Thursday, January 31, 2002

The only tool forgotten for up on the roof was the little set of locking kitchen tongs, so good for snagging stuff at the top of the downspout. It would have been a good idea to take the loppers as well. It didn't seem at first as though the drain auger were going to make it through all the bends but it did. Yesterday it seemed as though there'd be rain but there was none; today, the opposite. Roofwork yesterday was just in time.

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

So I finished up the tax return and then downloaded free tax software. A couple of years ago I got whatever tax software is peddled by H&R Block for free and used it to check the return already done. This year I'm thankful to TaxACT because it caught a stupid arithmetic mistake right away. People use calculators for a reason, I guess. The return sent will be filled in by hand because I don't like it that there's no provision for printer duplexing and the free version provides only for Schedule C and not for C-EZ. But this is not a complaint!

Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Whew! The first run-through of the income-tax return for 2001 is completed. The notion of using the IRS e-file option has a certain allure, but maybe it's better to wait a year or so. There's quite a list of e-file software partners.

Monday, January 28, 2002

It's a little-known fact that people get through faster to "customer care" by not running the punch-a-number maze. I*'ve about had it with my chief bank, but at last I reached someone able to explain in full the implications of various new regulations not at all favorable to the poor user of bank services Yes, I started out trustingly with Franklin Savings because that institution rehabbed old structures around town and used them as bank branches. Subsequently the outfit evolved through other names too numerous to mention and now it's only because there are three branches within walking distance and the good checking account deal I have that I can stand banking with Wells Fargo at all. The people who used to work there are long since gone. Another reason for going to Franklin was that the University Credit Union at that time did not do mortgage-lending and Franklin was the only institution that would lend anything to fools wanting to buy in Travis Heights, Hyde Park, and similar neighborhoods. At the time, all "sane" people were flocking to Bill Milburn, Nash-Phillips-Copus, John Lloyd, etc..

Saturday, January 26, 2002

What a thrill to see the gray fox in clear daylight, today at 11:45 a.m. Always before the sightings have been just before it gets light. This must have been a dog fox and the others vixens. He came skimming along Milam, headed west, then went bounding diagonally across the boulevard, just flying. I was so busy watching his brush bannering out behind him and so didn't pay as much attention to his fact and ears as I wish I had. It's so good to know that there's still a presence.

Friday, January 25, 2002

It wasn't the watch that went first; it was the tongue on the buckle, although the strap was headed that way. The watch wtill works, but it can't be worn. This is the first to go from a batch of three, each of which cost under five dollars when bought at Walmart late last summer. All three have a patriotic theme. The one that just went has a red-and-white striped band and the face has a common graphic of a solarized head of the statue of Liberty, navy blue on a white background. The second one doesn't get worn as much. Its band has a white background, with a repeat pattern of American flags set at a 45-degree angle. Its face is in red, white, and blue and steals from Robert Indiana's American Dream series--five-point star with a wide-framed circle. I forget what the third one is, but I'll be wearing it as soon as I can find it again. Since the events of 11 September, when everybody broke out into patriotic garb, people have been noticing them and asking where they were found, but I suspect that they long ago sold out, at that price.

Thursday, January 24, 2002

Today brought another treasure from San Antonio. How wonderful to know that wonderful thoughts are headed your way. When I searched for "flatiron" images, the first ones found were for the Flatiron Building in Manhattan and then for the Flatirons in Boulder. Now I know that there is an on-line headquarters for antique pressing irons. I made out better when I searched on "sad iron." It appears that people who collect laundry and pressing items are also interested in wood ranges. Paul Ray's last two tracks on his afternoon show--last two forever, it appears, in the afternoon--were a Johnny Hartman and a Gene Ammons, both very moody and soulful. If I were going to be indignant today, I would be indignant about KUT program changes. It's wonderful that Afro-Pop and World Music are returning, but nothing that we like to hear is on when we like to hear it! Nothing against Jay Trachtenberg, but Paul Ray and Larry Monroe have tastes more in accord with mine. We're seeing more tulips and more of our Montopolis narcissus from Bastrop. Some of the narcissus stalks have been knocked down by the wind, so have come indoors. These are the most beautiful blooms! They most resemble Avalanche and Grand Primo, both themselves difficult to find at any price. All these apparently date from no later than 1700 or so. We also love Actea, Flower Record, and Geranium, but they're not so faithful at returning.

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

One of my favorite Austin sites is down--AustinFast. I hope this isn't permanent. It's not a site for everyone--no annotations, tons o' stuff on one page--but there's so much to be found if you're patient. Too bad I forgot to take a screenshot last week when Austin del Sur was the featured site. I guess I'd better take a screen shot the feature on me at AustinMama before that vanishes. No number of complaints gets Travis County to add information for bus-riders to the extremely complete information for those driving to jury-empanelment. At least we're beginning to see our beautiful gaudy and clashing-color tulips; today saw the opening of the first three..

