Category Archives: Austin

Prodding the Amygdala: A Look Back at 2015 and Beyond

While often associated (if known at all) with detecting threats and triggering fear, the amygdalae are also an important part of the brain’s processing and storage of memory.

I recently left the condo-encrusted landscape of Austin, Texas, and returned home for the holidays. There, in the mountainous terrain of the small West Texas town, where the night’s rich, black skies are lavished with stars, one descends easily into nostalgia. The languid pace of life creates a vacuum begging to be filled. It’s profoundly quiet. The “white noise of traffic” is a foreign expression, eliciting bewildered shakes of the head as to why anyone would live anywhere blemished by such a thing. Even the Internet and cell reception seem a bit sluggish. Within this environment, the mind is quick to rush in, regardless of your wishes.

Turns out, my head’s bursting with garbage. Or, more accurately, data in desperate need of external storage. I had a dream where I pulled black string out of my right ear. Yards of it. Knots of it. A panic-inducing amount until, eventually, and with enormous relief, a flash drive emerged, the string tied tightly around it. I still remember the feel of plastic pushing through, can hear the pop of it leaving my ear, can see it on the string heaped in my palm.

I never did get a chance to see what was on there.

It could have been any number of things. (I didn’t see a storage capacity.)

A folder labelled “2015” would contain certain files: NightJob.doc, dozens of recipes, countless new kitten jpgs, StevieWonderConcert.vid, scans of professional wrestling ticket stubs, measurements of fallen rain during the month of May, the photo of the resultant collapse of a section of our apartment’s ceiling, group photos taken at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center and Mount Bonnell when our mothers visited, and a list of hikes and vistas enjoyed during our anniversary weekend at the Canyon of the Eagles resort where I nearly lost a leg to this maniacal squirrel.

I fed him cashews, and after I ran out, he got pretty aggressive. We tried to appease him with a kale chip, but he wasn't having it. Threats were made. Claws flashed. We slept with one eye open for the remainder of our stay.

I fed him cashews, and after I ran out, he became pretty aggressive. We tried to appease him with a kale chip, but he wasn’t having it. Threats were made. Claws flashed. We slept with one eye open for the remainder of our stay.

The biggest change this year began in January, when I accepted a night shift position at a motel. It allowed me to leave a job I loathed, and one I had loathed for far too long. I started a separate blog to catalog my experiences as the combination night auditor and night watchman, and the first post goes into my initial taking of the job, as well as a brief summation of what it’s all about.

It’s not a job I ever imagined having, especially the security side of it. By no means am I the muscle of the place. For the most part, I finesse drunken guests into maintaining peace and quiet for the sake of the sober, sleeping guests. Only once have I felt slightly threatened. Most people just want to have a good time. Unfortunately, alcohol causes a regression into childhood, with an egocentrism that makes people assume everyone else is yelling as loudly as they are, feels as exultant as they do, and wants to urinate just as publicly as they do.

The job provides me with abundant free time. While I’ve squandered a good amount of it by not focusing on writing, I am proud of two things to come from it. First, I read more in the last year than in nearly any time in my life. Secondly, related to reading, I finally learned to cook. “Learned” is a strange word to describe the process of finally cooking. Mostly, you read recipes, and you experiment with ingredients and methods. If you can follow instructions, you can cook. Michael Pollan’s “Cooked: A History of Transformation” was a big influence on my fully diving into the culinary world. That, and my girlfriend’s return to school.

She had always done most of the cooking, while I did minimal prep and all of the dishes. I remember talking to a friend about this  division of household labor that seems common among our generation. I had felt the same way in previous relationships, but when my friend explicitly stated the idea aloud, it sounded a little absurd. We were both patting ourselves on the back by imagining that our partner’s cooking and our cleaning was a fair, progressive way to live. Now that I’ve been cooking for a year, I can confidently say it’s not the same. Cleaning is quicker, and it requires almost no thought.

Regardless of any desired balance between the sexes, the fact is, a grown person should be able to make food. I lived years going from fast food to fast food, essentially asking, “What trash food can I stuff in my dumpster gut next?”

