Saturday, April 11, 2015

Texmudgeon Melting...just a little

As connections between cities and people go, Houston and I have not had the best relationship.

"What could make you dislike Houston so much?" my dad asked me recently? "It's not like you had any other city to compare it to. You were in Knoxville 'til you were four." Which is true.

But when you begin your school days in a rock bottom situation socially speaking, everywhere else looks good. When you are teased mercilessly every school day for 6-7 years, everyplace else is paradise. And when your parents seem to be deaf to your pleas and to what is happening (Mom told me later they went with the rock - private school - over the hard, public school place in my case, to which I say, "Thaaaanks."), your need to escape is honed to an exceedingly fine point. Granted, I was a pretty crappy, oversensitive kid, but something in me didn't feel like I needed to be reminded of how worthless I was nearly every day of the week. Something had to give someplace. Which is where the Astrodome - actually, the entire Astrodomain, circa the mid-1980s - comes in.

My first-ever major league baseball game was taken in under the Dome in my single-digit years. I came away with a nifty orange baseball cap and amazement that that many people could fit under one roof - including me! - and I didn't know any of them other than my dad (who brought me to the game), nor did they know me. It was probably one of the first inklings I got outside of TV and occasional visits to the beach that the world was far larger than I could even comprehend...and far more colorful. Garishly colorful, if you went by the multicolored seating on every level of the Astrodome. Downright celebratory if you checked out the six-shooting, cattle-roping, fireworks extravaganza that was the Dome's light-up scoreboard.

I ended up at the entire Dome complex - which included an AstroArena, an AstroHall, AstroWorld...yes, there was a theme there - at one time or another all through my childhood, whether it was going with my dad to the Boat Show, to the Rodeo on school trips and with my family each year, a USFL Houston Gamblers game, and one time, memorably, to the city Science & Engineering Fair in eighth grade. The AstroWorld and WaterWorld trips were the greatest, however, because I went traipsing around on the rides there - without my parents. Unleash a preteen kid like me and her few friends on an amusement park like that with the help of one friend's season pass and hefty discounts obtained from coupons on empty Coke cans and what do we do? Ride this four times in a row, because we got there when the park opened and there was no line, we were finally tall enough, and there were no adults or siblings to hold us back. My passport to paradise, courtesy of Judge Roy Hofheinz's kitschy vision.

Lots of good things come to an end, however. I got a little older and wasn't hankering to see live music at the Southern Star Amphitheater or in the Dome as much as I was as a preteen, nor was I going to the Rodeo. I got more interested in Houston's art museums and in the opposite sex...and then we moved away after my sophomore year of high school.

The Dome's fortunes seemed to go downhill around the same time. The scoreboard was ripped out and more seating put in its place as a condition of keeping the Oilers in town, but the team left for Tennessee anyhow a few years later. A convention center was built right in downtown Houston, drawing those types of events away from the Astrodomain, and then a ballpark was built downtown as well, causing the Astros to leave the Dome's orbit. AstroWorld and WaterWorld are memories now. The Texans currently play in a stadium that dwarfs the Dome, which I never thought would happen. Ever. All there is now is the shell that Hofheinz dubbed the eighth wonder of the world, closed to the public & waiting for sixteen years now for a new fate of any kind whatsoever, be it demolition or redevelopment.

When I heard that the Dome was going to be opened to the public for an hour on its 50th anniversary, something in me told me I had to be there. I dragged my son along to wait in one of the longest, friendliest lines I've ever been in, in which the people waiting to get in wore Astros & Oilers shirts and jerseys or an occasional "Save The Dome"-themed shirt while our kids all played together in the grass and on the pavement. We all talked about memorable events we'd seen, people we'd met, stuff we'd done in the place before 1999. I realized after the fact that in another setting, viewing the Dome as we did was akin to viewing a body laying in state, and there were over 20,000 of us who wanted to pay our respects. It was crazy. It was sad. It was a beautiful thing.

Dome interior

"The Astrodome seems plenty big enough to me," my son said on his first - and possibly last - look inside the place. "Why isn't it being used again?"

I had a hard time answering him. So many reasons why, yet there were none at all.

Monday, March 30, 2015

About Girl

It was a crappy job compared to the others I had been able to get shortly after I started it - sometimes, when it rains, it pours - and after only a few days, I had to quit being a cashier at Dean & DeLuca in Soho because I couldn't justify fitting it in with three other jobs I'd just gotten that paid far better and gave me more hours. The only gratifying thing about it had been seeing a woman I recognized right away, but I had to play it as cool as she did onstage because you can't geek out on someone when you're handling her purchases and making change for her, and you can NOT do that when she's got her toddler with her and just looks...tired. Kim Gordon still exuded a stoic badassedness despite it all, though, and I stood a little straighter at the register that day after she'd gone. If she could make it through her days with a kid (something that, at the time, I was sure I was never going to do), I could hold out a little longer myself.

Gordon was an absolute icon for people like me who'd become art and music fools in the '80s and early '90s. She wrote for ArtForum and Spin, was one of a trio of girl bassists rocking the world in their respective seminal bands (Gordon did it in Sonic Youth, of course - the others were Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth, who'd gone to my art school, and the Pixies' Kim Deal, who eventually sang "Little Trouble Girl" on Sonic Youth's Washing Machine album), worked as an artist in her own right, and reigned as an all-around symbol of the cool New York woman making it in a man's world. I got on a kick near the end of my college years where I was listening fairly obsessively to a lot of Sonic Youth, running through Daydream Nation, Sister, Dirty, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star, and especially EVOL so much I may have worn out a tape or two. I read Confusion Is Next and got a lot from it about where Sonic Youth fit into the alternative and indie scenes, but not much about Gordon herself.

