Monday, July 30, 2012


Four years ago, when I was picking out a graduate school, I noticed my friends had opinions. Not about schools, but about location. Some of them wanted an excuse to visit Vancouver, others could see meeting up for a beach date in North Carolina. They'd come to see me or welcome me as a neighbor in Boston or New York or Los Angeles. I was saying to one of my friends in Chicago how strange it was no one was rooting for the only option in the same time zone as us, the University of Iowa a mere three and a half hours away.

"Oh, I'll say it," she said. "I won't visit you in Iowa." And, to wit, she didn't.

Most people didn't, in fact. I had hoped while moving to Dallas that it might be a bit more like Chicago, that people would visit if only because they had a long layover or were going to be in town for a conference. Historically, it takes at least three years for all six members of my immediate family to visit me in a new city. In six months they'd all come at least once to Dallas. Plus there's been Dustin's friends from Seattle, his brother and soon to be sister-in-law from San Diego. Today, in fact, we're expecting two friends and a dog on their way from Iowa City to Houston. If I'd had any idea, I would have started a guest book.

The data seems to be significant. Dustin thinks this is what happens when you have a guest room, a kind of "If you have it, they will stay" interpretation. I wonder if it's not some form of morbid curiosity. Dustin says no. Dustin says we are now part of the couples mafia, that couples tend to visit couples, that the two of us together have a greater gravitational pull. I hope our gravity does not just accelerate the rate of visits, but maintains an orbit, has the power to bring people back in another six months, when I finally know the city well enough to show it off.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Washing Machine Will be Replaced Next Week

Because they are metal, because presumably there is some hour the sun shines directly on them through the doorway that has no door and then they radiate that heat for hours afterward, or else because it is so hot outside it doesn’t matter that they have a little shed out between the parked cars and the dumpster to protect thembecause it is summer in Texas, the washer and dryer for our apartment building are hot to the touch, even as I stand with them in the shade of their little room, slowly realizing that the shade of the shed is the only reason I can stand to touch the white enamel lid of the washer at all, that in full sun I’d be burned the moment I reached to open the dryer door.

They seem especially hot as I’m on my knees this afternoon, head and one arm in the dryer, trying to scrub off the cinnamon gum that has melted to the blades. I wonder for a moment if people die this way, but no, that’s surely ovens, and even then an issue of gas and not of heat.

I first noticed the gum at the end of the wash, the pink strips all free from their paper wrappers, their paper wrappers scattered about all wadded and white and wet. I had pulled these pieces of gum out one by one, thankful they were not sticky, impressed at how well they’d maintained their shape through the spin cycles. I had felt fortunate in having avoided a bigger mess. But gum smeared and stuck to the dryer is different, feels more like an act of aggression, as if the dryer had somehow egged my house and keyed my car. I have been waiting six weeks for the washer to be fixed, one of my neighbors calls the maintenance line every day, and now that there's an email saying the issue has been addressed I'm doing a trial load, and if it weren't still broken in exactly the same way, I might not even care about the gum. The gum, at least, is clearly my fault†, and every blot of my sponge, no matter how furiously I then scrub and pick, makes me see that the injury was not to me but to the dryer, and I am now tending its wounds in supplication.

† Dustin wants it known, for the record, that the gum, and the fault, belong to him.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

West Nile Virus

Dallas, why do you give me new reasons to fear going outside?

I was just starting to feel good about things. I was finally willing to believe that, July or not, it can be reliably nice enough to go outside for a long walk every single evening. Even during the day, I've discovered I can plan a trip down the shady alleyways and still make it to the post office by five o'clock. And, this is the thing I'm really going to miss, I was just starting to get lost.

When I first came here, I used to take one-street out-and-back runs, switching my cell phone from palm to sweaty palm, turning around when the street ended because I was afraid I would forget the dogleg or the hard right turn or the T-shaped intersection on the way back, forget what I had already seen and what I hadn't, forget my address if someone tried to help. But only this week I was investigating a tangle of streets with the cutest little houses and following the street just because I liked a series of red doors I'd never noticed, when I got to an intersection of streets that meant nothing to menot their names, not their angles. Do you know, Dallas, how happy I was to be lost? Do you understand that you need to know a place pretty well before you're willing to go so far as to lose your bearings? Do you see that I wasn't worried about finding my way home because, running these streets, I already felt at home? And that's taken a while. It's still taking a while.

