Houston

Dear Much Younger Self

My darling younger Laurie,

What I am doing is nothing new.  In fact, writing letters to one’s younger self is downright hackneyed.   Everyone does it.   Oprah did it a few years ago and the world went ape shit,  she then wrote her own eulogy and all  of Alpha Centauri had a brown out.    Ah, the infinite power of The Oprah.

I guess I could take it one step further and  write my  own epitaph while I’m at it.

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First, we’ll address us when we were 20.     Nice time.    We are/were was young and thin.    Still living in Austin before the severe leftist intrusion the late 80’s.    College was fun, like high school with ash trays.   It was a raucous time to be alive.   Back then, no one tried so hard to be different.   Uniqueness just was– not a lifestyle pursuit.

You’ll look back one day and laugh at how during your college years, you moved every time the rent went up.  Silly.  Don’t do it.  it’ll only cost more in the long run.   The $72.00 a  week you’ll make at that retail store will be tough to live on, but it’ll be one of your greatest teachers.   Yes, a paycheck such as it,  will be a wonderful learning tool……you’ll learn to go without.  But that’s important.     You’ll learn how to moderate moderation.

It’ll be a hassle to be a  full-time student working at a crappy job that introduced itself to you as a crappy job.   We knew it when you said “Yes to the stress”.    But you’ll  do just fine.   You’ll learn to live within your means and you already know about talking in a higher octave to buy a cheaper Happy Meal without the guilt.

Never forget get those insidious roach infested apartments we lived in.   They were and for some time, will be, tiny and cramped.  They will, be lean to’s with a few shingles, some with indoor plumbing.   But you’ll appreciate that you have a roof over your head.   . But never forget, the DNA of a hundred previous tenants will always be swirling on every surface.   Avoid the petri dish that will be your kitchens.   Look into healthy ways of employing anorexia in your life, if possible.   You won’t want to place food, much less eat it, anywhere near most of your kitchen counters.

For a time in your  early twenties to age 30 or so, the only letters you’ll receive will be returned check notices from your bank.   You’ll learn to hate that distinctive shade of pink paper that shouts  “welcher…..loser” from behind the envelope’s cellophane window.   But I beg you, don’t beat yourself up about this. Why?  Because you will survive the “student experience”.  And bouncing checks..on purpose, .with intent, is part of that survival experience. I didnt say ethical but it woo bevomecan necessary evil.  In fact, it’s survival  101.   You’ll make those particular sacrifices several times  while still young in life.    And I promise there’s, an end to what seems like an impossible student loan payback process.

You’ll live in neighborhoods that were shady because like your neighbors, you didn’t have a choice.    At least not in the fiscal sense.   And yes, the chasm between you and “the haves” will exist, especially while still in college, You’ll look enviously at those rich, indulged sorority types who were subsidized  by parent-ships, mummy and daddy paid for everything,     You used to think their only goal for four years was to pledge the right sorority, date the right guy from the proper Texas zip code and study, in between winters in Cabo and spring breaks in Gstaad.   But I want you to let go of any resentment ASAP.   It’s beneath your humanity   and besides, everyone has a veneer, a lovely candy coating…..and consequently, everyone has a price they must pay for everything.   The Big Mental Get Even comes later, I promise.    You’ll be amazed how once you’re in the real world, the playing field will be leveled.     Not completely, but more so than it was during your college days.  You’ll grow up, mature and see the error in your thinking.    You’ll eventually right your listing ship with emotional ballast you never thought possible.

Oh and while I’m at it, don’t date a jock at while at The University of  Texas.   It won’t end well.     For him, as it turned out.   Avoid pilots at all costs.  There’s a shoe salesman, a smart yet immature and confused engineer and an selfish actor wanna be in the mix.    Avoid them all.   Run from them…head west, head west!!!

You’ll have a kickass career, especially at the very beginning and while the money isn’t flooding in, your star is rising and you will be heralded in ways you envidioned at age six.     On air, you are loved unconditionally and disliked with as much passion.   Learn to edit criticism from viewers and listeners and for God’s sake, run like hell from broadcast consultants.     All they know is resentment from on-air careers  that went to hell or worse, never went anywhere.   They’re Satan’s spawn on a salad plate filled with nettles.     General Managers with few exceptions are generally full of hot air too, their hands still aching from all the knives they plunged into other people’s backs.    They will eventually stumble and fall as well.   You’ll learn that failure and disappointment are viable and unavoidable  facts of life.    Embrace them.  They are lessons indeed, but not necessarily pass/fail courses.    You can choose your mode of testing.

In order to do that, I urge you to ignore the tall, handsome Canadian.   Avoid the lessservrelationshipscthstbtook morevthsnnthry’ll hive.     Stay clear of the lure of fame even if regional, even if it’s on lowest rung on the show biz latter.  Try to abstain from all the stuff that feels good and either sounds like, or actually includes the letter “x” anywhere its title.   Imbibe less.  Learn that Love is more, much more than having a a few commonalities,    A mutual love of chicken coop welding will bring  you together, but it’s not enough to keep you together.   Love is complicated, regardless of how easy and effortless  it might feel.   Use common sense, don’t be a doormat.   Reinforce your spine constantly.

Please let go of that precious little lion cub by 1975.    Trust me, your life will be easier.    Adolescent first loves are too often idealized and never a reason to seek a vacuum cleaner hose to attach to the exhaust pipe before shutting the garage door.  Not that you’d ever do that,.   But this break up will feel like the absolute end of the world.  It’s actually just the end of a phase….that just feels like forever.   .But please let go early.   There’s power in release.    He never loved you like you loved him.     Seek emotional parity and let him go in the process.  He’s  nothing more than a greasy  kid stuff  memory .

Learn that donuts aren’t sweet bagels, don’t date co-workers.   Madonna will always be thinner than you AND might I add, always a year older.    Calibrate the mania in your life, keep stress on low and battle the inertia, where possible.  And please know this—it’s perfectly fine to be vulnerable, just not to the point of exploitation.

So, be kind  to yourself.   More than I was.   I’m sorry for some of the decisions I made….not so much what I did, but who I did.   Had I been wiser, the tone of this letter would be far less cautionary.  But in spite of all the warnings, there will be good times in your life and yes, you will know joy, but understand that (unless you did an unscripted  180 and became a cloistered nun), it’s not a constant.    It should be, but it can’t be, no matter what bill of goods someone  is trying to sell you.   You’re an errant human and you’ll know joy’s varying degrees throughout your life.    Revel in its presence.     Use time wisely, it never seems to stop until it has passed.   Oy.   Enjoy your memories but stay focused on  your dreams and goals.      And uh….being the first female broadcaster in space, isn’t one of them.

Marriage and motherhood can be in the picture should you choose to form a civil union or procreate….but it’s not an all or nothing scenario.   Don’t let anyone tell you you’re selfish because you don’t want kids…..if, you decide you don’t want kids.  My ability  was compromised after the wreck we had in 1992′.   It’s quite different to not want kids, yet still have it be an option..    It’s quite another thing  to be told you can’t.    But  you’ll  survive that, too.   Welcome menopause and be okay with aging, as long as you don’t attach anything numerical to the process.  Stay away from fun house mirrors and laugh, loudly and often.  Walk tall, learn to accept and respect your gifts. You have more than you have allowed yourself to realize.  Avoid complex carbohydrates and refuse the urge to celebrate your birthday during Fiesta in San Antonio, 1991. As we discussed earlier,  the trip there will literally wreck your life.

You wil lose your best friend to AIDS in 2007 and another very dear friend will be taken by a massive heart attack ten years later.    You’ll lose many colleagues and very close broadcast mentors between  2000 and 2017.   These things will happen in rapid succession and it will eviscerate you emotionally.  Cry all you want, and trust me, you will.   Don’t even bother wearing mascara.   But you’ll recover.   A few will even serve as guides from the other side.   And even if they aren’t really, , it’ll make me good to think so.

