About Chloe

erin and chloe

Dear Mom,

I just called my husband at work to ask if he can take Saturday off so we can put Chloe to sleep. The vet gave me a few times she is available to come to our apartment and do it. I chose Saturday at 12:30.

At first she said she could come tomorrow afternoon, and I said, “But that’s tomorrow.”

And Friday is Friday. And Saturday is Saturday. Which day is the right one?

Which day is the right day to lay her body on my lap and kiss her goodbye and try to be calm for her as they give her one last sleep and then stop her heart? Which day will be best to hand her limp body to a stranger, follow her psychically to the crematorium, and try not to imagine her carcass—of which I know the weight on my chest, how the heart murmur flutters under my hand, in which places it is damp and cold and where it is dry and warm, where it has crusted with the bumps and ulcers of old age, where the fur has worn away and where it is still soft and lush, exactly like it was when she was 6 months old and we rode home together from the shelter in my boyfriend’s van, me an impulsive and stoned 19-year-old giddy with conviction that this was the perfect gift for you, my newly single mother, all alone in that house in south L.A., in chat rooms, spilling wine on yourself and on the verge of once again loving and nurturing another loser, and who would wind up giving this dog magical abilities and who would take her to work and on road trips and to the beach and let her run free without a leash, which drove me nuts but you both were free creatures and I couldn’t control anything until you were suddenly gone and the dog was missing and I prayed to Whatever was listening that if Chloe showed up I would forgive Whatever, and then the call came from the police and she and I threw our bodies against the cage bars until they were opened and we kissed each other and cried and I swore to never let anything happen to her and to love her with all my heart until the world spun in reverse and I could make everything that ever went wrong for you right—try not to imagine that body burning to ash?

On what day do you end a ten-year blood oath?

After you had Chloe for a few months, you called me in a panic. Chloe was missing, had jumped from the open window of your car while you were in the bank. In spite of my rage and worry, I drove you around town for two days until we found the dog in a Taoist church parking lot, unharmed and happy as you please. When I was 20, another phone call: Chloe is listing and stumbling. And an immediate call back: it’s okay, don’t come down. We think she ate a pot brownie. I’m 21: Chloe stepped on broken glass and I can’t afford a vet. Can I bum $100 for stitches? I’m 23: Chloe was bitten by a rattlesnake, but she’s fine. They gave her anti-venom and we’re picking her up tomorrow.

To the untrained ear this might sounds like bad parenting. No offense. But listen to me, I’m another creature raised by you: it was one animal respecting another animal’s joie de vivre. Emotional license, you used to say to me, when we fought. “I gave you emotional license! I never told you what you could and couldn’t think or feel.” Chloe traveled, met children and jazz musicians, played in the surf, rolled in mud, got taken to bars (and thrown out of them, with you), slept on a human bed, ate boiled chicken and rice. Mom, the measure of your love wasn’t worry and restriction. It was pleasure.

You’d hate the way she looks now, this long, thin caramel-colored body with its jutting shoulders and spine—but she looks peaceful swallowed up by the down comforter we’ve indulged her in. Every now and then she shudders, as she has for about a year, at first seldomly and now frequently. She flinches, too, violent facial seizures that chatter her teeth. She paces at night, gives this heartbreaking whinny. She groans, reluctant to lie down, stiff and stumbling with the pain of arthritis, confusion. We tried anti-senility drugs, but she still docks herself into tight corners and can’t back out of them. She is mostly blind and deaf. Pain meds? Valium? And what then? This isn’t the dog you knew. She’s 100.

It just occurred to me that you left her when she was around 50, your age. A couple of wild, middle-aged ladies. Thelma and Louise. Can you imagine being 100? Do you blame me for making this choice?

There are four Greenie bones left. She loves her Greenies. On Saturday I’ll give her two.

What about this case of dog food—it’s good stuff, expensive. Grain-free, hand-cooked by virgins in a cathedral in Paris, I don’t know. I just can’t cook chicken and rice each week, like you did. I’m selfish and I’m lazy and I never had children and I don’t have your hands.

