Tuesday, January 31, 2006

While Elizabeth is adjusting her ideas...

In my second-favorite Jane Austen novel, Mr. Bennet addresses his third daughter thus:

"What say you, Mary? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts."

Mary wished to say something very sensible, but knew not how.

Boy, do I know that feeling.

All right, I've been back in town nearly a month now and I need to get myself involved in some music. Music surrounds me... every day I say hello to Woode Wood on the hike-and-bike trail (there you go!); for the last week or so there's been someone playing the trumpet under the drainage culvert by the Lamar Bridge (and quite well too!); and today, just to make my day a bit more beautifully surreal, a guitarist and a fiddler were belting out some lively bluegrass right in my parking lot at work. Wonderful!

My sister is having a wonderful time playing cello with Attic Ted. And one of my best Austin friends, a civil engineer by day, has a busy schedule on evenings and weekends as a Celtic fiddler. I envy them both.

I loved, loved, loved singing with the UT Early Music Ensemble. Sadly, UT laid off the adorable and brilliant Danny Johnson a few years ago, due to budget restraints and stupidly misplaced priorities, and handed the ensemble over to the leadership of a grad student - the group doesn't seem to exist anymore, as far as I can tell. The Texas Early Music Project looks downright delicious, but is clearly made up of serious musicians, not weekend dilettantes like me (sigh).

We soldier on. I wish I had something witty and original to post today, but truth be told I'm pretty much just blogging out of sheer bloody-mindedness. I'll think of something clever tomorrow. Tomorrow's another day...

Wait a minute, that's not Jane Austen.

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Before the advent of the Electronic Information Age, much of the past could be neatly contained in cardboard boxes.

All day I have been rearranging furniture into place, shelving books and CDs, hanging pictures, and generally turning this nice Travis Heights apartment into my home.

The last few hours I've spent delving into a box I haven't opened in at least ten years. It's a "garage" box - only now we no longer have a garage. It was stored away for two years in Corpus, and spent eight years in the garage in Austin before that.

It contains a lot of my mother, who died in May 2004 of breast cancer. It's a box that she packed to send to me, several years ago; it contains papers and letters I'd collected, plus school papers of mine, and correspondence between us during the summers and Christmas breaks I spent with my dad. I didn't even know I had all this stuff. When Mom died, I was in despair that I didn't have any letters or other tangible mementos - but I had this box in the garage the whole time. I even have a letter I should copy for my sister Jessie, where Mom says she has a wonderful, exciting, happy surprise for me when I get home from summer vacation.

It's okay - Jessie already knows she was a surprise!

I also have quite the collection of old love letters from a decent-sized handful (har, har - oh, sorry) of long-lost loves. Let's see: there was Bill, who wrote me matter-of-fact missives from Germany, from Chicago, and later from his honeymoon; John, who mailed me a risque Christmas card and an apology for going on and on and on about his ex; Chalo, who sent me ink sketches, a lock of hair, and palpable desperation; Tad, whose letters quite annoyingly had alternating lines on the front and back of each page, called me "Buuthy," and enclosed a Guinness bottlecap; and Rob, who was (ahem!) pretty graphic, which is all we're going to say about that. And there are a few also-rans as well: Michael and Scott, a couple of high-school almost-amours; Terry, who became a dear friend for many years but dropped out of touch after I got married the second time; and Chris, whom I don't remember nearly moving in with, but whose letter informs me he has no particular objection to me getting a cat.

Well! Didn't we have a colorful past!

Once the unpacking is complete, I'll take my digital camera around the place and post a little virtual tourlet of the apartment. It's so homey with all the books and plants in place. Maybe I'm just imagining things, but I don't think the Corpus house ever felt quite so cozy and right. It feels good here.

And maybe after a couple more glasses of wine I'll try to Google Tad.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Life on High; Hold the Manic

This has been a damn good week.

Much of our stuff is now unpacked. We're getting close to the point where I should just take any remaning unpacked boxes straight to Goodwill, post haste; we are about out of room here. Anybody want some coffee mugs, martini glasses, cookie sheets, tax files or baby pictures? How about a cat? Slappy White may be a little - shall we say, aromatic; however, if you're in the market for someone to sit on you and lick your nose at 3am, you need look no further, my friend.

Work has been fun - I have been settling in and learning to shake off the miasma of terror I had come to expect as a routine component of my workday. You know - sometimes they're not out to get you? That is a novel concept, I tell you what.

It's actually been a very slow week as far as work goes. The project we're working on - which is the only task the two other new people and I have been trained to take on at this time - has been on hold for most of the week, meaning that we've largely been showing up to do nothing. This would be okay if we were allowed regular internet access, or for heaven's sake, at least could download a decent solitaire game.

