Six Words

Not Quite What I Was Planning
Not Quite What I Was Planning is a collection of autobiographies in six words. The premise comes from the anecdote that Hemingway (perhaps to settle a bar bet?) wrote a short story in six words.

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Several sf writers have written Sfnal versions of this for Wired.

It cost too much, staying human.
– Bruce Sterling

We kissed. She melted. Mop please!
– James Patrick Kelly

Then comes this book. Autobiography in six words. Online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs and culled the best. Of course, now I lay in bed attempting to compose mine.

An observer; husband, son brought reality.

But in ten minutes I’ll decide that’s wrong.

Little Thailand

Thai Home Cooking

I would like to give you the impression that my culinary life is one amazing adventure after another. The truth is that much of the time I eat pretty boring food. But when I do have a food experience that I think could conceivably give the impression that I am living the high food life, I like to blog it. For a Chowhound, the ultimate food experience is the unexpected, the hole in the wall that turns out to be great, the different.

Once in awhile it happens just like that.

Many months ago, Bob and I read an article about a restaurant called Little Thailand. The legend is that Dick was in Vietnam back in the day and married a Thai girl. He brought her back to the states. It didn’t work out. But somehow along the way he ended up marrying another Thai girl and building a restaurant/bar called Little Thailand. She cooks Thai and he makes the steaks and Hungarian Goulash and the hot sauce.

A framed review on the wall calls Little Thailand ‘a trailer park temple to authentic Thai food’ and that’s probably as good a description as any. The restaurant is in the front of a low ceilinged building out past the airport. We drove into the Texas dark, out into country where Austin has not yet become cool and found it under the Garfield water tower as promised. It’s the kind of place that has handwritten signs stuck on the wall that say things like “Killer Thai Bloody Mary’s Awesome and Lip Smacking.” Bob orders one.

It is the spiciest-hot Bloody Mary either of us have ever tasted. It is the first time I have ever had a drink that required a glass of water to go with it. Continue reading

Why I Am Not Postmodern

Postmodern

(This is a reprint of an essay I did for Small Beer Press–I’m headed to the airport and pressed for time. Next week, I promise, back to stuff about food, dogs, and TV.)

When I was in Mr. Fish’s class in fourth grade class at St. Columban, we had a mock election for President and I voted for Nixon. He won by a landslide. Granted, that was the year Nixon was re-elected in a landslide, but I proffer this bit of personal information as evidence that I am, at heart, a rather conservative person. I don’t want to be a conservative person. Studying literature and art, it becomes very clear that the really good writers and artists, the really important ones, are not conservative people. They are the people who institute change. Who make us see and think in different ways. So much of my life has been an effort to somehow convert myself from a mildly anxious, essentially conservative Catholic school girl into a radical, free-thinking writer. Continue reading

Nostalgia

China

I’m not by nature a nostalgic person. I think of my childhood as primarily a time when other people told me what to do, where to go, what to eat, when to go to bed, what to wear, and when my options were limited by my lack of resources. Sure, someone took care of me, fed me, bought my clothes, loved me, but for example, I was on a rural bus route that took an hour and I get motion sick. The doctor prescribed medication so I wouldn’t throw up every morning, but no one ever offered me any options other than fly out the door at 6:15 every morning for a dull and mildly nauseating hour. That, as far as I am concerned, summed up a lot of childhood. You make the best of it.

Bob has been consumed by nostalgia lately. He’s reading about Ghoulardi, a kind of cult TV personality who was big in Cleveland when he was growing up. I’m painting a bedroom and I bought some photographs off Etsy to have framed and hung. Then I thought about how all those decorating shows tell you to frame your own photographs so I dug out my box of photos from China and started going through them. I discovered two things. I’m not a good photographer. And I am deeply nostalgic about the girl in those photographs.

I was 28 when I went to China. I had a sense of what my life could be that was very different (of course) from how it turned out. I like how it turned out, mostly because of Bob. But I…regret is too strong a word…I have some wistfulness about the other life, which involved a great deal more travel. The road not taken, so to speak. I wanted to speak another language, live in another country again.

Of course, what I forget about that girl is that she was unpublished and felt a tremendous weight of anxiety. When I was 28 I had a life of rented rooms. I had never owned a couch, which seemed to me at the time symbolic of some sort of rootlessness and lack of seriousness. I had spent several years chasing the dream of being a writer. For some of those years I didn’t have a job or health insurance or a car or a boyfriend or a television. No dog, of course. I felt as if I was falling farther and farther behind in life. I wasn’t sure that I would ever be a writer. Or that I would ever be anything other than marginal.

Of course, being marginal was what gave me the freedom to up and go to China. Now, painting and decorating a room in my very nice house, living as a writer, I know that I wasn’t in fact falling behind. I forget all that. I see that girl and I forget all the anxiety of being young and uncertain. I see China. I see a time when who I was seemed more malleable. It’s a middle-aged kind of nostalgia. One I have no patience for in other people, and swore I would never indulge.

