Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Hush, hush

I am on an 80's music buying frenzy at the moment. I hope you'll excuse me.

But I did notice earlier today (not that this is 80's related) that my very favorite Radiohead song ever - actually, near the top of my all-time favorites - is titled "The Tourist," as I named my post about the thoughts I had about losing my mom. That wasn't planned, so I thought it was fitting. I really love that song.

And I've been online, cashing in my iTunes birthday gift card, and got some Psychedelic Furs ("The Ghost in You" and "All that Money Wants," both of which are likely to have me bounding acrobatically and embarrassingly around in my cubicle) and some more Stereolab, and my very favorite Cure song ever ("From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea;" not quite as perky a ditty) and of course, because every girl must have a song-that-reminds-her-of-someone, "Voices Carry" by 'Til Tuesday.

There's an OMD song in there somewhere I really wanted as well, but I can't for the life of me remember what it is. Guess he must not have been quite so memorable.

Of course one of my favorite purchased iTunes pieces is a collection of Prokofiev piano concerti performed by Korean pianist Kun-Woo Paik. Personally I think my sister Jessie's performances are better; and of course the one to beat is the #8, which was Mom's favorite. I can't listen to it without getting goosebumps all over.

$15 is not enough. They call this a birthday? What the hell is my family thinking?!

Presumably that they can cram "Cure" songs into me until I paint my fingernails black and subside into an existential coma. They're probably right.

Three Things

First: Why on earth would a guy in a car shout "Nice tits!" at a woman on the sidewalk as he approaches from behind?! I mean, if he can see them from back there, they can't be all that nice, now can they?

I expect a certain level of logic from my sexual harassers, dammit.

Secondly: What's with this blogslides thing? Y'all are jacking up my site stats big time. I show 45 visits today, but all except for about six or seven of them are apparently the same two people who just have my blog running, along with presumably hundreds of others, on an automated feed. Not that I don't love traffic, and joyfully welcome my new reader overlords; but I like to have a better feel for how many of them there actually are, you know?

On the other hand, maybe it'll inflate my stats enough that I can sell ads on my blog and make some money. I'd do it, too, if I got to pick the ad content myself.

And thirdly: There's nothing like a metal cabinet and a bunch of magnetic letters to make you really, really appreciate your subconscious. Have you hugged yours today?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Things to See and Do in Travis Heights

Margie and I went for a tramp in the woods - but he got away. Ba-dum-pum!

Sorry about that. Oooooold joke (old enough that the term "tramp" is used to refer to a vagrant instead of, say, to Margie and me).

The coolest thing about Travis Heights is all the little tucked-away spots, so going for a walk around the neighborhood gives you a constant sense of discovery. I should have brought the camera. Margie and I spent most of the day walking through Stacy Park and scrambling around in the bed of Blunn Creek, getting our feet wet and generously providing food for needy mosquitoes.

On Alameda, right off Riverside, there's a flight of steps leading down to the creek. At the bottom is a little pool and tiny waterfall; if you ignore a bit of debris strewn about from higher waters, the spot seems remote and unspoiled and you'd have no idea you were about three minutes from downtown. You won't spot it from a car, because there isn't much of an opening in the shrubbery at the top of the steps - some of which is poison ivy, by the way, so be careful! I've never seen anyone else down there, but figure since my entire Austin readership consists of about two people, I'm not likely to create a sudden influx of traffic to the spot.

And just north of Little Stacy, by the softball field, there's this giant trifurcated tree leaning over the creek - a live oak? I don't know much about trees, but I know what I like. And I really like this tree; it's huge, and must be ancient. Two thick trunks split off and grow parallel to the creekbed; but a third juts out over the water. The third trunk is completely hollow and easily large enough to climb through without much crouching. The roots are thick and tangled - it looks like something out of The Hobbit.

Renovation is proceeding apace, I notice, at the Ivanhoe Village apartments by Little Stacy. I'd love to get a place there, though I figure since they're being fixed up so nicely the rent will be through the roof. I've been going to Little Stacy since Eric was a baby, and always thought those looked like a really nice place to live.

I love the trail through Stacy Park and the pretty old stone bridges over the creek on Monroe and Woodland. And I really like the mix of old and new houses in the neighborhood. Even most of the McMansions have character (except for that one the next street over that won the Austin Chronicle's Ugliest McMansion contest).

It's so nice to have all this within walking distance from home. Margie's thinking about moving to San Marcos; a most inconvenient location for a beloved sister, so I'm hoping our little tramp will change her mind.

Oh for gosh sakes will you stop groaning? It wasn't that bad.

Sunday, May 28, 2006


I just got off the phone with my stepfather. I don't think I've called him since moving to Austin. I really enjoy talking to him, just always have too much to say "between the lines;" and in Corpus, most of my phone conversations with him were conducted outside, on the back patio, or the front yard, or the driveway. I have no place to speak in private here.

At least I never go over my minutes anymore.

Today is the second anniversary of Mom's death, and therefore, ironically I suppose, of the rebirth of my relationship with my stepfather. He and I had been estranged for several years when she died. It's a very good thing, your proverbial silver lining, I suppose, that her death brought us together; but it always makes me angry that we didn't do this when she was alive. It would have meant a lot to her.

I was telling him about where I work, and how it's a bit on the sluggish and uninteresting side as far as job duties go. He started trying to comfort me, telling me about how at least the experience I'm getting there will parlay well into other, better jobs; and I had to stop him: But I'm so happy.

I'm so happy.

How long has it been since I felt like this: passionate about what I'm doing, about where I live, where I work, the things I do, the people I see? Up to and including a friendly freaky guy in a Whip-In shirt who stopped me today, as I was walking up Avondale with great music on the iPod, to remark he's always wanted to climb up to the rooftop deck on a house we were passing, and admire the view? I agreed, laughing; we exchanged a few more pleasantries and I went on my way, and I didn't stop smiling for blocks. I love people sometimes.

