Birthday Suit

Whitey Tightie UnderwearOne Thursday evening, I brought my then-love interest Amy home to dine with my parents in Southlake. Because they were early-rising farm folk, my mom and dad both went to bed soon after dinner, leaving Amy and I to our own devices.

The two of us retreated to the den and sat in front of the boob tube. Fortunately it was far from “must-see-TV” that night, so we turned our attention to one another instead. Copious amounts of making-out ensued.

It’s important to note our positions. We both sat on the floor in the middle of the living room. I faced the large opening between this room and the main hallway connecting all the others in the house. Amy faced the other way, towards the back wall.

As we were macking down, I spied my father walking down the hallway. He was heading towards the kitchen — completely naked.

For as long as I could remember, my dad has slept in his birthday suit. And since we were mere peasants in the house for which he is king, it’s my guess that he didn’t feel a need to slap on some trunks before strolling around his realm. Dad must have been tired, because he lumbered past, scratching himself and lightly groaning without acknowledging our presence.

Unfortunately, it was at this point we were hitting the sexual equivalent of the 12-minute pause in conversation. Amy pulled back to relax, stare dreamily into my eyes, or something. A light noise emanated from the kitchen, and she turned her head to investigate.

Desperate to avoid the horror of having to tell people that we broke up because my nature-boy of a father, I jumped to action without hesitation. Reaching up with both my hands, I forcibly turned her head to face me and proceeded to lock lips once again. The last thing I saw before unleashing my romantic fury were her eyes grow as big as saucers. With tongue, suction, and all, I was determined to keep her attention completely on me for as long as it took for my father to vamoose.

Three freakin’ minutes later, complete with rooting for whatever midnight snack he was driven to consume, dad eventually returned to his bedroom and Amy was eventually able to breathe. As we resumed enough of a distance that we could actually see one another, it was obvious that Amy was stunned. She stared at me, slack-jawed, one eyebrow arched in disbelief, her expression unbroken by the slow rise of her hand to wipe the drool dribbling from her mouth.


Nipple Ring

A couple of years into college, I got a big itch that I just couldn’t scratch — I desperately wanted to travel and see the world.

It seemed that everyone around me was spreading their wings. My friends Terrell and “Grandma” had just completed a roadtrip that took them throughout United States and Canada. My ex-girlfriend Megan was somewhere in the Alps, playing her violin deep in the land of Mozart & Strauss. And Katie, the girl I was seeing at the time, disappeared at the height of our relationship in order to enjoy a European holiday, leaving me to pass the days wondering what things she was seeing that I wasn’t.

It took Katie many years to save for her trip. She would put away a paycheck here, a Christmas gift there, until it added up to the notable sum that allowed her to travel in comfort for well over a month. Every so often, she would send me postcards. One from Italy, with its sun-drenched image, seemed otherworldly and would make my heart ache in ways I never knew it could. The trip changed the way she looked at the world. It also changed the way she looked at me, as she broke up with me immediately after her return.

Although my soul yearned to travel, financial means to do so were themselves wanting. My parents were putting me through college at the time, but paying for my books and classes were all they could muster. It was left up to me to cover food and boarding, and when my mom & dad went through a financial crisis I soon found myself struggling to stay in school. I went from fifteen hours a semester down to nine, from working part-time to full-time, and my dream took a backseat to just getting by.

Every postcard I received from a friend overseas kicked up my wanderlust until I felt like I would die. Although I earned very little, I supressed the urge to spend that meager amount, and instead vowed to save ten percent of everything that came my way. Working extra hours, specifying cash as gifts, moving up to better jobs, selling CDs, and donating plasma — everything I could spare went into a savings account whose purpose was to help me achieve my destiny. It would be four long years before I was able to step foot outside my country and live my dream of seeing Europe.

Man, I wanted a tattoo something fierce!

Everyone else in art school had one except for me. Perpetual indecisiveness, coupled with a fear of making a wrong decision that I couldn’t erase, kept me from settling on a design. I would visit tattoo parlors across the state, browse around books of amazing art, then walk away. I attempted to use my own artistic talents, but my creativity dried up like an empty ink well. Nothing but 100% assurance that I was making the right choice would ever make my tattoo a reality.

Some of my inked neighbors at Bruce Hall offered some advice: Find some black-and-white drawings that I like, tape them up around my bathroom mirror, then look at them each day, morning and night. Then, if several weeks passed and I was still fascinated by what I saw, signs were favorable that I wouldn’t be disappointed with having one of the images as a permanent tattoo.

