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Squid’s Ink: Sleight of handouts: a primer

The waters around Providence are particularly murky this month as the city government pushes to pass a $500 million “Pension Obligation Bond” in order to “Save Providence”  while simultaneously handing out tax deals to the Superman Building, Fane Tower, and a bunch of downtown residential buildings.

While crawling along the sludge at the top of the Bay, we overheard this conversation between Citizen Crab and one of our Over-Educated Squid Friends…

Like a Penguin in Bondage

OES: Bonds, in case you don’t know, are a form of deferred taxation. Instead of raising taxes to fund a particular project, we pretend it’s free, and then pay extra in interest to maintain the fiction. Politicians love bonds, because they don’t have to tell voters, “I’m going to raise your taxes.” And voters? Well, we just don’t pay attention to the real costs. 

CC: Hmm. That doesn’t sound like a bad deal. How many of these bonds does the city have? 

OES: The 2021 budget “Debt Service” reports almost 50! 

CC: Is that a lot?

OES: Well, we paid just over $20 million in interest in 2021 and just under $40 million in principal. It seems like a lot to me, but I’m just a squid.

CC: Understanding numbers isn’t hard, but eyes glaze over when you start to explain…

OES: A $500 million dollar bond will cost $500 million plus more than $500 million in interest (over 30 years). Oh, and the House Finance Committee just ignored one of the Treasurer’s recommendations that the bond should be limited to $150 million issues at a time…

CC: Wait? A BILLION DOLLARS? Where does the other $500 million go?

OES: To Wall Street Investors. 

CC: But I heard that the Pension Obligation Bond was going to be self-funding!

OES: This is what is called “Magical Thinking.” The theory is that the city borrows the money at 5% interest, but invests the money and gets a 7% return. That 2% should cover the cost of the loan.

CC: So, that’s good, right?

OES: It relies on two things: 1) Wall Street paying 7% or more and 2) None of the money actually gets used to pay pensions.

CC: Huh?

OES: That’s right. The Bond is meant to cover the pensions, but we really can’t use it if we want to pay it off without taxation. The only way to get the investment return is to keep the money “in the bank.” And if we spend it on pensions, then we won’t get the interest.

CC: But we’ll still owe the money? What happens if we go bankrupt?

OES: That’s the kicker. Pension Obligation Bonds are bankruptcy-exempt. In other words, Providence can go bankrupt and would still owe the money. Isn’t late-stage capitalism great? And it is. As long as you’re a Wall Street investor.

CC: Why don’t we just raise taxes? 

OES: Remember, no politician will get elected saying, “I’m going to raise your taxes.” Also, here are laws that prohibit Providence from raising property taxes more than 4%.

Real Estate Rules

CC: Then why are we giving deals to major real estate players?

OES: Exactly! Major landowners, many of whom give maximum campaign contributions, argue that construction= jobs and real estate growth = tax base growth, but then they claw back as many tax breaks as possible. And then they complain that the public schools suck.

  • UpriseRI revealed that one of our favorite downtown moguls, Buff Chase will be saving $30 million in taxes over the next 30 years through a Tax Stabilization Agreement. That’s $1 million dollars a year into his pocket. 
  • According to the Providence Journal, The Superman Building will get $26 million from the state and another $15 million from the city to help it make a profit… er, be less empty.
  • Fane Tower, though still stalled, is in line for $25 million in state tax credits and a $54 million city tax treaty 

The insanity of this behavior is mind-numbing. On the one hand, Providence says that it doesn’t have enough money to cover the Cianci-era pension giveaways. On the other, it’s going to allow profit-making developers to dodge their obligations to the city.

CC: Wait, how should I vote on #1?

OES: Good thing I’m a squid. I’m going to eat a crustacean and then crawl under a rock. 

CC: Hey! Get away from me!




June Holidays, Ranked: A sardonic take on the big days of June

Hello again, dear readers. I did not anticipate doing another one of these — but our May holidays article got some rave reviews (okay, a single rave review), and I’m a sucker for the validation. Seriously, if you tell me I’m special I’ll probably do whatever you want. Anyway, here’s some spicy takes on the holidays of June. 

5. Gaspee Day – June 10

In last place this month, I’ve put RI’s Gaspee Day. I know what you’re thinking: *gasp!* I thought Bradly liked Rhode Island! How can he diss Gaspee Day? 

As a guy who is pretty well-acquainted with RI history, I connect Gaspee Day with this false narrative that the American Revolution was a unanimous idea that everyone was fighting against “taxation without representation.” In reality, most people were poor, and probably weren’t affected all too much by tax rates if they weren’t shipping magnates. John Brown, however, WAS a shipping magnate (and a prolific trader of enslaved people) and was deeply affected by tax rates, which is why he went on to be one of the leaders of the Gaspee Raid. 

It’s basically like if Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk were like, “Let’s burn down the IRS because our taxes are too high!” and everyone else was like “yea sounds good!” and we celebrate those guys now. Plus, isn’t it a little macabre to roll a burning ship effigy down the street? People were hurt. Especially British Lt. Dudingston, who was shot in the groin. Tough break, Lt. 

Despite my gripes with the holiday, Warwick does put on a nice event. Read more about that at gaspee.com

4. Flag Day – June 14

In fourth place this month is Flag Day. This commemorates June 14, 1777, when we approved the design for our first flag. 

Um, okay? What kind of nothing holiday is this? It’s not even the same flag as it was back then. To be absolutely clear, we are not celebrating the country, just the flag. And people don’t even do anything with it. Maybe if it was a custom that everyone had to wear a toga made of an American flag that day, I’d have a little more patience for Flag Day. But no. No one likes to have fun. 

The reason that this even made the list at all is that it’s also my little brother’s birthday. Happy birthday, Travis!

