Wednesday, January 28, 2009

You Think You've Got It Bad

Just for fun, here's the Grimm Brothers fairy tale "The Goose Girl," retold from memory, without looking it up, and with a certain degree of commentary, because this story popped into my head at work today; and frankly, I just never thought it made any sense.

Unlike all those other fairy tales.

A princess is traveling, accompanied by her lady's-maid, to a foreign kingdom to fulfill the terms of an arranged marriage. Now, the princess is a fairy-tale princess, right? So she's beautiful, and good, and kind, and humble.

Maybe a little too humble.

The lady's-maid, on the other hand, is arrogant, ambitious, and cruel. Halfway through their journey, she forces the princess to switch clothes with her, assuming her superior's identity. To conceal the crime, she kills... the princess' horse? Yes indeedy, she kills the horse, and beheads it. She has to, because it talks - which is apparently more than you can say for the princess.

So they arrive at their destination, the lady's-maid is wedded to the prince, and the poor princess (who really needs to learn to quit lying around on doorsteps with plastic daisies in her hair) is sent out into the fields to tend the geese. Her horse's severed head is nailed to the gate she must pass through every morning with her flocks. And every day, as she passes, she sighs to the horse's head, "Alas! woe is me."

"Tell me about it, princess," says the horse, who is kind of minus a body now. Also he's dead. Still, not only does he keep right on talking every day, but he addresses the princess with royal respect, not to mention a certain degree of patience in my opinion, when you consider that he could be seen as being a little worse off than she is. And you'd think their daily exchange would get pretty boring for him after a while. At least she has the geese to talk to.

Anyway, someone - maybe it's the prince (who is apparently wising up real fast to what a mistake this marriage was), or maybe someone else who goes and tells the prince, I don't remember - overhears this daily exchange between the goose-princess and her corporeally-challenged buddy, and the prince finds out what's been going on.

This is the point where you think, huh. (Possibly not for the first time.) Considering that not many horses talk even when they're alive, and this one chats you up despite being in a fairly unequivocal state of demise, maybe the maid should have gotten rid of the head somehow - buried it, dumped it in a pond, burnt it - oh, I don't know, really ANYTHING THAT DOESN'T INVOLVE NAILING IT UP IN PUBLIC.

So the prince throws this huge party, supposedly in honor of his new wife. Everyone's invited. And once everyone arrives, the prince calls his bride up in front of everyone, and says:

"Soooooo. What if, hypothetically speaking, there was this princess and this maid and the maid stole the princess' identity on the way to her wedding and married the princess' fiancé and made the princess work as a goose-girl and killed the princess' horse and nailed its talking head to the gate in the palace yard?"

"I'd be pissed," says the ersatz princess, who's a little slow on the uptake.

"So, and again we're just talking hypotheticals here," the prince continues, "what would you consider to be an appropriate punishment for a maid who went and did something like that?"

"Oh, I don't know," says the ersatz princess. "Just off the top of my head, I suppose you could, maybe, strip her naked and seal her in a barrel studded with ten thousand nails pointing inwards and roll the barrel down the hill, you know."

Well you are not going to believe what happens next. Yes! The prince does just exactly that to her - that'd be his wife, you know - and that's the end of her. Talk about being hoist by your own petard! That's irony, that is.

So then, with the marriage pretty effectively dissolved at this point, the prince marries his rightful bride, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Except possibly the horse. But you can't have everything.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

The Specialist

I can make charts in Excel. Ergo, I'm special.

Not to brag too much, but today, just because I churned out a couple of very simple line graphs using the wizard, I suddenly achieved expert status. And thereby helped out and impressed the Big Boss, hooray! She's no intellectual slouch, but she's at a place in her career where she has people to prepare documents, reports, presentations and the like for her, so she probably hasn't mucked about much in Excel since the Reagan administration.

Back then, you know, Excel had beads.

Remember Max Headroom? I used to love that show. I had such a crush on Matt Frewer! And I wanted to be like the British chick, what's-her-name, because she was so poised, oh-so hot, and she really knew how to work computers - an accomplishment that seemed well beyond the dreams of your average high-school wanna-be femme mentale. A couple of years later, my parents would get an Atari 800, I'd churn out high school English papers in LetterPerfect on a dot-matrix printer, I'd learn a little BASIC on an Apple IIe (boy, talk about the skills you WON'T use again after graduation), and my dad would send me off to college with a Heathkit H89, which confused and frightened me. I mean, the thing required a hugely elaborate string of commands just to turn it on, and if you got any line wrong it automatically administered severe electrical shocks. That thing was scary.

