Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

2009 is coming to an end in just under eight hours and I'm looking forward to a spectacular new year in 2010, the year that good things will happen for my friends and family and the year that proves to me that there's a very, very good reason to enjoy the company of people who matter.

Happy New Year, everyone! Be safe, be happy, and have a year in which the meaning of prosperity become clear...and while I hope it includes money, take prosperity any way you can get it!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How to Have Good Time in Mexico

Unproductive Lethargy in Mexico

I've been having a hell of a time sleeping the past few nights. Night before last, I woke up at 2:30 and drifted off just about sunrise, but woke up again around 8:00 am so I got only about five hours sleep. Last night, I went to bed early again, but again was awake by 2:30 and finally got up before 5:00 am. It's 5:30 now and I just poured my first cup of coffee.

My sister in law should be arriving home shortly after her red-eye flight from Portland to Guadalajara. She'll be surprised to see her sleepy-eyed brother-in-law awake and waiting for her.

Yesterday, my wife and my brothers and I drove to Chapala and wandered around the malecon (waterfront walkway) for a bit, then my oldest brother and my wife and I headed over to the central marketplace (my other brother tends to wander off in search of conversations with Mexicans, displaced Americans, and social Canadians). After buying some grapefruit, kiwis, avocados, and various other stuff, we met up with my wandering brother and ambled over to a little corner restaurant where we all had traditional Mexican food (e.g., enchiladas, flautas, tacos, etc.) and where my oldest brother and I managed to douse me with a cerveza India (though it dried out before long, I can smell the beer in my jeans that I threw on awhile ago).

A stop at a rostizado yielded a nice roast chicken that served as dinner last night. The same stop made it convenient for us to go to the Super Lake market for more groceries. And that very same stop made it quite convenient for us to wander through a liquor store, where my brother bought wine for the upcoming New Year's Day party and I bought a bottle of tequila and a bottle of rum to partially replace some of what I have consumed since arriving here in Ajijic.

For some reason, I've not felt like doing much of anything since arriving here. I've just wanted to sit back and relax. I don't feel like going out to see the sights as a tourist, I don't feel like driving to interesting little Mexican towns to see another perspective on Mexican village life...I just feel like sitting on my ass and doing nothing. My wife has been very reasonable so far and has allowed my laziness to prevail. I hope she continues to allow me to be lethargic; I can feel again today that I am going to feel just the same. The lack of sleep doesn't help, I'm sure.

It doesn't help, either, to open email to find "emergencies" requiring my response. I cannot just leave the office. I guess I could, but that would send a message to clients that I'm not ready to send.

It's still a good hour or more from daybreak, so I'll sit back and have another cup of coffee and mull over what I'll do to make myself feel productive on another day when I'm lethargic and in the mood to be lazy and unproductive.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


It wasn't long after we went downstairs on the day after Christmas that we were regaled with a story about a newly discovered alacrána and her doce bebés. That's right, a mama scorpion, carrying twelve baby scorpions, had been found in the "work room" of the B&B where we were staying. It's a shame my lack of photographic skills, coupled with inadequate equipment and other such troubles, made it impossible for me to present a better photo. Suffice it to say it was interesting.

This event occurred in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. Which is where I am sitting right now, looking out over the verdant landscape of my brother's back yard, over another Mexican home just south of us, and across to Lake Chapala.

Scorpions be damned! I like it here!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Clear Lens

Reading something painful and personal and absolutely real can cause tears to well up in your eyes and quickly flood onto your face and down the front of your shirt. Reading those words can take your breath away.

It's pointless to try to stop the flood. There's no use in trying to breathe. Those real words conspire with your own humanity to tear down defenses against the ravages of time.

The painful side of reality, the side we never want to see, is as real as the bright side. If we can witness happiness and joy and be moved by them, can't we witness pain and fear and loss and allow ourselves to be moved by them, too?

My friend whose brother died last week wrote something painful and personal and absolutley real. Read it here and be prepared to witness the painful side through a brilliant, clear lens.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I'm getting excited...just a few more days until we go to Mexico! I'm going to try to forget life's little annoyances for a few days so I can be the very cool, unflappable guy I was meant to be. Who meant it, I don't know. But it was meant. I mean meant to be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Poetry is an Emotional Experience

Finally, after many months, I bought and downloaded Leonard Cohen's latest collection, his Live from London album from his most recent world tour.

It's exceptional. Now, as I listen to Sisters of Mercy, I recall how fortunate I was to have been able to see him live in Dallas earlier this year.

His poetry, put to music, is an emotional experience.

It Doesn't Feel Right

I spent the whole day today dealing with things like returning my newly-purchased car to the dealer, looking at other options for cars, etc. But my mind wasn't in it. Instead, I was thinking about my friend who lost her brother unexpectedly the other day. He was working out after work and collapsed and could not be revived.

He was young. It was utterly unexpected. And it must have come as the most horrific shock and godawful tragedy to my friend and her family.

While she must know that all of her friends are ready to rally around her, it's probably hard for her to know what she needs from them and it's just as hard for her friends to know what she needs.

Personal tragedies quickly uncover the flaws in our relationships and the gaping holes in our knowledge about our friends. How do we help? Is offering a should enough, or should we insist on being that shoulder? What's too intrusive and what's not sufficiently emphasized to make it seem real and honest?

I wish I knew the answers and I wish I knew the right time to ask the questions. Maybe there never is a right time to ask the questions. Maybe you just know the answers or you don't.

And how the hell could I have spent my day dealing with my damn car, when a friend is dealing with the death of her brother? I suppose reality says I'm 1800 miles away and can't be physically there to help and should not beat myself up for that. But it doesn't feel right, somehow.

Cars are pains in the ass...

I know. I drive a lot. And I like having a comfortable car. But cars can be a pain in the ass. Take the 2007 Toyota Avalon I recently bought. It needed some touch-up paint on the front bumper and the hood, so the dealer that sold me the car retrieved the car from me (as part of the sales deal) the Monday after the Friday I bought it. After the painting was done, the salesman was in the process of delivering it to me when he sideswiped some High Occupancy Vehicle lane marker uprights, scraping the left side of the car.

After the took the car back to repair the damage, I decided I did not want that car. I wanted another one...same model, same general mileage (40K), same pristine condition. They balked, but agreed. But after almost 3 weeks, they could not find one. So, today I go back to the dealer, pick up a check for what I paid them and got for my trade-in, and leave.

And then I start over. Do I look for a similar car? Do I do without for awhile, renting when I really need one, or jump into it again and quickly get another vehicle of some kind? I don't know. We'll see. I probably won't try to get another one like it. As much as I like the luxury, it's a dull-handling beast. I don't know. We'll see.

Cars are pains in the ass. But I'm not complaining. The dealer could have been a horse's ass. In fact, the dealer has been very accommodating. It's quite unusual for me to have anything but utter disdain for car dealers. This is a new experience.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joan Armatrading

I have tremendous regard for Joan Armatrading. She is a fabulous singer and a wonderful proponent of peace.


Damn. Just damn. Damn. Damn. Damn. Just damn. I shouldn't complain...considering what most of the people in this world are facing right now. But my selfishness allows me to say, just one more time, damn.

Here's to the people who can't worry about a damn thing because they are starving. My little upsets are meaningless. And so are yours. We're so damn spoiled, and it's time we owned up to it and thought about how we can transer a little of our wealth to people who are clinging to the edge of survival.

It's hard to release my little problems. But "hard" for me is nothing for most people on this planet. They need to know where their next meal is coming from.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Home is Where the Internet Is

It just hit me. I like people on the Internet more than I like people in real life. Not always, but generally.

For one thing, the Internet people with whom I interact are smarter...much smarter...than most of the real people I deal with regularly. For another, they have tastes similar to mine. They tend to have deep love affairs with food and they tend to enjoy spicy food, though not always. And they like books. And words in general. There seems to be a greater number of poets and writers and READERS amongst Internet people than real people.

