Day Trippin’

I am broke. Brokety broke broke.

With that all consuming brokeness in mind, the kind a fine mix only cost of living and minimum wage can bring, I think you can understand why I haven’t been anywhere on vacation in a while. Couple years, in fact. I watch my friends take off everywhere from Florida to Monaco, and I loathe the ever loving crap out of them. You know, in an affectionate way.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this. The other denizens of my household are just as broke, for varying reasons. So every so often, when the daily grind is wearing our brains down to itty bitty nubs, we put our heads together and come up with day trips.

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It might not be Monaco, but it works. A road trip for just a few hours brings us anywhere in the area, most recently to Newport, Rhode Island. That’s a bit over two hours give or take, especially if you’re the kind who’s prone to having to turn back fifteen minutes in to get forgotten things like cellphones and cameras, and an ATM stop that no one thought to do sooner. Little things, really.

With the radio and Stephen King short story audio books to accompany us (I Know What You Need and The Moving Finger, if you’re interested), the trip felt fairly short. Once we were in Newport, we had to hunt down a place for lunch. Parking there is, by the way, deadly. If you haven’t been, go there preparing for War. Yes, it does warrant a capital ‘W’. No, I’m not kidding.

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Benjamin’s turned out to be the only place we could all agree on after some strolling through the area, mostly because my waifish friend subsists on the strangest of strange diets (bread, cheese, potatoes, tomatoes, and peanut butter are her primary food groups), and apparently not many places there serve french fries. Or anything that wouldn’t send her from the restaurant screaming, for that matter.

After an exceptional round of stuffed clams, followed shortly by an even more exceptionalNewport8 seafood mac and cheese (big chunks of lobster, oh my good crippity Christ it was wonderful), we were off again. Wandering around the area, in and out of candy and gift shops, picking through and being amused by all manner of random. I still have Non-Buyer’s Remorse from that Indian silk scarf that was ocean colored, shiny, and just so very soft. But I digress.

Then we were off to the Mansion District, throwing ourselves into a vast wasteland of opulence and a few houses that looked like they’d been uprooted from the Shire and Super Sized. I still wish I’d asked to stop and take a picture of those, but I was too busy staring in dumb wonder. I’m sure many come to the area and take the tours for a reason, but just driving through, I couldn’t understand it. The size, the necessity, any of it. Presumably I’m not meant to.

Except for the Hobbit holes. I got that. I just want to know how they got them there. Is Gandalf a contracto– I’m drifting.

Newport5The good part came after that. Straight through all those big eye sores was beach country. We stopped in random spots that looked good to take pictures, soak in the scenery, and just breathe.

Here, my friends, we come to the crux of the thing. It’s taken me the first twenty five years of my life to even begin to learn how to mellow. These little trips do worlds to nudge me further down that line. I got to take my camera out and take a bucketload of pictures. I didn’t even lose it when I figured out that somehow, some way, I hadn’t checked to make sure my memory card was in the camera when packing up, and the first thirty shots were thereby lost to the ether. I mourned briefly, laughed it off, and moved on. I knew there’d be more moments to take more pictures, and there were.

NicoleNewport1I even got to throw some subjects (my friends) in the mix, which I don’t normally get to do. You can see a pile of those here, including some of my aforementioned waifish friend. In between my snapping shots and their carefully making their way through the rocks, we’d all sit and watch the waves. It was peace, and not remotely the kind you get from sitting on the couch at home.

On our way back, we passed a sizable park where families were camped out on the grass with their kids, just flying kites. Who the hell does that these days? I thought it was fantastic. We stopped for another slew of pictures, chatted with awesome elderly hippie KitesNewport1running the ‘Kite Store’ trailer that was set up with a giant dog kite less than four feet away. Poor thing couldn’t catch enough wind, the way it was drooping you’d think it had down syndrome. The kids still looked thrilled, and few parents seemed harried, if any. It was just a perfect summer day, and the outside world seemed to be taking a walk for a while.

