The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week
yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.
— Tom Robbins
Sam drove two friends from work, Duane and Cheryl, out for Asian food at lunch. They argued on the way – about if the restaurant was primarily Vietnamese or Chinese. It had a wide variety of food on the menu, primarily Chinese, but the neighborhood was mostly Vietnamese. They decided on a way to settle the argument. After they parked they walked around the back, huddled next to the overflowing recycled grease container and pushed the kitchen door open. They stuck their heads in a little, keeping hidden but enough to hear the conversation between the cooks. All three were pretty sure they could tell the difference between Chinese and Vietnamese, even if they didn’t speak the languages.
What they heard was Spanish.
“What the hell,” Duane said, “they have Mexicans cooking.”
“I’ve heard that,” Cheryl said. “Most of the Asian places hire Mexican workers in their kitchens. I never believed it until now.”
They decided it didn’t really matter at all so they walked around to the front and were shown to a table.
They had fun looking through the higher numbered items, such as No. 134- Fish Ball with Sea Slug, but decided top pass on anything unusual. They waved the woman away with the Dim Sum cart. It was lunch specials today, No. 6 for Sam and Cheryl, No. 10 for Duane.
They enjoyed the wrapper on their chopsticks. On one side were actual instructions on holding and using and on the other side a great little piece of literature:
Welcome to Chinese Restaurant. Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks The traditional and typical of Chinese glonoushistory. And cultual.
They liked the way that Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks was capitalized. They liked the little misspelled sentence fragment at the end. They especially loved learning the new word, glonoushistory.
What did it mean? It is in no dictionary they had access to. Cheryl pulled out her phone and all the hits it returned were in regard to the chopsticks.
“So it must be a new word,” Cheryl said. “From the context it is obviously intended to mean the food, cooking, serving and eating habits of a culture. A word made by combining history with nourishment, with a glo thrown in the front for good measure. I can’t think of any other word that quite means the same thing.”
Duane said, “I can think of examples of use: ‘Jeez, I can’t believe you’re eating that greasy hamburger!’ ‘Get off my case, burgers are essential to my sense of glonoushistory.’”
“’Twirl your spaghetti on a fork! Don’t suck it up like a straw.’ ‘Are you criticizing my glonoushistory?’” added Sam.
Cheryl said, “I imagine small eastern liberal-arts colleges establishing departments of Glonoushistory. Professors of Glonoushistory, getting research grants and traveling to Central Asia to catalog the preparation of boiled Yak and fermented Camel Milk beverages. The chorus of complaining when the first graduating class majoring in Glonoushistory realizes they have completed a course of study actually targeting them straight to the fast-food industry.”
The three had a good laugh and then their food came. They broke off the chopsticks and dug in. Sam smoothed the cover out, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He wanted to tape it into his journal that evening so he could remember the fun lunch with his two friends. He forgot to do that, of course. A month later, after several washings, he’d find the little wadded up remains in his pants pocket and not be able to figure out what it was.
Stuffed and worried about getting sleepy in the afternoon – there was a lot of work to be done – they piled into Sam’s car for the short drive back to the office. Cheryl sat up front, Duane in the back. There were some grocery bags bag there and Duane absentmindedly poked around in them. They were full of canned food, there was even a grocery receipt, but the cans were all silver steel – no labels.
“What the hell, Sam,” said Duane.
“Oh, I buy canned food, mostly vegetables. It’s cheap. And then I peel the labels off and leave the cans in the car for a couple days – to make sure I forget what’s in them, before I put ‘em in the cupboard.”
I can’t give you up, till I’ve got more than enough. So infect me with your love– Nurse me into sickness. Nurse me back to health. Endow me with the gifts–of the man made world.
—-The The, Infected
A few days ago my health provider sent me an email and told me I was scheduled for a COVID-19 vaccination shot. It was about time – I have a couple of risk factors and am classified 1B by the state’s standards and was getting antsy about getting my shots. I filled out the online paperwork and was notified that I would be getting vaccinated at Ellis County’s vaccination hub in Waxahachie at 1 PM on today, a Saturday.
I made plans to make a day out of the trip – load my bike in my car and ride a trail there – maybe stop at a coffee shop. But there was an emergency at work and I had to stay pretty much all night Friday (until four in the morning) so I threw all that out the window and tried to catch some sleep.
