If I ever had doubts this was the right place for us to move (haven’t so far), they would have been squashed today under hundreds of furry little doggie paws. Yes, the annual Feast of Lanterns celebration features a DOG PARADE (has to be written in all caps because DOG PARADE) through the middle of downtown Pacific Grove. Tomorrow night they shoot off fireworks, another of my favorite things. Cannot wait. But you came for the pictures. Apologies for the quality—camera phone + over excitement + laughing.
In my ongoing search to find some people for us to drink wine with ’round these parts, I was thinking that maybe I would go to the weekly poetry slam in Monterey (they encourage all sorts of performance, not just poetry). You know, meet some other writers. Maybe we’d have something in common.
I disliked them all immediately, sitting around acting clever and superior. They nullified each other. The worst thing for a writer is to know another writer, and worse than that, to know a number of other writers. Like flies on the same turd. – Charles Bukowski
To be fair, I’m friends with a number of other writers, but we generally met in non-writer circumstances. And, regardless, friends happen organically after repeat, positive interactions. It’s not something you do. “I’m going to sell this house today!” It’s something you experience. (And I’d guess the people at the slam are too young anyway. If your liver is still pink and springy, we probably don’t have enough in common. Plus, slams aren’t really my thing.)
James and I are a self-sufficient couple. Even after 11 years of listening to each other’s bullshit, we’re still interested and still laughing. But we’re not quite ready for the unabomber cabin in the woods where it’s just us chickens and we never hang out with other people. It’s nice to hear someone else’s bullshit occasionally, especially if their bullshit can lead us to great places to eat, cool trails we’ve never heard of and things we don’t even know we’re interested in.
I had this conversation–in person–with my friend Nelson (a writer) a few days ago. He and his wife Phoebe split their time between Houston and the Bay Area, where they are currently. They drove down to PG to take me to lunch on Friday. It was great to see familiar, friendly faces, and find out that maybe James and I aren’t the only ones on this odd errand of finding new friends in middle age.
When you’re in your thirties it’s very hard to make a new friend. Whatever the group is that you’ve got now that’s who you’re going with. You’re not interviewing, you’re not looking at any new people, you’re not interested in seeing any applications. They don’t know the places. They don’t know the food. They don’t know the activities, If I meet a guy in a club on the gym or someplace, I’m sure you’re a very nice person, you seem to have a lot of potential, but we’re just not hiring right now. – Jerry Seinfeld
I didn’t think I be interviewing at age 44 because I didn’t know I’d be moving. So I’m either going to have to start getting out of the house more often to meet people, or some of you fuckers are going to have to move here.
If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is. – Kurt Vonnegut
Shared experiences are important. Even if you’re on a turd–at least you have good company.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. – Oscar Wilde (and also The Pretenders)
James and I had a fun conversation about where we’d eat in Houston if we could magically be transported there. You’ll see the abbreviated list below, and it includes places that are no longer in business. Because why not. Yes, this is a bit of homesickness creeping in (hence the focus on comfort food). We don’t miss Texas yet, but we do miss a bunch of Texans. I hope you know who you are.
- Pig Stand (RIP) home of the cowboy omelet, which cured every hangover it went up against – I wrote about my conflicted feelings when Pig Stand closed in this post
- Shipley Donuts - we’ve had donuts only once since moving, at the most highly reviewed donut place in the area – didn’t even come close (in fact, we ended up throwing them away) – you can’t beat Shipley’s, except when they’re getting raided
- Chilosos Taco House - the egg + Chappell Hill sausage breakfast taco is magic in a homestyle tortilla – they always screwed up at least part of our order, but all was forgiven after the first bite
- Aunt Bea’s - I’ve never eaten at a restaurant that serves so much butter or hosts so many morbidly obese guests - read this about my first experience there (and the butter)
- One’s a Meal (RIP) – anyone who ate at this restaurant likely remembers the very tall Greek waiter named John who worked there forever – you can find him at Avenue Grill, and he’ll probably remember you – he remembered James after not seeing him for years – randomly, here’s a Reddit conversation from a week ago about this very man
- Tel-Wink Grill - the line gets so long for breakfast, it snakes its way through the restaurant (nothing like eating with a stranger’s ass mere inches from the edge of your plate) – the Houston Press weighs in
- Stanton’s – though this place has been around for a while, I didn’t make it there until a few years ago – it would have been a contender for best burger in Houston during the burger journey - it reminds me of grocery/burger joints in the country
- New Orleans Poboy (RIP) – here’s what I had to say about its closure in that fake advice column I used to write – still one of my favorite burgers of all time
- Antone’s (before the family sold out) – if you had the privilege of eating an Antone’s back in the day, you would want to slap the fools who make the mushy bread, no chowchow version for sale today - Houstonia talks about the decline of the Houston poboy
- James Coney Island (RIP the two-story location downtown on Main St) – I used to go to this location with my grandfather – always loved sitting at the old school desks amidst the white-, blue- and no-collar patrons – after lunch, we’d hit the tunnels and wander around, eventually capping off our experience at the 60th floor observation deck of Chase Tower, the tallest building in Houston
- Liberty Kitchen – I used to go to the one in the Heights (in what was once a quickie mart) (Pepperidge Farm remembers), but I heard a rumor there’s a framed FIGHT STUPIDIZATION sticker on the wall at the fancier Liberty Kitchen on San Felipe
- Barbecue Inn – this place will always have my respect for telling Guy Fieri they weren’t interested in his greasy ass filming his TV show there – plus, the food’s delicious and there’s always a line, so they aren’t hurting for business – I had an awkward encounter in the bathroom there on my birthday eight years ago
- Tia Maria – we moved through a number of TexMex haunts over years, and this was the most recent favorite for our regular Friday night nosh - that first sip of frozen margarita marked the end of the work week
- Beaver’s - there’s something very “Houston” about Beaver’s – their delicious drinks inspired me to purchase a muddler
- Spanish Village - we ate there when I was a kid, and I still remember the multi-colored chairs with straw seats and the Christmas lights that lined the dining room – luckily, not much has changed (except I became old enough to understand why the adults liked eating there–the margaritas will knock your ass out)
- Dolce Vita - the only forced-valet restaurant on the list (you can still find parking in the surrounding neighborhood, so that’s okay) – I had some great meals there with some great people, and I credit Dolce Vita for introducing me to the concept that brussels sprouts can be delicious
- Hickory Hollow – two words: hot tots
I think I gained 10 pounds writing this post. I hope at least one of you is inspired to check out some of the places that are still around or maybe revisit one of your old favorites.
And don’t worry about us. We might be a little homesick for our peeps, but we still have all of this to keep us company.
I’m free! Free to soak up someone else’s wifi! Free to eavesdrop! Free to be a jackass writing on a computer in a coffee shop!
When I made the move to start working from home, I was really excited about being able to write on location. Inside, outside, any place I could get wifi. I was going to rid myself of the drudgery of sitting in the same chair at the same desk for 8 hours or more a day and instead plop my ass in a lot of different chairs.
What I didn’t count on was killing my six-year-old laptop right after we got here.
We were stuck in a hotel for 10 days while we searched for a place to live. Ten days of desperately driving past house listings (please be the one, please be the one, shit) and working full-time while stuck in a 150 square foot hotel room with two irritated dogs and an irritated James. On the next-to-last night in the hotel, I was working late. Stressed out. Going a little cray-cray. Maybe my motor skills were also depressed because I spilled an entire glass of water on the keyboard of my laptop. And I was tired and over it enough that I just said fuck it and went to bed. Didn’t take out the battery or attempt any sort of life saving measures. My lack of effort was rewarded the next morning when the computer wouldn’t stay on for more than 60 seconds. It never did recover.
In the ensuing three+ months, I’ve been stuck working on my desktop in my tiny home office. The cray-cray was creeping back in, so I bought a new laptop. It’s currently on its first trip to a coffee shop/restaurant a short walk from my house.
When you start working from home after years of being in an active, open office, at first you appreciate the silence and increase in productivity. Eventually, the quiet begins to press upon you. And you realize you miss the sound of humanity. Other people’s phone conversations, recitations of what they did over the weekend, where they bought those crazy shoes. It’s not the content you miss as much as the noise of it. The aliveness of it. The other-people-ness of it.
Now that I’m untethered from my desk, I can sit in a public place, hear the sounds without really listening to them, and feel like I’m still part of the world. It’s nice. And since I’m a bit of a hermit at heart, it’s enough.
Often on our treks through hill and dale we encounter benches in the middle of nowhere. Not just places to sit, the benches are memorials inscribed with names of the departed. Sometimes they’re tucked away in a quiet corner at a turn in the trail, and sometimes they look out on a spectacular view at the edge of the world.
Something about the benches always grabs me, gently. I wonder if the person who dedicated the bench is still alive and, if they are, whether or not they’ve come to visit the bench recently. Did they pick this location because their loved one used to hike this trail? Was there a dedication ceremony that required a number of people to hoof it up the trail in nice clothes? What if they’ve since moved across the country–do they wonder how the bench is doing and wish they could see it again?
I was looking through my photos for a recent blog post when I realized I had shots of about a dozen of these benches from the past few months. They’re now gathered together at Talking Benches, and I’ll add more as they come. Not sure if this is a good idea or a weird one. Not sure it matters.
Today’s the fourth of July, and there are no fireworks on the Monterey Peninsula. We’re going across the street to have veggie burgers and hot dogs with the neighbors, and we’re bringing James’ boozy sangria and a bowl of queso with us. The cheesy revolution has begun in Pacific Grove. ¡Viva la queso!
We thought we’d take a break from Big Sur (a ridiculous concept) and instead go hiking in the mountains near Carmel Valley. A place called Garland Ranch. We made this decision after some wine the night before–literally thumbing through a book of 99 local hikes and saying “that one”–and did zero research about our destination other than finding which end of the park had fewer people.
The first clue things weren’t going my way, about 20 minutes into the hike? One minute I was standing next to a bridge taking pictures like this one*
the next, I’m flat on my face. I have no recollection of tripping and falling. One minute I was fully upright, the next I was kissing dirt. Luckily, my camera lens and right tit cushioned my fall. The camera is jacked and will have to be replaced.
The tit was slightly bruised but will not need replacement (no photo available).
