Archives for posts with tag: Texas

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 44:  July 13, 2013

HOW PROVINCIAL CAN YOU GET?

I spent the last 37 of my working years in the Washington, DC, area, and for the last 20 years, I worked for contractors to the Federal government.  The standard conversation-starter when you met someone in the DC area was inevitably either “Where do you work?”  or “What do you do?”  The statistical probability was pretty high that the other person either worked for the Federal government or worked for a Government contractor.  Consequently, it was very easy to immediately find some common ground—maybe the other person would mention the name of another contractor (and you may have once worked for that company, or knew someone else who worked there) or a Federal agency (and you may have once done work for that agency)—and you could go to the next step, “Oh, I used to work there!  Do you know So-and-So?” and start rattling off names.  In the “What do you do?” category, there was a fairly small range of occupations, when you came right down to it, and, again it was fairly easy to find some common ground (especially if you’re married and your spouse’s employer and occupation offer another boatload of opportunities to find that common ground).

The other method that sometimes works for me is just telling folks my name, because most folks haven’t heard of my first name – Jaton’—and I can always start out by telling them where it came from.  But this tried and true method of starting a conversation wasn’t going to work when I went to my high school class’s 50th reunion.  Given that I went to high school in a small town in Southeast Texas (a population then of about 12,000), there were only 180 folks in the class and they already knew my name.  So I went with “What do you do?” since I hadn’t seen most of these folks in 50 years.  It turns out that this method failed me as well.  One of my classmates, it turns out, hangs draperies.  At that point, I just blathered something – can’t even remember what – because my piteous repertoire of conversation-making tools failed me.  None of the follow-up questions applied, and my brain just froze.  So, that’s how flippin’ provincial I can be!  My classmate who hangs draperies for a living gets to have a hand in doing something that is both useful and beautiful.  (Well, I’m sure he’s had to hang some draperies that he thought were pretty hideous, but, in any case, they were still useful, and probably they were beautiful to the person buying them.)  On the other hand, I spent the better part of 20 years writing what would turn out to be “shelf-ware” – documents that folks were required to have on hand and that gave guidance that folks were supposed to follow (but, in practice, almost never did).  And, on more than one occasion, work that I had spent years developing was simply tossed out when management changed.  (It would have been lots easier – and saved the US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars – if, instead of reinventing the wheel, the new guy in charge would have simply gone around pissing on stuff to establish his dominance of his new territory, but apparently that is frowned upon in polite society.)  So, in essence, my work turned out not to be very useful at all.  And definitely NOBODY would consider the 3-ring binders that I went to great pains to fill with words as “beautiful” (nor would anyone have even noticed the absence of all this paper if it had never been generated).  On the other hand, if there were suddenly no drapes in the world, THAT would most certainly be noticed!

This reminded me of an experience I had when we had just moved to Washington, DC.  We had recently seen all three of Preston Jones’s Texas Trilogy plays.  We were at a party and were chatting with a psychiatrist from New York City and the plays came up.  He said he had seen one of them, but that he found the characters unrealistic.  We, on the other hand, having grown up in Texas and sharing DNA with folks who were just like the characters in the play, felt that they were absolutely realistic.  But this guy, who hadn’t ventured very far from NYC, wasn’t any less provincial than folks back in Texas who had never gotten more than 100 miles from where they grew up.  That was an eye-opener for me – no matter how supposedly sophisticated the place you live may be, you can be just as provincial as anybody else.  And, no surprise, the plays got mixed reviews in NYC!   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Texas_Trilogy

YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN SOUTHEAST TEXAS

 …when the local news includes stories like two guys getting into a fight, and one of them stabbed the other with a power tool.  One time when I was there, a guy had gone down to Judice’s Market and stolen some boudain (a kind of Cajun sausage), and even that made the news.  Must have been a slow news day….  But I’m pretty sure that if I had shared this with that NYC psychiatrist, he would have thought I was making it up.

