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.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Mr. Macintosh & The Drunken Nut

Why has no one else adopted the business model of cute young women in even cuter faux vintage aprons leisurely skinning apples behind the counter and selling pie at $5 a slice in a sweet little parlor room? Is it because there are only so many places you can set up a pie shop where the address is 314? 

The Emporium is the kind of pie shop that does not currently have its own website, yet the internet tells me that in the last year it has grown from selling at markets to having a Mardi Gras pop-up shop and now has transitioned again to a permanent place you can stop in and curse because they have no more slices of Smooth Operator. The internet also tells me there's a kitchen in the back that handles the wholesale business, and I like to think that if there are three or four young women in adorable aprons milling about the charming shop kitchen behind the counter, there are a dozen such bakers in the back. 

The whole experience is coo-worthy. The curtain rods alone get me, with their sweet white lace curtains shading just the lower half of the windows with freshly painted sills. Dustin and I could pick no favorite between our respective slices of Drunken Nut and Mr. Macintosh, the most recent bite was always our favorite. We will certainly go again. We were not three bites in before we were making list of all the people we would bring to visit. But, and we feel a little provocative even saying this out loud, the recipe we wanted to take away was for Lance's Iced Tea. We will go through every kind of pie they will serve usI am particularly looking forward to their ginger pumpkin this fallbut we will never stray from the iced tea.

Monday, September 3, 2012


Debbie, in 11D, has the window seat, and every time a bead of water condenses in the ceiling panels and drops on her head, she tells me about it. Between the water torture and a high pitched squeal that now fills the cabin, Debbie is convinced she is being punished by the employers that sent her on this business trip.

"Yeah?" I ask. "Any idea what you did?"

"Oh, there's plenty!" Debbie assures me. By time the pilot announces we are in a holding pattern over Dallas, that we have been waiting for the radios at the airport to come back online but now we are running out of fuel and will return to Houston, Debbie is convinced. She deserves this. It would probably be worse, but there's a priest a few rows up. And it perhaps is because of this fatalistic mood that she changes the subject.

"What's your name?" Debbie asks me, and when I say Kendra she wrinkles her nose like I'm wrong.

"I would have said Cynthia," Debbie says. I ask how one knows a Cynthia, and Debbie doesn't skip a beat. "Cynthias are wholesome and down-to-earth and intelligent and kind. Every last one." Kendras, it turns out, are harder to pin down. You can't stereotype a Kendra. "I've known outdoorsy ones and ones that party 24-7," Debbie says. "One thing you can count on, though: a Michael is no good."

I enquire if it matters if said Michael goes by Mike or Mikey or M. Debbie, who is always mistaken on the phone for Cathy, thinks a moment and then shakes her head. "No. They're all just as bad."