Sunday, August 31, 2008

Lessons from the Graveyard Shift

Man cannot live by bread alone. Doughnuts, however, are a whole nother story.

Fox News anchors only have two emotions: outraged, and smug. They also make strategic use of lip gloss to blind you so you can't question the veracity of their reporting.

My building has a secret penthouse perched on top of the uppermost floor; it's mostly gutted now, but in the 70s it was the swanky private office/shag-carpeted love nest of the building's original owner. It's accessed by what would then have been considered a graceful staircase, framed in ugly 70s metalwork, which has now been walled in and hidden behind an unmarked, locked steel door. It has its own private bathroom with a shower stall. The bathroom still boasts the original 70s wallpaper - with the kind of color scheme it's only wise to install within easy sprinting distance of a toilet; and the suite has huge sliding glass doors that open out onto the flat roof, where we stood taking a break in the balmy late-night air, gazing at the glittering city across the river as the sounds of live music wafted up to us. Wow, y'all. It was COOL.

In New Zealand, or indeed any British-English-speaking country, you shouldn't introduce yourself at an elegant dinner party by sticking out your hand and saying "Hi, I'm Randy." Especially if that isn't actually your name, and you also waggle your eyebrows suggestively.

The friendly nation of Liberia helps us out by selling us commemorative coins at face value (plus shipping) for a limited time only. Like a $20 silverleaf coin/bill commemorating 9/11 with a big image of the WTC-dominated Manhattan skyline in the center, and the number 9 in two of the corners and the number 11 in the other two (because that adds up to 20!); plus, for those of you who feel that ordinary money is just too small, it's half again as big as those boring old $20 bills you can carry around in your wallet! And for a limited time only, you can buy them at face value for $20! (Plus shipping.) Normally it's $39.95! Limit 5! And they are actual legal tender! (In Liberia.)

When you're in the middle of a 13-hour shift at 3am on Labor Day weekend, you can damn well look up currency converters on the internet and consider it work-related. You get to make executive decisions up there in the EOC. Playing God? Well, somebody has to! Of course, it's usually Morgan Freeman.

Sleep deprivation makes people so goofy that they will pee themselves with laughter at the slightest provocation. It's better than pot. Last night's recurring joke? "Hey look, you guys, a hurricane!" Hilarious.

It isn't going to be good. Keep your toes and fingers crossed.

Labels: , ,

Friday, August 29, 2008

I Just Work Here

So I got out of the office at 6 p.m. today; I'll be working 3 p.m. to midnight tomorrow, and probably 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. Sunday/Monday and Monday/Tuesday. Then Gustav makes landfall, and then things start to get crazy.

It's been a long, long week, and there's no weekend in sight.

Not that it's really so bad. (Ask me again in a couple of days.) This is the un-fun part of the job, but every so often there aren't any hurricanes; it's meaningful and helpful; I'm not facing it alone; and I'm pretty certain that my bosses are happy with me and that their happiness with me is in direct proportion to how good a job I'm doing - which is a darn sight more than I could say at some places I've worked. And the rest of the time? Fun!

But the forecast models predict a very low possibility of going on break any time next week.

We have this 1-800 number you call for road conditions information. We've been working on finding a new vendor for the system; my cow orker who primarily deals with it is a former employee of a major phone company, and really knows his stuff. There are a lot of features we're looking for that my cow orker feels the new vendor might not be able to address adequately. Like the hearing-impaired line.

How, I asked in our meeting, is this such a problem? They just call the special number and hear: "HELLO!!! WELCOME TO THE ROAD CONDITIONS HOTLINE!!!!! IF YOU'D LIKE TO BE SHOUTED AT IN SPANISH, PLEASE PRESS 1 NOW!!!!!!!!!!"

Yeah, SNL already did that.

It's time for a nap; if somebody would send me an economy-size spray can of Gustav-B-Gone, I'd be grateful.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Where Am I?!

1. I'm in Harlingen! We arrived late this evening for our surprise inspection and will drop in on them in the morning. Won't they be amazed? They certainly know we were just in Wichita Falls on Monday and Tuesday, and may or may not be aware we were in Gainesville Tuesday and today. But they won't be expecting us to come all the way across the state! It's great, because I've never been to the Valley before (like, omigawd, gag me!), and the supervisor here is a crazy fun guy, and we get along great, and I owe him some payback for fingering me at Conference when Grapevine came along looking for skit victims,* and we'll probably get taken out on the town and finally get to do some serious drinking.


2. Our section director called as my boss and I were eating lunch (some kitschy, exotic little Denton establishment known to the locals as "Cracker Barrel") and said, hey, Gustav's looking pretty ominous, and the state's going into emergency operations; it's likely to hit Louisiana instead of Texas, but even so we'll have to deal with evacuees; you guys need to change your flight and come home to Austin. And as nice as it is to be back, I'm a bit grumpy about it because (a) I don't get to sleep in a Hampton Inn bed for the next two nights, (b) I really was looking forward to Harlingen, (c) I have to go into the office tomorrow and Friday, and almost certainly Saturday, Sunday, and Monday as well, and (d) the baggage handlers broke the telescoping handle off my suitcase on the return flight.

Go ahead. Take a wild guess.

Never mind. Here's that picture I promised of the Red River, although (e) it really didn't come out, since I took it standing in the shadow of I-35. That's Oklahoma on the opposite shore, that is. And the river really is amazingly red.

