The Pawtucket Arts Festival Celebrates the Past, Present and Future of the City

With the mechanized spin of a mill 225 years ago, Pawtucket earned its place as a revolutionary landmark. This year, the Pawtucket Arts Festival — now in its 20th year — reminds us why the city along the Blackstone River remains integral to the state’s fabric, and how Pawtucket continues to evolve.

Unlike PVD Fest, which curates its programming to fit a weekend and a downtown footprint, the Pawtucket Arts Festival (PAF) runs the entire month of September, across multiple sites. More than 30 events include activities ranging from pop-up skate parks to art exhibits featuring the work of veterans to a major collaboration between Shea High School’s Fashion Club and TEN31’s Metamorphosis Dance Company.

“It’s very participatory in terms of how the festival is created, with so many partners,” says PAF director Jennifer Dalton Vincent. “Vital, interesting orgs like Mixed Magic Theater, Slater Mill or RHD RI (to name a few) plan events, hosted in their venues, that speak to their specific audience — and also bring in people who are new to their work, and to the Arts Festival. It’s very bottoms up in its creation. It’s a citywide collaborative effort.”

As part of an effort to usher the festival out of its teenage years and examine a content mix that’s both multigenerational and multicultural, Dalton Vincent hopes that a newly revamped, music-centric event will become a cornerstone of PAF in years to come. Downtown Rising, on Saturday, September 22, is meant to demonstrate a “decades by design” look back and look ahead at Pawtucket’s arts community, according to a news release.

So what’s this mean for festival-goers?

“Downtown Rising is a music festival happening downtown at East Ave and Main Street,” Dalton Vincent says. “It’s a combination of three stages: the folk River Bend Stage, Rocktucket, which is programmed by the News Cafe, and a third stage, programmed by Chachi Carvalho, the Culture Shock Block Party.” Organizers hope that the Culture Shock Block Party, in particular, will serve as both a city-wide family reunion and an excuse to “get to know your neighbor.” Performers on the Culture Block Party Stage include Cadillac Jack, Harmony Band and M.A.K.U. Soundsystem, among others.

In addition to programming the stage, Carvalho sits on the board of directors for the Arts Festival. Dalton Vincent notes that, as the festival seeks to become truly representative of “the people who call Pawtucket home,” this has included welcoming new members to the board in recent years.

“What makes the Pawutcket Arts Festival unique is that it’s a partnership with the city, the board and about 30 arts and culture organizations and educational outfits in the city of Pawtucket,” Dalton Vincent says. “The lion’s share of money that allows the festival to happen each year is contributed from within the community of Pawtucket. It’s such a civic gem held by them, fed by them, nourished by them, made possible by them.”

Many events are free or low-cost with a suggested donation. While activities are sprinkled throughout the week, the best way to make a day of PAF is to center your trip around three Saturdays: September 8, September 15 and September 22.

September 8

Your opportunity to check out PAF flagships: the Slater Park Fall Festival (running all weekend) and the Chinese Dragon Boat Races & Taiwan Day Festival (Saturday only; come for the races (motifri.com/dragon-boats-in-our-midst), stay for the dumpling contest). The Fall Fest also includes Collective PVD’s skate pop-up, silkscreening, music, vendors and the RI Philharmonic Pops in the Park. (The free Pops performance comes courtesy of PAF’s major sponsor, the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance.) End the night with post-Pops fireworks.

September 15

McCoy hosts their 2nd annual PawSox Food Truck and Craft Beer Festival. You can also check out the Jacqueline M. Walsh Performing & Visual Arts School’s Family Arts Day (probably better to go pre-beer festival). A poetry festival in honor of Pawtucket poet Galway Kinnell also runs through the weekend, with workshops ranging from a focus on hip-hop to haikus.

September 22

Spend the day at Downtown Rising. Beyond the three stages of talent, you’ll find BMX stunt bikes, a beer garden, kid-friendly activities and food trucks. Make time for LIVING: The Arts in Pawtucket. The performance uses dance, fashion, music to showcase the stories of local artists through live vignette performance and brings together Shea High’s Annual Fashion Show and the nationally-recognized minds at TEN31 (you’ve seen their living statues at WaterFire) and Metamorphosis Dance Company (motifri.com/PAFfashion). Find them by the Culture Shock Block Party stage.

For full event listings, visit pawtucketartsfestival.org.

Keeping it Free and Fun

When the days are longer — and we’ve all become desperate for the summer that seemed like it would never come — the temptation to pack your days with as much fun as possible can be costly. Sure, the zoo is free for PVD residents on first Saturdays, the RISD Museum is free on Sundays and third Thursdays, and your local library has options, but what about when you’re in the mood for more seasonal entertainment that won’t break the bank?

Beaches are the big obvious for RI summers. It might seem like fuzzy math, but we have 400 miles of coastline. Yet so many of us get locked into our beach-of-tradition (Narragansett! Misquamicut! Fight!) that it’s inevitable the average Rhode Islander is missing out on other beaches that could become a new favorite. Have you seen Block Island’s Mohegan Bluffs? Checked out the conservation area at Tiverton’s Fogland Beach? Bird watched and lit an evening fire at Goosewing Beach in Little Compton? Make it your goal to visit at least one new beach and be sure to do your research online for any free parking tips. (Like if you arrive to Goosewing Beach early enough, try to snag a spot in the P.T. Marvell Preserve. And while ozone alert days are definitely not a situation to be celebrated, remember RIPTA runs free.)

lebowskiwebMovies on the Block goes on a bit of a construction-imposed hiatus this year, but has found a temporary new home on Fountain Street. We love this series and their bold “eff it” programming (who else would publicly project The Shining or Lost Highway on the side of a downtown street?) and encourage you all to join them for their two limited screenings this year: The Big Lebowski on June 21 and Pulp Fiction on July 19. Bring your beach chairs to the parking lot next to The Strand at 78 Fountain Street. For straight-up family friendly movies, visit Rocky Point Park’s Movies in the Park series (facebook.com/movienightri).

