Wednesday, December 29, 2004
First of all, let me say that the people in Vladivostok have it rough. Very, very rough. It is a poor, polluted city in an abysmally poor region called Primorye. Due to its strategic military importance, it was a "closed" city until 1992. They are trying desperately to catch up for the 50 or so years that they were shut off from the rest of the world's technological and engineering advances, but it's going at a pretty slow rate. There are still plenty of statues and signs up from the Communist era. But now there are also plenty of billboards for vodka, washing machines and cat food.
LIFE IN VLAD:
The geography of the area is unkind--hilly and rough--and the weather is brutal. The life expectancy for men is 57. For women, it's 63. It's simply not an easy place to live. And, from what I gather, most people who are born there, live there their entire lives and die there. Because it is so remote, it's hard to get out of there and move on to greener pastures as it were. As a result, I found the people to be hardened and suspicious. They will stare unabashedly at anyone they discern is "foreign" and are, for the most part, downright unfriendly and brusque. But, that's just the way they are. I didn't really take it personally.
The traffic is utterly insane. There are no lines painted on the pavement, and they literally do not have stop signs--just yields. And, in a city of 700K+, they've only got a handful of traffic signals that drivers view as suggestions only. There are tons of traffic circles that are utterly maddening. They defy description or logic. The pedestrians all have death wishes and just cross, willy nilly, whenever and wherever they want to. And they'll do it at night, in a blinding snow storm while wearing all black. They are fearless. Or nuts. It was hard to tell. And the best part is that it all happens on top of several packed inches of snow and ice on the badly pot-holed roads.
The buildings are, for the most part, run down and in various states of disrepair. I saw very little new construction. There are lots of high-rise apartment buildings that were built during the Soviet era that now look like Chicago's Cabrini Green from "Hoop Dreams." Very, very sad. Most buildings have a very sterile, institutional look and feel to them. Makes you think that everything's a mental hospital.
There was a market across from the hotel that I went to a couple of times. I affectionately started calling it the UnFriendlyMart. It was intense. When you walked in, there was a tiny bakery counter with fresh bread and pastries for sale. Then you had to walk though a security gate (and past the first of 3 security guards) into the store's 1,000 sq. ft. of floor space, every inch of which was merchandised beyond belief. In the back, there was a deli/meat case and in the front was an insane liquor selection along with a few dairy items. No fresh vegetables. No over-the-counter medications (you've got to go to a pharmacy for stuff like aspirin, etc.). Lots of products that I had no idea what they were (hmmm...is this crackers...or tampons?). And most everything I looked at was at least a month past its "best by" date.
I only actually ate at restaurants twice during my trip. The rest of the time I existed on expired crackers and V8 from the UnFriendlyMart and other snack foods I brought with me from the states (raisins, Luna bars, peanut butter crackers, fruit leather).
My first restaurant experience was at the hotel's restaurant. For lunch. I was the only customer. The menu was in Russian and a brave attempt at English. For instance, there was one entree that was called "The Gulf Stream," and the accompanying description said "A warm stream on your table." Intriguing? Yes. Appetizing? Um...no. Anyway, the description of the things I ordered and what actually showed up on my table were not exactly the same. The salad was hard boiled eggs, onions, apples and mayonnaise, all mixed together in a whitish-yellowish glop. The soup was oily and fishy smelling, with a couple of shrimp floating around in the broth. The shrimp had their tails on, which made for awkward eating. The bread they brought as an accompaniment was very dry and stale. I was still hungry after my soup and salad (imagine that!), and so I ordered dessert. This was actually quite good: A margarita-type glass filled with tiny little eclairs, about the size of the tip of your thumb, served with a coffee cup filled with melted dark chocolate and cognac. You dipped the eclairs in the chocolate, and it was very, very good. That lunch cost about $28. About 12 hours later, I woke up with the most intense diarrhea ever. Lots of fun.
My second restaurant experience was at an Italian place down the hill from my hotel. I went there with 2 American couples I'd met at the orphanage. When I got there, I warned them, "I am about to make an utter pig of myself, so I apologize." I was so thrilled by the concept of real food, that I ordered salad, soup AND entree. Diarrhea be damned. My salad was amazing--a great Greek-style salad. Utterly yummy. The soup was good--a clear vegetable broth with fresh veggies floating in it. My entree, vegetable lasagna, was decadent. Filled with eggplant, spinach and lots and lots of cheese. I chowed down, all the while being stared out by a glaring, smoking Russian sitting a couple of tables away. I'm sure I looked like the stereotypical American Pig. But I didn't care. It was the first (and only) night in Russia I went to bed without my stomach growling. And it didn't even make me sick, which was an added bonus.
- When you go to change money into rubles, they are PSYCHOTIC about the quality of the dollars. They have to be new and completely free of flaws or ink. Period. Look at the bills in your wallet right now. How many of them fit that description? Now you can begin to understand what a huge pain in the ass this is.
Svetlana: "No. I won't change this $100 bill. Is no good."
Karla May: "Why?"Svetlana: "Because of the red ink." (Svetlana points a 2-in. long fake fingernail to a pin-head sized fleck of red on the edge of the border of the bill.)
Svetlana: "No good!"
- Smoking is okay, anywhere, any time. Even if you're working the reception desk at the "4-Star" hotel.
- I saw some of the most amazingly beautiful fur coats and hats on women when I was there. I don't advocate the use of fur for fashion. But when it's 12-below for 6 months out of the year, I am not going to begrudge these people for donning fur. I'm sure they were a hell of a lot warmer than I was in my cloth coat.
