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Birthday Cake
hanukah

Okay I’ll admit that the it may sound strange to buy your own birthday presents. But I’m divorced with no children, I’m currently not in any kind of romantic relationships, I don’t have any siblings, my father is dead, and my mother is too sick and busy battling multiple sclerosis to do any kind of shopping (either online or in real life) so what else can I do? I purchased a couple of things for myself last night, starting with this cute snowman cake that I found at Giant for only $6.

I also found this unusual looking nutcracker on sale at Target for only $9.99. He not only looks pretty in pink but he’s fully covered in glitter. He looks more like he’s ready to dance to Madonna or Britney Spears than to Tchaikovsky’s more traditional “Nutcracker Suite.” Here’s the front of the nutcracker.

Here’s a closeup of the baseplate, which has the year 2017 etched on it.

Here’s the back of the nutcracker.

And, finally, here’s a closeup of the nutcracker where you can really get a good view of how much glitter he’s covered in.

I have to admit that it’s not everyday where you see a male nutcracker wearing a pink glitter outfit. The one thing about having a birthday that’s only 10 days before Christmas is that I used to frequently get Christmas-related stuff, such as the time I got a wooden Christmas ornament kit for my birthday as a child. The ornaments were in plywood but were perforated so you could simply punch them out. Then you had to take the included sandpaper and sand the edges down. After that you used the included paints to paint on the ornaments.

Well, anyway, I carried on that lifelong tradition of getting Christmas stuff for my birthday by buying that nutcracker. I’ll probably go out somewhere and live it up today, weather permitting. (It has not only been below freezing for the past few days but there are currently weather forecasts of possible snow showers on top of the below freezing temperatures. Yeah, it sucks since I’m really not used to weather this extremely cold.) Happy birthday to me!

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One Saturday I decided to attend a networking event that was held in the Roland Park section of Baltimore. Roland Park is one area of Baltimore I had never set foot in before but I had long heard about it. My mother once worked as the office manager of a now-defunct life insurance company and she had a coworker who was a divorced secretary and a single parent of a girl who was born the same year that I was.

The coworker eventually got remarried to a doctor with a thriving practice and they settled in a row house that was located on the edge of Roland Park. By most standards they would be considered upper middle class. But by Roland Park standards, they were “working class” or “poor.” The coworker’s daughter attended the exclusive Roland Park Country School (which is among the ritziest private schools in that area) but I remember hearing about how the coworker told my mother that her daughter used to envy her classmates who vacationed in Europe each summer while she had to settle with spending a week in Ocean City with her family because they weren’t as wealthy as the other Roland Park Country School parents.

My mother used to tell me stories about that coworker when I was growing up so I heard a lot about Roland Park. I only recall meeting that coworker’s daughter a couple of times, mainly at company picnics where the employees could bring their families. I think we may have said “Hi” then walked away from each other. That was the extent of our interaction together. She was growing up in Roland Park attending an exclusive private school while I was growing up outside of the city in Glen Burnie (which is way more downscale than Roland Park) attending less-exclusive public schools so we really had nothing in common beyond the fact that we were white girls who were born in the same year and our mothers worked for the same life insurance company.

I went for many years without even thinking about Roland Park until I found out about this networking event. I’m still looking for a new day job and I finally had a reason to actually travel to Roland Park to see what that area is about. I decided to arrive in Roland Park before the networking event began so I could at least get a glimpse of the neighborhood.

Roland Park has an interesting history as being a planned suburban-style community that was still located inside of the city limits. Parts of the area were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., the son of famed architect Frederick Law Ohmsted, who has gained posthumous fame in recent years thanks to Erik Larson’s bestselling book The Devil in the White City. Many of the homes in Roland Park are standalone houses, which contrasts with the rowhouses and apartment buildings that predominate the rest of the city. The homes are also where the wealthiest elites of Baltimore live, which you can tell by these pictures I shot.

The one feature of Roland Park is that there is a network of nature trails that are open to the general public. I found this self-guided walking tour on the Baltimore City Paper website that shows the highlights of these nature trails. These nature trails were marked with signs that had bucolic names like Squirrel Path and Laurel Path.

I only had enough time to walk through a small portion of the nature trail system but it was a lovely walk. I walked through the nature trails during the fall so I was treated to a constant array of fall foliage in a variety of brown, green, red, and yellow. As you can see in the photos, it was a cloudy day and it drizzled a few times while I was driving to Roland Park. Luckily for me the rain stopped by the time I reached the nature trails. The gloomy day still didn’t detract from the lovely fall foliage that I saw everywhere. There were times when I found it hard to believe that I was still in the inner city as I was walking on these trails.

At one point I was able to see some television antennas over the horizon marking the location of Television Hill, where all of the local Baltimore television stations broadcast from.

The networking event was held at a community center, which is located inside of a church.

The church has a really nice looking steeple that has an interesting stained glass design at the base.

Here’s a closeup of the stained glass base of the steeple.

I’ve been watching with dismay over how the Hollywood sexual predator scandal has been unfolding over the past few weeks. Initially it was just Harvey Weinstein, whom I decided to lampoon in an ink drawing since that scandal originally broke during Inktober.

But then some of Weinstein’s accusers collaborated on this Google Doc (I have to insert a trigger warning here since it provides the gory details about Weinstein’s alleged sexual predatory behavior ranging from sexual harassment to rape) and his reputation is pretty much toast at this point. On top of it, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and a whole bunch of other Hollywood people have been accused of similar disgusting actions.

I saw this post on the Uncustomary blog titled Fuck You, Louis C.K. where she expresses disgust and disappointment to someone whom she had long admired and had even attended a few of his shows. I can understand her feelings, especially since I recently had to take a hard look at a different famous person whom I had long admired. In a way I wasn’t too surprised about Louis C.K. since I had long heard rumors that he had a nasty, misogynous streak. However, the person I’m writing about is different because he had been a part of my life since childhood and he seemed to be the opposite of Louis C.K. in terms of temperament and personality. His name is George Takei.

I spent a large portion of my childhood watching reruns of the original 1960’s Star Trek series, which included George Takei playing the role of Sulu alongside a multi-racial and multi-ethnic cast. As an adult I watched an older George Takei reprise his role as Sulu in a few of the Star Trek feature films. I’ll admit that I mainly saw his acting work in Star Trek. (The only non-Star Trek movie I ever saw George Takei in was The Green Berets, which starred John Wayne. I saw part of that film on TV once and I have to say that it didn’t impress me all that much, which was why I either changed the channel or turned the TV off so I didn’t see the whole thing.) Like many of the other Star Trek actors, George Takei had a difficult time finding work after the series ended because he not only had to deal with typecasting as being capable of doing only science fiction space epics but he also had to deal with being an Asian American actor in a field that tends to heavily favor white men.

I began to see George Takei in a different, more positive light when he started to speak out about his past. He was born to a Japanese American family that was sent to an interment camp soon after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He talked about what it was like being forced to grow up in a place like that and how it affected his family. It wasn’t too long ago that there was a Broadway show called Allegiance, which was loosely based on Takei’s childhood in that internment camp.

But then he came out as gay a few years ago. I never held it against him that he waited until he became a senior citizen before he came out because I knew that had he come out in the 1960s or 1970s, there was a strong chance that his acting career would’ve been ended prematurely. (Despite the start of the gay rights movement in the late 1960s, homophobia was still very rampant in those days. In some ways homophobia is still strong in this country but that’s another story altogether.) He began to use his celebrity to fight for marriage equality and he publicly married his longtime partner, Brad, back when it was uncertain as to whether same-sex marriage would even be legally recognized in the long-run. I began to really admire him for doing that.

In a way his coming out had renewed his career in the public eye. I began to follow him on social media and I enjoyed his posts. I purchased this ebook, Oh Myyy! There Goes the Internet, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I even shot this picture of a faded poster featuring George Takei, which was hung in the window of the local Social Security office back in 2013 when I was there filling out forms notifying them of my recent name change (which came about as a result of my divorce).

George Takei Poster

When George Takei and his husband, Brad, did a short-lived YouTube series called It Takeis Two, I watched it and enjoyed it. I thought it was totally hilarious yet it was every endearing, especially in the scenes that focused on just George and Brad. (Due to recent circumstances, I refuse to link to this series so you’ll have to do your own Google search if you’re curious.)

It all came crashing down just a few days ago when a onetime male model gave an interview where he claimed that George Takei sexually assaulted him while he was drunk back in 1981. (I have to insert a trigger warning here since it contains a graphic description of that assault.) I felt dismay at first. I found myself wishing that this alleged victim was just a crazy fan who was unusually obsessed with Takei and he was taking that obsession way too far. I know that celebrities have to frequently deal with such crazy fans. I’m old enough to remember when John Lennon was murdered by an obsessed fan outside his own home and Selena was murdered by the president of her own fan club.

