Wednesday, July 4, 2007

This is our country

July 4th. America’s Independence Day. This is a day of hot dogs, baseball, apple pie and fireworks; all pieces of Americana. Little league baseball games, sipping cold lemonade on the front porch as the sun drops below the horizon, county fairs are all pieces of Americana as well. Washington, DC is my favorite piece of Americana.

I’ve been to DC various times for different reasons. The first time was in 8th grade on a class trip. I’ve been there numerous times to visit Brian when he lived there for four years after college. I’ve been there a variety times when I lived in Virginia, although I lived 2 hours away.

I love Washington, DC. I love how it was designed, its rich history, the monuments, the galleries, its tribute to the Americans who built this country and who died for it and most importantly, what it stands for. I love DC at night when the monuments are all lit up. I love how every year, millions of people come to visit DC and stand in awe of all of those things. I stand in awe of all of those things every time I am there, which, unfortunately, has not been in the past two years.

There are two times I visited DC that stand out in my mind in particular.

The first time was probably about 9 years ago, when I went to visit Brian, we were out and about sightseeing at night and taking pictures around the Mall. We wandered around for a while, finally settling on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We snapped pictures, talked and just sat there, quietly, thinking about that moment in time and other moments in time, in that very place.

On this night, we saw a couple of amazing events take place. First, there was this couple. They were dressed to the nines, he in his tuxedo, replete with top hat and cape and she in her elegant red dress. They sauntered around the Memorial, at the top of the steps, inching closer to the statue of Abraham Lincoln. As they moved around on that level, they began to dance together, gracefully. There was no music playing. Really, there was no sound at all, other than the distant sound of cars speeding by and some chirping of crickets, yet these two people were dancing to the sound of music in their heads. It was beautiful. It was awe-inspiring.

The second event that occurred this night was equally, if not more stirring. We were still sitting on the steps of the Memorial, although I believe we had moved up closer to the top and in the silence of night, we began to hear voices singing. Two young men, I think they were African-American and were probably in their late teens or early twenties were singing, while wandering around near the pillars, just in front of the statue of Lincoln. They were singing the Star Spangled Banner and they were singing it beautifully. In addition to their incredible voices, the sounds and the words of the song were echoing off the marble walls of the Memorial making this experience even more impressive. I can still see that scene and replay the sounds in my head. I will never forget them.

(a picture taken that night)

The other time I vividly remember in DC was the one July 4th we spent there, again, visiting Brian. I believe it was ’97, but I’m not entirely sure. If you’ve never been to DC to be a part of the July 4th spectacular, you are missing an unbelievable experience. We took the train to the Mall and walked past the Smithsonian and the Jefferson Memorial. Flying slightly above the grass were hundreds of thousands of fireflies. It was the first time I’d seen that many in one place and it was as though they were putting on a show before the show. Anyway, we continued to walk to the Mall to try to find a spot to sit down and watch, which is a feat in itself, since there are a few hundred thousand people there. We found the perfect spot, about 200 yards west of the Washington Monument, facing the Lincoln Memorial. We laid down on the grass, looking up into the sky, listening to the people around us and the music off in the distance. When the fireworks started, we didn’t need to sit up, or look in all different directions, we were able to lie there, on the grass, surrounded by thousands of people, taking in the sights and sounds while the fireworks display was going on immediately over our heads. For almost an hour, the blasts rocked the night sky, taking you higher and bringing you back down with expert execution. It was magnificent.

If you haven’t been to Washington, DC, I can’t stress enough how great it is to go there. I couldn’t imagine living there, but visiting has always been a pleasure. I think Americans take for granted this great city, its rich history and all the regalia associated with our nation’s capital because of what goes on there – politics. It puts a sour taste in our mouths to think of the bureaucracy and lies and deceit, while forget the good things that our government does, such as…ok, I can’t think of anything right now, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, on this 4th of July, I just wanted to remind myself of a piece of Americana that I love almost as much as apple pie.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I wish I could be as carefree and wild, but I got cat class and I got cat style

Sometimes, my cats are so funny, but still so cute, they remind me just how silly life can be.

Things I’ve learned from my cats in the last couple of days:
  1. They will eat the carpeting if there is catnip on it.

