Friday, January 31, 2003

When rantmode is first launched in earnest this year, something must be said about checkout clerks making puke noises when people send meat through to be rung up. Get thee to a vegetary!

Thursday, January 30, 2003

One day after the IRS forms with prepared mailing labels finally arrived, so did the specially ordered ones, by FedEx ground delivery, not even via the USPS. Why doesn't the IRS site report that tax-return materials are being sent out late this year?

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

What does it mean if the only item on the shopping list is caulk? Just wondering.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Club Desvelado laughed through "Critical Care" Richard Dooling. Is it something to be ashamed of to make fun of Korsakoff's syndrome and Wernicke's encephalopathy? of the whole ICU thing? Perhaps it's better not to say, but this entire book was very true to experience with medical malpractice, the malpractice bar, hospitals as organizations, and life in medicine generally. By the way a visit to Dooling's website sometimes leads one to visit Weird Harold, the Onion of Oklahoma.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Late in the day we saw another robin, a smaller one. Club Desvelado found that there's not much to "Beginnings: a memoir" (Horton Foote), but that's okay. What's there is interesting enough, sort of a sideways glance at theatrical life in the 'thirties. This is a Scribner book, and Saroyan's name is misspelled. The book did make me want to peek at what's going on in Wharton, Texas. This just in to our department of not-so-large places in Texas: people from Itasca have been writing to comment about the N.Yorker piece. And the WSJ today had an article on Roger Cudney, the gringo villain of Mexican movies and telenovelas. We know him as the mean Texan from the ranch in the middle of the burning Waco desert in Amigas y rivales and also as the halfway decent judge in Santitos, but the IMDB doesn't credit him for either of those roles.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Club Desvelado enjoyed "Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-Century Congo" (Pagan Kennedy). Apparently, there's at least one rival study of the life of William Sheppard, pioneer Presbyterian missionary to the Congo in Leopold's time. "The most comprehensive Memoirs portal" deserves further attention. I want to read more about the era of Leopold's Congo Free State and about the Kuba people.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Today we saw a migrating robin. They usually pass through farther to the east of us. We also saw our first yard signs for peace. Fast Freddy's cheap haircuts were as high as $8 not all that long ago, then retreated to $7, and today were down to $5. This is as good an economic indicator as there is.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Club Desvelado finished Snowball Oranges: A Winter in Mallorca, which is fairly patronizing toward the ever-so-picturesque local people. The book is published in this country by Globe Pequot Press, which used to be known as the outfit that sold books on country inns and gave the impression that the establishments included had probably written their own blurbs.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Paperboy book has been finished. Petroski mentions that he used to spend some of his profits on Chuckles and that he, as did everyone else, had his preferred order of consumption. I'd never thought about this before, but of course it's true. Mine ends with licorice and it's always necessary to find a taker for the red one, since I've never liked "red flavors." Chuckles are not easy to find, even though the brand is owned by Hershey these days. Chuckles aren't even featured on the Hershey website.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Club Desvelado has been loving Paperboy: confessions of a future engineer. This is very lively in the telling and elicits many memories of paper routes, first bicycles, baseball cards, plastic glue-together models, American Flyer versus Lionel issues, and pitching pennies. We also talked about which models we had constructed, and whether they were Aurora or Revell. Aurora's gone, but Revell lives on. I was the kind of kid who did the paint and decal finishing. K. wasn't. I suspect that the ingredients of Testors adhesives are different these days. Although I've read articles excerpted from his books before publication, I'd not realized that Henry Petroski has an Austin connection. I had forgotten that American Flyer was owned by A.C. Gilbert.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

"Ben-Hur" was a favorite book when I was a kid. Of course, the movie wasn't bad, either! So it was irritating when the hyphen was left out in "As I Lay Dying" (Richard John Neuhaus). This very book was plucked from the library "new books shelf" because it is short and also very attractively produced, with deckle-edged pages and an attractive layout presented in a small size. It's quite platitudinous. It's been quite a long time since I've read any references to Sturm und Drang in a literary context, maybe not since I had to read Die Leiden des jungen Werther. I wouldn't be inclined to read any more of this guy's books, and I'm not talking Goethe here. It's wonderful to know that there's a German Gutenberg project.

