2012 In Review

Here we are at the end of 2012 and what a great year it has been.  While I don’t have a Top 10, I thought I’d run through some of the personal highlights that made this year so great.  Now I fully accept that I may be the only person interested in this, but by golly I’m doing it anyway despite the yawns and alt+tabbing. (Oh, you thought I couldn’t see that did you?)

This year I’ve read more books than I have in awhile and while that number isn’t impressive by any stretch, I still did it and count it towards my personal achievements.  As a person who used to live in books, my past non-reading has been a bit embarrassing.  This week I’ll finish up A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and then it’s off to Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.  That only leaves me with a gigantic stack of books (about 2’ high – I have the best intentions) that I’ve been meaning to read for a long while.

I wrote a lot of sketches this year, I got terrific feedback from Esther’s Follies on one I submitted to them, and we had a show that sold out over a three week run.  Fantastic!

I was involved in three film shoots – two were for sketches I had written and the other was for a fellow classmate’s sketch.  I can say that in my shoots, I was surrounded by incredibly amazing people who taught me a great deal.  I’ve learned a lot and hopefully, if we continue to shoot sketches, I’ll become a stronger director.   Right now, I’m more of the, “ummm hey guys like if you could maybe like ummm read the line like this… yeah, ok? Roll sound.  Roll camera.  Scene 1B Take 5. Action.” type.

Behind the scenes for Dunes

Below is my classmate Richard’s sketch “Good Morning” (you’ve gotten to see mine already – time for something new) where I got to play the role of Production Assistant and door slammer extraordinaire.  It turns out I not only have a knack for door slamming, but it’s really quite enjoyable. (Note: I got to slam that door no less than about 20 times.)  Now if I could only spin that into a job.  I know I’d excel.  Maybe move up the door slamming ranks until I became a Slammer Supervisor and allowed to slam two doors at once or maybe a French door on occasion – I mean, if my performance evaluations went well.

(Features many of the cast from our “Moral Compass Rumpus” show and all of the writers.)

I finally used my “big girl” camera and while I’m not entirely amazed by the results, I learned more about it and more about film (yes, yes, I’m a hold out).  Namely, that I may be investing in a DSLR vs. the SLR I have in the future.

Film – Chinese Lanterns – State Fair of Texas 2012

I’ve asked Seth a ton of questions and learned many new things.  Seth endured high school with me and is one of those insanely smart people who kindly puts up (for reasons I don’t understand but appreciate) with a random question a month.  Seth gets nothing in return save the knowledge that I’m kind of an amusing air head and that fuzzy good feeling that comes from helping the hopeless.  This year I’ve learned about topics from Copyright Law to Lomography to purple vs. the light spectrum.  He also tries to encourage me to use my camera. He claims it’s not scary.  I’m supposed to go on a photo stroll.  Yes, I will get on that. You can see Seth’s amazing photos here.

I’ve had some great times with some great friends despite April’s attempt to try and bump me off.  She’s now got me in a regular walking group.  I think her diabolical new plan is to make my heart explode.  In the last two months I’ve walked further and climbed higher than I have in a long time.  New muscles reintroduced themselves to me by way of “I can’t move my legs”.  Muscles like hip flexors said their hellos. Hey guys, where have you been?  Ouch.

I look forward to 2013.

How April Tried to Kill Me: A “Mostly” True Story

"Big Tex & Me" - courtesy of April

“Big Tex & Me” – photo courtesy of April

Most of you know my friend April – funny, gregarious, willing to do most anything, always there to encourage you and help you realize your own dreams – an adventurous gal, always on the move, diving into the next new thing with verve or gusto or some other adjective that makes you feel a bit lazy. She’s kind-hearted – looking after abandoned people – abandoned pets.  The kind of person that should be dressed in spandex, running effortlessly around in impossibly high heels and a flouncy long cape – her photo always taken from foot level, looking up into her face with Austin’s darkened skyline in the back.

But every hero has a tragic flaw and I’m here to share her darker side.

Our recent adventures began with an innocent question, “When would you like to go to the State Fair?”  The cackle that  followed chilled me to the bone and should have been a warning, but I wasn’t on my game.  This would be the first sign. You see, I trust her. I was also filled with years of nostalgia for the State Fair – countless memories of Mom, of Big Tex, of the Midway and Elsie, yes, Elsie the cow clouded my judgment and a date was set.  “I’ll drive.” The siren’s call of my pending demise sealed this Faustian deal.

