moving long distance, cross-country, Texas to California

(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.

that table is the first piece of furniture I ever bought ($25 from a garage sale) - it was gone within an hour of putting it at the curb

that table is the first piece of furniture I ever bought ($25 from a garage sale) – it was gone within an hour of putting it at the curb

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.

that was a long trip down the driveway - and, oh yeah, it rained a lot

that was a long trip down the driveway – and, oh yeah, it rained a lot

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.

plan your work and work your plan

plan your work and work your plan

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.

too busy to take pictures for most of this,

we were too busy to take pictures for most of the loading, but I did take a shot after doing the first tier – the couch is tightly wrapped and on its side, and on the other side of the trailer are two heavy pieces of furniture wrapped in blankets – boxes were then placed in between, with fragile boxes loaded on top and miscellaneous items stuffed to the ceiling

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.

asdfd

the Tempurpedic and box springs are hanging from straps that run right above heavy boxes (to help support in case one of the straps broke, which it did) – the dining table is upside down on the soft mattress – we filled the rest of the space with light items

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.

dfg

Stella

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.

Helpful links:
City Data moving forum
Pet-friendly hotel search tool
Trip Advisor for hotel and restaurant reviews
Climate comparison
Cheapest gas in your new town

who are all these people

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.

Partington Cove, environment one

look closely and you’ll see cairns sprinkled about

my first cairn

my first cairn – not nearly as impressive as the ones that seem to defy gravity

uh, you might want to look behind you

uh, you might want to look behind you

I had to pay three pence to cross this

I had to pay three pence and answer a riddle to cross this…

old tunnel - looks inviting, no?

…in order to get to this

amazing this thing is still standing - it was built in the late 1800s

it was built in the late 1800s and was used to haul tanbark (and maybe smuggled booze) from the cove

too close to the light

the light

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.

maybe good advice for a couple of newlyweds?

stay on trail

I spread some of Mason's ashes here in 2010 - stopped by for a visit

in bright sunlight, this water looks very blue – the overcast day allowed for a beautiful emerald green color

this is the view from the other side of the overlook - I spread some of Mason's ashes here in 2010 and stopped by for a quiet visit today

the other, more quiet side of the overlook

stupid bird, can't you read? also, poison oak

stupid bird, can’t you read? also, poison oak

bench, 2009

bench, 2009

bench, 2014

bench, 2014 – I’ll bet Sherry Osella would have made sure that grass was cut

 

 

 

roll me up

that flag looks familiar

a little flavor from home

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.”

Yeah.

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.

baby you can be hit by my car

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–

check out this sweet Falcon wagon in the Home Depot parking lot

check out this sweet Falcon wagon in the Home Depot parking lot today

thangs is strange in the PG

- 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.

this is where I'm at these days

I suppressed the shit-eating grin for the sake of my homies but trust me, it’s there

PS: We saw an otter today.

walking? like, on my feet?

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.

can't you guys do something for us? like, balance a ball on your nose or something?

can’t you guys do something for us? balance a red ball on your nose or something?

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.

P1020346

I need my rest, too – wonder if this sign would work for me? ahh, but the dogs can’t read – nevermind

Some locals don’t care about the signs.

I go where I want

I go where I want

And some locals look like a chicken with its head cut off.

P1020336

it’s not just me, right? you see it?

And some of us just have to take a moment to take it all in.

pretty sure this guy busted me right as I took his picture

pretty sure this guy busted me right after I took his picture

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.

personal new year

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:

there were lots of people on bikes today, and most of them weren't wearing helmets--just James and me and the people who have serious, spandex-heavy biking outfits

there were lots of people on bikes today, and most of them weren’t wearing helmets–just James and me and the people who have serious, spandex-heavy biking outfits–you know, the kind that can hold a banana real tight

I’m not waiting on a lady, I’m just waiting on a friend (note the bird taking off or landing in the center of the photo)

asdfad

all this tree needs is a hammock, with me gently swaying in it (after many awkward–and failed–attempts to get in without flipping over)

looking across the bay to Monterey

the rocks are less in evidence once you’ve entered the Monterey Bay, which means the surfers and kayakers suddenly appear (though they don’t appear in this shot)

as;dlkjf

this engagement shoot probably didn’t end well–I’m pretty sure the water was well on its way toward surrounding the rock they’re standing on, and when we left they were heading further up the rock–maybe it will be a fun story to tell their kids someday, assuming they lived

saw these dudes in this yard when we were walking back from dinner

(unrelated to the bike ride) walking back from dinner a couple of nights ago, we saw these dudes chowing down in a neighbor’s yard

 

what a long, strange trip it is

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.

this is what Stella did for most of the trip

this is what Stella did for most of the trip

My car reached a milestone on the journey. All 6s.

this was in far West Texas, so you can see that I slowed down to take this shot

this was in far West Texas, so you can see that I slowed down to take the shot

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.

desert people--at least, the ones you run into at gas stations--are a different species

desert people–at least, the ones you run into at gas stations–are a different species (unlike dessert people, who are delightful)

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.

Bottcher's Gap, 7 miles inland from Highway 1

Bottcher’s Gap, 7 miles inland from Highway 1 on Palo Colorado

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.

my first bobcat sighting (photo by James)

my first bobcat sighting (photo by James)

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).

what, were you wanting to drive down this street? (photo by James)

what, were you wanting to drive down this street? (photo by James)

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.

this is the view from our street

looking down the street in front of our house

 

 

we’re here!

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.

Dali prefers to enjoy the ocean from the comfort of the back seat

Dali prefers to enjoy the ocean from the comfort of the back seat

Stella is willing to get a little closer

Stella is willing to get a little closer

 

police blotter

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.

ain’t no free (except outside our house)

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.

you win, Bunker Hill HEB grocery sackers

won't someone please think of the children?

so shitty, it has to be intentional

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.

farewell tour

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.

and where it might snow one day, and the next you can put the top down to bring home a Christmas tree

Ahhh, Houston. It might snow a little one day, and the next you’re wearing a t-shirt and putting the top down to bring home a Christmas tree

turn around, bright eyes

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.

the I-10

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.

probably the most "Texas" picture that exists of my brothers and me (this was a few years ago) (I mean, decades)

the most “Texas” picture that exists of my brothers and me (this was a few years ago) (I mean decades)

*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.

manifest destiny’s child, aka westward hos

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.

the kind of Christmas letter I’d actually like to get

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

a politically correct bedtime story

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.

The end.

rituals

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.

