Tuesday, July 31, 2007

spam used to be so much more inventive

People who I have received an e-greeting card from in the last week:

- a friend
- a school friend
- a school-mate
- a class-mate
- a lover
- a neighbour
- a church friend
- a worshipper
- a partner
- a college friend
- a child-hood friend

People who I have not received an e-greeting card from in the last week:

- a cellmate
- a deep-sea fisherman
- a bitchy girl from 9th grade English
- a Pope
- a running back for the Saskatchewan Roughriders
- a migrant farm worker
- a Pacey Witter
- a deposed Communist dictator
- a Slytherin
- a local CBS news affiliate weatherman

If this whole "career in history" thing doesn't pan out, I will have no trouble finding work as an overly imaginative spammer.

Friday, July 27, 2007

why i should not be allowed to talk to famous people

I called Kristi as I clambered up the Metro stairs, frantically spewing apologies for my late arrival.

"Em," she cut me off, "I'm in Starbucks. Get in here right. Now."

Red-faced and sore from a day in heels and a suit, convinced Kristi was furious with my chronic tardiness, I burst into the coffee shop. "Honey!" I bellowed, trumpeting my apology, "I am so sorry I'm late! I know we said 6:45 but I missed three trains in a row and-"

As I bent down to hug her hello, she elbowed me in my ribs. Being a natural master of intuition and subtle signals, I totally ignored it. "-and I'm just so, like, GLAD to be out of the conference for the day, and I had to go to the dermatologist and I don't have SKIN CANCER, but GOD, it's always something, you know? So how ARE YOU? Welcome back from EUROPE! I want to hear all about your TRIP and the HOT GUY FROM THE BEACH IN NICE!"

I am cringing so very hard as I type these words in capitals, because I know it's how I sounded, all boomy and braying in comparison to the silent signals she was so desperately trying to send. As Kristi's eyes bugged out of her head and I loudly asked her where she'd like to DO DINNER, I noticed someone familiar-looking standing by the condiment station.

And the stupid thing is, I knew right away it was him. And her. Them. The people that we had seen onscreen within the last month and were planning on seeing onstage in about four hours. It was obviously them, and more specifically, him. The man who we had watched and who had me leaving the theater convinced of his utter perfection as a singer, songwriter, man- nay, human being. And you think I exaggerate, but not a single woman I know who has seen Once has escaped without falling for Glen Hansard.

So even though I knew it was him, and them, I continued to steal not-at-all sneaky looks at them as they fixed their coffees and I babbled about something, just to give my face something to do besides full-on gawp. This lasted for probably all of fifteen seconds, but it felt like fifteen minutes as I mentally ran through the protocol for such an encounter. Should be cool and ignore them, like, "*sigh* another celebrity in my Starbucks?" Should I tell them I think they're fantastic? Should I ask them how they like DC, and if they have time they should really visit the Spy Museum? (No, that's toolish; maybe not exactly in those words; you are such a loser for even thinking it.)

I legitimately understand that it would be annoying to be "on" all the time, and though I find it deeply stupid when famous people appear on Dateline or similar to beg for their privacy, it's understandable that they get annoyed when they have to smile and be all friendly to strangers when they're just trying to order a nonfat cappucino. But from a totally selfish standpoint, how often does one suddenly encounter the person whose voice was just playing on their iPod not five minutes before?

With all these thoughts coursing through my head, I suddenly noticed that they were heading out the door and my moment to react was now or never. "Excuse me," I asked and he turned around and smiled. Oh, that lovely crinkly grin. I grinned back at him and at her, and suddenly, in one horrible moment I realized: I have no idea how to pronounce Markéta Irglová's name.

Faced with the awkward possibility of having to ask someone how to pronounce her first name before telling her I loved her music, I chose the WASP way out and ignored the problem. "Are you Glen Hansard?" I asked him, knowing, duh, he was. I smiled at both of them, as if to communicate "I know who you are too! I do! I swear!"

"Aye, that's me," he replied as friendly as could possibly be. He seemed like just an impossibly nice guy, and utterly un-indie snobbish. I may have swooned as I said "I'm sorry, I don't want to bother you all; just wanted to say that we're really looking forward to the show tonight."

