Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Adventures in Moving

"It was only possible for me to do it," he said, "because it was necessary. I either had to write the book or be reduced to despair; it was the only means of saving me from nothingness, chaos and suicide ... And while writing it, there was no need for me to think at all of any other reader but myself, or at the most, here and there another close war comrade, and I certainly never thought then about the survivors, but always about those who fell in the war. While writing it, I was as if delirious or crazy, surrounded by three or four people with mutilated bodies — that is how the book was produced."

--Herman Hesse, The Journey To The East

Okay, it's not that bad.  Yes, there are boxes all over my house, in various stages of full or being filled, with cute little number tags on them and colored dots denoting them as being from this room or that room.  Yes, my laundry room in particular looks like a tornado hit it, ripped out roughly half the contents and messily deposited a bunch of them in my living room.  Yes, it's New Years frick'n Eve and rather than tripping the light fantastic at some fabulous party somewhere on Dallas's West End or Preston Hollow, I'm, uh, sorting stuff.  But it's not the end of the world.  For one thing, I didn't trip the light fantastic in Preston Hollow even when I knew somebody who lived there, and for another thing, I don't think I ever knew anyone who lived there.  (Sally was one zip code digit away from qualifying. Sorry, Sally.)  For a third thing, I think I'm going to be out of here by some time in March, and it would behoove me to, you know, be packed sometime before then.  But, for the record, I HATE PACKING.  I'd rather be dragged naked through flaming walls of rabid rattlesnakes.  

Fortunately, Joan and I are pretty good at this.  Back in San Diego we had it practically down to a science.  I think we moved at least three times before the Big Move to Texas, which was accomplished in under twenty-eight days (albeit with the help of professionals and a much better housing market).  There was the Move Across the Landing, for which we hardly packed at all and just grabbed stuff as it looked grabbable. There was the Move from the Crummy Apartment on the Other Side of the Landing to the Swank Two-Bedroom Two-Bath Overlooking Balboa Park, which took place on Valentines Day, in the pouring rain, on the day that the gutter at the crummy apartment building decided to give up the ghost and fall onto the sidewalk outside our front door.  Which meant, of course, that every time we went in or out we had to jump over this sluice of water, like Indiana Jones swinging on vines or something, and while Joan managed the last trip with a screaming (wet) cat in a carrier, I was sitting on the floor in the new place, waiting for the phone guy, wrapped in a blanket because I couldn't figure out how to turn on the frick'n heater. 

Then there was the Move to the Newly Purchased Condo, about which I've blissfully forgotten nearly everything except that it took place during the Year of No Holidays.  We helped our friend Beth move out of her apartment Halloween night, I forget what happened for Thanksgiving but it didn't get celebrated either, and then we moved into the condo over Christmas break, so it's not like either of us felt like hauling in a tree after all that.  Then on New Years Eve we were broke, having put all our money into the condo, so we weren't out tripping the light fantastic at some fabulous party in La Jolla or--well, you get the idea. 

And in 2004, we moved to Texas.  Two women, two cats, three movers, fifty-five boxes of books, and something like five thousand dollars (I think).  One of the movers stuck his foot through our ceiling, which was bad because we technically didn't own the condo anymore at that point.  We ended up having to write a blank check and a letter of apology to the new owners before we booked out of the state as fast as possible at the end of the day.  Drove through the night and made it as far as Phoenix by about 3 in the morning.  For all we know, the process servers are still trying to find us.  We're just glad no one got hurt.  

So.  We have a storage unit.  We are filling boxes with stuff and placing them in the storage unit.  As soon as we've stripped this place to its bare bones (which will hopefully not take too much longer), and done some minor repairs with the help of a nice carpenter and my next pay check, the house goes "live" on the market.  And then--

Well, then we have to find a place to live.  A daunting task indeed for the faint of heart and hairless of chest.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bon Voyage

I hate it when the situation deteriorates before I even finish the blog post.

Because I had one, right, and it was a good one.  I was going to call it "And This Just Keeps Getting Better And Better," and it was going to be all about the further adventures of Ernie in the dark realm known as The Crawlspace.  Simply replacing all of the water pipes, you see, was not going to do the job.  Nor was the final bill from ServPro (which still hasn't shown up; they said it would be $250 just to come out to the house, but absolutely not a thing more than that except "We'll bill your insurance company," which they can do all day long, but our insurance company isn't gonna pay them).  No, we needed Ernie to locate the main sewer pipe and announce to us that We Had Another Problem.  We needed him to run a little camera down said sewer pipe so we could see what the problem was.  (I got the honor; Joan was at work.)  Uponst seeing said problem, I was going to have apoplexy, or something, and upon hearing how much the problem was going to be to fix, I was going to have apoplexy again.  Or maybe a stroke.  But forget all that. Just never mind, sweep it all back under the rug (or into the Crawlspace), and we'll just start from right this very moment.

We're selling the house.

Yes, Problem and all.  The Problem is going to set our price back a ways, and it's not worth what we paid for it back in '04 when we first ambled into Texas, and the odds of us getting any kind of profit out of it are just about zero, but that's okay.  We're fine with it.  We never set out to be real-estate magnates; we were just looking for a place to live.  And now that our place to live is looking like a used car that's requiring half again of its value every year just to keep it running, it's time to find another place to live. (It's not really that bad.  But it is a headache that I don't want.  Nor does Joan.  So:) Condo, subdivided house, apartment, whatever.

So we called up the realtor that helped us buy this place a little less than eight years ago,  Her name is Sondra Patton and that is her real name.  If you are ever of a mind to buy or sell property in the DFW area, most particularly Lakewood, you could do a lot worse than giving Ms. Patton a call.  In addition to being really smart, knowledgeable and honest, she's also very nice.  And, she can put up with, uh, me.  I was not the easiest person to put up with during the Great House Hunt of 2004, no matter what anybody says.  She came over with reams of paperwork and we started signing stuff.  The listing goes "live" on January 1.  Despite the ho-hum state of the Dallas house market, she thinks it'll sell pretty fast.  So we have to find a place to live in a hurry.

After our vacation, that is.  We're on an imaginary cruise on the S.S. Flamingo, with ports of call in Dallas, Fort Worth, Corsicana, Waxahatchie and maybe Austin.  It's the last cruise for this ship before she's decommissioned, so it's become kind of historical.  Ahoy, mateys, it's time for "It's a Wonderful Life," being broadcast on the widescreen on the Lido Deck.  Merry Christmas, everybody.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mud, Sweat and Piers (and Beams)

It's a good thing I've been putting off writing the Christmas letter, because honestly, we just hadn't had near enough disasters yet.  I mean, I know there was the transmission repair, and the roof repair, and the water heater thing, and the washing machine thing, and Joan's emergency oral surgery, and then the--the thing I can't remember; actually there may be more than one thing I can't remember.  I mean it all ran together this year.  So, anyway, I was about to write the Christmas letter and I was going to use the oral surgery as kind of the topper, the thing, the "hey, how do you like them apples," and then, out of nowhere, we started to hear this weird little hissing sound.

It started out kind of soft, so soft we might have been imagining it.  It sounded a lot like the hose was on in the back yard, but it wasn't; I checked several times.  Then it got a little louder, and it started to sound like a gas leak, only it couldn't be a gas leak because we'd smell it, wouldn't we?  I mean, natural gas smells like rotten eggs that have been sitting around in a sea of farts for three or four days.  Hard to ignore that kind of smell.

So if it wasn't natural gas, it had to be water, right?  But where was it?  No puddles of water anywhere in the house.  No soft spots on the walls, no water oozing up through the floorboards.  No idea.  But it was getting louder.  Call Ernie, the plumber.  Like, immediately.

Ernie showed up an hour early, like he always does, startling heck out of Joan who wasn't quite awake yet.  He went through the house, listening to everything, looking at everything, wanting to see everything that was hooked up to water.  He agreed with us that nothing was running.  He said he would have to go under the house.

Under the house.  Oh God, I hate those words.  I picture swarms of gigantic six-leggers waiting to pounce on innocent people like me.  Even rats and snakes and spiders aren't as scary as the prospect of giant bugs.  But I didn't have to go down there.  Ernie had to go down there.  Luckily, Ernie is not a very big guy, because the trap door that goes under the house is not very big.  As it is, the door was underneath sheets and towels and a big plastic bin that was full of more sheets and towels.  But, we got it all out of the way and opened the trap door. And then Ernie said, "You guys got a lake down there." 

Yep.  It's the Night of the Broken Pipe. 

Ernie couldn't do anything until we got rid of the water, so we shut the water off and called ServPro.  They showed up, ran gigantic blue anaconda snakes through the house and sucked out the water-and plenty of mud, too, and some stuff that made a creepy rattling sound that I decided I really didn't want to know about.  (Rat bones?  Giant six-leggers?)  Insurance might or might not pay for this, oh joy, oh rapture.

