Monday, August 30, 2010

My Name

I get all sorts of reactions to my name. Mostly, people just want to know how I came to be named Michael. The questions have been strange to get used to, because growing up, I didn't actually use it.. When my grandparents learned that my mother named me, a girl, after my father, even though she was not expecting a boy, they decided they would not call me by my given name. Rather than use my middle name, they started calling me Misty. I have no idea where they got it, or who picked it. I probably should have asked my grandmother before she died. However it came to them, that is what I was called in all circumstances--excluding getting in trouble--for the first 14 years of my life. In fact, as a child, I hated when people learned my real name because it led to teasing.

Then I went to high school and, because I was terrified of the new situation in general but also specifically because I was in a new district and had no friends, unless a teacher asked if we'd like to be called something other than what appeared on their roster, I was too scared to speak up and asked to be called Misty. So in a few classes my freshman year (bio, PE, and French, where it was "Mee-shell" anyway), I went by Michael. Still, most people knew me as Misty.

At my community college, I largely didn't bother with the nickname, because so few instructors have an opportunity to address you by name anyway. If I met people, I still introduced myself as Misty, but there were a handful of classmates that called me Michael. On leaving for San Diego State University, I decided it was prudent to include the nickname on the documents submitted to the dorm, lest they accidentally place me in a room with a dude. As it was, when I got a letter indicating my roommate would be named Izzi, I wasn't assuaged of that concern (Izzi turned out to be a lovely girl). So my dorm-mates knew me as Misty, and that seemed fine, because that's how I was called by my family, by my boyfriend and his family, and by my oldest friends.

Then, during my first year at State, I met a woman in an interior design class who changed how I felt about my name. In an art class, names are actually relevant because of presentations and critiques, and I was using Michael. However, our first project was done in pairs and my partner, Monica, had been to my room in my dorm to work on the assignment, so she learned of my nickname and called me that. Our classmate, Joy, heard the nickname, and asked about it, explaining that she was "not comfortable" calling me Michael. This kind of irked me. Shouldn't it be about what I'm most comfortable with? Who is this near stranger to make choices about my name? I had never before had such a strong desire to go by my name, my real name, as I did after that conversation. I mentioned Joy's comment to Monica, and she seemed to agree with me, indicating she intended to call me Michael from then on.

The transition wasn't easy. As I mentioned, most of the people closest to me called me Misty, and to this day, my family, oldest friends, and former roommates still use the old nickname. However, I started introducing myself as Michael as much as possible. After breaking up with my ex, that dramatically reduced the number of people that use Misty. Now, most everyone calls me Michael. While my mother could hardly change her habits now, she did tell me she's glad I use Michael, since she chose the name.

Although I hated it as a child, I've grown quite fond of my name, although it sometimes feels like a bit of a burden because I get so many comments and questions. For my first two jobs, both as cashiers, I wore a name tag, which people inevitably assumed wasn't mine, even though my first name tag HAD MY PICTURE ON IT. People also frequently assumed name was pronounced Michelle, which is an honest mistake, and doesn't really bother me when people are reading it and not hearing it.

At my current job I talk to people on the phone and I developed the habit of saying, "Like the guys' name," because it seems to be the most concise thing to say. Those of us on the phone all have our little habits; for last names I know a "Glaze, like a donut," and a "Melrose, like the avenue," but because we only give our last names when asked, those don't come up as often. My spiel produces the occasional chuckle, but nearly always ends the discussion of my name and therefore saves time. This is because it confirms the listener heard me correctly while also confirming that I am not a man with an extremely feminine voice, which is none of their business but you'd be surprised at what people will say on the phone. On the occasions I skip the phrase, I've received such responses as this:

  • "Michael? Like, Michael? Like my son's name?" -Man on phone recently
  • *outright laughter* "You sound like a girl!" -airline representative in India (or where ever)
  • "Michael? You sound like a female." -some guy, more polite than the Indian guy but odd word choice
  • "Thanks for your help, Michelle." -innumerable clients (seriously, do you even listen?!)
And so, while I do like my name, I'm with Johnny Cash on this one, if I ever decide to procreate and produce a daughter, her name will be any damned thing but Michael!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego currently has an exhibit called Viva La Revolucion, which features  the work of various street artists including such legends as the mysterious Banksy and the popular Shepard Fairey. In addition to the gallery space in the museum, MCASD also commissioned certain artists to create pieces on buildings around town. Matt and I have seen the exhibit, and we have now seen all of the commissioned pieces.