Here's a picture, which was supposed to capture the pretty rolling countryside, which I took a couple of miles further south. I was initially annoyed because an 18-wheeler happened into the photo, but ended up thinking this one was much cooler. Guess what that big thing is that the truck is towing?

It's a windmill turbine. Who knew those things were that big?!

See? Life isn't completely full of disappointments.

*Inside work reference. Sorry, can't be helped.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Gainesville may or may not have mosquitoes - I haven't had a chance to find out yet - but Wichita Falls does: huge, slow, fat, complacent bastards that don't take any evasive action, and simply go "squish" when you brush them away.

It doesn't matter. You're still outnumbered.

Wichita Falls also had this attractive fellow:

He gave me a bit of a reproachful look (for a walkingstick) when my camera flash went off. I suppose when you spend your life hanging out on rusty fuse boxes, a sudden brilliant burst of light is about the last thing you want to see.

When I meet the people who work in these remote offices, they always want to hear about where I worked before. I start to regale them with stories about the guy walking around with the antenna on his head, or the one who falls asleep while trying to sneak up on people in the kitchenette, or (heaven forbid) the Phantom Pharter, and they look at me very oddly. I can't do it. It's like making fun of amputees. "I like it a lot better here," is what I have to stick with, for safety's sake.

Leaving Wichita Falls, we took US 82 east to Gainesville. My boss drove today. It's probably just as well - she drives a bit slower, and I didn't notice until yesterday evening that our car has Missouri plates. That's just asking for trouble.

Gainesville seems like a nice enough town, if you can find it. Our hotel commands a nice view of the suburbs in which it stands.

If you come in from Oklahoma, the Information Center is not the first sight that greets you. That honor actually goes to a seedy, ancient, run-down porn shop that stands immediately above the Red River (and if you don't know why it's called that, you'll find out tomorrow; I'll get a picture). "WELCOME TO TEXXXAS!" says the sign.

I'm told it pisses a lot of people off. Isn't that awesome?!

I don't know if there are mosquitoes, but the Applebee's where we had dinner tonight (I'm forced to admit that, though I like my boss a lot, she's not too adventurous when it comes to dining out) was overrun by ducks. There's a little factory outlet shopping center there, and someone thoughtfully put in a nice little pond with a fountain, and a few ducks.

The ducks have no natural predators, unless you count the 18-wheelers on I-35. So now there are a lot of ducks. I mean, there are a lot of ducks. We're talking some major duckage here. In fact, if my love for you were ducks... Well, you get the picture.

And how delighted was I to get back to my hotel, glance out my window again in the pink evening light, and discover there are also lots and lots and lots of cows?

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wichita Falls

Why is it, do you think, that people are always in such a gigantic hurry to get on the plane? It's not like sitting around in an airplane seat, contemplating battery-powered dirigibles from Skymall, is such great shakes.

Yet everybody always crowds around the departure gate, jockeying for position before the boarding call even starts. People sneak on before their row number is called, or try to pass themselves off as minors traveling alone despite the fact they clearly aren't a day under 53.

I'd assume it was just that airports are so soulless and horrible that no one can possibly wait to get out of them, but everybody's in just as much of a hurry to get off the plane once it lands. The new airport isn't going to be any better than the one you left behind, people. Especially if you're flying into Dallas.

This, on the other hand, is a fairly cool way to travel:

I won't shout "PT Cruiser bruiser!" and punch you in the arm, partly because that's, like, SO 2003, but mostly because I'm not there. But I will tell you that, on the drive from Dallas to Wichita Falls today, I blew the doors off of not one, but two (count 'em! Two!) Corvettes. You heard me.

For some odd reason, their drivers appeared to be observing the speed limit.

The countryside around here is very pretty, though, not flat like Amarillo, and not rocky and scrubby like San Angelo. They've had lots of rain lately, and it's green; the pink dirt is red with moisture, and the gentle, rolling, white-fenced, tree-dotted hills of the horse country between Dallas and here remind me a bit of rural northern Virginia.

The Wichita - about a mile north of those magnificent falls here - is pretty, too.

I tried to get my boss to go to dinner at Fat Bastard Steakhouse ("Fat" McBride's, whatever) but she felt she'd had just about enough steak, and we ended up going to Red Lobster. Nothing else evokes the unique, regional flavor of the Oklahoma border quite like seafood, you know?

No complaints, though. I was up at 5 this morning. This is the most appealing sight I've seen all day.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Tis the Season

Hurricanes are exactly like tennis balls, in that the west coast of Africa launches them at us, one after another, faster than we can hit them back.

Except that the west coast of Africa doesn't launch tennis balls. Okay, let's say that the west coast of Africa is just like a tennis ball machine, in that it launches hurricane after hurricane towards the Gulf... only tennis ball machines don't launch hurricanes.

The Gulf of Mexico is just like a tennis player, and Florida is the racquet, except that even when we parry a hurricane just right, we still don't angle a masterful shot and send it careening back across the Atlantic into Côte d'Ivoire, drawing a hushed murmur of appreciation and smattering of polite applause from the crowd.

And of course they aren't hurricanes when they're launched, so it's more as if the tennis ball machine were firing off bits of rubber and yellow flocking, which didn't even form into tennis balls until they had already made it past our defenses. Pretty poor sportsmanship, if you ask me.

June through November is just like a tennis match, only not anywhere near as long.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Unusually Productive Day

There are two types of people in the world: people who iron, and people who think that ironing is a huge waste of time, even worse than making the bed.

