In the Library: Floridays

8682f89e35fc790af2abf8ea5f3a888bRequired reading during a visit to the Sunshine State.  Or any other time.

You’ll not often catch me opening a book of poetry, but I make exception for Don Blanding.

So should you:

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The View from the Club

Working LateWorking late.

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Good Reads: Fixed Baroque

DSC_0116 A blog for language lovers, Fixed Baroque is written by Mandy Shunnarah, a regular here at the Cobalt Club and a self-described bringer of smiles, museum junkie, book nerd, and librarian in progress.

“I coined the phrase fixed baroque as a way of describing the natural state of my life and work,” Mandy said. “I’m in a constant state of motion, always working on something new, but this blog is a way of grounding me and reminding me that my work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s important to stop and connect with others; it’s important to have a fixed moment in a baroque life.”DSC_0063

My favorite Fixed Baroque feature is Thursday Word Day, for which Mandy spotlights uncommon words, defines them, and encourages their use in everyday conversation.  If you’ve ever wondered what ‘oenophile,’ ‘germane,’ ‘bailiwick,’ and ‘plication’ mean, Fixed Baroque is the place to find out.

It should be noted (and I do so with tongue planted firmly in cheek) that I enjoy this feature despite the fact that it was on one occasion used as a malign vehicle for a vicious attack that placed me in the role of unsuspecting victim.  Read the post — it centers around one of Mandy’s favorite words — and I’m sure you’ll agree that Wilford Brimley would have been a much better example.

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In the Library: The Filigree Ball

b792285a8b43e5f7d315a3f127875aaf.jpgAlthough her work has fallen into obscurity, mystery novelist Anna Katherine Green was one of the best-selling writers of the early 20th Century.  The Filigree Ball (Being a full and true account of the solution of the mystery concerning the Jeffrey-Moore affair), while not a detective story in the classic tradition, contains a complicated but engrossing  plot about old crimes that seems to foreshadow new mysteries surrounding a creepy old mansion in Washington, D.C.  Here’s a link to a free ebook copy:

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The View from the Club

10984616_810764585644815_2400162487571557265_nLooking up (and through) at the corner of First Avenue North and Richard Arrington.

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Good Reads: The Birmingham Restaurant Raider

rrWhether you’re in the mood for pork chops, pasta, or pizza pies, you can’t go wrong with a recommendation from the Birmingham Restaurant Raider.salsa

For the benefit of Magic City diners, this mysterious blogger can always be found “anonymously raiding a restaurant near you.”  There have even been unconfirmed reports that the Raider has put in an appearance in the dining room here at the club.

unnamedAt the Raider’s blog are full and fair reviews of Birmingham eateries and food and beverage festivals, along with “other useful food related things.”  If it has to do with where to eat, what to eat, and what to drink with it, you can read all about it there.

We highly recommend that you do so.

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In the Library: In and Out of Character

9173a28c545abab4340ce6047ca57097Best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in a series of 14 films for 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures, Basil Rathbone ranks among the finest actors of any century.  His well-written autobiography, full of entertaining anecdotes about old Hollywood, isn’t easy to lay hands on (at least it wasn’t before you could simply visit, but it’s well worth the effort.

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The View From the Club

DSC_0668Formerly a 350-room lodging establishment on Second Avenue North, the Thomas Jefferson Hotel was once noted for “Southern hospitality at its happy, wonderful best.”  Referred to as “the pride of Birmingham” during the 1930s, the building has for years been a thin shadow of its former glory and stands poised for restoration.

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Good Reads (and a couple of things you’ve seen before)

“New features at the Cobalt Club?” Scott Wilson asked, giving me a skeptical look over the top of his lenses.

Scott Wilson

Scott Wilson

“Yeah,” Wade Smith chimed in.  “Haven’t we heard that before?”

As much as I hated to admit it, the club’s resident super-villain was right.  Had he not been wearing an “Eat More Butterbeans” t-shirt, he would have been more menacing on this occasion.

