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Monday, May 13th, 2013
12:13 pm - A FRUSTRATED VISUAL ARTIST DISCOVERS INSTAGRAM
I got an Instagram account about a year ago because I loved the Instagram photos that my brother and that drood were re-posting in various places. And, I have to say, it's completely changed the way I see the world around me and the way I look at things that might at first seem to be dull and uninteresting. I've always thought of myself as a very visual person, and I've always been drawn to art and photography, even majoring in Art History (which probably surprised a few people, as my intense interest in art really only exploded as a freshman in college when I had to take a Humanities course and was suddenly exposed to art history). I am a frustrated artist. I've always wished I could draw or paint, but it's never come easy. I'd LOVE to be a painter.

As far as photography, it's weird to realize that I grew up in a family that did not have a camera in the house. The photos of me and my brother as children were taken by my aunt, usually at holidays or on birthdays. I got a cheap Instamatic when I was a kid and went crazy taking photos, mostly of trees in my neighborhood, my cats, and my poster-covered bedroom walls. My brother became very interested in photography as a teenager -- so interested, in fact, that we had a tiny darkroom in a hall closet. He and a nice SLR, and he bought me one for Christmas one year, and I took a lot of black and white photos so that I could play at developing them in the darkroom. My brother went on to be really, really good, and he now works with digital video and gets some amazing super-saturated, well-lit, and well-composed shots that are always beautiful.

When my SLR died (I think at the end I was trying to keep the back on it with packing tape!), I just used disposable cameras for the occasional photo requirement.

Where I went crazy, though, was with a Polaroid. Oh god, I loved my Polaroid camera. In technical terms, I "manipulated the shit" out of those photos. I squished and smeared the photos as they were developing, creating abstract shapes and images and weird colors. I peeled the backs off and burned the images, making them curl up and blister. An artist I knew liked them so much that he incorporated them into a large sculptural piece that he made for me and hung in the front window of my bookstore. (A lot of the photos were self-portraits, and it's telling that the only time I've felt comfortable looking at photos of myself was when my face was manipulated beyond recognition.) But Polaroid film packs were expensive, then really hard to find, and now I think they've finally killed it completely. What a shame. Those "Polaroid years" were very exciting for someone who saw herself as an artist but couldn't even draw an apple.

Years passed and I took hardly any photos, really. Then my brother (again) bought me a digital camera for Christmas one year, and I loved it! I took photos all the time. That's one of the reasons I started taking drives out into the country -- just to take photos. And I didn't have to keep buying film or having photos processed! Digital cameras are great because for us amateurs, there's virtually no learning curve -- it was a relief that I didn't feel I had to know about the mechanics of the camera (because, like calculus or the rules of cricket, I will never be able to understand f-stops). I was just pointing and shooting, but I loved the freedom of having a digital camera. The photos might not have been great, but taking them was just really, really fun. And then camera phones came along and now anyone can take good photos absolutely any time they want.

The great thing about Instagram, for me, is not its social media aspect -- it's not the need to share or have anyone "like" what I do (although that's certainly nice). It's made me see artistic possibilities and aesthetic beauty in mundane objects. Instagram is overwhelmingly used by teenagers, and if you scroll through photos randomly you see an overabundance of girls showing off their nail art (god, when is this fad going to to away?), and endless group photos of young people in tight clothes throwing faux gang signs. But if you can wade through the chaff, there's a ton of cool stuff.

I find that my photos fall into one of two categories:

1) Close-ups of objects, sometimes so extreme that the viewer would never guess what they're looking at. I have cool-looking photos filled with abstract shapes that started out as something as pedestrian as a shampoo bottle or a spiral notebook but are no longer recognizable. These may be as close as I'll ever get to creating any sort of visual art. They don't really look like the kind of thing you see on Instagram. To sound completely pretentious, they're composed as little pieces of art, with attention to light, shadow, color, and the confines of the (exasperating) square frame. They seem very still and quiet and are either bold and intense or dreamy and ephemeral.

2) Photos taken along back roads and in small towns.

The thing that surprises me most about these photos is how colorful they all are. I'm a person who wears a lot of black. I'm a fairly drab and colorless person to look at. But these photos are so saturated with color that people would probably not match those photos with me, even though I love deep, bright colors. They're also completely devoid of people, and (unsurprisingly) they seem to be the product of an isolated person dwelling on the details of very small things in very close quarters. My document of life in a vacuum. When I'm not looking forever inward, I occasionally escape to remind myself that there is still a world beyond these four quiet walls. But there's life within these four walls, too, and it's exciting to keep discovering new little things I never knew were here.

Instagram has helped me conquer my frustration as a failed visual artist. It may not be great art, but I've created images that make me happy and that (at the very least) assure me that these past months in the wilderness have not been completely without purpose.























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Saturday, May 11th, 2013
7:18 pm - YOO-HOO, POODLES! WHERE HAVE YOU GONE?
Whatever happened to poodles? I never see them anymore. When I was a child, it seemed that every wealthy older lady toted around a toy poodle (the way Paris Hilton used to swan around clutching her Chihuahua accessory-dog). Toy poodles actually DID look like toys (nervous toys) and always seemed little more than overly-groomed puffballs with pink bows and pink painted nails, usually with rhinestone collars. I would occasionally see the great big standard poodles, too, but I don't see those much either. But the little yippy poodles ... where are they these days? Maybe I just don't recognize them anymore. Dog grooming must have trends that come and go. Maybe they look like Pomeranians now.

I read an article a few weeks ago by a veterinarian who listed dog breeds he's sad to have seen fall out of fashion. He says he rarely sees Collies and Irish Setters anymore. Come to think of it, I don't either. They used to be all over the place. Weird.



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Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
4:28 pm - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SAUL BASS
Today's Google doodle is pretty cool, celebrating the birthday of the great Saul Bass, the graphic designer known for, among other things, his fantastic movie title sequences.



(And that music by Dave Brubeck -- "Unsquare Dance" -- is great. I think I need to break down one of these days and finally explore the world of Brubeck.)

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Monday, May 6th, 2013
6:42 pm - BUSINESS ETIQUETTE
I probably don't need to volunteer the information to a prospective employer that he and my cat share the same name, do I?

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Sunday, May 5th, 2013
8:40 pm - PLEASE DON'T JUDGE ME BY THE SMELL OF MY CAR
Yesterday, I got a card from my car dealership congratulating me on the upcoming first anniversary of the purchase of my car. (I get a lot of overly-earnest and "concerned" mail from my car dealership. In fact, I hear from them almost as much as I do from ATT who apparently will not rest until they sign me up for their U-verse plan. I've never felt so wanted by anyone in my life as I do by ATT.) The card contained a little air freshener thing you hang from your rearview mirror -- and it was shaped like my car. The ridiculousness of it made me laugh. Do cars get extra smelly in the first year of ownership? Or was the scent "new car smell" so you can relive the brand-new chemical smell of yesteryear? (New-car smell is no longer pleasing.) The fact that it was shaped like a tiny version of my own car was just the icing on the cake. Maybe it had a tiny little air freshener hanging from its teeny-tiny rearview mirror!