  2. Getting a good tan requires a nap in the sun.

  3. Getting a good amount of sleep requires being comfortable.

  4. Goldfish, the crackers, are excellent play toys, they taste great if you just lick them, but it sort of scares them when I step on one in the middle of the night and don’t know what that “crackling sound” is under my foot.

  5. The warmest place to sleep is on the keyboard of the laptop, plus, they can IM my mom (I should've taken a picture of that!).

Squeaky is 7 years old now, but is still very playful…well, with me anyway, not so much with Cowboy. She sleeps right up against my feet and must be touching me at all times!

Cowboy just turned 18 months and he has so much personality, it’s pretty funny to watch and listen to him. He’ll even hold a conversation with you! He tries to get into everything, including, but not limited to: the refrigerator, the freezer, any and all cabinets, the washing machine and his favorite is the shower! He usually sits on the edge of the tub, occasionally poking his head inside to get a sprinkle of water. Sometimes, he comes right in and gets his paws wet…then chases Squeak around, so I have wet paws all over my desk and computer.

The two of them are such complete opposites, but the do enjoy getting my attention and adoration. Most of all, I love having their attention and adoration.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Pour us a road, we’ll both drink and drive

Sometimes, we’re so counterproductive in our society, it’s a wonder we get anything accomplished. Hell, look at government as a good example! Seriously though, if we used just a slice of common sense, we might actually get to the other side of the road and go, “Huh, if I had known it was that easy, I would’ve done that a long time ago!”

The reason I’m mentioning this is that last night, I took a friends brother who is in town for the week to my favorite hockey bar to watch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals while my friend was busy with a previous commitment. After I arrived home from work, changed and was heading out the door, my brother walked in and asked where I was headed, so I mentioned it to him and asked if he wanted to join us. Now I know my brother is only 19 years old, but he has been in this bar before, not with me, but with some other people that know the owners, so I figured we’d be ok.

We get to the bar, find some seats and get ready to sit down, but the bartender spotted us as we were walking in and asked to see everyone’s ID. First off, um, hello? I have a beard and some grayish hair; I think I can pass for 21! Second, I mentioned that my brother wasn’t 21, but we brought him so he could be our designated driver, which I thought would be a logical excuse. It wasn’t likely that he’d be drinking; however, the law in Texas says that he can’t be in there, but then, it also says this:

In Houston, Texas, beer many not be purchased after midnight on Sunday, but can be purchased anytime on Monday...which happens to begin right after midnight on Sunday! So it's illegal to buy it when it’s legal to buy it?

I digress.

This left us with two options, pick up some beer, go back to the house and watch the game, or I drive my brother home and come back. He said it was ok if I took him home and I mentioned option 1, but he said he was cool with going home, so I drove him back there and headed back to the bar to hang out with my friends’ brother.

This brings about non-logical point number two: I know have to waste gas to drive my brother home. This is really not the time to be wasting energy resources! If we let him stay at the bar, I can drink a little more and have a safe, reliable driver waiting to take me home AND only use one trip’s worth of gas. This is opposed to the two trip’s worth of gas I had to use to take him home and then try not to drink too much so I could be a responsible driver for myself. Does that make sense to anyone? Sober driver and less gas used, or slightly intoxicated driver and more gas used, which sounds better?

On a side note, my brother is not a big hockey fan because he grew up in the south, whereas I grew up in the north. He has watched a number of games at home with me during the playoffs, but he’s just not a big fan in general. My friends’ brother on the other hand…anyway.

Needless to say, tomorrow night, we’re staying in to watch the game.

Friday, May 25, 2007

All in all, we're just bricks in the wall

Updated 5/29: On Sunday 5/27, Alexandria from Houstonist gave me some props in her "local blog roundup" post. Thanks! Also, in the comments section, I completed a thought that wasn't explained very well in the original post, so I suggest reading there as well.

Maybe it's because I'm not originally from Texas and I've never heard of closing underperforming schools before, but how does that help?

It sounds to me, that moving students to other schools would only shuffle underperforming students to schools that are currently performing at an acceptable rate, thus dragging down those schools scores.

Here's an idea, let's try reorganizing the staff. Move some (certainly not all) of the teachers that are able to excel in these tough situations out of the acceptable schools and into these schools. Let's hire more staff. Oh wait, that's right, our schools are cash-strapped because of extraneous, ridiculous overspending in other areas.

