Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Culture and All Its Prefixes

Unpredictability is a good thing about my job, a good thing. Without it, well, I'd know what I'll be doing from one day to the next. That would suck.

This last week, I am a - well, for google's sake, we'll call it a visitor advisor. I'm greeting people who are new to Austin, or to Texas, and telling them what they should do or see while they are here. And because I'm nice, my suggestions are pleasant ones; even (I must rather shamefacedly add) things I personally have not done. Go on a free guided tour of the Capitol building. Visit the Harry Ransom Center, where they have a Gutenburg Bible on display, and the very first photograph ever taken. There are also interesting rotating exhibits of cultural artifacts. Currently they have an exhibit called "Making Movies" which really looks quite interesting. And the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum - well, for heaven's sake, you need to go there! I only lived on the UT campus for three years and never did, and to this day never have. I hope to soon.

And yet, it's odd, when we have a little free time to ourselves, to do what we like, we end up loafing around a certain someone's home and Netflixing the Will Farrell remake of "Land of the Lost." That can't be right.

I spent Monday afternoon covering at the Cap, and it was exhausting. First of all, the actual Capitol employees across the way were difficult to begin with. Then the visitors were plentiful and demanding; the last one of the day actually pretty much ordered me to call her a cab. I think she was from somewhere that taxis roam the streets for the hailing, and was tired and frustrated, so it's hard to be upset with her, though I was tired and frustrated (and sick) as well. But how much trouble is it really to pick up the phone and call a cab company? I did it. I hope she got her cab. I went home without worrying about it further.

More tiresome was a group of 15-20 middle-aged-ish people from a conference, who were on an "information scavenger hunt," and who wanted me - an Austinite, as far as they could tell, after all - to cough up on demand a reasonable quantity of interesting, little-known, and pithy facts about my hometown. Try being asked this on the spot as an open-ended question and coming up with a meaningful answer. On the whole, I think I did pretty well, telling people that our beloved William Sydney Porter wrote many of his best works while incarcerated, suggesting a drive-by tour of the original location of Whole Foods Market in what is now a small Cheapo Discs store on North Lamar, and mentioning that you can see Michael Dell's house (unless he's moved, which is entirely possible as I really haven't been paying attention) from Mount Bonnell.

Tuesday was a much better day, in that it snowed all day, and therefore not a single Texan arrived at the visitor center. People from Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, and of course; Canadians - mais oui! - came in, but the Texans tend to stay home, once the white stuff hits the sky. We probably didn't have but 30 visitor parties all day. So instead, I whiled away the afternoon reading a book lent to us by an employee of the Capitol Visitor Center across the way: "The Hot Zone," by Richard Preston, which I dug 300 pages into yesterday, and which, for future reference, I recommend against reading while you have a nasty cold.

This book deals with a non-fictional, or perhaps semi-fictional (I'm only 300 pages in, so I don't know for sure yet) outbreak of the Ebola Zaire virus in metropolitan Washington, D.C., specifically Reston, Virginia, where I largely grew up. The location is less gripping than the description of the symptoms, and it's pretty rationally horrifying to think of a virus of this type being turned loose in the "civilized" world - as if it were any less horrible stashed out of (our) sight in the Third World.

I have to go back to the Cap tomorrow after lunch, and if it's not quiet enough for me to finish the book there, I'll bring it home. I'm not watching "Land of the Lost" again, at any rate.

Go see the Ransom Center, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, and the Elisabeth Ney Museum. Never seen any of 'em, to my shame. I am on my way.

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

More and Mortality

Unless they're particularly profound (think, oh I don't know, Schindler's List), movies have no business being depressing.

That's why I Am Legend is right out. I made it perhaps a third of the way through that one tonight, and read the rest of the story on IMDB. I was right to stop watching. Unfortunately, the cheeriest pick from the movies my friend had Netflixed for our evening was Flags of Our Fathers; and at this point, you start wondering, is this guy trying to tell me something?!

Bad things are going down at work. Oh, I still love my job, but unpleasant things are happening. I've been doing lots of extra coverage at the visitor center due to our part-time visitor employee having cancer; so those of us in the administrative offices have to cover for lunch pretty often. Then, last week, one of the two full-time visitor center employees appears to have suffered a mild heart attack. He'll be okay, thank God! But we're now down, for the next week or two at least, to a single full-time staffer, and she kind of needs to have a day off every now and then, so instead of just covering for lunch a few days a week (and the occasional Saturday), we now must divide up entire workdays at the visitor center, being charming to the public.

Being charming is a skill I've been working particularly hard to develop, these last couple of years. I've always described Mom, and Grandmother and Aunt Barbara, as the kind of people who really light up a room when they walk in. My paternal grandfather, too, I've always thought of as someone who had a particularly tangible sweetness and gentleness to him. I think that's become one of my most prized and admired qualities in other people, that sense that you can talk to someone and just see, right off the bat, that they are lovely, kind, honest, sincere, just gosh-darn nice people. Not that you can't be wonderful without necessarily coming off that way right away, of course - and not that you can't be a charming, sociopathic bastard, either. But still.

So it's kind of fun, perhaps somewhat experimentally, to be as outrageously nice to people as possible in a professional capacity. It gets a response, and that response is tremendously rewarding, because you end up feeling as if you'd made a small but measurable impact on someone's day, by extension life, by extension the world, the universe, and the space-time continuum, thereby altering the laws of physics somewhat for the better. You know - playing God. At least it makes ME happy, and I'm selfish, so that'll do.

Mom's definitive depressing movie, as I recall, was Sophie's Choice. If that's on the date night menu for next weekend, I'll know what to do.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Oh No, Not Again

It's that time of year again, that time when TV, radio and teh internets conspire to convince your man that all those disclaimers you keep tossing out regarding the lack of ostentation you prefer are of course nothing more than so much passive-aggressive bullshit, so if he wants to get any, he better make good with the diamonds, beeYOTCH!

Valentine's Day is nice in principle. Or maybe it used to be.

Other females, do you resent this? It just seems like we've come so far (skinny cigarettes notwithstanding) to be considered as rational human creatures. It seems unfair and downright sexist to have the mainstream media telling our men what we really want, blatantly overriding our own openly stated preferences. It's f***ing creepy, if you want to get right down to it. What's wrong with Mr. Here I Am In The Immediate Vicinity At This Moment tenderly bringing a single red rose to our homes, in appreciation for which we cook him, say, a lasange dinner, maybe bake a nice red velvet cake for dessert - he can bring the ice cream - then watch half a romantic DVD before becoming overwhelmed by runaway emotions on the couch? I mean, that sure sounds perfect to me, and nobody has to shell out any disposable income to 1-800-FLOWERS, Victoria's Secret, or Austin Land & Cattle (fine establishments though these may be) in the process. We won't even get into jewelry, God help us.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is always acceptable.

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