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not sure what he was planning on doing with that ice, but, whatever it was, he thought it was pretty funny

Update: Here’s the post.

the top 5 reasons I hate lists

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…)

blue skies and bottles of wine

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.

first stop: San Francisco - this is the 9th floor of the de Young Museum - great 360 view of the city - squint and you can see Golden Gate Bridge

first stop: San Francisco – this is the 9th floor of the de Young Museum – great 360 view of the city – squint and you can see the Golden Gate Bridge – once back on the ground, there’s a nice James Turrell Skyspace just outside the museum

Lover's Point in Pacific Grove

Lover’s Point, Pacific Grove – pictures don’t lie (if you don’t know how to use photoshop) – this place is strikingly beautiful

Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove - while taking this picture, a dude rode up on a bicycle to shoot the breeze and admire the view, then another unrelated bicyclist stopped to tell us about some people playing guitar down the beach - the people we ran into in Monterey and Pacific Grove were all talkative and friendly, probably happy that they live in such a beautiful place

Asilomar Beach, Pacific Grove – while taking this, a dude rode up on a bicycle to shoot the breeze and admire the view, then another unrelated bicyclist stopped to tell us about some folks playing guitar down the beach – I don’t know if it was us or the location, but we had lots of random, friendly conversations with locals on this trip

jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a mesmerizing experience

service dog, meet penguin

service dog, meet penguin (speaking of service dogs, we saw a guy try to bring his regular dog into a restaurant – the dog had an old leash that said “service dog” on it, but he wasn’t wearing the official vest and wasn’t acting calm, cool and collected like you’d expect – this dog was jinking and janking around, sniffing things, wagging his tail and trying to get petted) (for the most part, dogs are very welcome in the Carmel/Monterey/Pacific Grove triangle, and many restaurants have dog bowls full of water on their patios) (some even feature doggie menus, though I don’t know where a dog would keep her wallet – no pockets)

the stellar's jay, which I've only seen in Big Sur though it can be found all along the western part of the US (mostly in forests)

the stellar’s jay, which I’ve only seen in Big Sur though it can be found all along the western part of the US (mostly in forests)

waterfall at Limekiln State Park - we passed through the park's campground to get to the trails, and the campsites were so nice they actually made me want to try sleeping in a tent one of these days

waterfall at Limekiln State Park – we didn’t see any other hikers in our three hours at this park, though there were quite a few campers and RV people down closer to the beach

climbing over boulders and downed trees to get closer to the waterfall - we brought hiking sticks on this trip to Big Sur, and it made all the difference (as is usually the case when you have the right tools for the job)

climbing over boulders and downed trees to get closer to the waterfall – we brought hiking sticks that allowed us to go places we normally wouldn’t have tried to access – the sticks were also useful the five or six times we had to cross flowing water on slippery rocks or old pieces of wood to get to the falls

the eponymous limekilns - always an interesting experience to run across old machinery (and modern graffiti) in the middle of nowhere

the eponymous limekilns – old machinery (and modern graffiti) seemingly in the middle of nowhere – wonder what the people who operated these kilns would think of hikers coming to visit their workplace

momentary fulfillment of my cabin in the woods fantasy - instead of Deetjen's, this time we stayed at Ripplewood, cabin 2, next to the Big Sur River - there's a deck to the left of this window, which is a great place for a snack and glass of wine

momentary fulfillment of my cabin in the woods fantasy – instead of Deetjen’s, this time we stayed at Ripplewood, cabin 2, next to the Big Sur River – there’s a deck to the left of this window, which is a great place for a snack and glass of wine – notice the charging iPhones, which are basically (and blessedly) useless in Big Sur

Bixby Bridge, the gateway to Big Sur

Bixby Bridge – when you reach it, you know you’ve arrived in Big Sur (if the winding road and breathtaking views didn’t already alert you to that fact)

Places of interest:

Great meals:

 

it’s like this

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.

what's old is still (a little) relevant

1980s technology is alive and well: Molly and Rowan playing Pac-Man at our house yesterday (and comfortably sharing a seat, which would never have worked with me and my brothers–someone would have ended up mad and on the floor)

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.

that time I went sleepwalking

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 little piggie had none

logosmall

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.

Sweet dreams.

send lawyers, guns and money (and wet wipes)

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

monkeybaby

lost and found

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.

this photo was taken very close to the date on which I wrote that monologue - this is our driveway in the Heights, post Hurricane Ike - my Miata was safely stored in the garage, and James' car was narrowly missed

this photo was taken very close to the date on which I wrote that monologue – this is our driveway in the Heights, post Hurricane Ike – my Miata was safely stored in the garage, and James’ car was narrowly missed

ain’t no free (actually, there is)

books, glorious booksAs 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.

option argonaut:

  • 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.

option biosphere:

  • 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?

I gotcher flow right here, buddy

each of us is unique, like a snowflake or grain of sand (though most of us aren't as cool as fat little beach dogs)

each of us is unique, like a snowflake or grain of sand (though most of us aren’t as cool as fat little beach dogs)

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.”

Two things.

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.

formative years

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.

he's the one on the tractor

he’s the one on the tractor

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.”

like camp, only with booze

Great Plains Theatre Conference. Nine days in Omaha. Spirited conversations with witty, articulate people from all over the country. Warm Midwestern hospitality. Lots of wine, good food and new friends. No sleep, quiet time or tornadoes. And I would happily do it all over again (but let me take a nap first).

When The Singularity was chosen for the GPTC, I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into. I’d never been to Nebraska. The conference dates included my ten-year anniversary with James. The only planes that fly non-stop to Omaha are tiny. I didn’t know any of the people who were going to be there, including the director and cast of my play.

Whatever fears I had were quickly washed away during the first breakfast at the hotel when I met the other playwrights. They were a welcoming group, and we had instant chemistry. Within a day or two, I felt like I’d known some of them for years. We fell into easy friendships the way you do when you’re a kid, spending the entire conference laughing, telling stories and supporting each other. A bit of magic in an otherwise indifferent world.

Intellectually, the concept of seeing three or more full-length play readings each day sounded difficult but doable. And it was, though I was surprised at how mentally and emotionally taxing it is to hear so many stories in a row. This wasn’t passive theatre watching. We were filling out response forms and giving feedback during the talk backs, and because we wanted to be supportive of each other we really concentrated on what we were listening to. My playwright’s brain was stretched from seeing so many new pieces that incorporated different themes, language and structure than the plays I write. I look forward to seeing how that exposure will impact my writing going forward.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the people who make the GPTC happen. I’ve never before had this sort of opportunity to let the day-to-day worries and responsibilities of my life go and just concentrate on something I love.

It was camp, for adults.

asdfads

I received helpful and positive feedback after my reading that identified a few moments that could use some tweaking – changes that, once made, will hopefully help this play find its first production (St. Fortune, a theatre collective in NYC, provided the cast and director for my play – they are a talented bunch – if you live in New York, go see them perform)

adsfa

an unfortunately named apartment building near the hotel

;lkj

the tornado siren outside my hotel room – it sounded for about two minutes on the third night (around 1AM), and my heart almost made it all of the way out of my body via my mouth – I thought its cry meant there was a tornado skipping down the street and heading straight for my room – in fact, the warning siren will go off 15 minutes or more before a tornado might hit – freakout time comes when the siren continually blares (I found this out when I got dressed and went down to the lobby where I sat with the old folks and watched the weather radar until the threat had passed, quizzing them about how the sirens work and whether or not it was odd for tornadoes to be forming in the middle of the night) (it was)

look at those happy faces

just like camp, we were carted around in a big yellow school bus – interesting to note: this photo was taken on the first day of the conference – everyone is already bright and happy

;lkj

the Friday night fringe festival took us to places all over the Metropolitan Community College campus, which I’d wager is the nicest community college campus in the country – it’s on the site of an old fort and is full of 1800s-era buildings with tall ceilings, ornate woodwork and wraparound porches (and probably a few ghosts)

asdf

in addition to the historic buildings, there’s also a bright and shiny new culinary institute – the chef/professors fed us delicious and healthy lunches each day, and they let the conference use their culinary theater for the fringe festival