After the fall, we continued onward through a grove of trees and then headed down to a creek via a series of steep switchbacks. After walking along the creek for a bit, we started heading up the mountain. And up. And up.
I don’t mind getting my elevation on. I enjoy a nice view with my exercise. But this goddamn trail just kept going up with no chance to catch your breath. And though it was a misty 59 degrees at our house that morning, it was clear and 90 in Carmel Valley. Since I’ve totally acclimated to the climate in Pacific Grove as if I’ve lived here my whole life, I had more trouble than normal with the heat. So in addition to listening to me pant my way through heat stroke, James also had the pleasure of once again hearing, “It’s so fucking hhhhhhhhhhot” over and over again.
We came across a red-faced woman taking a break with her dog. Seeing my red face, she recommended we jump on a different trail instead of continuing along the one we were on. She said it gets so steep at one section you have to crawl on hands and knees to traverse it. Don’t have to tell me twice. The trail she suggested was only wide enough for one person and featured a pretty steep drop-off, but it was mostly flat and mostly downhill so it felt like a walk in the park. Which was kind of what we were going for in the first place.
As for the sound a writer makes when she falls in the woods, it begins with a grunt and quickly turns into a stream of expletives. Pretty much what you’d expect.
*Though it looks as though James is on his phone, he’s actually adjusting his glasses. On most hikes, our phones (thankfully) don’t get a signal.
Today is Father’s Day.
Here’s a picture of my father and his three didn’t-fall-far-from-the-tree offspring.
This is a recreation of sorts of a very old picture of Dad carting Mason and me around on his back. We were riding him like a horse in the time before Tohner was born.
We were talking about that picture one afternoon a decade or two ago and decided to reenact it. Perhaps we’d had a few drinks. I remember thinking that this was maybe one of the best ideas of all time, and you can see in the photo that I can barely breathe from laughing so hard.
Dad insisted that we all get on his back (he’s always been a tough mofo). I complied. Mason didn’t relish the thought of a) breaking Dad’s back or b) lying on top of his sister, so he supported his weight with his hands. Tohner, who wasn’t in the original photo, leaned in. Mom snapped the shot, just as she had so many years ago.
There’s been only one downside to this move–being so far away from the people we love. I’m sad to have missed the Father’s Day gathering at my parents’ today. But I got to talk to my dad on the phone, and for that I am grateful.
(side note: though Tohner didn’t get to ride Dad around the house with me and Mason, he did get to ride a dog briefly)
Our last-minute “where should we go today?” game late yesterday morning ended up sending us to San Francisco. We hadn’t been to the city since we moved here and were happy to find it was an easy two-hour drive. Every other trip to San Francisco has taken a lot of planning, an airplane and hotel reservations, so it’s still kind of hard to believe we can be standing in our kitchen at 11:30AM talking about what to do that day, and be elbowing hipsters out of the way at City Lights within a couple of hours.
James and I celebrated our 11th anniversary last week by going to a fancy (for us) restaurant. You know the place–the tiny meal comes stacked on top of itself so the flavors can all meld together and shit. The service is attentive without being overbearing. Subdued yet tasteful decor. Expensive bill.
We typically like more down and dirty digs when we go out–not just because of our budget, but also because we ain’t fancy. But once or twice a year we wash our faces and put on nice pants and go have ourselves a time.
The waitress chatted us up. Asked if we’d been there before. No, this is our first time. She said the place was kind of off the beaten path. Actually, we live right around the corner. She said she used to live in Pacific Grove, too, but couldn’t deal with the fog, so she moved to Monterey. Then she said the two words that we’ve heard over and over since we got here: JUNE GLOOM.
“The weather’s been really nice lately, but June Gloom is on the way.”
“PG is a great place to live. Except, of course, for June Gloom.”
“Welcome to Pacific Grave, home of monarch butterflies and June Gloom.”
What the actual fuck is June Gloom? Do sea monsters crawl out of the nighttime ocean and go around nabbing all the old people? Is everyone in PG on the same cycle, suffering from group depression during the sixth month of the year? Does June Gloom have anything to do with why we suddenly have an infestation of crows (or maybe ravens?) in our yard? Not counting the one that mysteriously died Saturday, the last day of May? Was it a sacrifice to the coming darkness that is June on the central coast?
When we got up on June 1 and looked toward the bay, the ocean and sky were an indistinguishable shade of light gray. Like we live up the street from where the sidewalk ends. The air was moist, and it looked like a delicate rain was falling. A rain that evaporated right before reaching your upturned face. The temperature was around 50 degrees. And it stayed gray for most of the day, though the sky did clear for a couple of hours in the afternoon to reveal a clear blue ceiling above us. I guess this is June Gloom?
Lookie here. I grew up in a swamp full of bloodsucking mosquitos, biting fire ants and flying cockroaches, none of which were impacted by weeks worth of 100 degree afternoons that cooled to a moist 85 degrees overnight. I come from a place where even the air sweats. Where it’s not unusual to get so much rain in a random summer afternoon that you have to park your car on higher ground and just walk the rest of the way home. I’m not worried about a month or two of gloomy days that barely reach 60 degrees.
Just on the other side of that point in the photo above, around the red-roofed buildings, is Monterey. It doesn’t suffer from June Gloom the way Pacific Grove does. And, granted, you can actually see the change in the clouds. If you dropped a plumb bob from the sky, that line between gray and light blue would mark the division between PG and Monterey. Interesting, but hardly worth getting that worked up about.
My plan for getting through the horror of June Gloom? Walking five blocks to reach the sunshine when I’m feeling emotionally peckish. And resisting the urge to laugh in the face of the next local who bitches about our summer weather. (Plan subject to change if the infestation of crows is a mere prelude to something much more sinister and deserving of the title “gloom.”) (Which might be kind of exciting, actually.) (This is Amity Island after all.)
Soberanes Canyon Trail, 1.5 miles one-way (3 miles total). You can keep going and hook up with the Rocky Ridge Trail if you’d like to add a few more miles and a lot more elevation to your trip. We opted to only do Soberanes Canyon Trail on our first trip out.
Here’s what the parks service says about the trails:
Rocky Ridge Trail will be more enjoyable for the gung-ho hiker than the novice. The trail ascends very steeply as it climbs Rocky Ridge. Then, after gaining the ridge, hikers must descend an extremely steep mile (we’re talking about a 20 to 30 percent grade here) to connect to Soberanes Canyon Trail.
Located on Highway 1 about 7 miles south of Carmel Valley Road. Look for mile marker 65.8 for the highway turnout – there are almost always cars there, so it’s pretty easy to spot.
We couldn’t get a parking spot on the first pass, so we continued down Highway 1 to turn around. We pulled into the next big turnout on the west side of the road, and decided to check out the trail there before heading back. (on a subsequent trip to Big Sur, I made note of the turnout – after passing the Soberanes parking lot on the left, go around a big curve in the road – on the way you’ll pass two small spots that can’t really be called turnouts before coming to a sign on the west side of the road that says Soberanes Point coastal access – that’s the turnout)
A very short walk leads to a bench with an amazing view. There’s a steep rut (wouldn’t call it a trail) covered with roots that descends toward the water.
We headed to Soberanes and had to pull into the grass on the side of the highway to park because the lot was full. Even though there were plenty of cars, we only passed other hikers on the trail every once in a while. It didn’t feel crowded.
Soberanes used to be a ranch. Only the barn remains.
The weather in Pacific Grove was gray and lightly misting, and it wasn’t much different once we got to Soberanes.
There are a lot of side trails that take you deeper into the woods and further away from people. We found a large fallen tree that served as a great place to eat lunch–and noticed that we had ticks on our pants. I felt sorry for the people who were hiking in shorts, not only for the ticks but also the copious poison oak that’s all over Big Sur and often brushes your legs in the more narrow sections of the trail.
This tree looked like it might come alive and throw apples at us.
THE SINGULARITY, my play featuring dark matter, is getting its first production this fall. Science Fiction Theatre Company is producing the show for a three-week run, September 19 through October 5. And now I have a great excuse to go to Boston. Cannot wait.
The production came to me in a roundabout way. This theatre isn’t one of the dozens I’ve sent the script to in hopes it might float to the top of someone’s slush pile. Instead, they reached out to me after hearing about the play from an, as yet, unnamed source. Funny how that works.
Now that THE SINGULARITY has an upcoming production, I’m revisiting a comment an actor made after the Great Plains Theatre Conference last year. She told me she didn’t like the title. “Hated it,” was actually the phrase she used. I expected feedback on every page of the play except the title page, so I was a little surprised. I filed the comment away for later dissection. Here we are.
The most useful feedback from that conference came from one of my peer playwrights after my reading: “You had a lot of obvious jokes in there, but somehow you made them work.” I think he meant it as a compliment, or perhaps was damning me with faint praise, but either way it grabbed my attention. And the first thing I did when I got home was go back through the script and try to kill every line that might have been obvious or the result of lazy writing. There were more than I care to admit. They’re dead now (I don’t save old drafts).
So we’re back to the comment about the title. There are many definitions of singularity.
- a point where a measured variable reaches unmeasurable or infinite value
- a point in space-time at which gravitational forces cause matter to have infinite density and infinitesimal volume, and space and time to become infinitely distorted
- the mathematical representation of a black hole
- the quality of being strange or odd; the state of being singular
You can apply each of those definitions to the content of the play, directly or indirectly. So the title fits. But maybe it’s not very marketable. I spend my day writing marketing copy. I understand the importance of leading with something strong that captures the imagination. You know, something catchy like THE GAY NAKED PLAY.
I could change it to THE DAY MY UTERUS EXPLODED or WHAM BAM BIG BANG, and maybe that would make someone at the local alt-weekly chuckle and ask for an interview. That’s why the Houston Press interviewed me when I did a show called IN A JAR…AT THE SMITHSONIAN. And I delivered, letting them know it was a reference to the urban legend about John Dillinger’s penis. Which is funny and all that, but I guess I don’t want to make the title of this particular play something that would look good on a t-shirt.
I’ve seen plays where the only clever writing was in the title and not in the script. I don’t fall for that anymore. I base my play selections on 1. trusting a specific theatre company to put on shows I want to see, 2. going to things my friends recommend and 3. seeing productions written by/featuring people I know.