So it's gratifying to be regarded as a computer whiz, dammit, even if only by state employees. But I still can't seem to seize control of the elevators or the cooling system.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

To Explore New Cuisines

When I'm out with a group of fun and funny people, in the midst of a spirited conversation, I often wish I had a notebook in front of me - as opposed to a Young's double chocolate stout, which tastes better, but has sort of the opposite effect. There was a major disagreement on the merits of Kirk vs. Picard, I'm sorry to say. I'm not quite sure who won.

Last night Kevin and I met up with a handful of the band's other friends to see Gilmer and Moore play at Fiddler's Hearth, a new Irish restaurant in the former Bennigan's on Barton Springs. Fiddler's Hearth is a chain too, but it's pretty cool, and I hope it hasn't doomed itself by moving into the space that was originally the very first Night Hawk. Some locations are just cursed, and that's all there is to it.

We used to eat lunch at Bennigan's every once in a while, though it was never a favorite - it was just within easy walking distance of the office. That's a chain whose star had set by the end of the 80's, same way Steak and Ale should have closed its doors for good on December 31, 1979, instead of decades later.

Fiddler's Hearth hasn't changed up the space much, except that the bar no longer reigns supreme from its raised dais in the center of the restaurant, but is instead huddled back in an out-of-the-way corner. The center area has some tables and chairs and a small stage, all of which look as if they might rather be somewhere else. The "Bennigan's" inlaid in mosaic tile at the entrance has a rug thrown over it. The place doesn't look finished.

The food is an improvement, both tasty and educational, and sent me to Wikipedia this morning to learn more about such goodies as shepherd's pie, boxty, and colcannon - and the source of my man problems as well, apparently. My dinner was a boxty, a large potato pancake folded omelet-like over a filling of steak strips and sauteed onions and peppers. I think the boxty would be more authentically, if less appetizingly, served by itself, because if you can afford meat, you don't go around inventing potato pancakes, do you? Still, it was very good, and I'm really wanting to go back again sometime soon for the weekend brunch buffet. How often do you eat a savory mash of cabbage, onions and potatoes with bits of bacon mixed in to start your day? Not that often, I bet. But frankly, I'm kind of tired of breakfast tacos.

Colcannon is traditionally served at Halloween with prizes hidden in it, and if you get the ring in your portion, you'll be married within the year; if you get the coin, you'll make money, and so on. That assumes you don't choke to death on the favor, which is generally regarded as bad luck and very rude to your host besides.

Fortunately we all survived last night's dinner and had a wonderful time too, because the music was great as always and the conversation was hilarious. I wish I could remember more of it.

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Blinded with Science

Anna did a science fair project.

Actually - and pretty much any parent of a second-grader already knows this - Anna's daddy did a science fair project, in which she was somewhat peripherally involved, when not too deeply engrossed in furnishing and decorating her virtual bedroom on And, in finest green fashion, he actually recycled a science fair project that (cough, cough) Eric did some years ago, on making cupcakes with various different types of leavening, or with none. Anna, her friend Gracie, and Katie judged the results, and Anna typed up the final report.

Gracie lives four houses down, and is in first grade. Her parents are an advertising executive and a lawyer. She also has a natural flair for the dramatic. This makes her an excellent cupcake judge, because she says things like, "This one is unbelievably delicious, as soft and fluffy as a cloud" and "If I have to eat any more of this cupcake, I'll just die."

Anna follows her cue. "I can't take anymore," reads one of her results - on the cupcake leavened with yeast, I believe. I would say she was prejudiced by having read up on exactly how yeast works, but it was a blind taste test, so she didn't know she was chowing down on microorganism farts.

Katie is sixteen and no stranger to drama herself, but this is a second-grade science fair project, for heaven's sake. She gets right to the point. "Moist and dense, like a brownie," she says of the unleavened cake, which actually won the taste-test, although it didn't look the nicest. She didn't care for the yeast one either. "Tastes like chocolate dirt," she said.