Oh, and when I say insurance might or might not pay for this, I mean the suctioning-out of the water.  Not the repair of the actual pipe.  Since it didn't break inside the house and damage anything, we're S.O.L. on insurance coverage.  Not that I'm complaining; I do have flood insurance, but I don't wanna actually use it.  And I'm kinda fond of my laminate flooring and stuff.  So, yeah, fine that we have a pier-and-beam foundation, and not a slab, and that the water stayed in the crawl space with the rat bones and the six-leggers.

Ernie was back the next day with a backhoe and several shovels.  I got to miss this part because I was at work, but I was here today when the actual digging-up of the old pipe happened.  Turned out, our old pipe was in such crummy shape that the only thing to do was to replace it all.  If they just patched the leak, the water would have gone down the pipe and found another weak spot and we'd be back in this same quandary a week from now.  How much does it cost to replace an entire small house worth of pipe, you ask. Uh, about three thousand seven hundred sixty dollars and fifty-eight cents.  I have the number tattooed on my brain. 

Mind you, while all this has been going on, we haven't had any water at the house.  That's been all kinds of fun.  Filling the commode from five-gallon buckets purchased at Home Depot, brushing our teeth with bottled water bought in flats from Kroger.  We took showers at the gym.  Yes, I know normal people would go stay at a hotel.  But, we are not normal people, and see above re: three thousand seven hundred sixty dollars and fifty-eight cents.  Merry Christmas to you, too.

So, anyway, if you were thinking of sending us anything for the upcoming Christian holiday, money would be great.  As it is, I think we can pay Ernie but I'm not at all sure about ServPro.  I got a Christmas bonus at work last week.  It was a really nice one.  It's gone.  As for the rest--well, it's good to have friends.

In fact, it's so good to have friends that we're going to sell this house and move in with them, because it doesn't seem like we can't afford to maintain it anymore.  The house, that is.  Stay tuned.   

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Paper Chasing

I hate to tell you guys this, but I never went to law school. (!)  I know, right?  You'd think, in this modern day and age, I'd have somehow coughed up the $90 grand (or taken out the student loans) and run the Paper Chase along with my 1,128,729 closest friends.  But no.  I went to paralegal school, which is like Law School Lite.  It only takes a little less than a year instead of three, it's a lot cheaper, and they actually teach you stuff instead of playing hide the ball, which is, I gather, what they do in law school.  (If you're a lawyer, and your paralegal can't find the ball, you are in serious trouble.  Luckily, I'm so good at finding the ball that even my cat, who knocks hers under the door to the HVAC quite frequently, meows for me to come get it for her.)

There's a guy in my office who desperately wants to go to law school.  He's actually been, but that was more than 10 years ago.  He was accepted to Fairly Prestigious Institution and waitlisted for Really Prestigious Institution, which isn't a choice I'd want either.  He wound up going to Fairly Prestigious Institution and lasted two semesters.  Would it have gone better at Really Prestigious Institution?  It's hard to say. He wants to go back and finish, but he's having trouble getting his LSAT score (that's Law School Admission Test for you non-legal people) up high enough.  Having not-finished law school once, he's being treated like damaged goods--never mind that the goods are ten years older now and he's been a paralegal the whole time.  Honestly, you want good prep for law school?  Work as a paralegal for a while.  There just ain't a better way to see how it all fits together.

Somehow, this has spurred me into an existential crisis.  Not that I want to go to law school; no, I like what I do and I'm not in any hurry to do anything else.  I like getting to go home at 5:30.  Well, okay, more like quarter to six most nights, but still.  Something about this whole conversation made me wonder what would have happened if I'd gone to law school right after college, as was the plan (it wasn't my plan, but that's another story).  Where would I be today, and what would I be doing?

Surprisingly, the answer my brain comes up with is broke and dead. 

Or maybe that's not so surprising.  The lawyer who talked me out of going to law school (isn't that kind of like a monsignor talking an altar boy out of joining the priesthood?) told me I was far too interested in truth and justice to be an effective attorney.  (He did say that.  He really said that.)  "You know what you'd do," he went on.  "You'd take all those battered-women cases, and the people who got fired from their jobs for unjust reasons, and the women who can't get apartments because they have a kid with Down's.  People who will never pay you and lawsuits that you'll never win.  Or worse, you'll become a prosecutor, and you'll be fifty years old and still living with roommates because you can't afford your own place."

Well, okay, he said something like that.  I have a good ear for dialogue, but it gets rusty over a twenty-three year time span.  Still, you have to admit he was a pretty good judge of character.  Most of that does sound like what I'd do.  The "dead" part is a little harder to follow, but I crashed and burned pretty hard in 1999 and again in 2001, and I can't imagine I would've somehow not crashed and burned if I'd have been an attorney when all that was going on.  (Although, I might have had better health insurance.  Maybe.)  I have a high-stress occupation as it is; if I were an attorney, it'd be even higher stress, and, well, yeah.  I might very well be dead, having driven my Lincoln into the San Diego Bay over a motion denied or a restraining order that didn't do a damn bit of good.

Roland, the bad guy in Mindbender, says to Our Heroine at one point, "Surely you cannot mean to be a librarian for the rest of your life."  (Yep, I've got a gun-toting action hero librarian.  You tell me why it's not published yet.)  She gets understandably annoyed and asks what's wrong with that, exactly.  He tells her she has much greater potential, and as Linus of Peanuts would say, there's no heavier burden than a great potential.  He is, of course, messing with her head, but the question is genuine and every now and then I have some stupid conversation with somebody that makes me ask it again.  Surely you cannot mean to be a paralegal for the rest of your life.  (No, only until about age 70, and then I thought I'd do some skydiving.)  In all seriousness, though, what if I'm supposed to be doing something else?  What if I'm floating around on a vast sea of untapped potential, in the paralegal lifeboat that I've somehow become deluded into thinking is a luxury yacht?  Well, okay, I'm a practical person here, so let's say a 38-foot ocean-going small vessel with plenty of foul-weather gear.  In short, what if I'm doing it all wrong, and ruining my life?

On the other hand, I am not a great believer in the ruinability of life.  I am, after all, 43 years old, and I've had my share of ruin-your-life level tragedies. I've flunked out of music school, ditched not  just a boyfriend but an entire gender, survived the suicide of someone I was crazy about, changed religions, changed political affiliations, changed hair lengths, changed favorite sports, got fat, went to Central America, had and lost a literary agent and watched a friend get her labia pierced.  I have also, just incidentally, worked in a library, and before I got lured into the sordid world of things legal I was pretty sure I wanted to do that for the rest of my life, too.

But that darn sea of untapped potential.  I dunno.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gambling in Dallas II

"Your winnings, Sir."--Police Officer
"Thank you." - Louie

Well, I thought this was a fairly easy one-off topic that I could explain and move on, but apparently 'tis not so.  Just when the lottery drawing was over and I thought it was safe to get back in the (some other) pool, the gambling-at-work thing reared its ugly head again.  I've become privy to some Inside Information about the looming Office Christmas Bash.  I should say Holiday Bash because more than half the office doesn't celebrate Christmas, but never mind.  The party's going to be "themed" this year.  What theme, you ask.  Need you ask?  A casino theme, of course.

(That sound you heard was lots of Buddhists pounding their heads against walls.  I spose some of them could have been Babtists, too.)

Look, people, there aren't too many things in Buddhism that are absolute no-nos.  We only have five precepts, not ten commandments, and to be honest they're more like highly intelligent suggestions as opposed to mandates. The five things we're not supposed to do are killing, stealing, being sexually irresponsible (which has as many interpretations as there are human beings, but I just interpret it as, don't have sex with someone you don't love, and make sure they want to have sex with you, too), "false speech" (aka, lying) and drinking alcohol, which has been expanded in modern times to include other addictive substances.

Where does gambling fit in here, you ask. Well, a couple of places. Officially, it fits under No. 5, since gambling is an addictive behavior.  However, there's also shades of it in No. 2 (irresponsibility with money, e.g., stealing). A couple of the many "long form" variations on the precepts mention gambling specifically.  The Sigalovada Sutra also mentions gambling  as one of the six actions that "dissipate virtue." If you really wanna read a dissertation on Precept No. 5 and why it covers gambling, go here and just keep scrolling down until your scroller gets sore. When the smoke clears and the dust settles, though, it still basically amounts to "Don't bet on the horses."

Now, the casino-theme party is probably not what Buddha had in mind at all.  It's just for fun.  No actual money is going to change hands, but if you scrolled down until your scroller got sore, you'll know that it's the act of placing the bet, not the eventual outcome, that's the problem. And so this Buddhist is wondering what in hell to do about this development; bail right after dinner (that is, eat and run) or just not show up at all.

Because, honestly, showing up at this thing and just not gambling is Not An Option.  To a degree, one can hang out with friends at a bar and not drink; one just keeps one's cup full of something that's not alcoholic, like iced tea or diet Coke.  One keeps one's voice at the same level as everyone else's (have you ever noticed how LOUD people get when they drink?) until one gets tired, and then one makes an excuse and leaves.  But a casino theme party is a little different.  You can't really walk around with chips in your hands and not play.  Sooner or later people are going to notice, and they're going to ask you what's up, and you're going to be explaining yourself over and over again and I am  just Not Up For That after the whole lottery thing.  I'm just not.  Can't do it.  Sorry.

