Saturday, July 31, 2021

Harry Potter and the Craft-Beer Family Reunion

 You guys, I got to enjoy a pretty amazing night out this week.

Turns out I like enjoying stuff.

Well, we finally had a meet-up this week, and just in time, as it looks like the Delta variant and the large numbers of vaccine-resistant morons may be tag-teaming to put us all back in isolation. Never has a single virus so accurately identified the lowest common denominator of an entire society. Well done, SARS-CoV-2. If only you hadn't taken so many good and wise people while you were at it.

No, it's right in front of us.

I've missed my family soooo much. Other than my Precocious Daughter, I hadn't seen any of my relatives in person since before the pandemic roared to life in early 2020. I spent over a year having to encounter potentially infectious total strangers in grocery stores and at work - OK, my co-workers technically aren't strangers, but I don't know what any of these people do outside the office, and for all I know they bathe in Covid juice every day - but out of an abundance of caution I declined to expose my loved ones to any of my secondary contacts.

But I digress.

A group of six of us (seven, if you count my niece's very good doggo who is in training to be a service dog) grabbed a bite to eat and then went to a local craft beer place. Not my usual scene at all, but it had the advantage of having a huge outdoor seating area. It was quite crowded - even in non-pandemic times, I would have been twitchy at the sheer number of people jammed together, because people, ugh. Fortunately, we grabbed a table in the farthest backest corner of the place. The nearest people were eight feet away, and the majority of the crowd was considerably farther than that beyond an empty grassy area. Other than the bit where we had to weave through the sea of humanity to get to that table, I felt quite comfortable in our remote spot.

I didn't have anything to drink, because beer is not my thing. I did have a sip of what the others were having, and let me tell you - creamsicle-flavored beer is not a thing that should exist, in my opinion. Sometimes, when I wonder if I have a drinking problem, I remember the episode of "Family Ties" in which a young Tom Hanks portrays an alcoholic by chugging a bottle of vanilla extract to satisfy his craving for sweet, sweet, booze, and now I can honestly say that if I were crawling across the desert sands dying of thirst while simultaneously in the throes of the DTs, I would pass on creamsicle-flavored beer, so no I don't think I have a drinking problem, thank you very much.

This run-on sentence is brought to you by all kinds of 
questionable choices.

Anyway, we all sat and talked and had a great time being together. We also very much enjoyed the fact that we happened to be there on "Harry Potter Trivia Night." We actually had walked over to this particular watering hole because we'd heard they were doing trivia, and we thought that it might be fun to wander over and maybe participate in a few rounds, even though none of us are exactly Potterheads.

Uh, no.

This was serious business. This was a highly organized, team-based tournament of very competitive nerds. In fact, we learned that the Harry Potter trivia was the sole reason for the large crowd, and on a typical Thursday night there would have been only a small fraction of the people in attendance. So instead of being casual participants, we got to be spectators at a vastly entertaining spectacle.

This was not "What was the name of Harry's owl?"-level trivia. Oh, no. I am not kidding when I say that one of the questions required one to know that in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry's personal prophecy orb was located in exactly the 97th row of shelves in the Hall of Prophecy. I could have gone happily to my grave not knowing that bit of information, and I'll probably forget it long before I do, but there were people here who knew it and were deadly serious about knowing it.

On a good day I can name upwards of three Weasleys.

Now, such a dedicated bunch of half-drunk wizarding fanatics deserves an exceptional master of ceremonies. And the lady running the trivia tournament was that and more. Imagine Roz from Monsters, Inc., only spouting Harry Potter trivia and berating teams for their choice of names ("'Snapes on a Plane' is not nearly as clever as you think it is!'"). The best part is that she seemed to truly consider her role a sacred responsibility and was not having an enjoyable time at all. At one point I realized I probably sound a lot like her when I'm trying to run a lunch meeting at work. It was glorious.

At the end of the night (early, because most of us had to go to work in the morning) we all promised to get together again in August. I hope it happens. PDaughter starts her senior year of college in August, and my nephew starts a new job, and we might all be wearing masks and washing our groceries again by then anyway. But I'm hopeful, because I really love my family.

