Good Hair

A woman’s hair is her crowning glory. So said my Primitive Baptist grandmother, Mama Bea. My crowning glory has graced several different cultures and transformed from frivolous to practical.

I attended one of those high schools where every day was a fashion show. I dutifully permed my hair about once a month and styled it, using the latest fads: teased, crimped, flat-ironed, gelled around the edges and shaved along the neck and temples with plenty of humidity-defying hairspray. Just about everything but artificially coloring it since I liked the colors of my naturally sun-bleached hair.

All that fashion show crap went out the window when I attended college. No time to be cute. Plus, looking a little “granola” was the “in” thing, which meant I’d even stopped wearing makeup and ironing my clothes on a daily basis. I used to roll my hair at night, but discovered a ponytail would do for most days and the curling iron worked for those special occasions. Besides, fashionable hair didn’t make me any smarter.

In my senior year, I suddenly realized that the collegiate gravy train was just about over. Not wanting to get a real job nor enter graduate school, I applied to the Peace Corps. On my application, I wrote that I wanted to go to French-speaking Africa. Basically I wanted a payoff for studying that language for six years. When Peace Corps told me I’d have to wait nearly a year for such a placement, I agreed to go to an English-speaking African country since I could leave the States much sooner.

When I arrived in Tanzania, an East African country, I stayed with a host family for the first two months during my training. As I showed one of my host sisters some pictures from home, she exclaimed, “Oh, you’re the African American!” They had heard one black person was among this Peace Corps training group. Of course she could hardly tell I was black. My hair was freshly permed and in a French roll. Also I was very light-skinned compared to the average Tanzanian. As a matter of fact, when I walked around the community, some Tanzanians yelled, “Half-casti, half-casti, half-casti!” (half-caste), which I found a little strange since both of my parents were black.

I assumed since Tanzania was an African country, I’d easily find suitable hair care products. Well, yes and no. They were available, but very expensive, for both the average Tanzanian and Peace Corps Volunteer.

For the first time in my life, I discovered how precious freshwater was. I developed a preoccupation with it. For drinking, bathing, washing my clothes and hair, and cooking. I visited one beauty salon during training to get my hair washed, dried and braided as a work around for securing freshwater.

Once I moved to my permanent site, I’d either wear my hair in twists or have one of the housegirls to braid it. Yet, I never justified spending a small fortune on a perm. The real fortune in freshwater was more costly. One time, I washed my hair during a bucket bath and rinsed it over the toilet in order to flush it. Water was in short supply and I needed to accomplish both things.

A few months later, I started my dreads. Suddenly I was free. With a low-maintenance hairstyle, I didn’t have to perm it, use a lot of water washing the perm out, curl it nor worry about blow-drying it straight. This gave Tanzanians something new to shout at me: “Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman, Tracy Chapman!”

While vacationing in Kenya, one enthusiastic guy yelled out extra loud, “Rasta Woman!” By this time, I was so used to ignoring obnoxious screaming that I showed no outward reaction to what he’d said. A few seconds later he said much quieter, “Rasta man?”

Granted, I was looking pretty Peace Corps shabby by that point. I’d bought one of those oversized cloth caps to tuck my dreads in and sported worn-out mostly clean pants with oversized T-shirts. So, I could understand his confusion about my gender.

When I returned to the States, one of my sisters lovingly pruned my dreads, cutting out all the knots. They had never looked so good. Despite this, all my female relatives who were at least thirty years older than me hated my hair. They collectively harassed me worse than excitable Tanzanians. They offered to cut them off, reverse them, pay for the trip to the salon, and some even referred to them as “nigger naps.”

In their younger days, these women had been subjected to the vaudeville stereotypical depictions of blacks. They had been rewarded by racist, including intraracist, society to look as white as possible. Hair was not to be worn naturally, unless as a short Afro for men or pressed with a hot comb to appear straight for women. Even the notion of “good hair” meant a black person did not have nappy hair.

The two worse culprits were Mom and Mama Bea. Mama Bea took me aside at one point and confided that she’d never told me while I was growing up that she thought I was her prettiest granddaughter. Adding to the guilt trip was the look she gave me as she shook her head over my insistence to wear dreads.

Mom persisted for nearly twenty years, trying to convince me to undo my locks. Part of her argument was I just kept them out of spite. Granted, we had clashed when I was growing up since our personalities were too much alike although she never acknowledged it. Just kept wondering aloud where I got my attitude from. She’d offered to reverse my locks herself with the help of detangling shampoo and conditioner, not really appreciating what “locked” meant.

After a while, everyone else in the immediate family was on my side and told Mom that she needed to get over it. Then, Mom announced that I’d agreed to cut them off if she’d stopped nagging me. I told her that she must have been dreaming. Given the fact that no one else had witnessed this so-called conversation, she was finally convinced it hadn’t happened.

While Mom nagged away about my dreads, I continued traveling and teaching around the world. My next teaching assignment was in Seoul, Korea, where I looked so exotic, most Koreans assumed I was Filipina. At least there was no aggressive heckling, just a lot of “wah!” as I walked by. Yet, I felt somewhat empowered since a stern teacher’s look would silence them to look away, nervously giggling.

