Remembering Roger

A year ago today, we lost Roger, D’s dad.

All of the bad things that happened to us in the past year — wrecks, dog attacks, serious illnesses — are meaningless next to that stark reality.

If you were creating a husband and father from scratch, you’d use Roger Lankford for the mold. Then you’d smash it, because you couldn’t possibly do any better.

He was kind. He was good. He was loving. He was honest. He was selfless. He was smart. He was perceptive. He could do anything that came up on a farm. He had beautiful blue eyes that always twinkled, and the softest Southern voice. He was delighted by people, and always saw the best in them. He laughed a lot, and smiled even more. He was slow to anger, quick to love. (D is definitely his child.) He was a big old mountain of a man, about 6-4, but sweeter than the molasses he loved to make on the farm each fall.

Some people think he looked a lot like Santa. I think maybe they were brothers. They sure share the same good qualities.

D and her dad at the farm on molasses-making day.

He was the kind of guy who made you become a better person, just to try to be more like him.

We knew we were on borrowed time with him for the past few years. He was living without working kidneys, and dialysis is simply too hard on the body to be a long-term solution.

I’m telling you, as someone who’s faced a life-threatening illness myself, few people could ever be as brave or courageous as Rog was in the face of constant pain and the roller-coaster medical world of renal failure. I know I couldn’t.

He fought long, he fought hard. He fought longer then he wanted to, I think. And he did it because he didn’t want to leave the two people who were the nucleus of his world — D and her mom. They’d been through difficulties earlier in their lives, and Roger was a rock who never wavered, through the toughest of times.

He kept on living for so long simply because he knew that when he was gone, he’d leave a big old mountain-sized hole in their hearts and souls. He knew they would grieve so deeply, be so incredibly heartbroken, that life would lose its magic. He lived with his pain for so long, just to keep them from feeling that devastation.

D’s an only child, and he knew she would take care of her mom after he was gone. But he worried about D, the only child. In the months before he died, we’d had some quiet conversations. We didn’t need many words; we knew what we were talking about without them. He let me know that he expected me to be there for D, as she would be there for her mom. And I let him know that I would.

He was a good man. He was the best man.

I am so lucky to have been a part of his life for 12 years. I am all the poorer for not having known him longer.

We shared a love of good food and cooking. Some of my favorite times with him were spent in the kitchen — it was usually just the two of us, because that’s not the favorite room in the house for D or her mom.

In the early years when he still felt good, we’d mix and chop and stir together, him passing on good Tennessee country cooking tips, me sharing my jambalaya secrets. In more recent times, I’d do the culinary creating before he and Madge came over. But he’d always come in, give me a big hug, then immediately start lifting pot lids. “Man, that smells good!” he’d say. “What’s in that?”

In the past year, I’ve tried to cook a lot for D and her mom. I feel closer to Rog when I do, and I hope it makes them happy, too. I wish I could ease their pain in more tangible ways, more quickly. I wish I could bring Roger back. I wish they didn’t feel that razor’s edge every day when they wake up and realize he’s not here. I wish I could make it all better. Of course, I can’t.

Roger isn’t here any longer, but he will forever be with us, as those who are loved deeply are. Every day, when I see the twinkle in D’s beautiful blue eyes, I think of Roger.

I doubt I’ll see that twinkle today, but I hope I do. It’s what he’d want. It honors him. And whatever your beliefs about the afterlife, spirits like Roger’s don’t just go away. He lives on, in the hearts and memories of the many, many people who knew him.

For Roger, with love.

Roger was in his element at the farm. Molasses-making day had everything he loved: the farm, good friends, good food.

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New York, New York

OK, so it’s been too long since I wrote. You can either:

1. Sue me.

2. Ask for a refund of your blog subscription. Heck, I’ll even give you DOUBLE what you paid for it.

I was quite busy getting ready for a business trip to New York City. Yes, that New York City. The big one. Way up north.

During a successful whirlwind trip to tell folks how great our hospital is, I made a few observations. I know that will shock you, since I’m typically so unobservant and reticent to share.

First, it’s still very cold in New York in late March. Those tiny sting-y things were ice pellets, with a side of snowflakes. Ewww.

Second, cab drivers in New York City aren’t crazy. They’ve gone waaaay past crazy. Far beyond stark-raving mad. They’ve left insane in the rear-view mirror. I can’t decide if they’re suicidal or homicidal. Or both, simultaneously.

Years ago, I met a new friend in L.A., a fellow editor gainfully employed as a bigshot at Los Angeles Magazine. She was a lovely person, quite sane and smart and funny and rational. (Hi, Helene.) Or at least I thought so, until I got in the car with her. Then she turned into a whirling dervish of madness, zipping around and beeping her horn and zooming here and there. In L.A., no less. Eight lanes of traffic at a standstill, and somehow we’re zipping down the road anyway. Amazing.

Turns out she grew up in New York City, and her dad was a bona fide “medallion” cab driver. I mean, these guys deserve Special Forces recognition. She learned the art from him. Kind of like learning to sketch while sitting at the right hand of da Vinci.

