Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Trivia Newton John

The Lakewood was a disappointment. I had run as far as I had ever run from Dustin's apartment, and I felt I had been rewarded when Junius Street came to an end and the spire of an old theatre rose over the tree line, announcing itself in a vertical stack of neon letters as the Lakewood. I have a weakness for old movie theatres, but I like them best when they still show movies. But the Lakewood's marquee announced Burlesque Night and some local bands and I wrote it off as little more than a landmark.

Until I discovered the Arcade Bar.

Just as the Lakewood Theater was no longer a movie theater, the Arcade Bar was no longer an Arcade. Rather it was a long side room bar, and Greg and Lauren brought us in for Wednesday night pub trivia where we sit on one end and the lawyer who usually wins sits with a friend or two at the other. In between are two teams that compete mostly for the filthiest possible name they can get Dan to say out loud when he reads the scores. There's one more team behind us, between us and the door, the team so close we choose to whisper over whether the picture clue is for Rocky Horror or Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

We know we are in a place where we should be when Greg writes down our team name as Trivia Newton John, and we are sure of it when we are lauded as heroes for knowing the final round answer is "keel hauling" or "tungsten" or "rhubarb" meaning an argument. And when, after having been in third or fourth place all night, another team is read out for the third place spot, we are ecstatic to believe we have landed in second place. But when we aren't called for second place, either, we are slow to dawn on the fact that we have displaced the lawyer at the end of the bar. And the only thing more amazing will be the next week when we discover the popcorn machine at the back of the bar AND the Chex Mix free from the bar if you know to ask and that it is just as much fun when the lawyer wins because we know in our hearts how it feels to be the only one at the table to know the answer is fajitas or the KGB and to write it down before Dan has finished asking the question.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Texas Theater

The Texas Theater sells t-shirts. They're right there in the glass cases along with all the boxes of candy. And if you wore one, you might mean to celebrate the current Texas Theaterits local film festival and its swank retro bar in the lobby and its showing of Animal House next month followed by a real live toga party. It's certainly a place worth celebrating. It's a big old theater with hard little seats and a balcony, even if the public isn't allowed up there. The inside is white stucco and giant paintings of old movie posters high on the foyer walls. A projector in the lobby flickers away, flanked on the floor by red velvet couches low to the ground, the projector screening bits of a film you didn't come to see on the white stucco walls left blank. The whole thing is marvelous: old and a bit glamorous, stocked with a Ms. Pacman table game and the Robocop arcade game to keep you busy, you who remember when they were new.

I especially like the Robocop arcade game. I like the little pixelated super cop stomping around a city that was meant to be Detroit in the film but was actually shot in Dallas. I like that the reason I can drop in on a Monday night to see the new Star Trek movie is because half a dozen preservation efforts brought it back it turn from infamy and bankruptcy and fire and abandonment. But I can't make sense of the t-shirts, of what it means to wear the iconic marquee on your chest, to advertise that beautiful sign like it looks now, like it looked when it opened in 1931, like it looked fifty years ago on that Friday afternoon when Lee Harvey Oswald slipped inside without ever buying a ticket.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day

I was standing at the intersection, in the bit of shade cast by the thick pole that holds up the traffic signals, waiting to cross south and walk the last block home, when the men traveling west in the crosswalk approached me. One was tall with light skin and a baseball cap, the other was my height and dark skinned and wore magnificent green socks pulled up high as if trying to reach the green patterned shirt they matched. It was the man with green socks who said hello. I said hello to him, and he said, "You look like you must be sixteen, seventeen years old." Being twice that age, I started to say, "And you look like you must be a liar," and then edited in my head to, "And you look like a man who needs glasses," but thought better of it altogether and said nothing at all. I laughed, though, and the man with green socks continued as he stepped onto my curb. "Are you a mother? Happy Mother's Day, if you're a mother."

I wondered whether his second salvo was a kind of course correction, an admission of sorts that his first remark was so obviously, so necessarily, so patently untrueor if it was possible he might really believe in both my adolescence and my maternity. Texas is, after all, third in the nation for highest teen pregnancy rates. The Dallas Morning News tells me 2% of texas high schools skip sex education altogether and 94% are content with an abstinence-only curricula. Which is to say, only in Mississippi or Alabama might I be slightly more likely to have an encounter like the one at this intersection.

This was on Monday. People I didn't know had started wishing me a Happy Mother's Day the Thursday prior, and for all I know it will continue on tomorrow. I was once trying to catch a bus out of Dublin, and at first the schedules were off because of Good Friday. Then it had to do with what the clerk at the depot called Easter Saturday, followed by the well known Easter Sunday and the lesser known bank holiday Easter Monday. And then, so help me, I showed up on Tuesday and the Clerk shook his head. There would be no service to Belfast, he informed me, on account of Easter Tuesday. So maybe Mother's Day in Dallas is a similarly extended holiday. On Sunday a man with sunglasses and a barrel of a torso smiled at as we walked towards each other on the same stretch of sidewalk.

"Happy Mother's Day," he purred.
"Happy Mother's Day to you," I replied, and really meant it.
"I'm not a mother!" he corrected me.
"Neither am I," I pointed out.

So maybe we're not just a city that extendo-celebrates Mother's Day. Maybe we're just a town with a serious appreciation of mothers. I like to think that, that we're of concentration of appreciative folks whose mothers raised us right. Or maybe, should I ever be walking in the same direction as my interlocutor, there will be time to follow up the question, "Are you a mother?" with something along the lines of, "Would you like to be?"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Fire Hydrants

Last week the moat was across the street. Standing at the corner I could see five hydrants all open, a flood every block. And it stayed that way all day. Last week I put on sandals and went across the street, though there was nowhere to cross where I would not get wet, and I marveled that a city not known for its drought-resistance could gush and gush for hours.

This week, when the moat migrated, the same hydrant vented now to throw its river across the street, it was our block made island. I had expected the children in the neighborhood to take more interest, but they were unphased, drawn instead to the lawn by the recent acquisition of three pairs of big red boxing gloves. So I was alone when I took off my running shoes and sat at the edge of the storm drain, the water cold enough to turn my skin pink.

"Isn't it wonderful?" a woman called to me from the height of the SUV. I looked up and saw only the head of a very shaggy dog extending from the passenger side seat. I looked past the dog and saw the driver, still smiling. I agreed it was a sight to see, the water so welcome in its ripples up my ankle, and she stayed a long time before she finally pulled away.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Sprinkles: Part II

They married on a Wednesday. Someone else brought up the walkie talkies. We were asked to ferry the cupcakes. The order was left in my name, not that of the bride and groom, and I said it like a code word, like a question, to the perky young woman behind the counter, who returned with a pair of bags. And then another pair, and another pair, and, don't go yet, another pair. They were mini-cupcakes, and there were so many of them, packed into boxes by flavor, the vegan ones set to the side because a butter frosting need not be chilled but a vegan frosting will come undone in the heat and so it goes right back in the icebox until it is ready to debut. Instead we put that bag, with the others, in the trunk and drove north. And though it had looked ready to rain all day, as we drove out of the city and into the pasturelands, the clouds began to lift. And at the wedding the clouds broke and the sun came through in fingers. And maybe they had blown away completely by the reception, when it was dark and the music was good and the bar was drunk dry and the bride and the groom had a moment to themselves, in which they picked through the last of the cupcakes.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sprinkles: Part I

The delivery fellow knew it was the wrong door when he knocked. But he seemed nothing but relieved when we answered, and he hardly waited for an answer before giving us the parcel intended for upstairs. We didn't want the responsibility of looking after it. But then we didn't want the responsibility of it left outside her door in the sun for who knows how long? Who knows what kind of person sends an order of cupcakes to a flight attendant and whether they check her flight schedule first? So, reluctantly, we became cupcake-sitters. This was more stressful than you might imagine, though it was just for the afternoon, it turned out. We were just wondering if it was time to slip the big paper bag in the refrigerator, drop the first shelf down a rung or two, when our neighbor came by and collected the Sprinkles delivery her sister had sent. She didn't mention the occasion, not when she took the cupcakes away and not when she came back downstairs to reward us with two red velvets for our trouble. We assume the cupcakes spelled out something like Best Wishes, given that Dustin got a candy T on the top and mine had a candy S, and they were so delicious it was easy to imagine how you might eat the B and the E before even thinking to share.

Monday, April 1, 2013


Since the beginning of March, the grocery store has been selling cartons of cascarones. I lasted only a week before buying a dozen of these confetti-filled eggshells, seduced as I was by their brilliant hues and feather weight and the pictures of cartoon children hitting each other over the head. A week after that I sent the carton home with friends visiting from Oregon, convinced as I was that this was one of the better souvenirs of Texas, and then I forgot to buy more and then it was Eastera fact I was reminded of when I came home from work and noticed a modest splash of pink confetti on our apartment steps. And I was disappointed with myself that I had forgotten to restock what was so clearly a perfect and joyous thing. And then I went for an evening walk, and today I went for another, and I am so much more delighted to know that there are traces of dyed eggshell and paper throughout the neighborhood, for a mile in any direction. And I see now how much better it is to discover these traces than it would have been, shell-against-skull, to have made them.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Steve Martin is from Waco

Five years ago, I recognized the origin of a stranger's 801 area code and she knew what an 805 area code said about me and almost immediately we were friends. I was, at the time, living in a 312 area code, and she was in the 202, but we met for the first time in 314. Now I live with the good people of 214 and she's joined the ranks of the 313. In honor of our anniversary, I would like to share with all of you something she was recently so kind as to share with me. From a Michigander, with love: "50 Sure Signs That Texas is Actually Utopia." If that sounds overwhelming, perhaps you will be satisfied just knowing that Steve Martin is one of ours.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Junk Mail

If I never left the apartment (and as a writer who works from home, this is an actual possibility on more days than I'd care to admit), if I never made it any further than the bank of mailboxes two giant steps away from my apartment's threshold, I would know the city. I would know Dallas by its junk mail.