For this teaching assignment, I had a new set of adult conversation and writing classes every month. On the first day of class, I used to allow all of my students to touch my locks. I met my lifetime quota of that after about three months.

The fiercest Koreans were the ajumahs, the grandmothers. These older women were beyond the age of giving a damn about personal space or social graces. Foreign men, who towered above most Koreans, walked through crowds with both hands protecting their family jewels since they knew the probability was high an ajumah’s elbow would strike them if these men were in her way. These same women showed no restraint to cop a feel of my dreads if I sat in front of them on public transportation.

I often visited museums and art galleries. If I stayed in one spot too long, looking at something, a small crowd of Koreans would form around me as if I was on display with a few ajumahs slowly reaching up to touch my hair.

At one of my lowest points of living in Korea, I had been waiting at a bus stop. Instead of zoning out, I happened to look up at the people on the bus in front of me, all staring. Starting with the back of the bus, I made eye contact with each of them while giving them the finger, a meaningless gesture in that culture.

Yet, I got my comeuppance some time later while walking around an unfamiliar shopping district. I turned the corner and jumped back with a scream. Standing before me was a mirrored building, reflecting my own image. I laughed then understood how jarring it was to come across me among a sea of Koreans.

Afterwards, I moved to Denver, CO where more white people had dreads than black. I’d never lived in such a dry climate before. Previously, I’d had an illusion that dreads were indestructible. I learned too late that when they’re not properly moisturized, dreads thinned out like ropes. For the first time I had to chop them down to one-third their length. Looking back at pictures of myself from that time, I looked attractive, but I remember how ugly and ashamed I felt over the loss of my hair. I’d finally internalized Mama Bea’s crowning glory belief. Of course, Mom couldn’t resist telling me I should cut them all off.

When Dubyah stole the 2000 election, I went into exile by getting a teaching job in Egypt. My Egyptian students just knew I’d be the laid-back math teacher since I had dreads. They confided to another foreign teacher that people with dreads smoked marijuana; so they’d all have A’s in my class. Imagine their disappointment when I turned out to be one of their strictest teachers. I guess no one had told them that most math teachers were almost as exacting as equations.

Then I moved to Monterrey, Mexico. My blonde blue-eyed principal marveled at how well I handled all the attention. I laughed and told her that that was nothing compared to the attention I’d received in all the other foreign countries. No heckling, no over-the-top animated nonverbal actions, very little copping a feel although they always went for the hair in the back. I guess the logic was if I didn’t see them doing it, then I wouldn’t know they were doing it. This despite the fact that my hair is attached to my scalp.

In the three years of living in Mexico, the only Mexican who managed to piss me off was at a book fair—of all places! When I’d finished looking at a group of books on a long narrow table, I walked off, not realizing that she had reached across and entangled her curious fingers into my mop of hair. I screamed, more out of shock than pain. Once I recovered my hair, a swell of other shoppers had come between us. I gave that woman a deadly look as she nervously smiled at me, waving in a friendly manner. I turned on my heels and stomped away.

Following Mexico, I taught in Honduras for three years. I hardly ever walked anywhere among the general population. At that time, Honduras was the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere. There was preoccupation among my rich students and my colleagues about being robbed. My American principal assured me every week that I’d eventually be mugged if I kept walking the three blocks from my apartment to school. After two months, I’d saved up enough money to buy a reliable used car. I immediately got the windows tinted. It’s amazing how I used money to sequester myself, but I swear it was only for safety. I don’t think anyone would have mugged me because of my dreads, but my watch, cell phone and money were different stories. The only mildly annoying reaction my dreads caused was some parents referring to me as “Jamaican.”

Finally, I moved to Austin: the land of tattoos, piercings, unnatural hair color, mohawks, flattops, unisex bald heads, where women dressed up to go out and the men simply rolled out of bed. Honey, I’m home!

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Anthem of the Sun

1 band setting upAbout two and a half hours before showtime, I learned that one of my younger cousins was in a rock band, playing less than ten minutes from where I live.

2 Vincent the door guy The door guy was about to charge me an entrance fee when I told him that my cousin was in the band. When he asked which one, I burst out laughing. I said, “Believe it or not, my cousin is the other black person with dreads!”3 Heather Trav & me

I got to see my cousin Travis for the first time since the summer.4 Anthem of the Sun shirt Although it was the first time they’d all played together at an gig, they had some cool Tshirts.5 start of the show Three out of five of the band members were new.6 Trav playingTravis was the latest addition.7 band playing Afterwards, he said that this was the most professional band that he’d ever played in.8 band playing Interesting, as a recent college graduate with an electrical engineering degree, his first jobs were working at a retail tech store and playing in a rock band!9 band playing I’m wondering how long it will take for him to get a “real” job.10 band playing At the same time, I’m so happy that he’s making the best of his life.11 band playing Here’s the part where I tried to get all “artsy” with my picture-taking. Out of several shots, this was the only one that came out decent.12 Trav's family After their show ended, Travis’ parents and older brother finally arrived from Killeen. On this particular night, three bands were being showcased; so everyone only got about 45 minutes to play.13 Trav w parents At least they’d arrived safely after coming breakneck speed to Austin.14 cosmo One unexpected treat: I received one of Travis’ complimentary drink tickets. 15 Sherita Trav & me Of course I went for a girlie drink, the cosmo.

