Category: Houston

Life’s Simple Pleasure

Nothing ruins a cup of joe like fugitive grounds who escaped the filter's tight weave. Sipping and spitting the tiny, soggy pebbles from the tip or your tongue like watermelon seeds across a summer lawn as the sweet juice trickles down your chin. Some say that is half the fun. 

I should sample more of life’s simple pleasures: marveling at birds, laughing at squirrels. But there is nothing simple about either, to be honest. It took eons to evolve from a T-Rex to a Robin. And the antics of a squirrel are really a pattern of convoluted signals used in competition for acorns. 
I might enjoy a slice of freshly baked bread if it weren’t for the fact that this simple pleasure is a complex carbohydrate probably involving the chemical diagram for methylbutanol. 

Coffee and bread. In France, that is all they want for breakfast, maybe a cigarette. In Texas, the line of cars in the drive through of Chick-fil-A is known for blocking traffic on the highway as morning diners wait for fried chicken on a biscuit. 

I typically skip breakfast just to spite those who claim it is the most important meal of the day. And as we all know, spiting know-it-alls is one of life’s simple pleasures.

T-Rex to Robin in only 65 million years. Do Not Feed Yourself to Wildlife.

Vive Le Pain

I bet you didn’t kneaux I spoke French, did you?

When it comes to haute cuisine, or less than haute, Houston has plenty to offer. Yes, it is Texas so beef is king, and anything that can be, will be barbecued. It should also come as no surprise to anyone with access to a map of North America that Mexican food is plentiful as are daily catches of fresh fish from the Gulf.

It might be less than common knowledge, however, that Vietnamese food is popular here, especially the beef noodle soup and the Bánh Mì sandwich. And while I am on the subject of sandwiches, nothing ruins a Bánh Mì or a shrimp po’boy like terrible bread. You know the type: doughy, under cooked and made with sugar. I am no baker, but unless you are making a cinnamon bun and the like, sugar should not be in your recipe.

The French are proud of their bread and because of their influence on both Vietnamese and Cajun cultures you might assume that serving anything less than a quality baguette at Pappadeaux’s or the Saigon Cafe would be unacceptable. You would be wrong in that assumption, though, Houston has a real crisis.

My quest for a decent dinner roll was aided by my insatiable thirst for wine. Serendipity, I think they call it. I celebrated a birthday last week, and I decided to splurge on some fancy French labels you don’t see in the discount bin at Spec’s.

As the name implies, French Country Wines is actually operated by someone from France and, being sympathetic to my plight, he directed me to Magnol Bakery. I was not disappointed. Magnol not only has staples like croissants and baguettes, but also a few sweet surprises like Canneles de Bordeaux which is like creme brulee in petit four form.

I confess, I will never grow tired of BBQ, but my beef rib from Hitter’s will be served alongside an epi baguette. And wine, of course.

Houstoniansphere

Houston is the largest strip mall I have ever been lost in. I have been trying to find my way around this maze for nine months and I am still trying to comprehend why anyone needs half of the things available to them.

There is plenty of superfluous abundance in other large cities but no other U.S. metropolis epitomize’s urban sprawl better than Houston. I can’t help feeling depressed when I drive through it. Neither can I help feeling that as it continues to metastasize so will modern America’s inter connectivity of abject loneliness and isolation.

Houstoniansphere

Plastic salad sandwiches served on frontage road
Mufflers, brows, tattoos and taxes
Sprout from gardens of immediacy 
Planted on the macadam feeding insatiable times. 

What cannot be found here drops from the universe
Outside Sam Houston’s perpetual orbit of shining satellites 
Waiting to fall inward 
Or spin away to Conroe and Woodlands

A gale blows cellophane in from the Gulf 
Chaff of sprawl snags in the branches 
An arborist cleaves from live oak 
Bags once plump with Mexican limes

The heat spawns violent storms and violent people 
You can’t outdraw lightning
You can’t hit a raindrop in the heart
That is why gullies flood while bodies pile up

Generations with no patience track their baubles
While in tombs of nostalgia 6 to 8 weeks molder
Old things are discarded casually on the highway
Orange vested misdemeanors collect them for the landfill

A breeze combs a crape myrtle, pink snow in October
I brush a blossom from the page and sigh
The salutation is smeared
I miss writing more than text messages

Weeding Zen

Insert Somber High-Rise Here

My first professional job was in Manhattan inside a somber high-rise. I wore a suit and carried a pager. I was also given a company cell phone. My little Motorola could place and accept international numbers in case a partner in Berlin couldn’t open his email. In our current epoch of communication, this might not seem like much but in the mid-90s having such a powerful cell phone meant you were no longer playing in the bush leagues.

