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Dreaming of Better Days–Or Reasonable Canadian Real Estate

24 Oct

by Roger White

 

Sometimes dreams are just dreams—simple brain-dumps of the day’s events, snippets of the recent odd encounter, short reels of hazy memories, a sweeping up of the mental flotsam bobbing betwixt the lobes, all stirred together, jumbled and spiced by the bit of bad pork tenderloin you had that day. So if you’re spending a great deal of your waking hours trying to affix deep meaning to the fact that in your dreamscape the night before you were a naked submarine commander delivering the eulogy at Edith a-dreamBunker’s funeral while stray dogs with marshmallow fur licked your bare feet, you may be wasting your time. Just a silly dream. A bit disturbing, but just silly, nonetheless.

 

But other times, I do lend credence to the notion that our dreams are really trying to tell us something. Case in point, the other night. I’d resigned myself to slumber after attempting to digest as much of the national news as I could stomach. As with 99.79 percent of Americans today, I went to bed somewhat emotionally dyspeptic. How did we get here? How has this country’s public discourse plummeted so far as to be steered by intellectual quayleknuckle-draggers and emotional toddlers? I drifted off utterly dismayed by the realization that today’s political arena makes the likes of Dan Quayle and George Dubya look like cerebral giants.

 

In my dream that night, I was walking up a hill, in an urban setting. Much of the cityscape was in the distance, and the pavement was steep and difficult. Suddenly, a disabled person whizzed by me, in a motorized wheelchair built for speed. The young man yelled at me to get on, so I climbed aboard and off we went. I could barely hang on; this guy was motoring. The next thing I knew, we were in a college classroom. Students were milling about, reading the campus newspaper, waiting for the professor to appear. The guy who’d given me the wild ride invited me to stay, so I did.

 

When the professor walked in, he immediately challenged the students reading the paper. “Do you think what you’re reading there is the truth?” he asked. “How would you know?” From there the conversation sparked, a lively discussion ranging from ethics, motives, and circumstantial morality to the varying definitions of truth and self-preservation to the power of mob mentality. The concept of meaningful compromise was entertained, and it was then that the discussion landed and remained on politics. “Compromise,” the professor said, “has become a dirty word among politicians now—and, sadly, it should be their most powerful, useful word.” Especially, he added, when in many cases we’re talking about means, not ends. For example, everyone wants to be safe, to live in a safe society, he pointed out, no matter what color your state is. Some see the proliferation of firearms as a threat to our safety, he noted, while others see those guns as the very protectors of life and liberty. The fact is, we want the same thing—we just don’t agree on how to get there. There are many real differences among political factions, but in so many cases, the professor said, if you climb past the rancor and attempt a horizon view of the issue at hand, you see that we’re aiming for an equivalent or surprisingly similar end result.

 

Students freely joined the conversation, and the debate, though at times heated, was thoughtful, the level of dialogue reaching higher, connections of reason and belief growing deeper. The classroom veritably glowed, I saw, with meaning. It was thoroughly inspirational to me, and refreshing. I awoke feeling uplifted, hopeful. By God, we can work together. We can reverse this course.

 

Then I turned on the TV.

lord

“You’re the puppet.”

 

“No, you’re the puppet.”

 

“Racist womanizer.”

 

“Wrong. Nasty woman.”

 

Hmmm. I hear time-shares in Vancouver are pretty reasonable, pre-election.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, an obese but mannered dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr Syndrome. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

Help Steer Michael to His ‘Off the Grid’ Dream

1 Dec

by Roger White

 

When I was a young lad (translation: Kennedy Administration), I had dreams of living off the grid when I grew up. I don’t think “off the grid” was even a term then, but I had visions of a simple, cozy existence. My fantasy was to buy a small Quonset hut or used airplane hangar, refurbish it with shag carpet, cedar paneling, and black lights, grow fat tomatoes and skinny goats out back, and write Mickey Spillane crime novels for a living.

quonset home

Although none of the above came to pass (well, I do have the black light), I was recently taken back to those dreamy days by the daring brainstorm of one young Michael Talley. Michael’s going to live in a bus.