3. Father’s Day – June 19, 2022

Ah, Dad’s Day. Something about this day makes me want to put on a short-sleeve button-down, cargo shorts and flip flops with socks, and ask my friends if they’re ready to rock ‘n roll when we are leaving a restaurant. It makes me want to insist that I’m just resting my eyes, say “hi hungry, I’m dad,” get to the airport seven hours early and get excited about walking into the hardware store (cue the Home Depot theme music). 

To my dad, who lives in NJ: thanks for sticking with me, for being patient as my tears hit the long division worksheet in the fourth grade, for calling and being interested even though our lives are very different. You’re the best dad there is. And no one can tell me differently, because print magazines are a one-way form of communication, and while someone might be shouting “no, my dad is better” at a non-sentient piece of paper right now, I can’t hear them. 

2. Pride Day – June 28

For anyone bummed about how corporate Pride Month has gotten — a rainbow version of a company logo is probably the most performative thing you can do these days — it made me feel better to reread the origins of Pride Day, which was the actual day the Stonewall riots started in New York in 1969. It was this police raid of a gay bar in Greenwich Village and the resulting pushback that helped launch the modern gay rights movement. 

I’ve always been incredibly interested in how, despite some internal contention from within the LGBTQIA+ community, contemporary Pride celebrations are jubilant and inclusive celebrations, while other modern rights movements have taken a more confrontational tack. This is especially notable considering Pride’s origins in throwing bricks at oppressive police officers. I wonder when that switch took place — if anyone wants to teach me more about this, I’d be interested to hear. 

Read more about RI Pride Festivities here

1. Juneteenth – June 19

If you were chillin’ in Galveston, TX on June 19 in 1865, you were probably privy to one of the most impactful moments in America’s history: General Gordon Granger rolling up on his horse to tell everyone that now, all enslaved people are free. The Civil War was over, General Lee signed his name at Appomattox, and the Emancipation Proclamation was the law of the land. Boom. (Just in case anyone needs me to say it one more time, the Confederacy lost. Just sayin’.)

Beyond the badassery of this, this holiday takes the number one spot in June because I like how (1) the holiday is observed when the impact of the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, not just when it was announced. That’s good attention to detail. And (2), there’s a super awesome block party happening in PVD that I can’t wait to go to! Entertainment, games, and food and drinks at Kin PVD, downtown’s coolest restaurant for southern and soul food. Learn more at kinpvd.com.




On the Ball and Off the Wall: Swimming with Dolphins

This column is for non-sports fans who would like some enlightenment and hopefully humor without being sports fanatics.

Race to the Top

One doesn’t believe that former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores is scheming and calculating enough to bring his racism suit against the National Football League for ignoring racial equality in hiring head coaches and general managers during Black History Month, but he sure rang the right bell at the right time.

Flores’ suit is justified and drew attention to what has been an ongoing farce cum tragedy in how NFL teams have been stymying any real move toward diversity, with the league offices doing their best Three Monkeys impersonation as the problem persists.

As Motif goes to press, Flores was just hired as a senior assistant coach by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Flores’ previous interviews with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos were simply window dressing, along the lines of “Some of my best friends are Black.” But here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

The fact that he was hired by the Steelers is poetic justice, if not precision.

The so-called “Rooney Rule” at the basis of Flores’ legal complaint demands that NFL teams must legitimately interview at least a pair of minority candidates for top-level management jobs. It was instituted by Steelers owner Dan Rooney and has since had that torch carried by generations of his family. In this case, as they always had, they put their money where their mouth was in taking on the now-controversial Flores.

But years ago they had done the same thing in hiring a little-known coach in his thirties named Mike Tomlin, a dead-ringer for actor Omar Epps, who has since won a Super Bowl and never had a losing season with the black and gold.

(Quick aside here: I always had affection for the Steelers while growing up, those hard-ass teams of Bobby Layne and John Henry Johnson, because post-1960, my beloved Philadelphia Eagles sucked almost as much as they did. And this love affair grew more recently when at Christmas, my girlfriend and I would spend the holiday with her family where she grew up in Steel City. This almost got me killed, because when I went to work out at the local gym, I had fortunately borrowed her nephew’s local color exercise clothes, having left my N.E. Patriots logo workout stuff at home, and when I got to the fitness center everyone − and I mean everyone − had on the black and gold, rather than the red, white and blue of their arch-rivals, the Pats. Saved me from getting the shit kicked out of me in the locker room by guys who could have bench-pressed my car.)

But back to the current contretemps. The NFL is a Billionaire Boys Club of aging, good ol’ white team owners, however narcissistically inept (take a bow, Jerry Jones), with Commissioner Roger Goodell their reliable lap dog. One might say that they act like plantation owners in a league whose players are 70 percent black, but one guesses such harsh judgment would be wrong. Well, fuck ‘em, because except for the Rooneys and the minority of the rich boys who run the league, that is spot on.

This is all very sad, because at the competitors’ level, sports is and always has been the racial equalizer. No matter black, white, Hispanic, Filipino, Slavic, etc., these are the guys who fight with and for you, and you’re most likely showering with them as a group almost every day, which getting naked can do to really cut through any biases you may have. And nobody is about to call someone on the other team an n-word when that Black guy in the locker next to you has just saved your ass and gotten you a win because of his dedication to the whole squad.

The NFL, a monster business enterprise with no scruples, needs to be brought to ground and reality by lawsuits such as that of Brian Flores. The NFL response will doubtless continue to be as truthless and obfuscating as a Pentagon press briefing, but hang tough and push on. 

Sooner or later the sun will shine on these deceptions and let punks like Roger Goodell and the NFL owners shrivel in the heat, like the Wicked Witch melting in water in “The Wizard of Oz.” And none too late. 

Thanks, Brian, Mike and the Rooneys.




