Sunday, December 31, 2006

Sheesh Happy New Year

The stockings that were hung by the chimney have been carefully folded up and packed away for next year. The big birthday party bash next door is winding down. Trudy is buried somewhere under our comforter. The dog is under his blanket in his crate. The boy is fast asleep in his room.

It's 2:00 in the morning on the last day of the year, and ...

A murderous thug was hung yesterday as guards around him chanted the name of the son of a cleric whom he had killed years ago. Twenty-first century justice will not be about principles and process but about spin, guilt, vengeance and power. AT&T hoodwinked the only hold-out commissioner on the FCC today, getting him to believe their exception-laden, fine-print-encumbered promises to respect net neutrality. The Internet took one more step towards being more like cable television. Another ferry packed with people capsized in Indonesia. Africa continued its nose dive. My son will probably live to see the day when the year-round northern ice cap is a thing of the past. And having the polar bears on the endangered species list won't help any more than having the US join the Kyoto protocol.

It's 2:00 in the morning on the last day of the year, and ... you get the idea.

The world I once knew is not the one I know now. And yet I write mostly about flowers and trees and blue sky and three-chalupa dinners. Sheesh.

Happy New Year.

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 Saturday, December 30, 2006

What Happened To You!?

Are you ready? the waiter asked us, holding his pad.

I looked up at him and smiled.

When I first started eating at El Patio more than 20 years ago, I was a new grad student and he was a new waiter. Now he and I were both old-timers.

He looked at Trudy and then at me. When he saw me, he smiled and nodded slightly. His smile and nod were always like that. Then he looked at Ben.

Now keep in mind that Ben has been going to El Patio for 16 of his 16 years. When he was an infant, his mom and I would sit at the table eating queso while he sat on the table in his baby carrier.

The waiter looked at Ben and did a double take. Oh my! What happened to you?

We've fertilized him well, I said.

Ben smiled.

No more Child's Plate for you? the waiter joked.

No, Ben said, and he ordered a three-chalupa dinner.

El Patio on Guadalupe
Austin, Texas

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 Thursday, December 28, 2006


It was kind of like the time several months ago when Trudy and I walked into a brand new Target...

We walked thru the front doors, which whissshed apart like a Star Trek set. Beyond the threshold, there were displays and displays of shining beautiful things. We were pulled towards them. We wanted them. We needed them. But then we were pulled in a different direction by different beautiful things, and we wanted and needed them. The aisles were wide. The floors were shiny and clean. We were dumbstruck. We must have looked like the Clampetts rolling into town for the first time.

I'm telling you, that's what it was like when I went to the grocery store today...

The first thing that strikes you walk in is how much space there is after the cash registers. No more weaving and turning just to get out to the car. And then there were the floors -- so shiny, so clean. And the aisles, oh my heavens, the aisles were wide enough to maneuver your cart with ease. You could stop the look at the shelves and not worry about that lady behind you. You could pass the guy trying to find the oregano without worrying about traffic coming head-on. I was dumbstruck. I know I looked like Jedd Clampett rolling into town.

I tell you, I am not alone in this. As I passed the toothbrush aisle, I overheard a woman telling her two year old, This place is sooo nice.

And I tell you, I am not ashamed. About Target sure, but not about a grocery store. I'm never going anywhere else.

The (hybrid) HEB on Escarpment
South Austin, Texas

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 Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Perfect Gift

So there we were, sitting on the floor around the tree. There were packages in front of Trudy. There were packages beside me. And of course, there were packages strewn about the boy.

Some of the packages were in wrapped in traditional paper and bows of green, red, silver and gold. Others were wrapped in quirky white paper with hand-drawn designs. A lot of time went into those others and a lot of the ink from the many pens that populate this household.

I confess I feel pangs of disappointment when people open my packages and cards, as many do, in a whirlwind of pulling and ripping, paying no mind to the designs on the paper, taking no notice of lettering on the cards.