Talley, son of Austin musician Woot Talley, cobbled together $2,400 in April to buy a used Austin ISD school bus at public auction. Even though he was the sole bidder to show up and give the buses the once-over before the auction, he almost lost out. “I was the only one to go examine the buses at the open house,” said the 24-year-old Talley. “They auctioned 10 buses, and one man bought the other nine—and tried to buy this one, as well.”

Talley held his own, however, and came away from the auction the proud owner of a 1997 International 3800 full-length yellow school bus, mileage approximately 200,000—give or take a few rural routes. The auctioneer claimed it was gently driven only to and from school by a little old lady who never pushed it above 25 miles per hour. OK, I made up that last part.

For Talley, the auction was the easy part. “Oh, I’ve worked on it after work and on weekends since May,” he said, “but I picked the worst year to do something like this, with all the ridiculous weather Central Texas has been having.”

Though Talley has tall plans for a total makeover inside and out of this 72-passenger behemoth, his first order of business—after removing every one of the seats—was to raise the roof. Literally. Talley, just like his talented dad, is what you’d call not short. As in 6’ 6”. As soon as he brought the bus home, it hit him. Literally. “I couldn’t stand up.”

187d. Bus Photo 2

So Talley recruited a few friends to build a scaffolding rig inside the bus, cut the bus in half, and employ leveling jacks to extend the ceiling. “We raised the roof nearly 18 inches,” he said. “It took four guys, but in the end it wasn’t as difficult as you would think. The hardest part was the sleepless nights leading up to it, worrying about all the things that could go wrong.”

So far so good. But the kid’s got a long way to go. I asked him what he envisioned as the finished product. The Talley Transporter (my name, not his—more on this later) will include, and I quote, “a 27-inch iMac, 24-inch external monitor, home entertainment system, spacious kitchen, shower, composting toilet, heating/AC system, manual washing machine, water purification system, onboard 50-gallon fresh-water storage tank, cedar interiors, hardwood floors, and LED lighting.”

187f. Michael the ManTalley spent a lot of time studying ultra-compact living spaces, and he’s keen on avoiding the pitfalls. “Most people who design a tiny house try to take advantage of every nook and cranny, often resulting in a very cramped living space,” he said. “I wanted my bus to feel more open, so my kitchen is larger than most tiny-house kitchens. My bathroom isn’t as cramped—and by sacrificing a dining table, I was able to accomplish all of that, as well as install a large desk in my workspace.”

Will there be a generator for power, I queried? Nope. Talley, a graphic designer by trade, envisions “a 720-watt solar system, with state-of-the-art 3,000-watt/50-amp inverter/charger system, and six six-volt rechargeable batteries.” Aha! No noisy generator required. “This is key,” Talley stressed. “If I invest in this system, then I’ll save lots of money down the road by avoiding costly hookup fees at RV parks and state parks.”

And speaking of money, this is where you, the gentle reader, may come in. The labor Talley can do; he’s a strong, ambitious sort. The dinero, however, is another story. Talley, like most twenty-somethings, pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck, and his ambition of living in his magic bus won’t run on play money. He figures he needs about $4,760 to finish the job. You can take a look at his progress at www.gofundme.com/TalleyBus. If you want to help out, by all means. For a $10 donation, you can be an honorary bus passenger; for $20, you’re a crossing guard—for $100, you’re a driver! Actually, the soft-spoken Talley will take any amount that can send him a little farther down to road to his dream. He’ll even reciprocate with graphic design work, if you’d like.

Talley may be young, but he’s no dilettante dreamer. He’s dedicated to seeing this through. In fact, he’s living in the bus shell now. It’s parked on a small farm in Manor. “I got rid of all my belongings, with the exception of my books and my records,” he said. “I want to explore the country and explore myself. Read all those books I own that I keep telling myself I’ll get around to, maybe learn a few new skills, hike every day.”