 HOUSTON TRAFFIC

One of my Facebook friends mentioned how horrid traffic can be in the Washington, DC, area.  Just to see how DC ranks with the rest of the US, I checked out the statistics and, unbelievably, of the top 10 cities, DC is not at the top of the list!  In fact, it just barely made the list—it’s #9!  Another thing that astounded me was that Houston didn’t even make the top 10 at all!!  This alone makes me doubt the validity of this particular list.  I was just in Houston, and the traffic was wretched!  But, on second thought, the thing that scared me the most was that folks were going well over 70 mph, with less than a car length between them.  I guess if you’re going 70 mph, that’s not really a traffic jam after all.  In fact, if all the drivers in Houston actually followed what all of us were taught in driver’s ed—which is to leave one car length between you and the car ahead of you for each 10 mph of speed—drivers in Houston wouldn’t even be able to get out of their driveways, because there’s just not enough road to allow that!

1. Los Angeles
2. Honolulu
3. San Francisco
4. Austin
5. New York
6. Bridgeport, Conn.
7. San Jose
8. Seattle
9. Washington, D.C.
10. Boston

Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/05/07/top-10-u-s-cities-with-the-worst-traffic/#ixzz2UOx3YI3m

 HOW BIG IS THE FRANKFURT AIRPORT?

I’ve been through this airport lots of times since 2002, and have always been overwhelmed with its size, so I thought I’d check out the statistics to see whether it’s just that I’m a country bumpkin and haven’t seen that many airports, or whether the sucker really is huge.  Well, I may be a country bumpkin, but, in fact, this thing is gargantuan!  The airport covers 136 acres.  It’s the 3rd busiest in Europe (after Heathrow and De Gaulle) and the 11th busiest worldwide.  In 2012, more than 57.5 MILLION passengers went through this airport, with 488,242 airplane movements (i.e., take-offs and landings – presumably at a 1:1 ratio).  It serves more international destinations than any other airport on the planet – 224 destinations within 113 countries.  You can truly come in at one gate and walk a mile before reaching your next gate.  So, when you arrive at Gate C-24 and see that your connecting flight leaves from Gate Z‑58, you’re really, really glad that you have 2 hours to get there, and are relieved to get there 30 minutes before boarding time (and this with the help of those moving sidewalks and walking just as fast as your 68-year-old legs can carry you).

 


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

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Nostalgic in Nederland – April 2013

YOU KNOW YOU’RE OLD when you get an invitation to your high school class’s 50th reunion.  Yep!  That would be 50 – as in half a century!  If you’ve been deluding yourself that you’re just middle-aged, this is where you have to finally face up to the fact that you’ve definitely, completely, and irrevocably made it to OLD age.  I mean, really – do you honestly think you’re going to live to be 136?

And, of course, having gone to the trouble to cross the pond, I felt obliged to make the most of it and make a grand tour through Texas and Louisiana, visiting a boatload of friends and family. ( I still can’t put those last 3 words together without thinking about MCI, which used to have a “Friends and Family” dialing plan, where you got a discount on calls made to other folks who used MCI as their long distance carrier.)   I managed to:

  • Spend a couple of nights visiting friends in Houston
  • Attend reunion events for a long weekend
  • Visit a cousin in Jefferson County
  • Visit cousins and friends in Kemah, TX
  • Visit family and friends in San Antonio, to include having a special week-end on the Riverwalk with cousins who came from Dallas and Virginia
  • Drive to Alexandria, LA, to see more of my cousins
  • Go to Baton Rouge to see another friend
  • Go back to Houston to visit even more cousins, to include spending the weekend at one cousin’s lake house.

So here are the basic statistics:  I spent 3 weeks, drove 2000 miles (without inflicting damage on persons or property), went to 2 states, 9 cities/municipalities, and saw 27 family members and 42 friends (33 of whom were at the reunion).

Here’s an unsolicited ad for the Ford Fusion.  I had not driven a care for almost 3 years, so you can imagine the fear and trepidation with which I approached the prospect of taking this trip alone (as my husband typically does all the driving when we travel).  Except for a few tense moments in Houston, I managed OK.  Even for the longest trip of all – from San Antonio to Alexandria, LA (437 miles) – I was very comfortable in this car.  The seat in my Volvo S80, which had more seat adjustments than I can recount, wasn’t this comfortable.

