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My Night at Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever AKA Dreams Do Come True

This is sort of a Throwback Thursday post, since it happened last month but I was so amped up and busy that I just kind of blew past it, but because I want to preserve the memories, and I want you to know, and THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW, here it is, in full: My Night at Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Party Ever.

Sometime early in the semester, I was looking up something online and I saw that Ronnie Spector was playing a concert in Milwaukee sometime in November. I thought about going, but was like…I’ll probably buy the ticket and then something will come up and I will have wasted my money. But a few weeks ago, when I was feeling pretty down and out about my prelims and totally bummed by the election, I looked it up again, and realized that it would be on November 29, which would be after Thanksgiving but two days before prelims were due, and a) I would be in Madison, and b) I had nothing scheduled, so I did something I don’t normally do…bought tickets to the show, no regrets! It was only $52, and I’d need to drive to Milwaukee, but I got a floor seat and OMG I DON’T CARE I’M GOING TO RONNIE SPECTOR. I sat on my hands about it for a while, not telling anyone, and was hoping to finish my prelims over Thanksgiving and then have that be my reward. I ended up not finishing but getting pretty close, but I decided to reward myself anyway.

So, come November 29th, I go to teach, and then, I’m off to Milwaukee, to the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. I was kind of nervous at first…I mean, this is a big deal, would I get to meet her? What would I do? What would I say? Also, would this place be weird? (I mean, it’s a casino I’d never been to before…) But anyway, I ended up getting there plenty early, and there was plentiful parking, and I headed inside, passing all the machines and bright flashy lights – those places really are mazes. But I was determined to get to that theatre.

Though the casino was full of smokers, the theatre itself was quite lovely. I was guided to my seat in Row F, given a $10 voucher which I didn’t use, and paid $3 for a Coke. The seating was around little tables, and I guess I got lucky, because my table mates were so much fun; like me, they were also teachers, and also like me, they weren’t drinking because they had to teach in the morning (well, two out of three, one of them had just retired). We quickly got acquainted and chatted up a storm while we waited for the concert to start. I was seated next to Harry, the school principal; next to him was the school guidance counselor, whose name was either Marilyn or Marlene; and their retired Spanish teacher, Evie. We didn’t get too much of a chance to talk because the lights came down…

And when they came up, three backup singers dressed as the Ronettes were onstage, as was the band, and they broke out into “Baby, I Love You.” At first, I thought it was just an opening act, but then, Ronnie Spector emerged in all of her black leather glory, and I actually did start crying a little. I mean…Ronnie Spector, the original bad girl of rock and roll, a living LEGEND, was on a stage just yards away from me. Marilyn and Evie giggled as Harry and I passed tissues back and forth through the first song, but then I composed myself. Interspersed with the songs was some lovely Ronnie banter and projections of interviews and TV appearances by the Ronettes in their heyday. She made a lot of funny jokes, and sang all the classics, with several tributes: one to her late sister Estelle (“How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?”), to the late Amy Winehouse (“Back to Black”), and something in honor of the Beatles, which I can’t remember at the moment.

Right when the show was really getting hot…it happened.

Bum, ba bum TSS…bum, ba bum, tss…

Yep, “Be My Baby.”

I was instantly up out of my seat, dancing like a fool, and singing along with the chorus, and thinking to myself, “holy cannoli, Jacob, you are actually listening to Ronnie Spector, singing ‘Be My Baby’ RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW LIVE. It will not get any better than this.”

Minimal crying occurred.

Then she had a costume change and launched into some Christmas tunes (after all, it was a Christmas party) and now a lot of audience members were up and dancing, not just me. And in the middle of her last song, she knelt down and shook hands with the people in the front row, and I was like…”now is your chance, Jacob, just do it…” so I impulsively ran down front, hoping not to be hauled off by security or anything, and squeezed in next to the stage, and I got to be the very last one to shake hands with Ronnie Spector. She even pointed to me and mouthed something like “I saw you dancing” as we shook hands (I think I might have blubbered something like “thank you, I love you”) and she gave me a thumbs-up before finishing the song and heading offstage. I will never forget that handshake…her hand was sort of soft, sort of leathery, but it was still warm from holding a mic and OH MY GOSH I WAS JUST LOST IN THAT MOMENT. The only thing that would’ve been better would have been to get a picture with her, or a hug, but her acknowledgement of my presence was a present in and of itself.