Nowhere else I've lived has so distinguished itself through the things I throw away. I largely ignore the pulpy curl of of circulars, but the postcards are full of invitations. Any number of establishments would like the pleasure of whitening my teeth. More than a few churches would like me to drop by. I was particularly enchanted by a house of worship that was offering Saturday services in consideration of the marathon that routes through the neighborhoodpartly to bless the runners, and partly because Sunday parking, what with the road closures and all, would surely entice a person to take the lord's name in vain.

And though I tend to think of the neighborhood as chock-full of schools, every so often I get a governmental postcard advising me a sex offender has taken up residence somewhere nearby. It's such an intimate thing to be on the back of bulk rate mail: the picture and home address of someone I don't even know.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day

The only fire-breather I know lives in Texas. Also, the only woman I've ever met who didn't know she was pregnant until the baby was crowning. Also, the only person I know who owns an air cannon for the specific purpose of launching tee-shirts into a crowdthis person, too, lives in Texas.

I mention the last because Texas loves itself a St. Patrick's Day celebration. In Chicago, I never questioned the parades and the river dyed green, but the first time Dustin and I tried to take the light rail to the movie theater and found ourselves pressed among revelers in varying states of inebriation and Leprechaun-inspired costuming, I was unprepared.

I was also unprepared, a year later, when friends invited us down to the beach and we saw them next as pirates on a parade float, the green of green beads rubbing off on their sweaty necks, the pirates throwing more of the same to the outstretched hands lining the parade route, and from the prow of the boat twirling the ends of green feather boas. I had, until then, been most charmed by the golf cart resurfaced for the parade in an armor of green Solo cups, but upon seeing us, waiting as we were at the end of the route, our friends the pirates jumped off their pirate boat float and walked us back to the beach housebut only after the last green tee-shirt was launched, not at the boy yelling for it and standing close enough to take the apparel projectile point-blank in the chest, but over him, deeper into the crowd, the cannon launcher aiming towards us and connecting instead with the woman in front of us, who grasped the shirt in her green-painted fingernails and jumped up and down.

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Crush on Winston Churchill

In January the Dallas Museum of Art did something museums almost never do: it gave up charging for general admission. Since then, Dustin and I have been dropping in most weekends. We have learned the difference between American Art and Art of the Americas (no ceramics of two people joined by a common third leg in the former, no almost presidential bedroom sets in the latter). We have learned you can make a chair out of plush pandas. We have learned there is no adhesive holding together the cubic meter of toothpicks, that if you pay attention they are slowly, slowly falling loose.

We have learned galleries intersect in surprising, nonlinear ways, a gentle maze with myriad possible solutions. And shortly before I learned that "Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron" is an actual title to an actual painting, Dustin and I walked out of Japanese gallery, a hallway really, and stumbled into the Reves Collection: a celebration of decorative arts staged in a multi-room recreation of the Mediterranean estate Wendy and Emery Reves bought from its original owner, Coco Chanel. The guest room with its scores of black lacquered furniture and chairs with animal skin prints is bewildering. Why the pairs of shoes on the carpet? Why the lace and the place settings displayed on the facing wall?

We were feeling a bit more oriented by time we found ourselves looking in on the living room. "You can't go in," Dustin kept whispering, each time a bit more agitated. "You can't go in!" And of course we couldn't enter this recreation of a room meant entirely to receive guests. So we leaned over the barrier just enough to get a better look at the closer Renoirs, the near Seurat, and gave up on a dozen other paintings as too distant across the great room to admire.

I was, by then, working myself up about this collection. Museums have an understandably hard time saying no to donations, and while that may not have happened here, it would explain the disporporitonate amount of space accorded to, say, the nation of Japan versus the personal collection of an Dallas-born model from and the man she married after a twenty year acquaintance. I am probably just grouchy there's not more explanation to contextualize all these rooms and why they are here, when I wander into an alcove of Winston Churchill memorabilia. Churchill was a favorite guest at the estate, painting the twisting trees of the coast, going for walks. He sent letters and telegrams to the lady of the house, apologized for having "vexed" her. And I found myself softening, charmed at the whimsy of Churchill including the name of his parakeet, Toby, in the dedicating of a book holding a few of the bird's feathers between the pages. I was totally undone and won over after discovering a slip of paper, the size of a cocktail napkin, on which the dinner guests had been asked to draw their self-portraits for a parlor game. Churchill won the prize for finishing first, and he won it with a truly charming sketch of a pig. 

Monday, March 4, 2013


With Dustin home sick, we spent part of the weekend catching up on Texas cinema. Now with Dustin on the mend, I would like to share the highlights of our research:

1. "Bernie" is a fine film, which I love for this scene more than any other. But I feel kind of bad that, without any previous prejudice, I now want to refer to Houston as the "Carcinogen Coast."

2. Who knew "Reality Bites" was set in Houston? And, for its time, it features a truly Texas-saavy reference to the Austin-born grocery chain Whole Foods. Twenty years later, as a perky checker with bright blue hair rings up my loaf of Seeduction Bread at the Whole Foods near us, I have to agree with the film's observation that Ethan Hawke would not have been hired.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Free Glow Sticks

The Crow Collection of Asian Art waited until Friday to celebrate the Chinese New Year, which seems a little late, but if you're going to go to the trouble of closing off some streets and filling them with food trucks and photo booths and stations where you could color in a paper snake and then staple it to a hat, you might as well wait until the weekend.

I'd seen the strip of street between the Crow and the Nasher Sculpture Museum converted into a performance area before, so I should have remembered that it's nigh impossible to see anything if you arrive late. Even half an hour early it was already a perimeter of three or four deep, people standing on benches and garbage cans to gain a little height, visibility tolerable except for all the good parents lifting kids up on their shoulders. And so, for a time, our main entertainment was an overheard conversation about the performers having been told one time and the audience another. Which explained the lion heads arriving in plastic, the dancers first in sweats and then in hot pink get ups with fringe all up the pants. A woman with a bucket asked if we had glow sticks and before we could decide if we wanted to pay for such frivolity, we had said, "No," and she had given us two sticks each. Dustin joined them together to make a super necklace. I twisted mine into a crown. And everything was more bearable with them glowing; something to see when the martial artists dipped low or kicked not high enough and  for twenty minutes we knew they were there mostly by the occasional sound of vibration from their shiny, floppy swords. Which is why we hadn't left out of boredom by time the dragon dancers came on. It was hard to see the dancers, but the dragon they manipulated by poles into saunters and chases and dives, the dragon skimmed above the crowd line, chasing a ball.

And then the lion dancers came on, a pair to make up each lion, and the lions all flapping mouths and blinking eyes and wagging tails. We did not have an red envelope of money to feed the beasts, but stayed until the eight of them had worked the crowd, the lions on one end swallowing the envelopes from children and on the other end skillfully ignoring little hands trying to catch the swishing tails. We stayed until the crowd was gone and there was nothing left to see.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Drivers Blow Kisses To Me

The first time I was jogging in place, was waiting for the traffic light to change when I raised my hand up to shield my eyes from the dropping sun. The sweep of my arm caught the attention of the driver of a garbage truck, waiting to turn left, who answered the salute with a brief honk. Then he smiled and lifted his hand from the steering wheel to his mouth and blew me a kiss.

A few days later I was cooling down, walking the side streets near my apartment, when a driver of something low and old and maroon pulled up to a stop sign and waved. I waved back before realizing I don't know anyone here, and in return the driver blew me kiss, let it leave his hand through the open window as he drove away.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Winspear Opera House

My mother likes to tell a story about a family car trip. She likes the part where we were driving through Las Vegas. She doesn't tell why we would have ever gotten off the freeway, why we would have taken the time to drive down the Vegas strip, but she'll tell you that there were lights everywhere. Every color of neon tube, endless round bulbs, all of it wired to blink and flash and spin. I remember our skin colored by the light. And my mother will say that she heard not a peep from the back seat until, in unison, my brother and I issued an awed "McDonald's!"

Her point is that surrounded by the spectacular, what we noticed was the familiar. My point, when I challenge her interpretation, is that the spectacle was clearly supposed to be spectacular, but a fancy McDonald's doesn't happen every day.

