Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Only some know

Emilio Navaira is coming to the Austin area on Saturday, and giving a free concert, but those who don't see El Mundo or listen to Garcia Communications radio stations don't know about it. Bobby Bland is coming to Austin on October 26, but those who don't listen to KAZI radio or see the soulciti list don't know about it. Not everything's to be found in the Chron or the Statesman.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Sans popcorn

Because we're seeing volunteer nasturtiums and because they sometimes make it through the winter in sheltered spots, we thought we'd scoop up some seed packets for them and for sweet peas and calendulas. Wanting to avoid the giant places, we hit Big Red Sun first, but it was closed, and so was Everett Hardware (make that Breed & Co. these days). But Sledd Nursery was hoppin' and boppin' and we even got some Rose Mix. We didn't want to go all the way out to Gardens and get suckered into big bucks. The raging carnivore wanted lamb, so we hit WhoFoo, where K. invested in a really fresh mackerel and some fresh sardines. Then we feasted. I had never tasted fresh sardines before, but they were tasty, and very pretty before being cooked. Thus it was that, for the first time in forever, we went to the movies and bought no refreshments. We went intending to see Once Upon a Time in Mexico, but, even though it was showing on three screens, we were at the wrong time, so settled for Freaky Friday, which was entertaining in its own right, with production design by Austin's own Cary White. We did notice that the movie drawing the oldest audience was Under the Tuscan Sun.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

On tour in Austin

The Riverside Branch closes on October 13. It's all very nice that there's going to be a big new branch opening in January (or projected to open then). Too bad the current branch can't stay open in the meantime. Too bad that the new branch is going to be much less accessible to all the people who arrive at the current one from a bus stop or on foot. Nobody's happy about this. When we left our bags o' mags, we picked up in exchange a discarded old library copy of Real Simple magazine. This is another of those "aspirational" publications and touts the kind of simplicity that's at least a couple of steps more expensive and time-consuming than the Martha Stewart sort. I'm glad I didn't pay to learn this. We also lucked out in getting El Mundo, El Norte, La Prensa, and Arriba, and then at our next stop were Nokoa and The Villager. In keeping with our grand tour of Austin, the next stop was the City Market on Airport. The sound track is quiet storm. The clientele is pretty evenly divided between retired African-Americans and young Spanish-speaking families. My two favorites from the very off-brand greeting-card section were "sorry about your accident" and one that had "Hay, Bro" on the cover and "Happy Bir" inside.

Saturday, September 27, 2003

Passion flowers!

Five years ago we planted a few seeds of passion vine bought through the mail from Park. They took a long time to germinate. The first three years, the gulf fritillary larvae pretty much ate them back to the roots. What was left died back during the winter. Last year they grew so prolifically that they weren't eaten back. Today, we saw our first flower! Here's another view. And another, showing a big, fat bud as well. These are just like ours, and it appears that we'll have at least four. We'd given up on ever having blooms, but reading around on the web makes a person believe that we've been lucky. Evidently, passiflora cerulea grown from seed often does not ever bloom at all. The fragrance is strong, but not unpleasant. Now that we've been awestruck by the flower, maybe we'll be privileged to see fruit (maypops), too. We bought the seeds because we saw the flowers growing up the side of McPhail's Florist on Barton Springs, but theirs were a different color and variety, it turns out. Not that we're at all disappointed!

Friday, September 26, 2003

Most pretentious

Yes; it's lawmeme. It's not the content so much as the title. Eeeeeeeeeeeewwww! "Meme." Yuck. Well, it is true that New Haven can be a boring place if you don't live out at Cosey Beach in Momauguin. When the tides were high, the water would come right up to the porch steps on Cosey Beach.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

They also grow in India

Our coral spider lilies (lycoris radiata) are prolific this year, with from six to eight bloom stalks springing from each bulb. (When an image search was run, a Darjeeling nursery popped up with a good photo, although nothing does them true justice.) The hummingbirds are greatly attracted to them. We're seeing more gulf fritillaries now than we've seen during the entire summer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Days of yesteryear