She might be 73 years old, but she’s still got that rock n’ roll. Two thumbs up; I would go see her again if I could.

When the lights came back up, I walked back over to our table, and walked to the exit with Harry, Marilyn and Evie, my new teacher-friends. We somehow managed to get some pictures with the backup singers, who bore incredible resemblances to the young Ronettes. There were a lot of people, so I didn’t manage to get a picture with just me and them, but I have one with all three of them, Harry in between the two who looked most like Estelle and Ronnie, and me standing next to the one who looked most like Nedra. I was hoping that Ronnie would come on out, but it was pretty clear that it was time to go as they whisked us out and closed the door behind us. I stood outside the theater and chatted with some of the other concertgoers about our experiences – I thought that I was pretty crazy for driving in from Madison, but there was a group who had driven in all the way from Indiana, just for this, which is dedication.

Anyways, since there didn’t seem to be any swag on sale, and it was getting late, I decided to exit the casino before I died of smoke inhalation, and headed to Rock Bottom Brewery for a quick snack before heading back to Madison, calling Hanna and my dad on the way, freaking out. Hanna was actually at a party or a gig or something, so I apologized for interrupting, and at first she didn’t register why I was freaking out, but when I told her it was the “Be My Baby” singer, she was like “ooooohhhh wow!”

And that is my story of seeing the original bad girl of rock ‘n roll.

And if you’re reading this, Ronnie…thank you for all the music, I had the time of my life. Next time, let’s dance together or at least get a picture, please.

Baby, I love you.

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The Safe House, Zap Mama, and Friends

I actually had a great post prepared for yesterday, but I decided to go to visit WeKache in Milwaukee for the weekend, so that never got done.

So, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I’ve never been a huge Valentine’s Day person, but I acknowledge its existence, and it seems like most of the world does the same. This year, however, everyone went batshit insane over Valentine’s Day. On Friday, one of my classmates said that he and his wife had booked dinner for Valentine’s Day over a month in advance. I thought he was just being silly, but oh my lord, there was absolutely nowhere to eat dinner that night. I think that coupled with a weekend, especially a Saturday night, made people more susceptible to eating out. After we called a few places that ended up having two-hour-long waits, we decided to go a nearby mall and try our luck. It was already 9:30 PM, and PF Chang’s had a 90 minute wait. They did say that bar seating was open, first come first serve. Stupidly, we didn’t wait nor put down our names, and went to try Maggiano’s at the other end of the mall instead, to find the exact same story, minus the bar seating. WeKache wanted to phone it in and just go home and cook something, but I wanted to go back to PF Chang’s and try for bar seating. We got back and the wait was still that long, but eventually we got a table and a more-than-decent meal. The only thing they were out of was the banana spring rolls, so we went for chocolate cake for dessert instead. We shared tofu lettuce wraps that were to die for, I had the Hunan fish, and WeKache had the beef and broccoli. Adding a coconut cooler (for him) and a sangria (for me) led to a ridiculous check of $60, but we tipped generously since our poor waiter had been dealing with a crazy crowd and the food was good and didn’t take that long to arrive, comparatively.

Today, we slept in, had brunch at WeKache’s place, then headed out through the snow (yes, it snowed) to Starbucks to get some work done, after which we would get dinner. After reading 120 pages for Indian Theatre, I was checking my email and suddenly realized that I had bought tickets for Zap Mama at Memorial Union, for tonight at 8.

It was 5.

Whoops.

After a minor freak-out on my part, we packed up, jumped in the car, and went to one of the restaurants we called the night before, a place I have been dying to go to, called The Safe House. They were considerably less busy than the previous night when we called, and we were only 12 minutes away, so we went.

The Safe House is a spy-themed restaurant in a building called “International Exports Ltd.” After parking and saying “heyyy!” to the sculpture of The Fonz on the nearby Riverwalk, we headed inside a tiny room, where a woman asked us for the password. I gave it my best shot, but of course I was wrong, so she told us to put our backs against the wall. Fortunately, at that moment, a handyman walked in, and the woman pressed a button, opening a swinging bookcase that led to the entrance. Ever the rule-breaker, WeKache walked in behind him even though he wasn’t supposed to, while I stayed and answered the woman’s question of when the Berlin Wall was built (1961, on my third try, which impressed her) and she opened the bookcase for me. Behind the bookcase was a short mirrored hall, at the end of which, a wall opened, revealing the interior of the restaurant.