But then I had to take another look at this story when this interview George Takei did on Howard Stern’s show last month surfaced and, to be blunt, it didn’t make him look good at all. I heard that interview and I found it to be too reminiscent of Donald Trump’s infamous “grab them by the pussy” Access Hollywood bus recording in that Takei sounded more like a sexually predatory creep.

He dug an even deeper hole for himself when he then claimed on Twitter that Russian bots are behind the sexual assault allegations. He deleted that tweet but not before so many people had made screenshots and they simply re-uploaded that screenshot online.

Now he’s saying that he was just playing the role of the “naughty gay grandpa” on Howard Stern’s show and he really didn’t mean what he said on that show. Had Howard Stern’s show been a TV network situation comedy that is scripted by writers, this explanation would’ve been very plausible. However, Howard Stern’s show is basically a talk show (albeit one that’s emceed by a shock jock who will say anything outrageous on the air just for pure shock value). People who appear on talk shows tend to tell true-life stories about themselves—including the ones who only make such appearances in order to promote their latest book/movie/TV show/website/etc. Howard Stern’s show is no different. Stern may be more raunchy than a typical media interviewer but he is still basically a talk show host.

Given what has happened over the past few days, I wouldn’t be surprised if Takei’s response to the sexual assault allegation will one day be discussed in a college-level public relations class as a case study on how NOT to respond to a potential career-ending scandal.

But seriously I’m pissed off at him. I used to think he was basically a good guy who was willing to use his celebrity for a good cause (marriage equality). Now I know better. George Takei is no better than the other Hollywood public figures who have been named in this scandal.

The only silver lining is that a couple of years ago I had a chance to actually see George Takei in person when he and fellow Star Trek alum William Shatner made an appearance at Awesome Con in Washington, DC. I knew I would never be able to afford the extra fees required (in addition to the basic admission fee to enter the convention itself) so I could get an autograph and have my picture taken with him. I had hoped to be able to see him from afar and maybe check out any panel that he was participating in. It turned out that I didn’t go to Awesome Con at all that year because my finances were too tight to even afford the basic admission. I used to regret missing out on the chance to see George Takei in person. Now I’m no longer regretting it. I’m just glad I wasn’t among the throng of people who paid extra money for that autograph and photo because I can only imagine trying to decide what to do with these expensive items in light of that scandal.

The good thing about this scandal is that it is separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of how it is bringing out both the best and the worst in people. I was heartened when Gal Gadot announced that she would not do any more Wonder Woman films unless an accused sexual harasser was permanently removed from that project. While I enjoyed Gadot’s role in Wonder Woman, I really respect her stance. It would be a disgusting irony if a film franchise featuring a strong woman superhero that champions female empowerment would continue to employ an accused sexual harasser. One of that accused sexual harasser’s victims, Ellen Page, wrote an eloquent yet harrowing Facebook post about how he tried to force her out of the closet before she was ready to do so. (While Page eventually came out as a lesbian, at least she did it of her own volition when she did this. I have LGBTQ friends who told me that coming out is such a long process that requires a lot of mental and emotional preparation. Forcing someone out of the closet before he/she is fully ready to come out have led to major trauma and sometimes that person will attempt suicide as a result.)

Last weekend I pulled out my DVD copy of Clerks, which is the only Miramax movie I currently own, and watched it. I still enjoyed the movie as much as I enjoyed it the previous times. I only flinched when I saw the closing credits where the director, Kevin Smith, thanked Harvey Weinstein for introducing him to the best potato skins he had ever eaten. Recently Kevin Smith announced that he will donate all future royalties from the movies he made for both Miramax and The Weinstein Company—including Clerks—to the non-profit organization Women in Film.

While Gal Gadot and Kevin Smith are trying to do what they can to rectify the ongoing Hollywood sexual pervert scandal, unfortunately there are still people like George Takei who will eventually end up on the wrong side of history. As for me, I’m done with George Takei. I plan on unfollowing him on all social media and I will never again purchase any more ebooks with his byline. I will follow suit with any other famous person whom I had previously admire because sexual harassment/sexual assault/rape against any woman, man, or child has no place in this society. It is not cool or awesome and I don’t want my money to support something like this.

FUCK YOU, GEORGE TAKEI (AND EVERY OTHER HOLLYWOOD SEXUAL PREDATOR)!

UPDATE (November 17, 2017): In the midst of writing and uploading this rant late at night, I forgot to include something. If you’re a man or a woman who has survived sexual assault and/or rape and you’re having a hard time dealing with it, there is help for you. Contact RAINN either through its hotline (which is open 24 hours a day) at 1-800-656-4673 or online at rainn.org.

By the way, check out my sequel to this post: Fuck You Too, Al Franken!

UPDATE (November 24, 2017): The one fringe benefit of unfollowing George Takei on social media is that I’m no longer exposed to his links to news stories that he shared not because he found them interesting but because some website or news outlet paid him to do so. The Guardian has a story about how George Takei and other celebrities are frequently paid to share certain links on social media without disclosing those links as paid advertising. Takei lost some of his deals with these sites when his sexual abuse allegations surfaced but other celebrities are still going strong with those deals as they share links they are paid to share.

I learned via Facebook that Third Eye Comics was having a Halloween ComicFest right in its store. Not only were there really cool sales but they had some free sample comic books to give away as well. (It’s almost like the annual Free Comic Book Day except it’s in October instead of May.) So I went down to Annapolis where I took these photos.

The one thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be more comic books based on cartoons that I used to watch on television when I was a child.

I laughed at these comic books taking jabs at Donald Trump. I just wasn’t in the mood to buy them though because I’ve had more than my fill of Donald Trump and his constant need for attention. (I feel this way after he’s only been in office for 10 months.)

I’d never thought I would ever see Stan Lee action figures. (LOL!)

They have cloth dolls based on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comic book series.

I laughed at seeing this set of Batman action figures all patterned after the rainbow flag. I wonder how many of my LGBTQ friends would be interested in that one? (LOL!)

A culinary-minded person can do some superhero-themed cooking.

I took advantage of the sales to purchase the three-volume graphic novel series Batgirl of Burnside. I checked the first and third volumes out of the public library a few months ago and I liked them really well. (My library frequently have this situation where, in the case of book series, it might have some volumes of a certain series but not all of them. Part of the reason is because people check them out but I’ve never seen the second volume of Batgirl of Burnside in my library ever. I looked for months and I’ve only seen the first and third volumes. I can only guess that some jerk checked out volume 2 and never returned it.)

I decided to check out the Spirit of Halloween as well. I originally was going to go to the one in Bowie since that was the one place where I knew such as store was operating until I did a quick search on Google Maps. I found that there was another Spirit of Halloween store that was just located one mile away from Third Eye Comics so I decided to go there instead.

The same shopping center had a lighthouse that was located next to a movie theater. The biggest irony is that the nearest body of water was located at least three miles away from where both the lighthouse and shopping center were located.

I arrived at the Spirit of Halloween where I took these photos, starting with the ways in which one could come dressed as either Donald Trump, Melania Trump, or Vladimir Putin.

I know that some of the Disney Moana-themed costumes have been controversial so I’m amazed that any store is still carrying them.

I purchased only one item from that Spirit of Halloween store. It’s a small gargoyle where, if you pressed its belly, its eyes light up and it says one of four phrases (such as “You are doomed!”). This gargoyle was perfect for decorating my car trunk for the Trunk or Treat event that took place at my church on the following day.

I was born in Baltimore. I lived there until I was five years old, when my family moved to the nearby suburban town of Glen Burnie. My parents kept on telling me how good I had it in Glen Burnie even though the kids called me “retarded” and many of them refused to have anything to do with me from elementary school all the way to high school. My mother used to tell me that having nice things was more important than having friends while I was raised in a Roman Catholic faith that taught me that materialism was bad. (Yeah, I got some total mixed-messages here. LOL!)

I even had this bully swipe my yearbook when I was in middle school and signed some hateful stuff in it without even asking me if she could sign it. I finally got my revenge a few years ago when I uploaded both her autograph and her yearbook photo in this blog. It’s an equal punishment that fits the original crime because just as her signature in my yearbook can never be fully erased (because it was written in ink on glossy paper), my post about her can never be fully scrubbed from the Internet because there’s always the chance that someone has made a screenshot of it or it’s backed up somewhere else online. Don’t believe me? Look at what happened when Anthony Scaramucci deleted his tweets after he was hired as the White House Communications Director. (Scaramucci would be fired after serving just 10 days at his new job but that’s a different story altogether.)

My life definitely improved when I attended the University of Maryland at College Park then I permanently moved away from Glen Burnie when I got married 10 months after I finished college.

I’m a member of this Facebook group called “I remember Harundale when there was a Mall…” where people reminisce about their pasts in Glen Burnie. I tend to lurk there more than I post because I really don’t have too many positive memories about my life in Glen Burnie. I enjoy people posting about their memories of places that no longer exist, such as the Ritchie Drive-In Movie Theater and the local Italian Delight pizza parlor. Every now and then I see a negative snarky post (such as complaining about Latinos or people who qualify for Section 8 housing moving into Glen Burnie) written by someone that only serves to reinforce my desire to never move back to Glen Burnie.

