Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Just a Drop in the Bucket

I created a Classic Novel Bucket List for myself a while back.  You're only assigned a handful of books in school and for some people that's all they need in the way of classic novels...or even books as a whole.
But, for me, I wanted to expand my mind a little and find out what makes a classic a classic.
After I made my list, I decided to share it with patrons at work so I added other classic novels that I had read as well as the ones I wanted to read and I made bookmarks for people to take with them to check off the books they've read and check off the books as they read them.

I've mentioned it on twitter a time or two and people have expressed some interest so I'm sharing it here; my own private Classic Novel Bucket List!

Faust:  First Part by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke
Siddartha by Hermann Hesse
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
The Illiad by Homer
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Hunger by Knut Hamsun
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray
The Pearl by John Steinbeck
Catch -22 by Joseph Heller
Dubliners by James Joyce
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
The Collector by John Fowles
The Master and the Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Passage to India by EM Forster
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Art of War by Sun Tzu
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier
A Room With a View by EM Forster
My Antonia by Willa Cather
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett
The Forsythe Saga by John Galsworthy
3 by Flannery O'Connor
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Bielski Brothers by Peter Duffy
Cousin Bette by Honore Balzac
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Sophie's Choice by Richard Styron
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017...You Bastard.

It started years ago with my Golden Cousin's yearly newsletter about her Golden Family and their Golden Adventures.
She made sure to send it to the Poor Relations in Texas either to share her life with us or to rub our noses in it.  Not sure which one...

I drank some wine while reading it and decided that my version of a yearly newsletter would sound really different and boy, did it!
Most of the time my newsletters are filled with alcohol-fueled mistakes and #TotalDeMoves and a very imperfect life.

Not long after I posted my 2016 letter, my mother became gravely ill and we almost lost her.  The first few months of the new year was spent helping her get her strength back and getting her back into her life.
My entire perspective on life shifted.  I realized, TRULY realized, that my days with my mother were numbered.  We all know in the back of our minds that we will have to deal with the death of a parent at some point but it's always so far in the future that it doesn't seem real. 
Suddenly, it was shoved in my face and I needed to make sure that my last years with my mother were meaningful.  

2017 found me turning down a lot of invitations from friends.  I pray to Jeebus that they don't stop inviting me because one day I'll accept invitations again.  I miss my friends!

I was able to throw my annual birthday party, however...and it was interesting.  Somehow, at the end of the night, I found myself throwing my body in between an angry redhead and a drunken loudmouth.  My beautiful ginger friend was going to kick some ass that night and at times I think I should have let her just to see how it turned out but the peacemaker inside of me took over and separated everyone.
It was a night we'll never forget!
I am always grateful for my friends who come to celebrate my birthday with me.  I am so very fortunate.

2017 sucked for so many people I know.  Hurricane Harvey was surreal.  It was hard to believe what was happening to my community.  The fear of sitting home through a hurricane, waiting for the worst to happen is bad enough but the worst DID happened to so many people.
I got lucky.  We were surrounded by rainwater pumps working 24/7.  There was street flooding but most of us in town were spared.
The images of people being rescued from their flooded homes with only a few bags and their pets is something I will never forget.
Then we had Irma and Maria to watch as it devastated another part of the country and horrible fires on the other side, as well.  Damn, 2017, you were brutal.

Soooo...let's see...I feel like I'm forgetting something...something to do with the Astros...hmmm....
what could it be....
Oh well...I'm sure I'll think of it.  In the meantime...WE GOT VERLANDER!  Holy crap, Verlander is an Astro! I never believed it would happen.  I come from the land of the 2011-2013 Astros so I am just waiting for something really bad to happen.  It never occurred to me that we could land someone like Justin Verlander!
The other amazing thing is that the day Justin landed in Houston and put on the Astros uniform for the first time, Greis and I got pictures with him.  We were like every annoying internet commenter when we yelled "FIRST!" afterward.  It is a fact that we were the first fans to get pictures with Verlander wearing an Astros uni! This will go on my headstone, ok?

Oh c'mon...did you really think that I'd forget that the ASTROS ARE THE WORLD CHAMPIONS???
Chances are if you're reading this, you're an Astros fan so you already know the heart-bursting happiness I feel.  You already know how anxious I felt during Game 5.  You already know how I cried at the end of Game 7 and during the parade and watching the videos on FB and when George Springer won WS MVP and when Altuve won AL MVP and and many tears and happiness.  I'm honestly still pinching myself.