Shepard Fairey piece in Hillcrest.

Os Gemeos piece at Horton Plaza.

One of the artists involved, known as Invader because he creates tiled pieces inspired by the video game Space Invaders, was not content to merely complete his commissioned piece. Instead, he truly "invaded" San Diego with over twenty pieces around town. This is rather unsurprising given the nature of street art. Because they weren't commissioned, they were hard to find, but thanks to the internet and some persistence, Matt and I managed to find fifteen intact invaders.

Invasion in Chicano Park

A commissioned piece.

It was actually a fun adventure to look for them. A good excuse for a walk around downtown, if nothing else. Here is a map Matt created showing all of the invaders we found in San Diego and the ones we couldn't find or that were damaged before we got there. If you live in San Diego, be sure to keep a lookout for Invaders while you're around town. Or, if you live somewhere else, see if your city has been invaded by checking out Invader's website.

View Invaders in San Diego in a larger map

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pennsylvania Part 3: Confluence

Matt and I spent Friday, August 6th through Monday, August 9th with 14 of his extended family members in Confluence, PA. A sign in the town bore the slogan, "Where mountains meet rivers." It's a quaint town situated on the Great Allegheny Passage, a bike trail connecting Cumberland, MD (which is connected to DC by the C & O Canal) with Pittsburgh. It's a beautiful area, although we did pass a beer distributor with a Confederate flag on the porch and a resident near where we stayed had a "He's not my president" sign. So, not a place I'd settle down in, but great for a weekend trip.

Our first stop on arriving in Confluence was Confluence Cyclery, where Matt and I rented a couple of hybrid bikes since we couldn't exactly bring ours from California. Then we headed to our accommodations at the Parker House, which Matt's mom had reserved in its entirety. There, I met Matt's cousins and their families, and Matt's aunt and her husband. It was a little overwhelming because there were several new people but everyone was very nice to me, which may seem like a trite thing to say but nice is really the right word here, and niceness is sometimes underrated. Also, the family had organized a birthday celebration for him (his birthday was a little more than a week prior) including two beautiful tarts made by his mom's husband, some poems, and a couple of photo albums. Even though the event was all about Matt, it illuminated the personalities of those involved for me.

The only thing better than their looks is their taste.

I am not an athlete but I did enjoy the bike rides we took. I rode over 20 miles (Matt rode about 50), which is probably not much for some people but it was a lot for me. The trail is a beautiful one, and reasonably easy as well. It's mostly shady glimpses and occasional good views of the surrounding rivers.

I didn't even need training wheels!

We also checked out two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the area: Kentuck Knob and the legendary Fallingwater. Maybe it's because we went to Kentuck Knob first, but I enjoyed it more than its more famous predecessor. While Fallingwater is bigger and perhaps prettier, the experience felt more corporate. Additionally, Kentuck Knob has a sculpture garden, and we had a really fantastic tour guide there (Matt's cousin concisely described her as perky without being annoying).

This makes Fallingwater appear
deceptively quiet.

Our whole Pennsylvania trip was really fabulous but our stay in Confluence pleasantly punctuated our vacation.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pennsylvania Part 2: Pittsburgh

Continuing our the chronicles of our trip to Pennsylvania, after leaving the Poconos, we arrived back in Pittsburgh late Tuesday afternoon, after one slight mishap in which I got confused about East and West because THE OCEAN IS TOTALLY ON THE WRONG SIDE OVER THERE.

Anyway, we drove straight to the house of his mom and her husband, where we had a small snack before heading to the Mattress Factory on the North Side. The Mattress Factory is a museum that focuses on installation pieces. Personally, I am not as into Modern or contemporary art as I am into more traditional paintings and sculptures. However, I do really enjoy installation art, because it usually involves some level of interaction on the part of the viewer. The Mattress Factory had a lot of okay pieces and a lot of neat pieces. My favorites were all part of the permanent collection: the works of Yayoi Kusama, Greer Lankton, and James Turrell.

On our way to the Mattress Factory we also discovered Randyland, a collection of unique and colorful buildings on the corner of Jacksonia and Arch. It was a strange sight, so after our visit to the Mattress Factory we walked over to inspect the oddity. Every surface is painted in a bright color, and decorated with odds and ends that seem to be scavenged from all manner of sources. Curious, I looked for information about this eclectic corner online and found a Post-Gazette article that lead me to a Today show segment (which I'm only really linking to because it has good views of the building and uses Explosions in the Sky for some of the background music). Both describe the Randy behind it all, so if you're interested follow one of the links.