Saturday I checked the driving time and verified it was fifty minutes so I made some coffee and futzed around. The instructions were a bit odd – instead of saying “Arrive at least fifteen minutes early” – it said, “Do not arrive more than fifteen minutes before your scheduled time.” Then I checked the phone again and a rainstorm had blown in all across the city and the drive time had ballooned to an hour and a half – so I jumped in the car and took off.
I HATE being late for an appointment and as I fought my way through the stopped traffic my arrival time kept getting later – until it hit 1:20. Then my phone told me it had an alternate route, which I accepted, and it got me there only four minutes late.
The Ellis County Hub was impressive. It was meticulously organized in a rural Texas sort of way (if you know what I mean) – they had almost a hundred volunteers in color coded fluorescent vests handling intake (they verified your appointment while you were still in your car, marked your vehicle with a piece of chalk, and handed you a clipboard and a pen for you to fill out the forms [with your input carefully marked with a yellow background] while you parked), parking assistants, a big clump of wheelchairs with attendants for anyone that needed it, intake assistants to verify paperwork, people behind computers entering the data, a group of “ladies in pink” that directed everyone to the rooms where the shots were done (complete with volunteers holding signs indicating which rooms had extra space), the injector people themselves with assistants, and finally a waiting room (in the Senior center’s gymnasium) where we waited for fifteen minutes recovery.
On the way out they scheduled me for my second shot and gave me a card, saying, “Do not lose this card or you will not be able to get your second shot.”
They were moving thousands through the process quickly and accurately. Something impressive to behold.
The only odd thing was that nobody ever asked me for an ID. Although they asked my name and verified my appointment – I could have been anybody – I could have sent someone in my place.
I did make the mistake of wearing a thick, long-sleeve shirt (It was cold and I didn’t want to take a coat – but what the hell was I thinking) and the poor guy had to pull the neck down to get the needle in. So when you get your shot – wear a short-sleeve shirt.
I was oddly excited to get my vaccination. Now I’m looking forward to getting the second and finally, a little bit, putting this awful thing behind me (and us).
With coronavirus surging, restaurants and bars closed and the homes of even friends and family off-limits, does that mean your winter social life is doomed?
No, according to a host of scientists, professors and trainers who are experts on the physiological impact of frigid weather on humans. Adapting to cold isn’t fun— who loves to shiver?—but it’s possible, scientists say. And as a bonus: Cold, like exercise, makes you healthier.
Window washing job I couldn’t do Downtown Dallas, Texas
A professional journalist, I had recently applied for a new job, and for the first part of the recruitment process the publisher made me play a number of simple online games from the comfort of my own home.
These included having to quickly count the number of dots in two boxes, inflating a balloon before it burst to win money, and matching emotions to facial expressions. Then an artificial intelligence (AI) software system assessed my personality, and either passed or failed me. No human had a look-in.
I wondered: is it fair for a computer alone to accept or reject your job application?
Welcome to the fast-growing world of AI recruitment.
The Window at Molly’s, the street (Decatur) unusually quiet, with notebook, vintage Esterbrook pen, and Molly’s frozen Irish Coffee
Of all the different things you can try to improve your productivity, a morning routine is one of the most effective.
There are a few reasons why morning routines are so useful. The first is obvious to anyone who has ever procrastinated, just getting started is often the hardest part. If you can start out with the right momentum towards your goals, you’ll avoid wrestling with yourself in the morning to get started.
Mojo Coffee, Magazine Street, New Orleans, Louisiana (click to enlarge)
Journalists and essayists in recent years somehow formed the impression that the academic study of English grammar is partitioned into two mutually hostile tribes: descriptivists and prescriptivists. Both are portrayed in cartoonish stereotypes.
The descriptivists allegedly think that anything uttered by English speakers is ipso facto good English and can never be erroneous. So if people sometimes say, “It’s in the, the . . . the hall closet,” we must deem that correct, and posit noun phrases with three definite articles in a row. This insane view is purportedly associated with the political Left.
But the other tribe seems just as deranged. Its members won’t change their minds about the sacred edicts of grammar regardless of evidence. No matter how many great writers may have committed some solecism, they say, it’s still wrong if the rules of correct grammar say it is. This view gets tagged as conservative.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” ― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible
“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.” ― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
It was not really a surprise when I read Fry’s was going out of business (it has been circling the drain for years – the stores have been barely stocked) but I felt sadness nevertheless. I went to their website and read the following notice:
After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.