Internet people in my Internet life tend to be dramatically more progressive/liberal than real people. Especially more so than real people in Texas.

For years, I've been mulling over where to move in retirement, or in preparation for retirement. You know, a place where an introvert like me (believe it or not) could make friends who share many of my interests. And then I realize, it's been right in front of me all along! I just need to move to the Internet! How stupid of me to have been so blind to this for so long.

On My Mind

I'm trying to keep my mind on my car hassles because the other thing weighing on my mind is my sister...she's in the hospital again with heart pains. She went in very, very early yesterday morning and was admitted late yesterday afternoon. This is the umpteenth time she's had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance in the past several months and it's very upsetting. I'm concerned that the doctors are not finding the true cause for her heart problems each time she goes in. One time, it's said to be unrelated to the heart and, instead, related to breathing difficulties. But another time it has to do with the buildup of fluids and the need to keep that process in check. And then it has to do with medications (like nitroglycerine pills) not relieving pain when they should. I question whether they are not doing all they can, and should, because she is not covered by expensive private insurance.

These episodes emphasize to me the fact that we're all mortal. My own heart bypass surgery a few years ago brought home quite clearly to me that my heart could stop beating at any time. But somehow I feel more in control of my own life than I feel about my family members' lives. The fact that I have ignored my doctor's orders with respect to diet and exercise suggests I'm an undisciplined idiot, but that's another story.

I feel rather helpless just waiting to learn whether my sister is going to be OK. And I get worried that the doctors might say she won't be OK. And then the thought of losing her pops up and is horribly painful. And I don't even know her last wishes, which would make that possibility even more painful. For the record, for any family member who reads this post, my "last wishes" are these (actually, as a practicing atheist I don't have any preferences, personally, but as a matter of practicality): Burn me and be done! Celebrate life and tell stories about mine!

All of my brothers and sisters need to document their "last wishes," if they have any, if for no other reason than to make life a bit easier on everyone else when their time comes.

Back to something less somber, though frustrating in its own way.

I've given the car dealer another week to find a replacement car for me. I was fully prepared to have to get my lawyer personally involved, but the dealer surprised me (maybe because the dealer really, truly believes the car I bought but which was scraped up on one side while it was being delivered is really a super deal).

When I called yesterday, ready to give them a lot of grief and insisting that I have a check in hand immediately, the guy said they were fully prepared to give me a refund, but because the title paperwork, etc. had all gone through, it was more complicated than simply writing me a check. They had to go through the process of transferring the title back into the dealer's name, undoing sales tax records, etc., etc. He said it would take more than a few hours. I said I needed a car immediately, something more upscale than the loaner and he readily agreed, saying he needed the loaner back, anyway, because it had been sold. He said he would provide me with a nicer loaner and I agreed and caved a little, saying I'd give them one more week to find my ideal car (my attorney had suggested this...but also told me to send them a certified letter to document all the facts so far). But after that week, I told him, if I had no new car, I'd want the money in hand, no more waiting.

So, the car they gave me as a loaner is the car I bought...but the guy insisted that I was under no obligation to keep it, it was just one of the few cars available to give me. I haven't seen it in the light of day yet, but it did look very nice last night when it was delivered. And they had put a new set of tires on the car (I'm convinced it could not have passed inspection without them...and it now has a brand-new inspection sticker). I'm sure they want me to change my mind about keeping it. After driving it last night, I could see that happening. But I will wait and see what they find for me. And this morning, the certified letter will be winging its way to the dealership.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Where is Grumpy Old Man?

I periodically follow the belligerent rants of an aging (75 years and counting) ex-pat blogger who has lived in Spain with his Scandanavian wife for many, many years. He is far more militantly left-wing than I and I sometimes find his posts over the top...but they're heart-felt and they're from someone who has seen the American presence worldwide from two very distinctive and opposing perspectives. In spite of his lengthy strings of profanity and his misspellings and hsometimes too "black and white" point of view, I enjoy reading his comments. Beyond that, I've enjoyed listening to the music he's placed on his blog to accompany his diatribes. He's the guy who introduced me to Liam Clancy, the last of the Clancy Brothers who recently died.

Well, as I recall, the last post of his I read was posted November 10. He usually posts a few times each week, so several weeks without posts is alarming. Then, a few days ago, I tried to reach his site and could not reach it. He has not responded to at least two emails I have sent to him and I'm getting concerned.

On the off-chance anyone who reads this knows him or knows why his site has disappeared, I'm asking that you tell me. You can contact me at I would like to know he's just been unceremoniously kicked off his hosting platform for awhile. I'd rather that be the reason I can't reach him than anything else.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Help? Help? Really?

I spent this weekend waiting for the phone to ring. I was waiting to be called to the scene of a fire, where I would dispense food and drink and compassion to families whose home had been damaged or destroyed in a fire. This was my first "on call" weekend as a volunteer with a relief organization.

My first call came just 8 hours after my volunteer "duty" period started. At 2:15 am, I was jarred out of bed by what I thought was the phone ringing; but it was the phone's email alert, not the phone. I read the message, telling me in a cryptic code that four adult males were involved in a single family house fire in South Dallas. Then, moments later, I got a message telling me the "incident number" for this fire, a number I would need to use if I filled out forms giving some sort of aid to the victims of the fire.

Finally, the team leader called me and told me where to meet him and the third member of the team, where we would all get into the agency's well-equipped emergency vehicle and drive to the scene of the fire. I arrived at the designed parking lot at 3:00 am and the agency vehicle arrived moments later. Then, the three of us drove to the scene of the fire. Along the way, the team leader commented that this was a "bad" part of Dallas, a comment I couldn't dispute. It was a poverty-stricken area that had a reputation in the media as being a haven for gangs and drugs and a place where violence was relatively common. The talk made me a bit nervous, but I thought, "who's going to mug relief volunteers?"

We arrived at the scene of the fire to find at least two fire trucks and several firemen, plus three black men wrapped from head to toe in blankets. We introduced ourselves and the team leader began asking questions: Did the men have IDs? (no) Did they have any bills, etc. that had their names and that address on them? (no) Did they have keys to the house? (no) They had reasons for their answers, but their answers suggested that they either did not really live there (they claimed the guy with the key left earlier) or they were not the primary residents or that they only crashed there temporarily.

Inside, we found smoke and a bit of fire damage to a hall closet, lots of water and "gunk" on the floor, and two empty beds nor other furniture. The kitchen was dirty but barren of food. A clothes washer was half-full of green, smelly water. The occupants, who had come back in side by the time we looked around, were all lounging on the only furniture in the house: two recliners and a sofa. About the time we saw them, a woman arrived; she had been inside an ambulance outside, receiving treatment for smoke inhalation, but she was obviously OK by the time she came back in the house.

The leader explained that the agency's policies provided relief only for lost shelter, food, and clothing. He explained that the house was livable because there was only a litte bit of damage, and that there was no food that could be replaced and that the people obviously had some clothing (what they were wearing, I suppose). So, he said, the only thing we could provide would be some snacks and drinks. The occupants were not thrilled, but they seemed not to have expected much from us; they seemed (to me) to expect that no one would give them any real assistance.

I can't help but acknowledge that the victims of the fire may have been, and probably were, squatters. They had no money, no food, and no clothing other than what they wore on their backs and had wrapped around them. According to relief agency policy, they did not qualify for replacement food or clothing or shelter. But I felt like I was watching bureaucracy in action when I watched the team leader explain that we were unable to do any more than provide them with snacks and something to drink. I was tempted to reach into my wallet and give these people $50or $100 just so they could have a little bit of comfort. But I didn't. I was home and in bed just after 5:00 am, smelling of smoke but comfortable and warm and dry. When I got up later, my wife cooked bacon for me before I had to leave for a meeting.

The next call came about 15 minutes after I went to bed the next evening. Again, it was a house fire, but this time it was much closer to home, only about 12 miles away. And it was in a neighborhood that is undergoing a transition from small homes built in the 1940s to behemoth replacements built after the smaller homes have been razed.

