Splurging on a Tuesday night

It was easy enough to gain a solid five pounds over Christmas weekend. And, for that matter, it was fortuitous that Christmas fell on a Saturday morning, because I’m slack about eating healthy on the weekends anyway. Of course, Boxing Day is always a favorite holiday of mine to cast cholesterol concerns aside. And, with Epiphany coming up, and falling on a Thursday at that, it’s clear that I’ve had and will have many justifiable excuses to eat and grow fat.

Last night was cause for constraint, however. It was a Tuesday evening after all. And it wasn’t Christmas or Epiphany or Groundhog’s Day, another favorite culinary holiday of mine.

So I ate lunch with a friend at Antojitos — making sure to dominate the shared and free chips and salsa (I mean, I was picking up the tab, which entitles me to a majority control of the chips) — consuming both corn tortillas that came with the meal. By the way, I had huevos rancheros, and far be it for this gringo to point this out, but I’ve always had my tortillas sitting underneath the huevos, not on the side. They came as a side dish. I will say that the ranchero sauce they put on the huevos was excellent, as were the refried beans. The rice was typical of that which comes with most Tex-Mex meals: if you were to take cotton candy and shape it into sepia-colored rice, that’s what a mouthful would feel like.

Unless I’m forgetting a meal or snack somewhere in the afternoon, the next opportunity to eat would be at the movie we were going to, “House of Gucci” at the AMC in Boerne.

At the movies, I’ve been known to have both popcorn and Twizzlers, but never on any day except Christmas, Boxing Day, Epiphany, Thursdays or the occasional Friday (Wednesday too, but only if Thursday happens to be a holiday).

It was Tuesday night, which called for extreme constraint. The kind of constraint as practiced in 1996, when Christmas fell on a Wednesday, and I have a firm belief that eating wildly should never be done on a Tuesday except when that Tuesday is Christmas Eve, which this past week fell instead on a Friday and which, as I have stated, can be among the “occasional” variety when caution is thrown to the wind.

So we ordered a large popcorn to share and two drinks. (There was a time when we shared a large drink, too, but let’s be reasonable. There comes a time when one needs his own gallon of Cherry Coke Zero.)

I noticed a couple changes in the movie-going experience, which has eluded us or we it for about two years. The last movie we saw outside the house was “A Star Is Born” at the Rio 10 here in Kerrville. After that, there was a gunman who holed himself up in the theater and was removed only after the cops used tear gas, which took a while to clean the theater of, and then COVID hit. (In its own inimitable way, COVID was also a good excuse to eat a lot.) Coincidentally, that last movie starred the same actress as the one last night: Lady Gaga. I thought she looked familiar, and in my opinion was quite good in her role, as she was in “A Star Is Born.” (If you disagree, fine. But know that you are not welcome for dinner, not even for the traditional feast I prepare on St. Patrick’s Day.)

The popcorn… All I can say is that there is still nothing like movie popcorn. It’s the best.

One of the changes in movies now is that before the previews, guests are encouraged to download an app called Noovie Arcade, which allows the patron to use their phone to play an augmented reality game on the screen. I have to admit, it looked fun.

Another change is that they have increased the number of previews from three or four to approximately 26. That’s only my guess; I lost count after they were still previewing movies from 2019 that had come and gone without wide distribution but which are now on-demand on Hulu.

On the way to the theater, I remarked to Karen that this would be the first movie in two years that I couldn’t hit the pause button on. In fact, with “House of Gucci” having a 140-minute run time, I did have to run to the bathroom at one point.

Yet, no pause and dozens of previews notwithstanding, it was a pleasant experience. Sitting in the dark with strangers enjoying a shared experience. Having no say whether the movie continued with or without me, allowing me to be at its mercy.

In those times, one can lose oneself into the story. And I did.

But by the 18th preview I had already finished our popcorn.

Anime eyes

Since producing the very simple book I call “Under This Texas Sky,” I’ve been looking up at the clouds even more. And since most of my time outside is while I’m driving, looking up at the clouds is not advisable. Most of the time.

I’ve also been starting to take photos again ten minutes after the sunrise, which is a moving target but gives me a baseline to see how each morning looks particularly in relation to the sun. There’s a building across golf course and road, about 200 yards away, whose southern side gets lit up about that time during the darker part of the year but is a “muddier” light during the warmer months. The sun, perhaps slightly lower at sunrise during these colder months, hits the side of the house fully, while a more obtuse angle might defuse its effect.

So analytical!

Speaking of 200 yards to the north, I got a voice mail one morning last week from a woman who said she found Buttons, our cat.

Apparently, Buttons — who is the adventurous non-human in our family — had explored the community to the north of us. In fact, she had explored up the street that is across that road and apparently also let herself into the caller’s home. (She can jump up and open door handles.) Buttons is a slight cat, only 7.2 pounds. (She needs the extra “0.2” to sound heavier than air.) She has “anime” eyes, as Karen likes to say, and looks innocent and sweet. She is neither. She relies on her sibling, Bucket, a ‘fraidy cat who doesn’t like to explore but has other skills, to open the pocket door to the laundry room, and then she does her thing with the handle. She’s so good at opening the back door that we now keep (our dog) Leo’s collar on almost always, so that if she escapes, leaving the door ajar, Leo doesn’t race out the back.