Sewing, on the other hand, is a skill that will always stand you in good stead.

I bought this shirt Wednesday just to make a more modest appearance at our tour of the monastery, though in retrospect it wasn't at all necessary. We only saw two monks, and neither one of them was cute.

The shirt is a large. It's too big. But it's a nice, soft shade of green - my favorite color to wear - and in medium, the only ones they had were striped. I don't know what it is I have against wearing stripes. I just hate them. It doesn't have to be logical, okay?

So today I actually dug out my sewing machine for the first time in probably four years. It took a while to remember how to thread it, and I was worried that, being all dusty and rusty and musty, it would seize up and break a needle. I hate when that happens - partly because I don't have any more sewing machine needles anywhere - but mostly because it's sudden and violent and tends to propel me directly through the ceiling in a way that the kids find highly amusing.

But it didn't! So I took the shirt in about an inch along the side seams, and then made the back darts a bit tighter, and voilà! It fits as if it had been made for me. I am so clever!

Only I washed it, and now it's all wrinkled and needs ironing. My boss is one of the ironing people. Maybe when we're on the road next week, I can sneak it in with her stuff and she won't notice.


Friday, August 22, 2008


Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca! It turns out Maxim never really loved her at all. Of course, he did kind of shoot her dead and then sink the boat containing her body in the bay, which should give his second wife at least a little something to think about. Sure, things are good now...

People in love don't think critically.

Thursday was not nearly as jam-packed as Wednesday, though we got a lot of driving in. We wanted to visit a monastery and hummingbird sanctuary in Christoval (that's pronounced Crissed Oval), a ranch in Eldorado (Elder Aydo), the Sonora (pronounced correctly) Caverns, Fort McKavett, Menard, Eden, Paint Rock, and Ballinger, before driving back to town. It's about a 230-mile loop.

We didn't make it quite as far as Menard.

Hummer House, at the Brown Ranch, was the highlight of the day, and would have been so no matter how many things we might have been able to visit. The proprietor has been feeding gallons of sugar water to the little birds for 48 years now. The environment is perfect for them, and they have no predators. So, when you visit, the air is thick with them.

Volunteers at the ranch trap and band, then release them; and a lucky visitor can hold one right in her hand. The heartrate is so swift it feels like a tiny piece of rapidly vibrating machinery; and the little bird, not realizing immediately that it's been released, sits quietly in your cupped palm for five or six seconds before flashing off into the forest.

I also got to hold a gorgeous red tanager, who gave me quite a piece of his mind (at a rough guess, probably about 278%) and pecked ineffectually at my finger before I took him outside the tent and let him fly away.

The hummingbirds lay two eggs at a time, about the size and shape of Tic-Tacs; and their cotton-lined nests are just big enough to cradle a quarter. One of the birds we saw being banded was only a month old, little more than an infant. He cried and cried until he was let go, his long beak wide open. Poor little baby!

Since our road trip was cut short, my boss and I, heading home, passed through Eden and pulled off the main highway to explore a little bit. This is my job, you guys! I get paid to do this!!

Eden is small - well, miniscule, not to put too fine a point on it - but it's cute. Of course, I have a profound affection for tiny roadside towns. After Eden, we headed south a little ways to Menard, where Presidio San Saba/Presidio San Luis de los Amarillos (Fort Saint Louis of the Yellows?!) is located. Menard has a Ditchwalk. They don't have a river. What are you gonna do?

And actually the ditch is an irrigation ditch dating back a couple of hundred years, so it's pretty cool. They seem to take a pretty tongue-in-cheek approach to having a scenic trail that wends along a historic ditch.

On the way home, my boss talked a little bit about my predecessor. She did a good job; she was competent and thorough, and she was generally liked. But I found out yesterday for the first time that she and our section admin did not get along. In fact, the reason my cubicle is at the end of our row is because my predecessor wanted to be as far as possible from the other woman's desk.

I was a little floored, because I think our section admin is a wonderful person, just about as funny and sweet and nice as a human being can possibly be. "Wow," I said. "I guess I'm extra glad we get along, then!"

"Oh, she just loves you to death," said my boss. "I think we have a really great group now."

Today we all went out for lunch; Monday, my boss and I are off for - I can't tell you where; but we won't be back until Friday night. I can't wait!

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Plot Thickens

Okay, the hotel only looks like that because they ripped off the edge of the awning so they could build the new one. It really is on the way! Really!! That's why all the hotel staff are wearing safety vests, though they aren't wearing hard hats, Robbie.

They're going to have sleep number beds in every room, too. God, how I wish they had them now. My bed is so hard that last night I dreamt I was being chased by zombies and ended up having to sleep with all the lights on.

Next door - you walk under the railroad trestle to get to it - is the convention center, which we visited today, where extensive remodeling is well under way. It's going to be beautiful, and it's going to offer 21,400 square feet of - say it with me now - flexible meeting space!

That's a phrase that gets thrown around a lot in meeting planner circles.

Here are a few other things we saw today (and pictures will just have to wait until I get home to a more powerful computer, sorry):

The Cactus Hotel, built in 1929. It was the fourth Hilton hotel - ever - and has an opulent tiled lobby, grand staircase and mezzanine, and incredible, beautiful ballroom on the second level. It's haunted, I expect. But it's used as lofts and office and retail space, plus private function space now, not as a hotel.