So again, the question becomes which is ruder, eating and running or just not showing up at all.  It's kind of a command performance, so I'm leaning toward eating and running.  I doubt anybody will miss me once the craps tables roll out.  However, I'm open for your votes. I am not above getting a sudden cold the night of some important event that I'm Just Not Up For.  Just because I haven't done it in like 20 years doesn't mean I don't remember how.

Yes, I realize that violates Precept No. 4.  So sue me.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gambling in Dallas

"I am shocked!  Shocked to discover that there is gambling going on in here!"
--Louie, Casablanca

So for about five minutes there, everybody in the country seemed to think they'd become multibajillionaires in one swell foop.  Something called "Powerball," which I guess is kind of like Rollerball, except that after the match they're less inclined to kill you.  The pot went up to like $600 million, which is almost enough for Romney to bet against Perry that one of them will change his mind about which two (three?) departments he's going to eliminate from the Cabinet after he loses the election.  Then two people won it, and everybody else heaved a collective sigh and went back to whatever they were doing.  Going to work, probably.  

At my office, like lots of others, there was a Lottery Pool, which, I gather, works like this:  Everybody tosses in a few bucks, somebody goes to buy tickets, and if, by that 154-in-600-million chance, somebody's ticket happens to win, everybody splits the pot 22 ways.  I'm sure we could each manage on our $27,272,727.72, in between feeding Namibia for a year and buying 6 or 700 pairs of size-eight black high heeled shoes.  But I found myself plunged into a Situation almost immediately.  You see, the last time The Lottery got high enough for an Office Pool to be generated, I wasn't an Official Buddhist yet.  I mean, I was walking around acting like one and so on, but I hadn't Taken The Vows, as it were.  This time around, I had (have).  And guess what one of those things is that Buddhists aren't supposed to do?

Yeah.  Right up there with not drinking alcohol.  

Mind you, Buddha didn't actually say, "Don't spend money on Powerball tickets; lots of poor people could use a good meal."  The actual quote in the Dhammapada is something to do with not betting on horse races, which could very well be where "Don't bet on the horses" comes from. What did Buddha have against betting on horses, you may want to know.  Well, from what I understand. it's a couple of things.  First off, it's an addictive behavior.  Bet on the horses once and you want to bet again, especially if you lose.  No, really, it's more addictive if you lose.  You want to get your money back and the best way possible is to--leave immediately and make prudent investments in the future.  Well, maybe, but no one ever thinks of that.  No, they think of betting on the next race to win back what they just lost.  Obviously, this cycle could continue as long as you have money.  I saw it on an episode of Intervention once.  

Besides being addictive, gambling is a form of attachment to the material world that's pretty hard to ignore.  If you're hoping to win money, you're grasping at money.  Grasping is attachment.  Attachment is one of the things that gets between you and serenity.  Walking the Middle Way means neither grasping at things nor pushing them away.  Kind of hard to do that when you're watching the races and yelling "Move your bloody ass!" at the white one with the black spot on his head.  

So, okay.  No gambling.  Got it, never really liked it anyway, casinos worry me, all the flashing lights are disorienting and you can never find the damn ladies' room to save your life.  The last time I was in one, which was a couple of months ago on my drive to Tulsa, I just went in to get lunch and spent most of the time I was in there worried that somebody would recognize me.  (Nothing else was open.  The whole town was essentially deserted.  Except the casino.  Go figure.)  But then, this office pool thing.  How was I going to gracefully bail out of the office pool?

Then I discovered that there was no bailing out.  I'd already entered.  The last time we had an office pool, we'd won the princely sum of $154. Not really enough to retire on, unless you live in Bangladesh and make shirts for Wal-Mart, but it was enough to buy another round of tickets for everybody.  So there I was.  Part of the office pool, whether I wanted to be or not.

One really, really good reason that I should not gamble is that I'm superstitious.  You wouldn't know it, because I keep it under wraps most of the time, but wake up that superstitious streak in my head and it won't shut up until I take an Ativan.  One of the really good ways to wake it up is to indulge in a little gambling.  My first thought, besides the one about how guilty I needed to feel about this gambling that I'd been forced into, was whether I'd jinxed the whole thing.  Surely if I were in the office pool, the pool had no way of winning.  My very presence would prevent it.  Only by exiting the office pool could I help my colleagues win.  

And if that wasn't silly enough, I then began to wonder if instead, we would win, and winning would ruin everything.  We'd all quit our jobs, burn through all the money on stupid frivolous things like sexually oriented T-shirts and Web episodes of Hell on Wheels and end up broke, destitute and lolling in a gutter somewhere.  Worse, we wouldn't be a law firm anymore.  We're a good little law firm.  What would happen to our clients?  What about all the justice we had yet to insist on, all the plaintiffs with multiple injuries that needed compensating?  I mean, the implications were staggering.  And, okay, I was staggering.  I've had a stupid cold for like two weeks.  It's affecting my balance a little.  

Eventually, I calmed down, we didn't win the lottery and things went on as normal.  Phew.  That was close.  I think we won eight bucks, which probably isn't enough for another office pool.  But if the pool thing comes up again, I think I'll try to stay in the one where I get wet.  Intentionally.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Ballad Of The Shape Of Things

You guys, I am so sorry.  Not only is this post a day late, it's a day late for last week.  That's not like me.  I'm usually spot-on, at Afrah every Thursday, hammering this sucker out over baba ganouj and pita bread with a lemonade and an occasional cup of gelato.  November's brought a host of interesting goings-on, from a stupid back injury to a--common cold.  Weird to call anything common that's so darn rare, at least for me.  I don't get colds.  Oh, I get a sinus infection that warps into double pneumonia, or viral bronchitis that lands me in bed for a week, but a cold?  Pshaw.  Never happens.  Except that, at the moment, I have a cold.

Last Thursday, Joan and I had tickets to a play called MacHomer. Think Macbeth as done by the Simpsons.  Macbeth happens to be my favorite play.  To see it done as a one-man show by a guy who can convincingly imitate about 20 Simpsons characters is, well, special.  We saw it before, several years ago, but the sound quality at the theater was so bad that we missed three-quarters of the jokes.  So when we saw it was coming back around--and playing at the Winspear, which is an opera house and which Does Not Have Bad Sound--we got all excited.  Thursday night, however, we made the mistake of meeting at home for dinner before the show.  Halfway through dinner, we started looking at each other, and finally I said, "This isn't going to happen, is it?" and Joan said, "You mind if we lose the ticket money?" I said, "Of course I mind, but not enough to pile into the car and go down there."  Joan said, "I want to have gone, but I don't want to go."  Which was pretty much how I felt.  So we ended up watching something on the History Channel, and I fell asleep on the couch.  I do that.  This is how you know you're an old married couple; you start deteriorating at the same speed.

My stupid back is a lot better, no thanks to the Chiropractor We Send All Our Clients To.  Actually, there was nothing wrong with the chiropractor; it was her staff that was the problem.  The first time I went down there, I was in her office for 2 1/2 hours.  Of that time, about 15 minutes amounted to actual treatment.  The rest amounted to being shown into this room and that room and long periods of being left unattended for reasons that were never satisfactorily explained.  That was my first visit.  My second visit only took an hour and a half, but in that time, my treatment plan changed from three to four visits over two weeks to twenty-one visits over three to four months.  One of the minions tried to take me back for an X-ray that the doctor had already told me I didn't need, and when I tried to make her life easier by saying, "Look, I'll just refuse it, okay?" she said, "You can't do that."

(Um, I assure you that I can.)

But the topper was when a different minion took me into a treatment room for this electric-stim therapy that's kind of like a TENS unit on acid, I guess.  My stupid back injury was kind of below my waist and just above my butt, so to get at it they kind of had to take my pants partway off.  This woman hooked me up to this electro-zapper thingy, with my pants partway off, and left me there, again for the requisite 45 minutes.  With two big Mexican (male) laborers in the same room.  No, I am not kidding.  I finally peeled the electrodes off and wriggled myself off the table (not without several muscle spasms) so that I could for Godsake get dressed.  I mean, the Mexican laborers were polite and all that, and didn't stare, but for crying out loud, people.  That was a little ridiculous.  I don't wanna send my clients there anymore.  (Chiropractic Doctors Clinic on Belt Line.  You're welcome.)

So thus endeth my third bad experience with chiropractic.  There will not be a fourth. It's been about a month since I got hurt and I'm mostly back to normal, with a little residual stiffness.  My massage therapist, the endlessly talented Kellum, has been filling in for the auspices of modern medicine.  I think that did just as well as chiropractic would have done.  Probably better, since Kellum doesn't leave me lying places with my pants off.  Bless his heart.

Okay, so I couldn't swim for about three weeks.  Swimming made my back worse (probably the cold water; I'd just tense right up) but walking made it better, so I did a lot of walking.  Result: Legs and lower back got stronger, but lost lots of muscle tone in my arms and shoulders.  I'm back in the pool now and I get sore, people.  It's a little embarrassing to crawl out of the pool after an hour and be barely able to lift my frick'n swim bag.  I start lifting weights again on Sunday.  Seriously, this needs to be fixed.

