Thursday, June 29, 2006

No Guts, No Glory

I'm still driving to work via Elgin this week. My eldest four legged daughter is a sick little puppy right now and has been getting daily treatments at the vet clinic. We established a relationship with the Elgin Veterinary Hospital many years ago when Nipper came into the family and we still prefer the doctors there. It's a little inconvenient, considering that there are now many veterinary clinics here in Bastrop to choose from, but I have a good relationship with the doctors in Elgin and I want my babies to see doctors I trust.

So every morning I have been dropping her off on the way to work and every evening I've been making a late trip to pick her up so she doesn't have to spend the night in hospital. She's a lot happier tonight because the catheter through which she's been getting IV fluids has finally been removed. The bad news is she still has to go there tomorrow for additional blood work to see if she's responding to the treatments. We are cautiously optimistic.

It's been interesting to see the reactions from Coco and Mojo. Coco cried when we left the first day and reportedly spent the day feeling like a little boat adrift without her anchor. Mojo was more of the opinion that there was no reason why she got to go to work with Mommy and he didn't. But they both caught on quickly that Xana is seeing the doctor and have been very happy to see her come in every evening. While they usually howl for 10 minutes if I leave without them, they've been very good when I leave late in the day and tell them I'm going to pick up Xana. They've stayed quiet and behaved themselves until I get back. (Better yet, their gran has been behaving herself and staying quiet and out of mischief until I get back.)

It's been a rough week with all the extra driving, especially since that last trip to and from Elgin is in rush hour traffic on a 2-lane road and people around here drive like maniacs when it's quitting time. The upcoming 4-day weekend couldn't come along at a better time.

But there's been one smile every morning when I swing off Highway 95 to Highway 290. A new sign for Meyer's Bar-B-Q declares "You'll Love Our Guts!" Elgin's crowning glory. Long may they sizzle.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Tacky, Tacky, Ticky Tacky

On occasion I commute to work by way of Elgin and Highway 290. It's getting harder and harder to stomach that drive that used to be a pleasant stretch through pasture land, broken up only by the brief break in the speed limit at Manor. Aside from the blotch on the landscape that has resulted from the new north-south freeway under construction, several recent subdivisions have sprung up along Highway 290 between Elgin and Manor.

These new additions to civilization are to the landscape as fingernails are to a blackboard. Surely, SURELY, whoever is the builder behind these horrors could have come up with something better with just a smidgen of imagination applied. The choices to buyers seem to consist of a one story square box or a two story square cube, with about 5 feet from wall to neighbor's wall. Square windows, plain, boring expanses of brick or siding, dirty beige shingles. And naturally every tree was cleared before they constructed these pimples on the land.

I would have to be absolutely desperate for housing to succumb to living in such ugly things. I cannot think of one single positive thing to say about them. In fact, the only thing I can think of as I drive past are the words to the old song written by Malvina Reynolds in 1962:


Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same,
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same
And there's doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same.

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same,
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

If Malvina thought it was bad back then, she should see it now. Of course, it could be worse. And in Austin, it often is. Drive down into the older subdivisions and you will see where someone has purchased a small bungalow, cleared the lot, and built a humongous house that covers every square inch of legally buildable space, towering high above its neighbors like a brick Goliath.

It's an epidemic of bad taste. No way can the word "improvement" be applied to any of these tacky, tacky houses. Heaven help us, it will probably get much worse before it gets better.


Saturday, June 24, 2006


I totally missed it. Today's paper featured an article on the closing of Howard's Nursery earlier this month. It's like suddenly hearing that a distant relative died a month ago. You feel like you were robbed of the opportunity for closure.

I cannot remember how many trips I've made over the years to Howard's Nursery, located on Koenig Lane about halfway between Burnet Road and Lamar Boulevard. It was the best place, bar none, to find herb and vegetable plants for the garden. It didn't matter how obscure the plant, they had some in stock. They always had plenty of the right kind of tomato seedlings when everybody else ran out.