So I called the woman and said I’d be right over.

Buttons was backed into a corner between the washing machine and a wall and protected from the front by a step ladder. She was looking up at me, licking her chops the way scared cats do. And I thought, “Silly girl. You got yourself into this. Why should I be your enabler? Can’t you see we’re in a codependent relationship that must stop?

I brought her home, was able to keep her in for a while — we have to keep front and back doors locked so she doesn’t do her door thing — until she slid past me once while I was entering.

Karen was a bit upset by my inattention to this, especially since I hadn’t kept her in long enough to eat.

I had figured perhaps that she wanted to dine out. I was merely showing her some tough love.

[photo: Wallpaper flare]

Cardamom

What ended my chances to be on a reality cooking show that had a grand prize of $100,000 probably came in the third round of interviews when the culinary expert asked me, “What’s your favorite condiment?” and my answer after a rambling monologue was “cardamom.” I talked about other “condiments” like curry (“My wife doesn’t really like it.”) or standards like rosemary, thyme and other “condiments” that might have featured in a Simon & Garfunkel song. Sure, cardamom is not only not found in most recipes but is found in “my favorite recipe for pancakes,” something I’d pointed out after this verbal adventure of about thirty seconds, which is a lifetime in a “job” interview for a spot on a TV show where 30 seconds might cost tens of thousands of dollars if you are car company whose Lincoln Navigator is being driven by Matthew McConaughey. But the salient point — really the only point — is that cardamom is a spice. It is not a “condiment.”

Ketchup. Mustard. Mayo. Whatever-the-fuck.

Those are condiments.

She was asking me about mayo, when I had thought we were going to talk about why cardamom makes my pancakes so much better.

No.

Answers like these during a 15-minute phone interview on October 12 with a producer (a culinary expert who helped produce the show) I believe ended my chances to be a contestant. The next step would have been a trip to Albuquerque on November 27, and filming until December 11 depending on how well I did. The winners of each round in this competition of home cooks wins cash, and the final winner gets a hundred grand.

But getting cut?

It’s all good.

I mean, I have a load of darks to wash that’s not going to wash itself.


A nice woman had approached me on October 1 through Instagram. A direct message. These days, when you get a DM on Instagram, it shows up in “Requests,” and these are usually spam, or people promising they can increase the number of my followers, or college-age women asking if I want to see them lose their virginity on video. (No joke; it’s pretty messed up.)

But there were several things that tipped me off that this might be legit:

  • The writer addressed me by first name
  • She identified herself with her whole name and identified the company she worked for
  • She used paragraph breaks in standard fashion along with proper punctuation
  • She ended the first paragraph with the words “$100,000.” (Sure. I know that that’s one word, and it’s not even a word. But I tend to see each zero as a thing. You know: 0 = debt repayment. Another 0 = new chef’s kitchen. Another 0 = put it into Karen’s business, etc.)
  • She wrote — in successive paragraphs with appropriate breaks — how she came across me, what she wanted to discuss and closed with her name again and title.

I looked her up on LinkedIn, and she seemed legit.

I replied later that day that I’d like to talk, and so we did.

They were going to start a new streaming show, through a “major food network,” that was a competition of home cooks who have short-cut hacks on making meals quicker. The hacks could be food prep or cooking techniques, or they could be how to use a kitchen tool in a new way that made meals easier.


The initial approach had come on a Friday morning. I responded late that day, and over the weekend we scheduled a call for Monday. It went fine enough. She asked me what I would do with the $100,000. (I’ve seen Chopped forever and they ask this on the show; I surmised that they ask this early on so that my reasons would sound compelling on camera.) I said, “I’d probably get a new chef’s kitchen. I’d put some money into my wife’s art business. I’d help my kids with their educational and career goals.”

All true.

Not the whole truth, of course. Because somewhere in there would be a new surfboard. And I’ve needed a new pair of brown slip-on leather shoes, because my Maddens have a slice in the bottom of the right one, and if I was walking to appointments instead of driving, most surely my socks would be soaked on rainy days. So: new shoes. I didn’t mention that to the nice woman, because she probably lives in L.A., where you also drive and where it doesn’t rain. And if it does rain, nobody drives.

I digress.

Killed the interview.

She said she definitely wanted me to go to the next step and scheduled a video interview for me with another casting agent for the next day. Hell, I thought, I’m rocking it. Shoes, here we come.

The Zoom interview was about 45 minutes long, and the young casting agent, a man in his late 20s or early 30s, informed me that this video would be shared with producers, along with my answers from the previous day and the written application I’d had to fill out, and their decision would be based on those.

I got this, I thought. Zoom is where I live. I use Zoom all the time for work with strangers and colleagues and I can kill this. I know how to look into the camera even though I’m not looking into the person’s eyes and I can come across as personable. I can totally do this.