(My friend is really still quite sane and smart and funny and rational. And she still drives like that, 20 years later.)

So, it’s a given that the cabbies never slow down, even when facing yawning chasms of winter potholes. Add that to the fact that I got hit by a semi truck just days before this trip, and you begin to understand how my three days went. Thank goodness for meds.

I kept desperately hoping that each cab we entered would suddenly explode with flashing lights and music, then the driver would turn around, and it would be Ben Bailey saying, “You’re in the Cash Cab!” Then he would ask us trivia questions for the duration of our ride, and we would win money by answering them all, and we would appear in perpetuity on Discovery Channel at 2 a.m. every Saturday morning.

I was sure we’d win, because I was accompanied by two very smart people, and because I have a lot of useless factoid flotsam and jetsam in my head.

(Flotsam: floating debris from a shipwreck. Jetsam: ship cargo thrown overboard on purpose. See? We’d win!)

Alas, no Cash Cab for us.

However, we did get to go to several trendy, hip and cool restaurants, including Buddakan, which was reportedly in the first “Sex and the City” movie. Haven’t seen it, but now I’m going to Netflix it, so I can pause it and say dramatically, “Well, the last time I was in New York and at Buddakan…”

Yes, I know what you’re wondering: “How did Holloway get in to those trendy, hip and cool restaurants?” It’s OK… I was wondering that myself for a while.

Fortunately, those two smart people I was with were also trendy, hip and cool, and they browbeat the maître d’ at each place until he caved in and let me pass.

Our hotel was also quite lovely and hip and urban. Unfortunately, being as how it still gets cold in New York in March, they were still running the heat in all of the rooms. Heavy heat. Hot heat. Steaming heat. Heat with absolutely no obedience to that little box on the wall with the numbers on it.

The hotel engineer’s solution? Open the windows. Of course, being a hotel with a legal department, the windows only opened a few inches. Hmmm. It wasn’t enough space to actually make a dent in the heat wave. It was, however, enough space to allow the endless din of a thousand trucks, cabs and drunk tourists to pour into the room in an endless stream of noise vomit.

On hour No. 3 of trying to sleep in the sauna that was Room 3606, I became desperate. I started to let my mind wander, which is seldom a good thing and which one day will result in my mind wandering off for good, never to be seen again.

I figured that maybe if I opened the door and swung it back and forth from hand to hand a bunch of times real fast, it would create a backdraft that would miraculously suck a massive wave of cool air into the room through the three-inch slit in the windows. (It’s not my fault I never took a meteorology class in college.)

Yes! Genius! So I dash to the door, whip it open and commence to flinging it back and forth. Swing! Swing! Swing! Swing!

This one time, I missed catching it with my left hand, since in my haste I had forgotten to put on my glasses. I don’t think the large crash as the door hit the closet mirror woke up everyone on the hall, just the people on my side.

So, I’m standing in my doorway, sweaty, winging the door to and fro, when I hear the stairwell door open. It’s some poor business dude, coming in late. Squinting hard, I can tell that he’s had a hard day, because he’s kind of slack-jawed and his eyes are kind of glassy and glazed-over. Poor Business Dude, I think. He must not have made that big sale.

Then I realize that perhaps, just perhaps, the fact that his expression is because he’s walked into the hall to be confronted by a tiny woman swinging her door to and fro.

“It’s OK,” I say reassuringly. “No fire! It’s just hot in my room. Real hot. Hot enough to start a fire, probably. Ha ha ha ha!”

He gives me what appears to be a weird look — I couldn’t really tell, since he was all fuzzy and blurry — mumbles something and sprints off down the hall. “Gee,” I think. “He’s not from the South. Could’ve at least said ‘hi.’ ” Then I remember, charitably, that he’s probably had that bad day, and I turn to wave at him in case he looks back.

That’s when I realize: when I had dozed off into a heat-induced coma during those first three hours in the room, I had apparently shed my PJs in a desperate attempt to survive.

Uh, oh.

Poor Business Dude has walked into the hall to be confronted by a tiny woman swinging her door to and fro — wearing no PJs.

That obviously accounted for the slack jaw and the glassy eyes. I hope he’d had a lot to drink that night at his Business Dude dinner. If not, I’ll bet he will from now on.

All in all, it was an eventful trip. Successful, too, because lots of media folks did hear about the cool stuff we’re doing at Children’s.

I also reconnected in person with a friend from way back, after initially reconnecting months ago via Facebook. (Hi, Marjorie.) It was wonderful, warm and easy like Sunday morning.

I have decided that I’m never going back to New York City without taking along my colleague who put this trip together. (Hi, Allison.) Seriously. Even on vacation, she’ll have to go. She’ll just have to abandon her husband and kids for a while, because I can’t imagine experiencing NYC without her. If Attila the Hun had her organizing his affairs, the Battle of Châlons would have been a different story.

