring from the other side of the wall, truly, not even that could affect this experience I was having watching these guards perform their contribution to their country.

Afterwards, Mom and Dad and I parted. We said our goodbyes and they went back to their nice….four star….hotel in Holburn, and I went off to my….. nearly Amish room in Paddington

As I said before, Mom and Dad felt bad about leaving me in my room. I didn't mind, because at least I have a roof over my head. When you glance in my bathroom though, I have to say….it's pretty remarkable….. First of all, my head hits the ceiling. The wall of the shower is plastic and it's a corner of the bathroom and there's no shower door or anything so when you take a shower, onto the floor and the toilet the water goes. Makes for a sudsy mess. There IS a shower curtain but the room is so small that the curtain when wet, sticks to you, so you look like some crazy blob trying to friggin' clean yourself. Not knowing WHAT could be growing on that curtain, it kind of defeats the purpose of showering altogether. Meanwhile my head is hitting the ceiling the whole time. My bed is small and I'm sleeping in it just fine, no problem. The window however is tough to open and it either is a sauna when I walk in or it's freezing cold. When I open the window, a curry scent wafts through. I don't even SEE a Thai or Indian restaurant anywhere. I look out onto gorgeous brick buildings, but if I were to jump out my window I'd land on…..a construction site. So every morning…DRIIILLLLLLLLLL JACKHAMMMERRRRR>…..

I have uh…. room mates… as Tim would say…. they come by every night and scare THE SHIT OUT OF ME. A flock of Seagulls come buy in a group EVERY NIGHT. In the pitch black and squawk right by my window. Then they leave. That's all. I think they knew about that competition I won all those years back. I was an extra in a Richard Gere Film and they'd assigned a comedian to entertain the extras while we waited to go on. There were competitions for all sorts of things:

Best impression of a celebrity
Best musical Talent
Best impression of an animal.

I won that one with my impression of a seagull. I won a dvd of Logan's Run. Thanks.

Anyway, so every night without fail, I play the role of Tippi Hedren (cookies to whoever gets that reference) and close my windows in terror while they all come flying into the corner my bedroom is in amongst the brick buildings and the construction site. They say their piece, they fly around, they leave. Jerks.

Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge!

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
We took a crazy day tour beginning with Windsor, traveling to Bath then ending in Stonehenge. I had been to two of the three, but Windsor I had not been to.

I didn't know what to expect with Windsor but I LOVED IT. I wanted to spend a whole day there. There's something about an old historic town meeting contemporary living. Incredible brick buildings next to gorgeous colored quaint homes lodged in between stores like The Body Shop and Bare Escentuals is just bizarre. The tour of the weekend getaway castle that the Queen likes to vacation at often was just marvelous. Unbelievable Rembrandts stood in one room, in another, some intense battle wear….and an entire friggin room dedicated to The Queen's Dollhouse and Doll collection?! There were beautiful robes and garments as well as bed chambers fit for royalty (well obviously.)

At the Roman Baths for the second time for me, it was the first time for my parents. I really take a liking to The Gorgon's Face…. one of the Gods that watches over the Temple of Minerva. He's kind of a big deal around the Baths.

I found a quote from one of the readings in the temple:

"This is what the front of the temple looks like.  The scary face is the god of the waters. Some people say he is Medusa, the Gorgon that Minerva has on her shield. Gorgons had snakes instead of hair and if you looked at them you turned to stone!  What do you think it looks like?"





His head was found perfectly intact and sits at the top of the remains of the temple. He's not Medusa, but I'd say perhaps he's a cousin because his hair is also made of snakes.

It was fun to be around the Baths again, and my mother got some great photos.

Onward we went to Stonehenge. This was my third time there, and definitely not something I ever thought I would visit THREE times in my life. If you refer to previous entries about my first and second sightings of Stonehenge, you'll know I thought they were mighty, magnificent stones, and that I do hope that one day I will witness the magic of the Summer Solstice or what I call "England's Burning Man."

This visit was to watch my parent's reactions. My mom and dad were beside themselves. Overjoyed, and just mystified. They walked around the wonderful stones, pondering the thoughts we all think whenever we are met with the image of these rocks (unless you're watching Spinal Tap and then you can't take any of it seriously at all). It was beautiful. Kites were flying, people were lying down, children were playing. It was the first time I'd seen people surrounding the stones as if it were a day at the park. The last two times, it's been chilling and freezing and too cold and windy to stay too long. I liked this day best.