Monday, January 20, 2003

After the many consumer tribulations and repeated unhappy experiences with deficient "customer care" endured in 2002, I'm certainly impressed by the rapid response and helpfulness of the Swatch e-store. It appears that this is one of the few and rare exemplary resolutions of an error, without way too much investment of time and trouble for getting something straightened out. There are modern-day miracles after all.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

After playing hooky and not attending "Dead Man Walking," we did enjoy live entertainment after all. We were passing by the pulga at the old Aquarius Theater and noticed a tent up: "Circo Garcia." We had almost missed it, but we caught the 3:00 p.m. show, with only two remaining, one at 6:00 and one at 8:30. The palomitas were fresh, and acts were entertaining, and rigs and costumes all looked brand new--what a treat! This was a traditional, one-ring outfit, pretty much all one family doing everything, with the assistance of only one creature, star of the best dog act we may ever have seen. I won't describe it, so as not to spoil the entertainment for anyone else catching this entertainment, but the dog was great and was performing without visible cues of any kind. We suspect that whoever either owns the theater land or whoever runs the pulga contracted for the circus to appear there. I hope that business was good for everyone. We hadn't seen any posters or heard any announcements on the Tejano or norteƱa stations.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

A true, semi-killing frost at last greated us this morning. Club Desvelado enjoyed Mark Singer's New Yorker piece on Itasca, home of the Wampus Cats, and now relying on the high school's Paw Print Press as its sole printed source of news, for lack of its old newspaper, which is said to have used Linotype for production right up to near the end. The vaunted fact-checking of the New Yorker falls short these days, evidently, since we read of the Nissan Ultima, were told that Itasca is in central Texas, and "learned" that people say "you-all" in those parts! The article was excellent, though, in capturing the spirit of small-town life.

Friday, January 17, 2003

Hours were spent getting plants indoors before it was too dark--now that I think about it, I wonder why we worried about that, now that our new neighbors at the Walls Unit next door keep everything prison-yard bright for a block in every direction. Hauling them in was against my better judgment. Despite what the weatherpeople were claiming it just didn't feel as though there were going to be a killing frost. And there wasn't. But it does feel as though we'll at least come close to one tonight, so maybe it was all worth it. Personally, I'm tired of hauling that 12-foot schefflera in and out every year. The handtruck makes it easier, but I'd be content to tent it outdoors and then trim back anything frost-struck. I'm sure it would come back from the roots. K. doesn't want to take the chance. Apparently schleffera grows to tree height in some places and is regarded as a nuisance plant in Hawaii.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Since 2002 was such an unpleasant year, with so many obstacles to overcome, the bet is that 2003 must be better, at least along some scale of measurement. Maybe this will be the year that contests are won or the year that unpleasant people and events do not cross our path. I've entered a contest to win a fancy-shmancy oh-so-modern magazine rack, even though it's a constant goal not to have magazines kicking around, even though we subscribe to so many periodicals of all sorts. I like contests that are not pure raffles but that don't involve a great deal of effort. Of course some claim not to be matters of pure chance, but are, posing, for example, three easy questions and drawing from among the thousands of correct answers received. This contest is a good one because it follows a favorite format--the old 100 words or fewer. We read everything as quickly as possible and then pass it all along, usually to the swap table at the library, since the Austin Public Library seems to budget an ever smaller amount for subscriptions. We keep three old canvas boat bags to tote all this stuff. As soon as all three are full, off they go to the library. Last weekend, we were extremely close to being caught up entirely on periodicals, having only a TV y novelas and an Economist left. Because so many mags publish on an abbreviated schedule over the holidays, for a while the mailbox has been less jammed. But now the onslaught begins again. Martha S. even sent a free copy of her new food magazine. We don't seem to get comped much these days in magazines, though we do get very good targeted deals. We've already been suckered into "Entre el amor y el odio" but at least we're able to record it and have the sense to watch it in a time shift. As Televisa does better and better with premium national commercials on its hit shows, more and more time is saved by recording and skipping.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

We saw a teeny version of this Mad Magazine Iraq poster in Paper. It was a real struggle to make out all the details, although of course in any size the classic movie conventions are followed. Condy's streaming hair is particularly well done. This was the largest on-line version to be found. I like it that someone's written a mystery about the viatical insurance business. Now that I've heard of Richard Dooling, I'll have to see if the library stocks him.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

This was a taxing day. The first run-through of the income-tax return is always time-consuming, particularly when the necessary paper instructions and forms have not yet arrived.

Monday, January 13, 2003

Out there is many a weblog called blog-fu. I suppose this is a martial art allied to leaf-chi, the combined spiritual exercise and martial discipline whereby excess and unwanted fallen leaves are dispatched without using electricity or internal-combustion engines. When search-terms "weblog blog-fu austin" were given to Google I found this site, although I don't know why.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

"Nicholas Nickleby" is playing at one theater only, and the turnout was excellent, even though the location was south. I loved the toy theater opening credits. The acting was great and the cuts were judicious. The Crummles theatrical company was a treat, and so was Alan Cumming at last executing the longed-for highland fling or sword dance without the sword. Has anyone ever ordered a highland fling cocktail?

Saturday, January 11, 2003

This is still such a gossipy town, at least at its core, even after all this growth. The future mayoral campaign is heating up and the juicy stuff is already circulating about everybody. Already on line are an unofficial site and the official official Max Nofziger campaign site. No site is found for Will Wynn but it's interesting to remember that Scott Henson campaigned for him last time. Nothing's found yet for Robert Singleton. Memo to self: keep watching for sites.