The second call involved a duplex that had caught fire while the occupant, a renter, had been out of town but was on the way back. A neighbor called him to ask if his dog was with him; when the guy said it was, his neighbor said good, but your house is on hire. The damage at this place was more signficant, involving walls and the floor, which had been torn and sawed up by the fire department, making it impossible to get to the kitchen. The single guy who lived there said he could stay with friends that night and, since he had been traveling, had clothes with him. But he said he could use some help with food, since he had been saving his money for his move...his trip was to Colorado, the location to which he was arranging to move. Again, the team leader asked questions and essentially settled on not giving the guy anything, but he changed his mind and gave him a $50 debit card for food.

In private conversations afterward, the leader said the relief agency was in business to replace losses and get people on their feet, not to hand out money.

The victim's next door neighbor came out and asked for support, too. His place had some smoke odor, but nothing else. I had no problem with the decision to tell him "no."

One thing that struck me about these episodes was the enormity of the paperwork burden the relief agency places on volunteers' shoulders. While I understand the need to avoid abuse, the paperwork is akin to governmental bureaucracy on steroids.

Fortunately for me, the phone did not ring again on Sunday or Sunday night. I was afraid it would. I found I was emotionally jarred when the phone rang. I didn't want to hear it again. But after all was said and done, I wondered if this volunteerism is for me. I felt like my role would become one primarily of fighting off swindlers with volumes of rules. Do I want that? How else can I help people?

Hell, I'll just go back to dealing with my as-yet-unreturned and unreplaced car. I'm on the hook to drive the loaner at least until Thursday. Maybe then I'll get a replacement or push the button and insist on a check and the return of my old car.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


I will not tolerate getting old and feeble before I retire. I won't put up with it. It will be dealt with in the most severe manner. If that means I have to retire before January 1, 2010, then so be it. I won't put up with it, do you hear me?!

Monday, November 30, 2009


I swore to myself I'd wait until my car hit 200,000 miles before I bought another one. I lied. Finally, last Thursday, I succumbed to my "new car fever" by buying a 2007 Toyota Avalon to replace the Bastard, a 1997 Toyota Avalon that had only hit 192,000 miles.

At least I fought my desire for "new." I could have spent $40,000 on a a new Avalon Limited, but I chose a 3 year old car that only looks new. It's white, a color that I never wanted, and the interior "wood" trim is very light blonde, an abomination unto god...but it's OK. I spent half the money I would have spent had I bought a new one, so I'm pleased about that.

Unfortunately, it needs new tires right away, so there's going to be that very big expense, but that's life. And it does not have an MP3 player or connector (that became standard in the 2008 model), but I'll live without it.

At the moment, the car is back with the dealer, who agreed to do some touch-up paint on the rear bumper and on the hood. It really does look new, inside out, but I know it's a used car. But I'm delighted with that; I finally got smart and let someone else take the immediate $3,500 depreciation on the car.

But what will I complain about, now? And what will I name her? A distant acquaintance suggested "Pearl." I'm leaning that direction.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Who makes money off of Thanksgiving? I want to know. Could the turkey-farmer lobby be this strong? Could they actually shape our consciences and mold our emotions? Or is it the goddamn pumpkin farmers who clean up thanks to...Thanksgiving? Maybe the condiment contingent is responsible for this most obscene holiday.

It's no coincidence that Thanksgiving and Christmas both fall near the end of the year, just in time for our wallets to be sucked dry by people looking for contributions just before the end of the tax year. Key-riced! It's the whole damn not-for-profit sector that staged this little opportunity for eyes to moisten and tears to fall!

The fact that so many people take a look inward and contemplate changing their selfish ways this time of year is just happenstance. It's all about the money. Don't let the tears of thanks from the homeless who've just been fed fool you. Don't let the smiles on the faces of kids who've just had their first full meal in a month trick you into believing it all matters.

What do you think we are, stupid?

In the Dark of the Night

It's odd to think that so much of what makes our lives easy goes on unnoticed by most of us while we sleep. Yesterday, I heard a piece on NPR that was not necessarily intended to make me think of these things, but that was the result.

The NPR piece was about a vegetable market in the northeast, a place through which virtually all the vegetables that end up on the tables in restaurants, in grocery stores, and otherwise make their ways to the stomachs of people throughout New England flow. The narrators guided the listener through the night in the market, explaining how the economics of power changed between sellers and buyers as supply and demand ebbed and flowed. The best of the best vegetables were gone by midnight or 1 am, taken by the buyers for the most expensive restaurants and upscale groceries, leaving the vegetables of lesser quality to haggling between sellers and less affluent buyers later on. Before sunrise, most of the participants completed their night's work and headed home to sleep while the rest of us live the more traditional lives of day workers.

I'm not a night person, but I suspect I could adjust if I were thrown into the arena of night-workers whose lives play out under artificial light against a dark sky. I have my reasons to think I could adjust and even begin to like that adjustment. For one, there are fewer people who live that life than live mine, giving some appeal to the dark life. And I suspect their world views may be different than those of us whose lives are more traditional.

On those rare occasions in which I am out and about in the middle of the night, I experience an odd sort of excitement as I see delivery trucks on the streets and wonder what they are carrying and where they are going and why their routes must be conducted under the cover of night. It's strangely intriguing to wonder about the lives of the waitresses and busboys who are hard at work at 3:00 a.m. Do they like this (to me) unusual schedule, or is this the best thing they could find? Is there a camaraderie among night workers that doesn't exist among those of us who arise in the morning and trudge obediently to work under the wash of the light of the sun? What about the hundreds of other people I see on the streets of Dallas as I take my rare glimpses of the life of the night?

I suppose these thoughts are natural, since it's just after 3:15 a.m. and I am awake and alone in my study, with only the glow of the computer screen and a halogen desk lamp lighting the night.

The piece I heard on NPR yesterday ended with a vegetable vendor making his way home before daylight, raking the leaves in his yard before sunrise, and going to bed just as his neighbors were beginning to get up to go to work. I'm not going to rake my leaves, but I may go back to bed before my neighbors begin to get up to work on their Thanksgiving Day meals.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Consorting with the Livestock

We spent a good part of the day test driving cars: 2007 Toyota Avalon, 2007 Toyota Highlander, 2006 Honda CRV, 2007 Toyota RAV4, 2010 Honda Pilot, 2010 Honda CRV. All had their ups and downs. And the 2007 Lexus LS 430, which we didn't drive, was almost awe-inspiring in its luxury. I had good reason to buy most of the cars. But I didn't.


Because cars are not worth what they want you to pay. They cost too much. Especially considering the fact that dealing with the people who are selling them makes me feel unclean. I'd be willing to buy a car, even if it cost too much, if I felt like I was not getting secretly screwed in the process. It's nasty, dealing with these people. A fellow blogger once wrote something that describes perfectly the feeling I have when dealing with these people; I'll paraphrase, since I don't have his original post. When I deal with car salesmen, I feel like I'm getting some embarrassing disease: "It feels vaguely disreputable, like something you'd contract by consorting with the livestock."

I thought fixed-price, no-negotiating protocols would improve the process. Dealing with the used-car salesmen was an improvement over dealing with new car salesmen in the past, but not by much. I don't trust these snakes as far as I can throw them.

I know I cannot keep the Blue Bastard forever. This weekend, it started making horrible crunching noises somewhere between the engine and the front left tire, tire, you know, the nether regions like the area between one's thighs and belly-button. But I just cannot stomach dealing with car salespeople. I get sick to my stomach and almost gag. I'm sure there are good, honest ones out in the world; they just don't happen to work in the Dallas area. They wouldn't last here.

I've almost come to the conclusion that, if I want a nice new or nearly-new car that is equipped with specifically the bells & whistles I want, I'm going to have to find it and then arrange to steal it or have it stolen. Risking prison isn't so bad, at least not compared to interacting with snakes who sell cars.