Tuesday, January 22, 2002

K. was asked, as part of Black History Month, to name his favorite author; he chose Frank Yerby, probably a surprise choice. I don't know that I have a favorite author. I have favorite books. "Not Without Laughter is one (Langston Hughes). I put it right up there with "String Too Short to be Saved for being a truthful account, and very American, of a kind of life probably already gone. Another favorite for BHM would be "The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man" by James Weldon Johnson, who also wrote the words to "Lift Every Voice and Sing." Also a favorite is almost anything by Zora Neale Hurston. The two narratives of the life of Frederick Douglass were fascinating. Maya Angelou working at the chicken-processing plant and the early life of Malcolm X as recounted in the Autobiography remain memorable.

Monday, January 21, 2002

Afghanistan's still right up there, along with all the border nations, for reading interest, and Enron joins it there, especially the rump sites, some of which have disclaimers and others not: Enronx and 1400smith are still up, but something seems to have happened to layedoff. I see that layedoff is a domain on hold; I was thinking of laydoff. I'm still interested in knowing more about Sherron Watkins.

Sunday, January 20, 2002

We sure surprised ourselves for staying to the end of Streetcar. The orchestra was wonderful, the singing was excellent, the set and costumes were well done, as was the lighting as always. It just wasn't worth writing an opera on that subject. Today we invested close to two and a half hours in Brotherhood of the Wolf, playing at only one theater in town, Metropolitan South. It drew quite a good house, surprisingly. I highly recommend it as being a real movie-movie.

Saturday, January 19, 2002

I love the last act of Tosca. No matter how silly some of it may seem, the music is full of beautify and moves toward raw emotion. On today's broadcast, to me the singing seemed rough, musically, at times, yet it was so expressive that the audience responded. We're becoming such old stick-in-the-mud types that going out tonight to hear something unheard by us before (Streetcar Named Desire) is not an appealing prospect. We're put to shame by all those old folks who can barely hobble around.

Friday, January 18, 2002

Yesterday I learned for the first time that there's an Appalachian Law School, located in Grundy, Virginia; today I because aware of the existence of Citrus College, courtesy of "Dr. Tom Eiland's Online English Materials," which had a link to the lyric for "Okie from Muskogee." I wanted to check and see that I remembered my favorite couplet correctly: "Leather boots are still in style for manly footwear. Beads and Roman sandals won't be seen." I thought it was footgear, but it's the "manly" part and the "Roman sandals" that I love.

Thursday, January 17, 2002

When I was thinking the other day about the stories I used to read in the SatEvePost, I forgot to mention Captain Horatio Hornblower. All the illustrations were windswept. The great surprise of the week thus bar as been the arrival of our new passports. Never again will we let them expire--never!

Wednesday, January 16, 2002

Our first hyacinth of the season--a blue one!

Tuesday, January 15, 2002

It was a disappointment to find that so much of A Leg to Stand On had appeared, in virtually the same form, in other publications and that I'd read big chunks before, essentially unchanged. The best parts of the books had to do with the U.K. hospital system. I never become ill without becoming deathly ill. Certainly my experience of being confined to a hospital in England is right up there tied with having a large private room in the old Yale Infirmary on Prospect Street. I think that Sacks was fooling himself about the nature of his problem, which he presents in terms of being a disorder strictly of the nervous system. I was reminded of Styron's Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. He characterizes himself as suffering from depression, when it seems (to me, at least) that he's obviously suffering from alcoholism.

Monday, January 14, 2002

My Weekly Reader enjoys a tribute in the LA Times (link found courtesy of Jim Romaneski's Media News). The piece doesn't really talk about the 'forties and 'fifties boosterism of this little publication, grade-adjusted and thoroughly read by every kid who subscribed, all four pages of it. Everything I know about Atoms for Peace and Project Mohole is thanks to My Weekly Reader, now much changed, of course. The Saturday Evening Post was big on the McCarthy hearings, the Appalachin conference, Estes Kefauver and his hearings. Though the SatEvePost had many color illustrations in those days, political stories were always illustrated with black-and-white photographs. It was funny the say the illustrations for Perry Mason stories in the Post came to resemble Raymond Burr once the TV show began to be broadcast. I always loved the Alexander Botts Earthworm Tractor stories, especially, but thought that some Tugboat Annie stories were better than others. I didn't much like Time Magazine because it didn't have many pictures, but I was very happy when somebody gave me a hugh stack of Reader's Digest issues. Besides the joke pages, I liked anything about foreign countries and remember reading about burning political issues of the day that are now pretty much on their way to being forgotten other than to those people to whom they personally matter: fighting Communist partisans in Greece, General McArthur versus Truman, the Mau-Mau versus European settlers in Kenya (RD was on the side of the settlers, of course). Jomo Kenyatta was painted as a great villain. I wonder what informed thought holds these days. Among available periodicals, my other favorite reading from as soon as I could stand to read without pictures was to be found in the New Yorker: Audax Minor about racing (mostly at Saratoga) and E.M. Frimbo about railroads.

