Wednesday, November 30, 2005

the flag of Texas

I went to Wal-Mart after work today, to buy art supplies because -- well, the general idea is finding things to do that keep me out of pool halls and taverns -- I wanted to do a project, while sprawled out on the carpet watching TV. So I bought poster boards and a sketchbook and crayons and markers and cheap water colors, and glitter markers too.

My plan, such as I have one, is to make a drawing of the flag of Texas, which I am most strongly attached to --because of its clarity and simplicity. What this flag means is not so clear or simple, but I will discover that -- by living here in Texas, and drawing this flag on the poster board.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


By Annabelle Hawes, from Vermont, writing about her two youn children.

My children come into my bed in the morning. They press themselves on both sides of me and I breathe in their warmth. Their sighs stretch out and their limbs grow limp when the fall back asleep. I wake them again in time for school and ask about their dreams. Elizabeth often remembers hers, they are elaborate schemes of animals and natural events. Bradley dreams mostly of places we have been and things we have seen, but he doesn't recall the details often. He dreams of monsters sometimes. Elizabeth fears holes. They both believe that there is a certain pink stuffed animal monkey in our household who is responsible for bad dreams and they refuse to have this creature in their rooms. I love to listen to them speak, to hear what is meaningful to them. But that is how we know anyone, isn't it? We then discuss breakfast or the weather or the plans for the day. "It is cold today, Elizabeth you need to wear a sweater." Or,"Bradley you have library today, do you know where your book is?" It's nice (this morning meeting) before we toss back the covers and attend to the day.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Baking Bread again

I baked bread tonight -- four loaves. Rosemary bread, I picked the rosemary on Thanksgiving day and kept the small snips in a glass of water on the counter. I bought a small sack of flour that was half whole wheat and half unbleached white flour -- which is the right balance, I think. I bought three packets of yeast for 99 cents. Yeast is a very special thing, but I still don't like it that it costs so much.

I used three small aluminum loaf pans. I smeared them with olive oil, so they wouldn't stick. I mixed, and then I kneaded and let it rise twice. It was like the old recipe I used to use.

The first time in a new oven -- you know that might be a surprise, but it came in like a hummingbird. I'm just waiting for it to cool so I can have a taste

Cowboy up, Help ain't comin'

This is an attitude. I could explain it -- how to cowboy up, and what it means that help ain't comin' -- but it's better if you simply repeat the saying during quiet moments, and then implement it as a policy. It might have something to do with sleeping under a leaky tree in the rain, or being bug-bit on a hot day, and nowhere near the time or place for a cold beer. This is not confined to experiences in Texas by any means, but those with a decidedly rural character. Getting stuck in traffic doesn't count, unless, if you really want to cowboy up because you are stuck in traffic, you need to pull your vehicle over to the side of the road. You then pull a large ball-peen hammer out of your tool box -- this is not for beginners, you have to have the toolbox -- okay you get the hammer out and fix your vehicle in a manner that will leave it permanently in your past, including everything that got you stuck in traffic in the first place.

Having left the traffic jam, you start walking until you hit daylight. I mean daylight metaphorically, of course. Now your feet are sore and tired, you're thirsty, and finally, a lot of your friends will think you have lost your mind -- but you just keep on walking. Now you're cowboyin' up, and believe me, help ain't comin'

Saturday, November 26, 2005


The paper sent me out to the motocross event. I drove two miles down a dirt road to the dirt track.I parked my car and began to walk around. My first reaction was revulsion -- I had landed in redneck heaven. As much as I like Texas, there is a limit. What really bothered me was the dirt itself -- images of my years working in the mud in farm fields and landscape gardens, coming home caked with dirt and soggy jeans. This dirt which I had resolutely left behind in pursuit of my journalistic dreams. I enjoy so very much being clean now, and being clean at work -- and there I was back in the dirt again.