Since I needed to drive over to my mother's this afternoon, I thought I'd take it out for a spin. Freshen us all up a bit. I opened the cellophane wrapper and immediately regretted it. Whoa. That was ... pungent. I hung it from my mirror and headed off. Good god, that thing smelled putrid. (I can still smell it on my hands, almost five hours later.) I actually sped up so that I could get to my destination as fast as I could and find a trashcan or lead-lined hazardous waste bin to throw it in. (Had I been stopped by a cop for speeding, I'm fairly confident that once he'd gotten a whiff of my tiny Hyundai, he'd let me off, backing away and covering his face with his hand, ordering me away -- as fast as I could go.) Once at my mother's I stood outside, next to her garbage can and offered it to her if she really wanted it. She was inside, I was outside -- she could smell it. She declined my offer. Wise decision.




Next to my mother's back steps are a few shockingly tall sunflower stalks. I'd never seen them before and wondered where they'd come from. Birdseed! Here's a photo I took of a soon-to-be-sunflower. It was pretty green, but I bumped up the color a bit because ... because it's Cinco de Mayo!



Off now to watch "Mr. Selfridge" on whatever they're calling Masterpiece Theatre these days. Jeremy Piven is not a very good actor in this, but I'm quite taken with the program. I am fascinated with any period-production set in a department store. Also, when I lived in London, I lived right across the street from Selfridge's. It's a great building. I remember walking through the Miss Selfridge department once, but I don't really remember much about the interior. I'd love to go back though and take a look -- even though I'd be heartbroken if they'd modernized it and made it look like a J.C. Penney's or something.

In parting, my cute cats have walked off with my tweezers. I can't find them anywhere. I'm sure they're lodged beneath something heavy, and I feel certain I'll never see them again until I move. ...I miss my tweezers.

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Friday, May 3rd, 2013
11:29 pm - PLUMBER'S HELPER
Last week I was awakened by someone pounding on my bedroom floor. ...From underneath the house. Can't say that's ever happened before. I sat up in bed, blinking, wondering if I was still asleep. Then I heard it again. This time it was followed by a voice shouting "HELLO?"

I sat there thinking. A thousand questions were shooting around inside my head. Is there someone under my house? How did he get there? WHY is he there? Is he stuck? Am I going to have to call the fire department? Am I dreaming this? Is it some sort of evil spirit that I can pin the blame on for the plague of gnats that has infested my house? (I'm not kidding when I say that it's like the freaking Amityville Horror in my bathroom and kitchen right now, and I can NOT get rid of them!) Or is this some sort of elaborately plotted vignette for an episode of an updated version of "Candid Camera"?

"HELLO?!" This time is was more insistent. I was still confused but tentatively (dutifully) answered, "YES?"

The muffled, disembodied Allen Funt-like voice said, "TURN ON THE WATER IN THE TUB."

...What?

"TURN ON WHAT?"

"TURN ON THE WATER IN THE TUB."

Okaaaay.... I got up and turned the water on in the bathtub, just as the mysterious voice had instructed. I stood there next to my bathtub thinking, "Well, this is certainly an unusual way to start the day."

It was the plumber. He'd been out a couple of days before, responding to my duplex neighbor's plumbing issues. I'd seen him talking to the maintenance guy and digging a deep hole outside my back door. And now he was back. Did he not think it was a little weird to talk through the floor from underneath the house to someone who hadn't actually even called (or expected) a plumber? Without so much has a howdy-do? Plumber etiquette. Sheesh.

This went on for a while. I continued to follow instructions, above-deck. I turned the water off. I turned it on again. I turned it off. He yelled, I yelled. I went ahead and got dressed, because, you know, so much for taking a shower. It's a good thing I was home. My neighbor (the one with the problem) had already left for work. I muttered a lot while I heard clanging under my feet.

While this was going on, the dedication ceremony for the Bush Library at SMU was happening. I had switched on the television to watch it, but every five minutes I was having to jump up and do something for the plumber (shouldn't I have gotten some sort of assistant's pay for all this?). It was fairly annoying. I tried to temper my irritation by firing off sarcastic Facebook updates about the plumber AND about the Bush Library festivities (so many people valiantly trying to think of nice things to say about George on his special day). (When typing out Condoleezza Rice's name I discovered that "Condoleezza" is spelled with two "z's" -- who knew? Shouldn't I have noticed that, like, eight years ago?)

After about an hour, the disembodied voice was knocking on my back door. Plumber-guy needed to look at my bathtub. (My bathtub was getting a lot of action that day.) My two cats were frozen in terror at the sight of the large man standing at my kitchen door.

"Don't worry, I won't let your kitties out. Hello, kitties!"

And with that, I was no longer irritated. As I've said before, you can always trust a man who likes cats. (I'm sure Hitler and John Wayne Gacy probably liked cats, just to screw up my theory.)

So he lumbered in. The guy was 70 if he was a day. A big man (big-tall AND big-wide), in gray coveralls. Wheezing and limping. Wishing, I'm sure, that he could retire, god damn it. As far as I could tell, he had no assistant with him that day. How did that old guy get under the house? What if he got stuck? Or had a stroke under there? I felt my chest tighten as I thought of being trapped under a house. (I never really thought of myself as a person with claustrophobia, but the older I get the more anxious I feel when I merely THINK about being in a confined space.* When Saddam Hussein's name comes up, I don't think of the war crimes or the violence or the tyranny. I think of that "spider hole." And I shudder. But I digress.)

I guess his clanging away under the house cleared up the problem, because he was gone by the time the gaggle of dignitaries at SMU began to disperse. While the five living presidents were hobnobbing under the watchful gaze of the Secret Service and a thousand trained snipers on every nearby rooftop, I was a mere mile and a half away, listening to a plumber yell at me from underneath my house.

My life is very full.

***


*Just typing the words "confined space" made me think of this wonderful little monologue from "Fawlty Towers" in which Sybil is languidly talking to a guest about psychiatry:

Sybil Fawlty: "Old people are wonderful when they have so much life, aren't they? Gives us all hope, doesn't it? My mother on the other hand is a little bit of a trial, really. You know, it's alright when they have the lifeforce but Mother -- well she's got more of the deathforce really. She's a worrier. She has these, well, morbid fears they are, really. Vans is one. Rats. Doorknobs. Birds. Heights. Open spaces. Confined spaces. It's very difficult getting the space right for her really, you know. Footballs. Bicycles. Cows. And she's always on about men following her, I don't know what she thinks they're going to do to her. Vomit on her, Basil says."