Alas! this experiment, which garnered Eric a second-place result at his school, in eighth grade, I think, was not a winner for Anna. Partly, it's possible that the cupcakes might have been accidentally switched during the tasting, and the results therefore had to be slightly fudged (sorry). Partly, Eric's science fair took place in Corpus. But worst of all was that Anna's display - one of each of the four different cupcakes, cut in cross-section, and placed on a sheet of paper with each cupcake labeled and the words "DO NOT EAT" prominently displayed across the bottom - was mysteriously consumed some time before the judges arrived.

Eaten by whom? Perhaps a rival; and if so, one hopes the cakes caused at least a certain degree of guilty indigestion. At least the yeast one. But this was an elementary-school science fair, and the exhibits were on display in the cafeteria for half a day. Probably somebody was just hungry.

Well, there's always next year.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chicken Marsala for the Soul

On the hike-and-bike yesterday, a cute bicyclist caught my eye and smiled as he was passing. "Hi," he said, so I smiled back, and as he passed, he added, "You look like a million bucks."

Isn't that nice? Frankly, for the last couple of weeks at least I've been feeling like maybe a buck-fifty, buck-seventy-five, tops. So this really made my day, though I was much too surprised, slow, and shy to turn around and yell "Thanks!" at his retreating form.

No wonder I never get any.

Chickens are a whole nother story, at least according to some very highly placed people in my division, who made some surprisingly inappropriate comments at dinner last night. This is perfectly all right, of course. The comments were not aimed at me, and actually this is the first time I've seen the higher-ups in my "new" job (one year next month!) behave with anything less than the utmost probity (which sounds dirty but isn't).

The conversation turned, as conversations sometimes will, to the topic of chicken resuscitation. Someone, a friend or relative of the teller, used to swat flies for his chickens, and the chickens ate them as they dropped. Perfectly normal so far, of course; we all do that. But apparently, one time, one of the target flies was too close and the guy accidentally swatted a chicken clean into next week, right? So the chicken fell over senseless. (As opposed to how chickens normally are.) Anyway, the guy freaked out and tried to revive the chicken by giving it mouth-to-mouth through its beak - "I guess that'd be mouth-to-beak," added the husband of the Big Boss, sitting next to me. "Mouth-to-pecker resuscitation."

Oh no he didn't!

The chicken survived with only a mild concussion, though the conversation never quite recovered. Still, our dinner was tasty and the service (Romeo's, by the way) was really superb. Hooray for planning an event where everything comes off perfectly!

But I had to rush, because my high-school friend Pam is in town - for the funeral of a friend, unfortunately, but it was really nice to see her. Tony was my date to the reunion, so she knows him; and we met up at his house to drink wine, reminisce, and muse about men; panties; childrearing; vibrators; unwanted body hair; going in the out door; prayer; virginity (appropriate attire for, loss of, Rohypnol and); alcoholism; turtles; penis size and sexual duration; and perhaps one or two dozen other things that wouldn't really interest anyone, so I won't go into details.

I didn't get around to telling her the chicken story, though. Maybe she'll be able to visit again sometime under happier circumstances. I think we should go hit the hike-and-bike trail.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Be Smarter

Early experiments in the field of external mental supplementation were unsuccessful, as the prosthesis tended to become dislodged during the course of routine social activities engaged in by the subject.

It is to be hoped that more sophisticated techniques in attaching, protecting, or possibly even implating the prosthesis will lead to better results. This researcher believes that the potential benefits of an extra brain far outweigh the risks, and could greatly enhance the quality of life for large segments of the human population.

At least I could sure use one.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Outside Looking In

"Oh my gosh," said the highly-paid voiceover professional on the phone today, as a recording of her reading of Texas city names was played back to her. "Do I really sound like that?"

So it's not just you.

For two and a half hours today I listened to this woman being recorded for our automated information line. I have no idea what she looks like. But from an audio perspective, it's like being in the room with a supermodel. I have no particular problem with my speaking or singing voice... but, damn, she sounds good. I feel a bit inadequate now.

Still, even the best voice starts to wear after that long, especially when all she's reading - however sumptuously - are city names, prompts ("I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Did you say ________?") and numbers. Numbers inflected up? Numbers inflected down. Oh yeah, and the alphabet. I also realized, after the recording session was over, that she did not say "thousand" at any point. We're going to need her saying "thousand." I think "million" and "billion" can probably wait a few years, especially in light of recent budget cutbacks.