Jettison  from your life negative,  needy people, the poseurs , the petty narcissists  and general assholes who are mean spirited and cruel,     This will be easy since station  closures help with attrition.

Invest heavily in Big Pharma and BioMed in 2017.  Oh and something called Alphabet….Google it.

Lastly and perhaps the most important thing Older Me can impart to Younger Me would be this:  your mother wasn’t Kreskin, or Einstein.     She was wrong about a lot of things.

Huzzah!!

Hugz,

Me at 58.

The Politics of Dating

In Broadcasting, you collect a lot of unemployment and you end up out of desperation,  doing odd jobs for very odd people who really, really liked you on the air.   They almost only ever agreed to an interview just to see if one  looked  as hot as one sounded.     I made it through a couple of interviews….I guess that was because I was actually worthy of being the subject of  their fantasy; Laurinella, Queen of SultryVox, Land of CarboHydratia.    Eeewwwww.   I can remember having some of the creepiest temporary bosses.

Anyway, I was thinking back on my long  career and one particular  period of unemployment appeared front and center on ye olde memory banks or in my mammary banks according to some of my creepier bosses.

I’d been doing a little freelance work for a Houston magazine (heavy on the “free”, by the way).   Days earlier, my editor asked me what I wanted to do next in terms of a subject.

I told her that I really didn’t care–anything would be fine–I wasn’t picky. Whatever. I suggested  she throw out a couple of potential topics.

Right off the bat, she suggested I do an in-depth piece on the Interior Department’s finalized proposal to open 48 jillion  acres of previously off-limits land for oil exploration and drilling.

“Nah, that’s a little heavy. Too many facts and numbers”, I said. “But anything else would be fine. Really. I’m amenable to anything,  seriously.  Just name it.  What other topics do you have in mind?”

She then suggested that I write an article on Venezuelan despot, Hugo Chavez (he was still and alive and killing back then) and his ardent criticism of neo-liberal globalization.

I shook my head and told her no; too many abstract political principles. Nor was I in the mood to do a lot of boring research. Plus my head started to spin. I told her I’d do anything , ANYTHING but that.

She then suggested an overview of Nancy Pelosi’s first two years as Speaker of the House.

I vomited a little in my mouth, then suggested an overview of anything else.

She then told me of her idea for a story about the dating world for older Houstonians. (And by older, I mean age 40 and up)

I thought about it for a second: it had possibilities; some creative potential. There would be no mention of Hugo Chavez or Nancy P.  that I could think of and besides, I was a Houstonian over 40.

I told her I’d do it.

But I quickly learned that I wouldn’t be talking to older Houstonians trying to date. I’d have to become one of the older Houstonians trying to date.

The story, as it was conveyed to me, would be far more interesting if I participated in it. First person perspective.

As in, I should actually go out on a date.

Yeah, uh-huh.

A date.

I’m not even sure what constitutes a date in 2017 much less in what it was in 2008 when I was given this assignment,   Certainly not for a woman whose birth  predates Eisenhower’s incessant rants about then military- industrial complex.   

See, at the time, I hasn’t had a real by God date per se since December 2004.    I was Tin Man rusty and way off my game, but a few years earliermImhad some success at what I called “guerrilla dating”. I attacked it with Gunga Din-like precision; I had the enthusiasm of a Sandinista with new boots during the rainy season.

This was my M.O.—I’d get all tarted up and go to the nearest Barnes and Noble Bookstore (ALWAYS date a literate man and do brick and mortar book stores still esxist?).   I’d find a pretentious stack of books to stand near. If I saw a nice looking man, I’d grab a book and open it. Remember, the book really doesn’t matter, but the title and cover made all the difference .  Just make sure whatever you grab as a prop, makes you look intellectual and even a bit mysterious.

I remember on one occasion, I actually trained my eyes to go Marty Feldman. Seriously! One eye scanned the room looking for a mark, while the other focused on the book allowing me to feign interest in the Runic alphabet. I didn’t get that many dates, but I learned that Runic/Futhark is Runic for “how’s it hanging”.

That should come in handy if I’m ever going out with a holdover who’s lineage is that of the ancient Goths.

Still, I remember being nervous about all of it.  The dynamics of dating had changed since I last went out one a date four years prior.  Should I be worried I hadn’t changed enough to accommodate all the social changes? But surely, some of the basics were still in existence, right?

All the latest books and authors insisted that men and women have innate “hard wiring” that time can’t change.    They  wrote that it all goes back to that feral thing; when we lived in caves, communicated through grunts and screeches and were the mono-browed forebearers to that clever caveman Geico ad campaign eight years ago.

We all saw the movie, “Quest for Fire”, right?    We learned from that flick that prehistoric men looked at women and sized them up as breeding stock. They’d ask themselves, “Is she physically able to bare my progeny and propagate my DNA for generations to come?….Ugh!” If so, he grabbed her by the hair and pulled her into the cave where he would proceed make a big carnal Mesozoic smack dab all over her Jurassic.

So, what’s changed?  Women still do as they did way back then; we look at every man and subconsciously wonder if “he’s the one?”  . We can’t help it. We want to know if these brave, hunter/gatherers can provide for our families.   And by that I don’t  necessarily mean bringing home a brontosaurus or fire..

But we’re older now, so more than likely, we’ll still size each other up, but for entirely different reasons.

Older men look at older women and hope that we can prepare a meal that’s either low or no sodium and we older women will be hoping that men will still be able to—–my God! Is that a crease in his pants or is that his prostate???

Oh yes, things have changed.

And what if sex enters the picture??? There are so many factors now in place that weren’t there years ago. I was 49 then…..(Jeez, really?????) and at the time inconvenienced with “free range” periods–they came and went as they pleased and usually at the worst times!    I had to deal with that, plus, there was the awkward issue of Cialis and Viagra; performance anxiety and feminine…. whatever.

There’s nothing scarier than a “first anything”. Especially a first date. You’ve got a 50-50 chance you won’t like each other physically and if that attraction isn’t there, you know it right off the bat. That’s not to say that perceived looks won’t change as you get to know each other, but rarely will a couple on their first date, ever feel that need and desire at the same time.

The truth is we’re older. Much older.

In fact, too damn old to be dating in the first place.   Writing about it would be fiction.    I’d be Steven Glass  Glass with a better rack.

This whole damn idea is nuts.  Completely insane.   I remember sweating, feeling nauseous and burping up something akin to sulfur.   I stayed at home in fetal thought when Inshould have been out researching and  writing this story.   All it resulted in were days of complete panic.     My editor must have sensed this.  She called to check on my progress.   I was honest.  I vomited my panic through the phone.

So, long story short, s few days lster  my piece on how Hugo Chavez’s disdain of neo-liberal globalization affected his dating rituals  was on her desk and ready to go to print.

Jeez……The things  we do for a paycheck.

,

Dear Laurie

My darling younger self,

What I am doing is nothing new.  In fact, writing letters to your younger self is downright hackneyed.   Everyone does it.   I guess I could also try to write your epitaph while I’m at it!!!!   Okay, but that’s for later in our therapy.

First, we’ll address us when we were 20.     Nice time.    We are/were was young and thin.    Still living in Austin before the severe leftist intrusion the late 80’s.    College was fun, like high school with ash trays.   It was a raucous time to be alive.   Back then, no one tried so hard to be different.   Uniqueness just was– not a lifestyle pursuit.

Remember how we moved every time the rent went up?   It was a hassle to be a  full-time student working at a crappy job that introduced itself to you as a crappy job.     We knew it when we said “Yes to the stress”.    But you’ll do just fine.   You’ll learn to live within your means and you already know about talking at a higher octave to buy a cheaper Happy Meal without the guilt.