Really, eBay is the Best Source for Faustian Deals – FOUR STARS! How could this possibly end badly?

Starship Pegasus – Italy, Tx

The trip to Dallas began innocently enough – sure, there was no radio and we were forced to talk (THE ENTIRE TIME! I mean seriously, I have a handful of anecdotes and you’ve heard them all.  Once you’ve heard them, what am I? I’m just a collection of People magazine headlines). Somewhere around Italy, Tx and likely sometime after I finished regaling April with the highlights of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall it was suggested we pull off the road to look at a little run-down starship of a restaurant called “The Pegasus”. It was easy to lure me out of the car by playing to my love of all things SciFi with dulcet promises of photo ops.  Before I had time to run, we were besieged by a plague of locusts (or maybe it was just a colony of overly excited grasshoppers, who can keep up?)  The second sign.

We reach Fair Park and it is decided, our first mission should be to locate a Fletcher’s corn dog in all its deep fried corn doggy glory.  It was truly magnificent as only a corn dog from the State Fair could be.  Corn dogs and lemonades in hand, April led me to a comfortable place to sit – a place that was soon quickly overrun by birds of prey and carrions; she squealed with delight as she carefully studied my reaction.  Each bird took wing and carefully sized up the crowd for it’s next prey. The third ominous sign.

212 Feet of Unadulterated Terror

“Let’s go to the Ferris Wheel next,” I suggested.  Did I truly come to this decision on my own?  I’m deathly afraid of heights, but somehow it seemed like everything would be ok if I would just step into the gondola.  I had my camera ready to calm my nerves.  My camera that quickly got tucked away as the Ferris wheel came to a stop at the top and I realized I was trapped in a poorly constructed creaky metal cage – all the while April sat there carefully watching and considering me with a smile on her face.  The fourth sign. We were doomed.

Signs aside – just a quick glimpse into my panic on the Ferris wheel. I had armed myself with my understanding of the physiology of fear and Jay’s words “if you get nervous, just look up”.  Well, about two seconds in, I got nervous and let me just say – there is no “up” when you’re in a covered gondola. There’s only straight out or down. There’s no reasoning, “now Beth, this is a chemical response; you can out think it”. There’s no out thinking abject terror. The best I could do as my heart was pounding was not piddle in public.  Yes, that’s my big win as they kept us hovering at the top of the Ferris wheel for an endless amount of time. Then, I snapped and it happened.  I did the worst thing I could do when I get nervous – I got “funny”, but “funny” in air quotes and I stayed “funny” until they let me out and I wobbled onto the little deck just past the “Exit” sign.  Have you ever seen people trapped by my “funny”?  I have.  I had three of them – two complete strangers and April.  My little victims.  Unafraid of heights, but subjected to long minutes of my terror driven humor.  The only thing I did not do to wipe their “Ferris wheels are FUN” happy looks off their delighted faces was:  I did not say, “oh God, was that a bolt?” because I was in super stressed out mode.  My mantra became: “Don’t you dare piddle.  Don’t you dare say the thing about the bolt.”  Meanwhile, the unmoving gondola creaked and swayed in the breeze.  When we got out of the gondola, our companions said, “I’m glad we had such nice people to ride this with.”  Yeah, I can hear your sarcasm pal.  I’ll “nice” you as soon as I stop clutching the ground. You better run.

Deep Fried Artery Clogging Heaven

Safe on the ground, we meandered around the Fair poking our heads in various buildings, hunting down livestock, concept cars, and other exhibits that caught our fancy.  “We should try something else fried,” because really part of the State Fair experience is the various foods that they’ll drop into an industrial Fry Daddy.  Did I truly come to that heart-clogging decision on my own?  We sampled the chicken fried bacon.  Delicious.  “Beth, you should have the last piece.” Go ahead. Eat it.  I did without a second thought, without so much as a nod to my manners. My Mom’s voice that would say, “do not take the last piece” was completely ignored.  I greedily dragged that last piece through the last smears of Ranch dressing with a noisy grunt.  Mmmm.  My arteries tightened a bit.  Later that night: “Let’s try the Fried Bacon Cinnamon Roll!  You can have the last bite. My arteries tightened a bit more.

I barely escaped the deep fried temptations and did my best to undo all the damage by grabbing a salad and a large bowl of fruit.  Maybe that’s why the gloves had to come off on the drive back.