There are six cans left, and Saturday is two dinners away. Should I instead give her a hot dog? A warm one, bun and all? Or I’ll make her a meatloaf. I’ll give her a can of tuna—the kind with sodium. Anything you want, my love. She flinches so hard her teeth chatter, then she whimpers.

There has to be another way out of here besides loss. Loss, again. Also, it’s not my right. It’s not my call. It’s your call, and you’re gone and I have to pull the trigger on my own. And suddenly I look over this long expanse of time and I’m embarrassed. Did I really think I could make this dog live forever? Did I really think that I could reverse the turning of the Earth? Did I think that by loving Chloe enough I could undo all of your tragedies, one by one, until you were undead and we had all the time in the world again?

How long after she started feeling pain and misery did I keep this dog alive, waiting for the miracle to come?

After you died, almost ten years ago (really?), I held Chloe and thought about the eventual end of her life. We were fresh from scattering your ashes in the Pacific. In those days I was finding meaning all over the place, tying up cosmic loose ends—making oaths. I’ll write a book was one promise. Another was this: when it was time for Chloe to pass, whenever that would be, I would whisper in her ear, Go find Mom. I would bring her ashes to you, off the coast of Dana Point, and make right what once went wrong. Put back together what violence had torn apart.

But that was when we were young and glorious and nothing could touch us—when there were no Saturdays at 12:30, only tomorrows stretched out as far as you could see.

Mom, if you’re anywhere you can feel this, go to the Eastern Gate on Saturday and meet your dog.

Weather is here, wish you were beautiful

I follow her trajectory in blood. A smear on the wall, on the closet door, another around the corner. Using a paper towel and the Windex left in the apartment when we moved in, I wipe shades of red off the radiator, an outlet, the back of the new nightstand. Behind me, I hear her clicking around on the hardwood floors, and I know she is pacing in a manic circle, tongue lolling out of her mouth, rear leg giving out and sliding every other step. Next, I wet a washcloth and try to soak the corner of the comforter where it’s bright red like it was paintbrushed on. I give up and use the same washcloth to wipe black tears from my cheeks.

I am killing my dog. Or she is killing herself. Either way, neither of us is happy.

I realize it’s oddly quiet and stand up to see across the room, where she has wandered off the carpet and slid into her Bambi pose, all four limbs splayed helplessly out. It’s what happens when she breaks out of the barricade we have built out of our unpacked boxes and the few sticks of furniture left by the previous tenant. A black vinyl easy chair, a matching ottoman. Nat’s rolling wine bags he used for work until he got this job working nights at a wine shop — nights that mean I have to race home from Newark, transferring from train to subway to another subway and then walking fast the seven blocks home to make sure the dog hasn’t escaped her ramshackle citadel and rammed her head bloody, possessed by some unrelenting, insane motor no one — not her vet, not other dog owners, not the internet — can explain.

Tonight I hobbled those seven blocks painfully, having broken my little toe while tripping over Chloe’s makeshift walls; running late because I’d had a panic attack on the train out of Newark and was still woozy by the time I got to Penn Station, and took the uptown A instead of the downtown one. A black and turquoise bruise rages between my toes, which now throbs from racing home, hobbling upstairs, finding the dog warbling her “gotta pee” woes (and blissfully unaware that she is bleeding from the head), snatching her up and harnessing her, hobbling back downstairs and trying to balance her 29 pounds in one arm while opening first one heavy door and then the second, dropping her on the concrete in time for her to relieve herself magnificently, and then picking her up to carry her back inside. Then chasing after her with a wet wad of tissues, trying to tie a bandana around her forehead, thinking how very funny this would all be in a film or told as a story, many years from now, and not by me.

When she stepped on my broken toe — twice — I cried out and the second time I swatted her in anger, on her bottom. And that was when I sat on the floor and let her pace around in circles, panting while I choked and gasped, holding her bloody tissues to my face.

So now she’s sprawled on the floor like a sad Bambi, her eyes half shut and her mouth pulled into a grimace. Miserable. Tortured. And absolutely imprisoned.


When we told people we were moving to New York, they all wondered the same thing: What about Chloe?

Well, what about her? we replied. She’s coming with. She’s 17 — all she does is sleep and wander up and down the block twice a day.

Moving is stressful for dogs, they said.