The restaurant itself was a feat of architecture. After we were seated and had ordered, we were encouraged to look around. There was tons of spy memorabilia, from James Bond posters to a Checkpoint Charlie sign, and several hidden doors, behind one of which was a phone booth. Each little area had a different spy-related theme, from the KGB to the German Underground, and it was pretty awesome. The food was a bit on the small and overpriced side, but service was quick and the atmosphere was worth it. The waitress even got into it, calling us “spies” rather than customers. I checked my geocaching app for some reason, and it turned out there was a geocache inside the restaurant! So, I went to the bartender, and she pulled it out: an ammo box full of goodies that has been there since 2002. 

We finished our meal, but then realized…we didn’t know how to get out. We certainly couldn’t go the way we came, so we asked a waitress, who responded, “Go find the phone booth and put in a quarter.”

So we did, and as I picked up the phone, a message played, with a number combination. Once I dialed the number, the wall opened up to a cold underground tunnel, which led us to the exit. What a crazy experience.

After I got all my stuff from WeKache’s apartment, I said goodbye and drove my snow-covered car back to Madison. According to my GPS, I was due to make it home at 8:11, eleven minutes after the beginning of the concert.

Shit, shit shit.

Nevertheless, I pressed on, and once in the car, flew down the road, despite being dead tired. I made it home at 8:05 and walked into the Union at about 8:12. Fortunately, my ticket was still there and the show had just barely started, so I headed in. And I wasn’t the only one who was late – a huge group of at least 10 people walked in behind me – so I didn’t feel so bad as I headed to my seat in the first row of the mezzanine.

I actually came across Zap Mama randomly while doing research for a paper on Ruined by Lynn Nottage (ironically, what my parents were watching at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore at that very moment) and found some songs on YouTube which I liked. The group is headed up by the incredibly talented and energetic Marie Daulne who was just as gorgeous onstage in her black dress as she is on her album cover. Hailing from Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zap Mama has sung their “polyphonic urban African hip-hop” since 1991, on albums and in movies like Tortilla Soup and Mission Impossible II.

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

I was not as familiar with their set list, or with their co-musical act Antibalas, but the sheer joy of Daulne and her backup singers made up for that. The only song I recognized was “African Sunset,” originally done by Miriam Makeba. In the middle of the show, Zap Mama left the stage and Antibalas performed, but they came back for a funky Afro-inspired rendition of Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me,” which I couldn’t help but sing along to. As the concert progressed, more and more people got up and danced, and by the last song, I was one of them. I danced until the end of the encore, which was at 10:30, making it one hell of a concert. For most of the concert though, I was in my seat dancing like this:

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And now I am back home.

All in all, I had a great weekend, productive and fun, the kind that my younger self always wanted to have: dinner with friends at a funky restaurant, some fun driving, a concert at night, the real ideal “twenty-something” life.

Oh, and according to my statistics, yesterday I was visited by my 100th unique country of the year, Hungary, so there’s that to celebrate.

 

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On Forgiveness, Frustration, and Other Elephants

Normally, I like to keep things positive and fun here, especially in light of the craziness that’s happening all around us at every level, but I’ve been sitting on this series of rants for a while and I just have to let some things out from my brain onto the Internet. Maybe you’ll call me a hypocrite, but maybe you’ll agree with me. Begin word vomit.

Forgiveness

Before Yom Kippur, I genuinely asked some people for forgiveness of anything that I may have done wrong to them. It sounds kind of trite, but it’s the thought the counts. Everyone said yes, some more seriously than others, but I want to believe that everyone who said “yes” will actually come through and make good on that. With certain people in my life, I feel that there is some sort of layer of something between us, but by saying that you forgive me, I am hoping that you mean that you will ease up, and at least let that layer settle if not even completely evaporate and start fresh. That would make my day, no; my year. There are different levels of friendship, and not everyone has to be best friends, but there is value in being civil and polite to everyone, speaking to his/her face and treating him/her like a human being and not like a reptile or a gnat or a piece of lint. That is the least that I wish to ask from you. What do you gain from being actively mean? “Be the bigger person…”goes only so far, but I guess the important thing is to treat others the way you wish to be treated and hope that they’ll get the point through their haze of ignorance.