We spent Thanksgiving with good friends Tammy and Tracy and some other friends at their place in Oak Cliff.  Everybody brought something so it was a pretty eclectic mix of food.  Joan made Texas caviar, which is kind of a bean salad thingy with onions and Italian dressing, and cranberry sauce.  (Not together.)  The sweet potatoes were first rate, the stuffing was great, there were two kinds of bread pudding (I had a sliver of each, mainly as an excuse to put spray whipped cream on them--I love spray whipped cream) and, oh yeah, a turkey.  I gave a slice of breast meat some courtesy nibbles.  I have never been fond of turkey.  I know this makes me a Philistine, but I'll survive somehow.  We spent the evening telling silly animal stories (since most of their friends are zookeepers!) and being harassed by their three cats and a visiting dog.  It was a great way to spend a holiday.

So now we're in the middle of the North Texas Mensa Regional Gathering, where we hang with the smart people and learn cool stuff about computer vision and Civil War diaries and play card games until three in the morning and other strange things.  The programming is great, but the hotel--People, this hotel needed to be torn down two years ago.  It's like the Dallas Shining.  The towels are frayed, the air conditioner covers are cracked, there are mirrors missing in the washrooms and they've been replaced with boards, there are ceiling stains--it's pathetic, really.  The whole place speaks of serious neglect, bad management and we-didn't-bother-to-do-a-site-inspection-before-we-signed-the-contract.  I'd be embarrassed to book anyone there.  I'm almost embarrassed to walk in there. (Night Hotel Dallas at 635 just past Josey Lane.  You're welcome.)

And my NaNo novel?  Oh, let's not talk about that.  Suffice to say it kind of crashed and burned on me 16,000 words in.  But that's actually okay, because I got an idea to do something else, and it's going to be fun.  (As Lawrence of Arabia) The trick is not to mind that it hurts.

So, anyway, that's where things stand.  I'm about to crawl into bed, soon to leap back up and go flying out to the Dallas Shining for Day 3 of the RG. We'll see how long I last before the murdered twin girls pop out of the hallway walls and say they want me to stay and play with them forever and ever and ever.  Cheers, all.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Post-Election Red Tape Blues

Don't get me wrong, Harry & David are two of my best friends, but does it bother anybody else when they email you a list with presents all picked out for everyone you know?  I mean, yeah, thanks for thinking for me and all that, but I'm quite capable of deciding for myself what to send to my great-aunt, Maude, thank you very much.  And my great-aunt Maude doesn't like Moose Munch.  I'm just sayin'.

Anyway:  I didn't go to work yesterday.  The Official Reason was that I had Female Issues, which was true, actually.  Sharp pointy cramps low down and across my back.  I hurt my back recently, as I may have mentioned, and my third adventure in chiropractic turned out about as well as my first two (which is to say, really badly), so I'm wondering if that had anything to do with it.  I don't normally have very serious Issues that direction, much less bad enough to call in dead.  (Which is, I think, a first for me at this job, or maybe a second.)  But the Real Reason was that at about 4:00 on Election Day, I ran out of cope. Just shut down.  When I woke up the following morning, the only thing I wanted to do was put my fuzzy robe on, snarf down about a fistful of Advil and go back to bed.

Eventually I let Joan talk me into this.  I called my Official Boss (TM) and he couldn't get me off the phone fast enough.  Ladies, if you have a male boss and you need a day off, just mention Female Issues.  Not only don't they want to know anymore, they have an oh-my-virgin-ears moment trying to get away from you, which is kind of comical.  Well, it would have been comical if I'd been in a better mood.  Then I called the office manager, talked to her answering machine, and nosedived into bed, there to stay until the manager called me back about nine-thirty.

She was nice.  I told her I was thinking of maybe calling my doctor and seeing if she'd call in something stronger than Advil, which I may have done and I may not have done; I don't actually recall.  When I'm out of cope I can't waste precious cope on trying to remember things that are going to be irrelevant in twenty-four hours anyway. She told me to take the day off after I made noises about trying to come in later. Which was fine with me.  I went back to sleep again and stayed there until my stomach started poking me about one in the afternoon.

I got up, prowled around the kitchen, found Something to Eat (I think it was a bowl of granola) and went back to bed.  This time I didn't wake up until Joan came home from a dentist appointment about four.  By then there were some signs of returning cope.  We made a pizza and ate it.  Some frozen yogurt was shared. We both went to bed early and this morning, when I woke up, my cope tank was filled back to normal.  And my cramps, while not gone, were once again responding to Advil.

Now, this is not  a scientific theory or anything, but I can't help but notice my being out of cope happened right around the time a lot of people that would normally know better were making fools of themselves in public in various ways.  A lot of them were pretty excited and a fair number of them were also angry.  Angry because things weren't going their way, because people that they had counted on to do one thing were doing another thing, that all those naysayers they were going to show up on this particular date were instead committing the ultimate crime of being right.  I wasn't there and I have not seen the video but I understand that Karl Rove even raised his voice. 

Now, I'm a rather sensitive type, and I tend to pick up other people's feelings whether I want to or not.  Hence my love of horror films, though they're not nearly as much fun unless I'm actually in a crowded theater, freaking out with everybody else.  I notice anger and tension way before anyone's willing to tell me what's going on.  I even pick up on people dying halfway around the world, and I've been known to do a pretty good job of locating recent dead bodies.  (Yes, folks, I'm the psychic equivalent of a corpse-sniffing dog.  Too bad I can't turn it on and off at will; I'd have my own reality show.)  So I'm thinking, if I'm in a country where half the electorate is angry, excited, disappointed, freaked out, thinking about moving to Canada or otherwise perturbed, I might very well run out of cope just trying to stay balanced.  A country's a big place, folks, and there are a lot of people crammed into it.

So that's my theory.  The United States of America made me sick.  That, and bad cramps.

Oh, and hey, we had an election, didn't we?  Did the black guy win again?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's November! And That Means It's Time For...



Oh, you know.  National Novel Writing Month.  There's that crazy guy, Chris Baty, who lived in San Francisco in the 1990s.  The last year of that decade, he and 21 of his closest friends decided that they'd have a better chance to get dates if they were also writers, so they got together in November 1999 and set out to write novels--one each--in a month.  True story.  And it worked so well that they did it again the following year, with more friends, and the year after that, and then they got onto the fledgling Internet and November hasn't been the same since.

Write a novel in a month, you say?  Impossible, you say.  Hogwash, I say.  All you have to do is sit down in front of a keyboard (or a notebook, if you're old school, with a handy pen) and write 1667 words a day.  That's it.  That's all.  Do that every day for a month and at the end of the month you'll have 50,000 words.  A short novel is about that length, so it's entirely possible, if you're diligent and type/write reasonably fast, to write a novel in a month.  I looked back at the stats on the Web site and discovered that I've iu fact done this four times; 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.  I actually finished the novels from 2006 and 2007, though to be honest, they weren't much to write home about.  2008 yielded No Accounting for Reality, which is still for sale right here and here (and yes, proceeds still go to Children's Hospital). 2009 started off badly and didn't end well, but I got half a manuscript out of it, and maybe something'll still come out of that.

So when Kevin reminded me that NaNoWriMo was about to start, it occurred to me that I wasn't exactly doing anything else at the moment, apart from moping around and not exactly writing.  So I figured what the hell, and on Halloween Night I signed up for the 2012 edition.  I solemnly swore I would show up, write my 1667 words a day, and just keep going no matter what.  So far it's a jangled mess of long rambling statements about birthday dinners, Buddhism, the existence of God and running into Muslim men in awkward situations (in short, a lot like this blog; hm, could there be a connection?)  but maybe it'll start making sense as I get further into it.   As Julia Cameron said, many times in many different quotable ways that I can't call to mind right now, just show up and start typing.  God fills in the rest.  Good advice for life, too. 

Anyway, if you're interested, check out the Web site and if you feel like jumping in, it's not too late.  A friendly warning, though - don't start writing to publishers and agents in December.  They pretty much aren't taking queries the whole month because of the holidays, and what with the hurricane and all, most of them are probably shut down until next year sometime.  Always check the agents' Web site to see if they're taking queries before you send 'em, folks.  Meantime, here's my cute li'l Writer Page link.  44,751 words to go!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

This Gettin' Old Ain't For Sissies.

Okay, okay, I know I'm late with this post.  Geez, I better get on the stick before somebody cuts my salary in half.  I know, right?  Well, things have been interesting around here.  I somehow managed to hurt my back by doing--absolutely nothing. 

Well, at least I don't know what I did, exactly.  I know I took out the trash and that made it worse, but I don't know what I did originally to piss it off.  The most likely suspect is falling asleep on the couch. I gotta admit, that's not as dramatic as most of my clients, who hurt their backs in the kinds of auto collisions where they have to be extracted with the Jaws of Life.  I can't wait till the nice lady from my health insurance calls to ask who they can go after to get reimbursed for my medical bills.  "Well, you can talk to my couch."  Yeah.  That'll go over well. 