I mention this now because last night I went to the Winspear Opera House for the very first time. It's a handsome building, with a very pretty view of downtown out its glass shell. Inside it is five levels that rise ever steeper, cupped like a nest and filled with 4,500 people. The auditorium has a central chandelier that looks like fifty strands of metal dripping into light, and the whole thing retracts into the ceiling when the performance starts. Certainly these are the things I should mention, never mind the show we saw. But what I feel deserves note is the parking structure, receding into the earth, well run and comfortably designed with an attractive central escalator that doubles as a light well. And what I really want to say is that the Lexus Red parking structure has a special zone set aside just as you drive in marked "Lexus Parking"and sure enough it's already full up with Lexi! What an exotic and esoteric perk. It is indeed so random and ridiculous that I do not begrudge the privilege, am still smiling as I pullinto a corner of the bottom most level, flanked on either side by Lexus overflow.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dallas Black Dance Theatre

The Nasher Sculpture Center is always worth a visit, and one certainly can't complain on the first Saturday of the month when admission is free. We didn't mind the flush of families, or the one-day introduction of family-friendly little ropes pinning perimeters around the sculpture out in the garden, but as we discovered the inside galleries were all closed for installation, upstairs and down, we began to suspect we'd picked the wrong day to come. I had, in fact, just turned on my heel to confirm with Dustin it was time to go, when a man with a stack of programs asked if we'd come to see the dance.

"It's starting in just a moment," he said. We were won over by the serendipity, but hedged our bets by standing against the wall near an exit. Our last cultural experience of free dance performances featured girls age 5 to 15 in sparkle and spandex on a stage across the olde tyme Main Street from a general store. After the eighth straight song about jealousy, cheating, the desperation of needing a man, or the satisfaction of getting oneand the precocious choreography to match--I was confirmed as an old prude and had to retreat to the model train depot. At the Nasher, Dustin and I started to get nervous, our strategic position compromised in minutes as we were blocked in by strollers and a carpet of children filled in at our feet.

And then we were won over, hooting and whooping and chapping hard. In all, three companies from the Dallas Black Dance Theatre took to the marley, and each one charmed us, left us spellbound. How beautiful the movement of limbs! My breath caught in my throat with some of their leaps and lifts. The emcee joked at one point that DBDT is Dallas' best kept secret, and I tend to believe she's right.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


I appreciate that Texas keeps things interesting. Having just missed the hottest summer on record, I moved here in time for a year of snow days, tornado, West Nile Virus, softball-sized hail, and now earthquakes. It's like playing apocalypse bingo. I didn't actually feel the 3.0 quake last night, nor did I notice the 3.1 and 3.4 quakes that happened in a span of four minutes last September. But I did take note when the radio reported that Dallas had never registered earthquakes like this before 2008. Who's to say, really, but it would seem to be a result of injection wells in the area designed to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing. I wasn't worried about locusts coming, until I realized we can bring these things on ourselves.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013


The thing about places that only get snow once or twice a year, is that it isn't worth investing in the equipment to swiftly remove that occasional snow. So, when we wake to white on everything, Dustin decides he isn't going to fool with the ice rink the streets have become, and we take a snow day. It's a snow morning, if we're being honest: by lunch there is only a thin lace of snow sunk into the lawn and just enough snow left on the car to have a five-snowball snowball fight before driving pristine streets to Uncle Uber's for sandwiches.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Texan Oscar Nominees

Today I clicked on the headline Texan Oscar Nominees. This is not news because it turns out the Lone Star State is lousy with Academy Award contenders. Just the opposite, in fact. My local NPR station, who posted the piece on their Art and Seek page, counts just two in the major categories. They haven't taken a fine-tooth comb to the minor categories yet, so there may be more. We, the public, are even invited to scour the list ourselves. I love that we are keeping track of this, especially when it is something we are apparently not that good at (no disrespect to Wes Anderson and Tommy Lee Jones). And I love that we care enough about our standing to mention it, but not enough to work very hard at boosting it up, and then we mention that, too.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Worms, Roxanne, Worms!

It rains in Texas. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. And in Dallas, where the sidewalk squares ram and butt and knock at angles, it's good puddle country. Which is what I am focused on while taking my evening walk. It is impossible at night to tell how deep any pool may be, and I step gently in the dark, though my galoshes cover up to my knees. And then on dry land I notice, at my feet, the longest worm I have ever seen. Longer than a strand of spaghetti. It is a shoelace of a worm. It is a worm to make you believe worms eat other worms and grow the length of their meal. It is a worm to make you wonder if might be true, after all, that one worm cut in half becomes two worms, because this worm could be quartered and and still be surprisingly long for worms. It is skinny and segmented and still pulsing its way to somewhere when I telescope my folding umbrella to measure its length. Translated to the measuring tape at home, it is nineteen inches worth of worm. I call to tell my mother what I saw in the rain, and she tells me of an even longer worm she once saw, a worm you could wear like a belt.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Wiffenpoofs Stop Here

Dustin likes to watch the weather map, the pixels sweeping in rainbow hooks as storms go by. This was not his hobby in gray drizzle of Seattle, but in Texas there are thunderstorms and hailstorms and tornadoes blowing through. We're at one end of tornado alley, and Dustin notes there is a pattern to the winds, that the nastiness that skirts past Dallas seems to him neighboring Dentin right in the face.

I had been told by a neighbor who works in a fancy hotel that the same thing happens to music, that tours have their own trade winds, and we get all the good stuff because they always blow through Dallas. This made sense to me, but I had not experienced it until the Wiffenpoofs winter tour stopped in Colorado and then Dallas on its way next to New Orleans. While other places I've been start the morning with a surf report or a fish report or even a farm report, KERA broadcasts a segment called Art and Seek, a brief rundown of cultural events in the city. Which is how this Monday we learned over breakfast that our fair city would be treated to the melodies and comic stylings of the nation's premiere college a cappella group.

If you weren't impressed at "Wiffenpoofs," there may be little more to say that would convey how singularly delightful it is to sit on the folding chairs of the Jewish Community Center and listen to fourteen very talented (and somewhat nerdy) Yale seniors do a skit about a spelling bee. I think it's quite possible you would have to be there to understand what it's like the first time they all remove the white glove from their right hand and begin to snap. But I trust you can imagine, in all its glory, the perfection of "Midnight Train to Georgia" performed complete with three de-jacketed men in their white shirts and white vests, synchnoized in their back-up dancing, pulling the same imaginary cord with their white gloved hands and back-up singing "whoo-whoo!"

*it won't have the flirty old man who sat in the folding chair next to me, but otherwise, a good facsimile of the experience can be found here. note: we didn't have Big Bird.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Girls on a Train

I've been playing a game where every time I go for a run, I go a bit farther than the last run. This can't go on forever, of course, but the bike trail curves enough that I keep needing to know what's around the bend, the bridge, the stand of trees. When I got to 26 minutes out, I passed a trio of wholesome fresh-faced girls coming towards me. Something about themthe one holding a pair of mocassins and walking barefoot? the one holding a pair of blue Keds and starting to skipmade me think I had just me characters from a young adult novel, an impression not contradicted when the skipping, chirping girls noticed me. The conversation they had been having grew louder, turned outward, as they called to me, "Ohmigoodness! We were on a train! We were just on a TRAIN!" I overheard something about a photography project, confirmed by the camera with a thick strap around one girl's neck, and then I was past them.

I ran until I saw an overpass, the only place I could imagine tracks nearby, but I saw nothing, heard nothing, and looped back. As I came up on them a second time, they turned to the sound of my footprints. "We like your shirt!" they said, as though they'd been considering this jointly in the minutes we'd been apart.

"I like all of your shoes," I said, and they beamed, improved their posture, called back as I passed them, "Thank you!" and "I'm not wearing them!" and "Wow!"

"Ohmigoodness!" I heard them say, just before I was too far ahead to hear, "Why do we meet the nicest people?"

Friday, December 21, 2012

The 15th Tallest Building in Dallas

To say Reunion Tower resembles a giant golf ball on a 500-foot-tall tee, or a monstrous dandelion with a triple shaft stem, hardly accords it the dignity of a structure that keeps company with the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower. It, too, has an observation deck, but more importantly it is member to the fraternity of buildings that light up in code!

It used to just glow, a floating ball in the night, but a year ago the bulbs were switched out for an LED system so that now the 259 points of light, one each at every intersection of aluminum struts forming the geodesic sphere, change colors and patterns. Unlike New York, where the weekly Time Out includes a section decoding the Empire State Building's temporary hues, in Dallas I have no cypher. The blue of World Autism day does not register for me, just as I could never identify the colors for Puerto Rican Independence Day all on my own. Fortunately, Reunion Tower tends to take it easy on me. I know a jack-o-lantern when I see one. I feel comfortable assuming a giant pink "MK" is for the Dallas-based Mary Kay, and currently I can pick out the swirl of rotating candy canes and Christmas trees with no trouble at all. I liked it when it was just a dandelion, a curiosity of 1970s architecture imagining a future that never came. But it's that much better now that it's got something to say. Who needs an inexplicable ornament suspended in the sky, when you can receive messages from a queer planet in low orbit?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


If you don't count Dustin or my use of the telephone, there are days in Dallas when I talk to no one. I know this because sometimes I congratulate myself for having a conversation with the check-out person at the grocery store. It's actually something of a hobby, conversations with strangers, or would be if I went to the grocery store more often. Which is all to say that if it doesn't come up on the local public radio station, I have very little reason to know what Texans are thinking. I just don't know very many of them. And that puts me in a funny position when all y'all non-Texans start asking if we'll really secede.