I realize not everyone uses the same criteria, and maybe I need to keep that in mind going forward. Maybe I need to pay attention to new play conversations happening in the field that always seem to mention the importance of a catchy title. But I’m not making a retroactive change.
The title stands.
We had a big day of hiking yesterday so decided to take it easy today and just bring some sandwiches to the beach. We found a bench not far from Point Pinos Lighthouse, which is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. We were not trailblazers, eating on this bench, as the wildlife soon informed us.
Neither squirrel nor gull got an intentional bite out of us. I did drop a small piece of lettuce right next to my shoe, and the squirrel was there in a flash to eat it, then stood up on its back legs clapping its little paws together asking for more. That was…odd.
After we were done eating and were crawling around on the rocks, I saw another squirrel. Same squirrel? Who knows. I started clucking at it, like you do to a horse or dog, and that little fucker ran right up to me. Stared at me long enough to realize I didn’t have anything to feed it, then it ran off. So I can cross, “Get a squirrel to come to you like a dog” off my bucket list.
Saw what looked like a fin way out. Zoomed my camera as far as it would go and snapped away, unable to see what it was until I uploaded the shots to my computer.
A quick google suggests I might have gotten a shot of a sea lion (or maybe a seal) that is “sailing,” which means it’s either sleeping or regulating its body temperature. Not dead. We’ll go with that.
Finally, we saw some really beautiful–and slightly psychedelic–tide pools.
My parents came out for a visit toward the end of last week. We did it up right, traveling all over the Monterey Bay area, even spending Mother’s Day down in Big Sur. They could’ve stayed at our tiny place, but we would had to have slept like Charlie’s grandparents in Willie Wonka.
To this point, our two months out here has felt like a weird vacation. Seeing my folks–and having to say goodbye again–made me finally grasp the fact that we moved and are far away from the people we love. People we really miss.
Anyway. Let’s look at some pictures.
You guys. I had an epiphany this week. I figured out why I’ve been bitchy most of my life.
“It’s because you’re a bitch,” you’re all thinking. I understand that line of reasoning. It’s what I always thought too. But that’s not it.
It’s the heat.
Anyone who’s had the unfortunate experience of being around me during the summer in Houston knows I hate the heat. Because I complain about it ad nauseam. A popular refrain is, “IT’S SO FUCKING HOTTTTTTTT.” Another favorite is, “I didn’t know that part of the body could sweat.” Yes, James is a lucky guy.
Even when it’s not summer, my temperature gauge runs hotter than most everyone else. My hands are always warm (warm hands/cold heart). The last office I worked in, people would literally be wearing parkas while I was sitting at my desk in a shirt with no sleeves. I don’t think it’s a health issue, it’s just how I’ve always been.
Until we moved.
I thought my buoyant attitude and happy times feelings the past month+ came from realizing a long-held dream, having a great view of the Pacific from my living room and making a big change to my workday routine (no pants). And those things are great. They’re wonderful. Fuck yeah. But there’s a fourth factor that should move up that list–the weather.
I promised all my Texas friends not to talk about the weather as they slip into 90-degree days with 80-degree nights, while we’re in the low-50s overnight/mid-60s during the day that’s the year-round norm here on Amity Island. But I think I can talk about it when it’s unusually hot. Which it was the past two days.
Wednesday, we broke heat records here. It was 90 degrees (!). When you live in an adobe house with no AC, it gets pretty hot. It was about the same temp inside as out, only there was no breeze. And the house held on to the heat longer than the outside did.
I found myself sitting at the desk where I normally talk to hummingbirds and watch the flowers grow instead saying a popular refrain (soooooo hot). I felt my temper growing short. I felt kind of depressed. Then I realized…oh yeah, this is what my soul felt like in Houston. It’s the fucking HEAT.
The temperature has equalized, and we’re heading into a weekend with low-60s as the high, so I’m back to the new normal. I just thought I’d let all you bitches know–it might not be you. It might just be the heat.
Postscript: This woman sums up how I feel in the middle of summer in Houston. It’s NSFW, so put in headphones.
When you can’t find frozen margaritas and queso, make it yo’self. Yes, yes, I know frozen margaritas are not the best way to enjoy your tequila, and the climate here isn’t even remotely right for that kind of icy drank, but come on. Nostalgia doesn’t give a shit.
Before moving, James and I ate Tex-Mex on Friday nights. Every Friday night. The venues changed–Teotihuacan, Spanish Village, Tony’s, Tia Maria–but the appetizer and beverage were consistent. So we brought some of that flavor to the West Coast this Friday. (It won’t be a common occurrence–a tiny thing of Velveeta costs $7.)
I’ve yet to perfect restaurant queso (I think I need to buy a big can of nasty fake cheese from a food supplier in order to get it right) and the meatless gravy on the enchiladas was a little chunky (my fault for letting it sit too long), but the margaritas were good and our Tex-Mex cravings were quelled. At least for a little while.
Now that I work from home full-time, my entire routine has changed. There’s the obvious–not getting up to a squawking alarm, not packing a lunch, not sitting in traffic, not making small talk. But there are a lot of other changes I hadn’t anticipated. Like the view.
My desk is situated between two windows that look out on our backyard. Through one window are a huge pink rose bush and something called monkey flower. The other window looks toward our garage and a stone fence topped with potted plants. Each day is a parade of hummingbirds, golden crowned sparrows, scrub-jays and blackbirds. The cat from across the street. Invisible gophers that make our grass move. Winds blowing in off the Pacific. Bright blue skies and gray mist.
The view inside is nice, too.
This was an easier transition than I expected, thanks in part to the fact that it happened at the same time as our move. Change one thing, change everything.
There’s a running joke among my friends that those of us who work from home don’t wear pants. That’s not entirely accurate. Most of us wear *something*, it’s just not something we’d wear outside the house. Okay, maybe a quick trip to the mailbox. Or the garage. Or to get something out of the car. But that’s as far as it goes.
In honor of the people whose commute is to the other side of the house, I created no pants workday. It’s a place to share images of your home office, the view from your window or the questionable outfits you wear. I went first and hope others feel moved to join in. Maybe it’ll provide a small sense of community among those of us who are floating on an island. Not wearing pants.
(This post is tiny payback for the many helpful online resources I used when we were planning our move. Feel free to skip if you’re not moving.) (It’s really long.)
The move: Houston, Texas to Monterey, California. Approximately 1,850 miles. Two people, two cars, two dogs, a three-bedroom house full of stuff. March 2014.
The purge: I got rid of quite a bit of stuff before we moved. A month+ down the line, I can say with certainty that I don’t miss (and sometimes don’t even remember) anything that I released. The more I gave away, the lighter I felt. Think about it like this. Everything that you keep is costing you money. It’s taking up space in a rental truck, and it’s costing time and effort to pack, move from one location to another and unpack. Keep the important stuff–things you love and things you use. Give the rest away, sell it online or donate it to charity. Your back will thank you.
The packing: U-Haul is a great resource for moving supplies. They have good prices and fast shipping.
Crucial packing supplies:
- White newsprint. Use it for wrapping stuff and filling empty space in your boxes. Boxes are much more stable if they’re packed totally full. We went through three or four boxes of newsprint–not one thing broke.
- Stretch wrap. Perfect for keeping disassembled furniture (like shelves) together. To protect our couch, we covered the thing in moving blankets and then sealed it up tight with stretch wrap. It arrived in perfect condition.
- Moving blankets. We should have used more of these. Some of our furniture got scratched up on the way here because we didn’t wrap every piece in a blanket–only the big stuff. That was a mistake. You can also use blankets you already own, but be prepared for them to get damaged or dirty.
- “Small” boxes. This is the best size to work with. Even full of books or albums, you can still (somewhat) handle the box. Medium boxes are good for lightweight items and things you don’t want crushed (like lamp shades). We probably had about 60 small boxes (lots of books and media) and maybe 15 medium boxes.
- Bubble wrap. Perfect for keeping electronics safe. Wrap it up, tape it shut and put it in a box with wadded up newsprint for extra protection.
- Label tape. You could just use colored duct tape, though this tape is a lot cheaper. It helps keep boxes organized when you’re packing, and it makes it much easier when you’re unloading to immediately know which box goes where.
- Ratchet straps. These are important for securing your load if you’re packing the truck/trailer/pod yourself. We bought the 1″ size, and only one strap broke on the way here.
Packing tutorials that I found useful (and followed):
Other packing tips:
- Put clothes, towels and bedding into black garbage bags. They’re good for helping secure your load because you can stuff them between pieces of furniture, boxes and oddly shaped items for a tight fit.
- Take the drawers out of furniture before moving it. When you’re on the truck, put the drawers back in and fill them with lightweight stuff (pillows, stuffed animals–things that aren’t heavy enough to damage the drawers on the drive but do take up space).
- Try to put everything except furniture into boxes. It makes packing the truck much easier and helps protect your items.
- Put important documents (birth certificates, passports, car titles, pet vaccinations, etc.) into a file folder that you keep with you. Don’t leave it on the truck.
- Use every bit of space. Pack things inside luggage, coolers, your trash can, laundry basket.
- Tape screws and cords to the items they go with (or place in a baggie and tape that). If there’s something jinky about how things are set up, write it on a piece of paper and include it with the screws/cords. You think you’ll remember–you won’t. Just write it down.
- Pack TVs and computers in the box they came in, if possible.
The mover: We used ABF U-Pack. It’s a freight shipping company that will ship your stuff in pods or trailers that you load. We used a trailer. Here it is parked on our street in Houston.
The U-Pack trailer is about half the length of a typical semi-trailer. We saw a few ABF trucks on the road when we drove here, and they haul two trailers at a time. Using their various space estimators, I kept guessing we’d need around 16 feet of the trailer’s 28 feet. When I called to reserve a trailer, the guy quoted me 17 feet. The good thing about U-Pack is you pay for the space you use, not what’s quoted. Much better than the places that charge by the pound.
Our quote came in at $4,510 for 17 feet of trailer space (+/- $143 for each foot we came in under or over) and $375 for up to a month of storage on the destination end. We ended up fitting our stuff into 15 feet, so we saved a little off the estimate. Then we lost that on the storage fee because it took over a week to find a house to rent.