;lkj

I submitted a short play I wrote during one of the workshops to be read at the play slam on the last day of the conference – this lovely octogenarian agreed to read a part in my play, which caused her to say words she’d probably never uttered before (at least not in polite company) – it was a great feeling to throw something on stage that had been written in a hurry just a couple of days before – everyone was so supportive, I felt totally comfortable letting it all hang out

;lkj'lj

the mainstage playwrights and other special guests stayed on campus in some of the historic homes – porch parties organically erupted some nights, providing a break from the theatre and the chance for music and conversation – this was taken on the last night of the conference, which was bittersweet

LINKS OF INTEREST
Great Plains Theatre Conference
St. Fortune (the kickass company that presented my play)
Fort Omaha campus of the Metropolitan Community College (our gracious hosts)
Element Omaha Midtown Crossing (our spacious digs – each room came with big windows and a kitchen with full-size fridge, dishwasher, microwave, oven and stove – they also provided a great breakfast, never repeating the same item in the nine mornings I was there)
House of Loom (hipsters abound in Omaha – this place features delicious craft cocktails served by the hip and tatted)

trip: the images

(see previous post for some exposition)

traffic...so much fucking traffic

traffic…so much fucking traffic

remember Wienerschnitzel? a long time ago, one of Houston’s two dailies (the Post, I think) ran a snippet about my grandfather Ted’s visit to a Wienerschnitzel in Bellaire – he ordered “ein wienerschnitzel” at the drive-thru, trying to be funny, and the non-German-speaking person who took his order thought he wanted NINE wienerschnitzels – he had a hard time explaining why he wasn’t going to pay for nine hotdogs once his order arrived – and, yes, this made it into the paper (I have the clipping) – there weren’t as many mass killings and celebrity nip slips to cover back then, so newspapers had room to share anecdotes

remember Wienerschnitzel? a long time ago, one of Houston’s two dailies (the Post, I think) ran a snippet about my grandfather Ted’s visit to a Wienerschnitzel in Bellaire – he ordered “ein wienerschnitzel” at the drive-thru, trying to be funny, and the non-German-speaking person who took his order thought he wanted NINE wienerschnitzels – he had a hard time explaining why he wasn’t going to pay for nine hotdogs once his order arrived – and, yes, this made it into the paper (I have the clipping) – there weren’t as many mass killings and celebrity nip slips to cover back then, so newspapers had room to share anecdotes

orange trees were everywhere

orange trees were everywhere

P1000671

Joshua Tree National Park: in the middle of this picture, you’ll see a ridge – that would be the San Andreas Fault – it runs right through the park – I felt some trembles during my visit, but I think it was just my usually dormant leg muscles responding to hiking up a mountain rather than anything earthly

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the park is full of huge boulders strewn about like they’re in a giant’s sandbox and weird trees reaching for the sky (can’t tell if they’re asking “why?” or saying “you kids, get out of my yard”)

asdf

this was my first trip to the desert, and I was very taken with the unusual (to me) plant life – we only saw a few lizards here and there and the occasional bird – any other wildlife remained hidden from sight

a bit Seussian, dontcha think?

a bit Seussian, dontcha think?

mine

Lost Horse Mine: sadly, the mine is all fenced off, which takes away from the magic of the machinery (and probably also takes away from potential lawsuits), check out the solar panel installed on top (?) – the hike was four miles, and because it was so hilly and curvy we felt like we were alone in the wilderness most of the time

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Rorschach effect: I tried to keep my boulder interpretations to myself, but I did point out to James the two huge, round rocks that formed a big butt (not pictured)

asdfasdf

Joshua Tree Inn: we stayed at this funky little inn right off the highway – the guitar is part of a memorial in the courtyard dedicated to Gram Parsons (who ODed and then died there) (he died in room 8 – we stayed in room 9) – he was supposedly going out in the desert to hunt for UFOs – there were weird noises in the room the entire night, probably pumped in by the owners to heighten the haunted feel of the place

Gram Parsons' memorial at Joshua Tree Inn

this bird liked hanging out on top of the guitar – we saw him/her at night and then early in the morning

I was really excited about being able to get so close to a couple of sea lions when James pointed out that there was probably something wrong with at least one of them

Newport Beach: I was really excited about being able to get so close to a couple of sea lions when James pointed out that there was probably something wrong with at least one of them

these cats mostly just sat on their boards and gossiped about work (we were standing on a pier and could hear their conversation as if we were right next to them)

these cats mostly just sat on their boards and gossiped about work (we were standing on a pier and the wind brought us their conversation) – I could get into that form of surfing

this image reminds me of an Ocean Pacific t-shirt I had in the 80s

this image reminds me of an Ocean Pacific t-shirt I had in the ’80s

trip: the narrative

(for those of you who like to read)

For a change of pace, James and I directed our annual trip to California (which we took in March) to the southern end of the state. We’re diehard fans of the more northern reaches, so we weren’t sure what we’d find on the other end. Traffic aside (horrible, horrible traffic) (just fucking brutally, apocalyptically horrible), southern California ended up being quite nice.

On the flight out, we sat about five rows in front of this irritating, stereotypical Texan. She was from Sugar Land, wore multiple animal prints and high heels and had slapped on a thick coat of make up. The whole flight, she talked about Jesus. She was trying to convert the Indian woman she was sitting next to (who she probably thought was a terrorist). When the plane landed, she threw her hands in the air and praised the Lord. Effusively and loudly. I said something shitty in response, loud enough for her to hear, but I think the buzz from her diet pills probably drowned out anything I had to say.

We didn’t escape her once off the plane. She stood behind us in baggage claim, giving a blow-by-blow to whatever poor bastard was on his way to pick her up, most likely cursing the eHarmony gods and box wine for his fate. Once we had our bags, the woman was quickly forgotten. Ah, but when we were back at the airport six days later, guess who we saw clip-clopping her way toward our gate. Of all the days and all the flights… She was remarkably subdued compared to the flight out, which means things with eHarmony didn’t go so well, or she found a slightly different way to get spiritual while she was in California.

Our first stop after landing was to see my friend Bree in LA. We walked from her cute apartment to a place that only serves grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, which is a great idea. On the way there, we saw the Hollywood sign, a few crazy people (one was singing–rather well, in fact) (and, unlike San Francisco, I didn’t see anyone asking for money) and lots of blue skies and sunshine. We sat outside the restaurant at a table next to the sidewalk. The only “Hollywood” behavior I saw in my short time in LA was this: many of the people who walked by our table *looked.* Not like a passerby checking out the scenery. They looked like they wanted to make sure we weren’t somebody. They’d look at James (in his super funky sunglasses) and Bree (who’s a super cute actress) and me (and then there’s Maude), and they’d decide that we probably weren’t somebody important. With which I beg to differ. We’re just using different currencies.

From there, we drove east. We’ve all heard people bitch about the traffic in southern California, but until you’ve experienced it you really can’t quite grasp the situation. It took us three hours to go 60 miles. On the freeway. Everyone would be going 85, driving with just a few feet between their car and the next, and then suddenly it would all grind to a halt. Stop and go. For miles and miles. If some shit ever goes down out there and people try to evacuate, they’d be better off on foot or bicycle (or boat and ocean) because cars aren’t going anywhere.

We headed into the mountains. Then the desert. Then the beach. We did this over a period of days, but you could seriously do coast-mountains-desert-coast in one day if you wanted to. Now that’s variety.