Dustin likes to tell the story of our first tornado in Texas, how the first either of us knew about it was an email from my brother and a call from my sister prompting us, foolishly, to get close enough to a window to take a look and check. It's the same with secession. It's not like there are billboards or lawn signs or trucks with speakers and a PA system driving around. There are no mailers in the mailbox, and I can tell you it doesn't come up at the grocery store. I wouldn't know a thing about it if folks out of state didn't raise the issue. So until I have more friends, I, like the rest of the world, will have to get my information from the internet.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Merry Christmas, David and Jean

I don't know that I've ever lived anywhere that got quite so serious about the wreaths and the lights and the inflatable snowmen. I assume this says more about the neighborhood I inhabit than the city per se, about a climate so mild no one minds clamboring along the roof and you can send a team of men with strings of lights up into the branches of a hundred year old tree until it glows like an omen. In any case, I'm very fond of it, of the sleighs, of the topiary reindeer, of the half-dozen half-height trees made of lights wrapped around the inverse cone of a planting form. I like the huddle of light-up plastic folk clustered on the railing of a second floor balcony, and I like the person seen through a different second floor balcony slowly getting dizzy spiraling lights around their tree. But what I love, more than the larger than life Santas (sometimes three to a block), is one Swiss Avenue house on a corner lot.

It's grand, as all the Swiss houses are, the main structure three stories of brick with a two-story addition all white and windows and colonnades with plain capitals. It reminds me of a great slice of wedding cake attached to the house, but its owners have interpreted it differently. This year, like last year, like perhaps a great many years before, they have dropped a meter-wide red ribbon from the eaves to the ground and belted the whole rectangular box with another length of ribbon. Where the two cross is one of those giant car bows, maybe even too big for a car, and a gift tag to match. The tag obscures the view from the second story windows and reads, "Merry Christmas" in big letters, and "David and Jean" in a smaller script in the corner. I wondered the first year if the addition was a gift, or maybe the whole house. I thought about my godfather who hangs a custom-made vinyl banner outside his home every time his son John returns. But it seems clear to me now that it is David and Jean wishing us a Merry Christmas, their names as signature rather than address. And I find the whole thing so charmingso clever, this giant white boxthat more than once I've considered veering from the sidewalk to knock on their front door, to say what I think every time I walk by, "And a Merry Christmas to you, David and Jean. Merry Christmas to you."

Monday, December 10, 2012

For the story of Alice's demise...

I met Alice in the parlor. She had just been telling me about how the shabby furniture in the waiting room was discarded from the doctor's own home, was not just faded pink and torn because it was old, but would have been shabby at the time. Then I crossed the hall of the Doctor's Office and in the next bit of posted text, in the same cheery tone as the parlor, Alice announced herself as the skeleton hanging from the rafters.

The Dallas Historical Village is a village in the sense that it has a church and a school and a handful of houses on a couple of acres, but not in the sense that any of it, the train depot or the saloon or the bank was built in the same place and meant to be one town. It is, perhaps, more remarkable that the two score historic structures all existed independently for a century or more, surviving for their different reasons, until some historians in a station wagon identified them to be saved. Saved, but moved, re-contextualized, uninhabited.

One weekend a year, the village opens at night, the paths illuminated by candles in glass bells that seem to float in the darkness. There are strolling carolers and children's choruses, the blacksmiths are there pumping the bellows and banging out $1 nails. Dustin and I bought gingerbread cookies at the bake sale and then faced the difficult decision of attending the Dallas Power House of Dance or the Old Crusty Minstrels. How strange to sit on the porch edge of the general store, watching tiny girls shake and shimmy in the cold. Stranger still with their backdrop an old Dr. Pepper ad painted over bricks: a lion holding a bottle exploding with printed words like "vim" and "vigor." Strange that while the girls danced and we pushed handfuls of kettle corn into our mouths, people in the Doctor's Office read, "For the story of Alice's demise, listen in on the Cell Phone Tour," and opened their phones, punched in the numbers on the wall, and set the phones to speaker.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Remember the Alamosaurus

I have now lived in Dallas so long that nobody asks anymore, "Why Dallas?" Which is a shame, because it is only this week I realized the correct answer is: "We have our own Dinosaur."

If I was really in a mood, I would continue. "That's right, we have amateur fossil finders, and they wander around construction sites, and, with one vertebra plucked from the earth, discover an extinct line of land-dwelling lizards that went back to aquatic living." I like to think I would be wagging one finger as I said this. I'm sure my face would distort. I might punch the air in righteousness.

And you might try to dismiss this. You might call it evolution moving backwards. You might scoff at the eel-like body long as a baseball bat and say, "Dallasaurus? Why don't you move to Utahraptor or Malawisaurus?" But I would be ready for you.

"You want big?" I would say. "You want majestic?" And I would tell you about Alamosaurus, about its whip-like tail, about its neck bones with the long pencil-thin tapers off each vertebra, about how its skeleton towers over the T. rex skeleton. I would tell you about vertebrae in the spine so big they had to be removed by HELICOPTER, how they rest on the museum floor like slabs of concrete, hulking and grey. And you would understand all that. You would concede. And you wouldn't ask again, because you would remember.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

When you see a tyrannosaurus, run.

Saturday, within hours of the ribbon cutting, Dustin and I were scanning our tickets at the Perot Museum's opening day. I had wondered, as we passed children banging on outdoor xylophones, children crawling and sprawling and leapfrogging an army of lime-green meter-high frog sculptures emerging from the courtyard gravel in rows, if adults came here without children. I saw no definitive proof until I overheard an adult voice at the robotics station, what turned out to be one of three men huddled together saying to another in his tribe, "The problem is you're used to thinking in centimeters and not in inches!" Perhaps it was. Or, if his robot vehicle was like ours at docking station #2, the problem was it couldn't turn right.

If it weren't for the children, we would have built a bird avatar and taken it for a spin in the full-body flight simulator. We would have donned lab coats and stained the cells from our cheeks and spooled DNA. But it's hard to stand in line with people half your height and not feel like they should go first. It's worse than taking candy from a baby, it's taking away valuable educational opportunities. Or so it feels. Unless the line is moving fast enoughif the line is moving fast enough, like the one to race avatars in Sports Hall, I am happy to make an exception. Which is how I came to race a tyrannosaurus in the thirty meter dash.

If I'd been looking to win, I'd have taken a shot against the gymnast or the famous running back. If I'd wanted to win the crowd, everyone loves the moment when the cheetah has already disappeared and its competitor has only taken three steps. But I was in it for glory. The tyrannosaurs won handily, coming in at 2 seconds something, compared to my finish of 3 seconds something. Neither of us were surprised. Sprinters, the exhibition text had informed me, have up to 80% fast twitch fibers, endurance athletes have up to 80% slow twitch. A high school track coach once remarked that the only fast twitch fibers I had were between my ears, and he wasn't wrong. My defeat on the tiny racetrack was as predictable as my last-place finishes as a junior varsity hurdler, but that's fine. What's sad is that there's no simulator stretched around a longer track, no ten-foot-tall simulator wrapped around the gym where you'd keep running even after the 60mph cheetah had to stop after 600m. Over an hour you'd run down any number of game animals, leaving them panting until they stood stock still. Never mind the celebrities.

Monday, December 3, 2012

THAT Perot Museum of Nature and Science

Recently Dustin and I were watching a news story about one Madeleine Pickens and her efforts Saving America's Mustangs, and though we were near a television in California and the woman on screen was walking the pastures in Nevada, we wondered aloud if she might be connected to our favorite Dallas namesake, T. Boone Pickens. Seconds later, the television confirmed she was in fact his wife.

I don't know the billionaires myself, but there are enough of them naming buildings and wings and YMCAs after themselves that there's a strange small town-ness to Texas. You think you recognize a name on a building, and it's practically guaranteed it was indeed paid for by the family you're thinking of. The new Perot Museum of Nature and Science, for instance, is just such a place. Perot as in former presidential candidate Ross Perot. And not only does he have the family name in all the usual places, from logo to donor walls, but a picture of him and his wife is quietly tucked among the portraits in Being Human Hall. (Not to be confused with the T. Boone Pickens Life Then And Now Hall.)

Friday, November 30, 2012

Q & A

I just want y'all to know that Anything You Ever Wanted to Know is having a particularly good day today. I have learned there is no penalty for violating flag codes. There's less cake mix in the cake mix box than there used to be. Ketchup with a K is a trademark of Heinz. But mostly I've learned that there are people using the radio to find answers. It doesn't even bother me that it's a common myth that the Texas flag may be flown at the same height as the U.S. flag, because I have learned that the questions are better than the answers. The people ask the radio:
What is the china pattern in the opening credits of Downton Abbey?
Why is green the dominate color in nature?
Where can I have my pecans shelled?
Who decides what patterns go on the Reunion Tower ball?
Why, when someone dies under suspicious circumstances, does it take so long to get the results of the toxicology report?
Does Dallas have a Top Secret Mannequin Salvage Yard?