Abandoning dimly lit bars for live music outdoors is one of the purest joys of summer. The Burnside Music Series at Kennedy Plaza begins Noon Tunes (live music during your lunch hour, every Wednesday) on June 6 with Czésare Santana’s Latin Folk fusion. The park’s official Music Series & Beer Garden is held Thursdays at 5:30 in July and August. On the coast, North Kingstown Town Beach offers a free music series on Tuesdays, beginning June 19. Rooftop at Providence G also offers music throughout the week, including rock on Thursdays and acoustic reggae on Sundays, giving you all the good summer vibes you need to ease into the work week. Also in Providence, you can generally count on music in Waterplace Park, especially on evenings where there’s another little-known event: WaterFire. Every time we think it’s too obvious to mention, we hear someone say, “Fire… Water? RiverFire?” And then we’re reminded to not take the spectacle for granted. For more than 20 years, bonfires burning bright have been one of the greatest free summer activities we have. Is your summer really complete without people watching on Memorial Boulevard, taking pictures with a human gargoyle and trying to find the right Insta-filter for your river shot?

When you’ve had your fill of sweaty humans and need to retreat into nature, RI is filled with opportunities to hike, stroll or take what’s perhaps best referred to as a “woods walk.” On the less woodsy and more opulent, sweeping views/cover-of-a-romance-novel side of the coin, Cliff Walk in Newport is a must. The walking trail is largely accessible and offers simultaneous vistas of both ocean and mansions. There’s a reason it’s recommended in any Rhode Island guide book. For trails more off the beaten path, visit and follow the Hiking in RI Facebook page (fb/hikinginrhodeisland), which is updated constantly and loaded with tips and trails. If you want to add a touch of darkness to the summer sun, check out the trails at DuVal Farm in South Kingstown, which includes a small cemetery. Plentiful blueberries and a scenic overlook that offers a peek of the ocean on a clear day keep the hike from going too goth.

Bankruptcy: Is This Going to Hurt?

This year, more than 730,000 businesses or individuals are expected to use bankruptcy to wipe out or reduce their debt, according to the US Trustees Program. But despite trends and numbers — and no matter how common bankruptcy may be — there’s no comfort in solidarity when a person is faced with mounting financial pressure. It’s a situation that can make you feel uniquely alone.

The Federal Reserve cited an overall household debt of more than $13 trillion by the end of 2017; the bulk a result of mortgages ($8.8 trillion), followed by student loans ($1.4), car loans ($1.2), and credit card debt (at a meager $1 trillion). For people and businesses who are unable to pay their debts in full, filing for bankruptcy and using it to wipe out incurred debt can seem like a second chance. Others worry about the repercussions to their credit and can’t quite decide if bankruptcy is a curse or a cureall.

John Longo, an attorney at Citadel Consumer Litigation in Providence, has 20 years of experience in bankruptcy procedures and says, in that time, he’s never seen bankruptcy remorse. “There’s a lot of fear about bankruptcy,” Longo says. “People think they’ll have to give up their house or car or they won’t have credit for 10 years. None of those things are true. People also fear their neighbors or jobs will find out. That’s not true either. There’s fear, but I’ve never had a client go through a bankruptcy and say, ‘I’m sorry I did that.’ In 99% of the cases, they’re surprised how painless it was. 100% have been relieved that they did it.”

If you’re going down, know when to pull the ripcord.

According to Longo, it’s better to declare bankruptcy while on an upswing — not when you’re in a financial spiral. Because while bankruptcy eliminates the debt you incurred before filing, it doesn’t

Photo: nationaldebtrelief.com
Photo: nationaldebtrelief.com

put any more money in your pocket or help meet living expenses moving forward. “I’ve seen people who don’t have health insurance who are about to go back to work and want to put it behind them,” Longo says. “But they don’t go back to work; they might get laid off. Then they’ve incurred a bunch more debt that they can’t work their way out of. You can only file every 8 years.”

Even if panic starts to set in, in the face of mounting calls from creditors, Longo reminds clients that they generally don’t have to file for bankruptcy immediately because “there’s nothing creditors can do to get money out of you, except garnish your wages or bank account. They can never take your unemployment, they can never take your social security. If that or TDI is your main source of income, you don’t have to worry about creditors garnishing money, because they can’t. They also can’t garnish wages for a year after you stop getting public assistance, which includes unemployment. So if you stopped collecting and got a job paying $100,000 a year, they still can’t garnish your wages. Until you’re confident that you’re on your way up financially, there’s generally no reason that you have to file.”

It’s not a rich people or corporate problem.

The headlines we hear about most often include examples like Toys ‘R’ Us and Donald Trump, but bankruptcy affects all on the economic spectrum. Longo is quick to identify the most common source of financial woe for the majority of Rhode Islanders: an event in their life that they didn’t have control over.

“It’s a divorce, an illness or long-term unemployment. What typically happens is they can’t adjust their spending quick enough,” Longo says. “One of those three things happen and they can’t stop their mortgage, credit card bills or kid’s tuition. They go into debt to try to maintain that standard of living and they can’t. The debts pile up and six months to a year, sometimes 2 or 3 years later, they come to me with over $80,000 worth of debt that they incurred. What’s really sad is when they come to me in a situation like that and they depleted their 401K. They have to go bankrupt and now they liquidated their retirement. They would’ve been better off not paying those bills and letting it pile up.”