Friday, January 10, 2003

Clearance of old business from 2002 is not done yet, so there's been not much time to rant. If there were rant time, it would be devoted to the Business Week circulation and "customer care" people, Wells Fargo Bank, and the University Federal Credit Union, as well as to the practice by the City of Austin of blocking off parking meters for use by the taxpayers so that they may be employed by parking valets to earn tips. To think that we'd ever seen parking valets in Austin! It's enough to make a person puke.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

Club Desvelado has accounted for "Waiting: the True Confessions of a Waitress" (Debra Ginsberg). The old lore is still current: the best tippers (apart from other servers and bartenders) are men from New York wearing suits!

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

After yesterday's compulsory event, using up our gift certificate at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse didn't seem to feel so much like an assignment. The lounge was extremely busy with consumers of cocktails and cigars, even on a Tuesday evening. In a small room there was a presentation going on for the benefit of physicians and all who could see the PowerPoint screens were laughing, because the theme was the role of diet in reduction of cholesterol. The server was apparently at odds with her busboy and really kept pushing the wine relentlessly. Even after each trying a couple of by-the-glass cabernets (all excellent) apiece and enjoying the menu without restriction, there was plenty left on the gift certificate to make everybody happy. I was persuaded not to order rare and then, when the steak came to the table, it was evident that I should have ordered rare! These were the best french fries I've had in decades, and I suspect that beef tallow as the frying medium must have contributed greatly to their superlative taste and their outer gilding.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Club Desvelado ripped through the essays in "Wasn't the Grass Greener?: Thirty-three Reasons Why Life Isn't as Good as It Used to Be" (Barbara Holland). She laments the passing of, among other pleasant institutions of the past, the great department stores. I wish I could find an image of the interior of Frear's Cash Dry Goods Bazaar, with its skylight, mezzanines, grand staircase. and amazing early electrical fixtures She also mourns the notion of accommodating yourself to the weather and speaks of the way that people, including Austinites for the most part, pass from their air-conditioned houses to their attached garages to their air-conditioned vehicles to their enclosed parking spaces to their air-conditioned workplaces. There are a couple of "modern" houses in this part of town whose inhabitants are never to be seen, only their so-called landscapers (better said, wielders of obnoxious power mowers, edgers, and blowers). Those of us completely sans a.c. are dwindling in numbers.

Monday, January 06, 2003

"Prairie Reunion" (Barbara J. Scot) engaged the attentions of Club Desvelado. This book is vivid, not to mention extremely candid. Rural household and farm life and the institution of the Presbyterian church are brought to life, with many parts good for reading aloud. I love it that the author chose her new last name on the occasion of not being able to use her own and get a telephone installed, since it was back in the days when a spouse's bad debts affected the entire family, with no individual credit record for a married woman.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

"Outside Passage: a memoir of an Alaskan childhood" by Julia Scully didn't hold Club Desvelado for long, spare and brief as it is, but it was a page-turner in its way. Being fairly familiar with accounts of non-orphan orphanage experiences, particularly during the Great Depression, I wonder why so few people seem to have written about them. This reading-club set of questions wouldn't lure anyone to read the book. Scully seems to have found being a kid in a barroom to be just as much fun as I did.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Sonoran pork stew brewed on the slow burner while K. dropped in at the UNCF get-together. The recipe link is to just one version; mine is really a way to use up every aging yellow squash, zucchini, carrot, potato, and tomato in the place. It tastes greatest with a bit of diced ginger to accompany the onion, plus a chipotle for the pot. It tastes nearly as good without any pork in it at all and improves in richness and sublety of flavor as the days go by. I scanned some old family photographs and sent them on to the interested party. Can we claim that we were constructive?

Friday, January 03, 2003

Club Desvelado whiled away some hours with "Instead of a Letter" (Diana Athill). The best parts of this are the earlier chapters, which constitute a very clear-eyed look at the adult characters and a not over-indulgent picture of the author.>>>Today we considered paying our property tax bill using on-line resources, but were astonished to find that there's a surcharge representing 2.75% of the amount due. So we waited in line with the other bozos who don't trust the mail, either, in order to get a paper receipt.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

After enduring this siege of afflictions, I seem to be accident prone generally. For instance, a sharp-edged Christmas-tree ornament flew off the tree and narrowly missed me, embedding itself fairly deeply into the floor and perpendicular to it. If it had gone into me instead of the floor, there would have been some difficulties explaining to the emergency-services people. K. witnessed the close escape; I know only that it took a bit of effort to withdraw it from the floor and that there are two marks left in the wood.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Even watching for the New Year on Univision, where the music's better, we didn't quite see the old year out.