My stepfather and I ended up talking at length about Austin, about which I am perhaps more passionate than about anything else. We lived here when I was little. I've been to Armadillo World Headquarters several times, you know, to see the ballet, when I was about four years old. My stepfather waxed rhapsodic about students selling bromeliads on MLK, about cheap killer weed, about the Armadillo, about that cute little grocery boutique on Lamar where they were so passionate about the food. "I want to retire to Austin," he said; "I can sell this townhouse at mid-Atlantic prices and get a really nice house there for cheap."

(This is the place where the record-going-SCCRRRRRIITCH sound effect goes.)

I explained to him that real estate pricing in Austin may be fairly comparable to Northern Virginia; he responded that he could just get a place out in suburbia, but I pointed out that soulless suburbs are soulless suburbs no matter where you are, and he so totally does not want to live in Round Rock.

The practical upshot of all this is that I urged and begged and pleaded with him to come visit and get my own passionate tour of my own passionate Austin. Many of the faces have changed; but the spirit is still true. I've never known another town like this. I could never leave it again. If you don't have to deal with the traffic (which I don't) or through-the-roof housing (again, my great good luck, no!) then you are in a perpetual heaven of trees and dogs and cats and friendly neighbors and funky shops and liberal bumper stickers. I'll get him to retire in Travis Heights yet.

Last time we talked I was in Corpus, miserable, stressed, and terrified. Now I'm passionately happy in Austin. Mom would be very pleased. I so wish she could come too.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I Spent My Last $2 on a Bike Reflector and Beer

Are you enough of an Austinite to get the reference in the title? Are you enough of an Austinite to have attended the Yellow Bike Project's Ninth Birthday Party tonight?

Austin doesn't get much weirder. Attic Ted was one of four or five bands providing music for the event, so I was there with their cellist, my sister Margie. The event took place at Gallery Lombardi on West 5th Street, just across from Whole Foods, in an old depot building backing up to the railroad tracks. People used the tracks as seating until the trains came. I'm pretty sure one of the passing engineers flipped us off; understandably, since it's got to be pretty scary for them to see a bunch of drunken people leisurely sauntering their way out of imminent danger. It's not as if there's any way the train could possibly avoid them. Oh, but it's a whole new kind of cool to see that huge freight train thundering along within feet of you, so you could reach out and stroke the sides of the boxcars as they pass.

To be brutally honest, it was the kind of event at which you feel a bit out of place if you don't have a Medusa's nest of dreadlocks and body odor potent enough to power a small city for a month. Still, it was fun; the music was good, and you could hardly ask for a better cause. I got a flashing red bike reflector button for $2, and clipped it to the lowest point of the V-neck on my blouse, just so I could indignantly demand to know just what people thought they were looking at, and remind them I'm up here!

Pay no attention to the flashing red cleavage.

Margie didn't want to take me back to her place off E. 5th, where I'd left my car, though I was exhausted; and I didn't appreciate her friend pointing out I should just ride a yellow bike. Through two miles of East Austin at 11:30pm? Yeah, right.

I'm cranky and I'm going to bed. I should have enjoyed that party more; it was very Austin, very weird. I did enjoy the rapper singing to us in the long line for the restroom. He lent a certain panache to the concept of peeing yourself.

(The concept, mind you. I did not actually pee myself, or anyone else for that matter.)

Goodnight, y'all. Life was so much simpler when I was automobile-bound and queer...

The Crack of Who?!

When I was a kid I absolutely hated getting up early in the morning. I always felt like warmed-over death, and given the choice, would sleep until afternoon. I'm not sure what happened to turn me into a morning person (oh yeah: life) but now this is my favorite time of day. I'm the only person who's up, except for the cats.

The cats have a major bug up their butts, this time of day: Peach and Bingo are wrestling in the living room, Romeo's out cattin' around somewhere, and Slappy White (if you want to see what he normally looks like, look up "inertia" in the dictionary) was suddenly violently startled by something invisible, bounded up in the air, and skittered off sideways. Generally, from the time I get home from work until I go to bed, they just lie around limply, like used tissues. But early in the morning they've got some spunk in 'em.

Someone next door is weedeating; a bit inconsiderate for this hour on a Saturday. I miss having a yard but don't miss having the maintenance. If only this apartment had a patio, life would be perfect.

Ah, the cats are already drifting off, the lazy bastards. Maybe I should give them some of my coffee.

in · er · tia (ĭ-nûr’shə) n. 1. see above

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Tourist

Home again, home again, jiggety jog, as Mom used to say.

Here's the restaurant where we had lunch yesterday. It'll be forever emblazoned in my memory as "Fat Bastard Steakhouse."

Isn't it funny, the way it feels to go around with a camera, capturing images and freezing little tiny pieces of time and space? It's the most incredible device for simultaneously connecting with and isolating yourself from the rest of the world, grabbing a little snippet of reality and imposing your own viewpoint on it.

Ever since Mom's death, two years ago this coming Sunday, I've had this intense sense of detachment; and I like the way that taking pictures and writing about them illustrates it. It's probably a fairly natural reaction to having reality suddenly, sickeningly wrench away from everything you've ever thought or wanted to be true. I really miss my mom terribly... and not being religious, don't have the comfort of believing we'll be reunited someday. Of course, if what most Christians believe turned out to be true, a lifelong atheist like my mom would be kind of screwed anyway.

Sorry, I'm not sure why a silly picture of an amusingly named steakhouse would suddenly elicit thoughts of loss and grief, except that those are a bit close to mind right around this time anyway. The last time I talked to Mom was two years ago the day after my birthday - Mom never could remember a birthday on time! - when she called with her usual amused, self-deprecatory apology for having forgotten again. My stepfather got home while we were talking and she said she'd call me back in a little bit, which (again, as usual) she didn't. She showed up on my caller ID five days later, very early in the morning, as I was getting ready for work; I was surprised, and hoped as I answered the phone that nothing was wrong.