Last Meals

I read today that, as of 2011, the state of Texas stopped serving a last meal to its death row prisoners. They still get to eat; they are welcome to whatever the prison was serving anyhow. I'd say more, but Caitlyn Christensen says it so well. Go read her essay, Last Meals, in Defunct.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Neiman Marcus Christmas Book

Just the catalog, the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book, costs $15. It's been issued since 1939, but what's charming is that in 1952, Edward R. Murrow asked Stanley Marcus if there was anything of interest to his radio listeners to be found in the Christmas Book, and Marcus responded to the journalist's question by making things up. I like to imagine the scene in the office when the memo came down the whole catalog would be reprinted because some off-the-cuff remark now meant consumers had the opportunity to purchase a Black Angus bull with accompanying sterling silver barbecue cart. The so-called "fantasy gifts" have been tradition ever since.

Picking from the fantasy gifts, you might spend $5 on "candy pebbles in a jar" or $12 million on learjets. You might install a backyard waterpark or a Dale Chichully pool installation. Over the years you might have collected all the his-and-hers options: the para-sails, thunderbirds, hot air balloons, photo booths, mummy cases, robots, and dancing fountains a couple could ask for. This year you can get a jetpack or a walk-on role on Broadway's Annie, but you will long for the years you might have had a $15,000 edible gingerbread playhouse or $35 bronze spearheads from the Persian Wars.

Certainly the list has a knowing wink about its extravagancehow else to explain the "24 kt. Gold plated throne" (read: toilet) or the "Freeway Fortress" ("combination car and tank") or the "privacy egg" (no explanation)? And the book is at its best, most playfully ridiculous in the details; in 1974, for instance, Neiman-Marcus offered to fill your nickel-plated penguin ice bucket with "custom-chipped Antarctic ice, hand carried from the South Pole." But is it not sweet and innocent and utterly un-cynical to offer simply "a dirigible," or a mermaid suit complete with swimming lessons? Remember, you actually can order these things. Is there not something sublime in the possibility of delivering, to someone, "a truckload of pink air"?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Larry Hagman

Before I lived in Dallas, obviously I lived in other places, and naturally in all of them, people have asked me where I was from. Ojai, I often say, is a town with four stoplights and a one-screen movie theater and a bunch of ex-hippies making beautiful ceramics and a bunch of wealthy conservatives supporting them. Sometimes, when I am in a mood, I mention my old high school friends coaching Scott Bakula's kids in tennis or serving Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen at Boccali's. Hardly anyone remembered June Alison by time I'd left home, but I'd bring up Larry Hagman, who had a house up in the hills and wrote editorials in the local paper. Hagman started building his Ojai house in the 1980s and in the early '90s moved in, just like my parents did with their Ojai house. It's curious that we've overlapped in two cities, Hagman and I. It's coincidence I was born the day J.R. was shot. But even if I'm not a real Texan, and hence can't claim this man born in Fort Worth and dead in Dallas, he's been a bit of my story long enough that I take notice, and his passing seems that much more sad.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanks-Giving Square

I've chosen to believe it's charming. Labyrinthine is a nice word, suggests meditation in a way you may not imagine if I say Downtown Dallas is rather a maze. There's the warp and weft of non-alternating one-way streets, the streets that are predictably bi-directional until some intersection where they become one-way, or the streets that stop altogether, should bisect the block in front of you but without warning simply pick up again on the other side. It's too much to memorize, much less which streets you can park on and which ones not. And it's all the more curious because there are moments of order that throw the idiosyncrasy into high relief. Dallas is built on something close to a grid, but then there's a seam right through the middle where one grid's been smashed up against another competing grid at an angle. Which is actually nice because it creates a series of wedge blocks, odd bits of land with a sharp taper, and what is one to do with acute triangle lots?

Since the U.S. bicentennial, one of those odd lots has been Thanks-Giving Square, complete with Thanks-Giving Garden and Thanks-Giving Chapel and Thanks-Giving Museum. It's a place worth visiting. There is a water feature that's like a creek with brick creek bed. The Chapel has a lovely spiraling set of stained-glass windows set in the spiraling ceiling. The museum is a place that emphasizes prayer and uses such quaint phrasing as "woman editor," but in it I think about all the turkeys drawn by tracing a child's hand and the pilgrims' buckled hats cut from construction paper and really all the time spent in my youth on the "first thanksgiving" without a mention that, in colonial America, days of fast and thanksgiving were proclaimed variously to mark times of crisis and joy.

The First Thanksgiving of the United States, according to the museum, actually dates to a congressional proclamation in 1777. In October the battle at Saratoga signaled the turning point of the war, and in gratitude Samuel Adams wrote this coordination of the states, more than 360 words but just one single sentence, suggesting they all set aside Thursday the 18th of December as a day of thanks. I like this notion, that Thanksgiving is a thing we choose to do, not just a thing we have always donethat the point is not to give thanks but to give thanks as one. Washington gave the first presidential proclamation of Thanksgiving, an tradition which lasted only through Adams and Madison. When Buchanan issued days of fasting and prayers, they were the first in 44 years. Lincoln declared 3 years of fasting and prayer before he saw fit to name one of thanksgiving, in 1863, the first in 48 years. Of course since then every president since has issued a thanksgiving proclamation every year"at least" one a year, the museum text says. I stand in the garden thinking about how very many things I have to be thankful for, and leave feeling calm and content and grateful. Then I go home, and I wonder if we might do well to mark a few more days of sorrow, as well.

Monday, November 19, 2012

City Lights

A week ago, Dustin and I went to The Angelica to see a matinee. We came out of the movie to the dark of night and hydraulic sigh of machine and wrist-flick of men in a cherry-picker flinging cords of Christmas lights into branches, branches, branches. And it seemed a little early, still observing Veterans' Day and all, but yet so welcome to see the colorful strands, so cheerful, the leafless trees like candy. And by Saturday Dallas had officially moved on to other holidays, lighting the big downtown Christmas tree and welcoming Santa and screening It's a Wonderful Life and everything. I'm sad to say we weren't there at City Lights, but we've made a pact to catch it next year. And, this is a consolation: if we hadn't been on the way to the airport Saturday afternoon, we might have missed the mega-church by the freeway, we wouldn't have known they've wasted no time and already have tied in place the giant banner reading, "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" The season's gifts begin.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Naming Rights

I would like to mention here my longtime love of station names. If I'd been paying attention in Dallas, I should already have an affection for such comely monikers as "Mockingbird" and "Lovers Lane," but public transportation is not so dear to me here as it is in other cities and so indeed I haven't been paying attention, and now I'll have to be quick if I am to care enough to take umbrage when they start changing them.

Indeed, if I'd been paying attention I'd know this is actually a common scheme: big cities like Boston, Philadelphia, DC all experimenting with revenue generation through naming rights to public transportation. Dallas isn't actually selling anything yet, and the experience of other cities suggests it shouldn't bother. But I try to keep an open mind. True: every time I pass the exit for the superpages.com center it strikes me as an unfortunate revision and an ungainly mouthful. But if corporate interests can't be trusted, we may be just the kind of place to name things for individuals.

T. Boone Pickens is already ubixitous in my life; I can't pick up my boyfriend from his office building or go by the YMCA without re-reading his name. And however influential and supremely powerful the man, his name positively curls and winks with whimsy. I love the high "ee" of T dropping into the long swooping bass of "oon" undercut by the staccato attack of "icken." In the right context I'm sure it's formidable, but encountered unexpectedly on very serious buildings it just seems Seussian, charming, one of the great brands of Dallas, and hardly unwelcome on a light rail line.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Falling Down

I always fall on the right. In high school the asphalt sheared enough skin from my right shoulder and elbow  that three miles later I finished the race still bloody. In a college race I got through a muddy turn with some technicolor bruising and an impressive scrape high on my right thigh. Last year in the home stretch of a run, I clipped an uneven bit of pavement and went down, curling, with abrasions wrapping from palm around to knuckles scabbed over for weeks. But this evening, dusk falling faster than I might have anticipated, I smacked the sidewalk and got up with nothing worse than stinging palms to show for it. I like to think I'm getting better at this, that my body is learning with every fall. More likely I just run slower, have less acceleration to add to the crash. But perhaps this fall is only different because when I got up, picked up my splayed keys and finished walking to the end of the block, there was a woman waiting there in a big black truck watching the whole thing framed through the passenger window, asking if I was okay. It's such a nice thing to ask. Maybe I should have told her, told her that in fact I'm better at falling all the time, that in my falling career this is maybe a personal best. But I was still feeling a little shaken and I said I was fine, and as soon as I cleared her back bumper I ran the rest of the way home.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Notes from Portugal: Dallas

It was not entirely unexpected. Last summer I'd come across the Dallas Snack Bar off a little square in downtown Reykjavik, so it was not entirely without precedent when I discovered the Dallas Restaurante on my way to see petroglyphs in Foz Coa. But if it wasn't unexpected, it was still inexplicable. And two days later a Dallas Cafe went whipping past the rental car window. These are not, as a group, inviting establishments. Functional, sure, but past their prime, if indeed they were ever all that charming. My new Portuguese friend, Carlos, says none of this would be possible if not for the TV show, which was terribly popular back in the 1980s. 