After that, tired but happy, we were through. The Mangler took us through the ride home, where our dogs were positively hyperventilating with joy to see us, and back to the real world. I’m more than ready to do it again, and I highly recommend it to you. You can fit a lot into a day trip, even if it’s just a lot of relaxing. So break open a new tab on your browser, fire up the almighty Lord Google, and try typing in ‘Best of “apply state/region/etc here”‘. See what happens. If it’s a few hours away, and you’re just sitting in front of your computer sliding down the social media rabbit hole, what’ve you got to lose?

What Fresh Hell is This?

There are few stranger planes of existence than the world of online dating.

Knowing what this is now about, if you feel the title is now a bit dramatic, I assure you it’s not. So there.

First, a few semi embarrassing statements to help set the stage for this little affair: I could be classified as what’s known as a ‘Late Bloomer’. I’ve had many strange and varied experiences, but enough little ‘rites of passage’ seem to’ve passed me by to raise eyebrows. One of them is dating. Until recently, this never seemed like that big a deal. Suddenly though, and it could have something to do with being halfway to thirty… It is.

So in the spirit of not dying a spinster, I threw up a profile on Let’s Date, the Suicide Girls’s dating app. I called it a social experiment; it’d be fascinating to see if I got any responses at all. You create a card with enough statements to define yourself to the rest of the world (somehow), and people decide whether or not they’re into that. If they like you, they hit a button, and you’re told someone likes you. Eventually, if you come across their card and decide you like them and happen to hit the button as well, you’re told you’re a match and a date is (usually) set.

My very first match? A cute yet quirky girl (I’m Bisexual, by the by.), who shared enough interests with me to get me interested. It all seemed perfectly harmless… Until I happened to scroll down and catch her Twitter page.

Turns out she’s a Financial Dominatrix.

I won’t say her name on here, that’d be unkind. But after reading through her feed, where men of all kinds begged for her attention in some pretty scary/hysterical ways, and going through her website where there was more of the same… I chickened out. It’s not that I would never, but… Not right now.

Not too long after that, after some equally strange interactions, I pulled myself off the app. Thinking for some strange reason that a new spot would be better, I then threw up a profile on OKCupid. Again, I operated under the giggle worthy ploy of it being a ‘social experiment’.

When the messages actually started coming though, I didn’t have a clue what to do with them.

One guy told me I was a tease. Nothing else. Another guy said I was cute and all, sure, but we had some fo-real sexual disconnects. This, of course, came without me actually answering any sex based personality questions. Girls were either very close to their mothers, or too cool to talk to the likes of me. I tried not to read too much into that. Or any of it, for that matter.

More and more, I found that it was both harder than just going out in public to a bar (Who the hell are you dealing with? Is that picture even real? Craigslist Killer, anyone?), and a hell of a lot easier (If you don’t like them, just stop talking. They can’t follow you. At least… As far as you know.), but still confusing. Really, really confusing.

This did, however, lead me to my first date. I messaged back and forth with a guy for a a while, he seemed reasonably intelligent and made me laugh. This is, by the way, the easiest possible way to win points with me. Make me giggle, you’ve got your foot in the door.

W and I set up a dinner date and met up at six o’ clock sharp. I showed up early and waited inside, compulsively fixing my hair, checking my face (even though it wasn’t made up) in the mirror, wondering if there were any adjustments I could make that would somehow help this process I knew absolutely nothing about. You know, the girly stuff you say you’ll never do until you’re suddenly doing it. You sad bitch.

Suddenly, a tall skinny guy in glasses walks right by me. I smile and say hello, he says hi back, and continues on into the restaurant. It took a few seconds before he realized he’d just passed his own date, and for that date to realize she’d just been stupid enough to look her date in the eye and not recognize him.

After being thoroughly embarassed, we went to get a table. Cut to awkward talk finally melting into a fair amount of good conversation and laughs. He was nice to talk to, and I’m hoping I was too. But he had one failing, and it was the strangest I’ve ever experienced; He had no problems. He’d never experienced stress. Nothing bothered him, and he was perfectly content with his life.

Ouch.

Still, it was a good time. And after exchanging numbers, off we went to our separate domiciles. If he hadn’t dropped contact for two weeks and then popped up again wanting to get together, it might’ve worked out. Thankfully though, working with a nice little cross section of males meant I had multiple opinions on hand to explain these things to me so I didn’t think I was getting worked up and woman-y.