In the periodical catch-up program, we're now up to date with New Mexico Magazine, in which was found a review of the forthcoming Baling Wire & Gamuza: The True Story of a Family Ranch Near Ramah, New Mexico, by Barbara Vogt Mallery. The Ramah Navajo School Board now has a site, but there are no metatags, so I'm not sure exactly how I found it. It's a work in progress. Evidently job postings are once a month, and the athletic schedule is kept up to date even when nothing else is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Bags o' mags

This September to remember has cost a lot of reading time and encouraged a backlog of periodicals. Headway's been made, though, and this weekend we'll probably have our customary two boat bags of read magazines to drop off at a library branch for others to enjoy. Some branches don't have a swap table or rack, and some put them in an inconspiculous place. Our favorite drop-off branch is Riverside because there's always somebody there who'll be interested in the junky show-business magazines in Spanish and because the staff there always seems to be made up of members who themselves are readers, something that doesn't appear to be the case at all branches. And at Riverside, we can always find the local Spanish-language and Tejano publications to take home for ourselves, even elusive La Prensa, when it's been published. All that remains to read are two issues of New Mexico magazine, three issues of PC magazine, and a month's worth each of the Manchester Guardian, the NY Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the TLS, plus the most recent New Yorker and Texas Gardener. We just recycle publications on newsprint and don't take them to the library. I don't think they'd be welcome at the swap bins and racks, but even so it hurts to throw reading matter away. I will never forget the trove of old Reader's Digest magazines that was tied up with string and stood as tall as I did that I was given when I was a kid. What a bonanza!

Monday, September 22, 2003

Confusion proliferates

Evidently the credit-card people are dealing with the fraudulent, unauthorized charges at three different levels: (1) regular disputed-charges department, (2) VIP disputed-charges department, and (3) fraud-investigation section. On Saturday came a letter from the VIP folks that was very full and explanatory, graciously removing the wrongful charges and accumulated interest, although stating that, if the merchant, a/k/a evil amazon.com, can substantiate the propriety of the charges, they may in future be reinstated. Two days after that, which is to say today, arrived a letter from the regular disputed-charges department (dated two days earlier than the one from the VIP folks that arrived Saturday), reporting that it's all being looked into. The third credit-reporting bureau has at last weighed in. There's still insufficient information to permit filing a police report.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

These must go!

From the little scraps of paper currently littering my home desk come the following, most of which are mysterious. When they've been set down here, out go the notes. There will be no quotation marks around these notations, but they may be imagined. What can be recalled about the note will follow the colon. Sansevieria: "need" to replace the ones bought for a quarter at Fiesta Mart and left outside during the wrong night this winter, because they're missed, but such cheap ones will never again be found. Owens smoked sausage: even though it's in a horseshoe shape and a bit thick, this tastes most like the best kind of hotdogs, the kind that can't be found these days; the links are tough to find also. Michael Dibdin: has a new mystery out set in Venice. CPE: one set of dues, etc., has been taken care of; the other's due by the end of October. Aussie: need to respond to correspondence. Garner Ted Armstrong: died; used to be some of the best radio for lack of better when on the road; want to find out just what those nematodes (those cowboy nematodes) were all about; reminded of Fulton Oursler and Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (talk about burning eyes!), neither now much remembered, I bet. Seeds. Wheatsville. OfficeMax: must replace paper and toner used in battle against amazon.com, the evil amazon.com. Elisabeth Sifton: daughter of Reinhold Niebuhr; after life as book editor has written a memoir; in it, she points out that the "serenity prayer" was composed by Niebuhr, not by St. Francis of Assisi. Hoover's Cooking: another future stop on the cornbread-tasting route. 30,885; 84 min: number of files on home computer; number of minutes to run anti-virus program (so that there's some notion of how long things will take). Gladiator garageworks: because things on wheels are great. Mell Lawrence architects: found out they're responsible for the Gardens structures and for the beautiful little temporary folly that sat in the Capitol grounds for a while. Domains: the evil namezero is trying to put one over again, it appears. Favorites seen just this week: "honing in," neck "gator" (for gaiter), , and miniscule rather than minuscule (the latter is seldom seen lately, but the former is ever more frequently used), and, then, "for member's only," and let's not get started on caveat. Websites: geisha asobi, gawker, the Slatin report. Now there's much more naked horizontal surface on this desk.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