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Thursday, May 2nd, 2013
7:25 pm - DON HENLEY IS *NOT* FROM LINDALE, TEXAS
My aunt had recently taken a leisurely drive with a friend through East Texas and called me up afterwards to give me a hot tip about having seen a large "hidden" room of books in one of those quaint antique shops one sees in every small Texas town. She thought I might want to hotfoot it out east to paw through the waiting treasures that were no doubt nestled amongst doilies and novelty salt and pepper shakers. (And when I say "hotfoot it," I decided to mosey on out that way a good two months after she mentioned it to me. I mean, what would I do with a roomful of books? Even if they were good? How would I pay for them? And, really, wouldn't it probably just be a shitload of Book of the Month Club titles from the '70s or tattered National Geographics?) But, my dance card's not exactly bursting at the seams these days, so ... why not? I set off in the direction of Mineola.

I always like driving along Hwy 80. You have to get past Terrell for the stink the big city to recede -- about 45 minutes of driving from Dallas -- but after that, it's sporadically scenic, and it's dotted with small towns, side-of-the-road produce stands, and businesses run by guys named Shorty or Joe Don. The closer you get to East Texas, the thicker and taller the trees get.

It was a beautiful Saturday, and everyone seemed to be out having fun. When I drove through Edgewood, I felt like I had either traveled back in time or had stumbled onto some sort of spontaneous antique car-palooza. Vintage cars were everywhere. It was weird. At one point, I was looping back to the highway from some forgotten side street when I came across two really cool-looking vehicles heading right toward me. The first was a small brown sort-of-car-sort-of-truck that had to have been custom-made, driven by a middle-aged man who intently gripped the steering wheel with his right hand while his left arm rested half-in and half-out of the open driver's window. He looked proud and serene. The car following him was much older -- kind of like the antique cars at Six Flags. The driver was a woman, and I can only guess that she was his wife, gamely sharing her husband's weekend enthusiasm. When the cars passed me, the man kept his gaze on the road, but his wife smiled broadly and waved at me like I was a long-lost childhood friend. I smiled and waved back.



Grand Saline was next. Known for its vast underground salt deposits, the "saline" part of the town's name is actually pronounced "suh-LEEN." It's a cute town, and I wish to GOD they still had tours of the Morton salt mine -- I can't tell you how much I've always wanted to see that. Instead, I drove around the town looking at all sorts of things, until I noticed an old rust-colored building in the distance. It turned out to be an old cotton gin built, I think, in 1890 (and possibly undergoing some sort of renovation). I went up on the road running along the back of the gin and took this photo:



I love this. I could look at this all day long. Here it is from the "front" (with "Grand Saline Vol. Fire Dept." and "Cotton Gin Massacre" written on the side):



There is a front porch with chairs. An old hitching post. And right off the road, two really wonderful rustic sculptures of a bear and a bull, each carved out of a solid piece of wood (East Texas is known for its trees and its lumber industry). I had stumbled onto a couple of pieces of really great local folk art, plopped down in front of an old cotton gin that may or may not be affiliated with the Grand Saline Volunteer Fire Department.









(When I got home, I set out to track down who the artist was. I came across this article -- which had been posted only a couple of days before: "Tree Trimmer Branches Out to Explore Wood-Carving" The artist is Jimmy Hobbs, and the pieces are carved with a chainsaw. He's been doing this only a few months. I love them and hope he keeps at it.)

At this point I knew I'd never make it to the books in time. Mineola (one of my all-time favorite old-timey-sounding town names) was farther than I'd remembered. The drive was pleasant enough, but I realized I'd left way too late and probably wouldn't reach my vaguely situated antique shoppe destination until almost 5:00. As the owner of the shop had been described to me as being an elderly woman, I pretty much assumed that by 5:00 that shop was shut tight and long-closed; by now the proprietress was probably sitting at the dinner table and finishing off the last of her bread pudding. So, even though it had taken me a couple of hours of meandering driving to get there, I didn't actually get to where I was headed. (I didn't even SEE the place, but I wasn't really trying because ... bread pudding, etc. And, as I said, do I really want -- or need a roomful of books?)

Mineola's cute, too -- I drove around a bit and felt cozy. But where to next? I saw a sign for Lindale and decided to head there. Here's what I knew about Lindale: it's where Miranda Lambert is from. And, I thought, Don Henley. So, tiny hometown of very successful singers -- why not? It's as good a reason as any. I wasn't disappointed. As I approached the outskirts of the town, there was a big "welcome" sign with Miranda Lambert and her guitar on it. At that point I started to doubt it was Don Henley's hometown -- where was HIS billboard? Wouldn't he have gotten some mention? Haven't the Eagles sold, like, a billion albums? 'Cause let me tell you, it was all-Miranda, all the time: that billboard outside of town; a sign painted on a building downtown touting a Miranda Lambert museum/gift shop; a winery (?!) featuring wine names inspired by Miranda and her song titles; and, of course, Miranda's hits playing (on a loop?) in the local Dairy Queen (maybe it was just a weird coincidence that one of her songs was playing as I stood at the counter, but I hope not...). Even though I got excited when I saw that the Lindale high school's team name was the Eagles, I checked my phone when I could get an internet connection and found that Don Henley is from Linden -- a different small town in East Texas, about a hundred miles away (where the mascot is, sadly, a tiger and not an eagle). Oh well. Nice little town, though.

(By the way, I'm actually a fan of Miranda Lambert. I love her voice, and I'm really impressed by her songwriting. Every song I've heard by her I've loved. And her side group, The Pistol Annies, is great, too. See some kick-ass (...did I just say "kick-ass"?...) videos at the end of this never-ending post. Seriously -- she has one of the best voices in contemporary country music.)


Oops -- branch covering her face. Sorry, Miranda!


Sandy's Pies & More -- "Whole & Fried" (I'd love to see a whole pie, fried.)


Every small town needs its own candy shop.


Note the ever-present eagle on the water tower, upper right.



It was starting to get late, and I needed to head home before it got dark. My journey to the mysterious roomful of books in the never-pinpointed antique shop was a bust. I'll try again someday. Maybe on my way to Linden.


A few signs of note I saw along the way -- things you're unlikely to see in the city:

"We Sell Cell Phones, Subs, Tacos, Fishing Worms"

"Alba Wild Hog Cook-Off, April 20th"

"Gopher Poison, Fertilizer, Lime"






***


The first time I ever became aware of Miranda Lambert was this song on our local Americana station. I was shocked to learn she was only 20 or something and wrote all her own songs. And, wow, that voice is fantastic.



And then I started hearing the Pistol Annies on the same Americana station. I just looked them up on YouTube. I've never even seen what they look like. Miranda is quite clearly the best here, but they're all pretty good.