Yes, but those are dogs that are aware of their surroundings. Chloe is senile, mostly deaf, and half blind. She doesn’t play, doesn’t run, and can barely even walk. She can do that in Brooklyn as well as she can in Austin.

Still, we worried. We stayed up nights reassuring each other that if this move turned out badly for us — if I got depressed or if my long-latent panic attacks came back, if we were fighting and unhappy, if the dog wasn’t doing well — we’d abort and come back. Work vacation, we called it. And we said it every time we started to get really down about things.

Work vacation. And, holy shit. The things we had to get down about.

The person who sublet us this apartment turned out to be a certifiable psychopath whose six-month decline into madness had been witnessed by his neighbors and the bartenders and shopkeepers in the area. We showed up at 9:00 at night, exhausted from a three-day drive (during which we had to drug Chloe because she was pitching herself around the backseat like a hysteric), and desperate to get ourselves and the dog comfortable as soon as possible. He hadn’t removed so much as a toothbrush, and while we were expecting the place to be furnished, we didn’t expect the used Q-Tips and condom wrappers on the bedroom floor, nor the enormous rubber butt plug in the closet. Nor the putrified scallions reeking in the fridge under a puddle of hardening fish sauce. Nor the roaches. Nor the mouse turds and what I later guessed was dried mouse pee around the edges of the stove and sink.

We were too tired to demand our security deposit back and go to a hotel. And I am too handy with a mop. Over the next month, as money flew out of our hands and we ravenously chewed through a new credit card, I woke up each morning and sent out my resume and wrote cover letters, and then cleaned. I scrubbed the kitchen floors and the grease-coated backsplash and I bleached the tub and toilet.

Clean that house yourself, a friend told me, and you’ll know exactly how clean it is.

There was peace in that, and control, and since no one was contacting me about a job — 10 places applied to, 15, 20 — I cleaned.

And we tried to be optimistic, and we had wine with the neighbors, who told us all the stories, and we said, “At least we got great neighbors!”

But because the crazy person hadn’t asked his landlord if he could sublet, and because he hadn’t paid the rent in two months, nor reimbursed them for the door he gloriously karate-chopped to splinters (one of the neighbors’ more dramatically rendered incidents), he was evicted and we had our own conversation with the owners. They agreed to rent to us once he’d moved out, which was supposed to be September 30. But wacky New York renter’s laws being what they are (for better or worse, they do protect a tenant well, I’ll give them that), he could choose to fight the eviction and squat, neither paying rent nor budging, for another several months.
This risk would have been too much for us, but 1) we have crazy faith that things will work out for us (or we’re too lazy to be alarmed), 2) we loved the neighbors and neighborhood too much, 3) the rent if we stayed was going to be way less than anything else we’d get of this size and location, and 4) we were utterly out of money. No money to start over someplace else. Just enough to pay next month’s rent to the landlords. If the guy left.


About now, most of you reading this are saying, What are you nuts? Get the hell out of Dodge! This is way too much insanity for self-respecting adults to contend with. But one of the things that bonded my husband and I from the start was our familiarity with insanity and tribulation, and our lack of fear of either. The worst things had already happened to us, hadn’t they? Things that would take other people down? All other trials we deem acceptable, and even appreciate them for their character-giving aspects. Or we did. Right about now, fuck trial and fuck tribulation. After a time, they’re just bad for the heart.


Eventually, there was a long and terrible episode that crescendoed with the guy screaming, naked but for an apron, in the kitchen, breaking glasses and punching the wall, accusing us of being “not good people” and “going back on every gentleman’s agreement we’d made”, of having poor character and rich families (that one threw us until we remembered he’s a narcissist, one of those people who reflects himself on the surfaces of other people, and that it was his own parents who flew up here from Florida to pay his rent). And the cops came and went, and for a taut two hours, I breathlessly text messaged with my husband from the upstairs neighbor’s apartment, while he hid in the bedroom of the sublet with Chloe, not allowed to “engage” at all with the crazy guy but also afraid to leave and get locked out.

When all was done and we knew he’d left the building, the tenants of the three units all came out and rejoiced. We drank and told stories and laughed and shook. I went to bed still shaking and had dreams he was standing over us with a knife, telling us we were not good people.


