Fear of Being Swallowed, Ch. 4



The bustling streets of Kolspace were like a wonderful super-organism ready to swallow Rehema alive. This city’s rhythm was a cacophony.   The ancient labyrinthine stonewalls, which used to channel water, then later protect against enemy attacks now hustled people to and from the heart of the city.

Craig was right. She would’ve been mugged in a minute. Instead, she shared a taxi with him to his usual hotel. They could have negotiated the crowds much faster on foot, but he didn’t want to lose her in the confusion. The temperature inside the run-down taxi increased as if they’d entered a crucible. Although Rehema enjoyed the prolonged opportunity to look at the exotic vibrant-colored fabric, which the native women wore, and smell the sweet musty stench from the food vendors, she also longed for a cold shower and a breath of fresh air.

Rehema attempted to distinguish among the “tribes,” as Craig called them. Certainly, she’d blend in with her native-looking skin, but she’d been raised elsewhere. Her clothes and accent were dead giveaways.

A horrible thought suddenly sat on her head: she’d never been a foreigner before. For some stupid reason, she figured she’d returned to her gene pool and instinctively know what to do. As if her genetics would guide her.

“How long does it usually take you to trade gems?” Rehema asked, trying to mask her panic.

“Oh, the Montiers are a strange lot. Usually, they feed you and try to get you drunk before they conduct any serious business. If you can hold your liquor, then they’ll do business with you.”

“And if you can’t hold your liquor?”

“They’ll rob you.”

Rehema gasped.

“I’m joking. I negotiate on behalf of different clients who have particular gem interests. The Montiers try their damnedest to get me off track, though.”

“I bet you get a lot of requests for big diamonds.”

“Nope.” Craig reached into his leather backpack and pulled out a small black velvet bag. He tossed Rehema a sparkling, lavender, oval gem.

She held the gem with both hands although it would have easily fit into one. As she stroked it with her thumbs, a cooling sensation pulsed through her. Marveling at her interaction with the gem, Rehema held it closer to the window for inspection. Purple and cyan glints sparkled in the sunlight as a sense of well-being cascaded over her. She closed her eyes, smiling.

“Good, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Rehema said dreamily. “Is this an amethyst?”

“No, it’s a peace stone. Only Montier stones cause those feelings.”

“How much?”

Craig laughed. “That’s the problem with Montier stones—they’re addicting as hell! I doubt if you can afford that one. Tell you what: I’ll get you another one, lower quality, but it’ll still work pretty good.”

Reluctantly, Rehema handed over the stone, giving it a final, hard rub. Her heart sank as the taxi stopped at the hotel. The monstrosity looked like a fortress—not at all as romantic as she’d hoped.

“Ah, finally for fuck’s sake.” Craig wiped the sweat from his face and blew his nose in a handkerchief. “Nah, don’t bother. It’s on me.” He waved away Rehema’s attempt to pay. “I feel chivalrous today.”

As Craig checked them in, the clerk who obviously knew him, winked and said, “A double suite today, Mr. Ford?”

“Nah, one single and my usual suite.” The clerk raised both eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing.

Rehema looked around aimlessly until she met the determined gaze of a well-dressed predator with his fine silky shirt, linen pants and sharp eyes. She couldn’t break the spell until Craig asked, “Ready?”

He’d startled her, and then saw why. “Jonathan! I didn’t expect to see you here.” Craig crossed the dull, gray, marble floor of the lobby to shake hands and kiss the other man on the cheeks.

Rehema attempted to complete her hotel check-in, but the clerk had pulled a disappearing act. She uselessly clicked her fingernails on the marble counter, longing to escape to her hotel room.

Jonathan leaned in and whispered, “Introduce us,” while looking directly at Rehema.

Craig strode three quick steps over to Rehema and touched her shoulder, causing her to jump. “Sorry. What’s your last name?”

She nervously glanced at Jonathan who seemed obviously entertained. “Jones. Why?”

He grasped her elbow and escorted her closer to Jonathan. “Jonathan Montier, Rehema Jones.” Craig hated doing “shit like this,” but since Jonathan was his main trading partner, deemed it a necessary business evil.