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Tuesday, April 30th, 2013
12:55 pm - MY LEFT BRAIN AND MY RIGHT BRAIN AREN'T GETTING ALONG
I have always been a night owl. I stay up late. Sometimes really late. I usually go to bed around 3:00 a.m. I've never really had a job where I had to be at work early, so even though I LOVE being up at 6:00 in the morning, I don't understand how people can get out of bed at 6:00 in the morning. These days I get up somewhere between 10:00 and 11:00 (or sometimes earlier if the cats are being particularly jerky and/or playful). My day goes downhill form there quickly. Without having a regular schedule, time just evaporates. At the end of the day, I wonder where all those hours of daylight went. There are a lot of things I want to do -- and a lot of things I NEED to do. One of those things is write. I don't write anymore. After I left my (writing) job last year, I just stopped. Talk about your writer's block!

I read an essay the other day by Merrill Markoe. She is probably best known as the original head writer for David Letterman's old NBC show (she was also Dave's girlfriend for many years). She is the one who was largely responsible for Dave's location shoots, which I always thought were brilliant (does Dave even leave the studio anymore?). After she left the show (which I think happened when she and Dave broke up), she turned to writing books. Over the years, she seems to have developed a real dread -- if not an outright hatred -- of writing: "Writing is what I have done for a living for the last 35 years. And when I say that the process was not the least bit enjoyable, it is only because I would struggle to find words strong enough to describe how agonizing it had become and how much I had learned to hate it."

After being sidelined for several months by a sudden and unexpected need for double hip replacement, she re-thought the way she wrote and theorized that turning a left-brain activity into a right-brain activity might change things for her. The way she did that was force herself to write upon waking in the morning, while her brain was still half-asleep. And that changed everything for her, making the process much easier and making her vastly more productive. (The essay/blog post is "How Not Being Able to Walk Taught Me How to Write" is here.)

It's weird to think of writing as being a "left-brain" activity. The left brain is (in her words) "...the hemisphere that handles all of life’s homework: the organizing, the structuring of patterns, the math. It's not much fun over there but it's what we use to pay bills and make to-do lists. [...] And of all the creative arts, the only one that is centered in the left brain is writing. The right brain is where all the fun stuff like music and painting takes place. The right brain is intuitive and provides us with a kind of global interactive awareness of our surroundings. It's where the floaty dreamy drifty enjoyable nirvana stuff lives. When I used to paint, I would marvel at how I could sit down to paint, then get up and not know where the last 5 hours went."

I don't really understand why writing would be a left-brain activity while other creative endeavors (like painting, dancing, or playing music) would be right-brain. All are creative, all require at least a modicum of structure.

Whatever the case, for me -- until just recently -- writing was always easy, always fun, and the time just disappeared. And now ... it's very difficult. I'm sure most of this has to do with a general depression of being unemployed, etc., but it's worrying. Why not give Merrill's theory a try? Can't hurt.

Since I read MM's essay, I've forced myself to get up fairly early and start writing before I'm fully awake. At this point I'm only at the "just get ANYTHING down on paper, regardless of whether it's any good" stage, but it's been nice to sit at my computer and do something that doesn't involve getting sucked into wandering aimlessly around the internet.

Onward.


Merrill Markoe


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Monday, April 29th, 2013
9:39 pm - WEST COMMA TEXAS
Two things happened in Texas over the past couple of weeks that made international news: the fertilizer explosion in the tiny town of West (in Central Texas), and the official dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library here in Dallas.

Coming on the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing, the explosion at West continued a very surreal week. Until the explosion, West was a small town unknown even to many Texans who don’t make frequent drives between Dallas and Austin, along I-35. West is one of those beloved little Texas towns that always seems to perk people up when it’s mentioned. The one word that is inextricably linked to West is “kolache.” There are wonderful kolaches (pastries similar -- sort of -- to Danishes) sold at bakeries around West, a town with Czech roots so deep that it is not uncommon to see signs and notices around town in both English and Czech. The most famous purveyor of kolaches is the near legendary Czech Stop, a combination gas station, convenience store, and bakery. As the unofficial half-way point between Dallas and Austin, it’s traditional to pull of I-35 at West for a brief rest stop and a kolache or two.

The aftermath of the West explosion was broadcast live on local television (West is only about 90 minutes from Dallas), and watching the whole thing unfold was awful. It seems impossible to believe, but I’ve seen reports that the amount of fertilizer in the plant was a thousand times more than was used in the Oklahoma City bombing. As everyone has probably seen, the destruction is unbelievable. I don’t quite understand the death toll figures. It’s been at 14 for several days now. Initial estimates from a hospital spokesman were at least 60. For over a week, I’ve seen reports stating “at least 60 still unaccounted for.” Of those 14 “official” deaths, all but three were volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel. One man interviewed on live local coverage talked emotionally about pulling bodies from the nearby nursing home. The adjacent apartment building was devastated, the blast hitting at a time when families would have been at home eating dinner. If reports of 60 being “unaccounted” for are correct, those 60 are clearly deceased, and it’s been odd the whole time since this happened that officials are unwilling to release a clearer picture of just how many lives were lost.

Willie Nelson (who, by the way, turns 80 tomorrow) grew up in Abbott, the even smaller town next to West. He helped rebuild the courthouse in the county seat of Hillsboro when it was destroyed by a fire several years ago, and I have a feeling he’ll help rebuild West.

The other event that focused media attention on Texas was last week’s dedication of the Bush Presidential Library (or as a friend of mine calls it “The Bush Liberry”). All five surviving U.S. presidents and a lengthy list of world leaders and high-level diplomats were crammed onto the Southern Methodist University campus, politely saying nice things about the person who may well have been the worst president in history. Uh-huh. Unfortunately, my hometown is sullied (yes, "sullied"!) by the presence of his quarter-of-a-billion-dollar liberry/shrine.

Immediately following the dedication ceremony, President Obama traveled to West where he and Michelle attended a memorial service for the emergency personnel who were killed (I don’t know why, but I find the term “first responders” really irritating). The full thing was broadcast live locally. It was moving, but it was way, way, way too long -- over three hours. The president and first lady looked very tired … and depressed. I think that’s kind of the way the whole country feels after the last couple of weeks: tired and depressed.



A picture I took a couple of years ago of one of the many interesting old world-y storefronts in West.


My favorite: cream cheese kolache.

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Thursday, April 11th, 2013
6:09 pm - REJECTION SLIPS, RESUMES, AND MIDGE THE CAT
I have received my first rejection from a potential literary agent. Which I was completely prepared for, but it's still, you know, bleh. At least I had a non-threatening, non-panicky experience, as it was a friend of a friend, but now I'm going to have to crack open the Literary Agent's Market and get back to researching people and send stuff out without the comfort of a cozy introduction.

I met with an old friend a couple of weeks ago, and he offered me a job, but one that was fairly low-paying and (by his own admission) deadly dull. I was fully expecting to take it because I like him and, let's face it, I need to get a job! But he said that because there was a certain amount of training involved, it would necessitate a time commitment that I wasn't prepared to agree to. He said to check back in a few weeks if I hadn't found anything and was "desperate." It was really nice to see him after so many years, though, and I liked all the people I met at his company. Who knows? I'm kind of already desperate.

