Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Learning to Let Go of a Toxic Feeling

Who's jealous of whom?

Posted on Wed, Aug 16, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Lately I've been thinking about how to describe jealousy, especially when it comes to sex and love. It's a hot, visceral feeling, exacerbated by the Southern summer heat. Your heart is wrenched, like a rag full of water, and you feel your pulse pushing blood through your body.

Crimes of passion often seem outrageous. How could you let yourself end another life or ruin your own in a temporary fit of feeling? But when I feel a jealous twinge, constricting my heart like a snake, I start to understand. Drunk on that cocktail of love and hate, logic loses its grip.

Elvita Kondili is a licensed professional counselor and the education program coordinator at Charlotte's Kadampa Meditation Center, where she's been teaching and meditating for two years. From a Buddhist perspective, she says, a common mistake is to believe that our happiness and unhappiness are dependent on external factors. But these are states of mind, and their source is internal, she says. Jealousy, too, is a state of mind, and as anyone who's experienced it knows, the feeling only works to make us unhappy.

"There's no benefit to a mental state of jealousy," Kondili says. "And if there's no benefit to something, wouldn't you want to eliminate it? Wouldn't you want to get rid of it if it causes you unhappiness and misery?"

But, like finishing Infinite Jest or cooking the perfect soufflé, getting rid of jealousy is easier said than done. Part of the difficulty is that it may require a fundamental shift in how you approach relationships. Our experience of the world tends to be self-centered, which often manifests in how we build relationships with others. We look for what will benefit us, what will make us happy. As a result, our relationships are not with the other person, but with our idea of them.

"It's about the relationship you have with this person in your own mind. So if your relationship is, 'I want to own you, possess you, I want to control you, I want you to do what suits me,' this is your relationship with this person from the inside," Kondili says. "Even if they do what you want them to do for a little bit, it's just temporary. Eventually something else will come up and they're going to do something that you're not going to like because you're attached to how you want them to behave."

Paradoxically, these controlling tendencies, driven by a desire for happiness and stability, are what lead to unhappiness. Possessiveness and jealousy push those we love away.

When you look at a baby, Kondili says, you're not wondering what that baby can do for you. Instead, you're full of pure love — the kind of selfless love that we should ideally feel for everyone. But some of Kondili's examples of how this selfless love might work in a relationship defy logic — or logic as we know it, at least.

"If your partner showed up one day and said, 'I love someone else,' and you truly loved them and wanted them to be happy, you would let them go. You would want them to be happy, and you would be happy for them."

Kondili says that when she explains this idea, most people scoff. But there are easier ways to practice selfless love and let go of jealousy. One is to get in the habit of considering your partner's perspective. Two fundamental components of the meditation that Kondili practices are wisdom and compassion, both of which can be applied here.

"In a situation where someone's going off to spend time with their friends, we think, 'They don't care about us, they might be unfaithful, or they may be off looking at someone else.' And this may or may not be true, but the way it appears to us is reality," Kondili explains.

Compassion, on the other hand, can mean simply remembering that the other person is like you. They want happiness, too, and they don't want to suffer. Compassion is making an ongoing effort to encounter everyone with the same unadulterated love you feel for a baby. (Or maybe, in my case, my cat.)

Another Buddhist principle is non-attachment. "Whether it's one partner or two partners or your house, your car, or your job, the idea is to change the inside relationship with them so we're not trying to possess them, control them, or rely on them too heavily to make us happy," Kondili explains.

Wisdom, compassion and non-attachment can seem like ideals, floating like clouds, untethered to the emotional mess of everyday life. Perhaps I'll never be able to joyfully bid my partner farewell as they take off with a paramour, but the first step toward letting go of jealousy, Kondili says, is simple.

"The main message is that being happy — having fulfilling relationships — is an inside job. It's not something that anyone else can do for you," she says. "The key is to work on yourself."

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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Goodbye, Goodyear; Hello, North End

Friday nights are for more than food trucks

Posted By on Wed, Aug 9, 2017 at 11:29 AM

Each weekend my friends and I attempt to find something new to do in the Queen City — or at least participate in something familiar without the same hangover. This past Friday our options were limited to the final art event at Goodyear Arts or the newly popular Fridays at Camp North End. Not too shabby for a low key Friday night.

While waiting for the clock to strike 5:30 p.m., I watched as my co-worker — who was already looking like a snack — put on makeup and made me feel even less dressed to impress than I already was. Ever noticed how many times your friends will say, "I'm not getting dressed up. I'm not even going to put makeup on, only to show up looking like it took them an hour to get ready instead of an hour and a half? Yep, happens to me all the time. No, I'm not bitter.