Now I know why I've been saving them

There is a reason to keep Altoids tins, apart from the fact that they're just plain too nice to throw away. There are plenty of items that are not good quality but that people buy for the packaging. Altoids are good and so are the tins. At least one person out there is constructing Altoid-tin shrines. I can't believe I've never seen this before, but bananaflip is where I first saw one. The tins will stand open on end in the same way that a daguerrotype case will. It's at bananaflip that I first learned of the Nervousness mail-art project. A Google on reusing Altoid tins elicits many a suggestion. This is an issue that has engaged the mental powers of many. Someone even dignified the use of Altoids tins to make tiny shrines by calling the result a diptych.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Tip-top teeth

Pale and wobbly, the cowardly dental patient continued on with normal life, having been assured that all could have been much, much worse (and far, far more expensive). (Aside: There used to be Tip Top baked goods in this country, but now the brand seems to exist in Australia, as a division of Geo. Weston, which I recall as a Canadian biscuit company. U.S. Tip-Top bread brought the Cisco Kid and Pancho.)

Thursday, September 18, 2003

In perspective

When you've had a very sad talk bringing very sad news, all these recent and continuing "good" times don't cast such looming shadows. I only picked up the telephone because we were expecting a call from you-fill-in-the-blank for one person or another dealing with one household crisis or another. Generally speaking, we "never" pick up a call. The telephone is strictly for our convenience in making outgoing calls. The ring is almost always turned off and the recording on the ancient answering machine doesn't really encourage the leaving of a message. All it says is "At the tone you may leave your name and number." We make no promises to return a call. Even if a message is left, it's extremely difficult to retrieve. Since the last time someone knocked the machine off the shelf, it has become very temperamental about permitting the message to be heard. The sliding toggle must be at just the right volume and pressed down in just the right way if the machine's to give up its message. We haven't looked for a new one because we suspect that more recent models probably no longer switch between "pulse" and "tone," and of course with the rotary phone there's no "Touch Tone." But we received the news directly and immediately.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

And the floor swallowed them up

No; it hasn't happened yet, but the effects of the slow, hitherto undiscovered leak resulting in the Big Plumbing Event have not been beneficial for what's holding up everything in the bathroom in question. So we've been warned!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Cleaning up for the plumber

When older houses were constructed, they weren't built with the convenience and comfort of plumbers kept in mind. Thank goodness we don't have one of those pedestal sinks, but every other imaginable condition leading to the need for physical contortion is present. So all sorts of impedimenta get moved elsewhere. And then there's cleaning. When you know that the plumber you've called is a very tidy and methodical person, you want him to think his best of your household. Even though tomorrow's the earliest he may be able to appear, we're spending every spare minute tidying, scouring, washing, dusting, and sweeping, beginning with on-purpose early rising and on-purpose staying up late to work on this stuff. There's not one of our friends who is as neat and tidy as Nick from Union Jack Plumbing, 288-0749. "The British are plumbing! The British are plumbing!" is the motto on his van. There's been no time to acquire more paper to replace the ream expended in combat with the evil amazon.com and no time to worry about dental problems. One crisis displaces another.

Monday, September 15, 2003

The days dwindle down

September's not leaving soon enough. A uniformed fellow with nothing better to do pulled the car over. First he sat in his patrol vehicle and ran the plates on his MDT (mobile data terminal). Then he came to the door and curtly asked for license and proof of insurance, both of which were luckily at hand. Then he went back to his vehicle and ran the license through the NCIC/TCIC system. Then he returned and said "your tail light is defective. You can go now." Who or what he was looking for who knows, but this was not a genial guy and his nameplate wasn't exactly visible. Since this was the weekend of el 16 de septiembre, there did seem to be a lot of patrol cars out and around the parts of town we frequent, pulling over those not gleamy shiny white-complected. Before the car went in for its inspection, a turn signal was fixed. Perhaps at that time the brake light on that side was unfixed. Jangly teeth plus the little encounter with Officer Friendly took the fun out of the notion of going over to Fiesta Gardens to hear some music closer up, but at least the volume was high enough so that we could hear it from the house. And the downpour cleared in time so that there could be music, which had certainly been in doubt earlier in the day. Then plumbing disaster struck.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

