Sunday, April 30, 2006

And the number one most hated job is ...

I hate housework. I hate it all.

It's a necessary evil, I know. Someone has to do it. And in our division of labor (ie, Gary goes to work everyday, I don't), that someone would be me. I'd hire it out, but since I am home all day with virtually nothing to do, I can't really justify it. It would be nice if the girls would help — which they do, sporadically — but frankly, getting them to help involves more time and effort than if I just do it myself.

I hate vacuuming. Don't care for dusting. Despise cleaning the bathrooms. And the list goes on. Maybe because I know as soon as I'm done I'll have to turn around and do it all over again. There is no sense of completion.

I kind of don't mind laundry — I suppose that's because it involves caring for my clothes, which is important to me. Gotta care for the wardrobe. There is a certain amount of satisfaction in having my clothes neatly put away. It's the never-ending chore — there is always something in the bottom of the hamper — but it's the one job I can tolerate. Maybe because the machine does most of the work.

I derive a sense of calm on those occasions when the house is in order. When our last house was for sale, it looked practically perfect all the time. But it took a lot of energy — every day before I left the house for work, after the girls were gone, I had to spend more than half an hour putting every last thing away. The house looked great, but I had zero energy for anything else.

Today I had to grocery shop — my number one most hated task. I don't like cooking — unless we're having company, but then it's entertaining, which I love — consequently, don't care much for the shopping. But as we are a family of five, and I don't want to eat out every meal, grocery shopping is a necessary evil.

But there is one bright spot: since I shopped today, I don't have to do it again for a week. At least.

(Unless you count the run to pick up the forgotten trash bags and mini-applesauce ...)

Sigh. A housewife's work is never done.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

When did Blondie go mainstream?

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it surreal that Blondie's "One Way or Another" is now being used to hawk some sort of domestic housecleaning item in a daytime commercial?

It's also annoying that some God-awful song from Footloose is used to sell M&Ms. But that's because it's a bad song.

Too weird.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An ordinary day

It was Tuesday. Just Tuesday — nothing too special. But nothing bad.

I went to the grade school to help out interviewing kids for Exchange City, the model city the fifth-graders live in for a day. They get write resumes, interview, get jobs, earn paychecks, pay taxes. It sounds like a good learning experience. So today they needed parents to come conduct interviews, so I played recruiter and met with six different kids. They were funny — when I asked one boy why he was the best candidate for the job of police officer, he said he didn't know if he'd be the best, but he'd be a good police officer (!) I give him credit for honesty. And one girl said she had no real knowledge of what a broadcaster would do, but she was willling to learn. I didn't, per Gary's suggestion, ask where they planned to be in five years, but I did ask them about their conflict resolution skills.

And yes, the Queen was there.

I came home, made Chex Mix. Mailed in my League of Women Voters membership. Assembled yet another IKEA bookcase — I am a whiz with the allen wrench. Took Sylvia to gymnastics, where I chatted with Sue, the mother of Sylvia's friend Julie. Sue is delightful — she's from Barbados, her husband works for an oil company. They've lived our life, traipsing all over the world, two or three years per place, never near family. I thought she was Scottish, and yes, they lived in Aberdeen. She is officially my best friend in Houston.

Went to the high school parent meeting — conveniently scheduled the same night as the middle school parent meeting. (However, in their wisdom, the ISD has scheduled a duplicate meeting for the middle school next week.) A typically ill-run meeting. The principal was fine, stayed on task, but we had to sit through a useless power point presentaton that consisted of what appeared to be those annoying inspirational posters — "Learn," "Love," "Live," "Dream" — to a sappy soundtrack. And then the assistant principal droned on for what felt like hours, saying nothing, losing everyone — she was nearly drowned out by the parents talking around me. They never did shut up, not through the presentations by every department of the school, where they each gave a meaningless rundown of their course offerings — totally general, no specifics, just a vague rah-rah account of what they will offer in order to make Cy Woods the greatest high school in the district, the city, the state, the country! By the time the athletic staff was introducing the defensive line coaches, I had about had it. Keep in mind that I stood this entire time, as the place was overcrowded. We were a full half hour behind schedule by the time it was time to break out into our four small groups. No one showed up for choir, we couldn't figure out where the miscellaneous clubs group was (even asked, and no one knew ...) so I went late to theater and left early. The school will be fine — the staff is enthusiastic and they appear to have a lot to offer. Even poorly run, the meeting gave me lots of enthusiasm to bring home to Alison.