Shortly after he was gone and we signed a lease and put the last of our cash into these good people’s hands, I was hired at a good rate and at a reputable company of some size. Things were looking up, and we let ourselves celebrate on the credit card, buying ourselves a bed and a few necessities, going to a fancy dinner for my birthday and then his, seeing a friend on Broadway. We began to enjoy this city. But as soon as we started to relax, Chloe’s anxious pacing and self-harming escalated radically, and we would come home from dinner to find her escaped and stuck under the bed, having shit herself and, one time, even having ripped out her hind dew claws. We became reluctant to make plans in the evening, which meant getting cut off from much-needed socializing, and which made me very depressed. Plus, the new job was a long commute away and it further depressed me that it was not in New York, the city I’d moved to out of an urgent need to be a part of it. And then my husband got a job working nights and weekends in a wine shop, which he much preferred, and we agreed that anything that made either of us happier was an automatic “Yes,” but it meant that I had to race home after work in order to catch Chloe before she created disaster. So no happy hours with coworkers, no meeting friends in the city for a drink. Instead, I’d come home and rescue and chase and clean up blood and cry.


Chloe’s doctors have been telling me for 9 years that she has a heart murmur of some severity. They tell me eventually it will fill her lungs with fluid and she will need surgery or medication. So far, it hasn’t, but I can feel the murmur when I lay her long, light body on mine and hug her firmly under her front legs, like Temple Grandin taught. I’m all cried out and the wad of bloody tissues is beside us on the floor. I hold her against me and breathe slowly, feeling her head gradually relax and flop into my neck, my shoulder cold then warm where her nose breathes against it. Thump thump thipthipthip thump-thip thipthipthip. The valve seems confused, panicked. It opens and shuts without rhythm, as haphazard as the boxes we stack each night, exhausted and desperate to engineer new ways to keep us all safe and happy. Thump thipthipthip thump thipthip thump.

How long can a heartbeat like this sustain?

The last quarter of an inch

The morning of my first and last skydive, someone emailed me a quote: “It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end.” My instructor put it another way: “It doesn’t hurt ‘til that last quarter of an inch.”

It’ll be seven years this October since I jumped, but I can remember each second of it like a dream from which I have just awoken, and my heart pumps in helium fits to my head.

I’m reliving the jump now as I sit in a stranger’s apartment that I will call my home for three months. It is my fifth day of a new life in New York City, and the world – seriously, the whole world – teems outside my window, draining my bank account, taunting me with better writers and prettier apartments, bloodying my feet no matter which shoes I wear. But I showed up. I showed up like I did the morning of my 30th birthday and put my sneakers on the lip of the plane’s open hatch and grinned at the camera and jumped. I was jumping because I had done something terrifying and crazy and brave by breaking up with someone on whom I’d been deeply codependent for three years. I jumped because I needed something bigger than that to happen, even if it was going splat in a field in the middle of Texas.

I jumped because not jumping was unacceptable.

I won’t tell you if you should or shouldn’t skydive. Statistics (and a company’s solid credentials) will almost guarantee you have nothing to lose but a little bit of pee, and it does empower you. It helps you emerge from your murky fears and decide what to wash off and what to keep, it lets you draw the fears you have chosen in patterns on your skin, to make those fears belong to you rather than to belong to them.

Skydiving will teach you what it means to be brave, which looks a lot like being terrified. That’s because you cannot be brave unless you are terrified. It’s the going ahead with it that makes you brave. Bravery isn’t good posture and a placid expression, either. This is something I’m learning even years after the dive. I always thought handling a divorce, cancer, or a loss bravely would look like Katherine Hepburn as the ice queen Tracie Lord in “The Philadelphia Story”, all draping gowns and shoulder pads and set jaw.

But bravery can be clumsy and look like this: the morning of your appointment, you nervously jabber with friends, taking small comfort in the fact that, if someone else is doing it with you, it must not be that nuts of an idea. You wobble your way through the disclaimers and orientation, you try to think about other things while slipping on the jumpsuit, and laugh too loudly when the instructors try to calm you with jokes about duct tape. You flare your eyes at your friends in an expression of “what are we doing?” and your breathing gets faster and makes you light-headed. This is good. Light-headed people don’t make executive decisions like “turn this plane around”. Light-headed people get on the plane and hold their friends’ hands and make squealing noises and put on displays of bravado for the video camera.