He’s not contacting you within the first week? He doesn’t give a crap. He’s texting a few weeks later? He’s bored.

Bye bye, W.

So, diving back into the pool once again. There’s a small pile of new prospects that might pan out well, might turn out to be just friends, or might turn into nothing at all. But I have noticed just how stupid that bit of stigma that’s latched onto online dating actually is. In spite of the few differences, it’s all exactly the same; the awkwardness, the potential for axe murder, the creepy, the gag worthy, the laughs, the fuzzies, all of it.

Which means sometimes you can’t help but dwell on why that cute girl gave you a one sentence burn and completely blew you off. Or knowing that very pretty guy was never going to message you back, but being unable to help trying in the first place.

But hey, it’s the internet. No big thing, right?

… Right?

Oh God, what hellish existence hath I wrought?

I Want to Believe

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with all things Goosebump-y; the books and shows, Are You Afraid of the Dark, all those horrendous teenage slasher flicks you’re ashamed to admit you loved ten years later, stuff like that. Somehow, I was never afraid. Even when I moved on to Stephen King and his ilk, probably way too young (but that’s not the point here), I loved every inch of it, but barely got the thrills and chills over those ghoulies, ghosties, and long leggedy beasties that those who truly believe those things can exist get.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy them, don’t get me wrong. I loved them, and still do, even though I’ve moved on to being a bigger fan of thrillers, and the kind of stories that exemplify the monsters in all of us. (Although there’s a wealth of those to be found in horror too, even those shamefully silly slashers.) I just get my fun not from the fear of the monster coming out of the closet, but from watching those fangs, claws, fur, and scales fly.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. But being what I assume to be desensitized, or maybe too involved in the creation of stories to just live them, it means I don’t think I’m truly appreciating being faced with the real thing.

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Take yesterday, for example. I spent my birthday in Salem, Massachusetts, Land of the Witchiest Witches. Given the time of year, the place was absolutely rife with the theatrically freaky. You couldn’t round a corner without running into a witch hat, cloaks, living skeletons, demons, and your occasional pirate wench. And that’s just to name a few. Tourists milled in and out of shops and museums, town cryers dressed era appropriately lead a mix of zombified, over interested, and somewhere in between tourists through the streets and cemeteries pre armed with scripted stories of the Salem of yore.

And I couldn’t stop laughing.

It was probably rude. I could appreciate the place, rife with history and that spooky feeling (partially because of just how many scammers there afoot in all their various forms), but there was some of it that was simply too hysterical for words. Like how you had to duck and cover at any given moment to get away from the millions of signs for psychics offering readings for twenty bucks or more. Honestly, half that, maybe even quarter that, and I’ll give you a try. At that price, however, I’ll be expecting something back. Like maybe a cookie.

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Then there was the free Psychic and Witchcraft Expo at the Salem Visitors Center that took itself far too seriously. I snapped a picture of the front entrance, and was automatically admonished by the girl at the front desk booking readings to “please, don’t take pictures of the psychics.” You can see her, and an equally gothic blonde woman, glaring at me on the right. I wasn’t even aware they were in the photo, to be perfectly honest with you. I was just concerned with getting as much as I could in the frame. The price you pay for art, apparently.

Either way, I made sure to steer clear of the psychics table altogether. Most of them actually looked relatively normal, which in my opinion made them all the more believable. It was the guy rolling his top hatted head and staring off blankly into space that had me fighting off the giggles. I veered off with friends to the side, to check out various stones (which are everywhere in those shops; varying in size, shape, texture, color, and ability to induce varying forms of ultimate power for everywhere from two to three hundred plus dollars), skulls, charms, and even a shrunken head. What did look interesting was undercut by people like the woman selling magnetic bracelets that was shouting to anyone in a ten mile radius about how they’d essentially make cancer bounce off you.

After that, and turning away from items I was examining to find a tall skinny guy in a vest looming and staring bug eyed at me to make sure I didn’t steal anything… I waited outside for my friends.