We needed to drop off the rental car, and Matt's brother Mike was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and join us for a trip the ballpark. I'm told by the Ruben boys that PNC Park is arguably the prettiest ballpark in the country, and while I have only been to three in my adult life (I went to a Dodger game once as a kid but was so bored I blocked it out), I can see that it really is a beautiful park. I was treated to a rain delay, which is so rare in San Diego that it felt like a fitting event to welcome me to town, so to round out this authentic Pittsburgh experience Matt and I purchased a Primanti Brothers capicola sandwich and shared it, standing over a trash can, huddled under a covered walkway with the rest of the crowd. The crowd was small, but the size was welcome given that there's only so many places to get out of the rain. We sipped beers and enjoyed the drizzle. The Pirates defeated the Reds that night, but since it got a late start and we hadn't actually had a proper dinner, we didn't stay for the whole game. Mike took us to the nearby Six Penn, where we had drinks in the bar and shared a few appetizers. Mike dropped us off at their mom's place, where we were staying.

Something you don't see much in San Diego.

Wednesday called for sleeping in because we were, after all, on vacation. We took a lengthy walk via Beechwood from our hosts' home near Point Breeze to Matt's old stomping ground in Squirrel Hill. We ducked into the library, bought a smiley cookie from Eat N' Park, and I saw a fraction of Frick Park, where Matt's mom Sue and her husband Peter picked us up for lunch. We ordered sandwiches at Kubideh Kitchen, the first and current incarnation of the Conflict Kitchen, an art project/take-out restaurant that features one menu item at a time inspired by the cuisine of a country the US is in some way in conflict with. The item/country in question changes every four months. We had a completely delicioius Iranian wrap style sandwich served in an informative wrapper, but by next month the kitchen will be serving an item from Afganistan. The intention is provoke thought, but they also happen to serve an extremely tasty sandwich of beef, basil, mint and onion wrapped in flat-bread. It may have been the best thing we ate this trip.

After lunch Matt borrowed the car, and we went to the somewhat newly reincarnated Penn Brewing. The trouble with travel, is that so much of what I want to do in any given city involves consumption. I do not have a huge appetite, but by sharing a single Kubideh sandwich Matt and I managed to save room for a shared bowl of saurkraut soup and a potato pancake each. We washed them down with a couple of beers and enjoyed the atmosphere of the place, which was nice although quiet since it was a weekday afternoon.

We then went for a walk around Carnegie Mellon University, and checked out the Carnegie Library before a thunderstorm interrupted what would have been a longer walk. We stopped by East End Brewing for some free(!) tasters and to fill Matt's mom's growler for our then upcoming weekend trip to the country. The East End employee was very friendly, their beers were good, and thanks to their Illustration Ale, we learned about the Toonseum, which I'll describe in a few paragraphs.

Because Diners, Drive-ins and Dives has featured a number of Pittsburgh establishments, we would have been remiss not to check one out. For dinner Wednesday we ate at Big Jim's in the Run. It was fun, about what I expected: large portions of decent food served by a waitress that calls you "hun."

Meatball sandwich at Big Jim's.

Thursday was our big day. We walked all around downtown, beginning with a farmer's market with free food sponsored by Toyota. Then we got some hot dogs from Franktuary (a hot dog joint in the basement of a church) and ate them at the August Wilson Center, where they were having a line dancing event on the patio. We also checked out the exhibit there, and saw some very nice photos by Charles "Teenie" Harris. Across from the Wilson Center is the Toonseum, a modest but totally awesome museum/gallery focused on cartoons of every variety, from animation and comic strips to comic books and graphic novels. Their current exhibit featured dogs, including Snoopy, Scooby, and many others.

The August Wilson Center

Cool statues at the building next to the Toonseum.