Yes, you have heard that before,” I told them, “and, yes, the follow-through on it left a lot to be desired.  But it’s time to get back on track.”

“Well, it is easy to get sidetracked,” Scott acknowledged.  “So what are the new features?”

“To call them all new features is a bit of misnomer,” I replied.  “Only one of them is brand-new, and we’re bringing back two old ones.”

“Is one of them The View from the Club?” Wade asked.  “I liked that one.”

Wade Smith, in one of his many identities

Wade Smith, in one of his many identities

“Indeed.  It will appear on Fridays, and as before, it will showcase photographs taken all over Birmingham.  Sometimes there will even be a guess-what-this-is element to the feature.”

“Neat,” Scott said.  “What’s the other old one?  There was one called something like In the Library, right?”

“That’s it,” I said.  “It will be a Monday feature spotlighting books we have in the library here, including those that are also featured on one of the club’s Pinterest boards.”

Wade accepted the glass of pomegranate juice Currie had brought him, asking after a sip, “So the new feature is…?”

“Good Reads, a showcase of our favorite blogs.  It will post Wednesdays, and you two have the privilege of being on hand for its debut.”

Wade self-importantly straightened his t-shirt.

“Up first is Sequential Crush, a fun nostalgic blog that’s a nice slice of pop culture history.”sequential_crush_header01“In what way?” Scott asked.

“It’s a blog devoted to preserving the memory of romance comic books and the creative teams that published them throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  Jacque Nodell, who publishes it, is a historian specializing in 20th Century American history and culture who has a strong comic book heritage.  Her grandfather, Martin Nodell, created Green Lantern for All-American Comics back in 1940.”

Nashville blogger Jacque Nodell.

Nashville blogger Jacque Nodell.

“Are there villains in her blog?” Wade wanted to know.

“I don’t recall seeing any, but there’s still plenty of good stuff there: interviews, fun facts, samples of classic yet too-often underappreciated pop art, and explanations of why romance comics are of way more than a little historical and cultural significance.  Grab the tablet on the table there, and check it out.”

Wade did so, and I would highly recommend that you follow his example.  And be sure to stop by again Friday to check out The View from the Club.



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Mysteries, Meat Snacks, and Music

snd-ave-nMysterious things have been known to happen at the Cobalt Club, but three on the same night is extraordinary.

“Something’s wrong with Chef Guy,” Millicent said, introducing me to the first one as I handed her my Borsalino.

“Any idea what?”

She shook her head. “No, but he has Currie and Emsworth skulking around the dining room like a couple of spies pretending to be inconspicuous.”

On my way to the kitchen, I encountered Stephanie Naman, who was looking puzzled. “Hey,” she said, “have you seen Chloe?”

Chloe Carstairs? No. She supposed to meet you here?”

“Yeah, she texted me and said she had a clue and she’d followed it to the Cobalt Club.”
It was my turn to look puzzled. “A clue? About what?”

Stephanie shrugged. “No idea. If you see her, tell her I’m in the bar?”

The mystery-solving Chloe Carstairs.

The mystery-solving Chloe Carstairs.

“Sure,” I agreed, wondering what this new mystery meant as I proceeded to the kitchen. There I found Chef Guy leaning against the sub-zero and munching a Slim Jim. Things were worse than Millicent realized.slim jim

I’d never seen Guy so nervous. Forget Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, and Gordon Ramsay. Nobody has more confidence in the kitchen than Guy, and I’d lay odds on him in a cook-off against anybody this side of Fritz Brenner. But his usually-sharp eyes were shifty and unfocused, and his rock-steady hands were shaky.

“What’s wrong, Chef?”N1405P65009C-1

He swallowed beef, pork, and mechanically separated chicken, looking back and forth as if afraid his reply might be overheard. He conspiratorially cupped his hand to his mouth and whispered, “I believe the Restaurant Raider is here.”

So that was it. The Birmingham Restaurant Raider, the shadowy urban legend of an anonymous restaurant critic. No one knows where the Raider will appear next, so who knows how Guy got it into his mind that he or she was in the club that night.