Frustration

I have to say, I have spent a lot of time recently, including Yom Kippur, being angry. Anger is not healthy, nor is it productive, yet it still exists within me. I feel anger at people who treat me poorly, secretly plotting comeuppance but never daring to speak it, and attempting to erase my mind of these thoughts. It takes a LOT of energy to be angry! It manifests itself physically within me, making me sweat, blush, shake, grit my teeth and twitches my eyelids, because I do not understand! Why must you go out of your way to be unkind to me? Why are you like this? What did I ever do to deserve this treatment from you, or anyone? The worst part: why can’t I let these feelings go? I want to tell you how I really feel, I really do, and I don’t want to care what you think but I probably will. If you respond, great. If you choose to let it sit in the void, so be it. If you reject me, I can safely say that you were not worth my time to begin with. There is no reason for feeling this way. It takes a lot of energy to be angry, and nothing angers me more than those who treat me poorly or reject me outright. Be a gentleman, be a lady, be a person. I’m having a hard time not issuing “if you” judgments, but seriously, if you are that incapable of behaving in a civil manner, maybe – just maybe – there is something seriously wrong with you.

Other Elephants

It’s all about being grateful and not hateful, but I just have to say that I recently had an encounter with someone whose behavior really, really upset me. Showing up for Shabbat dinner at Chabad with a tin of sardines, which he proceeded to open and eat in front of everyone, even going so far as to put pieces of sardines on other peoples’ plates, urging them to eat it because it’s one of the five only truly healthy foods left, all the while talking nonstop about how awesome anarcho-capitalism is, how much he has learned in the school of life, and laughing loudly and vigorously about how college is a complete waste of time and money and that students are all “sucking on the government’s teat.”

This upset me so much.

Self-awareness, people…you’re in someone’s home, in a college town, possibly one of the largest college towns in the nation, and this is how you choose to act? Judging the behavior of others is never healthy, but when someone dominates the entire room by completely undermining everyone in it, with nowhere to go, what am I supposed to do? Fortunately, I busied myself by helping clean and put away dishes. I did feel bad though, for the poor girl who stood there listening to him spew garbage about everything from the meaninglessness of scholarships to how CPR is pointless, not even allowing a second of silence to go by in the amount of time it took to wash, dry, and put away 75 place settings.

I went to an art exhibit in Milwaukee today with five friends, including one whom I’d never met before. We spent five hours together, touring a museum and enjoying dinner, talking, laughing, and bonding. If I could repeat that experience every day of my life, I would consider myself lucky.

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Things I Don’t Like About Returning Home from a Trip

Today, I flew back to Madison via Tampa after four days of fun with the family that included a little relaxing, watching baseball, enjoying the beach, and the first geocaching I’ve done in months. I really enjoyed that, but part of me just wanted to be back home, in my normal routine, sleeping in my own bed, and having some privacy.

But then, the time comes to actually go home.

First thoughts: Yay! I get to fly! No more crappy hotel bed!

And then reality sets in, and I realize the things I don’t like about returning home from a trip.

  1. Goodbyes. I honestly don’t know when I will be seeing my family again. They get on my nerves sometimes, but they’re family, and remarkably we all really got along well on this trip. I miss them already.
  2. Realizing that responsibility awaits at the other end of the journey. Nothing but cold, hard responsibility. Isn’t life great?
  3. Waiting and waiting. The flight was on time, but the bus left ten minutes late, and because of several stops and traffic, it took about two hours to get from Milwaukee to Madison, a trip which normally takes a little over an hour. We stopped somewhere in downtown Milwaukee to change drivers. At least I got a lot of reading done.
  4. Unpacking. After the long, uphill, windy trudge home, I was planning on dropping the suitcase and then relaxing for awhile, but then I notice that my apartment is being shown tomorrow morning, so I better unpack now. This sucks. Yet, I still haven’t done that.
  5. No food in the house. Before I left, I either finished or tossed all the perishables, and I didn’t think of buying many groceries because I was going to be gone for five days, and I could just stock up when I got back. Fast forward to me walking in my apartment at 7:30, exhausted and not willing to exert the energy to cook, instead resorting to tortilla chips and salsa for dinner. Seriously, unless I want to defrost something, I’ve got nothing.
  6. Trying to figure out what to do first. Usually, sitting and doing nothing for awhile takes first priority with me, but I think that’s most people…except to a much lesser extent.
  7. Realizing all the things you have to do. So far, I’ve got a paper to revise, some readings due Monday, to take out the trash, and gas up the car.
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What I Saw (And Heard) on St. Patrick’s Day

Traveling on a holiday is always interesting, but traveling on St. Patrick’s Day was a new one for me.