But it was my stepfather calling, not her. I hadn't talked to him in about twelve years, and of course something was horribly wrong: Mom had collapsed and was unconcsious in the hospital, and was not expected to last through the day. He had been told to start calling relatives and letting everyone know.

I remember falling to the floor, crying, sick, going through the rest of the day in a horrible restless agonized daze, needing to get out and go somewhere, only there was nowhere to go - no place where this wasn't happening. We were at the Sonic next door to the mall when he called back to say that it was all over.

And then there were weeks into months of strange protesting bewilderment and unreality, and this simultaneous pushing away of the world, and trying frantically to find some way to rejoin it. I couldn't eat, paced endlessly, hated my family, hated my job, hated Corpus, wanted to escape.

I don't mean to imply I'm unhappy now, because I'm very happy overall. I have lots of things that are wonderful in my life, and a very few that I really don't like; but I tend to spend most of my time living in the moments when everything is good, and the sad or angry or frightening things can usually retreat to the middle of the night. But I don't sleep well in hotels, and the night passes in wakefulness or dark and troublinhg dreams. They are less frequent now, but I dream about being with Mom, and feeling horribly aware that she's gone, clinging helplessly to her in my dream, trying to protect her, but knowing that ultimately I have to let her go.

All I really meant to say when I started this was that (1) Fat Bastard makes a damn good steak, and (2) the way it feels to be behind a camera tells us some intriguing things about human nature. And instead you get this nicely self-absorbed polemic about how I go through life feeling like a tourist, like I don't quite fit in. Welcome to the human experience, Beth, for heaven's sake. It's not like this is something I personally discovered.

So if you're ever in Wichita Falls, I highly recommend Fat Bastard's; the steak is excellent. Now I should probably go and get some sleep.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Voice Crying Out

They're required to have American Idol on the big TV in the dining room during dinner, I suppose. It's probably a Federal regulation of some kind. Or perhaps they're losing their skivvies by offering complimentary dinner to their hotel guests and this is the best way they can think of to encourage people to find a meal elsewhere.

Does anyone really seriously watch this??

They have a "Hall of Shame" sort of deal where they show the worst of the worst contestants, those who were weeded out in the initial rounds (or whatever they do; God only knows I don't normally watch this tripe) and show how pathetic and inept they are. Then someone - the audience, the judge/stars, I don't know - picks the "winner" and the announcer says, "Unfortunately, [insert name here] isn't crazy enough to accept in person tonight..."

Okay, two points here. One is that the "terrible" contestants very likely don't sound any worse than the winners do without heavy mixing by sound engineers, but possess significantly less physical beauty; the second is that the winner of the "male worst vocalist" award was "Crazy Joe Somethingorother" and hey! Who'd a thunk?! He was crazy enough to accept in person! Hilarity ensues.

The hotel's most serious mistake is offering free wine and beer in the evening, which means I can drink as heavily as I need to in order to get through my dinner. Let's just say their wine-in-a-box bill is probably pretty high this week, and leave it at that.

Good night y'all. I'll be home tomorrow and back in the office Friday. Please be gentle, because I might be a little hung over.

All Show and No Go

Does Wichita Falls actually have falls, I was asked?

Why, indeed they do.

The district training experience was... interesting. I like how our PowerPoint presentation announces in big exciting letters that the software we work with is "carrying us into the future!"

The accompanying graphic is a picture of the Apollo moon lander.

Part of me desperately wants to pull the PowerPoint apart, redo it with lots of flashy modern graphics and a few bullshit statistics thrown in to make it look legitimate, and glibly run through it with confidence and charisma. This is the way we did sales presentations where I used to work, after all; the idea being that the client wouldn't catch on that we were "all show and no go" until long after the dotted line was signed. But I'm not sure that even Tiffany would have the ovaries to sell this.

Fortunately, none of our audience actually were being asked to pay anything (except of course through taxes), so we weren't driven out by enraged hecklers.

We have really got to modernize, though, because this is ridiculous. I think my coworker has been giving that same presentation for eleven years, since the software was implemented; all the slides refer to what's new and exciting about it, and how it's a great improvement over drawing stuff out by hand. There are several screenshots with pretty, high-tech green letters on a black background. Still many of the younger members of the audience seemed unimpressed.

I really may redo that presentation with more of a focus on "here's how to use this old crap until we can come up with something better" - a bit more tactfully worded, perhaps, but you get the idea. I'm good at giving presentations. Maybe I can sell the "ready, set, retire!" crowd on the idea that the mainframe is not cutting-edge these days.

Actually I doubt even Tiffany could manage that one.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

CBS Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack

I've gone so long without watching TV news, I've completely lost my tolerance for it. I can't believe how self-absorbed and theatrical these people are - not that we didn't already know that.

CBS' The Early Show is on the TV in the breakfast room. They just ran a gigantic fluff piece on the war in Iraq, complete with footage of laughing, well-scrubbed urchins and jocular soldiers surrounded by smiling Iraqis. "This is the side of the Iraq war that the mainstream media won't show you," they huffily declare.

Omigod. That is, like, so 2004.

The best bit is their field correspondent in an Army plane, remarking that he feels safer in this plane, flying over a combat zone, than he often feels when flying in the U.S.

Somebody needs to tell him that Snakes on a Plane is just a movie.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Did not take as long as I expected

Looky what I got for my birthday!

And right in time for the Wichita Falls trip, too!

I am in love, absolutely madly passionately in love with this gorgeous little device, although apparently it doesn't do PCs, at least not without erasing all the songs I already put on it from the Mac. Well, you can't fault the little guy for having good taste.