16 band group photoI took advantage of all the photo ops. Or as I like to think of it, blog content!17 @ pizza joint I convinced my cousins that the pizza place just across the street was delicious and our best, closest option. Nonetheless, someone, who shall remain nameless (but you can figure out who by the picture) had to debate both sides of eating there.18 family @ pizza place After we’d finished eating, there was one more “family reunion” at the pizza place just before we left.19 Jr's ride Since I’ll probably never visit him at work, I took pictures of his cruiser–not sure if that’s actually what it’s called.

20 Jr on the jobAnd what a portable office! That’s nothing like the TV dramas.


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Adult Orphans’ Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving since I’ve lived in this fine town of Austin, there’s been a “fun” run.  Actually, people around here find any reason to run–rain, shine, or sleet! So, I left for yoga a few minutes earlier than usual for the inevitable traffic delay. Other than a clueless runner disregarding the crosswalk sign at an intersection not closed off for runners, I had absolutely no delay getting to yoga a whopping 35 minutes ahead of time. I pulled the door and nearly hurt my fingertips. I double-checked  the posted holiday schedule. Sure enough, for the first time ever, I arrived so early they hadn’t unlocked the door yet!1 yoga thxgvg scheduleThe class was refreshingly full. So many out-of-towners made our bikram class part of their vacation experience. One of the best things after  practice was the surprising number of text messages, wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. I waited until I baked my “famous” cornbread, fortified with sharp cheddar cheese, hot green chilies and sweet corn. I sent along a picture of the cornbread with my return Thanksgiving texts.
2 cornbreadJPG Although Thanksgiving dinner was mere minutes away, finding the actual apartment within the complex damn near took longer than the trip there.4 appetizersA delicious spread of appetizers awaited, but I wanted to save my appetite for the main meal. As soon as I placed the cornbread on the table, I whipped out my Austin Writers Roulette 2015 business card-sized flyers.  I don’t even resist the temptation to recruit new people to the show. Our hostess had invited a variety of adult orphans to this dinner. At one point, she asked for a volunteer to carve the meats. When no one stepped forward due to lack of experience, I announced having experience dissecting fetal pigs.  All agreed I was the most qualified.5 carving turkey Fortunately, I didn’t have to battle with an intimidating whole turkey nor ham bone. Just a series of straight cuts. For the first time ever, I longed for my own set of knives! Seemed a little awkward to do that much knife work without my own knives.6 carving ham The easy part was cutting up the cornbread. I politely stepped aside to let the other guests serve themselves first. Once again, the racial stereotype was true: without the bold Black person to get the food line started, nonBlack people will out polite one another by not serving themselves. I shared that observation with them in between laughing and sipping wine on the couch. Finally someone bravely started the food line besides me.7 dinner spread Predictably, the lively pre-dinner conversation slowed down. The hostess had been reluctant initially to start dinner since all the guests had not arrived. I said that if the guest in question was a Black or Latino, then he/she would not mind us starting without him/her. An Indian guest threw in his opinion that if the missing guest were an Indian, he/she wouldn’t mind us starting either.  With three major cultural passes like that, we all began.8 zometools I didn’t have any traditional board games although I was tempted to bring my Go board.  I decided in the end, that it was better to bring something we could all enjoy. I merely enticed two other people to join me making geometric shapes out of zometools.9 wineAs we all sporadically filed out, everyone prepared a to-go plate. The hostess even encouraged us to take home a bottle of wine. I lovingly shoved my parting gift of red wine into my runnur, impressing everyone with my utility “purse.” With food balanced in one hand and the case of zometools in the other, I couldn’t possibly carry a third thing in my hand.  I managed not to overeat, but wasn’t good for anything else and drove straight home to finish writing out nontraditional Christmas cards to beat the rush.