Pictures are next.

a few things

- Each day, to and fro, my 13-mile commute features heavy traffic. Sometimes it’s stop and go, and other days it’s just slow going. What I never understand is why people tailgate during heavy traffic. We’re all not going anywhere fast, and riding my ass is not going to make me disappear or make the cars in front of me get out of the way. One dude in an SUV (of course) was all up on my back bumper this morning. I didn’t move. So he got on the bumper of a Toyota. Real close. So close, it looked like the cars were going through a haunted house together. The SUV didn’t want to be more than an arm’s reach from the Toyota so when the chainsaw killer popped up out of nowhere, SUV dude would be able to grab onto the Toyota’s jacket. Like a bitch.

- I watched a trailer for the new Superman movie last night. It made me think of the 1978 version, which I saw in the movie theater with my best friend (Renee) and grandfather (Papa). It was the first movie that gave me, uh, tingles, and I was in love with Christopher Reeve for a long time after that. Maybe that’s why I joined the newspaper staff in high school. Or maybe I was/am a dorknerd.

- In the midst of my semi-annual belongings purge, I ended up with about 20 books I was willing to let go. Rather than take the books to Half Price and have some snarling hipster roll his eyes at what I’ve brought and then offer me 50 cents/book, I thought I’d check out other options. Ends up, you can donate books to the Houston Public Library (put them in a box, label it “To the Friends of the Houston Public Library” and drop the box at any area public library). You can also donate your books to Better World Books (there are collection boxes all over town).

- During this purge, I finally tackled the file folders full of stuff from my brother Mason’s belongings and organized everything in a scrapbook (though I am NOT a scrapbooker) (just a scrapper). There were a number of short film scripts he’d written and the first 8 or 10 pages of what I think was intended to be a full-length screenplay. The start to the screenplay is great, and the story really grabbed me. I keep thinking about it and how we always talked about collaborating. And I wonder how he’d feel if I were to write the rest of that story, listing him as co-author.

- Finally, I’ll do a write-up of our recent trip to southern California in the next post. For now, here’s a sneak peek.

Gram Parsons' memorial at Joshua Tree Inn

Gram Parsons’ memorial at Joshua Tree Inn

kill your TV, but only partially

I’m not going to become one of those people. You know the type. They grab any opportunity to loudly proclaim they don’t watch television. “I haven’t owned a TV in YEARS,” they gush, their words slightly muffled by the fact that they’re fellating themselves. Not going to do that. But I do want to tell you about cutting the cord and killing our cable subscription a month ago. Because I think, much like killing the landline, it’s an inevitable and smart choice for a lot of people.

This decision was remarkably quick and easy. Our platinum level package on Uverse was expensive. We had all the movie channels, which we rarely watched, plus all kinds of on-demand programming. And everything in HD. You know the drill–you sign up at a greatly reduced rate, then six months later the rate is jacked up but you’re stuck in a contract for another six months so you can’t do anything about it and then three years go by and you’re used to paying the bill so it remains a given and almost unnoticed until suddenly you say, “We are wasting our money. Let’s not do that anymore.”

We aren’t totally without ocular entertainment now. We’ve just cut ourselves off from mindless, expensive choices. With our purchase of an Apple TV box ($99), we have access to movies and TV shows on Netflix and Hulu+ ($15/month total) and iTunes. But we have to make a conscious, intentional decision to watch something–there’s no channel surfing that “accidentally” lands on a fart-filled episode of Honey Boo Boo. Mindful television. And we’re watching random things we might never have with cable. Like Swashbuckler, for instance.

oh yeah

oh yeah

It’s a pirate movie made in the mid-70s starring my boyfriend Robert Shaw and a shirtless James Earl Jones. There’s a huge fight scene with a number of deaths–by sword, mostly–but not one drop of blood. People just fell to the ground, like in playtime, and you knew they were dead. So much better than the graphic violence of everything produced today. I mean, do we really need to believe that people are *actually* dying in order to enjoy what we’re watching? It’s all supposed to be make-believe. If someone falls to the ground after being “stabbed,” we get that, in the context of this show, they’re dead. Why do we have to see their head explode and pieces of their skull land on someone’s jacket? That’s just gross. And unnecessary.

I’m down to watching TV a handful of hours a week. And I do it with full attention instead of watching with half an eyeball while the other 1.5 eyes are looking at my computer screen. It’s refreshing to not celebrate or cultivate a short attention span and instead give my entire energy to working whatever part of the brain processes TV. It’s savoring one thing at a time instead of cramming as much stimulation as possible in at once.

Like, my brain has a little more room to stretch its legs and take a load off.

ass-trology

Today is my 43rd birthday. It’s Good Friday, and I’m off. Which means that I haven’t showered yet. Got up at the usual time (6:45), lingered over my coffee and enjoyed breakfast made by James. Received calls from my family and opened presents. Will likely take a nap with the dogs later today and then go out for Mexican food tonight. A great, laid back day after a non-laid back trip to southern California. Dig it.

I share this birthday with:

  • Eric Idle (Monty Python, writer)
  • John Tyler (10th US president)
  • Sam Walton (Mr. Walmart)
  • Earl Campbell (Houston Oiler, sausage maker)
  • Amy Sedaris (awesomeness)
  • Bernie Madoff (thief)
  • Scott Wilson (one of my favorite people on The Walking Dead)
  • John Major (British PM)
  • Lucy Lawless (Zena Xena)
  • Billy Carter (brother to Jimmy, promoter of Billy Beer)

And yet people still think astrology is bullshit…

In closing, this.

basketball goal: 2, sweet little birds: 0

First: my radio silence of late. I think this site is in transition. To what, I’m not sure. Rather than just let things dangle, eventually to wither and fall off, I’m going to redesign cryjack.com. Which, I hope, will make my goals for my blog a little more clear. It’s not that I don’t have things to tell you–I’m just not sure how I want to get my message across.

In the meantime, it’ll probably look a little jinky around here as I try different designs and move things around. I’ve been writing this blog since 2005 and am closing in on 900 posts–no small feat in the fickle world of blogging–and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. I just need to regroup. Please bear with me.

On to the title of this post. This morning whilst skipping to my car to go to work (#sarcasm), I saw two dead birds in the driveway. They didn’t look like they were attacked by a cat or angry squirrel. They were pretty and the same sort of bird–brownish-gray with a yellow-tipped tail. Probably cedar waxwings. James was still home, so I called him out to see the carnage. He smartly identified the likely culprit. Not a cat. The basketball goal.

Closer inspection showed their little heads were slightly askew on their necks, and they were just a couple of feet from the base of the goal, inches from each other. They must not have seen the plexiglass backboard as they zipped around eating berries and singing their little bird song. It likely was instant, so I suppose in the cedar waxwing world there are shittier ways to go. Small consolation.

Finally, Home Depot. Do they have some kind of work-release partnership with a late-middle-age-inappropriate-white-guy farm? The last two times I’ve gone, I’ve had an awkward interaction with an employee. (I realize that awkward interactions stick to me like pollen on a black car, but still.) The Home Depot by our house is rarely busy, so you don’t spend much time wandering around before someone asks if they can help you.

A couple of weeks ago, I was looking for furniture bumpers, only I didn’t know that’s what they’re called. When a guy asked if he could help me, I said, “I need those squishy things you put on the back of furniture.” He didn’t know what I was talking about. So I got more descriptive. “Like, to keep the bedframe from scraping the wall–I just painted it.” I didn’t say this in a scandalous way. There was no raised eyebrow or heh-heh to my delivery. You should have seen the raised eyebrow and heh-heh and oh-yeah coming off the guy, though. Super fucking awkward.