Today I saw this post in that Facebook group that I hadn’t seen before from a guy who was reminiscing about a local woman. Apparently she was known as Fort Meade Annie and she was known to the locals in the 1950’s and 1960’s long before my family had even moved to Glen Burnie. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone on the streets of Glen Burnie that even matches her description so I guess she must have either moved away or died by the time my family arrived in that town.

Fort Meade Annie was frequently seen in public wearing a raincoat and scarf while carrying an umbrella, regardless of rain or sunshine. She would wear this outfit all year long in both hot weather and cold weather. Apparently she was named Fort Meade Annie because, according local legend, she was once engaged to someone who was stationed at Fort Meade but the wedding never happened because he was either killed in a war or he left her for someone else. I don’t even know how true this backstory is or if it’s something that the locals made up about her in order to make her seem even more pathetic than she really was. From the descriptions I read in that post about her, it sounds like she had some serious mental health issues at the time. In any case the local teens used to taunt her a lot.

So this guy writes about that one summer night in the early 1960’s when he and his friends decide to drive in a car looking for Fort Meade Annie so they could taunt her. They found her at the right moment when they saw her walking along the street while they were stopped at a traffic light. They began to taunt her and she responded by attacking the car with her umbrella so forcefully that the teens started to freak out and they drove away before the traffic light turned green. The car suffered minor damage to the windshield wipers and some minor scratches while one of the youths worried about getting in trouble with his father since he was driving his father’s car that night.

I was reading this story hoping that he and his friends learned a lesson from this encounter by acting more mature and compassionate towards others. But, no, here is how he ended his story.

So did we learn a lesson from this adventure? Probably not. We continued with stupid behavior. Calling out to the girls on the street. Jokes, sometime cruel jokes, at other’s expense. Starting trouble. Tormenting people. We kept doing all the same crazy stuff we always did. We just never did it to Annie again.

Oh, great, they stopped taunting Fort Meade Annie but they continued their harassment of other people and were pretty much assholes. They were only lucky that their other victims didn’t attack them or their car like Fort Meade Annie did.

What’s even worse is that he and his friends took the wrong lesson from this incident. The lesson isn’t “Don’t ever mess with Fort Meade Annie again because she can use her umbrella to defend herself.” The real lesson is that you don’t ever verbally harass strangers who are just minding their own businesses. The fact that he and his friends continued to harass other people after their unfortunate encounter with Fort Meade Annie shows them to be such total morons that I’m amazed they were even able to graduate from high school at all.

So basically this guy writes a post about how he was an asshole teenager who seems to be proud that he continued to be an asshole and he also seems to relish his memories of his youth when he and his friends taunted someone who obviously had mental health issues. I don’t consider this guy to be anything other than a coward. Because only cowards would stoop low enough to attack a mentally ill person who was just wandering the streets minding her own business and not harming anybody.

As J.K. Rowling once wrote in one of her Harry Potter books, “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” I definitely got the true measure of that Facebook writer and it’s not very big or impressive at all.

What if Fort Meade Annie (or the other women who were victims of his and his friends’ drive-by harassment) had been this writer’s grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, cousin, girlfriend, wife, daughter or niece? Would he still write on Facebook about the fond memories he had when this woman was harassed?

What’s even worse is that there were people who were praising his writing skills and were urging him to write a book about his youth in Glen Burnie. I’ll admit that he is a good writer. But I can’t endorse anyone who not only acted like a total douchebag towards someone who was mentally ill but continued this douche behavior towards others and seems proud enough of those douchebag memories to write a post on Facebook bragging about it.

This post was originally written in June but the moderator of the Facebook group decided to bump it back to the top of the group because today someone else wrote a less-offensive post asking if anyone remembered Fort Meade Annie. At least the people in that thread aren’t talking about harassing her for no good reason. [UPDATE OCTOBER 31, 2017: Apparently that second thread about Fort Meade Annie turned abusive since it was deleted and a new notice from one of the moderators mentioned why it was deleted. Yet the original jerk’s post that inspired this rant remains online.]

I’m glad that this guy is older than me so I never had to endure this jerk’s behavior myself when I was growing up. (Instead I had to endure other Glen Burnie assholes who at least have the decency to not make Facebook posts about their fond memories of their youths as being douchebags.) He is one guy I would never want to even meet online, never mind even meeting him in person. I certainly as hell would never do any kind of business transaction with him.

Seriously if this guy ever writes his memoir, he should just title it Confessions of a Glen Burnie Asshole.

Not too long ago I decided to do some miscellaneous Facebook surfing by lurking on a group that has been set up for alumni of my old high school. Part of the reason was to keep my mind off my continuing job hunt and the latest political news. (I remember that was the night when new White House communications direction Anthony Scaramucci went off the profanity-laden deep end. Scaramucci was fired soon after that incident—after he had spent only 10 days working at his new job.)

While I was lurking on that high school alumni group on Facebook and scrolling through old posts that one recent night, I learned that my former music teacher, Tim Landers, had died last year of complications stemming from a liver transplant. He was either 63 or 64 (I was only able to figure out his age because he wrote this Facebook post on October 14, 2013 where he said that he was 61 so I did the math and, no, I don’t know the date of his birthday so I have no idea if he managed to celebrate his latest birthday before his death or not). In the comments section someone posted a video of a song that he wrote and sang about Ocean City, Maryland. I watched the video and I kind of liked the laid-back vibe of the song. It’s the quintessential summer song that’s perfect to listen to if you’re on a beach anywhere in the world. Here’s the video below, titled “It’s a Shore Thing.”

If you like “It’s a Shore Thing,” you can download it for 99 cents from CDBaby, Amazon, Google Play, or iTunes.

I also found another video he did as part of a trio known as The Landers and Heinz Project. It was a live performance of another song he wrote as he and his partners were playing on a local radio station in Ocean City. The song is called “Scotch and Soda” and it is just as laid-back as the other song. (Tim Landers is the guy in the glasses and mustache playing his guitar and singing.)

If you like “Scotch and Soda,”  you can download it for 99 cents from CDBaby or iTunes.

Anyone who has been reading this blog on a regular basis would know that I don’t have too many fond memories of my old high school. In fact, last summer I went back to my old school for the first time in many years just so I could photograph my hand giving the middle finger to that school. I was on my way to the latest Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School event in Baltimore (link is NSFW) when I did this. Yes, I took advantage of the longer days so I could check out my old school quickly before driving on to Baltimore.

While I was mostly miserable in the five years I attended that huge school complex known as the Old Mill Educational Complex (one year in Old Mill Middle School-North and four years in Old Mill Senior High), there were a few teachers there who provided a few bright spots in what was otherwise a miserable existence. Like I wrote in last year’s post where I included that picture of my hand giving the finger:

Why was this school so bad? While there were plenty of teachers at the school complex who were dedicated at their jobs, it was the attitude of the administration that considered athletics more important than academics.

Among those teachers who were dedicated at their jobs was Tim Landers, who taught music (mainly guitar). I took four semesters of guitar class with him until I had exhausted all of the guitar classes that my high school offered. The one thing I never realized about him until after I learned about his death and I started reading his Facebook postings is that he was only 9 or 10 years older than me. (I know it sounds kind of strange but it wasn’t that unusual to have a teacher who was close in age to the students he/she taught in my high school. When I was a senior I had an English teacher who had only received her teaching degree the year before and she was just five years older than me.) Mr. Landers bore a slight resemblance to Mr. Van Driessen from the Beavis and Butt-Head cartoon series, more in terms of temperament than his looks. (He didn’t have a beard and he wore his long hair in the feathered style that was very popular back in the 1970s.) Here’s a photo of him I scanned from my sophomore high school yearbook.

Looking at his personal Facebook page, I found that he was a spiritual person like Mr. Van Driessen with the big difference being that he expressed himself as a devout Christian while Mr. Van Driessen was more into New Age spirituality. But he definitely shared Mr. Van Driessen’s hippie vibe in terms of his outlook on life and the funky clothes he wore to school. The main difference was that Mr. Landers was far less of a pushover than Mr. Van Driessen. He was the kind of person who was willing to help you unless you crossed him. If you did anything to push his buttons, he would not hesitate to send you to the principal’s office or to even fail you for not doing the required coursework.

Here’s one example of Mr. Landers not being a stereotypical pushover hippie. I remember it was the end of the semester when we not only took our final exams but we also were given an evaluation form where we could write about what we liked or didn’t liked about the class. Unlike the final exams, we were not required to write our names. The idea was that we could freely give our opinions without repercussions.