It reminds me how the opening salvo of Suzy Banks' 2003 feature article "25 Things I Love About Dallas" is about how well received she was as a Texan while traveling in Europe back during the era of Dallas the show. Which reminds me of how a Zimbabwean friend of mine was well regarded by the folks back home when he moved to California, mostly because they knew the city of Santa Barbara from a soap opera of the same name. So it all seems possible, I guess, but where's the Grey's Anatomy convenience store? The All in the Family Cafe? Why have I never seen another television show memorialized like this, when apparently Dallas is at least a two-country phenomenon?

I believe Carlos when he tells me about the Portuguese king keeping fried chicken in his pockets and the noblewoman catapulting the town's last cow at a besieging army to demonstrate their bounty (and that bluff ending the siege!). I appreciate that when I discover the matchbox museum is defunct that he consoles me with legal history about lighter permits and students wearing pieces of tile on their heads to skirt the law. I admire that Carlos goes home to fact check whether it is Saint Antonio or the Virgin Mary or both that draw a salary on the military payroll. Which is to say, I have pegged Carlos as not just good company but as a reliable source, and so I find I must believe, too, this story about Dallas, though it strikes me as the oddest one of all.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Notes from Portugal: Texas

In Lisbon, Andrea takes me to paint traditional Portuguese tiles. She is disappointed that we will only be painting the blue on white designs, which seems like a good place to start, but they're actually very late in azulejo history, and the earlier blue and yellow ones are so very fine. The room is windowless. There are two other students in her class, one who is also named Andrea and one who has brought a box of a pastries in for his birthday. All questions addressed to me are addressed to my Andrea, and my Andrea says later that although we are not invited much into conversation, that the conversation is very much about me, the one day visitor. I know this only because the things Andrea says have something to do with me. "California" and the question is where am I from. "Texas" and the question is where do I live. The former ballerina who is teaching the class just nods at California. At Texas she repeats the magic word and says, "Texas!"as she flips her hands held as gun fingers from each hip and pretends to shoot up the class.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Notes from a Red State

A friend asks over drinks if we're registered to vote. Of course we are.

"In a state where it matters?" she continues.

She isn't counting Texas, so the answer is no. I think about this two days later as I go down the races the very first morning of early voting, as I make my picks in races fielding three candidates and not a Democrat among them (or for that matter, a woman). I think about it two weeks later as the results are reported.

Watching the election map fill out Tuesday night, Texas goes a flat plain red. We are the biggest state Romney will win, and that victory is so decided the website map doesn't even bother to color code the counties. It is only by mousing over that we pull up the numbers, realize that Dallas is in fact a blue county, even if it is an island in counties taking Romney three-to-one Romney. This morning in the post-election analysis, someone suggests that Texas is in fact bluer all the time. He says the demographic projections suggest that in just 25 years we'll be an honest-to-goodness blue-wins-it state. And I imagine trying to explain how it was to some young person. How when I came to Dallas I heard a caller on the radio admitting she would never tell her friends she votes Democratic. How my liberal Texas friends thought their votes didn't matter. How we all went to the polling places anyway, tapped away at touch screens in sad little church rooms, left without "I Voted" stickers and pins because they were never there, and let our little blue votes add up.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I Go Walking, Before Midnight

The men hanging out on the second floor landing call down to me, one of them sings. Their tone changes as I walk past without acknowledging them, but no matter, even behind me I hear no sound of anyone coming down the stairs. I take a quiet mile up the wide tree-lined street of old mansions, turn two corners and come back past the little block of restaurants and bars mostly closed or close to it. A car of young men with the windows down idles at the stoplight, revs, the passenger asks in a stage voice, "Why so serious?" The questions trail behind me as I cross the street. These things never happen when I take Dustin on my evening walk. When I walk with Dustin, maybe a dog walker looks up and says, "Hello." I am rounding the final blocks home when a woman overhears me talking on the phone and crosses the street from the liquor store to ask what I wanted. I explain the mistake and she smiles, waves as she continues on her way, and it seems for a moment a shame that I don't have more to say. On the other side of the street I am still talking on the phone and a man crossing in my direction changes his path so he can ask if I'm okay. "On the phone," I say, pointing to the bluetooth lost in my hair. "Oh, okay," he says. "I thought you were on those magic sandwiches." I don't ask, but I want to know more about magic sandwiches, about why they would have facilitated a conversation but without them we have nothing to say.

Friday, November 2, 2012


The leaves don't change much here, are more likely to fall out waxy and green than dry and bright. There's a scattering of desiccated three-pointed leaves, brown and curling in the grass, but not enough worth raking. But because Dallas has an annual pick-up of bulky waste each autumn, what we have instead of leaf piles are high mounds of brush and pruned limbs stacked on the curb, temporary wall-high thickets of dead plants, death conveniently organized and isolated and put on display lest we forget, with the ivy still growing and the trees still green with leaves, that this is a time to let things go.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Halloween Decorations

One of the first things Dustin noticed about the historic areas around Munger Place and Junius Heights and Peak's Suburban Addition is this: the fancy houses are on Swiss Avenue, and they are locally famous for their Halloween. It is, one must note, an enviably rare combination: old-fashioned mansions look all the spookier in the dark, and if they are not so run down as to look haunted, they are at least close enough together to guarantee a good haul. I haven't been trick-or-treating in twenty years, and I still know a good full-size-candy-bar house when I see one. But even if all they hand out are toothbrushes and pennies, it would be a good neighborhood for Halloween. The houses off Swiss are more likely to be genuinely run-down, but they are just as good about putting pumpkins on their steps and giant bats hanging from the eaves. There are no shortage of peaked roofs and devils and skeletons and witches looking out from them. There are fake cobwebs wrapping the shrubbery and fake ghosts swaying from porches. There is a front door re-skinned as a vampire face on an otherwise unadorned house. It's the minimalists that get me. I appreciate enormous furry spiders and walkways liked in glowing plastic skulls, but the white house with green shutters that has only changed out the white lightbulb over the entry for an orange one and then taped a little paper skeleton to the door: this is the house that draws me inexplicably nearer, even as it manages to repulse me away.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Swiss Avenue

Swiss Avenue had been Swiss Avenue for half a century when the first house went up in 1905. Most of the houses on this mile-long luxury lane were built by the 1920s, and what I love even more than the wide streets and the islands of grass and big old trees blocking the north-east traffic from the south-west travelers, what I love even more than rooms built out from the second story and hanging over the driveway on stiltswhat I love about Swiss Avenue is how it was built with what strikes me as a notably Texan aesthetic. Developer R. S. Munger put no restriction on the style of all these great homes going up side by side. No, he gave his builders the full independence of doing as they pleased: Tudors next to Craftsman next to Revivals of all stripes. He instead put his faith in the fact that everything would mesh so long as he mandated that all houses were sufficiently big (at least two stories) and sufficiently expensive (minimum $10,000). And, this is the part I love, he was right! It is totally cohesive, each grand house unique but the whole stretch of them seamless, the whole historic district like one long park visited over the day by dog walkers and gardeners and roofers and joggers and families pushing strollers until it is late and the dog walkers are out making their second rounds.

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Final Note on the Texas State Fair

There is not a specific category at the Texas State Fair for "Thompson sub-machine gun made out of copier paper and transparent tape." Really, there's no category remotely so specific. But if, by chance, this is something you have made, you should know, for a fact, that it can win a blue ribbon from Department L: Scale Models, Children's Section.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My First Ferris Wheel

The car seats six, but the operator puts us in as a group of four. We tell the clean-shaven man and the woman with the charming bouffant that we've just come from the pig races, where we learned that we may be older than the target demographic of pig races. They laugh and agree, "Yes, you probably are."

From the freeway you can see the Texas Star, read both the words "Texas" and "Star" as they curve in an all-caps circle flat against the the spokes and supports that light up in a hundred, hundred bulbs burning and blinking against the sky in their patterns of red, white, and blue as soon as the sun sets.

From the Texas Star you can see the whole city. First it's the blue tent tops of the midway, the fortress-steep sides of the Cotton Bowl breeched by altitude to show its stadium teeth. Then the gaze spills out beyond the Fair itself, over the freeway and the houses and the light industrial to the cluster of skyscrapers downtown: the dandelion head of Reunion Tower, the Omni rolling words and waves of color along its slippery slick walls, the Bank of America building's sideways stair-stack of corners with every edged traced inexplicably in a neon green line.

There's a sign on the loading platform that says not to rock the car. I begin to wonder if you even can, so light and stable and floating we seem to be, as the view keeps changing but my stomach never registers the rise or fall of attaining 212 feet and relinquishing it again. The 44 gondolas are strung along the wheel in runs of color, and we occupy car 23, right next to the one golden car that no one sits in, a rest after so a litany of whole notes. The couple asks if we'd like our picture taken, and while I know I will remember all this, we still say yes, and so with sky still blue and blank behind us, she squares the lens. "Say Pig Races," she says, and we do, and the flash blinks one more light at the top of the world.