But the boy has always seemed to understand this. And this year was no different, in spite of his teenage years. As he picked up each package, he announced it out loud.

Now the red snowflakes...

Now the green snowflakes...

He noticed the colors. He noticed the patterns. It was the perfect gift.

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 Monday, December 25, 2006


The blue sky of the day chased the clouds away. But that was many hours ago. Now it is dark outside. The presents have long since been unwrapped, the cookies eaten, the chocolates hidden from the dog. And the boy has come and gone.

So here we are alone together, now that it is dark outside and the cold settles in around our feet. Our Scrabble game is done. The left overs have been eaten. The dog is curled up on the bed.

And yet here I am on Christmas night at the keyboard...

You'll forgive me if I make my excuses. Good night.

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 Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Reason to Smile

It was cold outside—raining- and drizzling-cold. But he had a small wrapped package to deliver. So he bundled up the dog and put on a coat and headed out into the drear of the day.

Some time later they returned: the dog happy to be back inside, the boy still holding the package in his hand. He wasn't able to figure out which house was hers.

After some cheesy-spicy soup, a few hours and a warm nap, he bundled up again. This time he rode his bike. He knew just where he was going, and he had need of speed.

It was a drive-by of sorts. I can imagine the delivery...

He got off his bike.
Walked to the porch.
Found an umbrella leaning against the wall.
Set the little package on top.
Inside, a dog started barking.
He turned and made for his bike.
Gone in a flash.

I don't know if she got his package or if it's still sitting there in the cold on the porch by her front door. I like to think that she opened the door and found it. That she saw her name written on the paper and unwrapped it. And that there in the warmth of her house, sheltered from the rain and the drizzle and the cold, that it made her smile.

May you have warmth and shelter from the cold. And may you find a reason to smile.

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 Wednesday, December 13, 2006

That Boy / This Man

He turns around and gazes at his path.

1980. Look over there where he walked across campus in waist-deep snow. Where friends philosophized over Sunday pizza. Where the pain of being alone seemed too much to bare. Where he waved to his brother on his way to class.

1985. Look over there where he smelled legustrum for the first time. Where the trumpet vines climbed into the trees outside their apartment door. Where he lay curled up in bed recovering from cancer. Where their neighbor began to die from AIDS.

1990. Look over there where they moved into the house under the Oak trees. Where they planted a few of their own. Where the boy was born. Where he stood at the picnic table arranging bluebonnets in the dappled light.

1995. Look over there where he awoke one night to the terror of not finding a job. Where he got one in Houston. Where the boy felt the heartbreak of his first lost balloon. Where he soon started flying to Houston alone.

2000. Look over there where he coded downtown until the bubble burst. Where he worked from home with a prairie outside his window. Where muddy boots got left by the door. Where the boy came home one day holding a broken arm.

2005. And oh my, look over there where she came into his life. Where the music played as they stood by the ponds with peacocks in the trees. Where the boy started playing trombone. And now where all of the sudden he is almost grown.

Look at these things. Look at those years. After all that, why is it that deep inside he is still the four year old boy who rode to pick up his little brother from two year old nursery school?

For heaven's sake, why is he that boy instead of this man?

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 Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Biting My Tongue

He sits across the room from me. Paging thru his annotated copy of the Iliad. Fingers periodically clicking on the keyboard. With a pair of headphones hidden in his curly hair.

You do what you can. Try to get them to show all their work on their math. Suggest that they master the difficult measures before slogging thru the piece from beginning to end. Encourage them to sit at a desk or table instead of reclining on a futon.

Try. Suggest. Encourage. You do what you can.

I look over at him with his headphones on. And I can hear Archie Bunker in my head, for heaven's sake.

I bite my tongue. And he gets up to do his laundry.

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 Thursday, December 7, 2006

Scrubbed Launch

Discovery, Houston for a comm check.