Squid’s Ink: Our Funny Valentines

St. Valentine was beaten to death and decapitated on February 14, so it’s no surprise that our hackers found some interesting gifts when we hacked the Hallmark Delivery Database…

  • Despite hiring her replacement, Governor Dan McKee sent former RI Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott a “Baby Come Back” strip-o-gram! The order specified that a “non-gender-specific terpsichorean” wear a K-95 mask while crooning:
    All day long, wearing a mask of false bravado (false bravado)
    Tryna keep up a smile that hides a tear (hides a tear)
    But as the sun goes down, I get that empty feeling again
    How I wish to God that you were here
  • The Rhode Island Squid Shuckers Association sent Dan McKee a jar of marinara and a jar of hot peppers to encourage the “Calamari Comeback.”
  • Former President Donald Trump and the Right Wing Wackjob… er Republican Party sent soon-to-be-former Representative Jim Langevin a dozen red roses as a thank you for declaring his un-candidacy. 
  • Now that he’s running for Congress, Seth Magaziner sent bouquets of forget-me-nots to the remaining Democratic candidates for governor. These were  accompanied by an audio message from Nelson of The Simpsons saying, “Ha ha!”
  • Nellie Gorbea replied by sending Seth a box of Sweenor’s chocolates with bites taken out of each.
  • The Rhode Island Auto Body Industry thanked Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio and House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi for overriding the veto of legislation opposed by auto insurers by sending wreaths of roses in the shape of a dented fender with the note, “Thanks for bumping up our profits!”
  • The COVID-19 Virus sent Antivaxxers little candy valentine hearts with the words, “Be Mine”

Baby Come Back lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, BMG Rights Management, Bluewater Music Corp., Crowleyhouse Music




Alt-Parenting: The Elf Must Die

elfDecember 26, 2013: I wake up in a cold sweat. My heart is racing. Panic sets in. It’s the Elf … I forgot to move him again! Then I remember that Christmas is over, and the Elf is safely hiding in my lingerie drawer next to my vibrator (a place that has sadly remained otherwise untouched for years). I breathe a sigh of relief and try to go back to sleep.

This scenario is all too familiar. Most people I speak to readily admit that the Elf on the Shelf is a major source of stress and annoyance in their already hectic holiday lives. I know there are a scant few of you who pride yourselves on discovering adorable antics in which your Elf can engage so you can delight your children and impress your Facebook friends with photos of your creativity. Maybe you even peruse the various Elf on the Shelf Pinterest Boards to gather fresh ideas. Perhaps you’re even frightening enough to be the person creating those Elf on the Shelf Pinterest boards. Good for you. The rest of us, however, must revolt.

Like many, I received the Elf on the Shelf as a gift a few Christmases ago. At first I bought the concept, hook, line and sinker, as I gleefully introduced our Elf to my then 4-year-old son. He named him Sharper (Why? We’ll never know.), and he’s become a Christmas staple. Four years later, I despise that motherfucker and am desperately trying to figure out a way he can meet an untimely death without traumatizing my children too badly.

Admittedly, the first time the Elf makes his annual appearance it’s fun to watch the kids’ reaction. It’s also convenient to have him play watchdog and report all bad behavior to Santa. I quickly run out of fresh ideas, however, as there are generally only a handful of cute, fun hiding places in our house. This brings me, at most, to December 7, giving me 18 loooong evenings to, before falling into bed, find NEW creelfative hiding places — a process I’ve come to dread and resent.

If I forget, the kids are crestfallen. Why didn’t he move? They actually believe he’s real. I thought my older son was fairly intelligent, but his unwavering belief — even at the age of 8 — that this tiny stuffed doll moves at night and reports back to Santa simply mystifies me.

As December 1 approaches, I’m starting to get anxious about the Elf. It’s not because I’m a Scrooge-type; I actually love Christmas and can’t wait to put up the tree, shop like a hoarder, and bake 10 dozen cookies that will never be eaten. It’s what I do every year and I wouldn’t change a thing. That frigging Elf on the other hand …

So here’s what I propose: If we can agree to a national, or even statewide recall of the Elf, my dream would be realized. I know this is lofty, so how about a compromise — an agreed upon understanding that on December 10 the Elf must begin his long journey back to the North Pole and help Santa load the sleigh. That sounds realistic enough. It balances the Elf fun with some sanity for parents.

If you agree, please put a teal-painted Christmas tree at your front door, signaling that the Elf will not be seen at your house after December 10. Together we can make Christmas fun and relaxing again. Ok, that’s never going to happen, but at least we won’t have 25 long days of stressing over that creepy little stuffed doll. Who’s with me?




DareMe: Becoming a Sparkling Beatnik — There Will Be A Show

beatnikHi Katie,

Writing to see if you’d be interested in “infiltrating” the Empire Revue for the November “Behind the Scenes” show. We’d have you attend a couple of rehearsals, and put you in a sketch, plus the closing song. We thought, if it’s cool with you and Motif, that this could be your dare for the month.

What do you think?

Cheers

Keith Munslow

– sent Oct 7, 6:42pm, aka, my birthday

My heart stopped. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Empire Revue, it is a variety show that takes place on the first Sunday of every month. It is a mixture of sketch comedy and guest acts — usually musicians or comedians. The reason I nearly had a heart attack after reading that message was because in two and a half years I’ve yet to miss a show and being asked to be a part of it made me jumping-up-and-down happy as well as sick to my stomach. Most of my dares revolve around getting reactions from strangers; this was going to be a dare for my mind because it was gonna force me to overcome some intense fears. I do a lot of crazy things. You may even call me fearless. However, I’m saddled with severe social anxiety. I have so much trouble with my anxiety that if I get too nervous I evict my stomach contents. The thought of acting with these amazing people I’ve watched for three years made me nervous. The thought of singing in front of any of them made me want to lie down in the fetal position and cry. I almost did not take the dare due to nerves; however, it’s basically my job to make myself as uncomfortable as possible for your entertainment, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I didn’t take it I’d be kicking myself  for the rest of my life.