Our new home doesn't have a good garden spot, so I've not had the excuse to run by there much in the past few years. The last time I shopped there was a little over a year ago when I got a sudden itch to find out the name of a bush we used to have in the yard in Smiley. I tried all the nurseries that were close to the office and nobody had a clue what it might be. I walked into Howard's and before I even got going good in my description, the man responded "you want a 'Pride of Barbados'". And yes, they had some in stock.

That was the way of it at Howard's Nursery. They knew their business. Their plants were healthy and very seldom did they fail to make a good showing in the garden. It was one of the most dependable nurseries I've ever known. I sometimes went there during lunch hour on those days when I just needed to calm down after a rough morning. Walking around their canopied plant aisles, you could not help but get a sense of well being.

And now they're gone. Damn. I'm going to miss them.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006


I've been bouncing around this evening. Happened across a video of the very performance that caught my attention and turned me into a fan of Kris Kristofferson. Loved the way the lyrics moved. As I recall, the San Antonio Express News printed them in the TV section of that Sunday's paper. Click here.

Of course from there I had to find out what other snippets of classic television were hovering around in cyberspace. I found folks like Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry, the Smothers Brothers and Mary Ann Mobley on the Match Game.

Bizarre site. Can't stop surfing.

added Thurs. morning...Just read where today is Kris' 70th birthday. Still a hottie, in my humble opinion. His latest album is every bit as good as the first one.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Fifty Cent Words

I once asked a good friend why it was that I seem constitutionally unable to ingratiate myself with the powers that be. He answered that it primarily stemmed from the fact that I do not suffer fools gladly. True. I think for myself and I say what I think. I absolutely refuse to kowtow to anybody and I would die before I brown nose.

So I generally walk alone to the beat of my own drummer. I make it a policy to do a task right, acknowledge my mistakes on those rare occasions that they occur, and be honest to a fault. They may not like it, but it's hard to land on somebody for doing a thing right and not lying about it. I've learned that what they generally object to is that I don't do it the way they wanted me to do it, which was wrong, and I am plainspoken as to why I chose to do it the right way instead of their wrong way. I know I am right. They know I am right. And they know if they push me, they will hear chapter and verse of why they were wrong and I was right.

I get into more trouble as a result.

I'm not sure what any of that has to do with the story I sat down to write. Except that I've always gone my own way, peer pressure be damned.

I like big words. Well, not so much big words as different words. The dictionary gives us hundreds of thousands of words to use, yet most of your daily conversations do not vary much from the mundane. To me it's a challenge to switch up your vocabulary when the opportunity presents itself. And the longer, more flavorful the word you can use makes the game just that much more interesting.

This, too, gets me into trouble sometimes. I had a friend some years back that was by no means dumb, but she was just not very well read and her vocabulary was stunted as a result. I found myself continually having to stop and explain what I had just said. It finally got to be a habit to filter my conversations with her to eliminate the fifty cent words. It saved time, but it made for some pretty dull conversations.

It will surprise nobody who knows me when I say I am completely inept when it comes to sports. I hated P.E. with a purple passion. I believe it was 7th grade when the football coach and I shared a private moment of humor amid the pathos of my performance during a softball game.

I could never bat worth a darn; couldn't throw to save my life; and I run like I have two dislocated hips. The only reason I was not killed outright by my teammates was because I had a spooky ability to catch pop flies. One day, however, I had tried the patience of both sides when I took my turn at bat. I let several balls go by without attempting to hit them. Someone said with exasperation, "Would you just swing at something!?"

In my non-conformist way, I popped back, "It's my prerogative to hit the ball or not!". Several mouths dropped open and I heard a few "huh?"s. The coach, who was usually bored out of his mind having to waste his time with the girls' P.E. class, burst out laughing. He didn't bother to explain, though. I think I actually managed to hit the next ball.

My classmates learned quickly to leave me out of the sports contests, but they also learned who to call on when they needed someone who could write. I ended up on the yearbook staff for three years and served as editor twice. I was class secretary just about every year from 4th grade on. I competed in Ready Writing events. I may have missed the athletic gene, but I think I got a generous dose of the reading and writing gene.