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Bloody Mary Research

1 Frank This impromptu research all started because one of my cousin’s sent me a picture of her Bloody Mary; so I had to go to the same restaurant and see for myself.  Sure enough, their standards were consistent. Every Bloody Mary came decked out with a full strip of crisp bacon and a skewer of cheddar cheese, a jalapeño, and a green olive.2 Abel's North For fun, I went to a professional happy hour and ordered a Bloody Mary. I showed the bartender the decked out Bloody Mary with the bacon and other adornments and asked if he could make one as good as that.  He shook his head and said that he could make one, but it wouldn’t come with bacon. Then, he deferred to another bartender, who got the senior-most bartender, who actually made the drink. It originally came with a pickle, a jalapeño, and a green olive. The first bartender who’d waited on me had visited the kitchen, cubed some cheese and added it to the drink. Not bad for going the extra mile (for them) to satisfy the customer. The effort was reflected in my tip.3 MoontowerBy the time I approached the third place a few weeks later, I informed the bartender that I was conducting research to find which place served the best Bloody Mary and showed him the picture. Again, bacon was off the table, but I think he tripled up the green olives and doubled the lemon wedges so his version would’t look so “naked.” After this, I’d heard of a restaurant that had a Bloody Mary bar buffet on the weekends from 11-4.
4 hot sauces & salts I arrived at 10:45, thinking that I could take pictures of the Bloody Mary buffet before other customers could mess anything up.5 mothering sign Yet the buffet was already open and a guy was embellishing his cup of vodka. I greeted him and told him that I was there to take pictures of the Bloody Mary bar. I didn’t want him to be alarmed at my picture taking.  He joked about being used to women taking his picture. After about 5 minutes of maneuvering around him, I politely let him know that I wanted my pictures without him in the shot!6 the spread So the Bloody Mary buffet consists of various pickled veggies and pepperoni, four different mixes, celery, salts and hot sauces.7 the wheel & spreadWith so many choices of practically everything, I figured the rookie mistake would be to put too much stuff in the cup and ruin it.
8 the food ingredients Yet the one thing I did not find, but ordered to go on the side was sliced avocado. After all, my palate sought things that would go with spicy tomato juice.9 mixes & celery My waitress recommended the house Bloody Mary mix. 10 mixes map Technically, if one uses clamato, then it’s a Bloody Cesar. And if one uses tequila instead of vodka, it’s a Bloody Maria.11 straw supply As promised in my mass email to friends about this Bloody Mary research, I’d cut up straws in order to make hygienic samples of other people’s drinks.12 straw cup I set some of the straws in a cup for convenience. Plus, as a former secondary teacher, I thought it would be prudent not to have the whole stash out all at once.13 F-ing cucumber vodka I also went with the waitress-recommended choice of alcohol: F-ing cucumber vodka. Not the flavor of vodka I’d drink straight, but it definitely worked as a Bloody Mary base.14 My BM Here’s the first version of my Bloody Mary: F-ing cucumber vodka, no salt, Freddie’s Bloody Mary Mix, dashes of Cholula and worcestershire sauce, pepperoni, green olives, cherry peppers, banana peppers, avocado. This was absolutely the best Bloody Mary–of course since I made it exactly the way I wanted it. 15 My BM I could hardly wait for my burger to eat it along with my drink.  I plopped the dill pickle into the Bloody Mary. By the time I got my cell phone camera ready, the pickle had dunked itself into Bloody Mary awesomeness.16 My BM I propped it back up to pose for a good picture.17 Christina's BMThe first friend showed up and made her Bloody Mary: F-ing cucumber vodka with salt, pepperoni, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix, pickle, olives, garlic, garlic salt, celerity salt, chili lime salt. Salty-savory, but still yummy!
18 Donna's BM The second friend arrived. Although she just wanted to sip the vodka, she complied and made her Bloody Mary: Tito’s vodka, no salt, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix, celery salt, tabasco, lime, olives, celery.  It had a strong celery taste. Nonetheless, I still thought it was yummy.19 Sam's 1st BM By the time the third friend showed up, Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix was temporarily out. Nonetheless, he made a very tasty Bloody Mary: Tito’s vodka, clamato, olives, cherry peppers, celery salt, pickled okra (which, in my haste, I didn’t even know was up there!), horseradish, lots of celery salt (since he didn’t realize it was a flip top).  No surprise that it had a pronounced celery taste, but no spicy kick.20 Sam's 2nd BM For his second one, he used Freddie’s Bloody Mary mix and the same ingredients as the first one. I think the second one tasted better and definitely looked prettier, which goes to show that practice does make perfect!21 Liz's palomaThe fourth friend who showed up ordered a paloma (tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice and salt rim)! When questioned about showing up for a Bloody Mary research and NOT ordering the featured drink, she just shrugged her shoulders and said that palomas were good. Of course, I still sampled it and found it as delicious as ever.

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Dr. Velma

As a child, whenever I became sick, Dr. Velma, as Mom referred to herself, came to the rescue. She’d never attended any recognized medical school. She’d just survived growing up with my grandmother, who we grandchildren affectionately called “Mama Bea.”

Under Mama Bea’s care, Little Velma, the youngest child, drank sugary beer slushies so she’d have an appetite to gain weight. The sugar was added because Little Velma didn’t like the taste of beer. When Dr. Velma told me about this childhood weight-gain home remedy, I pointed out that’s why she’d been addicted to those sugary slushies sold at gas stations. Weird thing was the only time Dr. Velma craved those slushies was when she was traveling on long-distance trips. Just as abruptly as her addiction arose in her 40s, it ended for some reason in her 60s.

I was also underweight as a child, but Dr. Velma didn’t make me any sugary beer slushies. She’d secretly mix a raw egg in my hot chocolate since I wouldn’t eat much breakfast, but I had a sweet tooth just like her. A few years later, she gave me Flintstone vitamins.

When Little Velma had a cold, Mama Bea gave her moonshine. Mama Bea boiled the moonshine, added a little sugar, then when the sugar had just about dissolved, lit it on fire and had Little Velma drink it hot like a cup of coffee. Little Velma would drink this just before going to bed and sweat out the cold as she slept. She’d wake up the next morning and no longer have a cold.

For a mere itchy throat Mama Bea gave Little Velma a small dollop of Vicks vapor rub to swallow. Dr. Velma still does this right before going to bed, especially after she’s been around someone who was coughing and sneezing. Or “snottin’ and snarlin’,” as she calls it!