I mean, how else will I ever get into Buddakan?

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A fork in the road

Food update time again, since it’s been at least a day since I’ve waxed poetic about something ingestible. We’ve found a few more hits, and a couple of misses, in the Great Dallas Restaurant Tour.

The latest double-thumbs-up? Blue Fish, a sushi place in North Dallas. It had been recommended by Dallas friends, so we went there with our bestie from Chicago. He and D mowed through some sushi and loved all of it. Now, I don’t eat bait myself, but I did have a yummy little roll with cooked crawfish that was pretty darn tasty. Mostly, though, I plowed through a mile-high plate of vegetable tempura, light enough that you’d think they cooked it in air and not oil. I also availed myself of a couple of their $5 martinis, which combined to almost make me willing to eat bait, lead a “how-to” Monster Dance session, discuss in Shimokita dialect the finer points of sushi-making with the chef, and agree to buy a dodo bird chicklet from a guy in Euless who says he’s been hiding the world’s last mating pair.

This weekend, we’ve had friends from Nashville in town for tomorrow night’s Lady Gaga concert. So I pulled some strings and offered to sell my firstborn to get us a table at Bob’s Chop House, a staple for Dallas meat-eaters. (That whole firstborn thing’s going to be a bit of a sticky wicket when they hear about my hysterectomy last fall. Cross that bridge when we come to it.) Bob’s deals with fancy rich people all the time, but you’d never know we didn’t fall into that category by the way they treated us, too. Super-friendly, and they even bought us a round when our table was a smidge late.

Great steaks, for sure. But they also serve these thin cooked potatoes covered with a healthy dollop of some sort of rich brown gravy. I think one of the secret  ingredients must have been magic fairy dust, because I’ve been dreaming about it for the past 26 hours. And they serve each plate with a full-length, melt-in-your-mouth cooked carrot with a sweet glaze. They could sell these things for dessert, they’re that good. Go, Bob!

Took the visitors this morning to breakfast at Brazil Cafe, which you’ll remember as one of our favorite hip-happening brunch spots. Never had a bad meal there — although today’s came close. My egg-white omelette wasn’t cooked all the way, so little dime-sized, gooey slime rounds kept plopping off of my fork. I was close to a grand hurl looking at them, so I covered them up with little bits of napkin. It looked like my plate had cut itself shaving, and pretty badly. Everyone else’s meals were good, as usual, and we a great waiter. So all in all, my slimy raw omelette was an exception, I’m sure.

Norma’s diner, in Addison, is another where you can’t go wrong with breakfast, unless you consider vast loads of plaque in your arteries a “wrong.” Good country breakfasts, funny waitresses straight from the 1970s. (They allow smoking in the daytime, but no on weekends. Thank

One of our favorite weekend breakfast places remains Benedict’s, in Addison. Still haven’t had a bad brunch there yet. We’re particularly loyal because they remain non-smoking, even though Addison defiantly continues to allow smoking in its restaurants, so they can lure in the young people who live in these huge apartment complexes and can’t seem to take a break from the cigs for the hour it takes to eat.

Some restaurants buck the trend, like Benedict’s, but most don’t, and are proud of it. It’s weird to walk into a restaurant and smell nasty cigarette smoke. It’s been years since I lived anywhere like that. Hell, they’ve even gone smoke-free in Tennessee, where as soon as you get out of Nashville proper, you quickly find mile after mile of fields full of huge burley tobacco plants. I especially resent the hubris of Outback, where the smoking section is the big square bar smack-dab in the middle of the restaurant. I mean, really?

I’ve always been cranky about about the smoke thing. But it’s possible, just possible, that I’ve gotten even crankier since the whole cancer thing. I think I’ve paid plenty for that righteous indignation, if you count each of the pieces of my body chopped away and each of the cells nuked by chemo and radiation.

But I digress… we were talking about food, glorious food! Had a lovely work lunch at Mi Cocina, although I missed out on the famous Mambo Taxi, for the picky little reason that it was the middle of the day and Children’s Medical Center frowns upon employees who can’t stand up. Their chips were really thick — tasty, but really hard to chew without putting your fillings at risk. I like places with really thin, light chips, like Chuy’s and Mena’s. Mmmmmm. It was loud and boisterous, too, which normally would make it perfect in my eyes, but made it a bit difficult for the job interview we were conducting. In a 90-minute lunch, I think I caught the words “would” and “blue” and “left” and “Fiji” and “aglet.”

I’m afraid that job candidate might avoid my phone call now, after I also inflicted an awful California Pizza Kitchen experience on her. It was late, we were en route to a meeting in Plano, and it was handy and convenient. Good reasons. Bad decisions. Unfortunately, it also was horrible. I’d have never bet you could screw up a wedge salad. You just hack off a piece of iceberg and slap it on a plate, right? But I guess you also can soak it and fail to drain it before you serve it, rendering it watery and diluting the dressing into a pale mess of tasteless goo.

