First of the Murdery Woods Weekends

As the Asian driver in Family Guy says, “Sorry, everybody else!”

This October I’m spending three weekends in a row in bucolic, woodsy communities where few people live and fewer cell phone signals exist. At night the roads are pitch black. If you were to get lost, you’d have to attempt the horror movie trope of pulling over and going to some stranger’s house to ask for directions or ask to use their phone. No one wants to do that in real life.

I am back from Murdery Woods Weekend One: CJ and Kat’s Wedding in the Catskills. The most frightening part of the whole trip ended up being when I just landed a few hours ago and due to the remnants of a cold, couldn’t equalize my ears, giving me that “OMG MY HEAD IS GOING TO EXPLODE” fear.

The wedding venue was in Mount Tremper, outside Kingston, New York. I rode an Amtrak up from the city, right along the Hudson, to get to Albany, which is the closest major city to the venue. Kingston, which was one of the first American settlements by the Dutch, is today blossoming with bearded Brooklynites who have moved in, lots of new artists and music festivals and cool murals on its buildings all over town. I tried the best tamales I’ve eaten in years at the Kingston Farmer’s Market downtown on Saturday, er, yesterday. The horchata was not bad, either. Old Friend Reeve, who conveniently moved to Upstate New York LAST WEEK, came through as both a dependable driver/wedding date (since Justin was unavailable). I enjoyed spending our car time together hearing his strong, highly specific opinions again, like the good ol days when we set out to run three miles but accidentally ran six because we were too busy making wisecracks the whole time.

Anyway. We got sublimely photo-bombed by a New York Assemblyman who was so expert at photobombing that by the time we noticed it happened, he was gone. Poof!

New York Assemblyman Kevin Cahill is the most natural, stealthy photobomber of all time.

Kat is the little sister I never had, or my fourth daughter who I’d be biologically incapable of having, depending on who is making the reference. That she is marrying/married her love of many years, CJ, who makes her feel so supported and encouraged all the time, made all of us cry happy tears during the whole ceremony. The ceremony you will not see in photos (see above).

Saturday afternoon, Reeve and I took the Clinton “Peg Leg” Bates Memorial Highway out to the mountain house where all this was going down. “Bet he never thought he’d have a highway named after him,” Reeve said.

Cocktail hour

Besides all the love in the air, the occasion also allowed for my favorite thing about weddings, which is reuniting with old friends and meeting new, interesting people. (My next favorite thing is messing with strangers by pretending to have a totally different identity.) My bestie Matt Thompson and his bear beau Bryan drove up from DC, we made inappropriate jokes the entire time we were together and ate a lot of food. “We are very food oriented people,” Reeve had to explain to someone in CJ’s family who couldn’t understand all my strategic positioning for the doughnuts.

By the time I was halfway home today from the other coast (I do enjoy the East coast, just not living there), I had a message from Matty saying, “I am going to murder the children. They are demons.” So it turns out the closest thing anyone came murder this weekend was not in the woods, but back in LA in my own home.

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Great, or The Greatest, “Fan” Mail?

I have been working in journalism for my entire adult life and while most of the time the engagement with our listeners, readers and viewers is totally awesome, every once in awhile I get hostile feedback with picayune complaints that invariably include a personal dig. This absurdly rude type of “reader mail” has uniformly come from men. And it always includes some patronizing, preachy component.

There was that voicemail about jail versus prison, in 2015:

Last week, I got another classic one that I had to share with folks, because it was a) so absurd that it circled around to being funny b) the sender entered his name as “First Name Last Name” c) his email was an excite.com address and d) it so amused Friend Reeve that he spent his precious time helping compose a long-ass response (which I edited considerably before sending).

Here’s the listener note, which was, I kid you not, triggered by the fact I say “You bet” instead of “You’re welcome” sometimes.

And here’s the director’s cut response, of which only about five percent wound up in the actual response.

