Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween!

They just don't make pumpkins like they used to.

As I write this, the kids are preparing to terrorize the neighborhood, or perhaps just make it go "awwwwwww!" (Eric is dressing as a pirate, Katie as a flapper, and Anna as the Tooth Fairy in Hello Kitty bedroom slippers, which she informs me are what Tooth Fairies generally wear.) I'll have pictures of that tomorrow, I hope. But to tide you over until then, here they are at a Dia de los Muertos parade last weekend:

Edited to add: and here they are tonight!

Not frightened yet?

State employees! Run! RUN!!!!!!!

Disclaimer: Yes, that perfect little pair of princess-heel embroidered slides does of course have steel toes. Safety First!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An Unpleasant Discovery

So it turns out that drinking Kool-Aid does not actually make you cool.

Time for Plan B!

Saturday, October 28, 2006


Oh. Tony's got a birthday coming up! Tony has most of the photos from the reunion. But he's in San Francisco this weekend.

Meanwhile, here is my favorite picture so far, taken by former classmate Lisa L.:

Let it never be said I don't know how to get my freak on. In this case, as I recall, somebody (wisely standing outside the frame) shouted "Do the Matrix!" and the above is what happened.

The guy across from me is Stan O. I punched him in the nose in eighth grade, but he didn't remember; so I felt sort of awkward when he came up and asked me, "Hey, Amy told me..." and I had to 'splain everything. He took my hands and said he hoped I had forgiven him for his prepubescent misdeeds. Well, of course! Who can hold a grudge for 20+ years?*

Oh, by the way, I also have incredible stamina. I just thought y'all ought to know that. Ask Tony if you don't believe me.

*Lots of people, of course. But I'm not talking acts of war or marital discord here. He just picked on me in Mrs. Allen's English class. I thought it was rather lovely of him to be so anxious about it, now that we're all big boys and girls.

Bumpers Please

For Justin's birthday (Happy Birthday cutie!), and despite the great personal sacrifice involved (I broke a nail), a few of us wacky funsters went bowling last night. I'm happy, because I exceeded my previous all-time high score of 16. Go me! We made the mistake of bringing along a really good bowler, but everybody had a great time anyway.

See, now this is someone who knows what he's doing. I believe Bill bowled a 578 last night. Note how he has his own shoes. You all know I'm a great believer in the power of shoes. No one can perform their best in a pair of red, blue and tan oxfords with the size prominently displayed on the heel. Bill has his own bowling ball, too, but you can't see it because it's blurry from the expert topspin he put on it.

Greg and Justin are understandably concerned, because they can plainly see they're going to get creamed. I'm pretty sure Greg is calling for help in this photo.

The birthday boy didn't do too badly, though he didn't manage to exceed the highest possible score like some people. Maybe he would have if he didn't take phone calls while bowling. These kids and their cell phones! I don't know what the world is coming to.

And here is a bad bowler, though I would've done just fine if they'd only put the bumpers up like I kept asking. Just look at those bowling pins, all smug and upright. They don't know what's about to not hit them.

Next time I think we should have a combination crossword tournament/dance-off. Who's got a birthday coming up?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Hell on Strings

You know you're doomed when your daughter's orchestra teacher asks a stage full of 35 fidgeting tweens, all armed with stringed instruments, "Does anybody need to tune?" and they all shake their heads.

An imperfect ending to an imperfect day; but these are the sacrifices we make for our children.

Still you have to wonder how the orchestra teacher manages this, day in and day out, without going barking mad. She played the violin pretty well herself, so she clearly has a decent ear. Cello (which Katie plays) is not that awful when played inexpertly; but a badly played violin raises goosebumps all over me and makes me dig my nails into my palms. 15 of them played in not-quite-unison has to be in violation of the Geneva Convention. Let me advise you, if you ever have to go to a middle school orchestra concert, try to avoid sitting in the front row. Not because it's any quieter in the back - it's just that you don't want the kids to see you cry.

"I hope you all appreciate how hard that was!" sang out the orchestra teacher after the last piece. I did!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

What Not To Wear

Don't wear a black bra under a white T-shirt if you're going to go running in the rain.

What would y'all do without me??

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


These are my mother's parents, who are now 84 and 86 years old, and who have been married for 68 years. 68 years!

They're originally from Memphis, but have lived here and there around the Southeast. Mom went to high school in Clinton, Mississippi, where my granddaddy was a Baptist minister. I'm not sure quite how it happened, but to hear Mom tell it, religion sort of slid gradually off the whole family, leaving them a bunch of good-natured, easygoing heathens.

Later, Granddaddy was a school principal. My grandmother was an elementary school teacher, then began working with hearing-impaired and special-needs kids, and eventually moved into school counseling. They were living in Louisville when my parents met. Grandmother tells the best stories about other teachers, school administrators and principals, parents, and so many about the kids. She loves telling stories about all the funny and smart and wonderful things that little kids have said and done over her years of working with them. I imagine she must have been fantastic at her job. The kids always cracked her up, and she clearly loved them.

My granddaddy lost a leg below the knee in the Battle of the Bulge in WWII. He was awarded the rank of Kentucky Colonel as a veteran several years later. I remember when Mom told me about it, I thought his picture would be replacing Colonel Sanders' on KFC buckets. I was disappointed when Mom explained that wasn't what it meant.