God knows I am not complaining! I've just been a little bored, is all. I'm a bit of a doodler (in kind of the same way that the Marquis de Sade enjoyed a little spanky now and again), so what I've done with the idle time is illuminate the month of January on my desk calendar in a gloriously medieval monsastic fashion. Seriously, I may frame it and hang it up somewhere in the apartment. I've got some spare wall space.

The highlight of my day is always the walk along the hike and bike trail, a social as well as exercise outlet, the catalyst for catapulting me to my 15 minutes (give or take) of home-grown Austin fame, unquestionably the most joyful experience of my week. I could not be more honored if I'd won the Pulitzer. Now where the hell's my cash prize?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Getting To Know You

Speaking of search engines, someone just did a search on MSN for "bat poop and mascara and snopes".

Well, naturally my blog was the first place result. (I'm learning more than I ever wanted to know about who my target audience is...)

Please, please post a comment! Who are you? I must know.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

"Incentivize" is NOT a Word

Hey, I got to meet the guitar-strummer from my previous post. He's a working local musician and an extremely nice, friendly guy - and speaking as a recovering marketing shill, I have to give him major props for his method of self-promotion. He hangs out on the hike and bike trail and plays his music with a sign nearby, threaded between the spokes of his bike, advising passerby to Google Woode Wood. He's doing a very savvy job of marketing to his target audience and delivering a strong call to action, thus incentivizing them to visit his website and...

Oops, excuse me, I have to go wash out my brain again.

Search engines are very cool. So are website traffic reporting engines. I pretty well know where all my readers come from: mostly it's my parents and fellow snopesters. No former cow orkers (thanks a hell of a lot, guys).

My "Old is the New New" post came up in the first page of search results on MSN for someone doing a search on "ladies boudoir slippers" and, later, "moms in negligees." How cool is that?!? I was marketing to pervs and didn't even know it! (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

I was also thrilled a couple of months ago when text from my "In Which I Seek Gainful Employment" post came up as the only result for a user googling the telephone number for Atlas Tubular, a tubular company.

I felt a bit sorry for the web user who received this baffling result, because clicking on the link from the search results page only takes you to my homepage; and I'd posted several significantly less tubular entries since that one. The user was probably bewildered as to how my blog was, not just highly, but exclusively relevant to his search...

But back to the hike and bike trail. It remains, two whole days after I began posting about it, a weird and sweet and wonderful place. The three spectator geese have slightly changed spots. I wonder if they have names? Probably several... Four young guys were hanging out talking next to the Capitol Cruises boat, by the Hyatt, and the air around them smelled really, really nice, if you know what I mean. It's another beautiful day in Austin!

With any luck, in a day or two I'll be able to give you the website URL for the ornamental-pond fisher.

Monday, January 23, 2006


Man, I could get so seriously used to having the Town Lake hike and bike trail right outside my building at work. And, indeed, I plan to. Talk about a fringe benefit!

I used to walk along the bayfront in Corpus at lunchtime, although eventually I gave it up - taking lunch was kind of frowned upon at my job, plus there was so much unwelcome attention. It's a shame, because the Corpus bayfront is very pretty.

The Town Lake hike and bike trail on a sunny day is a wonderful thing. There's a great mix of people using it - people pushing strollers, people walking dogs, people jogging, people biking, people in office clothes just sauntering along, a friendly, gray-bearded man strumming a guitar near the Stevie Ray Vaughn statue, a harmless lunatic fishing in the six-inch-deep ornamental goldfish pond.

Under the Congress Avenue bridge, you can hear (and smell!) the bats. I glance up anxiously as I pass underneath. I really would rather not go through the afternoon at work with bat poop in my hair.

There's one spot beside the trail where the same three geese hang out all the time and watch the passerby. They remind me of parade spectators, except that parade spectators don't usually bend over to sample mysterious goodies on the ground. (Not before the fifth beer or so, anyway.) Today, while the geese had stepped away for a quick swim, a jogger rested there and was stretching out his muscles. The geese returned and walked right up beside him, staring. I swear if they could talk they'd have asked him what the hell he was doing in their spot.

But he stayed there, stretching, and the geese were philosophical about it. They remained within a foot or so of him, and went back to watching the hikers and bikers and strollers and joggers and dogwalkers, and discovering yummies in the grass.

On Earth, the bumper sticker says, as it is in Austin. It was a nice day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Necessity is a Real Mother

I have this awesome idea for a cool new product. You know those cat box liners, that once the litter has reached such a level of unspeakable filth that it can be detected from distant galaxies with the naked nose*, you can just pick it all up in the liner bag and throw it away?