If it seems like bankruptcy is a magic button used to escape legal responsibility, in practice that’s rarely the case. “In my 20 years of doing bankruptcies, I’ve only seen maybe two people who were trying to game the system and trying to run up their credit card, thinking, ‘Oh, I can go bankrupt!’” Longo says. “It’s always something that went on in their life that they couldn’t keep up with.”

Gin on the Rise

If we were playing Family Feud and the question was, “Name the phrases and feelings conjured by 100 people who were asked to free associate with the liquor gin,” we can guess at the top answers on the board. “And tonic.” “Tastes like liquid Christmas.” “With my mind on my money and my money on my mind.” It’s true that aside from rubbing elbows with Snoop, gin hasn’t always had a place of prominence with Americans in recent decades. When it comes to on-trend cocktails, we’ve focused a lot on (and perhaps exhausted) bourbons. But as we all become fatigued by whiskey, a door has been left open for gin — a semi-forgotten spirit that enjoyed booming popularity in 18th century England, the roaring ’20s and now in 2018.

If we’re staying focused on the UK for a moment (And why not? In 1720, Parliament had to pass five major legislative acts just to try to curb the gin craze sweeping the country.), gin is booming. According to The Guardian, last year the British set a new record for gin purchases after buying 47 million bottles in 2017. By the end of the year, national polls had it listed as the most popular spirit at 29%, with whiskey trailing at 25% favorability.

So are we seeing any evidence of a spike in gin consumption in Rhode Island?

According to Justin Hutchins, manager at Charlestown Wine and Spirits, gin sales have increased every year. “Part of this is because of the ginandtonicmany gin lovers on staff, leading to some stocked shelves of really unique and terrific gins,” he explains. “However, I think the biggest reason for increased interest lies in a general trend of people looking for more authentic products. Gin, in many respects, is the original flavored vodka.”

Gin is comparatively straightforward to produce, which is, perhaps, part of the reason small distilleries have been able to tackle the beverage as a target for reinvention. “People respond to the herbs and spices added to these spirits to make these fascinating gins,” Hutchins said. “Many of our favorites (at Charlestown) come from products grown or foraged in the area, giving it a sense of place. Gins are also great for making cocktails, adding their personality to a drink, unlike vodka, which is more neutral.”

It’s an obvious truth at several revered cocktail bars in the state. This past March, The Dorrance rolled out their “Greatest Hits” cocktail list, featuring the most popular drinks of the last six years. Both the Holy Spritz — a cocktail with Bar Hill Gin — and Briar Rose, featuring Damrak Gin, blackberry and Earl Grey tea syrup, lemon and Metaxa, made the cut.

Their placement on the menu proves that plenty aren’t dissuaded by the liquor’s distinct attributes and aroma.

“If you don’t like gin because you think it tastes like pine trees or other characters associated with juniper berry, there are plenty of other options out there,” says Hutchins. He recommends gins for those who may still hold doubts: “Especially in the United States, many producers create gins where the juniper is in the background, often with more fruit forward flavors dominating. The ‘New World’ gins are great for gin and tonics. Greenhook Ginsmiths is an example of one of our favorites, but Aviation is also a good example of the style. Once you try out these gins, try a basic but well made London dry style, like Boodles. In general, anything that lists itself as London Dry will be much more piney and dry in style.”

For the unacquainted, it may not be intuitive to consider gins in terms of which one is more “juniper forward” than another. If you’re unsure where to begin in your gin exploration and are ready to move beyond Beefeater and Seagram’s, you may feel a bit overwhelmed — there’s never been so many options, as Hutchins sees it. But he gives several his stamp of approval, some with New England roots.

“It’s hard to pick just one,” Hutchins says. “Barr Hill out of Vermont makes an incredible gin with honey. Gin Mare, from Spain, has a rosemary and olive presence, and a rich mouthfeel. It works great as a martini all by itself. The St. George gins might be my favorites… The Botanist is a great example of perhaps the perfect gin. We’ve also added some options closer to home. Greylock Gin is a classic, while Bully Boy is a fairly new entrant that is very tasty. Both are from Massachusetts.”

If we follow pace with the rapid growth of distilleries and the ginaissance happening in the UK, we’ll have more new entrants to sip from soon.

So You Want to Get a Tattoo

You have a great idea for a tattoo and you’re ready to showcase your love of pizza, your dog, tiger lillies, Nintendo, your wandering spirit or your mom; preferably not all in one tattoo. So how do you get this design out of your brain and onto your body — especially if you’re planning and preparing for a tattoo for the first time? What do you need to know to make this permanent experience stick in all the right ways?

Because of the sheer amount of information for tattoo first timers out there, we spoke with Greg Arpin, head tattoo artist, and Dave Asgarian, a designer and business manager, from Unicorn Ink in North Providence to get their take on what’s the must-know information for anyone looking to get work done.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Fallon Masterson (Motif): What’s your most common question?

Greg Arpin: People want to know if it hurts. We generally say it’s more of an uncomfortable feeling than pain.

Dave Asgarian: It’s like a cute cat kneading on you. It hurts, but it’s cute, so you aren’t going to push it away.

FM: What do you wish people knew up front?

Tattoo by Greg Arpin
Tattoo by Greg Arpin

DA: Artists don’t like to hear about white ink. When you put white ink into someone, it doesn’t look like white paint. It doesn’t stay white. White as highlights, as part of a design, is different. But just white will look like a scar.

GA: Also, finger tattoos. Your hands and feet shed. Constantly. They’ll fade.

FM: When planning a design, what should people keep in mind?