Talley noted that everyone—well, almost everyone—around him has given him tremendous assistance and encouragement. “My family has been super supportive; my friends think it’s great. My girlfriend at the time wasn’t too keen on the whole idea, though. Living in a school bus certainly isn’t for everyone.”

Oh, and about the name. Does the magic bus have a name? “Ahhh, not yet,” he said. “For a donation of $1,000, I’ll name her whatever you want, though.” There you go. Pony up, and you can be immortalized as the namesake of a sweet-looking homemade RV with state-of-the-art composting toilet. Keep the dream alive, Michael!

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely female spouse, two precocious offspring units, a very obese dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com. Or not.

 

 187e. Bus 3D Model

For the Sake of All Things Austin, Stop Operation Shade Elm!

12 May

by Roger White

 

Now, ye who know me understand that I’m not of the alarmist ilk; neither am I a hardline skeptic, a delusional “truther,” nor a conspiracy buff who spies shadowy figures behind every knoll, grassy or otherwise. But I have to admit, after observing all the brouhaha stirred up by our dear governor over the U.S. military’s lurking around our sovereign Lone Star lands (see Operation Jade Helm), my suddenly sensitive radar picked up on some very peculiar activities ’round these parts lately.

So I did some investigating, and I found that what’s taking place as we live and breathe is much more peculiar—and dastardly—than you could ever imagine.

At first, I began to notice an unusual proliferation of Williamson County Sheriff’s Department vehicles in and around Austin. Have you seen them, too? Then oneRepub Donuts day, I happened to be in the parking lot of one of our very own Austin Java coffee shops when I saw two rather rotund middle-aged white men in checkered polyester suits, white shoes, and black sunglasses, standing beside two nondescript black sedans. So what, you say? So this. They were munching on donuts—from a Round Rock Donuts box that was sitting on the hood of one of the mysterious sedans. Round Rock, mind you. Checkered polyester suits. White shoes. Middle-aged fat white guys. Don’t you see? They were not at all Austin-like. Blatantly so.

I sidled up, nonchalant, and overheard the following:

“Perfect spot, don’cha think?” said the more corpulent of the corpulent ones.

“Yup,” said the other, wiping his chin on a polyester coat sleeve. “Sheriff Wilson says the green light for Operation Shade Elm could come before the summer’s out.”

Operation Shade Elm? Sheriff Wilson? Round Rock Donuts? Polyester? Holy Conservative Coup!

On a hunch, I texted my hacker friend Eric and asked if he could do some digging—namely for anything named Shade Elm coming from Williamson County.

Eric called me two days later.

“You ready for this?” Eric said breathlessly. “I found one document, in a file folder marked for deletion. OSE. Operation Shade Elm. Williamson County is on the front line of something big. Something most of the rest of the state is on board with—especially Dallas and Lubbock.”

“What?!” I practically screamed into my phone.

“It’s a takeover. They’re gonna turn Austin red, little by little.”

“How? What? How can they do that?”

“Subtle things, man. First, they’re gonna close down all the Austin Java shops and reopen ’em as Round Rock Donuts. Then, get this, Magnolia Café…”

“No.”

Repub Barrel“Yeah, they’re gonna be Cracker Barrels.”

I shuddered.

“They’re gonna attack on the clothing front, too. Men’s shops first.”

“Not polyester.”

“Yup. All the name shops in Austin—Wally’s, Service Menswear, Stag. Gone. Gonna move in Dickies, Walmart Fashion Outlet, Porter Waggoner Line, that kinda stuff.”

“I’m gonna be sick.”

“That’s not the half of it,” Eric continued. “The Austin Car2Go program…”

“You mean all the little Smart Cars the city lets you use?”

“Yeah. They’ll be gone. Gonna replace ’em with Ford F-150 Super Cabs. With gun racks and naked lady mudflaps. And every month will be Truck Month.”