He was paused in his tracks at the door, half-turned around to face me and Kristi, and as I spoke for a moment he rocked forward as if to walk back to us. "Aw thanks, we really appreciate it," he smiled back at me, and then remained standing there as if receptive to talking more. Receptive to conversation. Glen Hansard is standing in front of me responding to something I said and his body language indicates he would be fine with continuing the conversation.

And for the first time in my entire life, I have absolutely nothing to say. I am utterly without speech, or even thoughts that could potentially be vocalized. There is not a single topic of even loser-ish, Spy Museum-related thought in my empty little head. We all stood there awkwardly frozen for a moment, a voice inside me screaming "say something! Say anything at all! This does not happen! You do not meet men on your List of Five Celebrities in a coffee shop! You're practically in a Friends episode! Say you're in a Friends episode! Say anything! Oh my God, this is the longest that anyone has ever NOT TALKED TO ANOTHER PERSON."

What happened next later became a topic of debate between Kristi and me. She swears it was she who then said "break a leg," and that I echoed her. I contend it was entirely the other way around. The only thing we agreed on over dinner at Creme, while endlessly replaying and dissecting the entire exchange, is that the only thing lamer than the person who says "break a leg" to a rock star before his show is the person who repeats it a moment later.

The show was fantastic, especially their cover of "Into The Mystic" and Markéta Irglová's rendition of "If You Want Me," and I very much hope that they enjoyed themselves as much as they seemed to, that they know how much the crowd enjoyed themselves, and that when I said "break a leg" to Glen Hansard in the Starbucks on 13th and U, I really meant to say "how would you like to make tender, passionate love all night and then talk marriage and babies?"

Because I could really go for that. In a totally chill, has-it-together kind of nonchalant way, of course.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

because i am clearly now going to get around to posting actual content any time soon

1. I can sing the entirety of both alto and soprano parts of Carmina Burana from memory in both German and Latin. I can also do big chunks of Mozart's Requiem and Handel's Messiah. This sounds kind of impressive to the layperson, but anyone who at all knows choral music and is reading this is totally thinking "big whoop." Still, I'm kind of proud of it, even though it practically never gets me laid.

2. Every once in a while I peruse the admissions websites for MFA programs in acting. Not that I'll ever apply, but it does me good, knowing that I could at least technically fulfill the admission requirements.

3. I have terrible teeth. I mean, they look great but are secretly, really terrible. I mean, my four front teeth are actually elaborate permanent crowns because my childhood dentist said that if I didn't replace them with falsies, they would probably fall out before I finished grad school. Yay, bad genes!
3a. When I got these fake teeth put in I happened to be in the throes of an undiagnosed kidney infection, and spent the entire (un-anesthetized) procedure thrashing about in unbelievable pain and discomfort from multiple parts of my poor body. I now have a pathological fear of all things dentist, second only to my irrational fear of sharks.

4. My maternal grandmother came down with severe Alzheimer's in her early 50s and even though I was twelve when she died, I never knew her. My mom, her daughter, is now 55. I'm scared it runs in the family, and think about this every time I have to repeat myself to her.

5. When someone says that something "made [me] grow as a person," I want to tear out chunks of my hair from annoyance. A person? Really? As opposed to what, a fungus? This phrase is the reason, more than the drunken threeways or the fact that I'm at least nominally an adult now, why I don't watch The Real World anymore.

6. I haven't decided whether to keep my name if I get married or give it to any kids I may have, and my reasons both ways have nothing to do with feminism. On the one hand, I really don't like my last name. It's an unsonorous noun that easily lends itself to sex jokes, and, well, I just don't like the sound of it. On the other hand, my dad's side of the family has not done well in preserving it. My only male cousin on that side changed his last name for a variety of reasons I won't go into, and my other female cousins already have changed their names or have distanced themselves far enough from the family that they would never pass it on to their kids. So basically, it could die out in my generation. For all the mistakes that side of the family has made over the decades, I don't know if I can let that happen on my watch.