So we turned in our exams and the evaluation forms then returned to our seats while waiting for the bell that would signal the end of the class. Mr. Landers happened to glance through some of the exams and evaluations at his desk until he came upon an evaluation form where, according to Mr. Landers, someone had written “Mr. Landers can do something to himself.” (Given the fact that I saw that Mr. Landers was visibly angry at the time, I suspected that the wording was stronger than what he indicated—somewhere along the lines of “Mr. Landers can go fuck himself.”) By that point it was almost the end of the class but Mr. Landers was determined to get to the bottom of who wrote that evaluation form. He said that he would read what we wrote on the evaluation forms out loud and if he came upon something that one of us recognized that he/she wrote, that person was to go up to the class and pick up that form then bring it back to his/her seat. Mr. Landers eventually came upon my form (where I basically wrote that I wished he hadn’t done so many classical guitar songs because I prefer rock guitar) so I picked mine up. It wasn’t until Mr. Landers came to the last of the evaluation forms that a boy in the class confessed that it was he who wrote that nasty message on the evaluation form.

At that point the bell rang, we returned our evaluation forms to the teacher’s desk before we headed to the next class, and Mr. Landers escorted that boy to the principal’s office. (I’ve long since forgotten who the boy was or even what he looked like—other than he was a thin white kid with dark hair—mainly because I wasn’t friends with him.)

Fortunately I got along pretty well with Mr. Landers and I enjoyed his classes. I think he had a high opinion of me as a student. I managed to get him to sign my yearbook only once, which was during my sophomore year (the same yearbook where I posted that photo of him).  His signed it “Kim, Take care of yourself and be good. I’m sure you will. Love, Tim Landers.”

I remember that Mr. Landers’ real ambition was to be a rock musician and he only got into teaching to pay the bills. He turned out to be one of the many talented musicians who never quite made it to the big time and it was not due to a lack of trying. He would spend evenings, weekends, and school breaks writing new music and recording demos that he would try to shop around to various agents and record companies. (I remember the times when he would occasionally play one of his demo songs in class.) I remember that he was a big Beatles fan and he used to drop tidbits about the band and their music because he was such a fan. In fact I remember one of the first songs he taught the class in Guitar I was “Let It Be.”

I loved his wacky sense of humor and his vast knowledge of famous guitarists like Jimi Hendrix. I still remember the time when it was the last class before Thanksgiving break and he played Arlo Guthrie’s classic “Alice’s Restaurant” song and we laughed at some of the humor. (It was the first time I had ever heard that song. Up until that time the only Arlo Guthrie song I knew was “The City of New Orleans” and that was because it was a hit on the radio and my father had purchased that song on a 45 r.p.m. record.) He also introduced us to the original soundtrack to the Broadway show Grease as he brought the album to class one day and he played it for us. (This was about a year before the movie version came out with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John.)

I still remember the year when Frank Zappa came out with his disco parody hit “Dancin’ Fool,” which was played quite a bit at the major rock stations in my area. Mr. Landers brought in a couple of Zappa records where he not only showed us what a gifted guitar player Zappa was but he introduced us to an another disco parody that Zappa did just a few years before “Dancin’ Fool,” which was called “Disco Boy.” The lyrics to that one was even more hilarious than the “Dancin’ Fool” lyrics.

At one point he mentioned in one of his classes that he was trying to get the school to approve his idea of a new semester-long music class that he would teach. It would be called “The History of Rock and Roll” and it would take a look at rock’s beginnings in the 1950s all the way to the present (which would’ve been the late 1970s at the time). He talked about how it would involve listening to various records as well as watching movies like Jailhouse Rock, which starred Elvis Presley. I was really eager to take such a class but, for whatever reason, he wasn’t able to get the school to consider his idea so I never had the opportunity to take it. I don’t know whether that class ever happened after I graduated from high school or if it was something that the school administration refused to ever consider offering.

The most memorable thing he demonstrated was the time he went to the piano to demonstrate how classical music influences pop culture. I don’t remember the context in which he did this but I vividly remembered what he did to this day. He started to play the song “Chopsticks,” which is the one song that nearly all beginning piano students are taught as their first song. He then started to hum the tune to the theme song from the TV show My Three Sons while he was playing “Chopsticks.” We all laughed and chortled at his contention that this theme was based on “Chopsticks.” Soon afterwards I was home when I was changing the channels on the TV set when I happened to catch the beginning of My Three Sons rerun right at the moment the theme music was playing and I began to notice the underlying “Chopsticks” melody and I realized that Mr. Landers was right. Here’s the link to the full version of the My Three Sons theme song where you can clearly hear “Chopsticks” as the melody.

Despite the fact that he loved The Beatles and other rock bands of the 1960’s, he was a traditional music teacher in many ways. He was adamant that we learned how to read music, which was a skill that many of his favorite 1960s bands, including his beloved Beatles, didn’t have. Thanks to him, I learned the mnemonic method of music reading where I learned the lines of EGBDF as Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge while the spaces between the lines spelled out the word FACE.

He was also adamant that we learned how to do chord building, which I quickly learned was not my strongest suit. Chord building involved learning the music notes that make up a certain chord and it involved a lot of memorization (which we later had to regurgitate on the final exam). The only reason why I still know that a D chord is made up of the notes D, F#, and A is because I made up my own mnemonic sentence that went “Dick Fucks Sharp Asses.” (I didn’t dare share that secret with Mr. Landers.)

During the time that I was taking those guitar lessons from Mr. Landers, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” was frequently played on the local rock radio station for many years after it was first released back in 1971 and it would go on to become one of the biggest rock hits of the 1970s. Many people were turned on by Jimmy Page’s exquisite guitar playing throughout that song. Naturally many of Mr. Landers’ guitar students, myself included, wanted to learn how to play that song. Mr. Landers was frequently inundated with numerous requests that he teach us this song. Some kids wanted to go from a relatively easy song like “Let It Be” straight into “Stairway to Heaven” while they were in the first few weeks of Guitar I.

Eventually Mr. Landers relented sometime around Guitar III or Guitar IV and he handed out mimeographed copies of “Stairway to Heaven.” That was when we got a dose of reality about how complex that song really is as we struggled with the various chord formations. From that time on the students in the advanced guitar classes stopped wanting to learn how to play “Stairway to Heaven,” while I’m sure that the students in Guitar I were probably still begging Mr. Landers to teach them how to play that song while they were learning how to play their first chords.

There was only one time I felt Mr. Landers was wrong about something. It was when punk rock became a huge such deal in the UK that the US media started doing stories about this new phenomenon. I was intrigued by the music I heard in snippets while watching news stories about this new punk rock phenomenon so I purchased The Sex Pistols’ debut album. I found that record to be a revelation in that it was so unlike the heavy metal and disco music that was prevalent on the radio at that time. A few weeks after I purchased Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols, Mr. Landers openly disdained punk rock in class and he felt that all of the punk bands consisted of untalented musicians who were destined to not last very long. A few other students piped up talking about how they disliked punk rock as well. I disagreed with Mr. Landers’ low opinion of punk but I kept my mouth shut because he was one of those people whom you could never provide a contrary opinion once he made up his mind strongly about something because he never attempted to listen to the other side. (In addition, I was having a hard enough time constantly trying to avoid being someone’s bully target and I didn’t want other kids to pick on me because I owned a Sex Pistols album. It was bad enough that there were kids who called me “retarded.” I pretty much listened to my punk rock records on the down low in the privacy of my bedroom at home until college when finally I met other punk rock fans and I felt comfortable enough to admit that I liked punk as well.)

Okay, Mr. Landers was right about The Sex Pistols being a short-lived phenomenon because they disbanded soon after they hit the big time but he was wrong about punk rock’s longevity because there were other punk bands (such as The Clash and The Ramones) who had longer careers and who released albums that are now considered rock classics right alongside albums like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. What’s more, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ramones, and other punk bands have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which definitely proves how wrong Mr. Landers was about his assessment of punk rock.

Mr. Landers also formed the school’s official folk rock group known only as the Old Mill Folk Rock Band. (Yeah, I know it sounds original. LOL!) The group performed at school assemblies. Each year they would go into a local recording studio to make an EP record, which consisted of four songs (which were all covers of the big hits of that era). Once the record was printed, the members would sell copies of that record among the student body. I wanted to join that band as a guitarist but competition was intense. (I had a few friends who were in that band.) While I was an okay guitarist, there were other students who were far more talented than me and, to be honest, I was too intimidated to every try out.

I didn’t know much about his personal life aside from a few times that he mentioned that he had a wife when I took my first guitar class with him. By the time I took my second or third guitar class he briefly mentioned that he was separated from his wife a couple of times. Then he briefly mentioned that he was divorced once or twice by the time I took my last guitar class with him. (He never mentioned why he got a divorce nor did he ever say anything nasty about his ex-wife during any of classes I took with him. He also never mentioned having any children from that marriage.) When I saw his Facebook page for the first time and he listed his marital status as “single,” I thought that my memories were wrong. But then I read an interview he gave with a local newspaper (which I’ll get to in the next two paragraphs) and he briefly mentioned “my wife at that time.” I guess he must’ve gotten married sometime in his early 20’s and it only lasted just a few years until the two of them decided to go their separate ways. It’s very likely that, by the time he created his own Facebook page, he probably felt that he had been divorced for so many years that he might as well list his marital status as “single.”