Paint Brush Alley, murals by local artists on the walls and windows of an alleyway, and part of a citywide mural art project. Some downtown buildings now being used as warehouses also have trompe l'oeil paintings on the windows of what the shops and restaurants inside once looked like. Very cool.

Painted doors - a series of painted doors hung on an outside wall downtown, also part of the outdoor urban art project.

The Texas Theatre, currently gutted and undergoing restoration. Actually, I thought it was cooler to see it like that, with the seats all pulled out and exposed brickwork, than to see it when it's finished - though I'm sure it will be beautiful; the cornices and moldings are very elaborate and you can tell it'll be amazing when it's done - along the lines of the Paramount.

Legends jewelry store, where they sell (among other pieces) jewelry crafted from the local pink, lavender, and peach Concho pearls, and also gold and silver horny toads ("horned lizards, my ass, they're horny toads" was almost, but not quite, what the proprietor said about their name).

Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum. Bet you can't wait for those pictures! All the ladies' boo-dwahs are lovingly restored, though the mannequin who normally stands in the window was lounging about on a red velvet chaise longue in her black lace skivvies, today.

Eggemeyers General Store. You can't get much more general; they have everything, from - well, they have lots of stuff. Handmade jams and jellies, 8-foot black iron wind chimes (which made me think of Robbie), you name it. Also, there are airplanes hanging from the ceiling. We didn't get to spend enough time there.

D'Vine Winery. We didn't sample the wine, but it's a beautiful place - maybe tomorrow I'll stop in and get a bottle or two to take home.

M.L. Leddy's boot and saddle shop. They also have belts! Founded in the 20's in Bryan, the store moved to San Angelo in 1936. The Fort Worth location came later, even though that's now the headquarters. The factory is adjacent to the shop and is walled with glass so you can see the work being done. It smells deliciously leathery!

The Celebration Bridge over the Concho. The bridge is attractive - it's such a pretty river - but I loved the statue in the water, the Pearl of the Conchos, a pretty bronze mermaid. She's topless. Come to think of it, she's bottomless too, but the bottom half is a fish so who cares? Anyway, I got a picture.

The San Angelo Museum of Fine Art. This is a gorgeous facility, which is all I can really say about it because actually I don't care much for museum art. I know, you thought I was all cultured and shit. Mais non! But I was in raptures over the mesquite parquet flooring.

Old Town - This is like Heritage Village in Corpus, y'all. They took a bunch of historic houses and buildings and moved them to one central location. They have offices in them, though - I don't know if the ones in Corpus are used for anything.

Santa Fe Depot Railway Museum. My favorite of the day, because they have not one, not two, not three, not four, but actually I lost count of how many huge, beautiful, detailed, elaborate model train sets, with the bridges and the tunnels and the cliffs and the little trees and houses?! Oh my god. SO totally cool!!! I took lots and lots and lots of pictures here, and not one of them is going to show how awesome the place really is. I like trains.

Fort Concho - we didn't actually see very much of this, just the visitor center in the barracks, the stables, and the commissary. You'd need a whole day to go over it properly, because it has a couple of museums on the grounds, too. I have to admit I liked Fort Ontario better. Fort Concho might want to consider building earth berms with catacomb-like tunnels around the complex, and maybe putting in a major inland lake. But it was still very interesting.

The Chicken Farm Art Center. This is an artists' commune which used to be, believe it or not, a chicken farm; there's also a very small restaurant on the premises which is supposed to be excellent, the Silo House. We saw some spectacular pottery and sculpture (I like this kind of art), some of it whimsical, some sublime... and the cats roaming the grounds are very friendly. What more could you ask?

Let's see, then we had lunch at the Butler's Pantry, a tiny little restaurant in an old house where you have to have reservations no matter when you go, because otherwise they won't be able to fit you. We all had stuffed fried avocadoes, Robbie. Wish you could have been there!

Then there was, let's see, the tour of the hotel with the description of the renovations - oh, those beds look like they're going to be so nice - and then the convention center.

The International Water Lily Garden is gorgeous, and the lilies are beautiful, but some of the pads look almost industrial. There are these gigantic ones that fold up around the edges like three-foot wide dinner plates, and have thorns on the bottom so fish can't eat them. On the grounds around the lily ponds were some cacti that made me think of Robbie.

The Angelo State University Planetarium was another favorite - well, there wasn't a lot that I saw that I didn't like, but I really really liked the Planetarium, and the railway museum. They didn't turn it on for us - but it was really cool just being in there, and hearing the professor talk about it. They're hoping to get in some new equipment, and as soon as they do I might make a trip just for that.

Lake Nasworthy, and the ASU Lake House - we visited the house as a potential dinner venue. You can see the Twin Buttes across the lake. They don't look like buttes, they look like - well, anyway.

The San Angelo Nature Center. This was a fascinating place with a trail by the lake and lots of exotic small animals on display - tarantulas, a chincilla, rattlers, a very restless lynx, lots of turtles, Tony! and horny toads! and so many snakes!!! One was a gigantic python named Baby; curled up in her tank, I couldn't tell how long she was, but she was easily as big around as my thigh. She eats rabbits and wild pigs and small deer. You all know who that made me think of.

That was all for today. I'm sorry to report that we rather anticlimactically had dinner at Cheddar's, then wound up with a spot of shopping at Payless and Wal-Mart, I'm sorry Billy. But tomorrow we're visiting a monastery and it turns out they have a pretty strict dress code for their female visitors, for which my hasty Tuesday morning packing job did not prepare me.