7. I currently have twenty-six mosquito bites on my legs. I itch. Stupid outdoor wedding receptions.

8. I alphabetize all my DVDs and VHS tapes. Oh, and I still own VHS tapes. That's weird, right?

Saturday, July 21, 2007

harry potter and the evening of navel-gazing

As I sit in my apartment, curled on my brown mod armless couch with my feet nestled in the folds of my mon expensive rug and tea candles flickering about my living room, reflecting the gold and brown cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I feel the urge to document how I feel at this moment.

I first read a Harry Potter book when I was 18, the summer before I started college. I was working for an independent bookstore owned by a lovely, slightly dotty British woman who upon hearing I had never read any of the books insisted that I do so, on pain of firing. The fourth book was to come out that July, and she would be damned if she would have a seller who had never read the books representing her store on this most critical of nights for the publishing industry.

I vividly remember sitting in the driver's seat of my 1998 Cougar in the backlot of the strip mall where her bookstore was tucked, flipping open the front cover of the first book and finding myself almost instantly sucked in, so much so that she had to come looking for me some time later, concerned because my break had been over for quite a while. I remember drawing lightning bolts onto little boys' foreheads the night that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire came out, tracing a zigzag of purple eyeliner under their bowl cuts as I quietly mourned the death of Cedric Diggory, a death I had read about earlier that night in our stocking room over pizza and cheap red wine with Aaron the Perpetual College Student who at 28 was still working on his bachelor's in liberal studies.

I don't remember acquiring book 5, but I do remember acquiring book 6, and would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my ex, who I know reads this blog, for inviting him to visit my family cabin and then completely ignoring him so that I could buy and read Harry Potter. Terribly rude of me, thousand apologies, etcetera. Revisionist historians might even contribute such behavior as a cause for him breaking up with me a week afterwards, but, water under the bridge.

Such bad behavior aside, my even worse behavior as regards Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince was to flip. I skipped to the end of the book almost the moment it was in my hot little hands, and discovered the big climax before I knew the context for it. I chuckled as my sister, who, though she is five years younger is light-years ahead when it comes to self-restraint, gasped and gawped when she sloooooowly made her way to the conclusion I'd abrasively and abruptly arrived at.

And when she got there, I envied her. Not enough to make me regret flipping, mind you, but enough that two years later I still recall that envy, and a tangible sense of having given up to get. Enough so that this time around I have gone out of my way to avoid any spoilers, hints, whispers, comments as to what happens, even avoiding my usual navel-gazing articles on pop culture and social memory constructs in Slate, Salon, the NYT or similar.

I am not good at self-denial. I am quite terrible at it, if you want to get down to the nitty gritty of it. Yet I'm smart enough to understand that this is as a result of living a pretty privileged life and not having to deny myself of something if I don't want to. Not of material possessions, mind you-- I'm not rich, and given my professional choices, I never will be-- but I've always had the freedom to pursue lifestyle choices, hobbies, habits, even ways to fill my days, without an overabundance of self-denial.

But this Harry Potter is incontravertably the last book of its ilk. The last chapter in something I've enjoyed and felt invested in for eight years, beginning when I was a pale imitation of the person I am now. Trite as it sounds, these books are a link to childhood, and the sheer joy I've felt this week in anticipating holding this book, in finding out how it all ends, has felt unmistakably childlike. There is no irony, no agenda, no emotion besides glee tinged with melancholy that it has to end.

And so I sit, Harry's final saga resting in gold binding on my coffee table. MY COFFEE TABLE. Since I began this journey with Harry, I've become a person who drinks coffee. And who owns furniture to put it on. Who pays a mortgage, who has a 401K, who has regrets and messiness and has reconciled herself to hard truths and still, looking at even the table of contents, revels in a childish sense of wonder and excitement. And is so grateful that this world exists for her to enjoy.