If you want to know what going to your high school class’s 50th reunion is like, just watch “Cold Case.”  It’s a detective story about a squad that just investigates cold cases.  During the course of the investigation, all the principals in the case – victims, witnesses, and perpetrators – morph back into what they looked like at the time of the crime.  So when you first see someone you haven’t seen if 50 years, it’s “Well, is this someone I should know or is it a spouse?”  Then you start recognizing people’s features and gradually they morph back into their younger selves.  Then you start trying to pull the names out of your brain.

Our class only had about 180 folks to start out with; we know that at least 31 are dead.  There may be others, but we’ve lost touch with some folks and, oddly enough, the high school reunion coordinator is typically NOT the one who gets notified first when someone dies.  Only 34 classmates came.  But it was very nice and comfortable.  We’re all long past trying to impress each other like we may have been at the 10th or 20th reunions and, for the most part, are just glad to be alive, enjoying life, visiting with everyone else, and re-hashing pleasant memories.   [Granted, I never felt like I fit in during high school and, for reasons unrelated to school, I have far more unpleasant memories of my life during those years than pleasant ones— but I had some good friends and had some pleasant times, so it was nice re-living those.]

The folks who put the reunion together did a wonderful job.  There are so many things to deal with – and so much that can go wrong – that it’s a miracle when it all comes together (not unlike planning a wedding).   I even won the prize for having traveled the farthest —a throw honoring our mascot, the Nederland Bulldogs.  One amusing thing about being from Nederland is that, whenever I try to speak German in Berlin, folks often ask me if I’m a Nederlanderin (i.e., a woman from the Netherlands).  Well, I guess I am!

2013 - April - NHS Bulldogs Throw

 I realized once again how fortunate I am, given some of the things my classmates have experienced – career-ending car wrecks, cancer and other life-threatening diseases, divorces, deaths of spouses, and the bitterest of all, loss of a child (something we ourselves just narrowly escaped, but, fortunately ‘almost’ only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades).  And yet folks just keep on keepin’ on, which is the bravest thing of all. The only way the reunion could have been better is if all of us had been alive and more of us had come.  I’m glad I went.

Finding my Daddy.  The funniest damned thing happened when I was in town for the reunion! On my way out of town, I stopped by the cemetery to pay respects to my Dad and step-mom. When I was driving into the cemetery, I passed the office, which had a sign saying that you could buy flowers there.  I figured I may as well do that.  Alas, you can only use fake flowers in this cemetery and the flowers they had available were both crappy and expensive.  Expensive would have been OK, but I couldn’t deal with the crappy part.  The lady told me that I could get them lots cheaper if I went down the street to the grocery store or Wal-Mart.  So I did.  When I came back, I wrote my Dad’s name on a slip of paper and gave it to her because I wasn’t 100% which mausoleum he was in.  She went to look him up and came back and said, “I’m sorry, but he’s not here.”  I replied, “I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop being dead and, if he had, I have every confidence that I’d be one of the first ones he’d let know about it.”  She offered to look again, but I told her that I was going to have lunch with my cousin and I knew she would know where he was.

Then I left to meet cousin Judy Kaye in the parking lot at Walgreen’s.  I drove into the parking lot and saw Judy Kaye and her huge white RV, and then drove around to park my car.  I got out of the car, with a fistful of fake yellow roses in my left hand, and went to the first large, white vehicle I saw, opened the passenger door, and said, “Where’s Daddy buried?”  Well, I kinda wished I had noticed that the person in the driver’s seat had a beard and was wearing a gimme cap before I opened my mouth.  Obviously he wasn’t cousin Judy Kaye.  I can only begin to imagine what he’s telling folks about this experience.  Maybe, “You won’t believe the line this ol’ broad used to try to pick me up down at the Walgreen’s!”  or perhaps, “I don’t think the security down at the funny farm is as good as it used to be.”