Challenge accepted!! 

Katie Lewis

– sent Oct 7, 6:46pm

The Empire Revue revolves around a core acting group named the Sparkling Beatniks. This group consists of Eric Fulford, Kate Teichman, Casey Reagan, Tom Rajt, Alan Souza,Kelly Seigh, Melissa Bowler, Nicky Mariani and Sam Bell. Then the house band playing between sets is one of my personal favorites, Superchief Trio, which consists of Pam Murray, Joe Potenza, Johnny Cote and the man behind the piano running the show, Mr. Keith Munslow.

Heading to my first rehearsal I arrived at AS220 at 6:30pm on the dot. My knees clacking together with anxiety while I stepped into the performance space, stage manager Nicky Mariani, probably seeing nervousness painted across my face, scooped me up and introduced me to all the beatniks. Shaking hands and introducing myself was such a strange feeling. These are people who I’ve seen act for years and they had no idea who I was other than that girl who wore bathing suits, Halloween costumes and even duct tape to their show. That starstruck feeling settled in as the beatniks conversed pre-rehearsal. Kate Teichman came over and asked, “How ya’ doing?” Words started spilling out of my mouth as if I was dying to tell someone, but also trying to convince myself I was fine.

“Good. Good. Nervous. But good. It’s just that I come to the show all the time and I’m really nervous to be in the show with you guys and I’m just nervous,” I said. Kate smiled and playfully rolled her eyes. ”We’re just a bunch of goofs here. Don’t worry. Leave the anxiety at the door.”

Just then, director and master of ceremonies Keith Munslow walked in. As he began setting up his Nord keyboard, the beatniks scrambled to set up tables and chairs for the group. As everyone came to sit around the table, I found a comfortable spot between Nicky and Kate. Keith explained my purpose to the group, and then they got right to work. Nicky took notes on what skits needed to be written and what needed work. Everyone split up into groups — approximately three per group — to work on writing. I had writing of my own to do. I wandered from group to group observing and taking notes. I was particularly excited to watch as Keith, Nicky and Tom pieced together lyrics creating the closing song, which has always been my favorite part of the revue. As the Beatniks finished their group work, they began to gather around the piano to help sing and write. I sat there in amazement thinking, “Are they speaking a secret music language?” It’s baffling, The wheels turn so fast in the minds of these creative individuals.

The song was finished and we did a full sing-through. I recorded it on my phone so I could listen and learn it for next week. I had a feeling that my memorization skills were not as developed as those in my company. Next on the list was to watch the Beatniks perform their pieces. Keith as director got the first crack at suggestions, then the rest of the Beatniks gave their two cents. They work so perfectly together; they are receptive and grateful for input and pat each other on the back whenever something comes out perfect. Before I knew it, my first rehearsal had come to an end.

As I packed up my notebook, the tone of the room slightly saddened, and the Beatniks’ faces washed over with concern. I realized they were talking about the Empire Revue’s very own star Melissa Bowler who had taken ill. The Beatniks chatted about how she was doing and who had paid her a visit. I felt oddly out of place in a room where such a personal topic was being discussed; however, it took all my energy not to tear up. Although I knew very little about Melissa, other than she was amazing in every form of entertainment she ever tried, I realized that we shared a similar problem. In that moment I was able to relate to what she was probably feeling. Through the years my health has been bad and even though my family has been there for me, I have felt very alone at times. Seeing the love written on the Beatniks’ faces, I could tell that they would do anything for Melissa. That warmed my heart  when I realized that the Sparkling Beatniks are so much more than an acting troupe — they are family.

A couple of days later, I noticed my hair was really long, but I couldn’t afford a haircut. So I did what any mature 22-year-old girl would do. I complained about it on Facebook. I got a lot more replies than expected, one of which was from Melissa Bowler offering to cut my hair on stage at the Revue! Should I trust her with my hair? Well, I never was one to turn down a possibly fun/awkward moment. And bam! My haircut was written into the show.

A week later I attended my second rehearsal. I walked through the doors slightly more confident, having taken the first leap already. All the Beatniks came back with their skits transformed, knowing exactly what their adoring crowd wanted for comedy and how to deliver. A couple skits still needed revising, so the Beatniks split into groups. Once again, I wandered between the groups wondering how they put on this amazing show with only four rehearsals. I was particularly intrigued by a sketch that Kate Tichman and Casey Reagan were working on that spoofed a romance novel. Funny and sexy seemed hard to pull off at the same time, but these two masterminds pulled it off beautifully.

Now was the moment I was dreading. It was time to be put up on stage and placed into a skit. I’ve done some acting in the past, but this was a whole different ballgame. What I never knew about the Empire Revue is that a lot of their writing is improvised. Why wouldn’t it be? The Beatniks are master improv performers. But thinking on my toes? Not my strongest suit. So there I am, sitting on stage, dead silent as Eric Fulford attempted to improvise with me. The poor guy just kept talking and talking, waiting for me to interject, which I never did. I just kept staring and nodding at whatever he said. Keith eventually cut in, realizing I needed clear instruction. I ended up in two scenes — one with Kate and Tom as a waitress in a cafe and then one with Eric as his patient. I now knew what to say and when I was on. The worst was over.

Before I knew it, rehearsal was over. I could have stayed forever watching and learning.