Monday, October 22, 2012

You Had Me At Fried

Deep Fried Sugar Cubes.
Cool-Aid Pickles. Fried Beer.
Chicken Fried Cactus Bites. Fried Mexican Fire Crackers.
Sweet Jalapeño Corndog Shrimp.
Famous Fried Ribs. Texas Steak Cone. Fried Banana Pudding.
Deep fried Jambalaya. Deep Fried Mac-N-Cheese Sliders.
Deep Fried Devine Chocolate Tres Leches Cake.
Fried Pork Wing. Fried Shrimp. Fried Picnic on a Stick.
Corny Cheese. Sloppy Texan. Fried Banana Supreme.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Big Tex Burning

Burnt, actually. The boots and the clothes and the face and the hat. The arm out toward the waving hand. The metal structure was left still standing. Also the outstretched hand and its cuff. The belt buckle survived, still pinned to the metal frame. A belt buckle on a faceless cage of a man.

The voice of Big Tex does not live in the 52-foot tall cowboy. The head is not empty, holds the speakers and the wiring that moves the mouth, but the voice comes from a man in a trailer without air conditioning on the ground a piece away. Someone had to tell Bill Bragg that Big Tex was burning, he was still reading announcements, and then the voice stepped out of the trailer, watched the icon smoke and flame, saying nothing.

They'll rebuild, of course. Tex burned a little after 10 o'clock and by noon he was a phoenix promised to rise again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Of Girl Scouts and Butter Sculptures

Butter sculpture is perhaps my favorite state fair art form, better even than seed art or glue-a-shoe or tree man stilt walkingwhich makes it strange to find no line of people leading up to the refrigerated case where the shoulder of the Creative Arts building butts up to the Embarcadero. Perhaps there has been a controversy over the use of actual Girl Scout cookies in the butter tribute to the Girl Scouts' centennial. Perhaps the butter sculpture purists cannot abide this adulteration of the art form and are keeping away in protest, because I too, as I look at the butter girl scouts dropping real shortbread cookies at the giant butter boots of a metonymous Big Tex, as I study the butter scout leader behind them clutching real chipboard boxes I, too, wonder, "What is butter sculpture coming to?"

Sure, you might say, the shortbread cookies are basically butter anyway, but that's not really the point, is it? An olympic gymnast made out of butter is admittedly a little odd, a little amusing, but it nonetheless has an artistic integrity, a curious wholesomeness. But imagine the same butter sculpture athlete in a real spandex unitard and the result is grotesque. Butter sculpture, it had not occurred to me until I saw it compromised, makes sense as long as it promotes one absurdity at a time. Butter Michael Jackson is a delightful kind of conundrum: a tribute of labor and attention, and yet in this most mutable and marginalized and temporary kind of medium. Butter Michael Jackson with real sequined-glove, however, simply dismisses the gloriously ridiculous medium of butter as somehow insufficient. It's like putting a wood and leather slingshot in David's marble hand. It's like a charade where someone talks. And it suggests a lack of confidence not just in the materials, but in the audienceas if we wouldn't already know the signature shape of a Girl Scout shortbread cookie! As if we weren't the same people who step away from the bounty of fried food opportunities to queue up at the Texas Hall of State at 11 and 3 o'clock for the promise of free Girl Scout cookies. That line winds through three galleries and down the stairs and around an auditorium, always moving but never getting shorter until the volunteers run out of sleeves of shortbreads to put in your empty hand.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Lascivious Wink

There's a 52-foot tall cowboy in Dallas' Fair Park. He used to be a 49-foot Santa in Kerens, 75 miles away, but the novelty lasted all of two Christmases before Santa was purchased, disassembled, and reinvented for the fair. The beard made of lengths of unravelled rope came off. The awkward chest-height waving hand remained. In a few years the cowboy's paper-mache skin was recast in fiber glass. He had facelifts to hinge a Howdy-Doody-esque jaw, a jaw to let him talk and then later to talk in sync with the PA system, so he might greet the crowds with a trademark, "Howdy, Folks!" and have the chin drop on the right words.

Big Tex turns 60 this year, and his voice is broadcast live twelve hours a day for 24 consecutive days. Indeed, not much has changed about Big Tex in the last 50 years except who does the voice and who sponsors the outfit. For such a radical initial identity change, he's become a stalwartly stable icon since.

Still I wonder about the first Big Tex, about the Santa-cum-Cowboy of 1952. Why couldn't he keep his hooked nose, that pronounced drooping prominence lost in the 1953 facelift? And when the same artist decided that same year to change the eyes, to correct what Nancy Wiley describes as "a lascivious wink," what was it about the accordion crush of the eyelid, those sweet wrinkles at the corner of the eye? What was so important to say that it had to come out of the hinged-jaw on a straight face? And when this same expression was on a small town Chamber of Commerce St. Nick, did anyone call it "lascivious"? Did anyone object at all?

Friday, October 12, 2012

Most Creative

Rodgers and Hammerstein, on the subject of state fairs, wrote a song with the lyric "It's dollars to donuts/ That our state fair/ Is the best state fair in our state." You may or may not forgive these city boys for writing a whole musical in ignorance of the seemingly obvious fact that any given state has only one state fair. But if that defining feature of their titular institution was too nuanced to catch their attention, we should note that the song pays tribute to something, if possible, even more essential to the nature of state fairs. I mean, of course, the emphasis on superlative, the foregrounding of "best."

State fairs celebrate nothing so much as "most." Most pounds on a hog, most perfect kernels of corn, most whatever extreme seems desirable. That's not to imply that state fairs are all the same. For instance, Iowa state fair cuisine prizes things on a stick, while Texas emphasizes the fried. But if salad-on-a-stick and fried beer are regional treats, the universal appeal to superlative status remains. In Texas, there is an annual competition for "Best Taste" and "Most Creative" among fried entrants. I won't keep you in suspense: this year's Best Taste went to Deep Fried Jambalaya. And, in the grand tradition of fried butter and fried bubblegum, Most Creative was awarded to Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll. I haven't tried it yet, but I feel confident saying that, dollars to fried donuts, it's the best Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll in our state.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Tiger State

There are more tigers in Texas than roaming the wilds of India. Three thousand, or more. It's all perfectly legal to breed and to buy them here. The white ones are pricey, but you can get an orange cub for $500. One private tiger for every nine thousand people.

I have long thought of Texas as like India, a kind of sub-continent at once part of and separate from something larger. That the tiger parallel exists is less surprising than the fact I discover it watching a television crime procedural set in DC. If I had been paying attention, it's been covered by a number of outlets, including Texas Monthly and D Magazine. But how does this not come up constantly? When I say I live in Texas, why does no one ask if I own a tiger? Or a Blackbuck Antelope, for that matter, also more numerous here than their free-roaming brethren in India. Why aren't they on the license plate? Or maybe this, too, is a case of not paying attention. Maybe, now that I know to look, I'll notice the slinking shape of a tiger on the Panoramic Texas license plate, among the silhouettes of cowboys and oil derricks, beneath the space shuttle in a starry sky?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Window Shopping

The windows downtown at Neiman Marcus are sparsely filled just now. There is only one figure in a Main Street window that runs 15 feet across. In the right half a long black ribbon drops from the ceiling and knots to a coat hanger. The hanger supports a sleeveless top sewn with a hundred tiny mirrors, the top tucked into a pleated salmon skirt, from which emerges a pair of crossed mannequin legs in fishnet tights and capped with snakeskin stiletto heels. The outfit plus a jeweled-clasp, salmon-colored clutch sit on a gold framed chair with a red velvet seat. One mannequin arm, bent slightly at the elbow, sharply at the wrist, fits an invisible mannequin hand into a red glove draped over the upper knee in a pose both haughty and blasé. There is nothing else in the whole of the case. There is no face, no torso, no second arm. As if, when clothes make the woman, they make her piece by piece.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Texas High School Football

There is a cheer team and a flags team and a spirit team and a color guard and I'm not sure which one is the group of young ladies wearing sequin-spangled hats and which one throws fake rifles spinning into the air but I know it's not the one wearing overalls hand-painted in school colors because they are the Rock Hawks or the Hawks Rock or some such thing. I learn one marching band needs eight xylophones on the field for the half-time show. I learn that the same inflatable architecture that brought you the bouncy castle can also make a tunnel, complete with fog machine and inflatable bird head and inflatable talons, and it is so distracting you may not notice that an entire football team is crowded behind it waiting to run through and onto the field. I know you can sit close enough that the players on the field look bigger than the players on the jumbotron, and I know that if you pay for season tickets you can sit in real molded-like-chairs-with-back-support-and-everything seating, but if you buy one ticket at a time you'll be sitting in the bleachers next to the marching band. I know "a moment of student expression" is not the introduction to a brief interpretative dance because I learn it is a prayer over the PA system. I know I'm rooting for the girl holding the A to catch up to the H so the kerning is right as they run the length of the field with the flags that spell out H-A-W-K-S. I know that the sun goes down just before game time and everyone is beautiful in the glow and the air is noticeably but pleasantly warm even at the final whistle. I know I should only cheer when it's my team that does something admirable, but I'm so proud when the Rebels finally break through the Hawks defensive line that I stand and I shout and I punch the air. And we are so far ahead that no one comments on my eccentricity. They just wave their fans in the warm night air and wait for the next down.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Smoking Gun

When Dustin and I moved into an apartment building with a little courtyard patio with some deck chairs and a barbecue, we didn't think we would ever use the grill. It seemed to much like apartments with a lap pool in the middle, pools that inevitably were always too cold and and too chlorinated and just collected leaves. But we were wrong. We grill steak tips and shish kebobs and burgers when the mood is right. I go on runs and walks in the evening and appreciate how many neighborhoods smell deliciously like grilling. It was all becoming so absolutely ordinary that I might not have noticed the grill outside a nearby apartment building had someone not said, "Hey, look! A gun!" Pistol might be more the word, revolver if the chambers could move, but sure enough it was a grill fashioned to hold coals where the cylinder would be, and then accessorized with a barrel and a backstrap and a supporting post to keep it level. I feel better that it is pointed away from traffic, but that consolation is tarnished by the fact that this gun grill is strangely diminutive, low to the ground, like a child's toy.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cheaters: An Anniversary

This time last year Dustin was on a bus. He was coming home. It was starting to get dark outside, and a guy in a nearby seat asked, "What time is it?" Dustin told him.