“Pleasure to meet you,” Jonathan said. He brought the back of her sweaty hand to his mouth and kissed it.

Wide-eyed, Rehema thought, “I don’t believe this is happening.”

Jonathan flashed her a wry smile.   The thought, “Believe it,” struck her.

To Craig, he said, “Our meeting place has been changed due to circumstances beyond our control. A driver will pick you up at seven tonight.” Then he added, “Both of you.”

Having recovered a little composure, Rehema squeaked out a “thank you.”

The two men shook hands and embraced again. Then, Jonathan enclosed Rehema’s hand in both of his. “I look forward to seeing you tonight.”

Nervously, Rehema nodded and pressed a smile on her face.

Once Jonathan was out of earshot, Rehema turned to Craig and said, “I’m not going.”

“What? You’ve got to go!”

“I don’t know that guy!”

Craig rolled his eyes. “Most women in this town would kill to be invited to have dinner with him.”

“I. . . I don’t like being set up on blind dates,” Rehema added nervously.

“Look, just drink some booze. Do you have fancier outfit than that?” Craig gave her dark green T-shirt, jeans and Tevas the once over with disapproval.

“I had no reason to pack a fancier outfit than this.”

He huffed, “Don’t worry. I’ll get you something.”

“Where?” Rehema demanded.

Craig, irritated with his new matchmaking role, returned to the front desk where the clerk had miraculously reappeared. Rehema trailed behind him. “Nabu she needs a fancy outfit by six tonight.” He indicated, stabbing his thumb in Rehema’s direction behind him. Nabu nodded, sizing her up. “We’re having dinner at the Montier’s.”

This time, Nabu nodded knowingly.

“Christ, I hate mixing business with someone else’s pleasure!” Craig cursed under his breath.


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Big Deck Reading

1-gardenI didn’t quite know what to expect when I agreed to perform at a backyard, big deck reading. Yet, this garden enticed me to take a second look. Not only were the raised vegetation beds growing plants, but it also served as makeshift seating.
2-sound-systemOne end of the deck housed the sound equipment and DJ.
3-big-deck I stood in the garden to take in the full effect of the deck, which the organizer/homeowner herself had built.  Periodically, she’d prompt the audience to say with her, “My deck is bigger than yours!”4-pasteries Another writer brought some designer pastries, where yours truly de-baconed one of a pastry’s two pieces. These treats were so huge, they had to be cut into bitesize pieces to be shared with the rest of the audience.5-toilet-sign Before the show, I used the bathroom. Normally an unremarkable event, but I loved the sign above the toilet paper roll, which reminded me of another toilet sign I witnessed at a bar/restaurant in Cuzco, Peru.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES6-me-readingThe audio dynamics alarmed me when I spoke in the mic. I then understood why the first performer had stepped back and had projected his voice even more. I toughed it out and read the vibrator excerpt from my first novel, Tribe of One.
7-me-readingFollowed by reading an excerpt from my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity & Negativa. I couldn’t tell until after the fact that the mostly millennial audience had enjoyed my reading or not. Most commented on the first excerpt.

Since I was the third reader to perform out of five, the show broke for a 15-minute intermission. Of course I took the opportunity to travel throughout the crowd, handing out business cards and inviting people to check out the roulette. Although the next roulette was the following day, no one from the big deck event, as far as I know, came out. Nonetheless, they have a few more opportunities remaining in 2016 to do so.

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St. Edwards Park Hike

1-superheroes So of course this was meant to be a fabulous hike with two superheroes on the scene.2-beginning-hikeMy schedule finally allowed me to participate in this hiking, walking and socializing meetup.The organizer usually plans a hike every two weeks or so, but I can only make it, so far, every couple of months.

