Dec 31, 2013

AIA testimonial

Good afternoon.

My name is Alec and I am an alcoholic. I am also an architect.

I am proud to say that I have not touched architecture for two weeks.

I would like to point out that, although in the law's eyes, I am not legally an architect, the way I act, the things I do, are very much like a fully licensed architect. Too many like me are denied the treatment they need when the state makes an artificial barrier to try and help the most desperate cases of licensed architects. These are people who are so deep in architecture, many of them are tied to gangs of other licensed architects where they live in a totally consuming and destructive cycle of architecture.

There is, to be honest, little you can do to get these people out of the architecture-poverty cycle.

The fight against architecture is a daily struggle.

Like many creative, curious young people, I tried architecture in high school. Nothing that big, just a class, a summer studio, you know. Lots of my friends and classmates also tried it, and they went on to successful careers in business administration, nursing, or law. I still remember, even back then, it put the hook in me. It was a rush like nothing I'd ever experienced. I had all these feelings of power, of creating worlds. I felt like I could do anything.

I went crazy in college. Even though I was taking classes like sociology and human evolution, I thought, what's the harm in joining a studio or a taking in a lecture on the Walter Gropius on the side. In that kind of environment, I got to know other students who were really into architecture. They showed me tips and techniques for making my designs better, my towers, higher. They introduced me to some really strong stuff. I could barely handle it. 'Post-structuralism', 'deconstructivism', 'Charles Jencks'.

My parents were naturally concerned. I fed them vague lies about my liberal arts degree when really I was spending nearly all my time on architecture. Honestly, I was shot. I'd get wired on caffeine and go on 30-hour architecture binges with my friends. I slept an average of four or five hours a night.  I tried to explain my weight loss away as amphetamine addiction.

As many of you know too well, architecture is an expensive habit. I was blowing through thousands of dollars every year. I was buying wood, matte paper plots, wire. I was so desperate, I bought concrete on the side. We were all lasering. Yeah, it was extra expensive, but you know, it made everything so crisp and wild. At least we were clean- we didn't share blades, thank God.

All my non-architecture friends had fallen by the wayside. Early on, they'd tried to help me, to get me out. But when I spent one entire spring break in the computer lab working on a portfolio, they realized how far gone I was.

I was formally ejected from the University in 2007, and to my shame, I immediately took up the habit full time, not even hindered by the vestiges of education. The six year period between 2007 and 2013 was the darkest of my life. There are blurs of faces, manic energy, depression, sleepless nights, the whirl of suits and ties and glittering conference rooms. I remember getting hooked up with some pretty good stuff in Boston one summer.  I never imagined that I could ever be architecture-free.

Then, in the darkness of winter, a light. I woke up shivering in the darkness, and as my head slowly cleared from the long blizzard of architecture, I realized I was in St. Louis, Missouri of all places. I checked my bank account- almost nothing left. I carefully talked to the landlord of the apartment and realized I was going to have to move. I had reached the end of my ability to fund my architecture habit.

Recovery from so many years of architecture addiction is a hard, long, slow process. I was constantly irritable, restless. My hands itched for a computer mouse. I started hanging around the university looking for bits of modeling supplies. One time, I was so desperate, I picked up a tiny, used stub of a pencil from the snow, and started sketching with it. I was so disgusted with myself, I couldn't believe that I was the same person.

I realized that I needed either professional help or more architecture. I couldn't live any other way. I tried to stay clean, I really did. But in the end, shit, I was broke! I couldn't afford a private clinic and all that! I sold my car, and bought a one way ticket to Mexico.

Mexico! Everyone knows the architecture in the US is pretty mild, adulterated stuff. I mean, sure if you have the time and the money, the Netherlands, Germany, even China these days can roll up some pretty heady drawings. I don't have that kind of money. But Mexico is better- it's harder stuff, more brutalist, and its so loosely regulated, you can get away with anything.

You know, the funny thing, is even in that architecture paradise, I was only halfway in the game. I got hooked on the lifestyle and the food most of all. I was still a junkie, I mean, I still needed my 50 to 70 hours a week, but I found myself spending less time than my University days. I was still in the clutches of Mr. ACAD but I think I'd turned the corner.

At the end of October, after some really deep and long benders (I detailed an entire house and threw up a pavillion), I got out of Mexico. I showed up, late one night, at my dad's door, and I said, "dad, I need a place to stay for awhile and clear my head." We both cried and he took me in, and I didn't so much as look at ArchDaily while I was over there.

I decided to go visit my mom in Phoenix, which turned out to be a mistake. I still had a few old buddies from my drafting days and I met up with a few of them. Not to do any architecture, mind you, just to binge drink. But you know, it turns out those guys were still up to their eyeballs in architecture, and after a few drinks your eyes wander up to take in ceiling details and your hands itch for a pen and before you know it, you're critiquing spatial distribution of the downtown and trying to figure out ways to modernize an aging housing stock without losing contextual and historical references.

They hooked me up with a little side action. Not much, but enough to make me hunger for the whole CS5 suite. A donut shop proposal, a midtown grocery and housing complex. Rather than soothing my nerves it whetted my appetite again. I started thinking about funding my architecture habit through real estate development.

That was two weeks ago. Like I said, I've been clean since then.
It hasn't been easy.

Guns and Donuts

Bullet-related deaths: 30k
Obesity-related deaths: 300k

I am strongly in favor of gun control. In fact, I would criminalize the possession of all handguns and any weapon which can fire more than one bullet or shell without manually reloading.

Why am I for such strict control? While it is true that "people kill people," guns make it is incredibly easy and fast to do the absolutely worst thing possible, even accidentally. Same reason people aren't allowed to mount surface-to-surface missiles on their cars. It is a menace to the population, and full-disclosure, I have a vested interest in not being shot. I get into an argument at the donut store over who should get the last bearclaw, tempers flare, and boom, gut shot! My stomach acid spills into my chest cavity as I painfully die on the dirty tile floor in front of the french crullers and the moron with the revolver gets 30 years to life.

One may find it peculiar then, that given my vocal opposition to guns that I am such an ardent defender of donuts, given the fact that donuts are mostly fat and carbohydrates and obesity related deaths have surpassed nearly every other cause of death in the US. Jesus, Alec, I thought you liked people.

Undeniably, a diet heavy with fatty and sugary foods is a major contributor to the obesity crisis. Obesity is almost entirely related to diet and level of activity. But a donut does not a diet make. Obesity is a slow poison- it takes months to achieve an unhealthy lifestyle. Carl eats donuts daily. He doesn't exercise. He has to make a routine, a lifestyle, to become obese and in danger of premature death.

In contrast to thousands of donuts, it only takes one bullet to kill Carl.

And more importantly, no one has ever been killed by someone else buying and using a donut. My insistence on access to donuts does not endanger your life.

Dec 29, 2013

now for the fall

In Shrier's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I'm now almost 80% done with the book, and the war has turned against the Axis. Hitler has slowly been losing the battle to his own megalomania and delusions. When he throws tens of thousands of German troops at impossible Russian positions, and his generals either suffer massive casualties or retreat, he fires his entire top level of military officers. Hitler has lost touch with reality even as far as military and geopolitics goes. Within six months after his stalemate with Britain across the English Channel, he declares war on both Soviet Russia and the United States. The insanity increases as Hitler declares that he doesn't need tactical military leaders, but Nazi ardor to finish the war.