Irregular Choice

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
It was then time to take a detour for Carly's Tour, which was me guiding my parents through one of my favorite places in the world: Carnaby Street. It sounds like a children's playground. It LOOKS like a movie set. It seems like at any moment, people are going to kick down their doors and burst into some musical number about how wonderful the day is and meet in the middle of the cobblestoned streets and dance and parade down the block singing about nothing. (Well, at least that's what I feel like doing when I'm there.....) Though there are many commercial stores on Carnaby Street, sandwiched between them are INCREDIBLE stores with novelties you can't find just anywhere. My favorite store is called Irregular Choice. It's a shoe and accessory store and it's as if someone went into my brain and fashioned a shoe store out of it.

Here, shoes are art and art is shoes. Incredible styles deck the walls with bows of fabric and sequins and dots and felt and fa la la la la…..and sewn onto these gems are little dogs, cats, fruits, airplanes, robots, rainbows, YOU NAME IT…there's a shoe for you. On the bottom of each pair is some crazy pattern like neon robots or in my case the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, popping out of a teapot. My pair that I giddily chose were black flats covered in black felty fabric with bits of red plaid and grey scottie dogs on them. (The white rabbits are on the bottom) . It's hard to picture these looking remotely good, but you'll just have to wait to see them on my feet when you get home. I also bought a blinged out fish ring that has been getting compliments every day that I wear it. Truly one of a kind, truly different, truly up my alley…. on Carnaby Street. The screaming girls and the salesmen gays were also fun to observe. It's absolutely mental, that place, but when on a quest for shoes, you just gotta put everything into it, full heart and sole. :-)

We walked by Westminster Abbey and debated about going in but the lines were crazy long. Being in Parliament's presence, watching the tented protesters exercising their freedom of speech outside England's form of Government is always interesting. They've been there for nearly nine years. They are peaceful, and no one moves them. Big Ben turned 152 years old when we were there. He looks really good for his age. I don't know, he must have a hand with his appearance. Maybe two in fact. I guess it must be the bronzer he's been using. Who knows? Only Time Will Tell.

The river boat cruise was slightly disappointing. All the jokes the host told on the boat were the same jokes we heard on land, on the tour buses. I was beginning to know the jokes and I was calling them out in a passable British accent, before the guide would get to them, only to my parents and me of course, not to those sitting by us. By that time, we were kind of done with the tours, but it was nice to be on the water, going under some really beautiful bridges, seeing some of the names of the boats and learning that there's a comedy/music venue ON one of the boats. I made a mental note to check that out later.

We walked and dined at Butler's Wharf and had some seriously awesome steak. We had basically seen the metropolis of London in about two and a half days. Now it was time to venture out into the wild green yonder of a road trip through the countryside to see History at its finest.

There's No Palace Like Home.

I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
This next series of entries cover the week with the parents. It talks about the highlights, and some of the weirdlights. They are almost like chapters, so as to not create an insanely long entry:

London for the most part with the family has been fun. We did hop on, hop off and then hop on again…then hop off. Showing my parents the sites have been fun, because though I have been here many times, they hadn't at all. Mom got all emotional when she saw Big Ben. It really it something when you see it for the first time. We did all sorts of things. We had an incredible tour guide on our first bus named Phil. He was so enthusiastic and full of fun facts. It was obvious he strived to go above AND beyond his job. He absolutely loved being a guide. We went all down Fleet Street and I saw the original Twinings Tea shop which I eagerly wish to return to. We basically stayed on the bus the first day and just got a feel for the entire city. The Thames River is really a wonderful place, and in fact, the entire city is just gorgeous.

We went on a walking tour to Buckingham Palace to witness the changing of the guards. It was there, to the right of the palace, that there was another palace made of brick that I didn't even know existed. This was St. James's Palace. I feel that while people bask in the grandeur that is Buckingham Palace, the brick tudor authenticity of St. James palace does not go on as noticed as I think it should be. Situated just north of St. James's Park, it remains to be the most senior of the palaces of Britain. I have been here four times, and never saw this. I also never saw the beautiful statues of the Queen Mother and of King George VI. The Queen Mother's statue appears to be more grand, more….elaborate than King George's but I guess that's fitting with how their characters seem to be depicted in The King's Speech. We learned that whenever the Queen Mother would go out to greet her public, she would always wear her best clothes. She was criticized for it, and when asked why she would always look so decadent, she simply replied ( paraphrasing this here) that "when you go to see your friends, don't you always look your best? I want to look my best for when I meet and see the people in my life." That probably shut them up for good.