Indulge me?

Oh To Be White, Rich and Thin

Real Housewives on Parade

Bob hates reality TV. What he really hates is the elimination at the end of so many reality shows, where someone is ritually exiled from the group, their torch is put out, the supermodel tells them they’re ‘out’, they are fired, or they are told to pack their knives and go. Which may explain part of the appeal of the show that has snagged Bob. Folding laundry one night, searching the TV for something to distract him, he came across The Real Housewives of Orange County. And now he’s a fan.

The Real Housewives follows six white, upper-class straight women who live in Orange County. They depict the Orange County lifestyle, which according to the show is gated communities of McMansions, Republicanism, rampant materialism and boob jobs. Cameras follow them around to catch them at their most entertaining worst. We are there when one of them goes to a consultation with a plastic surgeon to get her breast implants removed because her doctor says her DD’s are the cause of her back issues and her husband complains that he doesn’t want her to go too small.

Part of it is the unsparing but uninsightful eye of the camera. We see what the women do and what they say, but other than superficial commentary from the women themselves, we never get any real insight into why, for example, Vicki is so driven and controlling in her business and with her children, or why she drinks so hard at parties. (“They say I did a ‘woo-woo’ shot with the bartender,” she says, “but I don’t remember it.” A pause. “I don’t!” And then we see her on film, doing a shot with the bartender and shrieking ‘woo-woo!’ with him.) There is an old saying that people who marry for money earn every dime. The same might be said for these women, who may not have married for money, per se, but who certainly pay a price for their devotion to what they call ‘the OC lifestyle.’ Many have been married a couple of times, several have difficult issues with children, all of them have issues with their bodies. Continue reading

Expecting (a Dog)

Hudson!

To those of you who might have already read my posts about getting a dog in my blog, my apologies. But you know, I’m kinda excited and preoccupied, so:

We’re getting a new dog. We’re getting a rescue from a local Golden Retriever Rescue group. Our son is grown and out of the house. We have some disposable income. This whole exercise is clearly some sort of surrogate adoption experience.

It started with the adoption procedures. (That’s what the rescue group refers to it as, ‘adoption.’ Giving them a dog is called a ‘surrender.’) I filed an application and paid a fee. That was followed by a phone interview. And then a house visit, where we wre again interviewed and our home was inspected for suitability. We discussed what kind of food we would give the dog, where the dog would sleep, and promised to repair a couple of places in our fence.

Then we got a call asking us if we would foster a dog with option to adopt. That’s Hudson, the doofus pictured above. He’s 2 years old and was found running alongside the highway. The woman who rescued him has a child under two and another on the way and although Hudson is really good with her child, well, he’s a dog. And he is more than she can handle. Could we take him? Absolutely.

Yesterday I got the stuff for the nursery ready for him to come and live with us. Because we already have the world’s most annoying mini dachshund, we put up the old giant dog crate in our bedroom where Hudson could retreat to safety. But he needed a mat for the crate, of course. So I went and bought a mice comfy foam mat with a cover that fits in his crate. And he needed a new leash, and Shelly’s food is for Senior dogs and he’s not senior…well, you get the idea.

We’ll pick Hudson up on Friday.

At least there’s no baby shower in the offing.

Restaurant As Amusement Park

There’s a commercial for a service that allegedly protects against identity theft. In it a guy sings about why he is wearing a pirate costume serving tourists in a restaurant. (It’s because he was bankrupted when his identity was stolen.) When I think of restaurants that set out to entertain, that’s the first image that comes to mind. The theme restaurant. Mariachi guys serenading over bad fajitas. Chuck E Cheese, where your kids will be distracted enough you might get a moment to just sit and watch them spend your money on games, or it’s adult incarnation, Damon’s, where you can play a quiz using the electronic quiz thingy on your table and play, not only against the other geniuses in your particular restaurant, but against people all over the country eating at Damon’s and ignoring their food just like you are. And although Damon’s food is not horrible, it isn’t exactly a crime to ignore it, either.

There’s been a kind of an upsurge of food as fun for people who might even like to eat. Probably the bottom feeder of this is The Melting Pot, which is fondue. Fondue is a license to officially play with your food. But it isn’t particularly great food. I mean, any time you let the customers cook for themselves, the point is really not cooking technique. I like fondue, but mostly I like it sitting around with friends, getting drunk and threatening each other with the little forks—in other words, I like fondue the way it was done in the fifties, when everyone got a fondue set as a wedding present. The idea of opening a restaurant where I let non-professionals anywhere near hot oil for cooking seems rather scary to me.