I am really happy to have started reading this book because, like most Americans, my knowledge of WWII a regards to Germany was basically limited to the following facts

  • WWII began with the bombing of pearl harbor
  • The French surrendered at the first German to cross the border
  • the Germans were using submarines and controlled the continent
  • Nazis are all evil and are dangerously attracted to mystic early Christian relics
  • HBO's Band of Brothers
  • Tom Hanks leading an invasion on the beaches of Normandy to find somebody's brother
  • something vague happening in north Africa, like a really good German general in dust goggles and people in fancy dress waiting around at Rick's in Casablanca being desperate and clever
  • Nazis marching in lockstep
  • Nazis rounding up Jews and forcing them into rail cars which left full and came back mysteriously empty
  • Hitler giving an angry speech without subtitles
  • We were either fighting with Russia against Germany or against Russia and Germany. Wasn't Stalin one of the bad guys? 
  • Pretty much all of Germany giving Heil Hitler salutes
  • Tom Cruise once disguised himself as a Nazi general and tried to kill Adolf Hitler
  • Hitler blowing his brains out in some bunker in Berlin
  • I think there was some kind of deal Germany had with Japan?
There's much of that which is wildly inaccurate, omitted, and vague. Hitler is one of the most hated men in history, but for most people, they don't really know why other than he started a really bloody war, was basically an amoral psychopath, and murdered millions of Jews. Fair enough reasons, but when you start to understand him, to grapple with the fact that this was a human being who was capable of love and not some demon crawled out of hell, this is a multiplication of the horror and revulsion. 

For so long, the Nazis were just this faceless thing headed by der Furher, a character of himself. It seems important that to prevent this kind of horror, which is not alien, demonic, or insane, to understand where it came from, how it operated, how it was perpetuated. To get to know the people who dreamed it up, who carried it out, who abetted it, and who fought against it.

Regardless of the sides, the story as Shrier tells it has some amazing moments, I can see them almost cinematically play out in my head:

The German ambassador to Russia receives a telegram to be read to the Soviets at once. He is an old guard German diplomat, who has been working for the past five years to improve relations with the Soviet Union in good faith. The telegram is a totally unexpected declaration of war. Once he realizes the content, deeply shaken, he destroys the cyphers and secret papers of the embassy, and with great pain and embarrassment he reads the declaration to his soviet counterpart, Molotov, who has over the years developed a friendly relationship. Molotov listens in stunned silence to the entire declaration (the Soviets weren't expecting it either) and can only ask say one thing. "It is war. Do you believe that we deserved it?"

In north Africa, the corps have been overwhelmed and beaten back. They want to surrender to the superior airpower, ships, and military of the Allies. Hitler radios them to stand their ground or die trying. Rommel's second in command decides he's had enough of Hitler's 'insanity' and stands in a clean dress uniform beside a burning tank, alone in the desert, waiting to surrender to the Allies.

bits and pieces

We got back into town from San Antonio Christmas eve, so we were all too tired to cook anything. We picked up a few pizzas from a local pie shop, and called it dinner. Afterwards, we spent an hour or so flipping through the Apple iTunes movies library trying to figure out a movie we all wanted to watch. Actually, I think none of us really wanted to commit to anything other than Tay, so we just enjoyed flipping through the various options and talking about them before going off to bed, and then Tay ended up watching Elf on his own while I finished up the last touches to the paintings I was working on.

Christmas morning, I got up around nine or so, and took photos of the Christmas decor with dad while waiting for Tay to roll out of bed at his customary time of 11:15. When we finally assembled in front of the tree and the stockings, dad distributed all the gifts and we went around opening them all. I got a good haul this year, most notably a beautiful illustrated copy of the best works of Poe from Tay, and a very nice scarf and hat set from dad and Neri, and a very warm BR zip up with elbow patches.

Taking advantage of my abundance of time, I gave Tay a framed painting of Suki, and to Neri and dad, a larger painting on canvas of the Pines, their old house in the UK countryside.

Dad made a standing rib roast for Christmas dinner. This is a very expensive and prime cut of meat, and I swore aloud when he took it out of the deli wrapping. It was a 5 pound solid cube of meat. He put on a peppercorn rub, and smoked it over wine-soaked apple chips on the grill for a few hours. It was an elaborate endeavor and the biggest challenge I think was simply making sure the heat was getting through to the center of the cut without burning the outside.

It was one of the best preparations of beef I've ever had, for me, right up there with that legendary filet I had on my birthday dinner in Buenos Aires many years ago. Nicely marbled, wonderful flavor. It killed me that I could't finish the slab of meat in front of me.

At some point, we went to go see American Hustle. Slick, harmless. Good acting especially by Amy Adams, and the Hunger Games girl did a good job too- dangerously ignorant, demanding life reward her, reckless, pathetic, and proud. It was a bit like Guy Ritchie directing Goodfellas but more poppy. Tay called it a 1970s Ocean's 11.

Two days ago, Tay and I went out on the town. We stopped for breakfast/lunch at Black Walnut cafe close to Rice University for a quick bite. Good coffee, good food, best fresh kolache I've had here. Kolaches are kind of strange culinary artifacts- they are a distinctly Czech pastry, brought over by a massive or at least massively influential influx of Czech immigrants to this part of Texas.

Actually, it is a bit strange to drive through the middle of Texas, named after the various ethnic groups which have settled these lands. One may drive from Smithville to Schulenberg to Weimar to Gonzales and pick up fresh kolaches at the Hruska rest stop.

Anyway, after breakfast Tay and I walked over to Rice University. What a difference the years and perspective makes. I remember when my dad took me to Rice to check it out as a potential college back in high school, I was blown away. The desert boy from the industrial park of Phoenix was overwhelmed by the live oak alleys, the byzantine architecture and regal air of the University, the green of Houston everywhere. In sharp contrast to the eclectic and modern sprawling campus of ASU, this place felt like an elite college like Oxford. This time, I was quite underwhelmed and a bit chagrined thinking back to how much I lionized the place. I was absolutely devastated when I didn't get in.

Since then, I have actually been to Oxford and Cambridge, and went to school at Wash U, which is a much more lovely campus, and I have visited many other colleges as well as gaining insight into the simplistic stylistic devices used to seduce students and parents. Walking through, and looking at the "heraldry" on the hung banners, Rice just comes off feeling like its trying too hard, like a discount Ivy league. In many ways, Wash U is a 'safety' school for Ivy aspirants, but at least they have the taste to not hang out heraldic banners.

There was a new Turrell sky space pavilion out there, built in the last year or so, but it was really not that impressive. I think I need to get out there at dusk to really appreciate the light show played out against the underside of the canopy.

Tay and I talked about the problems of integrating student populations with the hordes of Chinese and Korean students flooding into higher education, and on cue, I was asked to take a photo of a Chinese student and her family.

From there we drove on to the tiny University of St. Thomas which is home to two pieces of famous architecture which we visited. The chapel of St. Basil and the Rothko chapel, self-described as one of the most important pieces of art in the past 50 years.

I could, and probably will, write about the Rothko later.

for the record

Catching up with dad, I got a bit more insight into our family heritage. Dad told me that when he turned 13 years old, he was given his first shotgun. It wasn't a big gun, but in the culture of Oklahoma at that particular place and time, it was a rite of passage. It meant that dad could join the men to go hunting.

We all have rites of passage- most of ones I have been through have been less specific to a particular culture. Graduation from high school, graduation from college, graduation with a masters degree. There are other more prosaic ones too, the first time you commute to work, or go to a business meeting. The first time you get a car.

Dad also reminded me of what his grandparents did, both of them from Oklahoma. His mom's father, Harry Tracy Moore, ran a series of small rural restaurants, of the kind you see on the roadside sometimes, which served up traditional southern fare like chicken fried steak for truckers. One of them was called the Wrangler, and there dad had one of his first jobs busing tables and washing dishes. Apparently my great-grandfather was very economical- if he sold baked potatoes one night, he'd fry them up for fresh hash browns the following morning.