Never forget get those insidious roach infested apartments we lived in.   They were and for some time, will be, tiny and cramped.  Lean to’ with shingles.  But you’ll appreciate that you have a roof over your head and indoor plumbing. But never forget, the DNA of a hundred previous tenants will always be swirling on every surface.   Avoid the petri dish that will be your kitchens.   Look into healthy ways of employing anorexia in your life, if possible.   You won’t want to place food, much less eat it, anywhere near most of your kitchen counters.

For a time in your  early twenties to age 30 or so,, the only letters you’ll receive will be returned check notices from your bank.   You’ll learn to hate that distinctive shade of pink paper that shouts  “welcher…..loser” behind the envelope’s cellophane window.   But I beg you, don’t beat yourself up about this. Why?  Because you will survive the “student experience”.   You’ll make those particular sacrifices while still young in life.  You’ll live in neighborhoods that were shady because like your neighbors, you didn’t have a choice.    At least not in the fiscal sense.   And yes, the chasm between you and “the haves” will exist, especially while still in college, You’ll look enviously at those rich, indulged sorority types who were on parents-ships, totally subsidized by mummy and daddy.  You used to think their only goal for four years was to pledge the right sorority, date the right guy from the proper Texas zip code and study, in between winters in Cabo and spring breaks in Gstaad.   But I want you to let go of any resentment ASAP.   It’s reductive and besides, everyone has a veneer, a lovely candy coating…..and consequently, everyone has a price to pay for everything.   The Big Mental Get Even comes later, I promise.    You’ll be amazed how once you’re in the real world, the playing field will be leveled.     Not completely, but more so than it was during your college days.  You’ll grow up, mature and see the error in your thinking.

Oh and while I’m at it, don’t date any jocks at while at The University of  Texas.   It won’t end well.

For him, as it turns out.

You’ll have a kickass career, especially at the very beginning and while the money isn’t flooding in, your star is rising and you will be heralded in ways you only imagined at age six.     On air, you are loved unconditionally and disliked with as much passion.   Learn to edit criticism from viewers and listeners and for God’s sake, run like hell from broadcast consultants.     All they know is resentment from an on-air career that went to hell or worse, never went anywhere.   They’re Satan’s spawn on a salad plate filled with nettles.     General Managers are generally full of hot air too, their hands still aching from all the knives they plunged into other people’s backs.    They will eventually stumble and fall as well.   You’ll learn that failure and disappointment are viable and unavoidable  facts of life.    Embrace them.  They are lessons indeed, but not necessarily pass/fail courses.    You can choose your mode of testing.

In order to do that, I urge you to avoid pilots, ignore the tall, handsome Canadian.   Stay clear of the lure of fame even if regional, even if it’s on lowest rung on the show biz latter.  Try to abstain from all the stuff that feels good and either sounds like, or actually includes the letter “x” anywhere its title.   Imbibe less.  Learn that Love is more, much more than a few commonalities,    A mutual love of chicken coop welding will bring  you together, but it’s not enough to keep you together.   Love is complicated, regardless of how easy it can feel.   Use common sense, don’t be a doormat.   Reinforce your spine.

Please let go of that precious little lion cub by 1975.    Trust me, your life will be easier.    Adolescent first loves are too often idealized and never a reason to seek a vacuum cleaner hose before shutting the garage door.  It just feels like the end of the world.   It isn’t.  There’s power in release.

Learn that donuts aren’t sweet bagels, don’t date co-workers.   Madonna will always be thinner than you AND might I add, always a year older.    Calibrate the mania in your life, keep stress on low and battle the inertia, where possible.  And please know this—it’s perfectly fine to be vulnerable, just not to the point of exploitation.

So, be kinder to yourself than I was.    I’m sorry for some of the decisions I made….not so much what I did, but who I did.   Had I been wiser, the tone of this letter would be far less cautionary.  But in spite of all the warnings, there will be good times in your life and yes, you will know joy, but understand that (unless you did an unscripted  180 and became a cloistered nun), it’s not a constant.    It should be, but it can’t be, no matter what bill of goods you or someone else is trying to sell you.   .    You’re an errant human and you’ll know joy’s varying degrees throughout your life.    Revel in its presence.     Use time wisely, it never seems to stop until it has passed.   Oy.   Enjoy your memories but stay focused on  your dreams and goals.      And uh….being the first female broadcaster in space, isn’t one of them.

Marriage and motherhood can be In the picture should you choose to form a civil union or procreate….providing the ovaries can produce anything but powdered eggs.    That’ll be an issue.   But  you’ll welcome menopause and be okay with aging, as long as you don’t attach anything numerical to the process.  Stay away from fun house mirrors and laugh, loudly and often.  Walk tall, learn to accept and respect your gifts. You have more than you allowed yourself to realize.  Avoid complex carbohydrates and refuse the urge to celebrate your birthday during Fiesta in San Antonio, 1991. The trip there will literally wreck your life.

Lastly and perhaps the most important thing Older Me can impart to Younger Me would be this:  your mother wasn’t Kreskin.   She was wrong about a lot of things.

Huzzah!!

Hugz,

You at 56.

My Ritual Has An Accent

Every Sunday morning, I do something that’s become a ritual, providing I’m not entertaining a gentleman caller.

Yeah…like THAT’S ever gonna happen again.

I woke up early, threw on something comfortable (READ: anything with an elastic waistband) along with my walking shoes and headed over to a park in SW Houston to  put in a couple of miles.   Now, I actually do this on a daily basis, but early on Sunday mornings it’s even more special.  For one thing, the park is practically empty at that hour and another reason is because it’s very close to one of Houston’s ubiquitous Chinatowns,   Buddhists or Buddhist wanna-be’s, take over a gazebo built on top of a duck pond.  About ten people sit in the classic Lotus position in the shade it provides and they meditate to music from a sitar and a few other instruments from the Lute family.  

I’d join them, but  I feel waaaaaay too Occidental and unenlightened to do that, so I get my “contact zen” on by standing nearby and feeding the ducks stale crackers or whatever I have in my pantry that since I’ve been on this major weight loss kick (right at 40 lbs now, by the way) I can no longer eat.    The ducks quack a bit initially, but stop once they realize there’s enough food to go around.  I don’t think it bothers those meditating.  Their bodies are in Southwest Houston, but mentally, they’re a million miles away.

Once I’ve emptied the crumbs from the wax paper container, I toss the bag, then go for my two-mile walk.   Mornings are the coolest part of a summer day in Houston.  The humidity doesn’t start to get insultingly oppressive until after nine AM which is why I get my miles in as early as I can, but like an idiot every Sunday morning,  I undo all the good  my brisk walk has done by going to  a nearby Mexican restaurant for a typical Mexican breakfast.

It’s what I do every Sunday.  

And I order practically the same thing every time:  a bowl of menudo (if you don’t know what this is, I don’t have the heart to ruin your stomach by  telling you of what it is comprised) and Huevos a la Mexicana…. scrambled eggs made with diced jalapeño, onions and tomatoes…which come with grilled potatoes, refried beans and soft, fluffy flour tortillas.    They are delicious, cheap (around $5 for a huge platter of the stuff) and a great way to start your morning with a piquant little kick.

So, I arrived at the restaurant, sat down and ordered in Pigeon Spanish, my typical breakfast.  Minutes later it arrived and I sat there adding cilantro and onion to my menudo which always comes as a first course  and I started to look around me.  I was the only person in there, save for a family. 

A very interesting family of four.

They were a young couple–I’m guessing early 20’s and the mother was a short, somewhat heavy-set, dark-skinned Latina and the father was tall and thin with lighter colored eyes.  He was tattooed all to hell and back and through his gray colored wife beater T-shirt, I could read that he had the surname ‘Hernandez’  tattooed in old English lettering across his back.  As last names go,  Hernandez is like the Spanish equivalent to Smith.