[By the way, if you don’t know what a gimme cap is, it’s a baseball cap with some company’s logo — most likely John Deere — because they used to give those things away. Folks would say, “Gimme one a them caps.”  Now, of course, you must PAY for the privilege of advertising stuff.]

Well, I don’t want to leave you hanging here about whether my Daddy just upped and left the cemetery on his own.  After I got into the RIGHT car, my cousin confirmed that I HAD been at the right cemetery.  After lunch, we went back to the cemetery.  It turns out that they had changed how they filed records on folks.  For some reason, they decided to file the records on folks buried in the ground in one place and the folks buried in the mausoleum in a different place.  The cemetery lady had looked only in the records for folks buried in the ground.  Daddy was in the mausoleum — he had been a plumber and had spent far too many hours working in the muck in Southeast Texas and so was determined that his butt was going to be DRY for all eternity.  In fact, he’s in the absolute TOP row in the mausoleum.  Alas, when I finally got there, I discovered that there was no vase affixed to his marker.  Since that would take time I didn’t have, and it’s unlikely that I’ll ever be back again, it seemed like a waste to go to the expense and trouble of installing one.  [Besides, spending money like that would have irritated my Daddy beyond all measure.]  So, since  cousin Judy Kaye’s parents were buried in that same cemetery (in the ground, with a vase), we put the flowers on their graves.

Gotta leave my husband more often.  I had a great time, but was certainly glad to get back home and sleep in my own bed, with my husband snoring beside me, and back to our son and his family.  I certainly expected to be glad to get back home, but there were some things I hadn’t expected – while I was gone, Harvey did a lot of things around the house to make some much-needed improvements.  After all, when I’m home, he spends so much time waiting on me hand and foot that he has little time for anything else.  I should leave him more often so he can catch up on stuff!

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 31:  July 13, 2012

HOW MANY WAYS CAN YOU BUY WINE?

Well, you can always buy wine by the bottle, or when you’re in a restaurant, you can also buy it by the glass.  And when you’re in the grocery store, you can buy it in a box.  But now there’s a new way – you can buy wine by the glass in a box.  Yep!  You know how sometimes the airlines serve you fruit juice in a plastic container with a little peel-off lid?  Well, this wine by the glass in a box comes in its very own plastic wine glass, with a little peel-off lid.  And you can buy them four to a box in the grocery store.  Nope!  Not making this up!!  It’s apparently of either UK or American origin, too, as the box is printed in English.  I am curious about one thing, though.  It’s hard enough to remove those peel-off lids from those little fruit juice glasses without spilling the juice; I’m pretty sure that peeling the lids off a thin plastic, stemmed glass will be an even greater challenge.  See? I’m not making this up!

 MY CONSOLATION PRIZE

Having had 3 monthly fare cards stolen, I’m now in the business of having to buy fare cards for individual trips.  So, yesterday, when I reached into the tray to retrieve my fare cards (if you buy 4 at a time, you get a little price break), what did I find?  An origami swan!  I rather like the idea of somebody just making these things and putting them in odd places, imagining the smiles finding them will elicit!  Of course, it could just be BVG’s way of saying, “Sorry about that policy of not replacing fare cards when they’re stolen—even when you have a police report of the theft—but here’s this little origami swan.  We hope that makes things better.”

WHY DOES THAT GUY HAVE A SHOWER CAP COMING OUT OF HIS BUTT?

Saw a guy on his bike and it sure looked like he had a shower cap coming out of his butt, with it flapping in the breeze (well, it was the shower cap that was flapping in the breeze, not his butt).  Upon further reflection, it was most likely a cover for a bike seat.  It’s not terribly pleasant, nor very cool, to hop onto a wet bike seat.  Extravagant folks pay about 20 Euros (something between $25 and $30 US) for what looks like a shower cap but is actually a cover for a bike seat.  This guy apparently has his affixed to the seat of his bike so that when he pulls it off to get on his bike, it somehow stays attached to the bike.  Most of the rest of us just use plastic bags, given that they’re readily available, cost only about 25 cents, and the real ones are likely to get stolen.