His father's father, James Oliver Perkins, held a variety of trades including horse trading and trucking. Dad told me that sometimes my great-grandfather would take him on some long distance trips, out to Montana and California, and they'd sleep out in the trailers at night. Bit of a far cry from the small luxury bath products and complementary bath robe at the Westin Riverwalk.

Dec 25, 2013

San Antonio

'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, two creatures were stirring. My brother was parked in front of the TV, watching Snipes and Harrelson duke it out on the court while surfing the web. And I in my fez, sitting crossed leg on my bed, waited for morning in Stuttgart, sleepy thoughts in my head.

Yesterday was busy. If you asked a San Antonio resident where to take visitors for a special breakfast, the Guenther House would probably be high on the list. C H Guenther was a German immigrant who settled in San Antonio in the 1850s and built a small flour mill and a house on a bend in the river. Over the years both were renovated and expanded. The mill today is huge, a multi-state industrial operation and commercial bakery. The house is now a museum with a popular breakfast and lunch restaurant inside.

No signage, however. So by the time Tay and I led dad and Neri through every floor of the house and every dining room without finding a hostess stand, tempers were short. Tay really wanted to go, and despite the 45 minute wait we were estimated, I stuck with Tay in insisting we wait. Dad and Neri took off to find a Starbucks, and my brother and I wandered slowly through the grounds.

They returned after discovering it was a fool's errand, and just as they were getting coffee from the (finally) refilled free coffee outside, or buzzer went off. We looked at each other, tossed the coffee and went to get our table.

We were seated in a kind of tiled room set below grade, maybe a summer living room. Felt a bit like the Marland mansion but less grandiose. Service was slow, but the coffee and food was good, and it was easily the cheapest meal we ate in San Antonio.

After breakfast we walked over to Market Square, the kind of Mexican market filled with imported knickknacks and junk from the tourist markets on the border. Some higher quality items if you know what to look for, but not so much on the negotiation front. Actually, they did end up negotiating about as much on México, just from the cash discount.

I ended up buying a hand painted cross with a floral motif and the Guadalupe in the center for $20, posted as $25. The story that I got from two different vendors was that they are actually Peruvian. A merchant apparently showed up with a bunch of these this year.

Anyway, afterwards we went to a few bars. Esquire was an old bar which was renovated in 2011 and repackaged as an old (hipster) cocktail bar complete with a staggering array of alcohol, shop-made ginger ale, and Edison bulbs. It's actually a pretty cool place with a very long old wood bar.

Next stop was the bar at the Menger Hotel, an pedegreed hotel, one of the oldest in the city, but definitely a faded glory institution. The small wood bar felt small and wasn't particularly well stocked or nicely appointed. However, it was steeped in history, most notably as the location where Teddy Roosevelt recruited the rough riders for the Cuban campaign in the Spanish-American war. Lots of old photos and memorabilia. If I was a huge history buff or particularly interested in Teddy R, then maybe it would have all been more compelling.

Before dinner, Tay and I got dressed in the fancy clothes and walked over to have a cocktail at the SoHo wine and cocktail bar. In an old bank, this was another cocktail oriented bar. Good drinks. We meet dad at the hotel and walked over to the restaurant.

The first few times Tay talked about this restaurant, I thought he was calling it 'big on the banks'. I.e. a generally expensive, fancy restaurant. While it was in fact, an accurate description, the actual name was Biga on the Banks since the restaurant was on the riverwalk. They served sophisticated American fare.

Tay's got nachos for an appetizer, but these were nacho ordinary nachos. These were seven triangular tortilla chips piled with salmon sashimi. My order of onion rings came with seven massive rings and a habernero curry ketchup.

Dad and Tay got steaks, and I ordered the seafood boullibaisse. It was all good, but we drank too much wine. After dinner, we caught a cab to a bar (the name escapes me) where I talked with the bartender about the history of Moscow Mules and variations thereof. It was a bit young, and dad felt a bit awkward so we went back to the hotel and walked back over to Esquire, which was hopping. We grabbed the last table and settled into a few more drinks.

It was a strange night there. We got to talking about the copper mugs and looking at the ones they had there. The Esquire's mugs are solid copper, no zinc or stainless lining, and etched with the bar name. Dad inquired about purchasing some, and the waitress obliged. Not cheap. However, their card system unexpectedly failed and we talked to the increasingly panicked waitress about a comp'd round of drinks while waiting for it to come back online. We bought perhaps sixty dollars of drinks and they obliged us by taking $50 off the tab. Probably the copper purchase helped.

After dropping dad back at the hotel, Tay was feeling a bit peckish, so we walked over to Wattaburger and I got some greasy fries and a cup of water to cushion the blow.

Ended up getting to bed around 4am. The night's alcohol consumption may have actually exceeded our bar crawl in Houston, and with a mixture of beer, wine, and liquors it was, regrettably and predictably, a rough morning from which I am still not fully recovered.

Dec 22, 2013


Yesterday was a day of sevens. I woke up around seven am, and after slowing getting around, went for a run. It was raining lightly as I headed out of the neighborhood. It was actually kind of fun to run in the rain. Distracting. Lots of other runners out there with me on the bayou. I ran all the way to the edge of the historic downtown, a few miles down, crossed over the bayou and ran back. Lots of mud since I also ran through parts of the park still under construction. The rain picked up, and the last mile or so was a torrential downpour. Back under the canopy, I wrung out my socks and tee shirt, and leaving my soaking shoes in the garage, went in for a hot shower.

Dad made waffles and we got ready to go into town. Dad had a holiday party in the Hilton in downtown, so he got us a room for the night there as well while he and Neri went to the company party up in the ballrooms. The Hilton of the Americas Lobby was quite bizarre. Apart from the cruise ship lobby architecture (too many different finishes, jangling everywhere), there was apparently some big Aggie get together, and life sized tableau of Santa and two elves made out of chocolate. Santa, for some reason, looked inexplicably like a mongolian warlord.

In SantaDu did Kublai Kahn a festive winter dome decree... Anyway, Tay picked us out a raft of places to check out for a night on the town so we struck out early. There were seven of them.

The last piece of advice that dad gave us was a warning to stay out of east Houston, so it was a bit ironic that we did end up heading directly to east Houston. The restaurant was Huyuh, a Vietnamese restaurant where we had Pho. I rated it a 7.

From there, we headed to midtown. The light rail was running, but we decided to shoot the breeze and walk it to check out the city. It ended up being a mile and a half hike, and through areas which both of us would have preferred to take the light rail through. Lots of homeless and pan-handlers. There's a distinct dead zone between the central business district and midtown. And actually, I didn't have much of a good feeling about midtown either, when the greasy spoon in the Grayhound station advertised the "best burgers in Midtown."

Finally and hallelujah we came upon the darkened and grafitti-tagged warehouse containing the bar. The Nouveau Art Bar was locked and closed, not to open until 9pm. It was around 7. Tay quickly found us another bar he was interested in nearby and we headed over there, a bit down the street.

Double Trouble traffics in both caffeine and alcohol- it's an espresso bar and cocktail bar rolled in a Tiki bar wrapper. It was part of a row of buildings which were like an island in midtown. A bohemian/hipster oasis. The shop next door sold laser cut birch placemats and leather wrapped mason jars as coffee mugs. Things on chains. Basically an indie Anthropology with more leather crafts.

Anyway, Tay and I each ordered a rum tiki drink with pineapple called FifteenHundredDollarsAndTwoWeeks, and a rye whisky drink with grapefruit they called JazzHands. We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed our drinks in the mild weather.

