Wednesday, April 25, 2012


Dallas has fireflies!

If I'd grown up in a place that has fireflies, that sentence ends would a period. But the bit of California I was raised in was and is and ever will be lighting-bug-free. So it is a shock and a delight every time fireflies turn up. And indeed they turn up everywhere: in Illinois and New Hampshire and North Carolina and Iowa, an element of maybe every summer I've spent since I left for college. Yet still I think of fireflies as the exception rather than the norm. Even last night, when I walked Dustin home from the light rail station and halfway home we spotted the first lighting bugs of the season, as if it had never happened before.

Sometimes the things I love about Dallas are not the things unique to Dallas, but the good things I know from somewhere else and am fortunate enough to find again here. I think about them whenever I pass porches with rocking chairs and porch swings, or trees in the front yard with rope swings dangling from high old branches. And I am thankful for every firefly.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Jimmy's Food Store

I am only a little disappointed to know that the Italian grocer/deli on Fitzhugh does not actually go by the name "Jimmy's Meat Store." Dustin has been suggesting we go there, to Jimmy's Meat Store, for ages and I've always been rather taken with its focus and frankness. We've had good intentions, indeed it featured prominently on the itinerary when my dad was coming to visit, but somehow we never found the time to go cold cuts sight seeing until last weekend. It turns out, of course, that Jimmy's is not just a Meat store but a Food store, and all this time we were waiting for some sort of prosciutto event or salami spectacular to occasion a trip, we could have made any number of other excuses. Indeed, Jimmy has anticipated not only our meat needs, but our desire for fresh pasta and pickled vegetables and imported candies, as well.

Jimmy's could sell anything and it would probably be worth it just to hang around and listen to the regulars discuss their sandwich orders, whether to sit inside or outside, how the weather has been so unseasonal lately. There's a way people can talk, especially when shopping, that takes the role of a critic while assuming a sympathetic audience, because we all can agree it's still a little too early for tomatoes. Indeed, it is tempting to become a regular myself, to be party to that same easy familiarity, and so far I haven't even found the nerve to order something from the counter. A friend once explained to me that New York City isn't rude, it's just a place that has no tolerance for inefficiencies; and there is nothing more inefficient than not knowing your order when your spot in line comes up. Jimmy's strikes me as the kind of place that doesn't have time for the amateur hour, even on a lazy Saturday afternoon where nothing seems to be happening with any great speed.

Which is fine. I'm not feeling up to the adventure of selecting an unfamiliar cut of meat, and there are aisles of Italian and Texan products to keep me amused. In honor of Easter, Dustin and I take a package of bunny shaped pasta and the big tub of "homemade marinara." Out of sheer curiosity, I buy "La dolce Fattoria fondente." La dolce is shaped like a small football, or rather, a small football wrapped in a sheet of blue mylar printed with cartoon farm animals. A cardboard label showing a cartoon farm with the smiling disembodied heads of a cow, pig, sheep, and bunny cinches collars the mylar at the top so it fans out like a floral arrangement in a football-shaped vase. La dolce does not rattle when I shake it, but then, not knowing what it is, I don't shake it too hard. I have my choice of farm animals with a pink background or farm animals with a blue background, and having little else to go on, I pick a blue one because someone has just handed a blue one to a little boy being held by a tall man talking to someone else. Clearly, the blue ones are worth having. After dinner, we understand why.

That La dolce is in fact a big chocolate Easter egg does not come as a big surprise, but the fact that the chocolate is dark and delicious does. It is good chocolate in its own right, but it is shockingly good for chocolate that both comes in a novelty shape and is accompanied by a toy. The toy is a surprise of its own: first that there is one, and then that somebody somewhere decided that a toy in the shape of an insect belonged anywhere near a food product. I like to think that it is traditional, that somewhere there is an Easter Bug. Technically, it is probably an Easter Arachnic--the monochrome mint green color doesn't suggest a special commitment to accurate representation, but there are eight segmented legs extending from its notably egg-shaped body and the chelicera are convincing. Why this bit of molded plastic is hinged so it can make a clicking noise is beyond me, but maybe it will make sense next year, when I buy another one.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The "Devil's Strip"

I learn on the radio:
In Ohio, the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the curb is called a "tree lawn." In other parts of the country, it is a "curb," a "devil’s strip," a "parkway," a "swale," or a "street lawn." More than a dozen names for this can be found in the Dictionary of American Regional English.
I don’t know what they call it here in Dallas, but the ones flanking Gaston--a four lane street plus medians and turn lanes--seem unnaturally thin, vestigial, nominal. I myself don’t have a name for them, wouldn’t know what to call them anywhere, but I suspect they are part of what makes it terrifying to walk anywhere from my apartment. They are simply too scant a barrier from the rush of trucks and SUVs going past. I am forever afraid that, if they don’t jump the curb and hit me outright, I will be clipped by a side mirror and thrown to the ground.
So instead I court side streets, tracing the main arteries as if by their capillaries until my path is inevitably intersected by another main road. And there are so many roads. This one to the grocery store. This one downtown. This to the freeway and that to the other freeway and another one over there to go to the airport.
But it helps to keep doing it. To keep finding reasons to leave the house. To keep finding new ways to get to those new places. And it helps to have a new word, a bounty of them actually, to talk about it.

The Princess Party

I was not invited to this party. I could not, in fact, tell if this princess-themed soiree was a little girl's birthday party or a grown woman's bachelorette party.

I take my evening walk along Swiss Avenue because it has broad quiet streets and well-tended flora in front of some rather big, beautiful old houses. It is quiet at all hours, and at night lit not only by street lamps but by lights high in the branches of grand old trees. Not a few of the houses resemble tasteful little castles, a likeness I was pleased to see had not gone unnoticed by the occupants of this one house in particular, where a red carpet had been rolled from the front door down a big S-curved walk to the concrete steps that meet the sidewalk. Pink arches of little Christmas tree lights crowned the walkway, and with a pair of Disney castle balloons greeting you at the sidewalk end. The front door opened and a woman walked out as I turned to ask Dustin, "What if we went in?"

Before he could answer, a second woman opened the same front door and called after the first woman, "Do you want to take some pixie dust?" I haven't any idea what that means, and I didn't hear the reply, but I was satisfied enough to walk on.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


In Iowa it was always a test. Tornados came through every so often, but never when I was home. Coming back from Greece one summer I retrieved my messages and spent a minute deleting the automated warnings and all-clears. A friend decided to rent a house where the garage had been damaged by some previous storm and she had to steer her silver Toyota around the fallen cinderblocks. And starting early every spring the test sirens went off regularly, but it was always a test.

Not so in Texas. In Texas I have reason to debate whether to shelter in a closet or the bathtub. In Texas I have the word "sheltering," which for all my midwest summers had never found its way into my lexicon of things that happen in the world. In Texas the local NPR station switches to continuous storm coverage, interrupted periodically by national news spots, though for the next few hours we are the national news. In Texas I learn the word "tornadic"-- as in tornadic activity, tornadic winds, tornadic conditions--because for a while the tornado modifies everything.

The upstairs neighbors once mentioned that before we moved in, they opened the unlocked door and sheltered in our unit. I found that comforting when they mentioned it. I found it comforting, too, as I sat in a bathtub full of pillows, listening to the radio, and listening for their knock on the door.