And do you know, it really does have the effect on you that those iPod commercials show, except that real people look kind of stupid dancing without a soundtrack. But that's why I get my own hotel room.

And here is my birthday self-portrait:

I have some pretty nice legs for a 37-year-old goddammit.

So I got to break in the fancy schmancy new iPod with a few miles' brisk walk around the cute little fakelake in the park next to the hotel. I was not allowed to go walking on the trip to San Angelo. Here, though, it looks like I'll be able to spend as much time on the trail as I please.

It's very pretty; Wichita Falls is a more attractive town than I'd anticipated. It's so pastel. The dirt is pink and the trees are a muted shade of green; and even in the mid-afternoon light today, the sky was washed over with cirrus clouds, so everything looked cool and pale and soft, though it's dry and flat as a pancake up here.

The path around the pond is gorgeous in the evening light, especially; the pavement is dusted over with pink, the sky was reflected in the water, the pond is full of picturesque waterfowl, and it was a beautiful sunset. Even the goose dookys looked like pastel little green-and-cream nonpareils of yuck.

All in all a highly satisfactory birthday, though if I don't get some "Happy Birthday" comments on this post I will be totally bummed. And if I can't get a snake for my grand entrance, it will ruin everything!

Party On

So I'm celebrating my son's 16th and my 37th birthday by going to Wichita Falls with a guy named Butch.

Do I know how to have fun, or what?

I hope I hope I hope I can get internet access there. I'll be back Thursday.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Kill Your Television

I heard a sentence on an MTV reality show today that somehow (I don't know how), someday (I don't know when), as God as my witness, I am going to work into a day-to-day conversation.

"If I can't have a snake for my entrance, it will ruin everything!!"

So here's my challenge: I need to create a totally different, new persona for myself among all my acquaintance. I must gradually, over the course of many long months, change my behavior, acting so convincingly that I can bring everyone I know to the point where I can plausibly utter that sentence and they will think it is perfectly normal.* It could take more than months, it could conceivably take years.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am a slave to my muse. We start tonight!

*"Normal" being a somewhat problematic term here.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


When my sister Jessica was at Juilliard, she told me that during finals week people would insert razor blades (sharp side up) between the keys of the pianos in the practice rooms - just as a way of thinning out the competition a little. Of course this had never actually happened to her. It was a story she'd been told, a bit of highly specialized collegiate lore, almost certainly untrue: the razor blades would cause the piano keys to stick really badly, and you typically warm up with scales and exercises. You don't just sashay into a practice room and immediately launch a full frontal Prokofiev concerto on an innocent piano, for God's sake. So the blades would get discovered before they could do any damage.

Great legend, though, isn't it?

Yesterday I heard a very similar story, though, from my ex-husband, who's in his last year at the Texas Culinary Academy. One of his final dishes was a rack of lamb, crusted with something or other (to be perfectly honest, the principal thought that runs through my head when he describes the dishes he prepares is, "Oh, so now you cook"), with a red pepper sauce. Someone, he doesn't know who, dumped a whole jar of cayenne pepper into the sauce prior to presentation.

The sauce was on the side and he was able to work around it, came out with a very good grade, and ultimately was flattered that someone considered him enough of a threat to make such a gesture. I guess it's just as well there wasn't a bottle of cyanide lying around.

It's a weird thing, hanging around with my ex. I was only there to drop off my son, but now we've been divorced on friendly terms for so long, it's kind of obligatory for me to stand around and chat with him for a while, accepting food and drink when offered, and visiting for as long as it takes to consume said refreshments. His mother always watches us hopefully when this happens, because he still lives with her, whereas I have an apartment - but she can put on her pajamas, because I'd rather play Prokofiev on a razor-blade-rigged piano than hook back up with my ex. No offense! It's just that I've been there, done that, and Goodwill ended up having to throw out the T-shirt.

Myself, I'm still waiting for someone, anyone, to consider me enough of a threat to try to eliminate me. I guess that might have been what happened at my last company, though considering the rate at which they've gone through people I can hardly take it personally. Ah, well, it may yet happen.

On Monday when I go to work I'll be sure to check for razor blades in my keyboard.

Keeping Austin Weird with Rubber Fish

Click here for the complete adventures of the Official snopes.com Fish o'Thwacking!

Although Thwacky and Whacky did not get to see as much of Gainesville as they had hoped, the fish were undaunted, and arrived in Beth’s mailbox full of anticipation – and bearing Chick tracts. “Well, this won’t do at all,” she declared, and whisked the fish off to an unnamed local boutique* to get their piscine heads straightened out.

“Dude,” said Thwacky to Whacky, “I feel strange.”

“I feel blurry,” replied Whacky.

Beth was still a bit anxious for the fishies’ mental well-being, so introduced the fish to friendly neighbors Sam Hurt and Hank the Hallucination, who encouraged Thwacky and Whacky to “get real.”

Afterwards the fish headed off for a night out on the town with Austin snopesters Gayle and Kev. Barring a brief incident when Whacky got a little peckish and attempted to gnosh on his hostess, the fish and snopesters had a great time at the Dog and Duck, drinking Newcastle Brown Ale and chatting up dishy young men.

After the hangovers had worn off the next day, the fish took a leisurely stroll down the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail to pay a visit to Austin guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughn. The fish planned to pose on Stevie’s shoulders; unfortunately a couple of passerby on the trail felt this was disrespectful to Stevie’s memory and put up a bit of a fuss. Beth's attempts to explain the situation didn’t go over well, and the altercation ultimately ended the way any conflict involving a rubber fish must.

Tired but happy, the fish said their goodbyes to beautiful Austin, Texas and jetted off in their first-class luxury padded envelope to visit AnglRdr in Nashville.