As we sat in the car heading home  I noticed my jeans were covered with an odd substance.  I had over-stuffed the washer a couple of nights before and chalked it up to soap that hadn’t quite washed off.  It started to irritate my skin and what started out as a humorous, “well, I sure am glad I didn’t wear these at the Fair” became, “I’m trying to pick the material off my skin; it’s really irritating.”  I pitifully whined about the sensation on my legs – annoying myself and I was certain April, even though she had adopted an off-putting cackle with each new complaint. “Describe the sensation,” I imagined her saying.  No new conversation topic was allowed to continue without paying homage to my burning legs. As I tried to pucker the material up and away from my skin, I noticed the denim started tearing.  “I think this soap must be a bit caustic.”  When I got home, I immediately pulled them off.  The fabric was now burned to the tops of my legs; my skin a deep indigo blue.  I popped into a bath to remove the fabric then showed Jay my chemical burns.  “We need new soap!”  The next day I noticed my travel bag had partially melted on our table and there were holes in my pajamas.  Weird.  The long and short of it was that my bag and clothes had inadvertently been sitting in battery acid while in the back of the trunk.  When April said, “here we’ll throw your bag back here” I should have recognized this as one of the many signs.

But I’m here to tell you the despite April’s best efforts, I survived.  April, I want to let you know that from here on, I’ll be watching you.

Disclaimer: When I presented the blog idea to April she agreed I could write it as long as I understood that things really didn’t happen this way. I tried to explain to her that to make it a good story some truths had to be embellished.  So the more boring true version: We went to the fair, we ate some disgustingly bad but delicious food, we saw a great bird show, I panicked on the Ferris wheel, but not before getting really annoying and “funny” and then my jeans, that I wore on the way back home,  really were covered in battery acid and that really smarted. Don’t soak your clothes in battery acid.

I guess I’m not supposed to end the story by mentioning that April forced me to sit in those acid soaked jeans and mocked me on the ride home – but this is “my” story – a “mostly” true story.

The Evil King

Thanks to my Mom, I loved bugs when I was a kid.  I would pick them up, carry them around, and build little homes for them to live in. If a bug was injured, I’d construct a leaf hospital for them to recuperate comfortably within.  Everyone knows a bug just needs a little leaf roof and leaf walls to regrow a new leg or antennae.  I loved caterpillars, cicadas, grasshoppers, June bugs, worms (is that considered an “insect”?), doodle bugs (which you probably call pill bugs and while I accept that I’m technically wrong, they’re still doodle bugs to me), ants, and spiders.  In fact, the more legs and eyes the better.  My mother taught me to respect their creations and not to be careless – thus, effectively ending my days of kicking over ant hills for fun or squishing the occasional hive. I’d reflect on their hard work and move on.

Unfortunately, along the path to adulthood my relationship with bugs changed.  First, I was swarmed by yellow jackets.  Now, yellow jackets, wasps and mud dobbers must die on sight to make up for their insult.   Fire ants murdered my favorite hamster, Brownie.  All ants were put on notice.  The final straw – too much time with a relative who was not the tidiest of souls. Her silverware drawers, counters, and cabinets were in constant motion.  Things scampered over piles of debris left throughout the house.  It sent me over the edge. I hate bugs.

Now I’ve become THAT woman who leaps on furniture and shrieks like a crazy person at certain bugs.  I’m not proud.  (To save some face, I am still your go-to girl for picking up dead mammals.  The difference being that dead mammals don’t tend to size you up and then fly at your face.)  I also now have a hair-trigger gag reflex for certain bugs – roaches, maggots, too many of anything pulsating in one place… you get the idea.  In fact, the only Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe that will send me out of the room gagging are the ones involving exterminators.  However, other bugs still really don’t “bug” me that much.

That’s the long-winded background you need for this story.

A couple of weeks ago, in the early morning, I wandered into the spare bathroom.  After being there for a bit, I noticed  something out-of-place on the shower curtain – a gigantic, face-hugging grasshopper.  I excused myself, backed out of the room and went back to bed.  Before Jay headed off to work, I tried to explain there was the granddaddy of all grasshoppers in the bathroom.  What that should have translated to, but didn’t was “this is not a dead mammal, you must get rid of this or I will freak right on out”.  What it actually translated to was, “there’s something tiny and altogether insignificant terrorizing me and I just thought I’d FYI you on this, I’ll get it later.”