And now that I have learned how exquisite self-denial can be, how reluctant I find myself to surrender to the end of it all.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

conversations with myself

Hey EJ. It's me, your inner voice. She Who Knows Better, She Who Speaks Uncomfortable Truths.
Oh, you again. Do you mind? It's one in the morning and I'm trying to study.
Yeah, I know. I just thought I'd pop in and give you a hard time about not being able to retain this stuff.
Thanks, that's very helpful.
No, really, you're bad at it. You say you love history but you can't remember the name of the Smithsonian curator the damn chapter is about, even though you've probably read it ten times in the last few pages.
That's not really the point. I'm a grad student. It's not about memorizing facts. If I understand the argument that is being made and can critique it in a sophisticated manner, or at least one that uses a lot of five-dollar words, I'm golden.
Riiiight. So you're not at all bothered by the fact that you can't remember his name, or the names or anyone else involved in the controversy, or the lobbying associations involved, but you're totally fine with the rest of the junk that's clogging up your head.
What are you talking about?
Don't you find it really troubling that you can't retain the details of what is supposed to be your academic passion, but you remember totally useless crap without even trying? Aren't you totally embarrassed that you know that Lindsay Lohan has left rehab and is wearing an alcohol-monitoring anklet? And how you know the names of Britney Spears' dogs? And--
I do not know the names of Britney Spears' dogs.
Yes you do. Don't lie.
Shut up. Look, I read that crap in little minute-long spurts throughout the day. It's not my fault it sticks in my head. I don't want it to stick in my head. If I could physically reach in and remove it from my brain with a teeny-tiny ice cream scoop, I'd do it. I want to have the brain space for stuff that actually matters.
Maybe if Perez Hilton wrote about the October Revolution and drew coke residue on a photo of Lenin you'd actually have been able to contribute in class on Tuesday.
MAYBE. Look, I guess I just process information differently. I blame the Internet. And society. And being raised by a generation that was too busy congratulating themselves on being good people to effectively parent their children. And saturated fats.
Maybe you should stop reading Salon.com all damn day.
Maybe you should bite me.
I can't. I'm your inner monologue.
Fine, then maybe you could shut up so I could get some sleep. Trying to read historiography in bed is clearly not working.
Suit yourself.
Bit-Bit, Lacy and London.
I hate you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

ferg-breath gets lucky

No real writing for a while-- work is nuts and I'm spending every free moment reading historical memory theory. Grad school is super-great, y'all! Like a job, but a whole extra one, and you pay money to work at it!

Here's a little something from your friend EJ. If you watched a thimbleful of the Nickelodeon I watched in the late 80s/early 90s, expect to spend the rest of the day giggling:

Sunday, July 15, 2007

extraordinary how potent cheap music is

Holy... wow. I need to update my Top 5 All Time Concerts.

Previously, the list was:

1) The Who, V Festival 2006. Because it's the fricking' WHO, because they played for almost two hours and because they played a forty minute medley from Tommy. Also because there was insane drama going on that day: in our group people were kissing and not speaking and coming down from coke binges and it was all incredibly messy and bad and it all just stopped the second the band began the opening to "Baba O'Reilly."

2) The Killers, Vienna (Austria, not Virginia), February 2005. Because the show was in an abandoned industrial slaughterhouse, because it was just before Hot Fuss really broke out, and because I will never, ever forget, that particular performance of "Mr. Brightside." I was 23 and backpacking through Europe after quitting the worst first job ever and cheesy as it seems now, because it's a song about creepy voyeurism and stalking, those lyrics seemed to have been written exactly for me:

But it's just the price I pay
Destiny is calling me
Open up my eager eyes
'Cause I'm Mr. Brightside

My original next three were Ben Folds at Interlochen Arts Camp, Summer 2003 (got sick of the crappy piano they gave him, so he stood on top of it and sang "Not The Same" while conducting the audience in six-part harmony); Arcade Fire in Amsterdam, March 2005 (this had the potential to be much higher on the list, but frankly, I don't remember much of it) and Barenaked Ladies, Detroit, summer of 1998 (first big Detroit concert I ever saw with friends, first time I ever made out with a stranger at a concert, and sadly the first and only time I ever saw BNL. Say what you will, but they put on a fantastic show and I would cheerfully pay any amount of money to have them as my wedding band someday. How awesome a party would THAT be?).