I got over this. I began to speak with people -- all very friendly, of course. There were 4,500 people in attendance, according to the manager -- people from all over the country -- Colorado, Oregon, California. It turns out that little old Floresville is world class in motocross circles for being a good track. And people came from Europe -- I saw a gaggle of Italians wearing funny clothes and heard German accents, and then I fell in with the contingent from New Zealand, lead by Joesphine and her "Mum," as she called her, and her boyfriend, Kevin. Josephine is a flight attendant for Air New Zealand, and loves her bike. She had been to Los Angeles many times in the course of her work, but this was her first trip to Texas. She seemed to like it here quite a bit, except she asked a number of questions about snakes. There are no poisonous snakes in New Zealand -- I could tell that she was fearful. I admitted as such that we have rattlesnake here and they can bite, but fatalities are quite rare, etc. I doubt that this re-assured her. But she was a pretty athelete and I enjoyed talking with her -- certainly fearless on her bike.

She asked me if I had ever ridden a bike. I said no. I didn't want to tell her that my oldest sister died in a motorcycle accident in 1974.

Baking Bread

I keep looking at the oven, in this apartment where I live now.

When I lived in Boston in the early 1990s I was on a major cooking and baking binge. I wrote a cookbook and printed about 30 copies. It was called a "love story with recipes." Being a story without a plot about a man who did a lot of cooking to get over his broken heart (me).

I baked so much bread that my friends and neighbors tired of the gifts of loaves. I threw parties with lots of good food and people liked that. I had a very good bread recipe, half whole wheat and half white flour, modified from the Tassajara bread book and the NY Times organic cook book. I mixed it in a very big heavy ceramic baking dish, which I also used to make casseroles.

It was always basic cooking. I was landscaping for a living and ate huge calorie filled meals.

I was a single father to two teenagers at the time, and cooking was a way to make a home, because I sure wasn't going to make curtains.

That all went away. Years passed. The kids grew up. I married a second time and divorced. I bought a house and lived in it, and then I sold it and moved on. Now I am in this apartment looking at the oven.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

I live upstairs from an antique shop.

I live upstairs from an antique shop. I have a very nice apartment. I walk across the street after a day at the newspaper and climb the stairs to my perch. I make tea and sit by the kitchen window, looking out over the rooftop. It can be very pleasant, and I enjoy being alone. My work as a reporter is extremely social. I am talking to people, on the phone or in person, all the day. By the time I get to the apartment, I am ready for solitude.

This year I will be able to buy Christmas presents for my two sisters. They always buy me presents, but I hardly ever buy them anything. Well, I'm a guy -- I don't shop. But now it's so easy -- they have little things in the antique shop that I think my sisters will enjoy having.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Town Council

We finish the paper on Mondays, then it goes to the printer. I left work at 5 p.m. and walked across the street to my upstairs apartment. I ate crackers and cheese and drank cold apple juice. I rested in the bed for a while, reading Fehrenbach's History of Texas. I read the chapter on the assault and defense of the Alamo. Then I closed my eyes for a while.

I left the apartment to drive 7 miles to a nearby town of 2,000 souls for their monthly town council meeting. I liked it there. Seven men and women sitting around three tables drawn together in an open square facing the audience -- five councilmembers, the mayor, and the clerk. It was a short one-hour meeting, routine business. The police chief reported from the audience -- all was well. The general manager of the electric utility presented his budget in a businesslike way. Bills were paid. An ordinance was approved which banned jake breaks on large trucks passing through town on the busy main road. I made a note to find out just exactly what a jake break was.

I got one good quote. The mayor said they had an unexpected visit from the state department of environmental quality. She said, "It was exciting, in a sewer kind of way."