I spent much of my time at work reading recipes and planning grocery lists. By the time I clocked out, I was eager to go to the store and then to the kitchen. In looking over Pollan’s book for a vaguely-remembered quote, I’m reminded of another reason I became so invested. The obvious downside to the night shift was no longer having the same schedule as my partner. When she came home from class, I was often walking out the door, headed to work. “We’re like two ships passing in the night,” was a common half-joke, half-lament as we hugged on the threshold. With less time together, I realized I needed a way to compensate. Cooking became a way to put effort into the relationship and to help her with a busier school and work schedule. As Pollan asked, “Is there any practice less selfish, any labor less alienated, any time less wasted, than preparing something delicious and nourishing for people you love?”

During the holidays, I was able to apply that notion with my parents, too. In a new cast-iron skillet, I made miso maple roasted Brussels sprouts. Finding miso turned out to be a bit of an adventure.The aisle sign displaying “Asian Food” in my small, West Texas hometown’s grocery store apparently means nothing more than that’s where the rice is found. Oh, sorry—ramen, too. The miso was eventually found at a health food store, and the recipe turned out decently for my first attempt.

It snowed pretty heavily the day we were scheduled to return to Austin. Driving was discouraged, accidents reported, roads closed. The snow was beautiful. It’s an oddity in central Texas, so I wanted to enjoy it while home. We postponed about half a day, and it left me with more time to reminisce. If I could find my way back into that dreamt flash drive, I could find an embarrassment of embarrassments from my youth. Gigabytes of alcohol, hormone, and boredom-fueled memories.

The place itself inspires myth-making, but it’s difficult to appreciate as a child. Maybe everyone fails to appreciate their hometown until they leave or grow up. But West Texas? Contained within a theoretical settingthescene.doc file –

“Native American myth says that God, or the Creator, after he finished with the stars in the sky, the fish in the sea, and the birds in the air, took all the leftovers, all the jagged and broken and gnarled things, and dumped them in one big pile. That pile became Big Bend, the mountains and desert of West Texas bordering Mexico.”

Recently, I told a coworker the myth, and he laughed.

“That’s where you’re from?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. Why’s it funny?” I always thought it was dramatic, that it could make a good opening to a short story.

“It sounds like even the first settlers out there thought it was a dump.”

Growing up, surrounded by mountains, I felt hemmed in on all sides. I was jealous of the girl who lived in a big house on the far side of the eastern-most mountain. She had a view out. She could see an escape, when we were stuck looking at the car across the street, propped up on cinder blocks. Driving to the edge of town, on back roads, we made a million miles on the same handful of routes. Up and down the one-ways, windows down. That one week in summer, every car and even the trucks blasting Fat Pat’s “Wanna Be a Balla.” On weekends, we’d get drunk at the end of a dirt road, a junkyard really, called the Dead Animal Place, named quite literally for its apparent purpose of dumping one’s deceased pets. Even wild animals seemed to find their way there. Train tracks pass through it, making a small bridge over the dirt road, and I once found a partially-decomposed deer splayed across the middle, a back leg at an impossible angle. Kids actually made out there. Had sex. Romantic ambiance can take a backseat when the engine’s running on hormones.

What I remember more and more, and what I now feel as a profound loss, is the memory of being so bored as a kid. Before cellphones, before the Internet, I recall overwhelming boredom. Thoughts expanded, churned. My mind went places on its own, not tugged along by hyperlinks or the gravity of ads and clickbait. I think sometimes what I miss most about a pre-digital environment, tied so inextricably with my youth, is this vast, blank space waiting to be filled. My mind had so much room, my vision undirected by screens. I don’t forget the copious amounts of television, but that seems different and certainly less pervasive. The landscape of my youth, and the media environment—or lack thereof—are connected for me.

The house itself hasn’t changed much. My stepdad has the same two photos hanging on his office walls. One is of President George W. Bush, and the other is of himself standing beside an 18-wheeler he drove for several years while working for the border patrol. Guns lean against walls in the same room with a bed furnished with cat-shaped pillows. Days of Our Lives plays regularly on the television.