This was a little different, because I was not interviewing specifically for the casting agent but rather auditioning for some unseen person or persons in Los Angeles who saw hundreds of interviews like this. He said that although the interview would take a little time, they would edit it down to a couple minutes and present it to the show’s producers. You know, those people who drive on non-rainy days and have more than one pair of work shoes.

He coached me along the way on how to say things to appear excited. He had me repeat a couple answers here and there, rephrasing things, giving shorter answers, looking more excited. This was around 4pm, and frankly I was a little tired. I needed to snort some cayenne pepper to get myself going. And so I did. Just kidding. I said I needed to. But I didn’t do it.

It was a day or two later maybe when the first casting agent called me to schedule the next call, the third one that I mentioned above, which would be a “culinary expert” on the show. I actually just now found her on LinkedIn, and she’s a beast. Serious background in chefery and culinary education. (Chefery is as much a word as cardamom is a condiment by the way. Chefery has those squiggly red lines under it, indicating it’s not a condiment. And I’m going to fucking leave it as is.)

She was all business. She peppered me — you knew that pun was coming — with questions like, “What four ingredients must you have to cook with?” (I answered garlic, onion and a couple other things.) “What oil do you use?” Olive. “What’s in your dry pantry?” I had to ask for clarification; she said, “Anything not perishable.” Hence, drypantry, airhead. I mentioned pastas, and realized that didn’t make me stand out. Rice, pinto beans, canned goods… (Should I mention that they are Del Monte, a brand I hate?) None of these made me stand out. I forgot all about the large bag of chia seeds I bought from H-E-B, which will probably last me until the canned goods perish after the apocalypse. That answer was probably a fail.

She asked me, “Do you do more baking or cooking?” “What’s your go-to dish?” “How much do you spend on groceries each month?” “If you had an hour’s notice, what kind of meal would you make?” I answered all these relatively well.

Then she asked, “What’s your favorite cuisine?” Oh, man, here I’d hit it out of the park for sure with the prowess that got me all the likes and praise on Instagram. I told her all the dishes I had made: the pastas and smashburgers and healthy options with fish and chicken casseroles, and I even made sure to outline my secret weapon: spaghetti-western food. People hadn’t heard of this: not Hollywood, not the streaming TV-viewing public, not even that fruity-hairstyle-driving-a-Lincoln-probably-running-for-governor-of-Texas guy. I was killing it. Killing. It.

Until she repeated the question: “No, I mean, what’s your favorite cuisine. Like: Italian, French…”

This was not going well. I said meekly, “Probably Italian.” Which was probably the favorite cuisine of 90% of those interviewed, too.

And yet those 90% knew cardamom wasn’t a condiment.


I inquired several times with the original agent whether they’d made a decision. I got a note on November 2 — that was Election Day in case you weren’t paying attention. Yeah. Election Day. — that informed me that I had “not been selected to move forward with the show.” It was a gracious note. A single paragraph. (I myself might have made it two, just for readability’s sake. But hey, she wasn’t auditioning for my upcoming Reality Grammar Show. I’m serious, by the way. Still pitching it to the perpetually-shoed Hollywood types.)

There came a point between my final interview and when I got word of being cut — a span of only three weeks — when I started to cook occasionally with methods and a mindset that were geared to being the kind of cook who might win on a show like this. Not the kind of cook who cooks to enjoy cooking.

Hey, I’m all for winning $100,000.

But there really is a truth to how different it is between doing something you enjoy for the love of it versus for the money, and perhaps having it spoiled. (This is why famed surfer Laird Hamilton doesn’t compete: surfing is not a competitive activity in his mind. It’s a relationship between the person and the ocean.)

I’m ok having a dry pantry that has things I forgot to mention during the interview because they are pushed to the back when I bought the 10-pound back of white rice at the beginning of COVID. I’m ok even calling cardamom a condiment, because I’m still going to use it in my pancakes despite its category. I did so this past weekend. Everyone loved the pancakes.

I’m still ok thinking my spaghetti-western cuisine is a thing. She didn’t ask about that. The culinary expert, that is. And she’s a freaking culinary expert. Pfft. Right.

It is a thing. And I’ll turn it into an even bigger Thing. And there will be food trucks and restaurants and t-shirts and key chains.

Maybe not key chains. Who buys key chains at a restaurant?!

I’ll have to noodle on that one.

Restoration

With torrential rain last night and early this morning — “torrential,” that is, contrasted against our standard “none” — you know I’m going to talk a little about the sky. Or skies, as I pointed out recently. Carol Arnold yesterday on Facebook posted a painting of hers inspired by a rainstorm in Junction, Texas. She had been driving home from Marathon.

Marathon is the town you drive through to get to Big Bend’s main visitor center. Yes, you could go through Terlingua but from Alpine, where you’re staying, if not Marathon itself, it makes more sense to go through the latter. You have to go through a border patrol checkpoint, because in Big Bend you can cross into Mexico, most notably by wading into the Rio Grande at the Santa Elena Pass. In fact, you can get to Mexico there without getting your shirt wet.

The drive back from Marathon along I-10 East affords many big-sky panoramas. There are only a few places in the U.S., and even the world, where you can still enjoy a natural panorama. Human settlement, even one with low-rise dwellings, can’t be considered a “panorama.” It would take Nature to restore it.