There, it's finished. My daily surly rant is done.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Highway Wages

I'm about to leave for the office. Trying my best to be in an upbeat mood about that. Finding it difficult. I'd rather be hitting the highway. But the highway doesn't pay. Shit.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Being in a Bar

We went to a bar tonight, a place filled with 20-somethings and fewer 30-somethings. We were the oldest people in the place, I'm fairly sure, but we didn't feel out of place. The people we met there comprised a motley crew of 30-somethings who were all friends of my friend, who called the group there to witness his wife's humiliation.

See, these people are rabid football fans of Texas and Oklahoma and Texas won over Oklahoma in some major rivalry match, so he (the Texas-ex) took joy in his wife conceding defeat by wearing UT clothes, etc. I didn't say we enoyed that part.

But we enjoyed the company and the youthful conversations. I still believe I am 25 years old. I behaved like a 25-year-old. My wife has not left me, though, so she apparently does not believe the behavior will be long-lasting.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

National Geographic Video: Incredible!

This is one of the most amazing short videos I've ever seen. Watch it!

Monday, November 16, 2009

$12 Makeover

Long-sleeved, bright-red t-shirts belong on the bodies of young, well-chiseled young men. They do not belong on the bodies of geezers who ignore...nay, shun...the benefits of exercise and eating sensibly. That notwithstanding, I am wearing a very nice, soft, comfortable t-shirt, deep cranberry red, and it looks and feels, to me, like it was made for me.

The shirt's arms are a bit long, since they were designed for someone considerably taller than I, someone with dramatically longer arms. But that doesn't matter. I like this shirt. But I was prepared not to like it. You see, I intended to buy a short-sleeve shirt. I thought I had done so. But by the time I had torn all the tags off of it and thrown it into the washer, it was too late to turn back. That, and the fact that it cost something like $12, made it seem silly to drive all the way back to the place I bought it. So I didn't. And here I am, liking it.

This shirt may well change my image of myself. From the upper arms and shoulder up (at least up to my lowest chin), I look good. That's worth the $12 I spent!

Thursday, November 12, 2009


There, over in that corner, are some unopened boxes that, if opened, would create more clutter. So they remain unopened. There is nothing time-sensitive in them, so there's no need to open them now. But they're still there, unopened, after literally months of taking up space. And there's no evidence that anyone in the house has any immediate plans to open them. Or to remove them from sight. So they just sit there, blocking my view of whatever is behind them. And causing me to wonder why opening them would create more clutter. Then I think, "yes, there would be even more clutter if they were opened," and I become less agitated that they have been sitting there, unopened, for months.

These feelings are like the tide; they ebb and flow. The tide will come rushing back again in a few...days, weeks, months? The tide will come in again if the boxes are still there. And they will be. I just know it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Veterans's Day Reflection

Today, Veterans' Day, is a very conflicted day of recognition and appreciation, in my view. On the one hand, I truly appreciate the men and women who serve in our military and the sacrifices they make on behalf of our country, I am bitter. I am bitter about the fact that most of the wars and conflicts to which they have been sent are based on political positions that I judge to be fundamentally wrong.

If we, as a nation, ask our young men and women to risk their lives, we had better be pretty goddamn sure we're asking them to take that risk for something that's worth it. Looking back on the wars we've fought in the not-too-distant past (and even further back), I don't find many that justified asking our young men and women in the military to risk their lives.

Surely not Iraq...we should never have gone into Iraq. The lies that justified our attack on that country will be a national disgrace until the end of time.

I seriously question Afghanistan; we should have either gone in full force and ended it quickly, or simply stayed out.

Not Viet Nam. That was a personal war that should have been waged by the families who had the most to gain.

Not Korea. It was based on political posturing, not on compelling need.

I don't fault the people who have fought those wars, though I wish they would not go so willingly and so unquestioningly. I wish soldiers did not need to equate their value with the value of the decisions that sent them in harm's way.

I appreciate and honor our soldiers. I can't say the same about their leaders. Not not, not for a long while.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Obituary of the Man I Intended to Be

The man I intended to be would remembered as a renaissance man of sorts, someone who knew at least a little about a lot and who could quickly know a lot about anything if the need arose.

The man I intended to be would be remembered as a gentle soul who cared deeply for all people, but who could be utterly unforgiving of people who did not share that trait.

The man I intended to be would be remembered as having a few very close friends and very few acquaintances.

How did I become the man someone else was intended to be?

Thursday, November 5, 2009

World Wide Wisdom

There is wisdom tucked into the billions of comments one finds on the Internet; it just takes fortunate circumstance to stumble across it. Take, for example, this sentence that I find very powerful: "I'm not religious in any way, but I think some respect for the singularity of a creature should be paid." The statement was made by a woman in a Facebook post related to her reaction to hearing a hunter say he planned to kill a rare albino pheasant that "everyone at the hunt club is after."

The statement is so gentle, yet so powerful. The respect to which she refers would manifest itself in a very tangible way: not killing a rare, or singular, creature.

I suspect the hunter with the desire to be the one to find and kill the rare bird would find little logic in the woman's statement. But I wish he would.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Out of Afghanistan

Bill Moyers knows how to speak truth to power. Would that the rest of us would learn from him and follow suit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Reading and Remembering

This morning, I decided to depart from my more usual routine of scanning the New York Times online and, instead read a few pieces from the Globe and Mail out of Canada. Almost every time I read Canadian papers I come away with a sense that, by and large, Canadians are more intelligent than people from the U.S. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of stupid and close-minded Canadians, but I regularly see signs that Canadians are more progressive than we are.

Take, for instance, this morning's reports about the new ban on using hand-held devices while driving in Ontario. The Ontario ban, which goes into effect tomorrow, October 26, apparently is just the latest Provincial ban in Canada. Only California, to my knowledge, has instituted anything similar in the States. In the Dallas area, there are spotty bans on using hand-held devices only in school zones. That strikes me as utterly idiotic. "Let's try to ease into this thing; let's stop killing kids and see if it catches on." What horseshit! It only takes a few minutes on city streets in Dallas to see that people who are talking on cell phones are menaces. They weave across lane boundaries, pull slowly in front of oncoming traffic (oblivious to what could be their impending death if the oncoming drivers also are on cell phones), drive a good 20 miles per hour UNDER the speed limit, and otherwise behave as if they were drunk. OK, enough; my intent was to write about Canadians, not cell-phone addicts.

In Ontario, there are significant fines associated with breaking the new law. But even there, they have not seen fit to associate the criminal behavior with boosting insurance rates. But they're at least talking about the issue!

After deciding that Canadians have the right idea about cell phone usage while driving, I read another piece, by Doug Saunders, that argues that neither Reagan nor grass-roots democracy movements led to the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe. It's a short piece, but I think it offers some reasonable arguments that neither "cause" for the fall of Communism was much of a "cause," after all. In fact, Saunders argues that Reagan's belligerent howls and his muscle-flexing prolonged Communism by giving Communist hard-liners greater sway than they would otherwise have had.

On an unrelated note, I get annoyed when I hear people chide others for calling people from the U.S. "Americans." Their point is that "Americans" should refer to people from the tip of South America to the fartherest reaches of northern Canada. But they never offer any reasonable alternatives. There are none! We can call people Canadians because they are from Canada. We can call people Mexicans because they come from Mexico. We call people Peruvians because they come from Peru. And so it goes. But can we call ourselves United States of Americans? That's silly. So we shorten it to Americans. But if that's truly unacceptable, then I sugest the only reasonable alternative is to change the name of our country. Let's consider changing it to Capitalistica, so we might call ourselves Capitalisticans. Or we could change it to Imperial, which would allow us to call ourselves Imperialists. Or we might change it to Ruff, giving us the opportunity to call ourselves Ruffians. Or maybe we could just agree that Americans is probably a reasonable compromise.

On another note, my wife and I spent most of the day yesterday at WorldFest in Addison. The event, which continues today, is a celebration of cultures around the world, with entertainment, foods, and goods from around the globe. Among the attractions were showings of a number of film shorts; we saw six of them, several of which were very good.