I never understood how or why education funding declines or remains stagnant. Seriously, the people in our schools will be taking care of you and I in 30-40 years; don't we want them to be the best possible people they can be? If we need to raise taxes for better education funding, then so be it, it's in everyone's interest. Generating more income would provide more staff, or at the very least, possibly a more qualified staff like they have at those fancy schmancy private schools.

Education is one of those things on which we should not be skimping. We’re already lagging in compared to other countries when it comes to how many engineers or scientists we’re churning out of our colleges.

In our society of billionaires, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Paul Allen, Michael Dell, and more familiarly Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Steve Forbes & the Walton Family of Wal-Mart fame, why not throw a couple BILLION (each) at our education system. Meanwhile, here in Houston, Ken Lay’s widow is worried about unfreezing her dead husbands’ assets. Do you think if she does receive any of that money she will throw it back into these schools? I think not.

I don’t want to go completely off topic, but many of the people who are in these struggling schools may ultimately wind up fighting and dying in a war that throwing money towards doesn’t seem to be as big a conundrum for the government.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Every time she sneezes, I believe its love and oh, lord, I’m not ready for this sort of thing

Of course, I’ve saved the best story for last.

Back in February, just after I had broken up with the girl I had been seeing for 4 months, I met someone else that I wasn’t expecting at all. I was walking over to PetSmart, which is just up the street, to pick up cat food. She was out walking her dog; he saw someone new and wanted to play! So I stopped to play and we began chatting. I actually don’t remember the conversation, but it must have been interesting because she walked to the pet store with me and then back towards my apartment. It turns out that she lives in the same complex, but across the street. We were chatting non-stop, laughing and obviously flirting with one another. As we were awkwardly standing there, finishing our conversation, but not quite wanting to leave it, I decided to see if she wanted to go for a drink.

She said yes.

We decided to just go to the bar across the street, but not until she dropped off the dog and we both needed to get cleaned up a little as well.

I came by at 830 to pick her up and we walked across the street. We continued with great conversation over a few beers and around 1130, we decided to walk back home. As we got back to the gate outside her side of the complex, I mentioned what a great time I had, how nice it was to meet her and that I’m glad I didn’t have any plans that evening! She mentioned that originally, she was supposed to get dinner with some friends, but when I asked her out, she cancelled with them. When she mentioned dinner, it dawned on me that I never ate dinner. Then it dawned on me that if she cancelled, she probably hadn’t eaten either. So I asked if she was hungry and if she wanted to continue over some food.

She said yes.

We walked up the street to the late night diner and continued our conversation over dinner. I couldn’t have had a better date if I scripted it.

We continued to see each other numerous times over the next few weeks, but then something happened. I’m not sure exactly what, but I received an email letting me know that she didn’t think we should see each other anymore.

A few weeks later, I joined the dating sight and the story picks back up from there.

Then, about a month ago, I got an email from her saying she wished she had done things differently and hoped that in time, maybe we could be friends. I gave it some serious thought and emailed her back a few days later letting her know that would be ok, but for now, it would need to be on my terms.

So in between talking to and going on dates with San Diego girl, miss high maintenance, the out of town medical sales rep and the non bean counter, I’ve also been talking to the girl next door, so to speak, but we never went out anywhere, so to me, there were no serious intentions.

That was until last week.

She called me about two weeks ago to see if I would join her in going to an Astros game with some people from work. I’m always up for that, so we went to the game and had fun. It was as though we had never broken up; however, she did probably drink too much, which led to an interesting conversation on the way home. She claimed that I had said we were “just friends” a few times during the day and that seemed to upset her. So I asked if that was what she wanted? She said it was obviously what I wanted and that she would deal with that.

I chalked it up to her being slightly drunk and let it go.

She then called me last Thursday to see if I wanted to come to happy hour with the same people from her job that were at the game. I quickly accepted and met them there later in the day. After most people had left, we were talking and again, she was kind of tipsy (she doesn’t normally drink a lot, I swear!) and started in on that same conversation again.

I quickly got her to the point this time. She wanted another chance. She told me that no one ever treated her the way I had, that she made a mistake and asked if I could forgive her?

I said yes.