(And yes, I ordered the wedge salad because of “Modern Family.” Don’t try to tell me you haven’t wanted one since that episode, because then “you a lie,” as we say in the bayou. If Skip Woosnam likes it….) I also didn’t think you could screw up spinach dip. But you apparently can make it also bland and tasteless, and top it off by serving it cold in the middle. Eww. That’s a meal out of my life that I’d like to have back.

But I also was introduced to a happy little lunch the other day at Bread Winner’s Cafe: a with half of a Caesar salad and a half-sandwich. They have a scrumptuous baked goods, too, although I somehow managed to avoid temptation that day, probably by repeatedly squeezing the little needle-stocked pincushion I carried in my pocket. The blood was a little messy, but I was able to beat back that chocolate croissant.

In a smaller happy little moment, lime-flavored popcorn entered my life last week. Who knew they made that?? (Actually, it may have been out for two years, but due to the wonders of Tivo, we no longer see any commercials, so I am a bit oblivious to major developments in the modern world like this.) I swiped a fluffy white kernel off of the desk of a colleague, planning a fast retreat that would get my thieving little self away scot-free. But I was stopped in my tracks by the lovely little limey-salty burst of deliciousness. So I had to sheepishly scuff my way back to my colleague (hi, Gina!), throw myself on her mercy and beg her to tell me what it was. So then I bought some, and as I salivate over it, it’s hiding in my pantry until our next DVD marathon. Can’t wait.

It’s spring, too, which means it’s time to tune, up the grill, hit the farmer’s markets and ethnic markets and then get to cooking on weekends! Yeehaw! Y’all come on over for a bite! (But only if you aren’t going to blog about it…)

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Re-tired again

Last fall, you may remember, D and I found ourselves the proud owners of a wonderfully shredded tire on our car. OK, I figured, maybe the trip from Nashville to Dallas was a bit too hard on the low-profile tires, especially that tiny little piece from the eastern edge of Arkansas to the western edge of Arkansas.

Those are 279 ugly, nasty brutish miles of pavement. It reminds me of the Louisiana gravel roads I learned to drive on, roads into which the daily summer thunderstorms carved a deep washboard pattern that-t-t k-k-k-k-k-ind of m-m-m-m-m-ade your-r-r-r t-t-t-eeth r-r-r-rattle and bounced all of the fizzy out of your Coke real fast.

So, after carefully weighing our options for 3.2 seconds, we got a new tire. I might’ve grumbled a bit.

‘Twas just a couple of weeks later when my cheery mood was again darkened by another shredded tire. This one looked as if razor-toothed rats from hell had been chewing on it. The flat occurred along a dicey strip of Josey Lane between D’s lab and our house, and it was about 183 degrees that evening, which just added to the good times.

So, after carefully weighing our options for about 2.4 seconds, we got a second new tire. I definitely grumbled a bit.

At least this past Friday night, when D called to tell me our third tire had blown up, it was a beautiful 73 degrees. Unfortunately, it was along the same colorful strip of Josey Lane. And this time it was later and darker and a weekend night, so the most colorful of the colorful elements were roaming around.

Indeed, I had to wade through a a cloud of fragrant herb smoke and a crowd of teenagers clad only in black and carrying bolt-cutters to even find to the car, which D had managed to pull into the parking lot of a closed Korean church. So I arrived on-scene accompanied by Chase, a small cooler of beer, two flashlights and a 9mm Glock.

Now, we’re pretty handy. But the tires on this car aren’t the easiest to change, requiring a degree in automotive design from MIT; a wheel lock tool molded only in Ingolstadt, Germany; proficiency in Archimedean theory; and a wad of chewed bubble gum.

So imagine how difficult it is to change that tire with one hand, while the other is holding a cold beer and a flashlight, with a loaded 9mm tucked in your waistband. Besides, it gets your hands all grimy, and I hate to be grimy almost as much as I hate to be sticky.

So, I caved in. However, a call to roadside assistance brought an estimate of two hours for a tire-changer to arrive, for the privilege of charging us $100 for the experience. It was $100 when the dispatcher first answered, and it was still $100 after I explained politely that no, I didn’t want them to tow the car, or go get a new tire to install, or include a free Picasso original sketch — I just wanted them to change the tire. ($100? I’ve found my next investment: I’ll spring for the tow/tool truck. Who wants to drive?)

So we noticed a nearby auto shop whose exhausted crew was just closing up, and looked crestfallen enough that the manager agreed to help us. He changed the tire himself, as his guys were busy moving all 27 of the cars waiting to be repaired into the shop so there would be a tiny chance they’d still be there this morning. I realized we really were in a colorful area as they somehow made room inside the shop for a 1983 Corolla with no fenders or bumpers. I’m not even sure it had an engine.

Turns out this third shredded tire was one of the new ones, for crying out loud.