Sunday had arrived, the day of the show. It was 10:30am I was ready for morning rehearsal with all my costume gear in tow. We did a full run-through of all the skits and I was pumped. Stuart Wilson came in to help with choreography for the closing song. He gave me a ride home after rehearsal and I explained to him how nervous I was, and asked if he thought it was a good idea to let Melissa cut my hair. Stuart told me everyone is nervous their first time in the Revue,which I guess is true because every Beatnik I confided in shared a similar experience. Stuart talked about his experience with the show and told me how much he enjoyed being a part of the Revue whether with costume design, choreography or acting. “Keith is someone who will always help you out. He sets you up for success,” Stuart said.

It was 6pm; the show was only two hours away! I went back to AS220 and watched as the band learned new songs on the fly. I helped the cast raid the Empire Revue closet for costumes and I was even awarded my very own bright red Sparkling Beatnik t-shirt! When Melissa arrived looking amazing, she asked me about what we were doing for the haircut. I told her I wanted layers and she assured me, “That’s easy. I looked it up on YouTube. It takes like 20 seconds.”

We were all business while we talked about the skits, but all I could think about was how much I wanted to share my health problems with her. With no chance of stopping it, the words bolted from my vocal cords, past my teeth, off the tip of my tongue and out of my mouth. I spilled how I heard she wasn’t feeling well, and I knew what she was going through, and I’ve been there, and if you ever want to talk about it I’m here. She seemed a little bit shocked that I was so forward with my troubles and I’m not sure if all that came out of me with the hope of making her feel better or me feel better. Feeling alone is the worst feeling in the world. Sometimes having someone tell you their story is the exact medicine you need.

I waited downstairs in the green room. Guest stars, comedians and musicians began to arrive. The show started. I could hear the band playing that song that I’ve heard a million times. I heard Eric Fulford giving his introduction announcing the Sparkling Beatniks’ names and I waited with anticipation to hear my own. I put on my white apron for my first scene as a waitress. Done! It went off without a hitch. Next up was the doctor scene. I just got to tell you I make a hospital Johnny look good! Then came the haircutting portion of the evening. I was nervous, but putting 100% trust in Melissa. We stepped out on stage and I took a seat in the high top stool that was waiting for me. Melissa was on stage having a couple of whiskeys and saying that this could be a disaster. I felt her begin to twist my hair on the top of my head into a ponytail. Not being able to see what she was doing was a little nerve-wracking, and all I could hear was the audience laughing. I felt her take a fistful of hair  and chop it off. The audience gasped, but my hair came out pretty fabulous, I’ve got to say. Well done, Melissa!

beatbujIt was time to do the closing song so I got up on stage and had a blast! Then it was curtain call and the pictures show me smiling ear to ear like I just had the best day of my life. When exiting stage left, a strange feeling hit. It’s over? I don’t want it to be over yet. That was so much fun! I want to do more! I want to see more! I want to sing more! I was riding on an all time high and I was ready for another hit.

I greeted my parents and boyfriend in the audience and they told me what they thought and how excited they were for me. Then we sat at the bar as we always do after an Empire Revue drinking Moscow Mules. Life was good. Before too long it was time to say my goodbyes and thank yous.

This was one of the craziest, most fun, fantastic dares I’ve ever done. If you’ve seen me wear duct tape and have seen my modeling pictures, you might wonder if acting was really that difficult. But this was a personal fear for me to get over and I did it and I loved every second of it. The most amazing part of being a part of the Revue was not seeing how fast they can write or how witty they all are, but it was seeing how strong the bond is between all of them. Seeing that they are in fact a family, and they stick together and produce a show every month without fail for eight years. As the closing song said, “Come hell or high waters, there will be a show.”

The Empire Revue continues to perform the first Sunday of every month at AS220. They will also performing their second annual New Year’s Eve show titled “Ring in the Night.” The show will start at 10pm; however, there will be activities all day.

I can’t thank the Beatniks enough for inviting me to be a part of this show and for sharing their stories with me. It’s been a pleasure.

Check out the show! youtu.be/aCsePuLf2GU




Make Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

When my husband and I were dating, I decided to replace his holey pajama pants with a handmade pair. I envisioned the height of romance. These pants would be with him when I wasn’t. I thought of him lovingly as I cut the fabric and taught myself to stitch the seams, convinced he would feel my love when he touched them and understand the depth of my emotion.

Tripe, I know.

The night I shyly presented him with his pants, sprayed with my signature scent and carefully wrapped, he tried them on, remarked on the amount of crack they let hang out and how painfully they squeezed his balls, and posed for a few pictures while we laughed till we cried. Then he shoved them in the back of his closet. He hated them. Every lovingly placed stitch. But he appreciated them and still fondly recalls the story of his young girlfriend learning a new skill just for him. I now sew pants for his two sons, with plenty of room for growing balls.

Thoughtful gift giving requires sacrifice. Not necessarily monetary sacrifice, but sacrifice of resources — time, creativity, attention. A gift should say, “I listen to you. I pay attention to your actions. I’m aware of your likes and desires, and I’m willing to make a personal sacrifice to fulfill them.”

This all sounds much more serious than I intended — thoughtful gift-giving doesn’t require blood-letting. All you have to do is hang out with someone for a while, and then use a little time and creativity to make something they need or want. Even if your hand-made gift ends up a Regretsy-worthy disaster, it’ll make an unforgettable story.

One recent Christmas, my parents, husband and I decided to exchange only handmade gifts and I received two of my most treasured possessions. My mother made a beautiful quilt for me that was the site of many winter floor picnics with my toddler, and provided a soft spot for my 3-day-old infant to nap at his first outdoor summer concert. My father made a preschool-style salt dough ornament featuring his handprint, marked on the back with “Curt, 64 years old.” He intended it both as a joke and a hope to put this whole handmade Christmas thing to rest for good. And we laughed. But I also keep it hidden in a safe spot and take it out occasionally when I miss my dad, who lives nearly 2,000 miles away, and trace his fingerprints with my own, marveling at how close in size my hand is to his when his huge paw used to envelop mine when we crossed the street together.

Tripe, I know.