Maybe next time there will be a few more Muggles at the bar.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Let It Slide

 I was going to rant about how I'm currently in Twitter jail. For a whole week. I could have appealed it, because it's completely bogus and I've discovered that Twitter frequently suspends people for completely bogus reasons.

Not Margie Four-toes, however. 
She should be suspended frequently - preferably from a flagpole
by  her freakish feet..

But honestly, it's nice to have a break from the Twittersphere. Most of the time I have to restrain myself from saying totally inappropriate things over there, so a few days of not even having the option is good for me. (Again, what got me booted was not inappropriate, unless you have a problem with the phrase "choke on a bag of d*cks.")

Still, I was going to go on a tear here about the humorous injustice of it all, poor me, etc. 

But then I saw this blog post from my friend-I've-never-met ChrisW. And I decided to share a much gentler story instead. 

If clicking on links to support other people's writing isn't your thing (which it should be *stares meaningfully*), Chris' post is about playgrounds. That's all. Just a short history and a couple of anecdotes about kids' playgrounds. His writing is always charming, and today's words were no exception. 

I love playgrounds - the kind with swings and slides and jungle gyms. My elementary school in Milwaukee had a playground that consisted of a large expanse of blacktop. It had a painted-on baseball diamond with a chain-link backstop in one corner, a small basketball court (with a hoop that perpetually lacked a net) in another, and various other painted-on features like four-squares and hopscotches and a hundred-yard running track. The only real playground equipment was behind the school, actually a couple of hundred feet off school property. And yes, we kids were allowed to traipse over there, unsupervised, to play on the swings et. al. during lunch. Such were the 70s.

And of course, it had one of these wonderful nightmares.

When Precocious Daughter was small, one of my greatest joys was taking her to the park near our house, which had an amazing playground. Multiple slides, huge climbing structures, those spring-mounted animals that you ride/bounce on, swings for days. All much better built and safer than the sharp metal death traps of my childhood. And there I was, a woman in my 30s, with carte blanche to play on all of it in the name of being a good mom. I was in heaven. 

Most parents indulge their kids with trips to the playground. After several years those roles definitely reversed. I'm sure PDaughter eventually recognized that she was being used as an excuse for me to climb on the jungle gym a couple of times a week. As always, she indulged me.

Not gonna lie, I miss the playground. I'm sure I'm not the only adult, whose children are grown but haven't yet produced children of their own, who wishes they had a reason - an excuse - to frequent the local playground without looking like a creep. In fact, I'm positive. And here's how I know.

There's a park about a block from where I currently live. It's just a small square of grass and trees, formed by the haphazard intersection of streets in a residential neighborhood. It's got a tennis court (that doubles as a basketball half-court by virtue of having a hoop erected at one end), a couple of benches, a picnic table or two, a swingset, and a small play structure to climb on.

Because this part of the neighborhood is built on a slope, the eastern edge of the park sits at the bottom of a small hill. The town thoughtfully built a stairway into the hill that descends from the street on that side to the playground below. It's not more than a dozen or so steps, but it saves (grown-up) people from having to either walk around or stutter-step down the slope.

But that's not all there is. Because someone - some city planner with a sense of humor or a big heart, or probably both - also built a slide into the side of the hill, smack-dab in the center of the concrete steps.

It's just a broad, flat piece of shiny metal set flush into the earth. If you're walking by, it might take you a moment to realize that it's meant to be an alternative approach to taking the stairs, if you're so inclined. Then you see that yes, you can park your butt on the top of the hill, give yourself a little scootch, and slide your way down to the playground.

The local park. The top of the slide is in the center 
of the picture.

I've lived a short walk from this park for almost six years. Needless to say, I've never used those stairs. 

Why walk when you can slide?

Thanks to the anonymous architect of that slide, who realized that adults might want to play - to look silly but not creepy. And to ChrisW, who gave me something to write about other than faux internet-based outrage.

Faith in humanity restored. For today.