Monica Goes Back to Iowa: Day Three

The Thrilling Conclusion!

Cedar Rapids

I woke up in my darkened hotel room, disoriented by the blackout curtain. The alarm on the other end of my king size bed was beeping and I rolled over to turn it off. As with the previous morning, I hopped out of bed and did some stretches and lunges before throwing on pants, a blazer, and the shirt I bought the night before at SuperTarget.

While I lamented the small selection of breakfast foods at the TownePlace Suites, I was ecstatic at the selection of items at the Hampton Inn. Biscuits and gravy, cereal, fruit, oatmeal, waffles, coffee, juice, tea. How could I pass up a breakfast that had both oatmeal and biscuits and gravy? I grabbed some items and sat down at a table with a copy of the USA Today and a cup with a mustache on it.

After breakfast, I called my mom who had been watching my cats for me. We talked about the final leg of my trip before I packed my things and checked out, grabbing a “happy kit” from the front desk before getting in my car. I drove to Hy-Vee again, looking for a beer called Jesus on a Forklift brewed by Exile Brewing Company in Des Moines, but I found out it is only available on tap. I made it out of Hy-Vee, but not before buying more snacks for the road, some Chinese food, and a six-pack of Exile’s Ruthie Blond Lager to share with people in Milwaukee.

I sat in my car and queued up Too Bright by Perfume Genius.

“It’s time to go home,” I said. I backed out of my parking spot and headed to I-380.

Iowa/Illinois/Wisconsin

Let’s face it: There is no route across Iowa that doesn’t feel boring. I have a friend who once told me his family wants to abolish Iowa because of how dull the drive is. I usually scowl at him or roll my eyes, but the next time he points it out I will probably agree.

As I drove past the harvested fields, I kept wondering if this drive was me doing penitence for the arguing I did with community elders earlier this year, or for not really appreciating someone who really seemed to care about me until I was on my back in the ER, him by my side.

I eventually made it to Walcott and went to use the bathroom, but because of how many travelers there were, I ended up going to a McDonald’s–did you think I would go to the I-80 Truck Stop?–and then eating the Chinese food from Hy-Vee. As I shoveled the lo mein noodles in my mouth, I started crying because I forgot how good Hy-Vee Chinese food is and I cry when I eat really good food.

I got back on the interstate and nothing happened until I got to Rockford, other than me contemplating my place in the universe. Shortly outside of Rockford, I was trapped in really bad traffic as a result of trucks breaking down, which meant I spent about an hour in the Rockford area. I drove past the exit for Rockford University and wondered what would have happened with my life if I had accepted the scholarship I was offered and gone there instead of DePaul University.

By the time I got to Beloit, I was pumped. “I made it to Beloit! I’m almost home,” I told myself, before debating if I should stop and get pizza at Domenicos. (If you’re ever in Beloit, you need to stop at Domenicos and have pizza.) I decided to keep driving, the rain pounding on my still-dirty car as I played Middle Cyclone by Neko Case.

Milwaukee County

Music: “Finale” from In the Heights

I did it. I made it back to Milwaukee. The traffic was lighter than I was expecting, although that might have been because it was the day before Thanksgiving. I got back to my apartment and happily walked through the door, although my cats only seemed excited to have me back to feed them.

And then it hit me.

I didn’t listen to the original cast recording of Falsettos the entire time I was driving.

Monica Goes Back to Iowa: Day Two

Ames, Morning

I awoke in my hotel room and started my day like I normally do, with stretching and doing some exercises. I went down to the lobby for the free breakfast and was a little disappointed by what was there, although I was excited by the giant cauldron of oatmeal. (What? I like oatmeal.)

I sat at the table, reading the Ames Tribune while watching CBS This Morning. As I sipped Lemon Lift tea from a cup with a sleeve that said, “I Wake Up Like This,” I turned my head up at just the right time to see a story about parents in Dubuque trying to challenge The Perks of Being a Wallflower. “Oh, come on!” I yelled at the TV.

“Is everything okay?” a hotel employee asked.

“Oh, yes,” I said sheepishly after realizing what I had done.

I went back up to my hotel room and got ready before packing my bags and loading them into my car, heading out to my engagement in Ames.

Ames, Afternoon

I had a splitting headache and felt sick to my stomach. My thing in Ames had gone long and I found myself crawling into the Village Inn on Lincoln Way to get some pie. The rain was beating down on me because of the wind and all I could think of was, “Oh God, I have to drive back to Milwaukee in the wind and the rain. This should be fun.”