One by one the astronauts reported in: CDR, PLT, MS1, MS2, MS3, MS4, MS5.

The orbiter was fueled up. The crew were strapped in their seats in the top of the rocket. Great beams of white spotlight flooded Pad 39B, illuminating the orbiter, its boosters and the orange external tank.

Lights flickered on the gantry. Vent gases wisped in the wind. Launch controllers ran thru their procedures. The crew flipped pages in their ascent check list. Updates on page 8 dash 7: trajectory lofting, roll, pitch, yaw.

The countdown held at T minus 20 minutes, which is when the clouds returned. Ceiling too low. Deck too thick. There was not enough time left in the window.

And they had to scrub the launch.

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 Sunday, December 3, 2006

He Knew

I woke that morning with a rock in my gut, a sour stomach and a scowl on my face. The most I could do was to sit in the living room and watch morning events unfold in the kitchen.

The dog looked up at me, and I looked back. He jumped into my lap, leaving the potential of a morning kitchen untapped. He knew that something was wrong.

The daily telecommute didn't start well. I sent a few emails, made a few calls, read a few things, and found myself exhausted. The dog sat by me thru it all on the carpet beside my chair.

The rock got bigger. The sourness in my stomach got worse. I got sick. I went back to bed, and the dog came with me.

As I slept, he scooted up to my hurting stomach and slept beside me. And during the day, as I got sicker, he followed me wherever I went.

He knew that something was wrong.

He sat beside me. He slept by me. He watched me closely. He followed my every step. Because he so knew that something was wrong.

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 Friday, December 1, 2006

Simulated Ascent

We met downtown for lunch. It had been a long time, and the last time we were supposed to meet, I confused the days. So we had a lot to catch up on.

He told me a little about his new job. I told him a little about my family. I asked him about his family. And he asked me about my new job.

I told him about the first day there, about one of the simulations they are working on.

I described how parts of the simulation ran in Virginia, Alabama, California, and Texas and how cool it was when each of them started up and new box popped up on the control panel. And I described how the log file window would stream with output as this happened.

I took a straw. This is the rocket, I said.

And then I described the simulated launch. How the graphics depicted the rocket standing on the pad from a bird's eye view. I held the straw vertically against the table.

I described how after launch the rocket lifted off with orange fire and began to arc eastward over the ocean. I held the straw above the table and pointed to where the fire came out.

I described how in the background, the shoreline of Florida (the table), was drawn from photographic images of the Cape. How the images receded and more distant ones appeared as the rocket climbed higher. He was staring at the straw which was about level with our faces.

And I told him about the abort scenario they ran, in which the simulated crew in California triggered an abort and the simulation in Virginia took over control. How the capsule pulled away from the ascending rocket. I pointed to the top of the straw and made an looping motion with my finger back towards the table.

Wow, he said.

Mind you I'm not actually doing any of that cool stuff! I said. I just got to watch! And I told him how my job would relate to what I had just described.

Still, he said, at least you can describe your work to your family again, and they will sit and listen.

That made us both laugh.

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The Boy Came Briefly Home

The boy came briefly home. And the dog barked. And the dog jumped. And he raced up and down the hall, telling me that the boy was home, the boy was home!

But the boy wouldn't stay for long. The sun was going down, and he planned to leave in time to ride his bike to a friend's house before dark.

Take the dog for a walk up and down the block, ok? I asked. (The dog was so happy to see him.)

So the boy took the dog, and they went out into the cold and ran down and up the street—to the corner and back. The dog must have pulled hard on the leash. He must have run hard. He doesn't get to do that with the boy often enough any more.

And now the boy is gone. Helmet, lock, bike and boy are somewhere between here and Convict Hill, and the sun is going down behind the houses across the street.

And the dog is quiet. Sitting still on my lap. Ears perked. Staring out into the pre-evening gloom of the house. Waiting for the boy. Wondering where he went. Waiting for the boy to return.

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