How do people get jobs anyway? I've never had to look for a job before, and it's just a big mystery. Every time I check online for jobs, I just end up depressed. Are there still employment agencies? I think I'm just going to send out a bunch of resumes to companies I'd like to work for. I'm pretty sure there aren't any positions available, but I have a couple of good references, and they can just keep me on file. Who knows?

I'd love to be able to work somewhere where I could research local history, but historical groups probably only hire applicants with advanced degrees or with library science backgrounds. I'd also like to work somewhere writing and/or editing, but it seems like the rest of the unemployed world would like to do that, too.

Stella, my 21-year old cat, passed away a few weeks ago which was, of course, heart-wrenching but not unexpected. I adopted a new cat from the SPCA. She is about a year and a half old and has settled in nicely. Here she is on the day I brought her home, getting checked out by my other cat, Al.




I decided on the name Midge because the two of them remind me of Moose and Midge from the Archie comic books -- Al's a big palooka, and he and Midge have quite the flirtation going on. Here's her glamor shot:




It's a big change to live with two young, energetic cats. They're very entertaining.

I need to start writing here again. I don't really have anything to say these days, but that never stopped me before. I wonder if anyone is left around the place? I sense virtual tumbleweeds bouncing across a virtual Livejournal prairie.

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Sunday, February 10th, 2013
11:45 pm - "BUM WINES"
Hello! Did you know there is a Wikipedia entry for "bum wines"? As in wines that bums drink? Well, there is. I stumbled across this important tidbit after I saw this 1967 ad for Mogen David wine that appeared in the pages of Ebony magazine:



And now I know that both Mogen David and Manischewitz wines were popular within the African-American community. Live and learn.

Suddenly I seem to have the Sundance Channel. Just watched a documentary on NYC restaurateur Toots Shor. Worth it for the look at New York high-class low-life of the 1940s and 1950s, but it lost me with the emphasis on sports figures and gangsters. Last night I watched the extremely irritating Happy Go Lucky from Mike Leigh -- I think I watched it more out of boredom than anything else. I haven't watched any old movies in months. I miss that.

I've been doing a lot of reading and cooking. I've spoken with one of the main Antiques Roadshow appraisers who offered me a business proposal (which was flattering, but which doesn't seem financially do-able at the moment). I'm currently working on a writing project that I need to get back to right now!

But I just thought I should pop in to say hello and share my exciting "bum wines" link. Hope everyone is well -- and if you're in the northeast, I hope you're not trapped under several feet of snow!

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Sunday, January 6th, 2013
6:14 pm - WE *MUST* HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR!
Wow, it's been a long time since I've posted anything. I'm still here, feeling a little less gloomy and disillusioned -- probably because the weather has finally cooled off and it's actually been cold -- it even snowed on Christmas!

Nothing interesting to report other than a brief rat scare (I'm not sure they were rats -- I prefer to think they were cute anthropomorphic mice). I hope they found more receptive lodgings down the block and that everyone lived happily ever after. I live in a duplex, and my neighbor and I have recently been talking about "the rat problem" via texts. Which is weird, because we live ONE WALL AWAY FROM EACH OTHER, but we both seem to prefer the distance of texting, I guess. I DID actually start the year off by forcing myself to be more sociable -- I invited him over to try my latest cooking experiment (coq au vin!). We've been neighbors for at least five years, and we've never been in each other's apartment. It turned out that he was sick with the flu and wasn't able to make it, but the fact that I actually tried to be less hermit-like was encouraging. It's a good thing that he was unable to make it, because it took me WAY longer to finish cooking than I thought it would. The whole thing, start to finish, took more than 24 hours! But it was a success!

I've been on a bone-broth-making kick lately and have been making pot after pot of chicken and beef stock. This stuff is amazing. The only drawback is how long it takes and that it stinks up the house for a day or two (especially the beef stock, which smells AWFUL as it's cooking). Still, it's very easy and everyone should do it. I think the smell of the chicken stock that makes me feel a little queasy may be the smell of bay leaves. I tried making the stock without them, and it just wasn't as good. It's kind of a ... for want of a better description ... a very high-pitched smell (in Monty Python terms, it is "tinny" rather that "woody") -- the smell of mint and tarragon also make me feel a little nauseous.

I haven't been out driving around much lately, mainly because it's kind of expensive. So I'll finish this off with a few odds and ends from the past few months that I don't think I've posted here before.

***

I sincerely hope everyone has a good 2013. 2012 will go down as my "lost" year -- the year of extreme isolation and loneliness, filled with far too much introspection and self-analysis. 2013 can only be better. I hope it is for all of us.

***



Abandoned shack near Edom in East Texas, in the middle of tall, tall, TALL trees. I loved this place.




Dilapidation along a farm road near the wonderfully named Cool Junction.




I waited while these fowl moseyed across the road near Millsap.




An unexpected small herd of buffalo, grazing in someone's pasture/front yard, past Cool Junction and Millsap. Conversation-piece pets rather than stock.




An action shot of a squirrel racing down a tree at White Rock Lake in Dallas. Looks stuffed. Isn't.




You see a lot of these around Texas.




The Burger Bar, a tiny walk-up burger place just off the square in Cleburne. It was closed when I was there. Next time! (Oh my god, it was hot that day in September.)




Also in Cleburne, this very pretty church, caddy-corner from the Burger Bar.




Found myself driving through Fort Worth one day and got completely lost. All I know is that this was in a part of town I probably won't be spending a lot of time in. But I love these old industrial buildings.




Dallas Farmers Market. This was at the beginning of December, when temperatures were in the 80s! I always wonder how much of the produce at our farmers market is local. My guess is very little. It makes me wince to see so many vendors selling ... pineapples -- not really one of Texas' cash crops.




This was parked out in front of the farmers market. I LOVE this car. ...Truck. ...Car. And its bed was full of poinsettias. Someone should put that poinsettia-mobile on a Christmas card.




Fell asleep on the couch. When I woke up my cat Stella was standing on my chest, wondering where breakfast was.

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Sunday, September 30th, 2012
9:30 pm - "IT'S TIME TO PUT THAT BAGGAGE DOWN"
I've been out of work for eight months. EIGHT MONTHS. This is shocking. It feels like only a few weeks. It also feels like forever. I no longer have any sense of the passage of time. Sometimes I think my memory is failing, but then I realize that I've done nothing in this time worth remembering. I honestly don't know how I've managed this. I have almost completely disappeared from life. I leave the house for groceries, to mail my rent check, and to run the occasional errand. I really don't see anyone or talk to anyone. I saw a couple of friends Friday night, and I felt as if I had forgotten how to behave. It seemed so strange that someone was actually listening to things I said. I was so self-conscious -- talking too fast and wishing they weren't looking at me -- I wonder if I appeared as crazy as I felt? I tried to tell them how depressed I've been, but I think they thought I was joking. It's getting harder and harder to imagine what it would be like to have a job to go to. To have people to talk to -- and to listen to. To go somewhere. To have fun. ...To be "normal." It's weird.