It's strange to talk to someone who remembers WWII. Grandmother told me that wartime sacrifices were eased somewhat by the fact that the families who made them were already inured to hardship; it was the war that finally ended the Great Depression. You could only get provisions in cans, she said, and you had to turn in the empty cans to get new ones. Everyone was limited to two new pairs of shoes per year. You could get fish sometimes, she said, at the ports, but meat was not usually available.

But the war did a great deal for women. Prior to the war, she desperately wanted to go to college but could not, even though she was an excellent student. Her family was not well off, and college scholarships weren't offered for women. And Grandmother told a story about a woman she had known who was offered a promotion within her company, but not the pay raise that should have gone with it. "But (name of male worker) is in this position and he's making (amount)," the woman protested. She was simply and openly told that that kind of pay rate was not available to women employees. But the war brought women wholesale into the workforce, permanently changing it.

Of course, steel fabricators can't really work from home, so sexual harassment awareness had to come later.

The Deep South was - and, as I suppose my experiences over the past weekend would demonstrate, still can be - something of an alien place to people who aren't living there. My mom's older sister, my aunt Barbara, was once reprimanded by Grandmother's mother for hopping across a ditch early in her pregnancy. "You shouldn't be doing that sort of thing in your condition," my great-grandmother remonstrated; "and for that matter, you're starting to show; you shouldn't be running around outside at all!"

But even though my aunt Barbara is Grandmother's oldest child, she was not the first baby. My grandmother, married at just 16, lost her first pregnancy at 6 months' gestation. She became pregnant again and carried the baby to term, but it died at 6 months old. "I think it had spina bifida," she said, never mentioning a name or the baby's gender.

Grandmother thinks the recent idea of arming schoolteachers is a scream. "Oh, my God, if I'd ever had a gun!" she laughed, and proceeded to tell a couple of stories on herself. Apparently when they lived out in the boondocks, after retirement, my grandfather kept a gun in the house. She never liked it, but there it was. Still, one night he had gone out late and she thought she heard strange noises outside, so she loaded and cocked the gun and placed it under the bed within easy reach.

When Granddaddy got home and climbed into bed, his foot kicked the gun. 'What the -" he exclaimed, picked it up, and promptly shot a hole through the ceiling. "He was so mad at me!" says Grandmother, almost falling out of her chair.

Grandmother said other teachers often pissed her off - and vice versa - way too much for guns in school to be a good idea. I had a mental image of a bunch of Southern teachers whooping it up, Yosemite-Sam-style, propelling themselves up into the air with shotgun blasts. Yee-haa!

Granddaddy has always been a bit of a recluse. He enjoyed my visit, but didn't talk much. When I was very little I was frightened of him, because he said little, stomped around (with his artificial leg), and preferred hanging out in the basement. (That's where his pool table is.) He plays the guitar quite well. He and Grandmother were never above a little slightly illegal refreshment, if you know what I mean.

Grandmother and Granddaddy's dog Penny, they've just found out, has cancer. The vet says she has about three months to live. She's a fat and cuddly little dog, about eight years old (my grandparents adopted her as an adult, so they don't know her exact age). The vet said they could try chemotherapy, but it might not work, could kill Penny, and would of course make her sick and miserable for several months in any case. So Grandmother and Granddaddy decided to let her go. They've been pampering her and making an extra fuss over her since they found out, and once she's in pain, they'll have her put to sleep. For now, she is one extremely happy, well-loved, and very well-fed little dog.

But Grandmother doesn't think death is frightening. She has a pacemaker, and had a procedure some time ago where the doctor actually stopped her heart for several seconds and let it start back up again on its own. "He told me I'd feel strange, but he didn't explain exactly what it was he was going to do," she told me. So she lay back, and when the procedure began and her heart stopped, she thought she was dying, and felt an incredible sense of serenity. She said she felt that everything was out of her hands and that there was absolutely nothing she could do, so she had nothing in the whole world to worry about. "It felt wonderful," she said. "It was the most peaceful feeling I've ever had."

My sister Jessie is thinking about heading down there (she's in Connecticut now) for Thanksgiving. Maybe Margie and I can go too and meet her there.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Progress Marches On

When I was in high school, this was the bustling (relatively speaking) center of Madison, Alabama, which had remained pretty much unchanged since the 1950s. There was a dress shop, and a hardware store, and the old train station; and let's see, there was a little shoebox-sized post office, and City Hall was down there, and the town's fleet of two police cars - or was there just one? This photo was taken looking down Church Street, which contains the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church, and one or two others.

When we moved to town, our next-door neighbor came to welcome us with a covered dish. "What church do y'all belong to?" she asked. Mom (that rascal!) told her we were Reformed Jews, which silenced our neighbor for a moment.

"Is that a Christian religion?"

Main Street runs along the railroad track, which is the reason there's a town in the first place. But Madison is now largely anchored along I-565, Huntsville's Loop. There are IHOPs and insurance agencies and Olive Gardens and pool halls and Home Depots and nail salons and Starbucks and apartment complexes and Best Buys and - wait for it, wait for it - a big-ass Wal-Mart!

My old house is about half a mile from downtown, on the old two-lane highway that crosses Main Street and spreads a line of houses out towards the cotton fields. That was my bedroom upstairs on the right.

And right across the street from it is Madison Middle School, which began life as Madison High School in the early 30s, and today huddles in the middle of a cluster of ugly, architecturally uninteresting red-brick buildings and a sign identifying it as Madison Elementary.