I may have been the odd man out back then, but now I'm glad it worked out that way. As our bodies age and the knees go out and the back trouble starts, our athletic ability disintegrates steadily. But an active mind, ever expanding with regular reading, can take you for adventures well into your elder years.

And my non-conformist ways suit me just fine, even if they aggravate those around me. I may not have much, but what I have I've attained with my abilities and not from puckering up to someone else's behind. I can face myself in the mirror any day of the week without regret.

I don't even mind the crowsfeet and wrinkles.


Monday, June 19, 2006

It's All About Her

I was standing at the counter at The Container Store, 2nd in line, when the relative peace was shattered by the gal behind me.


Cell phones, drat them. I will admit that I carry on a certain amount of personal business in public. However, even if I'm in line to pay, when I get a call from a doctor or someone where the data exchanged is of a personal nature, I move over to a deserted corner and conduct my personal business in as much privacy as I can muster in a public place.

But some folks act as if they are in the "cone of silence", unable to be heard by anyone else but the person on the other end of the phone.

True story. About a month ago I was at the outlet mall in San Marcos. I found it advisable to seek out the ladies room. As I was sequestered in my personal space, another lady came in, took the stall next door, and talked nonstop the entire time she was there. At first I thought a third person had arrived with her and they were talking through the stall walls. It soon became evident that she was chatting blithely away on her cell phone while conducting her personal business. I mean, really. Ick.

Remember the good old days when you would rather die than admit to another person that you ever had the need to use the bathroom facilities? Nowadays you can find out all manner of things about people's marriages, sex life, medical problems and the like by simply standing next to them in the checkout line.

I really don't want to know, thank you.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Random Bytes

Today’s best smell:
Rain soaked pavement

Today’s best sound:
Chickadees flitting around the feeders

Today’s best reading (audio):
“Almost There” by Nuala O’Faolain

Today’s best taste:
It’s a draw between the Krispy Kreme chocolate iced donut and the Canadian cheese soup from The Kitchen Door.

Today’s best accomplishment:
Finding the three bugs in an old program. (Had help on that one. Thanks to JAE. They were devilishly hard to nail down.)

Today’s best advice:
“Stand by it.” Whatever you decide is the best thing to do.

Today’s best feeling:
Being met at the door by Xana, Coco and Mojo.

Just counting my blessings on a blah day. Does wonders.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Flag Day

This isn’t just any old flag day for me. Today marks the 30th anniversary of my employment with the law firm. Yikes. (In fast succession I will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of my graduation from college and my 35th anniversary of graduation from high school. Maybe it’s time I went in for a check up.)

In some ways it doesn’t seem that long ago that I joined the ranks of the employed. And in some ways it seems like three lifetimes ago. When I entered the doors of the law firm 30 years ago today, I was the kid. Not only that, I was a kid with a college education, one of only a few of the clerical staff that had those credentials. I took a lot of grief from the old-timers for that. They wanted me to know that my education didn’t mean squat to them, so don’t get the big head over it.

All the work then was done by typewriter, with triple carbon packs. If I had a dollar for every suit petition and judgment I typed in the first 5 years I worked there, I could be looking at early retirement right now. Even our tax notices were typed by hand, filling in the blanks of a form produced on a liquid duplicating machine. Anybody else out there remember creating stencils (praying that you made no errors), carefully pouring ink, and cranking out copies until your arm ached? Ah, the good old days.

Now I’m the old lady of the firm. Only two other people in the entire company have more seniority than I. One is the man who was my primary boss for the first 5 years of employment. The other is a man who has gone on to head a sister company, so really there is only one person at the firm who has more seniority.

I’m the age right now that the staff supervisor who hired me was at that time. I remember thinking she was holding up fairly well for her advanced age. I wonder if the youngsters on our present staff look at me the same way. Most of them nowadays have a college education and all the work today is produced on computers and laser printers. If you don’t feel up to coming into work, you can work at home by connecting to the office network. (Thirty years ago, you had to produce a death certificate to warrant a day of sick leave. I can’t imagine they would have trusted us to actually work at home.)