We hopped on the light rail to go back uptown instead of waiting for the other bar to open. It turned out to be free that day for some reason. Anyway, our next stop was La Carafe, close to Congress street. La Carafe is a narrow little bar with an upstairs and a downstairs in one of the oldest buildings in the city, built around the 1840s. Dimly lit, with an ancient wooden bar, candles, and a wall of Victorian paintings, black and white portraits, and darrageutypes, it feels somewhere between a pirate bar and western saloon. The bar is cash only- the bartender rings up sales in an ornate brass cash register which must be at least seven decades old. Oddly, it's best known as a wine bar, although they had a great selection of craft beer in bottles.

We had three beers apiece there, one of which were these great IPAs from Brooklyn called Six Points Bengali Tiger. Strong stuff, I might add. Tay noticed that they'd opened the upstairs which only happens on weekend nights after 9pm, so we went out to the small outdoor balcony and got another beer. They were out of tables, but the bartender told us we could drag some chairs out there, so we did. It was just a nice place to sit and drink and look at the lights of the city from this intimate old bar.

I was really feeling the alcohol at this point, so I just got a water at the Okra Charity House, a bar located in an old alley between two buildings which had been covered over with a glass and wood canopy to enclose it. It's actually a really cool space with a circular bar in the middle, and I'm really not doing it justice by describing it as a covered alley.

Next stop was Pastry War, which, like the last two bars, was just around the corner from each other. Pastry War is a mezcaleria. It's the bar I wish I'd gone to sober. It was a hopping, happening place with a really young clientele, a great Mezcal and Sotol and Tequila menu and poppy blue colors. We ordered the house margaritas. Behind the bar was a big sign explaining that it was their pleasure to NOT serve Jose Cuervo, 1800, Patron, or other giant label mediocre tequila. We sat on a table (the chairs were taken, nobody noticed or cared), talked, worked on our margaritas, and watched drunk people play pool.

From there, we rode the light rail back to midtown and finally got into the Nouveau Art Bar. My memory is a bit hazy, but I remember we ordered Aviators (pink! why are they all pink? It's supposed to be a blue drink!). The bar was big, and filled with Tiffany style lamps and art glass chandeliers. Actually, the overall effect was more of a lighting showroom with a bar. Sitting at the bar, I got to talking with the guy next me who was apparently on leave from the military and really wanted to buy us shots. Probably gay. We declined, finished our drinks, and headed out, done drinking for the night. I had consumed seven drinks.

The seventh stop was a taco shop I remembered from the last time I was in Houston, a small place called Tacos-a-Go-Go, which was wonderfully open at this late hour and served up incredible tacos. Ate a bunch of barbacoa tacos, Mexico City style, and wandered back to catch the light rail. No such luck. We'd missed the last one.

We could have hoofed it back the 1.7 miles to the hotel, but we were both drunk, tired, and not really excited about the prospect of crossing such dead zones. So Tay called us a cab from Yellow Cab, who refused to send us a cab until we had a building reference, even though he was standing literally in the middle of the intersection of the cross streets. We waited about 40 minutes for the taxi, and the one that picked us up, as it transpired, was not actually our cab. After we got back to the hotel, Tay got an automated call informing him that the cab had now arrived and was waiting to pick him up, over an hour after he'd called them.

Took a quick shower, downed copious amounts of water, and then crashed into boozy sleep.

It was, predictably, a rough morning for me.

Dec 21, 2013


Considering the shift of Americans to cities, there is a body of colorful phrases and aphorisms from the rural countryside which is slowly dying out. Some of them are quite imaginative, and all of of them are tinged with rural sentiment. It's an interesting oral tradition which doesn't seem to be particularly preserved.

To save these dying expressions, I propose a website where people can submit the homilies handed down by ancestors.

A few of the many I've heard from my time in rural and small town Oklahoma:

that hound dog don't hunt -your explanation doesn't make sense, you are trying to fool me.

go into town with the dry cattle -to go out socially to meet women open to advances. Literally, cows which are not producing milk, i.e. not calving, i.e. receptive to bulls.

one boy is a boy; two boys is half a boy; three boys is no boys at all. -an observation that a boy working alone will do the work of one boy, but more than one boy working together tends to decrease the amount of work done.

Going to see a man about a dog. - going to use the bathroom

There are some which I take for granted as standard American, which are, in fact, quite regional.

You're pulling my leg. -You are joking at my expense

My dogs are barking. -My feet are tired.

Actually, it turns out there are many places online to find country aphorisms, but they don't seem to be particulary sorted by region, and most of them seem to come from the deep south. It seems to me that life in north Texas and Oklahoma was tougher, grittier, and let's face it, the weather is a lot lot worse than Mississippi, 'Bama, and Georgia. Rural Oklahomans are a hard people, and the expressions are appropriately different.

Dec 20, 2013

$13 haircut

First night in Neri made osso buco for us. After dinner, I went to bed to work on Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Tay stayed up late to work on his paper. It's interesting that Tay and I have such divergent hours. Over the course of our college lives, we've actually swapped once or twice, depending on our respective schedules. Right now though, I'm still on Phoenix mom's house time where I was usually up for First Cat Breakfast at 6:30am, and got to bed before midnight. Tay, on the other hand, goes to bed around 3-4am, and gets up close to noon.

Yesterday, after I got up, I walked nearly 2 miles to an art store, stopped by a donut shop for a donut (also run by southeast Asians) and walked home before Tay got up and around.

Once Tay was up and around, he drove us to the Galleria mall to go shopping. We were in the hunt for watches and topcoats, for Tay. Tay's been looking for both for awhile, although he's very particular about what he's looking for. For what he's willing to spend on them, he should be.

After the mall, we ran by a coffee shop, Catalina Coffee, not far from the house. Really good coffee. I poked my head into the hipster barber shop next door and asked how much for a haircut. Thirty bucks. Took a pass.

Hugo's for dinner. Bad headache on the way and before dinner. I got a very savory mole de olla and an order of chicken flautas. It was all pretty good although the kitchen was unwilling or unable to serve my taquitos agohados style. They were, of course, incredibly polite about it.

Today because of some scheduling conflicts, Tay needed the car, so he dropped dad off at work and drove to the dentist. I walked down the street and got a haircut at a local barber shop. Even though I was early, there was a line when I got there and a longer line when I left.

The barber shop is in a small house, a father and son joint. It's a local joint, people greet the barbers by name when they come in. It's a guy's place, complete with pinups and whisky ads on the wall, sports magazines. It's also, notably, cheap joint. My haircut cost me $13.

$13. Shit, even CornerCutters hits you up for close to a $20 these days.
It's a lot shorter now. It makes me look like I might even be employed.

Today, after Tay got back from the dentist, he drove us over to go grocery shopping at a small Hispanic store. Wasn't exactly a Ranch Market. But then there wouldn't be one around here. Got what I needed though, mostly a pound of tomatillos.

The enchiladas turned out not bad. Wish I'd had chicken stock, and the tortillas were not the freshly made ones.

car culture in Phoenix and Houston

The flights to Houston went through fine. After a short layover in Denver, I was off to Houston, and on that flight, the middle seat was empty, for which I was very happy since I would have been sitting next to/partially under an obese guy.

Would I take Spirit again? Yeah, probably. As long as you know what you're getting into, its fine. Do you really need a tiny packet of salted peanuts? Is it even worth dealing with flight attendants? Although if the price difference is within 10% of Southwest, I'm taking Southwest.

Dad picked me up in baggage claim. It was about 6:30 by the time we got out of there. "There may be traffic," dad warned me.

I stopped, stunned. "In Houston?! Get out of town!"

Usual awful traffic. It's an interesting comparison to Phoenix. I would imagine that both cities probably have about the same amount of cars on the road, and they both have CBDs and similar rings of suburbs. However, Phoenix was laid out on a grid and every major street is typically 3-4 lanes in each direction with a center turning lane. This is basically an asphalt freeway every half mile. This arrangement is largely responsible for making the valley feel like an endless industrial park.