I put some rules on it however:
  • We cannot see each other more than 3 times in one week;
  • We will not stay over at the other persons place;
  • We will not have sex; and
  • We can still see other people.

All of these rules are in place for at least a month and at my discretion. If things work out the way they started, then I’ll relax the rules and we’ll see where it goes, but in the meantime, I want to have the option to keep any relationship between us growing at a slower pace than last time. I also want her to understand that I (potentially) have other options too…even though right now, I don’t, but that’s not the point.

I honestly want this to work out. She is easily, the best girl I’ve dated in the last 18 months and I truly enjoy spending time with her. I also start thinking about the future every time I’m with her, which has not happened in a long time.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Nobody's perfect, and that's something that I'm sure she'll know

While I was actually going out on dates, I continued to talk on the phone to a girl who is a medical sales rep. We only spoke on the phone because she lives much further away than I really would prefer, but she also has a great personality and she comes to Houston every weekend – except for the last 3 weekends. Without getting into too much detail about our individual traveling plans, we figured out that we wouldn’t be able to see each other until at least the third weekend of June. Needless to say, we don’t speak anymore.

Then there is the Non-Bean Counter. I call her this because it’s her designation for herself. She is in the accounting department of a rather large company, but she doesn’t do taxes, so she says that she is not a bean counter. Whatever. Anyway, her profile was incredible. I felt an immediate connection to the words I was reading on the screen and I knew I had to email her. A week later, after actually giving up, I finally received an email asking if I wrote my profile after reading hers? I didn’t know whether to be offended or if she truly couldn’t believe how similar they were. I mentioned that my profile has been up for 2 weeks or and hadn’t changed in all that time, but why was she so concerned about it?

Her response was “It was that our profiles match so well.... couldn't that be a negative though? no yin to the yang?” I could see her point, but how would she ever know if she didn’t get to know me?

Again, an interesting response ensued, “what are your plans for next week? I was thinking we could meet up for (not drinks, not lunch...) maybe grocery shopping?” For some reason I thought this was a great idea. Here’s a tip, grocery shopping on the first date is NOT a good idea. Why? Because you’re concentrating on what you’d like to buy, versus looking like a pig, all while trying to impress this new girl by holding an intelligent, yet flirty conversation.

By the time we were ready to go, I thought that I’d like to see her again, but I’m just not sure, so I think I’ll just pass on asking for a second date. However, after we checked out, I walked her to her car and helped to load her groceries. In her trunk were golf clubs, so I asked how often she played and she responded that she doesn’t “play” much, but she tries to get to the range twice a week. We talked and joked about golf for a few minutes while loading my groceries and she then asked if I wanted to hit some balls at the range sometime. Well, since she asked…

So we met at the range the following week. I talked about how my week went and she told me about how she scraped her knee over the weekend (a drinking accident). Once we finally started hitting, we would chat, but trying to concentrate on what we were doing lent itself to a lot of silence. In between shots however, I would try to start conversations, but I kept running into a different obstacle – the guy next to us – who was eavesdropping/getting involved in our conversations. He was very nice, but buddy, I’m on a date here!

Anyway, I gave her some pointers, some of which helped her, some didn’t and she noticed how much I use my ass/hips when swinging through the ball. At the end of the bucket, we walked back to our cars and chatted some more. She was taking some classes to earn her CPA designation and had a test coming up that she had to study for, so we said goodnight and this time I hoped to see her again.

I emailed her later that night to let her know that I had a good time and that I’d take her out for some celebratory drinks after her exam. She responded the next day and she would give me a call that night after the exam.

We met for pizza and beer at a bar around the corner while watching the basketball game. It was a decent setting and for a while, it was quiet enough that we could have a normal conversation. I got to know more about her in an hour than I had in the previous two dates! As the night moved on though, it got louder and I had a hard time hearing her, plus we were starting to get a little tipsy, so we decided to head out.

When I walked her out to the car, I mentioned we should get together next weekend (she was going to be busy that coming weekend) and she said, “We’ll see.” That’s not a good sign.

On Monday of last week, I emailed her to see if she wanted to head to the driving range again. I didn’t receive any response so I figured she truly was not interested, so I chalked up her to another dating story…until Sunday night when I got an email from her. She apologized for not emailing sooner, claiming she was busy. She also goes on to say, “I think you are a really nice guy, I don't feel any chemistry, and we could hang out every once in a while, hit some balls, grab a beer, see a show... but that's about it....”