Times have changed. I don’t know if we even have a typewriter in the building anymore. We had to ask permission to make a long distance call back then. Now, with email, we communicate all over the planet in the twinkling of an eye. Back in the good old days, we had to manually process every letter that went out. Today, a client can ftp their file in the morning and conceivably have 10,000 letters mailed in their behalf the same day.

Where has the time gone? It seems like just yesterday that my college roommate called and gave me the information that a friend of theirs was looking for a secretary. But it seems like a lifetime ago that I took the job that morphed into accounting positions, management positions and data processing positions over the ensuing 30 years. Back then, retirement seemed like a misty target. Now it is rapidly coming into focus.

I guess I’m one of the rare ones. People in our parents’ generation routinely took a job and held on to it until retirement. I don’t know many people these days who take a job with any kind of intention to stay more than a few years before moving on to greener pastures.

I have regrets, yes. But all in all it’s been an interesting journey. And to close, the lyrics of a song from “New York, New York”, that I just discovered yesterday:

Sometimes you're happy, sometimes you're sad
But the world goes 'round
Sometimes you lose every nickel you had
But the world goes 'round
Sometimes your dreams get broken in pieces
But that doesn't alter a thing
Take it from me, there's still gonna be
A summer, a winter, a fall and a spring
And sometimes a friend starts treating you bad
But the world goes 'round
And sometimes your heart breaks with a deafening sound
Somebody loses and somebody wins
And one day it's kicks, then it's kicks in the shins
But the planet spins, and the world goes 'round-
But the world goes 'round.

The world has gone around almost 11,000 times since I walked in the doors of the law firm. Here’s to the next year.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Free Associating

Sunday, noon: I trekked out to the Red Rock community center to drop off some information to the Old Red Rock Cemetery Association and to make a contribution. I decided to abstain from the community feed and auction and drifted back to Bastrop, making a stop at each of the Red Rock cemeteries along the way. When I drove up to the new cemetery, I was greeted by two big black gamboling dogs. I pondered the advisibility of getting out of the car, but they didn't seem to be much threat, so I proceeded to make my memorial visit to two Mobley granduncles. The dogs skipped and frolicked beside me and my new worry was that I was going to have a hard time getting away from them. I suggested they go on home. They snickered and continued to play.

My visit to the graves was brief - just long enough to place a red glass pebble at each marker. (My alternative to placing flowers that are going to die or turn tacky in a few days.) I braced myself for the process of separating from the dogs. When I turned back toward the car, I realized that they had vanished into thin air. Nothing but sparse fields around me, the nearest house about a quarter mile away. Not a dog to be seen, and they had been bouncing around me just a few minutes before. No hair raised up on the back of my neck, so I'm assuming they were not ghostly visitations. But it was really spooky how quickly and thoroughly they disappeared.

Sunday 5:30 p.m.: It's only a matter of time before little brother disowns me. We spent the better part of two hours baking in the sun while we assembled a second canopy to help shade the larger of the two decks. The first, on the smaller deck, made such a radical difference in the way the plants are surviving the 90+ degree heat that I decided it would be a good idea to put a little shade on the other side of the house. I could barely move by bedtime. Between pruning the red photina menace on Saturday and working on the canopy on Sunday, every muscle in my poor elderly body is pissed off. The good news is that the canopy is assembled and already making a difference in the amount of morning sun hitting the house. The bad news is that it may be September before I can persuade David to come back for a visit.

In a side note, we took a brief break and watched the parent roadrunners feeding their baby. I had seen them earlier teaching him to run up and down the street and avoid cars. In the high afternoon sun and a temperature of about 99 degrees, the little toot was out rolling on his back in the middle of the asphalt, looking like he was having the time of his life.

Monday 9:15 a.m.: I'm continually surprised on those occasions when I listen to the morning music program on KUT-FM how often the host John Aielli pulls a tune out of thin air that evokes intense memory twangs. It's happened so many times that I begin to wonder if there is some weird telepathy going on. More probably it's because we are approximately the same age and grew up with similar electic musical tastes. This morning, just as I was turning off Mopac to make the swing over to Balcones Drive and work, the old boy started Perry Como's Round and Round. I'm instantaneously swept back to 1958 or so, to the parsonage/church at San Gabriel, while at the same time getting a little boost of enthusiasm from a song that I heard so many times in my early childhood. Nice little lift to start the day.