After a couple quick pregame drinks at Connolly's on Fifth, we rounded the corner and walked the couple blocks to Goodyear Arts for their "Goodbye, Goodyear" event. Coincidentally, my first visit to this gallery space was with these same ladies — minus a few. It felt good to be back, but it was bittersweet. From the first time I'd visited Goodyear Arts, I felt like I was home. The people, the eccentric art, the free beer. I mean, if this wasn't the poster child for my dream living room, I don't know what was.

I've never been into attending galleries or museums. Not because I can't appreciate the beauty of art — even when I'm pretty sure I could lay down butt naked after a night of drinking in gold paint and make millions — but because my anxiety takes over in busy spaces. "I'm trying to take a picture of that painting, can you not stand there and just take it all in?" "Ugh, how am I supposed to admire this piece with all of you in my space?"

That's why I usually end up taking pictures of everything that catches my eye and review it all later in the comfort of my own home ... alone.

On top of the fact that I was anxious about crawling through the gallery, it was hot as hell. That's why it wasn't long before I was outside, taking in the evening air at the community table. I thought about how much it sucked that Goodyear was leaving that space and that I hadn't gone to more events. There's just something special about community, innovation, creativity and local vibes rejuvenating an unused space in our backyard.

Luckily, Goodyear Arts is eventually movnig right down the street to a new spot that's been popping off on Fridays and throghout the week, lately: Camp North End.

Something intriguing is happening at the old warehouse district on Statesville Avenue. I started seeing posts pop up after I followed a few IG accounts related to tech talks, co-working spaces and the like. I'd like the way the background of the pics or videos looked and I'd see the elusive location tag "Camp North End" underneath the account name and wonder, what the hell is that? I started asking around, and no one knew what the deal was.

Even after hopping in an 8-minute Uber over to the space for Fridays at Camp North End, I can't say I'm any less confused. However, the possibilities for the project are endless. We arrived by way of minivan to check out the patio in the center of what felt like a massive compound — complete with barbed wire. All we knew was that there was going to be live music, food trucks, corn hole, tables and beer. My co-worker in need of a Snickers decided to get in a massive line for a food truck while the rest of the group went to sniff out the beer. We noticed the long line that stretched between us and the nearest Lenny Boy sign and decided our Camp North End exploration would have to wait.

Apparently I missed all the coverage that's surrounded the Camp North End launch (read Kia Moore's informative piece on the Camp's community manager, Varian Shrum, at clclt.com). Since that night, though, I've learned that the project is being designed to house local businesses/startups and events. Not to mention, there's currently 1.2 million square feet of existing building space. When we're talking about a project that already has that much space potential, there's no wonder why it's been difficult to pin down its purpose — it will be the epitome of a multi-purpose facility in Charlotte. Friday night entertainment and community gathering for events like Creative Mornings CLT are the most popular facets for the Camp now, but the future is limitless there.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CL's Intrepid Nightlife Reporter Discovers a Snug Harbor

Cheap thrills

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 7:00 AM

One night a few weeks ago, I had my Uber drop me off in front of Snug Harbor in Plaza Midwood. Next door to the ever-changing art gallery Twenty-Two and familiar Soul Gastrolounge, Snug is a nightlife venue that folks in the music scene frequent regularly. I hopped out of the car with my work backpack on — I've become the picture-perfect Dora bopping around after work these days — and walked up to the entrance to learn the cover was $2.

Wow, that's super cheap!

Funny enough, I still had to wait outside because I didn't have a single dollar bill to my name.

While I waited for my friends to rescue me, I stared into the small doorway past the fenced-in patio with picnic tables. I laughed, thinking back to one of my first experiences at Snug Harbor. It was during an annual Pig Pickin' in Plaza Midwood, I believe. Snug had some sort of Southern cooking thing going down on the patio, and my P.I.C. (partner in crime) and I decided we were going to grab a plate. After getting our food, we ambled through the walkway with full intentions of making our way to the back patio to grub.

Inside, it was very dim. I remember looking at all the trinkets that lined the walls and swore I saw some creepy little gothic creatures hanging from the rafters. I have no idea if the little creatures are still there, but I remember thinking, "They probably play heavy metal here all the time." (I was completely wrong; even though the words "Rock & Roll Bar" do appear underneath the logo, Snug is more indie-rock and hip-hop than Mötley Crüe.)

The back patio area is another world altogether; a small oasis filled with every different type of human. I was intrigued.