You need 14 feet of vertical clearance if you want the trailer parked in your driveway. Sadly for us, we only had about 12.5 feet of clearance because of electrical wires. The trailer had to stay on the street.
They let you have the trailer for three business days on each end. I called ABF dispatch the second evening to let them know we didn’t need the third day. They picked up the trailer the next afternoon.
We left Houston the following morning (after sleeping on a blow-up bed in an empty house) and headed west. Our stuff beat us to New Mexico and was already in Tucumcari by the time we got to Las Cruces that night. And it was in San Jose before we’d made it to Monterey. They give you a two-day grace period to accept delivery once it’s arrived at the storage destination. After that, you have to pay a monthly storage fee, no matter how many days it sits there.
Something I really like about ABF is that your stuff is the only household that will be on your trailer, and it’s never off-loaded. The rest of the space is taken up with freight that gets dropped along the way. If your trailer goes into storage, your stuff is the only thing that’s in there. I found the ABF people easy to work with, friendly and responsive and consider our exprience with the company to be five stars.
The load in: When the guy dropped our trailer off, he said “high and tight” was what we needed to keep in mind as we loaded the trailer. Since these are freight trailers, they provide a much more rough ride than a truck you’d rent or a full-service moving company would provide. It’s important to pack everything as tightly as possible, floor to ceiling, to reduce movement.
We were “lucky” it was raining when the trailer was dropped off because it was easy to check for leaks. Though I’d read horror stories about nasty trailers with holes in the ceiling, our trailer was clean and in very good condition. We put tarps on the floor to try to protect our stuff but didn’t bother using the tarp we’d attached to the top.
I measured all of our furniture and marked up a sheet of graph paper with a sketch of how I thought things might go.
We had to adapt as we went along, but the sketched out plan gave us a good starting point. Heavy stuff at the front, fragile stuff on top. The easiest ride is toward the front of the trailer, so you don’t want to load your box of crystal last.
I watched an incredibly useful tutorial on building tiers in a moving truck. Wish I could share it with you, but it’s since been removed from YouTube–sadly, I can’t find it anywhere else. Just know that you want to load the trailer one section at a time, typically two-feet deep, and run ratchet straps across your load to stabilize. Then build the next tier.
If you have a Tempurpedic mattress, you can’t move it on its side like you would a normal, less high-maintenance mattress. We weren’t sure how we were going to move our mattress (couldn’t find any suggestions online) until a smart person who’d stopped by suggested we run ratchet straps horizontally across the trailer and hang the mattress. It worked like a charm.
The road trip: It would have cost $1,000 or more to ship one of our cars to California, so we both drove. My friends made fun of me when I mentioned I’d bought walkie-talkies for the trip. I wasn’t sure if they’d be handy or not. They were. Not only for bathroom breaks (for us or the dogs) but also to share the drive. We were able to talk about the scenery, make jokes along the way and keep each other awake and engaged across long stretches of desert. Here are the ones we used.
The little dog rode with me. To give her a good vantage point (and hopfully avoid any potential car sickness), I got her a raised dog seat. She spent most of her time sleeping (just like at home), but seemed to enjoy the seat. And didn’t mind being buckled in the entire time.
If you’re traveling with dogs, make your hotel reservations before you leave home. There are lots of places that don’t allow pets, and plenty that do allow pets but are really gross. We had a good experience with a Drury Inn and then a Best Western. Your mileage may vary.
The wrap up: That’s about it. If you have tips you’d like to share, feel free to post in the comments. Good luck with your move.
and what are they doing in Big Sur?
I hope it’s just spring fever and the place isn’t always as busy on the weekend as it was today. And last weekend. And three weeks ago. Every turnout had 10 cars crammed into it, with chicks posing on rocks in sundresses and sandals and brodudes shooting selfies with their iPhones. I blame this movie.
Our first stop, Partington Cove, was relatively uninhabited. It helps that it’s an unmarked trail dropping steeply downward from a bend in a very bendy road. The parks in Big Sur tend to have a lot of variety–water, woods, hills–and Partington Cove is no exception.
After Partington Cove, we headed a bit further south to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. So did a shitload of other people. The parking lot was full, so some people parked on the side of the highway. There was a small wedding party on the easy walk to the waterfall overlook.
Carmel is a weird place to see Willie Nelson, which we did last night. Then again, his show was sold out, so maybe the disconnect isn’t that great. Plenty of rich people like weed and songs about weed and seeing artists who smoke weed and who recently released a song called Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die featuring Snoop Dogg singing about being smoked like weed postmortem.
I bought our tickets months ago, before we moved, somehow knowing we’d be ready for a little Texas flavor one month into our California residency. Sure enough, during Willie’s first song, the Texas flag came rolling out. And I felt…recognition. Not state pride, exactly. More like:
Hey. I know them. I should say hi. But what if they don’t remember me. Eh, fuck it. Let’s go.
If that makes any sense.
Willie’s son’s band opened. Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real. The audience didn’t really get into it (even though the band is great) until the third song, which Lukas sang just like his father. Then they started listening. The old ladies sitting behind us, who had a conversation going the entire show, were getting flustered about this cute young version of Willie. “Is he BAREFOOT?” they wondered aloud, the expensive Chardonnay fumes wafting from their Chanel-painted mouths. “He’s SOOOOO CUTE!”
Bless their hearts.
At intermission, we briefly chatted with an older cat who ended up having to take a call. He got off the phone and said, “(Woman’s name) can’t meet us. Said she’s been drinking wine for three days straight.”
Willie is 81 and still puts on a helluva show, though it did feel a little like an amusement park ride. One hit after another without a breath in between and very little banter. Like they needed to barrel through in order to get to the end. I get it. Life’s like that sometimes.
Come ride “WILLIE’S GREATEST HITS,” which ends in you coming to in a cloud of OG Kush wearing nothing but a red bandana.
One change leads to another. FIGHT STUPIDIZATION has wanted to live on its own for a long time. It finally found an apartment, which you can visit here.
Other than a facelift/name change, cryjack.com will be same as it ever was.
This is not my beautiful house.
When you move to California, they should give you a printed reminder to put on your dashboard that says, “Try not to kill any pedestrians today.” At least for those of us coming from places where people do more driving than walking.
The pedestrians around here are like little Disney woodland creatures, bopping along not realizing the danger (me, if I’m not paying attention) rolling very nearby. I had to slam on my brakes yesterday to avoid hitting a woman in a parking lot. She came from between two cars and didn’t even glance my direction. This happens all the time–people walk with impugnity. Everywhere. I guess the good news is I go days without getting behind the wheel.
When we go walking, I’m still surprised when a car comes to a complete stop to let us pass. Even when we’re nowhere near a crosswalk. As we move toward summer and tourist season ramps up, I’ll be sure to retain that caution. Us folks from outta town aren’t quite as accommodating. But some of us are learning.
Speaking of cars–
- Mexican food. Eating at the bar to avoid the 45-minute wait for a table. Nearing the end of our small basket of chips (these people may not have queso, but their guacamole is the tits), when the guy sitting next to us pushes over his basket. Says he’s done with them. Oh. Thanks? Stranger chips. He could have sprinkled poison on them, or rubbed his hands on them after a bathroom trip that didn’t include the sink. But he was being so nice about it, so eager to share even though we hadn’t reach chip crisis mode yet. We ate that dude’s chips. And didn’t die.
- Gas. Last time I filled up was March 11, and I still have about 3/4 of a tank. And it’s not because I’ve been holed up in the house. We’ve gone somewhere almost every day…ON OUR FEET. Yeah, son, we’ve walked to dinner, drinks, the water, the water, the water.
- Security. My mild OCD manifests itself in mostly two ways. I obsess about whether my car’s parking brake is on, and I check to make sure doors are locked. Sometimes having to get out of a warm, comfy bed to go around and check the doors again. Not since we moved here. We came home the other night to find we’d unintentionally left the windows open. That’s something that would NEVER happen in Houston. I don’t think we moved to Mayberry, and this wasn’t a conscious change on my part, but I welcome the freedom.
- Entertainment. We’re going to “The 57th Annual Good Old Days Celebration” tomorrow in downtown Pacific Grove. It’s your typical small town fair, except the featured musical act both days is Moonalice. A band featuring former members of Jefferson Airplane, Bruce Hornsby and various Grateful Dead offshoots (Jerry Garcia Band, Phil Lesh & Friends). They live-stream their shows here and are playing at 1PM Pacific tomorrow. You’ll see James and me hanging out near the funnel cakes.
- Proximity. The houses in PG are generally very small (under 1,000 square feet), and the lots usually provide just a sliver of green on all four sides. James and I were standing in front of our house the morning our trailer full of stuff was to arrive, talking (not loudly) (it was just after 7AM) about where the trailer should park when not one but two neighbors came out. One silently moved her car, and the other (in his robe and slippers) asked if he needed to move his. This was our first indication that I need to not run my mouth like usual. The hills have ears.
- Amity Island. James is convinced we’re living in a version of the place where JAWS was set. And that it’s still the ’70s here. We haven’t been able to put our finger on it quite yet, but there’s something…everyone is so friendly and nice and eager to share their chips…I don’t trust them.
- Actually, that’s bullshit. I think there nice people in the world, and they’re easier to run into when you live in a town of 15,000. And it’s hard to be unhappy when surrounded by so much beauty and so many opportunities to experience it. We walked through a forest this morning, had a picnic lunch and then hiked to a cliff over the Pacific, all within about a 10-mile radius. I feel free. Free enough to be a middle-aged woman wearing braids and a v-neck t-shirt.
PS: We saw an otter today.
Walking is something you don’t really do in Houston. Maybe if your car broke down. Or you’re trying to raise money for a charity. One time I saw a guy jogging down a major freeway. But for the most part, Houston is a city you experience by car.
Now that we’re living in a small town, we’ve found ourselves walking to pick up breakfast. Walking to the hardware store. Walking to dinner. Walking down to the water for the view. Walking just for the fuck of it. The weather finally cleared after a few days of rain, so we dealt with our stir-crazies by going for a walk before dinner tonight. (side note: the key to living in a small house is being able to count the outdoors as part of your living space–if the outdoors becomes off-limits, your small square footage begins to creep up on you) (all work and no play, etc.)