"Whatcha reading?" the guy on the bus asked. Dustin told him.

"Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?" She lives in Iowa, Dustin said.

"Well you better hope she doesn't watch that show Cheaters. Do you watch that show? Cheaters?" the bus guy asked. Dustin didn't. The guy on the bus explained that it was a show that caught people cheating on their significant others. The guy on the bus didn't say "reality TV" or "Gotcha Journalism." The guy on the bus said they used to go from city to city to film it. But then they got to Dallas. They got to Dallas and they found so much material they've been filming here for two years.

"So you gotta be careful," the bus guy told my boyfriend. "You cheat on her in Dallas, she's gonna know."

Friday, September 21, 2012


I liked the ring of a "Texas Toad Strangler," the sudden heavy downpours that fill the gutters past their banks and, at their worst, make the view from car windows resemble the sloshing sheeting frenzied view hitting hard against the windows in a car wash. I liked the color of the expression, its quirky regionalism. I liked it a lot more before I started meeting the toads. What they do during the day I don't know, but I can't take an evening walk without a jerk of movement in the grass snagging at my peripheral vision. They seem always to be in the devil's strip, seem always to be heading toward the curb and the asphalt still not cool even though the sun's gone down. I always, pointlessly, try to council them back into the grass, even though I always imagine the sharp blades of it must be rough and uncomfortable and prodding against the toad's soft belly. They are unmoved by my concern, respond only to the towering of my figure suddenly stopped and bent over at them. And they bound in perfect arcs, punctuated by the sound of body against grass, until the sound is the softer noise of body against street.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Neiman Marcus

Neiman Marcus used to use a hyphenNeiman-Marcusa fact I reflect on as I pass the doors to its first and flagship store, where a Neiman-script N and a Marcus-script M serve as the door handles to every pair of doors, undone with every entry, restored with every door shut. Inside there are $650 scarves and smoking slipperssure to be a big deal this Falland a woman named Shari who will smile at your interest in Neiman history and point out the line where two different floorings meet, the marble belonging to the store's original footprint and the wood part of the expansion, and before you can leave she will give you her card and a petite bottle of water, even though there's a coffee bar connecting the shoe department with the scarves, and you will think she is being very nice considering the outfit you decided on back when it was raining so hard you couldn't see.

Monday, September 17, 2012

That's Dr. Botts' Dot, To You

The "raised pavement marker" is a familiar bump in the road, and if you know it by any name at all, you might call it a Botts' Dot. No one calls it a Dr. Elbert Dysart Botts' Dot, which is only a shame because you might never otherwise say the words "Elbert" or "Dysart," but what breaks my heart is that this Missourian born in 1893 died in 1962 California having never driven over one of his eponymous dots. The first dot wasn't secured to the road until 1966.

Fifteen years ago, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that thrermoplastic stripes might replace California's 20 million Botts' Dots. If the California dot faces extinction, the Texas dot has adapted.
It is huge. I mean enormous. I mean you see one and you know it has eaten all the other dots on its block and grown bloated and shiny and white from their corpses. Not that they evidence violence; no, they are perfect, polished, shining hemispheresand they stay that way because they are too big to run over. Seriously, they are intimidating. They are the size of volleyballs, a hybrid of speed bumps and the common dot, and they suddenly define a turn lane as if to terminate forever the fraternization of those who would turn left and those who would drive straight through. I assume these giant domes have a name of their own, but I suspect that if you used it, you would preface it with a title. Mr. Dome, for instance, Sargent Dome, Your Mighty Excellency High Commander Dome, and so on. But only if you dared to address them at all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Central Library

Sometimes, when I am downtown, I understand why you would film Robocop here. Dallas is a little gritty, in the way neglected things are, and there are architectural choices about concrete buildings that make you think someone in the 1960s was trying to create a city of the future, even as you can't help noticing how that future never came to pass. But you walk another block or two and there's the stone work from an earlier era, the mosaics and the statuary, buildings that must of been bold and dramatic and stately in their day, but the beauty has faded, their grandeur and their glory easily imagined but largely passed.

The Central branch of the Dallas Public Library is downtown among the government building and department stores. It seems quiet, even for a library, but comfortable. If people have come to the third floor in the middle of the day, they seem to have come for the computers, and I have a row of tables along the wall of windows all to myself. When I leave, I push the button to call the elevator, and the doors open. Three people walk out laughing, leave a fourth still in the box. I ask the man if this elevator is going down. "No," he says, and another elevator dings behind me. As the doors close on his elevator he adds this consolation: "You wouldn't want to be in here anywayit smells like ass."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


The stretch of Interstate 35 between Dallas and Houston is notable for many thingsa lot of advertising for "fried pies,"  the off-ramp for both the Texas State Prison (just west of the highway) and the Texas State Prison Museum (just to the east), an unthinkable amount of green fields for what you might have thought was a desert statenot the least of which is the reocurrance of a cheerful cartoon beaver wearing a red cap at the various Buc-ee's establishments along the way. The blog Yodi's Big Move gives a tremendous account of this 60-pump "rest stop/convenience store/gas station/deli/bakery/gift shop," and I bow to the headline writer at The Statesman for the gem "Buc-ee's gnaws itself a notch on Texas' tourism belt." So wholly has the phenomenon been treated that I find there is almost nothing more to add, except to say that one night from a bus I watched a Buc-ee's marquee blink out phrases in patterns of red light bulbs overhanging an offramp. Some phrases were connected, a whole sentence parsed out in two or three consecutive messages, the marquee flashing one fragment for two seconds and then blinking to the next. Buc-ee's had a lot to say that night, cycled through statements without repeating for as long as I could keep the marquee in sight, calling out to me, FABULOUS RESTROOMS, blink, APPLY TODAY.

Monday, September 10, 2012

We Are 1976

The first thing Dustin found that he thought would make me feel at home here in Dallas was a letterpress and Japanese toy shop he discovered somewhere between groceries at the Sunflower Market and iced coffee at The Pearl Cup. When he told me, he was visibly relieved to have found anything at all. As he settled in to the knowledge of it, he remained more than a little proud of himself, and I must say he had every right. We Are 1976 is responsible for at least half the cards I've mailed in the last year, as well as my current crush on Japanese fabric handkerchiefs and patterned washi tape. But it wasn't until they opened the new Bishop Avenue location with its big open room and three presses just waiting to run that I actually sighed. There are no cases of type yet, maybe never will be, and the polymer plates have to be ordered off-site, and there won't be workshops until at least December, but just the sight of a Vandercook with a clean tympan and a neat rack of furniture made me reimagine what life in Dallas could be.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Mum's the Word

A Texas teenager just took me to task for not knowing what a mum is. 

It started with the text message, This is my mum so far what u think. On the screen of my decidedly not-smart phone, what I see is the fanciest first prize fair ribbon ever. Its head is three half-domes that might be full bloom flowers or might be those clusters of looped ribbon you stick on top of birthday presents. The top two are white and there's a green one at the bottom of what I think is a triangle but which I am informed is actually a heart, which I am sure matters, but I am already distracted by the streams and streams of green ribbons rushing from the heart like a unicorn's magical swishing tail. It's hard to determine actual size from the image, but even at postage stamp scale I can tell it is beautiful and grandiose and very green, except where it is white or where school-spirited gold words run vertically down the thickest ribbons in bold block caps. What I think is that it's amazing. What I can't imagine is what it will be when it's done. What I ask is: what is a mum?

A day later, on the phone, the teenager is still shocked.
"You don't know what a mum is?" she repeats.
"Like the flower?" I ask.
"You really don't know what a mum is?"
"Not unless it's a flower."
"Seriously, you don't know what a mum is?"
"I'm guessing it's not a flower."

Don't doubt yourself, dear reader: a mum IS a flower. Indeed, because it was for so long the specific flower given to a girl for homecoming, it is now the name for the whole wearable display that single flower has since morphed into. Reuters tells me it was somewhere in the 1970s to 1990s that things got bigger, and nowadays they can weigh as much as 30 pounds and cost as much as $500. If you don't buy one at the grocery store or make your own, there's a whole cottage industry at your service. LED lights or audio equipment can be built in. A harness may be required. Mostly it's a torso-length glory of ribbon and silk flowers, and clearly there is no broach or corsage to compare them to. I am duly impressed. And I am a little scared to go to the grocery store until homecoming is over.