There's an old cemetery another half-mile or so from my old house. The newer gravestones here date from the 1930s; the oldest, from the 1870s. Walking among them, I recognize the surnames of a few of the kids I went to high school with.

Right across the street from it is a solitary cottonfield. Most of the open space around town looked like this when I lived there.

Today the cottonfields and open spaces are all gone, replaced by housing tracts and strip malls. My high school has moved about a mile down Hughes Road (I went to school with a Hughes) into an actual, large building with actual walls on the inside (or so I assume). The site of the great big warehouse-shell-on-a-slab that served us as a campus is now part of one of the endless subdivisions. No more Mr. B's, no more Madison Books, no more Barbara's Dress Shoppe.

Of course, it was never my town. My stepfather came in with the burgeoning Huntsville high-tech industry, and moved away six years later, when a better-paying job offered across the country. We belonged to the first wave of the suburbanites who did all this.

I'm glad I went, but I don't want to go back again.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Home Again

I made it back! And I didn't get bumped once. Well, except for on the dance floor last night. My legs are absolutely KILLING me!

That's an overstatement, of course; but they are at least throwing brick-laden threat notes through my window.

Thank goodness I didn't get bumped. I did pull an all-nighter and was so miserably tired. The gate agent who gave me my seat on the Denver-Austin flight was apologetic about having to give me a middle seat since the flight was fairly full. Middle seat? I don't think I'd have complained about being strapped to the wing.

The party was fun. Since I took my own advice and just kept my mouth shut and got my freak on, I don't have much to write about that. There will be pictures, perhaps, but almost none of them are on my camera.

And while killing time until the party, yesterday afternoon, we paid a visit to the U.S Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.

Aren't you envious?

There was a fascinating, if somewhat stomach-throttling IMAX movie about exploring Mars (damn that CGI!) and more rockets, landers, rovers, exhibits, and other cool stuff than you could shake a stick at.

This device, for instance, crushes your used astronauts for easy recycling.

Yeah, you're right, it is naptime.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eat, Drink, and Get Freaky

La Quinta: Spanish for "The room we send you to will have all the furniture upended in a pile in the middle of the room, so we'll give you another one, which will turn out not to have been cleaned, so we'll look and look and finally turn up a room with one king bed instead of two double beds as the reservation specified, which is a little awkward but hey, what happens in Huntsville stays in Huntsville, and oh by the way when we say free high-speed wireless internet in every room we actually just meant the lobby."

I'm told they also have over 11,000 words for beans.

So round one of the reunion was last night; and actually I had a pretty good time overall, though let me tell you what, it's absolutely freezing here in the northern wastelands of Alabama, and somebody didn't think to bring a jacket. The reunion was set up at our high school's football game, at one end of the field; but since it was cold and the team was losing miserably, it quickly got relocated to a bar called The Station.

You can smoke in restaurants and bars here. In fact, you don't really have a lot of choice in the matter: you might not be actually holding a cigarette, but you're damn well going to smoke, bucko. The Station was unspeakably smoky. I can wash my body, my hair, and my clothes, but I think I'm going to need a new purse. But that's okay, I didn't like this one very much anyway.

The turnout has been decent but not huge so far. It's a bit odd to see people you remember as kids looking like fortyish adults. "Oh my God, everyone's so OLD!" wailed one classmate. "Except of course me," she added.

And I got another surreal flashback moment during a conversation where one woman was talking about how hard it is for her to be the openly gay daughter of a fundamentalist Baptist mother. All her friends always thought her mom was cool, she said; but her mom just couldn't accept or understand her because she falls so far outside her mom's concept of right and wrong.

I remarked sympathetically that there are sometimes similar issues for my husband, since we're atheists and his parents are devout Catholics - his father is in fact a deacon. And while the woman I was talking to was listening and nodding, the chick next to her interrupted, with big eyes, and said in an outraged tone, "Wait a minute - did you say you're an atheist???"

It brought back vividly the way I felt in high school whenever the subject would come up. I remember one time standing at my locker, and two girls came up and tapped me on the shoulder and said, "We heard you don't believe in God!" I agreed, sighed inwardly, and turned back to my books, awaiting the usual lecture. But it didn't come, so, surprised, I turned back around to see the two girls staring at me, their eyes wide, backing away slowly.

Austin has spoiled me. The woman sitting on the other side of the gay daughter took up the discussion, telling me that she never passes judgement on anyone but that she knows you have to have Jesus to be saved, and pointed out that, minus the "thou shalt have no other god before me" and one or two others, I too live by the Ten Commandments. Yes! Atheists are not all about killing people and stealing stuff. Fancy that! "But those are the basic rules you have to have in place in order to have a functioning society," I said,

"That's right!" she said triumphantly.

"But those rules are universal to all religions and predate religion altogether," I went on.


I excused myself and went to sit by Pam.

Lesson learned: At tonight's function, listen to cheesy 80's music, laugh, eat, drink, get your freak on, and leave your mind behind, baby.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Names change, but the fundamental things never really do.

On I-65 from Nashville to Decatur yesterday, I started fiddling with the radio as the Nashville station began cutting out. I found a Huntsville station just as the announcer was proclaiming, "Ya know, folks, I sure am glad I live in America - and not North Korea! Boy, that little guy's crazy! Hoo!" and so on* - then put on Neil Diamond's "Coming to America."