Dear [EMAIL ADDRESS REDACTED],

I’m sorry to hear that you have emailed management repeatedly and have yet to receive a response. As a reporter, I know how frustrating it can be to reach out and not know if your message was received. Somewhere in Kim Jong Un’s inbox, there is probably a whole folder of my unanswered interview requests. So, I hope you didn’t lose any sleep wondering, “Did she get my message?”  You bet I did!

You’ll have to bear with me, Gnarlee. Usually I am pretty casual. But since I know you’re a stickler for these sorts of things, I looked up the top ten email manners tips on EmilyPost.com, and I intend to follow them very closely as I write this response.

The first tip is to always respond, and to try and do so within 24 hours. Check! The second is to use the subject line to alert the receiver to the substance of the email, relieving them of any suspense. As you can see, I have done that. I hope you were not kept in suspense too long. I know you are very sensitive!

The third tip, which I think is a very good one, is to “consider using an address book function that doesn’t list all recipients in the ‘to’ header.” Accordingly, I have bcced numerous people on this email. The fourth — and I bet you can appreciate how relevant this was, Gnarlee! — is to not respond when you are “hot under the collar.” I followed the internet’s advice, and I let this sit for awhile before deciding that I would, in fact, send it.

Tips five, seven, nine and ten don’t really have any bearing on our correspondence. Tip eight is to keep it professional, by which they mean don’t talk about personal stuff. I would imagine following the standard letter-writing format I learned at Babler Elementary School — like making sure you have a salutation and a closing, using proper punctuation,  and things like that — could also fall under the idea of “keeping it professional.” So, even though I notice this was not a priority for you, I have made sure to do that, because as I said, I really want this email to demonstrate basic manners.

Finally, Gnarlee, that brings us to tip six. And I fear that this is where this whole project might fall apart, because tip six is “know your audience.” And even though your email clearly identifies you as “Full Name,” I feel like I just don’t know you, Gnarlee. And I feel like you don’t know me. And that makes this difficult. For all I know, your upbringing was completely different from mine. It’s also likely that our current lives don’t look all that similar (unless, of course, you are also a one-woman foreign bureau for NPR — in which case, way to go!). So unfortunately, though as you can see I came pretty close, I fear I may not be able to adhere to all of the top ten etiquette guidelines. Not because of any deficiency in my education, but just because they turned out to be a bit too rigid for our current context. No doubt, this has disappointed you, Gnarlee. I am sorry for that. The last thing I would want to do would be to write an email just to needlessly upset you.

My pleasure,

Elise

The New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner put it well, when she explained why she shares this kind of stuff:

“The biggest thing: I think it’s important for people who don’t get (or send?!) notes like these to see what the costs are for publicly being a certain type of person. Journalists need to see this, because while lots of us get stuff like this, PLENTY MORE don’t. And for many who do, the hostility is not gendered/racist/intimately personal in this way. It’s also important for journalist/public actors who DO get these notes to know they’re not alone. If you’re getting garbage hurled at you, know you aren’t the only one.”

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First Time To Trump’s America

Friend Reeve meets baby Thomas, one of many babies born since I’ve been gone.

My experiences during short bursts of time in the states are reliably memorable because they are so abbreviated, and therefore I have to really make the most of every moment. In my downtime I a.) kept going to the Au Bon Pain next to my DC hotel to get giant iced teas and breakfast sandwiches and b.) watched some domestic cable news, which let’s face it, is pretty terrifying these days. The programming is interrupted by catheter and other medical device commercials, which are clues I should not be watching.

Highlights that I can piece together through the jet lag:

The Washington Half

Finally visited the Blacksonian — the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture — on the day I landed in DC. Eyes still bloodshot from the flight and jet lag setting in, Matt Thompson, his partner Bryan and I powered through and saw crazy amazing stuff like the Parliament Funkadelic MOTHERSHIP. Yes, yes we did.

Friend Claire came down from New York for a hang. We lingered over a three and a half hour dinner at a mezcal place, not because of the meal but because we had some epic catching up to do.