Gary is on his way to Lafayette. I am going to curl up with my tape of Gilmore Girls. Tomorrow: oil change for the car. The excitement never ceases.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Queen Bee Moms

There is a disconnect here between me and the schools. I volunteered a fair amount at the schools in Lafayette. I chose Miller, the grade school, over Tecumseh Middle School and Montessori — Montessori always had plenty of over-achiever parent types who were happy to pick up the slack. And even Miller had its core group of dedicated volunteer parents. But there was a place for me.

The schools here are big. And we are definitely in an upper-middle class area here. So the volunteer moms are multiplied; there are many, many super-involved moms who have dedicated their lives to their children and are more than happy to be at the school every day, taking care of every little detail better than someone like me could. After all, they love their children just a little bit more than the rest of us.

Now I have to admit, I've just read Rosalind Wiseman's latest, Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads. So I'm looking to apply my newfound knowledge of parent world to the local suburban grade school. I'm just a casual observer, but I had the Queen Bee Mom picked out from day one.

I've been to three volunteer activities, and she was at all of them. She wears not a regular nametag, but a laminated "volunteer" tag on a lanyard with her children's names on ribbons. (To be fair, others have the tags on lanyards, but not the ribbons with the names.) She wears the proper mom uniform of coordinated sweatsuit or capri pants and flip flops. She is loud, laughs a lot, is on a first-name basis with the secretary. She takes charge, barking orders, making it clear that she is willing and able to do any task that no one else will do. And I'm sure she does — and does it faster. Better.

She's the It Mom, the Queen, and everyone knows it.

None of this means she isn't pleasant; she seems nice enough. And I'm sure she is — til you cross her.

Mostly she fills in the picture for me. She's there, she and others like her, and I can see that I am not needed. People like me —I'm not quite sure which category I fall into, invisible, maybe? — women like me can "help out," but we're not really needed.

It's OK, though. Sylvia saw me there, and she knows I am helping with her performance.

And even better, I know what my next writing project is. And every time I see these people, I gather more anecdotes. We'll just call it research.

Oh yes, it's Ladies Night ...

Here in Section 26 of Coles Crossing, there is a monthly Ladies Night — an informal gathering of all the moms/housewives who dwell in the identical houses that line the curving suburban streets. My name made its way onto the Evite list, so last night I ventured out.

My first concern was over what to wear; you don't want to be underdressed and look as if you don't care, thus branding yourself as lazy, and you don't want to overdo it and be seen as trying too hard, or too sexy, thus the neighborhood Edie Britt. I think I know enough at this point in my life so choose capri pants and sandals — I am who I am, after all.

The women were nice enough. I don't know anyone well, so it all feels a little strange. All our houses look just alike, so I find it interesting when people gush over someone's house. The floor plans are identical!

I feel at times as if I am living in a combination of Stepford-land and Wisteria Lane. As I said, people are pleasant enough. But I really feel as if I don't fit it. It all seems a bit superficial — people chat with me for about five minutes, then are clearly ready to move on. And the conversation lacked substance. It's not as if everyone is young, thin and beautiful — I'm sure these are all normal women, with normal lives and normal problems. They all put on a show as if everything is perfect, but it can't be. I cannot be the only flawed woman in this community.

Yet it feels that way sometimes. I'm still looking for my place. It's here — I just have to find it. There are so many women around here; someone must have something in common with me. Nicole Kidman found Bette MIdler — I just have to keep looking. God — this is worse than dating ...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Life in the big house

An ordinary day here in the Southwestern United States. Didn’t do anything too exciting — grocery store, tidying up, that sort of thing. My big project was to organize all my loose recipes. Mission accomplished; but at this rate I’ll have all those little tasks done by the end of May, and then what will I do with my time?