Houston, on the other hand, has streets which average fewer lanes. The eight-lane arterial surface streets are much more rare, and the streets are more of a spaghetti pattern. This format of the city feels more like a city, it piques interest, it creates all kinds of different moments and eliminates the soul-sucking endless straight lines of Phoenix.

Phoenix, for its sacrifice of livability, interest, and walkability, was rewarded with a city which incredibly easy to drive around and with manageable traffic at rush hours. I've never seen a city which was so easy to cross by car and at that scale. If Hernandez wants to see Jose, and they live 40 miles apart at the extremities of the valley, Hernandez can most of the time get over to Jose's in around half an hour, passing directly through the center of the city.

Houston is perpetually choked with traffic. Rush hour become a river of gridlock.

Have you ever tried to cross the street in Phoenix? It's an awful experience- it feels like walking across a mall parking lot on black friday. The superblocks which make up the city make walking anywhere feel like crossing the Atacama desert. Walking down the street, you spend fifteen minutes passing the Target parking lot and then another thirty minutes walking by a mile-long cinderblock wall of a residential subdivision. When car culture gives way to the idea of walkable cities, Phoenix will simply not be able to accommodate it.

Walking in Houston is really not bad. The smaller streets are easier to cross, the city was built spaced more to the pedestrian pace than the speed of the car.  There is a finer grain to Houston, with more streets and alleys breaking up the blocks.

What do the locals think? Phoenicians and Houstonians both look down on pedestrians (lock the car doors!), but the car culture is a little different. In Phoenix, where the drivers are some of the most spoiled in the world, people look at cars like refrigerators. They pity those with without them, but they are such an integral necessity it is taken for granted. There is far less car fetishization than there is in Houston. Phoenix is a car city with a shrug, Houston is a car city with a cult.

Dec 18, 2013

Holiday Spirit

Sitting in the waiting area at Sky Harbor Airport. For the second time in a year, I'm once again leaving Phoenix. The last time I was here, I had just sold my car and was heading off to Mexico. It would be nice to have a direct flight, but I'm actually changing plans in Denver. I am flying Spirit, named after the Spirit of Parsimony. It could also have been named after the Spirit of Inquiry Into How Much Passengers Will Pay for Tickets. My plane ticket, purchased around 3 weeks out during the Christmas season, (although for a wednesday, which is a low rate), cost me $70 and gets me to Houston. However, it does not cover my luggage.

My two checked bags cost me $70, and that's only because I purchased the bags before I checked in online. I have no carry ons apart from my backpack. I spent all morning, actually, carefully culling my stuff and packing two suitcases and jamming my backpack. I could have probably taken a carry on duffel for an additional $30, but I decided against it. Probably should have done it since I left behind some summer clothes, but who knows when I'll actually get over to Germany.

I arrived in Phoenix in the middle of October. Discounting the first week as 'vacation' with Tay, what happened to those 8 weeks? What did I accomplish or get done?

Starting from basically nothing, I now consider myself to have at least a basic understanding of German. I can say, "This is my sister. Her soup is on the table. It is good, but it is salty." Plus the usual greetings and basic phrases.

I did a lot of hiking and a bit of running so at least I feel like I kept in shape after all the walking I did in Mexico City. I climbed many of the peaks of South Mountain.

I made some arts and crafts stuff and developed my skills as a painter.

I saw a lot of my old friends from high school, college, and work, and went to my 10 year high school reunion.

I developed and submitted a proposal for a donut shop in downtown Phoenix, and found out recently that the owner is interested in pursuing the concept around the corner.

I worked with Richard and another one of his friends to develop a conceptual project for downtown.

I applied to many architecture firms in Europe.

I practiced Mexican cooking a la Rick Bayless, and built up a few recipes. It makes me happy to think that when people think of "What is Alec's speciality?" they think of "Mexican food." I got a really good margarita recipe and a killer guacamole recipe in addition to my "famous" chicken enchiladas. I made, from basic ingredients, chile rellenos with brothy tomato soup, which was easily the most challenging dish I've tackled.

How do I feel leaving Phoenix? I am happy to be soon seeing dad and Neri and Tay, and I am happy that I'll be spending Christmas with family. I am deeply discouraged at leaving Phoenix with no advances on Europe, and I am devastated and hollow that I will be spending Christmas apart from Saori. At this point, I have to say I have no prospects and I am no closer to finding work.

Dec 14, 2013

still wandering in the wilderness

A few days ago I picked up Tom at Kiyomi's house and we drove out to the superstition wilderness, to a site not far from Tortilla Flats. It's a long drive out there, about an hour, straight out on the 60, and then route 88 through Apache Junction into the wilderness.

The edge of the superstitions is amazing. Tom said its the old massive caldera of a group of volcanoes, and it could very well be. It rises up out of the desert like something out of a Peter Jackson movie.

Tom doesn't talk much so we mostly rode in quiet out to the site. It's a beautiful drive out there, because once you leave Apache Junction, you get into the mountains and then you're in these twisty mountain roads, going around blind corners, and then out there there's the two lakes, Canyon Lake and Saguaro Lake, and you catch glimpses of them before actually crossing a system of bridges over them.

Tortilla Flat is a tiny village remnant, perhaps the remains of an old mining town, along the 88, which was dolled up for the western-seeking tourists complete with a post office and a saloon restaurant. The restaurant walls are lined with $1 bills, the lights are on wagon wheels, and the bar stools are saddles. That kind of a place. It's a bit of a misnomer- the town itself sits in a small valley surrounded by the extremely violent landscape around it.

Less than a half mile past tortilla flats, Tom said I should pull into a dirt pull out where there was a camp ground. I followed Tom a short distance out as he wandered off the trail towards the creek bed, and realized then, that it was going to be an off-trail kind of day.

I've actually not really done much off-piste hiking. For one, its not great for the desert for people to be just wandering through. There are micro-organism communities which live in the crust of the desert which are crushed by hikers walking over them. For another, there's a lot of brush, debris, cacti, drop offs, impossible descents and ascents, etc. off a trail. And nobody can find you either if you die out there.

But hey, why not. Tom's done it before, we have a GPS, and plenty of water. I swallowed my reservations and followed Tom. It ended up being a great hike. We hiked for about three hours, stopped for lunch on top of a huge dome, and hiked another three hours or so before making it back to the car an hour or two before nightfall. We crossed ravines, did a lot of scrambling up and down rock faces, followed windswept ridges. It's kind of nice actually. You see something you want to explore, and you just go there. It's not fast, and seldom easy, but you get to walk were people don't go.

The geology out there was amazing. I was picking up crystals off the ground. Lots of volcanic bombs from ancient volcanoes littered the desert. Ended up bring home a small collection. For lunch, Kiyomi packed us an avocado sandwich, a banana, and some trailmix, and I shared my raisins.

Saw a patch of desert torn up by rooting javelinas, and we startled two deer out of a ravine wash. It was a long day of hiking around.

Today, Saturday, I took mom and Larry out there to go eat at the tourist trap restaurant in Tortilla Flat. I do love the drive out there, far as it is. We sat next to some local geezers talking about the days before the dam, and when there was producin' farms out there. Someday, I want be the person who meets my 60 and 70 year old friends out for breakfast on a regular basis.

We had french toast, biscuits and gravy, and plenty of coffee. Its was all rather ok, not bad, but there is something I do really love with the combination of the cheezey wood shed building, the breakfast, and the canyon bottom in the cold morning light.

Did some bird watching on the way back to Phoenix, and hit the Eddie Bauer shop and I got some gloves on sale.

Dec 13, 2013

The answer is 42

I don't know which is more depressing: the fact that my friday night plans are invariably a glass of wine and Project Runway with mom and Larry or that I look forward to it.