2-2-group-back-photoFrom this view, my dreads and Superwoman T-shirt blend in like Clark Kent.
There I am! In all my glory. The “S” on my chest stands for “Spectacular”!  I had a terrific time on a beautiful day, talking to some interesting people.  Just look at that blue sky and verdant vegetation.
3-not-really-welcomeAt one point, we came to a fenced off area where endangered species resided. Although the biggest word and irony on this sign was  “Welcome,” the imposing rules, especially the “hiking in a group of three people of less [should be fewer!],” weren’t welcoming at all. I understood the motivation, but all those rules motivated us to brainstorm how to get around them.
4-nos-signEven our organizer was tempted to divide us up in groups of three.
5-forbidden-signs Yet, a couple of members had brought their dogs. In the end, we stayed together, leaving the preserved part for another time.6-rocky-stairs Inevitably, we arrived at a loose rocky steep part.  This part reminded me of the 1000 Steps of Redemption when I descended Mt. Sinai.  I’ve yet to buy my walking stick. I had to crab walk my way down instead. 7-water-crossing I especially wanted a walking stick for watery crossings.  I followed another woman around the long way to cross this stream. At least I stayed mostly dry.  A handful of people took off their footwear and crossed barefoot.7-1-waterfall The mini waterfalls were delightful to see. I enjoy hikes that have a variety of scenery.8-watery-drivewayHowever, we spent far more time ogling this watery driveway. According to the four mailboxes on the same side of the road, adjacent to the driveway, as many as four families cross this safety hazard. That would be a stopper for me as a potential homeowner, but a couple of guys speculated they would just buy an all-terrain vehicle.

I was so happy not to cross another waterway nor ascend steep rocky steps when we turned around at this point and arrived safely to the parking lot where I reunited with my car.  That was the perfect alternative workout for my left hip and leg–my challenge areas.

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Chameleon Costume

1-the-materials The great sacrifice of three T-shirts, a pair of pants, a bath towel and wash cloth created my latest handmade costume for the spoken word and poetry show which I produce, The Austin Writers Roulette. Although I wore green shorts to complete look, I didn’t change them.2-an-eye To make the chameleon eyes, I traced circles onto two different-colored T-shirts.3-the-eyes Then, I made the first two of nineteen pillows, starting with the eyes. This headpiece was the top part of a pair of pants. Whenever I modify clothing to make a costume, I try as much as possible to retain the original stitching and design since that results in less hand sewing on my part. So, I stuffed the pockets with polyfill until they bulged and sewed the eyes on top. 4-the-tail For the chameleon’s tail, I combined the pant legs. When I researched how to make the tail curl, I quickly abandoned the idea of using a wire. Instead, I stuffed it with polyfill, then sewed the curl into the tail.5-precursor-scalesYears ago when I bought two green towels with washcloths, they actually matched. Using a template, I traced thirteen squares. I liked the contrast of the towel pieces versus the washcloth pieces.6-scales Hand-sewing those thirteen triangular pillows was another story. I sewed up one side, stuffed in polyfill, and then gave myself hand cramps holding them while sewing the third side.  Even with pins to keep the pillows shut, I still experienced hand strain.7-completed-costume Three of the scale pillows decorated the headpiece while the remaining ten decorated the back of the T-shirt.  The magical moment arrived when I sewed the tail onto the bottom of the shirt. 8-group-shot-copy Topping off my look, the most expensive part of the whole ensemble, the $15 green lipstick!  The best thing about that pricey lipstick was its staying power.9-chameleon-ccaI love to get the most mileage out of all my handmade costumes.  So when one of my three part-time jobs hosted a costume contest, I dressed as a chameleon and posed with my call center agent stuff.
10-chameleon-ccaI didn’t realize I’d have to submit the pictures via FB. I’ve resisted using FB all this time and certainly wasn’t going to join just for something like this–as cute as the idea may be. Fortunately, a coworker helped me out and posted the pictures for me. I hope to win some trick-or-treat money!

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Mom’s Visit 2016

1-2-glasses-flip-phoneOn the eve of my 46th birthday, I picked Mom up from the airport. She’d come to celebrate both of our birthdays, hers being three days after mine, attend my art reception for The Adventures of Infinity & Negativa: An Adult Fairy Tale, and participate in the spoken word and storytelling event I produce, The Austin Writers Roulette.

She’s one of the funniest people I know even when she’s not trying. Check out the reading glasses propped on top of the shades while checking her FLIP phone! In true Virgo practicalness, she told me, “At least I can see what I’m doing.”2-wig-shop I whisked Mom’s luggage upstairs to my apartment while she waited in the car since she wanted to minimize the amount of walking up and down the stairs. Anytime she had to walk up and down those stairs she’d groan, “These stairs will beat you down.”