At the risk of causing various relatives to cough up hairballs, I will confess that this was just after I had indulged my inner child with listening to part of an album by Johnny Ray. Just Walking in the Rain comes from the same approximate period of my life and was a song I was particularly fond of. (My mother hated Johnny Ray, so I have no idea how I managed to acquire my fondness for two or three of his songs.) How odd that John Aielli was apparently in the same mood this morning.

So I'm sitting here at my desk, remembering the back room in the parsonage at Oak Hill. It had a wall of windows that looked out on the big back yard and the cow pasture beyond. I had a small record player and a stack of records that I had acquired from various relatives and church members. I spent many a hot summer day in that back room, no air-conditioning, with the windows open and entertaining myself by playing the same songs again and again.

"Find a wheel and it goes round, round, round
As it skims along with a happy sound
As it goes along the ground, ground, ground
Till it leads you to the one you love..."


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Beep Beep

Only in Texas can you telecommute and watch a roadrunner at work outside your window. This guy was busy all day and kept me well entertained with his antics. I certainly hope he took care of a few of the ubiquitous scorpions that have been around lately.

Photos snapped with an ACME Power Shot, of course

This is the time of year that a Texan automatically starts stepping carefully in the country. You are aware, without even thinking about it, that you could run into a rattlesnake or copperhead or such. I stopped by a country cemetery earlier this week for a quick look around and became aware of a strange disquiet. Since I'm not at all afraid of ghostly encounters, it wasn't characteristic. Then I realized that I was scanning the ground ahead of me carefully. It's snake season. Time to postpone cemetery visits for awhile.

So I'm glad to have roadrunners hanging around the house. They help to keep the snake population down. We have several that cruise our street. They dart in and out of the woods, usually carrying their latest catch. I've seen them running past with lizards hanging limply in their beak. I've seen them suddenly zoom 3-4 feet upward to snatch a bug in mid-air. I've seen them entertain themselves by running races with the cars that travel our street. Last year I would hear their distinctive "click, click" when I was walking in the yard. I was mystified until I realized they were perched on the peak of my roof, chattering at me while they kept an eye out for their next meal.

The chap in the photos usually doesn't acknowledge my presence in the yard, staying 8-10 feet away and pretending he doesn't see me. I didn't anticipate that I would have any problem snapping a few pictures today, but he suddenly became wary when he realized I was trailing along behind him. He led me a merry chase around the yard, probably chuckling to himself, before he finally let me get close enough to get a decent photo. So glad I was able to provide a diversion for a roadrunner today. Makes me feel useful.

You can find out a little more about roadrunners by following this link: .

Beep, beep. Zoooooom!


Sunday, June 04, 2006

40 Lashes With a Wet Noodle

I have been in communication this week with a distant cousin who lives in Danville, Illinois. I had intended to call him while we were there, but then we got busy photographing graves and time ran away with us. When I emailed him to bring him up to date on my cemetery project, I discovered that he had done extensive work in documenting the cemetery and I just never found the right bookshelf at either the Danville Public Library or the Illiana Genealogical and Historical Society.

I am so glad that I was wrong about the little Niccum Cemetery being overlooked by local historians. D.D. and I have been in on-again off-again communication for about 15 years and I knew that he was another fervent guardian of the family history. I should have known that he would have mapped out the family cemeteries. I did beat him to Find A Grave, but he has taken care of getting documentation pulled together on a local level.

