Monday Night (Asheville Style)

I lay on the chaise lounge of my screened-in porch reading a book while waiting for my friend Amanda to pick me up. We were headed to a fashion show and I was clad in jeans and sandals. The only “fashionable” thing I donned was a silky spaghetti strap top. I wondered if it was enough.

I live in Asheville–where jeans and flip-flops can be worn most anywhere. But I realized this might be my one chance to dress up and not be the only one. So I put the book down, and headed inside to see what my closet held. A short black skirt replaced my jeans. I slid my feet into heeled Mary Jane’s and looked in the mirror. Completely out of place for a  Monday night in Asheville, I thought. But then nothing is really “out of place” in a town where bumper sticks implore us to please “Keep Asheville Weird.”

Amanda arrived dressed in her business casual. We drove the two miles into town, parked and started our walk toward the venue, my feet reminding me that the shoes I wore are a pair I consider “sitting shoes”: they’re not ideal for walking down bricked sidewalks, or for walking period.

As we walked down Broadway, a car pulled up beside us. The driver, a guy in his thirties with tousled hair, said, “Excuse me. Do you know of anyplace around here to get fresh vegetable juice?” Pause here just a moment. Take in the scene. A man. My age. Asking where he can get vegetable juice. I’m sure there are other places on this earth where this might happen, but I have never lived in one.

Amanda and I sputtered through some answers. “Green Sage?”

“They’re closed,” he said.

I racked my brain. I’d seen places around town whose menus included home-made concoctions like this, but none came to mind.

“Maybe Rosetta’s–all their food is vegan,” said Amanda.

“And if they don’t have it, they’ll know someplace that does,” I added. With that, we sent him off.

Upon entering the fashion show I was floored by how many women donned dresses and heels. I’d never seen so many well dressed Ashevillians in one place.

Those of you that know me may wonder what possessed me to attend a fashion show–me, the girl who rarely shops and, if she does, does so in consignment stores. Well, this wasn’t just any fashion show. It was a benefit for the Asheville Community Theater. In true Asheville style, the four categories were: paper, light, nature, and upcycled/recycled. Mind you, I’d never heard the word “upcycled” until I moved to Asheville.  There’s an entire shop here dedicated to such things: items made from something else. Purses made of old seat belts caught my eye last I stopped in there.

The winner in the upcycled/recycled category was 11-year-old Luc Clerici, who fashioned a dress out of labels from plastic water bottles and Campbell’s soup cans. In the nature category? A dress made with plenty of fresh flowers all of which I imagined would be composted after the show. Composting is the norm here, after all.

After the show, we chatted with friends as designers walked by carrying their fashions to their cars: outfits crafted from playing cards, DVD covers, and socks.

The night wound down and Amanda and I headed back to the car. And I made a mental note to find out who in town makes vegetable juice, because I’m sure it’s not the last time I’ll be asked that question.

Falling

I’d done this once before: hooked myself up to ropes and carabiners and attempted to scale an indoor rock climbing wall. After that first class I thought perhaps I’d do it again–not for exercise mind you, but for the sculpted arms and flat stomach I’d always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, rock climbing requires two people. And I had nary a soul to join me.

Fast forward ten plus years. My friend Ben, who goes on a regular basis, tells me it would be a great way to meet men. This peaks my interest, as it would any warm-blooded, single, thirty-something heterosexual woman.

“I have no arm strength,” I tell him.

“Doesn’t matter–you use your legs.” I know for a fact that one can’t climb a wall without the use of ones arms. “Your arms just to hold you to the wall.  You don’t pull yourself up with your arms, you push yourself up with your legs.” This was all starting to come back to me. The arms don’t get sculpted because you’re pulling your entire body weight up with them; they get sculpted because your using them to hold on for dear life.

But that’s where the ropes come in. As long as you trust the person you’re climbing with, falling off the wall is not a problem.  Your partner, through some easy moves with the ropes around his own waist (which are the same ones attached to you), can stop you mid-air and lower you gently.

So last Tuesday night, I planned to meet three friends at the indoor rock-climbing place downtown. I signed the paper that outlined the various ways I could be injured or killed. “My boss would be thrilled you actually read it before you signed it,” the guy behind the desk told me. Maybe I shouldn’t have. 