My stepdad took a moment to point out the location of the vents in the bedroom, even explaining how to open and close them, as if I had not spent years living there. What he didn’t explain was his strange interest in the Hallmark channel and its horrendous programming. As if to balance out the sentimentality, we also watched Steven Segal’s Marked for Death and one of Wesley Snipes’ many forgotten action films.

We could have gone out, grabbed beers at either of the two or three bars, but we didn’t. On previous trips, I did, even though I never knew what I wanted to find, or who I wanted to see. The few close friends I had in high school are either gone, or I make specific plans to see them. When I did go out, the only people I would see were those who I had some tenuous relationship to begin with, but now, based on the single fact of having shared proximity during our formative years, we are compelled to acknowledge the other’s existence. “Oh, hey! We never really spoke during high school, but the town being so small, we saw each other nearly every day, and the least we can do is exchange pleasantries and update the other on our present location and occupation, despite all that information being readily available, and in all likelihood already known, via Facebook. Good to see ya!”

Obviously, I’m great at parties. My small talk is impeccable.

When it came time to return to Austin, we teemed with leftovers. Taking dessert as a single example, my mom made two chocolate pecan pies. However, one did not turn out as “pretty” as she’d hoped, so she made a third. That’s for a total of five people at Christmas dinner. Thus, with pie and turkey and dressing and sweet potatoes, we hit the warming blacktop, headed home through the melting snow and to that new kitten I mentioned earlier in passing.

Appearances are deceiving. She's a real shit. But, the cuteness is too strong to fight.

Appearances are deceiving. She’s a real shit. Fortunately, for her sake, the cuteness is too strong to fight.

It was a good year. I’ve already found a new obsession in macarons, and I’ve posted more blogs than last year. May the new year bring bounties of both.

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Filed under Austin, Food, Personal

La-Z-Boy Recliner & Cat Limited Edition BARGAIN

Craigslist Link

Let’s cut to the chase with this one.  A cat, Dottie (pictured below), urinated in the seat of this La-Z-Boy.

Dottie: Not only pees like she drank a 40oz, but can also fart as loud as a person! A mere sampling from her incomparable repertoire of cuteness!

Still reading?  Good for you.  Anyway, I’ve spent at least an hour spraying, scrubbing, and FeBreezing the affected area.  I even experimented with an elaborate, spell-like string of profanities in the hopes that it would smell like nothing but sunshine and dreams, but can you imagine, it just smells like cat pee and Yumberry Sangria Febreeze.

It really only smells that way when your face is about 6 inches away from the seat, and besides, what kind of weirdo goes around smelling recliner seats?  Perverts, that’s who.

I like to imagine that the cat was so relaxed while enjoying this super plush, fully-functioning recliner, that it reached a level of comfort so transcendent, that it nearly approached death, and its bladder ceased to function.  Its body released urine as a survival mechanism to bring its little kitty soul back to earth so it could live to pee and purr another day.

So, why not be so comfortable that you risk incontinence?  Huh?  Huh?  Can you, in all good conscience, resist such a pitch?  And if you and your friends and family aren’t a bunch of seat-smelling perverts, what’s the downside?  You’re not a pervert, are you?  PROVE IT BY BUYING THIS CHAIR.

I mean, c’mon, chairs aren’t for smelling, anyway. They’re for sitting. And this can hold your ass with the best of ’em, so stop being so nose-curious and take ‘er easy.

And, get a load of this!  The price?  A mere $25.  But wait for it – are you sitting down?  (Probably not, because you don’t have this awesome chair) I’ll even throw in the cat for an extra $5!

YOU READ THAT RIGHT.  $25 for a La-Z-Boy, OR, $30 for this LIMITED EDITION La-Z-Boy/Cat set!  What a bargain!  (Or best offer.)

Email me for directions. We’re conveniently located right off of 35, not too far from Franklin’s BBQ.  Dottie and I eagerly anticipate your response.