There were girl groups and divas, chanteuses and belters, but Gordon was clearly a woman in Sonic Youth, another member of the band who clearly functioned as a band member, not necessarily as a standout - at least, not in the recordings. I finally got to see Sonic Youth live in the summer of 2002, when I was in my second trimester (yeah, about that never I mentioned earlier...never say never) and she was off in the distance onstage at Seattle's Bumbershoot festival, definitely not just a player in the band. She spun like a dervish when she could, free and easy, a little off-kilter at times, but still a force, a woman in the world.

I read Gordon's memoir recently and gained a great deal of insight on those times, even the whirling dervish ones (the hiring of Jim O'Rourke to take on some bass duties in Sonic Youth was indeed freeing to her, and it showed) - but somehow, she still retains an aspect of holding the world at arm's length, explaining only the things that could come from her. Girl In A Band is not going to go deeper into Sonic Youth's interpersonal workings, nor will it go into major motivations for Gordon's art - the former, she says, has already been dealt with by many other writers; the latter presumably invites readers to seek out her art, as it speaks for itself.

Where Girl goes is back to Gordon's childhood, in which a domineering older brother picks on her for displaying any emotion at all, birthing her stoic demeanor. It turns out later that that same brother is schizophrenic, but by then, Gordon has moved on from her California girlhood and into the arts, wherever they may take her. And the places she goes...from Otis Art Institute to York University in Toronto to New York City in the early '80s. She careens from job to job, apartment to apartment, then finds a place for herself from out of the influence of NYC's No Wave scene and her relationship with Thurston Moore, a fellow No Wave enthusiast bent on getting a band going. Once Gordon and Moore get together with Lee Ranaldo, Sonic Youth is born.

It's not like Gordon doesn't speak of the band at all in Girl. She deals with the band's career in discrete packets related to a number of their albums, touching on different people both well-known and obscure in the world of indie music. She speaks most compellingly of Kurt Cobain, giving in to the impulse to mother him from the moment she met him. His life and memory run beneath her narrative, bubbling up when she speaks of the mostly female tribute to Nirvana at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame induction ceremony or her acting in Gus Van Sant's Last Days. She recognized his strengths and his fragile vulnerability; like in all her deeper relationships, she seems to have had an impulse to protect him as much as she was able to.

Her most heartwrenching account, however, is that of her breakup with Moore, a partnership that defined her life for nearly three decades and ended so stupidly, really - what could be more cliche'd in that respect than the "other woman" bringing it all down? - and, although she did her own thing artistically, musically (see Free Kitten and other bands, as well as co-producing Hole's Pretty On The Inside), and fashion-wise while married to him, the end of that relationship has marked a major transition in her life - and in all of those who saw Gordon and Moore as the uber-indie couple over all these years. Gordon soldiers on despite, devoting herself to the things she always did, but without a man. Her world shook, but she's still here, as stoic as ever.

Long may she keep on keepin' on. I hope she will...because, after all these years, part of me still looks to her just to check up, see what she's doing. An icon's iconic status dies pretty damn hard.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Giant Step*

A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting for my turn to step off a platform and ride in a harness that, if all had been checked and re-checked correctly, would safely carry me down most of the length of a cable. Peering down from that platform had already caused a young kid to turn away & go back down the stairs, someone's small boy who probably shouldn't have been trussed up to go in the first place, but I was an adult who was game. Like my granddaddy before me who had faith in human engineering, I, too, had that faith, as well as the need to get that rush I'd always craved from roller coasters - which I haven't been near in a long time. The closest opportunity was this zipline at a campsite outside Waco, and I was taking it.

I somehow recall being told to lean forward when stepping off the platform, which, for an incredibly long second, was scary as all hell. I felt like I wasn't harnessed for that second, the only thing between me and the ground being a rope attached to casters that I was supposed to hold onto for dear life lest I plummet five stories to the grass below. I'm not quite sure how I overcame that second, but I did. The ride was over far too soon, the line of harnessed adults and kids too forbiddingly long to wait in again. It wasn't 'til later when I realized I was probably the only mom to venture up there.

It turned out I wasn't the only mom to zipline...I was one of two moms to do it out of nearly fifty at the family camp weekend. Yes, it helped that we two were parents of kids who didn't need loads of supervision, but the reaction I got from one or two other moms was mild shock at my foolhardiness. "How could you do that?" I was asked. Well, I just...did it. As did, in many cases, these moms' husbands and children. For most of these moms, though, it wasn't happening. Which made me wonder: did adventurous natures lack in the moms from their very girlhoods, or did having children make them more cautious?

I shouldn't put ziplining and riding roller coasters as the adventurism bar here, though it's tempting. There are other ways to be adventurous, stuff that I'd probably turn around and ask, "how could you do that?" about. Once upon a time, having children was one of those things - on occasion, when people ask me why I don't have more than one kid, I still wonder how anyone can do as my sister-in-law and some others I've met have done and still make their way amidst the kid fray in their own households (cheaper by the dozen, my tuchus). I've been acquainted with roller derby moms, horseback riding moms, moms who get on Jet Skis regularly, and moms who can be parents and still hold down full-time jobs - the latter being something I felt made no economic sense for me to do once I had my son over a decade ago.