Fry’s has always been more famous on the West Coast, but it had a big presence in Texas too. Most people think of the outlandish and tasteless architecture but I have fond memories of the place.
My first visit was in the early 1996 or so when the Arlington store opened (I think that was the first one in North Texas). Back then buying a personal computer was a major operation – especially if you were looking for an affordable one. I had heard of a new megastore in Arlington (about an hour drive) and we went there. I was stunned at the acres of electronic geegaws and doodads with a few actual products sprinkled in. I found a PC… I don’t remember the brand – but it was off-off branded and was originally intended for sale in the Soviet Union… of all places. Yet, it was inexpensive and intelligently spec’d and I used that hunk of tan plastic for years.
Later, I build two personal computers (one for me and one for my son) from parts I bought at Fry’s. I had a list of components I needed and every Friday I would scan the new Fry’s ad – rush out there and buy whatever was on deep discount that week. I was able to build PCs for about half what they would cost retail – and tailor them for our needs (gaming for my son – writing for me).
Otherwise, Fry’s was a geeky, nerdy oasis of technology. I used to love to hang out there and walk the aisles looking for something useful and more things not useful. Audio, software, small appliances, large appliances, TVs, everything and anything.
I remember what I called “The Gauntlet.” Checkout lines were always long – though they moved fast (there were up to twenty registers open at any time) and while you were queued up to pay everyone was herded down a narrow aisle at the front of the store. This aisle was lined with shelves groaning under the weight of odd merchandise: Candy, Cooling fans, Energy drinks, huge packs of batteries, charging cables, keychains, Velcro strips, USB drives, odd magazines, soldering irons, puzzle books, pens, chips, hats, pins, pencils, on and on. I realized that these were all carefully selected to be irresistible impulse purchases for technology types. Nerd Heroin. Good luck getting through there without adding something to your purchase.
Writing this, the good memories come back –
-Fleeing from a stressful day at work and hiding out in the media room watching Twister,
-Seeing my name mentioned in the book “Everything Internet Book” (1998) when I pulled the tome off the extensive tech bookshelf (I had been interviewed by the author. I was one of the pioneers of the “online journal” in 1996 which eventually became blogging).
-Hours spent in the vast sections of the parts department looking for just the right adapter or soldering connector. It is not the same surfing through Amazon, or Banggood, or Aliexpress. Not the same.
-picking up a 65 inch HD rear-projection DLP television with my son back when nobody had a 65 inch television.
-Seeing my first Laptop/Tablet/LaserPriner/FlatscreenTV/BluetoothSpeaker/almost any other tech invention in the last thirty years.
-Hearing my first subwoofer in the audio demo room
“Things are sweeter when they’re lost. I know–because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly, Dot, and when I got it it turned to dust in my hand.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned
As the Snowpocalyps died away I was excited because a package from Amazon was finally able to be delivered. It was something that I bought with my Birthday Gift Card – more expensive than I would have bought for myself. Something that had been sitting in my wish list for over a year. It was several days late, of course, but the shipping company emailed me a link where I could watch the delivery. A Google Map appeared on the screen with a pin on my house and a little truck icon moving around.
Watching the delivery truck move, knowing my precious package was there in the back, was addicting.
But it was nuts, the thing would come right up to my street and then flee. Sure, there was a warning at the bottom of the screen saying “Simply Because the Truck is Near, Doesn’t Mean Delivery is Imminent,” but really…. There is a large light industrial business area near where I live and I suppose it kept having to go back there for scheduled pickups.
I swear, at one point the little truck was only a hundred yards away – I know those local streets well because I ride my bike on them all the time – then I hit REFRESH and it bounded two miles away in a flash. This was more than I could take so I gave up and took a nap. As I was about to cross over into slumberland the dogs barked at the front door and Alexa started flashing white….
My package was here. All is right in this best of all possible worlds.
“Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are, That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm, How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides, Your looped and windowed raggedness, defend you From seasons such as these?”