And then last night after work, I stopped in to get a new aerator for my bathroom faucet. The guy helping me said they were near the floor. “They want us to lay down on the floor to get ‘em.” Which he proceeded to do. Got down on his side, bent his elbow and propped his head on his hand, as if he were reading a romance novel on the beach. “Do you need a female or a male?” Really, all I needed was for him to get out of my way so I could pick up what I wanted. By squatting, not lying on the floor. When he’d handed me the item, I said thanks and quickly walked away, unsure if I was supposed to help him up. I passed another customer and wondered what he thought about the dude on the floor.

James says that no one offers to help him when he’s wandering around Home Depot. I responded with one word: tits.

Survivordude


This is a video my brother Mason made. It’s a spoof of Survivorman, a show about a guy named Les getting dropped in the middle of nowhere with nothing but camera equipment. No food, water or shelter. And he had to survive for a week, usually by eating bugs, drinking questionable water and sleeping in less than ideal conditions.

Mason, ever one to poke fun at the hypocrisies of modern life (hence his online handle Hypocridiot), made Survivordude in response. Instead of being dropped in the middle of nowhere, he was dumped in his living room with nothing but a beer, a remote control and his camera. Watch him make the trek to the kitchen in search of something to eat… See him try to get a good night’s rest while the asshole dog next door keeps barking…

Since his death, AT&T has given out the Mason Jackson Eternal Flame Award to a deserving employee. Here’s a bit of information about the award and last year’s winner. Mason’s former boss and good friend Sinda asked for a copy of one of his videos to show when they do the presentation this year. We both agreed that Survivordude was it. He’d be happy to know that it’s about to get screened for a whole bunch of people. And for you, if you click the link.

I hadn’t watched this video in a long time. I was afraid of it. It’s one thing to replay someone in your head or look at static images. It’s a different deal to see them in video, so vibrant and alive. And even though he’s doing a bit in this piece, it’s still so, so very Mason.

Here’s what happened when I pressed play: I didn’t burst into flames.

And it was so great to hear his voice again.

[I feel obligated to include Mason's disclaimer from when he posted the video: If you are a fan of Survivorman this should be pretty funny, otherwise you might want to do something else with the next 8 minutes of your life. First use of my wide-angle WD-H43 lens on the HV20. Unscripted (obviously), one-take, poor lighting. The additional weight/balance of the lens actually made the handheld parts much steadier.]

tick/spam/Omaha/breasts

(sorry for the lack of narrative in this post–it’s a good reflection of the inside of my brain right now)

ticktickticktick
The theme song sound for 60 Minutes always bums me out. For decades now, that ticking clock has signaled the end of the weekend. Doesn’t matter if I hear it on a Wednesday afternoon or a Friday night. It’s Pavlovian.

fee-fi-fo-fanna
There’s a certain someone from a far away place who is interested in being my pen pal. Here, check out the email I just received:

Hello! What is your name? At supervision of your structure I very much have become interested in you. My name is Anna. If you want with me to communicate then write to me. If you write to me do not forget to specify yours e-mail of the address that I could answer to you.

Quit checking out my structure, “Anna.”

Omaha
In May, I’ll be able to check another state off my list when I spend a week and a half in Omaha for the Great Plains Theatre Conference. The Singularity will receive a reading and talkback, and I’ll get to spend some time just being a playwright around other people who are doing the same (many of whom probably get to just be a playwright more often than I).

monstrous breasts
Said by me in my kitchen last week, “Wow, look at the size of these breasts. All three of them are HUGE.” James didn’t know what to say as I jiggled them in his face.

The question I have is: What the fuck are they feeding these chickens? Has anyone else noticed how large chicken breasts have been lately? This is across brands, from organic to extra-pesticidey. I’m used to getting packages with four “regular” size breasts–solid B or C cup–but lately I’ve been getting more like two or three DDs. Unless these chickens are also working their legs, I’m not sure how they have the strength to carry their upper bodies around all day.

 

that’ll leave a mark

It’s not Martha’s fault. Not really. I mean, her recipe specified a “medium” saucepan for the boiling water to which I was to add a steady stream of cornmeal. Maybe one person’s medium is the next felon’s large. I’ve been cooking for a long time, so I should be capable of determining what size pan to use for polenta. And no, I wasn’t drinking (it was a school night), so it’s not the booze that did it.

Ultimately, the angry red scar residing on the inside of my wrist is my own damn fault. It’s still healing, so there’s a chance that what is currently quarter-sized will shrink to nothing. I’m putting vitamin E oil on it to help things along. We’ll see.

If the mark remains in some form, that’s okay too. Someday it’ll remind me of a meal I cooked in that weird old house in Houston years ago, when a burp of transitioning cornmeal tried to hitch a ride on my wrist, causing me to cuss and fling my arm but not stop cooking until it was done. And those thoughts will inevitably lead to others, completely unrelated to boiling cornmeal and different definitions of what makes a saucepan “medium.”

I already have a scar on the other wrist, a little U-shaped white line that looks like I toyed with the idea of ending it all but didn’t really commit, using the plastic sword from the garnish on a bloody mary instead of something more deadly. That scar is a physical reminder of my last night as a bartender. I ended my decade-long bartending career on a cool December night in 2001 at a place called Catbirds. I was bringing in an arm-load of dirty glasses from the patio after last call when I tripped on the doorway, dropped the glasses and then landed on hands and knees…in broken glass…in front of a group of my friends who’d come to see me off. A typically graceful exit.

Thinking about Catbirds takes me to Tropical Storm Allison (I was bartending that night), and the still surreal memory of 18-wheelers floating down I-10 on their sides like bath toys. The scar on my upper thigh reminds me of working at Chili’s when I was 19 and getting too close to the chip drawer while wearing a blue jean mini-skirt (thus learning a lesson early in my service career to never wear anything but pants to work). The scar on my bottom lip from Salty, the dog, is a reminder not to mess with dogs (or people, for that matter) when they’re eating. The scar on my right knee from when I was learning to ride a bike equals my childhood home in the Heights and the big tree in the front yard that I used for a brake.

Each scar is its own little wormhole to another place and time. Maybe I don’t mind if this one sticks around.

gift suggestions for people you don’t like

I started putting together this gift guide to assist you with your Christmas shopping. Specifically for people you are a) mad at or b) don’t much care for. Alas, I neglected to get this out there during the holidays. Let’s remedy that now.

THE WINE RACK – You’re going to a game or concert, and you don’t want to pay $13 for a glass of shitty wine. With the Wine Rack, you can sneak in a bottle of the good stuff…in your rack. According to the product description, “Turn your A cup into double-Ds.” Not sure how you sneak a tube full of red wine out of your shirt and into your mouth without anyone noticing (or hearing the sucking), but that’s for your alcoholic gift recipient to figure out. What I do know is, this shit is classy.

HUTZLER 571 BANANA SLICER – The Hutzler 571 Banana Slicer slices your banana into 18 (sort of) uniform pieces. Because, you know, it’s so difficult and time-consuming to cut a banana. Give this to the person in your life who’s constantly bitching (on Facebook and Twitter) about how busy they are. (Be sure to read a few of the customer reviews. Really. If you only click one link in this post, this is the one.)