- When I asked about getting a cab to go to a restaurant that had been recommended to us, I was told by one of my translators that, "Only prostitutes take taxis." Interesting.
- Russian television is the strangest thing I've ever seen (more on that in a future post). It makes Telemundo look like C-Span.
Tuesday, December 28, 2004
Here's the month-by-month recap of this messed up year:
Turned 35. Found out I was being "transferred into a new position" at work, complete with a new boss and team. Got my two front teeth capped. Got a black eye at a rock show because I was in the mosh pit. Got a hot stone massage at a day spa.
Went to L.A. for work. And not much else happened in February.
Started to work for my new boss, a total lunatic. And not funny crazy. Scary crazy. Went to Seattle for work. Went to Poodie's Hilltop Bar and Grill for the first time.
Attended my goddaughter's Christening. Met Mickey Rourke at the bar at the Four Seasons. Went to French Quarter Fest in New Orleans. Submitted my initial application for international adoption.
Went to Charleston, SC for Mother's Day with my mom. Went to InnerSpace Caverns in San Marcos. Went canoeing on Town Lake.
Went and saw Prince in concert. My goddaughter turned one. My stepfather had his aorta repair surgery.
Got "Motormouthed" by VH-1. Went to Chicago for work. Went to Cupertino, CA for work. Houston and Denver for work. Passed out from stress at work. Went to the hospital in an ambulance. Stepfather remained in the hospital.
Took Fridays off to finish up my adoption dossier and home study paperwork. Got a massage. Stepfather remained in the hospital.
Submitted my adoption paperwork (dossier/Home Study). Went to New York for work. Went to the Austin City Limits music festival and sweated my ass off while hearing some great music with good friends. Stepfather remained in the hospital.
Went to San Francisco for work. Got hit (and run) by a car when crossing the street. Got a bruise on my hip the size of a football. Had my Home Study visit. Started blogging. Stepfather remained in the hospital.
Went to a wedding and was told by a very gay man that I had "Nice tits." The closest thing I've had to sex since forever. Bush gets re-elected. I am sick to my stomach all of November 3rd. Got the call that they had a baby for me in Russia, and that I should get over there "as soon as possible" to meet her. Started making arrangements to travel to Vladivostok. Went to Las Vegas for fun. Gambled away about $550. Had Thanksgiving with mom and friends. Stepfather moved to nursing home. Stepfather dies.
Traveled to Russia by myself. Met my baby girl. Counting the minutes until I get to go back and bring her home with me.
As you see, it's been a wacky, wild year for old Karla May. Ups. Downs. Travel. This will be my last year without being a mother. Wow. I'm hoping that 2005 is a little less eventful...filled with domestic bliss. We shall see...
Those wacky Russians! This is Christmas in Vladivostok. You just know that chick on the left is freezing her knees off. And why is she holding that pole? Is it because her hands are frozen to it?
Sunday, December 26, 2004
I look at my baby's pictures every day. I've watched the video I made of her--20 minutes of watching her and listening to me saying, "Who's the pretty baby...hello sweet girl...hi..."--at least 10 times. I pray for her every night. I pray that someone is looking after her, caring for her, that she's staying healthy and strong and that, on some level, she knows that I'm coming back. One week has gone by which means I'm one week closer to going back to get her. I don't know how I'm going to handle at least five more weeks away from her. This separation and waiting part just sucks.
Christmas has, thankfully, come and gone. I've never been a huge fan of Christmas. It was never a big deal in my family because a) I was on only child so there wasn't a whole lot of hoopla going on and b) since my parents divorced when I was seven, Christmas always seemed to mean trying to figure out which parent I was supposed to be with and who was going to shuttle me where and at what time. Then, a couple of years ago, my father died right before Christmas. And this Christmas was the first without my stepfather. Plus, I'm nearly 6,000 miles away from my sweet baby. So Christmas. Not really very crazy about it.
This year, I went over to my work friend Francesca's apartment for Christmas Eve. She's the only person I know whose kitchen is smaller than mine, but she managed to whoop up one hell of a feast: Dungeness crab with homemade curry aioli, asparagus, horseradish mashed potatoes, an enormous salad, and toast points with triple cream Brie and fig spread. All followed by a slice of Yule Log. Yum. Then we proceeded to drink a LOT of wine and champagne and watch three movies. I ended up crashing there due to my copious consumption of the grape, and waking up with a banging headache at 7:15 am Christmas Day. Went home. Took a shower, brushed the moss off my teeth, and got back into bed. Woke up some time later, and Francesca and I went to see Wes Anderson's latest, "Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" at the Alamo Drafthouse where we soothed our hangovers with mimosas and popcorn.
The only Christmas gift I asked for (and got) was from my Mother: a large silver locket that I put some of The Geej's hair in. (I snipped it off with some fingernail clippers and stashed it in a Ziploc while the orphanage staff weren't looking.) It is something I will treasure for the rest of my life.
As bleak as my Christmas sounds, it was really okay. The weather was beautiful. I didn't have to travel. I didn't spend a lot of money I don't have on gifts for people. But for the rest of you, I hope your holiday was filled with family, great gifts and trouble-free travel. Next year, Christmas is going to rock because my daughter will be here, and it will be all about her.
Thursday, December 23, 2004
Anyhoo, I'm leaving the restaurant, and there is this totally pimped out Dodge Stratus parked right in front. And its front license plate was one of those novelty plates like you can buy at the state fair. It was SO fucking awesome.