Involuntary weight-reduction program

After the UT football game and taking pity on another patient, the dentist agreed to call his assistant and open his office. The other patient went first, because she's to leave town tomorrow morning for an entire month. She's the first female cable- or wire-puller and installer that I've met. She said a lot of people try the work but find that fear of heights gets to them. In a period lasting twelve hours or so, I lost about 12 pounds, just like that. When there's trouble in the tooth department, the appetite vanishes and a person stays very physically active to take the mind off the unpleasantness.

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Gnashing of teeth

September has been s-o-o good so far, and every day brings its own little gift. The potential for weeping and wailing won't be examined here, but the gnashing of teeth has had its consequences.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Still in thrall to the evil amazon.com

Now that nearly an entire ream of paper has vanished in aid of the Cause, not to mention a stick of staples, a toner cartridge for a personal printer, scanning and copying time, several dollars' worth of postage stamps, and other priceless consumables, including all available spare time, I'm no fonder of amazon.com than I was when all this began.

Signs of the season

We're still seeing new schoolhouse lily blooms. We've lost a lot this year because thoughtless people insist on permitting their dogs to trample the ones out front, but it's been a good enough year so that each bulb has been sending up a great many bloom stalks in succession. Every evening we're seeing as many as four hummingbirds at a time out back. As always, they love to perch on the lower, bare branches of the pecan tree by the fence, and they zoom out to the turk's cap and the lantanas. We're seeing more ruby-throated hummers among the black-chinned than we have for a few years. And it's easy to tell when the squirrels think they've had enough of summer, because they're to be found on shady bits of stone and concrete sprawled flat on their bellies with all four legs outstretched, trying to soak up a bit of coolness.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Amazon.com is still the thief of time

Reliable old MightyFax is really getting a workout (it didn't cost this much in the beginning, but even at the price of $19.95 it would be well worth it). I'll never understand people who take their personal business to the workplace; the stuff to be seen round the copier and the fax machine is always revelatory, to say the least. At least a lot of the clean-up caused by Amazon.com can be done at any time 'round the clock, thanks to faxing and 24-hour toll-free call service centers. As to the dealings with the credit bureaus, Experian was fastest off the mark, with a free on-line report download and a fast follow-up through the mail. Mail from TransUnion arrived two days after, but contains more complete information about the federal (and even Texas) laws concerning these matters. There's nothing yet from the friendly folks at Equifax.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Comfort of KO-OP

While we're in the midst of so much nasty paperwork (don't ask!), it's wonderful that KO-OP radio is streaming audio again. All of the local Tejano stations that used to do it don't these days, not having settled the rights issue. There are a million things to be said about management issues at the station, but there are no other outlets for some of the music played and people contribute so much to bring rare music to the airwaves.


Azteca America is finally coming in on channel 20, so there's another viewing choice for non-cable households. Montoto's panaderia is finally open and even had an ad in El Mundo. It also has been doing some promotion on La Invasora radio station. It's open daily from 6:00 a.m. Everything was clean and fresh, but it's heavy on the pan dulce, not my favorites. Somehow we forgot to buy a marranito so I don't know how theirs are. I did like the non-sweet, lardy, layered, crisp and flaky item that was formed almost into an infinity sign not quite closed, which had had one surface covered entirely in extremely fresh and strong cinnamon. We were lucky in our periodicals, finding a Villager (now at last back at H-E-B and in its own rack), Arriba, El Norte, El Mundo, Tribeza, two issues of Austin Woman (kind and interesting articles about Iris Jones and Toby Futrell and an inane one about a certain person described as "an open space preservationist"), and the new Capital Metro bus schedule. Also noted are a lengthy letter in the October Atlantic by Pete Wassdorf commenting on gubernatorial clemency review in Texas, John Mackey and Whole Foods feature in Fortune, the destruction of a neighborhood tree, and a glaring oversight in copy-editing involving augers and augurs (in the 7 September Sunday NYT mag). The letter-writer mentioned his Harvard education of six decades ago. Those were the days when, if you had the tuition money, you were admitted.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Down at the courthouse