I’d heard a rumor there were a bunch of seals and their pups on a beach near where our street ends. We checked it out. Bingo.
In an effort to keep assholes off the beach, the city has staked up temporary fencing all around the area to keep the riff-raff out.
Some locals don’t care about the signs.
And some locals look like a chicken with its head cut off.
And some of us just have to take a moment to take it all in.
The day may come when these sights don’t stir something in my heart. But until that moment arrives, I’m going to keep kid-in-a-candy-store-ing it and skipping down the road. And sharing pictures with you.
Yesterday was my 44th birthday. The plan was to work a bike ride into the festivities, but it rained most of the day. Which wouldn’t be remarkable, except that this area is in the midst of a severe drought. I guess all they needed was for a couple of people to move here from Houston. We brought the rain.
Today was clear and beautiful. We headed to Asilomar and then took the coastal bike path back around. About 6.5 miles in all, which is a lot when you factor in the goddamn hills. And the fact that we hadn’t been on our bikes in a year.
Some shots from our ride:
We left Houston, Texas March 7, 2014. We arrived in Pacific Grove, California March 9, 2014. We traveled 1,850 miles, each of us accompanied by a dog.
My car reached a milestone on the journey. All 6s.
Most of the long drive across the desert southwest looked like this, including the bug residue. Which reminds me of that old joke: What’s the last thing to go through a bug’s mind when it hits your windshield? Its asshole.
Though we referred to this as a “move to Monterey,” our goal was always to rent a house in Pacific Grove. It’s a town of 15,000 on the tip of the Monterey Peninsula, so it’s almost like living on an island. It took us five days to find the house, which isn’t bad, but then it was another five days before we were able to sign the lease. Things move slowly here. To ease the pain of waiting, we took a side trip to Big Sur spur of the moment on a Sunday morning.
There’s a road between Big Sur and Carmel called Palo Colorado. It’s a weird little one-lane, mostly paved road that winds through redwoods and then climbs up the side of a mountain. When another car approaches, which doesn’t happen often, one of you has to pull off the road to let the other pass. The road dead ends at Bottcher’s Gap, which looks down into the Ventana Wilderness. And it features local wildlife like this little fella who wanted to eat Stella.
Pacific Grove has its own wildlife. In addition to migrating Monarch butterflies, there are also deer roaming around town. Like, casually strolling down the street, not a care in the world (though I do hear there are mountain lions that snag a deer here and there, right out of people’s backyards).
The drive, the expense, the hassles were all worth it. Our house is less than half the size of our place in Houston, but there’s a view of the water from the living room. So, you know. Priorities.
The Monterey Hillbillies arrived on the west coast Sunday night. That drive across the desert was long. I’ll put up a full post soon, but here’s a sneak peek of how our traveling companions are holding up. They’re confused but willing.
There are three towns right next to each other on the Monterey peninusla–Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea–so I’ve been reading the Monterey County Weekly and the Carmel Pine Cone to get familiar with the area.
The Pine Cone arrives Friday morning, and each week my favorite thing to do is read the police blotter. Something that will look familiar to anyone who’s lived in a small town, the blotter is an interesting snapshot of how people run their personal business in a community. Often, the Pine Cone has blurbs about someone finding a cell phone or wallet on the beach and taking it to the police station. This, of course, happens in big cities too. It just doesn’t make the paper. Too much murder to talk about.
Here are some entries from last Friday.
Officer dispatched to a business on Ocean View where approximately 20 young adults were. One of them was dared by another to throw disappearing ink on a third person, who did not want to press charges.
Monte Verde Street resident reported receiving a strange letter from a subject. The letter does not make any threats but is suspicious in nature.
Discussed possible solutions with cat owners on Santa Fe Street regarding a cat problem.
Someone entered a Lighthouse Avenue motel room by lifting a window off the track and sliding it open. Once inside, he watched TV and left without being detected. The motel operator learned of the unlawful entry upon renting the room out to a guest. Woman stated she was uncertain but thought there may be two bedspreads missing from the room.
Pacific Grove Lane resident reported that someone dumped patio chairs on his property. The resident confronted the subject and requested he move on and not enter again.
Everyone is so polite. The beat covers police activity in Big Sur, too, which is mostly related to people being stuck on a mountain trail. A couple of weeks ago, there was a full story devoted to an incident at Esalen where a guest got drunk and naked (two things that are not typically considered unusual behavior there):
They said Panto, who had taken off his clothes and was acting strangely, used a hard rubber ball, a Bluetooth speaker box and a glass bottle as weapons…Esalen supporters asked on Facebook how such an unfortunate incident could have happened at such an idyllic place, while some questioned the decision to call the police.
Why’d you call the police, man?
No place is immune from crime, but I’m delighted to be moving to an area where lost dogs are found and people politely request that someone get off their property instead of just shooting them in the face.
Plus, now I know where to dump our patio chairs.
Monthly heavy trash pickup in our neighborhood is this week. We’d been waiting for this opportunity to get rid of a lot of things we hadn’t found a home for, and I was excited to get the stuff out of the house yesterday. Evidently the roaming neighborhood pickers were excited for us to get the stuff out of the house, too, because things barely had the chance to get comfortable on the grass next to the curb before quickly being scooped up.
At one point, there were two cars idling in front, waiting to see what we brought out next. It was quite an eclectic collection with enough variety to outfit an apartment. Table and four chairs. Set of plates. Various cooking implements. Working electronics. And also some crap. Three chipped salad plates. Cobwebby stuff from the back porch. An old futon that was the daytime bed of the big dog (who farted every time she hoisted herself up on it and is quite pissed at its disappearance).
Judging by the excitement of the people who were happily taking the stuff and their desire to talk about it (“You’re just GIVING this away?”), our trash was their treasure. And we avoided it all going to the dump, which was optimal.
The dogs are not happy, though. Not just because of the missing couch. They know that something big is going on around here, and they’re pretty sure they aren’t going to be involved in it. I keep telling them that they get to go on this trip, but I can tell they don’t believe me. Every time Stella looks up at me, she has big sad eyes. She doesn’t understand. Doesn’t know about the fancy doggie car seat I got for her so she can see out the window as we trek across the country. Stella, the dog who’s never been more than 80 miles from home, is about to have her little doggie mind blown.
I have no idea what they’re going to think when their paws touch the Pacific.
We have a winner! In what has been an ongoing competition for shittiest job of sacking groceries at the Bunker Hill HEB, the young lady who bagged my stuff today is the grand champion. This comes after four-and-a-half years of going to this store every weekend and experiencing moderately shitty to super shitty grocery bagging on the regular.
It’s gotten so frustrating that last weekend I felt moved to state the obvious to the young man who was about to bag my stuff. I said, “Please put the cold stuff in the blue cooler,” to which he snarkily replied, “Yeah, I KNOW how to do my job.” I didn’t blame him for being insulted (it’s so obvious, right?). I let him know that not all of his coworkers share in that knowledge. His look of surprise suggested he must not spend much time in the employee breakroom.
There’s a lot to like about this HEB. It’s clean, the shelves are well-stocked, prices are affordable and the staff is always friendly. On the weekends, you can usually spot at least a couple of manager-types facing labels and keeping things tidy. These are the reasons I come back each and every week instead of going to Kroger, Whole Foods, H Mart or any of the other grocery stores that are nearby. I also like supporting a Texas company.
But here’s the thing: the last contact I have with the store is the checker/sacker combo. So even if I have a great experience while shopping, if I feel like I got dumped on right after forking over a couple hundred bucks, I leave with a bad taste in my mouth. It might serve HEB well to keep that in mind and invest in training their staff instead of making the only requirements for the position be four intact limbs and active respiration. There are plenty of online tutorials, and I’d wager that at least a few of the checkers and managers started out sacking and can provide some good advice.
As for today’s experience, where to begin… You’ll see my blue soft-sided cooler in the photo. At the bottom of the bag is an unused bag that I brought, which could have replaced the plastic bag the sacker felt like she needed to use. On top of my unused bag: dog food, soap, a box of pasta and a frozen pizza. The bag just north of the cooler, the one with the 2-liter of Topo Chico? Guess what’s at the bottom of that one. Yep, eggs. Eggs on the bottom, then bread, then a heavy bottle of water. Bread was smushed, eggs were fine. The rest of the bags were similarly populated. In fact, she did such a shitty job, it felt like it had to have been intentional. You have to work hard to get cold stuff into four different bags. And that means I have to work hard to put my groceries away when I get home.
Since we’re moving in a few weeks, I only have a couple more trips to the Bunker Hill HEB. I’m hoping to get the condescending sacker on the last trip. He may be bitchy, but at least he knows to put cold stuff in the cooler.
Last week, I drove by the house in the Heights I lived in as a child. The neighborhood that was rough around the edges in the ’70s is now populated with shiny happy families on matching bicycles riding down the middle of the street. Our house in Bellaire (as well as that of my grandparents) long ago fell under the blade of a bulldozer to be replaced with a stucco paean to yuppiedom and excess.
Some favorite places are still here. Mecom Fountain in front of what used to be the Warwick (when Phil Donahue asked Bob Hope about his favorite view, Bob reportedly said, “The view from the Warwick Hotel is the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. It’s just like Paris.”) (which would make me think his favorite view would actually be somewhere in Paris, but I digress), Miller Outdoor Theatre, the Astrodome (kind of), the planetarium at the Museum of Natural Science (they still do a Pink Floyd laser show!), Lankford Grocery, David Adickes’ heads, Memorial Park.
Lots of other places are gone. Because this is Houston.
Houston is an unsentimental city. It favors the new over the old, growth over stasis, more-more-more over this-is-enough. It’s a city of the moment, not the past. When I return for a visit, whether it’s this summer or the holidays, Houston will look different than it does today. And should I move back here in a year or a decade, I know I’ll be welcomed into the fast-moving current. No reproachful looks. No passive-aggressive “look who’s back.” Just a bunch of forward-moving people glancing over their shoulders and saying, “Come on!”
In Houston, you can’t go home again. And you can’t really say goodbye. But you’re always welcome to join the now.
I did a bit of organizing in iPhoto (why not? we’re organizing everything else we own). Instead of random video clips being sprinkled among thousands of photos, I now have a nice little album with nothing but videos. Videos that I hadn’t seen in a while. Didn’t even remember I had. Maybe had never actually seen, lost in the static of so many images.