I sat down at a booth, trying to shield my eyes from the bright, pastel signs. I only wanted pie initially, but I talked myself into getting breakfast because like tacos, I believe breakfast consumed at any hour of the day solves everything. I placed my order and felt the urge to curl up under the booth and close my eyes, hoping the headache would pass. My food arrived and I devoured it, finding my headache starting to subside. The waiter handed me my cherry pie and I ate it, remembering trips to Village Inn with my mother when I was a child and late nights spent eating pie in high school.

I then drove to the Wheatsfield Cooperative, which has been open for more than 40 years. As someone who is very enthusiastic about cooperatively-owned businesses, it was exciting to go to a business and see one that has thrived in a community and expanded. Honestly, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven when I saw the prices of the coconut milk creamers, the selection at the meat department, overheard the conversations happening among the customers. It was also what I always dream of cooperatively-owned businesses being, where all of the people in the community feel comfortable and buy local, organic goods.

(They had just reopened the hot bar for the first time in months and the chicken was incredible.)

I asked my mom to look at the radar, so I headed east on Highway 30, which isn’t nearly as boring as Highway 20. When you travel on Highway 30, you still encounter the problem of the drive not being particularly exciting, but at least you pass things like Marshalltown and the Meskwaki Hotel and Casino.

I eventually accepted between the wind, rain, and setting sun, I didn’t feel safe trying to get to Milwaukee that evening and would just spend the night in Cedar Rapids. At this point, my headache had come back, so staying in Cedar Rapids seemed like a really good idea. I booked a room at the Hampton Inn off of Collins Road and then headed there, but not before Waze suggested I take a gravel road most of the way there. I would normally have no problem driving on a gravel road because I learned how to drive in Iowa. That said, I can comfortably drive on a gravel road when it’s dry and daytime. I can maybe handle a wet gravel road in the daytime or a dry gravel road at night, but not a wet gravel road at night. I eventually turned around, stopped at a gas station, and headed into Cedar Rapids.

Cedar Rapids

Music: “Stop Desire” by Tegan and Sara

I’ve always had a soft-spot for Cedar Rapids. When you’re a kid who misses the big city and always feels uncomfortable where you live, Cedar Rapids feels like a godsend.

As I entered the city, I instantly felt at ease while I drove past Westdale mall. I had switched to another GPS app after the gravel road incident and headed to the NewBo area, but not before sabotaging myself by taking a wrong turn and not listening to my GPS app. As I drove past the NewBo Alehouse and the NewBo City Market, I thought, “This is what I wish the Third Ward in Milwaukee was. This feels hip, not douchey, and a place where a broader population can enjoy the businesses.

I parked and rejoiced over people in Cedar Rapids being able to parallel park well*. I stopped in Raygun’s store in Cedar Rapids to look around and try to not buy everything in the store since Raygun is the maker of my favorite shirts and some of my favorite magnets. I convinced myself to only walk out with a sticker and mug for myself and magnet for my sister, but enjoyed every moment of walking around a store for a company I’ve been a fan of since they were Smash.

As I was driving on I-380, I was reminded of how you know you’re in Cedar Rapids because you smell it. I was also reminded of something I often found during my trip, which was how Iowa really hasn’t changed in five years. There was the U.S. Cellular Arena, Fox Eye, Rick’s. The only thing I immediately noticed that was different was the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids, which is a development I applaud because I want to stay at a hotel with warm chocolate chip cookies before walking to a play at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

I arrived at the hotel, tucked near Rockwell Collins’ headquarters. I checked in and was given directions to Hy-Vee, Target–“We have a SuperTarget!”–and the movie theater that is “in walking distance when the weather isn’t this terrible.” I walked down the hallway to my hotel room, making a mental note that I prefer higher floors because something unnerves me about being on the ground floor.

I opened the door and walked into the cozy room, immediately excited at the sight of an armchair and a desk. “Why didn’t I stay at a Hampton Inn in Ames?” I thought.

“Because the TownePlace Suites was less expensive,” I told myself.

After getting settled, I went to Hy-Vee, which is the main supermarket chain in Iowa. Similar to when I was at Bar La Tosca, I had an experience of reverse sticker shock because a bottle of store brand acetaminophen was less expensive than I was anticipating. I went back to my car, took the medicine, and looked around at how things hadn’t changed since I was a kid. I remember seeing the Collins Road Hy-Vee as a child and in the shopping center near the Hy-Vee, there was still an Old Navy and a Barnes and Noble my mom would take me and my sister to before they opened in Waterloo. As the rain fell on the windows of my car, now dirty from the gravel road, I felt comforted while my headache slipped away.

