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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014

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In Holiday Guide Commentary

Schedule some time to see "The Sessions."

2012 picks: Molly Snyder


I am happy to report that 2012 was less eventful than the past few years. I'm looking forward to another healthy, productive and even-keeled year ahead. Happy New Year, Milwaukee.

Milwaukee moment: After years of giggles and rumors, finally investigating the Sybaris Pool Suites tops the list of my favorite local experiences. I had been curious about that place for decades and finally, I got inside the humid and mysterious sex cave. I also really enjoyed contributing to the sponsor trailer for the Milwaukee Film Festival this year.

My 10 seconds on screen didn't come easily, but it sure was fun filming my part on a warm July night in front of Leon's. Originally, it was believed my scene would include me licking a scoop of custard onto the ground. After 13 takes – which means 13 cones – there was so much custard dripping down my hands, arms and pooling on the sidewalk – and so much laughing – that I could barely pull it off. The scene was later edited and although I still appeared in the spot, they did not use the licking-the-scoop-off-the-cone footage. In any case, it was a blast to shoot – even for my lactose-intolerant self.

Concert: I saw a lot of really good shows this year: Camper Van Beethoven, Matthew Sweet, Ani DiFranco, Death Cab For Cutie, Beth Orton, Heartless Bastards, The Go-Go's ... But the only band that almost melted my face off was Pearl and the Beard, a folk-pop trio from New York City that opened for DiFranco at The Pabst Theater on Saturday, Sept. 22. Pearl's offbeat, collection of lyrically-interesting songs include dramatic harmonies along with instrumentation like cello, guitar, glockenspiel, accordion and drums. It was the first time in my concert-going history that I saw an opening band get a standing ovation that demanded, but did not get, an encore. I have since bought all of their albums and am a fan of their recorded music as well. Please come back to Milwaukee, Pearl and the Beard.

Home Improvement: I bought a foreclosed house in Walker's Point in 2011, so needless to say, I've spent a fair share of time at The Home Depot, trying to take the DIY approach as often as possible. I now have a shiny new purple kitchen floor and will wrap up 2012 with some much-needed bathroom updates. But the biggest improvement to my house this year was the addition of my front yard garden installed by Victory Gardens Initiatives. (My entire back yard is cement, something I did not realize when I bought my house in the snowy dead-of winter, hence the front-yard garden). This is a great community program that builds organic, raised-bed gardens that cost anywhere from free to a fair amount of money depending on income. I had helped my friends and neighbors tend their gardens before, but it was the first time I truly tested my green thumbs, and I'm happy to report reaped more cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers than I knew what to do with. I learned a lot through this process when my Brussels sprouts got smothered by the zucchini and when I planted my carrots too close together. But I also learned that I can cut back basil plants after harvesting them and they grow back even bigger and we ate plate after plate of pesto spaghetti this summer. Most surprising and exciting for me, however, was the fact the seemingly organized posse of squirrels in my neighborhood didn't devour everything. It must have been the plastic fencing or the marigolds or the sign we posted, asking the squirrels to kindly keep out, in both Spanish and English.

Book: Nope, not gonna say "50 Shades Of Gray." But I did I read "The Diary Of Anne Frank" to my kids this summer, and I found myself even more smitten with Anne than the last time I read it, about 15 years ago. By sheer coincidence, The Rep is currently performing the show (through Dec. 2) and attending it with my family was an extremely meaningful experience.

Awkward moment: When you're me, you have a lot of these. Sometimes they contribute to my, ahem, "charm" and other times, well, they're just incredibly awkward. Take the Henry Rollins show at Turner Hall on March 24. I was reviewing the show – and enjoying it immensely – but when I walked toward the front of the room to snap a photo of the former Black Flag frontman, I apparently struck a very uncool chord. The spoken word man-machine had been orating non-stop, without taking so much as a single sip of liquid, for more than two hours by the time I decided to capture his image, but before I could take the camera from my face, he stopped, mid-sentence, paused for a couple seconds of eerie silence and then barked at me for taking his photo. He said the action was extremely selfish and distracting. (No, I did not use a flash.) I was really surprised, slightly embarrassed and annoyed, so I went home that night and emailed him. I apologized, told him I was just getting an image for a (glowing) review and tried to make light of the incident. He responded within 12 hours with a biting email calling me "weak" for over-prioritizing my job. OK. I guess 2012 was also the year I stopped being a Rollins' fan.

Road Trip: I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Detroit this past April. We thought we would have to really search for the cool, promising stuff, but it turns out, we found it with great ease. There are new bars and restaurants and urban gardens and art projects popping up everywhere. We ate amazing barbeque at Slow's, Coney dogs at Lafayette's, drank locally-brewed Ghettoblaster beers in numerous Corktown bars, visited the inspiring Heidelberg Project and, best of all, effortlessly debunked many of the Motor City myths we had arrived with.

Film: I just saw "The Sessions" on Thanksgiving, so it's still very much on my mind, but I do believe it will pass the test of time and remain one of my favorite – if not my most favorite – movie of 2012. The true story about journalist and poet Mark O'Brien's quest to lose his virginity at the age of 38 despite the fact he spends most of his life enclosed in an "iron lung." The film is just weird and witty and accessible enough not to be sappy. The acting by John Hawkes, William H. Macy and Helen Hunt, who gets completely naked on screen for the role as O'Brien's sex therapist who helps him achieve his goal. (That certainly never happened in "Mad About You.") This is a film worth crying over – and I did. It's definitely not some cheap, pot-shotty, holiday tearjerker. "The Sessions" will reach anyone, unless, perhaps, you have an iron ... heart.

Talkbacks

pwno1 | Dec. 4, 2012 at 9:39 a.m. (report)

Nice list. Although to be fair, I'm sure it's incredibly distracting when your act is to talk on stage for hours and then someone roams about to get a picture. It's also distracting to the audience as well. Emailing an apology is a classy move; adding that you were getting a picture for a "glowing review" is a cheap move. I mean, he's Henry Rollins. As a fan, I wouldn't have expected him to respond any other way. With that, The Sessions is fine movie, and incredibly moving and funny, and I hope more people check it out.

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