*To avoid getting the very helpful store clerks in any trouble.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Writing the Thwacky Post

There's not really time to take the fish to the Capitol or Barton Springs, so I'll go with what I have:

Fish pictures include the following general categories:

Fish at the office
Fish at South Oats
Fish with Sam Hurt and Hank the Hallucination
Fish on the hike and bike
Gayle and Kev at Scholz Beer Garden
Gayle and Kev at the Dog and Duck
Fish Gone Wild at Scholz Beer Garden
Fish getting aggressive or just hanging out at the Dog and Duck

The fish will go out in tomorrow's mail to AnglRdr in Nashville. For now I'm getting down to composing the Austin visit post.

Comments and suggestions are welcome, she hinted broadly. My email address is in the "contact me" link on my profile, she hinted broadly.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

What Do You Do?

It's not that I mean to complain about my new job, mind you. It's just that grousing makes for much more humorous commentary than expressing contentment does.

Still, there really isn't enough to do, to the point where I can work myself up to slight spasms of anxiety through wondering why, exactly, was I hired? I spend a lot of time doing nothing. I'm ready, willing (oh so very!), and able; but the work doesn't seem to be there. What work there is does not seem to have a lot of purpose in the grand scheme of things (i.e., outside our division section).

Maybe I just need a more existential attitude.

Actually going to work is loads of fun, or at least it beats the hell out of staying home. We spend a lot of time on break. A lot. I'm good with this, because I have really cool coworkers, almost all of whom are very funny, many of whom are unusually intelligent, and one of whom regularly serenades me with earth-shattering burps. And when I can't go on break with coworkers, there's doodling. Or listening to Stereolab. Or using scotch tape to catch those annoying little tiny black flies that infest my plants. Or reading up online about the weather, because NOAA is one of the only external web sites permitted for employees at my workplace to browse. Let me tell you, the weather is fucking riveting after you've been reading highway construction plans for a few hours.

Not to complain, mind you.

But actually, it works out well overall because when people ask me what I do, I have a cool-sounding answer. It doesn't sound bad to say I analyze roadway data for maintenance in the database; it sounds even better if I skip the explanation and say that I'm a "Systems Analyst." Never mind that pretty much everyone where I work is a "systems analyst," including people who have to call the IT department for help figuring out how to use a web browser.

I don't have to sell anything or lie to anybody. I have friends. I live in Travis Heights with awesome neighbors, walk on the hike-and-bike every day, and even have something sort of resembling a social life. It works. This is good.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Austin, the Fish Have Landed

Today the Official snopes.com Fish O'Thwacking and his life partner, Whacky, arrived in my mailbox. Time to show these guys an Austin good time!

For now they're chilling, just hanging out on snopes and reading some Chick tracts that were enclosed with them. Fortunately, a few days in Austin should straighten them out.

Well - you know what I mean.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Corpus Ho!

Does it make me a bad mom that I wasn't with my kids on Mother's Day because I was recovering from a wild night out at a gay bar in another city?

I'm here now - and fending them off so I can blog about it.

Here is the elegant hotel where I stayed, the Bayfront Plaza Hotel; note my equally elegant car parked in front of it.

Here is the view that woke me up at seven o'clock this morning because I forgot to close the curtains before collapsing into bed at four with some ill-advised Whataburger roiling in my guts. Yuck!

And here is the major chick magnet responsible for the festivities: my friend Omar, festooned with babes as usual. (l-r: Denise, Robin, Beth)

The gay bar actually had an awful lot of straight clientele, though there was a nice little drag show. We got down and drrrrrty on the dance floor, Denise and I, and a few male former coworkers who showed up later. Grind in the place where you work! I landed on my ass twice due to too much alcohol - not in me, though, but spilled on the floor. I was not wearing my most sensible shoes.

This morning I got up and strolled around downtown, taking pictures and being reminded of why - much as I miss my friends, and as good a time as I had with them last night - I am so overjoyed to be back in Austin.

Christ on a clipper! I'm so pissed I didn't pick up that "Wrong Way" sign in my shot. Would that not have been totally awesome? Damn it. Damn it!

Oh well. Happy Mother's Day! Guess I should go spend some time with my kids.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Elizabeth (Online)

Hi. I'm Elizabeth, and I'm a chat-o-holic.

At my old job, the entire office was on MSN Messenger. My phone rang more or less never. If you had a work question, the easiest thing in the world was just to open up a chat window and IM somebody. If they were away from their desk, they'd get back to you shortly. Easy peasy.

And chat is loads of fun, although I can't stand chat shorthand. It really doesn't take very much longer to type out a grammatically correct sentence, for God's sake. Don't even get me started on people who would type "LOL" when they were easily within earshot and you could perfectly well hear them not laughing.

But that's not the point. The point is that chat really is a fairly good way to communicate. I've had some pretty significant conversations through that medium; and being accustomed to it, I really miss being able to exchange written ideas instantly with someone in another room.

We have a chat function - sort of - where I now work. It's a module of Novell Client and it Suh, Uh, Uh, Ucks. First of all you open up the server and select the person you want to "chat" with off a list from the address book. For some reason there are double listings for each person. One of them works and one doesn't, but you don't know which is which, so select both. Then type your message, hit "send," and voila! you get a confirmation notice. You have to click "OK" on it to make it go away.

The recipient of your IM first must hit "reply," then they have to select your two names from the address book (because when you hit "reply" it doesn't, say, automatically select the person who sent you the message in the first place), type their message, and hit send, and they get a confirmation notice.

Repeat until your brain bleeds, which let me tell you, doesn't take as long as you might think.

Okay. Million-dollar question here. What the hell is so bad about MSN Messenger (or Yahoo!, or AIM, or who-the-hell-ever) that state employees can't use something, anything other than this monumentally cumbersome chat software? It's hardly worth using at all. And forget about trying to cyber, which might, strictly speaking, be a little inappropriate for the workplace, but would sure make a slow Friday afternoon go a lot faster. And talk about teambuilding!