APPARENTLY MY GERMAN IS IMPROVING

Over the past couple of days, whenever I’ve tried to speak German, folks have asked me if I’m Dutch.  Alas, being compared to a Dutchman by a German is actually an insult.  However, at least they don’t immediately peg me as an American, which is certainly a step in the right direction.  I wonder if the miraculous improvement in my linguistic abilities has anything to do with my having been severely congested over these few days as the result of the near-lethal levels of pollen?  [Oh, and by the way, the German word for a person from Holland is ‘Nederlander’ – I wonder if having gone to high school in Nederland, Texas, makes me a ‘Nederlander.’]

THE PERFECT WORD

Just as English often has two (or more) words for the same thing, so does German.  For example, in English, ‘skunk’ and ‘polecat’ mean the same thing.  German also has two words for this animal.  It’s not surprising that one of those words is ‘Skunk’ but I like the other word better because it’s so descriptive—‘Stinktier’ – which translates literally as ‘stink animal’.  How cool is that?  Certainly makes more sense than ‘polecat’, doesn’t it?

 THE ERRANT CHRISTMAS TREE

 Today I saw another one of those things that makes you go ‘Hmmm….’  It had apparently once been a Christmas tree, judging by its shape and size.  Through some odd set of events, its dry, dead corpse currently finds itself affixed to the top of a light pole, hanging upside down.  One can only begin to imagine the offense it committed to warrant this punishment.  Having invented the Christmas tree, perhaps Germans hold their trees to higher standards that the rest of us and maybe this one just didn’t quite cut it, and was set out to serve as a warning to the others.

 COULD BE!!

Have you ever watched your pet, or your kid, do something [or happen upon evidence of them having done something] that makes you scratch your head and wonder WHY they’d do something like that?  Well, maybe there’s an explanation for all of William’s shenanigans, and perhaps Anna Johnson, Evie Fullingim’s  granddaughter, has figured it out.  Maybe he wants to win some sort of a prize and, in William Logic Land, doing these things will help him accomplish his objective.  It’s as good an explanation as any other!

 

 DINING AT CHEZ WEST

 I cooked for the first 20 years of our marriage, and then I got tired of it and Harvey more or less took over.  Now it’s my turn again.  I actually love to cook; I just didn’t have the time/energy/interest after working all day.  Now, of course, we’re retired and even though we stay pretty busy (making me wonder how we ever managed to fit in working for all those years), we have much more flexibility in how we manage our time (except for certain bursts of exceptional activity).  Consequently, I’ve gotten interested in cooking again.  More often than not, we have some delightful meals.  The sad part about some of the dishes I cook, however, is that we’ll never be able to have those exact same dishes again because I’ve started to cook pretty much like my Grandmother did – take some of this, stir it in with some of that, add a bit of milk until it looks right, add some more of this until it tastes right, cook it a bit, and serve it with whatever else you have around the house or are in the mood to eat.  So we came up with an idea for an exclusive dining experience.  I could have folks fill out a form where they’re required to tell me:

  • Any food allergies they have
  • Foods they absolutely hate
  • Foods they absolutely love
  • Spices they hate
  • Spices they love

 Then I fix them a surprise dinner within those parameters.  For example, the other night I had these things available:  fish, eggplant, rice, avocados, coriander, olives, lettuce, tomatoes (fresh) and pizza tomatoes (canned – which are fantastic to always have on hand, since they’re chopped, cooked, and have some herbs in them), tortillas, various oils (olive, pumpkin seed), and various spices (in this case, coriander, cumino, turmeric, and chilli pepper).  So I made fish and eggplant burritos!  Even if I make them again, they won’t be the same because I didn’t keep track of the proportions of the ingredients.

 So, welcome to Chez West, where tonight I’ll be serving Jaton’ Surprise #4,913!