He also had numerous tattoos up and down his arms including one of the  Virgin Mary (decked out like El  Virgen de Guadalupe) but she had a skull in lieu of a face and this  was a big tat  that ran the length of his arm, from shoulder to wrist.   On the other appendage was a coat of arms, an  homage to Spanish heraldry I suppose, but I couldn’t tell what was in it, though from my vantage point, it looked like (and this is odd)  an image of the old, but  venerable Houston Astrodome.    

And then the topper?  He had two tattooed tear drops under one eye.    See the photo example to the right.    Restaurant Guy’s tear drops were large enough for me to see two tables over.

Now, I haven’t been a reporter in a while and I ain’t so current on my gang symbolism but I remembered what THAT  signified:   the wearer had killed before; a teardrop per victim.   Mr. Hernandez had two tear drops.   I scanned my memory banks and remembered a news report I saw not too long ago.    The skull and Astrodome were earmarkings  that this cat was a member of a Houston-based gang formed in various Texas prisons about a decade ago, to serve as a unified front (a defense, if you will)  against  inmates who belonged to tougher, larger and better organized gangs  such as the Texas Syndicate and The Mexican Mafia.    These guys call themselves Tango Blast or Houstones and their tats signify where they’re from.   If  a rival member sees the Astrodome on an  arm or a tat of the Houston Texans’ logo somewhere, he automatically knows he’s up against a Houstone.  So do the cops.  The tattoos are identifiers of allegiance.

And based on Mr. Hernandez’  teardrop tats, one or both of  The Texas Syndicate or The Mexican Mafia are down two members. 

This man was pure Bad Ass.    He was scary looking and emitted an essence of violence through his skin.    I quickly went back to eating my meal.     Staring would be rude and not to mention a death sentence,  though I’d steal glances when and where  I could.

But I have to tell you;  what struck me most about this man was how tender he was to his children.   He spoke to them softly in this odd salad of English and Spanish, telling his young son who had the damnedest name for a little Latino male child— “Curtis James”, that he loved him…not just once, but several times.    He’d laugh with his son and help him eat his meal.   His daughter wanted more orange  juice and I watched  him tell her, “Claro” (which means “of course” in Spanish) while gently brushing the hair out of her eyes.

A few minutes later, he wiped his young son’s face clean of all breakfast debris,  then he picked him up to carry him over to the juke box where he entertained the child who was growing increasingly restless, with the way it exhibited CD cases of the music selected.     His wife or baby mama or girlfriend or whoever the woman was in his life, stayed at the table with the daughter and in perfect Spanglish, discussed an upcoming shopping trip.

There was something amazingly normal about this man and the family dynamic he’s created…this, in spite of robberies he committed last last night or the drive by shooting he has to perform later today.   I’m not defending the social order of gangs by any means, I just observed this nuclear unit with a man at the head of it who  under all those tattoos, that  tough guy image and what I can only imagine is a criminal  rap sheet so long it would rival War and Peace, seems to be loving and devoted family man.

Was he a poseur?  Maybe, but that’s awfully risky to merely play the role of a gang banger.  Perhaps he was an ex-gang member who for various reasons, can’t rid himself of the markings that indicate who he once was and the dangerous life he lived.    Perhaps, he’s a current member who can kill a man execution style behind some warehouse, while  loving his children in all the ways he wasn’t.  

The truth is, I don’t know and I didn’t stop to ask.   I just found it all to be  very interesting dichotomy, all things considered.   And yes, while gangs usually only kill other gang members because of turf and territory issues,  by standers who are just minding their own business often get caught in the cross fire.   The reality is these  are no-nonsense guys.  Like their Sicilian brethren, they too take an omerta of sorts.    They’re hard-core loyalists to “la familia” and will shoot to kill and if anyone gets in their way, so be it.   Murder and mayhem are all in a day’s work; even if that day begins with an intimate breakfast with the family.

So, just  to play it safe, the names in this blog post have been changed to protect the innocent.

Namely ME.

.

The Stevens & Pruett Show

EDITOR’S NOTE:  I have been grappling with the news of Mark Stevens’ death all afternoon.  It comes as a shock and hasn’t been easy for anyone associated with the Stevens and Pruett Show.  Mark was an indelible part of one of the most successful and innovative radio morning pairings in the history of American broadcasting.    He taught me and so smany of my castmates so much, on and off the microphone. 

My heart goes out to Jim Pruett who isn’t taking the news very well.  And understandably so–Jim lost a brother.  I feel like I’ve lost a father.

Here’s my latest homage to Mark Stevens.

https://lauriekendrick.wordpress.com/2010/10/12/mark-stevens/

A heartfelt thanks for all the wonderful condolences.   The love you’ve shown has been vast and far reaching.  Mark was an icon and his amazing legacy deserves every accolade; every sentiment.   It means a great deal to me and the entire Stevens and Pruett family.

Laurie Kendrick

******************************************************************************************

The alternate title for this post could be “When Morning Radio Was Funny”, because at least here in Houston, it isn’t.   And really, that’s the reason behind this particular posting.  Last week, I heard something on our local airwaves that actually made me throw up a little in my mouth. 

The hosts of a particular morning show were wondering  if the new Oreo cake-like cookie was suitable for dunking in milk.  They were asking for calls on the subject.

Yep.   That was the topic du jour.  I did the only thing I could do, other than swallow my sputum, was to turn off my radio and keep it off in protest.   I shook my head, saddened by the state of radio in general and the pathetic way in which it’s passed off as entertainment in my city.    

Then I started thinking about Stevens and Pruett, a local radio comedy duo that was…well, they were something else entirely.  

OK THEN, WHO WERE THEY AND WHERE WERE THEY ?

For those outside the AM/FM sphere of Houston,  the Stevens and Pruett Show was, in my own opinion, one of the best morning radio shows…EVER.   And I say that not because I was a part of that show (unofficially from 1992-through 1994 and officially from 1995 through 2000) but because it was.  No hyperbole here.

The show was a Houston mainstay for hipsters who could appreciate the often raunchy nature of the show.  Bawdy, gross and even vile at times,  but hilarious too. 

It eventually became the hub of radio station KLOL, one of the first underground FM AOR (Album Oriented Rock) stations in the country.  This was back in the day when jocks spoke softly and always sounded stoned–probably because they were–and the only commercials they played were for headshops, free clinics, record stores and upcoming concerts.    

KLOL was born in 1970 when Pat Fant (then one of the jocks at KLOL who later became its General Manager and is now known as something of a creative radio wunderkind in Houston)  played, “I’m Free” by The Who.   That record on that turntable on that station ushered in a new era for radio in Houston.   Hence,  “The KLOL Legend” was born.

In the early days, 101 was known as “Mother’s Family” and later “K-101” with its trademark ecology fern, which oddly enough looked like a pot leaf.  

Hhh’mmm…..

The station utilized what would be termed a “free form format”.   Basically, that meant playing the type of music they wanted, when they wanted, regardless of how deep the cut(s) were on the album.   KLOL played a good dose of rock, but  in the early years, but its playlist was also interspersed with a little jazz, blues and R&B.   And in a day and time when play lists have in power rotation the worst songs possible such as stuff  from Beyonce,  John Mayer and that strange lady Gaga fellow and the same damn songs come at you every ten freakin’ minutes.  I liked Mayer’s new song “Heartbeak Warfare”…until I heard it exactly eight times between 1p and 5p  on a particular station in which I have no choice BUT to listen to during the course of my day.    Program Directors will tell you that research indicates that people only listen for 20 minutes or less an hour and  that’s how a station can justify playing the same hit song a few times an hour.   This is something of a fairly recent phenomenon..say over the last 16-17 years or so.  As a result, radio and TV people  both have learned to despise research AND the consultants who hang on its every skewed, arbitrary word.  In TV, I once knew an anchor who was told by a consultant  to cut her hair in a Carol Brady shag, a style which was barely in vogue when it was in vogue some 34 years earlier.   He thought it would work because viewers aged 45 and older could relate to it as a warm, fuzzy throw back and she went along with it.   I’m not sure who was the bigger idiot.