And OUCH! I had forgotten my rather pithy dismissal on the blog of Danville's lack of exciting contributions to history. D. D. sent me the following list of people and companies that we can thank Danville for giving their start:

Western Brick Co. - Largest brick making plant in the world until it closed in the early 70s. Bricks were shipped to almost every major country in the world. All of the oldest buildings of the Univ. of Illinois in Champaign and Chicago were built with Western Brick.
Grab-it-Here Grocery stores - the former grocery chain began in Danville.
Gustavus Pearson - Discovered Yosemite Valley/now Yosemite National Park.
Dick Van Dyke - Actor (at least I got this one).
Jerry Van Dyke - Actor. (I knew this one, just failed to mention it.)
Gene Hackman - Actor. (You know, my favorite Hackman film is one that you never see rerun - Misunderstood. Tear jerker, yes, but good. Why isn't it out on DVD?)
Donald O'Connor - Actor/Broadway. (Singing in the Rain - one of my all-time favorite movies. O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" is priceless.)
Bobby Short - Singer/Musician - Played the Hotel Carlisle in NY for 37 years.
Joe Tanner - NASA Astronaut.
Joseph "Uncle Joe" Cannon - U.S. House of Representatives 46 yrs. - Speaker of the House for 8 years.
Ward Hill Lamon - Law Partner of Abraham Lincoln in Danville. Lamon was his body guard during his presidency and at the Ford Theatre at time of his assasination.
Edward Telling - CEO/President of Sears Roebuck and Co.
Theodore Gilliland - Inventor - created the new ground to air transmission/radio for airplanes in the 1940s.
Angela Watson - TV actress. (One of the daughters in the TV show "Step by Step".)
Jim Marshall - baseball player/manager - managed the Cubs 1974-76 and the A's 1979.
Darrin Fletcher - baseball player - Toronto Bluejays.
Helen Morgan - Actress/Cabaret - Zeigfield Follies. (Played Julie LaVerne in Show Boat.)
Matthew Stover - Author. (Among his books are 3 Star Wars novels.)
L.P. Cookingham - In 1940, he became city manager of Kansas City, MO., a position he held for 19 years. Rebuilt it into a thriving metropolis after the corrupted years of Mayor Pendergast.
Gurdan Hubbard - left Danville to head north to Fort Dearborn - Was very instrumental in the creation and development of the City of Chicago.
Keon Clark - former major basketball player.
Kim Crockett - Journalist, has won 2 pulitzer prizes. (She was also lead reporter for Nelson Mandela’s 1990 visit to Miami.)
Margaret Jones Dugdale - Professional Violinist - has been in several broadway productions and with several orchestras across the U.S.
Irving Azoff - Music/Entertainment Agent - Manager of such as; the Eagles, John Fogerty, Christina Aguilera, Glenn Frey, Steely Dan and Jimmy Buffett.. Has produced the following films; Urban Cowboy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jack Frost and The Hurricane
P.Kevin Strader - Author. (His work includes serving as Associate Editor of Sesame Street Magazine.)
Reginald Weaver - President of the National Education Association.
Douglas Mathisen, M.D./Thorasic Surgeon - currently Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School
Scott Shaw - Photographer, Pulitzer Prize Winner - Won once with the photo he took of toddler Jessica McClure in 1988 as she was rescued from the abandoned well.
Daniel Olmstead - Journalist - Bureau Chief of United Press International (UPI).
Rear Admiral Joseph Taylor, U.S. Navy and WWII Naval hero.
Dr. David Morrison - Astronomer - Director of NASA Telescope Facility and Deputy Administrator for Space Science at NASA.

You can read more about most of these outstanding folks at the Danville High School Wall of Fame.

Okay, I readily admit when I'm wrong. Danville has made a lot of serious contributions to society. Pot ash being the least of them. I apologize for my flippant remarks and I appreciate cousin D.D.'s bringing my error to my attention.

Glad I can say my ancestors lived in around Danville for generations.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Heirloom Plant

My grandmother Hodge kept a plant on her porch for years that she called an orchid cactus. I remember wondering why she kept the ugly thing. It seemed to have no redeeming value. Nevertheless, when she died we took the thing in and gave it a home. It would be years before I knew why it was worth the trouble.

I believe we had the plant 5-7 years before we caught on. A neighbor was the first to point out that we had a unique plant. I had my doubts, unless she meant it was unique for its utter lack of beauty. Then one morning I found out its secret. Since then, I've witnessed many of its random acts of floral beauty. Turns out that it only blooms at night and the blooms last for just a few hours. You have to watch for the buds forming and check first thing in the morning to see if today is the day. Today was.