Well, I want to make those for houses. Wouldn't that make moving so much easier?

It would need to be made of some flexible, stretchy space-age polymer, so it could conform to any interior. And I guess you'd need to cut holes for the toilets and sinks and oven and stovetops and such... although now that I come to think of it, that would defeat much of the purpose, as those are the major things that you end up having to clean. DAMN it.

But at least you wouldn't have to worry about steam-cleaning the carpet or Magic-Erasering your toddler's masterpieces off the walls.

Today we're heading down to Corpus to finish cleaning out the house. Can you imagine anything more fun? Actually I can. However, this is the price I gotta pay for all the wonderful things that have been happening to me lately; and to be perfectly honest, I'm somewhat relieved to experience a bit of a downside. So much good fortune makes me vaguely uneasy. I keep expecting karma to return from vacation at any moment and realize that things have been going way too much my way, and for reality to snap back into shape like a taut rubber band. Yowch! Not that I'm a pessimist or anything.

(The pessimist says the glass of water is half empty; the optimist says it's half full. I do a spit take and say, "Water?!?!?"

I'm pretty sure I stole that from somewhere, but I don't know where.)

As I've posted before, cleaning house is not really my forte. I'm not entirely sure what my forte actually is, though. Maybe pedantry (did you know that "forte" in this context is properly pronounced "fort"? It's French, meaning "strong." The Italian "for-tay" is incorrect because that means "loud"), or possibly digression.

But I gotta get at it today. Carpets must be vacuumed and steamed, tile floors mopped, masterpieces Magic-Erasered, toilets de-Black-Lagooned, countertops, stovetop, oven and bathtubs scrubbed, and the random detritus of two years - all that junky small stuff you never felt you should throw away but didn't make it into the moving truck because you didn't actually want it - ruthlessly bagged up and disposed of. It's going to be a rough day.

I really wish I'd thought of that house-liner thing before we moved all our furniture in here. DAMN it!

*Band name!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Further Aimless Ramblings

Well, damn. I was just IMing with a couple of friends from the former place of employment today, and found out Karen, the senior consultant whose team I was briefly on, got fired yesterday.

That poor woman. She really should have quit. She knew Tiffany had it in for her; everybody knew that.

Anyway, I suppose I'll get the complete scoop from my friends shortly.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch: Today at about 4:30, as one of my new coworkers was leaving, he stopped to say goodbye and asked what time I'd be going home. I said I was leaving at 5. He shook his head and remarked he didn't see how I managed to work that late...

And at 5 I left the office, walked home, fired up my IM and chatted with my former-coworker friends, who were still at work.

For the moment, the new apartment is not very nice. We've just moved from a 1700-square-foot house with a second living room and a two-car garage to an 1100-square-foot apartment with very little closet space. We seriously need to get rid of some stuff here. When a feng shui consultant has led a very bad life and has to go to hell, I imagine it must closely resemble this apartment.

I wonder if my cats were feng shui consultants in a former life? They are extremely anxious to go outside. I cannot let them out, for the manager may see them. This in itself is not the end of the world. He knows we have cats. There's only a problem if he can count, because we're only supposed to have two of them.

In order to digress, do you have to have had a point in the first place?

Monday, January 16, 2006

The Morning After

Last night I had a dream about my former employer. The CEO and her husband (who is the Director of Research) and the president, the CEO’s niece, had discovered I knew some kind of dark secret about the company and were tracking me down to kill me. I spent the entire dream running and hiding, never being able to find a safe enough spot; and though I had my cell phone I couldn’t get 911 to work.

Well, the last part is fairly realistic.

This is my first work-related nightmare since leaving. I kept in touch for some time with another former employee there, who walked out in despair slightly over a year before my departure. He’s mentioned having nightmares too.

See? It wasn’t just me! It wasn’t!

And of course I did know that. When you’ve seen seventeen people quit such a small company over a year-and-a-half period, you can pretty well tell you’re not alone.

At my new job, I find myself making comparisons a lot. I hope I don’t bore my new coworkers with horror stories about "where I used to work, we did thus-and-such." I still have so much I want to get off my chest about how ghastly life was at the old place. How did I survive being so miserable for so long?

Lately I’ve been increasingly of the opinion that the company is doomed. They just can’t keep focusing entirely on new sales and new money, to the complete exclusion of performing the services they’ve sold to existing clients, and actively penalizing the employees who want to ensure they deliver on services sold. More and more clients are becoming increasingly dissatisfied. And they’re becoming more outspoken about it. The company’s reputation can’t possibly hold out much longer.