After being awake some hours, I gave myself the pep talk.  It’s a GRASSHOPPER for crying out loud.  You loved grasshoppers as a kid. Get a cup and something to cover it with.  Don’t be a baby.  Go on now, open that door and look at it.  It’s probably half the size you remember, you big sissy.  I cautiously opened the door and flipped on the light to size it up. I figured I’d look and then work out the proper sized cup that would be needed to get the job done.  I didn’t see him.  Not at first. Then he flew straight for my head.  That’s when I screamed like an idiot and slammed the door.  Sam thought this was pretty funny and danced around.  For the record, Beagles have a terrible sense of humor.

Jay gets home and this time, more awake, I explain the situation.  Jay goes in to take care of it.  I hear movement, the bath mat being tossed about and then Jay re-emerges declaring something along the lines about how we’ll wait until it dies.  I start wondering about a grasshopper’s lifespan and what my life will mean without the spare bathroom.  I send Jay back in to retrieve a hairdryer and a couple of other minor items. As I recall he wasn’t overly eager to step back in there (his story may be different, but he doesn’t have a blog).  We were now in this for the long haul.

I start telling people my tales of grasshopper terror to friends and co-workers.  It’s greeted with laughter as they doubtlessly picture some harmless 1-1 ½” critter.  Granted, with each telling my arms move further apart and were now well past my shoulders. It was THIS big.  HONEST! I finally call April and start trying to bribe her with cash to come and get it out of my house.  April declines the money and says, “I’ll do it for the challenge!  I’ve got a 10-year-old visiting with a bug net, she’ll love it.”

The pair of them arrive and I direct them to the bathroom.  Nothing.  He has escaped!  I send them back in to be sure.  He’s probably just hiding, waiting for them to leave and then preparing a punishment for me for disturbing him.  No luck. Escaping can only mean he’s lying in wait for me somewhere else.  “Check my pillow.  The face hugger is probably waiting for me on my pillow!!!!” I squeal this in a dignified manner while dancing around the house. They go to my bedroom.  No luck.  “Check the closet.  It’s probably in my clothes!!!!” They end up scouring the whole house, turning things over, peering behind things and finally, April spots him waving at her in a spot she’d previously checked.  They square off. However, he didn’t count on the bug net.  She easily catches him and unceremoniously plunks him inside an empty Cool Whip container.  He hops about angrily hurling his massive body against the plastic sides swearing at her the entire time.  In front of a 10-year-old, no less! Thankfully, none of us are familiar with his alien language.

The critter is literally about 7” long. (Thank you, Monsanto.) The most massive grasshopper I’ve ever seen. One of those that you’d say “that’s an impressive specimen” and I would inquire, “is that code for ‘horrifying’?”

April and her 10-year-old sidekick proudly carry him off.  Unfortunately, when they went to take a picture of him, he leapt out of his plastic prison and bounded over a building, rudely gesturing his extreme displeasure as he escaped one final time.  I understand that there’s now a story, told by a 10-year-old bug-catching sidekick, about the evil king of grasshoppers.

He’s still out there, plotting his revenge.

The Things I Love

Finding the perfect gift can be challenging at times.  I’m one of those people who strives not to give next year’s white elephant gift or Goodwill donation.  Like many, I’m not always successful, but I have to admit that  lately I kinda feel like slugging myself in the shoulder while giving myself a sly little “atta girl” wink.  (I clearly need more mirrors in the house.)

Among the cast of characters in my life that you occasionally get to read about is is my friend April.  She’s usually starring in the recurring role of “truly great friend”.  And she’s one of those great gals in my life’s line-up who does just about anything for everyone, sometimes making great personal sacrifices to ensure everyone around her is getting to enjoy their lives.  She isn’t always as appreciated as she deserves and sometimes is a bit like Atlas, bearing the weight of all of our troubles. Yet, she perseveres.

This summer, I had the chance to give her a gift with the help of the amazingly gifted singing improv troupe, Girls Girls Girls Improvised Musical Comedy which includes the beautiful Shana Merlin and Aden Kirschner (the gals you’ll see in the middle).  They also happen to be two of my improv teachers/heroes, and two of the coolest gals you’ll ever meet.  It turns out Girls Girls Girls were having a little fundraiser to get to NYC for an upcoming improv festival (The New York Musical Improv Festival, November 1-6 at the Magnet Theater – you New Yorkers, you should go – you’ll love it. Yes, I’m specifically calling you out Jerry and Karen) and I needed a fun way to let April know just how cool I think she is and thank her for the things she does – in that special way that involves telling a lot people several embarrassing stories.  That’s love.

So, without further ado – my gift to April:

April, good luck pawning this one off!