One day soon I will write about the mega-celebration of my brother's 70th birthday; it was a family reunion and birthday celebration rolled into one and it was worth doing again soon.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Thanks to Grumpy Old Man for pointing me in the direction of this piece. This is William 'Liam' Clancy, an Irish folksinger who was born in 1935. He is the last surviving member of a band formed with this brothers called, aptly, The Clancy Brothers. More can be found here.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Biblically Speaking

Believe it or not, I've been reading the Bible. I've found some interesting stuff, but mostly I've found what I expected. It is chock-full of first-instances of literary references, but I'm of the opinion that the subsequent uses are more meaningful than their sources, in most cases.

I've been meaning to read the Bible ever since a friend suggested to me that I could not understand English literature without doing so. He was wrong, but there was a lot that took extra time to understand.

I haven't become Baptist, though. Nor Catholic. Nor have I concluded that the Bible is anything more than wishful interpretations of stories that are based on fear.

I think I'm a heathen. Oh, no! Now what do I do?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Empty Rooms

Life can have empty rooms where the living
can leave their rage, fears, doubts, and pain
when they fit appropriately no place else.

Life has tidy little boxes
where the inappropriate agonies
can be locked away, out of the mind's eye.

There's a trick to living a happy life.
It's as simple as staying out of the wrong rooms
and hiding suitable boxes in all the right places.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I've been busy, which is one reason for the lack of posts.

Another reason is that my wife just had an internal cardioverter defibrillator implanted in her chest, with leads placed directly into the atrial and ventricular chambers of her heart. The reason for the implant was her irregular heartbeat and the potentil for sudden cardiac arrest.

The idea of the docs doing this work had me on edge. She came home today and is feeling fine, though, so I'm not as distracted. But I'm still godawful busy. I did cancel my participation in a client event in Washington, DC next week, though; sending someone else in my place. So, my stress has been taken down a couple of notches.

I need to take the stress level down a few more notches.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Road Trip: Abilene

We got a very late start, close to 10:45 am. We went to the office at 11:00 to drop off a bunch of stuff for a staffer’s garage sale; we have been talking about having a GS for years, but nothing has happened, so my wife turned our sales items over to the staffer.

Then, we headed toward Fort Worth. The intent had been to go to Mi Cocinita, a “hidden kitchen” at the back of a lady’s driveway in Fort Worth (reported on Hidden Kitchens NPR series a couple of years ago. But I called and got a recording saying the place is closed but hopes to reopen in September after “my mother” (the voice recording said) “follows the doctor’s advice and gets better.” She then thanked everyone for their good wishes. So, we will try Mi Cocinita later. Instead, we went to Los Vaqueros in Fort Worth, near the stockyards. Decent food, very attractive old warehouse turned into a restaurant.

After lunch, we headed west on I-30 (which turns into I-20). I started falling asleep about 2:30, so my wife took over the wheel. She stopped about ½ hour later in a little town (Eastland) where she wanted to buy something cold to drink (2 root beers and some beef jerky, for me). As we were leaving, she asked if the area was dry; yes, the counter girl said, but we could go 10 miles back to Ranger or 26 miles further on to Putnam. We did the latter. Bought some gin and tonic and were set for the bar for the rest of the trip.

We got to Abilene an hour later and checked in to the Hampton Inn on Ridgemont. Then, after a brief break, we headed out early for dinner…left just after 5. It rained a bit as we circled the city on the loop. We finally ate at Catfish Corner, where we tried some chicken fried bacon for a starter. My wife got the combo of catfish and fried shrimp; I got just the fried shrimp. Both of us got a baked potato, cole slaw, and hush puppies.

The place was a madhouse. It’s split in two; two dining areas, with a kitchen in the center. It was crammed with people and understaffed, but they seemed to be nice people. Lots of good ole boy families, a few scattered people of color, and us. Most of the hulky, heavy, middle-aged plus waitresses wore Capri pants and sported bizarre tattoos on their calves, wrists, forearms, etc.

After eating as much as we could, we went to the counter to pay. Our waitress printed out our ticket and I was blindly going to pay it, but my wife noticed that we were charged for an order of onion-rings we did not order and did not receive. The waitress was too ready for her objection, claiming she knew she had made a mistake on someone’s ticket and she was just SO glad my wife caught it. Lies, miserably conniving lies! I simply paid the adjusted bill and we walked outside, where it was pouring rain.

I ran to the car and my wife made it most of the way there but stayed under a cover while I backed the car out and drove closer to her; otherwise, she would have had to walk through mud.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Albertson’s where I bought 2 limes. And there we sat in our motel room, me typing away and sipping my gin & tonic and my wife laying on the couch, reading a book and occasionally sipping her gin & tonic.

Tomorrow, I said to myself, steak dinner. But we were going the play the rest of the day by ear.

September 5, 2009—Abilene Road Trip

We started out the day rather early for a vacation day. My wife was awake by or before 7 am and I was up shortly thereafter. We had decided the night before that we’d first consider two options for breakfast: The Dixie Pig (downhome style basic breakfasts) or Mary’s Restaurant (Mexican restaurant that serves breakfast). I jumped online to try to find out if both were open on Sundays; if one were and one were not, we’d go for the one that does not open Sundays on this Saturday morning. I called The Dixie Pig first; no, they are not open on Sundays, I was told. So, I called Mary’s. Yes, they are open on Sundays. The decision was made for us.

September 4, 2009—Abilene Road Trip
Off we went in search of The Dixie Pig. The parking lot was full, mostly with pickups, and the place looked like an old-style diner from the outside; plain, simple, and unobtrusive. We went in and sat ourselves at a booth. All around us were old men, mostly, and the occasional old woman. The waitresses all were wearing hot-pink t-shirts with writing on the back, “I Pigged Out at the Pig, Abilene, Texas.” I wanted to get some photos, but it just wasn’t appropriate in the environment.

A geezer who was sitting in the booth behind my wife (who had left for the restroom soon after we walked in) was 85, at least, I’d say. He was finishing up his breakfast when another geezer, a man probably ten years his junior, walked up and began talking to him. I couldn’t hear every word, but the younger guy seemed to be explaining that he’d like to sit with the old man, but he was meeting his family at the place for breakfast. The old guys chatted back and forth for awhile and the older of the men said, “Well, I think I’ll go on now; I came in hoping to find somebody to buy me breakfast,” to which the younger guy replied, “Well don’t look at me, look at him,” gesturing to me and grinning. I grinned back and chuckled, thinking that’s the sort of thing my Dad used to say in similar circumstances. He’d engage an unsuspecting stranger by telling a waitress “I believe that young man offered to buy our breakfast this morning,” and motion to the stranger, grinning all the while and getting the stranger engaged in this silly banter.

The breakfast was good; simple and sufficient in quality and quantity. No heart-healthy fare for me yet, though, as I had eggs and sausage and hash browns and biscuits and gravy. My wife had a similar meal, with ham substituting for sausage and wheat toast filling in for biscuits and gravy.

After taking a couple of photos of the restaurant’s sign for the record, we wandered around Abilene for awhile, driving by the Catfish Corner (where I took a picture…couldn’t the previous night because of the rain), Mary’s (the next day’s breakfast spot), and various other old, weather-beaten and battered restaurants that hold so much more appeal to me than flashy new places with the latest equipment and style.

We made our way to downtown Abilene, which is actually rather interesting. It looks to me like the place has enormous potential to be a great draw for tourists. It would be interesting to take photos of the downtown area as it is today (I did not take such photos, of course, because it just occurred to me) and then do it again in a year or two. I suspect the photos would show an accelerated pace of restoration of some of the old buildings and their unique architectural style.

Happily, along the way I recorded another automotive palindrome for posterity. Along First street, there is a string of sculpture that is intriguing, if not spectacular. I got a few photos of my wife standing in front of a large pink flamingo holding a pair of sunglasses in its beak. I took some shots of a bizarre female pig made of rusted metal. I got some other shots; we’ll see if they are adequate to grace this blog at some point.