If you skydive, make sure you pay extra for the video. You will want to relive this moment when you have become too timid in your life, and a camera makes you feign courage.

At about 10,000 feet, you may be above a few puffy, sheepy clouds. The sky around you is twelve shades of blue. The fields and farmlands below look like miniature models. These ridiculously clement conditions are perfect for imagining that perhaps, yes, gravity will not work this time and you will fly into a child’s tale or a dollhouse. You will reach a tipping point of light-headedness where you feel an impatience, a “let’s get on with this!” because you cannot go back now, could never live out your life knowing you turned back at that crucial moment, and besides, Wonderland may very well be out there, and has anyone lived to tell about this? oh of course they have, but you might be that statistic and this might be your last act in life but you’re crouched at the open door refusing to look over your toes and your cameraman flies off like he’s been shot out of a cannon with a wave and a grin and your instructor is strapped to your back shouting in your ear that he will tap you on the arm and that’s when you arch your back and do something else – what did he say? – god man just get on with it I’m ready to die, ready to see, ready for Wonderland, ready for anything, ready. Ready.

Rock back, rock forward, rock back, and you’re out.

This is what that moment looked like for me:

oh holy shit!













Note the mouth forming the “O” of “Holy shit”.

Your instructor, if he is good, will say Yeah! and Woo! and encourage you to do the same, and will grab your hands and stretch them out like you are Peter Pan, and in doing so will remind you: we are having fun. We are enjoying life.

Also, he has done this about 10,000 times, which makes your left brain feel just comfortable enough to get out of the way for a minute and trust whatever it is your stupid right brain has gotten you into this time.

But this is what I remember most. Fuck it.

That’s what my brain said as we fell at 120 miles per hour, which doesn’t feel like falling at all. It feels like a giant fan is blowing up from the ground and keeping you aloft, so enjoy the view: look out and not down. Looking down is giving in to what you have done and thinking about it. Too late. Fuck it. Look out over the tops of those clouds, to the horizons that you are stretching your hands out to, to the bowl of the sky as it goes from baby blue to deepest marine and back again, thinking to yourself that you are the only one seeing this right now, the only one inhabiting this space in which there is no room for fear or hope or questions or worst-case scenarios. Because you’ve done it and now you have to live with it and so you take your way you have chosen to live – or die – you take it up and you hold it like a proud chief holds a warhammer, chin up, defiant.

Remember the Skateway? Whatever your town called it, it was a dark rink with carpet-padded walls, a DJ booth perched above and a dizzying eddy of rushing skaters. And you, you were so small and uncertain; all knees and hands clutching at that nubby rug railing. Do you remember the moment you plunged into the fast and free center? The breath that you took and held and the way your skates carried you so wonderfully fast and how you coasted and leaned ever so slightly and rounded the corner like a champion and felt the pretzel and Icee-scented air in your hair and like you could do anything? That’s living. That’s what freefalling feels like.

After the chute opens, things slow to a meandering 1,000 ft./min. drop. You have about 5 minutes to feel the straps stressing with your weight, to understand how badly the ground wants you. You grip your instructor’s arms (which he said you could do) and you ask nervous, silly questions:

Have you ever hit a bird?
Has anyone ever peed on you?
How do you turn?
Okay, stop turning this is making me freak out.

But this isn’t the part that counts – not even the landing, although that is a miracle in its own way. The seconds that burn themselves into you happen during that freefall, when you have taken your brain, blood, eyes, mouth, dreams, fingernails, fears, loves, bones, guts, past, present, and future confidently in one direction at their combined maximum velocity.

You have more than blown your trumpet at the gates of dullness; you have announced your will to live.

The consequences? That’s all just the last quarter-inch.

holy mothereffing a!

Eleven Days. Eleven Loves.

Oops, I skipped a few. Pretend it’s July 18. I’m doing it right now. Mmm, so 18thy.