And this was tiring for me. Imagine how she felt! In fact we don't have to imagine, as after thirty minutes or so of reading, she got the burps. Several blips had to be re-recorded to eliminate an inadvertent "urp" that snuck in there. I get the impression that when you're a professional voice talent, you end up swallowing a lot of air. Think of that, next time you dial an automated system and listen to a bunch of inhumanly smooth voice prompts: it's only by the grace of God (or sound engineers, depending on which way your religious leanings tend) that these phrases were not simply belched at you outright.

She also has to deal with culture shock. Texas has some strange place names, not to mention several that really aren't pronounced the way you might think they should be. This is especially true if you happen to be a worldly, well-educated east-coast socialite. That's how I picture this woman due to her voice and the fact that she's on Eastern time, though it's also possible she's a 435-pound truck driver based out of Pittsburgh.

Almost all anomalies are handled with grace, aplomb, and my old friend the International Phonetic Alphabet. But some things kind of bother her. One can't help but take her point. "Refugio," for instance, as many of you Texan-type people already know, is pronounced "re-FURRY-oh." Try explaining this to the voice talent, who is almost certain this must be a typo in the IPA transcript. "Tow" throws her off as well, and I have to unmute my phone and step in. "Nono, it isn't like towing a boat," I say, "it really is 'Tow' as in 'cow.' The locals have a saying to that effect."

She reads smoothly, with occasional interruptions to sip water, make comments, or genteelly excuse herself after burping. "Cunningham," she reads in that perfect, unflappable voice. "Currie. Cushing. Cuthand. Cut and Shoot.

"Cut-n-shoot? Are you kidding me?!"

Later on she had to read the names of various major statewide attractions, including the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. I hope to visit this place someday, because according to the Corpus Christi website, it's "home to the stately Whopping Crane." That's something I'd really hate to miss.

They're stately, but God only knows what they sound like.

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Saturday, January 03, 2009

Double Feature

It's always good to have new cultural experiences. Right?

I had a cultured friend once. We were housemates in the vegetarian coop I lived in off campus. We used to go see movies at the Varsity, and later at the Village, or rent videos at Vulcan (no, I can't explain the alliteration). A couple of times we drove down to San Antonio late at night, on the spur of the moment, to stroll down the Riverwalk with no one else around. He sold me a Volkswagen. Once he tried to get me to run off to New Mexico with him. Eventually he married a woman who was allergic to everything, especially cats, and the friendship had to end.

Anyway, this is the friend, I now remember, who recommended the film Babette's Feast to me. Tony and I watched it last night. It's about a couple of ascetic evangelical Danish sisters who employ a French cook for humanitarian reasons (on the condition that they don't have to pay her) until she wins the lottery and blows the proceedings on a sinfully lavish, gorgeous French dinner for her tea-sipping, ale-bread slurping benefactresses, thus bringing closure, redemption and peace to the whole village.

There. Now you don't have to watch it. Aren't you happy?

Actually I quite enjoyed it, though. It was a little contrived, but worth it for the imagery and the language, because you've gotta love people speaking Scandinavian tongues (also a big part of why I'm so fond of The Kingdom). And it's funny. Culturally uplifting experiences should always be funny, if they possibly can; it makes the viewer feel so superior to be laughing at things none of his Budweiser-swilling, unibrowed friends would understand.

The Norwegians, I'm told, bake themselves in a hot sauna, then run naked into the snow. Similarly, after the movie was over we watched part of an episode of Sex and the City. I'd never seen it before; it's one of those things I was pretty content to know only through SNL parodies, and after watching last night I stand by that assessment. Really. I have no moral objection to sexual promiscuity, though I don't quite understand the appeal. Whyever would you have sex with someone you don't care about and aren't interested in ever seeing again? If it's just quick thrills you're after, I have to say, batteries are a hell of a lot cheaper than contraceptives. But to each her own. What really bothered me about the show is how rude these women are - rude to men who approach them in bars, when after all they went there solely in order to be approached; rude to men they're involved with, rude to one another; taking it as a matter of course that a "good" boyfriend will jump through hoops for them when they're much too busy exploring their own wants and needs to do anything in return. I've always heard the show is supposed to be about female empowerment and sexual liberation. Why would you have to demean others to achieve this? I resent the implication that I'm supposed to identify with and admire these nasty, shallow, self-absorbed people.