Seriously, experienced Dallasites… Do you guys realize just how bad our roads are? I can name 47 other states where you can drive without having your car shaken apart as you drive.  (I have to admit Alaska and Arkansas might be as bad.) I can’t even drive on Inwood Road anymore, after my car lurched into a massive, sharp-edged pothole the size of Denmark, necessitating an international rescue operation involving three Army Chinook helicopters and a bunch of those ratchety tie-down straps.

That flying through the air thing was kinda fun, though.

Our poor cars have experienced more indignity lately as well, this time courtesy of those damn grackles I may have mentioned before. Once or twice. OK, maybe 18 times, along with that recipe for grackle pie.

The big shiny-black monsters apparently are breakfasting every day at a nearby wilderness area, where they ingest massive quantities of white food. There must be a large field there covered in marshmallows, grits, cauliflower, navy beans, potatoes, crackers, powdered sugar, yogurt, cream cheese and crabmeat. Inside their bellies, these tasty treats mix with a stomach fluid which consists mainly of concrete and Super Glue. Then they fly back to our office, just in time to empty the remnants of this nourishment over our parking lot.

I usually park in the garage, but one day last week I had to head to an off-site meeting, so I parked in the front lot. BIG mistake. The head grackle noticed my transgression, then radioed all of the other grackles. They then coordinated a synchronized assault, dive-bombing my car in wave after wave of perfectly planned poopism. They must read my blog, and have taken my anti-grackle musings rather personally.

Heading off to my meeting, I wandered the parking lot for 15 minutes, looking for my dark-blue car, which no longer existed. When I stopped by Plaza Car Wash after work later that day, the guys laughed so hard that one of them actually exploded into a small pile of goo. They called all of the other guys out of the car wash line, to look and point and stare. “Ha ha ha ha! Grackle! Ha ha ha ha!”

They finally got it all off, using a power washer and an industrial-sized hacksaw.

So every time I lust over the breathtaking new Audi R8 at the dealership near our office, I think of the potholes and the super-pooper grackles and the folks who would steal a fender off of a 1983 Corolla.

And I decide that I won’t buy it, after all. And by the way, my decision has nothing to do with the $181,000 price tag. Really.

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Swan song, Part Two

All right, all right, already. I give. Apparently the tale of the portable swan caught your attention. Tugged at your heartstrings. Activated any other cliche you can think of. (And made more than one of you hungry, it seems. I do have the weirdest friends, for which I am ever-grateful.)

Once in a while, I may be given to certain imaginative re-imaginings on this blog. Reality is elusive, after all, and truth is seen in many different lights. However, I swear that every word of the swan story was true. And it certainly brought out creative thoughts by my friends.

Perhaps the swan was, indeed, meant for dinner? I can just see some dad sending his teenager over to the Albertson’s to get a chicken, and the kid being lazy enough to grab the swan as he walked by it. “Really, dad. I got it at the store. They had a special on large white chickens. Leave me alone! (slam).”

My favorite comment: “Swan. The other white meat.” (Hi, Bush.)

Mostly, though, you just wanted to know what happened to it. So once I’d heard your pleas, I decided that I owed you that much, for following my crazy yarns about this Dallas adventure.

So, I switched from PR back to PI. I dusted off my badge, investigator’s license, gun. Grabbed my “go bag” containing wig, baseball cap, two different colored shirts, three old license plates and a screwdriver to swap them with, a flashlight and several tiny video cameras, including one cleverly disguised as an earring.

And I set out to resolve The Case of the Carried Swan.

(For those who missed the previous installment, I saw a guy carrying a big swan down our city streets one night. But it was a better story in the original post. I even got this photo of it, although since it was sleeting and snowing and 9 degrees and I shot it through my windshield, it’s not real good quality. And I have taken much grief over it. But you can, absolutely, positively, see the swan.)

S0 D and I headed off to our nearby lake. I figured this was a good place to start, since swans float. Oh, and because this happened close to there. And because we’d seen swans there before. Sharp PIs put together subtle and tricky clues like that.

The subject was last seen heading westbound on Keller Springs toward the lake, carrying the captive avian, white in color, approximately 4 feet, 4 inches tall, with a medium build and a long beak. Avian appeared to be held under duress, this conclusion reached by the evidence of eyewitness testimony (mine) that it was attempting to snap off the subject’s left ear with that beak.

Investigation began upon approaching the lake, and after discarding of the badge, license and gun. The “go bag” also was left in the car upon my realization that it was broad daylight, warm and that I’d look like a freak wandering around the lake carrying all that stuff.

I hate it when I don’t get to use my cool PI gear.

Lengthy surveillance (at least two minutes) revealed … the presence of a large white swan, right there in the lake. My swan! My swan! (Photo below, right.) 

Or was it? I mean, it was a dark and sleety night. I only saw him for a minute or so. Maybe this was some other swan?