But handmade gifts mean something. Even the ones that hurt your balls.

So, how do you go about actually making something for someone in a way that won’t look like you stumbled into a grade school craft room?

First, remember the internet is your friend on this -– especially YouTube. I had a great time once rewiring a “That was easy” button to say other things -– all you need are some Googling patience, the button from Staples, a few parts from RadioShack, and a local voice to say something profound.

But what if your creation requires special materials or tools that you’re not likely to find around your garage? In a state so permeated with artistry, it probably won’t surprise you to find out that there are many resources for new or experienced makers.

You might consider making some beer or mead – just be warned, beer especially is an “it’s the thought that counts” kind of gift – your first try, if you homebrew, is likely to need some work. There are great local homebrew resources, though, from the Rhode Island Brewing Society (ribrewingsociety.com), an organization dedicated to sharing homebrew expertise, to stores like Blackstone Valley Brewing Supplies in Woonsocket, Brew Horizons in East Greenwich, and Craft Brews Supplies in Wyoming. It’s a little less local, but Natick’s Barleycorn’s (barleycorn.com) offers “brew-on-premises,” allowing you to use their facility and their coaching to produce your own brand of magical elixir for someone. And if you want to go with something that’s proven tasty, Newport Vineyards (newportvineyards.com) will let you create a custom name and label and wrap it around one of their merlots. Finally, look into Johnson & Wales’ brew club, JBrew. They have their own facility, equipment and club, accessible if you have some kind of connection with the University (fb.com/jbrewclub).

Or, make something much more long-lasting. There’s also Providence’s Steelyard to consider. Here they have workshops for makers who want to work in metal. You can find a metal sculptor to commission, or take a class and get access to some pretty heavy equipment. Thesteelyard.org for more information.

Photography darkrooms, which are sadly dying out, still exist and are also class-accessible through AS220 or RISD Continuing Education, so you can snap and brew your own photos.

AS220’s maker-oriented culture presents quite a few options, according to Shawn Wallace, Industries Director at AS220. There are “core classes” that happen every month, usually for a few hours each over a couple of weekends. These prepare you to use some of the more sophisticated equipment, like laser cutters, CNC machines (computer programmed cutting and milling machines used to create components), vinyl cutters, print making machines, and even screen printing facilities. Once you’re trained, you can rent these facilities and equipment by the hour, or offset that by volunteering as a monitor with a membership. Details on all these offerings are available atshop.AS220.org

There’s also the “Fab Lab” to consider. It’s short for fabrication … or is it? The Fab Lab is part of an international network of 250 labs that coordinate a distributed learning curriculum that combines in-lab, hands-on experience with internet presentations and mentoring.  All the labs use the same software and techniques, and students learn to create all sorts of things. There might not be time to pull this off before gift-giving time (the next Fab Academy starts in January), but it might be something to think about for future efforts. 

Wallace has seen makers produce an assortment of objects using these tools. Ideas include many types of ornaments, hand-made and printed cards and screen printed fabrics. Costumes and costume components, and masquerade masks popular at each year’s Foo Fest are also achievable. “We have a few people who really get into Halloween,” explains Wallace, who sees the growth of micro controllers, wearable tech toolkits, and more on the horizon making custom-made wearables more promising and popular. “We have some members doing very interesting things with haptic controllers,” he adds, describing special gloves that can be used to interface finger movements with devices, like musical instruments or computers. Boxes, holders, wall hangings, lawn ornaments, one-of-a-kind jewelry and custom skateboards, shaped from your own design and materials, are all common. “We had one person who made a wonderful orery [a steampunkish mechanical model of the solar system] where each planet could move around,” says Wallace. The AS220 labs have an open house on the first Tuesday of every month (131 Washington St., but enter around the back of the building, from Lucie St.)

There are other “maker spaces” where you can find tools, support and encouragement. In Bristol, there’s the recently launched Tinker | Bristol (fb.com/TinkerBristol). In Newport, there’s a Newport Fab Lab that’s part of the same network (fabnewport.org). Makerfaireri.com has links to specific companies and upcoming fairs and events.

Finally, 3D printing, which Wallace notes as the “leading edge of the maker wave,” is becoming more and more common. You can find those in the maker facilities already mentioned, and also at the public libraries in Cranston and Warwick. There’s even a meet-up for locals with 3D printers. Find the next monthly meeting at 3dppvd.org. They’re still working on 3D printers that can be made entirely from parts made by 3D printers, but once that happens, watch out! They’ll be everywhere, and then it’s SkyNet time.

If you don’t want to put all that work into creating something new, you still have options – the AS220 Lab has a holiday show coming up on the first Saturday in December (Dec 6). It won’t be things you’ve made, but it will offer things that are one-of-a-kind and local. And of course, gift certificates are available, if you know your recipient would really like the gift of knowledge. And to make his or her own stuff.

Find more ideas for things you can make on these respected maker websites: thingiverse.com and shapeways.com

 

 




The Wickenden Walkabout

wickenFIt’s soon to be that time of year again. Crazy uncles taking over the living room couch, chaos in the kitchen, giant plucked foul defrosting on the counter. No wonder Rhode Islanders have chosen the night before (or after) Thanksgiving to be the night of high school reunions and boozing with friends. This year, however, think about abandoning the local watering hole and exploring some untapped neighborhoods. For instance, Wickenden Street in Providence has a great selection of pubs to bounce between, from the well-known summer hangouts to the hidden side-street gems that only the Fox Point locals know of. I got the insider’s look during my walk down Wickenden, all thanks to an accidental Facebook invite.