Dr. Velma also recommends using garlic shots for a cold. One of my sisters peels and crushes a clove of garlic in a tablespoon and adds a little orange juice for her three kids and anyone else who feels as if a cold coming on. I personally don’t need such fancy adornments my garlic shots. I just peel and cut up a clove of garlic and swallow the pieces just like pills.

One time Little Velma cut her ankle on broken glass. Her grandfather put soot from the chimney on it to stop the bleeding. To this day, Dr. Velma can show you where that soot is still on her ankle. Although Dr. Velma says you can use cobwebs to stop a bleeding wound, she’s never tried it herself. Of course, I just stick to Band-Aids!

My earliest recollection of Dr. Velma’s treatments was for a stomachache. I suffered from digestive problems as a child. So, Dr. Velma would mix liniment with milk and sugar. I’d drink that like a good little patient until I read the small, red bold print on the bottle, which stated that liniment was for external use only. Oh, you should’ve heard me roar about how she was trying to kill me, disregarding the fact that I’d survived the liniment treatment several times prior.

Lucky for my older sisters and me, Dr. Velma drank ginger ale for an upset stomach while she was pregnant with each of us.

While working as a bank teller in the basement of a hospital, Dr. Velma had a case of the hiccups. A customer told her to put a little sugar under her tongue. She claims that’s worked for her hiccups ever since.

In the 80s, Dr. Velma took pain medications that caused constipation. She recalled years earlier when Mama Bea told her this home remedy: dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in water followed by a vinegar chaser. Remember all those elementary school volcano simulations? Well, it also moves bowels!

Dr. Velma has been married to Dad for over 50 years. Once, she tried his home remedy for constipation. Dad drinks a mixture of prune juice and orange juice just before bed and has a bowel movement early the next morning. When Dr. Velma tried it, she became so gassy, she couldn’t sleep for fear of having an accident. Now, she only uses Dad’s constipation treatment in the morning.

My two older sisters and I inherited our oily skin from our mother. The first of Dr. Velma’s two favorite oily skin and acne treatments is swabbing original Listerine on her face with a cotton pad, followed by facial lotion. The second remedy is using milk of magnesia as a facial mask, which she washes off after about 30 minutes, unless it’s an overnight treatment. One of Dr. Velma’s nieces suggested using first morning pee as acne treatment. As far as Dr. Velma’s concerned, there’s only one place pee goes and that’s not on her face.

As a younger woman, Dr. Velma had heard about boiling a pinecone and drinking the tea from it to relieve arthritis. By the time Dr. Velma was old enough to suffer from arthritis, she didn’t bother with pinecone tea. She just sprayed WD40 on her joints. Now in her seventies, Dr. Velma eats nine gin-soaked golden raisins to treat the arthritis in her knee. I’ve often teased her that that home remedy only works because she keeps her knee drunk.

To treat the arthritis in her hip, Dr. Velma places a banana peel in a jar of red sports rubbing alcohol. She takes a cotton pad and rubs that alcohol on her hip. Even when the banana peel turns black, Dr. Velma doesn’t worry because the treatment still works! She only uses it at night because of the smell, plus her hip doesn’t hurt during the day.

Lastly every morning, Dr. Velma cuts up fresh ginger, boils it and mixes in a little orange juice and drinks it for general good health. This comes after her daily breakfast smoothie, which usually contains an apple, an orange, spinach or kale, a banana, a celery stalk, a carrot, pineapple or strawberries, a nice squirt of agava to sweeten it, four tablespoons of oatmeal, a wee bit of orange juice and a tray of ice cubes.

Given the rising costs of just stepping into a clinic or hospital and the fact that I’m middle-aged, I’ve stopped laughing at Dr. Velma’s old-timey, inexpensive solutions to medical inconveniences. I may not have access to moonshine and don’t buy liniment, but I’ve found tequila works just as well in a hot toddy or for digestive problems. I love eating fresh food, seasoned with garlic and red peppers and/or red hot sauce and occasionally fresh ginger—all of which heat up the body and make it more challenging for germs. I may never reach unofficial doctor status for my home remedies, but I can at least be the family historian.








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Halloween 2014

1 Cleopatra w:drink

This year, my inexpensive costume was the iconic Cleopatra. I meant to kill two birds with one stone by ordering a Bloody Mary to continue my research. Yet the bar was “provisional,” meaning they only stocked the commonly ordered drinks. 2 hosts

The three radio hosts dressed as neon trees–the headlining band for the evening. They got the evening rolling and spoke in between acts. Unfortunately, some asshole seated near me in the balcony section, booed them just about every time the hosts were on stage. Although his friends tried to persuade him to stop, their giggling just fueled him on. For this reason and how far it seemed I was from the action, I’m buying a mezzanine ticket next year!3 decorative masksI liked the huge masks that were hung up in the background of the stage.
4 decorative masksThey looked different, depending on how different colored lights hit them.5 hanging skullHanging above the center of the stage was a Janus-faced skull. Here’s a shot of the more gruesome face.
6 opening burlesque The first burlesque group seemed to have a story… I just didn’t follow what it was.7 opening burlesqueJust when I thought the narrative would come together, it was over. 8 opening bandThe first band was quite entertaining. Kind of a raunchy, loud rock band.
10 earplugsAfter their first song, I whipped out a bag of every middle-aged person’s favorite little friends–earplugs!
11 1st aerial dancer The first aerial dancer not only performed well on the ring, she managed to add a little extra tease: when she removed her heavily-sequined bikini top, she revealed a smaller set of of heavily-sequined bikini costume.17 2nd band The second band had a secular gospel sound. Not just saying that because one of the backup singers was black–all the singers sang as if they’d grown up singing in a black Baptist church.20 2nd burlesque The second burlesque performer had an elaborate costume, part of which she wore and part of which started off as a display.24 3rd burlesque The next performers were a combination of military zombie burlesque and aerial dancing.25 3rd burlesque They did a mash-up of popping and locking with “Thriller” moves.27 3rd burlesqueAfter a couple of formations, throwing in some “natural” movements in between, the aerial toys descended.29 3rd burlesque