These days, though, as I look for something more full-time outside the home, I wonder if I shouldn't have pooh-poohed those who thought I was letting feminism down with my decision to be in the home and occasionally part-timing it when I could. It's not like I was raised to see homemaking as a life goal - I was raised to see career goals and, more specifically, financial independence as being the bedrocks on which I had to raise myself up and then do what I wanted. Having a brother who was nearly fifteen years younger than I cemented the idea I had that I didn't want to have anything to do with children, much less have my own. Kids were messy, demanding, draining crapshoots who sprawled in the way of my dreams of being an artist, throwing tantrums in the face of those goals. Plus, I knew I'd been a difficult kid in many ways, a trial to my family for a long time. Perpetuating such a cycle was furthest from my mind...until I got burned out working myself to the bone as a glassblower and then I followed my husband to a new job, ill from morning sickness in those first few months in a new city.

I now fill out applications online for all sorts of jobs, many of them in retail, some of which I get rejected for via email nearly right off the bat (although I really should go over and schmooze more), and maintain an existence as a bit of a pinch hitter housework-wise - I feed a Twitter addiction, read voraciously, and putter between bursts of doing laundry, nagging my son to do his homework and not take so many damned "breaks" (yet another thing I never wanted to do, but here I am...), doing lots of yard work, cooking, and running vacuums and mops every so often. Because most of this is not bringing in any money, I still feel useless - because who knows what will happen down the line, how much longer I'll be part of a couple or if my spouse can be relied upon to keep up his breadwinning ways? Those thoughts are the ones that have me trying to get a come-from-behind-the family start on something that will keep us cushioned should any of the worst befall us.

I remain suspended in this incredibly long second that has lasted more than a decade, waiting, holding on to this caster'd rope for dear life, because there is no harness. I have no clue what will happen if I fall...hell, I can't even see the bottom, don't even know if there is one. I just want to take a chance off this domestic platform. One step. One good, strong step.


*Soundtrack for this post consists of this song and this one.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Hummingbird, Snore!*

Yeah, this is the only thing I want to do on a day like today, when the temperatures have dropped again, reminding us we aren't out of winter's woods yet...


I'm beginning to think my adjusting to this move to Texas, compounded by delayed after-Mardi Gras blues, is exacerbated by this whiplashing, indecisive weather. It's not like these seesawing temperatures haven't happened before. I've just been in generally better moods than before this winter.


So I'll just keep on keepin' on, I guess.


*title echoes this album

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Krewe Of Pancakes And Syrup 2015

No, WAIT...NO NO NO...

Unlike a certain RIPOFF GRAS near the Texas Gulf coast, the following event is FREE to attend. I will be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras day, ensuring that y'all will have access to a place to pee. My email & Twitter DMs are in the invite below. Leslie is our new tenant in our old house, so don't bite anything other than the food.

You are Invited to the 9th Annual Carnival Ball of The KREWE OF PANCAKES AND SYRUP 
“the krewe with the edible doubloons” 

Where: Our House (email me for the location at or DM me at )
When: Mardi Gras Day (that’s Tuesday, February 17, 2014) from 8am until Leslie kicks you out
What: Open house with food (like maybe some pancakes and syrup)
Who: You
Why: We can’t eat all those pancakes by ourselves
Krewe Fees: We’re supplying pancakes, syrup, coffee, milk, juice, and probably Leigh’s homemade king cake, but as our friends, Pam and Jimmy used to note for their gatherings, “Act right and bring something!”

* Honorary Krewe Royalty: 
King… Cain C. Rupp 
Queen… Sylvia Doll Airpannkayques 

 Special Note for this Year: Yes, we STILL have no bananas – we have no bananas today!

 * food disclaimer: follow Leslie’s kitchen rules, whatever they are.

“Religious” disclaimer… We started this because we like pancakes, always make too many of them, didn’t want to give up our parking spots for Mardi Gras, and like company. This has absolutely nothing to do with the Christian tradition of observing Shrove Tuesday or “Pancake Day” by making and eating pancakes, which we didn’t learn about until long after we started this endeavor.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How Not To Move Back To (Near) Where You Grew Up

I returned to New Orleans this past weekend for a wham, bam, thank you, Krewe du Vieux semiforced march through the French Quarter and the CBD dressed as an artisan bag lady with a jacket made of Whole Foods bags, a Force-Flex and inflated packing cushion train, and a plastic hotel laundry bag hat. It was great, it was fun, I saw loads of people I knew along the parade route (walking on the level of the paradegoers makes for great intimacy) and got an earful of James Andrews stopping by with Kirk Joseph's Backyard Groove at the very end.

And then I had to go home. Which is not New Orleans anymore.

In a sense, New Orleans will always feel like home. I'm not talking about that feeling. I'm talking about the physical move we had to do that isn't fully a psychological move yet.