With one of the greats, Don Gonyea, at NPR HQ.

Don Gonyea gave me advice about work and life, which is always much appreciated.

Hanson, you know, of mmmmbop fame from 20 years ago, played a Tiny Desk Concert on the first day I went back to work in DC. They actually played two, because they recorded their very special Christmas Tiny Desk, too. Taylor (the middle one) and I joked around a bit about how the dinosaur on his Christmas sweater was wearing the same sweater, creating some sort of ugly Christmas sweater matrix.

One of my ex-work spouses, Javaun, took a train up from Lynchburg (where he now lives) to spend Tuesday evening hanging out and eating barbecue and drinking beers together. I can’t even remember all the ground we covered because, beer.

Finally ate at the State Department cafeteria in Foggy Bottom — a bucket list item.

Because I am support the notion of spending money to save time, I hired April Yvonne, friend of my always glam friend Angie Goff, to shop for me. She picked out racks of clothes in a few Georgetown shops in advance, so all I had to do was try things on and make decisions. The whole excursion only took two hours in total and I was hella wardrobed for the weekend and work by the end. Endorse.

The Austin Half

Met the following babies who have joined us since I’d last been in Austin: Baby Adaline. Baby Thomas. Baby Marcella. Baby EJ. Baby Franklin. Toddler Hattie. Toddler Emma. Missed Baby Sam, who is fattening up in a NICU right now, but boy was I overjoyed to see his parents.

Sam’s dad Jimmy is my ultimate favorite eating partner. He also cooks delicious food and personally catered my engagement party with Spanish tapas since he trained to be a chef in the kitchens of Spain and Charleston, SC. Because of serendipity, the weekend I was in Austin was also the Far East Food Festival, in which some sixty Austin restaurants served up healthy portions of various Asian creations and Jimmy was judging the food. He added me as a judge so we CHOWED DOWN until the heat and the food consumption did us in. I had to quit early because I just couldn’t eat anymore. Embarrassing, but true.

Fried kimchi rice balls at Far East Food Fest

Due to the abbreviated time, there were extra meals sandwiched in. On Friday I had a cheeseburger appetizer at P Terry’s while en route to Cooper’s barbecue where we disappeared pounds of brisket, sausage and ribs plus jalapeno mac-and-cheese, potato salad and the standard vat of pickles plus white bread. (Also Cooper’s offers free beans!) This was my favorite meal because of the strong appetizer IN THE CAR ON THE WAY to BBQ and my reliable eating buddies, Blake and Justin, joined to work up some serious meat sweats. I probably could have recovered for third lunch after this but we had do disperse.

Reunited with the dim sum club on Saturday morning to eat our faces off.

Did not see my oracle, Harry Whittington (the guy Dick Cheney accidentally shot in the face) but did see Bachelor Brad, who we seem to run into in Austin pretty much all the time. Is he everywhere? Is it because he’s a twin?

Surprised my goddaughter Marion Cass at her school, which led to second graders drawing me a bunch of butterflies and teaching me how to play a game called Sleeping Queen (need to get this for my daughters). Marion Cass also had me over to her house Sunday afternoon where she showed me how she can do things like SPLITS IN THE AIR because, gymnastics and being seven.

The purpose of this Austin return was to attend Friend Todd’s wedding. Did it, and so glad, because I love weddings! I also get to take partial credit for this union in the butterfly-flaps-its-wings kind of way, because I brought Todd to the Texas Tribune in 2009 as we were starting it. Here’s what happened: He was a weirdo who was teaching me Final Cut Pro as a part of a class I took at Austin Film School. I decided he was adorable even though I’m pretty sure he didn’t wash his hair at the time and was always railing about the dangers of aspartame and fluoride. Started calling him Hot Toddy behind his back (he later confronted me about this and yep, guilty) and convinced our boss Evan to give him a job at the Tribune because we were in wild wild west days of throwing jobs around. It was through this job that he met Carsi, his bride.