Four of the zombie troop hopped on an aerial toy with another dancer in the middle on the pole.31 3rd burlesque My excitement reminded me of being a kid again and not knowing which ring at a three-ring circus to look at.32 women's costume contest Before the headliners, they brought up the female costume nominees. I thought the most out-of-the-box costume was the “pregnant” woman who had the baby’s limbs jutting out through her shirt.  The human flamingo was imaginative as well, but the audience voted for both the human flamingo (far rt) and the zombie bride.33 men's costume contest The male costume winner was a no-brainer. As soon as the guy with the big black wings walked on stage, the other guys could’ve walked off.35 Neon Trees When Neon Trees finally came on, I’d already started turning into a pumpkin. Yet I was curious to know if I knew more than one of their songs.36 Neon TreesTurns out, I didn’t! Fortunately, the third song was the only one I knew. So, I could have left then. I optimistically stayed for a few more songs. I got to witness two older, nearly legless women cry at the bar, their seat and stumble all over the stairs and occasionally dance.38 Neon TreesI left soon after the lead singer, who said he’d dressed as a dead cheerleader in heels to show empathy for women, sat down on the stage and remove his shoes.  He declared, “I’m done with these heels. I don’t know how you women do it.” Amen, brother! That’s why I no longer do it.

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Urban Drive-In Movie

Once again, the great city of Austin managed to pull off a retro experience.  This time, the drive-in movie. I met a few meetup friends at the urban drive-in movie for a double Halloween feature: “Scream” and “Freaks”.
1 reclining We were the first ones there; so we moved all the comfy reclining lawn chairs to the prime spot in the parking lot in front of the screen. 2 cheap red wine I brought a small boxed red wine, which turned out to be too cheap to be drinkable. Yet the food I brought totally hit the spot. Just behind the lawn chairs were some picnic tables where we ate our dinner before the sun went down.3 movie projector I was impressed at the projectionist’s set up. There were speakers all around the parking lot. Believe it or not, my sensitive ears were just fine with the volume.  Of course, I had my earplugs just in case. (Actually, I never leave home without them!)4 consession trailer Even though I brought my own food, there was a concessions trailer on the edge of the parking lot.5 portopottiesAs a budding germaphobe, I was concerned with a mere two porta potties. Initially, I thought I’d just hold it for three hours. I changed my mind, thinking if I hit it before the crowds arrived, perhaps it would be so gross or would at least have toilet paper. In the end, I don’t know how often those porta potties were cleaned. I just washed my hands and tried not to dwell on it.
6 in the parking lot As the sun set and some cars arrived, I loved the atmosphere of the drive-in.7 ol' fashioned movie ad

Before the movie, instead of watching previews, old ads were played. I forgot all about the health ads they used to show about getting a check up. Equally amusing was the Dixie cup-sized soft drinks and apparently Blacks, Hispanics and Asians didn’t exist.8 Freaks the movieI normally avoid scary movies, but since I’d already seen parts of “Scream”, it wasn’t too bad. Yet “Freaks” wasn’t scary at all–at least not to modern audiences. This classic movie had been banned since most of the cast were people born with physical disabilities. Yet, as another moviegoer and I discussed, back in those days, if someone with such disabilities weren’t associated with a circus or the movies, then life would have been very bleak. As slow-moving as “Freaks” was, I’m so happy it was about an hour long. The movie was over around 11:30. I  nearly turned into a pumpkin.

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Miffed about Muff


A few years ago, I surveyed a group of my female friends who train capoeira, a Brazilian martial arts. At that time, my mission was to discover their fellatio turnoffs. Collectively, they came up with twenty-eight objections. I compiled the data into a charming little essay called “How Men Blow Fellatio.” I’ve read it at several venues, including the Austin Feminist Poetry Festival, where a lesbian couple laughed the most. At the end of the festival, a male poet challenged me to write a companion essay, after surveying guys about their cunnilingus turn offs. I assured the male poet that I probably couldn’t do that since I’m not one of the guys. I invited him to host such an evening himself, write an essay and then we could each read our findings at an upcoming Austin Writers Roulette.

            A week later, I ended up at a house party and conducted the research over drinks around midnight. Since there were fewer participants than in the fellatio research, this essay is even less scientific. Plus, there were other women present while the guys responded, which added to the challenge.

Lastly, the whole experience proves that the universe conspires with me to write about things that need to be written!