Picture this: black background with stars...sort of looks like the universe...and the words "Tex Mex" in big, silver block letters. But wait, there's more. A unicorn leaping over a rainbow. A UNICORN LEAPING OVER A RAINBOW!!!! God, it was hot. And brilliant--a masterwork of design that appeals to the tween girl and the hardcore cholo all at the same time!
So when I was booked at the classy-sounding "Hotel Versailles" in Vladivostok with a nightly rate of $125 (I think...we'll have to wait and see how the rubles pan out on my MasterCard bill), and read their own description of themselves on their website ("4 stars...Russian Baroque Hotel with modern amenities; set in the center of the city, convenient for the business and leisure traveler"), I figured it would be pretty nice digs. Um...not so much.
The lobby could be pretty. It's got dark marble floors, elegant molding, huge chandeliers, and big windows facing the street. But then they fill it with these godawful 80's bachelor pad reject orangeish leather chairs and couches that resemble catcher's mitts, uber tacky lamps and laquered tables, and then hang really BAD art on every square inch of wall space. (And guess what: the art's for sale. Yay!).
Then you take the elevator up, and emerge into this super dark hallway (very little light, dark green carpet, dark wood walls) that leads to your room. And there's no such thing as "non-smoking" in Russia. So the hallway and your room are pretty much guaranteed to smell like the show lounge at the Golden Nugget.
Then there's your room: Very sparse and dark. Twin bed with what I think was a cot matress lying on top of the box springs. One thin towel for your use. Scary carpet that you really don't want to walk on with bare feet. Paper thin walls that allow you to hear someone clearing his throat next door (or having noisy sex with prostitutes...you know, whatever). TV with one English channel that never appears. And when you're alone and you spend a LOT of time in this room, it can get very depressing, very quickly.
I know. I'm spoiled. But really...this place was pretty gross. I think on our second trip we're going to stay at the Hotel Hyundai which is supposed to be nicer than the Versailles (which I don't think should be too hard to pull off). But before I go, let me know if you want a 24" x 26" framed oil portrait of Vladimir Putin, because I can totally hook you up.
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
First, the Airline.
I vaguely remember flying to London with my mother in 1978. We flew Braniff (R.I.P.), economy class. It's back when people smoked on planes. I remember that being disgusting and making me vaguely airsick the whole way. But I also remember the flight attendants being very "put together" and lovely. I remember that we got vellum-printed menus that showed what we'd be eating. And that the meals were served on actual plates with real silverware and individual little salt and pepper shakers. This was all incredibly elegant and impressive to a nine-year-old me. Now on domestic flights, you're lucky if the flight attendant makes eye contact with you as she's chunking a tiny bag of pretzels your way. Things have definitely changed.
But traveling on Korean Air was like taking a step back in time. Almost all of the flight attendants were lovely young Korean women, wearing these perfectly pressed and put together uniforms with neckerchiefs, for Christ's sake. They all had their black hair pulled back into neat buns and looked as fresh and pretty at the end of the 13 hour flight as they had at take off. Although I was in economy, and the plane was packed, I didn't feel crowded. The food was good, and ample. And it was served on actual plates with real silverware. They passed around plenty of mineral water, orange juice and hot green tea to keep us all hydrated, and gave out hot steaming towels a couple of times during the journey to help us freshen up. The bathrooms were kept clean the entire flight (which is saying something), and they all spoke very good English. They showed two movies during the flight, and the flight itself was on time and smooth. It was as pleasant of an experience that a 13+ hour plane ride can possibly be. There are four classes on Korean Air: First Class (where you're provided with a bamboo mat upon which to rest your tired feet), Prestige Class, "Morning Calm," and Economy. For being at the bottom of the bucket, it was pretty damn nice. Oh, and did I mention that beer, wine and alcohol are free on Korean Air? 'Cause they are.
Now, the Airport.
Seoul Incheon is custom made for long distance flyers. It is beautiful, clean and incredibly user friendly--even for non-Koreans. They give you "instructions" before you get off the plane and enter the airport, that tells you what you need to do and where you need to go, so it's pretty idiot proof, even if you're utterly exhausted and fatigued. And they take dollars in the airport--no need to exchange money. There is a "transit" hotel right in the terminal with clean, small rooms where you can get some private, uninterrupted sleep during your 10 hour layover. Or there are "Transit Lounges" all over the airport. Which ones you have access to depends on which of the four classes you're flying in (for instance, I only had access to the Economy class Transit Lounges, but still...) It's a quiet area with big, comfy chairs and stools that you can pull together and make a bed for yourself. And everyone there is sleeping, so it's cool. There are showers, and a massage and aromatherapy studio, a video game room, TONS of shops--both Duty Free and normal--and many, many restaurants featuring a wide variety of cuisines. The bathrooms are large and spotless. They have pictures of the bathroom attendants hanging in the bathroom, as if if the room's not clean, that person will be shamed. And get this: in each stall in the ladies room, there is something called an Etiquette Bell (pictured above). And it's not a bell at all. Instead, if you feel an embarrassing noise coming on, you push the button on this thing, and it makes a "whooooooooooooshing" sound of a loud waterfall to mask your explosive diarrhea or mega-fart. Amazing. I think the Etiquette Bell says it all, really.
I had a pretty lengthy layover at Incheon on my way to Vladivodstok--something like four hours. On the way back, by the time I'd gone through passport control and gotten my boarding pass, it was time to board my flight. I was actually a little disappointed because I didn't get to spend more time in the airport. Can you imagine?