Not too long after this experience, I spoke with a co-worker at the time about her experience writing for Creative Loafing and the like. I wanted to pick her brain about everything from music and politics to nightlife venues and race. Little did I know that she would introduce me to "Knocturnal," described online as "a weekly party born from the brains of Justin Aswell and friends featuring the best in electronic, hip and forward music for the truly awesome human being."

And that, it was.

I'd heard that Snug hosted breakdancing and freestyle battle nights on Mondays, but it wasn't until this particular night a few weeks ago that I figured out this was the event known as "Knocturnal," or how awesome this local favorite music nook really is.

After the crew arrived with my $2 entry and we walked in, I grabbed my second fave drink of choice, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and started taking in the scenery. Once again, I was taken aback by the diversity of the crowd, and recognized a few familiar faces and "InstaFamous" locals I knew. I felt right at home and part of what I'd imagine is an "inner circle."

We ventured to the back patio where the freestyle rap battles and dances were happening. I watched in awe as everyone sat around the small stages and vibed to the music. From the couple having an intimate moment singing along to an old-school joint, to the group of friends rallying behind the best break dancer in the group, Knocturnal is the epitome of what I'd call cool-ass art in motion.

After a few throwback singalongs — think '90s R&B — I noticed a major twerk session happening inside. Now, if you know me, or you've kept up with my articles, you know Aerin doesn't miss an opportunity to "look back at it," even if that means I'm in the middle of the dance floor at Tilt on Trade all by myself. I walked in and started getting it to whatever trap song was on, swerving anyone who attempted to get in on the action. Surprised? What am I going to do with a dance partner when "Loose as a Goose" by Boosie comes on? Not a damn thing, keep it moving.

We returned to the patio to finish up our beers before deciding whether or not to rejoin the "kickback" that was happening inside. No, I still had to go to work the next day. And even though our motivation for leaving was a slice of Benny's pizza and it was closed by the time we got there, I was proud of our decision not to be the ones sitting on the patio when the lights came on inside. I may be a "knocturnal" creature, but the last thing I need to see on a weeknight is the sun rise.

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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Who Run the World? Girls

A Q.C. 'Girls Trip'

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Picture it: Jada Pinkett Smith holding tacky denim vests with rhinestones all over them trying to convince her besties that they should wear them in their mid-forties on a trip to New Orleans. The response? "You should be bedazzling some d*ck."

If I didn't laugh at anything else, that line alone would have been worth the price of admission for the new movie Girls Trip (reviewed on page 23).

You know the deal, now time to rewind.

Monday nights are supposed to be a night when you leave work, go home and go to bed. The weekend is over and Friday is the next day you're looking forward to.

That's why me and my girls decided we were going to be "adults" and go to a movie instead of hanging out and drinking all night. However, as any regular reader of this column could have guessed, we went out and went to the movies. #gofigure

I gathered my things after work and decided I was in for a "movie night," but little did I know it would turn into a "thing."

Oh, who am I kidding? Any night with my real life version of the "flossy posse" is always a thing. After all, these are the girls I do "wine night" with until all hours of the night at The Corner Pub on a regular basis.

When I showed up at Tin Roof in the Epicentre, I got a taste for what kind of night it was going to be when I noticed one of the specials was Deep Eddy's vodka for $5. Who can resist a $5 Red Bull vodka?

It wasn't until I'd brought the AMC voucher I'd gotten for a Christmas present two years prior that I realized I wouldn't be able to use it at Studio Movie Grill for a free movie. So I reluctantly purchased the $5 Groupon and proceeded to secure seats for everyone in the group.

At 7 p.m. sharp, we were in our seats, buckled in and ready for the comedic ride one of my friends (who'd already seen the movie) had promised.

No one would've suspected that three blondes, a brunette and a black girl would be seeing this movie together, but there we were piling into the same row to see this movie with an all-black cast. We knew we needed to save money so we decided to get two buckets of Coors Light.

Throughout the movie, as you're probably already imagining, there were so many awkward moments.

The casual usage of derogatory terms, the little nuances in language that I didn't know if my counterparts understood, and yet, everyone seemed to feel quite at home — #winningforasmalltownblackgirl. I shed my judgments and misconceptions and let the "black girl magic" happen.

Not even a beer later, my friend was chatting with me about the similarities between all of us and the characters in the movie. I looked at the rest of our row who were enthralled in the movie and that's when I realized ... We. Were. Sold.

Next thing you know, we're "loud whispering" with an attendant about whether or not we'd gotten two buckets or three (Anyone who's been to SMG knows the service is hit or miss which can be quite irritating).

As for the movie, it was phenomenal and has earned every comparison to white counterparts like Bridesmaids and male counterparts like The Hangover. But again I pose a question: Who can resist a movie where Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah reunite?(If you haven't seen Set it Off yet, go find a copy.)

