Monday, October 27, 2014

Houston trip

It’s been quite a while since my last update, but not all that much has been going on. Work has actually been pretty light, especially considering that it was last October when things shifted into a higher gear and have pretty much stayed there for the past year.

The social highlight was two Fridays ago at the Rocky Whore-r Show at the PIT, where Josh performed as Riff Raff. I met up with Liz and Andrea for Josh’s one-man stand-up comedy show Maniac directly before, and then Katie M came for Rocky Horror. Liz bought us a bag of props to use during the show – newspapers to cover our heads during the rain scene, toasted bread to throw during the dinner toast, a party favor, playing cards and toilet paper. This is Liz and my second year going to the show together, and it’s such a fun show. It’s like my little “Perks of Being a Wallflower” moment (although there’s no chance I’d be press-ganged into performing like Charlie!)

Since I didn’t get home until 3 am and I still hadn’t packed for my flight to Houston the next day, I ended up missing my 1 pm flight and having to rebook for a couple hours later, which wasn’t at all inconvenient actually. It just meant I got into Houston at 8:30 pm instead of 5:45, so I had a little less time to visit Norm and Meador, my only two old-life friends who live in Houston. Norm and I worked side-by-side together for seven years at TxDOT, my first full-time communications job. They are grandparents now, and expecting two more grandchildren next year. We talked about old times and Norm gave me all the scoop on our little family of TxDOT retirees.

Sunday I had planned to meet up with my third Texas friend Linda, but she was too ill to come down from Nacogdoches, so I had the day to myself. I started with a breakfast at El Rey Tex Mex, built in what used to be a movie theater and later a Hollywood Video store I used to frequent. The restaurant has been featured on some food shows so I’ve always wanted to try it out, and the food is pretty decent but not extraordinary.

Next I went to the Half Price Bookstore in the Rice Village to buy some music, since my rental car didn't have an iPod hookup. I bought a bunch of CDs from the clearance rack for a buck or two apiece, and also picked up a book called “Hollow City,” the follow-up to Ransom Riggs’ bestseller, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” which I had finished during my extended trip down from New Jersey the day before. This is a series that Lytle recommended and I've thoroughly enjoyed it.

From there I went to Texas Art Supply and found some handmade paper for my annual Free Love Letters project, plus they were clearing out their remaining supply of Parker pen refills so I bought a bunch of those, plus ink refills for my Pelikan and Monteverde pens as well. Many of my friends have NRG-branded Parker pens, so I figured they would all need refills soon too. I also visited the Rothko Chapel, as I always try to do when I come to Houston, and Cactus Music and Tuesday Morning, but didn't buy anything else since I didn't think I could bring much more in my luggage. But that didn't stop me from checking out the Nordstrom's Rack and Marshalls and picking up a couple skirts and tops, plus even a couple pairs of shoes. I find good shoes in my size so rarely that I can’t afford to pass them up, plane flight or no. I got takeout dinner at Feng Ling, one of my favorite comfort food Chinese restaurants where the food hasn't changed at all in the more than 30 years I've been going there.

I also got it in my mind that I might find a plush bunny in my hometown, since I haven’t been able to find one in New York. I looked at several department and toy stores, and finally found one in the children’s section of Neiman Marcus, a floppy-eared Jellycat rabbit that I named Dusty.

The actual reason for going to Houston was for an all-hands Communication team meeting, which was held at the visitor’s center at Bayou Bend Gardens - actually a pretty lovely spot for a meeting. We all went to Brenner’s Steakhouse next door for dinner Monday night, which was also a nice experience. I’d been to this location back when it was the Rainbow Lodge and full of stuffed animal heads, and not the ones like Dusty. I stayed on an extra day, working in Houston on Wednesday (did some more shopping) and came back late Wednesday night.

On Saturday I finished up a couple of love letters before going to see Joan’s play, “Sweet Sweet Spirit” at the 14th Street Y, which is an unexpectedly nice theater venue. The play was good, but since I don’t have a connection to my birth family, it didn’t really move me, even though it takes place in Texas. Still, it had an authenticity to it that I could appreciate.

I left directly after to meet up with Illona and Tom at the BAM Rose Theater to see “Birdman.” That was a fun movie, especially because a good portion of it was shot on my street in Times Square, at a bar that I pass by frequently. We got ice cream at the Cold Stone Creamery in the Atlantic Terminal and sat on one of the benches to talk until security chased us out when the mall closed.

Yesterday I visited Kelly at Salon SCK and got the red in my hair replaced with bands of bright blue and fuschia, which is actually more subtle than the red. I also made a pulled pork shoulder stew in my slow cooker, and Natalia came over in the evening to watch “Winter’s Tale” and to retrieve her plant that has been sitting on my altar. I wanted to get ready for Samhain this Friday, when I will do my annual ritual to charge a new pendant for the year, so that’s what I’ll be focusing on this week.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Free Love Letters 2014

Finally, we are entering the dark half of the year, my time for creativity and renewal when for many people the opposite is true. And for me, October is a special month for a number of reasons. It ends with pagan new year (Samhain) on Oct. 31 and time for the cycle of the year to start anew.

Looking back on my life, October is the month I most associate with love because I've actually met (officially) all my previous lovers in the month of October. And even though I'm not in a pair-bonded relationship now, nor am I looking to be anytime soon, I think love is something to be celebrated in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.

This year has been filled with love from my intentional family, my dearest friends, who give me the love and emotional support that I need in a life devoid of the usual sources for such support. It is perhaps by not being in a relationship or seeking one that nourishes such deep feelings and connections with my closest friends.