I looked on his personal Facebook page and searched his name on Google after I learned about his death and I found that he later transferred to a different high school as a music teacher before leaving the teaching field entirely in order to work as a full-time musician and songwriter. (Of course all this happened years after I graduated from high school and moved out of Glen Burnie.) He had a professional Facebook page focusing on his music career but it hadn’t been updated since 2013. At one point he had his own website, which basically had a short biography and dates of upcoming performances, which I was able to access thanks to the Internet Archive. (The last update was done after his death, which announced that he was deceased.) He even wrote a Christian musical called Walk With God, whose official website can only now be accessed through the Internet Archive.

I saw on his personal Facebook page that he had adopted a Golden Retriever puppy just a couple of years before his death. He frequently posted pictures of that dog and it was obvious that he loved his dog. I only hope that this dog found a new loving forever home after his owner died.

Recently I came across this extensive interview Mr. Landers did with a local Ocean City publication called The Coconut Times in 2014 where I was not only able to catch up on whatever became of him after I left school but I even learned about his early life before he became my music teacher. This interview is so extensive that it’s divided into Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. It’s really quite a fascinating read that I would highly recommend to anyone regardless of whether you actually knew him personally (like I did) or not. I learned that he grew up in Baltimore (in the same neighborhood where the since-demolished Memorial Stadium was located) in a very large extended family that included numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins. Many of his relatives were singers and musicians and he even had a cousin who was a singer whose main rival was Patsy Cline. He landed his first job at 12 helping out in a local music store where he met professional musicians who played with the big acts like Buddy Holly.

Mr. Landers totally opened up about his life in that interview, including admitting that he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the 1990’s due to a tainted blood transfusion he received in the early 1970’s. (Which probably explains why he underwent a liver transplant in the first place.) He also mentioned that, when he was 21, his father took him to a bar so he could have his first legal alcoholic beverage while engaging in some father and son talk. His father would suddenly die of a heart attack just nine months later. (Reading that interview and seeing his old Facebook posts, it seems like longevity wasn’t exactly a family trait. Not only did his father pass away at 45, he had a brother who died in a car accident at 52, and a cousin who also died an untimely death as a result of being exposed to Agent Orange while serving in the Vietnam War. And that’s not to mention Mr. Landers’ own death while he was in his early 60’s.)

Amid the bad times there were plenty of good memories as well. He mentioned in the interview that he had recently ate lunch with a member of Pink Floyd whom he did not identify. (I can safely say that it wasn’t with Syd Barrett or Rick Wright since they were both dead by 2014, when the interview took place.) He also mentioned meeting many famous musicians, such as the band Danny and the Juniors, who is best known for the big 1950’s hit “At the Hop.”

As I read that extensive interview, I realized that Mr. Landers lived a very interesting and fascinating life and I found myself wishing he had written a book or even started a blog about his memories. That 2014 interview is about as close as we’ll ever get to an autobiography and I’m glad that it exists. (You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.)

As I look over that three-part interview and those Facebook posts, I have to admit that the saddest thing about his death is that it seemed like Mr. Landers was at a point in his life where he was basically content with the things that was going on in his life over the last two or three years before he died. He had a thriving music career despite never becoming a major recording artist who sells millions of copies of his music. He was spending his summers in Ocean City where he was doing gigs at various bars and nightclubs throughout the Delmarva region. The rest of the year he was in Nashville where he was recording music and meeting people in the music industry. He had even contributed a song to this independent movie called Patapsco Valley that, as far as I can tell, only exists as a location camera test on Vimeo. (That is his song, “The River,” playing in the background of that video.) He had a dog whom he seemed to have loved very much. He achieved a point in his life where he was basically happy and content then he dies while he was in his early 60s. Yet there are a lot of loathsome people who are still alive and kicking and many of them are older than he was when he died. (I don’t want to elaborate on this any further or else this post will veer into something that would be as inappropriate as President Trump’s recent notorious speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree.)

I had pretty much cut myself off from most of the people I knew back in high school mainly because I wanted to protect myself from reliving any painful memories. (I went to my five-year reunion and that was enough for me.) I have to admit that Mr. Landers is one of the few people from my old high school I wished I had a chance to re-connect with before he died. I would’ve loved to have visited him in Ocean City (where, in his remaining years, he had spent his summers while living in Nashville the rest of the year) and I definitely would’ve brought my guitar with me so we could’ve done a jam session or two.

Ironically I used to go to Ocean City with my then-husband, his sister, her son, and an invited guest (some years it was a friend of my nephew’s while other years it was a friend of my sister-in-law’s) for a week-long family vacation every year until 2011 (just a few months before my husband left me). If I had known that Tim Landers was also there as a performer, I definitely would’ve made the time to at least spend one evening attending one of his shows. (My then-husband and sister-in-law could’ve either come with me or stay behind in our rented condo.) It would’ve been really cool if I had brought my guitar with me and we could’ve gotten into a jam session. If only I had actually taken the time to thoroughly read those various free publications that used to list various events that went on in Ocean City, I would probably have come across his name and gone to one of his shows to see if he was actually my high school teacher. Oh well. It’s my loss and I have to deal with it.

I still have those mimeographed ditto sheets of guitar chords and song lyrics that Mr. Landers handed out in class stashed away in folders. They have survived various moves over the years. Writing this post has inspired me to pull out those old ditto sheets, take a look at them, pull out my guitar, and start playing it using those old sheets from years ago.

R.I.P. Mr. Landers.

It has been the usual summer in the Washington, DC area with high heat and high humidity followed by storms that temporarily blast the humidity away and make things pleasant outside until the high heat and high humidity reasserts its dominance over the area. The one consequence of this weather has been a few white mushrooms growing in the grass.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

#mushrooms grow after heavy rainstorms.

Not too long ago I saw this vintage yellow vintage Volkswagen bus parked in a parking lot. I can remember when my late aunt and uncle owned a Volkswagen bus for a few years which they used to drive to my parents’ home when I was a kid. (My aunt and uncle had four daughters, which was why they even owned the Volkswagen bus in the first place.) It has literally been years since I’ve seen a Volkswagen bus anywhere on the streets so it was a bit of a surprise to see a yellow bus with a large peace sign in the front.

Vintage Volkswagen Bus

Not too long ago I attended a Saturday morning networking event that was held at McLean Bible Church, which is located in Northern Virginia. I was hoping to find contacts who could help me land a new day job in order to pay the bills as well as getting any possible new tips on how to refine my search. Plus it gave me the opportunity to actually step foot inside one of those non-denominational Christian megachurches that have been springing up all over the U.S. since the late 1980s.

Before I go any further I want to explain my own religious background so you’ll understand why this post has a “stranger in a strange land” feel. I was raised in the Roman Catholic church. The parish where I attended mass from the time I was a child until I was in college had anywhere from 1,000-2,000 members. The church held mass four times a week (one on early Saturday evening around 6 or 7 p.m. and the other three on Sunday at 9 a.m., 10:15 a.m., and noon). While some people knew who I was growing up, there were times when I felt like I was just a face in the crowd of Catholics. I don’t recall too many efforts to have social events for the parishioners so they could get to know each other. Basically people attended mass then headed out the door the moment the last hymn ended.

I left the Catholic church when I was in college and I spent my college years identifying myself as a “secular Christian” (or a gentile equivalent of a secular Jew). When I was in my senior year of college I saw an ad in the Sunday Washington Post for Unitarian Universalism which read “Instead of having to fit in with a church, I found a church that fit me.” There was something about that ad that resonated with me in a positive way and it was a contrast to all those fundamentalist Christian groups on campus (such as the Campus Crusades for Christ) who were constantly trying to recruit converts among the student body so often that I began to loathe them because they became such a nuisance. I showed the ad to my boyfriend and he was impressed by it as well. I found out that there were no campus UU groups at the time, the nearest UU church was at least three miles away and I had no car plus the Metrobuses tend to run erratic hours on Sundays. So I forgot about the ad and still considered myself to be a secular Christian who was happily unchurched.

My boyfriend and I were engaged soon after I graduated from college and we began to plan our wedding. My fiancee began to express a preference for a religious wedding out of the blue. (I was always surprised by his preference. He told me that his family was basically nonreligious when he was growing up, with the exception of a few years when his family attended a Quaker congregation only to leave it when that congregation went through a nasty congregational split that disgusted his parents so much that they quit.) He remembered that Washington Post ad I showed him and suggested that we try attending a Unitarian Universalist Sunday service. So we went to our first service and we were really impressed by the format of the Sunday service. We were further impressed when they actually served coffee after the Sunday service ended and we found the congregation to be very friendly and upbeat (which was a welcome contrast to my memories of dealing with the members of my old Catholic parish). We learned that the minister who spoke at that service was only a visiting minister and the regular minister would be speaking the following Sunday. So we attended the following Sunday and we were impressed with that minister and the other members were very friendly towards us during the coffee hour.