It’s hot here. Big temperatures. Big everything down here — big traffic. Big city. Big schools. Big cars. Big fascination with sports.

And a big house. The neighborhoods are huge, and they’re all full of big houses. Really big. Ours is no exception. It’s really lovely; it’s pretty in a very glamorous sort of way. So it’s very different for us. We’ve always lived in historic homes; houses built before 1920, with very typical old-house architectural details — hardwood floors, woodwork, built-ins. That was our style.

Now we live in suburbia, in a Sopranos-style house. We looked condescendingly at one of Gary’s high school acquaintances who lived in such a house, and now I guess the shoe is on the other foot. Two-story vaulted ceiling in the foyer and family room. A very grand curved staircase leading to the second floor. A second-story game room for the kids. Modern kitchen with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Huge master suite with giant walk-in closet and luxurious bathroom. Backyard with a pool.

It’s a great house — I’m very comfortable living here. And there is no basement. When we were looking at houses we wanted a certain number of rooms — four bedrooms, computer room/guest room, living room, dining room. Once it all came together, it was what it was — room that we needed to live. But sometimes it does seem excessive. And I am slightly less comfortable when relatives or friends from Lafayette are here. They all comment on how big it is, how much it would have cost back where they came from … I suppose they are waiting for me to confirm, but all I can say is real estate is cheaper here.

The only thing that isn’t big here is the yard. It’s just too warm here to have a giant yard. And even those with small yards hire help; when you factor in the commute time, there is just no time for yard work.

This is our reality. I’m wondering, still, how much I have in common with my neighbors. I haven’t bonded with anyone yet. It likely just takes time. I’m going to the neighborhood monthly Ladies Night tomorrow; surely someone there will be friendly and up for a new acquaintance. I don’t have to feel self-conscious around these women; they all live in the same type of house, same neighborhood.

And just when I’m feeling funny about so much space, I run across an article where Kenny Rogers says they are scaling back their new house — they don’t want to live with such excessive affluence, so they are down to 11,000 sf … on the main floor.

Suddenly I don’t feel so hedonistic after all.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Molly Ivins can, in fact, say that

One of the benefits of life in the big city is options. Options in entertainment and speakers, such as the Progressive Forum. Last night's speaker was Molly Ivins, and she does not disappoint.

I've long been a fan of Molly Ivins. Yes, she is known for Bush-bashing. Yes, she is a mouthpiece for the left wing. But it's OK — she is unapologetic. and she does what she does well. She is incredibly entertaining in person; even weak with cancer, she can still deliver her trademark acerbic wit in such a manner that you wouldn't be surprised if she let loose with a string of profanities that would put Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson to shame. Oh wait — she does (!)

She talked at length about Texas politics. She had dozens of anecdotes about her life as a liberal in the conservative world of Texas. She spared no punches when describing her distaste for the way the Republicans have run the state. She was wonderfully funny as she described some of the more humorous aspects of local politics. And she was witty when she described how Texas exports some of its biggest mistakes. It's no surprise that she is no fan of Bush 1 or 2, but she illustrates her point with great examples — syntax mistakes and all. It was a delight to listen to her.

She opened up for an audience Q&A, which gave her the opportunity to veer from her notes and be more spontaneous. Russ Feingold? Maybe. Kinky Friedman? She supports him. Tom DeLay? A shame to see him go.

It was a wonderful evening. I'm so glad we went — I was needing a reason to be here. Al Gore is on the schedule for June; we'll be there. At last, a place I could feel at home in Houston.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Weekend in the Hill Country

It was time to get out of Houston. I am home day after day, seeing nothing new. Maybe I just don’t have the energy to get out and do things on my own. So I made reservations in Fredericksburg.

I’ve not seen a lot of Texas. In high school I made one trip to San Antonio, but other than that, my Texas traveling is limited — in particular, limited to house-hunting trips to Houston. For Christmas we got a subscription to Texas Highways magazine, which ranks the Hill Country and Fredericksburg as one of the more popular tourist destinations in the state. So, with a three-day weekend, the Hill Country it was.