So yeah, I guess I'm pretty depressed, but it's a kind of depression I've never experienced before. I'm not necessarily sad, I just feel a heavy sense of hopelessness. I'm sure there are jobs I could do that won't suck the (remaining) soul from me, but I just don't know what they are. I don't know if I'm really as adept at the things I thought I was (judging by my last job .... I guess not).

I'm going through some sort of crisis, I suppose. Except that "crisis" is a word that carries with it images of some sort of sharp collision. There is nothing in my world at the moment that is sharp. There is no rushing to get to something (or away from something). There is no deadline. There is no direction. There is just a soft distant thud. Every day I wake up and feel a thud. "Another day." Thud. "It'll be just like yesterday. And tomorrow." Thud. "Should I take a shower today?" Thud. I'll feel a vague sense that I should be doing something, but, inevitably, nothing will get done. Over and over and over, an inability to function.

I know that my thinking is irrational. I know I'll get past this, if only because I HAVE to. My unemployment insurance has run out. My aunt has loaned me some money. I'm working on a project that might prove to be financially beneficial for me if it pans out, but that was something that just fell in my lap. I seem to be unable to PURSUE anything. I just don't think anyone wants what I have to offer.

I've never had many close friends. And now I don't think I have any. For the first time in my life. All of the people who had been close friends are no longer there. I have friends, but none that I feel I could call up anytime just to talk. (I'm sure they wouldn't mind -- and a couple might even WISH that I would open up to them.) All my life I've wondered why it's so difficult for me to make friends. I don't know why I'm like this. I am completely passive when it comes to meeting new people and sustaining any kind of close relationship. I would attribute it to a string of devastating rejections, but this began well before men were rejecting me. It sometimes seems easiest to give up. Or not even try.

I think I'm saddest at the moment about the loss of friendships. Not having a job is bad, but I just feel numb about that. I feel sad that I'm alone. Most people in my situation have a husband or wife or significant other or close circle of friends to keep them going, to encourage them and support them. I have no one. While I would be able to encourage others, I am incapable of doing that for myself.

I just read a memoir about a woman and her husband who both lost their very well-paying jobs and pretty much hit rock bottom after months and months of being unable to find new jobs. (I laughed when, in order to point out that she would have worked at ANY job, no matter how low-paying, she applied to work at Barnes and Noble but was turned down.) What saved her? She started a blog to fill her time and was discovered -- seemingly randomly -- by an agent. Of course she got a book deal. She has since published several books of humor that don't seem all that funny to me, but she has quite a fan-base. And they all lived happily ever after.

Part of my time here in the wild has been spent on a half-hearted attempt at finishing my own manuscript. It's basically done. But it just sits here. I'm looking at it now, just to my left, in two large binders. Formatted. Proofed. Done. I even have a connection to an honest-to-god big-time literary agent. I'm stuck. I can't seem to go any further. I don't know if it's fear or just a severe lack of confidence or just sheer laziness. I think I've written things that are equal to -- if not on occasion actually better -- than what I've read published by major publishing houses. It's not that I don't think I have ANY talent, it may be that I don't know if I'm prepared for the long road of rejection ahead. I'm pretty worn down already on that front. And, also, it's one of the few things I've ever really wanted: to have some sort of success -- however marginal -- as a writer. I want it too much to fail at it. And most people DO fail at it.

But what happened to my life? I want to have a life that matters. If only to me. And that isn't happening at the moment. I've got to get out of this tiny crawlspace of a world I'm living in, where my greatest accomplishment has been teaching my cat to fetch a toy mouse. I need to figure how to get back out into the world and sit at a table with friends and talk and laugh and feel like an adult and not like an awkward teenager.

As I said, I'm not really sad, I just feel completely numb and disconnected from the rest of the world. I've been thinking about the same three or four things over and over and over and over -- for eight months, without any distractions and without any let-up. Sort of like post-traumatic stress disorder (which I just looked up on Wikipedia, by the way, and its symptoms seem frighteningly close to mine).

So, in short (ha!), I'm tired of it. It's time to put that all behind me and move forward. I've been watching Jerry Seinfeld's web-only series "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" (which is wonderful), and the most recent episode featured Michael Richards. Richards talked about the meltdown he had on stage a few years ago that basically ruined his career -- it had taken a huge emotional toll on him, and the pain and regret on his face was obvious. Jerry listened seriously and sympathetically as Richards talked, and, when he had finished, Jerry said to his friend, "It's time to put that baggage down." I felt like crying when he said that.

It's time to move on, man. I can do it.

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Tuesday, September 25th, 2012
11:41 pm - MOUNT CALM -- SERENITY NOW!!
I misjudged the timing of the cotton harvest again. I drove down to my favorite cotton trail Saturday, but, as I'd feared, all the fields were empty. Still, it was nice to pick up a couple of kolaches and drive around the countryside, spending time not inside my house.

Life gets quieter and quieter.





Cotton fields (mostly) stripped bare.




"Modules" packed full of cotton at the Birome gin. They're huge. Walking around them is like being in a little city, with narrow alleys running between very tall cotton walls.




Birome cotton gin, in the late afternoon. Someday I will ask for a tour and find out what all of this stuff does. I love this photo.




Another view. I'd like to see an architect borrow some of these features for urban residential buildings.




Leroy, Texas. Post office. ...And that's about it for Leroy. Except for....




Lowe's Chicken Bank, about a block from the Leroy post office. I'm not completely sure, but I think this is a restaurant specializing in chicken dishes, housed in an old bank. Could be wrong. I hope I am. I hope that it's a bank for chickens. Or the campaign headquarters for McLennan County Sheriff candidate Lowes "Chicken" Bank (R).




Drought survivor?




That's gotta leak bad.




This place has (probably) seen better days.




Splinters/toothpicks. Half-empty/half-full.




Cool long red barn. Fixer-upper. I could live here.




I really like this place. I could definitely live here.




I've never heard of Mt. Calm, but it sounds like a nice place to relax.




One of the only buildings I saw in Mount Calm. "City Hall" looks suspiciously like a real estate office. (There seems to be some confusion over whether it's "Mt." or "Mount.")




A little ways down the road was the Mt. (Mount?) Antioch pioneer cemetery. The oldest grave I saw was 1880.




As I walked around, I heard voices and laughter off somewhere in the distance. I also heard periodic gunfire. As there were no cries for help, I will assume it was Lone Star-fueled target-practice.




The sun was setting as I drove home. These grain bins are somewhere between Malone and Italy. This is my favorite time of day, but it's always hard to capture the colors in a photo, colors so faint and delicate that you almost feel them more than see them. Like catching a distant scent on the breeze. Gone in a flash.