When we got back on our tour bus, we had a new tour guide. Part of why I like to write travel blogs is to write about the people. Before, we had Phil, a bubbly, joking, clean cut man in his forties who loved his job, had an affinity for bridges and their history (he paused in the middle of his scripted tour to go into the history of the Golden Gate Bridge when he found out where we were from) with a great personality that livened up our tour very brightly. This next tour guide….. looked like he'd just rolled out of bed, and sluggishly made his way up the stairs. This guy was closer to my age, and he was HELL BENT on trying to be funny. Sometimes that just doesn't work. You either are, or you're not.

Because we're on top of a bus with no roof, it tends to rain so the company offers cheap ponchos that are made of plastic and have a white color to them. They come folded in tiny bags that are probably approximately an average wallet size. Inside is a label you can remove that just says the name of The Big Bus Company, our tour. Our new guide, not knowing me from the rest, approaches me, on top of the bus in front of many onlookers. He picks up my unwrapped poncho and opens it, removing the label, all while telling me, and the others…that "What you should do when you get to the airport, you should take this label out, and put this like so in your bag and go through customs." It didn't take a genius to see that the bag without the label, looked like a bag of cocaine and I was sitting there wondering
a) why would you tell ANYONE to do this- there are stupid, STUPID people in this world, and many tend to travel and might actually DO what you're saying….
(Why do the wrong people travel-travel-travel, when the right people stay at home?- Noel Coward wrote that lyric FOR A REASON)

b) aren't you supposed to be guiding through the city of London and all its splendor, not telling me how to make a bag that looks like drugs get through customs?

c) YOU'RE NOT FUNNY!

The silence on the bus on the top floor was SO PAINFULLY awkward…with a mix I suppose of people not getting it entirely, or people (like me) getting it, and not thinking it was funny, and remember now- he's doing this whole shtick ON THE MICROPHONE. The whole bus including his supervisors who are tapped in, and the driver downstairs have now heard him tell a paying visitor to jokingly take a bag that looks like cocaine through customs at Heathrow. GROAN.

After the awkward seconds of no laughter and puzzled looks on peoples faces (including the five small CHILDREN in front of me) I looked right at him and simply said.

"Are you...... trying to be…..FUNNY?" And with the timing, my tone of voice and I guess the situation in it's entirety, the whole bus burst out laughing. You kind of had to be there, but basically, I put this douchbag in his place.

He gave me this look that was a combination of embarrassment and also a "I guess I kind of deserved that" look. Onward we went, and though I didn't get the gay vibe from this guy at all, he had a shockingly strange obsession with Johnny Depp. Almost every stop we had was the history of said site or stop and then an added "And here is where Johnny Depp met my sister who worked at that pub over there."
"Here is the seven-story toy store where when Johnny Depp comes to down, they shut it down for him and his children to have the full run of the place."
"Look just through there, and you'll see where Johnny Depp filmed scenes from Pirates of The Caribbean 4."
"Johnny Depp walked around here dressed as Jack Sparrow and people thought it was an actor in costume…"

OMG SHUT UP ABOUT JOHNNY DEPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
The princess fairytale wedding that Helen so delicately put together to honor her and Nick and all of us really, was spectacular. Situated atop a hill with views of other rolling hills with a cozy white tent covering many beautiful tables that we were not allowed to go into until the speeches were finished outside. I liked this approach because It's annoying to be eating and then have the knife clinking the glasses every two seconds and then we have to draw our attention away from conversation and the pace of eating our meals. The speeches were given on a porch of a log cabin that was next to the tent. The Best Man, the Father of the Bride and even the Groom himself gave speeches, all introduced by groomsmen and brother to Nick. The speeches were incredible. They were articulate and sincere and I nearly lost it when Nick delivered his speech to Helen. It was not sappy, it was not cheesy, it was...real. It was absolutely sublime. I don't know enough adjectives in the world to describe it all. His description of his sincere love for her, and his willingness to take care of her and let her continue to be her own person really got to me. He doesn't want to change her or hope that she changes to fit his mold or his idea. It just works. Which is what personally, how I feel a relationship has to be. It either works or it doesn't. It was better than any other speech or act of love I have ever witnessed whether it be in real life or portrayed on stage or screen. You can get down on one knee, you can propose on a baseball screen or you can bring me flowers but if you don't get me- If you want me to change and not continue to evolve the way I am wired to do so, your flowers and your proposals mean nothing. Okay I am done. For now.