When we went in for early voting there was no security search, which was a relief. We admired the artistry of the homemade sign, complete with illustrations and in English and Spanish, instructing people what needed to be placed on the tray or charola (instead of bandeja). We hadn't even reached the election judges' table when one of the guys asked whether we live downtown. When I said "just south of the river," he made some comment about "where they keep Austin weird." Could that have been an Uncalled-for Remark?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Coincidental cover story

This is the cover teaser for the October issue of Consumer Reports that arrived today: "33 million victims so far; make sure you're not one of them; 7 ways they steal your name; 14 ways to stop them" and then, inside, in addition to those "what you can do" and "if you become a victim." Everything suggested in this series of articles has already been done; nothing warned against has been done. So I'm glad I didn't see this issue on the newstand and buy it for its timeliness.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Remind me never to deal with Amazon.com

Amazon.com has now conceded (at least in e-mail form) that there have been "unauthorized charges" to the card in question, it's true. But Amazon has not cleared the charges against the card. Amazon.com continues to steal my time and cause me to use excess personal printer consumables. The file on this matter is now at least an inch thick and that doesn't count all the stuff that has not yet been printed out. Perhaps this is not the best way to head the FTC page on "identity theft": "Your National Resource for Identity Theft." I had already dealt with the three major credit bureaus.

Amazon.com stole a day of my life

This is not an exaggeration. Yesterday's mail brought a credit-card bill on which were two charges, two considerable charges, not made by anybody in this household. A starting point was to head straight for the Cliche Ideas page with the secret Amazon telephone number, which is 1-800-201-7575, by the way. The customer-service rep kept asking for the order number. There is no order number, at least not one known here! The CSR wasn't listening to the problem; he was reading from some kind of script that wasn't relevant to the situation. At last, he said he would refer the matter to the "billing department" and that I would probably hear back in "about one to two business days." Great! The expressions "fraudulent charges" and "unauthorized use" were being sent out from this end; the other end of the line was talking about "billing problem." E-mail and written correspondence and telephone calls to various secret (not divulged at the Amazon website) e-mail addresses and street addresses and telephone numbers have brought the matter nearer to resolution. These charges were to an account seldom used and with a physical card that bears a photograph and is never out of sight. At last Amazon admitted that there had been "unauthorized use," has proffered a faint apology for various experiences suffered at the hands of Amazon CSRs, and has not offered to remove the charges from the account. Amazon did say that it has closed the account (and e-mail address, one supposes) of the person responsible, but will furnish no information about what was ordered, where it was sent, how it was ordered, or anything of the kind. By way of contrast, the credit-card people have been kind and helpful. This experience has necessitated cancelling the account used and obtaining credit reports from all three reporting agencies (gratis, in view of the circumstances) and placing fraud watches and the like on everything. I don't suppose I'll hear anything in response to the complaint sent to the fabulous Jeffrey P. Bezos. Consumer tip: always send your written correspondence on bright paper that won't be lost in the heaps. Stop-sign yellow (including envelopes) works for me. It doesn't make for peace of mind to receive a bank statement (and enclosed returned checks) today that has obviously been delivered to the wrong address (and opened) before reaching the proper address.

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

"Solid waste" day

It's easy to tell who reads the local daily or at least the calendar label affixed annually to the top of the City's "garbage carts" and who doesn't. Some don't realize that pickup day has been moved when there's been a holiday and put their stuff out at the curb on the customary day. Somebody has really organized the pages for Austin solid waste and made them load quickly even for dial-up.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Will summer ever end?

Chances are that it will, but not soon enough. Bad humor prevails because, for all kinds of reasons, this was not a weekend to be remembered fondly.