Like last year and the year before, I've picked a word to guide me through the new year and for 2018 my word is Courage.
I need Courage to face what 2018 has in store for me.  I need Courage to become a better person, a better friend, a better citizen of the world.
I need Courage to change the way I'm living my life and Courage to be myself.
The word Courage reminds me of the Cowardly Lion from Wizard of Oz but whatever, I'll need Courage to get past that too, I guess!

Shortly before Christmas, my mother had a heart procedure and complications from that caused several things to happen which landed her in the ER, ICU, back home and back to the ER via ambulance a few days later.
When we had to call the ambulance, I thought that was the day I was going to lose my mother.  You're never prepared.
But she rallied.  They implanted a pacemaker/defibrillator after that and 3 days later (while still in the hospital), her heart stopped and she died for about 1 second.  That brand new defibrillator, hidden away under her skin, delivered a shock to her heart that got it started again and she woke up to my terrified screams.  When things calmed down a little, she said "I went somewhere and then I came back."
She didn't say that she passed out.  She didn't say that she went to sleep.  She said "I went somewhere."
Look, I don't know what to believe when it comes to the afterlife but sometimes life is so freaking awful that you have to have faith that something better comes next or it would be nearly impossible to stomach the awfulness, right?

As of writing this, my mother is home and slowly getting her strength back and planning on playing cards with her friends on New Years Eve.  Now, isn't that a miracle?

So, 2017 has been a total bastard but I still have my mother, my friends, Dashiell and the things I love all around me so it wasn't a complete loss.

Happy New Year, suckers!

Friday, September 8, 2017

How To Be Decent

*I'm adding things as I think of them so this is essentially a work in progress*
How to be a decent person:
To me, being a decent person isn't that hard. Sometimes I struggle and I always feel the need to try to be better all the time.  I fail often but I keep trying.  And the more I deal with people, the more I see the absolute NEED for people to be better.  We all need to be better are some of my ideas to be a decent person.

Stop thinking about yourself so much.  Stop thinking about how YOU feel, what YOU think or how something someone else does affects YOU.
Instead, focus on others from time to time.  Think about how your words and actions affect others.
Ask people about themselves and then LISTEN.
Follow up on friends who are having a bad time.

Share in someone else's joy.  Maybe it's not your cup of tea but if someone is excited about something or has a passion for something, be happy for them and share their joy.  You don't have to understand it.  IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU.

Say thank you...and mean it.  When someone goes out of their way...even in the smallest way...appreciation for their gesture, for their time, for their very thought of you, is extremely important.  It's not a weakness to receive help, it's not a weakness to ask for it but it's a giant flaw to not show appreciation for it.

Know your audience.  Your sense of humor may not be for everyone.  Your bawdy language may be cool around your peers but your grandma may not be so happy about it and the older lady in line behind you may not find it funny.  Have some respect not only for yourself but for the people you're near.

Keep work professional.  Your coworkers may be friendly but they're not always your friend.  If you keep a professional, yet helpful and friendly demeanor, you just might inspire others to do the same and work could become a less stressful situation.

Find your own happiness.  Don't look to others to make you happy...only you can do that.  Get to know yourself.  Find hobbies or projects that make you feel whole.

Learn to appreciate your blessings.  You may not have everything you want, but chances are you have everything you need.
Having goals and a plan for the future is a great idea but try to find peace with what you have while you work toward your goal.

Stop expecting everyone to adjust to you.
If you have communication issues with multiple people, look at the common denominator:  YOU.
You can't control how another person reacts to you unless you're thinking about how you react to them.  No one needs to cater to your bad day so don't take your frustrations out on others.

Be patient. If you're struggling, having a bad day or going through something, the person in front of you might be as well. Show a little compassion and patience.

Keep learning.  Be curious and interested and read something other than gossip blogs and watch something more than reality TV.  If you're interested, you'll become more interesting.

Most importantly...
Life is just a little brighter when you offer yourself to the service of others.
However, it's important to create a balance of taking care of others and taking care of yourself.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

An Except from @HouCounterplot’s upcoming book..."

I held the oxygen mask in my right hand and ran my thumb and forefinger along its elastic band. The band was brittle from years of neglect. My death would be quick.

And hopefully painless.