Then, we took a long and leisurely drive into the county, going south to Buffalo Gap so we’d know how to get there for dinner later on (our reservations were for 7:30 pm at Perini Ranch Steakhouse). A big festival of some sort was going on in the tiny little town (population: 431), but the traffic was not too bad so we were able to get through town without a breakdown in my social order. Off we went to Perini’s, where we found a huge metal sculpture of an armadillo once we got inside the gate. I insisted my wife pose for a photo by the beast so I could capture the scale of the piece.

The even tinier town of Tuscola was just a few miles up the road. As we approached the town, we saw what appeared to be a stadium filled with people, but we had a hard time finding a road to get to it. We finally found a way to reach the place (which we discovered behind the high school) and learned that a football game was underway. Considering the size of the town, it seemed apparent to me that friends and family of both teams from miles and miles around had converged on the stadium to watch the midday version of Friday Night Lights.

When we got to Lucy’s, a tiny metal building that performed double duty as an eat-in and drive-through restaurant, we realized that someone involved in that game had put in an order for 30 burgers and fries and drinks. As we entered Lucy’s, we saw a table filled with brown paper sacks that were being filled with burgers and sides. And, as we entered Lucy’s, we felt the overpowering heat and moisture of an overworked grill with inadequate ventilation. We ordered our burgers and ate there, but it was a godawfully uncomfortable place to be. I expected the burgers to be good (there was an entire family working behind the counter, so these really were “home cooked” burgers), but I was mistaken. The meat patties were large, but insanely overdone so that there was no juice left in the burgers. I ordered a bleu cheese burger, which was laden with dry bleu cheese and bacon and tomatoes…even the tomatoes were dry. Ah, but it was a country experience.

Our trip back into Abilene was slow as we took our time to look at anything remotely interesting along the say. When we finally made it back to town, we took another trip into downtown Abilene, where we stopped to visit the Grace Museum, a building that had once been a hotel. It was an intriguing place, combining art with education and history. One of my favorite exhibits was a sculpture composed of multiple pieces of wood, stained or painted in various colors.

It was intended to be touched, for when one placed one’s palm against each piece of wood, a different tone or sound would play back from speakers mounted above the piece. The piece was called “Grace Notes” by an artist named Edward Weiss.

The rest of the museum was equally interesting. A full-sized boot shop had been recreated on the third floor (complete with very interesting video exhibits). While we were watching the video about how boots are made, a young guy with a huge camera came in a started taking pictures of us. After getting several shots, he introduced himself as a photojournalist with the local newspaper and said he was getting shots in preparation for a special section about the Grace; he got our names and asked where we were from so he could include that in the paper if our photos were used. He asked why we were in Abilene; when we explained we came primarily for dinner at Perini Ranch Steakhouse, he advised us to have the beans. My wife took him up on his advice later that night as it turned out to be good advice.

Just down the street, a Texana store catering to tourists was bustling; no one was walking the streets, but there was a crowd in the store. As is our custom, we did not buy anything to take back as a memento; instead, we bought a Dr. Pepper that was bottled in Dublin, Texas; apparently, the bottling company in Dublin got special dispensation from the Pope of Pepper (or whoever controls the ingredients in Dr.Pepper) to use locally-grown cane sugar in the drink, which has a very different flavor than “normal” Dr. Pepper.

After the visit at the Grace and the Texana shop, we wandered up and down first and took pictures of some of the sculpture that lines one side of the street. Downtown Abilene had very little traffic on this Saturday afternoon, so we were able to get out to view some of the sculpture.

From there, we went to visit the Frontier Texas! exhibit housed in a very attractive little compound at the end of the downtown area. (The buffalo and wolf photo is from there.) It was loaded with videos and animated features about the history of the Texas plains, told from the perspective of pioneers (and their successors) who did not see anything morally wrong with killing tens of millions of buffalo and the massacre of entire populations of Indians. I found it patently offensive and very poorly-done, but the building in which it was housed was spectacular.

We went back to the motel, where I engaged in behavior unbecoming myself and took a nap (these are becoming more common for me, an indication that I truly have entered geezerhood). Normally, it would be my wife who naps, but this time I took the prize. Then, finally, it was time to head out to Perini’s. This time, it was no dry run; it was the real deal.

The place was jammed with people when we got there, so we parked quite a distance from the front door to the place and walked up the caliche road to the restaurant. When we gave the man our name, he had a time finding it and asked if we were sure we had reservations. A young woman standing behind him finally pointed out our name to him on the list that appeared to be utterly and completely without order.

We were invited to wait in the hallway toward the back of the restaurant, just inside from a very large open-air patio in back where there was a lot of catfish-eating going on. Not everyone goes to Perini Ranch Steakhouse for steak. Before long, we were seated in a room with large screened windows open to the evening air and walls covered with a combination of weathered cedar, knotty pine, and metal siding. We were asked what we wanted to drink, to which I replied I wanted a Perini Martini (dirty martini made with Tito’s Texas Handmade Vodka and garnished with jalapeño-stuff olives) and my wife said she wanted a pomegranate sangria. Because Buffalo Gap is in a deeply religious area which means alcohol is the drink of the Devil, every guest who desires to engage in the Devil’s Drink are required to pay $3 for a two-day membership in a Devil’s Drinking Club which, based on what I read later in a “newspaper” published by a Buffalo Gap psychopath, I’m sure goes to fund the round-up and slaughter of liberals. I turned over my driver’s license to the waitress and she returned it shortly thereafter with proof that I am a cousin of Satan.

During the evening, we discovered that anyone “in the know” in the place ordered a Rack of Ribs for an appetizer. We were not in the know. The idea of ordering meat as an appetizer for more meat seemed odd to me, but lots of people did it and I have to admit the ribs looked very good. But we opted to stick with the options that were included with the dinner: either two vegetables or a vegetable and a salad. My wife ordered the salad and Old Fashioned Green Beans to accompany her 8-ounce filet (medium) and I ordered Green Chile Hominy and Zuccini Perini to go with my 16-ounce ribeye (rare). Before you drop your jaw at the volume of meat, let me say we both took doggie bags with us when we left.

Now, Texas Monthly proclaimed that Perini Ranch Steakhouse is the third best steakhouse in Texas. All I can say is that it is a damned good steakhouse. The meat, which is grilled over mesquite coals, is superb. Except for my run-ins with religion in the past, I would say eating it counts as a religious experience. The marbling in my steak was perfect, adding flavor that I’ve only dreamed of. My god it was fabulous. And my wife’s filet was equally magical, as were her green beans. My zucchini Perini, on the other hand, was better suited to an Italian restaurant; it wasn’t bad, but not a good accompaniment to orgasmic steak. The green chile hominy wasn’t bad, either, but I suspect high-grade crack would have come in a poor second to the meat that night. We both ordered a glass of wine with our dinner, as well; I had a nice glass of Argentinian malbec and my wife ordered a glass of merlot but was served a glass of pinot noir, despite the fact that the waitress insisted it was not the pinot noir that she initially said it was. Both were perfectly good, and inexpensive, accompaniments to the meal. The total cost of the meal, including a very healthy tip, was $100. That’s considerably more than I’d pay for a meal on an average evening, but less than I’d expect to pay for a meal at most high-end steakhouses around Dallas…and the food would not be as good for the money.

After dinner, we drove back to the hotel, stuffed and satisfied.

September 6, 2009—Abilene Road Trip

We could have skipped breakfast and no one would have been the wiser. But we didn’t. We wanted to experience what more than one person on said was the best Mexican breakfast in Abilene. Mary’s Mexican Restaurant, if it has the best Mexican breakfast in Abilene, is just a breath away from annihilation when someone opens a merely adequate Mexican restaurant that serves a good breakfast. Both my wife and I ordered migas which, according to Mary’s, is simply scrambled eggs with a few tortilla chips thrown in and then topped with cheddar cheese. It’s not that the dish is bad, it’s that it tastes and feels and looks nothing like migas. Migas should have tomatoes and onions and garlic and diced jalapeños mixed with a relatively low volume of eggs and thin strips of corn tortillas and lightly covered with Mexican cheese. And it should be accompanied by a firey red, smoky salsa with distinct flavors of cumin and chile powder and roasted peppers. But Mary’s Mexican Restaurant may cater to an uneducated palate. Or, Mary’s may be a fraud. At any rate, I was sorely disappointed at for recommending such a charlatan as the “best” Mexican restaurant in Abilene.