However, the list needs updating. Last night Lisa and I saw the Decemberists with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, and it is immediately going on my list as #3. I knew it was going to be good, and that I was there with the right person (a critical element of a successful concert-going experience, as the wrong companion can wreck what is otherwise an awesome show) when the orchestra started to tune up and Lisa and I looked at each other all moony-eyed. We're both former classical musicians and that familiar A note wafting over the seats and onto the lawn felt like a welcoming beacon, a sign that whatever was about to happen was promised respectability and a place in the canon.

The band came on to crashing applause, Colin Meloy opened his mouth to sing "Crane Wife 1 & 2" and we were done for. The combination of the two groups was glorious, creating the most lush sounds I've ever heard in a rock concert. The strings starting to pulse behind his guitar, the brass dartingly punctuating the percussion, and of course, Colin Meloy's voice presided firmly yet yearningly over all of it. They created a wave of gorgeous sound that spread over the lawn, so rich that the air seemed to massage us as we soaked up the music.

The Decemberists of course pride themselves on being inventive and using a huge variety of instruments to create lush and unusual music, especially for a rock band. You think the Decemberists, you think creativity, literary lyrics, innovative, even snobby. But with the backing of a full orchestra, what we got was JOY. Their music, even songs like "Odalisque," seemed to shimmer with optimism and eager, excited smiles. One of my favorite moments was during "The Tain," when the cameraman caught a violinist giggling to herself as Colin Meloy sang "she's a salty little pisser with your cock in her kisser," and it was just one of many moments when the band members, orchestra members and conductor were caught off-guard smiling and laughing, as if thinking "how incredibly cool is this?" It was what music should be, with musicians clearly taking pride in what they do and having a great time sharing it with an enthusiastic audience.

Of course, it was an audience made in part of classical music fans, and so people remained sitting until the orchestra took a break and the band played "Perfect Crime # 2" without them. As the audience rose, Meloy jumped off the stage and strolled around the pit, while Lisa and I clutched each other's arms in silent prayer. "Pleaselethimcomebackhere, pleaselethimcomeback here...." And it worked. He appeared at the top of the house, twenty feet from where we stood, and we both ran for it, leaving our purses and wallets and cameras behind on the blanket. Because good music does something to the listener, makes her forget herself and her concerns and the worldly distractions, and makes her run after a small man in a white suit and round glasses just to high-five him, in the hopes of gaining even more sensation from all that he has already given her.

By the end of the night, my cheeks hurt from grinning so hard and I was in an absolute daze. Just the way I always want to feel after a show. Or, y'know, life. Whichever. If I could change one thing (because there's always something), I wish they would have brought out the whale for the encore performance of "Mariner's Revenge." But since "seeing the Decemberists perform 'Mariner's Revenge'" has been on my Things To Do Before I Die List for some time now, let's just go ahead and leave that particular nit un-picked for now.

Complete setlist:

The Crane Wife 1 & 2
The Infanta
We Both Go Down Together
The Bagman's Gambit
(which of course got big cheers from the hometown crowd)
Perfect Crime #3
(without orchestra)
Los Angeles, I'm Yours
The Tain
O, Valencia!
(without orchestra)
I Was Meant For The Stage

The Mariner's Revenge (without orchestra)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

hold me closer, tony danza

There was a show on MTV in the mid-90s that was called something like X-Treme Karaoke, or So You Think You Know The Lyrics But You Really Don't, Dumbass. I could probably Wikipedia it, but where's the fun in that? Anyhoo, my only recollections of it are that it was hosted by one of the more rotund male veejays and people sang popular songs without the lyrics in front of them and the audience laughed at their boneheaded attempts. Oh, and that I would never, ever go on it in a million years.

Because, you see, I am notorious for misunderstanding song lyrics, singing along to a song only to mangle innocent words into something completely unrelated and entirely stupid. Something that a person with common sense, an attribute I rather noticeably lack, inevitably notices, forcing them to burst my bubble and say things like "I'm pretty sure Alanis Morrisette was not singing about a cross-eyed bear."