Three years ago I started a project to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. I came up with an idea after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal"Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011

I wanted to do something to celebrate love that didn't have anything to do with a specific person. The idea of love is bigger than one relationship between two people - love is what binds us all together and the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I'm an advocate of polyamory and helping people find new ways to experience love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.

Also, I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address. Repeat requests from past participants are encouraged!

Everyone who gives me an address will get a letter - guaranteed - whether we've known each other a minute or a decade. Each love letter will be handwritten with liquid ink on cotton fiber paper (so as not to harm any trees) and sent via U.S. Mail - not by email, text, IM, Twitter or Facebook post. I'll even spring for international delivery for anyone overseas.

Your letter may be long or short, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated with a wax seal. It might recall some tiny, distant memory of our time together, or it might be five pages long if we have a history. It might be lyrics to a love song that reminds me of you. It could be a story I've always wanted to share with you, but never found the right moment to tell it.

But whatever it is, it will be honest, and it will be about you and me - and whatever is between us and how it relates to the experience of love. And for those moments it takes you to read it, you and I will share a personal and physical connection that is so rare in this fleeting digital world.

No response will be expected - the letter will be my gift to you, in honor of all the love that has found me in Octobers past. All letters and requests will be kept confidential on my end, but you're certainly welcome to share the experience publicly if you wish. And obviously, requests received after Oct. 31 will have to wait until next year.

Lucky streak

What a wonderful whirlwind week it’s been!

Friday night was poker night for Nearing employees. Now, a lot of people at my company make a lot more money than I do, so it gets a little cutthroat at times. But the game is usually fun, and it’s good to make some personal connections across the company. I started with a $40 buy-in, and usually I’ll lose it all midway through the night and then just deal the cards for the rest of the night, which I enjoy doing. I like being in charge, I guess.

The last time I played, which was several months ago, I walked out with about $50, but this time around I doubled my winnings, netting $100 in profit. I had terrible hands at the beginning, but I folded most of them and waited patiently for Lady Luck to come around to me and eventually my cards started to improve. I won several hands in a row with three-of-a-kinds, although I suffered a costly beat by a straight one of those times.

I stayed over at the host’s house since we stopped playing at about 2 am. In the morning I drove back to the office and walked to the train station, giving thanks for my lucky night and wondering what the beautiful new day would bring.

I planned to have dinner with Natalia Saturday night, but since I was feeling so lucky, I asked her if she wanted to try a Broadway ticket lottery, and we decided on The Book of Mormon. I took a nap and went out to meet her at the theater for her first ticket lottery. I've been trying to win this lottery for more than a year – in fact, the Lottery Dude knows me by name. I gave up on it for a while after Piper took me and Katie B to see it earlier this year, but I wanted to see it again from better seats.

Now, since I've entered this lottery at least 40 times, I usually write something silly on the home location instead of New York. This time I wrote “The Far Side” and dropped it in the barrel. Natalia got her entry in with just seconds to spare.

I can’t really describe the feeling upon hearing my name come out of Lottery Dude’s bullhorn. He surprised me by saying "From New York" because he obviously knows I'm local. Something I have been wanted for so long and endured so many disappointments – for it to finally happen was an incredible euphoric feeling! Natalia and I screamed, and I got some well-wishes from the crowd as I made my way up. People tend to be more enthused the happier your reaction. Our tickets were in the boxes on the left side of the stage, so we were much closer to the action, but far to one side. Still, they were great seats for $37 each.

As we waited for the house to open, Natalia and I tried a new ramen shop on 9th Avenue called “Kung Fu Noodle House.” They served dim sum in addition to ramen, so I introduced Natalia to the art of eating pork soup dumplings. They were OK, but not the best I've ever had – I doubt any can really top the ones I've had in Hong Kong, but there are even places in New York that are better.

The show was wonderful of course, and I enjoyed it more than the first time I saw it. One reason was that the seats were better. The second reason is that I was more prepared for the profanity and raunchy-ness that caught me off-guard the first time I saw the show. So we had a wonderful time and Natalia enjoyed the show as well. I was happy that we had a special night together since she’s had a rough go this past week.

Sunday I went down to Brooklyn to attend the annual New York Audio Show, my second time at this event. Unlike last year, there wasn't any Classic Album Sundays presentation, so I just wandered around and poked my head into room after room, listening to demos and talking to some of the vendors. I met Dr. Hsu of Hsu Research, a well-known maker of subwoofers that is now branching out into a full line of speakers. I also attended Michael Fremer's turntable setup workshop at the end of the day – he’s probably the foremost expert on analog playback in the world right now, and edits the site. He set up the turntable at last year’s event when we listened to the Talking Heads album “Remain in Light.” Here's a Stereophile post about it with a photo of me in the front row, taking pictures. I bumped into him as he was leaving the show and told him what a huge influence his writings have had on me, and my newfound appreciation for analog (yes, he's really that short).

I bought a few things at the show: Chesky CDs of Rebeca Pidgeon’s album “The Raven” and the a cappella album “The Persuasions Sing U2” from Chesky Records' Laura Cella (seen in this Stereophile post), plus a multi-channel SACD of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” And of course I entered a few drawings to see if my luck will extend a little further. I left the event and stopped by a nearby Hill Country Barbecue for my first meal of the day, an order of ribs, sausage, green bean casserole and cornbread. The ribs were as good as any I've ever had; the sausage was a bit disappointing. Texans - even former ones - take their barbecue very seriously!