Tuesday, August 31, 2004

With this annual report there's a prize

Ameristar Casinos sends along a set of two decks of bridge-sized cards with its annual report, which is itself a very attractive item. How I wish I still had my IBM THINK sign. In one move or another it lost itself. Are there any THINK pads other than laptop / notebook computers? The old ones were made to fit in a shirt pocket. As I recall, the covers had rounded bottom corners and the perforations for the paper pads themselves were round, like those used for sheets of postage stamps, but smaller. But that was a long time ago and maybe they weren't like that at all. Corporations would always at least send out a calendar or some small item to any schoolchild who wrote asking for information about the company or its business.

Monday, August 30, 2004

On call

Summoned by bells to go to the courthouse, I duly appeared. Those who began the empaneling session bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ended it wan and wobbly, for the most part. The cafeteria was open (its continued existence had once been in doubt), but the breaks were brief and the brand of ice-cream sandwiches available was not a favorite. There wasn't time to order up some French fries, for example. I was one of three who smoked a cigarette on any of the breaks. I was perhaps the only person without a cell phone. The pay-phone at the courthouse takes 35 cents for a local call; the pay-phone at the library takes 50 cents. I was one of the few to walk up, as well as down, the entire five flights of stairs. I was one of the half-dozen or so who noticed Sandra Bullock and her father leaving a neighboring courtroom. The panel called comprised 70 potential jurors, of whom all but two or three responded to the summons. A few men had to be admonished to remove their hats before entering the courtroom. It was evident from the beginning that the trial will be a long and involved one, and in fact at the end of the day it was announced that it's estimated that the case will take two (my guess is three) weeks to be tried. The lawyers do not appear to be on good terms personally. Although the summons was for the criminal courts, this panel was in fact convened for selection of a jury to hear a civil action. It was a relief not to be on the panel (I didn't think I'd be reached, since I was number 68 of 70). Had it been necessary to serve, though, it would have been preferable, certainly, to be assigned to a civil case. Never again do I want to be involved with a criminal case! Some bozo threw some of his possessions on top of mine at the screening station. Something about his stuff set off the alarm. In consequence, both of us were wanded. This is such idiocy! There were cushions on the pew-like seats in the courtroom, but the backs were straight and hard. At least we weren't jammed together as closely as we might have been. Both before and after the formalities and during the breaks, there were many amusing people with whom to converse. Austin continues to be a very interesting town.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Pending possible imprisonment

There's no telling how the jury summons will play out, so we went to the early show of Hero, the long-delayed movie promoted as purely a Jet-Li vehicle, which also stars four other luminaries of Chinese movies. To our surprise, the house was very well populated. Not one of the reviews read in advance captures this movie, which really stars Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. It's in Mandarin, with English subtitles. Visually, it is extremely rich, with beautiful scenery, costumes, and landscape, using hundreds of extras to great effect. The tone is both intimate and operatic on a grand scale. It turns out that this is a bring-out-the-hanky movie for a lot of people. I would have cut one of the water scenes (quite late in the movie) and extended the pavilion-in-the-rain scenes with Jet-Li and Donnie Yen. We were afraid that this might be the movie's only weekend here in town, but the radio reports that in fact it's doing great box-office business. Anybody who might possibly like this movie will in fact love it.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Another irrestible truck-window song

No tengo dinero (the Kumbia Kings) is the latest song heard at stop-lights that makes the wait bearable. There are about 50 million remixes, too, and the best ones all incorporate that crazy accordion riff. It's been out there a long time and it shows no signs of going away, which is just fine!

Friday, August 27, 2004

Trying IMAP

It's not yet clear whether IMAP will, in fact, be an improvement over POP, but so far it's working well, just because the headers download so quickly, which helps in alerting that there's something that requires immediate attention. After the webmail service did some tweaking, it seemed to take forever to use POP to download messages via a dial-up connection, with several timeouts. Here's another brief explanation.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Fixin' to add some giddyup?

This language is from a full-page ad seen thus far in Forbes and in Fortune. Another great line is "And this is just the tip of the tamale." All to promote workintexas.com, the "jazzy" new front end for the former Texas Employment Commission. What ad agency can be responsible? Was this pro bono or done on contract? This one rates a Puke-O award.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

New "Best Places" list

Yes; there's now a list of the best places to die, courtesy of Forbes magazine. On this scale, as on so many, Texas is not among the best. Utah is accounted to be the best place to die, but one must ask whether it's the best place to live.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Department of terminology

In a feature article about a family sugar bush in the upper midwest (Harper's? Atlantic?), there was mention of a carpenter's brace. It is what we always called a bit brace. There aren't many occasions to use the word spile.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Return of Roger Cudney