It wasn’t until our first stop at Captain Seaweeds that it occurred to me I didn’t know the host or anyone else in attendance. The friends I’d invited — a girl visiting from Hawaii and a guy from France — were among the first to arrive. The bar was identifiable by a hanging wooden plaque that featured the Captain himself, his beard reminiscent of Medusa’s hair, and the interior decoration was superb: walls and ceilings covered in pictures, posters, and memorabilia related to ships, pirates, hula dancers, and creatures of the sea. There was a pool table and a few tables, but most seating was at the bar itself. We ordered our first round of drinks, though none of us were brave enough to try the $1 Captain Seaweed’s Lager, and we waited for everyone to trickle in.

By 9:30, Captain Seaweed’s was a happenin’ place. I’d made friends with those who were intentionally invited to the “Wickenden Walkabout” and discovered that I knew the host’s brother, which I pretended was the reason I was there. I also ran into a coworker—an event that made me feel like a true Rhode Islander.

Running an hour behind schedule, our host informed us we were going to the next bar. “We’re going Round the Corner!” he yelled. Our group of 15 followed the leader, and it was more complicated than simply walking around the corner. We walked through a maze of side streets and residential neighborhoods until the houses split and we saw a dimly lit sign for Round the Corner. The window revealed only a neon shamrock and ATM logo. I would have never found this place on my own.

The inside was completely full, but given its small size, it’s hard to say how many people were really there. We squeezed in, our group separating around the bar in order to find enough standing room. The other patrons eyed us warily, and as there was only one bartender, he didn’t seem thrilled at our arrival. We ordered Sam Seasonals and my friend contemplated stealing the pint glass. “How great is this?” she asked. The glass read, “For the love of beer,” which would have made a great Rhode Island keepsake, but her conscience was too pure.

Given the tight quarters, we quickly moved to Wickenden Street proper and attended its namesake bar. Compared to Round the Corner, Wickenden Pub was huge and carried an unusual musk. “This is what I envision a medieval pub being like,” someone in the group said. There was a dartboard in the corner, tables and booths scattered about, and a lot of wood and stone. It felt like we were inside a cellar where it wouldn’t be unusual to order a pint of mead. I found the Walkabout host, and he gave me some background on our previous locations.

“When I discovered Captain Seaweed’s, it was completely sketchy. The first time I walked in, there was a woman wearing just a bra with a knife tucked in; people were doing drugs and gambling. But now, it’s a tourist destination. Old people and families go there. It’s completely different.” He also described Round the Corner as being the opposite, a safe haven full of quiet and welcoming locals. “It wasn’t quite as friendly tonight,” he added, but it might’ve been better if we hadn’t gone with an entourage.

The group’s next stop was Point Tavern, but I ditched the walkabout out of hunger and landed at Fellini’s Pizzeria, where I ate two amazing slices of pizza. (Note: from my quick glance inside Point Tavern, it appeared to be the classiest of all the bars we visited.) My friend and I re-joined the group at The Hot Club, our final destination.

The Hot Club by day, especially by summer day, is not the same as The Hot Club by night, when patios are closed and strangers come together at the bewitching hour. Crowds consists of locals, visitors, young adults and the young-at-heart, and everyone is beyond the tipping point. I wrote the best quotes from the evening, but none of them are appropriate for this magazine. After a single vodka soda, I called it a night, but the party raged on into the early morning.

So this November, gather your friends, sing a little Kumbaya, and give thanks for Uber because the Wickenden Walkabout is worth leaving the neighborhood to experience.

Captain Seaweeds: 162 Ives St, Providence

Round the Corner: 12 Governor St.

Wickenden Pub: 320 Wickenden St.

The Point Tavern: 302 Wickenden St.

Fellini’s Pizzeria: 166 Wickenden St.

The Hot Club: 575 S Water St.




Don’t Get Trampled — Shop Local

The shopping days countdown till Christmas has started, and if you’re anything like me, you’ve been scoping out gifts for your friends and family for months. (Haha, yeah right!) Most people I know wait until after Thanksgiving to start shopping. Or the day after. The formidable Black Friday.

If you’re living under a rock, Black Friday is the Friday following Thanksgiving Day, often regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Most major retailers open exceedingly early and offer promotional sales. It has customarily been the busiest shopping day of the year since 2005.

Now, I’ve never gone shopping on this day, never mind left the house. I’m usually still tryppin’ on L-Tryptophan and passed out on my aunt’s couch with a glass of wine balanced precariously on my lap. Who in their right mind wants to think about Christmas shopping in the glorious post-Thanksgiving afterglow? Shoppers wait in line from as early as midnight to dash into department stores for what? Discounted microwaves? BOGO socks? I’d much rather sleep ‘til noon and pay the regular retail price.

Oh, and get this! There’s a website that keeps track of Black Friday tramplings/deaths — blackfridaydeathcount.com. You might think, “Oh, seven deaths isn’t that big a deal.” But remember: those seven deaths occurred from people crawling over each other to get a cheap Furby or memory card. Now that’s alarming.  

Only in America do we trample each other for more stuff the day after we give thanks for what we already have. 

For those looking for deals without the madness, Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving) is a friendlier alternative to the ominous Black Friday. This is a day to support the local shops that create jobs, boost the economy, and sustain neighborhoods. Instead of being trampled by hundreds of greedy shoppers in Walmart, why not support your own neighborhood? As a former salesperson who has exclusively worked for small and family-owned businesses, I can tell you that A LOT of work goes into running these places — more than one would think. Employees typically have the responsibility of running the entire store. I’ve opened, received, priced and displayed hundreds of boxes of merchandise in just a few short hours. I’ve also stayed after hours to put up fake trees, string lights, wrap boxes and paint windows. Small businesses are a work of love and passion and owners genuinely appreciate their customers.

If you’re convinced enough to give local shopping a try this year, check out these amazing shops. 