 

 


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’

Bezirk [1] in Berlin© – 16:  October 5, 2011

 WHIMSEY

Pirate Party:   German political parties are so much more interesting than those in the States.  First, they have so many of them.  Second, some are especially interesting.  Take the Pirate Party, for example.  In recent elections, they won their first seats, with 9% of the vote – nothing to sneeze at.  Platform?  Free wireless Internet and public transportation and giving the vote to 15-year-olds, among other things.

JUST ANOTHER DAY ON THE STREETS OF BERLIN

  •  A juggler on a unicycle at a traffic light
  • A guy in a kilt (and all the associated regalia) – who was standing in the bike path and whom I almost ran over
  • A tattoo parlor named ‘B52 Tattoo’ {for those of you who are so old you’ve forgotten and for those of you who slept through your history classes, the planes used in the Berlin Airlift were B52s – and if you don’t know what the Air Drop was, Google it.}

 HARDEST WORKING MAN IN BERLIN

James Brown may have indeed been the hardest working man in show business, but he can’t hold a candle to a guy I saw today in terms of working hard, period. This guy was selling grilled bratwursts at Alexander Platz, a high-traffic tourist area.  He was there when we arrived at noon and was still there when he left at 7 pm.  OK, so working 7 hours selling brats doesn’t sound so extraordinary.  Except for this—he was selling them from a ‘body grill.’  You’ve see the guys who are like a one-man band, right?  Sitting on a stool, with drums on their backs, playing the percussion with foot pedals while playing a harmonica, or some similar combination.  Well this guy is selling brats from what can only be described as a ‘body grill.’  I couldn’t really figure it out but, imagine this if you will –there’s a contraption that fits over this guy’s shoulders.  In the front is a grill, where he’s cooking brats and toasting buns for them and on his back is something that I imagine is the fuel tank for the grill.  This guy is NOT even sitting on a stool—he’s standing up—ALL DAY—WEARING a grill and a fuel tank!  And this was some skinny young guy!!!  No, I am NOT making this up!!  Found out later from my son that someone who does this is called a ‘grill walker’ – and was the only job he thought he’d be able to find here, until he lucked out and got a kitchen job a MacDonald’s.  Yes – Mickey D’s is definitely a step UP from grill walker!

GO FIGURE!!

In some ways, I miss being a homeowner.  We have now been unable to shower for almost a week.  The handle that lets you switch from shower head to faucet broke.  We can bathe, but that getting in and out of the extremely deep but tediously narrow, slippery bath tub is pretty much an acrobatic feat that I approach with great fear and trepidation.  It’s not made any better with the eccentric positioning of all the bath tubs I’ve used in Germany – the bottom of the tub is at least 10 inches higher than the floor outside the tub.  Don’t know why – maybe it’s because every place I’ve bathed is old (like in a couple of hundred years old) and the plumbing has been retrofitted.

As a homeowner, I could have just called a plumber and, more often than not, had the problem fixed the same day.  As a tenant, however, unless I want to pay for it myself (and, perhaps, break the terms of the lease – no doubt a landlord doesn’t actually want tenants to do the repairs themselves), I have to wait until the landlord arranges the repairs.  First, there’s getting in touch with the landlord, whose real estate investments apparently allow him to take numerous extended vacations.  But we’re fortunate enough to have a neighbor who has the name and phone number of the plumber the landlord uses, so we went that route.  But by the time we figured all this out, it was the week-end.  On Monday, we called the guy and he came out the same day we called; he confirmed that it was indeed broken.  He always has to get the landlord’s permission to do a repair or replacement.  He contacted the landlord to discover that the fixture is under a warranty, which means we have to endure another process.  Otherwise, he could have replaced it for us on Monday.  So, by the time the landlord contacts the guy who is authorized to fix/replace it, it’s Tuesday and the guy comes out on Wednesday.  He then has to remove the fixture, which requires turning off the water, so he can return it and get a new one.  This process will take at least 3 hours, so I’ll be without the water meanwhile.  I’m sure I’ll find that extremely annoying at some point – giving painful truth to that old adage ‘You don’t miss your water until the well runs dry.’

With any luck, the problem will be resolved by the end of the day.