What will happen to the people who've flourished in that environment? The CEO and her husband are wealthy - they can easily retire. But what will become of their young nieces – Tiffany, the president, who is 32 and has never worked anywhere else? Tiffany has great sales skills, and many other skills besides; but she's so accustomed to being able to terrorize other people that I can't see her surviving in any workplace where she doesn't get to be head honcho. Or her cousin, Ginger, who is 22, has never been to college, is a senior consultant despite not really ever having made any sales and having made plenty of the kind of mistakes that would get any non-relative fired, and is pulling in $60K/year? On the open Corpus market she's probably worth about $8/hour.

Ginger’s a sweet kid. I’d feel bad for her. Tiffany, not so much… my feelings about her can more or less be summed up, "HA! See if you get on Oprah now - beeYOTCH!"

Dear God, it's good to be out of there. Daylight is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Musings on New Beginnings

My first day at work, I attended a brief orientation session quickly covering policies on attendance, benefits, vacation, personal use of work resources, sexual harassment, drug testing, violence in the workplace, etc.

It's a different corporate culture from what I've been dealing with the last couple of years, that's for sure. But this is a good thing. I like to joke that my former employer's corporate motto is "We put the 'pro' in 'inappropriate!'"

Like to? I love to make that joke. Isn't it clever? And so true!

As ghastly as my old employer was, of course, there's a flip side to everything and the sense of freedom there, of being able to swear or flirt or make off-color jokes or walk around barefoot, was fairly pleasant. The systems analyst who is training me and I seem to have hit it off greatly right away, because she's outspoken and has a really strong, offbeat sense of humor, so she softens the transition from wild-and-crazy private sector to staid and sober government.

That said, I feel the need to make sure I don't get too comfortable. We're on the cube farm, and voices carry. Things I say that may make her double over with laughter might cause someone two cubes over to seethe in silence.

I don't know the office pecking order yet, but most people seem to take lunches and breaks alone - though they do take ample breaks to wander around and chit chat with each other. It strikes me as a sign to tread carefully - or is it just that I'm so shell-shocked from dealing with the fearfully convoluted office politics at the old place that I'm overly paranoid?

My supervisor came over to my desk yesterday afternoon at about ten till five just to see how my week had gone (very well; I'm learning quickly and have managed to put in more than enough work so far to make up for my friend's time in training - not bad for week one!) and just to chat for a bit. He's an older gentleman, very soft-spoken and gentle and pleasant. I told him I'd found an apartment in Travis Heights and how excited and happy I was, and he said he'd actually grown up here - went to Travis Heights Elementary (where Anna will go), Fulmore Middle School (Katie's new stomping grounds) and graduated from Travis High (upon which Eric is shortly to be inflicted). We were chatting along about kids and schools and moving and such like, when suddenly he announced, "Well, it's five o'clock, time to get on out of here! Have a good weekend!"

It was five on the NOSE.

I've had so much I've wanted to write about since I've been here. I wanted to blog about UT winning the Rose Bowl while I was staying on West Campus, and what a glorious happy time that was, with joyful students running through the streets and shouting and hugging each other. And I wanted to go on in detail about spending an afternoon walking in Pease Park, full of cheerful people and happy, well-behaved dogs, walking and jogging and biking and playing Frisbee Golf. My bittersweet walk past the vacant pink brick house with wrought-iron railings on Shoal Creek Drive just off Lamar and 24th, which used to be the Iseley School, where I went to first grade in '73 or so, really should have a full blog entry of its own. There's just been so much. I suppose I'll get caught up later.

For now, Anna is awake, in her blue fleecy pajamas, with frumpy mussed-up hair, so it's time for me to stop lollygagging and get to work on some breakfast.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wham! Bam! Speed post!!

At Kinko's! Paying 20 cents a minute!! Must rush!!!!

I'm in Austin and it's GREAT. Of course.

Found an apartment in Travis Heights, .74 miles (as the Mapquest flies) from work!!

Have been bumming about with old friends and having a great time, just soaking up the wonderful sweetness that is Austin!

I don't have internet access at my sister's apartment. It's been driving me up the wall. I also don't have it at work, because (though the new job is very cool, don't get me wrong) they have an absolutely Draconian internet policy. NO personal use of email or the internet. EVER. And yes, they are watching.

Ah well. Male spousal object and offspring arrive tomorrow. And we move. And I will have some internet access again. I just... had to go to Kinko's to send a fax and... couldn't... help... myself...

Blog fix!!!

Also I'm parked in the 15-minute zone. I'd better go. Like, now.