Drunken Chicken

I’m a Daddy’s girl and as such, wherever Dad went, I’d tag along as his willing sidekick/apprentice. If there was a car to repair or a project to build, I was passing along tools, utensils or tea – occasionally pushing pieces of wood through the table saw or helping pull apart a car’s innards.  Whatever Dad needed, I’d find and pass along. Meanwhile, Dad would continue his work buried underneath the car or covered in saw dust listening to NPR.

I remember my first Hayne’s Manual for my Datsun 280-ZX.  I carried it with pride and when something went wrong, I’d throw up the hood and try to diagnose the issue.  I wasn’t great at major things, but not too shabby on the smaller bits and if I learned one thing from my Dad it’s that, “hey, you can’t make it too much worse, right?”  This was the family battle cry as we dove in occasionally making it “that much worse”.

I’ve often been confident to the point of cockiness when it comes to things I’ve seen my Dad do until I bought a BBQ grill.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat outside and watched Dad grill – probably since the time I could walk (or at least carry big glasses of iced tea).  You’d think in all those years though, I’d get something out of what he was doing – something more than “flames make food hot! YAY!” My higher functioning Tarzan brain paying close attention to detail.

Sure, I’ve tried, but for some reason that thing intimidated the heck out of me with its dampers and smoke stack and raising bits to adjust how close the fire was to the grill – and so it became decoration for the patio… until Saturday.

I decided a couple of weeks ago that I wasn’t going to continue to let a BBQ grill defeat me, so with some helpful suggestions from BBQ pros at work and April, I overcame my fear and made my first “Drunken Chicken” or “Beer Butted Chicken” if you prefer (and ribs).

April, thanks for the coaching, the shish kabobs, the potatoes and the pie!  Guys, I’m now ready for you to come over.

Chicken + Half Filled Can of Beer with Thyme

Boneless Ribs (Stubb's Rub, Brown Sugar)

Shish Kabobs (Bell Peppers, Mushrooms, Zucchini, Tomatoes, Squash)

Potatoes & Pineapple

Mark Your Calendars – March 11, 2011!

What are you doing Friday, March 11th at 10:30 pm?  Why not put those plans aside and come out to support April and me (and the rest of our amazing Improv 301 class) in our very first improv performance at the Salvage Vanguard Theater?  The tickets will be $5 (cheap!)  Plus, we need your cheers, your laughter, your groans and your good natured support and encouragement.

Salvage Vanguard Theater is located at 2803 Manor Rd. – just down the street from Hoover’s, The Red House Pizzeria and Vivo’s (in case you need some pre-show food/drinks).

We’ve got some amazingly gifted and talented people in the class (the next upcoming big names on the Austin improv scene), so you don’t want to miss the show and their humble beginnings (and I’ll be there, too – personally, I’m going to try to contract the plague or maybe a brain tumor between now and then, but barring being bitten by brain hungry zombies (does anyone know where I can find a pack of starving zombies in Winter? do they go dormant due to the cold?), I’ll be up on that stage, too – probably drunk off my ass, but still able to stand and slur).

I’ll be posting the ticket information as soon as I have it, so hold onto those $5’s!

A Nice Long Weekend

Originally uploaded by Big Blue Mess

Normally, I really don’t like imposing on my friends or asking for favors, but when a friend of mine started reading a blurb for an upcoming taping of “Overheard with Evan Smith” at KLRU, our local PBS station and my former employer, I was having a hard time reigning in my excitment. You see, P.J. O’Rourke was scheduled to appear and I kind of love him. Sure, I don’t always agree with his political views, but I completely respect his humor and intelligence from way back when I began reading his articles in Rolling Stone. So, after bouncing in my chair excitedly, I got the “come on down, you’ll see the taping, we’ll go have a nice long lunch” – the beginnings of a plan for a nice long weekend.

I got to the studio a little early and within minutes was hanging out with some of my favorite people. I can’t think of any place that I’ve ever worked where I’d either want to come back and hang out or feel completely comfortable and welcome except KLRU.  Getting to see P.J. O’Rourke was just icing. After the taping, the chatting, the hugs (yes, they are allowed to hug me – a lot of them have known me since I was 21) and managing to only hiss a little at my arch nemesis (to entertain the masses, of course – I couldn’t disappoint) it was time to move on to lunch (I think if I hadn’t moved in that moment, I would have stood in the lobby for another hour at the least). Yes lunch, outside in beautiful weather at a nice little “new to me” restaurant with a great friend who was making my long weekend possible. I really couldn’t ask for a better day.

Thank you, April! What a great start to what turned out to be a near perfect weekend.