Deja !#$*%ing vu... That song was very popular when I was in high school. The accompanying tagline then was "Better dead than red," but the sentiment is the same.

Not that I'm saying I would not also rather be in the US than North Korea; but the xenophobic jingoism was starkly familiar - and not something we get that much of in Austin, really.

On the other hand, I was kind of amused by the choice of song. "Coming to America" is little less than an anthem to immigration, after all. I found myself wondering if the announcer had actually listened to the words. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but somehow I suspect he's on the "Build a Fence" side of the, um, fence.

This morning I'm in Pell City, about half an hour outside of Birmingham, at my grandparents' house. I've been really enjoying my visit. For some reason, Mom was kind of possessive/protective of her parents. I had very little contact with them growing up, although she and her mother were always particularly close. Grandmother reminds me a lot of Mom - she's got a keen sense of humor and loves absurdity. She was an elementary school teacher for special needs kids and later a school counselor. She's very warm and full of stories, which she always cracks herself up telling. I've also been regaling her with tales of some of the freaks of natu^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H more unusual individuals we work with at the state. I've told her about Mr. "Stepped in My Own Turd," Mr. "Zzzzzzzzzzzzz," and the reason for that fancy new security guard, for three.

She also enjoyed Robbie's "Just grab your nuts and run!" story.

I haven't had a chance to take any pictures yet, but will post some most likely after I get home - unless there's internet access in my hotel in Huntsville tonight, I probably won't write any more till then. I am not to purchase any more overpriced wireless connections.

Do y'all miss me? See you Monday. I hope.

*Political commentary at its highest.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Inside Joke Which Only People Who Ork Cows Will Get

Some people just can't catch a break.

I'm in Decatur, Alabama, in a charming (if slightly precious) coffeehouse called Lagniappe's. They have free wi-fi. The coffee is quite tasty. I just had a fun lunch catching up with my high-school friend Amy at Big Bob Gibson Barbecue and am warm and full and happy. Life is good!

Anybody want me to pick them up a bottle of white barbecue sauce while I'm here? I plan to carry it on the plane with me while proclaiming in a loud voice, "Man, this barbecue sauce is da BOMB!"

Amy works for the local paper and gave me a tour of the facilities. Printing presses are big.

Corporate Coffee Sucks!!

Okay. So Nashville isn't all about indie coffeehouses. I'm not amazed. I know Austin is special. So I heaved a sigh, bit the bullet, and popped my Starbucks cherry, everybody. Here I am.

$9.99 to sign up with T-Mobile for a day pass to be able to use the wireless internet here! Can you $#%!* believe it?! Whoever heard of a coffeehouse without free wireless? What is this, the Dark Ages?! And the coffee sucks. This blows. Why do we even have Starbucks in Austin?? Why does anyone go there??? For the love of God, don't go!

What do you do when you know a cabbie is ripping you off? Mine did this morning, taking the long way back from the motel to the airport, lying glibly about how the route last night's cabbie had taken was now closed, and running up about $6 more than my fare to the motel cost me last night. However, since I only had as much cash on me as the fare and a pretty decent tip should have cost, he accepted that in lieu of having to deal with my credit card. Cabbies hate credit cards. Sweet!

And Motel 6... ah, what can I say. Well, it was clean. Do you remember those TV commercials where they drop a bowling ball on the mattress right next to a glass of wine and the glass of wine doesn't get knocked over? Well, that would probably work on the Motel 6 mattress too, only for a slightly different reason. Your bowling ball might shatter though. I wouldn't recommend it if you have a fancy one of your own that you carry around with you wherever you go in case a bowling match suddenly breaks out.

Looks like somebody gets a bit cranky when she doesn't get her beauty sleep.

The lobby reeked of cigarette smoke, but I had a non-smoking room at Motel 6, which I thought was pretty funny as the only way you could tell was because both ashtrays were turned upside-down. They had little "No Smoking" stickers on the bottom. Isn't that sort of like me looking at you and saying, "You want this? Well, you can't have it!" and then smacking my ass at you?

Assuming you're into that sort of thing, anyway.

It's really pretty here. The trees are just starting to turn - not in full glory just yet, but enough to paint the rolling countryside all kinds of beautiful colors. It's a little foggy, but not cold like I was afraid it would be. And the accent! People talk with a complete disregard for the conservation of syllables.

Well, I'm off to Huntsville. I have a very nice rental Ford Taurus with leather upholstery! Ooh! Too bad I forgot to bring the CD adapter for my iPod.

Was this blog post worth $9.99, y'all? Anybody want the rest of this coffee?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Thanks, I Think I'll Walk

I'd recommend against using the inter-terminal tram at the Denver airport.

Things To Do At the Airport When You're Not Quite Dead

No, I'm feeling much better.

Austin Airport, 1:42 pm

So far so good. Flights today are far from full, so it looks like I will actually make it to Nashville today (or tonight, at any rate), with a 4-hour layover in Denver.

Frontier, ya know. Gotta go through Denver.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether I actually get there. There have been plenty of gloom-and-doom predictions from friends at work -although I've also gotten some very helpful advice. But alas! No free wireless at the airport. They want $6.95 for me to hook up, or I could buy a Wayport membership (definitely not worth it - I almost never fly). But if I have to pay for internet in Denver, I'll pay. I can't go four hours without checking email and blogging. I'll go mad!