And if Seoul Incheon is the "Four Seasons" of airports, the Vladivodstok airport can only be described as the Appalachian outhouse of airports. Fucking disgusting. But that's another story for another time...
Monday, December 20, 2004
Sunday, December 12, 2004
- Shave legs
- Clean bathtub
Anyway, I'm going to try to post while I'm in Russia, but I'm not sure how that's going to work out. I'm taking my digital camera and docking cord, so hopefully I can even post photos.
Please pray for me. Please send positive karmic thoughts my way. I need all the help I can get.
So, I guess I should get back to it. Next on the list? You guessed it: Shave legs. Clean bathtub.
Thursday, December 09, 2004
Last night I went to the Apple store and bought a 40GB iPod, a carrying case and the 2 yr. protection plan. It added up to $528. I went home and opened up all of my monthly envelopes and the dollars added up to $530. Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
Of course, I've got my "list of names." Almost every gal I know has this list in her head or on paper somewhere. It's the list of what you will name your "Someday Coming Child" (if you haven't ever heard this song by the Innocence Mission, it's worth seeking out). When I was in middle school, my future child names were Hillary and Lance. No joke.
Then I went through that period where you want to name your imaginary children after someone meaningful in your family--perhaps a grandmother or something. But as I mined my family names, I came up with stuff like Johnnie Mae, Amy, Roy and George. Nothing to get too excited about.
Then, in college, I got serious about it. I actually started writing down names that I heard that resonated with me...you know, just in case. But it was always girls' names. Never boy names. And one by one, I had to start crossing them off as my friends had babies. Leah? Gone. Georgia? Adios. Annalea? Too much like my goddaughter, Anne Olivia. Oh, and while I'm at it, I guess I should cross Olivia off the list too.
But as this adoption thing became more and more of a reality, I had to start thinking seriously about what name I might want to give my daughter. A few names rose to the top of the list, and then finally, a favorite: Gilda. And for months now, I've been settled on it (if, of course, I meet her and it fits).
Gilda. Little Gildiska. I was happy with it, even if my mom was less than thrilled. And when I was at home for Roy's funeral, I got a bunch of vaguely disapproving, "Oh...that's different," type comments whenever I'd answer the always-asked "What are you going to name her?" question. But still, I was sticking with Gilda.
Until last night.
I learned yesterday that part of the paperwork I'll be doing when I'm in Russia next week will be filling out the forms that will give my daughter her American name(s). It suddenly became so damn real. Such a massive responsibility. So last night, I decided to revisit my list. It's on a piece of well-worn yellow paper, written in at least 4 different kinds of ink. I was staring at it, thinking about all the names on there (there are about 25), when suddenly, a name came out of the blue at me. It just popped into my head. It's not on the list, and it is perfect. And I'm not telling a soul...not even my mom...until it's a done deal.
I can't wait to introduce her to you!!
Tuesday, December 07, 2004
It's a bizarre little place. A few cafe tables up front--maybe four at the most. An interesting menu of appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks. And then there are the shelves filled with Russian products. I had no idea what I was looking at half the time. The Cyrillic alphabet is so bizarre because you look at it, and your mind tells you, "I should know what this says." There's something weirdly familiar about it, but it's so foreign and strange looking that it messes with you. There were sweets, canned meats, and lots and lots of pickled things. They even had a sparsely stocked Russian language film rental section. It was fascinating. I wanted to buy something, but had no idea what anything was. I just stood there staring at everything like I had just fallen to Earth. I was the only customer. The teenage girl must've thought I was a freak.
There was a man working there as well. Sort of stout, olive skin, dark hair. He kept talking to the teen about the Christmas decorations he wanted to put up to decorate the store's modest entry. She seemed like she could care less.
Finally, two other customers came in, separately. They were both women, and both looked to be in their late 40s. They were sort of looking around, not unlike myself. But then one of the women struck up a conversation with the dark haired man...in Russian. And there they stood, having a full-on chat fest in this very unfamiliar sounding tongue. I stood and listened for a moment, stunned by the oddness of this totally foreign environment located not 1000 yards from my front door. I roused myself after a minute and went home. I'm sure I'll be back.
- Psychotic trampoline
- Xanax versus caffiene mind fuck
- Taking a ride on the cranial swingset
Saturday, December 04, 2004
Friday, December 03, 2004
I've spent the last 6 days dealing with the death of my step-father and all that that means.
I leave for Russia in 8 days to meet my future daughter. I'm going alone, and I'm totally unprepared.
I've been away from work for two weeks, and I'm completely disconnected and unfocused.
I returned to Austin today and immediately had to go to a meeting and then home to take my enormous, accident-prone cat, Earl, to the vet (his foot got bit in some sort of scuffle, and he was limping and feverish).
I have to go to San Antonio tomorrow at the crack of dawn to be fingerprinted at the INS as part of the adoption paperwork.
I feel like I smoked a pound of weed, ate 5 Xanax and downed a pint of Absolute. But I'm sober as a rock. Part of my fuzzy feeling has to do with the fact that my contacts are totally blurry due to the massive amount of salt built up on them from all the crying I've done over the past few days.
I'm so exhausted. In fact, I'm too tired to type. More later, kids.
Sunday, November 28, 2004
I am throwing some stuff in a bag and heading for home in the next couple of hours so that I can be with my mom. She seems a little numb on the phone. I know she's going to be surrounded by his kids, his brothers, etc. I think she needs my help, even if she'd never ask for it.