Tomorrow, Scarlett, is another day. But that bed's not getting any softer.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I'm baaaa-aaaaack!

The above was not a hugely welcome sight, but a card in the lobby assures us that extensive restorations are taking place and should be completed in early 2008. So I guess there's nothing to worry about.

The bathrooms are redone and very nice, with faux-granite shower enclosures, new tile floors, and nice level ceilings. The glossy travel posters of San Antonio are all gone. I guess that's a good thing, but I'm a little sad about it - I just loved the idea that somehow, through some error, a hotel in San Angelo received a bunch of San Antonio posters, and - this is the part that makes me so overwhelmingly happy - someone who works here just said "eh" and put them all up.

The view from my window is somewhat unpropitious:

But the trestle bridge, on the other side of the hotel, that crosses the Concho River is awesome.

There's a park along the Concho, which I didn't explore too far because it was getting dark. It's not the hike-and-bike trail, of course, but it's very pretty.

My boss and I ate dinner at Zentner's Daughter. She asked the hotel clerk about the other one - Zentner's - and he told us it got bought out and is now Henry's Steakhouse. So there's one long-running family feud laid to rest. I have to say, the steak was excellent, but I ordered medium rare and my boss ordered medium, and hers was quite a bit redder than mine. She ate it all up without seeming to notice; she's not a woman to be frightened of a little blood.

I'm excited and happy to be here, and looking forward to a full day of exploring tomorrow! Hopefully I'll be able to sleep; the bed is as hard as a rock.

And my God, they really should think about updating the phones. Can you even remember the last time you saw one that looked like this?



This time tomorrow, I should know a lot more about San Angelo than I do now. We'll be visiting Miss Hattie's Bordello Museum - particularly of interest as I understand they sometimes have re-enactors performing there.

You wouldn't be able to sleep, either.

Ah, the enduring glamor of the sex trade! Last week, a friend and I were lamenting the dearth of variety among 1-900 lines, and came up with the idea of a discount phone sex service - oh, say, $1.50 for the first minute, and just 39 cents a minute thereafter - which would be so cheap because it would be a random grab bag. You might get some sultry-voiced individual of the gender of your preference, describing in detail all the borderline illegal things he or she was going to do to you; or you might get Ernest Borgnine offering you a Siberian toenail massage. And no, you don't get to hang up and call back.

Or as in the present case, you could get a lapful of Slappy White, purring fish breath in your face and digging his claws affectionately into your bare legs.

I gotta get out of town.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Drink Bacardi Like It's Your Birthday

To make a mojito, first put several sprigs of mint and two slices of lime in a glass, and muddle them with a - a muddler, I guess. It's a longish implement with a spiked, flat piece at the end, and you use it to squish the limes and the mint together and get the juice out of them. I guess you could also use a meat tenderizer, but you'd have to have really good aim.

Then fill the glass with ice and add a dash or two of sugar syrup and a shot or two of Bacardi. Top it off with club soda and voilà! you've got yourself a pretty tasty drink.

To make potato salad, boil the potatoes about five minutes longer, use more onion, and don't forget to thin the dressing with a bit of vinegar so it's more piquant and not so goopy. Otherwise, perfect.

To make drunken conversation with a stranger in your friend's backyard pool, try to avoid the subject of death.

It was late, and Robbie and several of Diane's other guests had already left. Tony and his friend Larry, Diane's husband Mark, and a few other people were lounging idly in the water. A fine sprinkling rain had begun, and the sensation of tiny droplets of cold water on my face contrasted deliciously with the warmth of the pool. It was full dark out. Another party guest remarked that we weren't so bright, swimming around during a rainstorm - we were just asking to be struck by lightning.

"What are you talking about?" laughed Mark, "it's not thundering."

"It's raining," pointed out the swimmer.

"Yes, but it's just a little rain, there's no storm," said Mark.

"I'm more worried about dying of cancer," I said.

My fellow party guest was taken aback. "Why would you worry about that?" he asked.

"Well, it just seems like the most likely thing to kill me," I reasoned. "Well, that, or I get cut up into pieces and stuffed into the trunk of some stalker's car."

"Cut up into pieces?!" he repeated, sputtering slightly. "Where on earth did that come from?"

"It could happen," I said.

"The trunk of a car??"

"Well, not loose, of course," I clarified, "I'd probably be in a plastic bag."

"No offense," he told me, "you're fine, and all, but that seems very unlikely."

"Oh, you don't have to be super fine to have a stalker," I said, "there are plenty of crazies to go around."

"I want out of this conversation," he said.

To impress men, just shut up and drink your Bacardi.

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mind Your Own Business

They were giving out fortune cookies at the blood drive at work today. I opened mine. “We need each other. Please give blood,” it read.

“This is kind of weird with ‘in bed’ at the end,” I complained to the blood drive coordinator, but she didn’t seem to know what I was talking about.

Giving blood bothers me a lot less than it used to and I don’t really get nervous anymore, but the long list of intensely personal questions is still pretty embarrassing. And it takes such a long time! The actual blood-donation part of donating blood only lasts about five minutes, but the screening, prep work, and post-donation snacking take up the better part of an hour, especially if they have those little Ritz cheese sandwiches.

As I was lying down on the table, one of the phlebotomists called over from the screening area, “This gentleman needs to leave for lunch – can he just come back and finish afterwards?”