Which is why I wish you wouldn't make me afraid to leave the house. I appreciate the novel ways you warn about the quality of the air and the threat of the heat, but when people start dying, here and there, in the neighborhood next to ours, and you suggest that everyone stay indoors at dawn and dusk because that's when the mosquitos are most active, well I've already itched the bite on my knee until it bled, and the bites scattered across my calf itch too, and I didn't mind until you said that this, too, was a problem, that this is one more irritation I'm not supposed to ignore.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Mrs. Backhouse needs shade

An old man judging daffodils once took the time to explain to me, a mere layperson who'd wandered inside out of the rain, why a ribbon-winning arrangement of daffodils in a cowboy boot should actually have been disqualified from competition. Let me say first that the boot display was impressive. Its flowers were bright and well formed. Its narrative was both more developed and more cohesive than, say, the beach scene or the gardener's hat entered in the same field. Let me say also how glad I am that people care about things, all sorts of things, and especially things so varied and minute and gloriously irrelevant to almost everybody as to only exist for the scattered smattering of people who happen to take an interest. So while I don't expect it to come up often, I appreciate the education. I like that I can now say with authority, with the full endorsement of the Texas Daffodil Society, that the point is to present the flowers to best advantage. Be wary of distractions. The boot is just a vessel. The lasso and the sand and the taxidermied rattlesnake drawn back ready to strike, well that's all just a step too far.

Friday, July 20, 2012

For Your Safety

1. "Do Not Climb on Toads"
2. "Non-Service Animals Prohibited"
3. "Use Of The Water Feature If Ill With A Contagious Disease is Prohibited"
4. "Do Not Drink Water From The Water Feature"
5. "Use Of The Water Feature When Ill With Diarrhea is Prohibited."

Frankly, they had me at "Do Not Climb on Toads." As much as I would like to report that this is just good advice for all of us anywhere (and clearly, it is), I should perhaps mention that these signs are not posted throughout Dallas. There is, in fact, only one, and it's worth the price of admission to visit the Dallas Arboretum and see it for yourself.

There are, actually, any number of reasons to visit the Arboretum. It is a world class garden, for starters. The spring tulips, innumerable in quantity and variation, are breathtaking, even in the rain. The summer lawn concertsdid I mention the summer lawn concerts?include an evening of Elvis Tribute Artists. The delightful glass squiggles and blobs of the Chihuly installations will float and sprout and fan until November. But among them all, only the sign is perennial, its particular collection of wisdom a marvel I return to, one season to the next.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Missed Opportunity

I have no stage combat expertise, no equestrian experience at all, really no form of performance on my resume of any kind since I taught Korean high schoolers to sing English pop songs eight years ago--so it comes as no small surprise that I am nonetheless totally qualified to be a Squire at the local Medieval Times. I can lift 40 pounds. am a team player. I do have an interest in moving up, someday, to a Knight role. It seems providential: half a  dozen bullet points, and with each one I tick off affirmatively I am more and more startled that this is in fact something I can do until I have said yes for them all. Having spent the afternoon realizing I am, at best, passably qualified for one or two of the hundreds of posting in art, education, nonprofit, writing, ETC, part-time, and gigs, Craigslist seems for a moment like kismet. There's only one thing Craigslist has offered me without hesitation, and if I clicked on it only out of curiosity, it seems for a moment that was no mistake: I was meant for this.

Except there's a line of fine print. The writing is kind of beautiful, actually, exquisitely nimble in its lawyerly care, so impressive I hardly feel discriminated against as it explains that a commitment to historic accuracy means the part has been scripted for a male. Females need not apply.