It wasn't until I was reading the New York Times review of Xanadu: The Musical (don't say a word; I assure you that no one is judging me more harshly than me right now), that I realized I've heard the lyric wrong for all this years:

I always thought it was "med-ie-val woman!" and not "e-e-vil woman!"

Of course, my way is more amusing. The thought of Electric Light Orchestra writing a disco number about a 13th century European peasant matron is way more fun than just another song about just another bitch. And, given the substances that the members of Electric Light Orchestra likely had coursing through their bloodstreams circa 1975, would anyone have really been surprised if they wrote a song about a Medieval Woman? Would this be so shocking when compared what other 1970s artists were singing?

I know I'm not alone in this quirk. What's the most ridiculous song lyric that you've misheard and sung incorrectly, blissfully unaware until someone pointed out that you were very wrong, and maybe should get your ears checked?

Monday, July 09, 2007

For someone who claims to love travel as much as I do, someone who subscribes to both Conde Nast Traveler and National Geographic Traveler, someone who planned and ultimately scrapped trips to both Croatia and North Korea this year (oh, did I not mention that I was seriously considering vacationing in North Korea? And that I am mildly to moderately deranged?), I don't actually do a lot of traveling.

The problem, if you care to think of it that way, is a certain cabin in upstate Michigan. It's where I spend Christmas and a chunk of the summer, and my time there plus the odd three-day weekend completely eats up my precious vacation days. It's so hard to initiate the effort of finding a destination, travel companions, a hotel that is both affordable and not crawling with roaches and scam artists eager to pray on American tourists, scouting fun destinations once there and generally pulling the whole damn thing off when going to the cabin is comparatively easy. It's six hours door to door. Five minutes after I walk in I'm sacked out on the couch with a margarita in hand, staring at the lake and relaxing with such gusto that I risk drowning in the sofa cushions.

I mean, look:

If you knew you would wake up to sunrises like that every single day while staying there for free, well, wouldn't you also be a bit reluctant to branch out?

If I'm completely honest with myself, it's not just the scenery and the cost that keep me going up north. Nor is it just the family, although that is a pretty big part of it, since it's pretty much what we call "home" these days. It's not just the whitefish pate at Art's Tavern or the surprisingly excellent shopping, or even Wes, the adorable bartender on our tall mast bay cruise who was a real-life Pacey Witter.

Sorry. Need minute to recover. Thinking about Pacey Witter-esque sailor and his stories of battling pirates in the South Pacific...

Ahem. Anyways.

No, it's not just these things, wonderful as they are. It's the fact that I can kick back and do absolutely nothing. That I can revert to being a bratty teenager who eats pizza for breakfast and is all "Moo-ooooom!" when the parents remove my Arcade Fire CD to play some John Gorka. I nestle in the couch with a drink and read bad fiction when my family is annoying. My sister and I, who normally get along pretty well as adults, start picking at one another as I get bossy and she gets spacey. Being up there, I revert to my adolescent self in ways good and bad.

Every time I go up north a part of me wants to stay. It thinks "I could get a job at the local newspaper and live on 20 grand a year and go to the beach or ski every weekend!" I manage to squish that part pretty quickly because I tried it for one summer in college and was out of my mind within two weeks. Going to country bars with three-dollar pitchers of Bud was fun for about three days, and then I started to get annoyed when bartenders kept putting Sprite in my vodka gimlets. Everyone is white. And you may not believe this, but the woods are quiet. I mean, really QUIET. The kind of quiet where if you're alone too long you start thinking about In Cold Blood and even the dopey aliens from Signs, who, let's face it, would seem fairly menacing if you were all alone in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. And I wouldn't even have Mel Gibson around to protect/distract me by making anti-Semitic comments!

I'm not sure entirely where I lost my train of thought just now. Point is, I couldn't live there. Not yet. It's getting more feasible-- Meijer's carries wasabi peas now, and when I drove to the beach to take photos of the sunset, the local rock station played Blonde Redhead. This is a major leap for a station that until a year ago required one song an hour to be Christian power pop. But still, I'm not quite ready to sign up for year-round up north living. I revert to acting like a teenager because northern Michigan doesn't allow for the extended adolescence everyone in DC relishes, some people well past its expiration date. Here, it's almost effortless for someone to be a powerbroker by day (or at least labor under the delusion that they are one) and a kid as soon as they leave the office. Adults play kickball and drink too much, blow money on expensive dinners and toys they don't need and stay unpartnered well after their peers back home have shacked up and started the next generation of Midwesterners.