So reconnaissance continued. This involved several trips around the lake, at .62 miles per circuit. Although if you count the various side trips initiated by Chase to sniff other dogs’ pee, grackle poop, a dead fish, an empty Doritos bag and the remnants of a buffalo wing, each lap was more like 4.356 miles long. He also stopped to watch a golden retriever run after a tennis ball and return it to his owner 324 times in a row. Chase’s expression clearly revealed his thoughts: “Why in the world would that dog keep chasing that ball and bringing it back when he’s not on a leash? She’s just going to throw it again. Why doesn’t he just do like I do — run after it, then decide to run off that little rabbit or that fat squirrel or that jabbering jay, all of which are more fun than that boring tennis ball? Plus, I like to see mom’s face get all red, and the exercise is good for her.”

Soon we discovered a reluctant witness, a gutsy dame who obviously had a story to tell. She just needed a little persuading, something this world-weary gumshoe was happy to provide, me and my little fren’. I leaned on her a bit, and she finally caved in, begging me not to send her back to jail. Then she told us the whole sordid story.

It turns out that the swan we saw that day was the male of a pair that had been in that lake for a long time. Swans mate for life, and these two had raised babies year after year. The folks in the senior citizen apartments right there by the lake watched the babies hatch each spring, watched them grow up, watch them fly away to start their own little swan families elsewhere. Our witness lived in the apartments, too, hence her eye for detail.

I guess it wasn’t really that sordid of a story. Damn.

I told her about my swan-on-the-road sighting, and we lamented the possibility that the momma swan was the captive, because the lady hadn’t seen her in a few days.

Uh, oh, I thought. Is this going to have a bad ending? I’m kinda stressed lately, and not in the mood for a bad ending. If I were making a movie, on the DVD I’d have a bunch of those alternate endings, and all of them would end with lollipops, rainbows, cheese and wonder.

We thanked the lady, who continued her exercise stroll. We began walking back to the car, scanning around for the other swan. We were just beginning to get a bad feeling about this when I heard something. It was the lady, who had already smoked us by about 500 yards, yelling and waving her arms. She was pointing to a big marshy bog at the end of the lake.

We ran up there at the speed of light, for at least five steps at least. Then we walked, but we got there eventually. It was the momma swan, sitting on her nest, surrounded by protective marsh grass. They were both there! One of them had to be the bird I’d seen on the road, in the arms of the swan-carrier.

We were very excited, at least for 90 seconds. That’s when Chase saw a nutria and went off into a snarly, snappy, yippy frenzy. (Another elderly lady told us it was a beaver, but I grew up in Louisiana, and I know a swamp rat when I see one.)

So there you go… a happy ending. Like many investigations, the answer isn’t a 100% certainty. But that’s what I’m choosing to believe …. right up there with lollipops, rainbows, cheese and wonder.

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Three-day weakened

Hey, guess what? Some people had Monday off this week… like D. (Don’t mind me, I’m always this lovely green color.)

We didn’t even realize it until Friday night, which is a good thing, because if we’d have realized it sooner, I’d have just been bitter and jealous even longer. Here’s kind of how it went:

D: “Hey… I think I’m off on Monday.”

Me: “Huh?”

D: “Yeah! I’m off! I’m pretty sure!”

Me: “Huh?”

D: “Yes, the lab is closed! I have a three-day weekend! Wow! That’s cool? Isn’t that cool?”

Me: “Huh?”

Apparently it was President’s Day. Now, I can’t remember the last time I had President’s Day off. I mean, I’m a good citizen and all, and I certainly appreciate the dedication of our fine leaders. (Well, most of them, anyway. Still not real happy with W.) But what’s not to like about Millard Fillmore, who was No. 13 (a fact I only remember because that was my jersey number all through high school and college)?

But if they’re really dedicated patriots, wouldn’t they want us to work and increase our nation’s productivity? Cash checks at the banks? Settle civil lawsuits? And in D’s case, put more bad guys away?

And I must confess, despite knowing that it was President’s Day because of that in-depth conversation with D, I STILL went and checked the mailbox. I hate it when I do that. Kinda like flipping the light switch even when the power’s out and I’m finding my way from room to room via flashlight.

At least the traffic was lighter today as I went to WORK. (Sorry. Was that bitterness again leaking out of my fingers? Sounds like someone could use a vacation. Or at least a normal old two-day weekend, which has been elusive, too — we’ve had a lot of news at the hospital lately). And where’s my Mardi Gras holiday, that’s what I want to know. Laissez les bon temps rouler and all.

I think we’re adjusting to the Dallas move pretty well. I should be, given that next month it’ll be a year for me now. But I have to say, I’m a little worried about the long-term effect on Chase. For some reason, the little guy has suddenly started FREAKING OUT. There’s no better way to describe it. In the mornings when it’s time to go into his kennel, he darts right in, but sits there and trembles and shakes and generally acts like as soon as I leave, some horrible demon will come terrorize him.

We’re trying a little Puppy Xanax, see if that helps. Given that it’s time for spring thunderstorms, we’ll really be doling out the meds. He’s gotten anxious about those recently, too. You should’ve seen the little dude when we had the thundersnow a couple of weeks ago. He was bouncing all over the walls, and nothing could comfort him. Tomorrow it’s supposed to be stormy here again, so it’ll be time in the morning for another half of a happy pill. Wish I knew how to fix that.