Ah well. We new employees, we're young and full of innovative ideas. Our time will come, our time will come.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Magnetism: Or, Understanding the Gravity of the Situation

Former Employer President Tiffany put a magnetic word set on the refrigerator of the breakroom there (I promise, I promise I will stop writing about them sometime really soon, but clearly I have some stuff to work through here, okay?).

She bought a corporate-themed one, with words like "synergy" and "memo" and "cross-functionality" and "facsimile" (that's "fax" to his friends). She thought it would encourage people's creativity, build morale, and possibly even reveal some brilliant tactics from the depths of the company's mental trenches. Instead, she ended up almost immediately throwing away the word "sex" because the first sentence that turned up was "serious stress solution is sex on my desk." Silly Tiffany! Almost our entire workforce was under 25 and we were, if I may say so, a fairly bright and (cough) reasonably hormonal bunch. You can make some shockingly graphic sentences from words about men, women, clients, offices, procedures, workplace supplies, and a handy assortment of verbs and adjectives.

My gawgeous lesbian pal V. rescued the word "sex" from the trash can for her own personal use and had "sex" for a long time on her computer monitor. (She later quit.)

It was such an excellent gauge of employee thought and morale - a free-association, anonymous manner of self-expression, turning out such gems as "bosses profit while employees work all night," "management needs vision / workers try hard / none will help," "you must be high.com," and the small-voiced and pathetic "we live here;" plus offerings like the somewhat irreverent "bossy men have small desks" and "undress for success" - that nervous members of senior management (all since quit or fired, incidentally) regularly reshuffled the entire thing into chaos every morning.

I'm so thinking about buying just such a magnet set for my own cube, as all of us have metal cabinets. I spent a little time today spelling out very tame things with brightly colored magnet letters in a friend's workspace. I'm thinking I could place the words randomly on my own cabinet, never compose anything myself, and just see what turns up when I'm away.

Despite what experience keeps telling us, magnetism is the weakest force in physics - no, wait, it's gravity. Is it gravity? Damn, I can't remember. Anyway, I think I'll do it. It would certainly be interesting, and I might not even get fired.

Girl! I Wanna Take You To a Gay Bar!

I'm so excited, I'm going to Corpus Saturday!

This might appear to be an abrupt enough shift of gears to cause my brains to squirt out through my nose, but really it's not. They're having a big going-away party for my former officemate Saturday night. We're going to get schnockered at somebody's house, then go dancing all night at a gay bar.

It's Corpus... I should say the gay bar.

I'm so excited! I get to see Denisey and Omar and all the cool people still left at the ol' hellhole. I miss Denise so much. I don't have any girl friends at the new place. Well, I have one, but she's out.

I'll blog about the trip if I can remember it afterwards.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Segue Away

You know, I go and write this achingly compassionate post yesterday about the poor guy who ruined his life without ever even realizing he was doing wrong, and today I get two visits to this post from people actually googling on the phrase "how to sexually harass."

Gosh. Hope I was helpful.

And speaking of sexual harassment, I saw the weirdest thing on the hike-and-bike today. This is going to be my second post containing grackle sex, so I hope nobody gets the idea I'm some kind of weirdo or anything. But there was a male grackle actually mounting a female right by the side of the trail, when a second male came swooping out of the sky, and in a move worthy of Bruce Lee, booted the first male RIGHT OFF the female in the process of landing next to her, then went into his puffy-feathered screechy mating dance!

Is that not just the tackiest? I absolutely could not believe it, and had to look around to see if Jerry Springer would come rushing up with a microphone.

And speaking of Jerry Springer, today I got word that yet another two people have just quit my former employer. That makes, let's see, three firings and four quittings (not counting me) in the five months that I have been gone. Maybe more, I could have missed one. It appears still not to have dawned on the president and the CEO that the problem might not be with everyone else.

And speaking of the president and the CEO at my former employer, I saw a big snake on the hike-and-bike today! It was so cool; this big black snake slithered right across the trail exactly as I was passing, so I had to step over him. No rattle, and his head wasn't triangular, so I figured he was harmless (unlike the president and the CEO of my former employer). He was big, though, at least four feet long.

I seem to have run out of segues, so that's it for now.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


There's a girlfriend of mine who's had a, shall we say, "situation" at work, which led to the dismissal of a freaked-out crazy guy who honestly thought his behavior was perfectly reasonable.

Poor guy. Isn't that always the problem with being insane? You assume it's the rest of the world that's off-kilter. And seeing as how the world is often an unpredictable, frightening, and unfair place, how can anyone really be blamed for that?

Sometimes it's so confusing and scary that it's easier just to go with whatever it is that you'd most like to believe, evidence to the contrary be damned.

Do you worry about how much your wishes and fears color your perception of reality? Wouldn't it be so nice just to shut off the mental noise of constantly trying to overanalyze everything and worrying yourself sick trying to control things that don't matter that much, and just relax, just be?

Does anybody do this? If so, do you have any pointers you'd like to share?

Should I maybe switch to decaf?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Saturday Night at the Playground

Never get your hair cut by an artist.

Last night Margie and I went to the "opening" of the art space we visited last weekend. It was pretty cool - really just a kegger with weird alternative artsy types, many of whom, I couldn't help noticing, appeared to have a mild case of mange. It turned out one of the guys was giving haircuts in his little cubicle and collecting the clippings for some project, at the end of which I think he said all the hair would be burnt. I gratefully declined a haircut, but donated a lock for the bonfire.

