All I know

Thank god for strangers who take the time to let you know.
I’ve always depended on the opinions of strangers.

Dave and Chet both had their band debuts last night. Georgia just texted to say Chet’s was fab. Dave’s, I would call really good. They played great, each of them individually sounded fab, but the mics didn’t work, so the instruments were much louder than the voices, which, when you’re a band, is not totally fab. But they rolled with it, and people seemed to really love them. Next time, some amps.

We hung out with Kismet and Kyle and Billy and Joan beforehand. Had dinner at Crisp and then went to have a drink before the music. Every bar we walked into had a distinctive odor. As an Amazon review of a possible purse I once wanted to buy said, “All I know is this bag smells BAD.” One bar smelled like vomit, another like yeast but not yeasty bread baking. Kyle thought maybe chlorine, which would have been preferable. The third smelled like air freshener which ordinarily would set me off, but suddenly seemed like at least they were trying.

We had a drink and then headed to the theatre where Midwest was playing an after-the-show set in the lobby. For friends and any theatre patrons who wanted to stick around. I realized about halfway through that I can’t go to live performances anymore. I spend most of the time being angry at whoever is talking during the show. Fifty people squeezed into that room, 48 of them listening intently to catch the words and the harmonies that were tumbling out, beautiful but a little remote, and all I can hear are two people talking, I swear in fake British accents, about studying abroad.

Although I turned around, very pointedly in my opinion, several times, they just kept talking. Something about a theatre program in London. Maybe I should have done something more, but if they turned out to be friends of someone else in the band, it could be awkward later.

Like last week at City Winery, when a table-full of women next to us kept yakking it up like they were at an Applebee’s, all the way through the singer’s ballad. I waited until I caught the eye of one of them, and then I smiled, and then she smiled, and then I mimed turning down a stereo. Her eyebrows went up, and then I nodded at the stage, and then she said something to her friends, and they all stared at me. I smiled back and looked, again I would say pointedly, at the stage.

They quieted down, but later, at the break before the headliner came on, the woman came up to me in the women’s room. “I just wanted to say,” she said, “I didn’t know we were being so loud.”

I washed my hands and tried to laugh it off. “Oh, I’m terrible about things like that.”

Clearly she agreed because she said again, “We didn’t think we were being that loud.” She added, “My friend said you can order food here, so we can talk if we want.”

I couldn’t make sense of that, so I just said, “Enjoy the next act.”

“My friend’s daughter is one of the musicians,” is what she left me with.

“I hope that means you’ll keep your trap shut,” is what I didn’t spit back.

Will you be my one good action?

foster dog
Come on, will ya?

I got to have my fake Friday night last night, like I asked for on Facebook. But now I have to admit that the pub I want to love just ain’t cracking up to it.

I wanted my neighborhood pub to be snug and delicious and sparkling with the soft light of friendship and a pretend fireplace. Instead it smelled bad and the food was partially inedible and the service—which normally I don’t even care about unless I’m in a hurry—was random. Three waters for four people, no plates for the deep-fried apps, which thank god killed the other smell – magic markers? mold? – I noticed when we came in.

Why didn’t I say something? Because I didn’t want it to smell bad. It was my idea after all, dragging my friends out on a Wednesday night, and we were having fun, coming in from a brisk walk, happy to get a good table by the window. The waitress was smiley. There was just this faint…magic marker? Yes, it must be magic marker…smell. Once we got our drinks I forgot all about it.

Then Xeena and Buck showed up, Xeena who is allergic to everything and can smell everything, even styrofoam – that’s what she gets for being open to the universe—and her first Coke with lime was flat, and the second one was also flat and also tasted of something that was neither Coke nor lime. And they didn’t get silverware so they couldn’t enjoy the apps before they congealed.

But as long as no one wakes up sick today – and I don’t see how Xeena can get sick when she didn’t eat two bites of her shepherd’s pie—I’d say it was a fun evening. Vandamm showed up for an after-dinner drink that seemed to taste okay. And as we were wrapping up the confusing bill, Starbeck showed up outside the window with a new foster dog. Very cute black and white pointer mix? Not quite right for a Django companion, but really sweet. We all walked back together and then watched foster dog play with Kismet and Kyle’s cartoon dog. It was fun until Django started flying into them and barking her shrill cattle dog bark, trying to break up the fun. Foster dog had already had a rough day, so we left.

I should do a Yelp review but I don’t trust Yelp lately. I keep hearing troubling things about their advertising programs. Plus, I still want the pub to thrive. Would a review kick their butts, or lead to fewer customers and a failed business just because maybe they had an off night? I don’t know what’s important in this world where everything seems to be falling apart. When news about the central banks sounds so hopeful until I hear the analysis that predicts there’s an even bigger disaster they’re trying to avert, and the water in the world keeps rising, and nonprofit agencies keep sinking, and the Occupy movement gets more marginalized, and the wars keep multiplying, and for each of these things there is a perfectly good reason, all organized into stories in my hand, but all at once, all right now and constant, and yet I can easily turn them off and dip into entirely different banks of news and entertainment. So I’m confused.