I was the first to show up and while looking around I noticed something odd: no one was using ropes.

I recalled Katie, who would be joining me that night, telling me her least favorite part was falling off the wall. At the time, I was a bit mystified. “I don’t have a problem with that as long as I trust the person spotting me,” I said. I didn’t realize we were talking about two different experiences. The image in my mind included ropes and a person that kept me from free-falling. Her image, I now realized, did not.

Unlike my skydiving adventure, I didn’t have the time to shoot out e-mails to my family telling them how much I loved them. So I guessed I’d just have to survive. 

My three friends showed up and Ben dutifully explained how the place worked. Double arrows next to a “rock” indicated it was the one on which I would place both my hands to start. Then, I’d follow the color-coded arrows up the wall to the red line. “You can’t climb higher than the red line without ropes.” Regardless, that red line was entirely too far above my head for my comfort.

After a few tries, I made it up to the red line. “Now what?” I asked Ben.

“Jump!” he said.

“Uhhh. . . no,” I said, my arms clinging to the wall. I started climbing back down the way I came up, and jumped when I was just a few feet off the ground. I am, after all, the girl that to this day, when I go play on swing sets, does not feel comfortable jumping off until the swing has nearly stopped.

“But you jumped out of a plane!”  you might say.  Well, yes. Yes, I did. But there was a large Russian man strapped to my back. And in his control was not one, but two parachutes. And we had a good few minutes to get them up before we hit the ground.

At one point Ben pointed out some of the men of which he had spoken: glistening chiseled arms, six-pack abs. “That’s what this place does for you,” he said. That’s what this place does for THEM, I thought. Me? I’m going back to banking on my good looks and sparkling personality.

The Chinese Dragon

When I set out that morning, I didn’t expect my day would include a Chinese dragon looking up my skirt. But this is Asheville.  One day, such things will come as no surprise at all.

The idea, from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, is to have a weekly date with yourself. It had been months since I had deliberately made such plans, but when I found myself with a completely free weekend I figured I was long overdue.

I walked to town to check out “Stories from Asheville’s Front Porch.”  Now if that doesn’t sound relaxing, you’re entirely too busy. Stories? Porches? What’s not to love?

As I walked through Pack Square on my way to the performance I saw artists unpacking boxes and putting up tents, setting out tables to display their wares. For what, I wasn’t sure, but now I knew what I’d do after the storytelling.

I crossed the street and that’s when the ruckus began. A gong being struck over and over, cymbals sounding, and a multi-colored Chinese Dragon weaving among the tents. I stood to watch, then took out my camera.

SAMSUNG

The dragon seemed to be attracted to cameras. I watched from across the street as he zoomed right up to those taking pictures, blinking his eyes demurely. Then it was determined he would cross the street, and I knew he was coming for me next:

At the end of the video, you’ll see that I lose focus, the camera staring not at the dragon, but at the sqaure.  That was when the dragon attempted to look up my skirt.  I, at first, was a little flustered that he was getting so close to me, and once I realized what he was doing, I stepped away, letting out a surprised laugh, at one point catching the eye of the guy inside who was responsible for maneuvering the dragon’s head. After shutting off my camera, I walked quickly toward my intended destination. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing. I suppose, when in costume, men do things they wouldn’t do otherwise?

As I walked, I realized the dragon following me. It clicked just then that he was part of the storytelling event to which I was headed–as opposed to a very unusual stalker.

I saw the men come out of their costume for a rest before the event started and I got the feeling the front runner of the duo was a bit embarrassed by his actions–not thinking he’d actually see me again, and not looking like the type who would normally attempt to look up women’s skirts.

And all of this was before my artist date even officially started. It was going to be an interesting day.

Control Issues

The music stopped and he let out a sigh, obviously not happy with his performance.”Have you done this before?” he asked.

“No.” This was, in fact, my first-ever official waltzing lesson.

“But you’ve danced before…”

“Well, yes.”

“I can tell,” he said. Was he complimenting me on my skills on a dance floor? My seventh-grade self would never have imagined such a thing in my future. Nor my 27-year-old self for that matter. But there I was in my first waltzing lesson appearing to my partner as an experienced dancer. Ha!