Most of the videos are of little snippets of life, caught by luck or design. Some were expected–someone’s birthday, singing a song, blowing out candles. Some were accidental–the camera recording when it was supposed to be asleep. Some were random–someone’s new house, a precocious plant, high water after a hurricane.
There was one video that grabbed me. I was walking from the back porch of my parents’ house into their back yard. Nothing special or important. Most of the family was inside, and I was stealing a few moments to capture the homestead. With me was my brother Mason. He says something off-camera right at the beginning. I answer him, but you see neither him nor me. And, respecting the video, we stay quiet for most of the remainder (he does alert me that I just walked through a fireant bed because I’m busy looking through the camera and not watching where I’m walking).
As I watched this almost 3-minute video, I tried to will the camera to turn around. To capture his face, his being, for just a moment. This was less than a year before he died, and I would love to see him, even if only a glimpse. But I don’t turn the camera. I just keep steadily, silently moving forward, and he keeps side-stepping to stay out of frame.
There’s another video, taken around the same time at a different gathering of the tribe. I’m recording our nephew Rowan, seated in one of those baby workstations with lots of things to push and poke and jingle. Mason is in the background, telling our father a story. And I’m glad to have his animated voice as the camera focuses on the deliberate movements of a six-month-old. You even see Mason briefly, mostly neck-down, in the middle of the video, gesticulating wildly as was his way.
But the camera didn’t focus on him. Why would it? Here’s our brand new nephew who will soon be a little boy. And Mason’s already grown and not going anywhere…
I bring this up not to be maudlin but just to remind myself (and maybe you) to turn the camera around. Get an image of everyone in the room. Including yourself. Chronicle all of it while still being a participant in the moment. And don’t be afraid to talk while the camera’s rolling.
They say that if you want to know what possessions you value most, see what you would grab in the middle of a fire. Or, in this case, what you’d put in your car before moving across the country. Everything I own is going in the moving van EXCEPT all of my photos and slides and a harddrive with every electronic image and video I’ve ever shot. I can live without the clothes and furniture and books and electronics. The images can’t be replaced.
Time is like a river.
Not counting the eight years I lived in Industry, Texas when my family departed the big city for more a more bucolic setting, I’ve lived within 15 miles of the hospital where I was born. That’s 35 years in a pretty tight area, especially considering Houston’s sprawl. My shortest-distance move was out of the garage apartment I lived in for 11 years (where I was pretty sure someone would eventually find me buried under a mound of cats*) into a house with James a half-mile away.
My grandfather was born in a house downtown near where the Houston Public Library now stands. The house was within a short walk of the hospital where I was born almost 55 years later. My mother was born in Houston, and my father got here when he was five years old. And both my brothers were born here, too. My Houston roots run deep, and I’ve had a habit of running the same ground for most of my years here.
In fact, I’ve spent the past 14 years living 1.5 miles or less from Interstate 10, which Houstonians commonly refer to as “I-10.” When we visited my friend Bree in LA last year, she gave us shortcut directions to avoid traffic on what she called “the 10.” These regional variations aren’t related to an accent you can hear, but they’re an accent just the same. This quiz nailed that I’m from Houston and, oddly, suggests I have some New Orleans influence too.
I joked with my brother yesterday that I’m going to become “Texas Crystal” when we move to California. Start wearing boots and really up the twang that I’ve always been relieved not to have. (I was already wearing a shirt with the Astrodome on it while we were having this conversation.) James piped up, “Please don’t do that.”
And I won’t. Probably.
Maybe I’ll do a hybrid instead. Call that particular interstate “the I-10.” Serve sliced avocados with my grits. Go fishing…for sanddabs…from a kayak…while drinking Lone Star.
*Regarding the “crazy cat lady” motif, why cats? Dogs are much more exuberant in their displays of love. Seems like a lonely lady would get more emotional gratification out of having a dog than a cat that barely sniffs her direction when she enters the room.
What I’m saying is, cats are assholes.
Clear cold water crashes against the craggy coast and sprays barking seals lazing on white beaches. Dramatic cliffs drop to sea level, giving way to farmland filled with avocados, strawberries and artichokes. Mystical fog rolls in, and when it rolls back out everything twinkles. Echoes of Beats and Deadheads ring through a city that is literary and illiterate, confident and self-conscious, satisfied and starving. Giant and ancient redwoods reach for the sun and create a quiet twilight below. Patchwork vineyards unfurl over gentle hills that rise and fall like breathing.
We dream of the California coast.
And we’re going to California again, only this time it’s different. This time we’re taking the dogs, our cars and our whittled down belongings with us.
Perhaps it’s the middle-age crazies, or maybe it’s the freedom cry of two people unencumbered by a mortgage or children. Whatever it is, we’re moving to Monterey. Home of the Jazz Festival, California’s first theatre, public library and newspaper, monarch butterflies, migrating whales and blue water as far as the eye can see. It’s a small town a couple hours south of San Francisco and a quick, scenic trip up the Pacific Coast Highway from Big Sur.
It was inevitable, really.
We leave in March.
Hello, friends. Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, etc. For our atheist friends, get some faith in something other than your ability to take the magic out of everything. Goose!
Bob and I hope this annual note finds you in good spirits. We’re doing well, considering…the incident. I’m sure you heard about it. Hell, half of Tennessee has heard about it by now. Bob said he’s learned his lesson and won’t be so friendly with folks from out of town. And of course I said it’s not the folks you gotta worry about, it’s their damn dogs! Ha ha. You know.
We recently welcomed a new addition: a rat (we hope!) that died in the wall of our kitchen. The smell lasted longer than you might expect, so we blew through our incense supplies at a fast clip. There’s nothing like cooking your weekly Mexican tacos dinner while being overwhelmed with the smell of nag champa. Namaste-Ole’!
This year, Bob and I both completed major projects. He spent the summer organizing his extensive novelty and concert koozie collection, something he’s been wanting to do for years. It’s always wonderful to see someone achieve a dream. It must have rubbed off on me because I did a little organizing of my own! I have finally tackled my collection of local celebrities’ hair. I have all of the weekday morning and evening anchors, most of the weathermen, the last three mayors and the high school principal. Plus a whole bunch of others. Basically, think of a celebrity that lives within 10 or 15 miles of the center of town, and I probably have some of their hair in our house. And now it’s in alphabetical order!
Things at my job aren’t going so well. The company implemented a 30% pay raise across the board, but not only did I not get the raise, I actually got docked 15% of my salary. They said having to pay that sexual harassment settlement was bad for the bottom line. I kept telling them I’m clumsy and it’s not my fault my hand accidentally grazed the janitor’s hoo-hoo. Five times.
It’s okay, though. I’m keeping my chins up. Plus, I now have my own office in the basement. It’s very quiet down there. Very quiet. Sometimes I can hear my heart beat in my fingertips. But then I start typing and everything’s okay. Helps me get more work done! typetypetypetype
Maybe I’ll finally write that romance novel I’ve been thinking about for so long. The story of a woman who sells her cottage cheese factory and moves to Lubbock where she meets a young plumber who takes his dog Scamper to work with him every day. Then she finds out every girl the plumber has dated ended up dead, but she’s really pretty confident that she can change him. Then the inevitable happens and Scamper has to eat the remains of the former cottage cheese factory owner.
I guess it’s really more of a romantic thriller.
Love and Happy New Year,
Bob and Linda
Once upon a time, a time that was no better or worse politically, geographically or culturally than today, two people of non-discriminate ethnic persuasion had a conversation. This verbal exchange was neither sarcastic nor derogatory and instead facilitated an expression of ideas that the two parties found quite agreeable.
During their chat, both people felt exalted, supported and not at all uncomfortable. They did not talk about the weather, as sunny, clear days in the low 70s are not everyone’s idea of pleasant. Some are too cold, others are too hot and still others feel like that sort of weather is just mother nature trying to be a show off.
Not that having an opinion about the weather is a bad thing, but it might be cause for disquiet, which is frowned upon.
Not frowned upon in the way that “you can’t express your opinion,” just frowned upon because you might make someone feel that they are too sensitive to climatic changes. We all just want to get along.
So the two people of
indiscriminate indeterminate sexual identity talked of lighter issues. A particularly enjoyable topic was the soup they had eaten at lunch. While they did not agree about the level of salt in the dish, they both thought the soup was the proper temperature. Afterwards, they retired to their respective homes.
They did not want to turn on a light and disturb the roaches that might have been searching for a morsel in the kitchen, so they each bumped their shins on the way to the bathroom in the darkness. One bumped his/her shin a few seconds after the other because he/she had a slightly larger apartment. This was in no way a reflection on the worth of the person, it was just a rent control thing they happened to fall into.
Rituals are important. They help mark the meaningful moments in life, and they’re a good barometer of the passage of time. New Year’s = new beginnings. The 4th of July = summertime. Halloween = the start of the holiday season. Rituals help break the year into phases. They give us the chance to look forward and back in a way that doesn’t happen as much on a random Tuesday.
Tomorrow is the fourth anniversary of my brother Mason’s death. Each year, the first thing I do on December 7 is start thinking about the post I’ll write that day for Remembering Mason. The site never turned into the repository of stories about Mason that I’d hoped it would. But, rituals are important. So I keep posting there two or three times a year, even though I mostly feel like I’m talking to myself.
For that annual post, I think of all the things Mason missed out on over the previous 12 months. I reflect on the many times I thought to call him, to share something he would find funny or infuriating. The impulse to pick up the phone only lasts for a microsecond. Then the wave comes crashing over my head. The wave that reminds me. He’s gone.
It’s amazing that you can know a thing, deep in your soul, but you can still be surprised by it.
In The Year of Magical Thinking, a book about losing her husband, Joan Didion wrote:
Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe their husband is about to return and need his shoes.
Those first couple of years, every time I found myself telling someone Mason was gone, I felt like I was crazy. That surely I’d lost my mind because my vibrant younger brother most certainly was alive and well. Ends up, it’s pretty common to think that someone who died might come back any minute. Walk right through that door. Not as a ghost. As a real, whole person. As the person they were the last time you saw them with life in their eyes. Maybe it’s the brain’s way of easing you into the new reality.