Click-hold and move the bar above to reveal all of Carol’s painting, and look to the lower right. That swath of dark means someone’s getting dumped on. In Junction, that’s probably the people coming out of McDonald’s just off the highway on their way to or from Mason.

My photo is aimed southwest from Comanche Trace. Planes are probably grounded at the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport. Or if the dump is far south enough, people at Toucan Jim’s restaurant are scampering inside from the backyard dining area, running and giggling as they grasp onto the stems of margarita glasses and the edges of plates with jalapeño poppers. Feeling the sizable raindrops start to cool their skin under their light-colored shirts, now polka-dotted with gray, and knowing it’s only a sudden and short-lived luxury. Table neighbors, strangers just moments ago, glance at each other and smile. They begin friendly negotiations to determine who gets to sit at the bar to finish their meals and who looks for a spot elsewhere inside. Men stand sideways between bar stools and occasionally apologize to the person behind them.

Lite-Brite

Naturally, I thought I was the smart one. Naturally. I pretty much know my way around Kerrville roads by now. Generally speaking. In almost any setting, I have an intuitive sense of how to get from here to there using shortcuts and a sense of traffic flow that even Google would pay me to consult on. You know: blue, yellow and red areas to tell you where the slow-downs are. I wouldn’t give Apple Maps the time of day. And Waze is too proletarian.

Yesterday ended my traffic flow consulting practice even before my first client signed on the dotted line. But the consolation was that not even Google would have known that the Loop 534 bridge was closed due to the Kerrville Triathlon.

“Wait,” you command (you did use the imperative tense, so I must write it that way). “Didn’t you see those electronic signs? You know. The ones with the digital orange letters on the black background? They were as clear as the Lite-Brite games we had as kids. Are you trying to tell me that your ambition to consult Google made you forget your childhood?!”

Certainly not.

For starters, as a game, Lite-Brite sucked.

There were plenty of other games of its era that were better and more worth the time we spent not on Pong. Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, to name just one. To press those right and left-hand jab buttons and finally hear the satisfying grind of your adversary’s ridged and anodized metal neck popping his head upward gave young boys a sense of impending manhood. It was the MMA of 1970s bedroom carpets.

And look at this photo of Lite-Brite. I’m not exactly sure what it’s supposed to be, but my guess would be an outerspace unicorn that just let loose a rainbow fart. That’s way too big to be a wing. But you decide.

Does its low resolution compare with the high-res and creative freedom found in an Etch-A-Sketch? And what about hand-eye concentration? Someone adept at Operation would scoff at those who with limited artistic ability stick colored pegs in a black background any which-a-way — do you see the parallel here? With Lite-Brite, you can call anything “art.” (And, as many of you know, I have to tread lightly on this topic…) But even with Play-Doh: it was great for sculpting and even better as a late afternoon appetizer. It was only after several budding artist-wannabees tried using the colored pegs as tapas that they printed “Choking Hazard” on the box. They should have printed: Only For The Feeble-Minded.

Second, consulting Google would come with lifetime free 100GB storage. So there’s that.

But back to my story.

I went to Daily Donuts yesterday to do the right thing and get donuts and kolaches for the boys. It had little to do with the extra jelly donut I purchased, and you will be hard pressed to find a witness to say otherwise. My boys were sleeping when I returned. So: no loose ends.

Let’s get back to the “return” home part, which for a while seemed to be in doubt and then most assuredly was in doubt.

On the way to Daily Donuts, I took Bandera Highway down to Medina Highway.

“Did you see not only the signs but that the loop bridge was closed?” you ask.

Well, sure! What do you think?! Do you think that a Google consultant with 100GB of free storage and who can compare the bridge-closed sign to Lite-Brite would be so feeble-minded to have missed that? So: yes. But being who I am, I figured coming back would be different. You know: the ol’ doing the same thing thinking the outcome would be different That kind of head-spinning mental agility.

Besides, turning onto S. Sidney Baker from Bandera was a hassle. Like, it took three minutes instead of thirty seconds.

After I got two large kolaches, one with cheese and jalapeño, and six donuts, including two jelly donuts, one which I was actively eschewing, I got back on Main Street. Just so you know, getting on Sidney Baker from Daily Donuts is quicker through the broken concrete parking lot in front of the auto loan place. Google doesn’t show that short cut. You learned it here.

I decided that I’d try my luck with the Loop 534 bridge from that side of the river. On the off-chance. I mean, what if those who live at the VA want to go to Brew Dawgz? Are they expected to drive all the way down to Sidney Baker and then Bandera before they can get a burger with onion rings? Seems a bit much, if you ask me. And what of ordering Papa Johns? Should the driver go to Sidney Baker to deliver to third-shift workers at the hospital? And, getting cold pizza, do you tip? Or do you stiff the guy and contribute to a lowered living wage all because a person in tights riding a $2,000 bike is blocking your delivery guy’s 2005 Honda Civic from getting through? Or if you wanted to go to Gravity Check down Bandera Highway at 9:00am and wait till Noon for it to open?

Truly I say to bikers: Share the road.