In some inscrutable ways, our moving of ourselves and our possessions a mere six-hour drive away may never completely take hold, but there are things we could do to make it easier on ourselves. Perhaps it's only me thinking like this, but lately, I consider what was different about our few years moving up to Queens and our move to the Houston area and I wonder if our financial inability to hop a flight to New Orleans any ol' weekend wasn't a blessing in disguise...It forced us to get right into the community in which we lived, which began with our getting involved in the synagogue there, then joining a Yiddish chorus, then moving out of the high rise on Queens Blvd. we were in for two years to a townhouse with great landlords, all within a four-year period. We visited New Orleans once or twice a year, but our lives didn't revolve around those visits. I fear we're in danger of doing that now.

I know some of this is my husband wanting us to do the things we used to do around this time of year. It's Carnival season, and the bigger parades will begin rolling through New Orleans starting this coming weekend. When we lived close to the parade route and had other friends having parties of their own along the route, it was a family atmosphere, one that's tough to conjure here in a suburb with no sidewalks and few streetlights. Dan recently floated having our Krewe of Pancakes & Syrup on a different parade day morning other than Mardi Gras day morning so that we could somehow make as many midweek parade parties as possible. I knew in my heart that wouldn't work, but I crowdsourced the question via my New Orleans people on Facebook and Twitter to get the answer I already knew. My next days in New Orleans will be the Monday before Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras day itself, when I will be slinging pancakes like I usually do. And I'm okay with that.

I spend more time in this area, anyhow, and I begin to wonder about many things, most of them concerning change. My mother's ethos, "Change is good!" repeated to me many times in the past few months, is seemingly so anathema to where I moved from (despite a great deal of evidence to the contrary in actions and deeds) that moving to a place where supposedly change is more or less the raison d'etre is intriguing. So much of this city reminds Dan of the northern California city where he grew up, which has him unsettled possibly even more than I am. We're still getting used to the long distances here. We have a bar mitzvah to plan in the coming year, which is really blowing my mind.

And something in me is starting to ask a few questions about my past here. Questions I'm not sure I'm ready to try to answer just yet, but they're there, lingering. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe someday.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Tuesday Bluesday

Thank goodness. The jackhammering outside my door has stopped. For the time being, anyway.

Some days, some times, just...suck. I can't put my finger on the exact time when things got so dull, so gray as the skies outside today. Perhaps it was our move here. My son's continuing adjustment to his new school, maybe. My spouse's dissatisfaction with his new job, or my dissatisfaction with my new part-time job. The fact that we can complain all we want to each other about our situations, but nothing will change them at the moment. Or maybe it's all the caution barrels, the jackhammering, and the excavating of the street directly in front of my house. Dumbassed small actions like buying lactose-free milk instead of regular milk only put a wobbly exclamation point on such tedium.

I listened to all of Serial last week, took in a few parodies of it, and listened to Sarah Koenig on Fresh Air about the podcast. Initially, I was kind of perturbed that she was perturbed about the parodies. (Once you've listened to the podcast to about the sixth episode and seen the SNL parody, any mention of "the Nisha call" could well induce a giggling fit.) I think Serial is an incredible example of what it takes to dig and dig and dig some more in investigative reporting, but the truth of its format is that it is derived heavily from This American Life, down to the hip yet portentious incidental music and the vocal cadences of its host. Serial aurally brings to mind every detail of Hae Min Lee's murder, the trial and conviction of Adnan Syed, and what reasonable doubts are all about, catching up even good friends of mine in its investigation and perhaps putting too much emphasis on the "whodunit?" aspect despite constant assurances from so many professional quarters that the case was a hot mess (Listen to the frustration in Koenig's voice when she talks to Syed in the final episode; I think something in her really wanted to blow the case open.). It's hard not to poke fun at Serial's presentation and the earnestness of its host. It also shows the difference between being a producer of hard news and being a show host: it's a producer's job to fret the small stuff, and a host's job to just be a good parent, put it out there, and let it go. I think of how immersed Koenig was in the case, though, and can see how tough and surprising it must have been for her to see the parodies and wonder how anyone could laugh at something as serious as a murder case.

Truth is, though, sometimes we need to laugh.

Last week's shootings and hostage situations in Paris make it difficult, though. Listening to reports from the Marais on the closure of Jewish-run businesses & synagogues brings back shades of 1930's Europe to the 21st century. And then, atop it all, there's Netanyahu being the benevolent yet overbearing parent telling diaspora Jewry they can stop this silly wandering Jews thing and come back to mind the Holy Land. I pooh-pooh such baldly paternalistic talk and then I consider the horrifying year French Jews have had and an anti-Muslim march in Germany happens. "There are stun grenades?" my son asked when we listened to the latter story on the radio on the way to school. "I didn't know you could set grenades to 'stun.'"

When it comes to brutality, we're learning all sorts of things these days. Thank goodness for satire, which has the imperfect capacity to be a universe all its own, with the best examples being the ones that instruct even as they present a repellent point of view. It is, after all, "designed to be misunderstood"...though the results should never prove to be fatal as they were for much of the staff of Charlie Hebdo. I'm heartened, that, though I cannot jump on the "Je Suis Charlie" bandwagon myself, its remaining staff members will continue to fart in our general direction.

Perhaps a breaking wind is, in the end, the only way to cut these blues.

Monday, January 05, 2015


Between raking and mowing the front and back yards so that the Swanky Haciendaland homeowners' association doesn't fine our lowly renters' asses, ferrying the kiddo back and forth to school, and teaching some religious school classes on the weekends, I've been doing a great deal of reading and contemplation of how in hell I ended up in Texas again.