Because I’m a native, or maybe because my theories are the electrifying sort that touch both madness and genius, people ask me why Southern Californians are “like that.” You know what I mean, and if you don’t, you might be Southern Californian, but I’ll get to that.

For the last three days (or since it’s July 18: “For the next three days…”) a weird thundershower has moseyed across the hot, sunny afternoon. You’ll be doing something — say trying to cull your magazine collection because you’ve just taped up your TWENTIETH box of books and your New York apartment won’t even hold that many, only you can’t bear to part with four years’ worth of Bust Magazines because you might one day send a letter to your friend Crystal with odd cut-out photos glued to the envelope, and Bust has the best. Anyway, you’ll be doing, say, THAT, and then you’ll hear this general leafy commotion and will open the back door and, lo, It’s perfectly sunny…and raining! In sheets.

In mid-July!

Only two years ago, it was the Summer of Our Discontent, over ninety days of triple-digit temps, no rain, and Rick Perry praying away the magical wildfires that DEFINITELY aren’t caused by his d-bag constituents tossing lit cigarettes out their car windows during a scorching drought. Freedom! Pewpewpew!

This summer has been just as crazysauce, but on the other end of the spectrum. Everything’s green and lush and happy and the cicadas just will not shut up about it. Everyone you meet comments on it, like they do when it’s extremely sucky — which it could be in another week. You never know. Last winter came and went so fast it didn’t freeze a single flea, but the winter before that it SNOWED. Remember that? For, like, an hour.

Which brings me to my eleventh love in Austin: the weather’s as crazy as a shithouse rat. It’s wild and unpredictable, and the small town churches have signs up saying “Pray for rain!” It beats us down, it humbles us, it makes us appreciate the auspiciousness of a good run, which can turn on its head like that. 

If Southern Californians seem arrogant, blissed out, and out of touch with the rest of the country — or human bone structure, for that matter — it’s because an eternity of 76-degree-and-sunny weather stretches out before them, indistinguishable day after indistinguishable day. Everyone becomes Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, running their morals off of cliffs and into oncoming traffic, hoping to find the outer limits of this bizarre infinity.

Without a force mightier than divorce attorneys and plastic surgeons to humble them, people lose the connection between cause and effect. In the absence of wrathful weather, to what does a whole population adapt, together, at such a mortal level?

Hear me out, Californicators:

August 2005. I’m brand new in Austin and I get a contract job trying to locate all the Keller Williams Realtors in the Gulf. It’s one day since Katrina hit. There are about 700 agents affected across 20+ offices. Every last one of them — team leader and receptionist alike — as soon as they heard I was from HQ, would just start crying. What do you need? I’d ask them. God, they’d tell me, I don’t even know how to answer that. Depending on whether it was Biloxi or Mandeville, NOLA, or Houma, they’d either lost everything —
say, all of the Escrow paperwork on a house that the buyer now probably no longer wanted (if it even stood) and which was to be the agent’s source of income — or were doing okay but their community was ripped to shreds. I remember a woman telling me this sometime in late November: There are no trees, Erin. Anywhere.

Can you imagine what that would be like? Dependable giants like Target and Wal-Mart are even closed and flooded, looted and unavailable. Hungry? Just go through the drive-thru…of what? It’s gone because it took in 3 feet of fetid water, half of its employees are actually missing, and how did you drive there anyway when the one working gas station in your area has a line down the street?


How about a nice, hot McFML?

The company blazed through millions of its non-profit dollars and so we turned to our hundreds of offices nationwide to adopt specific agents (this was a brilliant idea, and should tell you what kind of fantastic, human-loving company Keller-Williams is to work for) and hold fundraisers for them. From Seattle to Charleston, the teams knew their adopted agent’s name, the state of their affairs, every member of their family and their clothing sizes. They were having holiday galas and auctions, and were sending boxes of clothes and gas cards, and were even offering them to come visit for a while….you name it. I was personally transformed by the care these people showed for strangers who just happened to work for the same company. (Again, I can’t kvell enough about the company’s culture, which was created and fiercely maintained by a lady from Norman, OK named Mo, of whom I do a pretty good impression.)

And then I called the office in my hometown, a lovely beach location where you can even grow tired of this sunset:



And do you know what the team leader there said to me when I asked about how things were coming for the agent we’d assigned them?