There, there are clear delineations of adult and not-adult. And painful as it is to admit, I wouldn't do well in a place that required me to actually be a grownup.

Vacations, however, I don't see stopping any time soon.

*Sigh.* I miss it already.

Monday, July 02, 2007

keeping austin weird

Oh dear. I am in a bit of a pickle.

You see, I've fallen in love. With Austin, Texas.

Friends, I swear, from the moment I stepped out of my rental Jeep and onto Guadalupe, I was done for. This town has it all. Everyone knows that Austin revolves around great live music and great food (we ate nothing but Mexican and barbecue for three days straight, including breakfasts), but I had no idea that the quality of day-to-day life could be so friendly, so contented, so-- and yes, I technically was, but everyone else from the students to the shopgirls to my cousins seemed to feel this way too-- perpetually like being on vacation.

Strangers were friendly when they didn't have to be. I can't tell you how many conversations I had with total strangers. "And what brings you to Austin, honey?" they asked at the vintage store, the hole-in-the-wall with amazing pork and roasted pineapple tacos, hell, even the gas station. "Oh, I'm here for a cousin's wedding." "Oh how great! Is the bride excited? Where's the ceremony? Are y'all going to see the bats after the reception? Do y'all need directions to Salt Lick?"

That's another thing about Austin: people are excited to show off their town. They're proud of what they have and how they live, and are welcoming to strangers. After seven years of DC hostility to tourists, defensiveness and constant superiority complexes vis-a-vis Northwest vs. Southeast vs. northern Virginia, it was incredibly refreshing to be in a town when everyone, rich and not-so-rich, was clearly proud to live where they did. This is a city that takes great care of itself. It's unfailingly clean, has terrific signage on the most ordinary businesses and people are forever out and about on the streets. I didn't see a single dead zone, a neighborhood I wouldn't adore living in or a street I'd be afraid to walk down alone at night.

Also, Austin is cheap. I nearly wept when I bought a throw pillow for seven dollars and a taco for a buck fifty. Of course my new cowboy boots were a bit pricier (ahem), but how often does one get the chance to buy handmade Texas cowboy boots (you wouldn't believe how much the ones with the snake's head on the toe cost)? Boots aside, everything is insanely affordable. Driving down South Congress to get my boots I heard a radio announcer talking about a condo development opening down the street "with two-bedrooms starting in the low $180s!" Believe me when I say that the willpower I employed in not driving over and signing a contract right then was superhuman.

Oh, and did I mention that the landscape is beautiful and hilly and full of trees and not at all the desolate desert I had envisioned? And that everything is at most a 15 minute drive away from downtown? And that UT is an amazing campus full of fountains and perfect lawns and Spanish architecture and that I will now be perusing their HR website with a vengeance? And that there everyone seems to be not only happy with life, but ridiculously healthy and good-looking? And that I have family there, family whose wedding I attended and will have to write about in another post because it was a perfect ceremony and perfect reception (exactly what I want if I ever take that particular step) and that they live a perfect life that I covet, full of books and bluegrass and porches and elaborate adventures in cooking and frequent trips to Mexico and Montana?

Because I've spent my entire adult life in DC and my most frequent weekend destination is New York, it's never occurred to me that daily life could be lived in a place where people weren't perpetually bitching about something or other. That life could be like vacation every day, that a job could be just a means to living a satisfying life and not a trial to be endured in the name of some abstract greater power. It's silly to say that a three-day vacation makes me want to pack it in and quit DC, because, of course, I am more sensible than that. I mean, I just bought a condo and got into grad school. I'm not going anywhere... for another eighteen months, at least.

But know that I am thinking... about things. And let's just say that I could see myself very, very happy in Austin.