DA: Sizing. A lot of people love to get super small tattoos the first time. Especially small, feminine tattoos, with lots of detail. Over time, it never looks as good because our body is made of 70% water and the lines bleed together a little bit so when the details are so tight, it can look like a blob. A tiny mandala might look great when you walk out, but you need to consider how it will look over time.

GA: We do show people pictures of what it might look like in the future. We want them to know all the aspects of what the tattoo might become. We also know we can usually accommodate what people want by simplifying the design.

FM: What sort of behavior should people keep in mind while they’re getting work done?

GA: Our clients can bring a friend if they want, so they feel more comfortable in the room. But that can be negative if they’re laughing and moving. That gets tricky. If they keep moving, it won’t come out as precise. So my biggest no-no is moving. Also, no alcohol and no drugs.

DA: Some people get tattoos high as a kite and they’ll admit, later, that it actually hurt more than if they hadn’t. If you drink a lot the night before, your blood is thinner. There’s more bleeding. If you’re doing color, it’s not going to come out how you want.

GA: You should be hydrated. Drink lots of water. I can tell immediately if someone is dehydrated by the way the ink goes in the skin. You should drink water heavily a few days prior to your tattoo. It really helps out. If you’re dehydrated, your skin shrinks. The ink doesn’t go in nice and smooth. If you’re hydrated, your skin is swollen and the ink fills in smoothly. There’s less trauma to the skin. The past two years — a lot of people are not drinking water! Also, I tell people to try to eat before they come, if they’re first timers.

FM: Would you recommend a numbing cream for the first time?

GA: We have used them. They can help out, but you need to put it on an hour or two before you come. It won’t last the whole time, but it’s a temporary relief that can get you through the early stages. There is a risk it could hurt more when it wears off and the nerves are waking up, and some artists might not like it and think it affects the skin or makes the ink more difficult to get in, but it’s not too bad.

FM: What should people know about aftercare?

DA: It’s the most important part of how your tattoo will look, but, if it’s your first time, it is trial and error because everyone is different.

GA: As a shop, we like to use Aquaphor. It seems the most natural.

DA: There’s also such a thing as putting on too much ointment. We recommend for a medium size tattoo, you put a half a Skittle amount of Aquaphor on it and you spread it as much as you can throughout the tattoo. If it’s shiny, it’s too much still. It should be a very matte finish. Don’t overdo it with the ointments. If anything, underdo it. We have an artist here who doesn’t do any aftercare. He just airs it out and cleans it, once in the morning.

FM: What should you consider when you’re choosing a shop?

GA: Number one is cleanliness of the shop and if they use disposable products, like needles. Those things are important. We also have individual rooms that we built here. A majority of people prefer that versus an open floor plan.

DA: If you’re taking your shirt or pants off to get a tattoo, and you’re just in your underwear, it’s nice to have the privacy. We hate to say don’t do walk-ins — because we get a lot of business from it — but check out the shop first.

FM: What about when choosing an artist?

DA: Looking at the portfolio is so important. You’d think it’s the first thing people would do, but they don’t. They’ll come in and care about the price more than anything. I think that needs to be taken a little more seriously. There’s an epidemic of bad tattoos. So many people need cover ups right now because they didn’t make the right decision the first time. You need to talk to your artist, get a consultation before hand. Don’t be too spontaneous. People are constantly coming in with tattoos they got from other places or a friend in a basement. What they get to cover it up isn’t what they originally wanted — but it’s the only thing that will work. There’s a lot of regrets because people aren’t spending the time to consider if the artist is what they want. People need to take that more seriously.

GA: Look at the artist individually. Look at someone who’s doing portrait tattoos. They’re not going to want to do wording.

DA: If you have an artist who likes to do portraits and big pieces, and he’s worked so many years on his craft to get to that point, it sounds rude to say, but it can almost be insulting to say, “I like your work… Will you put this word here?” It’s cool that they want to go to him because they like his work, but…

GA: We don’t want to sound selfish, but it’s weird.

DA: “You do fantastic portraits! Can you do a finger ring?”

GA: It all comes back to one thing: do your research.

Why Wing It? Hire a Pro!

We’ve all had at least one well-meaning friend who fancies themselves a Cupid. Sometimes these meddling matchmakers operate through generalities (“You both watch ‘Game of Thrones’! It’s a sign from the cosmos!”). Other times, your romantic ambassador may truly have a preternatural eye for chemistry. Then there’s the valuable friend who is simply brave and outgoing: your go-to wingman, ready to talk you up to interesting strangers. There’s never been a gender lock on this sort of behavior. Men wing for friends, female and male alike. So do women.

Whether it’s because we’re living in a post-pickup artist world, no longer whole-swallowing the methods of men in silly hats as the ultimate seduction techniques, or because we’re becoming more woke to the ways women can feel pressured when dating, there does seem to be a general trend. We’re hearing less about the Hitches of the world — and enterprising women have turned the demand for the female perspective into actual businesses.

If you don’t trust your female friend to do the job, you can hire a professional wingwoman. They exist. Some, like New York’s Erin Davis, profiled both in the New York Post and Narratively, call themselves by other terms — Davis uses “strategic introducer and ice breaker” on her website, although she doesn’t eschew the term wingwoman. Davis charges $100 an hour. Then there’s the Boston-based company, Hire a WingWoman. Formed in 2010, prices for hiring a woman to wing for you in bars and lounges around town run at $96/hour, with a two-hour minimum. It’s an uptick from 2014, when the service charged $72/hour, according to a write-up in Marie Claire.

Others do it for the love of the game. Brittany Hunt of Warwick runs Top Wingwoman. Calling it more of a side hustle — and on a temporary hiatus (expecting moms generally avoid the late

Brittany Hunt
Brittany Hunt

night singles scene) — Hunt has been winging for friends formally and informally for 10 years.

