Saturday, April 29, 2017

Powerless Peacocking

For those of you unable to attend Night of the Peacock last Sunday evening at Mayfield Park, I'm posting a transcript of the peacock-themed story I told. The variety show, produced by my friend Max Langert, raised nearly $1100 for SAFE Alliance. The nineteen resident peacocks of Mayfield Park were just as much part of the show as the musicians, poet, storytellers and actors were. The peacock squawks and struts punctuated the human performances with genius comedic timing. The huge trees and tranquil ponds at Mayfield Park provided a beautiful backdrop. I'm thankful for creative, driven and talented friends who ask me to be part of their shows.

Powerless Peacocking

About ten years ago, I worked as a background actor in film, television and commercials. You may recognize me as a recurring featured extra from season three of Friday Night Lights. You may recognize me as the airline stewardess who bumped shoulders with Temple Grandin as played by Claire Danes in the Emmy-award winning, HBO-produced movie entitled Temple Grandin. You may recognize my hands from twirling pasta in Carino’s Italian Grill commercials. Some of my fellow actors back in the day would complain bitterly about getting casting notices for reality television shows. I hate to be the one to break it to you if you didn’t already know, but there isn’t much real about reality television. There was a particularly odious reality TV show called "The Pickup Artist”. Many of my female friends, some of them happily married, were summoned by their talent agents to appear on this not-so-real reality show.

The premise of The Pickup Artist was that a guy, who claimed to be suave and debonair, coached men who were unlucky in love, on the shady art of picking up women. The main coach-guy called himself Mystery. Mystery looked like he took fashion advice from both an evil magician and a pirate. A typical outfit for Mystery might include knee-high boots, a puffy shirt, a crushed velvet cape and a fuzzy top hat. The real mystery is how this awful show ever got the green light. "The Pickup Artist" promoted several pickup tactics: Peacocking entails dressing oddly or flamboyantly to call attention to oneself. The "neg” involves giving back-handed compliments mixed with a little insult to get a lady’s attention and deal a blow to her self-esteem. For example: “You’re pretty, but you’d be really gorgeous if you lost ten pounds.” Who wouldn’t be charmed, right? Pickup artists also coach persistence. If a lady initially rebuffs a pickup artist, he keeps trying to get her attention, or starts hitting on her friends.

Around the time this reprehensible reality TV show was on the air, I attended weekly pub trivia nights with a group of friends at Mother Egan’s Pub. I was usually the team secretary, recording our answers and walking our answer sheet up to the front of the pub for scoring after each round of trivia questions. 

On this particular night, after one of the rounds of trivia, I walked our team’s answer sheet up to the front scorekeeper's table. When I turned to rejoin my team at the back of the pub, there was a little boy blocking my path. He wore a rainbow-striped baseball cap with a small, red propeller on top of the hat.  I thought, “This is weird. Why is this little boy in a bar? On a school night? Why is he wearing that silly hat? Is it punishment for something bad he did?” He looked kind of scared, but stood his ground, directly in my path. 

“Excuse me,” I said, and stepped to one side, hoping he would step to the opposite side, and we could pass each other. Instead, he gave me a slow visual appraisal, looking down the length of my person and back up to my face. He locked eyes with me, and said, “Hi” in a squeaky voice. He cleared his throat, and tried again, and said, “Hi” with a slightly deeper voice this time.

The longer I looked at this scared little boy blocking my path, the more the alarm bells started sounding in my head. I realized he was not a little boy, but an adult male with a slight build and terribly timid posture. I also clued in that the weird hat was likely an attempt at peacocking. I worried if I stood there much longer I might be subjected to the full “Pickup Artist” routine about which my actress friends had warned me. I didn’t want to be mean, but I was (& am) happily married, and just not at all interested in striking up a friendship with any adult who wears a rainbow-striped baseball cap with a small red propeller on top. So I said, “I’ve got to get back to my team for the next round of trivia. Have a good night.” I gave a little wave, turned the other way, and found a new path back to my team’s table. 

Rainbow-Propeller-Hat (that’s the name I gave him) appeared at my team’s table about twenty seconds after I reclaimed my seat. He stood beside me, breathing loudly and stared at me. Everyone on my team fell silent in contagion as they laid eyes on Rainbow-Propeller-Hat.  They seemed mesmerized by Rainbow-Propeller-Hat and his creepy vibe. Half of my teammates stared at Rainbow-Propeller-Hat with slack-jaws and wide eyes while the other half of my team employed more surreptitious side-eye glances. 