Anyway, one serious advantage to working at a personal injury law firm is that I know all the chiropractors in town.  Another advantage is having my pick of the good ones.  When, after three days of sort of dragging myself around and not-getting-any-better, I showed up at the clinic, they practically fell all over themselves because I was from That Law Firm.  Yes, we send them a lot of clients, but geez.  I didn't realize that ranked us celebrity status.  

I dunno if you've ever been to a chiropractor, but it's kind of like going in for a massage, sort of, except it also hurts.  Somewhat.  And it's a little weird.  Usually it consists of having someone do something to your back that you can't see that feels kind of mildly painful but nice at the same time that makes a crackling noise that's a little scary because, well, it's your back, but afterward you actually feel better, somewhat, except that you think you might have bruises, and then they generally stick electrodes to you and zap you a little bit with electricity, which should hurt but doesn't.  And when you leave, you're usually sticky with the gunk they put on you that makes it easier to conduct electricity, so if you take my advice you'll go after work and not during or before.  I'm just sayin'. 

I've only been the one time, and maybe I would have felt better anyway, but I'm down to a 3 out of 10 from more like a 7 on the pain scale.  Exercise helps, believe it or not, so I've done some walking on the treadmill.  The worst thing for it is sitting still for long periods of time, because my back tends to tense up.  Which means I missed the big trip to Austin for the Texas Book Fair that I was supposed to go on this weekend.  Pretty not-happy about that.  But there was no way.  3 1/2 hours in a car?  I wouldn't have been able to walk after that.  I mean, unless my fellow jolly travelers were okay with stopping about every 45 minutes so I could walk around and stretch.  Um, I don't think so.  Plus I wouldn't have been good company.  Cranky from the back pain and sleepy from the handfuls of Advil I've been swallowing.  But, as one of my fellow jolly travelers pointed out, there will be other trips. 

In other news, the intrepid Joan has had a job interview with a Prestigious Institution and is pretty excited.  They're checking her references and e-mailed to double-check her salary requirements, so it's starting to sound like they're interested in hiring her.  We may not know for a month or so (Prestigious Institutions don't move very quickly) but if they do want to hire her, we'll have a whole different set of Interesting Issues.  So watch this space. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Horror Of The Rice Bowl

 This week saw the premiere of not one, but two new horror shows -- er, that is, TV shows with a decidedly horrific thematic element.  Season Three of The Walking Dead (Sundays, AMC) covers new ground; the characters, instead of squabbling with each other and hanging around the farm like they did most of Season Two, are actually running from zombies and breaking into (rather than out of) a prison. Much fighting, splattering and brains going everywhere ensued, apparently in a quest to find out how much they could get away with on basic cable.  Answer: Quite a bit.  Well, that is to say, nobody's complained too much yet.  And the first episode ended on a monstrous (er, so to speak) cliffhanger that had me doing the long slow blink not once but a couple of times.

Then on Wednesday on FX we have American Horror Story: Asylum.  In case you missed it, last year's AHS was all about teen angst, cheating husbands, scary household help and Jessica Lange.  This year's AHS seems to be all about institutionalized homophobia, serial killers, Nazi doctors and Jessica Lange. Because too much Jessica is never enough, and Jessica as a frustrated nun with a cane and a set of keys is, well, pretty scary.  But during AHS, I started having the same horrible thought that plagued me during The Walking Dead.  The thought was: "Why am I watching this?"

Because, honestly, I wasn't enjoying it.  Them.  Whatever.  I liked them last year.  Did all the stuffing leach out of them between last year and this year?  Or are scary TV shows I used to like falling victim to the same strange syndrome as horror novels I used to like?  Surely not.  Surely we can blame Joe Hill for that last one; I got three-quarters of the way through his truly terrifying Horns before I came uponst the scene that did it, that carved a bright red wound into my brain.  Something about a guy being mean to a little old lady and about that I'll say no more, but I haven't been able to pick up a horror novel and look at it the same way since.  Maybe, having spent six or so years helping take care of my mother-in-law at the end of her life and dealing with people who maybe weren't as nice to her as they should have been, it just all became too real for me.  Or maybe it tapped into one of my big ol' Primal Fears, one I've had since early childhood and is probably past-life related because in this life it just doesn't make any darn sense.

But, anyway, I'm not enjoying these shows anymore.  Joan would probably say my disbelief suspenders have snapped again, just like they did during Lost, Season Three Episode Two, and The X-Files, Season Four, the episode styled after Forrest Gump.  I swear, whatever this is it better not happen to horror movies, because I frick'n love horror movies (of the supernatural bent; no slasher films, please) and it would suck to lose those too.  Besides, I'm three behind.  I haven't even seen The Possession yet and Paranormal Activity 4 and Sinister just hit the big screen. 

Speaking of scary stuff, a couple of weeks ago I was called uponst to go with all of my co-workers to a particular restaurant where they cook the food right there at your table and do flashy stuff with the knives.  The restaurant bills itself as being "...of Tokyo" but I sort of have a feeling it was of Racine, Wisconsin originally, and worked itself up to Tokyo the old-fashioned way.  I'd never been to this place, but some of my cow-orkers go there often.  There seem to be two kinds of chefs; the ones that can do flashy, impressive things with the knives, and the ones who can't.  The ones who can't have some running schtick that they use to engage the table, thus preventing conversation and, I dunno, making themselves feel important, I guess.  There were too many of us for one table, so we were seated at two of them.  The other table got the flashy knives guy and we got--yeah.

This particular chef's ongoing monologue was about the different types of people at the table.  The tall guy (one of our guys is 6'5"), the tiny girl (4'10"), the bald guy, the lady with the top that was pulled down so far that a person could lose things.  He kind of went around the table.  If he couldn't find a particular characteristic for somebody, he made one up.  And when he got to me, he--

Oh hell.  You know where this is going, right?  I'm the fat chick.  Inevitably, even if there's a fat guy sitting right next to me (and there was), it's like open season.  But it was subtle.  First he went around filling rice bowls with the fried rice he'd just made.  Er, except for mine, which got about a teaspoon of rice and "You ordered the diet plate, right?"

The truth is, I don't much care for rice.  Never have.  When I have Asian food I usually leave the rice.  I commented to my boss (who was on the other side of me from the fat guy), "Hey, somebody finally gave me the right amount of rice."  But my boss was frowning.  He knew there was something wrong.  He just didn't know what.

Anyway, the chef came back around and said, "Oh, my mistake.  You didn't order the diet plate.  You ordered the special."  He proceeded to cram my bowl with rice.  Probably twice as much as anyone else got.  Rice was falling out of the bowl and onto the table.  Now, the crack about the diet plate I could have just ignored, but this coming back around thing?  Uh, no.

Now it was war.

Thus began one of the weirdest meals I'd ever eaten.  I'd ordered the calamari with vegetables, which was delicious.  I ate the calamari.  I ate the vegetables.  I left the rice.  The chef came back around again and said, "Something wrong with your rice?" "No."  "You should eat it before it gets cold."  "Thanks for the tip." We had this same discussion at least twice, and some variations on the theme.

Have you ever been to a restaurant and had a staff member cajole you about eating your food?  For that matter, have you ever, since you were six, had anyone tell you to clean your plate who wasn't your mother or father?  Can you imagine a chef, the most vaulted member of the kitchen staff, getting in your face about what you had and hadn't eaten?  It was a very strange meal.  And some of the other diners began to notice that it was a very strange meal, including my boss, who asked me what was wrong with my rice.  "Nothing," I said, realizing only later I should have said something like, "I just don't like it when they serve it with so much sarcasm."

At the end of the meal, the chef--yes, the chef, people--told me he'd get me a box for the rice.  Chefs do not do this. This is waitstaff territory.  As soon as he disappeared around the corner I waved for one of the busboys and asked him, very politely, to please take this rice away.  Which he did.  And I managed to get out of the restaurant without running into the chef again.

So I won that round, I think.  But for crying out loud, I don't go to lunch--much less with my cow-orkers--with the idea of going to war over rice.  I came home and told Joan this story and she thought I should write a letter to the manager.  I thought about that, too, but I finally decided against it.  I didn't think he would get it.  I had this feeling he'd look up from the letter, very puzzled, and say, "So something was wrong with the rice?" And I didn't feel like trying to explain the whole thing, anyway.  Instead I wrote this.  And in case anybody in Dallas is wondering, Banner Drive at Merit near Coit Road south of the 635.  You're welcome.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Book O'the Decade: RAPTURE by Kameron Hurley

If you've been hanging around here very long, you've probably heard me gush about Kameron Hurley, a "new" writer that I've fallen for rather hard.  I put "new" in quotes because she's only "new" in that she just got published fairly recently; like most of the rest of us, she's probably been writing for years, and submitting for nearly as many years as she's been writing.  This is a hard business, people, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.  But every now and then one of us breaks through, and when it's somebody as cool as Kameron Hurley, there's cause for some serious celebration.

The first book the Bel Dame Apocrypha, God's War, introduced us to Nyx, a former bel dame (government bounty hunter-cum-agent for the Queen) who lives on a world where the wars go on for hundreds of years and the bugs run everything.   She's after a woman who may hold the secret to ending the war between Nasheen and Chenja.  Trouble is, that secret might just as easily end the human race.

