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

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.