BUT SHE DIGRESSES

In the beginning,  KLOL was a new generation of radio station designed exclusively for a new generation of Houstonians and they loved it.   In fact, they helped make KLOL was one of the top rated AOR stations in the country in the late 80’s up until about 1992.    Its hip, innovative format  and cutting edge promotions set the pace for many other AOR stations across the country and Mark Stevens and Jim Pruett played a significant role in that success.   

When they arrived at KLOL’s doorstep after a successful stint at The Eagle  (KEGL in Dallas) in 1986, they weren’t strangers to Houston.   The two paired up years earlier as one of the original Hudson and Harrigan duos at KILT-AM when it was a Top 40 station.  They had a dispute with management and went to  cross town competitor, KULF-AM, where they dropped the Hudson and Harrigan moniker and started using their own names.  There,  Stevens and Pruett had yet another dispute with management at KULF, then elected to pull up stakes and head north up I-45 to The Eagle in Dallas where they…..you guessed it…  had a dispute with management  and that in part,  ultimately lead to their return to Houston.   At KLOL, they still had plenty of disputes with management, but management had little choice but to take it because The S&P Show was soon cranking out ratings and  generating voluminous advertising revenues.  

“SHOCK JOCKS”???    

The show was adult oriented with strong sexual overtones .  Humor was the main focus.  Rarely was the comedy ever particularly high brow, but it wasn’t always at a common, every man’s level either.  I often thought it was smart humor, albeit sexual in nature. 

In fact, Mark and Jim helped pioneer the broadcast concept, often called ”blue humor” or “shock jock” radio, that many morning hosts have tried to imitate.  S&P did it long before Stern ever did.   Before Opie and Anthony, Bob and Tom…Mancow, too.   Everyone else and I do mean every other show who tries or has tried this format, is  in  my opinion, a poor facsimile.    In fact, Stern never even tried to broach the Houston market because of Stevens and Pruett and their particular brand of comedy.

THERE ARE OTHERS?

There are shows currently on the air now who try, but fail miserably in the process.  They aren’t funny, they create nothing special, yet somehow these people are still on the air and a show like S&P ‘s isn’t?    I’m not really sure what that means or represents, other than it’s proof that radio is more screwed up than ever.

And yes, I’m well aware that when it comes to The Stevens and Pruett Show, I’m very prejudiced.

You’re about to hear a Thanksgiving version of the legendary “Uncle Waldo”, a daily bit ritual on the show.   Essentially, the scripts were just jokes sent in by listeners and retooled by characters that Mark and Jim made famous such as Queen Aretha, Big Bruno, Nymphia Scooter Pie and Uncle Waldo.   Boner, their very funny sidekick and one of the nation’s premier reactive comics/second banana, manned the controls and played sound effects while frequently offering hilarious quips and asides with impeccable timing.

Frank Casimiro (Jesus With A Camera because well, with his long hair and beard, he looked like Jesus with a camera) was the show’s videographer.  This is from his personal collection.   He has a Facebook page with more videos from the show .   When  did JWAC tape this?   Well, based on Mark’s hair and Jim’s weight (two prime indicators of which Stevens and Pruett era was which), I’d say this was shot probably around 1990 or ’91 before the studio was reconfigured.  As the video indicated, there was always a bevy of women on the set willing (for some reason) to drop their tops for the guys in order to win prizes like concert tickets.  Some just did it because..well I really don’t know why they did it.  I’m by no means a raging feminist, but I never understood what compelled a woman to show her boobs to strangers. 

Needless to say, strippers were frequent guests and lesbians were a frequent topic. 

THE LK/S&P YEARS

My connection with Stevens and Pruett though, goes back even earlier.   When I was going through my Journalism degree program, my concentration in the field was broadcasting.  We had to take radio and TV courses and when I was in the very beginning of my radio portion, the class (about 50 coeds or so) was listening to examples of radio formats from stations  all across the country.   Talk, Top 40, AOR jocks, Country,  HOT A/C shows and then that example we discussed earlier–Shock Talk ( a term I’ve grown to hate).    For that, our professor played a clip of Stevens and Pruett on the KEGL in Dallas. 

Someone, I don’t remember, though it was probably Mark, made mention of a euphemism for a woman’s vagina and it was hilarious.   I was the only student in that class to laugh.  I’d never heard of Stevens and Pruett before that day, but I remember thinking, “I like those guys.  I know my sense of humor would mesh with theirs.   Someday, I’m going to work with them.”

 As mentioned earlier, I joined the show as an official cast member in April 1995, though I’d been a contributing member of the  since 1992.  I was working at KTRH, KLOL’s AM News/Talk sister station as a Features Reporter.  That’s where Stevens had heard my work (which I suppose was a little different)  and liked it.  He asked me one day to  help them out on occasion, because he knew I could do different accents and was strange, I suppose.  Locke Siebenhausen, their “do anything I’m told” stunt boy and erstwhile producer would call me in the middle of my gig at KTRH and he’d tell in that inimitable lisp of his,  “Hey Laurie, CORRECT, like uh, the Radio Gods need you for a phone bit, yeah right. CORRECT!” 

And that was all he’d give me.   The rest I just made up as I went along.  As the only woman on the show, I knew it was vitally important that I always took a swing at everything Mark, Jim and Boner threw at me.   Sometimes I hit it out of the park.  Sometimes, I got beaned.

Live and learn.

LOCKE AND LOAD

Locke: otherwise known as Psychological Case Study #28742

We always poked fun at Locke, but in reality he was a harmless, sweet little man who was in many ways, completely fearless.  This devoted, loyal adult man-child was made famous for being really, really real.   Locke wasn’t an act.  What you heard and saw when you met him,  was truly who he was.   He was one of radio’s very first stunt boys, those overly eager to the point of annoying, “daring to be great young kids still with milk moustaches”,  who would go out with a wireless mic and say anything, do anything, try anything, eat anything for their shot at ascending the radio’s Golden Ladder.    Locke was never like that.  Locke was fearless for reasons I can’t explain here.   He simply wanted to please his masters.    He’d go out (usually with his handler, Tom “Tubby Peckerwood” Lawler, whose nickname I made up) with a microphone  and he would, in this Alan Funt-like manner, record people caught in the act of being themselves.  And almost always with hilarious results.

We once put an adult diaper on Locke and filled it in the back with a chocolatey, peanut butter mixture.   He’d walk up to people at a bus stop and through his ear piece Mark and Jim would tell him what to do or say.   On this day, Mark told him to act a little goofy–kind of a stretch for Locke (?)– then, reach into his diaper and start licking the very gross looking peanut butter stuff  from his fingers,  acting like was the tastiest stuff he’d ever eaten.   The reaction from the bus stop crowd was abject revulsion.

Hilarious. 

I dressed him in a flesh-colored G-string once and we told him to go to one of those big “do-it-yourself” home stores to purchase a new toilet.   In his earpiece, we told him to tell the salesman he needed to try it out first.   The salesman said, “OK”, not knowing what that meant.  Then Locke proceeded to remove his pants and actually sit on the toilet, making all the appropriate sounds one makes when one sits on a commode trying to pass something as lofty and painful as…well, health insurance reform. 

He was summarily kicked out of the store and told never to return.