The Findings

            Unlike their female counterparts, the men I surveyed about their oral sex turnoffs only came up with six objections versus twenty-eight from the women. Yet I had to tease the relevant data out of the conversation flow. Looking back, I should have recorded the conversation on my phone and typed up the transcript afterwards. Instead, I used my sparse notes and fiction writer’s talent to recapture the gist of discussion.

The first turnoff was not being warned that a woman was on her period. A woman who was present during this conversation defended the women’s side. “Sometimes, a woman starts her period during the act of having sex.” Another woman objected. “You can feel that coming on.” The debate among the women concluded with not all women experienced menstruation the same.

Then one guy mentioned how a woman once said to him, “I’m on my period; so we’ll have to have anal sex.” From there, the conversation digressed to how, among very religious women, anal sex was popular since their hymen remained intact for marriage and they still considered themselves virgins.

I got the conversation back on track by asking the guys if there was anything else that turned them off from cunnilingus. “No stink puss,” one guy answered. They also preferred for a woman to have groomed pubic hair.

One guy confessed to using a depilatory once around his genital area. All the women shouted, “It says right on the bottle you’re not supposed to do that!” One woman advised him to get laser hair removal since a few sessions provided a permanent solution.

Considering we were already talking indirectly about testicles, another guy shared how he gently tugged on his during sex to delay ejaculation. Although this was off topic, I had to ask a follow up question, “Just how much pulling tension should one use?” He told me that men had to decide that for themselves and women can’t do it for them.

Around this time, another guy asked if they could talk about the other side, the worst things about getting a blowjob. One guy screamed out, “No cheese grating!” All the women laughed. Even though the women agreed that teeth shouldn’t mostly be involved, one woman questioned if guys didn’t like some teeth thrown in. The guys winced and reported that only about 30% of the blowjobs they’ve received had been pleasurable.

At this point, I reread the cunnilingus turnoff list: not when a woman’s on her period, no stink puss, no excessive pubic hair. One guy added women shouldn’t choke a man with her thighs or kick him in the back. The conversation shifted into cunnilingus techniques such as massaging a woman’s feet, caressing her nipples and even reaching up to gently tug on her earlobes all while orally satisfying her.

One woman questioned the need to fondle earlobes and confessed that she didn’t like a guy going down on her since it just took time away from “the real act.” The other women said that they had no problems with a man making an effort to satisfy them.

At this point, one of the guys took his own survey when he asked the women, what was more important, length or girth. Unanimously, the women answered girth. The conversation splintered into penises that could be too big or small and the tallest, most massive man could have the tiniest penis. One woman pointed out that her best lover was smaller than average, but he made up for it with his creativity in bed.

I reread the list: not when a woman’s on her period, no stink puss, no excessive pubic hair, no thigh choking, no kicking in the back. One guy added women shouldn’t fart during the act although queefing is OK since that doesn’t smell bad. As a matter of fact, the only drawback to queefing, according to these guys, is when a woman overreacts to it.

The conversation returned to bad blowjobs. The guys expressed annoyance when a woman’s performing fellatio and just starts toying with their penis as if she’s more fascinated by examining it rather than pleasuring it.

For a final time, I reread the list: not when a woman’s on her period, no stink puss, no excessive pubic hair, no thigh choking, no kicking in the back, no farting. The guys looked at one another and agreed that the list was complete. At that point, around half past one in the morning, I said my good byes.





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Visionary Demands

For the October 2014 Austin Writers Roulette, “Visionary Ideas,” I imaged myself as the future global leader of the world. Not too far fetched, considering that most of the world’s population is female, brown-skinned and English-speaking (as a first, second or third language). There were ten changes that I wanted to see in the world. Before reading them, I informed the audience that they could applaud after I’d read each one.1.1 hostess


Here is my list of demands for the future of this world:

  1. Women will hold 51% of all leadership positions in government, businesses and religions since we represent 51% of the world’s population.
  2. Religion will stop being used to justify violence.
  3. Violence will stop being used to resolve conflicts.
  4. During conflicts, we will listen to what the other side wants then propose an offer to our mutual benefit.
  5. Men will no longer treat women the way they do not want their own daughter to be treated. (And no, gentlemen, I don’t give damn if you don’t actually have a daughter; you still know how you’d want her to be treated if you did.)
  6. We all will treat others the way they want to be treated.
  7. We will stop cutting funds for programs and education for under resourced children, but rather invest in them now to reap the benefits of their skills when they’re adults instead of imprisoning them later on at a greater expense.
  8. Underage youths will no longer be charged with prostitution since they cannot legally consent to sex, do not control the money and realistically are being trafficked by their pimp.
  9. The police will reaffirm their vows to serve and protect the public through collaboration and positive participation with the community versus militarized intimidation tactics and brutality.
  10. Women will no longer spend money on elective surgery to alter their goddess bodies, but will invest their money in pursuing a lifestyle that maintains their physical, mental and spiritual health.

20 As CleoA few weeks after debuting my list, I was featured at another poetry event. This time, I dressed up as a famous female leader, Cleopatra. For some reason, people kept referring to me as “Nefertiti,” but at least she was another powerful African queen.

The next day, I finally watched the movie “Lincoln,” where, among other things, I saw the reenactment of white male politicians going nuts over the thought of freeing the slaves. And what would be next, franchisement for Negros (referring only to black men, of course)? Franchisement for women? Oh, how they grumbled and gnashed teeth!