Fredericksburg is charming — it feels like Branson in the middle of Texas, only with more character. The town (pop. 8,000) was settled by Germans in the 1800s, who said the hills reminded them of their native Germany. Today it capitalizes on its German heritage with lots of aptly named shops (Kuchenladen), hotels and B&B’s (Gasthaus Schmidt) and restaurants (Ratskellar). The downtown main drag is lined on both sides with quaint shops. It’s a good place to go if you need Americana Christmas ornaments; I, for one, had no idea that one could decorate an entire Christmas tree as an homage to the military. Lots of jewelry, folksy Texas art, and cowboy accoutrements. Luckily we were able to get by with just looking. Though we did enjoy the very authentic five and dime; haven’t seen a genuine dime store since I was a kid. In this age of Wal-Mart, it was rather refreshing.

We spent much of Saturday at the Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch/National Park. Very interesting; the tour includes the birthplace and the Texas White House (though you won’t be able to go in until after Lady Bird dies and it is turned over to the park service). A special treat for us — Lady Bird was sitting on the front porch. She is 93 and in frail health, but it was cool to see her there, even if no one came to talk to us (sometimes, the daughters will greet the visitors).

There’s a film, circa 1967 or so, that is shown in the visitors center. LBJ gives a tour of the hill country and the birthplace. Pretty cool. Maybe my status as a Johnson baby makes me perhaps a tad nostalgic, but I really enjoy this period of history.

The displays detail what he did as president. Yes, the focus is very positive, but the man did a lot that as U.S. citizens we still benefit from: The Great Society, Medicaid, school lunch program, head start, clean air act. It’s a legacy he should have been proud of. Yes, there was the fiasco in Vietnam. But there is so much more. What will GWB be remembered for, other than getting us into an unjust war? Depleting the nation’s wetlands? Jack Abramoff? A rising national debt? “No child left behind”?

Dinner Saturday night was at an outdoor restaurant; lovely, eating outside, under the stars. The girls were pretty well behaved.

The Easter bunny found us, and we had a nice Sunday brunch downtown. Then it was off to Luckenbach — Gary has us play the song while we drove through … well, more accurately, we got in about 5 seconds of the song as we drove into town. Fun bumper stickers — "Luckenbach: pop. 3" and "Everybody is somebody in Luckenbach." We walked around, looked in the dance hall, and contributed to the local economy by buying everyone a T-shirt. Kind of fun.

Buddy Holly was our soundtrack for the weekend. Maddie's a big fan now, particularly of That'll Be the Day.

And now we’re home. Such a nice get-away. We still need to see San Antonio, Padre Island, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Austin. Too many places to list here. But our Texas travel adventure is off to a good start.

Like brother, like brother

My Uncle Jerry, my dad’s younger brother, stopped to visit for a bit. He lives in Wisconsin and was in Houston visiting a friend from grad school.

It was just like talking to my dad.

Maybe it’s because I know both of them — relatives are the people you’ve known all your life, the people who are part of your pre-consciousness. Maybe Russel and Jerry have changed as they’ve gotten older. Gary had pointed it out. But I’d never noticed before just how alike they are.

They have the same mannerisms, the same inflection in their voice. They change subjects, jump from fact to fact. They are both university professors, both have Ph.D.’s in geography. Perhaps that’s what makes them so similar. (That, and the fact that they have the same upbringing.)

We don’t see Jerry a lot, and when the girls walked in from school, none of them was sure just who he was. Maddie told me she thought it was her grandpa sitting on the couch. Only shorter with more grey hair.

They would probably claim they are nothing alike. But I would defer to my children. They calls ’em as they sees ’em.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The new CDs are here!

Joy of joys — my Amazon order arrived today!

Like anybody else, I love to shop — I love to buy clothes, furniture, gadgets for the kitchen. I like to buy presents. I like to buy souvenirs when we travel.