Then, I took her to several places to buy a wig. At the first two, she didn’t even try one on, but at this shop, the owner and I convinced Mom to try on a couple.3-wig-shopI was happy that she’d finally abandoned that rolling-up-the-hair madness after about 60 years of doing so.4-wig-shop Growing up, I’d always heard my maternal grandmother say a woman’s hair is her crown and glory.5-wig-shop Mom certainly takes that very seriously. Perhaps too seriously. I believe what’s going on underneath the hairstyle is far more important than the hairstyle itself.6-wig-shopThroughout her wig trials, she kept asking me if I was taking her picture and I kept saying no. Since I normally keep my phone on vibrate, it soundlessly took pictures.
7-wig-shop But who would want to miss the moment when their mother got a new do? Or in Mom’s case, a new glorious crown?8-wig-shop And for what became a ubiquitous sight, Mom sitting somewhere, talking on the phone.9-me-as-superwomanI sported my Superwoman T-shirt and tiara for my 46th birthday. Although I couldn’t do my job with my tiara on, I’d internalized the royalty.9-0-mom-works-out After work, Mom and I walked over to the fitness center. Notice how she wore her athletic shoes, but quickly settled onto a seat, with her phone, a recipe I’d printed out for her at the nearby business center and some ads when I’d checked the mailbox en route. Mom badmouthed me to whomever she was talking to since we’d walked over. Honestly, Mom has no problem walking when she’s shopping, but bulks at walking to work out.

She’d managed to get off the phone for a few minutes to lift a few weights, but nothing too serious. Still, just before we left, Mom wiped down the two pieces of equipment she’d used. I teased her that she was merely removing her fingerprints since she hadn’t broken out into a sweat. 9-1-my-bd-dinnerFor my birthday dinner, we ate at The Buenos Aires Cafe. Since it’s especially known for its empanadas and beef, we shared a veggie and a spicy beef empanadas. Mom indulged in the seafood platter. She no longer buys, cooks nor orders seafood because Dad has developed a shellfish allergy. 9-2-my-bd-dessert Although we split a chocolaty dessert, Mom and I stuffed down another chocolaty dessert, courtesy of our waiter. 10-moms-swimwear The day after my birthday, Mom and I went swimming. Of course she does everything in style! We went to an outdoor pool, where Mom did her water aerobic exercises while I swam a half mile.11-edible-arrangement-delivery The following day, someone knocked on the door.  To our surprise, one of my sisters had balloons, chocolate-dipped strawberries and fruit delivered.12-chocolate-dipped-strawberries That delivery happened right on time. I was on my lunch break, which started off with two dipped strawberries.13-basket-balloons I let Mom wrestle with the balloons and plastic to get to the fruit. I polished off lunch with a slice of pineapple.14-mom-rudys By good fortune, I got off work early, so I took Mom to one of my favorite BBQ places. Whenever I bring a visitor, I make sure to let the staff know. They welcomed Mom, allowed her to sample some things, but I already knew I would order a pound of extra moist brisket, some creamed corn and jalapeno sausage. Mom also wanted cole slaw, which went well with our brisket sandwiches.15-mom-rudys I tried to take a picture of Mom with food on the table without her chewing, but that never happened. After a while, I put away my camera phone and dug in as well.16-mom-rudysAfter eating, we went outside to see the peacocks. They were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps the heat had them in hiding.
18-mom-me-rudysFollowing dinner, we went to the mall, which was nearby despite the throes of rush hour traffic. Better to walk off dinner than to sit in traffic. Of course, since we were shopping, Mom had no complaints about walking.17-mom-wice-cream Before going home, we stopped by a grocery store since Mom wanted more fresh produce for her morning smoothies. I picked us up a treat that had been recommended to me by a cashier: chile pepper pecan ice cream! One of Mom’s all-time favorite ice creams was butter pecan. This took that flavor to a different level.21-hihat For Mom’s birthday dinner, we ate at Hi Hat. I didn’t remember seeing this drum kit chandelier before. 22-moms-bdOne of the reasons I chose this restaurant was it was in walking distance of the gallery. Once again, Mom complained about having to walk “so far” to get to the restaurant. When I reminded her of how she’d walked much farther at the mall, she replied, “But that was SHOPPING.” I told her it was all psychological and reminded Mom she should be happy she still has the ability to walk.
20-mom-with-readers-meThe women whom I’d invited to perform dramatic readings for four of the paintings, showed up at least an hour ahead of the performance–my usual curtain call.   23-mom-readers The two dramatic readers, who read the part of “Infinity,” both wore the character’s signature color, purple.24-mom-artists Continuing Mom’s 76th birthday celebration, she held court in the back of the art gallery. Before the dramatic reads began, I secured a chair for her in the middle of the room, so she could be in the thick of the action. To introduce the readings, I first stated that I’d chosen Saturday, September 10th for the date of the reception since it was Mom’s birthday.  I didn’t lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to her, but everyone applauded. 25-mom-draining-alcohol At the end of the night, we cleaned up the food, candy and alcohol. Mom drained the drink dispenser of its apple martini. I imagined this was how she milked cows on her family’s farm.
26-mom-sipping-a-margFor Mom’s last evening, we ate at a local coffee shop and also attended a weekly artist workshop. Mom mostly drank water and smoothies while she visited with me.  I managed to take one picture of her sipping my margarita.