Confession: When I was thirteen, having long since been struck by a complete and utter disinterest in Catholicism, I considered Wicca. Of course, I considered in with the absolute disregard for realism that anyone my age would. I had a ‘secret Wicca box’ where I squirreled away information from the internet, a spellbook, and various herbs I’d filched from the cabinet for spell based purposes. I was following suit behind my friends (all of us having covered the pre requisite of seeing The Craft), and lost interest around the time they did, but I still believe it’s a perfectly good religion if it speaks to you, the same way any other is. There is a small part of me that wonders if I’d done it right, or better, if I could’ve pulled off something. But shhh.

In between my arrival and this expo, I had a great time. We bobbed and weaved in and out of all sorts of shops. Apparently Salem is a Steampunk haven (go figure), and one of my friends and I have vowed to come back and and start building outfits for events in increments, because that stuff costs. We also had lunch at Flying Saucer Pizza Company, where I had Loki pizza (let that sink in for a moment. Loki. Pizza.), read a comic on my placemat, and viewed all kinds of SciFi memorabilia all over the walls.

One of the best parts of the whole thing was walking into what was, I swear, the American answer to Ollivander’s. Any Harry Potter fan anywhere has dreamed of that moment; walking in to find racks of handmade wands at the ready, any of which might call to you and prove that yes, you are a wizard, Har– er, whatever your name is.

Unfortunately, Wynott’s Wands (the actual name of the place), didn’t hold anything that called out to me. Better luck next time, maybe? They did, however, have bottles of Butter(scotch) Beer at the ready, and that stuff was out of this world good. There was nothing about that stuff that wasn’t worth the three dollars. I still have the bottle.

While I was in that dimly lit place, I got more caught up in the experience than I really did anywhere else I hit that day. That could’ve just been geeky fandom talking, but that’s besides the point. Part of me did want one of those wands to fly off the shelf and smack me in the nose. After all, it’d kick off a whole new adventure, and what better place for something like that to happen than Salem?

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While killing our last hour, we walked through a cemetery. I don’t know which, but since there are certainly plenty to choose from, it probably doesn’t matter. Reading the tombstones, you’re struck again by that sense of history, that power the whole area exudes. But here’s where you find the people that built it. You have to wonder, if any of them are still floating around, how they feel about the tourists strolling over their graves, schmucks like me snapping pictures of their tombstones, and all of them eyeballing the inscriptions that’re supposed to sum up their lives. Honestly, I can’t say I’d be too psyched (hee) about it. But that’s just me. And that’s only if there’s life after death. Who’s to say?

Confession Two: When I was younger, and still in Girl Scouts (yes, really), we stayed at what I’m fairly sure was some kind of lodge up in New Hampshire for the night. For some reason, this lodge had a chapel, where most of us were supposed to stay. Except some of us couldn’t. As soon as I entered, I felt a force pushing down on my head. A dull ache spawned in the back of my skull, and a sense that I needed to get out of there. Now. I wasn’t the only one, there was a small group of us  (though I think some just wanted to go along because it was freaky and super cool), and we had to sleep in a separate room for the night. I’ve had some small experiences like it, but nothing that’s matched that feeling since. If there was something in there, it was not pleased with the intrusion.

So what’s the point of all this rambling? My time in Salem, laughable as some of it was, reminded me how much I want to believe in the strange and unexplained. It’s what keeps me watching those plethora of paranormal shows (though some I flat out can’t stand), has me willing to be a guinea pig for my friend’s newfound love of tarot, and makes me able to love all those stories I did when I was a kid. Even if the realistic skeptic within scoffs, I’ll probably always still get drawn back in. I’ll always be the Scully of the situation who’s thisclose to crossing the line, but wobbles and leans back to pull her Mulder(s), in this case my friends, back from the brink. I’m comfortable there, even if it means I can’t always get as far into these things as I like. I’ll go home and write something strange to make up for it after.

But at the same time, maybe I’ll try leaning a bit further forward  in the future, see what new experiences I can get out of it. You can’t be too skeptical all the time, that’s just boring. Especially on days like today.

Happy Halloween, folks.