Repub Mudflap“O.M.G.”

“And Cesar Chavez. Once the takeover’s complete, they’ll rename it the Ronald Reagan Liberty Plus Freedom Memorial Drive.”

“We have to stop this,” I muttered.

“Yeah, I know. Look, you write a column. Get the word out, man.”

Sweet Ghost of Ann Richards, Eric’s right. We have to marshal resistance—before summer’s end. We MUST stop Operation Shade Elm. Mayor Adler, Councilman Renteria, City Manager Ott, Wastewater Commission Chair Gray, Sixth Street Dude Who Plays the Trash Cans—We Must Do Something! Call out the Travis County Guard! We must keep Austin weird. Or at least polyester-free. I see them coming! The brown Williamson County vehicles! Here they come! The white shoes! The Rush Limbaugh t-shirts!

Zzz. sssSSNORT. Whew. What a dream. That’s the last time I eat donuts before bed. ’specially Round Rock Donuts.

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a cat with Epstein-Barr. For further adventures, visitoldspouse.wordpress.com.

Dad’s ‘Stairway to Summer’

3 Feb

by Roger White

 

Now that we’re in the dead of winter, and those despicable, horrid, scorching temperatures of mid-July are long gone, I truly miss those despicable, horrid, scorching temperatures of mid-July. This always happens, and I always know it’s going Zepto happen. I am now officially sick of winter. I dreamed of grilling out in the backyard recently. This wondrous dream was even set to music—à la Led Zeppelin. I call this wondrous nocturnal fantasy “Stairway to Summer.”

 

Note: If you can’t play “Stairway” in your head as you read this, this will make no sense to you whatsoever and you will become convinced that my mind has been eaten by worms. The latter may be true, of course, but read on if you will:

 

“Stairway to Summer”

There’s a daddy who’s sure all that sizzles is gold,

And he’s grilling five pounds of heaven.

 

When he gets there he knows if the propane is low,

With a card he can get more at Walgreen’s.

 da grill

Oooh, oooo-oooh, and he’s grilling five pounds of heaven.

 

On his grill there’s some mush, but with his handy wire brush

He scrapes and, oops, he just lost one patty.

 

In a tree by the grill, there’s a songbird who sings,

And, uh oh, the bird just soiled another patty.

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and dad’s grilling three pounds of heaven.

 

There’s a feeling he gets when meat falls through the slats,

And his spirit is crying and bereaving.

 

In his thoughts he has seen the grill smoke through the trees,

And the voices of those who stand drooling.

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and dad’s grilling two pounds of heaven.

 

And it’s whispered that soon, if you use a big spoon,

You can salvage those patties in the fire.

 

And a new day will dawn for those on the lawn,

And the backyard will echo with laughter.

 

Did anyone remember ketchup?

 

Oooh, oooo-ooh, and he’s grilling a half-pound of heaven.

 

(picking up the tempo now)

 

If there’s some gristle in your ground chuck,

Don’t be a dumb schmuck,

It’s just a sprinkling of tendon.

 

Yes, there are two paths you can go by,

But to use care,

Well done’s safer than rare.

 dead patties

Oooooh, but it makes him wonder.

 

His head is humming on his fifth beer,

But have no fear,

The wifey’s calling him to slow down.

 

Dear Daddy can you smell the gas now?

You’ve burned a whole cow,

Your burgers are lost on the whispering wind.

 

(kicking it in!)

 

And as we settle down to eat,

Everything’s ready but the meat,

 

There sweats dear Daddy in the heat,

Who shines bright red in drunk defeat.

 

Did all that sizzle turn to ash

grill oopsIn a propane-fueled flash?

The answer comes to him, behold!

There’s fried chicken on the stove,

So let’s have that last Michelooooob!