It was amazing how much they'd done to the place in just a week. For one thing it was actually cleaned up and looking rather livable, which I wouldn't have expected. But they'd also built a stone wall across one of the lower-level cubicle entrances, so the only way to get into the space was to slide down into it through a small opening in haircutter guy's cubicle upstairs. If this was impossible for you because you were wearing, say, a bit of a short skirt, you could still hang out with the group by poking your head and shoulders through the opening, which gave an interesting perspective of what it must feel like to be a hunting trophy. They'd also lain down sod on the floor in the lower level and installed some rather nice mood-lighting; there was a DJ on the upstairs platform, and they had clay and paint and Sharpies so people could add elements of their own.

It was great fun, though as the evening wore on, haircutter guy - who himself has a nice thick curly mop - became increasingly anxious about going to sleep in his cubby in a place full of people with a strong motive for revenge.

That's artists for you, never thinking of consequences.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Did Somebody Mention Schadenfreude?

From a June 2006 Consumer Reports article on the privacy concerns associated with Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) (online site is subscriber only):

But when Consumer Reports asked to discuss the subject with executives at Alien Technology, a leading manufacturer of RFID equipment, Linda Prosser, vice president of corporate marketing, forwarded the request to the Zeno Group, an outside public relations firm, writing in an e-mail: "I am concerned that this is a privacy story. Don't commit to our participation until we get a better feel for it. We can use the 'everybody busy at the big trade show excuse' if needed." When a Zeno representative finally responded to the interview request (mistakenly attaching the entire string of e-mail communications in the process), he regretfully informed us that no spokesperson would be available because of the big trade show.

Talk about being in the wroooooooooong line of work.

Hilarious as this is, you can't help but feel a sympathetic knot in the gut for the immense whomping sensation of "oh SHIT" that this guy must have felt when he discovered what he'd done.

My old sales consultant "Suzi" was really bad about doing that sort of thing. Once she had me put together a special version of a proposal for our vendor to review, in which I had to leave out all the pricing so he wouldn't see how outrageously we'd marked up his product. He emailed Suzi his approval of the product description, and she intended to forward his email to me with appended instructions on how much the pricing should be for the client version. Only I didn't get the email directly from her. It was forwarded to me by the vendor, to whom she had absent-mindedly sent it by hitting "reply" instead of "forward." In the same way, she once bitched about a troublesome client in what was supposed to be a forwarded email to one of the account managers, and accidentally replied to the client instead; and (one of my favorites, though internal and not damaging) she once sent an email to Magda and me instructing us very emphatically to pay extra attention to every tiny little detail in a sales proposal we were working on. Magda had to forward the email to me because it was addressed to her twice and I was left off.

But unlike Suzi, it seems likely that this poor PR guy lost his job over that blunder. Of course, PR people are soulless life-sucking bottom-feeders, lower even than marketers, so you can't feel all that bad.

Maybe this incident will open his eyes and he'll seek an honest living. I wish him luck.

Don't Go Changing

They're doing this Clean Air Program at work. From now until September, you can accumulate points for various air-saving activities such as walking, biking, or carpooling to work, bringing your lunch instead of going out, and performing routine maintenance on your car. At the end of the program you can get either four hours or eight hours of paid time off, depending on how many points you've racked up.

Seems to me you should get even more points for staying home altogether, but you don't. I guess they figure that employees who call in sick are planning to spend the day doing doughnuts in the boss' yard, or shooting small cute helpless animals, or shopping at Wal-Mart, or some other such reprehensible activity.

They also recently did a program where state agency employees could earn paid time off by getting some exercise, for God's sake. It was targeted towards those employees who never seem to move at all - whose office chairs seem to be permanently fused to their backsides - whose principal form of physical activity is shuffling - but of course the people who logged their activities were largely the ones who were walking or jogging or working out every day to begin with.

Except that the list of qualifying physical activities involved things like billiards (not really all that energetic a game, at least not the way I play it) and fishing (a form of exercise during which you can actually nap). Plus the activity log was on the honor system, so even some very inactive people ended up completing a program or two. (I don't think smoking was a qualifying activity, but I could be wrong. I'd have to go back and double-check. I guess it does make your lungs work harder.)

Does a program like this really change anyone's behavior, though? You might say at least it raises awareness, because the newer-employee set I hang with talks about these things, but don't know if that's true across the board. I overheard the woman on the other side of my cube wall - a 33-year veteran - make a remark to another old-timer about the fitness program, and how maybe she should think about signing up for it, two days before the program ended. But that's because, while emails are sent out, most of the information is online; and among the older set, I'm pretty sure a lot of them don't actually know how to use a computer.

Lucky for me I only live half a mile or so from work and have been walking anyway, plus I always brown-bag so I can spend my lunch hour on the hike-and-bike. But I can't perform maintenance on my car because it's been sitting in the parking lot for several weeks and now I can't get it started.

You should get extra points for having a car that doesn't run.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Coworkers Bearing Gifts

Yesterday morning, after I'd been at work about an hour and a half, I glanced up and suddenly noticed this affixed to my cube wall:

This could only be the work of one person.

It seemed logical to assume that the cheerful music aficionado represents him, and the angry pig represents the woman who sits in the cube across from him; but he said that wasn't what he'd had in mind - although he acknowledged it would be a reasonable interpretation of his artwork. (That poor woman. I think she's pretty cool, as I've always had a soft spot in my head for curmudgeons; but her principal hobbies are smoking cigarettes and making grouchy remarks, so she's becoming the basis of a workplace legend in her own right. Hers probably won't involve melting panties, although every workplace legend really should.)

We have a wonderful source for items like this picture frame (my coworker provided the actual picture): our copy room at work is an informal trading post, where you can dump off your hideously tacky knick-knacks that no one could ever possibly want, and pick up something kitschy, original, and wonderful that you can't believe the original owner wanted to get rid of. For instance, I'm now the proud owner of a magnificent napkin holder made entirely of differently colored pastel seashells. It looks kind of like a Venus flytrap, and is just about the right size to devour a Barbie, or better yet a Stretch Armstrong; but I don't have one.