Sunday, January 13, 2002

It'd make a pretty fair desktop conversation piece along about now. I'm beginning to be tempted to dig out my Enron crystal paperweight.

Saturday, January 12, 2002

Though I've never truly been a patron of the Ruta Maya coffeehouse, finding Little Cit closer to my beaten path, its beans form part of our house blend, and it'll be sorely missed as an institution--the open doors, the many who arrive on bicycles, and the conviviality on the loading dock. It has always reminded me of Spellman's, which nobody mentions any more, though I think we have some pix somewhere. Larry Monroe has passing references to Spellman's at his site, in connection with Townes Van Zandt and maybe Blaze Foley. Mandy Mercier lists it among the her Austin venues. Otherwise Google doesn't bring much to the surface.

Friday, January 11, 2002

They weren't finger cymbals at all; they were Tibetan meditation cymbals or tingsha. At least it wasn't a session for walking over coals. Fads in employment-related workshops are ever-changing. I'll never forget being immured for all those days of TQM training. The facilitators really made the rebels suffer. One emerges from those having discovered new and unexpected affinities with some people and a confirmed loathing for others. In that respect, they are very much like jury duty.

Thursday, January 10, 2002

Now I know that finger cymbals are called "zils" and that there are lots of places right here in Austin where they can be found. Middle Eastern dance is a bigger deal than I ever knew. There's even an Austin Belly Dance Association. It turns out that, according to at least one source, the name is taken from the Zildjian family.

Wednesday, January 09, 2002

Am I done ranting this week? No; I'm not. Whenever I hear someone ask why we have the Postal Service at all, when all transactions can be carried out via the Internet, using e-mail for correspondence, UPS or FedEx for shipping and receiving parcels, and electronic transfers of various kinds for bill-paying and the like, I know that person has never lived in a truly rural location and also that he or she is not a reader of magazines. We had to change from our dearly beloved metropolitan (meaning complete in all aspects, including ads with illustrations, much more national news, a plethora of regional and style items not to be found elsewhere in any form and fuller sports coverage) edition of the New York Times because we were missing so many days of it. The national edition, although dropped at the doorstep, is just not the same, but the subscription prices kept converging and delivery by mail was too sporadic, for whatever reasons. Now, since events of September, delivery of everything has become spotty. Since we sink so much of our discretionary spending into this form of indulgence, we're really suffering! Today I corresponded with the New York Review of Books; tomorrow I'll try to find time for the Manchester Guardian; then I'm not sure which one I'll tackle. I want those missing issues!

Tuesday, January 08, 2002

About yesterday, I forgot to say that the bank took over an hour to locate the current interest rates offered.

Monday, January 07, 2002

So it's a good thing that I had already mentally allocated the entire morning, because that's how long it took. First at the dentist's there was insistence on taking x-rays. I know they have ones more recent than two years ago, but they were not to be found. Then there was some kind of techno-diff with that. Then the cleaning took longer than ever and hurt more too. I dashed outside with only a few minutes to spare before the bus was scheduled to arrive. Heading toward the bus stop was a woman obviously a bit drunk or under the influence of something, at a little after nine o'clock in the morning. She kept turning around to thumb a ride, and caught one just a few feet from the stop. The Cap Metro conveyance was right on the dot and the driver and passengers were pleasant. The transfer to the next bus was uneventful. It was full and everyone disembarked in front of H-E-B, where a busload was waiting to get on. H-E-B kindly does not make people pass through the turnstiles to use its restrooms. I waited six minutes to be able to cross the street to the bank, arriving before 9:30. That's when the fun started. It was a simple matter of withdrawing some money from one account, writing a check from another account, and either joining these two sums in a new account or, depending on how the grace-period rule was applied, in an existing account, making sure all took place and was recorded properly under my four-part name. There was disagreement about the grace period. The account person was new. The help-line kept transferring her. She received two different answers about the grace period of seven calendar days. Her connection timed out. Her computer crashed. We moved to another desk. All three of the requisite forms were not to be found. Nobody knew the answers to any of the questions that needed to be answered. The branch manager tried the help line. There was trouble with my name. I began to be in pain from my dental experience. The manager brought me water so I could take aspirin that I had with me. The printer printed the wrong results from the input to the account database. I began feeling worse, probably from all the blood I had swallowed, not to mention the over-heated room. The manager obviously began to regret having intervened to assist. I began to feel faint and had to put my head down. More calls were made long-distance to the assistance people, wherever they were. Each call was preceded by an elaborate and lengthy authentication process. At last I was told that the matter was properly concluded. I can only hope. It was after 11:30. I asked to use their restroom, hoping that I wouldn't have to cross the street again to use the one at H-E-B. I made the mistake of saying that I was walking home, whereupon both women looked at me oddly since I had not long ago been feeling obviously faint! I waited six minutes to cross Congress and helped a little boy cross. The walk home was beautiful and, even though I stopped to greet the Labrador at Mr. Edwards's old house, I was home by noon. Whew!