I thought about praying. I thought about reflecting on my life—the good, the bad, the regrets.

…the women.

I sat. Stoically. Quietly. Calmly. 

The bottom had fallen out. The plane was careening towards my death. I peeked out of the window and saw a trail of thick black smoke chasing me. People began screaming. The plane was careening towards their deaths as well. Guttural moans. Horror.Panic took over the entire cabin.

But, yet, I sat. Stoically. Quietly. Calmly. 

I am unafraid to die. 

I thought about the night before. Her scent remained. I could taste her. I thought of her body; she was a goddess. I prayed at her alter. I baptized myself in her being. We were Gods. We were powerful. And now? Mortal. Imminently mortal. I am dying. I will die. 

…in moments.

A young mother held her baby. An older couple held onto each other. I continued to run my thumb and forefinger along the brittle elastic band of my oxygen mask. I waited for death.


And then I woke up in a hospital bed. I rubbed my eyes. My body ached.

“What’s today?”

“You’re a very lucky man, Mr…?”


“Mr. Altuve.”

My nurse was beautiful. She was cut right out of a magazine. She was wearing a short skirt and a blouse that showcased her large supple breasts. 

“I’m going to take really good care of you, Mr. Altuve.”

(If you enjoyed this, please preorder Fifty Shades of Altuve at your local Barnes & Noble retailer. Out this Valentine’s Day.)

Friday, December 16, 2016

Welcome to the Apocalypse...or The Year that was 2016

This is the time of year I write my Christmas newsletter.  It started because I have a perfectly nice cousin who has a PERFECTLY nice family and a PERFECTLY nice life would send out her family's yearly newsletter outlining how PERFECTLY nice their year was.
They donated to charity and their kid befriended the one black kid at their school, went skiing, paid for someone's drink in the line behind them at know...amazing things.
So, I wanted to do my own version of a Christmas newsletter to show how PERFECTLY messed up I was in comparison.

But 2016 has been very special and the one thing I'd really like to say about it is....


I mean....really...


Is this real life?  I mean...did this year actually happen?
2016 is trying to kill us.  KILL US ALL.

2016 took Prince, man.  PRINCE.  And Bowie! WHY?
We lost Alan's just not fair!
Why did Garry Shandling have to die?
And Mrs. Brady? Alan Thicke?
I could go on and on because the list is VERY long but we can just wait for the In Memoriam at the Oscars in a couple of months.  It'll last 12 hours.

2016 gave us the most bizarre presidential election to date.  The biggest losers were the American people.  We are watching the end of times.  You can either have several drinks and watch it burn or brush up on your foreign languages.

Personally, 2016 wasn't TOO bad.  My resolution for the year wasn't about doing things or quitting was about one word:  Simplicity.
For too long I allowed things to overwhelm my life, so, I quit them.  Responsibilities that weren't dire got pushed aside, people who were making me miserable were DFA'd and I made myself stay home more. I read more, I watched more Netflix, I played with Dashiell more, I drank coffee on the patio more and I enjoyed my own company more.
I even spent 3 days at my sister's lake house with just me, a giant pile of books and my dog.  It was heavenly.  I'm pretty damn good company!

I invited a crap load of people to come out and celebrate my birthday in June and you won't believe this but SO MANY OF THEM SHOWED UP!  I don't know why so many would come out to watch me drink to great excess & party with me but I'm not going to question it too much.  I'm just going to be grateful for their friendship and try to be a better friend to them.

2016 tried to kill me with alcohol because on my birthday, I threw up from too much of it for the first time since I was 19.  I know! I can't believe it, either!
It turns out that when really amazing friends (Nicole & Kim) leave $40 worth of bagels & Motrin by your bed when you pass out, you don't have a giant hangover the next morning.
My friends took such good care of me that night and I will always be thankful.

On a personal level, it turns out that when you simplify your life and reduce the drama, things aren't so bad.  Maybe I'm getting mellow in my old age or maybe I've just finally realized how to fucking live my life!
But here is my advice to you:  make a list of all the things that bring you drama and stress you out.  Get rid of the things you can get rid of and lessen your involvement in the things that must stay.