Getting from Daily Donuts to home is normally a 5.1-mile and 10-minute proposition. That’s according to Google Maps. And, more importantly, according to me.

On my way home, I approach the Loop and, lo and behold, it’s closed. I slow down and kind of glance at the police officer standing at the intersection as if to say, Seriously?! I just came from downtown and am more than a little surprised, Officer. This is actually the best way home, and my vehicle contains a jelly donut that I eschew but will not eschew in approximately 7 minutes.

Turns out, he ignored my look.

At this point, I made a strategic decision within a millisecond. One must do this while driving. I could go back to Sidney Baker and home the way I came, swallowing my pride, putting my Google contract in jeopardy and adding on the 7-10 minutes that I lost, or I could continue south on Highway 27 and use another crossing.

I continued.

Pointless of course to turn through the gravel company because it would have led me to Riverside, as would of course the turn onto Riverside itself a bit further down toward Center Point.

Remember those words: Center Point. It’s the key to this whole story. As is the phrase Damn, I spent way too much time eschewing that jelly donut. That, too, is key.

The trick now became how to cross the Guadalupe since they stopped using the wooden ferry 175 years ago. Even then, it’d be unrealistic to expect a ferry made of cedar trees to support a 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe.

I knew for a fact I could cross at the Center Point River Road in a few minutes. I mean, what if I lived right there? Even if they had it closed, could they stop me from bringing donuts and kolaches to my children before heading out to the swimming hole?! No, they could not. (In my mind at least.)

But they could. And they did. And the police officer, hiding his authoritative amusement behind dark glasses, easily ignored my plaintive look.

I continued on.

When I hit Sutherland Lane, a final way to cross over via Center Point River Road, and saw that it too was closed, I admitted defeat and decided it would be a nice drive to go through Center Point itself. I hadn’t been down to San Antonio Street in a while, and I can’t recall when I’ve ever driven from Center Point to Bandera Highway via San Antonio Street itself. (And isn’t it odd that farther north I could have crossed the Guadalupe on foot much more easily and quickly than in car? I’d simply have carried my plastic bag of donuts and kolaches and listened to Joe Rogan on Spotify along the way. This is what the early settlers did, minus the plastic bag.)

To summarize, pride and a desire to have free Google storage space turned into a trip that was four times the miles and three times the minutes it would have taken going home the way I came to town.

But like I said, Lite-Brite sucked then, and it sucks now.

Marvelous. Wonderful.

One of the noticeable differences between living in Texas, at least this part of Texas, and New York City, at least the Manhattan part — not that there’s really any other part that can reasonably be called “New York City” — is the sky.

Quality and quantity.

Above is a photo I took this morning exactly ten minutes after sunrise. I’ve taken more than a hundred of these from the same angle and same time (10 minutes after sunrise) since early February of this year, and at some point I’ll be putting these into coffee table book format.

Studying the same scene over and over, I feel a bit like Monet with a camera instead of a brush and with anonymity without the inevitable real estate on the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Also, Monet repeatedly studied lillipads, which I can’t do unless I get a GoPro for my camera and paddleboard out into the Guadalupe. Believe me, I’ve considered it.

There are a lot of reasons to appreciate the Texas sky. The two most obvious ones are its quantity — it’s Big-Ass — and quality.

Texas skies are big.

I took this photo on September 4, 2018.

I still remember how I pulled onto Comanche Trace Drive leading into the golf course community where we live and seeing this through the passenger side window.

Comanche Trace Drive is straight once you enter and perhaps a hundred yards long. Through the live oak trees you can clearly see the sunset sky in all its unadulterated beauty.

This was one of those “God-light” varieties of skies — I say “skies,” plural, because no sky here is ever the same; Manhattan skies are pretty uniform — and on that straight stretch of Comanche Trace Drive, I would have been negligent had I not pulled over to the right to take a photo. Hazard lights on, not caring whether someone thought something was wrong with my car, a Hyundai to any other resident’s Mercedes or Corvette.

This photo, the crispness reduced by my iPhone camera and also by uploading it here, is one of my favorites of the Texas, and Kerrville, sky.

While the Comanche Trace Drive photo show the quantity of Texas skies — they seem to go on forever — this one, taken over the Guadalupe River just down Bandera Highway — shows the quality.

And it’s not so much the quality of the sky itself, it’s the quality that the river acknowledges and shows the riverbank admirer.

May 27 of this year demonsrated just how threatening a sky can be.

In and of itself, that’s like “what’s the big deal?”

But that flippant question is second nature to a city kid. Especially a New York City kid who can simply step away from a storm into a pre-war apartment building that can withstand a small nuclear blast, let alone a bad thunderstorm.

Here in Kerrville, skies like this one mean potential hail. Which means a claim with Texas Farm Bureau because the bank still owns part of the car. The part that’s not damaged and would be sold alongside its dimpled neighbors were we to trade up. Which means a $500 deductible and a rental car while ours is in the shop.

See? All sorts of logistical crap goes along with even the clouds here.

A sky like this in New York City, were you even to notice it, means eating our sushi inside the restaurant instead of in the sidewalk cafe.