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Filed under Austin, Cats, Humor, Personal

My Deciduous Loveseat, Or, A Loveseat for the Nap Connoisseur – $100 (east Austin, near downtown)

If you are a true nap and lounge enthusiast, this is the loveseat of your dreams! With its award-winning comfort and internationally-renowned softness, the loveseat and its forest green material will lull you into the sweetest dreams of stunning, tree-filled vistas, where you will frolic with abandon among such majestic creatures as the Yellow-throated Warbler, the Great Horned Owl, and if you’re really lucky, perchance that cutest of God’s wonders, the Black-capped Chickadee. Dreams of zip-lining over water in a race with a Southern Flying Squirrel have also been reported by multiple nappers.

The sheer merriment of the adventures dreamed while lounging and sleeping on this loveseat will be surpassed only by your well-rested, refreshed and invigorated mind and body, allowing you to get up, wipe the sleep from your eyes, and tackle a very real, and very challenging forest adventure. Or, you could make a very real sandwich. Either way.

We would keep it, but we don’t have enough space in our new apartment, and we’re kind of transitioning to a tundra theme, anyway.

Email me for directions. Conveniently located right off of 35, not too far from Franklin’s BBQ. We and the Tufted Titmice of your deepest REM sleep eagerly anticipate your response.

My Deciduous Loveseat

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Filed under Austin, Humor, Personal

Summer Madness!

It appears all of my recent blogs have been melted away by the summer heat.  That is unfortunate, as there is no other record of their existence.  You will just have to trust that their illumination upon the human condition and the rendering of humankind’s hopes in contrast to its heartbreaking realities was a bludgeoning of truth to the brittle, kleptomaniacal fingers that would keep tugging you back toward Plato’s dark cave.

And the dick jokes.  Oooh man, the dick jokes were transcendent.

Sadly, they will remain forever absent, liquefied into a digital soup by the summer heat’s blog-meltingly high temperatures.  This loss cannot be quantified accurately, but just know that there wasn’t a 5-month lag in writing – no way – just a meteorologically-induced Internet malfunction.

Moving on to the meat:

Summer Madness:  A concept that humans are simply not adapted to consistent 100+ degree temperatures.  It affects the human brain and may cause depression, obsessive compulsive behavior and a general cognitive decay.  Diets of beer and barbecue combined with confinement in either climate-controlled safe-havens or public pools yield separate yet equally damaging declines in one’s emotional and physical health.

Case Study #1:

Me, Ol’ Fat Fingers Justice.

My body is a temple where burritos go to die, and where humidity from large reservoirs of booze spawns black mold.  My mind feels rotten, is beginning to stink up my skull, and faint yet cringe-inducing whiffs escape from my ears whenever I try to concentrate, like something from a derelict refrigerator mistakenly opened a second too long.

And the heat for a hairy man is insult added to, or maybe multiplied by, injury.  I was once told I belonged on a Bee Gees album cover. Whether that was a compliment or a dig does not matter; it’s fact.

The Brothers Gibb were an amazing, allegedly heterosexual group of singing space travelers who brought us the technology of satin jackets and pants in the 1970s. They wrote “Islands in the Stream,” later covered by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, a rendition bringing this blogger nearly to tears.

Austin’s already approaching a month’s worth of days over 100 degrees, and it’s only July 10.  I’m subsisting on pitchers of horchata, bowls of spaghetti and hours of Korean revenge movies on Netflix.  My only exercise is a pretty intense combination of angry fist-shaking and yelling through the curtains at the sun.  It’s a sad scene, a drama of strenuous impotence.

This heat-reenforced hermitry is affecting my social skills.  The last few times I’ve gone out I’ve been overwhelmed by people, by swarms of words and other bodies radiating heat.  Jabbering meat machines, sweat on brows and beverage rings on tables – it’s all a hideous damp jungle.  I swear when I looked at a sunburned woman the other night I saw legs and arms as oversized ballpark franks.  Red, swollen, sour, sweaty meat through to the bone.

I may or may not have seen the Virgin Mary in a hipster’s pit-stain.

Look!  It’s even too hot for 70s-era Gene Hackman!  He is shirtless and forlorn.