My kid, Adam, is a meat eater. He, like me, would really like to be a vegetarian. But the fact is, if we were vegetarians, we’d have to give up meat. I’ve tried. I’ve failed. Now I cook with duck fat and constrain myself to a kind of low level sniping at vegetarians who I resent because I consider them morally superior to me. Texas is a meat lovers paradise and Adam is a fan of BBQ. But I found a restaurant recently that pretty much nailed the food as amusement thing, the Brazilian Steakhouse. I’ve actually eaten steak in Brazil and it’s very good. Brazil happens to be geographically sitting next to Argentina, where cattle is king. But when I was in Brazil, I never ate at anything like Fogo de Chao. First of all, the entire wait staff is wearing gaucho attire—shirts, short pants, black shiny gaucho boots. I said to Adam that at least they weren’t wearing pirate costumes and he gave me a withering glance. He was right, this wasn’t exactly an improvement.

There are Brazilian gauchos, but gauchos and gaucho cuisine—beef roasted over a fire and a drink called mate—are really Argentinian. I don’t know why Fogo de Chao isn’t an Argentinian steakhouse. But I am quibbling. And Brazil is a big country with a number of different cuisines, including Bahian—which figures big in Jorge Amado’s luscious novel, Dona Flora and Her Two Husbands. Maybe in the south, where the jungle gives way pampas, there are Brazilian steakhouses. Continue reading

The Machine Animals of Nantes

Grand Elephant Machine
When I first saw this photo I thought it was CGI–wonderful, mechanical-biological CGI but like a lot of the CGI in films. But it’s not. These are real machines on exhibit in Nantes, France. Extraordinary machines that move and, some of them, walk. This speaks to the same impulses in us that make us want to climb the steps inside the Statue of Liberty and look out of her crown. This is the desire that is behind Da Vinci’s drawing of the flying machine. This is somehow wired deeply to the part of my brain that says, ‘Cool Toy!’  This is sensa-wonder territory–which means that for me it’s science fiction.

I’d love to go to Nantes and see this.  But even more, I’d love to ride one down the street.

(via Mysdirection.)

Crystal

Geeks in Love
You don’t have to have gotten married at the New Year to be a Brainiac, but apparently it helps. Bob and I got married on January 2. (We wanted to get married on January 1, but the mayor was busy. Our suspicion was that it had to do with sports on TV.) I had ideas about marriage being a contract rooted in capitalist obsessions with property and was deeply ambivalent about the whole thing. On the other hand, I had (and have) a sincere appreciation for the importance of ritual in the human psyche and you don’t have many more fraught opportunities for ritual than a wedding. Bob just asked me to wear something other than blue jeans. He said he was wearing a suit. So I broke down and bought a cream colored suit which I subsequently wore to work.

It was, in fact, a contract rooted in capitalist obsessions with property.

But it was also a ritual of extreme importance. When the mayor spoke the vows, I had the sense of something deeply irrevocable happening. Not that I didn’t know of lots of people who got divorced. Not that I wasn’t aware of the utter fragility of those vows. But they were vows, and somehow that meant that this moment would leave a mark, would be scored on us in someway. Tribal scars of the psyche. It was a test of our optimism, I guess. I am not, by nature, an optimistic person. It was like playing a high stakes table and putting money down. Win or lose, you’re putting it on the table.

Tonight we went out with the boys to celebrate. It’s our fifteenth. Which is crystal. (Not as fun perhaps as the 3rd Anniversary, which is leather. But better than the 7th, which is wool. Or, if you’re modern, desk sets. Who is in charge of that, anyway?) There are things no one can tell you about marriage. When it works, mysterious partnership, there is the utter pleasure of being an expert at this one thing, being with each other. Knowing the rhythms of another as you know yourself. The sound of breathing, the physical cadence of a heartbeat. I know Bob across the room without my glasses. I know the way his shirts fit across his shoulders, and what it is like to touch the back of his shirt with my fingertips.

I’ve seen how awful a bad marriage is. There is nothing more lonely than being alone in a marriage, I think. But we are made for this pairing, however imperfectly we do it. However much biology says we are also made to push at it’s boundaries. It is something that suits me better and better with age. And I am grateful.

Mysterious Postcard

I posted last week about an Ebay auction and low and behold, this week I received the following:

Mysterious Postcard

I have some vague idea who might have sent such a thing–it has a US stamp and an Oklahoma postmark. And so I deduce that it might be in Czech. The only words I know in Czech are…well, I don’t know any words in Czech. But I went to grad school, dammit, and I had a language requirement, and if that taught me anything, it taught me how to make a half-assed translation in a language I didn’t know. As best I can figure, the postcard reads:

I cannot resist. Muzete me this translate? “give me spout within beer.”

Much obliged!

And give my kind regards to the French Bean!*

I owe you a beer, Denton. Preferably at the Klášterní pivovar Strahov.