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Thursday, July 19th, 2012
12:56 am - JOYEUX QUATORZE JUILLET
Sometimes I wonder if a person can have a full mental shutdown and not be completely aware of it. Or have a sort of functioning breakdown -- like walking pneumonia. If you have a nervous breakdown and no one is there to witness it, does it really happen?

Yes, things have been spiraling slowly downward. Things are not going well. Beyond the constant feeling of general inadequacy, I'm sure there are incremental changes in my psychological state that I'm not even aware of. I have spent the past five and a half months in virtual isolation. I'm not even sure I can communicate with anyone anymore.

The eBay listing I've been doing is wearing on me because the guy who owns the books thinks he has treasures worth vast amounts of money and is insisting on ridiculous high reserves. The most recent bunch of books failed to sell. I don't know if I'd call myself an expert on ANYthing, but, really, this guy SHOULD consider me an expert, because I DO have some idea of what I'm talking about. I feel I live in a world where no one hears anything I say. So, anyway, I'm not sure how much longer I want to keep this frustrating "business" (ha) relationship going.

I haven't really seen anyone in weeks. A guy I'm "friends" with on Facebook asked if he could meet me for lunch to discuss his vague hopes of one day selling books professionally. We have a lot of mutual friends, but I'd never actually met him. We had lunch Saturday, and I was afraid that I'd be completely incapable of carrying on an intelligent conversation, but it was very nice. I was happy to see that I can still form sentences and carry on an actual conversation with another human being.

I had arrived at the restaurant first, a Vietnamese place in a funky, has-seen-better-days part of town. While I was waiting, a guy shambled in and sat down at the next table, looking fairly down-and-out, about 60, in a white t-shirt and jeans, his face leathery-looking from spending too much time in the sun. It was a bit of a shock to hear him ask in a thick French accent what wine they had. He seemed irritated and depressed. Kind of crazy. When the waiter came back to tell him about the wine, the Frenchman looked perturbed and asked for whiskey instead. "On the rocks" -- which I'd never heard anyone say in a French accent. By the time my lunch companion arrived (he had called to tell me he was running about 20 minutes late), the French guy was on his third whiskey and appeared to have passed out at the table. It WAS Bastille Day.

After lunch I took a drive out of town to nowhere. Turns out nowhere was pretty dull last weekend. I saw a billboard for something called the Beef Jerky Outlet around Lake Ray Hubbard. I'm always glad to hear about severe niche marketing. That may have been the highlight of the drive. Other than the beautiful puffy clouds that hovered over me all day.

(Apologies if these photos are too large.)



Puffy, fluffy clouds.





A barn. I took this photo from a gravel road leading to a cemetery somewhere in Northeast Texas. I had wanted to walk around a random cemetery, but my car started making scary sounds as it lurched down the unpaved road, so I managed (somehow) to turn around on that very narrow road and get back to glorious asphalt. I don't usually see barns that look like this. Very cute. Two very large black cows were hanging out in the shade, just out of frame, watching me with as much cud-chewing curiosity as they could muster.





Why?





Just behind the pickup, Beulah's. I had stopped to take a picture of this place and almost as soon as I'd stepped out of my car a truck pulled up, and a guy leaned out the window and asked if he could help me. I told him I was just taking a photo of the building. He smiled and asked if I might be interested in buying the place. I laughed and said, no, I just liked the look of the building and wanted to take a picture. He looked disappointed and said that he was the owner and had plans to open it in a couple of months as a bar and grill. He said I should come back when the place was open. I told him I wasn't from around there, but thanked him and said I'd stop in if I passed by again. He smiled and drove off. Now that I think of it, I doubt I would ever get back by there because I have NO IDEA WHERE I WAS. I hope he keeps the name "Beulah's" -- that was really the only reason I stopped.





All day long the clouds reminded me of silent, hovering flying saucers. The sky never actually looked like this. And that's a shame.

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Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
11:52 pm - ROBERT & GEORGE
I found out today that a man I used to know and whom I really, really liked died a few months ago. He was a close friend of another man I really, really liked who died a couple of years ago. They were probably both in their 60s (maybe their 70s) when they died, but I knew them when they were in their 40s or early 50s. I only ever saw them together -- Robert was a quiet guy with a sharp, deadpan sense of humor and George was something of a local celebrity -- a bon vivant who smoked big cigars, collected Beat authors and erotica, and told great stories. They were both hilarious, and it was entertaining listening to them trade quips and discuss intellectual topics with non-intellectual flair. Robert was gay. George was kind of a ladies' man who was a big, fun flirt. I don't know if they were best friends, but they were always together when they came to visit me at my bookstore. Often they just stopped in to chat with me, and we'd sit around talking for a long time. They asked me to go out for drinks with them a couple of times, and I've always regretted that I didn't take them up on their offer. I don't know why I didn't. I liked them both so much.

When George died two or three years ago, he left instructions in his will that the family should contact ME to advise them on selling his large library because he trusted me. I was really touched by that when I found out about it last year when his son contacted me about the books. We talked about Robert a little bit, and I asked the son to pass my phone number on to him. Robert called me that day and we had a wonderful, long talk. I almost cried when I heard his familiar voice after so many years. I told him I hoped we could get together sometime, and he said that would be nice.

That was about a year ago. Today I found out that Robert died six or seven months ago. I was shocked. When I was told the details of his death, I realized that -- when I was still at the auction house -- I had actually been the person who had been called to look at some books brought in for appraisal that I now realize were his, brought in by some guys who might have been the landlords of his apartment, for all I know -- they weren't friends, and they weren't family. I wish I had known back then. He was apparently an adopted child who had been ostracized from his family when they found out that he was gay. From what I gather, he died alone, probably from the effects of alcoholism. George had not only been his close friend, but he had also been helping Robert out with cash when he needed it. I think when George died, Robert started going downhill.

The saddest thing of all is to realize that he died alone. He probably never imagined there was anyone who would have been as sad as I've been today to learn that he had died. He'll never know how much I really did like him -- every time I saw him walk through my door I smiled. I loved both of those guys. For some reason they both liked me, and I remember how they were the first "adults" who treated ME like an adult, too. I was just a kid, really, when I was struggling to run my little bookstore. They treated me like an equal. They were great guys, and I miss them both. A lot.

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Tuesday, June 19th, 2012
9:12 pm - THE CARL'S CORNER-ITASCA-GRANDVIEW CORRIDOR
I took a drive last weekend to put some miles on my new car, because, I'm barely leaving the house these days, and it's like having a thoroughbred racehorse locked up in the barn. I headed south again, in the direction of Hillsboro, because it's pretty around there. I decided to get off the highway at Carl's Corner, the famed truckstop where Willie Nelson once held his 4th of July Picnic. Last time I was there, I was impressed by how the whole place had been cleaned up and remodeled (it used to look like a scary ... um ... truckstop), with Willie's name on everything: the gas pumps, the convenience store, the restaurant, and the theater. That was a couple of years ago (which I wrote about here), and I was amused by the Willie-centric convenience store, with as many souvenirs emblazoned with marijuana leaves as with Willie's name. But when I pulled into the parking lot on Sunday, Willie's Place was gone and had been replaced by something looking very corporate. Willie was obviously no longer affiliated with the place. (A nice little look back at Willie's Place is here).