I realized just the other night that I needed to refill that Puppy Xanax. This epiphany arrived as we drove through a car wash to get some of the nasty salt-dirt off of the black car. I’m not sure exactly what reminded me, unless it was when the big whirly flappy things started spinning. That’s when Chase shot out of the back of the SUV like a golden rocket, crawled on top of my head, scrabbled his little claws all over my shoulders, and slobbered and panted hysterically.

Note to self: Don’t take your dog through the car wash if he’s scared of thunderstorms.

This is because, apparently, the big pounding slaps and slashing waves of water sound remarkably like … a thunderstorm.

I am, officially, the world’s worst parent. I make Joan Crawford look like Mother Teresa. I make those wackos who pretended their kid was trapped in the runaway hot-air balloon look like geniuses (even if F16s weren’t launched this time).

It’s not like I could do anything about it at the time, either. I seriously thought about grabbing the hysterical pup and leaping out of the car, timing it perfectly so that we slipped unscathed through the big blue whirly things.

I think you all know how that actually would have gone.

There would have been a loud noise (my car door ripping off), a caterwauling scream of pain (me, Chase or some combination thereof), a frantic 911 call (which soon would have aired on a cut-rate cable program named “America’s Dumbest People Call 911”). And we both would have drowned, although when they found our bodies, we’d have been shiny and clean and coated with that pretty rainbow-colored foam.

Another odd thing, from my eyes, anyway: We got a coupon book in the mail the other day. You know, the ones with a bunch of 5×7 sheets of paper, all promising great deals on things like oil changes, meals at restaurants “under new management!!,” new granite countertops for just $1.12 for the entire kitchen, that kind of thing. One of them, though, was for … a funeral.

Seriously. It had little coupons outlined in dotted-line boxes, promising “direct cremation” for just $795, or a complete Veteran’s Package for just $2,995. (The former includes refrigeration, too.)

Do people really clip those coupons out and stick them in their kitchen junk drawer, on the off-chance they’ll need a funeral one day soon? I mean, my devoted friends and readers know I love a good coupon better than anyone. (And not just because it gives me something to cross-file and alphabetize.) But even I see no need to save one of these.

Maybe some people do, because the coupons don’t have an expiration date.

I did find out, though, through this lovely marketing opportunity that the loss of a loved one is never an easy time, and that XXX Funeral Home is here to help me through this difficult process with simple, affordable funeral care. And that the funeral home understands the need for quality service and attention to detail at a value price.

Good to know.

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I suspect the sunspots

The world of Dallas continues its uniqueness, starting with the weather, I guess. From our -17 wind chill last week to our 84-degree days now, what a rollercoaster. To someone who’s grown up in Louisiana, those kind of changes mean tornadoes and nasty thunderstorms. But we haven’t even had any rain.

Right now, the wind is howling through the night like the Furies, banging our fence around and sending all kinds of small, lightweight things whipping around the back yard, like the grill and the tile table and the 100-foot hose and the lawnmower and the solid iron umbrella holder. It’s been like that for the past few nights. I imagine it is, even now, moving more of our neighbors’ leaves right back down to our yard, where they stop, unpack, move in and hang out. (What do leaves dream of, when they take a little leafy nap? Shout-out to the wolfpack.)

The warmth’s been great, though. We’ve walked Chase in T-shirts and done some outside errands, like swab the garage floor to get out the greasy, dirty, salty melt stains from where the road snot died its slow and slushy death. Our hearts remain with the family of I.C. Clump, and his daughters Lil Clump and Imma Clump Tew. We believe it could be as long as a year or so before we see the relatives again.

I was sitting at a red light waiting to turn left the other night when something odd caught my eye. There was a guy standing on the curb, waiting to cross the street. It wouldn’t have been odd at all, except that he was carrying a huge, white swan. Yep. The bird’s three-foot torso was just clutched right up against his body, and the guy (I’ll call him Benno) was squeezing it desperately with both arms.

Because the stoplight is so long, I have time to wonder a bit. I think the swan is dead, because it’s so still. I think, “Man, that big of a bird must be heavy.” I wonder why Benno’s carrying a heavy dead bird anyway — why not just leave him where he found him? Then I think Benno must’ve injured him in some way — hit him with his car? Popped him with a flying golf disc? A boomerang? Forced him to listen to the American Idol auditions or three minutes of politics? Any of those terrible things could’ve knocked that big white bird right into a coma.

I decide the decent thing to do is to offer him (them) a ride, maybe to an emergency vet. So I step out of  my car just as the guy starts to cross the street. “Hey!” I yell. “Do you need some help?” Right then, the swan realizes he’s being carried across a busy intersection by Benno, right in front of impatient drivers and a tiny shouting woman.

So the swan begins to swing its feet, which previously were dangling quietly down near Benno’s knees, and making a keening noise. And it arches its long, beautiful neck, moving it back and forth over Benno’s head. I was sure there was an ear amputation coming any second.