But there is something special about buying books and music. Let me loose in a book store and it's like hitting a time warp — all bets are off as to when I'll come out. If we take our children into a bookstore, we all scatter. For the girls, and their parents, it's like a little piece of heaven.

So, while shopping online isn't quite the same, sometimes it's worth it. Especially when you're shopping for a CD or book that is sort of obscure, might be out of print, or at the very least, not stocked by your basic mainstream bookstore.

I got a hankering the other day to listen to Lone Justice, an album I loved way back in 1985. It was alternative and edgy, part of the cow-punk sound that was big around that time. I have the LP, and the band's follow up, and they used to be played often.

But at the moment we don't have our turntable hooked up. And I am even in the midst of debating the future of our vinyl collection — all four linear feet of them. I love them, many of them, but we don't play them. Sound quality, perhaps, but mostly convenience. Who wants to put a record on the turntable, turn it over 20 minutes later, put it back in the sleeve, when you can pop in a disc? Or — even better — pop in six and listen for hours?

So I decided to splurge and, for a mere $6.99, replace the aged vinyl with a shiny new CD. No big cover art, but no skips. And I can enjoy Maria McKee's voice once again. She's a bit like Janice Joplin meets Dolly Parton singing Tom Petty; in fact, Tom Petty wrote one of their biggest hits (Ways to be Wicked) and Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers play on a couple of tracks; that distinctive organ sound is a dead give-away.

I also ordered best of the English Beat — this is what happens when one discovers VH-1 classic. And, in the spirit of embracing Texas, I got the best of Buddy Holly. Once again, replacing the vinyl version.

Now we can upload these tracks to the computer and get them into iTunes, onto the iPod. Now I can relive my college music days, when the search for new music was the all-important quest. And now I don't have to buy Gary about getting the turntable hooked up.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Wonderful world of bureacracy ... or, what I'd like to say to school administrators

To Whom It May Concern:

In following the rules of registering my children for school in your district, I took in my Texas drivers license and — in lieu of a utility bill — a service agreement with the water company, an agreement that shows our name, address and account number.

All of these items were given to the woman in the attendance office at Goodson Middle School, who told me that the service agreement did not meet the requirements. Perplexed, I decided to go home and call the district office, just so I could better understand the criteria. The woman in Dave Schrandt’s office told me that this should be adequate; she said she would call Goodson to clarify.

I took the document back over to Goodson. I explained to the woman in the attendance office that I had spoken with Mr. Schrandt’s office, and asked if this was OK. She said — very curtly, I might add — that no, this was not sufficient. “I’ll take it, because you said you called. But it won’t work.” I was confused at this point — why not?

Because, she said, it won’t. “But I’ll take it. You had to go and call over to the office. But the woman you spoke to has about 18 months in that office and I have 15 years, so I know that this is not sufficient.”

By this time I was thoroughly confused. And the more I asked, the briefer she got with me. This isn’t personal, I said. I just don’t understand.

She told me she was busy. Aren’t you helping me, I asked?

And then she said, “No. Because you came in here with a chip on your shoulder. Nothing I say is going to make you happy.”

I was speechless. And I’d like to clarify a few things.

My family is new to Cypress Fairbanks ISD, new to Texas. My children are in the middle of a mid-year transition, one that has taken its toll on them; unfortunately for them, their father’s job has required this. We are trying to make the best of it.

We chose CFISD thinking it would be a good place to rear our children and where they would have access to excellent educational facilities. It is very different than any school in which we’ve registered before, and it’s been a challenge. Other school districts require much less paperwork, much less documentation. Please understand that we are simply trying to make sense of a system we don’t quite comprehend. I am still struggling to understand why buying a house,
licensing my cars, getting a drivers license, having checks printed, and having a phone number do not prove residency.

I know that you get new students all the time, and to you we are just another new name, another number. But you must understand that we are not just “another name.” We are a family, and we want what’s best for our children. They should be welcome and valued in their school, and here I have been made to feel that, frankly, they are just a burden to the lower-level administrators who have to process yet another batch of paperwork.