“If you can make a joke, that’s the best way to approach someone,” Hunt says. “I don’t mean a corny pick-up line, but if you can make a joke, that’s the best way to set people at ease with introductions.”

Once a friend identifies a person they’re interested in meeting, Hunt finds a “non-aggressive” way to approach by assessing the environment. “You have to observe what they’re doing,” she explains. “If there’s a game on and they’re watching the game, you can get a sense of what they’re interested in.”

If some of Hunt’s tactics, like making eye contact, seem obvious, consider the dating culture. Tinder boasts that they set up 1.5 million dates per week. It doesn’t feel like much of a stretch to wonder if the amount of time we spend staring at our screens and swiping hasn’t caused erosion to the IRL fundamental motor skills.

Yet, consider what happened just this month when technology tried to step on wingwoman turf. Alexa, through a partnership with Match.com, recently added a new skill offering people advice, designed to boost their confidence before dating. The skill answered questions like, “What if I want more than one drink?” with answers like, “Allow yourself two cocktails if they’re cute. Have six if they’re not.” Unsurprisingly, the app was pulled from Alexa’s skills after less than one week. (Likely inspired by Alexa’s answer to “What is consent?” – “LOL!” – and the subsequent public reaction.)

While friends and professionals do the job better than disembodied robots, a wingwoman or wingman can only take you so far. Tyler Loiselle, also of Warwick, has served as a wingman both paid by clients and unpaid for friends. He and Hunt were approached to be the wingman and wingwoman for a dating app, although a final deal was never reached.

Loiselle describes a night at BLU, winging for his friend, (we’ll call him “Connor”). “A group of four beautiful, like, out of everyone’s league women were there. I was with a group and we worked our way in because all the guys who were approaching them were solo. But we had a group that matched theirs in numbers. There was a girl Connor liked, and I spoke with her for 10 or 15 minutes. Eventually I got into more specifics about Connor, his situation, he’s a good guy, someone you always want to have in your phone. You need to let people know that the dude you’re winging for is a good friend first.

“By the end of the night, he’d been dancing with her for a long time,” Loiselle says. “They paired off. There was this opportune moment for him to get her number and he just flat out didn’t ask. Never fucking made the move and I’m still upset about it to this day. The situation and scenario were perfect for Connor. There was no competition, and he still didn’t follow it through. If you’re playing tee-ball, the wingman’s the tee. You still gotta hit the ball.”

NELA’s Milestone Winter Fetish Fair Fleamarket

The weekend of February 16 – 18, the Winter Fetish Fair Fleamarket is holding its 50th event at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick. For the New England Leather Alliance (NELA), it’s a milestone. For the 3,000-plus attendees who travel to shop from vendors and take part in workshops ranging from “Not Tonight, Dear – Chastity Play” to “Interrogation and Military Scenes,” it’s a chance to let their hair down. (Or get their hair pulled.)

“The whole point of doing this is for people to have an opportunity to go into a safe space with absolutely no judgment,” says Vivienne Kramer. Kramer has been involved with the Flea and NELA since the mid ’90s. Along the way, she served as treasurer and chair of NELA and director of the Flea, before relocating to California in 2012.

“In the 25 years of running the event, NELA created a place where everybody is truly welcome,” says Kramer. “You have people running the gamut in age from 18 to 88. You see people from every walk of life. The most straight looking, preppy, Dockers-wearing, looks like your cousin from Kennebunkport to crossdressers to guys who dress up like sissy maids. Just every possible representative, from every walk of life. Everybody is kind, polite, nice and so happy to be in the space.”

The Flea has expanded in size through the years and certainly in scope since Kramer’s first Flea, where she worked the door in 1995. Admission was between $2 and $5 per ticket, she recalls, with roughly 30 vendors and 500 attendees. “We had a huge range of toys, books and paraphernalia covering a huge spectrum of the kink community, which covers so many broad and — specific — interests,” she says of that first event. “I was hooked.”

Today, tickets are priced at $20 per day, though there are additional fees associated with some of the Flea’s events. The event is one of the longest running events in the BDSM community, and the price point marks it as among the most affordable.

The philosophy behind NELA’s pricepoint is that, when they aren’t busy planning hypnosis lounges in hotel ballrooms (one of the Flea’s all-day scenario events for Sunday), they’re first and foremost an education and advocacy organization for the kink and fetish community. By capping ticket prices at $20, they limit the chances that anyone in need of their programming is locked out.

We may be living in a post 50 Shades world (“50 Shades of Stupid,” Kramer twice quips), but a high profile awareness that neckties are multipurpose hasn’t translated to a general awareness, acceptance or understanding of all sexual preferences. Just last year the Flea made unexpected news locally when, in its 24th year, a Warwick citizen who preferred to identify herself to news outlets only as “just a regular mom” e-mailed press expressing her concern that hosting the event would turn Warwick into the “Las Vegas of the Northeast.”

The baffling and temporary outrage was swiftly disputed by advocates online, and the Flea ran smoothly the weekend it was held. Despite any preconceptions about Fleagoers, Kramer insists they’re model guests — particularly when compared to other groups who may take over a hotel. “Kinksters tip really well,” she says. “They clean up after themselves. They treat everybody with the utmost respect because, of course, they want to be treated with such.”

Part of NELA’s education and advocacy work can, accordingly, include liaising with police departments and local district attorneys who may have questions about the “legality, morality and ethical sides of the kink community,” Kramer says. “There’s still a lot of really archaic laws in the books.”

She references a past Flea, held in a metrowest suburb of Boston. “The town line literally went down the middle of the hotel we were in,” she says. “At a Flea we have fashion shows, art exhibitions, erotic art, something for every possible interest. In this hotel, the room with the art show happened to be down the middle — one side in each municipality. And one municipality didn’t allow nudity. Half the pieces in the room had to have tape over the private parts and the other half did not.”