After the sad experience with Mary’s, we went looking for a place my wife had seen twice during our travels around Abilene but, because of my insistence that I pay close attention to driving and traffic, I had not yet seen. My wife described a building with a chicken’s eyes and beak emerging from a wall. And when we found it, that’s what we found. It was Belle’s Chicken Dinner House, a place with a huge parking lot (empty on Sunday morning, of course). Upon seeing the place, I instantly wanted to try it, but I knew it would be impossible on this trip. But I’ll be back. And speaking of back, the back side of Belle’s Chicken Dinner House has a very large train car sitting on tracks. I don’t know whether the train car is part of Belle’s, but I do know that every time I see such a rail car I want to have one for myself. But I still don’t have one.

We checked out of the hotel around 10:30 and headed out of town, this time back in the direction of Buffalo Gap. We had failed to get to see the “historic village of Buffalo Gap” the previous day, so we decided to drop by to see what the signs were all about. The “historic village” is roughly the size of one city block and is composed of a bunch of very old frontier buildings, all behind chain link fence. I assume it may be open to tour at some point, but not that morning.

I don’t know exactly where we went from there; my wife controlled the map and simply instructed me to turn left or right or look for highway number so-and-so. But it was fun. As we drove, we began seeing large fields of wind-turbines off in the distance. We got closer and closer but, to my chagrin, I could not pull off to take close-up pictures, so I cannot share any close-ups. But I can share what we learned about these enormous fields of wind-turbines. They comprise part of the Horse Hollow Wind Energy Center, said to be the world’s largest wind energy farm. While I can appreciate the fact that wind energy generators can be said to be unattractive, I think they have merit. And I think they should be painted bright colors to add a little drama!

Elsewhere during our rural wanderings we came across several highway signs that read “Atlas ICBM Highway.” After we got back home, I learned that Highway 604 was given that designation by the Texas Senate on September 5, 2001, to commemorate the contributions to world peace that the twelve silos that housed intercontinental ballistic missiles had made during their service protecting us from the horrors of the cold war. Hmm. Intercontinental ballistic missiles made a contribution to world peace; who knew?

We swung back north and got back on I-20 heading east just a few miles east of Abilene. We were not hungry in the least, but figured we ought to stop for lunch at some point, so we started looking out for possibilities. We saw nothing but fast food chains for miles. I had a vague recollection of a place called Mary’s that a friend told me about a few years ago; he said it had the best chicken fried steak in Texas. My memory told me it was in Ranger, so we held out until we got there and wandered around the town, looking for it. No luck (when I got back home, I did some research…Mary’s is in Strawn, not Ranger…no wonder we couldn’t find it). Back on the freeway heading east, we decided we could stop in Thurber for lunch at the Smokestack Restaurant or the New York Hill restaurant. We ended up at the Smokestack, where we had chicken fried steak (the thought of Mary’s had elevated our tastebuds). It was good, but too much, so we got doggie boxes and headed home.

And home is where we are now. It was a short trip to Abilene, but a truly enjoyable time. I’m ready to do it again.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This Post Has Been Removed

This post has been removed for content offensive to my sensibilities. The author led himself away in handcuffs, occasionally beating the prisoner's legs with a heavy rubber hose.

Soon, the content of this blog will be refreshened with mindless happy claptrap, followed by periods of dark and sullen comments and accusatory statements. In the meantime, if you'd like to read something I think is worth reading (or, at least, was worth writing), try this. Or this.

Now, I'm off to eat Mexican food in a "hidden kitchen" and then, tomorrow, steak in a restaurant located on a working ranch.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pay Attention to Your Heart

The past week has been a week of heart issues. First, my sister was taken by ambulance to a hospital after experiencing pain that was diagnosed as arrythmia (of some sort) and had a stent inserted in one of the veins leading to her heart. Fortunately, all turned out well and she is back at home. This is the second stent she has had inserted in a relatively short period of time.

Then, my wife got word that her almost life-long heart problems (caused by a leaky valve) had progressed to the point at which it is advisable for her to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator implanted in her chest. The reason is that she is at risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest; the ICD would restart her heart in the event it stopped. So, she'll have the device implanted on September 22.

Two heart-related big scary deals in one week amounts to an alert that cannot be ignored.

Almost five ago, I was stunned when, at age 51, I had to undergo a double heart bypass operation. While it's no big deal to doctors and is now (and was then) routine surgery, it was a big a scary deal to me.

All these events are reminders to me that life is a fragile thing. I've allowed the memories of my own experience to diminish to the point that I have not been getting the exercise I should and have not been sticking to a heart-healthy diet. My memories have been awakened. Time for all three of us to get back on track with preventative measures so we don't leave the others to wish we had just exercized the discipline to do the right thing.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Story of My Youth, In Pictures

I could not find the photo that I wanted to post...the one in which I was sitting on the beach in South Texas, surrounded by an outline of the State of Texas, crafted in sand.

But I did find enough photos to tell the story of my youth.

In this one, I was a happy young boy, obviously planning to become a lawyer or corporate CEO. Ah, yes, it was a fine time for a young man full of piss and vinegar, ready to conquer the world!
By the time I had my first grade photo taken at school, though, I had become a sullen young man, defeated by a world that wouldn't give a guy a break, even if he buttoned the top button.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Picture-Book Life

I've noticed on Facebook of late that some of my friends and acquaintences are posting photos from their younger years. There are pictures of them as toddlers, as teenagers, even as young adults, most of which were taken by proud parents who, I'm sure, wanted to show the world how cute their children were.

As I reflected on the fact that these people have a plethora of pictures from which to choose to illustrate the evolution of their lives, it occurred to me that I don't have many photos of me as a child. I attribute that paucity of pictures to my birth order. By the time I, child number six, arrived, my parents must have "gotten over" the need to show off their newest little beast. They'd done it before and had no doubt come to realize that yet another replay did not have the same thrill as it did the first time or two...or five.

So, my selection of childhood photos is meager, at best. I think the ones that are available to me were snapped by siblings who had not yet gotten bored with show and tell. I'm not looking at any of the photos as I write this, but memory tells me there's one photo of me as a 3-4 year-old sitting on the beach on Padre Island, surrounded by an outline of the State of Texas crafted out of sand. And there's another one, when I was a bit older, in which I am wearing shorts and a striped shirt and am topped off with a straw "cowboy" hat. Another one, as I recall, shows me standing next to the brother closest in age to me; we're both wearing some bizarre costumes for which I have no explanation.

The lack of parental propensity for pictures apparently did not leave any lasting psychological damage. I'm sure my neuroses and psychoses can be attributed to other causal factors other life experiences.

One day, when I'm energetic and have an hour or two to kill, I'll dig up what few photos there are and create a comprehensive photographic record of my youth, stored forever in magnetic media.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Neighborly Noise

At first, I thought it was distant thunder. Something had roused me from a relatively deep sleep, but it could have been a dream. But then I heard it again; this time, it was louder. When I heard it a third time, it sounded like metal trash cans being slammed against one another; a loud, startling noise that caused my heart to skip a beat.

I listened intently and began to hear it grow louder and louder. I jumped out of bed, threw on some shorts, a shirt, and some flip-flops, and went out to investigate.

The sounds were unmistakable now. Sheet metal being pushed and pulled and bent by someone without regard to whether it would be permanently damaged with all the movement. I looked outside the three big windows to my backyard and there, through the tiny spaces in the fence, I could see a garage light, though not clearly. And something between the light and me was moving violently, keeping perfect time to the shrieks and rumbles of the sheet-metal music.