“You’ll have to take all his vitals again,” replied the woman swabbing my arm.

“All of them? Even the iron?”

“Yes,” she responded, “but you don’t have to run through the questions again.”

This troubled me. What if the man was planning to turn tricks on his lunch hour? Or get a tattoo or a cornea transplant, or hop an express flight to London for a cheeseburger? You don’t know.

Actually, I asked about the tattoo question, because I’m always kind of toying with the idea of getting one, and they ask if you’ve had a tattoo within the last twelve months. (They also ask you if, during the last twelve months, you’ve had sexual contact with anyone who takes drugs or money for sex, a man who’s had sex with another man, anyone who uses needles to take illegal drugs, and a few other things. I always answer no, but to be perfectly honest, I’m just guessing.)

“So do you get deferred if you get a tattoo?” I asked the phlebotomist.

“Only if you did it outside of Texas,” he said.

So now you know. I didn’t ask, but I’m sure the same standard applies to all the nosy questions they ask about what you do in bed.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Get in the Car. Now.

If you really need to see somebody that badly, just go there.

This was not the intended message of the "How to conduct meetings via video teleconference" class I was in today, a class I've been enrolled in for the better part of a year. The panicmonger signed my former lead worker and me up for it. The idea was that we could use the most cutting-edge technology available to train our satellite offices on maintaining our database - a mainframe application that was implemented in 1995.

The software is gradually gaining in acceptance among older employees, which is kind of a pity, seeing as how it's been hopelessly obsolete for several years.

Nonetheless, the class was fairly instructive, once the teachers figured out how to get the equipment working. The first section of the course covered the multitude of reasons why you should conduct meetings via video teleconference. You don't have to travel anywhere, for one. And the face-to-face experience is just as real using our equipment as it is in person! Assuming that the person you're meeting with has a habit of breaking down into pixels without warning, and really enjoys doing the robot.

This isn't intended as a slam on video conferencing in general. A big part of the problem is that our equipment is (surprise!) a little bit out of date. The main camera, mounted on the back wall, comes with a tracking collar that the presenter can wear so that the camera can follow him as he walks around the room.

"Never use this," stressed the instructors repeatedly.

Why not? It sounds cool enough. But there are several good reasons (and I am not making these up, these are the actual reasons they gave):

1. You have to move very, very, very, very slowly, and not have long hair, or the camera won't be able to track you, and your conference might freeze up.
2. Your conference will freeze up after an hour or so anyway.
3. The tracking collar must be charged up before each use, but you have to watch it carefully while you are charging it, and remove it from the base as soon as the light comes on, because it doesn't shut itself off when the charge is complete and will be destroyed; and it can't be replaced because
4. the manufacturer no longer makes it, and although you can find a replacement on eBay,
5. eBay is not a state-contracted vendor.
6. Also, you'll probably forget and wear it to the bathroom.

Still, for the general purpose of a stationary, wall-mounted camera, it does fine, and the only difficulty we had was that our remote instructor couldn't demonstrate it properly because it broke when she tried to turn it on. "Hmm. Smells like smoke," she said, using the smaller, supplemental camera. "Here's the part you shouldn't touch!" She pointed to the power button.

The most entertaining part of any course is the universal frustration that students experience when dealing with unfamiliar equipment. Have you ever noticed how huffy people get? It never fails. "Here, hold down the 2 button for a little longe -" "I AM!!!!!!!!!"

And of course it always turns out they were doing it wrong.

Here are a few actual student questions from today's session.

"How slowly do you have to move to use the tracking collar? Would you show us?"

"Does the gray remote go with the gray monitor and the black remote go with the black monitor?"

"Which way do you turn the volume knob to make it louder?"

Me, I'm spending the rest of August on the road.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, August 10, 2008

High-Maintenance? Or Just High?

Tonight I was reminded of why I haven't been to a Teddy and Marge show in a awhile.

"I like their music, and it's a really fun scene," I commented to Margie's friend Eric, who was sitting next to me on the concrete parking lot. "But none of the guys are cute."

"I know, right?" he said.

That's about all we agreed on, because I tend to prefer bearded, intellectual, white-collar guys who bathe frequently; and he likes the rebel type - guys who look as if they could be a little dangerous, he told me.

The girls at these shows, on the other hand, are natural beauties, assuming the ink is more or less organic. They're all wearing comfortable shoes. "One of Katie's friends was a little alarmed by your pit hair," I told Margie conversationally, before she started setting up for the show. "She went on and on about it."

Margie laughed. "I never even think about it anymore," she said.

"Do you shave?" Grady asked me - he's the "Teddy" in "Teddy and Marge," and Margie's boyfriend.

Hello! I'm wearing heels here!

So I always feel like a bit of a misfit at their shows.

Like most of the other people there, I bike to work, I get all my clothes from thrift stores, and I like the funky alternative music scene, aside from the cigarette smoke. But I think the biggest distinction between Margie and her friends and me isn't the tats, body hair, vegetarianism, or chain-smoking. It's the fact that they have no objection to using the restroom at the Opera House, even though it only has an old screen door with some tattered purple satin fabric covering most of the screening, and a hook and a nail in the doorjamb to hold it shut.

It's not that I'm too prissy to swill large quantities of Lone Star, honest. It's just that if I end up having to use the facilities, I'm going home.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Use It or Lose It

Walgreen's sells vibrators, so it doesn't matter if their selection of dog toys is fairly small.