—-William Shakespeare, King Lear
Well Endowed King
Mark Campbell stepped off the train, alone, into the cold Autumn drizzle and walked the two long blocks through the crystal grid of skyscrapers to the theater. It looked like a gigantic metal cube – like a Borg spaceship that touched down into a wide depression along the busy street. When the city built the new hall Mark read all the articles about it and its innovative architecture. He always sat on the left side of the train so he could watch the construction when he rode by on his commute. He thought that it was so, so cool – but that he would never be able to afford tickets. But he discovered that with every new play that was produced the first night would be a “pay what you can” performance.
At 9 AM on a certain date tickets would be available online for the newest show and the buyer would decide what he would pay. Mark had a quick finger on the internet link and right on time would log on and buy a ticket. He would usually pay five bucks. It was essentially a dress rehearsal but Mark enjoyed the shows, although he didn’t have any luck getting anyone to go along with him.
The theater was like a normal performance hall turned on its side. The lobby was at the bottom of the descending slope, with the performance space above. The top floors were used for offices and rehearsal space. Mark waited in line at the bar to spend ten dollars on a tiny plastic cup of cheap white wine -mostly to have something in his hand as he milled around in the crowd waiting for the show.
The rest of the crowd was divided into couples or small groups, chatting away. Mark was used to being single at these events – but was still more than a little self-conscious.
Tonight, the show was Shakespeare’s King Lear. Mark had seen the play once before – twenty years earlier. He had taken his son to an outdoor summer performance. Mark’s son was only ten and he worried the play would be too complex and dense for the child. But his son loved it – there was enough sword fighting and action that he was enthralled, even if he didn’t really understand what was going on. In the infamous eye-gouging scene, an actor actually threw two grapes on the stage and then stomped on them. His son perked up.
“Hey, what just happened?” he asked.
“Oh, nothing, Nothing.” A father has to lie a little now and then.
The child especially liked the army scenes where they had a large crowd (probably every stagehand and a lot of local volunteers) moving through the trees around the outdoor venue with lamps and rattling swords. It was pretty impressive – he was a tiny bit afraid… just the right amount. He used to really love going to the Shakespeare plays and Mark wished they could have done more. They were so busy.
And now his son had his own life and better things to do than hang out with his old father.
While he milled around hiding at the edge of the crowd, pretending to look at the posters, artwork, and announcements attached to the walls, he noticed something odd. Near the entrance to the stairway to the seating above there was a large, bold card on an easel:
PLEASE BE AWARE THAT THIS PERFORMANCE CONTAINS NUDITY
Nudity? In King Lear? What was that about? Mark didn’t give a damn about that, and the minute the bell dinged and everyone began moving toward their seats forgot the “warning” completely.
One cool thing about the venue is that the stage and the seating was suspended from the top of the building on cables and could be raised and lowered easily to convert the space into any conformation that the producers liked. He had seen quite a few – some were arranged like a standard theater with the seats in rows facing the stage, some were “in the round,” and some had a jumbled mixture of stage and seats with the play happening right among the audience.
Tonight that was the case. There was a single large stage, but the seats crowded in on three sides so that the action would be close to every observer. Mark couldn’t help but be excited at this innovative an intimate arrangement.
As the audience settled in around him two young women, probably college age, took the seats immediately to the left of Mark. They were very attractive and dressed to the nines. Mark couldn’t help but feel a bit of excitement to have such gorgeous people sitting right next to him – although he knew he was invisible to them… at best. These premiere performances often had large groups of attractive young people attend – theater students from local schools and colleges. Watching them left Mark with a bittersweet nostalgia for days gone long, long past.
The two chatted with the ironic, bitter, and sardonic tone that women like that use at times like that. Mark wondered what those two thought of Shakespeare. He had no idea. Even though they were sitting right next to him they lived in a world completely alien to his. Soon enough, the lights darkened and the play began.
It started out with a very spare stage – a wooden wall, a door, a heavy chair, and a candelabra. Mark noticed before the performance a couple of stagehands on hands and knees, carefully wiping the stage down, as if they were worried about bits of slippery water.
The play started very formal and stiff. The actors stood arranged around the seated king in symmetric positions and delivered their lines. It was all very good, but not very exciting. Mark thought this wouldn’t last – King Lear is an avalanche of a play; it delivers its punches full-bore – heavy and hard. It doesn’t fuck around. He worried that they had decided to go all old-school, plain, simple, and it was starting to get a little boring. It might be a long night of interesting but not very passionate storytelling.