Their advice was great, but many months passed without any results. Weeks of seeing the drawings around my mirror began to annoy me, and soon they were all in the trash. My skin remained tabula rasa.

It was around this time I met Wade. Wade was a “dude”, a skinny stick topped with a shaggy mop of blonde hair. He had a habit of walking around in various states of nudity — most days, it meant only being shirtless, although there were times when his exposed bits brushed up against a misdemeanor.

Upstairs, Wade was a couple cans short of a six-pack. Catching him in any complicated loop of thought or questioning would cause him to pause and stare into space, a sign that his mind was in the middle of performing a reboot. He was that unique blend of personality whose silliness could make you enjoy your job as his resident assistant, but who kept reminding you of that job as he constantly broke the rules.

One day, in my room two doors down, I could hear amazingly powerful music coming from Wade’s room. I grabbing my resident assistant badge and clipboard then headed down the hall to do my duty. Wade opened up the door and performed the routine actions of turning down the stereo, apologizing for the noise, and handing me his ID, all without me having to ask.

From the waist up, Wade was his usual naked self except for one accessory. On his left nipple hung a gleaming ring of surgical steel. I had written him up just the week before and it wasn’t there. “Dude, where did that come from?”, I said.

In his surfer drawl, he said, “Man, it’s brand-new! Got it at a party last night! Doesn’t it kick ass?!”

I had to admit, yes. Yes, it did.

I had spent the past year working as a student assistant, a step above my old position of resident assistant, being groomed for continued advancement within the profession of student administration. That same year had seen me slave away in an art studio, building up my portfolio during the final stretch before the senior review, a tense and grueling process where my professors gave the thumbs-up that was prerequiste to graduation. Such activity took its toll on my immune system, taking me down in mid-Spring with a mild case of pneumonia. I recovered, passed the review, and graduated college. Now was time to enjoy the culmination for such an amazing year — it was time to take the trip to Europe which had obsessed me for so long.

For close to four years, I had been dutifully forwarding any extra money I stumbled upon to my childhood savings account in Minnesota. Far away from temptation and spending urges, the money waited for the day it would be withdrawn, convert it into colorful European banknotes, and like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed spread it amongst the Old World and sow some memories.

The trip would begin almost immediately after graduation and span nearly a month. I wasn’t going alone — my best friend Jim and mutual friend Monica would be making the journey. Flying first to England, we were to wander about, stumbling into odd corners of the countryside between Edinburgh, Salisbury, London, and the cliffs of Dover. After several days, we would travel to Paris and spend the final two weeks of our vacation cheering on the United States Men’s National Soccer Team in their valiant struggle against the rest of the planet during that year’s World Cup.

The timing worked well, except for one problem — at the same time as my vacation were several weeks of hall director interviews, which didn’t commence until after I was overseas. Being a hall director was the next step in my career path, a position where I would be given the responsibility to guide a community of nearly 500 students and employees. I had been lucky to serve under a great role model of a hall director — Jim. I admired not only his care for students, but also his resilience in the face of departmental politics. If I could be half the professional he was, I felt I had the chance to be a good hall director. Many people I worked with felt the same and were excited to know I was interviewing.

The selection committee hoped to complete their work and hire candidates before I returned. Knowing my circumstances, they were flexible enough to conduct my interview before I left. Although the hiring deadline occurred halfway through my trip, Kathy, the head of the selection committee, took down my overseas email, phone, and address and promised to tell me the results directly. I did my interview, and immediate feedback was that I did quite well. Everyone said the job was mine to lose.

Bookended by college graduation before and my future job afterwards, this trip would likely be my last time to relax before I was to grow up and join the world of professionals. Now, it was time to go see the world…finally!

It was the final week of our European trip. The British isles were far behind us, and Paris surrounded us with all its romantic glory. Soon I would be home then, if all went well, working as a hall director.

For the entire past month, we basked in the calming side-effect of being completely inaccessible using modern means. While in England, we stayed at tiny bed-and-breakfast establishments where one considered themselves lucky just to have a bathroom, let alone an internet connection. Our accommodations were slightly more stable in France, where we stayed at the same hotel for two straight weeks, giving us access to at least had a telephone. Sure, there was the pesky little matter of a language barrier between us and the locals, but it wasn’t anything that couldn’t be cured by some reciprocal rudeness on our part.

Besides simplicity, there was also mystery to our situation. Noone back home knew exactly where I was on this planet except for Kathy, the head of the hall director selection committee. Before I left Denton, I had explained the above-mentioned positional chaos I would be swimming in and provided her with my hotel’s telephone number. Since her committee planned to make their decisions during the time I was to be in Paris, the timing of this portion of our trip would work out quite well.