Before I could reassure him that I, too, had once been is his position of exasperation, the instructor directed us to take up our positions again as he started the music. I rested my hands on my partner’s shoulders, wanting to offer words of encouragement but not wanting to disrupt his attempt at counting to the music. One two three, four five six. One two three, four five six.

When the music stopped, I smiled and murmured some positive words before moving on to the next partner as instructed.  I took a few missteps, but gone was the anxiety I once felt about looking foolish on a dance floor.  Don’t get me wrong – I still look foolish plenty, I just no longer care. I smiled recalling my last year of high school. I was the girl who skipped out on the senior prom – instead joining three friends in a father/daughter dinner at the nearby Culinary Institute of America. There are pictures of me and my best friend Carly on her front lawn in our evening finery looking every bit like we were off to the prom.  I think my smile is so big because I knew I would not have dance that night.

Of course, the type of dancing that happened at a high school prom was nothing like what I imagined myself one day being able to do. I had illusions of gliding across a dance floor ballroom style, or maybe swing dancing.  I tried both at various times in my twenties only to find I was unable to let a man be in control.  Years later, giving it another go, I realized that if my partner showed confidence in what he was doing I was fine letting him take over.  It was the ones whose hands felt tentative in mine that led to my difficulties trusting them to take the lead. A parallel to other things in life? Absolutely.

But now-a-days, the dance floor is one of the few places in my life where I don’t have to make any decisions – where someone else tells me what to do with a push of his hand or a twist of his body. I don’t glide by any stretch – and I fumble my fair share. But what I love is that there’s no debate about which move to make – I have no say, nor time to protest. I simply follow, happy to secede control.

I know many women fought for my right to live my life however I choose. For that I am appreciative.  However, there are plenty of days where I just want someone else to point me in the right direction and I, with no time to argue, just go.  And like magic it all turns out beautifully.

Life: A Labyrinth or a Maze?

I punched a zip code into the labyrinth locater. Jackpot! The search returned two labyrinths in Asheville, North Carolina. The first was at a Catholic church, but I wasn’t ready to step foot in one of those at this point in my life. The second was an outdoor labyrinth at theUniversity of North Carolina at Asheville. It was a mere one-and-a-half mile walk from my temporary home. The next morning, I headed out in search of this circle of stones, eager to walk the labyrinth and hear what it had to tell me.

Click here for more.

 

A Lesson in Moonshine

“This place has quite the decor,” my friend told me, as we walked into the restaurant.  “I thought you’d appreciate it.  It covers three things that are most important to the people here: NASCAR, Merlefest, and moonshine.”

My friend filled me in on what Merlefest was – a music festival whose greatness was up for debate since Lowes took it over.  Then he told me an interesting little tidbit about NASCAR: it started with moonshiners who tricked out their cars to get away from the feds.  Then they decided to start racing these cars, and thus the birth of NASCAR.  Wow.  I’m in the South.

My friend pointed to what looked like one of those outdoor chimeas  in the corner of the restaurant. “Know what that is?” he asked.

“That chimney thing? No idea.”

“That’s a still,” he told me.

Despite my  northern upbringing, I have learned what a still is – but had never seen one.  Considering this part of my southern education, I went over to check it out.  Well, I tried, but got distracted first by the pictures on the wall.  Prints of moonshiners packing up a car’s trunk.  Of moonshiners with their stills out in the woods.  Of moonshiners bringing boxes into the back door of a place marked, “Members only.”

But there weren’t just prints.  They actually had a couple old black and white photographs of moonshine operations. My friend joined me and explained a little of what I was seeing.

I made my way over to the still.  “Now the funny thing is,” my friend said to me, “that it’s illegal to have one of those.  But here it is.  In a restaurant.” The still had a sign on it with the NASCAR story and that it was a gift or on loan from some folks.  It was obviously not being used to make moonshine, and that, from what I am told, is the bigger crime.

“Boils down to money.  If you’re making it, they want to tax it.”

I’d had a few tastes of moonshine in my travels in this part of the country over the last year. Not my drink of choice, but I’ve learned to handle a few swigs when it’s offered to me – usually from a mason jar from which everyone sips.