So goes the emotional roller coaster that is my life...
Friday, November 26, 2004
It's nearly 2 pm, and I'm still in my pajamas. Not hungover. Just lazy. The U.T. game comes on in a bit, and I guess I'll sit my big ass on the couch and watch it. Or maybe not. I'm sort of brain dead for no apparent reason. I have no Thanksgiving leftovers (damnit), so of course, I'm craving a turkey sandwich and some stuffing more than you can imagine. And a bloody mary. I could handle one of those. But the reality of it is that I'll most likely have popcorn and a beer or two. Lame City, U.S.A.
Mom got here about 3:30 on Wednesday. Man, was it good to see her. She brought a bunch of old photos of my grandmother's she'd discovered when her stepfather passed away a couple of weeks ago. My mom and her sisters went over to his house to clean out the little bit of stuff of my grandmother's that remained there (she died in 1999), and found this big bunch of photos from their childhood, most of which I'd never laid eyes on. We went through them, and they're so wonderful. My grandmother was a stone cold fox in the forties. My grandfather was very handsome. And my mom was simply adorable as a child. It was so nice to look through them with her. We went to an early dinner and then watched "Elf," which neither one of us had ever seen. Very funny. Will Ferrel is such a ginormous goofball. Just thinking about him makes me smile.
Thanksgiving lunch at the Driskill was pretty damn sweet. They had this amazing "buffet room" set up next to the mezzanine where all the dining tables were set up. Tons of salads, meats, sides and desserts to choose from. I think the best thing I had was this miniature apple struedel pie. It just tasted like the holidays. We ate until we were blue in the face.
Mom kept getting calls on her cell phone from the nursing home that Roy has been moved into. They moved him on Tuesday, so he has been even more disoriented and aggitated than usual. Mom had hoped to stay until tomorrow (Saturday), but decided to leave today when she got a call last night that Roy had tried to get out of bed and walk on his own (something he hasn't been able to do in 5 months). He'd fallen and was banged up. And they were having difficulty getting his ventilator hooked up. So she left really early this morning to get home and see about him. I'm upset that our time together was so short, but I understand her wanting to go take care of things. Such is our lives now.
The trip to Las Vegas was fun, but pretty low key. The weather was cold and rainy most of the time we were there. We casino hopped, gambled, drank, ate, shopped and people watched. We didn't go to the Liberace museum (dang it), but we had a full couple of days of going and doing. We ate some good food: RA Sushi and Zefferino's were the two best. And I lost every cent I took to gamble with, which sucks. I even hit the ATM machine...twice...thinking, "surely my luck is going to change," but alas, it didn't. Even though I tried slots, craps and roulette, at a variety of casinos (everything from the Bellagio to the Frontier) nothing was working for me. Oh, and we saw 9 brides cruising around in their wedding gowns during our trip. Very surreal.
Well, it's on. My flight to Vladivostok is booked. My travel Visa application is in D.C. I leave for Russia on December 12th--a little over two weeks away. To say that I'm freaking out is the biggest understatement ever. I am on an emotional roller coaster like I've never experienced--one minute, excited beyond belief, the next, crying because I'm so terrified. I can't believe I'm having to take this trip by myself. I'm not sleeping worth a damn, and my stomach is constantly upset. I know it's all going to be worth it...a real character builder...an experience I'll never forget. But still. I'm losing my mind with all of the preparation that has to be made for this trip, and then once I get back, the preparaton for the baby's arrival. It's like super-turbo-hyper pregnancy.
My God, I can't wait to lay eyes on her.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Today I went to lunch at the Four Seasons. This is only the 2nd time I've ever actually eaten at the Four Seasons. Both times have been work-related celebration-type lunch things. Anyhoo, the first time I went to the Four Seasons for lunch, I discovered the perfect glass of iced tea. Oh my God, do these people know how to do tea.
Let me just say that a bad glass of iced tea is just lame. I mean, it's not a difficult beverage to master. But put me in your average restaurant where they give you tea in a) too small of a glass, b) with too much ice, and c) fill you up either too frequently or not enough, and it can practically ruin a meal. But at the Four Seasons, I swear, they teach an "Iced Tea Preparation and Service 101" class. to all their staff It's kind of amazing.
The secret? The ice cubes are made out of frozen tea. That's right kids: NO DILUTION OF YUMMY TEA MAGIC! It's solid. It's strong. It's awesome.
Also: no sugar, or Equal, or Splenda or any such shit on the table. Instead: a small carafe of "simple syrup" a.k.a. sugar water is on a saucer surrounded by lemon slices. You know simple sugar, right? You make mojitos with it...your mom put in your bottle to get you to shut the hell up when you were teething... Yeah, SUGAR WATER! What you do is pour some sugar water in your X-treme iced tea, and you are so happy, it's not even funny.
And then, they don't fill you up again until you're ready. I'm sorry, but there are few things more stupid and more unnecessary than some well-meaning waitstaff person topping off your perfectly-formulated iced tea every time you drink a tablespoon of it. It's just dumb.
Almost as good as the iced tea at the Four Seasons is the people watching. Today, I lunched within iced-tea-cube-chunking distance from St. Ann (a.k.a., Ann Richards). Man, that's one cool old broad. I want her to adopt me as my grandma. But it was enough to just be within earshot of her raspy Texas voice. Richards for President, '08!