“When, oh when,” ponders star of such 70s classics as the French Connection and The Conversation, “will I be able to wear long-sleeved shirts with my favorite windbreaker again?”

Too long, Gene.

It certainly feels like never.

I wish I could even quit my job and work from my bottom-sheet-only bed beneath the a/c vent.  I read recently of an opportunity which could afford me this very luxury!

Our government will soon be distributing these to the unemployed as an integral part of their bi-partisan recovery plan.

Grow rich while you sleep!  Have you always wanted to work less and nap more?  But you just couldn’t make ends meet on a nap-based salary?  Well, now’s your chance to dream yourself rich!

What if I haven’t dreamt in 4 years because I haven’t gone to bed sober in 4 years?”

Fair question!  But no worries.  Even if you don’t remember how you got home last night, or why you awoke spooning a grilled cheese sandwich, you will never forget waking up on a big pile of rich, dirty money.  Who cares if you don’t remember your dreams?  You’re now wide awake and living…the American Dream.

Prestige.  Power.  Women and/or men.  Things that are fast and dangerous!  Rare action figurines.  Exotic, bejeweled totebags.  Cats that play the radio!

You’re rich.  You can have all of those things and more.  It doesn’t even have to make sense.  Alligator chair vodka helmet!  Someone will figure out what that means and get it for you.  And it will be the best kind!  The Cadillac of alligator chair vodka helmets, no knock-off or outlet mall version.

Grow rich while you sleep – you’ll always be on the cooler side of the pillow.  (Because you’ll be able to hire desperate laborers to gently turn it over for you, and you can shamelessly scold them if they wake you in the process.)

Unfortunately, the heat haunts me even in my sleep.  You see, my apartment’s thermostat is haunted by a cruel shithead.  That, or in a race to feeble, geriatric senility, I’m befuddled by this most simple of technologies.  I cancel all program settings and simply set it to run at 75, and yet, I’ll awake at four a.m., sweaty, to a thermostat reading 84.  Through a fog of sleepiness, I push buttons angrily.  By the time it turns on, I’m wide awake.  And still poor.

The other night, not the one where I may or may not have had the religious vision in a dinner-plate-sized, underarm sweat-ring, I engaged in a dating discussion with friends and a couple strangers.  A woman, not the ballpark-frank lady, talked endlessly about a guy she was dating but who had recently been acting strange and distant.  It was one of those, “Hey, this is what happened – do you think I’m crazy for being worried” kind of things.  A seemingly great month-long romance evaporated mysteriously over a weekend, with broken dates and promises, and should she continue to pursue it or confront him?

Little did she know she was asking someone whose paramount mission was to avoid summer madness, so my advice was not particularly welcomed.

I told her I had a new rule:  I don’t date in the summertime, and others should seriously consider adopting that policy.  It’s just too hot.  Plus, the nights are shorter.  You should drop that zero and find yourself a heroic fan.  Focus on what’s important – avoiding brain damage.

In conclusion, let me address a solution to the temperatures I’m sure many of your heat-radiated brains have been pondering.  You see, this summer madness causes many to indulge in something I find disgusting – public swimming pools.  I’ve never been a big fan.  It’s a meat soup.  The big chunks tightly strapped into nylon/spandex while little nuggets offer additional seasoning with stealth urination.  This soup will get in your mouth.  And yet, so many people will chase it with warm beer and keep laughing.

That’s ultimate summer madness.

Sometimes, dead bodies marinate in this soup, and nobody notices for days.  If you see me in a public swimming pool, kindly prepare me a padded cell.

But please, for the love of God, have it air-conditioned.

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Filed under Austin, Humor, Summer

A Consideration of the Mustache, Long Overdue

Austin businesses must begin catering to the mustache community by supporting a prominent cause:  helping to reduce the scourge of wet whiskers.

Why, in a city so enamored with facial hair and never-ending, cyclical consumption of coffee and booze, do we still suffer the absence of mustache cups?  As far as I know, not a single cafe, restaurant or bar is helping to keep area mustaches dry.