Back to the wedding. We all went to our assigned seats and I won the jackpot with my table. I got Liz, Jenny, her fiancee Chris, Jenny D. and her bf Ben. Everyone else at the table who I didn't know already were nice people too. Conversation was not hard to have.

Here was our set menu for the evening: delicious tomato pasta salad with spices, a green salad with some delicious dressing on it (I don't know what), Cole Slaw salad, potato salad, and all of them were terrific (and bottomless!) Then…. the pork served was DELICIOUS. There was this separate part of the dish called Crackling which is like the crispy skin of the pork (Sorry veggie friends) and it was….to die for. Piping hot potatoes came to our plates from waiters who were delivering full bottles of wine to our table again and again, and for me of course, I got my cider and my water with lemon ;-) . The food was so good, and then for dessert, chocolate orange cupcakes. The flavors were so good, so tasty and satisfying. Now the next part of the story goes as follows, all events took place, and none of it is based on a true story, it IS a true story….

Helen had what was called a ceilidhl. This is pronounced "Che-lay or Kaylee" . It is a traditional Scottish dance that also ventures into other corners of the UK. There are many steps to learning the steps of the different types of dances that are part of a traditional ceilidhl.

NORMALLY. I WOULD NOT BE CAUGHT DEAD (or alive) doing ANY dance of the sort, but apparently, on this planet, the Planet of Holmbury, I was ready to ceilidhl and ceilidhl I did. I take that back. I would do the dance anywhere, but for some reason I was eager to do it, whereas normally I'd have to observe and THEN jump in.

There was a band. It consisted of instruments like an accordion and some instruments that looked like they belonged in the woodwind family and the rest I honestly couldn't tell because the leader of the band was teaching us steps. The first round of steps involved most of us in the wedding party, or at least a good lot of us. Many stood off to the side shyly, while others snapped pictures of their friends.

We all grabbed hands in a circle and it had to be girl-boy-girl-boy. I got smacked right in between the worst possible ones- The Groom and the Bride's Brother! The caller would yell "Women first!"

The women run into the middle of the circle and "Whooped" or whatever it was that we did.
Then the caller yelled "MEN! your turn- and make some….manly noise!"

These goofballs ran into the circle and seriously all of them made some part grunt, part zombie….part "Manly" noise…

then we ALL had to run into the circle and then run back and whomever guy was behind us had to take us around the waist with their left hand and hold our right shoulder, while we held their hand and we all had to almost step in rhythm in a circle around and around until the caller yelled "WOMEN IN THE CIRCLE!"
and off we'd start again. The only difference….is the men would switch in front of us so we'd each get a new partner…every time. Methinks I'm leaving out a step… let's see…women…"Whoop" men… "Argh/oof/BLAECCH!" altogether…. go around in a circle….. OH YES YES!! The best part!! BEFORE the waist/shoulder part….we had to LINK ARMS and go around and around and around and then back into waist/shoulder circle land. DID YOU GET ALL THAT?


Me neither.

All I know is I danced with Nick the Groom, John the Brother, Gary the Atheist, and Malcom, the Groom's Father, Helen's Father in Law.

NEXT DANCE.

Five couples stand in two rows (that's actually ten couples then)

face each other. Women are next to the women, men are next to the men. We link hands and dance in so close that we literally bump chests with our partners (While holding hands with our same-sex folk beside us) Helen and Nick were SO cute…each time we danced into our "men" they would kiss…. (so cute). BESIDE THE POINT. Then the couples would link arms again and around in the circle we would go before breaking off to be facing each other, but side by side our women and men folk. THEN: The first couple at the front of the line would…get this…. sachay down through the other couples still holding hands across from each other…and then sachay back up the line. They would break hands, run around the outside of the lined-up folk and form a bridge with their hands at the end and the rest of the lines would run through the bridge and now a new couple would be at the front ready to get their chasay on. This is all through crazy stomping and kicking and clapping and hooting' and hollering' to the music. WE WEREN'T ALLOWED TO STOP. Once a couple formed a bridge, it was On!

SO.

Forward Run chest bump back ward run stop

link your arms with guy/girl in front of you, and go around and around in a circle.

If you're the front couple in the line, sachay down the length of the other four couples facing each other, sachay right back up. peel off, run AROUND the individual lines of men/women meet at the end, slap your hands together, make a bridge while other individual lines follow underneath you, forming their own facing lines again with a new couple now at the front… REPEAT.