Basically we kept on attending because we liked the church and its members and we eventually joined that congregation. A few months later, we were married by the UU minister and we remained active members for many years. I continued to attend Sunday services at that UU church after my marriage fell apart. (It helps that my ex-husband only sporadically attends these days.) Compared to my 1,000-2,000 Roman Catholic parish I attended as a child, the UU church I attend has a room where Sunday services are held that can seat a maximum of 500 people. Despite that, we rarely had to deal with the room overflowing on Sunday mornings. Right now my congregation has around 150 members. I know that it’s small but, as an adult, I find that I prefer a smaller congregation. I find it easier to make new friends among the congregation and it’s really a good feeling to go to Sunday services at a place where most people know your name.

I know that there are downsides to having a small congregation, mainly when it comes to what programs we can actually offer to fellow members and the wider community. We don’t have enough people to offer services that larger churches offer, such as a soup kitchen for the homeless or computer lessons to underprivileged persons. But the feeling I get that I’m not being lost in the shuffle (which is how I felt at times in my old Roman Catholic parish) makes up for it.

For years I had heard of people joining megachurches but it seemed like my then-husband and I bucked the trend by joining a small church instead. There were times when I wondered what a megachurch is like but I wasn’t that curious enough to consider visiting a megachurch on a Sunday morning because I really didn’t want to deal with people pressuring me to convert to their church. When I found out about this networking event at McLean Bible Church, I found the perfect opportunity to see what this megachurch is like without feeling pressured into converting. I brought a camera with me so I could take pictures.

According to the Wikipedia, McLean Bible Church is spread out over five separate campuses, which draws a total attendance of 13,000 people each week. I went to the church’s main campus in Vienna. I parked my car in the church’s two-story parking garage (which is definitely the largest parking lot I’ve ever seen for a house of worship). Seeing that building from the outside for the first time was an eye-opener.

I entered the church on the lower level and I felt like I was in the corridor of a very large hotel or a convention center.


The next photo shows the sanctuary where Sunday services are held. Unfortunately the doors were locked when I was there so I was only able to get a quick shot of the doorway windows giving you a glimpse as to how big this church is.

The networking event was held in a lower-level conference room which is about as big as the room in my UU congregation’s Meetinghouse where our Sunday services are held.

Around the corner from that conference room is a full-service coffee bar called Journeys, which was closed when I was there. I got a look at the menu, which offers as many varieties of different coffees as Starbucks. I noticed that Journeys prices its beverages around the same as Starbucks does. This is a far cry from what my congregation serves each Sunday. (We basically offer regular coffee, decaf coffee, and hot water for those who want tea or hot chocolate. It is entirely self-service and we only ask a small donation if you can afford it. It is all wheeled out on a cart after Sunday service ends. I don’t see my congregation ever installing its own full-service coffee bar like McLean Bible Church has.)

The women’s restroom was also an eye-opener as well. When you enter the restroom, you encounter a rack full of brochures that people can take.

Each stall had a Bible quote hanging on the inside door so you get to read something inspirational while you’re doing your personal business.

But that’s not all. The women’s bathroom has a large room off to the side. It is a lounge that has comfortable seats and a large-screen TV. I’ve seen the restrooms in some of the really fancy hotels have something like this but this was the first time I ever seen something like this in a church.

After the morning networking event ended, I stuck around a bit longer because I was really curious about this church. I went up to the second floor where I found this giant lobby area.

There are long desks outside the entrance doors to the second floor of the sanctuary where Sunday services are held. (Those doors were locked just like the lower entrances.) To me the area looks more like a hotel or convention center than a church.

The next photo shows a display table publicizing the church’s latest project: sending cards to members of the U.S. military who are stationed overseas.

The next two photos show one of two or three tables full of American flags encouraging people to send cards to the U.S. troops.

One of the side lobby had literature promoting the various smaller affinity groups that McLean Bible Church has, such as men-only and women-only spirituality groups and an affinity group that is devoted to people who have recently moved to the area.

The last picture I took was a view from a second story window.

Unfortunately the battery on my camera died after I took that last shot. I found a mall-style fast food eatery where people can order meals and eat them at one of the many provided tables. (That fast food place was closed when I was there. I have a feeling that this place, like the coffee bar, is open only on Sundays.) I’ve been to a few larger churches that have kitchens with dining areas but these churches only use them for special occasions (such as this one in a Catholic church, which I went to when that church had an Oktoberfest event that was opened to the general public a few years ago). McLean Bible Church’s facility definitely had the look of a fast food place that’s opened on a regular basis because I saw trays stacked in one area where people grab before getting in line. I saw a full-service menu with prices that were on par with what a typical fast food place charges.

I saw a sign touting a gift shop but I didn’t make much of an effort to search for it because of the dead camera battery and the feeling that the gift shop is probably closed on Saturdays as well.

I have to admit that the church is impressive in terms of the amenities it provides but I still prefer my small 150-member church. It means a lot to me to have a place where people recognize me and know my name and it would be harder for me to adjust to a megachurch. So what if my church doesn’t offer espressos or other types of fancy coffees like the McLean Bible’s coffee stand does. There is a Starbucks located just a short drive away for anyone at my church who feels the urge for a Coconutmilk Moca Macciato.  If you’re looking for something to eat, there are a couple of shopping centers located close by where you can have your choice of various restaurants ranging from fast food to a regular full-service restaurant.

I don’t mean to offend anyone reading this who has long attended a megachurch. I understand that you may find my preference for smaller churches to be off-putting. Just understand that I was not raised in a megachurch (even my childhood Roman Catholic parish would be considered small compared to McLean Bible Church) and I’ve grown used to attending a small church as an adult. If you like your megachurch, I’m not going to tell you to switch to a smaller church. I just personally prefer a smaller church for myself. That’s all.

Three years ago I devoted an entire summer’s worth of Throwback Thursdays to doing a review a series of historical novels by American Girl (yes, that’s the doll company) devoted to a girl growing up in the 1970’s named Julie Albright. I thought it would be fun to comparing how the 1970’s were portrayed in those books with my own memories of growing up during that same era.

In the midst of doing those reviews, American Girl decided to revamp its historical line by retiring a few dolls and placing the remaining historical dolls under a new product line known as “BeForever.” In the process I found that the original six novels I had reviewed earlier that summer were combined into two large volumes with all of the original illustrations removed. In addition American Girl released another volume that was basically a “Choose Your Adventure” book.

By the time I finished reviewing that Choose Your Adventure book (A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie), I had not only read and reviewed all of the books in that series, I was starting to burn out from doing this project. I briefly revisited this series last year when I did a review of a movie short that American Girl did based on the books called And the Tiara Goes to…

The last time I went to the American Girl Place in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, I found that a new Julie Mystery was published earlier this year called Message in a Bottle. This is the first new Julie Mystery book since 2013 (when Lost in the City was published) and the first new Julie Book overall since A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey With Julie was released in 2014. (If you’ve missed the reviews I’ve done for other books in this series, there are links at the end of this post where you can read them at your leisure.)

I know that The Police had a hit song called “Message in a Bottle” but that song didn’t come out until 1979—two years after the events in this book. The closest song title that actually came out in Julie’s era (1975-1977) is Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle,” which came out a few years earlier in 1972.

The book was written by Kathryn Reiss, who wrote the previous Julie Mysteries The Tangled WebThe Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, and The Silver Guitar. The cover image was done by Juliana Kolesova and Joe Hinrichs.

All of the Julie Mystery books follow the events in the original Central Series books (which are now only available in the two-volume BeForever Books (The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1 and Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2) and Good Luck, Ivy.

Since this new book is the latest one published and since the events take place in the summer (while the previous Julie Mystery, Lost in the City, takes place during spring break), I’m going to assume that it follows Tangled Web, The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter, The Silver Guitar, and Lost in the City.

Like all of the other Julie books, this one was written for a target audience of girls between the ages of 8-12 so some of the hot button topics of the 1970’s (such as the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which legalized abortion) won’t be mentioned at all.

She’s back and all ready to solve another mystery!

Synopsis: Julie Albright is a white girl with long blonde hair and brown eyes growing up in 1977 San Francisco. Her parents are divorced so she spends most of her time living with her mother, who operates her store full of handcrafted items (some of which are made from repurposed and recycled clothes) called Gladrags, and her 17-year-old sister, Tracy, in a small apartment that’s located above her mother’s store. On most weekends she stays with her father, a commercial airline pilot, in the same home that the entire family lived in before the divorce. During her visits with her father, she gets a chance to spend some quality time with her pet brown rabbit, Nutmeg (who has to stay with her father because her mother’s apartment complex doesn’t allow pets), and play with her best friend who lives across the street, Ivy Ling.

It’s the summer and schools are currently closed until September. Julie has been spending most of it alone in her mother’s apartment reading library books. (Apparently Julie’s 11th birthday came and went since it’s on May 1.) Both of her parents are busy with their jobs. Her sister Tracy is currently working not one but two summer jobs so she is rarely home these days. Her two closest friends, Ivy Ling and T.J. (whom the book misidentifies as “CJ” so it’s pretty obvious that some editor screwed up big time), are currently out of town visiting relatives.