The bar at the Four Seasons is a trip. I've skipped out on work there with my boss (her idea..."They've got those cute little tonic bottles for your gin and tonics!"), watched the Congress Ave. bats in the sunset, run up a 4-figure bar tab (not by myself, mind you), been hit on by the father-of-a-bride whose wife and daughter were sloshed within 2 feet of us, and chatted it up with Mickey "I used to be hot, but now I'm kind of scary" Rourke at that bar. It fucking rocks...on a limited basis.
Currently listening to:
Friday, November 19, 2004
And then I'm taking the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving, etc. I haven't taken a whole week off of work just for fun in over four years. Four freakin' years!
My mom's actually going to tear herself away from the depressing confines of the hospital to come and spend Thanksgiving with me. We're going to eat lunch at the swanky Driskill Hotel (and I'm bringing a couple of my orphan friends with me), and then sit around and groan about how full we are.
But then the crazy shit begins.
You see, I am adopting a baby girl from Russia. I started the process in earnest last April, after much soul searching and being scared to death about the whole idea of it. But then I realized that my fear of the unknown was paralyzing me, and I decided I didn't want to live that way. So I went for it--submitted my application, started down the looooooooong and expensive paperwork trail, and yesterday, I got the call: "We've got a referral for you. A little girl. 5 1/2 months old." The long and short of it is that I'll be going over to Russia--Vladivostok--in the next few weeks to meet her. Oh my GOD!! All of these months of thinking about this whole adoption thing in a very abstract way, and now, it's about to be a reality.
I want to see her face, feel her skin. I want to hold her and look into her eyes. I cannot believe that this is really happening. I'm going to be an emotional basket case for the next few weeks.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
The basic idea behind the magazine is that people send the editors stuff that they find--letters, grocery lists, photos, drawings, post-it notes, report cards...you name it--and they publish them in a collection. The results can be bizarre, touching, funny or sad. Or sometimes all of the above.
At the Alamo event, the "Found" guys got up and presented some of their favorite finds, and then invited the audience to come up and share some of the weird stuff they'd found. It was cool. They're touring around the country--they've got 25 more cities to go in the next 26 days. You should check them out if they come to your hood. In the meantime, you can check 'em out at www.foundmagazine.com.
And keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find...
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Granted, no one has ever accused Miss Smith of being a rocket scientist. But does she really think we're going to buy it when she says that the reason she had to be held up by two bodygaurds in order to walk after her AMA appearance was due to the fact that she'd had a particularly grueling workout with her personal trainer earlier that day? Oh really? And the moon is made of cheese? Awesome!
During her introduction of Kayne West Anna Nicole was less coherent than Kirk Douglas was that time he appeared on the Oscars a little too soon after his massive stroke. I felt sorry for Mr. Douglas. I was just cringing for Anna Nicole. Big time.
And she swears she's not on anything or drunk. Well then, WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON, ANNA?! You were slurring like you'd had 6 shots of novacaine in your tongue right before you stumbled on to the stage. And then you said, "Do you like my boooooooooooooooodddddddyy?" At least I think that's what you said. Yes, you look great, honey. Skinnier than I've ever seen you before. But you should really see someone about stroke you apparently had some time recently. It's really doing a number on you.
P.S. Don't you just know we're going to be hearing something in the future from her poor son, Daniel? Think about how much your mom used to embarrass you when you were a teenager. And it would be for something stupid, like wearing two different shades of navy or ordering milk to eat with her dinner at Chili's. Can you imagine growing up with Anna Nicole as your mom? Jesus. Poor kid...
Monday, November 15, 2004
On June 21st, my stepfather Roy had surgery in Houston to repair an aneurism on his aorta, just below his heart. Going in to this, we knew that the sugery was going to be very serious and that his recuperation process was going to be quite lengthy and difficult. We also knew that Roy's health was not the best: He was 70, but seemed 80. Had had two previous heart attacks in the past 10 years. Had had surgery to repair another aneurism on his aorta (near his stomach) in the early 90s. And had early-stage emphysema due to a lifetime of smoking (he'd finally quit after his second heart attack, five years prior). So, due to his age and his compromised physical state, this already intense surgery could prove to be more risky than normal. So we were scared.
But the surgery went off without a hitch. The thinking was that he'd be in ICU for 5 or 6 days and then in the hospital for another 8 to 10, and then home for a long rehabilitation process--roughly 4 to 6 weeks.
Well my friends, things didn't go as planned. Long story short: he's still in the hospital. That's right: in five months, he hasn't been out of the bed. Hasn't showered. Hasn't stood on his own. Hasn't pissed on his own. He is unable to breathe on his own withouth a great deal of effort, and has to be on a ventilator, breathing through a tracheotomy in his throat, at least 12 hours a day. Doctor's fear he will never be able to be weaned off of the ventilator due to the state of his lungs (remember the emphysema I mentioned?). Oh yeah, and he's got significant, permanent brain damage due to either a lack of oxygen to the brain, a lack of blood flow to the brain or some combination thereof. He doesn't know who my mom is. He hallucinates. He can't read or write. He has trouble controling his own bowels and can't feed himself. In other words, he's fucked.
This is a guy who, up until his day of surgery, was a contributing member of society: running his own business for 40+ years, married to my mom for 26 years, a father, stepfather and grandfather. Now, he's a like a helpless child. And my mom is by his side for 8 to 12 hours a day, trying to understand his ramblings and clean up his messes. His kids rarely come to visit. His business associates' visits have trickled off. The bills keep piling up and he will never, ever get any better than he is right this second.
My mom is devastated and exhausted. She's held out hope for months that this situation would get better--at least slightly. It has been horrible watching her hope and optimism erode as day after day has passed.