HONEY BOO BOO BADGER PINT GLASS – For a diluted version of Honey Boo Boo and Honey Badger, look no further than this non-humorous drinking glass. The recipient will be, uh, maybe slightly amused, only because someone actually designed this thing, took the time to have it printed, put it up for sale, and you spent money on it. Capitalism.

PANTYHOSE FOR MEN – Give this to the guy who thinks anything beyond an overly aggressive handshake is gay. Just hope he doesn’t go all American Beauty on you. (The neighbor thing, not the rose petal thing.)

ILLUSION FAKE NAVEL JEWELRY – Good for irritating the parents of the teenager you give this to. According to the product reviews, one industrious magician used this for (shitty) magic tricks. So there’s that.

BILL CLINTON CORKSCREW – This is pretty much what you’d expect. A 9″ figure of Bill Clinton, and the corkscrew comes out of the front of his pants. Of course. (Unrelated side note: the penis on a male pig is corkscrew-ish.) (You’re welcome.)

WILLIE WOODPICKER TOOTHPICK DISPENSER – Reviews suggest you give this as a hostess gift. Life experience suggests (to me) that the hostess would probably dispense a toothpick and then stab you with it. This is best given as a dump-and-run, where the recipient opens it later, curses you, then throws the whole thing in the trash saying, “I don’t know why we exchange presents with that asshole every year. I’m not doing it next year.” Though of course, you will exchange gifts next year and every year after until one of you finally says uncle. Then the other of you will say, “Well, I thought we were friends.”

Finally, I know that people without children are contractually barred from sending out Christmas cards, but I think next year James and I may buck tradition. The two of us in front of the decorated Christmas tree, the dogs sniffing each other’s asses… That’s holiday magic, my friends. We’ll be sure to include a copy with your toothpick dispenser.

out with the old, in with the canoe

A few of my hopes for 2013:

visiting magical places, writing by hand and blending in with nature

visiting magical places, writing by hand and blending in with nature

having fun with this guy

having fun with this guy

cooking with abandon (and sometimes fire)

cooking with abandon (and sometimes fire)

enjoying where I am, chronologically

enjoying where I am, chronologically

trying new things

trying new things, even when it’s obviously a bad idea

remembering

remembering

walking new paths

walking new paths

laughing (and causing a bit of a ruckus) with the family

laughing (and causing a bit of a ruckus) with the family

taking the scenic route

taking the scenic route

watching for signs

watching for signs

keeping things in perspective

keeping things in perspective

taking comfort in the fact that pigs occasionally do, in fact, fly

finding comfort in the thought that pigs occasionally do, in fact, fly

it’s all about context

I was out running Christmas-related errands Saturday morning when I saw a sign on the highway about the High Caliber Gun Show that was in Houston last weekend.  Evidently high-caliber gun shows go on whether or not there was a mass murder of 20 elementary school students and six adults the day before. Hey man, that’s cool. Capitalism. I get it.

Guns are fairly ubiquitous in this state. In fact, this long-haired liberal lives in a house that has guns in it. Multiple guns. (They aren’t mine, but they are in my house.) So let me get this out of the way before we go any further: I don’t think all guns should be banned. I think the majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens who would only fire their weapons at another human being as an absolute last resort.

But after last week’s massacre (and each and every one before that), we all realize that we have a major problem in this country. A problem that stems from three things: easy access to high-powered weapons, a lack of mental health care for people who need it and a culture that promotes violence as a way to settle differences, express one’s manhood or escape a life that just didn’t work out the way it was supposed to. This post will talk about the first of that list.

As I read the Facebook comments from my friends on “both sides” of the gun debate (are complex issues really so easy to boil down to just two opinions?), it became clear that one of the problems we’re having with the gun issue is the extremism of opinion on either end. The “I’m an American and it’s my God-given right to own as many weapons as I want” versus the “Won’t someone think of the children and remove all guns from all homes.”

The people in the first group wrap themselves in the flag and tout their patriotism, as if those of us who don’t want to walk around wearing a shoulder holster are somehow less American or care less for our loved ones. The second group wraps themselves in a soft baby blanket of denial about the world we’re living in, acting as if the people who own guns are just one step removed from blowing us all away. Neither is “right,” but the first camp is way more politically active and well-funded. So the first camp is the one who’s been setting the tone for the country.

Argument #1 (and their rallying cry): THE SECOND AMENDMENT

When the Second Amendment was written (1791), guns looked like this:Pistol HawkenPercussion

They were simple, single-shot weapons that didn’t have the capability to kill more than one person at a time. In fact, in the time it took to reload the things, it would have been easy to just tackle the shooter and punch him in the head. The piece of shit who killed 20 children and six adults last week used a gun like this:

assault rifleBit of a difference, no? This killing machine shoots bullets that are “designed in such a fashion (that) the energy is deposited in the tissue so the bullets stay in.”  Wow. And it can shoot 30 rounds in just a few seconds. That’s a lot of killing. And that’s all it’s good for. Not hunting–if you shot a deer with something like this, you’d be left with pieces of meat, not a trophy to hang on your wall or steaks to put in your belly. Not target practice either–anything with a finger (human, monkey, those skinny potatoes) could fire something like this and hit a target. Eventually. No, this machine is made for killing. And that’s all it’s made for.

Argument #2: YOU CAN’T UN-RING A BELL

“There are already assault weapons and the related bullets/magazines out there, and there’s no way you’ll get them all back. We may as well keep selling them.” Bullshit. If we found out that 100 people have a jar of anthrax in their basement, that doesn’t mean we should make more and sell it to whoever wants it. Yeah, some people own scary big murder machines filled with extra-murderous bullets. Most of those people are probably as sane as any of us, and some of them are probably batshit crazy, just waiting to be fired or dumped before they go on a rampage. There’s not a lot we can do about that. But what we can do is make an effort to keep those machines out of more people’s hands going forward.

Argument #3: CRIMINALS WILL GET THESE GUNS/BULLETS WHETHER THEY’RE LEGAL OR NOT

That might be true. Sometimes. But in the case of the most recent killer, if his mama hadn’t had those guns sitting in her house, it might have been more difficult for him to have access to them. Shit, when I was 20, I had a hard time finding beer money. And if it had been more difficult, maybe he would have found a different way to express his hatred/mental illness/whatever than by killing 26 people in a matter of minutes. Instead of fixating on all those guns in his childhood home (which, I can pretty much guarantee, were accompanied by a hearty dose of paranoia meted out by the person who purchased so many high-caliber weapons), maybe he would have found a different outlet. Dubstep. Paintball. Fucking the person of his choice. Macrame. Whatever.

Instead of taking the hypothetical to its most negative and defeatist conclusion (criminals will find a way regardless, so let’s just shrug our shoulders and make it easy on them), let’s try another approach. Let’s try making it a little harder on the bad guy or the disturbed young man and see how that works out. We’ve tried it the other way, and it’s obviously not working. I wrote a post about smoking pot with a former President last week and my blog was suddenly visited by the men in black. Hows about they visit people like the Aurora movie theater shooter who bought 6,000 rounds of ammunition and four guns in the weeks before the shooting.

Argument #4: THE GOVERNMENT! WE NEED TO DEFEND OURSELVES AGAINST THE GOVERNMENT!