These days, the Houston Chronicle is running a series of articles on "accidental Houstonians," people who have moved here for work 99.99 44/100% of the time and have discovered that the Lone Star State - and Houston in particular - is not what they thought. I recently finished Don Graham's Lone Star Literature anthology and found that the essay in there that resonated with me the most (after Molly Ivins' spot-on and still horrifically relevant "Texas Women: True Grit And All The Rest") was Stephen Harrigan's take on his Texas upbringing. I am an accidental Houstonian twice over, but I only now get what a strange burden Texas mythology was and is. I have no yearnings for my childhood, because it was a painful one, and I have no real clue of what the Native American-roaming-to-cattle driving-to-oil booming days were like as that was all long before my time and was mostly the subject of commemoratory exercises such as Houston's Livestock Show and Rodeo and the rah-rah "look at all the oil drilling wildcatting, technology, and corporate largesse that made modern Houston possible" halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science (many of which have been redone in the past thirty years or so, thank goodness). To get the perspective of one such as myself into a Texas anthology of any sort is to acknowledge to a very great extent that the mythology on which Texas stands is a chimera, as worthless in many ways as the grass for which General Fannin fought (more on this in a minute). What's apparent in many literary circles is that tales of modern, urban Texas have been left by the wayside in the face of the myths.

My personal experience of these myths? Two anecdotes:

Although I attended a couple of Jewish day schools in Houston, we still took Texas history when I was in fourth grade and again in my seventh grade year, getting a great deal of the reasons why our streets were named for certain people, why six different flags were flown over this territory at one time or another in the past three hundred years or so, and why we were living in the largest of the continental U.S.s' states poured into our brains. For me, it was mostly in one ear and out the other except for a tale of one General Fannin, who inspired his troops to attack a group of helpless Mexicans by pointing out the packs on the Mexicans' burros and telling the soldiers to do it for the gold in the packs. Once the dust cleared and the Texans were triumphant, they opened the packs to find that the gold was green thanks to chlorophyll and fit only for the burros to nibble on as they made their way over the arid, occasionally grassless plains.

Way to go, Fannin.

(I wonder if our "keep your lawn raked and mowed or else" homeowner's association has heard of this battle?)


There exists, within my parents' family photos, a picture of one of the two times I dressed as a cowgirl.

The time in which I'm pictured finds me at ten with hair to my waist, jeans, a gingham shirt, a vest, and a ten-gallon hat and boots borrowed from my dad. No, we didn't share hat or shoe sizes; I had to continually readjust the hat the whole time it was on my head, and I stuffed socks into the toes of the boots so that I could wear them. I don't remember how the hat looked, but I do remember the boots. They were tan and brown, nicely tooled but very worn in and dusty, made to look like some serious shitkickers that would distinguish my New Yorker dad from all the other Texas expats. Yeah, my dad was a rancher all right: he trekked in and out of his laboratory at the Texas Medical Center each day, heading a pharmacology lab that farmed loads of running gels, possibly only picking up dust from the parking lot. He bought far more readily into the myths of Texas than I did. The funny thing was, I know I rode more horses than he ever had, at the Jewish summer camp run by the local JCC...

Once my costumed cowgirl day was done, the hat and the boots went back to my dad. I didn't want ones fitted for me. Hell, I didn't even want any hats. The shoes I wanted were usually fashionable sneakers - first KangaROOs, then Lottos, then Kaepas, then Reeboks (it really is no wonder there's a sneaker convention held in Houston each year) - and, one year, a pair of white ice skates to don at the Sharpstown and Galleria indoor rinks (my grandparents bought me white, mostly hardened plastic hockey skates, not the smooth, supple figure skating ones Dorothy Hamill wore - oh, well). The jeans to wear in junior high were made by Guess, not Wrangler or Levi's; the epitomy of denim fashion was a Guess jean jacket (I still have mine from eighth grade). And Western-style shirts? Please. Not in Houston.

And yet, I'd visit my grandparents on Long Island, be introduced as their granddaughter from Texas, be asked by nice friends and relatives in their Nu Yawk tawk if I had a Texas accent, say, "I don't have an accent" and get squeals and, "Oooh, DERE IT IS!"

Clearly, something about merely being in the Lone Star State had marked me.

Dan tells me when he thought of Houston, it was related to space travel and to AstroWorld. Regrettably, the latter is gone, its only relation to space travel at all that I can recall being the shuttle ride that could spin you upside down once it got enough momentum. The older, possibly more famous facility was Johnson Space Center, which I recall as being one of the more boring field trips ever in my grade school days. Before its visitor center finally had a much-needed makeover, it was a dusty museum of space suits through some recent ages and a lunar lander. I didn't gain access to Mission Control and to any astronaut training areas until middle school, when I got a special award from NASA at the citywide science fair. JSC made space travel seem like something that had happened ages ago and was unlikely to happen again in as spectacular a manner as the Apollo program, which may have been a consequence of Cold War policies that were not to be fully dismantled until well after my family and I had moved out of town. Whatever excitement there was about going into space really wasn't fully transmitted to me until well after my school days.

In other words, Houston in so many ways, is like anyplace else in America. And after having spent 25 years away, most of them in places that were not like most places in this country, here I am, trying to figure this city - indeed, the state of Texas - out again.