All this to say, I’m going to write that post tomorrow. Just as I’ll keep posting here, even after the lights have been turned off and everyone’s gone home. Because rituals are important, and sometimes you have to leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs.
Update: Here’s the post.
1. Lists are lazy writing. It takes effort to write something that flows forth from a central idea and has segues and transitions. It’s much easier to come up with a slideshow about “The Top Ten Reasons We Don’t Miss 80s’ Fashion” with a pithy sentence or two for each image and call it journalism.
2. Lists make for lazy reading. When you can just click-click-click through something, only stopping at the bright and shiny pieces, it’s the equivalent of eating candy for dinner. Candy’s dandy, but you need some vitamins, vegetables and protein up in this bitch. Also: liquor’s quicker.
3. Lists are taking over like a fungus. Weeklies like Houston Press and dailies like Houston Chronicle are turning into slideshow repositories sprinkled with a few news stories. And, in the case of the Chronicle, a third or more of a given story’s real estate is a photo or slideshow, with the written part of the story only taking up a few paragraphs. At this rate, news will soon be delivered in a series of images, like a child’s picture book.
4. Lists lack meaning. When you’re just getting little nuggets in list form, it’s likely you’re not getting a whole lot of substance. Granted, the less said about popped collars, Z Cavaricci and glacier glasses the better. But in the time it takes to fart out five listicles, a writer could instead write one story with a bit more substance. But they aren’t allowed to do that because… (see number 5).
5. Lists are all about page views. Page views are all about advertisers. Lists aren’t being created for you, the reader. They’re being created so you’ll click 10 or 20 times on the same “story,” which translates to 9 or 19 more page views than a traditional story would bring. This, in turn, makes it seem to advertisers that a site is getting a lot more traffic than it really is.
(This listicle took less than 20 minutes to write. Man, if I wrote one of these each day, I could really up my readership…)
James and I just returned from a trip to California’s central coast, where we celebrated his birthday and renewed our spirits. We hit San Francisco, Monterey/Pacific Grove and Big Sur. Though those places can often be cold and foggy, we had blue skies and balmy days with brisk, clear nights.
Places of interest:
- de Young Museum
- Lover’s Point
- Asilomar State Beach
- Monterey Bay Aquarium
- Limekiln State Park
- Bixby Bridge
- Dobbs Ferry (San Francisco)
- Brown Sugar Kitchen (Oakland)
- Monterey Fish House (Monterey, no website)
- Loulou’s Griddle in the Middle (Monterey)
- Nepenthe (Big Sur)
I just emerged from the busiest quarter of the year at work and haven’t had much time for blogging lately. But that’s not why I’m not writing here very often. As Stephen King proved by knocking out 8,000-page novels, delicately balancing his typewriter between the washing machine and his knees while the kids were sleeping–if you need to write, you will.
But wanting isn’t enough. I want to blog more often, but I don’t need to. I haven’t felt like there was something pressing I needed to tell you. Instead of writing fluff and filler just to keep the page views up, I’ve chosen not to write much at all. And that makes me uncomfortable. This blog and I have been chugging along together since May 2005. Never say die.
It’s not like I’m not writing. I swim in words all day at work. And ideas for plays, scenes, moments have been coming in a constant flow lately. I catch as many as I can and write them on index cards so 1) I don’t forget and 2) I’ve got a nice stack of inspiration to pull from when the time is right.
The time will be right, whether blog post or play, when I need to write the thing down because it won’t get out of my brain otherwise. Like a song that gets stuck in your head. The only way to exorcise it is to write it. So I bide my time. When want becomes need, that’s when the work gets done. More to come.
For now, this.
My family came for a visit yesterday, and we celebrated the belated arrival of fall. I put a few Halloween decorations around to help set the mood, including a scary 3-D skull that has an evil laugh, plays creepy music, rolls its eyes (which light up) and opens/snaps shut its jaw. I was worried it would scare the kids. I played it for them once and watched for their reaction. There was a pause and then delight. They kept pushing the button over and over (and over) again. At one point, I saw Rowan tentatively insert his finger in the thing’s mouth so it could bite him. Can’t say these kids aren’t tough.
Unlike me. Later that night, James placed the skull (which can be put on a motion-activated setting) in a dark corner of the living room. I walked by shortly before bed and it went off, scaring the crap out of me and our 70-pound dog. In the dog’s defense, she’s scared of everything. In mine, I’m very jumpy.
James was in the den watching TV. It was around 11:30PM, and I’d gone to bed an hour or so earlier. He heard the door to the laundry room open, the light switch flip and the door close, which was odd. The laundry room is so tiny you have to leave the door open in order to have enough room to get the clothes out of the dryer. But someone was in there. Creepy.
He opened the door, and I was standing in front of the washer with the lid up. Sort of pawing at the air inside the machine but not really making contact with anything. He asked if I was okay. I said, “I’m just so tired. I’m tired. So tired.” (Martyr.) My eyes were open but not awake, and he realized I was sleepwalking. He walked me back to bed, and I didn’t remember any of this the next morning.
The first thing I did was start googling to see what dread disease causes one to sleepwalk. Because, even though I’ve slept approximately 15,877 nights in my life and this was the first (only?) time I’d ever gone sleepwalking, I was sure it meant something horrible was coming. And maybe it is, but the “incident” was 10 months ago and hasn’t had a second appearance. As far as I know.
Sleepwalking is common in children but less so in adults–maybe 4% of the population. Almost half of adult sleepwalkers have an incident at least once a week, and 25% deal with it nightly (!). An isolated incident in adults, which is what I assume I experienced, is usually related to stress + sleep deprivation + alcohol or some other sedative. Hmmm. Those are three of the main ingredients of my life.
It happened last December when I was applying to grad school for fall of 2013. I’d been riding the fence about getting an MFA in playwriting for years and decided to stop talking and start doing. We regret the things in life we never tried, blah blah blah.
Applying to grad school is a bitch. It’s easy to spend a month or more just checking out programs, trying to find the ones that have the right mix of funding, location, programming and reputation. At the same time, you have to track down copies of your college transcripts, study for and take the GRE, write some bullshit about why you’re applying to the program (and you’re not supposed to say, “because I’m having a midlife crisis”), wrangle recommendations from people who are really too busy to make up nice things about you, and pay $50 to $100 for each application. Oh, and there’s the writing sample, which, for an MFA program, would technically be the most important part.
I applied to four fully funded programs, being unwilling to go into debt for a graduate degree that doesn’t lead to a job at the end of the rainbow. Of the four programs, I got into two. Of the two, I was especially excited about the one that was in southern California. James and I went to check the area out. I’m pretty sure in a parallel universe we’re still stuck in traffic on I-10 outside of LA.
Since it’s now October and I’m writing this in Houston, I guess it’s obvious I decided not to go. It didn’t feel right. I think I really just want a change of scenery, and that can be accomplished much easier than by going back to school.
Meanwhile, every time I travel alone (most recently to Chicago this week), I worry that I’m going to get up and try to do laundry in the hallway of the hotel, only James won’t be there to guide me back. I wear a shirt and shorts to bed, just in case.
This is the logo I designed for my new website, the project that’s been sucking up a lot of my non-work hours. The site combines my professional writing stuff with my playwriting stuff, both of which seem like they need to be separate from my blog writing stuff. I have just enough knowledge to give me confidence I shouldn’t have when it comes to web design. Which means I’ve gone down the wormhole and emerged 5 or 10 hours later, blinking in the light and asking if it’s Christmas yet. It’s not.
It’s September 15, 2013. Here’s what’s on my mind.
- Why is it still so hot? Summer has put her long, glittery nails into the Texas soil and won’t let go. Enough already.
- A new friend of mine gave me a voodoo doll (which makes sense in context). I’m probably going to use it for decoration only. Probably.
- I keep wishing a hurricane would threaten the Texas Gulf Coast because I would like a couple of days off.
- Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds with turbinado sugar and sea salt are fucking delicious.
- I quit eating meat (except fish) in June and don’t miss it. Not even burgers. Or bacon.
- I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Alas, I’m tone deaf.
- Where were the cicadas this year? Not in our neighborhood. It was weird not hearing them on hot nights (by which I mean the past five months).
- I’m in the market to buy a cellphone but don’t like the fingerprint thingy on the new iphone. I miss simple, tiny flip-phones. And not having a phone at all. Remember when, if you weren’t home, you were out-of-pocket? I miss being out-of-pocket. Even though I’m mostly in-pocket.
- James just liberated a huge spider from our kitchen after I yelled “Spider! Spider!” He turned the light off not even five minutes ago, then I walked in, flipped the switch, and there the bastard was. It was about an inch wide (including legs), which is bigger than I like my spiders. He said it was a wolf spider. I just googled “wolf spider” and was not comforted by this fact: “The wolf spider does not build webs to capture its prey, but goes out at night to hunt it down.” Great. Now I’m picturing expeditions of wolf spiders in tiny boots and vests clomping their way across my face while I sleep. No wonder my dreams are often so disturbing.
A while back, I spent time with some friends plus their friends, whom I’d never met. The friends of friends had their kids with them. We were hanging out in the great outdoors, a long walk from a bathroom and running water, when one of the kids freaked out about something on his hands. His mom suggested he rub her water bottle to use the condensation to try to clean off. I reached into my bag and pulled out some wet wipes.
This caused the kid’s mother to gasp and say, “Wow. I’m a MOM, and I don’t even have those in my bag.” I found the comment odd but didn’t dwell on it. Surely she wasn’t suggesting that only a person who has given birth could have the foresight to bring something to clean one’s hands.
Later in the day, the kids were playing and one screamed as if a limb (body, not tree) had just been chopped off. I looked around, saw the kid was fine and then returned to my glass of wine. The mother said, “As a MOM, I’m used to children screaming. If there’d been a problem, I would’ve known.”
Now keep in mind, I heard the scream, turned my head, quickly evaluated, then turned back around. I didn’t raise my eyebrow or make a comment or at all suggest this chick wasn’t watching her kids. But this behavior continued the rest of the weekend. Everything was “As a mom…,” “When you have kids…” or “Wow, you’re so organized!,” as if women my age who didn’t procreate are slovenly girl-women.