Is Elana going to keep it together for one more episode? Who's going home tonight? There is a measure of enjoyment in watching the designers try to fake enthusiasm for the QVC and Lifetime sponsored schlock. I'm sure its kind of like getting architects to come out and gush on camera about how much they love fake stone cladding and gold-tone.

Let's face it, I've been unemployed for nearly three months now, underemployed for six months, and out of school a year. Thank God for the six month grace period on student loan repayments. I should not be going out and spending money on food and drinks, is what I'm getting at here.

Actually, I am trying to act as ruthlessly selfish here as possible. My aims are nothing more than all of it: the architecture job at the international office, the European lifestyle, the girl. Despite all the luck, friendship, love, and faith that I have been given, I want the world. The responsible thing would to be get a job in Phoenix or Houston and live with my parents until they throw me out. Maybe Oklahoma City.

Anyway. One thing that brightened my day was the Chatroullete version of Miley Cyrus' awful Wrecking Ball music video. Basically, the video shows a nameless bearded guy in white briefs and a beater enacting the video while lip synching to it, opposite to the view of the people on the other end of the camera. It's a hilarious send up and really works because you can see the other people's reactions, including the "wtf?" transition to "lol", and in many cases, spontaneous singing along.

It's a song by a pop star, parodied by anonymous person, who recorded the act of sharing it with complete strangers on the internet, which was shared on a social media site by cousin's husband. To my view, this is the purpose of the internet. Yeah, it was great to share technical data for the scientific advancement of nuclear weapons and subatomic particles. However, we can lose sight of the bigger picture. Sometimes, the internet is a mirror to what it means to be human.

It is believed that the millenials (I'm not really a millenial, a bit too old, but I have a lot of millenial tendancies) as a group are more uncomfortable socially in person, but vastly more engaged in the social networks. The downside, of course, is that so much gets decided in informal, person-to-person interactions. Communities and nations hold together because of agreements made over coffee, in the elevator, at the bar, at the water cooler, and in the grocery store. The upshot is that the conversation is global. Almost. I should really say that the conversation has the potential to be global.

Next week's readings on Social Media and Globalization will be from chapters 3, and 5. Also be sure the watch every TED Talk. All of them, ever. You should be able to find them online. Tweet your TA if you have difficulty locating the website.

I had a kind of duhpiphany a few days ago as I was working on personal improvement ideas.

duhpiphany n. portmandeau of duh and epiphany. A sudden, startling realization of an obvious truth. e.g. "button down shirts look better when you iron them."

blog n. shortened portmandeau of "web log." An internet based collection of sub-truths, hysterical opinions, and duhpiphanies.

I've read books about brilliant, talented people who have succeeded in doing amazing things. Thinking about what they had in common apart from talent (which gets you not much in life) was largely working thier asses off and refusing to give up after setbacks. Half of the massive Beatles biography is basically those guys working thier asses off all over the place, tirelessly, before they really mastered thier craft and built up a following. Dr. Snow spent years and years working to convince Victorian scientists that diseases were spread by tiny organisms and not by "bad spirits in the air." One entire book I read about probability and random chance was that life is basically a series of chances. If you need to roll a 12 to win, and you roll an 8, roll again.

Searching for a phrase to unite two ideas about working hard and repeatedly going after what you want, suddenly that platitude "Hard work and perseverence" went through my head. It was like seeing it change from needlepoint filler into Flaming Holy Writ. Hard work and perseverence no, really! It's true! It is absolutely the key to success.

Whatever success is. I think it's 42.

Dec 11, 2013

This is not the Messiah you're looking for

Mom and Larry and I went to the Mesa Arts Center tonight to hear the Phoenix Symphony perform Handel's Messiah. Not the highlights, either, the whole thing. Which was odd, since they only had half the symphony there. I thought the soloists were very talented, including, interestingly, a countertenor, who sang in a really high falsetto which was apparently a normal part of baroque, religious music.

One of my favorite pieces is "the trumpet shall sound" which showcases the clarion call of a silver trumpet. The whole piece is about the trumpet at the end of the world, which signals the dead to rise alive, a call to rapture. I would imagine that if I were playing this piece, I would imagine myself as one of the archangels, signaling the rapture. This trumpeter played as if he imagined himself trying to communicate what a trumpet sounds like. It was just weak weak weak, and he threw in a little trill at the end like "that's all folks!"

Overall, I was underwhelmed by the performance. Partly because we were way in the back, partly because we had a skeleton orchestra, and partly because the orchestra just sounded a bit sloppy. Actually, there were a few people in my row who didn't return after intermission. Still, I've been to many performances of Messiah, and this was about a middling rendition.

Holiday Gift Guide for Nearly-30 Men Living With Thier Mothers and Looking for Architecture Work in Europe

Sometimes, that $10 gift card to Red Lobster just isn't going to cut it. Alec, our chief editor at the Blazing Sun has put together a timely gift guide for holidays, of some of his favorite stuff. With his unerring eye for style, Alec has assembled a collection of gifts for your man-on-the-go, unemployed architect, reluctant hipster, or tequila snob.

Top row: 
Google Nexus 7 and Amazon Brand Bluetooth Keyboard
Nautica Men's Manicure Set and Mag-Lite LED flashlight with sleeve
Gran Centenario Reposado Tequila and Hand-painted Jalisco Mexican Tequileros
Amores Reposado Mescal and a variety of tall shot glasses
Amazon Kindle and Pijama soft case
Recycled PET plastic Furoshiki (Japanese carrying cloth)

Middle row:
Koss PortaPro Headphones and Apple iPod nano
Casio F-201WA digital watch, Swiss Army Mens Cavalry watch, Neiman Marcus slim leather wallet, leather squeeze coin purse
Bicycle playing cards
Midori leather travel notebook, Moleskine notebook, Fabriano sketchbook, Lamy fountain pen, Muji mechanical pencil, Papermate Flair pen

Bottom Row:
WESC sneakers and Banana Republic cloth fedora
Leather messenger bag
Clarks leather loafers
Highwave double-walled tea press

Dec 9, 2013

pinchas pendejos

Google blogger is a bad platform, and the app is one of the worst I've ever seen. After writing a full post, it wiped my entry. It fails as a blogging app. Actually, the only reason I'm still on blogger at all is the archives. If you're looking for a blogging website to start with, Blogger is the MySpace of blogging, but with less cachet. I could see a kind of retro, grungy interest in MySpace, a grungy, mostly abandoned alley now papered over with ads. Blogger is the blogging website of choice for people whose cats are the most interesting part of their lives, and who were only recently dragged into Facebook. Blogger is the blogging website for people who don't care how things look.

Today I'm manifesting a lot of my frustration. Did you notice in the preamble rant about Blogger?

I realized I was feeling much moodier and angrier than usual after I hit the eighth pedestrian. Actually, I grumpy getting up and I really noticed after I caught myself cussing out the woman in the car in front of me (in the sealed privacy of my vehicle) as well as the mystical enchantment which has befallen the residents of Mesa- they're all asleep.

It also didn't help that after driving to Mesa to check on Sally's house, I found the house sitter already there, and not really in a friendly mood. OK. It's not your house and so you don't want to answer the doorbell. I can understand that. But to not even come to the door after I raised the garage with the code? really? I gave up at that point. Who knows, people in this country are dumb enough to keep firearms, and therefore dumb enough to kill friends checking on houses.

Bookman's and a donut shop were temporary palliatives. Bookman's makes me think I should be buying kindle books, and that I shouldn't buy heavy books for the trip to Germany which keeps receding into the distance, and as for the donut shop, my weight is steadily increasing.