Roger Cudney, the gringo villain of Mexican movies and telenovelas plays a distinguished surgeon in Mujer de madera. 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. On this page, under the "Good to be Gringo" heading is found: "The Cleveland native has spent 30 years playing the ugly American in Mexican TV and movies, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Fans south of the border know him for his scintillating roles as The Plunderer of Archaeological Treasures and The Union-Busting Sweatshop Manager. In one soap opera, he starred as The Racist South Texas Rancher, uttering such fabulous lines as "Git off my land. Thousands of Americans have just died in New York. They shouldn't let anyone enter my country anymore." So it's not exactly Shakespeare, but how much money are you making off the world's disdain for us? 'Roger Cudney is the epitome of the bad gringo, a blending of all the worst American stereotypes," says David Wilt, who compiled the Biographical Dictionary of Mexican Film Performers.'" Marisa is now at the fabled Hospital del Bosque, where all the rich people in Mexico City go to be treated for their injuries and ailments, if one is to believe Televisa soaps. She's wearing a mask on her face while the viewing public, at least that part of it that follows the junky novela press, becomes accustomed to the idea that a new actress will be revealed when the mask comes off; of course, there will be some to whom the revelation is a surprise, but it shouldn't be, since the distinguished surgeon said that her voice was damaged and that an entirely new face had to be constructed.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Seen hereabouts

In the pleasure grounds are countless toads, many swallowtail and zebra longwing butterflies, the first blooms on any of the Pride of Barbados plants sprung from seed, and some passion flowers every day.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Google graphics

Warning: brief rant ahead. Why has Google bothered with those ugly, untalented, unfunny little cartoon graphics related to the Olympic games? They can't disappear too soon. Petty irritations can loom large when they're right at direct viewing height.

Friday, August 20, 2004


As usual, the NYT devoted more space to Isidro Lopez than our local daily did. Thanks to KO-OP radio, we can count on lots of airplay for his recorded music. His voice had a unique mournful quality, and the orquesta was really the forerunner of old-school Tejano before the age of electronic keyboards and synthesizers.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Souvenir of Wheatsville

Remember "prune juice"? "We friendly"? "Magical Mystery Co-op"? "Food on the brain"? "Yes; we carry Bushbane"? They're post cards from the early 'nineties, when Wheatsville Co-op had a staff artist (and apparently still does), Aldia Bluewillow. These were the black-and-white works of art that appeared as ads in the Chronicle. The captions are from the few post cards from this series that were never mailed. Too bad any were sent, since they're the collectible ephemera of tomorrow, or maybe even today.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A Recommendation from one living without air-conditioning

Go forth at once and acquire a Squeeze Breeze! These tiny blades move quite a bit of air. And we haven't even tried the misting part yet. Ours is a handsome monotone purple, with white blades. This was picked up on impulse at H-E-B or maybe a drugstore a year or two ago and just sat on a shelf until this summer. There was a faction in the household voting to throw it away as just another silly, useless item taking up scarce space. That faction has recanted and is searching for more of these useful items.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Skeptical about laptops

Even the lightest ones are too heavy. Ergonomically, how good can those keyboards be? There's no slope, and the relationship between the screen and the keyboard doesn't seem correct. If the keyboard is the correct height from the floor, the screen isn't quite right for viewing. Some keys are not in the accustomed places. The keys are not, in most instances, quite the size they're expected to be. The heat emanating is surprising, always. Somebody sells a gel cooling pad to be placed under a laptop. Or is "notebook" the preferred term these days?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Lupe's whiskers

She still has all but the ones above her eyes, which have mysteriously vanished. Lupe (this is the name we use; her "real" name rhymes, but we'd feel too silly to call her by it and she answers fine to Lupe) is the friendly feline next door. Her people don't arise early enough to suit her appetites, so we've taken to keeping some Tender Vittles around to be made available upon request. When Lupe's hungry, she appears at the catio doors (French doors opening onto a patio, always attractive to cats) and vocalizes, raising the level of intensity until someone responds and invites her in. Cats and their whiskers are not happily parted.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Cheapo movies doing boffo biz

At the Discount Movies there were long lines and lots of kids. Our tickets were for Around the World in 80 Days. That was a popular selection, and with those accompanied by babies and older children, too, despite the number of choices of movies for kids. The movie was full of good humor, best seen on a large screen, and replete with surprise appearances and cameo roles. Sammo shone briefly as Wong Fei-hung, and Arnold Schwarzenegger was delightful as a Turkish prince. Some segments were more successful than others. Who can guess what segments we didn't see but that other markets did? There were many humorous anachronisms, and the production designer had some funny ideas. The audience laughed aloud often and actually erupted into applause at the end. Why did this production get such bad reviews?