But then her mother receives a letter from her younger sister, Nadine, whom she hasn’t seen in 10 years. Nadine writes that she desperately needs her sister’s help on the commune where she lives with her son, Raymond, and she would like for her sister to come soon. She also mentions that she doesn’t have a phone so Mrs. Albright should just drive to the commune as soon as possible.

Apparently Tracy isn’t able to take time off from either of her two jobs so Mrs. Albright has arranged for her to stay at her father’s home and she also got her assistant at Gladrags to mind the store while she’s away. Her and Julie hit the road, driving north of San Francisco.

They eventually reached Sonora, the small town that’s located closest to Nadine’s commune. They decide to eat lunch at the outer space-themed Galaxy Cafe. They are waited on by a teen girl named Dolores who’s having such a hard time with arriving at her job on time from her break and messing up orders that the cafe’s owner, Mr. Coker, really chews Dolores out in front of Julie and her mother. Mr. Coker apologizes for Dolores’ mistakes and says that the meal is on the house. When Mrs. Albright mentions that she’s on her way to the commune to visit her sister, Mr. Coker says that Dolores lives at the commune herself. He also says that he had offered to buy the land from the commune but they keep on turning him down each time.

Julie and her mother arrive at the commune known as Gold Moon Ranch and Julie meets her Aunt Nadine and cousin Raymond (who’s around Julie’s age) for the first time since she was a toddler. As they are given a tour of the facilities, they learn that Gold Moon Ranch is supposed to be a self-sustaining commune where people live off the land and they make extra money on the side selling their homegrown vegetables and jars of honey. The commune includes a small cottage for each family unit along with a large central building, known as the Big House, where all the commune members eat their meals and gather for other events. The commune children are educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the premises and the adult members take turns serving as teachers. There is a large treehouse for the children to play in. There is also a separate bathhouse building with toilets (which are little more than seats on the ground over open pits) and with a water pump where the residents draw water to take a bath. (The commune has no running water or electricity.) They raise chickens, cows, and sheep while also growing their own vegetables. They make everything from scratch, including butter and wool yarn.

The commune got its name from the fact that it is located on the site of a former gold mine where gold miners used to dig during the California Gold Rush that went on from 1848-1855. The former mine has been boarded up in order to deter kids and trespassers from going in.

Nadine and her husband, David, founded Gold Moon Ranch and things were okay until her husband decided to join the military and fight in the Vietnam War. This decision was a shock because both Nadine and David were previously opposed to the war and so were all of their fellow commune members. It turns out that David joined because his twin brother was missing in action and he wanted to find him. He learned that his brother was killed and he was seriously injured not long afterwards. He relearned how to walk in rehab but he was unable to resume his work at Gold Moon Ranch due to his injuries so he has decided to take a part-time job at the library in Sonora. (Nadine mentions that things had become so strained between her and her husband that he decided to live in Sonora instead of the commune.)

David is described in the book as being very industrious and good with his hands before he went off to Vietnam. Ever since David went off to war the various commune members have been gradually moving out and it has gotten to the point where the remaining members can barely keep the place running and they are also having a hard time paying taxes. The reason why Nadine asks her older sister for help is because Mrs. Albright had been writing Nadine letters about how she had founded her Gladrags store and is currently doing well with it.  Nadine hopes that Mrs. Albright can put her knowledge and experience to work in helping the commune start its own store where they can sell their various handmade items.

Meanwhile Raymond has been distraught over his parents’ separation and he frequently talks about how his father had built many things on the commune and he basically misses his father. Julie tries to console her cousin by telling him that her parents are divorced and she once wanted her parents to reconcile but she has gotten used to her parents living apart. It’s obvious that Raymond hasn’t quite fully accepted his parents being separated while Julie has fully adjusted to her parents’ divorce because Raymond frequently talks about how much he misses his Pa.

If all that weren’t enough, there have been some pretty strange things happening at the commune. When Julie and her mother first arrived, they see the commune members trying to capture the chickens that had somehow escaped from the fenced-in area. Raymond tells Julie that the beehives are currently empty because the bees were somehow mysteriously driven away. Periodically Julie finds paper napkins scattered on the property that are the same ones that are used at the Galaxy Cafe. One night after midnight Julie follows her cousin to the entrance of the abandoned gold mine only for the two cousins to discover mysterious lights coming from that gold mine even though it’s supposed to be boarded up. Someone cuts the laundry cord while the commune’s freshly washed clothes were hanging outside to dry. Someone also manages to open one of the gates so the calf can run away while leaving her mother behind as the culprit leaves behind yet another one of those Galaxy Cafe napkins. (Julie finds the missing calf tied to a tree besides the river.)

During one of her walks with her cousin, Julie finds a perfume bottle along the river that runs near the abandoned gold mine. She later inspects it and finds that there is a message inside (hence the name of this book) while the bottle opening itself is sealed with wax. Julie manages to remove the wax, open the bottle, and take out the message. As she reads it she finds that it’s actually a poem about the downside of being a gold miner that has been signed with only the name Jack. Basically Jack wrote his poem to his “darling girl” where he expresses regrets ever becoming a gold miner and he now realizes that his love for her is a better source of being rich than gold.

What Julie saw at the commune raises all kinds of questions with her. Who really wrote that poem and why was it sealed in a bottle and thrown in the river? Who is behind all of those sabotage efforts on the commune and why is the person doing this? Is Mr. Coker doing this in an effort to get the commune to sell him the land? Or is it someone else, such as a disgruntled commune member? And what about those paper napkins from the Galaxy Cafe? Are they being left behind by accident or are they being left behind to send a subtle message to the commune that they should let Mr. Coker buy the property? Does that message in a bottle have anything to do with the sabotage that’s going on in the commune? Julie is determined to get to the bottom of all this.

The book ends with the two-page section titled “Inside Julie’s World,” discusses the rise of communes while mentioning the fact that the fictional Gold Moon Ranch is similar to a real-life Tennessee commune known as The Farm. The section mentions that these 1970s communes would later lead to the creation of co-housing and other forms of intentional communities in recent years (including co-housing for artists and senior citizens).

The section also goes into the plight of the Vietnam vets who returned home only to suffer through disabilities both physical and emotional while briefly mentioning veterans of more recent wars who have gone through something similar.

Music Mentioned in This Book

“Michael Row the Boat Ashore”

“Sweet Betsy From Pike”

“This Land is Your Land”

News and Other Stuff From the Era Mentioned

California Gold Rush
The Farm commune in Tennessee
Vietnam War

My Own Impressions Based on My Own Experiences With the 1970’s

I used to hear about people living on communes when I was growing up but my parents were never into living that lifestyle. I remember when there was a cul-de-sac court of four or five houses located across from the street where I lived and once a year that particular area would organize a block party that was especially for those houses. (I used to go to that block party with a friend who lived next door to me and we used to play with the kids who lived there. The adults never minded us being there at the block party even though our homes weren’t in that cul-de-sac. I remember having fun at those block parties.) My mother used to talk about how she was glad our house wasn’t in a cul-de-sac court so she wouldn’t have to get involved with organizing one of those block parties because she had enough to do with her full-time job (she was an office manager for a life insurance company that has long since been merged with another life insurance company).

If she felt like that about an annual block party, I can only imagine her reluctance to live in a commune where everything was shared and people had to constantly take turns making the communal meals or educating the children. Besides, there weren’t any communes located anywhere near Glen Burnie, Maryland (where I grew up). Heck, I can’t even say if a commune had ever been established anywhere in the Baltimore metropolitan area.

My then-fiancee and I started attending a Unitarian Universalist church just a few months before I was married at 23. It was a usual religious community where people (both with and without families) would attend weekly Sunday service and get involved in extra curricular activities (such as book discussion groups, dinners, and other types of social activities).

My then-husband and I had been members of that UU congregation for a number of years when we got involved in a day-long workshop that was put on by the Unitarian Universalist Association at our church, which had guided activities that encouraged people to come up with ideas as to how to attract more people to our congregation and to UUism in general. This workshop started off with all of the participants being divided into small groups. Then we were given questions about the congregation’s history that we would discuss within the small group.

During the course of doing this exercise, it came out that during the 1970’s that some of the members of our congregation had started to meet in a smaller group where they discussed the issues of the day. In time they started to hold dances and other social events. These members had been dissatisfied with society in general after living through such things as Martin Luther King’s assassination and the Vietnam War. They began talking and this group started to express dissatisfaction with the whole idea of living in nuclear families and they wanted to explore alternative ways of living together in a community.

This group formed the nucleus of a movement where they would live together in a community and jointly share in the household chores and child raising, just like the commune described in the book. However, this group took things a bit further by exploring what was then called open marriage where married couples started having side relationships while staying married to their spouses. (Today it would be called polyamory.) I know that not all communes had explored anything like this and I can understand why American Girl would not even want to even hint about this in that book since their target audience are kids from 8-12 and they just did not want to provoke parental outrage.