I went up to SuperTarget and snapped a picture for my mom, who always misses the SuperTarget in Waterloo. For those of you who have never been to a SuperTarget, but still think Target is the greatest place on earth, all I can tell you is it is like a really big Target with an expanded grocery section.

“But Targets have grocery sections, Monica.”

Ah, but these have deli and bakery counters and a full produce selection. The aisles are longer and the selection of goods broader. I only needed to pop in and buy a clean shirt to wear the next day, but I had to walk around because I hadn’t been to a SuperTarget in six years. Like the buildings visible off of I-380 and the Barnes and Noble on Collins Road, it was comforting to walk around a store that felt exactly like the one I grew up shopping at in Waterloo.

I decided to then walk around Lindale Mall while I decided what to do for dinner. I was surprised by how empty the mall was since the malls in Milwaukee always seem to be swamped when you get closer to the holidays, but it made it nice to walk around, stretch my legs, and think while I popped in to different stores.

I eventually decided on Cheddar’s for dinner because everything in the area seemed to be a chain, but I knew I had enjoyed eating at Cheddar’s in Lansing, Michigan.

I sat down and ordered iced tea before sitting at a booth and reading. Dinner was going fairly well, even if I was annoyed by the music for the evening mostly being break-up songs from the past ten years. (How I managed to not sob into my chips and queso while “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry played is beyond me.)

Then the quickest way to ruin dinner for me happened at the Cedar Rapids’ Cheddar’s. They played “Breathe” by Michelle Branch over the speakers and I felt my appetite disappear while my right eye started twitching.

“Please. You can play ‘Everything We Had’ by The Academy Is right now and that would make me feel happier,” I thought. “I can’t stand this song.”

My disdain of “Breathe” stems not from hearing it too often on the radio as a kid, because if that was the case, why do I love Dido’s “White Flag”? I dated someone who had a habit of doing an acoustic cover of “Breathe” while warbling off-key. As a result of this, I have developed a deep hatred of that song and find any situation I’m in ruined if that song starts playing.

I folded my hands and furrowed my brows, looking at the spicy chicken and rice (with salad!) I no longer had an appetite for. “Is everything still okay?” the waiter asked.

I wanted to say, “No, you just played ‘Breathe’,” but instead I said, “I think I’m ready for the check.”

I left the restaurant and headed back to the hotel, ready to get cozy with math curriculum while I sipped tea in the armchair. At ten o’clock, I turned on the evening news, wondering how it was possible for Bruce Aune and Joe Winters of KCRG to have seemingly not aged in the five years I had been away from Iowa. I looked at the forecast and planned my trip for the next day, before falling asleep in my room.

*People in Cedar Rapids always seem to be really good at parking, but when you live somewhere where people seem to struggle with parallel parking, you really appreciate good parking.

Monica Goes Back to Iowa: Day One

I haven’t been to Iowa in five years.

I’m sure if I sat down with a therapist, I can find some deep reason as to why I have managed to not visit the state I’m from, but I chalk it up to me not having a reason to go back.

I was asked to go out to Ames for something on November 22, so I happily hopped in my car and headed west from Milwaukee.

Southern Wisconsin

I haven’t done a road trip since college and even those road trips consisted of me driving from Michigan to Milwaukee to visit my mom. I was excited for this trip and had a bag of snacks on my front seat as I pumped up the music while heading towards Madison. I drove past the exits for places I had heard of, but never visited. Oconomowoc! Pewaukee! Delafield! Jefferson! I made it to Madison, “Gonna Make You Sweat” blasting from my speakers, a vegan chocolate chip cookie in my hand. I could do this. I was going to make it to Ames and have a good time.

What most people will not tell you is the drive from Madison until Dubuque is very dull. While driving through Iowa involves a lot of going past corn and soybean fields, you will see the occasional exit where there’s a gas station or a McDonald’s or both. Driving through this portion of Wisconsin largely involves going past a lot of exits and watching the rolling hills, which does add to a little bit of nice scenery. The unfortunate thing is this seems to go on forever.

Dubuque

Music: “Invisible Light” by Scissor Sisters

You know you’re getting closer to Dubuque when you see billboards for the casinos more frequently. This was exciting to me because getting to Dubuque meant I could get out and stretch my legs. I crossed the Mississippi River, but not before yelling “No, you don’t,” at the sign saying “The People of Iowa Welcome You,” because the only way people in Iowa welcome you is in the style of “Iowa Stubborn.”