“Oh, is that still going on?”

Because the weather there is perfection in perpetuity, a frictionless circumstance where people are free to orbit each other at safe distances (except on the 405). Like water and pressure eventually rolls sand into an unyielding pearl, extreme weather forms a solid community. It’s a beautiful thing — maybe as beautiful as that sunset, and just as easy to take for granted. All of us sweating and freezing our asses off together, talking in a common tongue about how we’re going to get by.


Twelve Days. Twelve Loves.

You know what? MEXICANS.


It makes me insane to hear the misinformed national “Austin’s hot right now!” media — and the lazy yo-yos here in town that are supplying them with the misinformation — supplicate themselves before the greasy, meh logos of Tacodeli and Torchy’s Tacos. I love it even more when people say “Well, they’re not supposed to be Mexican tacos but you have to love Tex-Mex.”

No, sorry, these are not Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex comes in a later post, by the way.

They’re nothing, from nowhere. A perfect algorithm for crowd-pleasing that might as well have been formulated in the test kitchen of a Sam’s Club. Add salt, fat, sugar, and a spicy salsa and Americans will love it!

They’re aregional. They’re an anchorman’s lack of accent. They’re Yanni. Worse, they’re Yanni covering Santana.

Why so much ire? Because these ladies:


Photo courtesy of scrumptiouschef.com

These fine ladies, parked at 53rd and Airport, are serving sopes and tacos with masa and corn tortillas made to order. They’re delicious and half the price of Tacodeli’s nonsense. And you won’t have hungover UT students step on your feet.

Also these dudes:


Photo courtesy of chickenfriedeverything.com

Are you kidding me? You live in a city with Taco More in it and you’re wasting everyone’s time talking about Torchy’s? Why do you hate food so much?

Taco More will sell you three of the best cabrito, al pastor (none of that chunky pineapple garbage), and carne asada tacos you’ve ever had, and for like $6. Or try the cabrito soup — it’s about $2.50 and it will instantly cure depression, anxiety, viral infections, and boredom. The original’s up on Rundberg but there’s also a newisher one conveniently located on Riverside near Emo’s.

Torchy’s. Are you kidding me with this. New Haven could make a Torchy’s. Norman, OK could make a Torchy’s.

And while New York has plenty of Puerto Ricans, dozens of Dominicans, and several Salvadorans, it’s harder to find good, authentic Mexican. Texas wins with Mexicans. Go make use of that.

Thirteen Days. Thirteen Loves.

God in heaven, the Greenbelt! It runs 7.25 miles through the city, a rocky trail that’s smooth in places, surrounded by trees. Everyone runs, walks, and bikes on it. Sometimes it’s officially leash-free, sometimes it’s just leash-free by virtue of this is Texas so fuck your rules (and Austin dog etiquette is pretty solid — I never had a bad run-in with a loose dog, myself).

After a good rain, park at the entrance in Zilker and walk the comfortable mile or so to where the creek widens and rushes. There’s a flat rock in the middle where college girls sun themselves, hippie boys strum guitars — even the college guys don’t seem so douchey drinking their Lone Stars and throwing Frisbees — and urbanists, like Turtle (below) hang out and trade joints for stories.


Yes, that’s Chloe. In our younger days, Chloe and I would go together. Turtle is the one who looks like Neptune, all gray curls and a torso like a leather saddle. He made roses out of river grass for the girls and told us he knows where to forage for wild foods and how to sharpen sticks to fight the wild dogs that will roam free when the apocalypse comes. When Austin cycles through its Turtles (and Lobsters and Leslies…that’s for another post) it will be minus a significant organ. Maybe its heart, I don’t know. I hope not.

I think I might head down there on Friday — we’ve had some good surprise rain this week — and say goodbye to the Greenbelt and its river people. Maybe I’ll find Turtle braiding grass bracelets and warning calamity. Maybe I won’t laugh so readily this time.


(Apologies for the grainy pictures — taken on a clamshell phone circa 2006.)

Fifteen Days. Fifteen Loves.

I moved to Austin for its warm nights. Never mind the soul-crushing heat of the day that’s required to make this lovely balmy sundown – it’s worth it.