I’d love to tell you that I politely and firmly rebuffed Rainbow-Propeller-Hat on my own in a blaze of feminist glory, but that’s not what happened. Instead, I winked at my husband, who was sitting across the table from me. I then turned to Rainbow-Propeller-Hat and said, “This is my husband, Chad. Stand up and introduce yourself, babe.” My husband is one of the least jealous, most polite people you’ll ever meet. He also happens to be six-feet tall, and he lifts weights.

Chad stood up. That’s all it took. Rainbow-Propeller-Hat wouldn’t even look my husband in the eye, but mumbled, “Hey man, Do you know where the bathrooms are?” My ever-polite husband pointed in the general direction of the bathrooms. Rainbow-Propeller-Hat made a hasty departure, with his little red propeller spinning in the wind, thus salvaging some tiny shred of dignity. Okay, no, that’s a lie. When a person is peacocking, and doesn’t have the sense of self-worth or sense of humor to back it up, dignity goes out the window real fast. I felt bad for Rainbow-Propeller-Hat, that he couldn’t just be himself and strike up an honest conversation with someone. I felt really mad at shows like "The Pickup Artist” for preying on lonely people, and for giving terrible advice like peacocking for pick-ups, the “neg” and persistence when one should not persist. Apparently many people shared my opinion, because “The Pickup Artist” received much bad publicity and public backlash. “The Pickup Artist” was canceled after only 16 episodes, no longer besmirching the proud name of the majestic peacock.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Delayed Mourning Catches Up to Me

Marigold loved to supervise projects like packing.

On Wednesday, November 30, 2016 Chad and I took Marigold to our faithful veterinarian to have her euthanized. Marigold lived over nineteen years, an uncommon feat for a Persian cat.  I grudgingly witnessed the clues that Marigold's quality of life declined: sleeping in odd places, weight loss, diminishing use of her back legs, and finally, a large lump on her jaw. I gave Chad and the veterinarian a well rehearsed speech about how it was time to let her go. I rehearsed that speech so much, because I had to convince myself of its truth before I gave it to other people.

At the time I steeled myself against feeling Marigold's loss too deeply. We had (and still have) three other resident cats and a big dog upon which to dote. We housed a foster cat who had just been rejected from an adoption program the week before Marigold died. The foster cat, though very loving to people, made it clear she hated other cats by attacking our two male cats anytime she got out of her room. The foster cat situation added exponentially more stress to an already stressful time. Thankfully, the foster cat entered a different cat adoption program on January 20, 2017, fully two months later than we intended to keep her. The day I dropped off the foster cat at the adoption center, she shook with fear in her carrier as we waited to enter. She peered at me pleadingly from the holding kennel, leaning as far as she could to keep an eye on me as I filled out her paperwork. I thanked the adoption center worker for accepting the cat as I handed over a cutely worded, but honest, information sheet I had prepared to aid in the cat's adoption. Back at home, I spent four hours scrubbing, disinfecting, vacuuming and steam-mopping the foster cat's room. When I finished cleaning, I sat on the sofa and sobbed for thirty minutes. I felt miserable about dropping off the foster cat. I felt like a failure for not finding her a home. When I told a dear friend about how awful I felt the next day, she responded, "You saved that cat's life." That's how I try to see it now.  I hope our former foster cat is very happy with her new family.

Four and a half months after making the decision to euthanize Marigold, I started dreaming about her. I dreamed she was fluffy, healthy and happy. In the dream Marigold telepathically told me she was at peace and pain-free. She showed me a ghost of a teenage boy, and warned me about him. Dreams are weird, am I right?

Two nights later I dreamed about Marigold again. In this dream I worked in Austin's historic Scarbrough building again. Behind an old bank vault, I discovered a secret staircase leading up to a modest apartment frozen in time in the early 1920s. There was a china hutch displaying pastel floral adorned fine china dishes. Old furniture supported impressive spider webs and dust layers. Marigold walked through the living room, leading me to the lovely claw-foot bathtub in the apartment's single bathroom. I marveled at the secret apartment discovery so much, I forgot to pet Marigold, or even greet her properly in that dream. When I awoke that day from that vivid dream, it hit me: I forgot to grieve for Marigold.

I have been a weepy mess for the past two days. I miss my dead Marigold so much. I miss the way she would meow at me until I picked her up and put her on my shoulder like a baby. I miss her twice-daily races up and down the long hallway in our house. I miss her sitting next to me on the sofa purring loudly. I even miss her sneezing fits, when I had to massage her throat to calm her enough to stop the sneezes. I miss her general sassy demeanor and her radiant, massive halo of gold fur. I miss that Marigold loved her Janie-dog, napped happily next to Janie and sniffed Janie's frito-scented feet.