At some point in my dealings with the woman at Goodson, all she had to do was politely explain to me why the rules are as they are. That’s all I ask — just an explanation delivered with courtesy. Instead I was treated with hostility as if I were challenging her. I really just wanted to understand. I know she doesn’t make the rules; she is just following a set of directives given her by a superior. But perhaps she needs to know how to explain to parents why the rules are in place without resorting to being unkind and insulting.

Luckily, this has not been our experience in the classroom; at Sampson my girls have the privilege to be in classes with Mrs. Chumley, Mrs. Galloway, Mrs. Young and Mrs. Daues, all of whom have made great efforts to make sure my girls are up to speed and are feeling comfortable. At Goodson, counselor Rita Lane has expressed a genuine concern in my daughter’s fate.

Thank you to assistant principal Greg Gruss, who took the time to sit and talk to me and attempt to clarify why all the bureaucracy is in place. Thank you, too, to Dave Schrandt, who also made our transition into the schools as easy as possible, even when we lived in a hotel for two weeks. We had thought school would be a safe haven while our lives were in flux, and he made that possible when he allowed our girls to register.

But my day-to-day experience with some administrators — such as last Friday — has been less than satisfactory, serving only to further disconnect me from my children’s schools. These people are the face of the school district, and when they fail, they leave a negative impression with parents and students.

A child’s experience in school can make or break them. It provides the bulk of their childhood memories and lays the foundation that makes success later in life possible. In dealings with parents — and children — please keep this in mind. Please treat my children — all new children — as the treasures they are, not as yet another piece of paperwork. Please embrace them as the valuable individuals they are.

(I feel so much better now!)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

So long, CBS

Today's announcement: Katie Couric will be leaving NBC and heading over to CBS, where she will be anchor and managing editor of the CBS evening news and work on 60 Minutes.

And that may be it for me and CBS.

I've been watching CBS news since I was a little kid, back in the days of Walter Cronkite. We come from the era of the three networks, and I was never sure if we watched it because we loved Walter Cronkite or because of the reception (pre cable, you know). We stuck with Dan Rather, and I've always gone to CBS first for big news — I'll never forget those Watergate updates that interrupted daytime TV so many summers ago. It was CBS that told me about the Berlin Wall coming down, about Nelson Mandela leaving prison, about the attacks on the World Trade Center.

And now, this bastion of news, this American icon, is being handed over to an idiot.

This isn't personal. I don't know Katie Couric. I'm sure she is a lovely person. And I'm sure she is very bright. But I can't stand her on the Today show.

I know, I just said how we always watched CBS. But in the mornings we watched NBC and Today. Keep in mind that years ago CBS had Captain Kangaroo; they were late-comers in the morning news game. And I quite liked Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley. Never could stand Bryant Gumbel — it always felt like he wanted the show to be all about him (Jane wasn't even allowed to introduce the show — he always had to do it). So when Jane Pauley was ousted, I switched to Harry Smith and CBS in the mornings, where he and Paula Zahn seemed to share responsibilties.

So I didn't watch a ton of Katie Couric on Today. But I got the idea — and she is very popular, so it was hard to miss her. And on occasion, in a hotel or visting someone, I would see her do an interview. And she asks dumb questions. Her interview with J.K. Rowling when the fifth HP book came out was just embarrassing. I think my former classmates at the esteemed University of Missouri School of Journalism would agree: she acts like an airhead.

And CBS is putting this person in charge of their evening news. I shudder. I know she's a woman, but come on, there are more credible women. Connie Chung. Diane Sawyer. Lesley Stahl. Just not Katie Couric.

Maybe I'm being hasty. I guess I should have a look before I judge her too harshly.

But one giggle, and I'll be on NPR for good.

Monday, April 03, 2006

On the highway of life, nothing is free

And that includes driving on so-called freeways. I suspect they were so-named because they weren't toll roads. But I'm telling you, I pay every time I get on those roads — I pay with a year of my life. The traffic, the speeds, the stress.