The second book, Infidel, picks up about six years after God's War.  Nyx has fallen out of favor with both the bel dames and the Queen, and now she's reduced to bodyguarding the teenage daughter of a diplomat to make a living.  But not for long.  Trouble's brewing in far-away Tirhan, which has grown rich selling weapons to Nasheen and Chenja, and where a group of renegade bel dames is negotiating  with shadowy representatives from an unknown foreign government.  Couple that with an old bel dame trying to kill Nyx--or maybe keep her alive--and let the rumbling in the streets begin. 

And now we have Rapture, the third and final book in the series.  Is it everything we could have hoped for?  Does it answer all of our questions?  Does it close out the story of Nyx with a gigantic bang?  Welllll....not exactly.  But it's awfully good all the same.  We find Nyx living in exile with an old mercenary buddy and her thirteen thirteen-year-olds.  The diplomat's daughter from Infidel seeks her out for a special mission that even the bel dames can't be trusted with; rescue her old boss, Raine, from kidnappers who have taken him far north into the tractless desert.  Trouble is, the last time Nyx saw Raine, she stuck a sword in him and left him for dead.  And there are plenty of other complications, from the moony sixteen-year-old rich girl that follows one of her team members all the way from Ras Tieg to the red sand that comes to life when it smells blood and can strip the flesh from a body in under fifteen seconds.  There's also the matter of the extremely deadly assassin on her tail, and the fifteen-foot centipedes that have this annoying habit of leaping out of sand dunes at inopportune moments.  And those are just the minor problems.

Rapture suffers, oddly enough, from an overload of narrators.  There are so many I had trouble keeping them straight.  The many interweaving story lines do eventually come together in a huge and satisfying way, but by the time we get there we've lost one of the most interesting narrators (yes, she does show back up and surprise us, but where was she for half the book?) and another one has just stopped talking, though he continues to exist in someone else's narration.  Is this fatal?  No, just annoying, but annoying enough to be noticed, and anything annoying enough to be noticed is annoying enough to push me out of the story, which is also annoying.  So if I had a star system for rating books, I'd give it a one-star deduction.  But that shouldn't stop you from running right out to buy it as soon as it's released, because it's still a great read.

I've heard that Rapture is supposed to be released in November, but then I've also heard it's available from Amazon already.  If that's the case, run, don't walk, to the evil Barnes & Noble rivals that I don't like and get yourself a copy this very evening.  Upload it on your Kindle Fire or whatever the hell. (Kindle. Fire. Books.  That does not sound like a good combination.) And keep an eye on Kameron Hurley.  She's supposed to be hard at work on another sci-fi trilogy, and if the Bel Dame Apocrypha is any example, it's bound to be amazing.   

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Questionnaire

___Single  ___Married   __Divorced  ___Separated

Name of Spouse:_____________

My stomach tightens.  Oh great.  It's that question again. 

There's always that tightening of the stomach.  Who wants to know? What are they going to do with the information? If I answer it one way, I'll be a liar; if I answer it the other way, everyone will think I'm a liar. But today it's just a doctor's office, and it's just a demographic form. The question isn't monumental.  I check "Married" and start writing down the name of my spouse: J-O-A-N (space) C...

I am a married woman.  Joan and I were married in Escondido, California on July 3, 2008.  It was the third time for both of us.  The first attempt, in 1999, was not legal.  The second one, in 2002, was a "registered domestic partnership," which in 2004 took on most of the responsibilities of marriage, but calling a house cat a mountain lion don't make it one.  July 3, 2008 fell smack in the middle of the period between the California Supreme Court's decision on In Re Marriage Cases (S147999) in May and the passing of Proposition 8 in November of that year.  Hence, we're married.  The Supreme Court said so, and the federal courts that have addressed the question since have not said anything different.

Still, there's always that question.  I was married in California.  I now live in Texas.  In 2005, the Texas state Constitution was amended--by the voters, bless their hearts--to prohibit marriage between members of the same sex, or any status similar to marriage, like, say, a civil union (got one of those too; collect the whole set!). There's a case pending in front of the Texas Supreme Court, but it's complicated and I won't go into it here. 

I don't try to be married when I file my taxes.  The Federal Defense of Marriage Act, though it may crumble, and soon, prevents that sort of thing.  Besides, we get better returns if we file separately.  Lots of married opposite-sex couples without kids do the same thing, so I don't really feel like that's a cop-out.  So I check "married" on doctor's office forms, driver's-license renewals, applications for loans.  I got into a squabble with the benefits guy who administrates our work 401k about this, and I forget who won, but Joan's the beneficiary, at least. The ultimate question is how far I can push it.

Because I'll tell you what I want to do.  It's a little secret.  Lesbians everywhere probably do this, or want to do it.  They probably film themselves doing it and sell the tapes on e-bay.  I want to (dropping voice to a whisper) quitclaim our house to ourselves as a married couple.

I know.  I feel so dirty.

It's a small thing.  Real estate agents and lawyers do it every day.  All it means is that the house is owned by a unit (the couple) instead of two units (two single persons).  If one of them dies, the couple unit still exists; it's just down to one person, and that one person keeps the house.  It means that if one of us drops dead, long-lost relatives we've never met are less likely to come crawling out of the woodwork in search of a free house.  Or half a free house, anyway. Technically, we have what's called "joint tenancy with right of survivorship" which is supposed to be the same thing, but owning the house as a married couple is more secure.  More cozy. More legally binding. Less paperwork, too.

Yes, there are other options.  We could draw up wills declaring each other the executor and sole heir. (And have.)  We could form a trust (probably the logical next step). But I don't understand why we have to do that when other people, married people, have those things conveyed upon them simply by being married.  I'm married.  Why can't I have them? 

But I don't think I can push it that far. More to the point, I don't think I want to be the test case to find out if I can push it that far.  Being legally married enough to own real property as a couple would be legally married enough to make a county recorder someplace say, "I don't have the authority to do that."  Which would inevitably draw media attention. I don't know why anybody would want to be a test case.  I want someone else to be the test case. 

Some people, including about a third of Texans, feel, for religious or other reasons, that same-sex couples shouldn't be "blessed" with legal recognition.  I get that.  Well, I don't get that, but I'll say I get that, just so I can get to my next point. Putting aside the religious question for a  moment, let's consider just a smattering of some of the very practical problems that the lack of legal recognition causes for people like me:

No Social Security or other benefits if my partner dies, including survivor benefits for any kids we might be raising that aren't biologically hers.

Unless she specifically designates me on her 401k (which she has), her ex-husband (of nearly 20 years ago) has a greater claim to the fund if she dies before retirement than I do. 

We can't apply for joint credit as a married couple, refuse to testify against our spouses in court or get the "married" discount on our car insurance.

30 states don't allow both parents in a same-sex couple to adopt the kids. Six states ban adoption by gay couples. A couple with kids can run into trouble if they so much as travel to one of these other states.

Same sex partners are not considered "next of kin" for quite a few things, including hospital visitation, funeral arrangements and health insurance.

Same sex couples have to pay inheritance taxes. Married opposite-sex couples don't. 

I could go on, but you get the idea.  It's not just a question of a state-sanctioned stamp on the forehead. It's serious, it's all-pervading and it's every area of life. 

And it's my house, people. 

I love my house. 

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Talk Thursday (on Saturday): Talk Thursday?

Okay, I'll admit I skipped my meeting and my going-home-early-to-get-some-sleep idea and a bunch of other things so I could hang out in the desert with Lawrence (of Arabia) and Auda and Ali and the gang.  But look, folks, opportunities to see the big man on the big screen are few and far between anymore, and Just Not To Be Missed.  Larry has a special place in my life.  It's my favorite movie ever, for one thing, unless Star Wars is my favorite movie ever, a thing about which I go back and forth a lot.  (Actually, Lawrence is a lot like Star Wars.  It's Star Wars in the desert.  Camels instead of X-wings, that's the only difference.)  For another thing, it's one of the few movies ever made that refuses to lionize its hero, shows both his good and bad sides and eventually ends (spoiler alert!) not in triumph but in catastrophe.  And, yeah, it cleaned up on Academy Award nominations, and it's considered one of the best films ever made, and David Lean is a genius, and blah blah blah, but those are just other reasons to go see it.  The main reason is Lawrence himself, as played by Peter O'Toole.  He's both noble and psychotic, cheerful and unbelievably messed up, probably suffering from a pretty severe case of PTSD and at the same time believing he's a god.  He's a psychologist's dream, or nightmare, or something, and yet when he's onscreen, it's very hard to look at anything else. Besides, he helped me write the synopsis for Mindbender, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that he died in 1935.

Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the film's release, and also the introduction of yet another new! Improved! version of the film.  Unlike 1988, they didn't add any missing footage (and thank all the gods there are; the movie's pushing four hours as it is).  What they did instead was take a digital picture of each and every frame of the original film footage, which, being 50 years old, is in pretty sorry shape.  Then they took each digital picture and loaded it into something called 4k software, which I didn't follow very well, but if you're into digital photography, you probably know what that means.  The technicians then went over the digital photos of every single frame of this thing (remember, pushing 4 hours) and removed things like cracks and splits, deepened the color where it had obviously faded or stained, corrected the lighting where it was too dark, and did other photography thingys until they had a finished product that was as close as they could come to what David Lean originally had in mind.  The result:  You can see every pore on Larry's face.  You can count the hairs in the camels' noses.  I don't mean to be flip, here, but it's unbelievably clear.  Considering that half the movie is gorgeous shots of desert vistas, it sure is nice to be able to look at them and practically run your hand through the grains of sand.  A Blu-Ray of all this is being released in November, and if it looks half as good on a TV as it does on the big screen, it'll be worth every cent you'll pay for it.  Not owing a Blu-Ray player myself, and having a TV that's at least 20 years old, I can assure you that this is not a paid endorsement of any kind whatsoever.

Speaking of great undertakings that don't always end well, I'm not sure what's going on with Talk Thursday.  It's been a month or so since I heard from anybody at the Topic-o-Meter, and the last time we assigned dates for the topic, it was just me and Cele (though Shinsige dropped in at the last minute).  Since then, all quiet on the western front (and that's a different movie altogether).  So I'm not sure if we've dropped off the face of the planet, or what, exactly.  At the moment I'm forced to assume that we're at least on hiatus.

The point of Talk Thursday (and there is one! There is one!) was, or is, if I understand correctly, to encourage regular blogging.  There was also the whole "oh yeah, and we're all going to blog about this thing in particular" but I think that was basically arbitrary, because the topic could be "The Sock Drawer" and you could end up with a column about sex toys. Certainly it encouraged me (especially the sex toys).  So I'm kind of not sure what to do now.  Except to keep blogging on Thursday, since that seems to be one of the best nights to grab a table at Afrah and snarf down pita bread before my meeting.  (Anymore, you want to go to Afrah, the earlier the better; past about seven the place fills up so fast you'd think you were in downtown Amman on a Saturday night.  Okay, I'll admit that wasn't the world's greatest metaphor.)  Besides, blogging on Thursday means I have an excuse to haul my laptop somewhere, use somebody else's WiFi and look intellectual for a little while.  The chicks go for ladies who look intellectual in Muslim restaurants.  Er, or so I hear.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Watch This Space.

Yeah, I know, I'm late with the Thursday blog post.  I'm on it, honest.  I had a hot date with Lawrence of Arabia last night and didn't get home til really late.  So to be continued, here, as soon as I have a second.  Or two or three.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Talk Thursday: Security

My mom and dad are in Italy this week.  No, not the town in Ellis County, Texas.  The country shaped like a boot on the other side of the planet.  They're going to Rome and Florence and Venice and places that have more syllables than consonants in their names.  They're going to hang out and eat pasta and drink vino and have a fabulous time.  At least, I hope they are.  (And I'm stuck here at Afrah eating stuffed grape leaves and akawi pie.  I can't even tell you what a tragedy this is.)  There was a time when I did that whole international travel thing, but I have to admit it generally took place in years where I didn't have to replace a roof and a water heater and a stove and a washing machine and a huge transmission component for the Saturn and a cell phone and half my wife's mouth.  Yeah, we can kind of forget international travel this year.  I'm trying to figure out how to get the two of us to Phoenix some time around the holidays so we can reassure our friends and relatives of our continued existence.

Anyway:  I don't think I have ever once in my life had occasion to yell, "Call security!"  I did, once, have occasion to yell "Call my lawyer!", but A. I yelled it in English and everybody around me spoke only Swedish, and B. I didn't have a lawyer, so it really didn't have the kind of impact I would have preferred.  Security, though, is an interesting concept.  For some people it means big ugly guys with guns and six-cell flashlights.  (In my mind, the six-cell flashlight and gun disappear, and I'm carrying a mere Detex watch clock.  Yes, I was a security guard in college.  The things people will do to, you know, eat.)  For some, it's all about money.  For Linus, it's a blue blanket.  (Please, I beg of you, get this pop culture reference.  Lie to me if you don't.  Because if you don't, I'm going to lapse into despair and start into one of my what's-wrong-with-kids-today speeches and nobody wants that. Not even Linus.)

For most of my adult life and probably most of my youth, as well, I've been plagued with anxiety.  What the heck is anxiety, anyway?  Well, that's probably something else that means different things to different people.  What it always meant to me, still means today, is a fundamental, lizard-brain feeling that I Am Not Safe.  Yes, this floor looks very sturdy, but be not fooled; I'm about to fall through it.  Yes, this job looks pretty promising, but don't hold your breath; I'm about to get fired.  Yes, this relationship looks happy and stable; but she's going to leave me any second.  And any number of dreadful occurrences are going to happen before you can say Jack Robinson.  (Don't ask me who Jack Robinson is.  I think he's just one of those people whose name just doesn't take very long to say.)  Tornado? Fire? Flood? Gout? Mitt Romney?  Yep, expect any or all of them any second now.  And once this feeling gets started, it does not want to go away.  There are things that help, but the only thing that's Guaranteed To Work is the judicious application of pharmaceuticals.  Legally prescribed ones, that is.  And what are they prescribed for?  Uh, severe anxiety.  Imagine.

Now, this here's a Buddhist speaking.  We're supposed to be all calm and relaxed-like.  And I am, most of the time.  Unless the anxiety jumps me.  Does meditating help?  Yes, somewhat.  Does chanting, reading stuff out of one of the sutras, something by Thich Nhat Hanh help?  Yes, again somewhat.  Does plunging into a project and just working like hell until I forget what I'm so anxious about help?  Yes, though it doesn't stop it from Coming Right Back as soon as the coast is clear.  but if I need a guarantee, if I want to be positive that I'm going to stop wanting to jump right the hell out of my skin in twenty minutes or less, pharmaceuticals help the best.

I'll give you an example.  I was talking to the New Guy last night about one of those things I really don't want to talk about.  I have quite a few such things, and generally deal with them by saying "Yes, that happened.  It was gross.  Let's move on."  The thing about visiting mental-health care professionals of any stripe, though, is that you really have to talk about the stuff you don't want to talk about or visiting doesn't do you a bit of good.  So I have this way of sneaking up on something, whacking it with my paw, and then taking off at great speed, only to return a few minutes later and sneak up on it again.  I learned this technique from my cat.  New Guy played along pretty well (he must also have a cat, although I haven't asked him).  And gradually we got close enough to the big icky thing I didn't want to talk about that we could, you know, talk about it.  Afterward, in the parking lot, I was a jangly mess of nerves.  So I did something I have not done in a while.  I Took Something. It kicked in, in about twenty minutes, by which time I was home.  And calm.  And secure.  And starting to get very darn sleepy.

That, in my humble opinion, is the biggest problem with pharmaceutically-induced security.  It comes with a side effect of unconsciousness.  Joan said she had a terrible time waking me up.  Shaking my arm didn't do it and patting my face didn't do it.  She finally had to take off my shoes.  I don't know why that wakes me up, but it does.  Maybe in a former life I was a World War I soldier in the trenches, and I had to keep an eye on my boots because boots got stolen a lot.  I don't know.  Anyway, I got up and stumbled into bed and woke up this morning with a hangover.  I haven't been hung over for so long I'd forgotten what it was like, but, yeah.  It was a hangover.  That's another downside to the pharmaceutical anxiety treatment.

Still, today's a new day and today I feel better.  No crawling out of my skin, no looming threats of tornadoes or earthquakes or Romneys.  And I'm late for my meeting.  Ciao.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Talk Thursday: Jury Duty.

Yep, it's happened again.  Just when I thought it was safe to open the mailbox.  Cute little white window envelope with a bright orange formy thing inside.  You (yes, you) have been summoned for jury duty.  Oh, for the love of--justice.  I was only down there a couple months ago.  I should be exempt for a while.  Unfortunately, I was down at the municipal Court and this here summons is from the district Court.  The district Criminal Court, in point of fact.  Whole different building and everything.  So it doesn't matter how recently I was down there.  I still have to go.  Unless, of course, I get a postponement.  My boss told me to ask because he's so busy right now, so I'll have to figure out how and hope I get one.  I don't know if they're automatic or if they just give you one if your law firm's donated to the Presiding Judge's re-election campaign recently.

Supposedly, this selection of jurors is random.  It goes by driver's license or voter registration or some other equally arcane set of numbers that I know nothing about.  Considering how many times I've been summoned, I'm a little suspicious, but then again, it sort of has to be random, doesn't it?  They can't be summoning me on purpose.  There's no way any attorney in his or her right mind would ever let me anywhere near an actual courtroom.

Yes, let it be known that people who actually know stuff about the law are generally Not Welcome on juries.  I mean, it happens, but not very often and not to anyone I've ever known.  In my case it's even less likely.  Not only do I know way too much about things legal, I'm also a wiseass.  Example from my last time on voir dire:  Q: "You work for a law firm?" A. "Yes, sir." Q. "And what do you do during the trial?"  A. "I watch the jury and try to guess what they're thinking."  True, dat.  But attorneys tend not to like it for some reason. Can't imagine why.