THE DYNAMIC DUO

Mark and Jim were partners, but Mark was something as the elder statesman of the two.  He almost always played straight man to Jimmy’s funny bafoonery.   Jimmy was a genius…self taught in life and hilarious, but  Mark was funny, too and I don’t think he every really got the credit for his contributions to his own show.  He had an eye for talent who could contribute to the attitude.  He appreciated  those who had a keen sense of  the rapid fire humor needed to enhance the show.  He was generous that way. 

Don’t get me wrong, he could be a complete pain in the ass jerk too, but then again, with his radio pedigree and expertise, he’d earned that right.   I had my moments with this man.   When I wasn’t hating Stevens for being a total tool, I respected him a great deal.  

He wasn’t always the easiest man to work with.  He was a  stickler for everything being natural and unrehearsed.  While the spontaneity was there, anyone who’s ever worked on that show on a full-time basis, and by that I mean contributed to it on air for the entire four-hour duration, will tell you that you walked out of that studio  at 10 am absolutely exhausted.  Sometimes it took an hour or more to decompress, but it was a good feeling.  Really, there’s nothing more fulfilling than knowing you’d just participated in a good show, rife with the funny.

THOSE CRAZY HOLIDAY BALLS

Every Christmas, Mark and Jim hosted the Holiday Ball, which was black tie for men and completely clothing optional for women.   In the early years, it was held in various clubs, but got so popular and so huge,  that it was moved it to the Hyatt Regency downtown where it became an annual event each December.    It was debauchery at its finest and pretty much an uncensored stage version of the show with a very real, very drunken audience.  

 The guys always made big entrances, usually preceded by something filmed which was shown  on huge overhead screens.  Then, they’d come into the grand ball room on motorcycles or (if memory serves) by liter bearers with a scantily clad female dwarf  throwing rose petals in the path before them.   Nudity played a key role at the holiday ball and for the show.   During my tenure on the show, it was nothing to see a naked woman in the studio.  

You know, radio is a funny thing.  When you really need one, it’s often difficult to track down an engineer, these are the men (mostly) whose knowledge of amps, circuits and soldering keeps a station on the air, but on those naked and topless days, you couldn’t get one engineer in particular from leering through the plate-glass window that separated the news and traffic studio from the main broadcast booth.  He’d magically appeared out of nowhere.     We’d bust him by saying hello to him on the air.  Angry, he’d scamper off–his clinking musical tool belt playing that hit, “Engineer’s Delight”.   You can hear these cats walking for miles.  Just not always when you need them.

Anyway, the show was fun, but that would soon come to a crashing end.  The fun would be gone and radio as we knew it, would be as well.

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996,  he deregulated (and killed) radio.  The Act allowed corporate owners to come in and gobble up stations and place them in  one big cluster in one big anonymous, sterile looking hi-rise.   Prior to that, one person or entity could only own one AM and one FM per market.   The Telecom Act shot that out of the water and when corporations came in, they homogenized the sound, made massive budget cuts and fired people who’d spent their lives making scads of money for their owner/masters.   Suddenly, they were irrelevant and fired for their years of service and creating large profit margins.  That’s when radio started dying. Don’t get me wrong—the radio industry has always been problem riddled.  It’s on the lowest rung on the entertainment ladder, but at the same time, a far more creative venue in many ways than TV,  yet TV gets all the glamour.   You have to think on your feet for both gigs, but in radio, all you have is your wit and your words to create the visual mosaic  that your listeners have to hear.   I’ve known a lot of TV people who couldn’t bridge that gap.   Images were everything and told most of the story.  You don’t have that luxury in radio.  

Old school types never liked change and the longer they stated, the younger their bosses, Program Directors and co-workers became.  “Jaded rage” are two adjectives that can describe anyone who’s spent any significant time behind the mike.  But after Telecom passed, it became an even colder, more calculating industry that seemed to attract evil.  

Mark Stevens was a victim of this massive Clintonian blunder.   In one of the dumbest, most bonehead moves ever, he was fired a few months before a very large radio conglomerate bought KLOL  I don’t know if getting rid of Stevens and his impressive salary was part of the deal or if the old owners did it to make it look like were operating in the black…I’m not sure, but firing Stevens was the first salvo fired in an effort to kill KLOL, whether that was the intention or not, it was ultimately, the reality. 

Mark’s leaving proved something…or should have, anyway.    I’ve heard many people say that so and so was the show. I’ve heard former cast members say they thought they made the show, in truth, it was Mark and Jim’s show and people came and went and the show moved along just fine without them, but when Mark left, so did the magic.   It limped along in various lackluster incarnations after that, but these shows never attained anything near the success of the original show.  Nothing could grow in the massive shadow cast by the one, the only Stevens and Pruett Show. 

R.I.P. ROCK 101 KLOL 

Sadly, in 2004, KLOL died as it began.   

At ten one morning with no fanfare,  “I’m Free” by The Who was played and when the song ended, so did KLOL as we knew it.  After a commercial break, it started playing Spanish language music.  Something called “reggaeton”.  

WHO AND WHAT AND WHY

I know I’m biased.  

I thought the show was brilliant, but it wasn’t for everyone. Comedy and what one deems to be humorous are completely  subjective.  Some of our core listeners grew tired to the nasty monotony and went elsewhere for their morning radio fix.

Some will argue that there are radio shows currently in Houston that are funny and wildly entertaining.   I’d argue that point–to each his own–but I assure you, one would be hard-pressed to find the broadcast magic that these two men created with the motliest of crews as back-up. 

The witty and urbane Lanny Griffith was the Traffic Master who handled “Traffic and Bondage” (his  brilliantly special overview of the city’s traffic scene was always prefaced with the sound of a whip cracking very loudly) in the mornings with S&P and also in the afternoons with Moby, who knew every punchline to every joke ever written or uttered.  

There was Martha Martinez, the News Muchacha who was as elegant as she was eloquent.  The late Kevin Dorsey, was a former bread truck driver who loved the show.  From what I’ve heard, he’d stop by watch on occasion and the guys got to know him.    Well my friends, odd as that sounds, that’s exactly how some radio careers are born.  It’s all about who you know and of course, cosmic timing.  

One of the  other ingredients  of the show was the dry, very,very funny sports guru,  Craig Roberts. 

Before Craig, there was Barry Warner, who I think was called “The Sports Mouth”.

The late newsman and resident shit stirrer, Chuck Shramek played a part.  He proved that the line between brilliance and lunacy is razor-thin.   He was a funny man; wonderfully strange and completely warped.   I miss him very much.  

Doug Harris, was/is a promotions visionary.  As the KLOL Promotions Director in the early years, he made a name for himself by being  a brilliantly creative idea man.  He devised and concocted the best, most creative station promotions ever.  Other promo guys across the country could only scratch their heads and do more acid.  No one could conceive ’em like Doug Harris.  He was as vital a part of the KLOL fabric as anyone else.

KLOL’s General Manager-the intensely creative Pat Fant who many times has changed the face, the shape and the sound of radio, along with station owner, Jay Jones ( of the powerful Houston Jones’)  put all these people together in a big, talented morning radio salad  and tossed and shook and stirred and this melange of talent and style kept Houstonians fed, happy and musically and comedically sated for years, though the S&P show rarely played music;  save for live bands and a song to cover the recording of listener comments after a n Uncle Waldo.

And there was a host of  support staff behind the scenes as well.  We had Producers,  Jake Ray and Tom Lawler, interns like Jizzy Berkinstock and plenty of hangers-on desperate for their 15 minutes of fame.   Mark and Jim would give them 20 if they brought any real content to the show and expressed a willingness to do their bidding.  You’d get  30 minutes if you were a woman willing to raise the Uncle Waldo imaginary curtain with a raised shirt, revealing very real (and many not so real) ta-ta’s.     

All of this happened at a time when being in radio was fun; when you were free to explore; to push…nay, shove the envelope and boldly go where no one else dared. 