I picked up an iced tea and wandered around, wondering where all the kitsch had gone. Maybe it's all made its way to Willie's merch tables.

As I was checking out, the woman at the register -- who looked exactly like the kind of woman you'd expect to see manning a register at a truckstop convenience store (...not that there's anything wrong with that...) -- looked at me intently and said, "Do I know you?"

I was a little surprised. I don't get that question very often.

"I don't think so."

"You sure?"

"I'm pretty sure."

"You don't come in here all the time? You look like one of our regulars."

"No, I haven't been here since Willie was here," and I gave a sort of Carol Merrill sweep with my hand back toward the place where the acreage of Willie Nelson tchotchkes had once been displayed so proudly, conveniently near the snack foods and the Zippo lighters.

"Huh. That's funny. I swear you look just like one of my regulars." As she handed me my change she narrowed her eyes and gave me a look like "I DO know you, don't I? What kind of game are you playin' at, missy?"

I walked back to my car wondering whether it was a badge of honor or shame to have a doppelgänger who cruised the Texas truckstops.

That was the sole moment of human interaction on my little trip. It was a great drive, though, especially as I discovered Little Steven's Underground Garage channel on XM radio (which I have free for three months before they take it away from me). GREAT music -- everything from Slim Harpo and Ray Charles to '60s garage bands and early Bee Gees to bands I've never heard of who are recording cool music TODAY (who knew!).

So, yeah, I took pictures, but I think I hit a weird setting on my camera, because everything came out vaguely fuzzy and washed out. Kind of the way I feel these days. And with that, I give you this:



For the first time I know what these things are called. I knew they weren't grain "elevators" but they are used to store grain: grain bins. This is down the road a bit from Carl's Corner.





Just past the GRAIN BINS.





Farm. Camera setting: blurry (can not be helped by "sharpen" tool).





Farm equipment or art installation? I really love this, and I vote "art." The city slicker has spoken.





Prairie.





I don't know what kind of plant this is. Again, blurry, so I just pumped up the color, 'cause it was never going to look the way I saw it. The field was a delicate, waving orange carpet -- really, really pretty. Anyone know what this is? Just outside Itasca.





Itasca, other side of the tracks.





Itasca, right side of the tracks. Home of the Wampus Cats.




Itasca. Main drag. I LOVE that catfish sign!





Leaving Hill County, about to enter Johnson County. Looks like a flatter version of the landscape in the opening of "Little House on the Prairie."





Grandview. I have no idea what a "campasino" is, unless it's someone's last name. My guess is "campesino" (Spanish for fieldworker) was misspelled somewhere along the way. Sign companies need proofreaders, too!





Outside Grandview (or, hell, IN it for all I know). Deserted shack, next door to a nicer house with a garden in the front. I've cropped out the nice house, because, really, who needs to see that?





This view from a narrow road a little ways from from the shack. Back-end of a church facing picturesque I-35.






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Saturday, June 16th, 2012
10:57 pm - A CHAINSAW, AN ALLIGATOR, AND A MONSTER HAILSTORM!
I continue to find a self-imposed work ethic very difficult to maintain, but I managed to get my first experimental round of books researched, written, photographed, and uploaded, only one day past my initial half-hearted and poorly-enforced deadline.

The other morning, at the crack of 10 (...I've slid back into my not-working sleep schedule of about 4:30 a.m. to noon...) by someone banging on my kitchen door. I opened the door, half-awake, to find a guy standing there with a chainsaw. I don't know how long I just stood there and blinked, not quite knowing what was going on, but then the caffeine-fueled property manager of the house next door launched into something about needing me to move my car so he could cut down a dead limb from the massive pecan tree that hangs over my parking area. I think I blinked a few more times before I realized that I needed to move my car. I dressed quickly and moved my car, relieved that the branch that had been threatening to flatten my car would finally be a worry of the past. ...Except that it isn't. I don't know what he cut down, but it wasn't that branch, which is all but resting on several power lines that stretch from poles in the alley to my house. Trees all around the state have been hit hard by last summer's drought (and, actually, we may still officially be in a drought), so I expect the thing to snap in half at any moment, flattening my car. (Oh, how I miss the days of covered parking.)

The next day, I went to lunch with an old friend. We went to a Cajun/Creole place called The Alligator Cafe, which has great fried alligator tail. (I feel bad eating an alligator -- as I do with all animals -- but I just keep thinking only the tail was harvested, and it will grow back, like a big lizard.) Fried alligator tail in "nugget" or "popcorn" form, with hush puppies and french fries and something called "gator sauce" which is ... I don't know what it is, but it's good.




It was NOT, I hasten to add, an entirely fried meal -- the iced tea was not fried. (I still think it's weird how, over the past few years, we've had to endure the encroachment of the Southern-ism asked by waitstaff in certain "down-home" restaurants: "Sweet or unsweet?" As I understand it, it is traditional in the Deep South to ask if patrons would prefer to have regular iced tea (i.e. "unsweet" -- sic), or a sickly sweet, pre-syrupified liquid that is passed off as tea. When -- and why -- did this creep into Texas?)

A few hours after my gator basket, Dallas was struck by a massive hailstorm. It was crazy. Never in my life have I seen hail like that. It lasted for almost half an hour. My neighborhood got the proverbial "golfball-sized" hail -- but all around me, if was at least baseball-size if not larger. Watching from inside, it looked like the ground was a giant popcorn-popper. Hail came whistling from the heavens, hit the ground and exploded. Hundreds and hundreds of cars around town had their car windows blown out. Here's a video shot by some partying young people who say "holy crap" and "dude" a lot, showing what it looked like -- it's pretty incredible:





That was maybe three miles from where I live. And what, pray tell, happened with my BRAND NEW CAR, parked as it is out in the open? Well, that tree that will probably damage my car one day and which I curse every day this time of year as it oozes sticky sap all over everything ... acted as a tarp/canopy and prevented hail from hitting the car with its full force. So it survived completely unscathed. Thank you, Leatherface, for not sawing off that limb afterall and saving me MAJOR insurance hassles.

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12:45 am - PAUL LANDACRE
I love this.


Paul Landacre (1893-1963), "Children's Carnival" (1946)


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12:17 am - ROCKWELL KENT: ILLUSTRATOR, VEGAS LOUNGE ACT
Flipping through a book on bookplates and other small pieces designed by illustrator Rockwell Kent, I came across this one, which I love. This looks like something from one of Lynd Ward's novels in woodcuts.




And, here, Kent gives a humorous background on the image:




You can almost hear the rim-shot.

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