Maybe I'll go to the newsstand and buy a book. Damn my lack of foresight in not setting up solitaire on this computer!

Coming back should be fun. My reunion is Saturday night, and my flight back will be ass-cracking early on Sunday morning. 6am, and I need to get to the airport at least an hour and a half early, since I'm flying standby? Yeah, I think I'm gonna be pulling an all-nighter. I'd better stock up on sleep beforehand.

A big book of crosswords and sudoku puzzles, that's what I need. Oh yeah, and a PENCIL. More later.

Denver Airport, 4:58 pm

No. 3:58 pm. But since I'm not leaving the airport till heading out to Nashville (if! if! There's not yet a gate agent here for me to check in with), the time zone sort of doesn't apply to me. Funny thought. Airports are sort of a no-man's land of half-existence, with only the most tenuous connection to the geographical space they occupy. I have changed planes in so many airports located in cities I've never been to.

Wireless internet connection costs a buck more here than in the Austin airport. Cheap-ass bastards!

I have been reading a book called Little Earthquakes which I got at the newsstand in Austin. Someone once remarked that you should never read anything on which the author's name appears larger than the title, but those are the only kind of books airport newsstands sell.

"The Homeland Security Threat level has been raised to Orange," announces the loudspeaker cheerfully at about 5-minute intervals. "Please be aware of the increased danger and report any unattended bags and suspicious behavior..." and so on. I keep wanting to shush them. Stop it! The terrorists will hear you! Then they will have already won!

And because I feel like getting crazy looks for taking photos inside the airport, here's my current vantage point:

Eh? Eh? Denver, where I have never been before, is very flat. And there's snow on the ground! Who knew? Snow! Land sakes.

Only three more hours of layover to go! There's a Motel 6 with my name on it in Nashville. Hope they have internet.

What? A girl's gotta have a dream.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why Try?

I know it's a bad thing that I write every single day, whether I've got anything to say or not. I hope this is okay with you, my innocent victi^H^H^H^H^H readers - however many of you there are (I'm thinking like 6). It's sort of an addictive behavior. Perhaps subconsciously I'm dealing with my awareness of mortality by trying to download myself to hard copy while I still can, in hopes that someday someone will manually re-enter my thoughts and dreams and fears and hopes and the funny bits and poof! I'll live again. (Whoever you are, if you could please add some straight-up hotness, I'd consider it a huge favor - thanx!!)

So today's pointless meanderings are on the subject of the word "try," specifically as in Avis' motto, "We try harder."

They do have pretty good rates on rental cars.

When I was 10 weeks pregnant with Anna* I went on a business trip to a meeting-planning seminar in Cancun. The white-sand beach and the incredible, blue-crystal water were spectacular; the presentations, maybe not so much. One of the high-paid, professional motivational speaker-types was bald, which was popular at the time because everybody thought Stephen Covey was the bug's jugs. (You can still buy day-planners, if you're into that sort of thing, with his name emblazoned on them. You know - Mr. "Seven Habits of People Who Will Shell Out Ridiculous Amounts of Money To Have a Little Common Sense Slapped Into Them." Mr. "Embryonic Dr. Phil." Mr. "Kojak With Sensitivity Training." Mr. - well, you know who I mean.)

So anyway, this guy's big hook (because motivational speakers, much like movie pirates and porn stars, must have a big hook) was that the word "try" inherently represented a defeatist attitude and should never be used. Ever. For anything.

The first half of his presentation, he propounded this theory, then jumped on anyone who accidentally used the word "try" at any point. "Avis introduced the slogan 'We Try Harder,'" he informed us, "and within 6 months their sales had dropped 73%!"

I'm proud to say I called BS on that then (well, you know, inside my own head) because I'm pretty sure if that were true, they wouldn't still be using that as their slogan; which in fact, I am here to tell you today, they are. Also, they have pretty good rates on rental cars. Did I mention that already?

The second half of his presentation, I couldn't tell you about because I skipped out after break and went to sit on the beach.

I wish I'd had a laptop then. I'd have blogged about it. I'd be immortal!

*I remember this with great precision because I couldn't drink, but the plentiful fresh pineapple really helped with my - oh wait, never mind.

Monday, October 16, 2006

iLove Apple

Lately I've read some bad stuff about Apple's support for iPods, which made me pretty nervous. My four-and-a-half-month-old iPod nano just recently departed this vale of tears for the big iTunes in the sky, and I don't have the receipt or warranty information or anything.

I do - fortunately!! - have all the music that was on it, backed up on my iBook.

So my husband went to the Apple store to see if anything at all could be done. They looked it over, checked it out, pressed buttons, shook their heads and clucked sympathetically...

...and sent him home with a brand new iPod!

Have you hugged your Mac today?*

*You should try to avoid drooling on the keyboard, though.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hit the Road

I'm all revved up and ready for my 20-year high school reunion in Madison, Alabama next weekend. How about you guys? Are you all ready? Ready to par-tay down like it's 1986?

Break out the black lace fingerless gloves, the home perm kits and the cocaine!

Well, maybe we won't party quite that hearty. But it should be a lot of fun. Reunions are always fun as long as you've improved over the years; and it would be pretty damn hard not to be an improvement on this:

I'll have a cuter date, and not quite so much cemented-on cat hair.

I can't wait!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

My Travis Heights

Mine, I tell you! All mine!