The most annoying aspect of this is that, because of the warranty, the plumber is going to install another fixture JUST LIKE THIS ONE!  The one that broke after only one year!  Just to rub salt in the wound, he noted that the fixture is French!  No wonder it’s a piece of junk!  So, here we are in Germany, home to some of the most well-made plumbing fixtures on the planet, and we get stuck with a French faucet!  Pardon me while I go tear my hair out!

OTHER REASONS TO LIKE BERLIN

  • It’s the 5th most bike-friendly city in Europe—www.copenhagenize.eu/index/about.html
  •  It’s got the cleanest air of any European city!  Partly because the use of bicycles has increased 13% (and I wonder how much my bike counts in that mix).

This ‘clean air business’ is a far cry from the place where I grew up – Southeast Texas.  In 1901, an oil well in Beaumont – Spindletop – hit big time.  It produced more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day (that’s 4.2 MILLION gallons), exceeding by far the productivity of any previously discovered well discovered.  Two huge oil companies, Gulf and Texaco, were formed to refine the oil, and were later joined by Mobile.  Soon Jefferson County’s air was full of SO2 (aka, sulfur dioxide), which smells of rotten eggs.  As the average relative humidity in that part of Texas approaches 100%, the SO2 has the opportunity to combine with H2O (more commonly referred to as ‘water’) to form H2SO4 (known as sulfuric acid), a highly corrosive, colorless, viscous liquid.  It has its uses, such as in lead-acid batteries, but has less than charming results when you breathe it.  My college was across the street from the Mobil Oil refinery, which generously offered the college land upon which to build the football stadium.  In fact, there were times when the fog in the stadium made it a little bit difficult to watch the game (and that was long before there were giant screen TVs in the stadium).  The sulfuric acid was a bit hard on nylon stockings, too.  That was back in the days when girls were forbidden to wear slacks on campus, and we all wore hose.  If you happened to brush up against a shrub in the morning, while it was still wet with dew, that ‘dew’ was actually sulfuric acid and, before you knew it, your hose practically turned to ribbons the next time you bent your knee.  {And the folks in Redmond gave me another chuckle just now; Word grammar check wanted me to change ‘bent’ here to ‘bet.’  I’m trying to think of a situation in which betting one’s body parts would come up in conversation with sufficient frequency to warrant a rule in Word grammar check that resulted in the recommended construction.}

Folks were more than a little proud of their ‘black gold’ and whenever you complained of the smell of rotten eggs, your Daddy would invariably tell you, “Child, that’s just the smell of money.”  For some reason, the folks in charge of such things even apparently considered it worthy of including in materials normally used to promote tourism.  I found this post card in a hotel in Beaumont in the 1980s.

  

Beaumont Refinery

 

 Judging from the cars, this photo had been taken maybe 50 years earlier.  This simple piece of paper gave rise to several questions.  First, why was such an old post card still available?  Was it that nobody had ever bought it and the hotel never considered weeding out products that didn’t sell?  [And I don’t think that particular hotel was even there 50 years ago.]  OR was it because it was such a great seller that they just kept reprinting it?  More importantly, how could anyone think that this photo would entice folks to visit Beaumont and spend their tourist dollars there?  Or, alternatively, was it intended to keep tourists away?  After all, this is a place that declined the opportunity to have a world-class port (leaving it to Houston to build a 100-mile-long intra-coastal canal where it developed a port).  Jefferson County also passed on the chance to have a Six Flags Amusement Park (presumably because it would draw a lot of strangers looking to spend money) in favor of a contract prison (a place where strangers would be kept under lock-and-key).

 The other substance than ‘enhanced’ our air quality was DDT.  In a place plagued with mosquitoes, DDT was most welcome.  When the trucks came through our neighborhoods spraying DDT to beat the band, one of our pastimes was to follow it, running barefoot on the shell streets and immersing ourselves in the DDT fog.  Alternatively, if your street was paved, you might follow the truck while riding your bike.  In either case, unlike Mr. Clinton, we did indeed inhale.