The movie ended and I imagine we were riding the same wave that a group of guys would experience after seeing The Hangover for the first time — an extreme desire to get really drunk and tear down the city. We laughed about the idea of getting personalized necklaces made for our group and joked about the possibilities for a group name other than "flossy posse." You can only imagine how far down the rabbit hole that took us. We grabbed a couple more drinks while everyone else watched us wondering what kind of drug we were on, but the truth was, while we were a tad tipsy, we were just excited about having a night out in the Q.C. with just the girls.

What's better? We have a trip planned to NOLA for January and we're now more than ready after witnessing some of the most epic nightlife spots and experiences in the area. Zip-lining from bar to bar? Wig night? Oh yeah, that's happening when we visit the "Big Easy" in a few short months.

When you're itching for a night out with the girls, what do you do in the Queen City? Share it with me at backtalk@clclt.com!

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Third Ward's Newest Nightlife Addition Doesn't Disappoint

A Lofty new Uptown spot

Posted By on Wed, Jul 19, 2017 at 7:00 AM

Being a responsible adult on a Thursday night is always a challenge. Friday's right around the corner, the weekend is only an eight-hour jail sentence away and everyone in the office wants to go out. This past Thursday, however, I was dead set on not staying out late or being hungover and yet, I wanted to do something. Surprise, surprise.

A couple friends mentioned that a new three-story venue, Loft & Cellar, was officially opening later in the evening and suggested I check it out. I decided to check Instagram — so I know it's real – and sure enough, the account verified that the new spot was open for business. It seemed low key enough for a slight Thursday night turn up, so I convinced two of my co-workers to go with me.

It wasn't until I looked up the new spot on Google that I realized this was the place that had been in the works for months right next door to one of my favorite hot dogs spots in the Q.C. – Green's Lunch. I'd walked past it a few times during the construction process but never thought much about what would end up there.

After all the buzz, however, there was no way I was going to miss out on opening night.

We walked a few blocks from work and settled in front of the entryway to the new venue. And even though we weren't going to be able to enjoy a summer evening on a patio, we were excited to see what the new spot had to offer. We walked in and to the right, were leather couches perfect for kicking back and enjoying a cocktail. And to the left? A full bar and dining tables. The intimate vibes and modern-meets-industrial décor drew us in immediately.

We decided to head straight for the bright orange staircase leading to the second floor, which overlooks Romare Bearden Park. That's where we found another bar stretching along the center of the room on the back wall. To the left and right, more lounge seating and dining tables. We settled on stools at the bar and waited for a bartender to place a thick, journal-style menu in front of us. It seemed that the drink menu held well over 100 different types of drinks, including wine, cocktails and beer. What more can you ask for?

My coworker and I thumbed through the pages for a bit before settling on "Barbie Doll" - Tito's vodka, honey syrup, ginger, lemon and club soda. Simple enough for a regular RBV drinker. At first, we joked about the drink being "weak," and wished we'd opted for something else. Little did we know, Barbie meant business and would pack a mean punch as soon as we walked out the door.

As we perused the selections on the food menu, the waitress explained that the executive chef and owner Nicolas Daniels had created the menu around the idea of telling a four-course story — the exposition, rising action, crescendo and resolution.

I can't promise I'll ever make it through all four, but I had to force myself to avoid drooling over the Wagyu beef and opted for planning the meal I'd be getting at the end of the month. My coworkers, however, decided to try the mussels. At first bite, they fell in love. However, following last year's bad experience with mussels (rhymes with pood foisoning), I can't say I was tempted to try them. Regardless, the way they coveted each shell like they were oysters stuffed with pearls finally sold me on the fact that everything on the menu had to be phenomenal.

We stayed for about an hour and one thing was clear: Daniels has developed a concept that brings something quite unique to the restaurant and bar scene in Uptown Charlotte. Your go-to happy hour spot after work. The perfect date-night destination. A haven for foodies and cocktail connoisseurs. This venue balances an upscale dining experience and a casual, laid-back atmosphere perfectly. Not to mention, the basement level is home to the wine and beer cellar as well as a 20-person dining room that will be perfect for hosting a private event.

Once we were finished with our cocktails, we picked up our checks and headed to EpiCentre. That's when we realized "Barbie Doll" had snuck up on us.

"I'm a little tipsy," I laughed as my girlfriend and I hopped out of the car. I watched her tiptoe into the parking deck and she responded with, "I'm glad you said that because I'm feeling a little bit tipsy, too."

If you don't have plans this weekend, make a date with Barbie and head over to Loft & Cellar. Your wallet may not thank you, but you won't regret it!