But I do it. I do it because I live in a highway-dependant suburb. I always said I loved big cities, major metropolitan areas. Topping my list were New York City — Manhattan — Washington DC, Paris and London. But what I realize now is that I imagined an urban existence, one where I could live in an apartment and rely on walking and using public transportation. No scenario in which I lived in one of these cities involved my owning or driving a car.

Well, I got half my wish, as we now live in the fourth-largest city in the U.S.A. But we live 25 miles from downtown, and we live in a houses-only subdivision. The grocery store is more than two miles from here; everything — and I do mean everything — is further. It's possible to avoid the Interstates, but then it takes longer, and you deal with in-town traffic.

I've never much liked driving. After that initial thrill when I turned 16, there is no fun in getting behind the wheel. I am quite happy to be chauffeured from place to place. And it's not so much that I'm scared (not really) or a bad driver (well, maybe). I think it's more of my princess attitude; let someone else do it for me.

My mother-in-law asked me if I drove much; the answer, naturally, is yes. I don't like it, but there are lots of things I don't like — cleaning house, going to the grocery store, paying bills. But I still do them. So I get out on the crazy-busy highways. There is a feeling of sheer terror, then it subsides. I refuse to be paralyzed by my fear. And I don't wish to rely on my husband everytime I need to do something. Makes life tough for everyone. I drove in Germany; I can drive here.

Today I had to — needlessly — drive down to the inner loop to get the car registered. Except that the Website misdirected me, and I could have taken care of everything right here in the neighborhood. (When I expressed this to the civil servant at the window, he just sighed and said that was a problem with the Website. Um, not a very satisfactory answer to someone who just spent the better part of two hours on this task — driving time, time in line, drive home.) Every mile on that road took a minute off my life.

But, I have to look for the silver lining — you know me, the eternal optimist. It got me out of the house, on an errand. And I got to listen to the Texas mix-CD my dad made me (can't listen in the house — it contains some naughty words that my daughters shouldn't hear, so it's relegated to the car).

And it's another step in my initiation to Houston.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Watching Glenn Tilbrook

It was by luck — sheer luck — that I caught 90 minutes of Glenn Tilbrook on VH-1 Classic. It is sheer luck that VH-1 Classic replays all its programs three or four times in a 24-hour period. The stars were clearly aligned this week for the nation's No. 1 Squeeze fan.

In the 1980s, when I was a teenager, in high school, they were my band. The band that I stumbled upon watching MTV videos, as they weren't really getting lots of airplay on KWTO/Rock 99 in Springfield, MO. They had it all — cute guys, witty lyrics, tight musicianship. Why they never hit it big in the U.S.A. is beyond me; they were so much better than much of what was played on hit radio. But — let's face it — success would have ruined them for me. In the long run, it's probably better that they had that sort of fringe, fleeting fame; people knew who they were, could name a song or two, even if it was the one — the only one — sung by Paul Carrack. And that was that.

But I loved them. I played my cassette of Singles over and over. I bought everything I could find, including a now rare 10-inch EP. I remember watching their final performance on Saturday Night Live, with my older brother. I remember hearing the announcement they were getting back together in 1985. They were part of the music scene that grabbed me during high school and college — that group encompassing the likes of Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker.

Mostly I remember the music. Pop music, no statements, no political agenda, Just music. I saw them, re-formed, in St. Louis in 1987 or '88, opening with "Pulling Mussels." Then, much later, we caught them while on vacation in San Francisco, at the Fillmore no less — just Difford and Tilbrook, with another guitarist, but billed as Squeeze. It was an amazing show, near the top of the live performances I've seen in my life (but not above Alex Chilton, who played a song just for me — we'll save that story for another time ...)

And now, the man that rocked the Fillmore is reduced to a VH-1 special where he appears to be singing "Is that Love?" for someone's family reunion and has jumped into the back of a van in Boston to play "Goodbye Girl." Hmmm.

But no matter — not to me. I know that life for a former pop semi-star can be tough and you've got to do what you can. To be artistic. To pay the bills.

The real fans know him as he once was. And the music lives on.