What I said in my previous posts HERE and even HERE is that with the eyes of a 58-year-old man, I fail to see what younger or more capable eyes see.

So I set out to “see” what I might miss but what neutral, unbiased “eyes” might capture.

I used two tools within an app called Adobe Capture. Aside from being downright fun, it also has commercial potential and is instructive to boot.

The first tool I use to “see” in a sky what my eyes might miss is the app’s feature called “Colors” (on the left below), and the second is called “Looks” (on the right).

The first mechanism that “sees” the sky, of course, is my camera, which never picks up the fullness of what my eyes do, failing as they might be.

I found that Colors gave me only the basic palette. Then I used Looks to further refine what Adobe saw and what my camera saw. Still, it was limited: the peach color you see — once again, bastardized by uploading the photo here — was actually more yellow-orange in the photo and still more vibrant when I saw it with my own two aging eyes.

Which brought me to a conclusion: we humans can see and appreciate more clearly what God has wrought than can technology. Technology is designed by humans to identify, track and archive data.

We, on the other hand, are designed by God to marvel at beauty.

Lubkish

Sitting in Moss Motors’s waiting area getting an oil change for the Santa Fe, because on Wednesday we’ll embark on a 4,000-mile round trip for an art show Karen’s in.

And since I’m “writing” on my phone — how I wish I could write everything in my Moleskine with my Parker fountain pen with blue ink, but then I’d lose my three readers — I’ve decided to succumb to the humanity of my already thick and middle-age thickening thumbs and from the next paragraph onward will not correct misspellings nor worry about grammar. Auto-correct and predictive writing, as we all know, can come up with wild interpretations of said misspellings.

Ya know, I shook hands with someone recently with much thicker thumbs. He even had a thicker hand, thicker neck and thicker forearms. I don’t know where I was going with that — other than to say that growing up in New York City doesn’t develop anything thick other than ones ability to schnoozr. That’s shmooze. I knew something would get misspelled and I’d have to clarify, because shnooze is something I wanted to. SME sure I clarified. All sorts of problems in this paragraph.

If you’re still reading, I must tell you that I am mot going to edit out anything in the previous paragraph, because I’m here to produce content for the blog and not worry so much about sounding good. In fact, I think the Provia laralgeal — that’s “previous paragraph” — proved nothing but that New York City residents are somehow thin-minded enough to pay too much attention to others’ thickness of body parts.

At this point I sound foolish and cringy even to myself but that’s ok this is about stream of consciousness. (Even if one doesn’t share one’s stream of consciousness.) But it’s not like I’m doing — going — to share a dream with you that, with stream of consciousness, would take me all oil change to explain and into overhaul of my car.

I’m really doubting whether to hit publish on this piece. It royally sucks — that almost autocorrected into something else but somehow corrected Lk on its — on its own — to ensure that I criticized myself. “Criticized” of course came up as predictive text.

Last time I was here it was with the Ford truck, which had a problem with the master cylinder. Or the master cylinder had a problem with something else. All I know is that the words “master cylinder” appeared in the paperwork with the total due, and it reminded me that in need to learn to correct certain automotive problems on my own.

If I did that, though, I might have less time to paddleboard or drive to Daily Donut.

I think that last paragraph was a lame attempt at humor but I’m going to leave it. I made a promise to you earlier than I wouldn’t correct the spelling of words, and with that goes the concomitant promise to you od allowing myself to look both foolish and immature. And random. And bored.

Which I am.

Typically, I’d try to work on my laptop while waiting, but Miss is always quick — I hope you know that that M word was misspelled from the name of the company to this; does society really say “Miss” so and so anymore? I kind of thought that was taboo. Has woke culture disallowed “miss”? If I meet a single woman, should I not say “Hello, Miss ___”? But I’d she really — *is* she really — single or is relationship status now always define by Facebook — “it’s complicated” — and is this single woman a woman in truth or is she really a non-binary entity. Should I instead not say “Miss” anything and instead use the greeting, “Good morning, You Complicated Non-Binary Entity”?

I actually did correct that last sentence’s spelling mistakes because I wanted to get one correctly spelled snark into this post.

And now, Dear Reader, I must choose to hit “Publish” or “Draft” or “Delete.”

The latter would be a waste of my time just now.

The middle option would be just that: middle; a half-measure.

The first — to “Lubkish” — Lubkishes are rare and predatory creatures lurking in the Wisconsin woodlands — seems appropriate because then my time here would have been productive.

If you’re STILL reading, I applaud you.

May you never get haunted by any Lubkish.

PUBKISH

Give me Janis Joplin between the sheets

Birds have always “anchored” me. From the time I was three or four, birds have not only reminded me where I am when I wake up and hear them, but also their descendants remind me where I’ve been. Their morning song pin-pricks me and lets me know I’m indeed awake. They are objective and unsubtle; they wake me when they want to. They anchor me in the present and let me know my past is real.