In the interest of trying to cater to all interests, programming for the 50th Flea reflects the desires of attendees. There’s expanded programming for all levels. “The majority of attendees are kind of ‘new’ to things and just putting their toes out and exploring,” Kramer says. “But there are plenty of people who have been actively involved in sexual expression for a long time. They want something more advanced than ‘Introduction to Sensation Play.’”

Multiple events through the weekend also address the issue of consent. Kramer cites a correlation between the decision to delve into the topic and what’s happening with the #MeToo movement. “In general, this community is very big on consent,” she says. “It’s the be-all / end-all of everything to BDSM. This year, there’s even more attention than ever paid to having consent and what happens if consent is violated. What are your options and how does the community support you if consent has been violated by a fellow member? That’s on the top of everyone’s list.”

You don’t have to identify as part of the active kink community to go to the Fetish Fair. Chances are, if you’re Flea-curious, there’s at least one vendor or workshop or meet-up designed for whatever your particular proclivity may be. And if you don’t know what that proclivity is, that’s okay, too.

“It doesn’t matter if you never do anything kinky, ever, in your life,” Kramer says. “When I say ‘kinky,’ I mean, put a blindfold on yourself or a partner. Use a silk scarf and tie someone’s arm to a bed. Anything you might’ve fantasized about. It doesn’t matter if you ever do it. This is a place where, for $20, you can go in, spend a day looking, and thinking, ‘How does this fit into my life and my sexuality?’”

For tickets and event listings, visit fetishflea.com.

Resolve to Meet Your Neighbors

I’ve always been obsessed with my neighbors. It’s not entirely in a Rear Window way — although I love that movie, and The Burbs is my most-watched-movie of all time. I grew up in the north end of Providence in one of “those” neighborhoods where you piled bikes on the neighbors’ lawns, your mom yelled from the front steps for you to come home, there was the requisite spooky house where a witch hypothetically (NOT HYPOTHETICALLY) lived, and you always wondered how many bodies were buried in Mr. Altieri’s basement next door. It was idyllic.

We stayed in that neighborhood until I was 19 and our relationships with our neighbors were deep. It wasn’t until I spent the next 10 years living at a total of 12 different addresses that I realized what happens when you don’t know your neighbors.

A non-exhaustive list of formal and informal crimes committed against me by neighbors.

My neighbors have:

  1. Interrupted a barbecue by walking into the backyard with a rifle, taking a knee, putting on a pair of goggles, yelling, “Fire in the hole!” and shooting my tree.
  2. Crashed into my stationary car, twice, while it was parked in the driveway.
  3. Plugged a karaoke machine into the side of the house and sang Journey songs like they were performing to my living room windows — just for me.
  4. Hijacked a yard sale by silently selling items of their own in a far corner of my yard.
  5. Dropped (threw?) an air conditioner out of a window onto our patio furniture moments after my husband stepped inside.
  6. Set the house on fire.

Today, I couldn’t tell you any of their names, save for Rick, who couldn’t install his AC to code. Their identities are marred, like the name of a hurricane you track for a week and later remember only for its consequence.

In no small way, my decision to buy a house was motivated by a desire to get out of my renters hellscape. People thought it was counterintuitive. I had terrible luck with neighbors. Why would I want to financially commit thousands? What if I was legally bound next door to another arsonist/karaoke enthusiast?

Still, I found a home I was excited about in the Elmhurst section of Providence. A family I knew who lived a block over told me it was a great neighborhood: “We even have our own Facebook page.”

To someone who used to draw topographic maps of their neighborhood as a kid, the idea of a ZIP code-exclusive Facebook group was tantalizing, to say the least. But it had been so long since I’d experienced anything close to loving thy neighbor that I worried “neighbors” was the sort of relationship you aged out of.

The day we closed on the house, my husband and I arrived, armed with a bottle of wine and plastic disposable glasses. A group of four or five adults stood in front of the house next door. Their heads whipped around as we pulled in the driveway.

“Oh no!” I said. “Pull up so they don’t see us! We’ll run in the backdoor!” Every bad neighbor began to flash before my eyes as I stepped out of the car. Would they try to sell us illegal sunglasses? Ask us to move a marble table? Try to coerce me into insurance fraud? Spill a plate of baked beans in June and leave it to fester until July on the patio, oh god —

“Hi there,” a man said. We turned around. Standing at the edge of the driveway were two neighbors, holding a six pack. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

They took us around and introduced us, one by one, to all our new neighbors. And then I went inside, drew a map of careful square homes, and wrote down everyone’s name.

A non-exhaustive list of ways knowing your neighbors can make your life easier and more fulfilling.

When you take the time to know your neighbor, they do things like:

  1. Use their communal snowblower to dig out your sidewalk and pathway.
  2. Invite you to the block party.
  3. Feed your pets when you leave town.
  4. Say, “Hey! Who are you?” if they see someone on your property when you aren’t home.
  5. Give you excess flowers from their garden. (Possibly selfishly motivated so they don’t have to look at your dried up weeds.)

I did end up joining the Facebook page. (See if your neighborhood has one, especially if you have a question about a city ordinance, need a local recommendation or enjoy watching people fight over grainy security footage and whether or not a post “REALLY BELONGS HERE!?”)

I asked Jim Rizzo, one of two administrators for the Elmhurst Citizens’ Group page, what drives him to stay involved and, from his perspective, why it’s important to know your neighbors. Jim remarked on the conveniences, like being able to borrow sugar and having someone next door with a key when you lock yourself out. But beyond the pleasantries Jim noted, there’s a community incentive — which also benefits you.