This week they're planning on moving him from the hospital to a nursing home. From one bed to another. From treatment to maintenance. There is no end to this ordeal in sight.
If this were 50 years ago, the aneurism on his aorta would've eventually burst and Roy would've dropped dead. But because the technology now exists, we can now have surgery to repair an aneurism and extend somebody's life by years...or decades. But his life is ostensibly over. My mom's life is over in a lot of ways because she is his caretaker. So in trying to extend this 70-year-old-in-poor-health's life by 5 or 6 years, two lives have been devastated, their finances are being eviscerated, and those who love these people are severely affected as well.
After living a full, productive life, what a crappy way to go out.
Friday, November 12, 2004
Saw this while at lunch today. I assume that "Spare 2" is meant to let us know that they've got another Hummer at home. Their plates should read, "I Suck."
- I caught him playing air guitar...enthusiastically...in public.
- He knew way too many words to too many Limp Bizkit songs.
- After watching "The Godfather" together, he spoke in that Marlon Brando "Gonna make him an offer he can't refuse" accent for the rest of the night.
- He always smelled like Chinese food.
- He made this weird whistling noise every time he breathed through his nose.
- He didn't like cheese or vegetables (except for corn and potatoes).
- He was a ghastly speller and never read anything except "Playboy" and "Sports Illustrated."
I'm not proud of this, mind you. I realize that dumping guys for such seemingly insignificant reasons seems shallow and bitchy. But I look at it like this: Do I really want to spend a great deal of time--years maybe--with Whistly Nose or Air Halen? I don't think so. If I'm annoyed by it after only a few dates, I would become murderous after a few years. And I really don't want to end up in the big house. "I'm sorry Your Honor. I couldn't help myself. He just kept spelling 'your' when he should've been spelling 'you're' and writing "hole" for "whole," and he kept making plurals by using apostrophe s. Don't you understand? He HAD to die!"
So I've recently been going out with this guy who, on paper, is the catch of the century. And truly, he is incredibly nice. But he mumbles. And not just a little bit. A lot. For instance, last night, he cooked dinner for me, and I was seated maybe 3 feet from him at the kitchen table, and I must've said "Huh?" "What?" "I'm sorry...what?" "Come again?" about 10 times over the course of our meal. And despite my many years of rocking out, I am NOT hard of hearing. The mumbling thing is a potential deal-breaker.
And then there's the apologizing. If he's not saying "sorry" for mumbling, then he's apologizing for something else. For instance, I asked him to pass the pepper grinder last night, and he said, "Sorry. I didn't realize you couldn't reach it." Who knew that aplogizing when it's totally unnecessary could be so grating? I've even called him on it a couple of times, by saying things like, "You know, you don't need to apologize for the pepper being too far away for me to reach it. Really, it's okay." But the sorry-ing continues. I think I'm going to have put the kibosh on this whole thing before something horrible happens.
"I'm sorry Your Honor. I realize that sticking an ice pick in his jugular was not a good idea. But after 25 years together, I still couldn't understand what he was saying. And I'd told him that if he apologized one more time, I was going to kill him..."
Thursday, November 11, 2004
It was so nice, in fact, that it inspired my 14+ year old arthritic grumpy cat, Ellen, to become very, very frisky. She was running at top speed, from one end of the house to the other. To and fro. Back and forth. On the hardwood floors, it sounded like a buffalo were stampeding. She just runs, making a churdling "revving up" noise every now and then. She's 8 lbs. of lightning speed, with big green eyes. Ellen's losing her hearing. Her eyes are glazed over with cataracts. She sleeps about 23 hours a day. She's definitely in the twilight of her years. So when she gets frisky and kittenish, it makes me smile. One of these days (when I figure out how), I'll post a photo of her. But for now, hopefully the mental image of her bolting back and forth will make you smile too.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
It's not in human nature to kill other humans, so to get the guys ready, we recently switched to lifelike targets (rather than just paper ones) during target practice. The same shape and size as real people. And we play this music while they're practicing so that it makes it more like a video game for them, and makes them more able to kill someone without really thinking about it. [While the soldiers are in battle, a Humvee with speakers mounted on it, plays heavy metal music in their midst. They speak to a young soldier who says, "As long as they keep playing this music, I can keep going."]
My God, this is terrifying. While the "moral values" folks bitch and moan stateside about the toll that violent video games are taking on our kids by desensitizing them to the damage that actual violence does, our government is purposely using the violent video game approach to make these young men numb to taking lives.
It's like saying rape is wrong unless you're really horny.
"It may not be the most romantic setting imaginable, but a Wal-Mart store in Dortmund, Germany, is attracting a new market of shoppers -- those looking for love. The store hosted its first singles shopping event last year, and the concept has become so popular that every Friday night at the store is singles night, with single shoppers identified by carts with bright red bows." (Lifted from The Wall Street Journal.)
Saturday, November 06, 2004
But really: What WAS this? I mean, I've got stickers that express MY opinion, on MY vehicle that I make payments on. I'm driving down the road--a woman alone in my MUCH smaller car--and this total, brainless asshole feels the need to harass me at 65 mph. And when I have the audacity to react to it, he endangers both of us by tailgating me.