Austin, where are you on this?  It’s embarrassing.

If you’re unfamiliar, this is a mustache cup, or rather, an array of mustache cups.

Mustache cups are amazing

Is this for lady mustaches?

It’s simple, yet brilliant.  As you can see, within the circumference of the cup is a ledge, or mustache guard, that keeps the drinker’s mustache clean and dry.  Invented in the mid-1800s, when the popularity of nose beards and regular beards mirrored America’s spirited frontier expansion in some sort of Manifest Destiny of hair, these must have been far more prevalent.  There were simply more mustaches.  And furthermore, more of those mustaches were waxed.  Imbibing hot tea or coffee would undoubtedly melt that wax, having it leak into the cup, resulting in a horrible coffee/mustache wax combination.

Today, while fewer mustachinistas wax the ol’ nose neighbor, the fact remains that nobody wants a leaky mustache.

If I’m reading in the BookPeople cafe, I don’t want to worry about coffee dripping on to the book I’m reading but too broke to buy.  That would guilt me in to buying it, and my mustache is supposed to make me money, not cost me money.  (See:  side employment as mustache ride owner/operator)

If I’m drinking coffee at work, I can’t have it dripping onto important documents.  I just can’t.

And, as I believe it a courtesy to the ladies to help avoid kissing some ol’ whiskey whiskers, mustache cups sure would be mighty welcome at the bar.

Although, perhaps not all mustache residue is repellent – I’ve heard a lot of women say it’s pretty sexy to have sugar sprinkles as a kind of mustache frosting.  Just eat some sugar cookies and let the cookie duster work it’s magic.  In no time at all, pretty ladies will be dying to chew on your saccharine-sweet philtrum drape.  (That sounds a lot grosser than I wanted it to.)

That’s a philtrum.  In some cultures, folklore holds that it’s formed when an angel touches the baby in the womb, and whispers, “That’s where mustaches go.”

On a side note, I bet Sam Elliott has an awesome mustache cup collection.  I wonder if that’s what people always buy him for Christmas, and he’s growing tired of the same gift every year.

An angry Sam Elliott defends his right to a drippy mustache. If he wants to string cheerios from the damn thing, by God we ought to let him.

And on another note, I got beef with cupcakes.  The ratio of cupcakeries to Austin citizens is approaching critical mass.  And sure, they’re delicious.  They’re cake.  In a cup.  I understand this.  But empathize with the mustachioed for a moment.  Cupcakes are a cake medium unfriendly to mustaches.  Messy icing madness is only amplified with the nose beard  clinging to icing like…well, like icing to a nose beard.  And, while I offer no suggestion to this problem, I assure you I’m hard at work continuing to complain about it while still eating cupcakes. (That just gave me an idea to open my own cupcake dealership, and I’ll call it The Cupcake Curmudgeon)

A lovely left-handed mustache cup

Now, while I lament the absence of mustache cup accessibility, I would be remiss not to mention one local establishment’s consideration of mustache rights.  Hot dog utopia, coffee heaven and all around impressive bar, Frank, offers the ‘Stache Dog,” a hot dog (non-menu special request, I believe) with all the fixin’s beneath the dog, so as to minimize a post-meal mustache medley.   That’s a bold, innovative start to ending mustache neglect and championing its dignity; but we need more.

In fact, I think the Frank logo would look real handsome on a mustache cup.

The coffee at Frank needs no boosting, as their barristas participate in national competitions, but still – slap that on the side of a mustache mug, and it’s a winner. (Photo by Matt Egan)

I hope to pitch this concept to the management of various establishments asap, for the struggle against sloppy ‘staches has endured too long.  Too long!  Austin needs to revitalize the mustache cup industry and promote mustache hygiene in a creative way.  We have the technology.  We have the vision.  We have the mustaches.  We will no longer stand (or sit, probably sit) idly by while mustaches exude shame, drip by drip.  Nay, we will demand drinking cups with protective ledges.  Demand mustache cups!  Demand mustache respect!

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Filed under Austin, Beards, Drinking