The more I watched, the more it seemed to me that someone was tearing the sheet-metal sections of the neighbor's garage door to shreds. I glanced at the clock; it was 4:50 a.m. I don't know this particular neighbor well, this neighbor whose house is one over and separated by an alley from mine . So, rather than risk interrupting a burglary-in-progress or worse, I decided to call the police. Just as I was hanging up from talking to them, a car backed out of the garage and sped down the alley, heading away from the nearest street.

Two police cars arrived within ten minutes. I stepped into my backyard and looked toward the garage and listened. I could not hear well, but I did pick up that the old man who lives there, a reclusive old bastard who has not said a friendly word to me in the twelve years I've lived in my house, was telling a tale to the police about how he has lived there 25 years. Whatever the tale, the police left soon thereafter and did not appear to have the old man in chains as then went.

The old man's grandson (or someone I presume is his grandson) lives with him and is not reclusive like the old bastard he lives with. He is gregarious in a way that makes me uncomfortable, like he wants to befriend me so he can steal my tools and snatch my wallet. This boy reminds me of trailer-trash characters on disturbing low-life sitcoms.

The kid has driven any number of old cars during the past few years, cars that look and sound very much like they were snagged from the junkyard just before they were to have been crushed. He has no compunction about revving the engine to an old jalopy at 5:00 am or gliding up the alley at midnight as the vehicle backfires explosively.

The more I think of what I saw this morning, the more I think that what happened is this:
  • As he tried to leave for work to go to McDonald's or some such fast-food joint at 4:30 a.m., he discovered the garage door would not open.
  • So, he started trying to pry it open.
  • The more he pried, the worse it got.
  • So he started disassembling the door, metal panel by metal panel, until he was able to drive his car out of the garage.

After daylight, I'll walk back there to determine whether my theory has any potential merit. I'm not going back there now, though. The old man may be sitting in wait with a loaded shotgun to welcome his neighbors.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Slice of Life: Sushi

Slice of life from a sushi conveyor belt in Japan.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

La Flaca - Jarabe de Palo (video oficial)

Come on...just watch and listen! Jarabe de Palo will become one of your favorites!

Saturday, August 15, 2009


My wife and I ate at a Sushi/Japanese food place for lunch today, a place called C-Rolls. It was acceptable, but not stunning. My wife had a terriaki chicken box (pretty simple, plain, and self-explanatory) and I had the Ginza Roll, which consisted of several pieces. Mine was made from tuna, some sort of prepared and spicy tuna (for the filler), rice, seaweed, and finely sliced jalapenos that were appropriately "dressed" in colorful organge liquid seasoning. Mine were accompanied, of course, by wasabi and pickled ginger and sushi paraphenalia.

Nothing special about this place, I'm sorry to say, but it did make me want to take lessons on how to make sushi. And so I will.

The Near-Empty Grocery Store Dance

I got up very early this morning and for some reason decided it would be a good time to go to the grocery store, though I had no idea of what I might buy.

My wife was still fast asleep, so I crept into my closet, threw on some worn-out shorts, a button-down shirt that I did not tuck into my shorts, and a pair of flip-flops and stole away into toward nearby Kroger store.

I wasn't alone at the store, though almost so. An ebony-skinned woman wearing a bright red floor-length dress and a white headscarf appeared to be cleaning out her car in the parking lot. An older, but snappily-dressed man (ironed shorts with a stylish belt, polo shirt tucked into the shorts, and upscale leather sandals) wandered the aisles inside. A younger woman laboriously pushed her overflowing shopping cart down the frozen food section. Two store personnel ignored all of us from their positions near the front of the store.

It was interesting to be there at such an early hour, but I had no business to conduct, so I left. I wonder if I am the subject of an observation of one of the people I saw...I would like to read that blog entry.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

In a Food Rut?

Tonight's dinner resembled today's lunch. Lunch consisted of chunks of bell pepper, leftover canned pineapple chunks (remind me not to do that again), blueberries, strips of Canadian bacon, slices of extra sharp white Canadian cheddar cheese, and perhaps one or two other things I've forgotten. We took the aforementioned foodstuff to a little city park and had a picnic.

This evening, we went a bit more upscale: Humboldt Fog goat cheese, 4-year-old parmesan, more of the Canadian cheddar, some spectacular Swiss cheese, blueberries, strawberries, fresh bagette, assorted Greek olives, Bosc pear, parmesan crostini, and emerald figs. And, of course, a little red wine (followed, on my part, by a nice Sauvignon blanc). All of it was spectacular. I could do this once a week.

Allen Wayne Damron

Not long ago I posted a question about a Texas singer/songwriter named Allen Wayne Damron. Nobody offered any information about him or where to find his music, but I found it on my own by contacting Canadian River Music. The enterprise is in the process of shutting down, it appears, but they were able to sell two things I wanted: a CD entitled "Allen Wayne Damron: 35 Years--More of Not the Same," and a cassette tape (no CDs available) entitled "Allen Wayne Damron: 35 Years" (the latter being the precursor to the former.

The albums are, as the names suggest, compilations of Damron's music from a significant portion of his career, but they don't cover it all. The CD was originally copyrighted in 1983 and Damron died at his home in Terlingua, Texas at age 66 in 2005. He had a lot more music in him between those recordings and the time he died, but I don't know much about that time. In fact, I don't know much about Damron, other than what little I've learned since one of my brothers told me about seeing him play at The Camp Street Cafe and Store in Crockett, Texas a few years ago, probably not long before Damron's death. (Photo Credit: Texas Music History Online)

Damron was the same age as my oldest brother and at least the early part of his life was simliar to that of my two oldest brothers. He lived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, like we did, and tells stories in some of his music about life along (on both sides of) the border. I found a very informative biographical sketch about him that I'd like to keep readily accessible. I didn't realize that he was one of the founders of the Kerrville Folk Festival, nor that he had performed with Lyle Lovett and Steve Fromholz on Austin City Limits. There's plenty more I did not know about the man...after all, I did even know of him until recently.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


I surprised myself yesterday by guessing, correctly, that a piece of art on a blogger-friend's blog was the work of Pierre Bonnard. I did not realize, until I looked more closely at her challenge, that the art on her blog header was only a clip from the painting, not the entire thing. Yet I guessed it correctly. The only explanation as to how I managed to do that was that I had recently been looking at some of his other paintings online and, when I saw her blog header, I thought it looked similar in style to the other paintings I had seen.

When I found the blog where I'd originally seen the Bonnard works, I realized that one of them was the very piece my blogger friend had on her blog. But I did not realize it until I looked carefully, since her blog had only a snippet of the art. So, while my powers of observation apparently are sufficient to have enabled me to see the connection between art I had seen and the art on her blog, they are not sufficient to have caused me to realize that I had actually been looking at the very same painting and did not know it.

That caused me think about how "eye-witness" testimony is becoming increasingly suspect in criminal trials. In a quick search of Google, I found literally hundreds of articles, books, and investigative reports that argue that eye-witness testimony is highly fallible (e.g., The Problem with Eyewitness Testimony, Eyewitness Testimony, The Magic of the Mind, Eyewitness: How Accurate Is Visual Memory?, and Eyewitness Testimony on Trial.

While my memory of Bonnard's style of painting was sufficient to allow me to correctly (and wildly) guess that the art on my friend's blog was his, I didn't realize I'd seen the very same piece of art she used. If anyone had asked me whether I had seen that piece of art before, I would have said I had not.

Based purely on my own experience, I am even more skeptical of the reliability of eye-witness testimony. And that leaves me where? I don't know. Hell, it's only 6:15 am, how can I be expected to have logical thoughts at this hour? Leave me alone until I'm more awake and coherent.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bookussion at Lunch

I've been invited to a "book club lunch" by an advertising agency. The agency owner called me to invite me and then, after I had accepted, he delivered a book to my office in preparation for the event.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Courtesy of Joan Armatrading

I'm going to try to do more than give lip service to things that are important. At least I'll share places to learn. Feel free to join me.