Knowing all the secrecy around moonshine, I was pretty surprised to see it as part of a cocktails competition at the Asheville Wine and Food Festival a few months ago.  Turns out there are some ways now to make it legally – so local distillers Troy and Sons have done just that.  I might have to visit their distillery one day soon, in the name of furthering my moonshine education.

A Random Tuesday Night Conversation

We were the only two patrons.  “We don’t technically open until 9,” the bartender told us. It was 8:45.  We asked if we should come back.  She said she was ready, so we sat down and had a drink.  My friend knew the bartender, and she served our food and drinks in between prepping for the evening.

“I hear this place really picks up after 10,” my friend told me. “Come in here at 11 and you could meet your next boyfriend.”

I conferred with the bartender.  Indeed, the place saw many people my age later in the evening.  But I was usually in bed by the time life picked up here.

The karaoke  guys came in to set up.  Then a mustachio’d man slid up to the bar, casually placed a clear plastic bag down in front of him and sat down.  The bartender greeted him like an old friend and poured him a drink.  I glanced over.  He had a long twist of  a ponytail.  And were those condoms I saw in his bag?

My friend and I continued our conversation and I peeked over again. Now the pony-tailed guy had a second plastic bag in front of him, this one empty.  He pulled long lines of condoms out of his first bag, tore them apart, and placed the singles in the second bag. No way, I thought.  Then I remembered I was in Asheville.  So a man sitting at a bar with a bag full of condoms really shouldn’t be that surprising.

I am who I am, so of course I leaned over to him and said, “Is that a bag full of condoms?”

“Yes, it is,” he said matter-of-factly.  “This is your tax dollars at work.”

“Really?  Um,” I stumbled over what to say next. “So tell me what this is all about?”

He explained the flow of money  that allows the Western North Carolina AIDS project to purchase thousands of condoms to give out for free.  “I go around to the local bars and put them out in bowls,” he explained. “There’s a bowl back there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom. “And Rosetta’s has one.”  He then proceeded to tell me all the places he made his rounds, filling bowls with free condoms for people to take.

“Last year we gave out 185,000 condoms.  But that’s not enough.  Do you know there are 240,000 people in Buncombe County? That’s less than one condom a year per person. One condom for a whole year!”

“But are they all of age to be in need of condoms?” I asked.

“Well…” He concurred that the figure could be a little misleading.  “But that’s just in Buncombe County.  We’re serving all of Western North Carolina – which is another 18 counties.”

He passed a few condoms my way.  “We have them in all sorts of colors and sizes.”

“Colors?” I asked, picking one up.

“And flavors, too,” he said.  “Chocolate, banana, strawberry.”

I’d seen them in sizes and flavors before, but colors?  What on earth did that matter? Apparently it does to some people…

The conversation got a little more descriptive after this, and I’ll refrain from quoting it here. Mustachioed man told me how he does his weekly rounds, sitting at bars like this, striking up conversations just like this one.

I turned to my friend.  “Are you listening to this?” He wasn’t, so I filled him in. “They gave away 185,000 condoms last year.”

“They  make great stocking stuffers,” the mustachioed man told us as he continued to break apart the long strands.

“Need any?” I asked my friend.

“No – do you?”

“No – I have a friend who works at Planned Parenthood.  She gave me a bunch the other day.” This is Asheville after all. Free condoms are seemingly everywhere.

—-

(Apologies to my very-Catholic mother for this post.)

Rocky Road

I rushed through the front door with a carton of Rocky Road ice cream in my hand.  “I know you all don’t really like chocolate, but I wanted Rocky Road,” I told my hosts who were sitting in the living room.

They looked at me in dismay.  “Did we say we didn’t like chocolate? Are you telling us you got Rocky Road because you thought we wouldn’t eat any of it?”

“No – I’m saying my night was that good that I needed some Rocky Road ice cream.”

“Uh-oh,” they said.  “That bad, huh?”

“I’ll tell you about it over ice cream,” I said as I walked off to the kitchen.  I pulled three white bowls out of the cabinet, filled a cup with hot water and stuck the ice cream scoop in it.  I peeled open the carton and proceeded to drop not one but two successive scoops of ice cream on the floor.  Isn’t there some old wives tale that if you drop things you’re pregnant?  God help me.