Humid air just carries sound differently. It gives it a sustaining note. And in the darkness, that sound takes on an even calmer, more sensual quality: A rattling cicada in a blinding afternoon sounds like a metallic air raid, a rising and falling clatter of ball bearings in a tin drum. But by night, it’s a Voodoo priestess feverishly shaking a ring of chicken bones and shells.

A warm Austin night has its own soundtrack. Listen for the sharp, crabby caw of a common nighthawk around dusk as it circles overhead. When you sit on our porch – a grand thing with rocking chairs and a hammock, and arguably our best feature as a couple – listen for the fluting of a screech owl. They live in our neighborhood. We sometimes run silently on the balls of our feet a block or two, trying to catch them out.

It was on a visit in April 2003 that I fell in love with Austin. The heat was not yet oppressive. An old friend had a party at her little house in Clarksville, at which many very people drank beer and painted paper lanterns. The way they glowed, the way that voices carried with the music on the swampy air, it was exactly the Tennessee Williams-like atmosphere a romantic California writer would dream of. Shawled in warmth and color and a fine sheen, you could do anything, be anyone, talk to anyone.

In August 2005, I finally left Orange County and moved into my own little rental house across the street from a small plot of pecans owned by the Elizabeth Ney museum. I took Chloe on a walk to investigate it around 10 or 11 at night. As we neared the creek, a gentle quarterflash appeared. And then another. And another. Sulfuric yellow, flaring up and disappearing like a lit cigar. My first fireflies! (Outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland, which is where all my ideas of a southern night came from.) They never get old for me, ever.


Our porch, the hammock, the fireflies, the cranky crow, the cicadas, the chirruping frogs, and the sound of a party nearby.

I will miss warm Austin nights so much, and how they hold you.

Twenty left. Twenty loves.

Twenty days left in Austin. Twenty things I will miss. One a day.

That Sky. You know the one.

The one that comes between thunderstorms, a phalanx of clouds marching across an endless blue.

Dat sky.

Dat sky.

And the shapes! So many shapes you almost can’t drive safely. One time, a dragon-fish thing followed me and Nat all the way to Kerrville.


If the Pacific Ocean is what I dream of when I am too long between visits back home, the Texas sky will be what I’m thinking of when in New York I suddenly stare off into space. There is nothing so formidable, so inspiring, so unrelenting as this sky. California’s smog makes for the most showy sunsets, but the thunderstorms here inspire religion.

I’d Incentivize You To Watch Your Language

Some colleagues were in a snit over the use of the word “incentivize” — namely the approach of augmenting a noun to make it a verb. Following is my response, because I’d love to discuss this like a  spittle-chinned nerd with any of you who are willing:

I know it’s tempting to reject new words, but all words were — at some point– new.

To say I’m surprised to hear myself say that is an understatement, since a literary background and penchant for vintage snobbery gave me this extremist, anti-modernist view of language. In other words: until recently I was convinced we were all in the handbasket to linguistic hell. But I’ve been following a lot of very compelling arguments that not only favor a more sympathetic approach to how language is changing, but offer this: what are you going to do about it anyway?

Language has always been changing, and the masses (and those who write for them, help us all) have been perhaps the single most influential in that. Once upon a time, Chaucer was lambasted by the intelligentsia for using a “vulgar” hybrid of filthy street lingo, Latin, and French to create Middle English. Which, by today’s standards, even highly intelligent, well-read people would find inscrutable. (I’m still not ready to apply this populist approach to letting the grammar slaughter so rampant on the internet inform grammar at large — we all have our limits.)

But to verb-ize a noun is hardly a new thing, nor one limited to business-speak. Ever “map” out a plan? That was once strictly a noun. “Friend” someone on Facebook? Try wrenching that from modern usage.

I think the real problem with “incentivize” is its ugliness, its lack of poetry, of imagery. If you want to elicit a response from your reader, you’ll need words with verve and gusto, with sound and color. I’d look past the laziness responsible for “incentivize” — that laziness is endemic to human speech, anyway (in a more forgiving mood, I call it “convenience”). Instead, I’d ask why we are so afraid of a human, emotional response in our corporate vernacular.