(Actually, it says ‘Give my regards to Bob’ but one translation software came back with this, and how could I not prefer ‘the French Bean?’)

Duck Fat

Roasted Potatoes
While everybody else is spreading good cheer and all that, I view major holidays as an opportunity to eat. I can’t actually afford to eat in the style that I wish I was accustomed to, so I cook. This Christmas is a traditional fat and carb filled extravaganza. Oh, we’re having roasted green beans, but that’s about the only nod towards rational healthy eating. Otherwise we’re having an artery-clogging, insulin cranking traditional feast. A big beef standing rib, Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes.

When I was a kid, we never ate at my grandmother’s. Other people remember grandma’s cooking. My grandmother was not domestic. She didn’t actually wash her glasses, she just rinsed them, which my mother found so skeevy that I don’t think she ever drank so much as a glass of water at her mother-in-law’s, although she also never said anything until long after my grandparents were gone. We did eat there once. Overdone roast beef, potatoes, and those ice cream cups with the little wooden spoons. As a kid, I found the whole bag-of-little-ice-cream-cups thing enchanting. And I suspect it certainly saved on clean-up. But what I remember even more were the roasted potatoes. Brown and caramelized on the outside, meltingly creamy on the inside. I had never had a perfectly roasted potato before and to be frank, I don’t think I ever have since. I have always suspected it was an accident. Or maybe it was the one thing she cooked really, really well.

So when I found Nigella Lawson’s recipe for roasted potatoes, promising the secret to the perfect crunch brown exterior and the soft, creamy interior, I was instantly reminded of those wonderful potatoes from my grandmother. Nigella says that the perfect roasted potato is all a matter of one simple thing—the fat. And the fat is goose fat.

Continue reading

Drive Someone Insane With Postcards

Drive Someone Insane With Postcards

I’m just got home from a business trip, I’ve had a hellish couple of weeks, and I have a cold. But thanks to Steve at Mysdirection, I have something to share with all of you. Click on through for the sheer genius of this.

Drive Someone Insane With Postcards

If I start getting postcards from Poland I’ll blame Denton. Why? Because when I first moved to Austin I was completely taken in by that Midwestern deference, but then my husband read Blackburn, which I had read many many years ago, and I was reminded that looks can be deceiving.

Meme: A Year In Posts

Meme: Post the first line of your first blog entry of each month for 2007 (via Greg Van Eekhout) (And not one is about zombies.)

aztec calendar
December 1, Steve: From Oni Press: For centuries Jumpers have lived among us — special individuals with the ability to teleport or “jump” nearly anywhere in the world.

November 1, Madeleine: In honor of the first of November I invite you to check out Lupo the Butcher.

October 1, Morgan: NASA launched a probe last Thursday to study Ceres and Vesta, the two largest asteroids in the asteroid belt.

September 1, Caroline: How am I not Madeleine?

August 1, Maureen: I’m making dinner for Bob’s band tomorrow.

July 1, Rory: I don’t know shit about this guy, except what’s on the Wiki, and this article in my favorite music magazine, Paste.

June 2, Caroline: By now, everyone and their dog has heard the story about the American TB patient who ignored his doctor’s advice and traipsed off to Europe to get married.

May 1, Morgan: Update: Corrected carbon dioxide levels to reflect latest research.

April 1, Steve: On this day in 1957 8 million television viewers . . . watched a program on Spaghetti Trees.

March 1, Morgan: Katrina survivors rebuke President Bush, who is going to New Orleans for a series of photo ops.

February 1, Brad: It’s been said that Kansas, where I was raised, is the Buckle of the Bible Belt – which can only mean that I now live in the Zipper.*

January 2, Steve: Yesterday was Sunday, today is Monday.

The Pelican Bar, Jamaica

Pelican Bar
I am today just coming back from a week in Jamaica (I am posting this from the airport in Montego Bay.) My first trip to Jamaica, in fact to any Carribean island. And purely thanks to other people who suggested the place and booked the whole thing, I stayed on the south coast of the island, at Treasure Beach, a place which is just beginning to be discovered. It is important, when you are a certain kind of traveler—one who likes, say, hot water, people who are used to dealing with clueless travelers, and someone who can sell you sunscreen if you forgot it—to not stay in a place that is yet ‘undiscovered.’ Undiscovered is beautiful. Undiscovered is unspoiled. Undiscovered is often inexpensive. Undiscovered is also likely to leave you standing outside the place you planned to stay only to discover that it is off season, closed and they didn’t take credit cards. When I was 29, I was intrepid. I am not so much anymore. But Treasure Beach is, in fact, discovered, but not yet actually built up. Which means that the place where we stayed could sell us sunscreen, and really really good pina coladas (a drink I had hitherto disdained) but that otherwise we were just in a Jamaican town without much industry intent on fleecing us.

I intended to attack where we were like Anthony Bourdain in No Reservations. Continue reading