Robbie and I had a proper nooner yesterday - I was forced, due to circumstances beyond my control, to take the day off work, so I picked him up for lunch at 11:15. We dropped his car off to be washed, waxed, and detailed; we ate steak; we did a spot of shopping at the abovementioned purveyor of questionable appliances; we hung out in the outdoor waiting pavilion at the car wash (which reminded me a bit of our dear old three-martini break spot); and eventually he returned to his office about two o'clock.

See? That's what I call a proper nooner. Well, except that his wiener wasn't involved.*

We're coming up on the end of the fiscal year, here. That's why I am now slated to visit four cities before the end of August. It's also why I had to take yesterday off. Do you know, my old cube neighbor Audrey never had this problem? She hated the job so much, and (quite frankly) lacked the capacity for finding joy in the company of cool people there, so she burned vacation and sick time faster than she earned it. It's kind of hard for me to imagine, because I find our employer's vacation leave policy to be particularly generous, although the concept of a limited amount of sick time, that you can actually run out of, is a little odd. Still I've accumulated more of both than I can even imagine being able to use. And I've only been there two and a half years!

Robbie and I had lunch at Montana Mike's. Have you ever played Paper Mario? The trainee waitress shadowing our waiter brings this game immediately to mind; but if you don't know what I'm talking about, never mind - there's not really any explaining it. "You can have a beer if you want to," said Robbie magnanimously, "but I can't."

Oh! the humanity! Not being able to have a drink during your two-and-three-quarter-hour lunch break! My heart bleeds. Somewhere, a very small violin is playing.

But I just had iced tea, because I was already planning to go to Diane's happy hour later, anyway. Diane has a great group of sweet, friendly and funny cohorts she goes out drinking with every Friday, and I always want to go, but I don't get off work until 5. They don't either, but they're all charter members of the KMA** club and take off whenever they damn well please. Friday is a blow-off day. So whatever!

Happy hour was at Donn's Depot. Either the wine is extremely cheap there, or else I owe Diane money. My favorite thing about that bar is the ladies' room, because it's an old caboose - rather plushly furnished, with little closet-like rooms for each commode, rather than stalls. And instead of the usual ladies'-room sofa that never gets used, because who the hell relaxes in the effing bathroom?! - there's the little sitting area you have to climb a ladder to get to, the old lookout seat of the caboose. Don't think I haven't thought about it. There are random women's thoughts scrawled on the pink-and-white-striped wallpaper in the stalls, but they aren't all that profound. I didn't bring a pen.

I have four more off-hours to burn off next week - probably Monday afternoon, I'm thinking - and then, after the travels are over, it's back to normal. Until the next hurricane.

I love my job, almost as much as shopping at Walgreen's! Still, thank God for the occasional nooner.

*This pun will never, ever get old
**Thursday I was tasked with putting together an acronym glossary for the supervisory manual I've been working on. I think that's a relevant entry, don't you?

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Some years ago, I don't remember why, I discovered that the number one result for a Google image search on "not funny" was a Family Circus cartoon. I was awestruck. I thought to myself, wow. Is there anything Google doesn't know?

But here it is, four or five years later, and as amazing as modern technology is (ain't it though?), you still can't search for songs.

I mean, if you know the name of the song, or a fragment of the lyrics, of course you can. But you can't search for the music. I'm thinking of a very pretty folk song that a Celtic group I knew back in college used to perform. I can't remember any of the words. It might have involved a lovelorn maiden sitting down by the green something-or-other; but what Celtic folk song doesn't?

It went something like this:

(sh) La la la laa la-la la la laa
La la la. -la la tri-p-let laa
La la la la. -la-la-la la la la,
(sh) La la-la la la la la la. -la-la

Google is no help with this.

There's some musical notation software out there, and I could jot the melody down easily enough. But you can't search on a musical phrase, can you? I mean, you'd think they'd have algorithms that would allow for transposition - I don't know what key it was in - and for some liberties with the time signature.

But no. Here we are, lords of creation, arrogantly surveying the universe from the pinnacle of human accomplishment, and still if I want to find this song I'm reduced to going around humming at people like I'm some kind of Cro-Magnon or something.

It's not funny.

Labels: ,

Monday, August 04, 2008

Not Tonight, Dear, I Have a Hurricane

As if it weren't bad enough that Texas is getting back-to-back hurricane action, I really take issue with the names. Dolly isn't even a real name (it's a nickname for Dorothy), and I'm sorry to report that some of my dearest friends were reduced to making terrible Broadway jokes. As for Tropical Storm Edouard - that's a good enough French name; but this morning, half the people in my office couldn't figure out how to pronounce it.

French, and headed for the eastern Texas coast? I do believe that'd be a Cajun weather system. Sacrebleu, y'all! Couldn't we at least get two letters of the alphabet off?!

Here's a better idea, for you brainiacs at the National Weather Service: How about you name the first tropical storm of the season Zelda? That way, you know, you can't have any more. How hard is that? It's meteorology, people, not rocket science.

Failing that, the names we're coming up with here seem to suggest we're running low on good ones. Why not switch to car models? Or would Ford sue the NWS if Hurricane Escape wiped out the Florida Keys? Perhaps the concern is that, if a Category 5 hurricane named Yugo were aimed straight at Mobile, everybody would just laugh and not evacuate.

But what happens if, in these strange and climatologically shifting times, we run all the way through the alphabet during a single hurricane season, and (taking a page from Excel's workbook) have to start over again with AA? Hurricane Aaron is perfectly respectable, but all the others would have to be named after Welshmen.