And not without prejudice.


Friday, November 07, 2014

The Strange Crucible'd Case Of Lena Dunham

I've been reviewing music and books for Antigravity Magazine since 2011. Most of my reviews have been limited to 200-300 words, which has been both an exhilarating and excruciating challenge depending on the day, the works I review, the weather…you name it, I've written reviews through it (with the exception of Comcast constantly screwing us over on when they said our wifi would be installed - I missed a month of reviewing due to that that I still kick myself a little over). I try to keep what I review relevant to the New Orleans area readers of the magazine while throwing in some things that are of edgy/quasi-underground importance culturally on more of a national level...which is why I decided to review Lena Dunham's Not That Kind Of Girl for AG's November issue. Just after I submitted my short review, I got wind of the hubbub over the Kevin Williamson National Review take on Dunham's book (and, more specifically, the explosion over Truth Revolt's trolling "Lena Dunham is a child abuser" headline regarding the book and the review) and am reexamining what I wrote. After a lot of thought, I stand by what I wrote for AG. What follows is what I was thinking in reviewing Not That Kind Of Girl the way I did.

When Girls got started, I wrote this:
I am repelled, however, by some of what seems to be running through the most popular comedies today that star women, and I doubt that they are signs that things are being "equalized" between the sexes. I don't know that we have reached the point where female characters can screw up just as badly as men can without some major consequences being built into their stories, and without "redemption" including a relationship of some sort as in the movie Bridesmaids. It's kind of what comedies such as The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd and Ally McBeal tried to do yet didn't really succeed at: presenting women as people that don't have to be complete airheads or complete superwomen, all one thing or all another. Also - women of color, of other nationalities, of other creeds, anyone? New York is full of those women. Perhaps no one wanted to attempt that for fear of offending any of them. Or, more cynically speaking, they just didn't sell. Not much proven entertainment value.
And this, after watching the first episode & reflecting on my own privilege:
Came across a phrase from critic Glenn Kenny referring to Lena Dunham's film Tiny Furniture that encompassed many of my misgivings about Girls' premise: " does represent the Cinema of Unexamined Privilege, let's face it." Yep, following in the footsteps of Metropolitan, Francis Ford Coppola's short(er) film Life Without Zoe, and - one that dates me some - Reality Bites
In the interests of examining my own privilege, my parents did pay for my health insurance and the charges on one credit card that I rarely used. There was no way in hell I was going to try to lobby for total support from them after college, though - I felt somehow guilty that I was still getting the insurance and the credit card from them. It was in large part what made me uncomfortable when I met people like the guy who had a storefront in Soho that clearly was not doing well selling his wonky glassware. I asked him if he was at all worried about that state of affairs, and he blithely replied,"Oh, I'm not worried. My family won't let me starve."
First, and foremost, Lena Dunham is a grade AA, huge, HUGE neurotic.

In a fictional context, and in much of the arts in general, being a neurotic can be a big advantage. It can be seen as a fount of creativity, a charming quirk, a sign of being edgy and with-it, and an excuse for all sorts of bad behavior. I've only seen season 1 of Girls, now chugging along on HBO into a fourth season, and it appeared, for better and worse, that Dunham had found the perfect medium for a series of trainwrecked stories about mostly privileged twentysomethings fresh out of college and without many clues trying to get by in New York City. She's also found a great cast to put these stories and situations across.

The biggest truth about Girls, however, as is the way with most productions that are out there in the world, is that it isn't for everyone. Its being on HBO, which not everyone can afford (I certainly can't; I piggybacked on a friend's HBO-Go account just to catch season 1) is a big indicator right there. The series' beginnings lie in those of Dunham hooking up professionally with Judd Apatow, who had just had a girl-gross-out hit with Bridesmaids, and in HBO needing a comedy akin to the long-gone Sex And The City that would appeal to a young female demographic. Well, HBO got it, and Dunham got a higher profile from Girls' critical acclaim, its controversial lack of diversity in its casting and its slice of a rarefied (yet still screwed up) set of lives.

Dunham's biggest shtick is being awkward and exhibitionist, all while spinning the dross of uncomfortable situations into understated, comedic fool's gold. I knew that going into my reading of her book Not That Kind Of Girl, so I read most of her tales within the book in that context. She is weird. She dives right into oversharing in a way that has truly shocked the oversharing juggernaut that is the internet - which is really saying something. It was something I and others like me who write reviews probably should have seen coming, but the backlash on certain passages in her book pertaining to her sister is bewildering to me. Was her touching of her sister's vagina when her sister was a year old and she was seven child abuse or normal childhood sexual experimentation? The internet piles on, saying it's the former, professionals say the latter, with the whole thing even inspiring a Tumblr site inviting others to share similar experiences.

None of this is to say that those who have experienced serious sexual assault at a young age should have their experiences suddenly placed under "sexual experimentation." Far from it. But I do question those who ask why Dunham's editor didn't put a lid on her more explicit revelations, as though she needed to be babysat. She's 28 years old and has the right to put what she wants into her book. Besides, the rest of the book contains passages on what it is to stumble through life as an extreme, narcissistic neurotic, to be a woman wanting to learn and to succeed in the television and film industry, and to be a young person still growing and changing that are written quite well and humorously with more than a little bite to them. She is a talented person beneath all of the controversy.