Karen turned our patio behind our 349 West 84th Street apartment in Manhattan into a little “café,” as she liked to call it. Appropriately so. At one of two metal tables covered by canvas umbrella, I’d drink coffee and listen to myriad birds in the morning. Robins, sparrows, cardinals, jays, even red-tailed hawks and crows or ravens — I’d like to think they were ravens, since the two-block stretch of 84th Street that included our building was called “Edgar Allan Poe Street;” he was rumored to have written the poem on Broadway and 84th — sounded like a symphony orchestra warming up. Toward the end of our time there, the people two buildings down started to keep chickens out back. I found their sound dissonant and, therefore, unwanted. Theirs were the sounds of a banjo and fiddle, not an oboe and first violin.

But it was at the café that I’d hear the song of the towhee, which Mom helped me remember as “DRINK-your-TEA!” I can’t hear their call without thinking of Mom. In that respect, the bird anchors me to her as much as to my place.

The towhee was the bird that let me know I had woken up in Point O’ Woods on Fire Island. Mom and I stood on the small concrete front porch of what I later learned was the smallest house in the community and probably the only one my parents could afford to rent. We looked south, over a thin stand of trees and past the “truck road” — with very few exceptions, only utility and emergency vehicles are allowed to drive on Fire Island, and they use one-lane sand roads — past the tennis courts, which usually start hopping at 7:00 AM during summer hours, and ultimately toward the beach and ocean, from which the sun rose.

We’d face that direction and Mom, with Virginia Slim cigarette and teacup in the same hand, would look down and smile at me and use that phrase — “DRINK your TEA!” — to help me remember I was awake. She’d smile with purple smoke curling around her twinkling eyes and then turn back to take a drag. A noisy sip. And more quiet there between us. Listening. Sun rising. Tennis balls hitting rackets. Feet shuffling on clay. Laughter.

Our 84th Street café reminded me between 2007 and 2017 that I had awakened years before when I was four. That the past was not a debatable premise, as YouTube and Spotify podcast philosophers like to muse indulgently to hundreds of thousands of viewers and listeners who are online and hoping to get as rich as those philosophers by monetizing their own accounts. Because if you can’t make a killing from your streaming video gameplay on Twitch or lingerie activity on OnlyFans, perhaps you can spout outrageous ideas like that hearing towhees is actually an illusion, a sound file that’s activated in real-time to keep me unaware of the Matrix-like “simulation” they believe I’m living in. These opportunists who think they’re so smart are blind to the irony that Descartes would tersely remind them of with his five famous words. Spouting these things in Descartes’s era might even have got you tarred and feathered with the same coating worn by those beautiful beasts you said weren’t real.

In Texas, the bird that most reminds me I’ve awakened here is the turkey vulture. Overhead, it looks like a hawk or even majestic eagle. On the ground, its ugly red head — “ugly” to me; I’m not being judge-y here, but I think most people would agree with me if they’re really honest with themselves; I mean, seriously, would you actually put a couple of them in a cage in your sunroom and call them “Skittles” and “Coco”? No, you would not — and its hopping around roadkill remind me not only that I live here but also that I drive everywhere. (Does that mean that I don’t really wake up until I turn onto Bandera Highway? Scary thought. But then again, I live in a simulation, so fuck it.) The circling overhead of multiple vultures is somehow beautiful to me, like a dance, and to see them on the roadside comforts me to know that a needless killing at night is converted to deer tartar.

Yet, vultures don’t have a song. And that bothers me, because it’s sight rather than sound that tries to keep me anchored, yet it is sound that has gone largely unchanged because the source has been largely unchanged. It is sound that is imposed on me rather than me on it. But with sight, I am the source. And I have changed quite a bit over the years, or so I’ve heard, and cannot by nature anchor myself. That’d be like a ship telling itself to stay close to shore “or else it’s gonna get an ass-whoopin’.”

The other bird I associate with my place now is the purple martin, whose swallow tail is more distinctive to me than any song which, if it has one, I’m unaware of it. The Guadalupe has herons, elegant birds whose front and back yards I am privileged to paddleboard through. They, too, sing only now and then when I get too close.

But we live on a golf course, where song birds are not so numerous as elsewhere. Golf courses don’t honor nature so much as manicure it to the point of looking like a Desperate Housewife instead of the Janis Joplin that nature really is.

And frankly, I’d rather wake up next to Janis.

Ducks on lily pads

Paddleboarding on the Guadalupe is my replacement for surfing on the East Coast. I’ll confess/complain: it’s a poor replacement. Yes, it has the satisfying feel of being on water, being in the sun, working the muscles, being completely analog without an iPhone within a half mile or more of my hand.

But it lacks the noticeable movement of water around me. Surfing is an invitation or even a dare to come and dance with it. To a large extent, so is canoeing a river that has rapids. Surfing, with its occasional waves that form “tubes” that one can get covered up under and inside, is a return to the salt-water womb — a metaphor that’s not much exaggerated.

Now, the advantage of paddleboarding on a lake-like river as the Guadalupe has formed in Kerrville, however, is that conditions are fairly uniform throughout the year. The variables of course are water and air temperature, which can largely be neutralized with my wetsuit. The variable I can’t avoid is when the river rages significantly above its normal level, which has happened a couple times since I moved here three and a half years ago. Otherwise, it’s placid and navigable. Always.