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

When Nap Time is Not Optional

Having a spell

Posted on Wed, Jul 12, 2017 at 4:00 AM

Have you ever fainted in a crowd of people? Without hardcore drugs and limited alcohol in your system? No? Well, I've got a story for you.

Picture it: Uptown, Charlotte, NC, July 4th weekend 2017. After grabbing a few drinks at The Blind Pig in NoDa on Friday night — it's popping there on a Friday, in case you didn't know — I was very excited to sleep in and hit up the pool with some friends on Saturday. You know: "Hair of the dog" or "sweat it out" are both popular phrases when someone's trying to figure out how to get rid of their hangover.

I forced down a couple beers, foam included, and was completely sold on the idea of sweating it out. I stretched out on a poolside lawn chair and prepared for the alcohol to leave my system magically. Somewhere between ordering a floating drinking game off of Amazon's Prime Now app at 2 p.m. and leaving to escape the thunderstorm that had swept in around 5 or 6 p.m., I lost track of how long we had been at the pool.

We ended up tucking away to a new friend's apartment for a postgame party.

Now, this was no festival situation where I'd had way too much to drink and "popped a Molly or Percocet" like Future, but you would've thought I was at Bonnaroo when I tell you what happened next.

In a fog of humidity and cigarette smoke I started to realize I was swaying. My friend asked, "Aerin, do you need to sit down?" I looked up and responded, "I'm swaying, I know, but I'm good."

But then as I started thinking about it, I realized just how damn hot it was outside. Just as I'd made up my mind that, yes, I needed to go sit down inside, another innocent bystander asked me a question. I thought about ignoring him so I could escape faster, but I answered.

Everything went black. When I came to, I was looking at the floor, and everyone around me was staring in silent shock. That's when I busted out laughing.

It must have been hilarious watching how my tumble caused all those people's buzz to be killed. Party foul!

Next thing you know, I've fallen again but this time I'm sitting on the cold floor of the apartment with frozen peas and blueberries on my shoulders.

As if it wasn't humbling enough that this time I fainted on a stranger's porch, now produce was being used to cure my fainting spell. #winning

It's safe to say that once I rounded the corner to The Corner Pub I wasn't too keen on the idea of pouring up. I opted for bacon cheese fries and ate as if my life depended on it. Later on, my friend asked if I'd like to venture with her to the University area. She'd left her car there the night before but knew I wouldn't mind hanging out with her and her squeeze at a spot you've probably heard of before: Boardwalk Billy's.

I walked in still wearing the bathing suit I'd fainted in and an oversized grandpa's shirt-dress. #keepitclassy. While Boardwalk Billy's may best be compared to a cheesy, Myrtle Beach bar, I was still underdressed. And yet, we shut the bar down. You can't take me and my friends anywhere.

The next day, my friends invited me to the pool once more. I couldn't decide if they really wanted to see me of if they wanted to witness another fainting spell, and this time be ready to capture it on video.

I kid, I kid, however, that would've been epic. Just like the kid that learns not to put his or her hand on a hot stove, I learned my lesson about hydrating.

Yes, I went back to the pool, but not without double fisting a huge water and Gatorade. Not to mention, I retreated to the shade every single time I stepped out of the pool.

After surviving a couple hours of summer sun, I thought I could handle rallying at The Corner Pub yet again. I didn't realize I'd surpassed my threshold and lost track of time chatting it up with all the regulars until I looked up and saw the staff shutting the place down for the night. This is when I should've realized that it was time for me to go home.

Instead, someone convinced me I should pay a visit to Crave Dessert Bar. My first time visiting and I was wearing a faux leather bathing suit and a sheer cover-up with Rainbow flip-flops. Dress code violation, anyone?

Well, that's a story for another time.

backtalk@clclt.com

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Turnin' up ... on a Tuesday

A perfect summer night in the Q.C.

Posted By on Wed, Jul 5, 2017 at 7:00 AM

On Tuesday, one of my best friends, whom I've known for over a decade, asked me to support her at an event. Naturally, I said yes. Since the event didn't start until 9 p.m., I decided I should find something to do to pass the time after work.

I know what you're thinking, "Aerin, you know you didn't need an excuse to enjoy happy hour!" Or perhaps you're thinking, "Oh no, Aerin, you're never going to make it to that event, are you?" Sighs.

Instead of hitting up my usual spot, The Corner Pub, the girls and I opted for something different — Seoul Food Meat Company.

Located in South End, Seoul Food is a southern BBQ restaurant with a Korean twist. Last year, I visited with a couple friends there and we munched happily on ramen mac and cheese, wings and pulled pork.