I stopped at the Visitor’s Center in Downtown Dubuque, where I learned Visitor’s Centers tend to be gift shops with those giant racks filled brochures on area attractions. It was nice to walk around and I was able to grab a map of Iowa and a visitor’s guide to Ames, neither of which were put to use on my trip. I then hopped back in my car and headed towards Waterloo and Cedar Falls. I decided to play the Original Off-Broadway Cast Recording of Fun Home, because nothing seemed more fitting for my drive towards the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area than a musical about coming to terms with your past, particularly your childhood.

I also wanted to cry.

For those who thought Highway 151 between Madison and Dubuque was dull, you’ll despise every second of Highway 20 between Dubuque and Waterloo. What was strange to me was I distinctly remember taking that trip multiple times as a kid. I have vivid memories of going to Dubuque with my mom so I could compete in state music competition at Dubque Senior High School, which is a gorgeous building.

Why was I finding this drive so dull? Was it because I was driving and not the person who was in the front passenger’s seat, dressed well and ready to nap at a moment’s notice? Or was it because it was dark and it felt like it was just me in my tiny Honda, belting out “Changing My Major”?

When I hit Independence, I got off at an exit to try to find a Burger King because I was hungry and dried cranberries, sesame sticks, and granola bars get old after a certain point. I didn’t find the Burger King, but I grabbed a much-needed bottle of water at a Casey’s General Store and patted myself on the back for not buying a slice of pizza.

Waterloo/Cedar Falls

Music: “Emotion” by Carly Rae Jepsen

I had every intention of stopping in Cedar Falls, maybe getting something to drink from Cup of Joe, and then heading to Ames, but those plans fell through. Getting to Waterloo and Cedar Falls meant I was almost to Ames and I just wanted to get to my hotel and have dinner.

I eventually called my Dad to talk to him to avoid going stir-crazy, which is inevitable when you drive for more than five hours. He encouraged me to drive at the speed limit because I had out-of-state plates, and I told him, “I know. I saw that episode of The Good Wife.” We later talked about unions and I told him about someone who asked me if I was joining a union. “I mean, is the pope a Jesuit?” I said.

“Does a shark shit in the ocean?” my dad added.

(My Dad is a car-hauler, so he confirmed to me that, yes, the route I took was an exceptionally boring route.)

I eventually got to I-35 and right as I was going on the ramp from Highway 20 to I-35, I got to the Lady Gaga part of my travel playlist. “Bad Romance” came on over the speakers and I thought, “I’ve got this. I can make it to Ames.”

Ames

Music: “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga

When booking a hotel, booking one labeled as “new” doesn’t hurt. However, it’s best to maybe look into how new the hotel is, because otherwise you may have the experience I had when arriving at the TownePlace Suites in Ames.

The hotel, which is located in a corner where all of the hotels in Ames seem to be clustered, had an incredibly empty parking lot, leaving me to wonder if it was just going to be me and the staff at a four-story extended stay hotel. I checked in, spoke with the very friendly front-desk clerk who was from Milwaukee, and headed up to my room.

The room was very cozy and had a kitchenette that was better stocked than I anticipated–how many plates does one person need?–but it lacked a desk. I’m a weirdo, but because of how much writing I do both on my laptop and in notebooks, I truly love having a physical desk to sit at because it helps me divide leisure and business when I’m in a hotel. In fact, there wasn’t even a chair, which meant I ended up abandoning meditation because it felt weird while I was sitting on my bed.

That said, it’s a very nice hotel and I felt spoiled by the Elfa closet in the hotel room. It was nice to have a hook to hang my scarf on.

I then hopped in my car and headed to Target where I bought some mouthwash and almost started crying at the sight of Anderson Erickson Egg Nog because I thought, “I’m with my people.” (Anderson Erickson, as well as Casey’s General Store pizza and Hy-Vee Chinese food are very Iowa-specific things.) From there I went to Downtown Ames to meet an old friend.

Bar La Tosca is a cozy, but eclectic space with delicious food. I also experienced reverse sticker shock when I was reminded I was in Iowa, and most things are cheaper in Iowa. I had a nice chat with her and we then went to a self-serve wine bar with a really comfy couch, before heading to chat at another place. I eventually decided to head back to the hotel, where I contemplated my place in the universe before putting snacks from a food co-op on the counter of the kitchenette.

The Moon

I would go to the movies with a guy I dated and as we were leaving, I would notice the moon. I would comment about it and he would just say, “Huh” or “That’s nice,” as I looked in wonderment.