Oh well. Another one bites the dust. The only regret I had about the Non-Bean Counter was not telling her how great I thought she was…and sexy as hell. I don’t think it would’ve made a difference, but being able to relieve yourself of your inner thoughts (like through a blog!) is very therapeutic.

But wait, that’s not all…

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

If you could just stop looking for someone special, you might save yourself some pain

As I mentioned the other day, I've wanted to post about dating, girlfriends and ex-girlfriends. This past month has been very strange, with some developments in the relationship department.

First off, I joined a dating site - a very popular one - as I've done in the past. It has worked fairly well as far as finding dates and interesting people to meet, a couple of whom have turned into good friends. I met the girl I moved to Houston for on there and my most recent girlfriend was met through the site as well. I like being able to weed out the people I think I'm not going to be a good fit with before I go and spend time and money on something that has no possibility. I'm also "over" trying to pick someone up in a bar - as if that has any real potential anyway.

In any event, the first few days of being on the site are fraught with reading dozens of women's profiles, viewing their pictures, deciding whether to email them. Then, if I do, what do I say to (a) break the ice and (b) grab their attention? After the initial fun of it and waiting for responses, it actually gets annoying trying to find "new" women to message because the women who show up in your (sometimes too specific) searches are always the same ones you've already sent an email to. On the rare occasion that you do find someone new and they meet your criteria, you send them an email and again, hope for the best.

Usually, within a day or two, I'll begin getting responses. From there, sometimes things they say, questions they ask or responses to questions I've asked, will either keep me intrigued or tell me that this isn't someone I prefer to meet.

Conversely, after a few days of having my profile out there, I also begin to receive initial emails from women who are definitely not my type (how they ever thought that I am their type remains a mystery) or only saw a picture of me and decided to email me. I can usually pick those women out easily because they ask me a question that, had they read my profile, would've been answered already. My favorite example of this is the woman who sent me an email telling me she "must be dreaming" and that I'm "her perfect match". Really? After checking her profile, I determined we were never meant to be just by reading the first line in her "About" section. It read, "First and foremost, Jesus is a part of my everyday life...would prefer someone with the same values." Check please! If you know me at all, you'll know that I do not partake in a religion of any kind and it is clearly stated in my profile that while I don’t have a problem with you exercising your right, please don’t think that I’ll be joining you. This was an easy decision to give her a polite, "No thanks". There's much more, funny stuff to that story, but I don't care to talk about it, so I digress...

Now, of course after reading and re-reading women’s’ profiles and a few communications with them, either through email or over the phone, some of them are ready to go out. This is where it gets interesting.

First, there was the San Diego girl who moved here last year for work. We started communicating on a Saturday morning and by that evening were meeting for drinks. Our personalities meshed incredibly well and we had a good, flowing conversation the whole time we spent together. We left the bar around 130 am and decided to get together the next day as well for lunch and a movie. Well, with the crappy weather that day, she offered to order take out and rent a movie at her place. That was fine by me. We spent the majority of the day together, but by the end, even though we interacted well with one another, she irked me. There was no sense pursuing something with her if I could hardly stand her after just one day.

Next, there was the high maintenance girl. She emailed me first, with a simple, but effective, “What’s up?” She was very attractive, which of course grabbed my attention, but after reading her profile, I was much more interested. I emailed back to tell her she was intriguing, funny and had remarkable eyes. We communicated one more time before she told me to call her to get together. She preferred that rather than emailing or spending time on the phone. So we met a couple weeks ago for lunch on a Saturday at a place near her house. After about 45 minutes, I knew this wouldn’t work because of numerous reasons, but mostly because I could already tell, she was high maintenance. I say that as though it’s a bad thing, it’s not. I have plenty of friends who are that way, but they’re not people I could date. Anyway, we ate and talked and I think we both knew this would be it, but we were polite and when we finished, we decided to leave it at that. As we were saying how nice it was to meet each other and eventually goodbye, she did give me a nice hug however, which was a little surprising, though it’s always nice to get a hug from an attractive woman in a public place :)

To be continued...and then some…