 Wonder if the DDT and the sulfuric acid have anything to do with the fact that, with the exception of one kid killed in Viet Nam and another killed in a car wreck, most of my dead classmates died of cancer.  Wonder how this might compare with kids who grew up in Berlin (except for the unfortunate fact that folks in Europe smoke far more than folks in the US – but that’s starting to change).

 By the way, if you have the vaguest interest in how life was in Jefferson County in the 1950s, read The Liar’s Club by Mary Kerr.  She pretty much nailed it (and, in so doing, apparently earned her mother’s undying ire).

 THINGS THAT MAKE ME GO ‘HMMMMMMMMMM’

  • Sudanese restaurant, with a sign stating that the place has menus in English and Spanish.  English I understand; it’s fundamentally the default language.  I speak Urdu; you speak Inuit; if we’re gonna chat at all, it’s gonna be in English.  But Spanish?  Are there really that many Spanish-speaking Sudanese food aficionados in Berlin?
  • Two guys standing outside the market hall, a building that houses what would otherwise be an outdoor market, on a 6-day-a-week basis, as opposed to the once-a-week basis of most other markets.  (For those of you familiar with the DC area, think ‘Eastern Market.’)  Each guy was just standing there holding one of two identical car doors, painted bright turquoise.  They were there when I went in and were still there when I came out.  So, are they hoping that someone is going to walk/drive by who needs 2 turquoise doors for the particular make/model of car?  Or, given that Berlin is such an artsy place, was it just another case of performance art?

 THINGS THAT WARMED MY HEART

  •  Curb Service.  From a structural perspective, Berlin is not particularly accommodating to the disabled.  For example, accessing many apartment buildings and stores (and other places of business) requires going up at least one step.  This is hardly wheel-chair friendly.  Today when I was at the corner drug store, I saw a lady in a motorized wheel chair stop on the sidewalk in front of the store and motion to the clerk at the cash register.  The clerk came to the door, the lady told her what she wanted, and the clerk went and got it for her, and the lady paid for it.  This seemed to be standard procedure, with the lady being a regular customer.  Although the architecture may not be particularly accommodating, even total strangers are.  I can’t count the times I’ve seen total strangers help the proverbial little old lady down the stairs to the U-Bahn, or help a mom carry a kid-filled stroller or baby carriage down the stairs.
  • Donations to the homeless.  Germans are big on recycling.  The larger grocery store chains have a machine to make it easy to return your bottles and get a receipt.  One of these stores offers something extra – there’s a contribution box next to the machine where you can donate your receipt.  Presumably, the store will take the cash it would otherwise have returned to you and provide food for a homeless shelter.  [I’m choosing to believe that the store doesn’t actually just destroy those receipts and keep the money it would have otherwise given customers for the recycled bottles.]

 HOW WEIRD IS THIS??!!

Our son sees a lot of the city—he’s a bike courier.  Otherwise, it’s entirely possible that this particular piece of graffiti may have come and gone without his noticing it.  On the side of a building there’s a photo-quality piece of graffiti—nothing particularly weird about this, as there are many other places that have such things.  The weird part is that it happens to be a black and white photo of our son!  The building is about 5-6 storeys tall and his photo is at least 2 storeys tall—and it’s just a head shot.  So often you see something that someone else thinks looks like you, and although you can see the resemblance, you don’t think it looks exactly like you.  In this case, Steve DOES think it looks exactly like him (as do his parents).  So, you wonder:  Where did this guy get a photo of Steve?  Why did he decide to use it in this graffiti?  And, of course, the continuing question I have about these things is – HOW did they do it?  The graffiti is ‘tagged’ but, of course, folks tend to remain anonymous, since it’s illegal to post such things without the building owner’s consent.

 God, I love GOOGLE!  It turns out that this wasn’t a photo of our son at all!  Just a guy who looks remarkably like him (AND dresses like him, down to the hat and scruffy beard)!  It’s part of a Levi’s ad.  Don’t know how our son is going to take being mistaken for a guy who’s famous for doing street karaoke, though.

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNde8dYIP8I


[1] ‘Bezirk’ is German for ‘neighborhood.’