I put the dishes on the dining room table and then returned to the kitchen to pull out the toppings: Heath Bar pieces, Grand Marnier, Kahlua.  Not until I moved in with my hosts had I ever seen anyone pull  out liquor as an ice cream topping. What can I say? It’s not something we offered our customers at my father’s Dairy Queen….

My hosts joined me at the dining room table.  If you peeked in the window that night, you would have seen a 35-year-old woman spilling the details of her latest adventure/drama to her 70-plus year old hosts.  You would have seen lots of laughing, perhaps a few tears, and a healthy dose of advice and wisdom being administered. You might have wondered: are those her grandparents?  Nope.  They’re not related.  In fact, I only met them seven months ago.  But that’s a whole other story.

After spilling the details of my evening, my hosts said – not for the first time – “You’re better than television.”

Every once in a while I talk about finding a place of my own. “You don’t have to leave yet,” they say.  “Besides, if you left, what we do for entertainment?”  And who would I eat Rocky Road ice cream with at 9:30 on a Tuesday night?

Smoking Hot

In the junior high cafeteria, I sat alone every lunch period.  I knew no one and no one seemed interested in getting to know me.  I had braces, no fashion sense, and a body that was all out of proportion.  I ate my lunch as fast as I could without making eye contact, then stuck my face in a book.  A few weeks later I learned we could go to the library during our lunch periods and after I ate, I’d get out of that cafeteria as fast as I could.  The next semester when the guidance counselor asked if I’d mind not having a lunch period so I could take the classes I had to take, I said that was no problem at all.  Inside, I jumped for joy.

Fast forward twenty three years.  As I walked up Merrimon Avenue yesterday, a man at a stop light leaned out his window and said, “Girl, you’re looking good today!”  I smiled.  “Thank you.” There was a time I didn’t appreciate men yelling anything to me in public.  Actually, if it was complimentary I assumed they must not be talking to me anyway.  It’s still not my preferred method of receiving compliments, but at least now I can appreciate some kind words – even if they are tossed out from a car window.  As I continued my walk, I smiled thinking back to those teenage years when I wouldn’t have dreamed anyone would ever tell me I looked good.

High school wasn’t much better than junior high – but at least I had people to sit with at lunch.  My fashion sense may have improved a little (thanks to secretly “borrowing” my little sister Liz’s clothes), but I still had braces all four years and a body I hated.