During one of these moments where I stood in amazement at the moon, I howled at it after being encouraged earlier in the evening by one of my neighbors to do so. I normally wouldn’t do this as I’m one of the most restrained, internalized people you will ever meet, but I had spent the previous evening in the ER and I didn’t care what I did that day, I just wanted to feel alive and normal.

I was driving home from a potluck tonight when I noticed an orange moon hanging above Lake Michigan. As I drove up Lincoln Memorial Drive, I kept hunting for a place to park so I could pull over and look at the moon. I found a spot, parked my car, and jumped out. I kept running around the beach, noticing how perfectly the moon was reflected on the lake. I didn’t care about how sand kept filling my ballet flats or how the lake wind kept whipping around my skirt or that it was pitch black outside.

As I stood looking at the moon, I thought about my neighbor who had previously encouraged me to howl at the moon told me on Thursday night at a full moon celebration to stay until I saw the moon. I made excuses–I wanted to do some writing, I had to work in the morning–as I continued walking to my car. The moon I was looking at tonight was exactly the one I wanted to see, exactly how I wanted to see it.

I had a perfect view of the moon, illuminating the night as I stood there feeling at peace as I heard the waves of Lake Michigan lap against the sand.

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”

The+Huntsman+Winter's+War Once upon a time, in the year 2012, a film called “Snow White and the Huntsman” was released in a year where the world received two Snow White films–the other was “Mirror, Mirror.” The film earned almost $400 million worldwide and in an ivory tower, executives at Universal Pictures decided to greenlight a sequel. After a bit of complications, production on the film began and almost four years after the release of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” was released.

Despite how well “Snow White and the Huntsman” did at the box office, the release of “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” feels like a bit of a surprise. I remember watching the first film on HBO while bored and finding myself bored every time Charlize Theron wasn’t on the screen, chewing scenery. I also remember having a hard time believing Queen Ravenna (Theron) would feel threatened by Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and wishing the movie wasn’t trying so hard to be a Serious, Gritty Reboot.

Thankfully, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War”–oof, this might be the clunkiest title for a film not based on a young adult series–has gotten rid of Snow White and a serious demeanor. The film, however, feels more like it should be a direct-to-video release instead of a major motion picture because of the clunky narration (Liam Neeson), poor narrative logic, a message pounded over the audience’s head and a pop song that was just inserted at the end of the movie. Which, no offense to Halsey, but when your first movie has a gloriously epic Florence and the Machine song, you need to have a song that can compete.

The odd thing about “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is it’s incredibly dark and I don’t know how it got a PG-13 rating since there is blood shown in this movie as well as some sideboob. What is also interesting is the film manages to be both a prequel and a sequel to a movie and either way, I don’t think we asked for either.

At the start of “The Huntsman: Insert Caption Here,” we meet Ravenna, who kills a king by putting her finger on a chess piece. That’s right, Ravenna kills a man while playing chess and this happens in the first five minutes. She becomes queen with her sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), at her side. Freya is pregnant and after she gives birth to her daughter, she goes to be with her lover. Unfortunately, it appears her daughter was murdered by her lover and this unleashes an ice-based power in her. Freya heads to the north, where everyone there talks like they were raised by Groundskeeper Willie and she becomes queen, raising an army from children her army kidnaps and in the process she outlaws love. Unfortunately, two of her soldiers, Eric (Chris Hemsworth) and Sara (Jessica Chastain) fall in love and Freya punishes both of them.

Seven years later, Snow White has vanquished Ravenna and her kingdom is trying to get rid of Ravenna’s mirror. This sends Eric and Nion (Nick Frost) and Gryff (Rob Brydon) on a quest to find the mirror and destroy it, even though it seems to have the power to drive non-magic wielding people insane.

Now that I type up the plot, it seems to make less sense, particularly compared to the first film.

At some point, you had to wonder what the Universal executives were thinking when they signed off on this film. I’m sure they were more than okay with Freya essentially being Elsa from “Frozen,” but a sadist and with even more emotional baggage. But this film has some of the clunkiest narrative I’ve ever seen and I voluntarily watched a Disney Channel original movie.

The “good guys” and the “bad guys” are clearly labeled in this film based on their positions on love. The good guys believe love conquers all, while the bad guys believe love makes you weak and ruins you. It oddly feels like the movie should have been released during Valentine’s Day weekend instead of in April because it’s a movie that’s not quite a summer blockbuster. The movie even has a plot around how dwarfs hate each other and implies the very uncomfortable situation as to how dwarfs tend to reproduce. But don’t worry, even Nion and Gryff can find love.