Oh, all right, I'll share. I went walking today and thought I'd post a few pictures of the neighborhood. For you out-of-towners, Austin is a long, skinny north-south city bisected at the middle by a stretch of the Colorado River called Town Lake. Downtown is on the north banks, and Travis Heights is one of the very first suburbs, rising up the slopes of the south banks. Excepting new construction, most of the houses date from the 1920s or so; but there are a handful, closest to the river, from the 1880s.

Austin's the liberal epicenter of Texas, and Travis Heights is the liberal epicenter of Austin. That's why our state congressman is from San Antonio. Thanks, Tom DeLay!

Blunn Creek runs roughly down the middle of the neighborhood, with Stacy Park (Big and Little) wending along its banks. My half, the western half, is a little frumpier and funkier than the eastern half, which runs more to perfectly restored houses and immaculately landscaped yards. My half is a little woodsier and more secluded:

In Stacy Park, behind the softball field, is a little path leading through the undergrowth down to the creekbed - which is still dry despite our big rain the other day. (Austin summers are always a scoche on the droughty side.) Here is one of my favorite spots in town, a giant old oak tree jutting out over the creekbed with gnarled roots grasping the bank. The trunk is hollow, and the gaping hole in it is about three, three and a half feet across:

You get a nice little glimpse of the downtown skyline among the trees at the southern end of Newning. Too bad about all the power lines, but I guess I couldn't very well blog without them.

Just a couple of houses down from my apartment complex, major restoration is underway.

I love the old stonework that separates the yard from the sidewalk.

And on the other end of the spectrum, here is, for your viewing pleasure (or otherwise) the house voted Austin's Ugliest McMansion by readers of the Austin Chronicle. It won a sapling. Unfortunately, nobody lives there to plant it. Flanked on either side by cute little 1920's two-bedroom bungalows, the house has been on the market for months and the sign out front now says it's for rent.

Only 800 grand, folks, and this monstrosity could be yours!

I'd settle for a two-bedroom bungalow. We could all take turns camping out in the backyard.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Mom would have been 65 today. She always got a kick out of it when her birthday fell on a Friday the 13th.

She was pretty silly, and never embarrassed to be so in public - a trait I really appreciate now, though of course as a teenager I didn't like it so much. One time in a card shop she loudly remarked to me that one man is as good as another: turn 'em upside down and they all look alike! I don't remember the context, but I do remember blushing furiously and looking around to make sure there was nobody within earshot. And then of course there was the infamous "jerking off in the parking lot" incident. Mooommmmmmmm!

When I was little I thought she was the prettiest mom in the neighborhood, and of course she was. All the other moms seemed fairly ordinary. But mine had long flowing hair, and a light-up-the-room smile, and laughed all the time. I felt lucky that my mom was so special. She did crazy things like get me up after bedtime, on a whim, a summer evening when it was still light out, and piggyback me around the neighborhood; or play "Spinning Wheel" on the piano while bouncing me on her lap; or carry me up and down the hallway on her shoulders, singing a silly song and hopping along in time. One time she got mad at me for bursting into tears while she was playing Debussy's "Clair de Lune," but I wasn't crying because I didn't like it, but because it was so beautiful. Chopin always brings her instantly to mind, now. And the smell of good coffee (nobody else makes it like she did) and of filing cabinets, oddly enough - she kept all her sheet music in a tall fusty-smelling metal filing cabinet.

She was a Julia Child fan and an excellent cook, but couldn't clean house to save her life. There were always alien life forms evolving in the back of the fridge, papers and clutter covering every horizontal surface, stinking kitty litter boxes, and dirty dishes in the kitchen sink piled higher than the tap. Her piano studio was always clean, though. Her dream house had a piano studio with a separate entrance that could be closed off completely from the mess in the rest of the house.

Everything I know about housecleaning I learned from my mom. My dad's orderly and neat, but apparently those genes are recessive.

She had a really hard time saying no. "Let me think about it" was a common refrain during my teenage years. Her solution was to put off a decision until the issue in question had just gone away. But she could often be nagged, begged, coaxed, wheedled, or harangued into doing whatever her kids wanted.

Mom remembered birthdays, but usually a day late. She always felt terrible about it. She was warm and loving, affectionate and generous, just a little absent-minded. Her worst quality was flakiness. The last time I saw her, I had driven from Austin to Birmingham, Alabama to meet her at my grandparents' house and pick up my son, who had spent the summer with her in DC. It was almost two full days' drive, and in the late afternoon when I arrived, she told me she'd be going back home the next day. I was stunned and upset, but she was very worried about the impact of our visit on her elderly parents. She wouldn't stay a few days longer in a motel, because she was worried that would hurt Grandmother's feelings. So I had to turn around and drive right back home after spending only one night, and had almost no time to visit with Mom, whom I almost never saw. I was bitterly disappointed and so upset that I didn't speak to her for a couple of months. Thank goodness that was all over and forgiven long before her final illness, but I never did get to see her again, and I hate that it worked out that way.

I can clearly hear her voice on the phone, though. We talked on the phone a lot. She was cheery and breezy, warm and sweet, and always lots of fun. She had this half-laugh in her voice when she greeted you, and would chat cozily about her piano students and their parents, her music, my sisters, her parents. She listened with eager sympathy to whatever I had to say about my kids, my job, anything I wanted to vent about or laugh at or ask advice about. Later she would talk about how much she missed her teaching, which she loved and was fantastic at, but had to give up because the chemotherapy broke down her immune system. She very rarely talked about the cancer. There were a few times she'd get disheartened and reveal her fear and break down and cry, but then she'd collect herself and apologize. I cried too, but only out of sympathy. I didn't share her fear, because I never doubted for a moment that this would pass and she'd be fine. Moms don't die, they just don't, they just can't.