I have already learned from Craigslist ads that I am too old to be an egg donor, too childless to be a surrogate mother. Now I'm just too female to apply for a job wearing a tunic. I spend a few days wondering about gender identity and Medieval Times, about the historic accuracy of paper crowns, and by time I'm ready to bind my breastbecause, seriously, what is more historically accurate than a female dressing as a man for the economic advantage or personal fulfillment denied to her sex?it doesn't matter. The ad has come down.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Help Wanted

The Craigslist Dallas classifieds suggest that my most marketable skill is reliable transportation. Not if I want a paper route in the suburbsthe hiring manager specifically says that if you live 15 miles away or more it will NEVER BE WORTH ITbut it's my major asset if I become a school portrait photographer: "No photography experience necessary." I don't need reliable transportation to become an art handler, though I should be willing to do two long hauls a month. There is a "specialty genre" romance novelist looking for a ghost writer, could become a long term thing; she'll email details if you like, but you'll eventually need to meet. Otherwise, my best shot seems to be an employer that doesn't even list qualifications. There's a man looking for a copy editor for his novel, for instance, ideally someone who could also write the ending.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Summer Boys

Six boys with swords, or rather, long sticks and blunt plastic tapers wielded like swords, move up and down the driveway, travel the thin strip of concrete between a van's wide black side and the border of lawn, slosh back and forth like waves in a tank. The porch lights are on, the boys a bit more epic in the glow. If they see me on my evening walk, the boys take no notice, even as I pass by.

Last summer the heat was record-setting. Even now I'm told not to get comfortable, the mid-90s of July a false start to unrelenting 100-plus days that will last into September. Last summer, Dustin's barber gave him what is probably my favorite Dallas advice: "Don't let anyone tell you the summer of 1981 was worse than this." I don't doubt that the dog days are yet to come. I believe the faithful when they say it will be bad. But it's strange to me there isn't more said about the shoulder season, these days that would be hot except you can know how hot it can get, the evenings that still manage to cool down to something resembling pleasant. The evenings, in fact, are kind of lovelythe light hanging late, the air too warm to believe it's time to go home.

The boys are still there an hour later as I loop back on my own way home, but now they have settled some, a few are sitting. They are no less boyish in their repose. The porch light seems brighter now. They have yet to put down their swords.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mr. Sushi

The woman on the airport shuttle from DFW keeps apologizing. She alternates, actually, she apologizes and then she blesses us. We will be blessed for taking her into this shuttle. She has been turned down by seventeen drivers, she says, the cab drivers say her destination is too close and the shuttle drivers say it's out of the way. If it weren't for her luggage and her shoes, she says, she'd have walked there. It's that close, she says. Except that everything is different. She's been away for four years, girl, and she's back for ten days, and they've changed the airport and the onramps and the roads all around it, and you know what she misses? The Whataburgers. They don't have those in Venice, Florida. They don't have crime there either, you knowzero. But really what she wants is Mexican food. They don't have that in Florida, either. A lot of gray-haireds in Florida, you know, amazing sunrises and sunsets and beaches, I love the beaches, but there's no Mexican food. And the best sushi anywhere is right here, right here in Dallas, look over there, it's over there, right off the freeway. Are you looking? Man, that's good stuff. Old school. Not kitschy, not retro, but old school. Every guy at Mr. Sushi has been there twelve, fourteen, fifteen, twenty years. I don't want this new age stuffis this flower edible or not, you know, I mean forget it. Just give me the fish. Y'all like sushi? You gotta go. You have got to go! I've sent fifty, a hundred people there, and you know what? They keep going back. Brad's like, these people, they keep coming back, and I'm like, of course they do. This is the best sushi anywhere. You tell Brad: Ms. B said to hook you up!! Really, I'm so sorry for this. Bless y'all.

Monday, July 9, 2012


When my mother was a girl, in Utah, there were chores to be done. I never thought of them as Utah-specific chores. My sister-in-law did the same milking in Vermont. My brother and I did the same dish washing in California. But I've begun to wonder about the dusting.

When my mother, as a girl, was in charge of dusting, she did it every week. She didn't just do the edges, either, she actually bothered to lift up candlesticks and books and whatnot so she could run a cloth along the table or the shelf or whatever underneath. And when she taught me, as a girl, to do the dusting, she taught me pretty well the same thing. But she also taught me there was another school of thought. My aunt, for instance, believed dusting was unnecessary until there was enough dust accumulated on a given surface to draw one's finger through it and write a legible word.