By the time I dropped Mom off at the airport early the next morning, she actually was high–from that wonderful feeling of a vacation well spent.

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Art Reception: The Adventures of Infinity & Negativa

0-rehearsalOne spectacular thing I did in preparation of my very first art reception was to invite four dynamic female artists who had performed on The Austin Writers Roulette to read some of the chapter openings that accompanied my paintings. Fortunately, three out of four came to the actual rehearsal and the fourth rehearsed with me on the phone. As an added bonus, I pointed to the paintings they were emoting since I had not taken them to the gallery yet. 1-preview I’d taken the sight of my paintings hanging in my apartment for granted, but once I walked into the Link & Pin Art Gallery, I was nearly driven to tears. To see the paintings professionally hung and lit in such an intimate, yet public space made all the effort worth it.2-previewI previewed them the Sunday before the official reception on Saturday. The 24 chapter openings of my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity & Negativa: An Adult Fairy Tale, unfolded around the room.
3-previewAs one walks around the room, reading the opening of every chapter in which the title characters feature, one learns of Infinity’s and Negativa’s adventures.
4-previewYet the main story is still to be discovered. 5-previewIn this spatial context, I saw a new beauty in the paintings and their openings.6-candy In one adventure, Negativa tells Infinity about how candy, AKA “women bait,” are used as symbolic logic. So, Mom and I arrived hours before the reception to set up the candy display. 7-candy Despite the labeling, this was the biggest crowd pleaser. I don’t truly believe most people were into S and M. This was the “good” candy. Even men, who didn’t bother to read the labels past the bold print, made a beeline to the pricey stuff.8-candy The most enthusiastic eater of these non-chocolates mixed a small cup of blueberries with Reese’s Pieces and made his own candy-fruit mix. 9-candy Honestly, I was impressed how many people gravitated to Twix. Again, I’m sure it wasn’t the labeling.10-candy If the popularity of Twix impressed me, I was flat out flabbergasted how the Almond Joy goblet stood empty at the end of the night.11-candy Poor Hershey Kisses, which I thought would be the bell of the ball, stood the most full by the end of the night. Not so much for the labeling, but compared to the other chocolate-rich candy, was demoted to ugly stepsister status.12-candy Only the second non-chocolate choice, these little dandies were popular among peanut lovers. As a matter of fact, when an Australian visitor looked at all the choices, she chose a Payday since she’d never tasted one before. Then, she took a second one, remarking she had to branch out and try more American candy.13-candy As much as people giggled about its labeling, KitKats were the second least favorite chocolate choice.14-candy By contrast, Special Dark were the second most chosen chocolate. People were somewhat familiar with it, but it still stood in the shadow of Dark Chocolate with Chili.15-candy Although the actual candy received a mediocre reception, its painting depiction, a mostly nude, buff medium-brown hunk, was nearly everyone’s favorite for painting #17.Day 19 17-candy Logically enough, the candy display stood underneath its motivational painting, along with the “key” of what each candy symbolized in the book. 18-blueberries As a wonderful surprise, Link and Pin Art Gallery owner, Debra Watkins, arranged a blueberry, cheese, cracker and muffin display underneath its motivational painting, where Infinity tells Negativa of her favorite blueberry pancake recipe, using ingredient ratios. 19-sign I even loved the sign Debra placed between the painting and the display. I zeroed in on the fresh blueberries and the blueberry-laden cheese.  As big of a cheese fan as I am, I’ve never had it with embedded blueberries. I put a chunk in a cup with a cracker for Mom.20-blueberries 21-tribe For a rare moment, I thought like an entrepreneur and brought a few of my first novels to be sold at the reception. 22-readers-meAll the dramatic readers who I’d rehearsed with two weeks before the reception showed up at least an hour ahead of time–my usual call time for performers.