I wish I could pick up the phone and wish her a happy birthday.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Say Cheese

Everybody at the campus where I work has to get new badge pictures taken this week. They're installing new card readers, and have told us that the database used by the new system is not consistent with the old one.

Whatever. I think somebody just couldn't figure out how to transfer the data, so instead 1000 people or so have to line up for pictures. Mine better come out well, because my old one was really good; although after just nine months my nose has already pretty much flaked off.

For some obscure reason the pictures are set up to be taken in the most difficult-to-find spot on our whole campus. First, you have to walk over to the building where the cafeteria is. Unless you already work in that building, of course; or unless you're a lazy-ass, no-account, ozone-layer-destroying troglodyte, in which case you can get in your car and drive the 3/16-mile distance, because God forbid you should actually expend any of your own personal energy.

The Phantom Pharter can probably just strap on a pair of roller skates.

When you get to the building, you'll see a sign on the security guard's desk that says "PICTURES UPSTAIRS." Look at the staircase! There's a sign with the word "Pictures" and an up arrow on it. Climb the stairs and there's another sign with an arrow at the top.

By the time Robbie and I got to the picture room, we were crying with laughter, which sucks because it means I had to get my picture taken with mascara all over my face. There was a long and winding path to get to the room, and "PICTURES" arrow signs were everywhere - including just places where the hallway jogged to one side and there wasn't any other place you could possibly go without banging smack into the wall. Where the hallway came to a window and turned left, there was a sign with an arrow pointing to the left on the window.

Sure, the message of the sign was ostensibly, "Turn left here." But the underlying message of the sign was, "If we didn't put a sign here, you would probably plow straight ahead through the window and plummet to your death, or at least fracture a couple of ribs, you idiot."

We found the room just as the security officer taking the camera was going on break. But we decided to hang around and wait for his return, because we didn't think we could find our way back out again.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wet Butt

Just felt like generating a little more traffic to my blog.

Today I discovered that a leaky windshield seal is numbered among my car's manifold charms. The rain drips in at the upper left-hand corner and soaks into the driver's seat. Well, I've just about had it with my car's manifold charms. In fact, I'm sick and tired - no - no - I'm exhausted with my car's manifold charms!


The first major rainfall in months has thrown everyone a little bit off. This morning, the Phantom Pharter ripped a huge one in the office kitchen area, even though everybody knows that's a Thursday morning event. It's supposed to be safe to go into the kitchen on a Tuesday. This might be a sign of the Apocalypse, I'm not sure.

He also showed up in our regular break spot, at our regular break time, both morning and afternoon, and made conversation with us briefly before darting away, with surprising spryness, through the rain, which did not, though some of today's happenings might have suggested otherwise, contain an unusually high concentration of frogs, not to imply that any concentration whatsoever of frogs would be normal, as it, in fact, would (not to put too fine a point on it) not.

And a good thing, too. The last thing my car needs is frogs.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Good Morning!

Oh no, don't say that to the Bitching Smoker. You'll just piss her off.

On a good day, B.S. is pretty cool. I've always had a soft spot in my head for curmudgeons; and she has an acid sense of humor and a keen grasp of the absurd - you just have to not mind the fact that the absurd is likely to be you. But on a bad day, she's kind of like Oscar the Grouch, minus the cute-and-fuzzy factor.

B.S. has a couple of set responses if you say "Good Morning" to her. She generally snarls back, "Nothing good about it!" or, if she's feeling magnanimous, she may let you off with a grudging "Well, you're half right."

Passing her in the hallway this morning, I was careful not to say the "G" word. "Morning!" I said. B.S. was clearly gathering herself for a stinging retort when she realized exactly what I'd said, so she had to change gears slightly to grumble, "Well, yeah, it is morning."

Of course, if you have to sit in the cubicle directly across from her all day every day, it's not quite as funny.

So I've been bouncing around a few ideas for how to approach this attitude. Most people just ignore it and avoid dealing with her whenever possible. But it could be fun to address the problem more creatively. For instance, I could try turning up the sunshine: "B.S.! How are you on this beautiful morning? So wonderful to see you!" Maybe try a hug, too. Or maybe not - she might try to bite me, and I'm pretty sure my shots aren't up to date.

More intriguing is the idea of trying to beat her at her own game. I'm not sure there's enough negative energy to support two people that grumpy. I'd have to slump around and glower a lot, roll my eyes in exasperation, and bark at anyone who dares to approach me about what a lousy day it is, how much it sucks to be at work with so many dumbasses, and how miserable life is in general. Maybe she'd start trying to comfort me and tell me it really isn't all that bad.

Maybe she'd start saying "Good Morning!" just to piss me off.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Trouble with Pink Balloons

You get the place all cleaned up, and just look what happens.

We had a little party yesterday for Katie's 14th birthday, coming up on Tuesday.

Check out this cool hat she got from her Grandma G!

The girls went to see Jackass II at the Alamo (better them than me!) and to Nightmare Factory.

Then we let them eat cake.