Beth's rating:

Babette's Feast: Three and a half stars
The Kingdom: Four stars
Sex and the City: Half a star, and go get tested for the clap

P.S. Why didn't anybody point out how stupid the lyrics to "Leave It" are? Aren't you people paying attention?!?

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Why Cats Shouldn't Be on the Table

Not necessarily because they will eat your food.

He isn't eating.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

In the Wild

How lucky I am, I was reflecting last night, to have friends who have friends who throw spectacular New Year's Eve parties.

This particular party was held in West Austin, near the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. In fact, I'm not entirely certain it wasn't in the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. It was certainly close enough as makes no difference. The couple who own the many acres of property have their own separate little houses at opposite ends of it, on the steep, rocky banks of a deep ravine. The houses are only maybe, oh, two hundred yards apart, but the topography of the area adds a lot. The wooded hills are traversed by hundreds of roughly hewn limestone steps. A creek runs through the middle.

Can you imagine a more perfect setting for lasting conjugal bliss? You'd have togetherness, but you'd also have privacy, and your own space, and you wouldn't have to launder anyone else's skivvies. Another excellent option would be to live in an ancient English manor house where you could have a whole wing to yourself. I'd like one of those boudoirs with an enormous, canopied four-poster bed on a dais and a ruffled dressing table where I could sit and primp while my lady's-maid brushed my hair. And, just in case the living arrangements were still not perfectly satisfactory, there'd be a secret passage for all my lovers.

But we're in Austin. Wild Basin will do.

Both the houses are small and cozy, but breathtaking - one of the guys is an architect - but the party setup is all at one end: not the end, as it turns out, where Kevin, Tony, Larry and I parked. So when we arrived, we immediately began descending the rough, rocky steps into the ravine, following the sound of merriment, our way lit by dozens of pale blue Chinese lanterns. Kevin had to carry the champagne I'd brought, because someone - someone who calls himself a geographer, despite having significant navigational difficulties with his iPhone; but I digress - didn't warn me that stiletto heels would be an extremely bad idea. Thank God the stairs all have railings. Not realizing how large a plot of land it was, I kept expecting every turn to reveal a house or patio full of the people whose laughter I could hear. Instead, we wound our way deeper and deeper into the ravine. Even the guys were having a little trouble with their footing, though this was largely because they were laughing so hard.

Finally we reached the bottom. The creek is traversed by a narrow rock dam, perhaps 8 inches wide. At this point I was no longer expecting to turn a corner and see the party, I was expecting to turn a corner and see giant, intricately timed chopping machinery that we'd have to dodge our way through. I had to sit down for a little while.

"The advantage of this," pointed out Larry, who has a wonderfully positive attitude, "is that if you're not sober enough to drive, you'll never actually make it to your car."

But we did eventually reach the party, where we were greeted with hot hard cider (I know it sounds kind of dirty, but it was a gay party), and stood inhaling its fragrant steam on the patio under the chilly stars. The night was perfect, being cold - perhaps mid 40's - but not enough so that you couldn't be comfortable outside, in a warm jacket, with a hot drink. From this vantage point, the Chinese lanterns strung here and there throughout the trees looked like a hundred tiny moons.

Our host led a tour back into the ravine to see where they're building a swimming hole fed by the creek, "our own little Barton Springs," he called it. When it's finished, it'll be fed by a 12-foot-high waterfall. So I need to be sure and send a thank-you for the hospitality, so I can get invited back! I'll wear flats.

Closer to midnight there were fireworks, big bright beautiful ones shot off from the site of the swimming pool. And there was amazing food and many, many extremely attractive men. In fact I was the only female person there. And yet I didn't get hit on even once! I guess that's the good thing about having so many wonderful gay friends: you can go out, you can experience the finest things in life, you can have a wonderful and exciting time, and you never have to worry about dealing with improper attentions from men. Never. Ever. You will never ever ever have that problem at all ever again as long as you live.


Ah well, who needs 'em; all straight men ever do is make demands without giving anything in return. My New Year's resolution this year is to be a bigger fag-hag. That way I get to go to all the cool parties.

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