“It’s good to know the general views of the neighborhood when it comes to political issues that can affect the neighborhood,” Jim said. “All of that helps create a strong neighborhood and helps create pride in your space. I feel that when you know your neighbors, you’re less likely to be a nuisance, in part for fear of upsetting people you know personally, but mostly because it makes the area more like home. You’re also more likely to lend a hand in making the neighborhood a great place to live, whether it be simple things like picking up litter around your property, cleaning up leaves or lending a hand with shoveling snow, or larger things like joining in neighborhood and park cleanups beautification projects.”

Get to know your neighbor. I challenge you. It doesn’t matter if you own or if you rent. Make it your home. Make it your resolution. Be proud, and — maybe — your downstairs neighbor won’t steal your cell phone after they set a grease fire on the stove. Happy New Year!

The Gift of Experience

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones that can’t be wrapped. Whether that means signing your reluctant friend up for singing lessons (they have to go when it’s a gift) or buying a family a membership to the zoo, gifts that come in a flat envelope don’t have to be boring. From experiences that will make you want to pull out your phone and brag, to experiences that are all about forgetting your phone exists, check out the following ideas for standout presents.

Go Float! We All Float Down Here.

Flotation therapy has been making its American resurgence and Float, which opened this year in Warwick, brings the decades-long practice into Rhode Island. Flotation tanks — originally known as “sensory deprivation tanks” — were invented in 1954 by a neuroscientist who was researching the effects of lack of physical stimuli on the human consciousness. Today, they’re used at spas and wellness centers to achieve states of relaxation deeper than sleep. At the cost of $50 for a first-time floater, visitors to Float put in earplugs and enter a pod filled with body-temperature, concentrated salt water. Once inside, the visitor lays back and floats in total darkness. With a new year upon us, a gift certificate for the sensation of zero gravity could be the perfect way to reset and come back to earth.

Recommended For: Your family member who desperately needs the gift of doing nothing or the friend who wants to take a “trip” into the deepest recesses of their submerged self.

Chart Your Own Crawl.

Giving a gift card can feel impersonal, but planning an evening — and drawing a map — around a series of small gift cards to different bars and restaurants is a great way to turn ye ol’ restaurant gift certificate into meaningful time together. Rank your favorite cocktails with stops at the East End, the Rosendale and Durk’s. Wrap a roll of quarters with ribbons (standard rolls are in $10 increments and some bars have the games set on free play) and plan a night of old school gaming at Shelter, Black Sheep, Biergarten and Free Play. Be brave and choose your favorite doughnut, once and for all, with marathon visits to Knead, PVDonuts and Allie’s.

Recommended For: The person you wish you had more time with.

Turn Your Weeds into Edibles.

For the foodie who likes the convenience of services like Hello Fresh, West Greenwich’s Conscious Cuisine offers cooking and foraging classes that use hyper local products — and show you the convenience of cooking with what’s around you rather than what’s delivered by box. Classes offered in the winter make a multi-course meal using sea vegetables; milder weather classes use wild plants and begin with a short “weed walk” where founder Brett Mayette covers the basics of plant identification. If you aren’t sure what a dinner of sea vegetables entails, courses include dishes like miso soup with kombu, alaria (wakame) and arame, soaked and cooked in a combination of carrots, collard greens, and scallions and served over winter squash. (“The sweetness balances the sea vegetable flavor,” Mayette explains.) Prices range from $45 – $50 per person or $80 – $90 per couple. You can schedule a time with Mayette through consciouscuisineri.com, a website that astutely observes, “Most people won’t eat a dandelion root unless it’s washed, chopped and cooked in front of their eyes.”

Recommended For: Adventurous eaters and the loved one who would appreciate a gift with a truly minimal eco footprint.

Spend a Night in Goatopia.

Tucked in Tiverton, the barnyard goes boho at the Goat Cottage. The whimsically decorated vacation home is a renovated dance studio with large windows equipped to fight seasonal blues and a wall of artwork left by former guests. (And art supplies for you to leave a piece of your own.) But really, we’re burying the lede here because the true attraction of the Goat Cottage are the four-legged tenants who live outside the eclectic home and give the rental its name. Spend a weekend feeding goats and take part in The Goat Trail Show, facilitated by Barbara Donahue, the cottage owner. Set to music, guests can follow goats along 10 different stages of a trail, eventually leading to a view of the Sakonnet River. Book your stay through Homeaway.com and race to Barbara’s Instagram (@derecktor) to see clips from the goat ballet she produced this summer. “The goats are waiting to meet you,” says the Goat Cottage and we are so sold.

Recommended For: Animal lovers, nature lovers, artists and anyone who would be tantalized by the promise of a musical “goat show.”

Check an Item Off Their Bucket List.

Skydiving consistently ranks as a top 10 most-coveted experience on people’s wishlists. Sometimes you just need a little nudge to actually hurl yourself off the plane. Boston Skydive Center operates out of North Central Airport in Lincoln and offers packages for solo divers and groups in the range of $210 – $225 per jumper. If you, as gift giver, would prefer to keep your feet on the ground, you can still join in by bringing a grill or food (Boston Skydive encourages a post-jump hang sesh) and watching your friend descend from the picnic tables adjacent the landing area.

Recommended For: Thrill-seekers and the special someone in your life who is ready to leap into a cloudy future.

RI Comic Con 2017: Seriously Stacked

When it comes to taglines, “the biggest show in the smallest state” is beginning to seem a bit humble for Rhode Island Comic Con. Because when it comes to the size of RI Comic Con — which began with 16,000 attendees in 2012 and reached 81,000 guests in 2016 — the con’s popularity has more than crossed state lines. Should the show’s reach still be quantified by our smallest state’s measly 1,200 feet of square footage?