My interview rarely came to mind while in England, but arriving in Paris heralded the final stage of my vacation and made it seem very real. Like a kid who had saved up box tops and mailed them off for a skeleton key advertised in a comic book, I eagerly returned to the hotel each night hoping there would be a message from Kathy containing my expected congratulations. But the days passed, and eventually there were just two more days before it was time to return home. Kathy hadn’t called yet, and I began to fret. Did I give her the wrong phone number? Had something gone wrong back home?

Monica, a member of the “younger generation”, was squirming from lack of connection to the outside world. She had an itch that could only be scratched by plugging back into the internet, even if just for a little while. I thought it would be a good idea to check my email to see if Kathy tried to reach me there. So we flipped through our well-worn travel guide, found a cyber-cafe, and hopped in a cab.

By the time we reached our destination, it was nighttime and the famed lights of Paris were glowing all about us, giving everything a creamy cast and dramatic contrast. Like most of the city, the cafe was a mixture of old and new — dark mahoghany tables and incandescent lights mingled with the sleek computers and glowing monitors, all of which was blanketed in a murmur of various accents. Luckily, the manager-on-duty spoke a little English and we were soon able to secure a single computer for the two of us.

Being the gracious southern gentleman my momma raised me to be, I let Monica check her email first. When it was my turn, I sat at the computer then had to remember how to log in, it had been so long! Once I connected and opened up my email client, my inbox was clogged with messages. In the sea of subject lines, one quickly caught my attention — it was titled “Please welcome our new Hall Directors”. Just seeing those words made my heart skip in excitement.

Then it stopped cold when I read email itself.

The email was from Kathy. It began with flourishes of speech on behalf of the committee, about how hard it was to choose from so many qualified candidates, etc. I scrolled down past all of this to the heart of the matter. There it was, the list of new hires, and my name was not on it.

I reread the email to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I looked through the rest of my inbox to see if there were any other messages from Kathy, which there weren’t. This couldn’t be possible, I thought. People told me that I was a sure thing. What went wrong? What did I miss? And why didn’t Kathy call to tell me the results directly, like she promised?

Drowning in a sea of jumbled thoughts, my brain began to swim inside of my skull. I felt hot and clammy, and the stuffiness of the cafe seemed to increase like an preheating oven. I got up to head outside and get some fresh air, but my knees decided to rebel and buckle beneath me. I was beginning to faint. Monica popped up to grab me before something happened. She had read over my shoulder and was an eyewitness to the shattering of my life. She eased me back down into the chair and tried to calm me down.

And there I was — an American in Paris, flat broke and jobless.

After I came back to the states in mid-June, not much time passed before my now-former coworkers started treating me like a social pariah. Much work was needed to prepare for the upcoming fall semester, and they didn’t have time to feel sorry that I wasn’t part of their staff. Once jovial buddies were now walking on eggshells around me, afraid to bring up the sore subject of my rejection, and I began to feel I didn’t belong. While Jim did his best to not be a part of that group, he had a new assistant hall director to bring up to speed. Besides, it was in his best interest to not show too much favoritism towards his best friend’s plight.

Thanks to my month-long European adventure, my financial situation was dire. I had blown much of my money overseas because of an assumption that a job was waiting for me upon my return.

During the 13 hour flight home, I passed time practicing some math. I kept performing the following equation over and over in my mind, hoping that its outcome would somehow change by the hundredth time: what is the result when you add “Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting” with “only fifty bucks to my name” and “no qualifications for any job in the real world”? At the ripe old age of 25, I was facing what all artists brush up against at least once during their lifetime: total destruction. If something didn’t change, that same fifty dollars was the only thing preventing me from sinking into depression and fear.

Word had gotten around to Kathy that I was back in Denton, and she wanted to meet with me to personally explain the hall director selection committee’s reasons for passing on my candidacy. While I agreed to meet with her the next day, I wasn’t expecting much.

The night before the meeting, I was sharing a drink with my friends Natalie and Annabelle. Natalie was a quallty buddy during that rough time, with one foot in the Department of Housing and the other firmly grounded in the “outside world”. This meant that I could trust her to listen and understand my plight. Also, she was buying that night, so all the better.

Beer lubricated my logic enough that I came up with a crazy idea. What difference did make whether I had $50 or nothing to my name, so why not go ahead and blow it all? Then I’d truly be an artist: dead broke and on the path to destitution. Somehow I thought of Wade, my old resident years ago, and that the idea of having a nipple ring never left my mind. I also knew that Natalie and Annabelle had been thinking of getting their belly buttons pierced. “All of us should get something pierced right now!” I said.

So down we immediately went to Oak Lawn, to the piercing pagoda known as Obscurities. While browsing the display cabinets for an appropriate bauble, a heavily-tattooed employee asked if I needed any help. To this dude I bared my soul and told him the whole story of the past few weeks, including how I was down to my last few bucks and wanted to blow it here tonight. Fair enough, he said as he agreed to make whatever I had left the price for that evening’s work.

All four of us went into a back room. I took off my shirt and laid down on the table. The slight draft took care of massaging my nipples into glass-cutters. With a Sharpie, the dude drew little black dots on opposite sides of my left-side nipple. Then he produced a thin needle, which had a 14-gauge ring of surgical steel threaded onto it. He lightly placed its sharp end against a dot. With a calmness befitting a true surgeon, he quietly and swiftly shoved the needle through one side of my nipple and out the other.

There wasn’t any pain. In its place was my breath literally being taken away, as I felt my flesh collapse to the sensation of being stabbed. Like a crusty French bread, my nipple initially resisted the needle’s pressure. But like a Dutch dike, it gave up and allowed passage, the power of the thrust being like a hot knife through butter. It was over almost as quickly as it began, and the dude was cleaning up his tools before my brain even began to register it.

While I was still soaking in adrenaline, he asked me to hop up and check myself out. I walked over to the mirror, took in the sight before me, and found that I couldn’t stop grinning. If only Wade could see me now. Natalie stepped up, with shock and awe etched into her face. “Holy shit, dude!” she said. “You got a ring through your nipple!”

I had to admit, yes. Yes, I did.

When I awoke the next day, euphoria and adrenaline had been replaced by equal measures of pain and puss.

The dude who pierced my nipple had explained the maintenance required to promote swift healing. Every morning, I must massage a fragrance-free antibacterial soap around my piercing, then turn the ring both clockwise and counter-clockwise to work sudsy goodness throughout the inside. On top of that, four times a day I must marinate my nipple in a painful solution of warm water and sea salt, which was most easily accomplished by lying on the bed and holding a plastic cup firm enough against my chest to prevent drips. Lots of details, yes, but all I could think about that morning was the throbbing in my chest and conclude, “I suppose there’s no easy way to take a self-inflicted stab wound.”

Salinating my vestigal organs would need to take a back seat, as that morning I was scheduled to meet with Kathy and learn why I was passed over by the hall director selection committee. I wasn’t looking forward to it. In fact, I expected the meeting to be nothing more than a kick in the crotch. Sure, I would learn why I wasn’t hired, and perhaps the lessons I learned would help me before the next time I interview for a job. But anything Kathy said couldn’t change the fact that I was now officially broke, a state of being which can only be measured by my recent venture to Sack-n-Save and balking at the thought of paying a buck for only 6 bricks of ramen! Nevertheless, I got cleaned up and went to meet my destiny.

I walked over to Crumley Hall, where Kathy lived and worked as hall director. She was a person of boundless energy, so much so that it crackled out of her every gesture, smile, and word. So much jittery intensity radiated from her that we often joked that she was a “crack baby”. Before I had left for Europe, Kathy and I had a cordial relationship. Now I was angry and wanted answers to how my professional life had become so derailed.

Kathy had wanted to meet with me more than I did with her. As head of the selection committee, she was privy to the discussions on each candidate, and depending on the outcome she had the pleasure or burden of being the messenger. It was her email that floored me in that Parisian café. Kathy started our meeting with an unprompted apology for the way things were handled. She had tried to reach me in Paris yet couldn’t. The committee couldn’t wait for me to return, as other candidates, their future staff, and the entire campus community needed to know who was hired. She had to send out the email that almost knocked me to the floor. But Kathy didn’t want to send a separate email to me explaining what happened — she (rightly) felt that I deserved to hear such answers face-to-face.

I learned why I wasn’t selected, and the news was hard to swallow. Despite my creativity, energy, people-skills, and record of hard work, the committee felt I was lacking in maturity. In their eyes, I wasn’t ready for the responsibility of leading a building of 400 residents and two dozen staff members. In other words, I needed to grow up. The whole time Kathy spoke, I winced as my shirt brushed against the raw nipple.

Kathy then surprised me by informing me of her transfer to West Hall. Located on the far west side of UNT and barely a part of campus, West Hall was a traditional discipline problem because of its all-male freshman population. Kathy had volunteered to transfer there and take up the challenge of turning around the hall’s culture. To do this, she needed two strong assistant hall directors, which were already in place. One of them would be Norman, a former resident assistant at that same building. The other would be Don, an outside hire from Pennsylvania whom I hadn’t met yet. To round out her team, Kathy needed a competent person to serve as front desk clerk and whip the administrative operations into shape.

It was then that she offered me the job.

I was speechless, so Kathy explained her reasoning. In her eyes, I was on the cusp of being ready for the hall director position. Being her desk clerk would allow me to stay connected to the Department of Housing. If I took this job and applied the lessons I just learned, she felt the next time I was interviewed by the selection committee they would be foolish not to hire me. So despite a committee of my peers feeling I wasn’t up to snuff, this one person had faith in my potential and wanted to makes others see it.

I was so happy that I felt like crying. I accepted the position. That evening, I drove down to Southlake to have dinner with my parents. And thanks to Kathy, I had some good news to bring home.

After the meal, we did our customary hanging out at the dining room table, my parents enjoying post-dinner smokes and drinks while I downed a beer. We were talking about all sorts of subjects when the topic drifted to the youth of today. And out of the blue, my dad pontificated to me, “Better not get your ear pierced. I don’t want any of that faggot shit around the house.”

My heart was racing! Surely he was making a random comment, right? Dad had no idea of what I had done the previous evening. And he never would.

My secrecy on that topic was an interesting analogy to the way I changed because of the last month’s events. Somewhere between my graduation and now, I lost some measure of my trust in others. Before I left the States, I trusted those who told me that interviews were a formality and that I was assured of the job. I trusted co-workers until they treated me like an outsider upon my return. And although I wanted to trust Kathy, I felt that I was best served by keeping my cards close to my vest for the rest of my life. Sure, I’d take her job, work hard, and improve myself. And the next time hall director interviews came around, I would show them what they missed out on first time. And maybe, if they’re lucky, I’ll take that job, too. Any every time I looked at my nipple ring, I thought that I wasn’t about to fail ever again in my life.

Right before Halloween, my shift at the West Hall front desk was just about to end when the telephone rang.

It was Tara, an old friend and head of the current hall director selection committee. Earlier in the month, I had once again gone before that group and bared my soul through another round of interviews. Unlike my previous experience applying for that job, I didn’t go into–or come out of–that process with anywhere near the same level of confidence. Tara promptly got down to business and asked, “How would you like to be a hall director?”

I had been waiting for most of the year to be asked that question. Thankfully, she couldn’t see the goofy grin that was breaking out on my face. I responded yes, that would be great. As she talked, I could hear in her voice the pride of being the one to share such news with me. Tara went on to tell me that I would start in December, and that I would be staffed at Bruce Hall, working under its hall director Jim. The latter news was surprising. Although Jim was having issues with his current assistant, a recently-hired co-worker whose performance had been underwhelming, for me to be staffed there meant they were being reassigned or let go.

Although I had to wander a professional purgatory for the past semester, it was worth it. I had grown in many ways, learned new perspectives, and met many new friends. And I would reap multiple rewards: confirmation from my co-workers that I was good enough to be one of them, a return to my favorite dormitory, and working once again with my best friend.

We were getting the band back together!

It was hard for me not to smile.

Election Night

2000 Election Night Party in Austin
On November 7, 2000, Election Day, I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my father calling to see if I had plans to attend George W. Bush’s big election party, which was being held that evening on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

At the time, I was employed at the University of Texas-Austin, putting me into close physical proximity to Governor Bush during his presidental run. If all went according to his plan that night, the grounds of the Capitol would be the epicenter of a grand old party.

Rainy Night in Austin 2000The newspaper earlier that day had done a report on the celebration and that it was free to attend, but I hadn’t too much thought into it beyond that. The weather forecast called for a clear cold night with temperatures well below 50 degrees F, so I was hesitating. Dad insisted that I should go, as life would present few other opportunities for a youngster such as myself to be part of history as it occurred. Since the words “historical” and “free admission” are words of equal magic to my soul, I agreed to attend. I called my sister Micha to invite her, that she should dress warmly, and meet me downtown after work.

Micha and I met up and together we walked to the capitol. The winter sun was setting, and the night quickly became chilly. Since I hadn’t anticipated going out that night, the only warm clothing I was wearing was my green University of North Texas light jacket. Thankfully we were moving briskly enough that we didn’t feel cold.

Once we neared downtown, the streets were becoming congested with long queues of people. We noticed that everyone in line was holding some sort of ticket. The nearest person I asked confirmed that they were tickets for admission. I said to him, “The newspaper said this event was free.”

“Yes,” replied the gentleman, “but you still need a ticket.”

Looks like the Austin American-Statesman dropped the ball on that one.

I asked him where he got his ticket, and he said it came courtesy of the local Republican Party office, which was nowhere nearby.

Micha took the initiative and dusted off her feminine powers of cuteness in an attempt to sweet-talk the security guards into sneaking us in. When that tactic failed miserably, I used my masculine powers to ask other people where we might get tickets. After a few tries, I discovered that some people had gotten their tickets at the Federal Building on 8th Street, about three blocks away.

Without hesitation, the two of us rushed over to the Federal Building. We soon arrived at a dark, empty office building whose front door was propped open with a rolled-up Austin Chronicle. We walked inside and encountered a handful of people who told us they found their tickets up in Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s office. Since we couldn’t find a building directory in the sim lobby, Micha and I began a methodical search of the complex one floor at a time. Upstairs in a dark elevator landing illuminated only by emergency exit signs, we found the prize: a plain cardboard box of tickets sitting in the shadows outside of Senator Hutchinson’s Austin office.

Taking a moment to gather our thoughts and breath, Micha said, “You know, it really was a pain in the butt to find these.” I understood where she was going with that. Instead of taking the two tickets that we needed, I grabbed the entire box and we rushed to the State Capitol.

As we reapproach the admission line, we see tons of people milling about in despair because they themselves don’t have tickets. Micha and I each grabbed handfuls of tickets, spread them out in our hands like Japanese fans, and like scalpers yelled, “Tickets!”

We were instantaneously mobbed.

Much like the climatic scene of “Trading Places” when desperate stockbrokers couldn’t get enough of what Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd had that they didn’t, the two of us were surrounded by the ticketless.

Left and right, all we could see were open palms pressing against our personal space, clamoring for our booty.

As Micha and I handed out tickets to people who were lost without admission like I was just moments before, we thought to ourselves, “Now we’re going to heaven!”

The commotion we started with the giveaway attracted the attention of two members of the Austin Police, who were approaching to investigate. Seeing this, we dropped the box, tossed bunches of tickets up in the air, and snuck away. We hopped in line and eventually made our way into the party.

And what a party it was!

To the north was the Texas State Capitol, a magnificent building of Marble Falls pink granite that is unlike any other such building in the United States. This evening, it glowed like an earth-bound moon in the dark November night, thanks to the reflections of camera flashes and camcorder lights. Laser beams and colored beams lazily tracked left and right across its facade. Directly facing the Capitol was a six-story tall grandstand of modern media — little skyboxes each filled with a camera, a light, and an anchorperson, all there to report on what may turn out to be a historical evening.

As we admire the setup and spectacle, I am approached by a middle-aged man who points at my UNT jacket and asks, “Did you go to school in Denton?” I said yes, and he identified himself as Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, which is published near my old college town. Mr. Kennedy asks if he can interview me, since a former Denton resident living in Austin walking about Dubya’s big party seems like a good story.

First he gathered some information: my name, how old I was, the same information for my sister, etc. “Who did you vote for today?” he asks me. I reply that I voted for Al Gore.

He turns to Micha and asks her the same question. My sister, a lifelong Democrat the whole time I’ve known her, says, “Bush.”

My eyes grow wide and I explain, “What?! You did not!” It was my assumption all along that she would vote for Gore. She’s perturbed by my reaction and says sharply, “Yes, I did!” then proceeds to nail me in the arm with a punch that means, “Mind your own business.”

Mr. Kennedy, obviously curious as to what he started with his simple question, continues the interview. He asks me why I voted for Gore, and I provide a long, detailed answer of the difficulty of that day’s decision, but that I ultimately voted for Gore because of his stances on Social Security, the environment, and his previous record of reducing government waste. My reasonings were very long-winded, nuanced, and sound.

When asked the same question, Micha simply says, “He spoke at my graduation ceremony and seemed like a nice man.” That was it. No exploration of policy, opinion of his competency to hold the most-powerful elective office on the planet. Just that he’s nice. That’s what girls say about dudes they don’t want to date, not people who are given a briefcase of nuclear launch codes.

The floodgates between Micha and I are now fully open, and we begin to loudly argue about the merits of our choices. As the verbal barrages sling back and forth, Mr. Kennedy is documenting everything for his article that publishes the next morning. The next afternoon, I am getting phone calls from my parents that read the Star-Telegram wanting to know what the heck was going on.

After things settled down between us, we made our way into the crowd which was milling about in front of a giant Jumbotron screen. On the TV was a map of the United States, where the states were being shaded red and blue as the polls slowly started to close east to west. From time to time, famous G.O.P. members would flash up on the screen and be greeted by wild applause. In between such appearances were snippets of live CNN broadcasts calling the states based on exit polling. Whenever a state went red, the plaza shook with thunderous yells of approval. Should a state go blue, no amount of amplification on the Jumbotron would allow the broadcast to overcome the cacophonous boos emitted by the audience. Micha and I each cheered and jeered in our own fashion during each of these moments.

Since we were standing and not moving, we began to feel the night’s chill. It was getting cold enough that we felt like leaving soon, but we didn’t want to leave before everything was over and an announcement on the election’s outcome was made. So we waited. And waited. And waited. By the time 12:30am came around and everything was still up in the air in Florida, Micha and I finally decided to leave. “Let’s go home,” we said. “After all, we’ll be able to see who won in the morning.”

How naive we were.

Indecisive Election Night 2000 in Austin

Photo credits: Austin American-Statesman

November and December

Honking GooseOver the weekend, I attended a birthday party for Arro, my friend Reece’s oldest son. Although the celebration had a Harry Potter theme and every child was given a magic wand and glasses, the most popular party favor by far proved to be the paper horns given to everyone. Within seconds of receipt, the hills were alive with the sounds of annoying honks, as if a gaggle of 6-year-old geese had just flew into the room. While retreating to the far corner of the room with the other adults and circling our wagons, I recalled the following.

When he was a kid, my father and his brothers lived on a chicken farm near Austin. I grew up on a diet of stories about hard work, long hours, and revenge–from carting wheelbarrows of chicken shit for sale downtown as fertilizer, to their efforts to organize “chicken parades.” According to my father, a “chicken parade” is easy to orchestrate. Simply, take a piece of raw bacon tied to a long string, and then toss it in the middle of a circle of hens. One of them will quickly snap it up and swallow it whole. Since chickens poop what they eat within a matter of minutes, out the other end would come the bacon and string. Another bird would see the bacon and scarf it themselves, repeating the cycle. Eventually, all of the chickens would be tied together beak-to-ass, tugging and pulling each other around until my dad and uncles felt they had had enough.

To this very day, my father despises chicken, refusing to eat it except under the most demanding of circumstances. If you and my dad were the only people on a plane full of chickens that happened to crash-land atop a lofty, remote Andes mountain peak, you’d be the one that’s fucked, not the birds. Note that his fickleness does not stop him from eating eggs — if pressed on the fact that eggs are a form of chicken, he’ll note with pride that he’s “getting them before they are born.” Ralph Reed calling for you on line one, dad.

Despite that childhood animal husbandry, my father loves all other animals. When I was in high school, we relocated from the city to a small plot in Southlake. Our land was called “Pepper Top Farm,” and it was hidden from the modern world by a thick grove of surrounding trees, endless whiteboard fences, and a lack of cable television. It was there that dad indulged a desire to collect pets which he hadn’t possessed for quite some time. My parents bought a horse, adopted a dog, gave me permission to purchase a puppy, and rounded out the zoo with a couple of bunny rabbits and a goat to keep the horses company. It was heaven, with rolling green fields, tall trees, and the lazy satisfaction of a good farm existence.

So whatever possessed my father to spoil such a sylvan paradise by acquiring geese is beyond me.

For the uneducated, geese are simply nasty pieces of shit. Ugly, loud, mean, and without taste, they’re trash birds. If you walk too close to one of them, despite the fact you outweigh them by at least 100 lbs. they will still attack you with frightening speed and ferocity. And they never learn any better.

One morning, dad went to the feed store. He returned with four baby birds–two geese and two Indian runner ducks. Although the names of the ducks escape me, I’ll never forget those of the geese: November and December . . . or in other words, the months we planned to eat them.

Perhaps because they didn’t have a mama bird around, our birds never learned how to fly. But the geese mastered well the art of stealth. Whenever someone would walk by their pond, the geese would lower their heads and long necks until both were perpendicular to the ground. Then they’d slowly start off in your direction, picking up speed– plap-plap-plap, went their wet feet! And before you knew it, they were upon you with a piercing honk or a nasty bite from their toothy prehistoric beaks.

As much as I hated the geese, I felt worse for the ducks. Without any adult Indian Runner ducks to serve as role models, they were forced to emulate the geese. It was amusing and sad to watch the ducks themselves lower their heads and seek-and-destroy, only to pause with a look that seemed to say, “Hey…wait a minute…I’m a duck…not a goose.” This was years before Dr. Phil.

One day, I was outside changing my truck’s tire. It was a hot day, so I was shirtless on the baking driveway. The goose pond was behind me and seemingly far away, but this provided me with no safety. From behind, I heard that all-too-familiar wet slap of geese feet on the concrete. Before I could turn around, it was too late. The popping crunch of my own capillaries bursting filled my senses and I roared in pain.

Flying to my feet, along came the goose, solidly holding onto me with his nasty beak. He was hanging from the meat of my back, in a position so perfect that I couldn’t reach him with my hands or the tire iron I possessed. Spinning sharply back and forth also proved useless. I yelled for help.

Hearing the commotion, my father ran outside and saw the chaos. I turned to face him, tossed him my tire iron, turned back around, and with a hard swing, dad clocked the shit out of that bird and sent him over the left-field fence. And boy, did that bird sail! Now that I think about it, that was the first time I ever saw that bird fly.

It would be weeks before I could sleep on my back.

Alas, the geese didn’t fulfill their destiny of being eaten in the winter months. Instead, they were annihilated in the months before November and December by the one-two-punch of an Act of God and an Act of Dog.

In September, my Labrador Retriever Gos was roaming the farm on his regular mole patrol. Those who knew him will recall that he was a gentle soul, rarely barking and never acting aggressive. Yet one day, one of the geese charged at Gos and–outweighed by a mere 60 lbs–and was literally mauled into a bloody pulp by my angry pooch. After that one incident, he never again attacked anything ever.

The next month, the goose that attacked me while I was changing my tire met his maker in a most dramatic fashion. His signature exit involved being plucked from the ground by a freak twister and blown away to God knows where. Now that I think about it, it was the last time I ever saw that bird fly.

Kitty Bile

Cat Throwing Up

Back in the 1980s, our family was quite the shit — we were the first on our block to own a VCR, which we connected to our big-screen Curtis-Mathis. We supplemented that material coup with two others: a BetaMax machine and cable television. How having these items didn’t make me more popular as a kid still boggles the mind.

The novelty of these items wore off as quickly as we realized how much they weren’t built to last. The first VCR was worn out by constant use and replaced by another machine. As time marched on, we would eventually own at least a dozen of the video-playin’ beasts, since it was always cheaper to purchase a new one versus repairing one that was quickly outdated anyway.

Flashing forward to the 1990s, my father and I were watching an action movie on our VCR #6. I was sitting on the couch while he occupied his La-Z-Boy recliner. Because he was too cheap to purchase a decent media cabinet, our VCR teetered on top of the television. On top of the machine was my sleeping Siamese cat, Bonnie. This was one of her favorite spots: perched high above most everything in the room, and it was warmer than a late winter sunbeam shining through the window.

Like most felines, Bonnie ate strings, straw, hair, and other crap that a more-intelligent animal would know not to touch. In the middle of the film, Bonnie awoke, stood up on the VCR, and started making the distinct gulping noise that a cat makes before throwing up all that shit.

The two of us were all too familiar with that sound, having spent many of our nights on this earth sponging up various puddles of kitty bile. We simultaneously leapt from our seats and rushed forward to interrupt the disaster unfolding before us. Dad got there first — he reached forward and took a massive swipe at Bonnie to knock her from her spot. But right as he cocked his arm, Bonnie spewed chunks all over the top of the VCR.

So put yourself in the cat’s shoes: you’re not feeling terribly hot and think that throwing up might make you feel better. You stand up, gurgle a little, and then barf up some glowing yellow stomach grease. You then wipe your lips and go, “Ahh! Much better.” Then, some giant human smacks the shit out of you, sending you flying into the nearby wall. You and the drywall connect with a dull thud, and then slide straight down to the ground with all legs flailing hopelessly against gravity.

I’ve never seen my dad slap anything as hard as he smacked my cat. Right as Bonnie achieved suborbital flight, her puke dripped through the VCR’s vents onto its motherboard, and sparks and smoke erupted from all its openings. The movie stopped, as most movies tend to do when their cellophane tape is obliterated by hairball-fueled flames. My dad was dropping D- and F-Bombs left and right, and after he finally beat the conflagration into submission, he was on his way to the 24-hour Wal-Mart to purchase the seventh VCR we would own. It was left up to me to call Blockbuster Video the next day and explain to them why we weren’t going to be able to return their Steven Segal film.

Image credit: Adam Ellis