But even if 2016 wasn't so bad for me, I worry about this world we live in.  Terrible things are happening but we're more concerned about getting our brows on fleek or keep up with the new horrible thing on reality TV or contouring according to YouTube videos than about what's happening in our world.  When people weren't paying attention, bad things happened and none of us know how to fix it.
Now, don't get me wrong...I believe we all should find things that make us happy and make our lives a little less grey.  Life is short so we MUST find those pockets of peace and happiness but we also must balance our personal enjoyment with things that make the world a better place....
and that segue was AWESOME because it brings me to my word of 2017:


We've got to do something to balance the good and bad in the world.  We have to balance our lives and our relationships.  We have to try at least, right?

I spoke to the awesome Mel Vega about actually DOING something.  Because we weren't doing something and suddenly we're dealing with 4 years of fear and uncertainty so maybe we can't do anything about THAT but we can do our part.  We can help fund things that are in a precarious position, we can help the under-served in some capacity...we can DO something.  I want to do something! If you're interested, sign up for Mel's newsletter and maybe we can come up with some ideas.  We must make 2017 better!

So there you have life isn't perfect.  I'm still trying to stay off carbs but my GOD...french fries and Little Debbie snack cakes are just so good.
I still find myself spending way too much money and not saving enough.
I lost some friends this year that I miss so dearly.  Sometimes I dream about them and feel their loss all over again.
I adopted a kitten that was badly in need of a home and the first 2 days I thought he was perfect and now I'm thinking that he was just buttering me up for the inevitable kitten-monster phase that I'm hoping he grows out of quickly! In the meantime, I'm buying stock in neosporin and bandaids.
I'm still waiting until I'm down to the worst pair of underwear I own to do laundry.  I often find myself playing "What's that smell?" coming from my refrigerator because I tend to leave things in there a while.
I haven't bought new clothes in years because...what's the point? They're all going to be black anyway.  I only bought new walking shoes recently because mine had holes in the soles and I might as well have gone barefoot while walking Dash.
So yeah....some things haven't changed in 2016, I'm still me...just an older version.

Happy Holidays n shit!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

All Things Must End, But Mostly Years

 Every year my golden cousin writes a Christmas newsletter filling us all in on her amazing life with her amazing husband and children.  This year there were trips to Hawaii, hiking, lounging by the pool with girlfriends, wine, scuba diving and the incredible accomplishments of her golden offspring.
 I usually have to drink heavily prior to reading it which leads to my own version of a Christmas newsletter.
 The only problem is I don't have a perfect family, trips to exotic locales or any money.
 I spent New Year's eve at home but I didn't mind because I didn't want to leave my little Piper who died two days later.
 After that the whole year seems to be a blur so I used my Instagram account to refresh my memory and obviously I have a possibly unhealthy attachment to my dog, and an obsession with notebooks, paper and pens. I made an extremely questionable decision involving bangs and I did that sober!
 However there were plenty of things I didn't do sober… Like my birthday. I celebrated with so many awesome friends. I don't know why they all like me but I don't care...they bought me vodka. I only have a vague memory of returning to my hotel room that night. I'm so lucky I have such good friends that take care of me and stop me from doing things like telling a scary looking lady holding her stilettos in her hand on Main and Texas at 2 am that I liked her weave.
 According to Instagram I ate a lot of sushi, drank a lot of coffee, went to a lot of Astros games and took a lot of awkward selfies.
 In 2015 I got tattooed again, tested for every G.I. abnormality under the sun, scheduled a surgery then canceled.
 I learned that if I needed a place to stay after surgery no one in my family would offer to have me. I also learned that the friends you choose can become your real family, that dogs are the best therapists but can't prescribe meds, that if you quit gluten and carbs your friends will get so sick of hearing about it, that I paint pretty well when I've had lots of wine, that driving a new car is pretty cool but BUYING a new car makes me want to vomit and crying at the dealership gets you a nice discount.
 I would like to say that previous years I learned that bottomless mimosas are a bad idea but I did it again at a birthday brunch and ended up spending a Sunday afternoon wasted in downtown Houston, giving uneaten gyros to homeless guys.
 Aside from my awkward moments and embarrassing memories, I spent a lot of quality time with my friends, my dog, my mom and my books.
I don't have a fine house, fancy cars, perfect children or money to burn but 2015 wasn't so bad – I lived.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Many Themes of 2014

It’s the time of year again where we take a look back and wonder where it all went wrong.
Some people take this time to send out newsletters to let everyone know how perfect their lives are and  I would love to do that but I don’t live in a world of make-believe or fantasy.  I live in a world of booze, hard truth and a bit of levity.