There were two communes that they attempted to form. The first one was a group home in the Washington, DC suburbs but that one lasted just a few years. There was another attempt as a group decided to start a farm in Southern Maryland. I know that this farm still existed as late as the 1990’s (that’s because one of our longtime members had moved there because she wanted to live there post-retirement while being reunited with her old friends from the 1970s but she only lasted a few years before she moved back to our area) but I don’t know if it is still around or not.

I was amazed as I was hearing that story for the first time because none of the older members had ever mentioned anything like that to me before. I found out that it was because this group became controversial among other congregation members who weren’t into exploring open marriages or alternative ways of living together. I was told that quite a few members had left over this and it nearly led to a congregational split at one point.

By the time my husband and I started attending that church, this movement had pretty much collapsed and I guess that the other members just didn’t want to talk about a movement that had become very divisive within our congregation so I didn’t learn about this for years until I attended that workshop.

This led to a lay-led summer service just a couple of years later as the people who were active during that group’s heyday spoke about their experiences. I learned quite a lot from that service. For example, in the Message in a Bottle book I read it said in the “Inside Julie’s World” section at the end that it was young adults who had formed communes. This wasn’t the case with the people who formed their own movement within our UU congregation. One of the speakers said that the youngest person involved in the movement was 35 at the time. Another speaker said that her 25-year marriage disintegrated as a result of her and her husband getting involved in all aspects of that movement, including open marriage. Basically the majority of people who were involved were in their 40s, 50s, and even older during the movement’s heyday. Another aspect of that movement is that they had a no-drug policy and one of the speakers said that they had drummed out a few members for violating that policy too many times.

I later read in UU World magazine that this movement exploring alternative lifestyles and relationships was not unique to just our congregation. This article mentions how there was casual sex that took place among members of many congregations during the 1970s, including partner swapping, and how one UU congregation member said that she was frequently propositioned by married men.

The closest I had come to ever living in a commune was the time when I lived in off-campus housing just a half a mile from the University of Maryland campus in College Park. All except one of us were full-time students. (The one non-student was an aspiring DJ who worked as a busboy just so he could make ends meet.) We would socialize and stuff but we rarely ate our meals together because of our different class schedules. We had our own boyfriends/girlfriends and none of us had ever gotten into polyamory or anything like that. (It was hard enough juggling just one relationship with our studies, let alone trying to juggle two or more relationships.) I moved out after I graduated from school and moved back to my parents’ home in Glen Burnie. I moved out again 10 months later when I got married to a townhouse that I still live in because I got it as part of my divorce settlement.

As for the book itself, it’s not the first time Julie had tried roughing it with her relatives (see Julie’s Journey ) but this book had a much better-written plot than Julie’s Journey. The book provided some insight on what it was like to live in a commune. I found it mildly amusing when Julie admired certain aspects of the commune (such as seeing the stars at night with much greater intensity than in the streetlight-soaked city skies) while her cousin Raymond and teen commune member Dolores envied her because she has access to television and all of the amenities of big city life (such as a public library with a lot of books). Julie also took the point of view that it would be very difficult for some people to adjust to a lifestyle like Gold Moon Ranch. At one point in the book Julie admitted that moving to Gold Moon Ranch would mean not seeing her father or friends as much and she would also have to leave her current school.

The book became gripping when a commune member was trapped in the abandoned gold mine in the middle of a heavy storm that had the riverbanks flooding and Julie found herself in a race against time to help free that person before the gold mine became so flooded that the two of them would drown.

I also like the fact that this was a mystery where I wasn’t able to figure out what was really going on until the very end, unlike the earlier Julie Mysteries where I would guess the ending about midway through the book and I would be found correct at the end. I think making the mystery challenging enough makes the book more interesting.

The one thing I miss from this book that the older edition of the Julie Books had were the Looking Back section at the end, which were a multi-page spread that not only featured text but also vintage photographs and other illustrations from the era in which Julie grew up in. This new book, like the newer BeForever books, only have a text-only two-page spread titled  “Inside Julie’s Word.” It would’ve been more interesting to young readers had there been at least one photo of a real-life commune just so the kids could get an idea as to what one really looked like. Granted any kid could just Google “1970s communes” on a computer but I think it’s more convenient to have the visual information at hand while reading the text without having to interrupt reading the book, go to a computer, and do an online search.

I found the book to be a pretty good read but I still think The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter is the best of the Julie Mysteries because it was gripping at times with people following her and Ivy as they went through the streets of Chinatown and it also delved into the uncomfortable history of the racism against Chinese Americans.

That’s it for my book review. I have no idea if American Girl will come out with any more Julie Mysteries but if it does, I’m sure that I’ll probably buy it and read it. I’ll probably write another review for this blog.

I also noticed something about the Julie Mysteries. The events in the first, third, and fifth books (Tangled Web, The Silver Guitar, and Message in a Bottle) predominantly take place while Julie is with her mother. The events in the second and fourth books (The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter and Lost in the City) take place while Julie is with her father. If there is to be another book, it would be the sixth Julie Mystery book, so I predict that—if such a book is written and published—it will take place when Julie is with her father and her pal Ivy Ling will probably be there as well.

That’s the only speculation I’m going to provide about any possible potential future Julie Books because I’m not into spreading rumors.

If you want to buy this book and/or read my other Julie Book reviews that I wrote back in 2014, check out the links at the end of this post.

Where to Buy Message in a Bottle

Amazon
American Girl
Barnes & Noble
Powell’s Books

The American Girl Julie Albright Books List

The Original Central Series

Meet Julie
Julie Tells Her Story
Happy New Year, Julie
Julie and the Eagles
Julie’s Journey
Changes for Julie

The Best Friend Book

Good Luck, Ivy

The Julie Mysteries

The Tangled Web
The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
The Silver Guitar
Lost in the City
Message in a Bottle

The BeForever Books

The Big Break: A Julie Classic Volume 1—A compilation of the first three Julie Albright Central Series books (Meet Julie, Julie Tells Her Story, and Happy New Year, Julie).

Soaring High: A Julie Classic Volume 2—A compilation of the last three Julie Albright Central Series books (Julie and the Eagles, Julie’s Journey, and Changes for Julie).

A Brighter Tomorrow: My Journey with Julie

Other Media Featuring Julie

And the Tiara Goes to…—A film short based on the Julie books.

My support group for people who are separated or divorced was having a pre-Fourth of July get-together at this park in Catonsville which also included a free concert by a local band. I originally intended to go to that event but I got diverted by attending the weekly meetup of this animation group that I’ve been involved with since last year.

I left as soon as the meetup ended and I decided to check out downtown Catonsville first before going to that park. I remember going to that town on a Saturday every few months when I was growing up because my grandmother’s doctor had his offices there. My mother used to drive her there and I would tag along as well. I hadn’t been to Catonsville in a very long time so I thought it would be nice to reacquaint myself with the area before I headed off to the park.

I vaguely remembered Catonsville having a lot of shops but we never shopped there. We only went there for my grandmother’s doctor and that was it. I wanted to know if I remembered this correctly and, sure enough, I was correct.

The entire downtown area is totally charming to walk around.

I found a sign mentioning the fact that this part of Catonsville is a historic district.

Here’s one of the street signs celebrating the upcoming Fourth of July holiday.

I found this gigantic store known as Bill’s Music. If it weren’t for the fact that I was in Catonsville on a late Sunday afternoon (when many of the stores tend to close early) and I was planning on joining my friends in the park, I would’ve gone inside that store and checked it out. The next time I’m in Catonsville I definitely plan on going inside, especially since I’ve been playing the guitar off and on since I was a teenager.

In addition there is another guitar store that’s located right across the street from Bill’s Music.

I just walked around for a bit taking various pictures. It looks like all of the businesses on this street are locally-owned. (Or at least I didn’t see anything resembling a chain store on this street.) It was too bad I wasn’t able to go inside any of the stores. The next time I find myself in Catonsville for any reason, I will definitely go inside at least one or two stores while I’m there. (I’ll probably wait until the fall before I do this because the area is currently undergoing the usual hot and humid heatwave that always plague this area in July and August and I prefer to walk in more pleasant weather.)

I ended up not going to that park after all. When I arrived I saw huge throngs of people entering the park (and, no, they weren’t all from my support group either) and I had a hard time finding parking. I finally found a spot several blocks away but I lost my enthusiasm for going to that park because I would have a hard time finding where my friends from the support group were located due to the huge throng of people who were going to that park for a free concert. (It’s not like the band was this nationally recognized recording stars. Not only had I never heard of this band before, I’ve since forgotten that band’s name.) Plus it was hot that day because it was the usual hot and humid day in July.

I ended up driving back home. I still don’t regret seeing Catonsville again for the first time as an adult since I now know that I was missing out on such a nice area.

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