Boxing champion Jesse James Leija

Jesse James Leija lands a right hook. Leija is a hero in San Antonio. Everybody knows his name. He will be the grand marshal in our Christmas parade. The young girls will scream. The mayor will beam. It will be a night parade, starting at 6 p.m., ending at the courthouse square. Then amidst gathering dignitaries and delightful music, we will ceremoniously switching on the Christmas lights all over the square. The season begins.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Prickly Pear

I'm getting in touch with my inner cowboy. Today, after I wrote my column and did my laundry, I took a drive out in the country. Going south and east from Floresville the country opens up and the farthest edge of San Antonio is left behind. The sky was bigger than heaven and the wind was fresh. I saw the prickly pear by the barbed wire fence, up and down the road. I saw as if for the first time. I wanted to keep driving and never comeback, to buy some acres out there and build a small house, and keep a dog and few tomatoes in pots -- I would just let the brush grow. I would call it Brush Farm.

Do they have owls in Texas? If they do have owls, and if I buy my small plot and build a house, then I will come out late at night and walk toward the pasture and maybe I will see an owl -- or hear its silent wings.

The Alamo

Saturday morning at the Alamo: Being new to San Antonio, and not knowing where exactly to go, I pulled into the nearest parking space and paid $10. There were likely better, cheaper parking places a few blocks away, which I will locate on my next visit downtown.

But I needed to switch gears, coming from quiet, traffic-free Floresville and driving into the big city. I needed to pick up the tempo. I needed to watch carefully while I drove, instead of gazing at cows and trees -- the way I drive in the country. Evidence of a failure to switch gears in San Antonio -- I was looking at a building and I drove through a red light.

I begin my comments on the Alamo with two paragraphs about parking and traffic, simply because that is the first thing one must do when entering a new city -- learn the driving and the parking.

The Alamo is still there. I last saw it in 1986 with Susan, my wife of ten years, and our two children, Eugene and Eva. The Alamo is still there. Never once, in the intervening 19 years did I ever think it would not be there. This is re-assuring.

My feelings would have been stirred by this passage of time, this re-visit to a beautiful and meaningful landmark, except I was too busy taking photographs of dignitaries and dancers -- the event that the newspaper assigned me to cover. But I will conclude -- the Alamo is still there.

Later I visited the San Antonio Botanical Gardens -- a complete disappointment, scraggly flowers and unswept paths. In order to re-assure myself that Texans can indeed maintain a good garden, I drove to the affluent Alamo Heights neighborhood and saw some very fine gardens.

Today, Sunday, I am back in Floresville, having a good rest.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Roast Chicken

The weekend begins after a good week. This is the first day that I am not exhausted from work. I nailed the real estate story. The emergency room story is quite good too.

I'm fixing dinner and I feel quite fine. Two days ago I cooked a nice and large pasta dish. I had hot leftovers for lunch for the next two days, but now I put the rest in the freezer. Tonight I will cook a cauliflower, and also make bacon and eggs -- scrambled eggs with a bit of chopped green onions. I am not a great meat eater, but I love bacon, and I must only buy one-half pound at a time, or else I will eat it at once.

Lately I've been thinking of ice cream. I haven't had any for almost a month. I would have bought some right after work, but the supermarket is too crowded at that time. So I stopped at the quick stop and got a candy bar instead.

Gonna roast a chicken too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

No Talking

I would like to meet a woman who is quiet, like Holly Hunter in the Piano. She was fierce and terrible in getting what she wanted. Yes, but I would do anything she wanted, because she was quiet.

Fig Balsamic

Fig Balsamic

(This was sent in by a woman from Oregon. She asked me to withhold her name, but she sent me an email about the terror in her life now.)

I forgot to eat tonight. I just made a salad with goat cheese and walnuts, and then poured myself a glass of wine. It was from a bottle that had been rattling around the back of my car since I took it to the beach and forgot to open it. (How rude that was.) I drink too seldom lately, a half a glass and my skin is warm.

I exercised twice today. Movement is comforting.

There is gossip again. Who can blame them? Their days are empty. The trick is a preemptive and well-placed story. I am surprised how easy this game is to play. And of course we all know it doesn't matter. But I am not unkind, so they want to believe the best. I am fortunate to be liked, I have seen women reduced to tears in preschool halls, their children left out of parties for nothing more than neglecting to return a phone call. I wasn't meant for this life, it itches my neck and wrists like a woolen sweater.