Beauty and the Bath: A whimsical gift shop established in 1986 within a quaint village seaport. This is the perfect shop to stock up for girls’ (or guys’) night in! Bubbles, bath salts, perfume, oils, lotions, candle, powders, PJs and robes. They also host birthday parties! 11 West Main St., Wickford. beautyandthebath.com 

The Crabby Lion is an unconventional, ecocentric shop featuring repurposed and completely one-of-a-kind furniture, bamboo bedding and clothing, local art, and organic makeup. It’s a colorful and curious space bursting with whimsy and joy. Have an idea for a piece of furniture? The store also takes commissions and will work with you to create an original masterpiece. 800 W Shore Rd., Warwick. thecrabbylion.com 

Simple Pleasures is a beautifully rustic shop tucked away on the East Side of Providence. Handpainted pottery, cashmere scarves, quirky greeting cards, hand-carved shell bangles and handwoven throws are just a few of the many goods you will find here. 6 Richmond Square, Providence. simplepleasuresprovidence.com 

The Fantastic Umbrella Factory is more of a small village than a store. Established in 1968, FUF is a collection of eclectic shops. Step into Small Axe Productions for gifts, clothing, jewelry and musical instruments. Factory Gardens houses fancy plants, tropicals, perennials and more. The quaint General Store carries an an assortment of treasures, candy, toys and gifts for the young and young at heart. Other stores on the property include Frills, Axiom, Block Print Graphics, Henna Body Art and SoCo Artisans Loft. Take a break from shopping and feed the goats, emus and ducks you’ll see wandering about. 4820 Old Post Rd. Charlestown. fantasticumbrellafactory.com 

Farmacy Herbs: This is an undoubtedly unique spot with an overabundance of bulk dried herbs, tea blends, herbal products, local honey and books. Knowledgeable and experienced herbalists offer nutritional healing, consultations and herbal education classes. All herbs are organic and grown in RI. 28 Cemetery St., Providence. farmacyherbs.com

Frog & Toad: This unusual little neighborhood shop has an ever-changing selection of items from around the world with tons of locally made goodies as well! You’ll find jewelry, handbags, throw rugs, table linens and textiles, locally-printed and designed graphic T’s, Fair Trade handicrafts from around the globe and much more. Browsers are always welcome. 795 Hope St., Providence. frogandtoadstore.com

Employees of small businesses recognize regulars and maintain relationships with them to keep them happy and satisfied. And who wouldn’t want that?




The Yankee Beer Swap — ‘Tis (Almost) the Season

So you’re done trick or treating, you’ve eaten more Sugar Babies than should be physically possible and now you’re curled up on the couch cursing your over-indulgence and trying to ignore the sharp pain in your stomach by reading this article. It’s ok, we’ve all been there. When the Pepto takes hold and the pain subsides it’s time to turn your attention from raising the dead and inhaling pixie sticks to the long winter ahead and the season of giving. I may be biased, but I can’t think of a better gift than beer.

This year, I’m not going to tell you what beer to get, but instead I will share with you a tradition I started a few years ago. The Yankee Beer Swap. For those of you who are already familiar with a Yankee Swap, you can skip ahead to the mix-a-six section secure in the knowledge that it is a standard swap but with beer instead. Real creative, huh?

For the rest of you, a Yankee Swap is a wonderful holiday party game where the spirit of giving is carefully balanced with the art of taking. At a Yankee Swap, each participant brings a wrapped gift for nobody in particular and under a previously decided cost limit. The host then puts a number for each guest in a hat, lefover pumpkin pail, or whatever is the most handy container. Each guest will then draw a number out of the hat, which will decide the order in which they get the beers. [PSA: Don’t forget to have plenty of liquid cheer on hand while all this is happening.]

In rounds, starting with number 1, guests can take one present of their chioce and open it.  It is usually expected that the guest will show their loot to the other guests. The next guest to take a turn can decide to take [forced trade] someone else’s already opened present or keep their own. There’s only a few rules. 1. The first guest to pick gets to make the last swap after everyone else has opened their gifts and made their choice. So the first guest is usually the best number to get. 2. A single gift can only be taken two or three times. That’s it! Oh, and no whining.

This whole scheme works great with regular presents and even better with rare and desirable beers. For example, a 6-pack of Heady Topper from Alchemist would probably be the most traded gift and may even start a fight. Conversely, a really terrible beer or Smirnoff ice could start a riot, but it makes an excellent gag. Just make sure you have the real gift close by. I used a gag gift before — a Heineken Light bottle that had a rusty cap and had been sitting in my fridge for an unknown amount of time — and unknowingly crushed my friend’s spirits. The whole room was outraged someone would give such a gift.

If you’re going to do this type of event make sure your guests love beer, or at least appreciate it. You could always do wine or liquor if you’re not in the beer loving crowd. But then why are you reading this article?

Mix-A-Six:

1. Doherty’s Ale House in Warwick will host a Sam Adams Utopias dinner on January 27 at 6:30pm (this is a rescheduled date). They will have a sample of every Utopia ever made as well as a mystery beer. One of the head brewers from Sam Adams will be on hand to talk about the beers. Call the Ale House to purchase tickets.

2. Bucket Brewery Released 9 Men’s Misery, their new Imperial IPA, on November 1. The beer weighs in at a hefty 7.6% and is commemorative of battle in King Phillips war 1676. It also has 10 hop additions to commemorate the colonists involved in the conflict.

3. Crooked Current had a successful soft opening just before Halloween. Grand opening will be coming soon.

4. Revival is getting their beers into bottles and onto store shelves around the state. Keep your eye out for Burnsider Pale Ale and in the coming weeks, Zeppelin.

5. Narragansett and Revival just announced a collaboration on a new Lovecraft Honey Ale.

6. RI Brewing Society will host a statewide homebrewers meeting on November 13 with representation from RIFT, JBREW and East Bay Homebrewer’s clubs. All home brewers are welcome. ribrewingsociety.com