My partner for this whole experience, was Gary, the Atheist. It was perfect because while we were laughing through it, we were like… "Yeah. WE GOT THIS. Watch US."

Finally, my third dance, was a slower waltz with some clapping in the middle. The men had all dodged this bullet by going out into the field to play a manly game of cricket. (Yes, I actually typed THAT sentence because it happened.) I had my dame in purple, Tamryn as my dance partner. This was much lighter…..

Stand in those lines again…. partner is facing you. Grab hands.

Sway Sway Sway into a twirl and face your partner again. Sway back, forth, twirl and again….
walk towards each other, The Man (Tamryn in this case) claps behind my waste while I clap behind his (her) head in perfect timing with the music. And then again… Sway, Sway Twirl….etc.

LET ME TELL YOU.
I have never gotten a better cardio workout in my life. I was in hysterics and so was everyone else. The best part? For some reason…. I GOT ALL THE DANCE STEPS RIGHT. All those "December the 25th" and "Thank You Very Much" and other musical theatre choreographed numbers of my past paid off right here, right now. I was on FIRE!

Which leads me to my next event. The bathroom was clean and fine and in the log cabin outside the tent. For tranquility, I suppose, there were two purple candles resting, lit, on the back of the toilet. In between said candles, were the rolls of toilet paper. I took one look at that and said "That's not the best idea in the world…." but everyone else had been using it and there hadn't been a problem….

Now for those of you reading this…just get over the fact that I was peeing while this next thing happened. Get over it now. Omg. Carly was peeing and she's writing about it. Okay.


So. I sit down and I ONLY had to pee and I reach around to grab the roll to um…finish up. I FORGET about the candles…and I swear on my life… the entire roll is up in one huge flame by the time I have it in front of my face. It's like WHOOOOSH!!!! and now I'm shrieking, sitting on the toilet, screaming words like

FUUUUCKKKK!!! SHIIIIIIIIT!!!!!!!!! FUCK FUCK FUCK! And I'm at a wedding, a wedding where a good portion of guests who are there are older, religious, and FUCK SHIT FUCK MCSHITERSONS the toilet paper is ORANGE now, and is sizzling down and WILL start heading towards my arm. It's already meeting my finger tips. AND I'M STILL ON THE TOILET! This is no little flame. Think of a roll of toilet paper. Now picture it on fire. What would YOU do?

Seeing the ashes begin to drop and the flames begin to grow higher, I hold the flaming TP roll in my right hand and stupidly…. rip off a tiny piece of the roll…and the flame is at the bottom and it rapidly moves up. (Here's a Chris Titus inner retard moment : "Nice Going, IDIOT!") And now my inner and outer retard is going "GOD DAMMIT!!!" as I throw the one strip of now completely blackened tp on the floor and stomp it out (carefully making sure I don't let it TOUCH my dress) and then….without many other options popping up, I, on the toilet still, having stomped out a fiery strip with my left foot, hold the remaining flaming torch of a roll in my right, lean over with my left arm, turn ON the sink and slam dunk that bitch of a roll into that water like my life is at stake. It sizzled, it smoked, it blackened….and I took the other untouched roll, finished my….business…. and watched the sink drain and held up what was now…a charcoaled black ashy tragic spark spewing roll of what was formerly known as toilet paper. And I slam dunk that thing into the trash….and I wash my hands triumphantly….and open the door and there is a WHOLE LINE OF WOMEN STARING AT ME, GAPING, with the GHASTLY looks on their faces. All I could pull was the Jim Carrey Line from Ace Ventura Pet Detective: "Do NOT go in there!….Whew!" and I walked head held high past the line of staring women….right back into the tent, directly to Helen's table where I plopped down in between Claudia and Helen and promptly announced…

"I set the bathroom on fire. It is all okay now. Leave it to me to be the one. Just thought you should know."

Claudia, Eryl (Helen's mom) and everyone else at the table thought it was hilarious….and I had this sneaking suspicion that they weren't exactly….surprised.

We all had a good laugh and soon the story rippled through the party like wildfi-…. like…. really fast, and everyone was really good natured about it.

Then it was time for The DJs to come on to the dance floor and we danced MORE and saw Helen and Nick off into the night with a kickline of New York New York (random?! ) and then we all jumped in our various rides, and made it back down the crazy hill of dark, uprooted and ivy-tree branch doom, to the outstretched welcoming arms of the Hurtwood Inn and ended what was probably one of the best nights of my life….and I KNOW….it was the best night of Helen's life for sure.

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I Know Where I've Been- REAF 2011
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