This too shall pass, but I have to let the grief do what it will for a while. Proper mourning can't be delayed indefinitely. It will catch up to you.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Five Shop Small, Shop Local Insights

I was raised mostly in the Southern Baptist Church with a brief stint in the United Methodist Church. Chad was raised in the Catholic Church. We observe the Lenten Season, the 46 days from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday, each year as a time to challenge unhealthy (physical, spiritual or mental) behaviors. Chad gave up sweet snacks like candy, Oreos and ice cream. I gave up shopping at big box stores, behemoth online retailers and chain stores, in an effort to support small maker-owned businesses and locally owned businesses. 

Lite-Brite Egg, Happy Easter!

Here are five insights from my "shop small, shop local" 46 day Lenten experience.

1. I messed up once. We drove from Austin to Houston for a fun weekend. I got a beverage at a Starbucks along the way. My rule for being out of town was to patronize locally owned businesses in whatever town I visited. This was easy to do in Brenham, Texas on the historic downtown square. This was not easy to do along Highway 290 on the way to Houston. With better planning, I could have found a locally owned coffee shop along our travel route. (Hello, Google Maps "nearby" search option!) I am simply not in that habit.

2. I didn't order anything on Amazon. I went to local independent bookstores, BookPeople and Half Price Books when I needed (okay, wanted) a book (okay, three books each trip). I went to locally owned pet stores such as Tomlinson's and Phydeaux & Friends when the pets needed food, a new kitty condo or new chew-toys. I went to locally owned A-Town, Blue Elephant Boutique and Terra Toys when I needed to buy gifts or treat myself.

3. I didn't order any fashion items from Nordstrom. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is for me. I realized that going in person to local boutiques and actually trying on clothes before buying them makes for much more satisfying purchases. I also learned that I don't necessarily need another LA Made V-neck pocket T-shirt. I just need to do laundry more often to keep my current collection ready to wear. (But I really, really love LA Made V-neck pocket T-shirts which are made and designed in the USA!)

4. I realized I don't usually eat at restaurants that aren't locally owned. Eating local was easy-peasy in Austin, Texas and in Brenham, Texas. My favorite local Austin restaurants include Guero's, TacoDeli, Kerbey Lane Cafe, Hyde Park Bar & Grill, Chango's, Manuel's and El Mercado. Chad and I also hit up the hot bar, ready-prep foods case and the salad bar at Wheatsville Co-op a few times a week. We are member-owners of Wheatsville Co-op, and are thankful for this wonderful grocery store.

Lovely Chandeliers at Manuel's Restaurant

5. I realized that I don't like shopping at big box stores. It was easy to avoid Target, Lowe's, Home Depot and all that mess. I went to Zinger Hardware and Shoal Creek Nursery instead. Luckily, I didn't need to purchase any new bedding or towels during Lent, because those items might have been difficult to source from a locally owned store.

Chad at Zinger Hardware. I forced him to pose. Look at that good-sport-grin!

I ordered a few things online directly from artist-makers during Lent. I bought a lovely Fordite sterling silver ring from Siesta Silver Jewelry, a small business jewelry artist. I bought the Austin Adult Coloring Book from the website for local Austin artist, Rebecca Borrelli, because it was sold-out at the shop I visited.

Overall, this experience of shopping small and shopping local for 46 days forced me to pause and consider each purchase. I corrected an irresponsible behavior of automatically ordering things from Amazon and Nordstrom, of not supporting my local economy or makers. I'm not saying I'll never shop chain stores again, but I will try local shops and maker-owned businesses first.

Lite-Brite Chicken, Happy Easter!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Night of the Peacock variety show to benefit SAFE

My incredibly talented friend, Max Langert, is at it again. On Sunday, April 23, he is producing a variety show called Night of the Peacock at Mayfield Park with proceeds to benefit SAFE. Mayfield Park is longtime home to many generations of peafowl in a gorgeous natural setting near the shores of Lake Austin. Musical guests, poets, storytellers and theatre folk will perform at Night of the Peacock. (I am one of the storytellers. Come hear me perform my story titled Powerless Peacocking about my encounter with a pickup artist.) SAFE stands for Stop Abuse For Everyone, and is a newly formed nonprofit alliance between Austin Children's Shelter and SafePlace. This is a truly necessary organization, much deserving of funding.