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Found in a library book

Carrying on with the project, at last we found the Milwood branch library, located on the unmarked street of Amherst, off Parmer, near the Cool River Cafe. As is true of every single branch visited, this one is extremely busy. Here are the books borrowed by the mystery person, as listed on the printout: If You're Clueless About Saving Money, The Natural Way to Overcome Depression, Earn What You Deserve, Cracking the Love Code: Six Proven Principles, The Fine Art of Flirting, Surviving Debt: A Guide for Consumers, Chicks Laying Nest Eggs, A Women's Guide to Savvy Investing, and Robert Crayhon's Nutrition Made Simple. The flirting and love-code books were not renewed; all the others were. This person needed lots of help, evidently, and had faith that these books would solve the problems. Ojala! The piece of paper was found in a book about living in Mexico, by the way.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Touts and tipsheets

A recent dream was that the winner of the Jim Dandy was miraculously revealed in advance and was long-odds winner with a big pay-out. Today's NYT had a sweet little piece about the tipsheet business. None of the better known ones have any on-line presence (at least not one easily to be found). The Morning Telegraph is gone; the Racing Form carries on. The Pink Sheet is up there, too, at least during the season. Little kids always collect the discarded ones for souvenirs. Denizens of backstretch are the subject of a folklore article.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Farewell forever to flaming batons

The fabulous Miss America "scholarship pageant" has announced that the ever-shorter televised portion of the talent competition will be consigned this year to near oblivion. At a time when reality shows thrive on displays of amateur talent, the silly people of Miss America have chosen to do away with the attraction that draws most of the viewers that I know.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Fixation on fingernails

People in all known branches of the family are, almost without exception, vain about their hands. They notice hands in photographs. They wear gloves. Those who work with their hands are scrupulous about using Lava soap and about keeping fingernails clean and neat, even if their nails have suffered traumatic injury from work (luckily nobody has lost any digits or parts of them). Nobody of the female persuasion has ever indulged in nail varnish or excessively long fingernails. In fact, many have kept their fingernails short, for the sake of keyboards of various kinds, including those of pianos, and for playing the violin and other stringed instruments. All around us, though, are ever-proliferating nail salons; and many are those who spend outrageous amounts of money to indulge in gaudy paint jobs and even false, glued-on nails. Cubra Libre has inaugurated a Thursday happy hour called "Martini andManicures" (one of each for ten bucks). This is a trend around the nation, but may be new to Austin. This is a bar with "beauty" service; many are the haircut joints that keep a bottle of wine going, along with the water, coffee, and tea offerings.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Figs for dessert

Following our dessert, we noticed a some cardinals enjoying theirs. When we inspected, we found that they had accounted for at least two of the biggest and ripest figs on the tree. In the past, we've observed squirrels, jays, and grackles feasting on them, but never cardinals. Ours are green-skinned and the contents inside are pink. RH always asked for them so that she could make preserves, and some years she even beat the creatures to them.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Upgrade your cigar-box storage system

Wiggy's doesn't give them away, but a great cigar box is well worth a couple of bucks. Cuesta-Rey boxes with the sliding tops are perfect for photographs and post cards of a certain size, but there weren't any visible. There were some with hook-and-eye latches, and plenty of the old-fashioned display-top ones of various sizes. Partagas black label is handsome in black, with gold medallions. At the gas station we used to beg for our favorite cigar boxes: mine was White Owl; K. kept baseball cards in El Producto boxes. It would be smart to acquire a Travis Club box while they're still around. Are they still sold from the counter at Matt's? Long may the Finck Cigar Company flourish!

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Big-time computer bargain: today only

This deal is available from the Dell direct-sales kiosk only, and only today until 6:00 p.m. Dell is rebating the entire amount of the sales tax (over 8%?), in honor of the sales-tax holiday this weekend on certain other items that are not computers. The downside of the offer is that the sales kiosk has moved from Highland Mall to the accursed Lakeline Mall, which is far, far away from beloved South Austin. This deal became known via the small-world department. Just remember that, in Austin, even if you don't know the person next to you, that person knows someone you know

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Washer tournament

Up on Burnet in the midst of industrial buildings in the 9000-numbered address range, there was a custom banner in yellow, with black lettering and a graphic of a large hand, some whoosh marks, and a washer even larger in scale than the hand, coming right at the viewer. The occasion was the "C. Hunt washer tournament," and another sign said "for friends of C. Hunt." There wasn't time to ask about the event, which was in full swing, and no camera along to record the sign. Was this a benefit for C. Hunt? Does C. Hunt preside weekly or annually over a washer tournament at this location? This was washers only, no horseshoes. How many of us have reported to someone who doesn't like the help to leave at the end of the day until there's been some horseshoe pitching in the name of solidarity? Here's one. And MPG always wants to play quoits. What these have in common, it appears, is that they're all tossing or pitching games for the semi-sedentary. The next time we're that far north of the river, we must remember to check out the C. Hunt washer tournament again.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Presentation of presents