Perhaps after listening to this chick rattle off the litany of things she had going on with the kids that week, between soccer practice, doctor’s appointments, iPad upgrades and the like, I should have responded with, “I don’t have to plan out my time because I CAN DO WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT.”
Being a parent is an awesome responsibility, and I respect the effort that goes into raising children. And, not being a parent, I’m sure I don’t truly get the sacrifices, joy, fear and wonder that go into creating and nurturing another human being.
That being said, this lack of experience doesn’t make me a lesser adult. It doesn’t mean I go tripping through life, half-buzzed and looking for the next party. Parents aren’t super-human, and non-parents aren’t sub-human. We’re all just people, doing the best we can with what we have.
Paid for by the “We may not have kids but we do have a monkey that we like to dress up, which is almost the same” PAC
As mentioned previously, I’m going through a purge of late. I’m trying to whittle down my possessions to things that are loved, used regularly or, preferably, both. On average, I’m freeing myself of two or three trash bags full each weekend. Some things get donated, sold or given to friends, while other stuff gets sent to the big plastic trash bin in the sky. I mean, under the carport. It’s amazing how much shit you can accumulate when you have the space to not feel crowded.
This has been a lightening, and it’s also been the opposite (a heavying?). It’s so easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of memories, good and bad. This makes the process go slower, but that’s okay. What are we, if not our past experiences, current reality and forward-thinking selves, all wrapped into one? Can’t know where you are if you don’t know where you’ve been, etc. So it’s slow going at times, like many worthwhile things in life.
During today’s purge, I ran across a few scribbled monologues from late 2008. I went through a phase where every character that popped into my head wanted to talk without anyone talking back (monologue, not dialogue). Feel free to do the psychological analysis on that. This monologue struck me as funny, so I’m going to share it with you. I made a note that the character speaking is a broom, with a cork in its mouth, wearing a wig, but you can read it as a woman with a cork in her mouth wearing her own hair. Her friend reads the note aloud.
Hello. It’s so nice to see you. Unless this is a funeral, in which case I’m sorry to see you. Well, not sorry. Just sad that we had to meet under these circumstances.
In case you’re wondering why I’m communicating with you via this note, you may have noticed that there’s a cork in my mouth. I’ve been participating in a somewhat unorthodox treatment for my weight problem, which I now seem to have under control. To be safe, the cork must remain firmly lodged for a period of no shorter than six months.
Don’t worry. I’m still receiving sustenance through an intravenous feed in the inside flesh of my elbow. Or between my toes. Or in my eyeball. The veins get tired after a while. Just like a heroin addict, ha ha.
My point is, I’m not starving to death. Just starving to the point of looking good.
The note used to end here, and people would hand this little sheet back to me or forget to hand it back and I’d have to grab it after a bit, which just felt rude. I thought that my explanation was enough, but I could sense that people wanted more.
You’re perhaps wondering how this has impacted my relationship with my husband. In fact, we are getting along quite well now. My inability to talk led me to find profundity in the silence. Our lack of repartee made me realize that I don’t love him anymore. So we’re getting a divorce. But we’re parting as friends. And with my newfound body, there’s been no shortage of men. I hope that the man I’m currently dating doesn’t have a problem when I remove the cork! Ha ha.
To be honest, I kind of like the cork. It’s that old saying–better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. I think there is a Zen Buddhist thing going on with my ongoing silence. People really seem to pay attention to me in a way they didn’t before. Before the cork. But I do sometimes want a cheeseburger.
As we enter the final few days of the (statistically) hottest part of the year in Houston, this is a great time for a giveaway. A little something to mark the (slowly creeping) final leg of summer and (squint, tilt your head to the left and you can see it) promise of fall. As I also happen to be in the midst of an epic purge of material items, I thought I’d pass along some books so they can find new life in new brains.
You have your choice of two options.
- Chalk Line (signed first edition) by Texas writer Paula LaRocque. It’s a great whodunit perfect for reading in a comfy chair on the porch while sipping ice tea and thinking about October.
- Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. She travels the country researching presidential assassinations (funnier than you might expect). Read this one in the late afternoon when you’ve moved on to a cold beer and are thinking about mowing the lawn.
- The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. The last quarter of the book is a glossary. Read this when you’ve been drinking coffee spiked with Red Bull and cocaine and are thinking about rearranging your clothes based on cotton content.
- The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the quintessential books on creativity. I’ve owned it for a couple of decades, and now it needs to find a new place to do its thang.
- Walking in This World also by Julia Cameron. Do the activities in both books and the creativity will be coming out your ass. Unlike the previous post where I talked about self-help bullshit being bullshit, these books actually have a pretty good track record (and don’t seem like they were written in the ’40s).
Interested in either package? Comment on this post. Tell me how your summer is going. What you’re looking forward to when the weather breaks (assuming you live in a place where it’s like Satan’s asshole for four or five months out of the year). If you live in a more moderate climate, tell me what you’re looking forward to in the last quarter of the year.
Winners will be chosen in a totally unscientific manner.
What I’m saying is, your odds are pretty good.
As for me, here’s my answer. I’m looking forward to that moment, probably on a Wednesday evening, when I walk outside around 7PM and feel that first teasing hint of fall in the air. I’ll immediately remember high school football games, Frito pies and hormones. And then be transported years into the future (but really the past) and picture beers on a patio with smartass friends and little responsibility. And then project into the present, with salmon and vegetables on the grill, good music playing and high hopes. The future has yet to be written, and I don’t want to constrain it here.
What say you?
The recommendation came from someone I know or someone whose blog I read. I don’t remember. The book is called Finding Flow, The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life. I had a bit of a buzz when I ordered it. You know, holding a glass of wine in one hand, scrolling around on the internet with the other, reading about what a great book this is for getting shit done. “Hey! I need to get shit done,” I thought. “Maybe this book is just what I need.”
One, here’s an excerpt from the book. You’re gonna love it.
Leaving aside those still relatively few career women whose primary identification is with their jobs, most women who work at clerical, service and even managerial occupations tend to think of their outside job as something they want to do rather than something they have to do. Work is more voluntary for many women; it is more like play, something that they could take or leave. Many of them feel that whatever happens on the job is not that important–and thus, paradoxically, they can enjoy it more. Even if things go wrong and they are laid off it will not hurt their self esteem. As opposed to men, their self image depends more heavily on what happens to their families.
I know what you’re thinking, that this book was written shortly after WWII. Nope. Copyright is 1997. Dude teaches psychology and education at University of Chicago and, presumably, works with a few women who don’t spend all their time clutching their pearls hoping they set the crock pot at the right temperature before venturing out into the big, scary world in their sweater set and pumps.
That excerpt came more than a third of the way in, so I wasn’t suprised by it. There had been earlier warning signs that my brain tripped over (and not in a good way), but I rarely ever abandon a book. Even if it’s shitty, I keep reading. Because maybe the good part happens later. Sometimes you have to give a thing some time to develop. But I should have known this was wasted effort when, early on, Mr. Flow compares the uniqueness of human beings to snowflakes. It was the equivalent of a stale fart coming off the page. And the fart lingered, my friend. It lingered.
I finally stopped reading the book shortly after the passage above. Not because I’m angry or insulted. Just because this cat obviously isn’t talking to me.
Two, and most important, the book reminded me of something I already knew but evidently needed to be reminded of: if you’re reading books about creating or being artistic or getting shit done, you’re doing none of the above. Period. So maybe it was worth $11 to get a little knock upside the head.
Oh–just thought of a third thing: I shouldn’t order shit off the internet when I’ve been drinking.
During the four years I spent in high school, I worked at a grocery/feed store in the small town I lived in. Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, every Saturday and every other Sunday. I credit working there and bartending as two major factors in my becoming a writer. Because when you meet people who are such characters, you start spinning narratives about who they are. How they are. Why they are.
One of my favorite people to work with was a Justice of the Peace named Tommy who was probably five or 10 years older than my parents. We typically worked together on Sundays, and I always looked forward to our shift. Because he was funny as hell. The 12-year-old-boy sense of humor that still strongly resides inside my brain was immensely entertained by this guy. And he enjoyed having a willing, giggling audience.
He looked like a good ole boy and I was the same liberal asshole I am now, so we cut quite a figure. Here’s a picture of him from later years.
I snagged this photo from a facebook event listing for a scholarship fundraiser a few years back held in his honor. Glad to know his presence is still being felt. I thought of him tonight because this nonsense little ditty that he used to recite popped into my brain. There are quite a few variations on the interwebs, but this is how I remember him telling it.
I see, said the blind man to the deaf woman
over the disconnected telephone line
with her wooden leg hanging out the window
in the rain saying, “I feel! I feel!”
Funny the things you remember about people. There was an old lady with gray hair who wore a black wig that was more like a hat than a wig, her gray hair curling up around the sides. I’d carry her groceries to the car and she’d make me place them on the floorboard so I didn’t crush the invisible person on the seat. There was the time my boss told me his brother Tiny was coming for a visit. Out in the country, nicknames often are the opposite of the person they describe, so I assumed Tiny would be tall and 300 pounds. Nope. He was a little person. And he had the name TINY stamped on the back of his wee little belt. The people who ran the meat market would occasionally get a pig’s head, which they would dress up with a hat, glasses and scarf. I tried to stay away from the meat counter as much as possible, but there were many evenings I had to reach into a big jar to grab someone a pickled pig’s foot that I would wrap in wax paper. There were a few dirty old men who liked to take a gander at my goods when I bent over to bag their groceries, so my father suggested I write “What the fuck are you looking at?” upside down in my cleavage. There was a guy with an extra finger, only it didn’t have any bones. It was like a deflated, flesh-colored balloon just hanging off the side of his hand. Every time I’d go to give him his change, he’d flip his hand over and the boneless finger would flop around. There was a rich guy from Houston who wore short white shorts and liked to “stretch” while he was at the store. Usually when it was just high school girls working the counter. Because there’s nothing high school girls like more than a 40-something year old dad bending over and almost touching his toes.
Not everyone who walked in the store was a character, but the characters are the ones I still remember 25 years later. So, in the grand scheme of things, I’d rather someone remember me for my stupid jokes (or extra finger) than not at all. Here’s another of Tommy’s favorites:
Him: I had to defend you the other day.
Me: Really? Why?
Him: Someone said you smelled bad, and I said, “Like shit she does.”