Then there’s the accents the actors use in this film, which might not have bothered me if I hadn’t started watching “Outlander.” Hemsworth is still sporting his Scottish accent from the first film, but Chastain’s accent seems to change from scene from scene, as if she was trying to figure it out as they went through the filming process. But it seems odd because only Freya’s soldiers seem to sport Scottish accents because everyone else has a British accent, unless director Cedric Nicholas-Troyan decided Scottish accents made for a good distinction of Northerners.

Improbably, this movie is thoroughly enjoyable if you know what you’re getting yourself involved with. At the screening I attended, I noticed a lot of walkouts, particularly people with younger children. Yes, this movie is incredibly dark, but it also has Hemsworth walking around with a big goofy grin on his face the entire movie, even winking at a girl who is the latest child to be turned into one of Freya’s soldiers. Theron is there, chewing scenery in every scene she appears in, especially at the end of the movie where she’s manipulating what looks like tar that also spews out of her mouth. Blunt, although giving the most restrained performance of the film, is also capable of spewing out bizarre dialogue and giving a well-rounded performance that feels like it’s aware of everything else going on around it.

Even more baffling with this film is it having the subtitle of “Winter’s War” and trailers that seem to promise as much batshit insanity as possible from Blunt and Theron, most of it is spent on the road with Hemsworth and company as they try to find the mirror. It has more of a feel of a historical comedy for a good half of the film than an action fantasy film with a war. (And there’s not much of a war. Sorry.)

The movie feels like it got the memo as to what the audience liked about the film the first time around and upped it for this prequel/sequel, which oddly works if you know going in what you’re getting. This is a movie where in the last 20 minutes Ravenna wears three different outfits for no better reason than, “Let’s see how many stunning, over-the-top costumes we can put on this character.” “The Huntsman: We Left Out Snow White” is a film that really has no reason to exist, but it’s here with a seeming motto of “Go Big or Go Home.”

“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” might be the campiest wide-release, major studio movie that will come out in 2016 and it feels like we should applaud it for simply existing and sticking to its artistic convictions, as bizarre as the movie is at times. If only it had gone will a less clunky message and had a better end credits song.

Missing Milk

20160320_172416It was sixth period AP English Language and Composition and I was sitting there, ready to analyze the work of the great philosophers. I just had to make it through this class, and then I could enjoy the short walk home and start my homework.

The bell hadn’t rung yet to start class and I had something to say, a pressing matter on my mind. So I said it to everyone in my classroom.

“I have a really intense craving for milk right now.”

Almost everyone in my class looked at me like I had dropped in from another planet, which by senior year I was used to that look. I didn’t care, I just wanted to let everyone know that before we started discussing rhetorical choices I really wanted milk, even though only 49 minutes had passed between my lunch shift and class. (I had Independent Study Art during fifth period, so maybe doing graphite drawings of figures made me thirsty for milk.)

“Oh man, that sounds so good!” a friend said.

“Nice tall glass? Ice cold?” another classmate asked.

“You know it,” I said. “Straight from the fridge.”

“I think I know what I’m having when I’m getting home,” my friend added.

I credit my parents for raising me in a household where drinking soda was something that only occurred when we were eating out, and even then they usually encouraged me and my sister to drink juice. I grew up in a household where we drank milk with every meal, even though by high school I was drinking all natural cherry vanilla soda from the natural foods store in Cedar Falls. (RIP Roots Market.) By the time I was an adult, living alone in Chicago, I was continuing to drink milk. I have vivid memories of going to the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park to get milk before the Blizzard of 2011, wading through people stocking up on salmon and wine, to try to grab fat free milk before settling on 2 percent milk. (From that point on I had nothing but 2 percent milk.)

I went off to college and made sure I always bought a gallon of milk at Kroger, a little note on the label to remind me nothing pairs with milk quite like a package of Chipmates, the store-brand chocolate chip cookies it sold. While I lived on campus at Michigan State, I was usually running around, chugging a bottle of milk and eating something from the East Lansing Food Co-Op or Sparty’s, the convenience stores on campus. If I was sitting down an eating dinner in a dining hall, my dinner was always accompanied by a book, a cup of Lemon Lift tea, and a glass of milk.