Reeve and I ran the hike and bike trail and joked around the whole time, just like the good ol’ days.

Sent up a flare in DC, and again in Austin, for big group happy hours. Both led to the happiest reunions, predictably. In Austin, April, my BFF from those halcyon days of my partying/Texas lege-covering twenties in Austin, HAPPENED to also be back after moving away to Toronto a few years ago. We got to see each other for about twenty minutes. I’ll take it.

The last time I was in America, I was two people. This time it was just me and my pump, which had to be used every few hours for the duration of the nine-day trip, the bottles and bags of expressed milk piling up in my respective hotel freezers until I had so much that I paid $400 in heavy baggage fees to bring all that liquid gold home. In order to keep it frozen while flying, I snuck in a trip to Ace Hardware in DC and got a giant padded cooler bag, which ended up being perfect. Thanks, Ace Hardware.

 

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SXSW 2013: The Year I Hit The Wall

Saturday night at SXSWi, when Blake, Reeve and I found a magically empty bar to hang with old friends at.

Saturday night at SXSWi, when Blake, Reeve and I found a magically empty bar to hang with old friends at.

Conference attendance at the interactive portion of the SXSW Film, Music and Interactive Fest swelled to 30,000 this year, and it showed. Walking around Austin among throngs of people with their heads lost in mobile devices, getting Red Bulls shoved in my face by one brand rep or another, battling an inbox full of one party promo after another felt like an absurd dystopia. Reality of the festival’s girth finally caught up with the years of complaints about it.

I spent way too much time in my rental car just trying to find an unclogged artery to get downtown. Once I got close, I spent too much time trying to find a place to park. And this year, I actually had places to go: I was doing tech and culture coverage online and on-air, and Team NPR was there to launch our new 30-and-under effort, Generation Listen. Thanks to the hard work of GenListen founder Danielle Deabler, NPR HR badass Lars Schmidt, the team at KUT Austin and my Austin pals Jimmy Stewart and Elaine Garza, we were able to go from zero to awesome, geek celebrity-filled party inside of three weeks. (Nerd king Neil Gaiman and his wife Amanda Palmer were there, y’all.)

Despite all the marketing-laden madness and the rushing around to finish the story for Morning Edition (which also wouldn’t have been possible without the friendship and help of KUT)… a few magic South By moments did squeeze into the schedule, serendipitously.

  • Justin and I photo-boothed, which has become a real hobby of ours over the years.
  • Snuck in some time on the hike and bike trail. I was reporting at the time and didn’t actually EXERCISE, but hey, my feet touched the trail, okay?
  • P Terry’s! Tried the peanut butter shake. Mixed a little of it into Eva’s rice cereal and might have given her a sugar high. But I felt she HAD TO try it.
  • Took two groups of friends, on separate nights, to a SXSW hideout better known as The Elephant Room, Austin’s basement jazz club that was decidedly not participating in the South By madness. And how wondrous it was, for the first group — a bunch of my favorite people from Knight and MIT — and the second, politico pals Richard Wolffe and Johnathan Kopp, who spent our drinking time reminiscing about all the ‘gates of the Clinton Administration.
  • One night, exhausted by people everywhere and stubbornly refusing to stand in any line at SXSW, ever, my old friends Voggie, Blake, Reeve, Justin and I found a respite. A film about craft cocktail bartenders rented out a Rainey Street house/bar and almost no one showed up for the premiere party. We did. We found empty spaces with nonstop craft cocktails to lounge around in, and Friend Matt, who’d had a long day of speaking/presenting, joined us for some backyard chill time. Our friend Niran then showed up randomly, and so did my fave Austin gays – ex roommate Jarrod, ex coworker Tyler, and even more randomly, Bravo’s Andy Cohen, who the boys were rolling with that night.
  • A quiet brunch at our Austin hosts Melissa and Brett’s house. Melissa made bacon and sausage and quiche with her homemade crust and baked french toast and a fruit salad; the Rocaps joined us in eating it, with my five-year-old Friend Ellie blurting out “bacon!” over and over. It was pretty much the raddest.
  • Catch-up time with my most indefatigable boss ever, Evan. That he even found time for us to hang out despite his schedule was a huge treat.