And the way things are looking, they'll have tropical storm action of their own to worry about.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Home Is Where the Vegetation Is

This is the part of my house where I feel most at home, so 100+ degree days are kind of a bitch.

I love the plants that have a story - in other words, plants that I've inherited, been given, dug up out of a driveway crack in Corpus, or otherwise rescued. I guess the lamb's ear from Great Outdoors had a story too, but it was an extremely short one.

Here's Spikey, the Corpus crack weed. He seems to like it better in Austin just as much as I do - well, he and his multitude of spikey offspring. I moved his pot into the dirt planter bed to let such of them take root as wanted to.

Here's another one from Corpus. I don't know what he is, but when we first moved there, a neighbor gave him to Eric - a bare, six-inch-tall stalk sporting a single leaf at the top (the plant, not Eric).

Next to him are some small aloe plants my ex-mother-in-law gave to Eric in a pot, neglecting to mention that they were not actually rooted in any soil. I planted them in a tin pail Anna was growing other succulents in for class. All of them are coming along pretty nicely. Another aloe wasn't doing so well and I'm experimenting to see if I can revive it in a cup of water. It seems to be working. The plant is sending out roots, and has changed from gray to green; I'll put it in dirt soon.

These are, left to right, some clippings from a variegated sweet-pea plant I bought at Great Outdoors, and a rescue plant abandoned by one of my sister Margie's ex-boyfriends. I actually purchased the sweet-pea as a gift for Margie, but took clippings before I gave it to her.

Hers promptly died.

The rest of the gang includes the large, water-loving lily I got as a birthday gift from a client in Tennessee, a succulent box garden given to Eric by his grandmother, a hanging basket with clippings from yet another plant abandoned by Margie's herbicidal maniac ex-boyfriend, a very tiny cactus from Robbie I just brought home from the office yesterday, ice plant clippings from my former coworker Butch, a shrub Robbie and I picked beside Blunn Creek at lunchtime one day, and more pothos ivy than you can shake a stick at.

Can you imagine a more perfect place to enjoy the shade of a giant oak tree on a sweltering Austin evening?

Labels: ,

Friday, August 01, 2008

That's Nae Ordinary Rabbit

I forgot to mention that, in addition to its own little playa lake, the facility we were inspecting in Amarillo had lots and lots of bunnies: happy little brown ones, roaming the grounds, enjoying the shade of the shrubs, and generally just being wiggly-nosed and cute. They're wild bunnies, but the supervisor there feeds them carrots in the mornings. They aren't particularly afraid of people.

A striking feature of that facility is a normally dry arroyo, attractively lined with decomposed granite and multicolored river rock. During a rainstorm it carries runoff. Footbridges cross it from the parking lot to the building entrances. The bunnies hop up and down the rock banks of the dry arroyo and sometimes spread themselves out in the sun - "they look like they're dead," remarked the supervisor, pointing out an unusually flat specimen of lagomorphy baking on the gravel. She told us that once an outraged visitor approached her, demanding to know if she had imprisoned the bunnies down in the arroyo.

"You do feed them," I pointed out, and she was forced to agree that her behavior is essentially enabling. It's elementary psychology that the best way to ensnare someone is to give them everything they want, right? Elementary human psychology, anyway. I assume it also works on rabbits. In so many cases, there's very little distinction.

Meanwhile, back at the office, a coworker found that news travels fast. Several of the other facilities we supervise called in yesterday to request backup files and paperwork - oh, no reason! - and, in one case, to mention oh-so-casually that they had some minor damage they'd been unable to repair due to budget cuts. None of them seemed surprised to be told that my boss and I weren't in. The internal communications issues the agency is so plagued with aren't really a problem in my division.

I have to revise, slightly, my positive review of the Ambassador. The hotel was certainly comfortable enough, and the wireless signal was nice and strong - and free! But unless you're on the concierge level, breakfast is typically hotel-overpriced and limited; and I think they have some serious issues with their plumbing. Yesterday morning I stepped out of the shower into a full inch of water on the bathroom floor. I saw the ceiling next to the top of the shower stall wet and sagging, and large droplets of water inside the adjacent light fixture - a pipe leading to the showerhead appears to have a major leak. I described it to the clerk as I was checking out, and she smiled and nodded and thanked me for letting her know, but didn't write it down, and went on with the next client as I was leaving.

And I'm sorry to report that, due to extreme exhaustion, my boss and I ate dinner Wednesday at the featureless chain restaurant off the hotel lobby. I got a steak, but it was very salty. The next morning we had breakfast at Roasters, a coffeehouse which would like to be like Dominican Joe, but needs to make its coffee a lot stronger. Also the staff there doesn't know how to pronounce the word "scone" (it rhymes with "gone," people).

Lunch yesterday, though, was at Outlaws Supper Club, a somewhat ironically-named little dive with vinyl tablecloths and a dirt parking lot next to the railroad tracks. They are elegant enough to have wine - three kinds, in fact! They have white, red, and pink. The burgers are big and greasy and served on Texas Toast instead of a bun, and the onion rings are actually very good.

Isn't traveling fun? That's about all I have to tell you about Amarillo, since I didn't get to see much. I have two more trips coming up this month, but where I'm going is a secret.

I'd tell you, but then I'd have to sic the bunnies on you.

Labels: , , ,