I want to go fast, to fly down a hill of snow, skiing, my eyes watering from the wind. Or perhaps I can find speed on a cycle or a car with no top and a long desperate ribbon of road. I crave so many sensations lately.

I paint but never keep my paintings.

What would I do if I were not afraid?

I will not be afraid of what comes next.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Prom Queen

(Frog Hospital accepts submission from talented and interesting writers -- so far it's been all women -- so, c'mon you guys!)

By Judith Beckman

I was prom queen. (Don't vomit.) It was an accident, I didn't mean to be. I thought the whole time that it was just a joke and that they had elected me out of pity. There's a Tiara in the attic and a dress. Samantha talked me into getting them down in hopes of borrowing them for her upcoming birthday party.

The tiara is wobbly, I must have placed something heavy on it. (Yearbooks?) Strapless yellow silk, the dress is too sweet.
I must have worn a corsage. The boys favored the kind that pinned on so they had an excuse to feel our boobs while our parents snapped pictures. I had the same boyfriend throughout highschool so he had a bit of experience with mine. But still I don't think he would have missed a chance. That night he had plans to advance our pre-sex experience a bit and we tumbled about at the beach for a while. The grunion were running. Silver and scared they spawned on the sand. Their presence both enthralled and frightened me. Poor Bob, I wonder if he has ever had to endure three years of foreplay since.

I had dinner with a friend from highschool a few days ago. It seems like it has been a million years ago and yet we laughed like it had been a month. He said I looked the same, and I accepted his lie graciously. He poured blood orange martinis in my glass (they were served up) either enjoying the silver shaker or hoping to get me drunk enough to tell stories.

In highschool I was good. Too good. This same guy, the one with the cocktail shaker, once offered to pay me five dollars if I would say to him the f-word. It took me all day, but just before going home I whispered it in his ear, "fuck". It was the first time I ever said it.

I have always been fun to corrupt.

In the Poconos

President George Bush spoke at the Tobyhanna Army Depot in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania on Veterans Day, defending his war policy. It was a good speech. I just listened to it.

Tonight, I went shopping and spent $50 for food. This was at 8:30 pm, then I drove over to Roper's, the country night club here in Floresville. I thought it might be fun to try line dancing with the cowboys, but it was Mexican night, with a $15 cover charge to hear Los Desperados, a band I don't know anything about. I was only prepared for $5 and a beer, so I came home.

I have just eaten my second piece of pumpkin pie. That's it -- no more. But I bet I eat two more pieces of pie for breakfast. I love it so much. I'm drinking a fine glass of red wine, from a vineyard called Ste. Genevieve out by Fort Stockton, a variety called Texas Red, costing $3.75 -- it's good table wine, actually. Things don't cost much in Texas.

I was listening to the Basketball game on the radio, but it ended and the Spurs ( San Antonio team in the NBA) lost.

But the photo is from the Poconos. It just so happens that my ex-wife lives in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania -- in the Poconos, a very pretty place.

Friday, November 11, 2005


I was building facts at the newspaper this week. They have to be plumb and square and true. If you build your facts strong, they will last a long time. They won't move. You can walk away, come back years later, and those same facts will be there, like diamonds or granite.

I built a lot of facts this week at the newspaper. Some were off kilter or out of focus -- I had to through them back into the sea of information. Information, data, the world is awash with it, meaningless, worthless, formless. But facts! Facts are worth something. They mean something. They are sturdy and reliable. You can build with facts. You can get paid for making facts. It's good work.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

I Can't Get a Date

"I Can't Get a Date"

By Hannah Silverman

I am tired tonight and yet so awake.

I realize I have needed other people's exhaustion to make me stop. Otherwise I keep going.

If you were the type to require rest, I would lay down beside you, my head on your shoulder, I might trace your clavicle with my finger. Or I would mimic your breath. It is deep and slow. Until my lungs can hold as much air as yours,you will lead this waltz, unknowing. It isn't easy for me, yours are much larger and I want to gasp for breath. But eventually I lose track of myself in the momentum.