“Rhode Island has never had an event like this before,” says Susan Soares, publicist for RICC. “So word spread quickly throughout the state, but it’s gone beyond that now. We have people traveling from all across the world to come to our show. It’s not the norm of your normal comic book convention. We’re in the class of a New York Comic Con, at this point.”

This year’s show, which runs from November 10 – 12, is the convention’s largest endeavor to-date. In past years, the show has extended beyond the convention center to include the Dunkin Donuts Center. (The show famously left ticketed attendees stranded outside in 2014, when the convention became the first event in the city’s history to cause the convention center to reach maximum capacity.) This year, the show will expand into the Omni Hotel and also into an 18,000 square foot tent behind the Dunkin Donuts Center.

The expansion is a good thing. Because this year, the convention is hosting more than 130 celebrities, artists and featured cosplayers.ComicCon-WalkingDead

Undoubtedly, much of the growth of the con can be attributed to the quality of the celebs. Even a cursory scan of the 130+ shows a range of fandoms from “Star Trek” to Star Wars to “The Walking Dead” to “Stranger Things” and Lord of the Rings. So what’s the best way to prioritize your weekend? How do you pace yourself for the Revenge of the Nerds-themed afterparty Saturday night? We’re not here to choose sides (we’ll leave the debates to the con-goers), but these are a few of our picks for noteworthy events.

First off, Avengers will be there.

Three Avengers, to be exact: Hulk, the Winter Soldier and Vision. “This is the first year we’re actually bringing Avengers to the show,” Soares says. “We have Mark Ruffalo, Sebastian Stan and Mark Bettany. That’s huge for any one show to have all three of them. I can’t even tell you the level of excitement that I personally feel.” While Marvel has done a good job at retaining talent through multiple contract renewals, we feel like we can say with a degree of certainty that actors like Mark Ruffalo, especially, won’t be wearing the tights — or ripped purple shorts — forever. Meet him while you can.

Watch Shatner join the Next Generation.

The largest ticketed item of the weekend, at a whopping, double-take inducing $699.99, is the Star Trek Celebrity Pack. With the exception of a few wayward crewmates (Geordi had to cancel), RICC has rounded up nearly the entire cast of “Star Trek: Next Generation.” Your hundreds of dollars will get you not only a photo-op with six members of the Next Gen Starfleet, but also with William Shatner, who will be joining the group for photos and as moderator of a Star Trek panel. Be aware: If you want to skip the photo, you will still need to buy tickets for the panel, separate from your admission, but in the more reasonable price range of $15 – $40. We’d be shocked if plenty of trekkies aren’t coming to the con for this specific opportunity alone.

Puzzle over the My Little Pony Phenomenon.

There’s a prominent role played by My Little Pony on the “Artists’ Alley” page of RICC’s website, with a section devoted solely to artists working on the property — an honor neither Marvel nor the Distinguished Competition have been afforded. To the uninitiated, this phenomenon may seem inexplicable: Is My Little Pony really that popular? Is this property aimed at adults or children? Those who remember the original ’80s incarnation may scratch their heads, but MLP is still riding the waves of a resurgence that began six years ago when a subculture formed around its show “Friendship Is Magic.” We’re not here to explain it to you, but we invite you to Google the word “brony” and catch Saturday’s 3pm panel tracking the ponies’ place in pop culture.

Come for the cult icons.

Part of the success of RICC’s programming has been in identifying guests with crossover appeal and a cult following. The sort of personalities that don’t make their way into the public for signings too often and where a Rhode Island appearance seems like a rare astrological event that you’ll tell your grandkids about. Paul Reubens, aka Pee Wee Herman, is one of these guests. He’ll be hosting a panel at 1pm on Saturday.

There’s also going to be a Rocky IV reunion. Sure, Carl Weathers and Dolph Lundgren have both done the convention circuit in past years, but this year, RI Comic Con is selling a photo package that lets you flex next to Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago themselves. It’s really hard to rank Rocky movies (except for Rocky V, that’s always last), but Rocky IV has to sit in the top percentile of any fan’s list, right? Dress like Uncle Sam and blow up your social media by sharing your story of the time you told Drago, “I MUST BREAK YOU,” and he stared at you, witheringly.

Hey! This is also a comic convention!

It may seem shocking, but you could come to Comic Con for the actual comics. (And subsequently, watch your money vanish as you lose track of space and time in the vendors room.) If your taste is more off the beaten path, the opportunity to meet artist all-stars like Sam Kieth (The Maxx) and Sean Gordon Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus, American Vampire) might be more up your alley. For our money, artist Rob Guillory’s work on the Eisner award-winning Image series Chew makes him a can’t-miss guest.

Of course, RI Comic Con isn’t short on living legends either. Former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter will be in attendance, so come prepared with your questions about Dazzler and the 1981 Superman/Spider-Man intercompany crossover. From the other side of the aisle, the primarily DC-focused writer, artist, editor and early champion of creator’s rights Neal Adams will also be signing. Responsible for the ‘70s revitalization of Batman and his rogues gallery — turning him from a light-hearted do-gooder with an affinity for gadgets to a brooding avenger of injustice — you can feel free to thank him for Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (or not). For those looking for lighter on the capes and cowls, beloved and prolific cartoonist Sergio Aragonés (Mad Magazine, Groo the Wanderer) will be making an appearance, signing and rocking his exquisitely manicured trademark ‘stache.

Check ricomiccon.com for the latest information on celebrity appearances and scheduling. Because when we have to footnote that Bronn from Game of Thrones is hosting his own panel and that Frodo, Sam and Gollum will all also be appearing — you know it’s a seriously stacked show.