I have many SXSW regrets this year, because there were too many events and too little time. I didn’t see a single film, which used to be my favorite thing to do during the festival back in the days I didn’t have to be accountable for my time there. I also didn’t see most of my Austin gal pals, who always provide a recharge hard to find from any other source. But the in between moments of socializing weren’t bad, and Eva was awesome to have with us the whole time. Now, I just need to go to sleep for a long time.

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The Mystery Postcard from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House

I returned from Oklahoma to find this on my desk. Who sent me this mysterious smiley-faced postcard from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house?

Things I’ve considered:

1. Whoever addressed the card switched from normal casing to ALL CAPS for the NPR address. What gives?

2. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is a 19th century women’s rights leader. Could this have been sent by a third-wave feminist friend of mine, or just by someone who happened to visit this place and decided to send me a postcard?

3. Stanton’s house is in Seneca Falls, New York. My friend Reeve, whose handwriting could be on this postcard, was recently visiting New York. But it seems the Elizabeth Cady Stanton house wouldn’t be one of his top destinations. I think Reeve prefers Susan B. Anthony.

4. I have ruled out both friends who consistently send me postcards: Sudeep “Man of Honor” Reddy, and Dave “I Love The North Pole” Levinthal. It’s not from Dave based on handwriting and because he only vacations in places with subzero temperatures, and I ruled out Sudeep because he never addresses postcards to me, he sends them to my beagle, Saidee Hu.

Help me solve this mystery.

UPDATE: Reeve has texted to say “That postcard did not come from me.” He adds that this mystery is “creepy.”

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Introducing Crazy Distractions on the Internet Discovered by Reeve

Back in my halcyon days of youth, I enjoyed starting a random blog series every now and again. Like “Snippet from Stiles,” in which I’d quote my then-boyfriend Matty out of context. Or “Impact Players,” a Q & A with a behind-the-scenes person in Texas politics who actually did a lot of heavy lifting. Since I haven’t really grown up, it’s time to start another random series. We’ll call it, “Crazy Distractions on the Internet Discovered by Reeve.”

He's keeping an eye on the internets for you, the people.

Reeve is my pal from Austin. Our connection dates to 2009, when I issued a call across the Texas Senate press table for someone to go eat with me at two in the afternoon. Reeve immediately said yes, and our friendship was born over bad tacos at an El Chilito that closed down and reopened briefly, only to close down again. I later discovered that Reeve enjoys a free meal even more than I do, which is pretty impressive.

Reeve is also about five years younger than me and therefore hip. So I count on Reeve to use his slacking off time at work to discover viral videos, music or any other assorted nonsense that he will then share with me. This has gone on for awhile now. I would not know about the three-year-old who wants to be governor of New Jersey without him. More importantly, I wouldn’t know about the internet sensation that is Rebecca Black’s “Friday” without Reeve, so our connection is both a blessing and a curse.

Since Reeve is pretty consistent in sharing his internet distractions with me, I will start sharing them with you, in the form of our new series. Says Reeve of this idea, “”I cannot fathom why Elise thinks this is worthwhile.”

This week’s distractions:

Stephen Colbert sings Rebecca Black’s Friday for charity, which Reeve calls “epic.”

An oldie but a goodie, featuring a wide array of artists singing “Perfect Day”

And since this is the inaugural post in our series, Reeve suggests you watch what he calls “the greatest YouTube video of all time,” in which this guy, Guy, is there for a job interview and they accidentally bring him on as an expert after some Apple lawsuit so he has no idea what’s going on but he soldiers through.

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Breakfast Summits

We’re doing TT partnerships with TV stations all over the state and Wednesday is Waco liveshot day. After we’re done, photog Justin and I, plus our friend Reeve, meet for breakfast on the UT campus. It’s always a good time.

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