Towards the end of senior year, I started to notice how uncomfortable I felt after I consumed dairy, particularly large amounts of dairy. I shrugged it off and just figured it was the result of stress, but after I moved to Wisconsin, I continued to feel discomfort after consuming dairy. I had an office job shortly after graduation, an apartment in a desirable neighborhood. Things were going pretty great for me, but I still felt miserable. I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, which was go on a vegan diet.

This lasted for about six months, with me realizing I should eat whatever I want as long as I don’t feel miserable or get sick. Maybe it was me accepting my love of quiche or the terrible service I had at an upscale vegan restaurant in New York, but I decided to just go back to eating meat and eggs to my heart’s delight.

Just no dairy.

I figured I had a dairy allergy and avoided it, but found myself caving in when cheese was put in front of me. I then noticed how I reacted and thought, “This doesn’t seem like an allergic reaction.”

I went to my doctor one day in January and talked with him about my reactions to dairy. He nodded and told me I probably was lactose intolerant and told me it was perfectly normal, just try to consume less than 10g of lactose in a week.

By that point, I acknowledged my problems with dairy in my writing, saying this in a review of a coffee shop when discussing me drinking a cortado:

Against our better judgment and the knowledge we would spend the bus ride home curled up in a ball feeling like someone punched us in the stomach, our next drink was a cortado with whole milk ($3).

I would make off-handed comments to people, but would occasionally cave for pizza or cheese. (I love cheese.) I found myself, usually during dinner, missing milk. Sure, I tend to drink tea, wine, beer or water during a meal, but I missed the creaminess of milk going down my throat. There was also the great benefit of milk helping calm my acid reflux disease and even soy, almond and coconut milk can’t help with that. I still decided to go about my life trying to do things like enjoy cookies and milk by having cookies with coconut milk. (It doesn’t cut it.)

During the WMSE Rockabilly Chili fundraiser, a friend turned to me and told me he was getting some milk from the milk bar to calm his tongue. He offered to grab some for me, but I declined, reminding him I’m lactose intolerant. He came back with two cups of milk and I decided to drink it instead of tell him, “I told you, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m going to spend the rest of the day bloated and having cramps.” I took a sip of milk and it felt like my eyes brightened.

It wasn’t because the heat on my tongue was finally going away, but because that creamy smooth milk was hitting my tongue for the first time in more than a year. There it was, the drink that accompanied a majority of my meals as a kid and young adult, comforting me after consuming gratuitous amounts of chili.

But as expected, I felt miserable for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, deciding to curl up on the couch with my cat, some tea with ginger in it and a book. I didn’t think much about drinking milk until I was at Trader Joe’s to buy groceries. I walked through the store as I usually did, going through the produce section, up the aisle of bread, down the aisle of canned goods and pasta where I always grab a can of dolmas before putting them back on the shelf; walk up the frozen food aisle, look at the cheese section and then go down the aisle with the dried fruit.

(I’m a creature of habit.)

While in the aisle with the nuts and dried fruit, I saw a woman walk past me with a carton of Lactaid in her basket. I suddenly felt the lightbulb go off in my head and the voice of reason say, “You know, Monica, lactose-free milk is an option.”

“I know, Monica.”

“Go grab a carton and see how you feel.”

“Sounds good, Monica.”

I walked back to the dairy section, eyed the cartons carefully before grabbing one and dropping it into my basket. I got home, sat down at my table after unloading the groceries and opened the carton, pouring a glass of milk. I lifted the cup and sipped, a smile appearing on my face. I continued drinking the milk, fixing my dinner before heading to a rehearsal. I went about my evening, feeling perfectly normal, save for the overwhelming anxiety I was feeling regarding having to stand on a stage in front of dozens of people.

I was elated over being able to drink milk again and started frantically texting every person I could think of. I could drink milk, the thing I would heat up to help me calm down at night, once again.

The next day, as I was out running errands, I found myself having a craving for milk, not unlike the one I had before the start of AP English Language and Composition. But this time I smiled and thought, “You can have a glass when you get home.”

 

 

I Can’t Believe I Just Watched This!: “Descendants”

Descendants-Poster I don’t own a TV and it’s not something I go around bragging about as if I’m the coolest person you know. I could probably fit a TV somewhere in my apartment if I got rid of a bookcase (unlikely) or my desk, but until then, there’s simply not any space. As a result, I don’t have cable and all TV I consume is watched on my laptop.