Then we crossed one of the many bridges to the North Side, where we climbed into the lap of the Mr. Rogers statue (Fred Rogers was born in Latrobe, essentially Pittsburgh, and when my boyfriend was a kid they attended the same church!), and then had beers at Rivertowne, where they had a handful of San Diego beers on tap, and oddly enough, none of them were Stone. Then we walked back to town and just meandered about until we eventually met up with the family for dinner at Yo Rita on the South Side. It was strange eating tacos in Pittsburgh, and they weren't "authentic" tacos, but they were seriously tasty. The folks the run the place are creative and clearly consider the season in developing their menu. I had the watermelon habenero gazpacho and a summer squash taco, with a blood orange margarita to drink. Even though I was pretty full, we ended up borrowing the car again to make sure I got my ice cream fix from Dave & Andy's. Out of the ice cream in options in Pittsburgh, I picked Dave & Andy's because it seems to be an institution. The ice cream was good, not great, but it was ice cream so of course I liked it.

I will totally be your neighbor.

And that's it for Pittsburgh. Friday, we had a lazy morning before departing on the next leg of our journey: Confluence, PA.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pennsylvania Part 1: The Poconos

My boyfriend Matt spent his childhood and adolescence in Pittsburgh, and his entire immediate family still lives in the state of Pennsylvania. My only visit to Pittsburgh was an ill-fated Christmas trip in 2008, when a series of flight delays reduced my stay to 36 hours in a cold, cold, city. I've been looking forward to making another visit, and this summer I had my opportunity. I didn't just see Pittsburgh, I saw other parts of the Keystone State, which I will chronicle in three parts. Here is the first!

On Saturday July 31st, Matt and I flew via Dallas to Pittsburgh, arriving late that night. We picked up our rental car and headed to Matt's mom's in Squirrel Hill, where she and her husband were kind enough to put us up for the night and feed us breakfast before our early start Sunday morning.

We drove across much of the state to arrive in Buck Hill Falls, PA in time for a late lunch with Matt's dad and his wife at their home, which is also where we stayed. After lunch, we headed out for a brief hike to the falls that give the community its name.

Buck Hill Falls is a private resort community and while it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere it's also pretty lively. Our hosts live right on the golf course and just a short distance from the pool and tennis courts. The hike to falls was not a long one, and yet, in spite of all these hallmarks of civilization being so close at hand, at the falls I felt completely enveloped in nature. It's really nice that they live so close to such a great and isolated view.

We followed our hike with a dip in the pool, then cleaned ourselves up for dinner. Before dinner, we stopped by the Buck Hill Falls Library for the opening of an art show featuring a local artist. The city it is not, but I admire their ambition. Then we headed to Forks, a restaurant not to be confused with the town in Washington, where we had a very nice dinner, followed by dessert at our accommodations.

The next morning I was treated to a rare experience for a Southern Californian, berry picking. It's blueberry season and while a sign at Paupack Blueberry Farm suggested their next batch would be ready around August 9th, there were plenty of blueberries that were ripe for the picking. Matt, his dad, and I spent about 40 minutes gentling tugging the little blue beauts into our palms and then rewarded ourselves with some delicious blueberry ice cream.

The literal fruits of our labor.
They had baby goats!

To be honest, I don't even really like blueberries that much, but I really enjoyed picking them and the ice cream, and the pie that Mary-Kate (Matt's dad's wife) made later, were really tasty.

We followed our picking with a trip to just about the only tourist attractions (other than nature) in the area. Neighboring Buck Hill Falls is Mountainhome, home to Callie's Pretzel Factory and Callie's Candy Kitchen. They're novel, that's for sure, and they put out some decent pretzels and candy. At the former Matt and I shared a soft pretzel and I invested in some bagged hard pretzels (one bag jalapeƱo, one bag garlic). At the latter, nostalgia prompted me to purchase a bag of mint buttons, which my grandmother kept in a crystal candy dish when I was a child.

Pretzel sticks in progress.

After the candy shop, we met up with Mary-Kate for lunch at a local deli. I was pretty impressed with my grilled mozzarella and roasted red pepper sandwich. We followed lunch with another hike and a dip in the pool. Then we traveled to Tannersville for beers and a dinner's worth of appetizers at Barley Creek Brewing.

This took quite a bit of bravery for me.

All in all, we spent a really great couple of days in the Poconos and enjoyed our quality time with our hosts. But if I was going to see Steel City, we had to hit the road. After a breakfast of blueberry pie (don't judge me!) we began our five-ish hour journey back to Pittsburgh. Our time there will be the subject of my next entry!

Friday, August 6, 2010

I'm in Pennsylvania - A Preview

I've been in Pennsylvania since late Saturday night, and I won't be home until late Monday night. I expect I'll post about my adventures in the Keystone State, but for now, here's a funny song about Pennsylvania, set to the tune of Katy Perry's "California Gurls."