It was an effort to restore his confidence and get him back to work, which didn’t happen until I had the idea of calling in Currie and Emsworth to report that the Restaurant Raider was not on the premises. So, having been presented with the chef’s half-eaten meat snack, not to mention my fill of mysteries for one night, I decided to grab a table in the lounge and listen to some tunes.DSC_0390 - Copy

My timing was good, as singer-songwriter Peyton Lang and her guitar had just ascended a stool on stage. She had performed with Trey Lewis, Michael Warren, and Meghan Elliott on a show in the Storytellers series at Pale Eddie’s Pour House a week or so before, and this was her first gig at the Cobalt Club.

“You play the old stuff well,” I told her after a set of Bob Dylan, Fleetwood Mac, and Beatles covers, including a slow but effective arrangement of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand.” She was sharing a table with her mom and stepdad, Dede and David Markle.DSC_0340 - Copy

“Old stuff is good stuff,” the modest and reserved 18-year-old said. “Lennon and McCartney, Stevie Nicks, Johnny Cash…they wrote songs about things that really matter.”

“The songwriting process has always fascinated me, probably because it’s a skill I don’t have,” I said. “Can you just sit yourself down and say, ‘I’m going to write a song,’ or does it just come to you?”

“I can make myself write, but it doesn’t sound good. It either comes out depressing or it sounds like it belongs in a Disney movie. Sometimes songs come to me in the middle of the night. I do some of my best work at 4 a.m.”

“Let me give you a quote I once heard a songwriter say,” I prompted, “and you tell me if you agree with it or not. ‘You can’t lie when you try to sing. It betrays you every time.'”

Peyton was silent for a moment. “That’s deep.” She was quiet again, then nodded. “I absolutely agree with that. If I don’t believe what I’m singing, how am I supposed to make other people believe me?”

“Do you remember the first time you performed on stage?”DSC_0377 - Copy

“Oh, yeah,” she said with a smile. “I was nervous. Very nervous. It took a lot of convincing.”

“It was like pushing a billy goat uphill,” David said.

Dede laughed in agreement. “It was. I’d talk to the wall, but Peyton is so shy, and she doesn’t realize how good she really is.”

Peyton brushed off her mother’s compliment. “I finally told myself, ‘If you want to do this, you’ve got to get over feeling shy and nervous.’ And I really wanted to do this. I still get nervous, but I don’t have the butterflies I used to get. I’ve learned to like being nervous. I feel like if I’m not nervous, what’s the point of doing it? There’s no fun in that.”

“Being nervous is fun?” I asked.

“Yeah, it gives you a rush. I could get paid doing something else if it’s just for the money. The rush is what makes it fun.”

“How would you describe your sound?”

She was thoughtful again. “I guess I’d say a singer-songwriter alternative sound with some pop.” Another pause. “I don’t knoDSC_0359 - Copyw. I don’t really have a genre that I fit into. I’m me. I’m not really like anybody else.”

“That’s for sure,” Dede agreed.

“What instruments do you play?” I asked.

“Electric and acoustic guitar, ukulele, and piano,” Peyton said.

“Which is your favorite?”

“Ukulele,” she replied without hesitation. “Ever heard Stairway to Heaven on a ukulele? It’s fun.”DSC_0409 - Copy

As I contemplated that unlikely yet undoubtedly fun sound, Currie appeared at my elbow, a folded slip of paper in his hand.

“Baxter asked me to deliver this to you, sir,” he said. “He said a charming young lady left it for you at the bar.”

I unfolded it and read the flowing cursive script: “Always enjoy visiting the club! See you soon! Stay fabulous! (signed) The VIP.”

I sighed. It had been quite a night. First, the Restaurant Raider may or may not have been in the house. Then Chloe gets a clue Stephanie knows nothing about. Now the club receives another visit from the enigmatic VIP.

Had Amelia Earhart and D.B. Cooper walked in at that moment, I wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

DSC_0404 - Copy

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