The lobby of the building was not much different from its counterparts up and down the street but what set it apart were the two serene Zen gardens on either side of the security desk and elevators. Smooth pink and white stones swirled like sinuous ocean waves around islands where lush Ming Aralias towered above the crags of moss-covered rocks.

I have been captivated by these oases of calm ever since and make a point of enjoying them whenever I visit a park or botanic sanctuary that boasts a Japanese garden. 

Above: some gardens I have visited

Ever since purchasing my first house with both front and back yard in Houston’s tropical climate, I have come to appreciate Zen gardens even more, especially their sparse vegetation. Like rust, grass and weeds never sleep, particularly when nature provides them with plenty of rain and warm sunshine. I never knew that Live Oak trees had such an infiltrative root system. 

When I am not engaged in jungle warfare with my own property, I am contending with incursions from neighboring plant life. Everyday a new tendril has slithered beneath or crept through the slats of the fence. Discarded fronds drop like dead birds from the palm trees in an adjoining lot and every period of gusty winds carries plant detritus into my territory. 

But there is hope; a slow and steady process of deforestation is underway.   

The removal of a dilapidated pergola left an ugly, filthy hole. A heavy down pour would transform it into a stagnant lake suitable only for breeding mosquitoes or mud wrestling. Rather than extending the lawn, I had it covered with attractive paver stones. Incidentally, the area of my new patio is roughly the same size as the bedroom in my former Queens apartment.

Slide the bar back and forth to witness the Before and After
Victory at the Battle of Bull Rock

New gutters and a state-of-the art drainage system have been added to make the backyard less of a soggy marshland no matter how much it rains. Keeping with the masonry theme, a ton of bull rock, with a weed barrier underneath, provides one meter of plant free trim between the turf and the house’s foundation.

My HOA has strict guidelines for street facing property but they are far more lenient with what goes on out back. This is bad news for a pair of prehistoric looking fig trees that appear to have lost the will to live. They flourished all summer, comical leaves reaching to the sunny sky. I harvested several desserts worth of fresh fruit, and while figs are not something I seek out on my own, it was fun getting farm-to-table food for free. 

Prime Figs from Happy Trees

Now the poor twins have drooped. Many of their leaves are yellowing and their limbs crawl on the ground like groveling supplicants. Perhaps they are begging for the water I draining from their roots.

It may not sound very Zen to destroy life but that plot of grotesque black mulch where the fig trees are currently floundering is a perfect spot for smooth pink and white stones raked in circular patterns around a few low maintenance cactuses. 

T for Texas

McGovern Centennial Gardens

I have moved to Texas, Houston, to be exact. After over 20 years in NYC I finally threw a dart at a map and headed west. “I loved the crime and the traffic but it just was NOT hot and humid enough,” as that old bon mot goes. The time was right to escape. The events of 2020 destroyed everything I liked about the city, I started feeling less and less safe and I didn’t want to be trapped under the rubble when the metropolis finally collapsed under its own weight.

In other news, I have a car for the first time in over 20 years, a condition that will only add to Houston’s vehicular congestion and another …er..um… imperfect motorist to a population already replete with drivers on the offensive. (At least when they aren’t busy backing into a parking spot – a peculiar Houston idiosyncrasy)

Galveston Beach

Things are refreshingly different here. For instance, the weather is mild. As of this post a good old fashioned nor’easter is dumping two feet of snow on my old home. Snow is only fun once a year, the first fall of the season, and then only if you are inside with no where to be and a drink in your hand. It is isn’t quite mild enough to perform my famous cannonball off the swimming pool high dive, however, although the clear blue of her undulating skin beckons. This amenity is another first. Access to a pool in Gotham required a steep membership fee and 6 a.m. lane reservations. Yawn.

It was not warm enough over the extended weekend in January to go plunging into the Gulf of Mexico but walks on Galveston beach and delicious Pier Beer in the warm sunshine was pleasant, indeed. Having this new car sure is handy for getting away for the weekend. Corpus Christi and San Antonio are next on the road trip list and beloved Lafayette and New Orleans have never been more accessible.

I am going to miss my friends. I am going to miss walking home from my favorite bars. I am going to miss my band Dixie Automatic. Yes, ironically enough I was in a New York band called Dixie Automatic. It was a good group and we always had a lot of fun together playing Country music for Yankee hipsters.

Below is a sample from a live show in NYC before they boarded the place up.

Honeymoon by Dixie Automatic