I parked along the street and walked up to some different scenery that I remember. A must for the summer, Seoul has outdoor seating, a large back patio, games, a dog area and bar. The perfect setup for a grand ol' time.

I sat down at the bar and perused the drink menu. I wasn't much in the mood for craft beer but I settled for one with a watermelon twist. *Cues Beyonce's "Drunk in Love," "I been drankin' watermelon."

We chatted for a couple hours and drank a couple beers as the night slipped away. It was almost time for me to meet my friend, but before I left I watched the dogs bouncing around in the dog park and got deja vu for last week's column. Yeah, it won't be too long before I'm back on that patio.

As I hopped in my car and entered Fire House Bar & Lounge in my GPS, I realized it was literally right around the corner. I didn't want to deal with finding a parking spot, so I put my car back in park and walked toward West Carson Boulevard.

I'd passed the venue a few times but never had taken the time to stop in. My bestie finally arrived and we walked in together.

There were a few people lounging in leather couches, smoking hookah while other folks performed spoken word and music. In the back, after passing the bar and bathroom, another room with leather couches and an opening to the outside and gravel parking lot popped up.

We went to the bar where there were stools and swings hanging from the ceiling. I instantly knew then I'd be swinging in one of those before the night was over. I grabbed my first RBV and we walked back outside to sit and chat.

Once the event was over and everyone cleared out, we convinced the DJ to play some "twerk music." Now if you want to see a show, catch me and my bestie cutting up on the dance floor! Next thing you know, we were literally sweating from dancing so much. Just when I was thinking of hitting the road, someone pointed out one of the owners.

A previous owner of Red@28th, Rodney Redmond is no amateur when it comes to the hookah game. We chatted outside on the patio for a little bit about the spot.

Rodney let me tease him about the $9 RBV I'd purchased, and he explained how he and his partner wanted to create a more upscale experience. And that it was. The vibe was intimate until me and the bestie started twerking all over the place. Note to self: don't act your age.

I knew I'd have to suck it up to pay for another RBV in the near future, but then I looked at the food truck menu. Um, fried lobster tail for $15?! Sign. Me. Up. Other menu items included a shrimp basket, wings, fries and catfish. Tell me where you can get food like that late night while getting your dance on?

My friend laughed when I pointed out the lobster tail on the menu, she knows I have a weak spot for food, but lobster takes the cake.

Even though I was super tired and working on a hangover, I'm pretty sure we ended up shutting the place down. Sorry if I talked your head off Rodney, you took it like a champ!

After getting back to my house you'd think we would've gone straight to sleep. Nope. The fried lobster tail had gotten me worked up. The next thing you know I was heating up pulled pork and making sandwiches.

And that's how you end a Tuesday turn up!

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

I Met a Dog in Charlotte and It Wasn't a Guy

Visiting a K-9 haven

Posted By on Thu, Jun 29, 2017 at 3:27 PM

"Fill the box," someone yelled as half the Trolley Pub Charlotte riders piled into the "waiting" area at Dog Bar in Noda. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. I mean, it's the textbook moment for, "That's what she said!" I turned to my friend and co-worker and said, "That should've been our team name."

If you're not familiar with Dog Bar, you're probably wondering what in the hell I'm talking about.

One of my NoDa-residing friends had been telling me that I needed to experience a work-night turn up at the Dog Bar. While I'm convinced he doesn't think I'm a "dog person," per se (and he'd be correct) he's always known that I love the idea of dogs and possibly owning a well-behaved, "man's best friend" of my own one day.

So a few weeks ago, I decided to abandon my usual routine of turning happy hour into an Uptown charade, and finally went to Dog Bar.

The bar is referred to as a "dog-friendly watering hole with a patio." I literally couldn't have said it better myself.

I'd parked in their parking lot many times and walked past as what felt like hundreds of dogs were gawking and barking at me as I made my way to The Blind Pig next door. And quite frankly, I'd never been even tempted to brave the wild pack and see what Dog Bar had to offer. But my friend's dog, Luna, is a beautiful, platinum blonde Husky mix with piercing ice blue eyes. How could I resist the invite?

Per usual, as I approached the gate in front of Dog Bar, I was greeted by the sounds of barks. I stepped into what I call the "waiting area" between two small fences — a safety measure to keep the dogs from sliding past a newcomer and running into the street.

I took a deep breath and prepared to be devoured. To my surprise, all the dogs greeted me with a "smile" as I made my way to the covered benches and my friend. I don't know if he knew how nervous I was — I'd never been around so many dogs off-leash, running around freely in one space at one time.