While I did my best as a girl to dust in my mother's style, I always suspected my aunt had been on to something. I never owned a dust rag or can of Pledge in adult life, but then I didn't acquire wood furniture, either. Really, as long as I maintained the nomadic existence of a new apartment every year or so, I found an annual dusting entirely adequate. For years my only dusting routine has been a final wipe of windowsills and plastic blinds before I turned in the keys and reclaimed my security deposit. There must have been the occasional touch-up when company was coming, my mother raised me right, but I remember them only occasionally and only in the apartments I stayed in for two years or more.

I'm not much one for dusting here in Dallas, either, but here it's not for lack of accumulationit's just impossible to keep up. Here, you can dust every week and still write you name on the dresser top just as often. Here I could keep my grocery list in finger-wide script on the coffee table. Here I dust everything before visitors arrive for a long weekend, and a new layer has settled before they've even packed to go home. You'd think there'd be a film on the windows. You'd think you'd feel it in the air. But instead it is like waking up after a snowstorm, as if the layer over everything was pushed up through the ground itself.

Friday, July 6, 2012


I have good hair in Texas. I often have pretty good hair—the curl and I living in harmony, neither of us trying to influence the other unduly—but my stats are better in Texas: better curl definition, better volume, better good hair days and more of them. The cut I gave myself in January is still kicking here in July, which for a short-haired person is a very long time, and I may indeed find myself with downright medium length hair before I am moved to trim it again.

Which is a shame, insofar as that will obviously delay the event of my first Texas haircut, but is frankly just as well as it will also delay my disappointment that I am not in fact the kind of person who gets adventurous haircuts in new places. A friend living in Nowhere, Maryland once visited me in Chicago  and asked where to go for a proper city haircut. I couldn't tell her. I had gone for years still having mine cut in California.

You know that scene in Roman Holiday when Audrey Hepburn gets a hair cut and it changes her because now she is part of the city? Over the years that scene has brought me thisclose to having an Athens haircut or a Seoul style or a New York do, but because I have no faith that curls have all that many options, I just excuse myself from the discovery of yet another hairdresser who's not all that comfortable with the special needs of curly hair. I did finally get someone to cut my hair in Chicago before I left for other cities, but they were cuts that gave me confidence I could do at least as well myself. Still, if any city can win me over to a new person cutting my hair, Dallas has both a legendary hair culture and a place with a neon sign I pass on my way to get groceries that says "Rocket Science Salon." I'll think about it;  probably as I pass the shears across the back of my neck and let red curls fall on our bathroom floor.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Texas Pop Rocket

A curious compromise: it's not illegal to use fireworks more or less whenever, but you can only buy fireworks in Texas a few weeks each year. And when I say you I mean anyone 12 years of age or older. No need for parental consent, no limit on how much you buy. Well, two limits: you can't get bottle rockets, and Texas won't actually sell you  something called a "Texas Pop Rocket," but don't fret; there'll be more than enough colorful explosives to get you through your grief. So stock up June 24 until midnight July 4, or else December 20 to midnight January 1. If that's not enough, you'll need the commitment to find a seller within 100 miles of the Mexican border in a county that has approved sales and visit in the brief window from May first through fifth. How interesting that we recognize two and a half fireworks holidays. Maybe if we had a border within 100 miles of Asia, we'd also celebrate Chinese New Year.

Monday, July 2, 2012

F is for Fossa

Madagascar's largest mammalian carnivore is kind of my new best friend. Fossa may, technically, be too busy leaping on branches and having a really long tail to return the sentiment, but that's fine. We're all busy. The day we met, for instance, my schedule also included visits to an albino alligator and the new koalas and giraffes you can feed with special wafers from a giraffe-height deck. But nothing I saw was so liquid, so lithe as the fossanothing so graceful or alert. I worked in a zoo once, and in four months never made such an exciting discovery as I did this afternoon. I felt like a child to have a new favorite animal, but who could be embarrassed to feel so lucky?