The show starts promptly at 6:00 PM on Sunday, April 23. Seating begins at 5:30. Come early to enjoy the park and meet some majestic peacocks. Mayfield Park is located at 3505 West 35th Street in central-west Austin.

Click to buy your tickets here!

Bring cash for fresh-baked sweet treats from Casa de Glaze mobile bakeshop and raffle tickets for a prize basket that includes a gift certificate to one of my very favorite Austin restaurants, The Beer Plant!

Five Highlights from 48 Hours in Houston

I attended the TRIO for Paws fundraiser back in September at the Four Seasons Hotel in Austin on the shores of lovely Lady Bird Lake. The event raised money for EmancipetAustin Pets Alive! and Austin Humane Society. There were cute adoptable puppies, a silent auction, live music, yummy passed hors d'oeuvres and information tables for each of the beneficiary nonprofit pet groups. I experienced a cute puppy, beautiful setting, feel-good pet rescue haze when I repeatedly bid on, and ultimately won, a weekend stay in an Executive Suite at Four Seasons Hotel Houston as part of the silent auction. Many thanks to the Four Seasons Hotel for hosting this event and for donating generous silent auction items!

Chad and I finally used our gift certificate last weekend in Houston. The Executive Suite is huge at over 700 square feet! The bedding is plush. The Four Seasons Hotel Houston is located conveniently near the convention center, Toyota Center stadium and Discovery Green park. Here are five highlights from our 48 hours in Houston.

1. Discovery Green

Discovery Green is a 12-acre park in the heart of downtown Houston, just steps from the Convention Center. Discovery Green offers green space, large-scale public art, a lake, jogging trails, water features and splashpads, a fenced dog park, a tree lined promenade, several open lawn areas and a few restaurants. Discovery Green was hopping with activity the evening we visited: dogs frolicked, people took photos in the large-scale art, kids romped, circus performers held an interactive hula-hoop performance while a ringmaster-DJ played electronica music. The park provides a much-needed break from concrete and skyscrapers!

2. Montrose Murals & Shops

Montrose is a mostly residential neighborhood in Houston with a mix of old bungalows, historic mansions and some modern construction. The area also boasts many thrift & vintage shops, fabulously funky stores, with huge colorful wall murals on businesses and restaurants along Westheimer Road. We wanted to see the wonderful weirdness that defines Montrose before it's all priced-out of the rapidly gentrifying area. It was imperative that I snap several photos of this humongous lucky kitty outside of the Ramen Tatsu-Ya restaurant! There's a person on the porch behind the kitty to give you a sense of scale. I especially enjoyed shopping in Merchant and Market, procuring a lovely beaded vintage handbag there. 

3. Kuhl-Lindscomb bills itself as a design and lifestyle store. This sprawling campus of a department store is a visual feast. We didn't buy anything here, but spent an hour gawping at every well-curated corner of the place. Just wow! We also met Bandit, the prosperous ebony shop-cat who lives in the kitchens and bath showroom building. I failed to snap a photo of that lucky kitty. 

4. Panic! at the Disco concert at Toyota Center

Houston's Toyota Center is the giant stadium where the NBA's Houston Rockets play basketball. It also hosts music concerts. The venue can seat over 18,000 people. Our seats were in the nose-bleed section. I get vertigo in the cheap seats of large stadiums. I feel dizzy and my ears ring. I seriously considered sitting on my bottom like a toddler and scooting down the steep stairs to our seats, but I kept it together with a white-knuckle grip on the stair rail. Chad and I seemed to be the only people over the age of 30 at the concert who were not either working there or accompanying teenagers to the show. In other words, we were surrounded by ten-thousand screaming teenage girls (and a few teenage boys) who knew every word to every song. Fine. Over it. Panic! at the Disco put on an amazing show complete with glitter canons, metallic streamers, pyrotechnics and a baby grand piano that rose 20 feet above the crowd and rotated as lead singer Brendon Urie played piano and sang "This is Gospel" beautifully. We had a great time!

Located at 222 Malone Street in Houston, the beer can house began in 1968 when a retired upholsterer, John Milkovisch, started to cover his yard with concrete, marbles and bits of metal forming mosaics, because he didn't want to mow the lawn any longer. Then he turned his attention to the house, and started covering it with beer cans. The estimated 50,000 beer cans provided insulation for the home and increased the energy efficiency. Mr. Milkovisch considered his beer can projects to be a fun hobby, not works of art or a statement. He did enjoy people's reactions to the home as they drove by or strolled by. The home is now maintained by the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. If you find yourself in Houston, definitely see this marvelous place!