Yesterday afternoon, I put in at the southern end of Flat Rock Park, just prior to the one-lane bridge that leads to the large open field serving as a dog run. There’s a scored ramp for wheels or river shoes to get traction over the algae clinging to each inch. The rainbow oil slicks circle randomly and then form jewelry around my calves as I slowly shuffle deeper into the water.

Not long ago I showed up and two men were fishing. One was in a kayak about 20 feet off the shore. The other man was standing on the ramp, which was almost completely occupied by his black truck — this is a ramp for putting in and then driving back around the side of the big tree to park, not for using as a parking spot, I might add — holding his rod in his right hand and untangling his line in his left.

Without my glasses, it looked more like he had hauled in a fish, which seemed a happy moment for him and one that required only a slight shift to the right side of the eight-foot wide ramp, so I could make my way down the left.

I said, “Excuse me?” preparing to clarify that I wanted access on the left.

Apparently, the man affected by a tangled line and dying liver believed he had riparian rights, when he had not even littoral rights. (I thought I should flex my NY State real estate salesman license just this once, since it never got flexed before I moved.)

To express myself to you instead with the brevity that Twain or Hemingway encourage but with emotion more suited to Tarantino, the guy wouldn’t move out of the fucking way.

He didn’t acknowledge me, so I repeated my question, which to be fair I should have announced in the indicative case of the verb or even the imperative, since neither of us had rights to the shore or waterway of the Majestic Guadalupe. Admittedly, he could equally have responded using the imperative, “Fuck off.” That rejoinder of course would be the correct verb case for that purpose but would be factually incorrect, because it would assume said rights.

Upon the second question, he looked sideways at me and said, “Really, dude?” I hate it when people I don’t know call me “dude,” especially when they’re angry.

“I just need only about a foot here on the left to slide by.” He had seven feet. To his right was the cooler containing further Liver Death.

“Really, dude?! Can’t you see I’m untangling my line?”

“Oh, sorry; I don’t have my glasses on.” Why I was so accommodating, I had no idea. I had a paddle with a “blade” and metal shaft, like a medieval hatchet, and he had only a skinny bendy stick thing. Of course, he did have a hook. But his line was indeed tangled and the hook had a plastic worm on it, so I figured it would be a fair fight.

(You see how quickly men can devolve to fighting? One has a dying liver and tangled fishing line, and the other has an impatient desire to get on the river at 7:15am when there’s only sun and no wind and the surface is like glass. Selfishness creates a tarbaby.)

He turned back to his line and said, “There’s another ramp right over there.” He tilted his head left toward a break in the reeds and a concrete step leading to another broken step, submerged about 15 inches and surrounded by other rocks obscured by murky water. Not much of a put-in.

I grumbled, did as suggested and had a fantastic session on a beautiful morning.

And then there was coming back in.

He was still there, this time fishing (from the ramp). About thirty feet out, I asked where his line was because I was a stand-up guy and all and didn’t want to paddle over it. He burped its location.

When I started to guide myself toward the ramp, he said, “Just use that other one there.” The ankle-twister.

“I can’t get up that way. I need the ramp.”

“You got in that way. Why can’t you get back up that way?” Made me wonder whether as a kid he had ever lied down on his back in gym class and then tried to do a sit-up. Gravity, asshole.

Now I was pissed. “This is a public ramp.”

“Yeah, but I’m here and you can use that one there.”

I wasn’t going to press it. Tarbaby.

I worked my way up the broken steps and then mouthed off: “You know, this is a public ramp, and you’re taking up all of it.”

He had some last word or another, and I walked back to my truck. It was still a great session. Nothing was going to diminish it.


The above was all a bad memory with a tarbaby at its center. Yesterday, which I digressed from, was delightful. I put in at the same ramp, nodding to a couple other fisherman who also nodded back, and after getting myself wet in the middle of the river I paddled downstream toward the dam. The sun and clear skies made for a mid-90s afternoon. There was a moderate wind against me, not as stiff as some days, but significant enough that it was a good workout. I hopped back and forth between right foot forward and left one, working each quadricep. I developed a blister along the base of my right thumb, which indicated that I hadn’t been on the river enough days and also that I was having a good workout. (It could also mean that I wasn’t holding the paddle correctly. But, no.)

I hugged the right (west) bank, where trees formed a pocket of calm from the wind. A great blue heron lifted off from my right and first flew south and then wheeled around to my left, disappearing behind me.

I reached the dam, touched my paddle to the edge just to say I had, and then turned around to head back upstream, with the wind. At first, there was a breeze against me, and I thought of the “walked five miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways” fib. Soon enough, I had a barely perceptible breeze at my back. The sun fell onto my chest and shoulders. I could watch my triceps flexing as I stroked and realized that in surfing one can’t stop to appreciate the way the body gets toned and challenged during exercise.

These malleable machines God allows us to travel in are certainly marvelous things.

Finally reaching the ramp, I figured I’d paddled about 8,000 feet, according to Google maps. One and a half miles.

I had passed a duck couple on the way back. They were standing on lily pads as far as I could tell.


PHOTO CREDIT: Surfer Magazine