And there is morning your hand on my thigh or lips on my breast and we are both again awake.

Monday, November 07, 2005

I am spinning

By Annabelle Hawes

"I am spinning. With centrifugal force I am twirling and all of the crap, the stuff that doesn't matter is flinging out of my life."

A girlfriend said to me last week, "I am afraid that you are spiraling down. And once you are down you will never get back up." She looked so worried and then she said what they all say, "I wouldn't say it if I didn't love you."

I think what she meant was I'll never be a suburban housewife again. She imagined I would snap another man into the place that Matthew once held -- as if they were interchangible. The wives hoped that some other husband might come and sleep with me and go to pick apples on sunny Autumn weekends. He might take me to Vermont for the weekend, or want to talk with me after dinner. Perhaps he would even share the remote, or laugh at a joke from time to time. No matter, to the other housewives, they are all the same. They would have welcomed him.

A bit irritating at times, husbands all have their bad habits. One has gas, another leaves his laundry on the floor. The wives complain about the husbands wanting sex as if they are asking them to wax the car. On weekends they get dressed and go to dinner and meet with friends. They can even be amusing for an hour or two assuming there was a bottle of wine and dinner wasn't deplorable. On Saturday mornings there is working in the garden, and watching the kids play soccer, there is a drip in the bathroom sink and new sheets are needed for the upstairs guest room. There are Sunday muffins and a coffee pot that leaks and a paper with the book section. Before you know it the weekend is over. Marriage is really only about 24 hours a week if you are a wife in Connecticut. So any man, assuming he is employed and discreet, is as good as another.

What the women don't know and what the wives choose to forget, is that men are not as good at numbing themselves as we are. They continue to live, to think and to feel. And they wonder what happened to us and if we really care what color the powder room is painted.

If I am spiraling, it is not down.

They knew that I was bored. When I went to the meetings at the New Haven Garden Club it was all I could do not to scream as we voted on what color napkins to have at our luncheon or which coffee cake we would all make for the bake sale. I might have complied. I might have baked my coffee cake and taken my xanex and closed my mouth and my mind. If I had done that he would have loved me. No... he never would have loved me.

I am not spiraling. I am spinning. With centrifugal force I am twirling and all of the crap, the stuff that doesn't matter is flinging out of my life. Be careful girls, you might be hit by an unnecessary spatula or broom or a pair of leather gloves.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Floresvillle, Texas

This is the Wilson County Courthouse -- built on or about 1884. Floresville is the county seat for Wilson County. Floresville has 6,000 people and it's 30 miles to the southeast of San Antonio. Wilson County has 30,000 people altogether.

The landscape is pleasant, green and treed with country oaks that spread wide. The feeling is spaciousness and quiet. Such a luxury to have so much room. The grass is green by the roadside, yet several local people told me how badly they wish it would rain -- that it hasn't rained in three months. The almanac gives Wilson County 28 inches of rain every year -- but that's average, and it's typical in Texas to have too much rain followed by too little rain.

I got here, to Floresville, two days ago. I moved into an apartment across the street from the newspaper office, and upstairs from an empty store. It is a very pleasant place to live. This Sunday morning it was as peaceful as the dawn. I went for a jog down the old railroad right-of-way and worked up a sweat.

This afternoon I'm going to Wal-Mart to buy an iron. I need to press my clothes because I'm beginning work tomorrow. I wish I could find another place to buy an iron. I drove around yesterday looking for a second-hand iron at a thrift store, but with no luck. So I have to go to Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Barton Springs -- Best Swimming Hole in North America

Barton Springs natural swimming pool, in Zilker Park, in the middle of Austin, Texas, is the best swimming hole in North America. Pure, clean water, gushing out of a natural limestone spring at millions of gallons every hour. Always the same temperature of 68 degrees. It's like diving into an ice cream soda.

The first thing I did, when I got to Austin on Sunday morning, was to drive to Zilker Park and take a swim at Barton Springs.