23-checking-out-candy Here’s just one example of how effective the “women-bait” display was. To be fair, men hovered around this table just as much as women did!24-poetsThe evening was filled with a lot of my fellow artists and a remarkable showing from my fellow yogis, who I practice with four times a week.
25-crowd 26-crowd Before the dramatic readings began, I brought a chair in the center of the room so the woman of the evening, my mother, who sported my tiara in honor of her birthday, and let the crowd know I chose my mother’s 76th birthday to have my reception. The very reason I’d chosen that date was to lure her and my father to visit me since the excuse was always, “But, Teresa, you’re the only one in Texas.  It’s easier for you to come to us.” Unfortunately, at the last minute, my father wasn’t cleared by his doctor to fly. 27-ch-1-reading For the dramatic reading of Chapter One from the Adventures of Infinity & Negativa, Donna Dechen Birdwell (in black) read the part of the Narrator, Mackenzie Irick (in yellow) read the part of Negativa and Udelle Robinson (in purple) read the part of Infinity.28-ch-16-reading For Chapter Sixteen, Stephanie Webb read the part of Infinity.29-ch-16-reading Although we’d rehearsed reading the parts, the artists couldn’t help but add some acting and blocking.30-ch-17-reading I’m actually happy they got into the reading. After all, the audience could read the words for themselves.31-ch-19-readingThey brought the colorful energy from the paintings and the power of the words together in their performance. 32-after-the-readings Afterwards, this concluded my first production inside my first art reception. What made this experience even more significant, this was my Mother’s first art reception.  What a way to spend a birthday.33-candy-resultHere’s the results of my unofficial candy survey. Can’t really tell anything about women’s relationship choices, but the crowd loved the pricey candy and barely touched the most popularly known candy.

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Dipped My Big Toe

Twenty-fifteen was the year I unintentionally dipped my big toe into poverty. I didn’t attempt to be a poor, starving artist, but since necessity is the mother of invention, I reinvented myself many times, juggling jobs in this great circus act called the gig economy: editor, writer, tutor, adult basic education instructor, call center agent, insurance agent, spoken word and storytelling producer, painter. Everything I needed to be to exist in a financial niche.

I actually thought I’d make it as a freelance editor and writer, especially since I had some money saved up for the in between contract times. What I discovered, like being an entrepreneur, it’s harder than first blush.

Just before running out of money, I landed a part time job, teaching Adult Basic Education in the evenings. I absolutely loved being back in the classroom with the added benefits of motivated, adult students, my mornings free, very little lesson planning, virtually no grading, and a less than 10 minute commute.

I still had the fantasy of landing a freelance writing/editing job or going full time with the teaching gig. As months rolled by, neither happened. One way I responded to the financial reality of my underemployed situation was by reducing my grocery budget from $50 a week to $30.

The beauty of being a math teacher was that I understood chunking. For a grocery budget of $30, I’d buy 15 $2-items. If I knew I had to buy an item that cost more than $2, then I’d buy fewer than 15 items. I always celebrated the weeks when my grocery bill was under $25. Then, as far as math was concerned, I could buy up to $35 worth of groceries for the following week although I’d still only write 15 items on my list.