Would anybody like about 50 pink balloons??

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Nice People Rock

I got a call at about 10:30 this morning from Margie, which is unusual as she's not generally awake at such an ungodly hour. But when I answered the phone, it wasn't Margie, it was some guy. "Is this Beth?" he asked.

Um. "Yes, it is," I said.

"Do you know whose phone this is?"

Great. You know, this is the second phone Margie has lost in two weeks. She got it because she was unable to find the first one. But this jogger found it on the Town Lake hike-and-bike, made the effort to call someone out of the address book (and I wasn't the first one on the list, just the first one who answered) and very good-naturedly was willing to wait around until I got there to pick it up. Fortunately I'm not very far away.

Just as well Amanda didn't answer, since she lives in San Marcos.

So the moral for the day is twofold: One, do something nice for someone today. Two, if you have a sister who's prone to losing things and your name is Zzzwyzzywut, you might want to think about changing it.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Spam Imitates Art

A poem, unedited, straight from the list of subject lines in my bulk mail folder when I got home today:

BE like a normal MAN
whiz frightful
Herbal Pill for Multiple Orgasms
it Ryna-C
hope this is well

Oh, it is. It is.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And So It Begins

It must be October, because I just got a Brylane Home holiday-edition catalog in the mail.

It's been worse. A couple of years ago, the item featured on the cover was a festive Christmas quilt with snowmen, Santas and reindeer. The crowning touch was twinkling white Christmas lights sewn all over it.

I'm pretty sure I only saw that item in one catalog ever. I can't turn any such thing up on Google. It must have dawned on the manufacturers pretty quickly that a bed studded with tiny, sharp, pointy, hot objects is not particularly comfortable. Quickly - but obviously, not quickly enough.

Still, some of the items in the current catalog make me want to slink into a corner, weeping. Christmas quilts I can, I guess, grudgingly, understand, even though I'd never buy such an item myself. But dear God, there are matching curtains. And rugs. And furniture. Who refurnishes their house for the holidays?? There's an accent table with a glass top and a cheery red-and-white striped base shaped like three candy canes. Who would buy this ghastly item? Where do you put it the rest of the year?? Are you supposed to just throw it away after New Years??? It costs $60!!!

I bet you don't believe me.

But actually I think the most upsetting item in this catalog is this poinsettia-print bathroom set. The window curtains are hideous. The shower curtain is ghastly. The sink and tub skirts are abhorrent and, if you ask me, slightly perverted; and I'm really not happy that the whole bathroom is painted a coordinating dark green, even though matching wallpaper would of course be infinitely worse. (I shouldn't say that; they might get ideas.) But the real crime against nature in this room is the ruffly toilet.

If God had intended for toilets to be ruffly, He would have given men better aim.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Federation of Planets Dept. of Transportation

Or FoPDOT, as we Federation employees like to call it.

Wouldn't it be fun to do an episode of Star Trek with people from work cast in all the parts? We'd probably have to amalgate all the series in order to have roles for everyone - though I'm really only familiar with Next Generation and the original series. Quick, off the top of my head: Dreamboat as Kirk, F. as a fearsome (well, fearsomely snoring) Worf, and Bitchin' Smoker as Troi.

No, maybe I'd cast our section director as Troi. She's a lot closer to looking the part, and her counseling patients wouldn't be as likely to jettison themselves into space after the first session. Not that I'm implying that B.S. has an unpleasant personality. It's just that you can only take so much secondhand smoke before total vacuum begins to look invitingly fresh.

I'll take Dr. Crusher for myself, on account of the red hair and the teenaged son - although if my son were as annoying as Wesley Crusher, I'd smack him into next week. I think we should get the boss of mapping to play him on the show. He's reasonably wunderkindlich, but not so much that anyone should have any particular desire to throttle him.* Then again, maybe I'd rather be an alien babe in a tinfoil bikini.

And actually, the more I think about this, the more I'm realizing that it's problematic because most of the people we work with will have to be cast as aliens. We all know that aliens play only a token role in the Star Trek universe, outnumbering only African-Americans and women. The Phantom Pharter, for example: Geordi? Scotty? Data??? No. But he'd make a decent - um, he'd be a good -

Ah, the hell with it. Let's re-adapt Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy for the screen using all state agency employees. I get to be Trillian.

*I don't work in mapping, incidentally.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Great Moments In Motherhood

You're sitting back with a good book, relaxing after a day of work, when you hear the sweet voice of your baby, your pride and joy, the light of your life, the apple of your eye, calling from the bathroom:

"Mommmmyyyyyyy! I need help with my butt!"

Monday, October 02, 2006

Family Values

I sure am glad we have the GOP to uphold them for us, aren't you? They've done a magnificent job of reviving the lost art of torture, dismantling that pesky Bill of Rights (except of course the right to bear arms) and the tiresome old system of checks and balances that has kept our government boringly stable for over two hundred years. They've never lost sight of the fact that sex education doesn't belong in schools - it belongs in Congress. Because they are nothing if not thorough, they've killed off more Americans in a war that's been shown to actually foster terrorism than died in the attacks of 9/11. And with deep and abiding loyalty, they've handed over the economy and the environment to the corporate interests who got them into office.

They set a shining example for us all. I hope you liberal gay pinko commie abortion-mongering divorced adulterous perverted welfare cheats who refuse to pray in school are thoroughly ashamed of yourselves.