So I gave up and went back to the house and looked up a hideously complicated and laborious Rick Bayless Mexican recipe to throw myself into. Made a separate trip to buy ingredients at Ranch Market, and started cooking around 1. I didn't really finish cooking until about 6:30pm, and I made ONE dish. Chiles pinchas Rellenos with a meat stuffing and tomato soup sauce. It's a real motherfucker to make. The good news is that poblano peppers are the most "exotic" shopping list item in the ingredients. I had to quick fry and peel the peppers. Have you ever tried to peel a pepper? It's about as fun as it sounds. When I got to the part of the recipe which describes making the batter for dipping the chile relleno after flouring, I read "separate the eggs into whites, setting aside the yolks. Beat the whites with an electric mixer with a pinch of salt and flour until stiff peaks form. Gradually mix in yolks..." No, I don't think so, pendejo.

Another pendejo, British Prime Minister Sir Neville Chamberlain. If you can't pin the blame on him for failing to prevent WWII, you have to admit, that whenever a ball could have been dropped, he dropped it.

Dec 4, 2013

another day in the mountains

After getting nothing done yesterday, I decided to get a different kind of nothing done today.

It was a cloudy and dark day as I drove into South Mountain park. The cold snap was rolling in and it constantly threatened rain. I parked outside the closed gates to the western section of the park and walked in.

My goal was to make a loop out of aptly named "Alta" trail, one of the most challenging trail in the park. After hiking along the road for .7 miles, there's a signpost and you cross the highlands to a very steep climb up to the ridge. Hiking along the ridge, you have the valley of the park on one side, and an amazing view of west Phoenix on the other. Nobody out there today, so the greenness of the desert after the recent rains, coupled with the roiling gray clouds made the desert feel more like Middle Earth, especially with the narrow rocky trails along the steep mountain slopes.

The official trail skirts the massive peak, one of the highest in the park, but that's the official trail. At the main saddle, where the trail crosses from the city side to the park side and begins the descent, there's a small, narrow trail which threads the jagged razor of the ridge up to the peak. And what a peak! Obviously a popular perch for the birds of prey, judging from the guano, feathers, and tiny bones.

After enjoying the view, I finished the trail to the parking lot trailhead at the farthest western end of the park, about a quarter mile from the Indian casino just outside the park boundaries. It was a long walk back along the road (closed to cars) back to the gates. In all, about five miles in the mountains and four along the roads.

The climb and the hike took a lot out of me. Famished, I ate a big lunch, and then Skyped Saori for an hour or two. Zara threw herself into fits of intoxicated delight as she attempted to burrow into my reeking armpits.

I got a shower, and then felt just wiped. Took a short nap and then mom came home and we had salad for dinner.

Dec 3, 2013

BS Movie Reviews

[I can't believe it's taken me ten years to realize that the name of my blog, the Blazing Sun, abbreviates to BS. -Editor]

I know what you're thinking.

You're thinking, wait, this blog is actually edited?
Haha, just kidding! You're thinking, I'm so excited to hear about what Alec thinks about movies which have been out for over ten years.

 So here's the rundown:

The Baader-Meinhof Complex: B+
Hip, stylish German movie about the rise, evolution, and promulgation of modern urban terrorists in Europe. Based on a book about the rise and fall of the Red Faction in West Germany. Very violent, but tempers the image of the the young militant radicals with their vanity, their short-sightedness, the compromises, depravity, and mission drift as they spiral out of control.

Cabaret: A
Just a really good movie. An interesting movie to follow The Baader-Meinhof Complex since both bookend Nazi Germany with a relatively young but similiar aged protagonists. Cabaret is set in the early rise of Nazism, the other follows the second generation after the Nazis. There are similar themes of all-consuming rebellion, of losing the self. Liza Minelli is amazing, and the characters and their triangle is interesting and compelling.

Brazil: A-
It is one of my favorite movies, but on the fifth or sixth watching, it does feel a bit draggy. Larry declared it "30 minutes too long" and I think that about hits it on the head. Still impressively prescient as far the as the surveillance state is concerned. Drones, mistaken identities, an ineffectual and vaguely defined war on terror. Sam Lowry walks into the NSA Information Retrieval Ministry and is astounded that he is not asked for ID. "I could be anyone!" he blurts out. "No you couldn't, sir," the unflappable front desk blandly replies, "this is Information Retrieval."

cafe de olla

Today, all I did was drink heavily and pass out on the floor, until I was rudely awakened by one of the cats peeing on me.

Haha, just a joke. Barely. Today was a day of limited productivity. There is something about empty days which encourages the exploration of expansiveness, especially in cooking where so much has been taken out or condensed or prepackaged for your convenience. I've had coffee many ways and in varying levels of convenience, from dumping instant coffee into hot water to pod coffee which is ready is about 60 seconds, including the time it takes to track down a coffee pod.

Today I made cafe de olla (Mexican-style pot coffee), which you brew slowly on a stove. You put coarse ground coffee in a stovepot with water, dark brown sugar (or piconcillo if you have it), and a cinnamon stick, and slowly heat it to boiling before covering it for five minutes and letting it finish steeping. It's best with dark roast coffee, preferably Mexican, and there's something about the sweet and cinnamon flavor which goes well with cold weather seasons.

I made progress towards finishing the CAD drawings for the site plan for downtown to be drawn onto our site model. I probably spent an hour to two hours reading more of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and also spent about an hour studying German. Finally made it past the shiesse accusative pronouns.

I ate a bowl of cereal and some leftover cinnamon sticks from last night's pizza dinner. For lunch, I ate the leftover pizza. For dinner, I made a salad with what we had in the fridge and dumped the leftover chili on top of it. Mom and Larry seemed to like it. It was actually pretty good.

Did some sketching, and roughed in the last cat in the series I'm painting.

Oh, and I took a shower and shaved. Now, at least I don't look like a homeless vagabond.

Dec 2, 2013

The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Warlords

According to my kindle, I'm 28% done with The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. I think if I had the 3" thick tome in paperback or hardbound, it would be incredibly intimidating. My kindle is about the thickness of a National Geographic magazine, which makes the weighty material feel more like I can just pick it up.

When my grandpa Case came to visit, he made me eat peas. I hate peas. Ok, he said, just eat one pea. Just one? I asked him. Just one. I ate one.
 Beaming at me, he said, ok, now just eat one again.

Reading on the kindle is kind of like that. It's really just one page at a time.

Anyway, I'm at the build up to Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. Rise is one of those books I think everyone should read. For at least the first part, you can read it as an self-help or management book, albeit with an utterly depraved homicidal megalomaniac as the model.
The condensed version of The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Warlords
  1. Define your values. What is important to you? Whether it's a strong sense of ethnic identity, a burning hatred of Jews, personal recognition, or German military supremacy in Western Europe, write it down!
  2. Let your values define your goals. Dream big! Remember the old German adage- shoot for the moon: even if you fall short, you'll still probably hit England or France. If you're seeking a position as head of state, writing it down will help you figure out what you really want to do. Keep this list active. Over time, your priorities will change as you grow older, acquire new countries, subdue opposition, etc.
  3. Make a plan. Every day, keep your goals in mind and think, what can I do that will get me a little bit closer to my goals? Even if things don't go exactly according to the plan, you have something in place that you can use to build on later.
  4. Figure out who and what is standing in the way of your plans. The best way to get rid of an enemy is to make them a friend. The best way to get rid of potential enemies is to be disarmingly friendly and gain power over them so you can easily remove them later.
  5. Perseverance is everything! Failure is only failure if you stop trying. Setbacks, prison sentences for armed insurrection, failure at the polls: This is the world giving you lessons on how to do it better. Learn from your your mistakes and get back on that horse!
  6. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Look where you're going and keep a wide view of the horizon, but never lose sight of your goals. Don't be distracted by short-term gains or losses. Be willing to lose the battle to win the war.
  7. Luck = Preparedness + Opportunity. Be prepared to strike when the opportunity arises. Do your homework, find out what is really going on, and who really controls the scenes. The more you know, and the more flexible you are, the more you will be able to turn opportunities your way. France and Britain both in the midst of a government reshuffle? If you didn't have a basic plan and the army ready at your command, Austria might have slipped right by you!