This means I missed the most recent Disney Channel Original Movie phenomenon, “Descendants,” until I was in the checkout line at the grocery store. No, not one of the food co-ops I buy groceries from, an honest-to-God supermarket. (I have a craving for Bigelow Lemon Lift tea rooted in memories of sitting in the dining halls of MSU with food and a book.) Among the magazines was a tie-in magazine for “Descendants” with an image of the four main characters on the front. Confused and intrigued, I picked it up and flipped through before my purchase was ready. I looked it up when I got home and discovered it was a Disney Channel Original Movie and my interest has been piqued ever since, only growing since I saw a copy of the DVD at Target and noticed Maleficent on the back and learned from the blurb there’s a lot of retconning that goes on in this movie.

The movie is set shortly after the marriage of Belle (Keegan Connor Tracy) and Beast (Dan Payne) in the United States of Auradon, a land created from the unification of all the kingdoms in Disney films. Beast is elected king of Auradon and he banishes all of the villains and their henchmen to the Isle of the Lost. Flash forward 16 years and Beast and Belle’s son, Ben (Mitchell Hope), is preparing for his coronation as king because apparently this is an elected monarchy where the descendant of the king becomes the next king, sans an election. Ben decides his first act as king will to invite four children from the Isle of the Lost to attend school in Auradon and he selects Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce) and Jay (Booboo Stewart), who are the children of Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth), the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy? Kathy Najimy.), Cruella de Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), and Jafar (Maz Jobrani? Maz Jobrani.), respectfully.

The children are tasked by Maleficent with getting the wand of the Fairy Godmother (Melanie Paxson), which will allow the villains to break free and get their revenge. While at Auradon, the four, erm, descendants work on trying to make the plan work while connecting with the children of the good guys and struggling with if they’re really evil as a result of who their parents are.

Oh, and it’s a musical.

The biggest issue with the movie is the logic right at the start. Beast is elected king of Auradon, not president. And on top of that, his son automatically becomes king? There’s no chance Prince Charming could be king? Or Li Shang? If we’re going to be honest, Shang and Mulan would be the perfect leaders. They have military experience and proven leadership. But then there’s the Isle of the Lost itself, where we have reason to believe the villains have found other villains to procreate with, even though the only villains we meet are the four mentioned earlier. Where’s Governor Ratcliffe, human Ursula, Gaston and Lady Tremaine? Did Frollo get banished to the Isle of the Lost or did he get to help out with state-sponsored discrimination against a group of people? Also, how are the Evil Queen and Maleficent alive? Why is Jafar running a junk shop and why is he the only person who has a new thing since being banished to the island? The movie just tells us these things are the case at the beginning of the film, assuming we’ll just accept the reality presented, but no, I’m sorry, I was raised on Disney movies and I know how these villains go.

The other big issue with the film, although it could be argued it makes the movie stronger, is how every child of a “good guy” is significantly less interesting than the main quartet, right down to the costumes, designed by Kara Saun. But on the other hand, the film presents us with four characters you can root for, particularly Mal as she struggles between pleasing her mother and doing what she really wants. Sometimes the movie tells us things in the most rushed way, like in order to prove to us Evie is smart she has her magic mirror stolen and she manages to still get a good grade. But the four of them are believable as being good people, with great moments like a recurring gag about Jay and Carlos loving chocolate.

The film also does something unthinkable even in 2015 and actually casts actors who are good for the roles, regardless of their race. This means having Robinson, who is black, play a character usually depicted as white and having a son who appears white. Similarly, Sleeping Beauty’s mother is also played by an black actress and her granddaughter also appears to be white. You can suspend all disbelief here because the actors are perfect in those roles, particularly Robinson, and the characters they play are all that matters, not the race of the actors, which is how it should be. Even if some of the characters come off as bland because of how they’re written–looking at you Ben–the casting for this film is pitch perfect, particularly the four leads and their parents.

I have unfortunately glossed over the fact the film is a musical, which is actually the only other demerit. The opening number, “Rotten to the Core,” is a catchy EDM-influenced number–Carson recorded a fantastic version of the song I recommend checking out–but at no point during the song did I truly believe the actors were singing the song. The rest of the original numbers are bland, but the worst I can say is they feel like a time suck and without the songs I feel like the movie would not be nearly two hours long. If you do watch the movie, I recommend skipping the bizarre pseudo-hip-hop cover of “Be Our Guest” the students of Auradon perform because it is flat out awful and feels like an arbitrary number dropped in the film to remind us all of how the movie follows the children of our favorite Disney characters.

The film does have the trappings we now cynically expect from a Disney Channel Original Movie, but thanks to some fantastic casting and protagonists I can actually care about it manages to be a fun movie to watch, even if you just put it on in the background. It’s a shame they really didn’t think through the logic of how Auradon works.