And why wouldn’t they?   Because they couldn’t.  Few had or have the comedy chops for one thing, and maybe they didn’t “dare do be different”  because they were scared of the FCC and fines, which S&P racked up like bonus points in the lightning round of TV’s Password.   Some may say,

“So, if S&P were so damn funny, where are they now?   They’re NOT on the air and these shows that you deem so unfunny still are on the air.  What’s up with that?  Care to explain?” 

Well, the answer is  simple.  

Radio today just plain sucks and those  making the decisions intentionally play it safe by hiring the boring, the banal, the bland and the inexpensive.    Mark and Jim helped pioneer the very morning show constructs these shows  try to employ.  These other shows may be still on their air, but I don’t think any of them are worth a damn.  Sorry, I don’t.  In my opinion, there is not one funny, listenable male-oriented show in Houston right now.  I don’t care which day part.  As far as true radio talent goes, this place is Saharan.  An arid plain devoid of anything entertaining.    If anyone is listening to their shows it’s because they’ve been forced to choose from the lesser of about 13 evils.  And not every car is wired for WiFi. 

Otherwise, close the sarcophagus. 

These hosts are  working casualties in my opinion; the working wounded.   They phone it in every morning because well, banal repetition and pre-recorded bits which are bought from some service each week is better than unemployment.  Maybe, but where’s the dignity in that?  A mortgage has forced them to compromise–assuming they have any real talent under all that humdrumness.   They’re part of a sad collective created by the radio powers-that-be:   yawn-inducing creators of milquetoast radio.    Play it safe by not playing at all.   

Again, this is my opinion only.  

I know male oriented shows where sex as a standard topic is king, won’t always float  every audience member’s  boat;  the subject matter can grow old after a while, but I implore you–please tell me how compelling is listening to a discussion about cake-like Oreos and their dunkablility when driving  to work???

My God,  it’s so sad.  Radio has lost its soul….or sold it, but I strongly encourage you to save yours.  

Get an iPod.  

..

I’m Back

Well, this brief respite from blogging and e-mailability has taught me one thing–I am nothing if not overtly obsessive and compulsive about this damned contraption’s keyboard on which nimble, but increasingly more arthritic fingers pump out various forms of hoot and literary mayhem.

In September, Hurricane Ike, the monster storm that gave Houston it’s first real blow job since Hurricane Alicia back in 1983, completely molested my satellite dish. I only received one channel and that was Lifetime.

Arrgh!!!

Imagine,  ALL Markie Post, Melissa Gilbert and Cheryl Ladd all the time!!!   Sweet Baby Jesus, viewing ANY of those two-hour Technicolor horror  sessions was torturous!!

Like spending a long weekend at the Borgia’s.

Like being forced to listen endlessly to so-called “comedian”, Joy Behar’s pathetic attempt at irony.

Like being Blagojevich’s back-up comb.

In other words, viewing these movies to ANY degree made  my eyes vomit.

So yes, I had my fill of those insidious chick flicks all about empowered women who kill, maim, arrest, break the hearts of and ridicule the men who have killed, maimed, arrested, broke the hearts of and ridiculed them.

And yes, I do mean women who kill the men that killed them.   You see, it is with much regret that I learned early this fall (thanks to Ike), when it comes to Lifetime’s cinematic efforts, plots almost always (especially around Halloween)  include strong willed women who are hell bent on seeking revenge and survival any means necessary AND strong willed ghosts of murdered women who are hell bent on revenge and…well…just hell bent.

And the titles of this monstrosities?   OY!   How about:

  • Dangerous Storm
  • Stormy Love
  • Risky Love
  • Love Risks
  • Risks and Consequences
  • Consequences of Love
  • Risky Love and Its Consequences

and last but not least:

  • (insert young woman’s  first name and initial of surname here) : Portrait of a Teenage (insert malady here)

Long story short:  I survived almost two weeks without TV, but went crazy without my computer.    I am attached at the hip with this brainchild of Hewlett-Packard and when it started acting up thanks to viruses (and we’re talking more more Trojans than at six Walgreen’s) I knew I would have to go without my PC for several miserable, grueling and boring days.dr-smith

Oh, the pain…..the pain!!!!

I called a couple of Computer Hospitals here in Houston but everyone I called included a pompous sounding geek on the other end.   I hate arrogance; misplaced or otherwise.

So, I inadvertently happened upon info about a little tech shop on Houston’s NW side.  I called and a man answered.  He was decidedly NOT a native English speaker.

I made an appointment to drop off my emphysemic computer the next morning.

I got to the little shop in a very generic looking strip center located in  neighborhood which had  gang insignia spray painted everywhere you looked.   And not gangs like “West Side Story’s”  mildly angst ridden Jets and Sharks, mind you.   We’re talking MS 13 and devious hoodlums that only John Gotti could appreciate.  Realizing that made it far easier to understand why A) the windows were blacked out  B) there enough bars on the windows to make Attica jealous.

The only sign of humanity was on the building’s rather bleak facade.  It was ‘adorned’ with of duplicate posters of  one Asian couple made deliriously happy by their use of  a certain computer screen and based on HER expression, it must have vibrated.

I also saw Korean writing.   How did I know it was Korean?  Because as a kid, I often took apart those tacky little paper umbrellas that were served to me in the Shirley Temples I had when I dined with my parents at the Club.   If you peel back the layers of that little round spool thing that supports the umbrella and its tiny teaky supports, you find old strips of a Korean newspaper.

OK, so that told me which ethnic group to which  the proprietors belonged.

I tried the front door.  It was locked.   I guess no one had arrived.  The parking lot was empty, but something told me to wait a while.   Good thing I did because minutes later, I witnessed a rather unusual sight when a large, taupe colored, double cab pick-up truck drove into the lot and parked right beside me.

Pick-ups?   In Texas, you ask?   What’s the big deal?   Well, you’re right: pick-ups are a proverbial dime a dozen here in Houston but rarely are they driven by a long, tall, thin Asian men named “Peter”  (I think) who wear huge glasses that would rival the late uber Hollywood agent, Swifty Lazar’sswifty famed I MAX screen sized spectacles.

And please add to this  imagery if you will, the fact that this particular Asian man also donned  a light gray Stetson which he wore low on his forehead.

He topped off the ensemble with brown Hush Puppies.

It was indeed, a sight to behold.

I looked at him; he looked at me and he motioned at me to enter his cyber domain. The inside was as bleak as the outside.   It was very no frills;  cut close to the bone establishment with stacks of computers with attached work orders all over the place.

He ( I think) asked me if I needed help.    I  told him that I’d called the day before and spoke to someone about my computer which was “all ett up with viruses and whut not”.

I think he said he remembered and then pulled out a work order.   He pointed to the place on the order which required my name, address, phone number and level of  willingness to marry for Green Card purposes.

I then tried to explain all the problems  I could considering I speak no Korean and have little to no computer aptitude.   I pleaded my PC’s case and asked if he could fix the damn thing.

He shook his head in the affirmative.

I left my computer in his hands;  drove home and sublimated  my computer-less and for the moment, completely lackluster life, by baking.    Several hours and six-thousand, 326 carbs later, “Peter” (I think)  called me and told me (I think) that my computer was ready.

I woke up the next morning, primped just enough not to scare small children and crazed, paranoid conspiracy theorists and drove back to The Computer Hospital.

“Peter?”, I asked

He responded with some mono-syllabic grunt.

“I’m here to pick-up my computer.   Kendrick?   Laurie?  It’s the Hewlett Packard I brought in yesterday?”

He then answered me, “Ah yes, computuh fah Raleigh!”.

I wasn’t sure why a North Carolinian city was important at the time but I responded with,  “Well yes…uh….Charlotte?”

He stared at me.

“Uh, OK….then..I guess maybe…uh, Chappel Hill?”

He shook his head in confusion and then gestured to me that I should follow him back to an even bleaker room which I determined,  based on the cluttered desk,  was his atelier.