This is the easiest one. If you think having a stash of assault rifles is going to protect you from military drones that will shoot you while you’re sitting on the toilet, carefully clutching your gun while your eyes dart around the room, you’re a fool. I mean, to truly be able to fight back, you’d need nuclear weapons and stealth bombers, right? Annually, the US spends more than $200 billion on defense procurement and R&D. The People don’t stand a chance, militaristically. (Not to mention, to truly be a foe, you’d need to learn some hacking skills because the first thing they’ll do is attack electronically. Make your car inoperable. Wipe out communication devices. Take away your money. And your FACEBOOK!)

IT’S TIME TO CONTEXTUALIZE THE SECOND AMENDMENT.

Just as it’s no longer legal to “own” another person and women now have the right to vote, some laws evolve with the times as we evolve with the times. It’s time to put the Second Amendment in its current context, which includes a close review of the guns that are currently available to regular Joes. To be clear: I believe in the right to bear arms. I don’t believe in the right to bear nuclear arms. Or assault weapons. Or magazines that hold 30+ bullets. Or surface-to-air missiles. Or weaponized honey bees. Or Taylor Swift albums. You get the picture.

Guns don’t need to be completely outlawed. When the zombie apocalypse comes, I’ll be happy there are guns in my house. (Until we run out of bullets and have to resort to stabbing them with the broken off handle of our broom.) But there is absolutely no reason that regular, crazy old Americans should have access to as many military-grade high-caliber killing machines as they can afford. (ed. note: US civilians cannot purchase true military-grade guns, only modified versions of them, though they can purchase military-grade gear like body armor.) And when some asshole suddenly starts buying a shitload of ammunition and enough guns to outfit a small army, maybe it wouldn’t hurt for someone to check that shit out.

Finally, John Oliver was credited with this quote (though I haven’t been able to track down where he said it or if he said it): “One failed attempt at a shoe bomb, and now we all take off our shoes at the airport. Thirty-one (mass) shootings since Columbine, and no change in our regulation of guns.” I can’t say it any better than that.

It’s all about context.

opinions are like assholes

Everybody has one. Except that poor fellow who was born without an asshole and had to poop through his elbow. Best we not talk about it.

Jimmy Carter said last night that he was in support of the legalization of marijuana. Or, specifically, he said: let’s see how it plays out in Washington and Colorado now that they’ve legalized it. If the dope smokers don’t leave the stove on and burn the place down or endanger the Cheeto supply, maybe other states can follow suit with a little more confidence.

Having been a bartender for a decade, I’ve seen people on all sorts of drugs. The most irritating were always the cokeheads (meth wasn’t around back then–I’m sure it would win by a landslide) (if for no other reason than the sores). Then came the drunks. The potheads were always the least irritating. What’s not to love about people smiling and laughing and talking about how great Phish is? In fact, I wish they’d dump THC in the water supply so some people would take a deep breath and calm the fuck down.

I have President Carter’s autograph. He did a book signing in Houston in the mid/late ’90s at a Barnes and Noble way out in the boonies. Somewhere (probably tucked safely in the book because I’m all organized and shit) I still have the slip of paper that was handed out before you got to the front of the line. I remember it said something about how he couldn’t accept gifts, and I’m pretty sure it mentioned cookies in particular. Which I get. Who wants to eat stranger cookies?

It’s impressive how socially and politically active Carter has remained since he left office. He’s the real deal. It would be fun to smoke some weed with him. While wearing sweaters and talking about turning the thermostat down a little.

(Point of clarification: A lot of people who are pro-legalization are not themselves pot smokers. They just think it’s ridiculous to put people in prison for a little wad of herb in their pocket. I would assume Mr. Carter is in that group and do not mean to suggest he puffs, passes or bogarts.)

this dog food’s delicious (I’ll kill you)

Weird shit goes on in this house.

I’ve mentioned the grave (we assume and hope it’s for a dog) in our backyard. Electronics and lights turn themselves on. There are noises. Feet shuffling through the living room when no one’s there. The doorknob jiggling late at night (and, according to the peephole in the front door, by an invisible hand). The dogs don’t like to be in the kitchen and slink through the room when they want to travel to another part of the house (they do seem to get over their fear when cooking is happening, especially if chicken is involved). Something has died in the walls. Twice.

Things are just a little off. Light switch plates and outlet covers are slightly off level. We have an abnormal amount of spiders in the house. Twice a snake has snuck onto the interior back porch. Weird mushrooms grow after a good rain. I’m not trying to suggest there’s some supernatural explanation for any of these oddities, but I will say this is the strangest place I’ve ever lived.

For instance, this morning. James was already gone, so it was just me and the dogs. Stella was wrapped up in a blanket on her little dog bed under my desk, and Dali was in the living room having breakfast. Dali is very protective of her food–even though she’s never missed a meal and no one tries to eat her food. (I gave it up years ago.) She will often growl at Stella (and sometimes me or James if we get too close to her bowl). I was in the bathroom finishing my toilette when I heard Dali’s low growl. I poked my head into the living room, expecting to see Stella near Dali’s food. But Dali was alone. And looking into the kitchen.

In case we had a visitor (I would hope that Dali would provide more than a low growl if someone were in the house, but she’s kind of lazy), I put some clothes and my glasses on and went to check it out. No one was there. I went back to the bathroom. Dali started growling again, and again she was staring into the kitchen. I made a big production out of walking through that part of the house and letting her know that it was just us chickens, but she was unmoved.

If it wasn’t the boogeyman, perhaps she was bothered by this:

these eyes have seen things

these eyes have seen things

This is a reindeer that my parents made for my grandparents about 25 or 30 years ago. The eyes have yellowed, but otherwise this little guy is in great shape. When it gets closer to Christmas, I do what my grandparents used to do–tie it up on the front porch like a pet. But for now, it’s just a couple of feet from Dali’s bowl. Staring at her. Maybe that’s who she was growling at this morning, though she was looking the opposite direction. She’s not the smartest dog in the world.

Or maybe she can see things in the house that I can’t. Not that I go in for that hoodoo bullshit. Except, of course, for the time I accidentally took a picture of a scary fucking black blob inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Let’s just say I’m open-minded to the possibilities. And so is Dali.

a thanksgiveaway

I’m giving away two tickets to see Louis CK in Austin next month. I bought them when the Houston show was sold out (because I wasn’t going to miss this tour). Then he added a second Houston show (to which I scored front row seats) (yes, it was fecking awesome), so I’m giving the Austin tickets away. Maybe to you.

Here’s the deal:

  • You must live in Austin (or somewhere in Texas, if you can convince me that you’ll be able to see a late show in Austin on a Thursday night)
  • You must agree to email me a picture from the venue, preferably from your seat, the night of the show
  • You must leave a comment on this blog post telling me what your favorite Louis CK bit is (from his stand up or his series) and why – I want these tickets to go to a fan

In exchange for the above, I will email you the link to print the tickets within a few days of the show (not sending earlier than that because I don’t want them to be resold).

Here are the specific details about the show:

And…go.

UPDATE: Thanks to the three people who’ve chimed in so far. I’ll be drawing a name from a hat (or maybe a bowl) some time tomorrow. Not sure if I’ll do it in the frenzy of the morning or the drunken stupor of the evening. Either way, I’ll email the winner and post the name here.