When wrapping gifts, the real adepts use no tape to hold the paper. The paper has knife-edge creases. The ribbon may even be real sateen or grosgrain. A step below that in skill involves judicious use of a minimal amount of tape, along with a hand-tied bow of some sort or other, perhaps using curling ribbon, the ridged sort, along which the blade of a pair of scissors may be drawn to cause the formation of spirals. A tidy touch is to cut dovetails in the ends of the ribbons so that, in the absence of a selvage, there's no unraveling. Then there are pre-tied "bows," slapped on with tape, with or without additional ribbon on the package. And now we're within sight of the end of wrapping paper, it appears. Coming into nearly universal use are those ornamental colored shopping-bags. The giver dumps the present into the sack and then stuffs some colored tissue paper on top, and that's that. The recipient lifts out the paper and, unceremoniously, the present is revealed at once. There's no long drawn-out suspense, no debate between those who save ribbon and paper for contemplated future use. Giant rolls of wrapping paper, needed for larger presents, will probably survive. The subject-headings on this gift-wrap market report are tantalizing, but the report itself isn't free. I'd rather receive a present wrapped in layers of newspaper and tied with kitchen string, one that can be unwrapped slowly, than one dumped into the most fancy sack-and-tissue kit. The complimentary goodie bag has made its way from commercial and commercialized fund-raising events into the home, and something important is vanishing, and quite rapidly.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Scarlet among the hyacinth

Somewhere hidden in the luxuriant growth of the hyacinth bean draped over the clothespole is a vine of scarlet runner bean, now making itself known. How dowdy its flowers appear next to those of dolichos lablab! When it's cooler there will be yellow, orange (with both black and green centers), and white clockvine there, also. The hummingbirds visit the Turk's cap often, preferring their blooms to all others, at least at this time of year. K. believes he has seen warblers, which would be fairly early, but perhaps they're in advance of a front of cooler weather.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Faulty premise

In Dispatches From the Muckdog Gazette: A Mostly Affectionate Account of a Small Town’s Fight to Survive (Bill Kauffman), the author writes on and on about returning to Batavia, New York, where he grew up, but in fact he has returned to neighboring Elba. What's with that? A mention in the book prompted a Web search for Ford gum balls, evidently still maintaining a presence in Akron.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

More from BookWoman

K. was entertained by Bitch magazine, and Rain Taxi was full of ideas for books to look for next in the library. In it also was a piece on Stan Brakhage. K. is fortunate enough never to have sat through Dog Star Man, but we've both unhappily been exposed to Scorpio Rising, it turns out. There's nothing like making people believe that "experimental" equals "boring" or "interminable."

Monday, August 02, 2004

For reading aloud to entertain the distressed

Not every chapter is suitable for this purpose, but a great deal of Sleeping Arrangements is ideal. This book is a rare example of a memoir that is very candid, highly entertaining in the comic anecdotes, yet very kind. Ah! remembrances of pressure cookers past.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Not since the teakettle quest

Our last foray to Highland Mall must have been over a decade ago, when we went to Foley's housewares department, trying to acquire a replacement Revereware teakettle of the smallest size and most classic design. We were unsuccessful there, but Callahan's placed a special order for us and we still have reserves. Highland Mall is still inhospitable to Those Evil Ones Who Ride the Bus; in other words, the bus stop is way out across the wasteland of the parking lot and without shade. How well I remember! We had no idea at what time it would open, and there was no one to ask, although there were determined Anglo types of a certain age striding purposefully around and around. We were looking for the Dell kiosk advertised as being there, but the shopping-center maps didn't say when the stores open and didn't list any of the non-store retailers. We gave up and went in search of a hardware store, soon finding ourselves at Zinger's, thanks to the old set of Yellow Pages in the trunk (the Zinger Hardware website is not for those on dial-up, by the way). The store is sparsely stocked, but with taste and enterprise. The owners, and their baby, are very much there. A replacement handle for our ancient pavement broom and a smaller palmyra broom are what we found for ourselves. We didn't have the heart to look into the new Terra Toys, driven by high rents from South Congress. Back at Highland, we found the guy in charge of the Dell stand to be extremely well informed. While we waited to speak with him, he sold two leptops right in front of our very eyes. This was to be the last day for the kiosk in that location; tomorrow it's to be relocated at Lakeline Mall. He said that every Dell kiosk is identical to every other one, displaying the exact same models in the exact same fashion. All these were laptops, except for an XPS, as I recall. Back downtown at OfficeMax, we turned in our coupon for a discount on school supplies.