 

Ooooh, and dad’s scraping the burnt remnants of heaven.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

 

Follow Your Dreams? Well, OK, But Have a Backup Plan

23 Jan

by Roger White

Author’s note: For you dedicated, sort of dedicated, and even not-so-dedicated followers of TOS, I feel I must warn you in advance. This particular installment lacks any juvenile silliness, nonsensical babble, slice-of-life inanity, random wordplay, serpentine stream of consciousness, thinly veiled parody, and/or incomprehensible doublespeak. I’m actually taking a stab at being serious this time. This likely won’t last long, as most of my prescriptions seem to have run out.

As I watch my daughters grow into young womanhood—Lindsey now a thoughtful, creative high school sophomore so marvelously free-spirited yet touchingly conscientious in every facet, and Jamie, our firebrand eighth-grader so fiercely strong-willed and stubborn but so tender-hearted and self-conscious—I struggle to keep them optimistic and open to the great vista of opportunities and adventures that is theirs in their youth while ensuring that they truly understand the many gambles attendant with life’s every turn.

How do you convey to your children that life is to be thoroughly enjoyed yet doggedly pursued with utmost seriousness, that the world around them is not a vile place to be feared but that wariness and caution are also fundamental?

How do you keep those most precious to you warm-hearted and open to the world when, while you’re teaching your oldest how to drive a car, a man pulls up next to her and flips her the finger because she’s driving too slow for his taste? What course do you take when your youngest tells you that some anonymous degenerate claiming to be an online friend wrote such depraved and loathsome things on her web page that the words don’t even bear repeating?

Beyond these random acts of unkindness, how do you also instill in your children the passion to “follow your dreams”—a catchphrase heard so often in movies, media, books, commercials, speeches, campaign promises, and valedictory addresses today that it has become hackneyed and meaningless—when the cold reality is that the vast majority of us grinding out our day-to-day existences have come nowhere near the lofty dreams of our youth?

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that anyone should settle for something less than what one earnestly wants to do with one’s career and life. I’m merely advocating, in this reality-TV culture that falsely suggests that everyone can be a star, for a healthy dose of practicality. I fear that many kids growing up today, buffeted from all sides by messages insinuating that instant fame or fortune will be theirs for the taking when some magic day arrives, will be in for a terribly rude awakening when it comes time to settle into that desk job in the corporate cubicle farm.

A glimpse at one episode of “American Idol” confirms this unsettling notion. When the judges break the bitter truth to so many young would-be superstars who can’t carry a tune in a large fruit bowl, the contestants’ reaction of utter disbelief and heartbreak may make for a sort of Schadenfreudean entertainment for the masses, but it also exposes symptoms of delusional expectations held by today’s youth. Yeah, you’re going to win the 750-million-to-1-shot lottery with one ticket. Right.

Ah, hell, I guess it’s not just today’s youth. I’ll fess up. When I was 11, and I caught my first touchdown pass of the season for the Burleson Boys Club Panthers, I was immediately convinced I would be an NFL wide receiver. That touchdown was the only pass I ever caught that season—and for the rest of my football career (which lasted until eighth grade when I broke my collarbone). A high schooler who weighs all of 130 pounds sopping wet stands little chance at football glory outside of his back yard.

When I was 14, I was going to be a drummer in a rock band that would be discovered by a West Coast record label and shoot straight to international stardom. Talent seemed to be the snag here (see “American Idol” above). When I was 19, I was going to own my own legion of vending machines, which held the promise of easy riches and an unending supply of M&Ms, but no one seemed to want to lend a teenage entrepreneur the mere six figures for start-up.

And when I was 30-something and finished my first attempt at the Mediocre American Novel, I was sure I was destined to be the next John Irving. Alas, that dream is still on the runway, desperately awaiting clearance in the thickening fog. So I soldier on, in the cube farm, telling myself that John Irving just might not have it as good as I think he does.

And I also tell my girls, yes, follow your dreams—but have a solid backup plan. If you truly want to be the next Lady Gaga, give it a shot. But stay on course for your MBA, as well. Please.

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.