The other thing about Lena Dunham, though, is that she is just a fashion, an "it" girl. Those kinds of girls don't last very long. Threatening to sue the Truth Revolt site for publishing words she wrote ensures that her stock will drop some; canceling her international book tour will cause it to drop further still. All that she will have left will be her writing talent. Time and, hopefully, maturity will tell if she will be able to weather all of this and come away from it a better person, but the odds are now against her (which is partially her doing, sadly). What she will leave behind are questions that still haven't been adequately answered concerning feminism, diversity, privilege, female sexuality, and what it really is to write a memoir. By "adequately answering" such questions, I speak of actual dialogue among human beings rather than online pile-ons...but the pile-ons are all the raging rage. I sure wish that was a fad.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Why I Now Mow

We are not gardeners, my husband and I. It's been a while since I tried to coax anything out of the ground or out of a pot. Our house in New Orleans had paved yards in place of grassy lawns and our property manager took care of trimming what bushes and trees there were and gathering the branches and leaves that dropped. The last time I had to handle an out-of-control patch of weeds running riot between the concrete, I got some saddleback caterpillar stings and had to retreat to get some Sevin pesticide. I imagined New Orleans gardening to be a contact sport for which I was little prepared. It was good to have that load off my brain.

Enter our move to the greater Houston area. For the first time since Dan or I left our parents' homes to lead our own lives, we have a large front and back yard on which grass grows. We are charged with maintaining the yards in our lease. I hired a nice man named Pedro to come with a crew once a month to tackle the pine needles and pinecones of the front yard and the tendency of the backyard to become a thicket only Mutual Of Omaha's Wild Kingdom would love, but the grass still grows, the trees still drop leaves and branches. Three days ago, I took one look at our yards, pulled out the rake and our human-powered push mower, and started to gather the detritus and mow.

I can't say that it's our lease that has motivated me, nor has it been the state of our neighbors' pristine green patches. The homeowners' association sent us a note that gave us ten days to get our lawn like all the others or else, which appealed to Dan's and my passive-aggressive tendencies. "Oh, WELL, let them come!" we said, only to get angry all over again when the property manager for this house asked us about it a month after we got the note. Fine, replant our yard - please! Oh, the woe, the gnashing of teeth over our living in a deed-restricted area.

Replanting our yard isn't happening. Dan doesn't want to put any more money than he has to into a place we're only renting.

Yet here I am, raking and bagging what I can, pushing the mower around in rows and circles, marveling at the loads of pinecones the evergreens are dropping. I saw a bag of cinnamon-scented ones for sale at a craft store. I could stick a sign out in front of our yard and charge people to gather ours, there have been so many. But I'm not into trimming grass and raking for the money.

Our parents are gardeners and yard maintainers, such that it should have been in our DNA to yearn for our own patch of land to mow and cultivate, but the ways in which it was done turned us both off. In my dad, it presented itself as a magnificent obsession that warranted loads of weekend trips to Teas' Nursery, the planting of flower beds that resculpted the yard making mowing the front yard an act of bizarre, spinning intricacy at times, and the constant weeding and plucking of pansy petals. In Dan's house, his father made him and any friends who came over to his house do yard work; Dan made certain to spend chunks of his weekends at other friends' houses.

Dan cannot take the smell of gasoline and other fuel oils in the garage, seeing it as mere storage space rather than a place to park the car, hence his choice of a gasoline-free push mower to cut the grass. "It'll be good exercise for me, anyhow," he said. "I could lose some weight." I can count on one hand the times he's wrestled with the mower - which isn't entirely fair, as we've only been here since July - and his one attempt at taming the backyard with a battery powered weed-eater ended with him throwing in the towel and acquiescing to hiring a professional. I've certainly done a good deal of walking, bending over to pick up errant detritus so that it wouldn't get stuck in the mower blades, and bagging of stuff in the past few days, but that exercise isn't why I trimmed and cleaned our front yard and am slowly getting the backyard done.

Times are uncertain here, and I, as a primarily stay-at-home parent, am feeling it. I haven't felt this unsure of the future and what it might bring since graduating college. I'm all too reliant on my spouse as breadwinner, quite worried about my son's attitudes towards his schoolwork, and generally feeling powerless in my current part-time job. Making new friends here has been hard; meeting with older ones still in the area has proven to be just as hard due to the crushing realities of incompatible work schedules and long travel distances.

What is certain in the face of all of this is that grass grows. And mowers cut.

When my spouse has his frustrations at work, I can see the results of raking up the pinecones far more than I can parse with him what exactly the problems are and how to solve them. I can't accompany him to work and try to do what he does, but I can bag pine needles and take the bags to the curb for pickup.

When my son decides organizing and following directions is not as interesting as reading the fifth Harry Potter book in the series, I can nag and nag at him to get the work he ignores done, help him organize as much as I can, then take some of my frustrations out on the growing grass.

When I am filled with these recent insanities and far, far more, I can kick back with some wine in the couch swing I just got and enjoy the only thing I can really count on right now…

…Grass grows. Mowers cut.

One more thing I can count on? Change is the only constant.