Now the braces are gone.  I’ve come to have a greater appreciation for this body I’ve been blessed with – it did, after all, get me through a 500 mile walk across Spain.  My fashion sense: well, I know what looks good on me.  That doesn’t stop me from showing up to holiday family gatherings, looking around, and thinking I should hire my three sisters to redo my wardrobe.

~~~~

I walked into a bar a few weeks ago to meet a friend.  He flooded me with compliments on my appearance and over the course of the conversation said some more wonderful things about me to some of the friends to whom he introduced me.  The next day, in a conversation with another friend, I said how this has happened quite a few times since I’ve moved here – men here seem to be pretty good at giving compliments.  (I am still learning how to be good at receiving them.)  “Is it Asheville?” I asked him, wondering if men were just more forthcoming with compliments here.  “Well, you are smoking hot,” he said.  He continued on, but I didn’t hear anything after that.  Smoking hot?  What? I know I’m not the timid, body-conscious kid I was in junior high.  But “smoking hot”?  Me?

I tell my students all the time to give themselves credit for the progress they’ve made before telling me all that they didn’t accomplish.  I often find myself giving the advice I most need to hear .

So today I’m going to give myself some credit.  After trying on seven different tops and four different pairs of jeans, I finally looked in the mirror and told myself I looked good.  But smoking hot?  I think that’s pushing it.

The Community Cup

I wandered over to the demonstration area just in time to see a woman slicing up a chocolate tart.  This being a Wine and Food Festival, I figured she was giving out slices.  Before I could ask for one, however, another woman slid in beside me and reached for a plate.  She was immediately, but gently (this is the South), chastised.  “We’re only serving this to the people sitting at the tables,” said the server, indicating the tables and chairs set up to face the demonstration kitchen.

Think fast, Rebecca!  Off I went to find myself an empty seat.  I turned on my smile and my best southern charm and secured a seat next to a lovely woman visiting from Virginia. A man came down the aisle to dish out the goods, looking for someone over our heads.  “You can leave it here if you’d like,” I told him.

He smiled and said, “I was looking for the couple I promised this to.”

“Well, if you can’t find them, just know that those plates can have a home right here.”  He took one more look around.  “I guess they left.” And with that, he plopped the plates of chocolate perfection on our table.

“Aren’t you glad I sat with you?” I asked my new Virginian friend.  She heartily agreed, digging her fork into the chocolate decadence.

I lucked into the chocolate in more ways that one.  I had come to check out the mixology contest, but apparently things were running a little late thus making my timing quite perfect for a little snack before what I hoped would be some yummy mixed drinks.

I’d only lived in Asheville one month – long enough for this wine girl to realize I’d moved to the unofficial brewing capital of the US.  I tried to fit in, but if you know me you know how well that usually goes.  So lately I’ve started telling people that though the local brews here are plentiful, I will stick to my wine.  And, of course, creative concoctions of sweetness and liquor.  Which is where this mixology contest comes in.  Well, that and the fact the guy who gave me a free entry to the Festival introduced me to one of the competitors the night before, but that’s another story.

So the first spirit up is gin – locally made, of course.  My seat didn’t allow me to see the details of shaking and stirring and such, but I had a good line of sight toward the judges table.  Each bartender presented his drinks to the judges then stepped up to the mic to tell everyone about them.  A full one-fifth of their score came from the eco-friendliness of the drinks.  Local ingredients? Check.  Garnish picked right from the bartenders garden? Check. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve used the phrase, “Well, we are in Asheville.”

By this time my tablemate from Virginia had headed back to her hotel.  I was now joined by another lovely couple.  The husband had managed to find one of the few places serving beer at this Wine festival, so he was happy.  The wife eyed a drink on the judges table with a few cucumbers floating in it.  “What are they going to do with those drinks?” she asked me.  “Do you think we’ll get any?”

As the judges table filled with drinks I, too, wondered where they would head after the judges got their tastes. If my calculations were correct (I’m a math tutor…so I’m thinking I’m right here) each judge would have to try five drinks with gin in them, then another five with – you guessed it – locally made moonshine, then another five with apple brandy, and another five with vodka.  Twenty drinks.  Per judge.  Obviously they’d be sipping.  But what to do with the rest?

One of the MC’s decided to bring the mic out to the crowd to ask their opinions on what they were seeing.  He approached my table and the wife right off addressed the issue of where the drinks were going next.  She said she’d love to try that cucumber drink.  “Where are you from?” he asked.  “Las Vegas,” she said.  The MC took a quick poll – no one in the audience could beat that distance.  So with that, she won herself her favorite drink.

At the judges table, drinks were piling up.  The coordinators looked around for places to put them all.  It was clear no one had really thought about what to do with all of them.

Then, in classic “only in Asheville” style, the drinks started making their way out to our tables.  Take a sip and pass it on of course – like communion, but so much more fun.  Take a sip and pass it on.  Seriously?  I loved the idea, but my first thought was, “This would never fly in New York – the Board of Health would be on this in no time.”  Thankfully, things are a little more lax here.

After a couple drinks made their way around my table, I turned around to pass them on to the next table.  The women behind me apparantly had not seen this coming.  “Here you go.” I said.

“Is this for us?” she asked.

“It’s for everyone – take a sip and pass it on.”

“Really?” She looked a little surprised, but in no time realized there was no reason to pass up drinks made by some of the best bartenders in town.  “It’s alcohol – it kills all the germs,” she said as she passed it on to the next table.

Over the course of the next two hours, sixty drinks made their way around our eight tables and out into the crowd gathered.    Some I sipped.  Some I held onto – like the one hand-delivered by the bartender I’d met the night before…and the warm apple brandy one.

Thankfully, I sipped slowly over the course of a few hours so had no ill effects that afternoon or the next day – neither from the volume of drinks that passed over my lips nor from the germs of the numerous people who sipped my drinks before me.