I had a list of weekly grocery lists on my phone. I never put more than three nonedible things on one list. So if I were running low on shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste and toilet paper, I’d have to make a decision about which three out of four things I’d buy. I became much better at portion control since using a little less of everything was better than having none of anything.

I applied that logic with edible things as well. Gone were the days of two-egg omelets when one egg would do. As a matter of fact, my cheap sources of protein became eggs and peanut butter. Not together, mind you. I embellished ramen noodles, a cheap carbohydrate, with a scrambled egg, fresh produce sautéed in toasted sesame oil, a toss of frozen peas, and a drizzle of sriacha. Of course, I’d only use half of that ramen noodle flavor packet because of how much sodium it contained.

In reality, all cheap foods are bad for you. What makes them so inexpensive is the low nutritional content. I’ve never read that correlation on any nutrition label. I just know it to be true. This country despises poor people and wants to help us shorten our lifespans through poor diet—among other things.

I’d buy most of my spices and grains in the bulk aisle. I clipped coupons and based my weekly meals on which grocery specials were available. I’d already had the habit of cooking one big meal a week and packing it up in Tupperware to take to work for lunch. Yet, the ante was upped since all my meals had to be rationed out. I marveled at how preoccupied with food I became. Even when I wasn’t actually hungry, I still thought about food.

I knew my rent would be paid, I still maintained my yoga membership since I could go in the mornings, but I stopped training capoeira. Part of the reason was the conflict of scheduling since most the classes were in the evenings when I worked and I was ageing out, but financially, it was another monetary sacrifice, especially since I could still practice some moves on my own at the fitness center in my apartment complex. Trips to get a mani/pedi fell by the wayside along with getting my car washed, dance classes, and thank goodness, I’ve never liked shopping.

Even shopping for costumes to host my show became a creative opportunity to see how economically I could make them. This pursuit was aided by some of my female students since we’d trade clothes among ourselves. I’d always maximize the costuming angle with every piece of clothing someone gave me, along with sacrificing clothes and material I’d had for years but hardly ever wore.

Anytime I started to throw a private pity party, I reminded myself that I other people, especially other women, have come back from much more extreme circumstances. I was merely a middle class, college-educated woman who was temporarily underemployed. I had students who couldn’t control the number of children they birthed. Students, who were employed, but lived out of their car because they had to make the decision between paying rent and maintaining a car. You see, a car will take you to a job, but an apartment won’t.

I had a student who’d be chronically hungry and had to leave class a little early in order to find a safe place to park her car so she could sleep in peace and still, she struggled with passing the English reading and writing tests. I always gave her the optimistic advice that with more reading practice, she’d eventually be successful. Yet, I suspected that chronic stress suppressed her academic achievement.

So, I know I’ve not sank as financially low as I could possibly go. There is no bottom limit. I’ve dipped my big toe into poverty. I’ll spend the rest of my life, avoiding a bigger plunge. This experience has helped confirm two ideas I’ve always thought: first, money does buy happiness when you have the right set of priorities; and secondly, poverty sucks!

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Red Sleeper Sofa

red sofa copy

For my parents’ impending visit, I had to make a couple of upgrades to my apartment, the largest was buying a new sleeper sofa. Since their last visit six years ago, the recliner loveseat had fallen into embarrassing disrepair.  Still comfortable, but not presentable for my parents. Plus, now that I work from home and my desk is in my bedroom, it just made sense to not disturb them when I started work.

I took advantage of one of my credit card’s 0% APR for 12 months checks to buy the sofa. The big gamble is that within a year or less, I’ll be working full time or at least I will have paid it off with the three part time jobs I currently have.

Yet, I think the original gamble will pay off since I’ve already successfully passed my insurance agent’s license exam. I crammed 15 chapters into my head over two and a half weeks; mostly motivated in the short term by the bonus money I’d receive. In the long term, I’ll most likely go full time, get commission, and expand my skill set.

About two months ago, I came to a radical conclusion: remain on the right side of natural selection. In the past, I’ve been conscious of my dire finances. Unlike before, I’m no longer comfortable with carrying credit card debt for any amount of time. There’s something so satisfying about paying off the balance every month–just like getting a little exercise every day. Financial health may be just as important as body/spiritual health since without the proper finances, very few other things are possible.