Then “Peter” (I think) launched into this excited explanation of all that was wrong with my computer.   I went slack jawed,  squinty-eyed and hound dog head trying to understand his English.

He said something about my vitals….or a St. Vitus Dance or his profound love of Vitalis.   I wasn’t sure, but since we were discussing my computer, I decided to consider his broken English charming AND that his monologue was about my PC’s virus.

He charged me 25 bucks an hour.  I paid him $110 total—the ten bucks, I suppose was either a service fee or a pro-rated amount.  It didn’t matter, I had my computer again and I was happy.   I thanked him and he said something about me being a ‘whale cone’  and then this wonderful Korean mensch even put the thing in my car’s  back seat for me.

When he leaned over, I saw that those huge glasses with lenses big and thick enough to kill ants at a glance, must have  (at one time) been very uncomfortable because he attached Q-Tips cottony swab ends on to the ear pieces of his glasses.  Guess they helped provide a cushion.   In a strange way, I understood his logic and reasoning behind this effort.

We shook hands, smiled.  He went back in and I closed the driver’s side door.   I liked “Peter”.   A nice man–fair and reasonable and kind.  He even downloaded a full compliment of MS Word and Office stuff and offered me a Coke while the processing took place.  Decent guy and God love him for his courage in trying to make a go of it, not only in the U.S.—but in Texas!!  His choice of hat and truck seemed like he was trying to fit in.    I wanted to discuss his choice of footwear, but really didn’t feel like getting into a debate about ‘hash poppies”.

Even with a language barrier, I admired “Peter”.   Assimilation can’t be easy, especially since it seemed fairly obvious that he hadn’t been here all that long.  Different cultures take a hell of a lot of adaptation and courage.

Patience, too.

I drove off thinking about the reasons why he emigrated to Houston.  What were his motivations?   Was it nuclear hysteria?   Red-baiting?  Forced integration of school kids from Korea’s Northern and Southern extremities?  His anger over the unfair treatment of his native Korea on “M*A*S*H” reruns?    The devaluation of the Won?    Or did he just grow tired of the basic everyday insanity and problems that exist in the lives of those who call the 38th Parallel home?  Did he want a capitalistic based future and simply couldn’t see it ever unfolding in Korea?

He is to be admired.

This is precisely the reason why,  as I typed the last vestiges of this post wanting to be perverse and flippant,  I thought briefly about inserting a rather dated, but still fairly decent Adlai Stevenson/Korea joke right here, but nah.   A man like “Peter” deserves better.

So, that is what I shall give him.

..

An Eruptive Fire, Fit For A Virgin

And it would’ve been, had I known any..

The story you are about to read is true.  The names have been changed to protect the pretentious.

My name is Kendrick and I carry a dragnet-badge .badge—lee Mischka.

.It’s 12:46 AM, CST, Monday, .February 2nd , 2009.

.Dateline: Houston, TX

.I .was .working night watch .out of .the ,Westchase area on.Houston’s .southwest side.

.Interesting place.  .

.This is an expansive community .consisting ethnically, of every color of the rainbow, along with homes and businesses…small, big and behemoth.

As with any megalopolis,  crime is pervasive, it happens and now that we’re in the clutches of an ever mounting recession, proof of this tragic statistic is everywhere you look.   There are of course, TV and radio news reports, the crime blotter in the ever diminishing newspaper, the Houston Chronicle never lacks content and of course there’s aural proof as well.  I’m talking about the ever present sound of sirens.

As I was finishing up my work, I heard the first siren.   12:46 AM as I indicated above.   It sounded close and getting closer.   It turned the corner to my side street just off of Houston’s rather well known thoroughfare Westheimer.   I heard the engine revving as it passed my dwelling  so that, plus the red lights creeping through the slits in my plantation shutters indicated a fire truck.  First one, then two…three…four..and more were on the way.

The fire, obviously close, was also obviously big.    I went out to my balcony which  faces the street and was immediately hit with the acrid smell of burning building.   Smoke danced above and through the trees.   Firetrucks were aligning in from of my tastefully appointed mid-rise.

I could smell a story here.    Call it a hunch;  call it the cough inducing smoke that surrounded me,  but I knew something was amiss and it needed me…ME to provide clarity.

I grabbed some shoes, a big red cape, adjusted the large “S” on my chest and quickly dashed down three flights of stairs  and once on the ground floor, burst through the front door and onto my finely manicured circular drive way.    I could see a bright reddish orange glow….like this cosmic melding of orange peel,  Monkey Blood and Betadine douche.

I thought for a second….Hello, Mr. Holmes…I’d go to the parking garage in the back of my building.  Surely, I could see something from there.    I quickly ran back inside and rushed up three flights of stairs.  When the elevator door opened, I could hardly catch my breath.  I darted out to the parking garage and once outside, could instantly feel the heat from the raging inferno, eating away  at eight units in a neighboring two-story apartment complex.

A crowd had already gathered.   They too wanted to watch the age old process of fire burning and fire being extinguished.    The fire was crowd worthy; the flames were impressive.  I stood by the wall of a part of the parking garage that was uncovered.  The fire was perhaps about 45…maybe 90 yards away.   I’m not good with distances.

I was soon joined by two young women.  The terminally hip types that consider themselves gifted in the arena that is intellectual esoterica.  They’re the kind of uber modern chicks who’ve colored their hair this raven black….gangrene black , really and they wear their bangs very short and erratic, as if cut by tiny fingernail scissors being operated by Parkinsonian hands….or TV’s Hugh Beaumont after a bender.

They firmly believe that this hair color and style go great with the distinct lack of melanin in their skin.  In addition, they slip their slim, meth-affected frames into school girl outfits–short skirts  that display white,  spindly legs with feet adorned with green Chuck Taylors.   They buy other types of  second hand raiments  purchased from  stores in the bohemian section of any large city.   They wear plastic kiddie hair clips, really red lipstick and listen to trance music, along with the occasional Mantovani and Echo and The Bunnymen.

We exchanged nods and made some idle chit-chat about it being a one apt-firehorrific fire.   We watched in silence for a while,  and then the oh so wizened San and Skrit, standing to my left, started getting very deep and pseudo philosophical about the conflagration before them.

These two self perceived “noted thinkers” began with existentialist,  Martin Heidegger.

Mary Kate: “You know, this fire makes me hearken (yes, she actually said ‘hearken”) back to reading Heidegger as a child.   Since metaphysical philosophy is aware of the “ontological difference” but habitually misconstrues it, and proceeds on the mistaken assumption that Being can be fully grasped by way of a “general theory of Being”, we lose a sense of the presence of Being in our lives, and that is an inestimable loss.  You know…lke the end result of this fire.  Possessions are things and things help comprise life and to live is to exist!”

Ashley :   ” Ah yes.  This is the perfect indication  that Heideggar was catching the same worries as the early Wittgenstein, in the latter’s musings about regaining the “mystical” sense of “wonder” that anything at all exists.  In a true Heideggerian sense then, are we really watching this fire?  Are the people behind us still there and still watching the fire and do the flames look to you as they do to me?  What color is justice and and inequity in everyone’s world?”

Janine: “Exactly, dude!  To say anything else about the abject loss these dwellers will experience, would be, as Sartre put it, a form of “bad faith”.

Garafalo: Well, my Deweyan reply to this entire situation is that I’m readily acknowledging our “groundless finitude”, but the question is whether “facing up to the sort of beings we are” is all important, as opposed to important where and when it is important. Salvation, religious or secular-existentialist is all important, almost by definition.

They looked at me and I shook my head and thought “Wow!  Heavy”.

Then,  I scratched my left armpit, felt an errant hair and remembered that I needed to buy dryer sheets.

I went back inside.

Nope, no story here at all..