Then, suddenly, about a quarter way through, the formal stylized play ended. As Lear was thrown into the storm of madness the wooden walls that formed the back of the stage fell forward into a tumbledown confusion, huge doors swung down from above and a gigantic torrent of water waterfalled down (sort of Flashdance style – on steroids) onto the King.
And all Hell broke loose.
Giant strobes went off above in bolts of terrible lighting, electricity crackled, while deafening peals of thunder roared from unseen speakers. The King was now mad, insane, completely unhinged. He ran around the stage and under the falling deluge until he was drenched to the bone.
And then with a bizarre deranged scream he stood at the front of the stage, soaking wet, and stripped of his clothes. All of them.
Mark suddenly remembered. “Ah, that was why they had the nudity warning,” he thought to himself.
The other actors began chasing the howling naked Lear around the stage and then they left it to begin running up and down the aisles and then even between the rows of seats – the audience would have to sort of stand to give them room to move by.
Mark had to smile. The actor playing Lear was no young man – his hair was snow-white and his face wrinkled from many, many decades. But he was slim, muscular, and still very toned for his age. He was athletic and quick, moving through the audience with a grace and speed that made it believable that the other actors could not catch him and run him to ground.
The naked actor was impressive in one other way. The King was very well endowed. Mark thought, “If I looked like that at his age, I’d be running around naked all I could get away with too.” The King moved down the very row where Mark was sitting, tumbling through, followed by his pursuers.
Then Mark noticed the two women sitting next to him. They were horrified. Stiff as boards, speechless, both of their mouths frozen in an identical rictus of terror. They were completely offended by this naked old man speeding around in front of them. Swallowed by a toxic mixture of anger and fear – this was not what they thought that they were going to have to deal with.
Eventually the others captured Lear, throwing a heavy cloak over him and pulling him offstage. The intermission came right after (stagehands rushed out with mops to dry the stage).
The two women stood and yelled out indignant protests to nobody and everybody. They were so apoplectic, “I can’t believe,” “I’ve never,” and “This is terrible,” were the only snippets that Mark could make out even though he was right there. In an enraged huff they stormed out of the building.
Mark wondered if they had seen the warning card in the lobby. He was amazed that anyone that on the outside posed as being so worldly and sophisticated could be so upset at the sight of a bare old man. Maybe that was it, they weren’t used, weren’t prepared for geriatric nudity. Maybe it was the mature equipment. Maybe their boyfriends will be viewed with less enthusiasm going forward. Mark really wished he could see the two women’s text messages – packets of outrage – they would send to all their friends.
The rest was crackerjack. The formality gone, torn to the four winds, the play was a tsunami of powerful madness, a foil for the King’s insanity and despair. The fourth wall was broken, with actors fighting in the aisles and lightning screaming through the theater. Mark noticed that even the sound effects added to the disconcerting craziness – every time the King’s mind took a turn for the worst, a crackling buzz came from hidden speakers above the seats – a subtle effect that enforced the impression of insanity and doom.
And then, the tragedy. As the inevitable doom unfolds, the tragic events set in motion by Lear’s egocentric arrogance in the first scene come to their conclusion, the horror sets in.
Afterward, spent, Mark trudged back to the station to catch the next-to-last train back home. He had enjoyed the play immensely. But the most memorable roles were played by the two young women next to him, offended and horrified by the well-endowed King.
“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”
― A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice
Here in North Texas the temperature is above freezing now and everything is slowly returning to normal. The biggest thing now are all the busted pipes – I know more than a few folks that have tremendous water damage. We were without water for a few days – a frozen pipe somewhere – but when the thaw came the pipes held. We were without power for a few stretches – rolling blackouts – but those weren’t a big problem for us. It was sort of nice to be without electricity for a bit – the temperature dropped but it was an excuse to bundle under the blankets.
The saddest thing at our house was we discovered two frozen young rabbits in the yard as the snow melted. I’m sure there was a lot of that.
There is a wire photo going around of the water fountain behind the library here in Richardson – in articles like this one.
When I saw it, I remembered I had discovered it frozen five years ago and wrote a blog entry about it.
It looks like its a little more frozen this time, but it’s the same place. I do know the city leaves the water running to protect the pipes and it gets like this fairly often.
Here’s the fountain on a warm day along with my cargo/commuting bike: