Southeast of Disorder

The Seven-Year Hitch
September 29, 2007, 7:22 am
Filed under: Work | Tags:

(Parenthetical remark alert!)

Now I’ve done it. Friday was my last day at a job I’ve enjoyed (mostly) for seven years. Although I’ll be paid for the almost six weeks of vacation time I accrued during the adventure (which may explain something about why I left the job), I’ve already begun obsessing about where to find my next meal.

No matter how much one enjoys his or her work, an odd mixture of complacency and restlessness tends appear (somewhat like a vulture) at about the seven-year point. If one can ignore the piercing stare, foul odor and occasional jockeying for a better shot at the carcass (oddly evocative of a Chinese fire drill with wings), one may be able retire after an extended career with one employer. My sister did that, retiring some time ago after 25 years in public service (albeit in several different positions). I, on the other hand, seem not to have her stamina. Although I try not to make a habit of taking a job and then un-taking it soon thereafter (I was with one company for more than 10 years and another for five before I began the most-recent seven-year crusade), I never seem to have found one place, position or group of people capable of convincing me I belonged there forever. Maybe that’s because I was a military brat, and my family moved 21 times before I graduated high school. Maybe it’s because I’m an adrenaline junky (not a bad thing for a journalist), and something always seems to beckon me from just beyond the horizon. Maybe I have a self-destructive streak that one of these days will do me in (to no one’s real surprise).

It’s not terribly bright in most world views to leave a comfortable salary for the vast unknown (and possible starvation). Still, I approach this change with (possibly misguided) excitement and anticipation (in addition to disquietude that verges on abject terror). My dog doesn’t seem to be worried, and I’ve decided to accept that as a sign everything will work out. Of course, if I had his ability to convince people to wait on me hand and paw because I’m excruciatingly cute, I’d feel at least a bit more secure.

I’m counting on his loyalty remaining steadfast right up until the moment we share the last mouthful of his food.


September 23, 2007, 7:26 am
Filed under: Food | Tags: ,

It’s still true: If it can’t be fried and served on a stick, it ain’t worth eatin’ at the State Fair of Texas (Sept. 28 through Oct. 21 in Dallas). According to a fair (meaning “from the fair,” not “so-so”) press release, [n]ew culinary delights this year include:

· Deep Fried Latte – “Fried pastry, cappuccino ice cream, caramel sauce, whipped cream, and instant coffee powder.” (The three essential food groups – caffeine, sugar and grease – in one delicious … uh, fried thing!)

· Fried Cookie Dough – “Chilled cookie dough, battered and fried.” (This treat won this year’s contest – for real.)

· Fried Guacamole Bites – “Scoop of guacamole, breaded and fried, served with ranch dressing or salsa.” (Evidently part of the rumored “cholesterol coup” being planned south of the border.)

· Country Pride Peach Cobbler on a Stick – “Peach cobbler with dumplings rolled in pastry dough and fried, covered in brown sugar and cinnamon, and skewered.” (What? No cream gravy?)

· B.W.’s Original Fried Banana Pudding – “Banana pudding inside fried tortilla, topped with whipped cream and powdered sugar or cinnamon.” (Stick provided to help beat off simian thieves.)

· Mama’s Fried Sweet Potato Pie – “Pie filling inside flour tortilla, fried and topped with powdered sugar and cinnamon.” (Whose mama came up with this?)

· Cajun Shrimp On A Stick – “Spicy shrimp in a custom Cajun batter, fried and served with a choice of dipping sauce.” (Custom batters are infinitely preferable to those dreary “standard” ones.)

· Deep Fried Cosmopolitan – “A delicious fried pastry is filled with rich cheesecake and topped with a sweet & tangy cranberry glaze and a lime wedgie. Served on a stick.” (Lime wedgie?)

· Donkey Tails – “Large all-beef franks, slit on one side and generously stuffed with sharp cheddar cheese, are wrapped tightly in a large flour tortilla and fried until golden brown. Served with mustard, chili, or Ruth’s salsa.” (At least it’s not a more personal part of the donkey, which – along with the corresponding parts of bulls and rams – some companies actually turn into dog chews.)

· Fernie’s Fried Mac ‘n Cheese – “Texas-sized bites of macaroni & cheese, covered with a layer of garlic & herb-flavored bread crumbs, are deep fried until crispy outside and hot & cheesy inside. Served on a stick with a side of dipping sauces.” (Take that, Kraft!)

· Fernie’s Fried Choco-rito – “A flour tortilla – stuffed with marshmallows, coconut, candy bar pieces, caramel morsels and cinnamon – is dipped in pancake batter and deep fried to a crispy, crunchy outside and sweet, gooey inside. Drizzled with honey and topped with whipped cream.” (It’s the pancake batter surrounding the tortilla that makes this one truly special.)

· Fernie’s Fried Chili Frito Burrito – “Chili and Fritos inside flour tortilla, fried and topped with choice of cheese sauce, shredded cheddar, jalapeños, sour cream, hot sauce, and onions.” (Fernie must be stopped.)

