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.)