We made our way through the entryway to the bar inside. A couple of the chillest pups you'll ever see rested on doggy beds on the bar. Say what?! They didn't even stress a newcomer walking in, they just laid there and minded their business like they owned the place. But in reality, the dogs run Dog Bar, so technically, they do own the place.

My friend ordered a craft beer, I decided a domestic would feel better in the morning. We returned to the patio and I watched Luna, who'd been pouncing all over the place kicking all the water out of the "community water bucket" before returning to jetting from one side of the bar to the other.

That's when I discovered we'd be playing trivia — rather, my friend would be, as I reassured him that I would be of no assistance.

He asked what our team name should be and I racked my brain for a clever response.

We finally decided on "Beers Full of Tears," but we weren't satisfied. After the first round, the Trolley Pub pulled up and spilled out a full group of tipsy cyclers. And as you can imagine, the Dog Bar is a magnet for dog lovers and thirsty singles alike.

So naturally, the entire group, minus dogs of their own, attempted to make their way into the bar.

Concerned that one of the tipsy travelers would accidentally let a dog out, someone stepped up to the inner gate and instructed them that they would need to "fill the box" and close the outer gate before he would let them enter. And that's when I wished we'd waited for inspiration before coming up with a team name.

As soon as they poured into the bar, all you could hear was the sound of "baby talk." "Oh you're such a good girl. Oh my goodness aren't you the most beautifulest dog in the whole wide world?!"

I chuckled at the awkward encounters non-dog lovers would make fun of for days and thought, "This is why dogs and dog owners love this bar so much."

I'm embarrassed to say, I've silently judged dogs — and sometimes babies — and their owners at dog- and kid-friendly venues, but Dog Bar showed me how much fun it can be to kick it with your furry child.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Rain Can't Stop the Vogue

The first Pride Pool Party of the summer

Posted By on Fri, Jun 23, 2017 at 10:25 AM

Tear-away swim trunks, nonstop voguing and a little bit of rain.

Those were the highlights of my Sunday a couple weeks ago. Why, you may ask? I went to this year's first Takeover Friday's LGBTQ and Ally Pool Party hosted by Craft City Social Club.

For those of you in the Q.C. who don't know, let me school y'all real quick. June is reserved for Pride Month in honor of the Stonewall Riots that took place in Manhattan in 1969.

As a major social demonstration against police mistreatment of members of the gay community, Stonewall has become recognized as the catalyst of the LGBT movement for civil rights.

In Biggie's words, "If you don't know, now you know."

Shortly after the month of June kicked off, the event popped up on my Facebook feed. I immediately marked myself as "interested."

The only thing that would keep me from going was the fact that it was on a Sunday. Would I really want to risk being hungover on a Monday?

But y'all knew that was not going to stop your girl, right?

I took the trolley from Elizabeth to Uptown in the hopes of sweating out some of the alcohol from the night before. Once there, I went straight to Latta Arcade to get a pizza from Zablong. Little did I know they were closed on Sundays.

I settled (yes, settled) for Mellow Mushroom before heading over to Craft City Social Club to meet one of my friends for the event.

Located inside the Sheraton at the corner of S. McDowell and E. Stonewall streets in Second Ward, Craft City Social Club is an indoor/outdoor poolside bar and lounge. Opened in 2016 along with City Lights Rooftop next door, Craft City Social Club is the only social club with a pool that Charlotteans don't have to worry about "crashing."

Not to mention, they have plenty of games to keep an adult child occupied, including billiards, darts, fuse ball, life-sized Jenga and shuffleboard.

I grabbed a parking ticket and stuffed my face with one more slice of pizza. As I walked past the pool area I could feel the energy from the party spill over the greenery-covered enclosure.

Once inside, I searched for my friend who'd been waiting for me for over an hour (I know, I know, I was upholding the stereotype).

Fortunately, he'd made a few friends and was sitting comfortably with his feet in the pool. Despite my tardiness, he hopped up with a smile on his face and agreed to walk to with me to grab a glass of champagne at the bar.

I surveyed the landscape and confirmed what I've always known, LGBT parties are some of the most care-free, happy-go-lucky celebrations of self a human can ever be blessed to experience. Yes, there can be drama and it can be difficult to fit in to smaller cliques — as with any group — but nothing beats Speedos and voguing for hours on end.

As a matter of fact, one partygoer came by himself and vogued non-stop to every song. Even when he was drenched in sweat, or rain, nothing stopped him from dancing.

Drinks were expensive so my comrade and I didn't concern ourselves much with running back and forth to the bar. Instead, we decided to take a dip in the pool where everyone else had made themselves comfortable on a pool float.