2014 started out with a fabulous dinner with some fabulous ladies and I was home in time to kiss my dog at midnight.  This became my theme of the year.  Suddenly, in 2014, I couldn't wait to get home.

The beginning of the year saw a character actor give me his phone number in a Vine comment and some strange, flirty texting followed briefly.  Sometimes, I’m too impulsive for my own good.  My 80k tweets speak to this fact.

Another theme for the year was similar to last year; friends.
I spent lots of time with friends at places like Reserve 101, Warren’s Inn and Molly’s Pub.  Also, it seems alcohol is a theme here, too but who likes to drink alone?  Especially when I’m pretending to be Pat Benatar & Gladys Knight (complete with my own Pip, Alyson) at a spontaneous night of karaoke at Molly’s Pub. 
This followed another successful FanFest at MMP where I asked the GM of the Astros what he had been up to during the off-season and he shrugged and said “Not much.  Just hanging out.”

Baseball!  There is another theme for 2014! Baseball and friends?  Who could ask for more?  I spent the summer traveling to Minute Maid Park to watch the Astros continue to improve so I can say “I was there!” when they finally get to the World Series!  Who doesn't love a day at Minute Maid Park?  Fist-bumping ball club presidents, hugging your favorite usher, screaming for your favorite beer vendor, eating GIANT salads or Korean waffle fries, smuggling vodka in your cleavage, dodging those people who want to give you a "free" Astros towel, weaseling your way upstairs to the Club Level merely to get the “good” potato salad, signing up to be a designated driver for a free soda, taking #selfieswithroy, meeting people you only knew from Twitter, oh! And watching a baseball game!

In 2014, I finally decided to join the modern world and I got internet at home.  Some people say cable TV is next but hold on there, cowboy…don’t get crazy.  I might be a luddite at home but at work I’m an IT wiz!  This year I solved a huge problem that not only helped me at work but in libraries all over the state of Texas and I got zero credit for it because I couldn't figure out how to tell people without sounding like an obnoxious blow-hard.  Maybe I’ll become one in 2015!  Fingers crossed!

Speaking of obnoxious blow-hards…I learned a valuable lesson about friendship and loyalty this year.  I learned that friendship, loyalty and common decency mean nothing to some people.  I am naive enough to be surprised that grown women behave like they’re still in junior high but I’m mostly happy that I’m not accustomed to terrible people doing terrible things.

Books became my refuge this year, even more so than before.  I joined a book club that included exactly ONE other person and we argued over what to read as if we were a group of drunken women and not a grown man and woman.
Reading is a lonely and solitary exercise that is sometimes made better with a partner.  It was cool finding a reading buddy this year.
I bought far too many books in 2014.  I am afraid that one day I will go missing and my body will be found under a pile of toppled books in my house.  I guess there are worse ways to go!

2014 certainly wasn't perfect.  I came dangerously close to losing a good friend but we held on with both hands for as long as we could until we made things right again.
November was a terrible month that saw the death of my 15 yr old cat, Hemingway, car trouble, the flu, and a bad rollover car wreck in Nicole’s brand new Escape.  But we were lucky it was a brand new car with good airbags and a sturdy frame because we were pulled from the sunroof with only bumps and bruises.
I could think about all the things that have bothered me since getting into a car accident…like I’m a little nervous when I drive at night or I now think that anything bad can happen, anytime, anywhere, before you even know it.
But I choose to think about all the people who stopped and came to our aid the second the accident happened.  I just remember the sound of multiple impacts, metal tearing and car horns.  Then total silence.  I lay there, on my side, wondering what was going to happen now but before the fear could set in, I heard voices; voices of people coming to help.  And help they did.  I don’t remember their faces and I didn't get names but I think I thanked them.  I hope I thanked them. 

I’m afraid this time next year, I will be writing about the loss of my 15 yr old dog Piper.  However, each time I think she’s near death, I start feeding her cheeseburgers from McDonald’s and she perks right up.
I’m not sure how much longer I can keep her alive on fast food but hell; I've survived on it for 42 years!

In conclusion, 2014 has had many themes and for this I am grateful.  Life should be a variety of fun, crazy shit.  Life should be full of surprises because sometimes it's fun not knowing what’s coming around the bend.

Note to 2015: please don’t take me too seriously.  I’d like a lot of peace to balance out those surprises!