I've since discovered that it is officially an Epiphyllum Strictum. Some call it, incorrectly, a night blooming cereus. It is not even remotely an orchid, but it is a member of the cactus family.

Would you believe there is a whole segment of the Internet devoted to devotees of this particular plant species?

I have many heirlooms tucked away in drawers and closets that are very satisfying to own but don't do anything but lie there. This heirloom rocks.


Friday, June 02, 2006

A Tale of Two Movies

Since my good mood crashed and burned about a week ago, I decided to give myself a present of a day off to do with as I pleased. I decided it was time to go to the movies. I don't go to the movie theater much anymore, since I usually end up being annoyed more than entertained. Between cell phone chirps, loud mouths and people who have to stumble across your feet half a dozen times (people, see a dr. for crying out loud), it just isn't worth the aggravation.

But once in awhile I cave in. I've learned to wait a week or two after the big blockbusters are released and to go to the earliest show available at a big cineplex in Austin. That usually guarantees as best a viewing environment as is possible. Today it worked out just fine. I was one of maybe a dozen people in the auditorium at 11:30 a.m. to see The Da Vinci Code, all of them adults.

(That reminds me of an audiobook I'm listing to at present. The main character goes into a restaurant and inquires if there is a no smoking area. "Yes, sir!" he is told. He then inquires if there is a no kids area. My kind of guy.)

Someone of my acquaintance saw the movie last week but had not read the book. Despite my comment that I had read the book twice and was well aware of the controversies it aroused, I have been repeatedly cautioned to remember it is fiction. Well, duh. It's just unfortunate that so many religious nuts have forgotten that little fact. Unfortunate for them. Very fortunate for Dan Brown, who's probably laughing all the way to the bank.

Anyway, I went prepared for violence and mutilation of the plot. There was violence, but it was well telegraphed so that those of us with squeamish tendencies could choreograph our popcorn eating so as to miss the flying globules of blood. The plot mutilation? Wasn't as bad as I feared. The major points of the story are all there. What they did change mystifies me. It really didn't seem to be necessary, but I guess it helped move the story along a little faster and got the job done in 2-1/2 hours rather than 3.

Tom Hanks was not my choice to play Robert Langdon, but he did a decent job. Only a time or two did you lose the character of Robert Langdon to the character of Tom Hanks and it wasn't jarring. The female lead was quite young in comparison, but they tamped down the romantic attraction in the novel to create more of an older brother to younger sister relationship, which worked out okay.

Bottom line--it was an enjoyable movie, fairly faithful to the novel, and loaded with great scenery. The critics may be crucifying it, but I think there's a lot of sour grapes involved with anything involving The Da Vinci Code. Ignore the critics and see the movie if you have any interest in it. You will be entertained sufficiently.

I got home to find that an impulsive EBAY purchase had arrived. My 2005 research project on the events surrounding the Texas City explosions of 1947 continues to spark my interest and I had located a DVD containing two archival films relating to the event. The first is a 6 minute, silent film presentation of fire and destruction of property. The second runs about 23 minutes and is a horrifying and graphic recounting of the tragic events. It was a compilation by the Texas Department of Public Safety and about half of the film was devoted to the subject of body identification in the aftermath of the explosion. The narrator tells the grim details of re-assembling body parts that had been blown apart, taking fingerprints from severed hands, dissection of bodies to determine the presence or absence of an appendix, and many other sickening methods they used to reunite bodies with the appropriate families. As the narration progresses, you are presented with film of the activities being described. It is not something you want to watch while you are eating dinner, which is what I was doing.

So from one extreme to another. The DaVinci Code is beautifully photographed and visually stunning. The Texas City documentary is grainy, poorly focused and visually stunning. Both films cause you to lose yourself in the story and stay with you for some time after viewing. The DaVinci Code (believe it or not, you hyper-religious nitwits) is fiction. The Texas City story is horrifying fact. The first takes 2-1/2 hours to tell its story. The second takes 23 minutes.

Both were well worth the time to see.