After taking the plunge of purchasing the red sleeper sofa, I bought new sheets and pillows, new matching towels for my parents and some other minor things to make my apartment look less rundown.  Normally, I only shop for gas, groceries and costume accessories for dressing in character to host The Austin Writers Roulette.

Given the proximity of my 46th birthday to the arrival of my new sleeper sofa, I can call it my birthday gift to myself (even though I wouldn’t have bought it if my parents weren’t coming). We certainly believe in celebrating our birthdays for at least a week in my family; so it’s not unusual to count every positive thing into the observation.

One bittersweet note: due to health reasons, Dad won’t be able to join Mom on the red sofa. Although his health has improved, the doctor didn’t clear him for flying. Yet, Mom and I are making lemonade with our lemons. Her birthday’s three days after mine.  We’ll have plenty to celebrate for her week’s visit. In addition to our birthdays, the main draw for her visit is my art reception for the paintings I created for my second novel, The Adventures of Infinity and Negativa: An Adult Fairy Tale. As an added bonus, Mom will attend the roulette.  She’s seen videos for the show, but this will be the first time she’ll be present for one.

I’ve focused so much on getting my apartment parent-ready, making final preparations for the reception and putting together my costume for the roulette, I hope the everything comes together well.

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Marching to Jubilee

Don’t slow me down

With all the hemming and hawing

And blah, blah, blahing

Ain’t nobody got time for all that

Think of what you need to say

Then edit it down

I got somewhere else to be

I’m marching to Jubilee


Don’t weigh me down

With worn out clichés

Those verbal equivalents

Of genuine faux diamonds

Unrecyclable words

Dredging up old imagery

I got something else to see

I’m marching to Jubilee


Don’t try to hold me back

With your fears or labels

You can’t scare or define me

So you can keep your voodoo

Your fire, your brimstone

It’s your hell, you burn in it

There’s another destination for me

I’m marching to Jubilee


Don’t distract me

With your personality

You’re nothing but

Click-bait incarnate

I’m staying focused

Immune to your hijinks

I’ve gotta a greater activity

I’m marching to Jubilee



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Laser Tag, You’re It!

1 Brandi & me Periodically, the company I work for hosts a gathering, invites all its call center agents (CCAs) to change out of their pajamas, and leave the cozy confines of their homes to have fun and food. Obviously, I like free food, especially the crazy selection of delicious desserts we had at the end, but what I most looked forward to was crossing laser tag off my bucket list. I’d initially made a beeline to the upstairs of this family playground extravaganza to check it out. There was a long line, but I didn’t see another CCA in line; so I returned downstairs, thinking I should at least fulfill the whole “meet-and-greet” aspect and socialize first.

That plan worked out well since I met another CCA who also wanted to play laser tag. After eating a couple of pieces of pizza and talking, we entered the laser tag line. While waiting in that slow-moving line, I learned that her educational background was in archeology, she’d participated in several digs around the world, and she was also studying for that grueling insurance agent exam like I was.

During our conversation, one little kid, around the age of 8, kept dashing past us for some unknown reason. I said under my breath to my fellow CCA, “I’m going to enjoy shooting that little kid.” Never, outside of the context of laser tag or a water gun fight, would that ever be an acceptable thing to utter.

2 questionable graphics Once we were close to the entrance, we could see a screen that displayed the do’s and don’ts of laser tagging. Yet there was one image I couldn’t quite figure out what the rule was. A woman with breasts that were far too big for her frame or necessary for the point of conveying some rule stood in front of a kneeling man.
3 questionable graphicsI tried to capture a good shot of this larger-than-life breasts phenomenon, but this was the best I could do. I still don’t know which rule was being depicted. Perhaps, “don’t poke anyone in the eye with your lethally-enhanced nipples”?

There was only one other adult in the arena with us and a bunch of kids. Not too much strategy needed, given who we were up against, especially since my only real competitor was on my team. Yet, I tagged the little kid who’d stepped on my foot in line several times, along with all the other kids. That’s all that really counts in such a mindless game.

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