· Fried Avocadoes – “Hand-battered chunks of scrumptious avocado are breaded and fried to perfection. Choice of dipping sauces. A culinary hit in California” (which, if you ask me, is enough reason to ban it from Texas).

· Fried Coke – “Smooth spheres of Coca Cola-flavored batter are deep fried, drizzled with pure Coke fountain syrup, topped with whipped cream, cinnamon sugar and a cherry. Served in souvenir contoured glasses” (on a stick).

· Fried Pancake Sundae – “Tasty country sausage bites wrapped in a light pancake batter, deep fried to perfection , topped with whipped cream, lightly glazed with hot fudge sauce and finished with a cherry on top. Pineapple and strawberry glaze options available.” (This one left me speechless.)

· Fried Praline Perfection – “Guaranteed to melt in your mouth. Plump coconut and pecan pralines, battered and fried to a rich golden crust. Served warm with powdered sugar.” (There’s no such thing as “too rich.”)

· Melon Monroe – “Honeydew melon sauce ladled over chocolate-chip ice cream, topped with whipped cream then garnished with two fried-dough, shaped ‘legs’ filled with a special caramel sauce. Served fresh out of the fryer.” (Norma Jean must be so proud.)

· Deep-Fried Death Row Inmates (not in the fair’s press release, but nevertheless a novel solution to Texas prison overcrowding.)

“It Snuck Up On Us”
September 13, 2007, 7:43 am
Filed under: Galveston | Tags: , , , , ,

When you live on a sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico, there are five words you do not aspire to hear from professional weather watchers: “It snuck up on us.”

Hurricane Humberto did exactly that early Thursday morning, surging into a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour just before striking the Southeast Texas coast slightly northeast of Galveston at about 1 a.m.

Humberto was an indolent storm, lollygagging across the Gulf at about six miles an hour for most of Wednesday before engaging in some serious Galveston sightseeing late in the afternoon. Sustained winds were only in the 50-60 MPH range at 9 p.m. If Humberto had come ashore then as forecasters predicted instead of insolently gamboling about over the water for a few more hours, it would have remained a tropical storm. It might have whacked a few more trees on the island, possibly sent a few more inches of water under shop doors on The Strand, maybe slightly damaged a building here and there …

… but it would not have become the dreaded “H word,” which tends to send people here into a panic. You would think because we’re all very aware we live on a sandbar in the Gulf of Mexico (and we take perverse pride in thumbing our noses at Mother Nature), everyone might simply shrug and go on about their lives. Some people, however, allow hysteria to overcome them and they behave as if any hurricane’s arrival represents a monumental surprise. Given Galveston’s history, that’s just bizarre. After all, despite Katrina visiting her wrath upon New Orleans in 2005, Galveston remains indelibly inked in the anals of history as the site of the worst natural disaster ever to strike the U.S.: the 1900 Storm. (Crews stopped counting bodies at 6,000, and what once was called “the Wall Street of the Southwest” literally was swept from the face of the planet in one night of unimaginable terror. Erik Larson’s excellent books Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History and The Drowning of Galveston and the History Channel’s chilling Isaac’s Storm provide harrowing accounts of the disaster.)

Some of us, of course, consider hurricanes one of the unfortunate trades we must make in order to live in what passes for a tropical paradise roughly two miles off the coast of Texas. No matter how unpleasant it may be when she actually does slap us in the face, usually Mother Nature behaves herself quite politely around here. (After living in California’s San Fernando Valley and Glasgow, Mont., I can attest to the occasional hurricane being infinitely preferable to unpredictable earth shaking and predictable snow drifts higher than houses. I’ll take the hurricanes, thank you very much.)

What never ceases to amaze me is the broadcast media’s morbid fascination with violent weather. For the past two years, at the vaguest threat of bad weather, Galveston has found itself under siege by news vultures who insist upon standing on the seawall and yelling into microphones as video cameras capture them being doused and buffeted. Venerable Dan Rather started the trend during Hurricane Carla in 1961, and since then every talking head with any ambition has imitated his death-defying feat in hopes it would propel him or her to similar national prominence. It hasn’t, and those of us who live here think it’s a particularly silly thing to do. (“What are you, nuts?! Get down from there and go inside before someone has you committed! Sheesh…. Talk about not having enough sense to come in out of the rain.”)

Even more annoying is the implication people can’t wait for another Katrina-like disaster to liven up the daily news — as long as they don’t have to endure the unpleasantness personally. A man died in High Island (site of the storm’s official landfall northeast of Galveston ) during Humberto, and there was “significant damage” to property in that area from wind and water. High Island residents remain without power, and the roads are impassable due to downed trees and power lines.

As one local weatherman (excuse me: “meteorologist”) noted, “[Galveston] dodged a bullet this time,” but our sighs of relief are accompanied by someone else’s sobs of despair. Celebrating our good fortune would be terribly inappropriate.