Surreal decoration is important in the workplace, especially if you spend all day poring over roadway construction engineering plans, which are just a wee scoche on the dry side. I'm so happy I have kindly coworkers who recognize this and do something thoughtful to weirden my day.

Maybe someone will bring me a Stretch Armstrong next.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Corporate Panty-Melting Lore

So I get an email yesterday from a dear friend of mine with my old employer in Corpus, letting me know that she's had enough and has turned in her resignation. Like me, she's the principal-to-sole support for her family; unlike me, she doesn't have anything else lined up.

Before I started there, the company had a president I'll call Svengali, who ended up getting fired for not being the CEO's niece. He stopped in one day when I was still fairly new; he was a little guy, and hairy all over. He said hello and shook my hand, but I had no particular impression of him.

Svengali was the one who originally hired "my" consultant, "Lance." Lance was the one who got fired a few months before I left, the one about whom and me there were those rumors; but really we were fairly good friends even though he was a salesman. He and his wife are now in business on their own and doing quite well.

It occurred to me when I got the email from my friend that Lance knows a lot of people in the business and might be able to pull some strings for her. Sure enough, he responded immediately to my email saying that not only does he know a lot of people, but he's still good buddies with Svengali, who knows everyone.

Ah, the mystique of Svengali!

My friend Magda told me that, small and unassuming and hairy as he was, Svengali could really turn on the charm. He had supposedly seduced one of our major clients, and it was due to his firing that the relationship with that client had never gone right again. Which is rather ironic, because it was largely because of (preexisting) bad issues with that same client that Lance ended up getting fired and I fell so completely out of Imperial favor that I had no option but to quit.

But Svengali, said Magda, had - perhaps literally - charmed the pants off the CEO - who is a married woman, whose husband also works high-up in the company; so that could possibly go a ways towards explaining his firing, if not his taste - eeewwww! And he could do it to anyone. "You might think you won't like him," she told me confidentially. "You might put up your guard. But if he turns on the charm, the panties will melt right off you."

Oooh la la!

Well, I never met him again; however, I got a huge kick out of telling new employees about the strange and awful powers of the former president. I hope to be personally responsible for creating a full-blown urban legend. I sometimes told the story in person, but our entire office was on MSN Messenger, which is a better medium as you don't have to keep a straight face.

"No really," I IM'd our new front office person, "the minute you meet him, it's amazing! Your panties just melt right off!"

There was a long period of no response. She seemed to be typing a response and erasing it several times.

"I have never met such a man," she finally wrote.

Well, the practical upshot of all this (assuming that there is one) is that I wrote my friend back this morning and cautioned her. "Lance is anxious to help you out," I said, "but Svengali may be involved, so be sure to wear industrial-strength panties."

Words to live by, people. Words to live by.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In the Merry Merry Month of May

Sometimes I think the happenings on the Town Lake Hike & Bike would make an excellent vignette musical.

For a walking trail, it's pretty musical to begin with. I walk it every day during lunch, from our offices at Riverside and Congress to the footbridge over Barton Creek (and back - though I'm always terribly tempted to keep going). As I leave the parking lot at work there's a guy playing guitar or sometimes banjo on the tailgate of his pickup truck, and sometimes there are one or two more people - another guitarist, a fiddler - playing bluegrass.

By the South First bridge there's always Woode Wood playing and singing, or just chitchatting with people; sometimes he stops me and has me listen to a song he's just written. I have a floating appointment to stop by sometime later this week or next week to hear a new one. He always invites me to sing along, but unfortunately I'm never drunk that early in the day.

Somebody plays the trumpet under the creek bridge at Riverside, underneath the railroad bridge. I've never seen this person, but he or she really enjoys the acoustics. I've heard everything from Schubert to Souza to the cantina music from Star Wars coming from down there. Does anybody ever stop on the bridge and lean over and shout, "Good show!"

Well, somebody should.

And of course - of course - there's Stevie. I am so planning to incorporate him into one of my Fish O'Thwacking photos, when the fishy comes to visit me (probably in only about two more weeks!). I have this (I think) rather clever and amusing idea for a storyline behind one of the photos for my entry in the fish's blog, but I'll need to enlist help. Ready?

Of course the characters in the musical, in addition to everyone listed above, would include approximately 1.5 million bats; the trio of geese who hang out near the Lamar Bridge, waiting for handouts or just people-watching; the dogs fetching sticks in the river near the South First Bridge; the really hardcore runners who wear expressions of agony even on the sunniest and happiest of days; the guy sleeping on a bench by the water, a fishing pole stuck in the ground next to him; dads and moms pushing their little ones in baby joggers; the lovers and the fighters and the homeless guys and the Hyatt conference attendees; and the bikers trying really really hard to dodge them all.

I think the script will pretty much write itself.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


This is my idea of perfect weather, though you probably wouldn't want to hold a barbecue in it.

It started raining right as I was leaving work. There's an umbrella in my bag, so I got it out and put it up; but it's really just for appearances - partly because I don't want people driving by to think (or should I say realize) I'm a loony, but more because water significantly reduces the opacity of my skirt and let's face it, Riverside Drive is a fairly busy street.

The windows are all open and there's that wonderful rain smell, the smell of warm wet cement, grass and flowers and leaves and mud, and honeysuckles and herb gardens; and the sound of raindrops pattering onto the ivy carpeting the ground outside, and a little soft, far-off thunder.

Of course, the cats are a bit less enthusiastic. Slappy White pawed at the door and when I opened it for him, he gave me a reproachful look and turned away. No, Mommy. Not this outside. I wanted the dry one.

I'm thinking about changing into something a little more practical and going for a walk. Maybe Katie will want to come with me. In Travis Heights no one cares if you're a loony.