Dec 1, 2013

10 year reunion

About two weeks before my 10 year high school reunion, the reunion coordinator posted on facebook an inspirational quote picture which said in a bright, fun font face, "We didn't know we were making memories, we were just having fun!" It was then that I really began to question my decision to attend.

I drove up in Sally's SUV which she kindly lent me for a few weeks. There are probably many more embarrassing things to do than to have your mom drop you off for your 10 year reunion, but at that point, you might as well just not come.

Anyway, our reunion was held at the incomparable Wrigley Mansion Chaparral Suites Conference Center, incidentally a few ballrooms over from the Arcadia HS 10 year reunion. Walking in, I passed the DJ's van- "we bring the party." Hoo, baby.

Check-in was simple. You just picked up your printed name tag on a lanyard and put it around your neck. The invitation recommended "cocktail casual" attire, which, according to the room, meant anything from jeans and hoodies to full suits. I was kind of inspired though by the unconventional attire definition. If I ever send out wedding invitations, I'd be tempted to add attire: cotillion casual or formal pirate attire. And I'm definitely handing out lanyards, because nothing classes up a cocktail causal outfit like a name tag lanyard.

The ballroom we were in had a buffet table and cash bars at both ends. (tickets were only $35, and probably most of that went to pay the hotel). There were big round tables, a few balloons, a small dance floor with the DJ. (I looked around for the party, but I couldn't find it) and a photo booth with "silly" props like oversized sunglasses and a chalkboard for people to "cut loose" and "have some fun." I was sorely tempted to get a picture holding a chalkboard with "10 years of living Clean!"

Whitney, Emily + Franklin, Cassie + Dan, Janelle, Erika Z, and a few other familiar faces from that little group were there, and I spent a lot of time chatting with them, and trying to make the tag-along husbands/fiancees feel less painfully awkward. I had actually met all of them before.

I was amazed at how many people I remembered more than how many people were simply unknown to me. I graduated from a small city- my HS had about 2400 students. There were over 800 people in my graduating class. I'd guess about 100-120 showed up, a pretty good turn out. We had great representation from the minorities. Both black alumni showed up.

Facebook adds an interesting dynamic to the whole reunion thing. On the one hand, you get to keep up and find out what's going on with people. You don't need to come to the reunion to find out what happened to so and so, since even though you haven't seen him in ten years, you've seen his kid's photos and the pictures of his house somewhere in the north midwest with a lot of trees and you know he's doing accounting for Smithfield Corporate. There's less surprise by how people look because you see their pictures online. Even people who don't use Facebook still turn up in other people's photos.

On the other hand, Facebook gives you a conversational opener, a kind of lead in. "Hey, I remember seeing a lot of jungle photos on facebook, what were you doing in Madagascar?" and you get to fill in the rest of the story. Apparently, I'm relatively active on Facebook because a lot of people asked me about my time living in Mexico.

However, the boost that I got from people vaguely remembering who I was and being kind of impressed that I'm almost an architect was counterbalanced by people remembering me as the guy who was always making out way too publicly in the halls. Part of my mind blocked out the memories of people saying "Jesus, get a room!" and the other part remembers not caring what anyone else thought.

I had a few overpriced drinks, but kept it pretty moderate. I was surprised by the number of people who just wanted to get shitfaced drunk. Maybe it's employment- for the vast majority of people, there are few times of the year when you can drink with wild abandon. In contrast, I could, with very little consequence, make an afternoon tomorrow of solid drinking, ending by passing out cold on the living room floor, and then do it again the next day. And the next, and so on, until the cats start to pee on me in contempt.

The DJs were truly awful. I don't know if they were instructed to play the un-dancible music from our high school dances, or if they were just naturally gifted that way. They may have "brought the party" but they were obviously holding it ransom, bound and gagged in the trunk of their van. I requested YMCA since that's a good burner but they waited until the end of the night to play at it, at which point the remainder of the crowd, mostly drunk, exploded into dancing, some of them on the buffet table until the private security staff made them get down.

After most of my friends had left, and I'd been listening to a classmate who was not only totally drunk but also stoned go on and on about wanting to bring art into his life via paintings acquired at comic-cons, I decided that it was time to go home. If I happen to be in Phoenix in 15 years, I might even consider coming to the 25th reunion.

The Wandering Marketer

Chase messaged me that he was in town, and I asked him if he was going to the high school reunion. "What reunion?" He asked me. I'd gotten blasted with Facebook notices about it, but apparently this was the first time he heard of it. At any rate, no.

Chase was in town to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family, and his friend Neils came down with him. He and Neils shared an apartment in Shanghai with a bunch of Aussies, which is how Neils, who is Dutch, came to speak English. So he sounds like Crocodile Dundee, to my endless amusement. Chase invited him basically to show him what a traditional Thanksgiving is like.

I met them at the Biltmore MercBar, a bit of a crusty place per the neighborhood, but very skilled at making cocktails. Chase was drinking a Hemingway Daiquiri, and I tried an Aviation, which I really enjoyed.

From there, we went to Roosevelt Row downtown to Fillmore Vig. I sipped on a shot of Herradura blanco (tequila) and I also tried a sip of a Scotch whisky called Islay de Laphroaigh which had a faint flavor of salt. It's the best Scotch I've ever tried, but I'm usually not a huge fan of whisky's.

I actually ran into Quinn and Ryan there which is probably not so surprising. Seems to be their go-to spot. I actually like it a lot because it's a place which captures a lot of the feel of Phoenix. Adaptive reuse of an 1930s house, the sprawling outdoor seating, warmth of wood, strung lighting for the mild weather. Chase and Neils both seemed to enjoy it as well.

Next we walked over to the Rum Bar, a bar part of the Jamaican Breadfruit restaurant by day. Its a cool little bar. Jamaican bartender in a white straw fedora in front of a wall of over 100 types of sugarcane based spirits, from rum to aguardiente to Brazilian cachaça. I ordered a cup of the day's house punch, which was a delightful mix of red fruits, ginger, and rums.

We moved to the back porch for Niels and Chase to puff on a cigar with their rum drinks before moving on to the last stop of the night. We walked the fifteen minutes down the mostly abandoned and chilly downtown to CityScape, where we went to another one of my recommendations, Blue Hound. I think I like it better during the day. At any rate, we all got fernet, a medicinal-tasting apertif/digestif to round out the night.


Mom and Larry weren't going to make a big deal about Thanksgiving this year until they found I was staying, so then they decided to make it a not-quite-a-big deal. I questioned whether we needed turkey at all, but apparently its a requirement. It's not a requirement, however, that it be homemade. They ordered a turkey breast meal from Sprouts we picked up Thanksgiving day, and it came with a bag of commercial dinner rolls, a tub of cranberry, mashed potatoes, cheesy broccoli, and stuffing. Plus some pies.

Mom did bake her famous cloverleaf rolls, and I used a southern living recipe for sweet potato casserole with a crunchy pecan, marshmallow, and cornflakes topping. The consistency of the dish was a little strange to me, something not quite right.

After dinner, we piled in Larry's truck and drove over to south mountain to go hiking. On the way in, there's some places to take photos with a fake ghost town and a man and a woman crossed in front of us. The guy had a big camera around his neck. The woman had a red jacket, six-inch heels, and a tiny leopard-print thong. People sure do hike in strange clothing.

At the end of the mountain road, I took mom and Larry up a short but steep hike to the ridge, which commands a view almost 360 degrees of the valley. We spotted some red-tailed hawks which soared by us.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.