Here’s my list of St. Patrick’s Day-like things I experienced today.

1. 10 AM, Espresso Royale, Madison, WI. There is Irish bagpipe music playing in the background. “What is this,” says my brain, “Irish Day?” … three seconds later … “Ohhhh, right, St. Patrick’s Day.”

2. 3:35 PM, General Mitchell International Airport, Milwaukee, WI. I board my flight to Tampa, and several people are dressed in green, no more than usual though. I’m in the first group of people on the plane, so I pick an aisle seat in an empty row. Some guy asks me if the two seats next to me are taken. I say go right in, and then his wife and son go into those seats. Sensing that someone’s a little bashful today, I offer up my seat, which accepts gratefully and with some surprise, as if he thinks that either a) he was actually expecting to put his wife and kid in a row with someone else already in it and just sit elsewhere, and then when that stranger offered up his seat, was taken aback, or b) he was hoping to put his wife and kid in a row with someone else and sit elsewhere in the plane with his mistress and/or girlfriend, or at least at a place where he wouldn’t get caught slipping his number to a flight attendant (and if this was the case…whoops, sorry for ruining your plans!)

3. Same time, same place. I sit in the row across from them, next to two girls from some community college in Minnesota decked out in lots of green and beads. One even has a light-up shamrock necklace. I kid you not.

4. Time unknown (maybe about 5 PM), in the air. I’m listening to music and reading, when Shamrock Necklace girl taps me on the shoulder and points to the drink menu. I’m all, “huh?” until she points out that since today is St. Patrick’s Day, Southwest Airlines offers free alcoholic beverages. And since we’ve been talking and have shared ages, she knows that unlike her, I am of age, so I celebrate accordingly. When the flight attendant comes around, I order a chardonnay and then opt to change it to a rum-and-coke, upon the guy behind me ordering the same.

5. Some time later, in the air. The drinks arrive, waters for the girls and my rum-and-coke, with a little wedge of lime. I wait until the stewardess passes, and then offer a sip to Shamrock Necklace girl (whose name is Natalie…unlikely that she’s going to read this). She looks at me incredulously, saying, “really?” I respond: “Go ahead, it’s St. Patrick’s Day and it’s not like you’re flying the plane.” She and her friend break out laughing and she sneaks a sip. Her friend politely declines.

6. Later, same place. I’ve gone back to reading/listening, and I get another tap from Natalie, who is giggling and holding a piece of plastic in her hand, the little piece that holds the tray table in the upright position. Apparently, her friend was playing with it and broke it off. And she wasn’t even the one who had anything to drink.

7. Same as above. Another tap from Natalie, and she gestures me to look to my right, where the guy who ordered the rum-and-coke is asleep with the little red Southwest Airlines toothpick hanging down out of his open, snoring mouth. We have a good laugh, and then we all hope that we don’t hit turbulence because it could result in us hearing “Is anyone on this plane a periodontist?” over the plane’s intercom.

8. 7:10 PM (EST now), Tampa, FL. We arrive, deplane, and take a tram to the main terminal, where we are greeted by a crowd watching a quartet of Irish dancers and an accompanying band of bagpipers. Apparently, we’re now in some Irish version of Florida.

9. 8 PM, Sarasota, FL. After my parents pick me up at the airport, our first stop is dinner at this pretty expensive seafood place. I order a sangria, because I can, and I surprisingly coerce my mother into sharing it with me.

10. 10:30 PM, Sarasota. We arrive at the hotel where my parents have been staying for the past few days. It’s a Hilton Garden Inn that’s practically in the middle of nowhere but “close to the ballpark” which is the reason for the trip, but a) the room only features two beds, which means that when my sister gets here in two days I’ll have to spend the next two nights sharing a bed with my father, b) we are in Florida and not walking distance from any beach, c) the hotel has a pool, but it’s a square about as big as two bathtubs put together, and d) when we walked in, the floor was wet in the room, so we will hopefully change rooms in the morning, but that still won’t solve the four-people-two-beds problem.

But I’m here, with my mom and dad, so I guess that’s what matters.

Happy St. Patrick’s day to all, and welcome to my two newest countries: Egypt (ترحيب!) and Montenegro (dobrodosao!)