And I hope things change for the better soon.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

My 1835

Although Houston itself has quite the deserved reputation of obliterating its historical spots in the name of progress, expansion, and strip malls (it gets exploited for a bit of satire on occasion), Texas does adore its history, especially when it has to do with its ten years of independent living as a republic. The Come And Take It Festival in Gonzales, Texas at the end of this month wouldn't exist without one man's stalling for time by drawing a proverbial line in the sand and kicking off the Texas Revolution as a result. It's an event celebrated by many who love the right to bear arms to utter distraction and commemorated by flags that bear the image of a certain contested cannon and those four fateful words.

My personal favorite take on the flag bears the image of the Astrodome instead of the cannon on it; it currently sits alongside the behemoth that is NPG (formerly Reliant) Stadium, stripped of its seats and serving as glorified storage. It was Judge Roy Hofheinz's vision of the future, and if this town plays its cards right, another judge could help deliver a different vision that keeps the Dome standing. Until then, the place my granddaddy helped develop and manufacture plexiglass roof panels for will sit and wait in its asphalt sea of parking for news of its ultimate fate.

Though both flags are pretty interesting ones to consider flying in Swanky Haciendaland, which does adore and approve of patriotic displays as long as they're only a certain height above the ground, I have checked the subdivision's by-laws and my neighbors' yards and found that, though U.S. and Texas flags abound, there are other types of flags here. One fella's got three flying from tree trunks in his yard: a stars and stripes, a USMC flag, and a POW-MIA flag. So…

When I thought the 'hood restrictions only allowed either the U.S. or Texas flags on the lawns, I recalled a New Orleans version of the stars and stripes and ordered a couple - one for football season, one for Carnival time.

Though we have a handyman who's mostly AWOL and our internet seems to be MIA, I grit my teeth and revel in the little things to keep from going completely berserk. My small triumph of the day is getting this baby up before the regular NFL season begins. Long may it wave.

Come and take it, HOA.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


I had been reduced to this:

Sobbing at my kitchen table.

"I don't think I can make it through another week of this," I wailed to Dan, all the unsolved problems of our move looming like an insurmountable obstacle on my brain. Compared to what many people I know have gone through, my troubles are trivial, but they sit heavily on me, compounded by my having to go at them alone for the most part while my husband and son are at work and at school, respectively. So I must struggle away with problems like…

applying to be a Texan.

It sounds cute. It isn't.

My car gets the privilege of becoming legal in this state before I do, where I must take it to an inspection station, then to a local tax assessor's office, and then I can get the okay from the state DMV for my Toyota to become a Registered Texan. I learned all of this when I tried and failed to get a Texas driver's license at the state Department of Public Safety, where I was turned away once for mistakenly bringing in a coffee ("No food or drink in the building. Please exit immediately." I'd've had a better reception if I'd brought uranium in) before being turned away for owning a Registered Louisianian car. Don't ask me why the state DMV doesn't handle the driver's licenses; I'm still trying to figure that one out. The only giggle I got out of the experience was seeing that a trampoline park is opening soon next door to the local DPS offices. I silently wished for many DPS employees to sustain some serious bounce-related injuries at a future trampoline shindig after the gatekeeper lady turned me away from the offices with a "good luck."

Years ago, Texas floated the idea of putting its official motto, "The Friendship State," on its license plates. The notion was roundly booed by native Texans, who derided it as being too wimpy for a state where even the garbage pickup campaign was badass. I'm inclined to think the new motto ought to be "You Should Have Been Born Here," or, after my experience of finally gaining membership in the Swanky Haciendaland community center, "The Nanny State."

Since we are lowly renters in this upscale burg, we needed signed, notarized permission from our landlady, a copy of our lease, and a form of ID with our current address on it to become members for a year, and then things got high tech. My fingerprint had to be scanned, then tested at the front door and the door of the health club to see if I could gain access. I was informed once my finger clicked open the front door that three cameras were mounted at the door, the footage was regularly checked, and if I was seen to let an unauthorized person(s) in, my scan would not allow me to gain access until I came in during office hours for a re-scan and, presumably, a reading of a deed-restricted Riot Act of sorts. It's looking like holding the little guy's bar mitzvah party at the place in nearly two years is a non-option.

I told Dan and our pal Justin about the process and got both barrels of kvetching about 21st century police states in the Information Age. Dan vowed he'd never set foot in the place to get his fingerprint scanned. I started thinking about the role IBM played in the Shoah, dismissed that worst-case scenario, and figured the best the community center could do was teach Augusta National and some old-line New Orleans Carnival krewes a thing or two about exclusivity in these modern times. First they will come for the lowly renters with scruffy yards living right at the bumps in the otherwise smooth subdivision lanes. You heard it here.

Talking about those two things is exhausting enough. I haven't even gotten to the fiasco thus far that is our attempts to get ComCast to supply us with WiFi. Nor have I kvetched sufficiently about our hard-to-get-in-the-house handyman Jesus…I can say if he were the one back in the beginning relied upon for any sort of first or second coming, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.

All I can do today is wait. Wait for people to arrive within scheduled three-to-five-hour appointment windows to take one look at our house/our yard/our cable-internet lines and tell us why we cannot enjoy the services said people are supposed to provide. Wait for return phone calls. Wait for the second coming of Jesus the handyman. Hell, if someone would pay me to wait, it might be easier, but only a little.

It'd all still be kicking my sick and tired ass.

Gonna go back to the kitchen and cry some more. At least we have a new, working fridge, and a roof over our heads, and our health. Pass me the Kleenex to dry my eyes.