I don’t know what’s important. And I don’t want to sit here and remind myself about the importance of just one action. I already know that. What I really mean is, I’m looking for the one action and I’m annoyed that I can’t find it. Foster dog arrived in Chicago after a 16-hour ride in a cage on a church bus filled with other dogs from a shelter in the Southwest. He ended up homeless because his elderly owner moved into assisted living. He’s almost a year old, extremely good-natured, has soft fur and one blue eye. He needs a good home. Why don’t you adopt him?

The undeciders

cocktail napkin
Maybe it makes more sense to a decider.

I shot my wad on the way up to Bay City. We were closing in on lunch time, and I remembered a café near New Buffalo that I’d eaten at a few years ago. I didn’t have to actually make that decision, just suggest it. But when you’re travelling with three other undeciders, even a comment can be construed as a command.

Lunch was fine, though for some reason the waitress didn’t want to give Kismet water. Throughout the weekend, we had a hard time getting four waters. However, the booze was cheap.

After lunch, I left the decision-making to Kismet and Kyle and Dave. At the fest, there were multiple good options for doing something at any time: three film venues, plus a few workshops, plus parties, plus restaurants, plus bars. One of us would say, “Do you want to go to this?” Someone would answer, “Sure, if you do.” Followed up by someone else’s “Whatever you think.” Confirmed by the fourth person’s “I’m good either way.”

I was the one who probably should have had some plan, for how I could meet as many other filmmakers as possible, how I could insert myself into as many conversations as possible, so I could be one of those people quoted on film fest sites, “I made so many great connections and we’re already talking about collaborating on future projects!” But that’s not me. The transition from “Liked your film” to “Wanna read my script?” always seems fake.

Plus, I’m too distracted by new faces or off-topic conversations or pictures of peoples’ dogs or another event happening three blocks away. Like the wonderful family parties that ended just as I realized I still hadn’t talked to the one person I wanted to catch up with, I was too busy having fun. Wandering from place to place, sometimes with the other undeciders or sometimes alone, because in addition to being undeciders we are also unclingers. Watching good films. Eating good food. Meeting an occasional filmmaker and making vague plans to talk later. Because there seemed to be infinite time in this friendly, happy world. Just like the parties at Auntie Aggie’s, where there was always another roomful of interesting people, another tray of food coming out of the kitchen, and rumors of Mr. Microphone in the basement. Oh wait, no, Mr. Microphone wasn’t at the festival.

I did a pretty good job of not putting myself down, though Kismet scolded me once for advising someone to watch Sandman “in a group – it’s not as good alone.” “But it’s not,” I protested.

“Have you watched it alone?” she charged.

“That’s different,” I said.

“That’s your opinion,” she replied. “Keep it to yourself.” Kismet also took apart our distribution plan, late at night in the hotel bar, on the napkin from her Manhattan. In response to my presentation of our strategy, “We’ve done some festivals, so now, hopefully, I guess, some distribution,” she asked for a pen.

“First we identify our long-term goals for the film. Then medium-term goals. Then short-term goals. That’s this column. Then organizational considerations. Then allies.”

“What are organizational considerations?”

“Don’t worry about those yet. Start with goals. What are your long-term goals?”

“Um…” Saved by the waitress. “Another round here?”

“Yes, please!” We decided to finish the discussion on the drive home. That was the one actual decision we made, but we didn’t keep it. Instead, we nursed our hangovers and thought about gifts for the people who were taking care of our dogs.

In classic undecider form, we couldn’t figure out where to exit for the gifts. Maybe a gas station would have something suitably kitschy? But these were favorite people; we didn’t want crappy. Was there something local? Dave took out his phone. “If we detour through downtown Lansing, there are two gift shops.”

“Detour? Do we want to detour?” No one said anything. “Is there something right on the highway?”

Dave searched. “There’s a Gifts from the Heart. It’s about a mile off exit 127.”

I wondered what about a mile might mean. “Do you guys want to stop?” “Sure, if you do.”“Whatever you think.” “I’m good either way.”

We neared the exit. There was some construction; there could be delays. “What do you think?” “Should we just keep going?” “Should we stop?” “Should we…?” “Exit,” Dave suddenly said. And Kyle exited.

We followed the directions, the sure enough, one mile off the highway, was Briarbrook road. But it was inside a gated community. Gifts from the Heart is online-only. “But we commend you for deciding,” we consoled Dave. He was done with decisions.

To get back to the highway, Kyle had to turn around in a Cracker Barrel parking lot. Which turned out to be a great place to get kitschy gifts. Even better, once, we’d bought them and could forget about it, we saw a sign for apple cider. We sampled from 23 flavors of cider, ate cider donuts, posed for pictures on rocking chairs that seemed more authentic than the ones at Cracker Barrel, and played in an outdoor metal dinosaur museum. It was the perfect Michigan roadside stop, discovered only because an undecider decided to stop at a store that didn’t exist.