Category Archives: Personal

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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From the tangled spaghetti noodles of thought, I extract a most meaningful meatball…

…only to drop it on the floor.

Or,

My refrigerator, like my heart, opened to reveal the paltry contents therein

I made spaghetti, and it needs cheese. At 27, employed, college-educated, of able body and sound (albeit, potentially out of tune) mind, I have no excuses for the following, somehow heartbreaking fact: I have no cheese.

Sure, there are explanations as to how I reached this dire circumstance, but they do not excuse this failure to possess an essential food staple. I mean, my god, I love cheese. Cheese loves me. There’s been a long, storied romance betwixt this blogging man and old, coagulated milk fat. I believe Nicholas Sparks is attempting to tackle our undying love in one of his Shakespearean, “dramatic epic love stories,” which will inevitably be adapted into a film. Ryan Gosling will play the mozzarella. Rosario Dawson is said to be considering the role of pepper jack cheese.

And yet, today’s chapter would take a tragic turn, as I dwell morosely on the faults of my character fating my cheeseless-ness. Primarily, I loathe going to the grocery store. (Is that a character fault?) The zombie mindlessness of the cart-pushing patrons, the fluorescent lighting, the overwhelming abundance of options leading to scrutiny wasted on the subtle and ultimately meaningless differences between one green bottle of shampoo and one blue bottle of shampoo. And the music? An absolute horror to anyone paying attention, which, admittedly, is not really the intention of the playlist.

How, in nothing but a world already destined to complete failure, can Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” be followed by the Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket?” Lest you think it some sort of consolation to hear that while looking for pulp-free orange juice amidst all levels of pulp inclusion or exclusion, I attest – it is not. It’s a painful irony all the more painful for its accidental nature. The grocery store music is not being DJ’ed by a clever hipster. It is commercial audio content to soundtrack consumerism in action. All music is reduced to hummable pap, and any subversive element to Strummer and Jones’ lyrics is lost on the free-sample grabbing audience.

I rant, and yet, it brings me no cheese. Yes, I hate the grocery store, mostly because of the people. But there are times when it is not so busy, like now. It’s midnight, and HEB is open. I could satisfy my cheese needs now. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’m not leaving this laptop, this bottle of tequila, this squeaky yet comfortable chair.

I am content to settle for cheese-less spaghetti, as long as I am able to pontificate and be grumpy about it. This makes me a curmudgeon, on top of being unorganized, unprepared, and let’s cut the crap – lazy. Lazy laced with impulse control disorder. I’ve been told this personality-cocktail makes for an incredibly attractive potential mate.

In an attempt to provide a visual break from all the words, I did a google image search of curmudgeon. The results included:

Statler and Waldorf, the ornery old Muppet characters

The late, great comic book writer and music critic, Harvey Pekar. His quote, "Life is a war of attrition," is not currently scheduled to caption any motivational posters.

Andy Fucking Rooney

Personal hero and still undisputed World Heavyweight Grumpy Ol' Bastard Champion, Andy Rooney.

So, I have no cheese.  And while I’ve accepted that for this particular helping of spaghetti, I can’t help but wonder if the cheese is more than cheese.  You know?  Like, is it a metaphor?  Is cheese a rewarding career?  Am I content to put that off until later, later than what?  To procrastinate?  To be happy with the bill-paying but bland sauce?  Or, is cheese a woman?  A relationship in which my fear of intimacy completely evaporates.  (Lady readers, you’re more than welcome to approach me with the line, “I’d love to be your cheese,” and we will laugh and hug and kiss like nobody’s business)

No, it’s probably just cheese.  In fact, even the title of this blog post – particularly the part about extracting a meaningful meatball – is bullshit.  It’s vegetarian spaghetti, with mushrooms and zucchini.  I just liked the alliteration.  I can’t even cook a meaningful metaphor.  (Boom!  still got in that alliteration)  What figurative value could zucchini possibly play?

(I am more than content if the only memorable, de-contextualized quote from this post is, “Is cheese a woman?”)

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Filed under Drinking, Humor, Music, Personal

Drunk Cooking: Cake!!!

In what is most likely to be a never-weekly series, I discuss something I cooked.

While it’s not recommended for the faint of liver, drunk cooking can be an exciting and rewarding enterprise.

Over the Christmas holiday I was dazzled (I would dare say razzle-dazzled, but I don’t want to get carried away and thus lose hyperbole’s effectiveness through overuse) once again by family’s home-cooked meals.  Particularly captivating this year was my aunt’s Cherry-Pineapple Dump Cake.

For the record (who’s keeping that anyway? Is this the record?),  I am not usually a cherry fan.  I won’t turn one down, especially if it’s chocolate-covered, but I don’t seek them out.

See what I’m doing here?   I’m setting up a hurdle over which the upcoming recipe will soar, most triumphantly.

Despite this blasé attitude toward cherry-related foods, I typically follow a no-refusal policy toward desserts.  Plus, I was cresting a gustatory high from Christmas dinner and feeling experimental.  At such a moment, will power is just not a graspable concept.

So, it was reheated and topped with a generous dollop of vanilla ice cream.

That’s right – it was even leftovers from the previous day!

That dessert didn’t stand a chance.   I tried to eat slowly, but it was so good that some primordial fear and jealousy overtook me and I ate it like cake-predators were circling.

There weren’t any.  So, I had a little more, relaxed that there was plenty to go around.   It’s crispy, buttery-soaked top juxtaposes with the high-viscosity fruit-filling beneath to make me lose descriptive skill and just say, “Holy crap, that’s good.”

I must have gone on and on about it, because I was presented with directions for cooking it, along with strong reassurance that even I could make it.

Yes, in what would normally be considered clear condescension were I not aware and accepting of my how-can-you-fuck-up-a-hot-pocket level of cooking skills, I was encouraged to purchase the ingredients and give it a shot.

And so, I did.

Twice.

Cherry-Pineapple Dump Cake

Makes 8 to 10 sober servings, divide by half for drunkards

Ingredients:

1 Fridge that looks like this

1 Strong case of drunk-munchies, although not necessary by any means

1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained

1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling

1 (18.25-ounce) package yellow cake mix

¾ cup butter or margarine, melted

½ cup chopped pecans, toasted

Ice cream or whipped topping

Spread crushed pineapple on bottom of a lightly greased 13 X 9-inch pan.  Top pineapple with cherry pie filling and sprinkle cake mix evenly over filling.  Drizzle with melted butter, and sprinkle with chopped pecans.

It should be noted I used walnuts instead of pecans.  (Pssst, they’re cheaper.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with ice cream.

Prep: 10 min., Bake: 1 hr

What I really like about this is how impossible it is to screw up.  I even tried to screw it up the second time by being completely sober.  But no, still good.  Admittedly, I decided to forgo the ice cream, but it was still so insanely delicious.  It is literally a dump and stir prep-process, thus easy enough for a sauced man-child to make.

Here is a poor photograph of the finished product moments before part of it got in my mustache.

REMEMBER TO PUT DOWN YOUR BEER AND TURN OFF THE OVEN

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