Sunday, January 06, 2002

When we went to leave our old phone books for recycling at the Randall's (once Safeway and visibly built around a tree), the most likely receptacle had big signs on it "no phone books here!" and the real place was one of two tiny Dumpsters already overflowing. On the way back we did not have time to check out the new pulga at the old Aquarius Theater. All the booths are out back, with none visible from Pleasant Valley Road unless you're particularly looking. I heard on the radio that they serve food, but not anything about music. Maybe next weekend we can check it out.

Saturday, January 05, 2002

I don't customarily read the obituaries in the Statesman, although lately there seem to be at least a couple of people a week with whom I've at least spoken on the telephone. The photographs of the dead are what catch the eye. Unless there is just one photograph available, some studio-taken representation seems to be chosen first, usually, for the elderly, from some period in the fairly distant past (men in military uniform, women before they were married). Very often, though, the choice is to use an amateur snapshot, sometimes obviously a photograph from a group portrait or an occasion quite informal. In these cases, there is crude Photoshop work done to remove the extraneous people or busy background, substituting something plan and contrasty instead. The newspaper's touch-up person must have been taking a holiday, without having a substitute, because unretouched images were appearing for several days. The presentation of self in any formal or near-formal portrait setting repays study. Certainly, the fashion in female eyebrows is on view.

Friday, January 04, 2002

Light pollution is more than irritating. It's ugly! I'm glad to know that the International Dark-Sky Association is out there working to combat it. There's no reason for street lights or "luminaires," as I'm told the cognoscenti like to call them, to beam upwards. Why people want their properties to be ablaze like Sing Sing is something I don't understand. There's nowhere in Austin that it's dark these days; the sky is pink all night long.

Thursday, January 03, 2002

Early this morning we filled in the blanks in the downloaded passport applications. This takes care of the only new year's resolution made, but it's been made for about a decade now. Our first passports expired in 1975 and our second ones in 1980. The people at Passport Express/ABC Passport were great; the same cannot be said for the clerk at the downtown Post Office. She was disposed to discount all our identification, including two expired passport, even though they met the requirements for documentation. She did like the looks of our out-of-state birth certificates, even though in my case I had an original plus two certified copies complete with embossed seals, showing name, place of birth, date of birth, and parents' names. She said "they don't have the information we need." What other information could there possibly be on a birth certificate? Suddenly she backed down, but I was prepared to go to another acceptance location and then go home and write a really good ranting letter. My letters get results! I think she was getting ready to light into the poor people behind us in line.

Wednesday, January 02, 2002

Lucky Numbers was lots of fun--the screenwriter really had the con life down well, not to mention the views of delightful Harrisburg. I seem to recall that it was based in great part on an actual case of lottery-fixing. The script was true-to-life wise-ass. This is definitely a movie that deserved better than it apparently got. I can remember seeing previews for it but I don't believe it achieved theatrical release here. Barcelona had that con manner down, too. I'm so glad not to have to deal daily with sleazeballs and petty cons these days. At least I'm now stocked up on ArtGum erasers, having found a couple at Albertson's in the stationery/school aisle, thus avoiding the clutches of OfficeMax or the like, where the shopper doesn't so easily escape.

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

Transylvania 6-5000 is pretty much an unredeemable stinker, completel with Michael Richards doing his usual shtick. We very much wanted to see The God of Cookery, but it wouldn't play for us. We've only seen one Stephen Chow vehicle before and it was funny. When we took it back to Vulcan to get a refund, it played perfectly, but they were kind. Our tree's out at the curb. It would have been green and aromatic until at least Valentine's Day, but the City won't pick it up after this week. We kept some boughs for the scent.