Dude: In case you haven't learned because a) you don't know how to read and/or b) you've been too busy jacking off to your Toby Keith concert DVDs--YOUR GUY WON! Why in the hell are you so threatened by me expressing my freedom of speech by displaying a couple of bumper stickers on my station wagon that you've got to harass and endanger me? Let's see...white, male, bad hair cut, driving a gas-guzzling vehicle, feeling threatend by someone minding their own business who just happens to have an opinion different than yours, and then harassing them to the point where they're fearful and/or endangered...yep, sounds like a Republican to me. You've done your party proud, Jack Ass.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Anyway, she needs a reliable car and doesn't have much cash to spend on it. She's shopped around for some used stuff in the classifieds and gone on some scary test drives. But tonight--she may have found The Car.
I noticed a couple of weeks ago that there was a guy on my street selling a "1987 Volvo GLE Sedan. Cool Air. Well-maintained. 140K." I told her about it, and tonight we went on a test drive. It was a phenomenally gorgeous night. He told us to "take it as long as (we) wanted to," so we did. We cranked the manual sunroof opened and went cruising around the hills of west Austin. After about 1/2 an hour, Francesca was in love with the car, and it seemed like a solid buy for the money. On the way back to the man's house, she joked, "I should just ask him if I could have it for the weekend to try it out." And guess what: when we got back, he said: "I've got to go out of town for work tomorrow, so if you just want to take it until Saturday, have it checked out by a mechanic or whatever, and then you can bring it back and we can make a deal or you can say 'thanks, but no thanks,' that's cool." He just GAVE HER THE CAR for the weekend. And all he knows about her is her cell phone number and that she's friends with someone who lives on his street.
Just when you think that all we "Ah-murh-kuhns " care about is whether or not we can own a gun, or if a couple of leathermen are kissing each other, you meet some kind, trusting soul like this guy.
Did I mention he still had a "Kerry/Edwards" sign in his yard?
God Bless Ahmurhkah.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Those of you that bothered to show up to vote, voted for a change to the current regime by a significant margin. Thank you. But the fact is that the same percentage of you showed up for this election as did in 2000. And that just stinks. You'd think things in the world were still the same based on your apathetic attitude toward our hard won right to vote. But, just in case you didn't know, a few things have happened in the real world in the past four years:
- Our current President--who can't even pronounce the words "nuclear" or "Americans"--was installed by the Supreme Court after a disputed vote count in the state where his brother is governor.
- We were attacked by terrorists on 9/11/01, and about 3,000 people died in a matter of hours.
- We led a pre-emptive invasion of a country based on the fact that our government told us that they had "weapons of mass destuction" that were an immediate threat to the U.S. and, oops, there were no weapons of mass destruction, but that guy they installed as president still believes we're justified in being there.
- We pissed off pretty much every ally we've ever had by our government's obsessive, unilateral march to "spread freedom" in Iraq.
- Over 1,100 American troops--overwhelmingly made up of people in your age group--have died in Iraq. Over 70,000 have been injured. And, guess what: There is no exit strategy.
- Genocide is occuring in Sudan--not unlike what happened in Rwanda in 1999 (Didn't we learn anything from that?)--and we really don't give a damn because there's no oil there for us to care about.
- There's still a global AIDS crisis, but advocating safer sex through condom use is still a no-no because of our country's "moral stance".
- "The Terminator" is now the governor of one of our most populous states, and still says stuff like "I'll be back," "Girlie men," and "Pump you up" on a regular basis. And people think that's cool.
- Martha Stewart is in jail while Ken Lay runs free.
- Americans are still the fattest people on the planet.
Okay. I feel better now. I guess I can get started on building that bunker in the back yard now...
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Right now, Bush has more electoral votes, but there are several swing states that are still too close to call. But I'm picturing Bush in the White House, all cocky and smug, doing that jerky little laugh of his...sure he's got this thing wrapped up. Makes me want to punch something--preferably his monkey face.
The night slogs on...
There has only been one presidential election out of the five I've voted in where I've been truly excited and inspired by the candidate I was voting for. That was in 1992--the first time Clinton ran. He had a hopefulness and exuberance that was so appealing to my 23-year old heart and mind. He seemed perfectly suited for the post-Cold War era. I couldn't wait to go to the polls to cast my vote for him. By 1996, I wasn't quite so enthusiastic...
Every other election I've voted in--including this one--I've been casting my vote AGAINST the other guy, rather than IN FAVOR OF the guy I was voting for. How sad is that? The whole "lesser of two evils" phenomenon that is national politics is so disheartening. And people wonder why it's so difficult to get Americans off their super-sized asses and into the voting booth...
So I'm nervous about how this whole thing is going to turn out. I may be moving to Canada in the very near future. More later...
Saturday, October 30, 2004
Monday, October 18, 2004
Welcome aboard. Drinks on the Lido Deck at cast off. We'll be in Cozumel at sunrise.
Today's big news: $235 spent at the vet's office to have my elderly cat's teeth cleaned. Why, you ask?
- Because they've never been cleaned and they've got 14 years of cat gunk built up on them.
- Because she's got "weak kidneys" and an infection introduced through her skanky teeth/gums could be problematic.
- Because I've got a crush on my vet, and he said I should have her teeth cleaned.
Today's other big news: My co-worker...I'll call him Gunther...picked his skin so much on his face all day that it appeared as if he'd had a chemical peel by 4:00pm. It's a horrifying thing to watch, really. A nervous habit, obviously. But really--when you're having to wipe the skin you've picked off your desk a couple of times a day, maybe it's time to invest in some moisturizer and/or consult a psychiatric dermatologist. Man, is it ever gross.
So there you have it: my first exciting blog post. Oh yeah, they'll all be at least this good. Check back early and often. I'll freshen your pina colada as needed.