It goes without saying, but once I found a float shaped like a piece of pizza to take the perfect #Instaphoto on (find me at omgaerin), my day was complete.

It's a good thing, too, because shortly after, it started to rain. What a bummer, I thought. My friend and I grabbed our things and went inside for some shelter and tried our hand at ring toss.

We were contemplating making our exit, thinking the party was over when all of a sudden "It's Raining Men" came on. You guessed it! Everyone was belting out the tune while dancing in the rain. Now that's what I call a finale fit for a queen — for us anyway.

If you missed the first pool party put on by Takeover Friday, the South's longest running LGBTQ and ally mobile happy hour, you're in luck! Three more are scheduled for July 10, August 13 and September 10. Mark your calendars and get ready to show your support and PRIDE!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Leandrea Hill Depicts the Beautiful Secrets of Big, Black Women

The love below

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2017 at 7:00 AM

After Leandrea Hill told me about her most recent art project, I couldn't get that Drake lyric out of my head — you know, the one that goes, "I like my girls BBW."

Hill's latest project focuses specifically on just that: BBWs, or big black women. Hill's preference has always been to paint plus-sized black women, but for her most recent series, the Juicy Collection, she took it a step further.

"This is my first time focusing specifically on the vagina," she told me.

Hill explained that the project was born "because I had someone contact me about having a painting of their vagina done – commissioned – for their bedroom."

The collection ended up consisting of 13 up-close-and-very-personal paintings.

"They're all plus-sized black women who I had submit. I want to celebrate our vaginas," Hill said. "I wanted to focus specifically on black plus-sized women – our most intimate area."

On June 3, she celebrated the new collection's release as well as her that of her chapbook, "Beautiful After Dark." Hill is a poet primarily, and the book showcases her written work, including selections of her erotic poetry ("pornetry" as she calls it). She considers the Juicy Collection and all of her visual art "unspoken poems."

Like some aspects of the female anatomy, the location of the release party was elusive and mysterious. I almost walked into someone else's semi-formal event before finding Hill's studio tucked in the middle of a business center on North Tryon. The studio is made up of two tiny rooms, the white walls barely visible behind the patchwork of bright paintings that stretch from floor to ceiling.

The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)
  • The artist (far right) speaks with the author. (Photo by Tyrone Combs)

In the first room, Hill's latest unspoken poems were unmistakable. In shades of brown and purple, the paintings were visually similar, but represented a diversity of vaginas.

As Hill described the collection: "Some of them are pierced, some of them are a little fuller than others, some of them are dark, some of them are light."

(Interestingly, though, all of them were shaved.)

The little studio was crowded. Attendees, including friends of Hill and the subjects of the paintings, rearranged themselves, stepping this way and that to stay out of the way. Some slipped past each other to make trips to pick up deviled eggs and chicken salad. People mulled over the paintings, pointing out favorites. One of the pieces reminded someone of a shaggy dog. Another said it looked like Edvard Munch's "The Scream." All agreed that the collection was important.

"It's definitely a way to bring light to our bodies, to paint positive about our vaginas and the things that they do, as far as bringing forth life, bringing forth intimacy, love and lust," said Hill. "All of those things are tied in. Even though it's nude and it's most definitely a private area, it's not vulgar. It's just art — the art of our bodies."

I went to get more chicken salad. Commenting on how good it was, someone called it "chicken crack" and everyone laughed. The buzz in the room was overwhelmingly joyful. Between signing books and taking photos, Hill told whomever was standing nearby about the challenges she faced in taking a photo of her own vagina.

"I have two selfie sticks," she said. "Not once did I think of using them!"

I felt like I had stumbled on a group of friends, and never like I didn't belong. The joy and intimacy of the venue reflected the joy and intimacy of the subject matter; no hushed tones, no docent monitoring from the corner of the room.

Hill mentioned that in the past she has unsuccessfully applied for grants to support her visual art projects — although she didn't apply for any for this particular collection. I thought about what role the venue and any attached institutional support have in altering the art's message and meaning.

I imagined an exhibit of BBW vaginas at the Mint Museum. Would an institutional sanction be worth celebrating? Would such a venue strip the art of its intended purpose: that it's by, for and about black women? More curation and less celebration?

Naturally, Hill seeks a wider audience for her work, but as the roomful of friends cracked jokes and passed around plastic cups full of wine, I couldn't help feeling like the intimacy of the little space and the exuberant atmosphere were an inextricable part of experiencing Hill's work.

Hill herself considered the event a success. The next day, she took to Facebook to thank everyone who supported her latest endeavor.

"The art of blk bbw vaginas is real," she wrote. "It's magnificent."

Apparently, Drake was right all along.

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