Fascinated as I was by all of this, I did see our long-awaited light turn green. Uh, oh. Benno and the Swan were still in the middle of the road, Benno talking those little choppy steps you take when you’re overloaded with a massive, live, unhappy swan.

At the exact same second that the light turned green, a bossy dude in a big, big truck behind me laid on his horn. Apparently, since I was standing with one leg outside of my car on the icy road, he realized I might not be able to proceed into my left-hand turn at top speed. It wasn’t a polite tap, or even a “quick, beep-beep, sorry, you might not realize the light’s changed” number. It was, well, just downright rude.

So I turn around to the guy, holding out my arms, and I yell at him, “Can you just give me a break here? I mean, THE GUY’S GOT A SWAN!”

I realized, at that very second, a deep certainty that my life will end before I ever get the chance to run with that baby again. I imagine I’ll yell a lot of things at people in the future — heck, this week at work’s a good chance — but probably not those exact words.

By the time I looped around and came back to Benno and his Swan, they had moved down toward a small pond by the senior center. I like to think Benno found the lovely Swan after it somehow wandered off on a great krill hunt or something, and he decided to do the right thing: snag the swan and carry him a half-mile to the pond, where today he was swimming and eating fish and enjoying the warm weather.

If Benno instead took him home and fired up his grill, I don’t want to know about it.

I do have many friends who find my story a bit too strange even for me, a creative writer. They scoff at the blurry camera-phone photo I took, just because the flash mainly reflected my windshield and only offers a smeary little glimpse of a somewhat swan-shaped thing in a guy’s arms. No, it wasn’t the Loch Ness Monster! No, it wasn’t a pillow. No, it wasn’t a pinata. No, it wasn’t en route to the back door of the nearby Chinese restaurant. You’re just jealous that YOU didn’t get to see a guy carrying a swan through a busy Dallas intersection.

On to the next chapter of our search for great Dallas restaurants! Unfortunately, it’s been a rough gustatory stretch… Had a stultifyingly bad dinner at a place we’ve been saving for a special night, because it was always busy and we’d heard so much about it: Truluck’s, a famous stone crab and steakhouse place. We got there early enough for half-priced happy hour, and all was well until I made the mistake of telling our waiter that I wanted another drink, about 14 minutes before happy hour ended. This thereby guaranteed that we didn’t see him for anothr 23 minutes, at which time he regretfully informed me that it was too late for the half-priced drinks. Hmmm.

Then out came our meals. The garlic mashed potatoes would have more properly been named Mashed Garlic with a Smidge of Potatoes Waved Over It. D’s crab claws were served cold, which is their style, I guess, but it made them pretty bland. The worst travesty was their “gumbo.” Now, I know gumbo. They stitch the recipe for it inside the head of each baby born in Louisiana before they leave the nursery. And this gumbo was bad. I get it — it’s hard to throw away a burned roux you’ve been working on for a long time. And it’s a really fine line to get that flour to nutty brown perfection without scorching it. But god bless ’em, when you miss it, you’ve simply got to do the right thing, and toss that stuff into the sink.

What you can’t do it serve a bowl of dark brown, scorchy, burned and bitter soup and call it “special.” Bleeech. Someone rented out the entire Truluck’s restaurant for a Super Bowl party earlier this month, so a lot of folks must like it. Not for us, though. Although they did have a lovely chocolate cake. I love me some cake.

We also had a really average meal at an allegedly Cajun place called Razzoo’s, en route to Cirque du Soleil’s “Ovo.” Lots and lots of food for the money, but unfortunately, it all tasted the same: bland. Definitely not as good as Dodie’s or Shuck ‘N Jive, and a world away from Fish City Grill’s gumbo and red beans. (Oh, BTW, we loved Ovo. Highly recommend it. Plus I really loved the big red truck in the parking lot… The headlights were higher than my head. It was huge. The sun revolved around it. It was so big it affected the tides.)

Had high hopes for Kenny’s Italian Kitchen. Went there with a couple of friends. The food was — large. Big, large plates, covered in sauce and cheese. I had baked ziti, which couldn’t quite figure out what it was supposed to be: red sauce, and white sauce, and baked, but kind of not… But it was large. Really large.

We have found a great little Italian place, though, a bistro called Penne Pomodoro. They even have a gluten-free pasta that you can’t tell is gluten-free. Their red sauce is fab, and they have a lovely Reisling by the glass, my fave. Go, run, try it.

More things we’re loving about Dallas as time goes on: beautiful sunsets (see today’s at right), lots of those aforementioned restaurants to try, a plethora of things to do (if we just had time to do them), jobs that keep us busy and fulfilled (sometimes a little too busy and a little too fulfilled), warm new friends. Things still difficult to adjust to: missing our loved ones

and their various birthday celebrations and other big moments, the fact that a couple of friends are living out their last few months and we’re not close by. Sigh.

But life goes on, as it always does. And we continue to adjust.

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