As for the rest of you – you have at least 24 hours left to enter. Be sure to follow the simple instructions above. (There are two reasons I’m giving away these tickets in this fashion: 1. I didn’t want to have to choose from among my friends and 2. this is a chance for us to share some funny shit with each other. It’s a small price to pay to see one of the greatest comics of our generation, even if they are balcony seats…)

FINAL UPDATE: And the winner is…

Thanks for playing!

lil hos

This weekend, while other people were clogging the arteries of grocery stores buying food for Thanksgiving, I was hitting other stores buying gifts for Christmas. I do most of my shopping online because I don’t like doing it in person, but there are some things I like to buy in real time. Like clothes for my niece and nephew. I’ve got to see how shit looks together, and that’s best accomplished by holding things up to one another.

I’ve had this battle every time I’ve gone clothes shopping for Rowan and Molly, at least at Target. There are great options for boys. Different colors, cool designs, etc. But for girls, it’s like we’re bringing up a generation of hoochies just waiting for their fake tits and fake tans. All (and I almost literally mean ALL) baby girl clothes have lace and sparkles and shit. I had to look for AN HOUR to find three shirts for Molly that didn’t look like pole-dancer-in-training material.

Of course, I could get Molly clothes from the boys’ section. She could have her pick of dinosaurs, motorcycles, super heroes, tools, dogs and more, with nary a ruffle, feather or shiny bit to be seen. But Molly is pretty girly (as was I when I was little – obviously some of us grow out of it and never return), so it doesn’t feel right. It’s not that I don’t want to get her girly stuff. It’s pretty fun to buy (hence, the tutu I got her for her 2nd birthday). I just want them to turn down the volume on the whorish stuff, at least for the under-10 set.

Molly in her tutu – sweet, sassy and tough as nails

As for Rowan, I’m most excited by this purchase:

okay, you’re thinking “Darth Vader tee shirt, big whoop,” and I feel you but look at the mother loving back of the thing…

…it’s got a fucking CAPE attached to it, son

I realize that young Rowan probably has no clue who Darth Vader is, but I’m hoping he’ll dig on the fact that it has a freaking cape attached to it. If it weren’t socially frowned upon, I might consider wearing shirts with capes. Because sometimes you just want to fly.

And because sparkles and rhinestones weigh you down.

brain dump

is it still an honor if they spelled it wrong?

  • Does it seem like it’s getting dark really early? I know we just switched from daylight saving time (an outdated irritation), and that’s certainly part of it. But it starts getting dark around 4:30PM. By 6PM, it’s night. I don’t remember it getting dark so early in past years. This is probably a stupid question, but it’s really been bothering me.
  • Saw the same car on the way to work Monday and Tuesday mornings this week. I remembered it because its license plate reads EVIL E. On Monday, I wondered whether that stood for Evil Eye, Evelyn, Evil Erin, Ice T’s DJ… Then I saw it again on Tuesday, about fifteen minutes later than Monday but in approximately the same spot, and it made me think that the cosmos was repeating patterns. That theory was validated when I got to work and did the exact same thing I’d done on Monday. To change things up today, I didn’t wear pants to work. Didn’t see EVIL E either, so maybe it worked.
  • We’ve had a natural gas leak at the end of our driveway for two weeks. We called it in on Halloween night. Someone came out around 11:30PM, said he couldn’t fix it but it wasn’t a “bad” leak. A few days later, when no one had come to fix the leak and I was tired of smelling it every time I exited my driveway, I called it in again. This prompted a hillbilly voicemail letting me know we were “on the list” and I shouldn’t call it in again because we were “on the list.” He said “on the list” approximately 734 times in the sixty-second message. He called again two more times, finally catching me on the third round, and again told me about the list. I asked if he could give me an indication of when we’d be at the top of the magical list, and he said that all he could tell me was “We know about the leak. It ain’t bad because it ain’t sputterin’ or hissin’ or nothin’, so you don’t need to worry about it. You’s on the list.” Well, hillbilly gas man, you’re on my list too. Now come fix my fucking gas leak. Please, with NASCAR on top.
  • I like to hand wash my car whenever possible, but a recent day found me with a muddy car and no cash. I went to Bubbles for a quickie no-touch wash. Since I was last there (months ago), the place has become almost completely automated. There used to be a guy who took your order and swiped your card, then another two or three who directed you into the machine and scrubbed the front and back bumpers. On this trip, I took my own order and swiped my own card. There was one guy cleaning the front and back bumpers and another guy lurking in the vacuum area, but that was it. Though I am at times hermit-like and don’t mind limited human interaction, I thought this kind of sucked. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto. Thanks for taking our jobs.

UPDATE: A number of you expressed concern here and elsewhere about my gas leak (har har), so I wanted to provide an uneventful update. I called Center Point and had a bit of a chat with a lovely young man who seemed to understand the bad PR possibilities of a CP employee telling me to quit calling about an active gas leak that I can easily smell whilst walking by.  I told the dude that after those houses blew up in Indianapolis (either from a gas leak, asteroid or missile), it made me afraid that we might have a bigger leak underground that will show itself in dramatic fashion. I hope it’s as inconsequential as the hillbilly suggested it was, through a mouth full of Skoal and not teeth, but I’d rather be on the safe, non-explosive side.

The guy on the phone said that customers should never feel like they can’t call a leak in and that he’s put our work order on the fast track. We’ll see what happens. In the interim, don’t wear your skates over to my house.

old yeller

meet the new pot, same as the old pot

I have many treasures from my grandparents’ house. Though I am slowly (very. slowly.) downsizing my belongings in an attempt to simplify, there are some things I have a sentimental attachment to and don’t want to get rid of. For instance, the yellow pot on the right. It belonged to my grandmother. I was lucky to eat many delicious meals made in that pot. In the years that I’ve had it, the meals have continued (and have, hopefully, continued to be delicious).

But there’s a problem: the formerly white enameled inside has worn down to the cast iron. This pot isn’t meant to be down to the cast iron, and I’ve thought about replacing it for some time. The emotional attachment made that hard to do. Until this weekend, when I put old yeller out to pasture and replaced it with a new model. Not because I no longer care, but because sometimes it’s good to let go.

When my grandfather died, seven years after my grandmother, his house had to be emptied so it could be sold (and, as is the way these days, torn down so a monstrosity with two elevators could be put on the lot). They’d lived in that house for over fifty years, and it was full of memories. In an attempt to hold on to my grandparents a little while longer, I brought a lot of their stuff home to join with my stuff. And when my brother died, I did the same thing. It’s nice to be able to hold something that the person you’re missing used to hold. It feels like a tangible connection to someone who’s not tangibly here anymore.

It’s been almost three years since Mason died, and I’ve come to realize that I don’t need a tangible reminder for him to be present in my life. I think about him every day. My brother Tohner and I tell Mason stories all the time. We also like to guess what he would say about a given situation if he were still here. I don’t need to sit on his couch (currently residing in my living room) to connect to him. He’s always here. And occasionally when I’m on the phone with Tohner and he barks out laughter that sounds just like Mason’s, it’s almost like he’s on the other end of the line. He lives on in photos, memories, stories and shared DNA. The stories we tell, the memories we share–those things are what connect us. And they will never be replaced, even when the enamel has worn thin.

All this being said, I haven’t thrown old yeller away yet. Just put it in the back of the kitchen cabin for now. I’m not quite ready to let it go, though I know I will some day. And it’ll be okay.