The first time I was ever summoned for jury duty, I was--hmm, let me see--seventeen years old.  I was all excited, thinking I got the day off from school to see how things worked in the Real World.  Then I found out you aren't eligible until you turn eighteen.  Imagine my disappointment.  I had to wait another eight years and two states to get summoned again.  I walked into the first courtroom and there uponst the bench sat one of my karate students.  (Yes, I used to be a karate instructor.  Well, sort of.  I was one level below brown belt, which meant I was somehow qualified to teach everybody who was one level below purple belt on down.  The judge was below purple belt.  I won't say how far.)  I waved at him and said, "Good morning, Mr. Burns."  He waved back and said, "Good morning, Ms. J----.  You can go."  And out the door I went.

(Just to make this doubly spooky, Joan ended up on a jury in the same courtroom with the same judge, and had to tell the bailiff that she lived with the woman who was once a karate student/sometime instructor at the same school.  The judge decided this wasn't a problem, but it must have been interesting to watch everybody trying to connect the dots.)

My next stab at penetrating the judiciary came while I was working for the Feds.  A day off to do anything was pretty darn cool, since we were working so many hours, and I got full pay for the day no matter when they turned me loose. Surprise!  I didn't get turned loose until 7:30 that evening.  It was a regulatory action, State vs. Somebody Or Other on charges of violating health codes or something like that.  Since I know almost nothing about this particular type of law, I had this fond hope that I might have a shot at jurorhood.  It was a fond, faint hope.  The state's attorney found increasingly creative ways to ask the same question over and over again using different words.  Around and around the room we went, with juror after juror answering variations on the theme of "just because you don't agree with the law doesn't mean you don't have to obey it".  About the third round I got fed up and said, "Objection.  Asked and answered."  The state's attorney turned and looked right at me, which was the first sign that I'd accidentally used my out-loud voice.  Oops.  Well, so much for getting on this jury.

But the defense attorney wasn't going to let me go so easily.  He must have been using me as a ringer.  ("Well, if you get her, then we get her.")  The bailiff kept calling groups of people back into the courtroom, and he always called me.  Every time.  More variations on the same question. Back into the hallway.  Sit and wait.  Then back into the jury box.  By seven in the evening everybody was ready to mutiny.  I couldn't believe I could last this long and not make it onto the panel, but when they finally rattled off the numbers of the jurors they wanted, mine wasn't among them.  And so, tired and cranky and dizzy with hunger, I plodded off toward the parking garage with the other rejects. It wasn't going well for the state of Texas, though.  One of the other jurors leaned over and said to me, "If the State loses this case, it's going to be because their lawyer pissed everybody off."

I've only been in the Criminal Court building one time, and that was for a sentencing hearing that I really didn't want to go to but kind of had to because I knew the victim's mother and somebody had to be there when she took the stand.  I took notes the whole time because, uh, I'm a paralegal and I don't know how to sit in a courtroom and not take notes.  It was ghastly.  Maybe things have gotten better since then?  Maybe if you're not there for a murder trial, it's just an ordinary courthouse?  One can always hope.  I don't know anything about criminal law, either.  So maybe I have a shot.  Just not until February, or at least that's what I'm requesting in my postponement. Remind me not to say "Objection. Asked and answered." this time.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Let it never be said that Buddhists don't get mad.  We tend to be more even-tempered than your average bear, and we don't get mad often, to be sure.  When we do get mad, though, it's usually because we see some being giving some other being, who doesn't really deserve it, a hard time. At least, that's when I get mad.  And when somebody's giving an entire group of people a hard time, regardless of what group of people, I tend to hit the fucking ceiling.

Before I go any further, though, I'd like to offer a general apology to Muslim women.  Not just the one or two of you who might have been in the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center dressing room this morning at about 7 a.m. local time.  No, I think this one should go out to all .8 billion of you.  I had a chance to stand up for you today and I didn't take it because I am a fucking coward.  I'm sorry.  I hope I really mean it when I tell you it won't happen again, because the things I regret in my life are by and large the things I haven't done.  The jobs I didn't take and the adventures I didn't go on and the confrontations that I avoided because I was scared.  I have a way with words, ya know, and when I waste a chance to make them count I just seethe inside.

So, okay. Tom Landry Fitness Center, 7 A.M.  Look, I know the Concerned Women of America work out there.  How can they not? It's a nice, tony place. Sort of a country club without golf.  I'm just a low-rent swim team member who gets to use the place for an hour or so in the morning. And I hear these conversations that make me shake my head in amazement and sometimes want to pound it against the wall.  Most of the time I can ignore them, though.  I mean, people don't like total strangers walking into their conversations to correct the facts of something they picked up from Fox News.  And it's none of my business, anyway. I've got much better things to do than save people from their own stupidity, especially when I know they won't even be a smidgen grateful.

But this.  This was beyond the pale.  This was two ladies talking about the Book of Revelation and how it was all "coming true."  How it said in the Bible that in the end times, our President would be a Muslim.  That the Muslims claimed to have a peaceful religion, but in reality they wanted to take over the world and force everybody to be a Muslim.  That they wanted to institute global jihad because they believed their messiah would only come back to a state of chaos.  That even if only 1% of Muslims believed this way, there were so many of them that the world was in serious danger.  It said so in the Bible. "It's really scary," one of them said to the other.  Yeah.  Bullshit is scary.  At least until you REALIZE IT'S BULLSHIT.

I have an exercise I do when I hear what appears to be hate speech.  I change the group of people being mentioned to another group of people and see how it sounds.  If it sounds unbelievably racist to say, for example, that the Jews claim to have a peaceful religion but in reality they want to take over the world and force everybody to be Jewish, or that the blacks want to institute global jihad so the black messiah will return, then it's hate speech.  This was definitely hate speech.  I'm fortunate not to remember all of it because I think I'd start foaming at the mouth.

Anyway, I struggled out of my clothes, tried to get my stuff together, while half my brain ran to the end of its chain and barked and the other half of my brain held onto the chain and kept repeating, "Do not go over there.  Do not involve yourself in that conversation."  I thought of the time some bitch was going on and on about Obama and I'd burst into song to shut her up. I was too angry to do that; I'd have had to sing something by AC/DC or Stiff Little Fingers instead of Beethoven, and AC/DC and Stiff Little Fingers are not popular among the Concerned Women for America set. The only thing I could really do was get my earplugs in as fast as possible and get out of the dressing room as fast as possible, so I could get into the pool as fast as possible and swim as fast as possible so that I could cool the hell down as fast as possible.  Which took about 45 minutes, in case you're wondering.

I'm not gonna bother to refute most of those statements, but the President-as-Muslim one is just too ridiculous to let lie.  The Bible, or rather the Book of Revelation, was written a good 70 or 80 years after the death of its supposed author, John the Baptist.  It reads like a good acid trip and was probably brought on by poisonous mushrooms.  I'm supposed to believe that this book references the President - of a form of government that does not yet exist - of the United States - of a country that does not yet exist, on land that is not yet known to exist, across an ocean that is not yet known to exist - and states that he will be a Muslim, a religion that does not yet exist (around the year 600, people, in case you're wondering)?  Even for me, who once believed that she could be recalled like a defective automobile and stripped for spare parts, that's a bit of a stretch. Yet the Concerned Women for America are all over it.  Have they actually read the Book of Revelation?  Or anything else in the Bible?  Or do they just take Cal Thomas's word for it?  I mean, seriously.  Is there any thought process that goes into this stuff whatsoever?

Here's the part that really frosts me.  I took off out of that dressing room because I didn't think there was any way I could say anything without totally blowing my stack.  Once I'd calmed down a little, I realized I could have shut the whole thing down without even raising my voice.  All I would have had to do is walk over there, put my hands down on the counter and say, in a soft voice, "Ladies, there are Muslim women in this dressing room right now.  Go ahead and talk smack about them if you want to, but please keep your voices down."  That's it.  That's all that needed to be said.  It wouldn't have been rude, I wouldn't have come across as a bitch, I just would have made them aware that their conversation was being overheard.  That probably would have stopped it entirely and if there were Muslim women in the room (and the odds are in my favor there; lots of nurses and nurse's aides use the fitness center, and lots of those nurses and nurse's aides are from Someplace Else, and lots of those Someplace Elses are Muslim countries), somebody would have spoken up for them.

Believe me, there are plenty of times I wish somebody had spoken up for me.  The times I've overheard conversations about "the gays" this and that, or "the crazy people" this and that, or better still, "so and so did (insert bizarre behavior here), he must be bipolar."  And there I stand, invisibly lesbian, more invisibly bipolar, thinking to myself, "I'm nothing like that.  We're nothing like that.  Where is he getting that?" and not having the guts to speak up.  It happens less and less often these days, since I'm getting older and my tolerance for bullshit is dropping, but there's always a sense of threat there, a fear that if you out yourself as a member of the group being discussed, all that negative attention will turn on you.  If you're lucky, they'll just yell at you and call you names.  If you're not lucky, they might beat you up or kill you.

That's why we need to speak up for each other.

I'm sorry I didn't do that today.