After watching “Lincoln,” I was fired up to attend a meeting where the three mayoral candidates and two pairs of district candidates answered five preselected questions.  Since the district candidates weren’t running for the district where I live, I was far more interested in the mayoral candidates’ answers, which are listed below unidentified since, at this point, I’m more interested in the brainstorming of solutions.

Question 1: (Environmental Justice) Many Austin families with low incomes–both renters and homeowners–are struggling to pay their utility bills.  What do you plan to do to weatherize their homes, make their utility bills (electric and water) more affordable and create living wage green jobs in the process?

  • Subsidize weatherization; save and reuse water (only 3% is done now)
  • Improved customer service over 18 years, including demand-side management; partner with agencies
  • Fought hard not to raise rates; customer service for SNAP; need a mayor who will fight for people who need the help since all want help

Question 2: (Transportation) The rail proposal serves a limited area, but its cost is shared by the entire city. South and Southwest Austin traffic concerns negatively impact thousands of people in regard to safety , neighborhood quality, and the environment.  The “Y” in Oak Hill has been a massive problem for decades.  How do you balance our investments to address the transportation needs of all areas of Austin?

  • Pushed for roads and rail; this proposition is a down payment for funding from the federal government; the railway will go from Georgetown to San Antonio with five stops in Austin
  • Sidewalks need improvement; community depends on public transportation to be viable; needs environmental study to evaluate impact to transportation changes
  • Austin went from 16th to 4th most congested city in US for cities of its size; Austin needs staggered work times and increase telecommuting; less ridership on CapMetro now than earlier years; bring back free passes for senior citizens.

Question 3: (Affordability) Despite the fact that businesses continue to move to Austin and thrive, homeowners pay more property taxes than businesses.  If elected, what will yo do to make sure businesses pay taxes based upon the actual value of their property, keep home ownership affordable and promote more affordable and available rental properties?

  • Make point-of-sale information transparent for businesses; help people lift themselves out of poverty to have living wages with benefits; keep renters in mind since they are the most vulnerable
  • 150 people moving to Austin every day and 40 people leaving; can’t wait for state legislature to start the conversation; tax exemption for homeowners; help renters become owners
  • Collaboration needed to lower tax rate appraisals; examine policy of appraisals for commercial and residential property

Question 4: (Healthy Neighborhoods) What will you do to invest in libraries and parks for low-income neighborhoods? Specifically what will you do to increase staff, programs, and facilities to provide safe and healthy alternatives for our children and youth?

  • Increase spending for libraries and parks; people can choose to tax themselves to improve communities; better engage community; need to make the spending pie bigger.
  • 4 million dollar push for libraries/parks; look at other funding sources; look at underfunded/utilized libraries and parks
  • (attacked other candidates) states more dollars to be be invested in parks and libraries

Question 5: (Living Wage) The city of Austin has a living wage policy so that the City does not pay for workers that end up needing to use City social services to survive.  That living wage rate has not kept up with the cost of living in Austin and is now lower than other less expensive cities in Texas.  What will you do to make sure City employees and its contract workers earn enough to live in the City and how soon will the workers start receiving this true living wage?

  • Study on cost-of-living needed; move people to self-sufficiency with progressive programs like CAP Idea
  • Worked construction for 4.50/hr; went to ACC and took CAPMetro; pushed for living wages and benefits
  • (Civil rights lawyer) 160,000 in poverty and under skilled people. Almost 60% of jobs brought to Austin don’t pay a living wage

Interesting debate! I learned about issues I wasn’t even aware of.  Also of note, there was an inverse relationship between a candidate’s experience in city politics and the candidate’s optimism of what s/he could accomplish.


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Night of Interactive Installations

For my first stop, I experienced art through all of my senses, starting with smell. Given a small satchel to sniff, I immediately recognized the barbecue scent.1 smell Then the lights were raised and I saw how the the smell of barbecue had inspired the photographers. 2 smelly photos For the next sensual stimulus, I touched the items in a tray. When the lights were raised, I saw that I’d correctly identified a fretboard and keyboard through my fingertips.3 touch Then I examined the music-inspired photos.4 touchy photosAt the next station, I wore headphones and listened to music playing.
5 hear When the lights were raised, I viewed the music-inspired photos.6 hearing photos Yet my favorite station was the last one. 7 tasteI cradled my barbecue pork rib like receiving an early Christmas gift.
8 taste I didn’t get into it like the guy in my favorite taste photo though someone had teased me of getting sauce on my shirt.9 tasty Another favorite photo showed a guy proudly displaying his burnt hot dogs while the woman in the background put out a fire. Typical!10 reminds me of Mom & Dad This interactive installation consisted of one famous photographer and two local photographers. I spoke with the local photographer who was present. Turns out, I’d selected one of her pictures as my free gift.11 one of the photographers The second event took place several hours after the first one of the day. I thought it was supposed to be interactive, but after the fact, when I looked at the invitation again, I saw that it stated “video installation.”  Amazing how my mind had added the “interactive” part. Nonetheless, I finally got my chance to try a speciality bloody mary.  12 Bloody Mary

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