Around the State in 40 Meals

In one of his rare, lucid moments, my father said to me as I walked out the door one night, "Don't go slummin' . " In spite of the fact that he spent 75% of his time painting in my parents' garage (yes, his hobby was being a painter, he was not painting the garage, but rather, painting pictures - landscapes mostly, in his garage) , he somehow knew just exactly what my high school buddies and I were up to.

While other kids in the 70's and 80's went to the mall and discovered Orange Julius and T.G.I. Fridays, or went the complete opposite direction, culturally, and simply had to find and hang at the latest cool "in " spot in town.......my friends and I did neither. In that very typical of bored middle class suburban teen thing, we decided that we simply had to hang out downtown, and the seedier looking the place, the better. (This, I must note, was years before the movie "Diner" came out.)

Of course, we had our own criteria. Sometimes it was that the food really was great. Sometimes we collected funny looking waiters or clientele. Sometimes, being able to play bizarre combinations of songs on the world's most eclectic jukebox was the draw. Chain restaurants with lots of "flair" and noise were a definite no-no.

I have since used my collection of favorite "joints " in Texas as a personal litmus test of new acquaintances. I will take a new friend to a particularly beloved, unusual spot. If he or she doesn't "get it", love it.....well.......what was it I liked about that person, again ? I have actually had two "friends" fail this test. Against my better judgement, I kept each on the ole' friendship retainer for awhile, sort of warily, on a trail basis. Much later down the friendship road, my litmus test proved to be useful , for the friend in question did something heinous and had to be dropped. If only I'd followed my instincts......

Here's my personal list of best funky unique spots in Texas ( please feel free to send me recs , if I've missed any). This is not the "fine dining " list, that's another post :


The Stoneleigh P
Bar with food in funky old building, originally built in a 1930's-ish pharmacy. Burned down but re-built as close as possible to original due to huge fan base. World's best eclectic jukebox. Eclectic crowds too. Has huge magazine collection for sale, will let you sit and read forever if you order something. If a person professes to be from Dallas, but has never heard of the "P".....beware. I spent countless evenings here, hanging out with all my buddies in h.s. and college . It is my personal litmus test for any new acquaintance. I take them here, if they don't like it; out they go.

S & D Oyster Co
New Orleans style old fashioned seafood restaurant, calm and full of old style southern charm( as opposed to frenetically hyper and franchised ) .My bffs and I used to go there not only b/c the food was wonderful, but b/c we loved to observe, discreetly of course, the ferociously crusty old waiters.

Strictly Tabu
This was a 40's style live jazz bar with pink flamingo art deco decor. Sadly, it exists only now in the hearts and memories of its former clientele. I still run into folks, once in awhile, who knew this spot. It's always a good sign. Wish I still had my t-shirt from there, from back in the day.

Campisi's Egyptian
Is really a pizza place, no one knows why "Egyptian" is in the name. Some rumored mob connections, long time ago, still no explanation for the "Egyptian" thing. Famous for a square shaped pizza with everything on it. Back in the day, they never carded and we knew we teens could drink here. Once you went there often enough, you observed an unobtrusive side door where you could come/ go and thus avoid the long long line out front.

Originally a small butcher shop and German grocery store near SMU, I remember as a child being taken here by my father and ordering a sandwich to go. Now the restaurant is half their space and crowded all the time. The smell, when you first walk in the door , is to die for. Coffee+meat+pastry+ cigarettes......mmmmmm.

Original Herrera's
Was profiled in a 1974 issue of "National Geographic", for goodness' sake. It was a small pinkish building that looked vaguely like the Alamo. You had to stand in line forever, b/c it only had 4 tables. You had to walk through the kitchen to get to the tables. Now that building is something else, and the family restaurant lives on in several other locations. When my eldest was a baby, we used to take him to the large one, the one we call " the grocery store" ( b/c it is in a former groc store, and huge), so his messes and screams disturbed as few people as possible.) As another example of the famous eating litmus test, I recently took this same son and his gf (read "Twoo Luv" ) to the branch of this restaurant I call " the Dennys" (built in a former Dennys or Kip's Big Boy bldg) ....to check out her reaction. Guess what ? She'd already eaten there a lot, and loved it ! She passed the test !

The food is great but none of the current locations is satisfyingly weird. This is THE PLACE that I go when I need a Tex-Mex "fix". No one else makes enchiladas the way I like them. (The old location of El Fenix is a close second. Downtown only.) Lots of warm fuzzies for this restaurant; when I was going through my divorce, my friends took me to the Maple Ave location repeatedly for emotional bucking up. It reminded me of who I was .....I was just at the location in Lewisville, and they had it all decked out for Christmas - Feliz Navidad style. I do so love Texas.

Cindy's Pancake House
Sort of a coffee shop, where my my bf Nathan used to take me to eat breakfast after we had spent the entire night making out in the back of one of his car. Maybe I'd just worked up an appetite, who knows, but that many 80 year olds with walkers can't be wrong. Soon, I'll be one of them.......

Same as Cindy's, only with bagels instead of pancakes.

the 8.0 bar
The one cool , hip place on the list. I tended to shun it on weekend nights, when it was crowded, but once spent a very memorable rainy Saturday afternoon there with Mark, watching the rain fall on the glass roof and listening to strange whale-calling new age type music. Hard to separate the moment from the location. I drove by it recently, to see if it was still there, and it wasn't. Sad.

la Madeleine
Now it's a chain, but it originated in Dallas. Sure it's a cliche, but it's also comfort food .

I realize all these spots are oldies.....I haven't lived there since 1992 . Sure, there are some new ones I'm missing out on - let me know.

Goode Co. BBQ
"You might give some serious thought to thanking your lucky stars you are in Texas". Some of the best BBQ I've ever had , esp the sauce , ( home made, raw and chunky ) also great pecan pie served up in roadhouse tin roofed shack atmosphere. You can smell that meat cooking for miles away.

Goode C. Burgers and Taqueria, aka Good Co. Mexican
There are other, newer Goode Co's, too , a seafood one that isn't bad. But the BBQ is the original, and my fave, and the Mex is 2nd, and my next fave. Really good raw fresh salsa that is garlicky , awesome handmade flour tortillas. Not a good place for old style Tex-Mex, ( enchiladas) this is more the newer, fajitas type Tex Mex. Burgers so-so. Really nice outdoor patio.

The closest thing I ever found, in 12 years of living in Houston, to a Herrera's or Ojedas old style (enchiladas) Tex-Mex. (Everything in the Houston area so heavily influenced by Ninfas , which became so over-hyped it became a self-parody, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise , Nifa-ritas taste like lime flavored nail polish remover). Doneraki's is located in a satisfyingly old run down Hispanic part of town, north on I-45 , and seems to be located in a former Dairy Queen that just kept adding on and closing in various porches. Has Christmas lights and way too loud mariachi band, every single night of the year. Food is great - just don't smile at and encourage the mariachi players, or they will blare their trumpets right in your ears all night, and you will go home deaf.

Was an old Jewish style deli/coffee shop where we college kids loved to eat breakfast on Sunday mornings while reading the NYT . SusanFaye, David and I hung out there a good bit. They had something called "kosher bacon" that was really tasty. Sadly, they went out of business or lost their lease when "the village " ( shops near Rice) yuppified in the late 80's. I heard a rumor once that there was an Alfred's doppelganger, somewhere in south Houston.....if it ever appears, through the mists like Brigadoon, let me know.

Marfraless, aka the place with no name
There was once a bar with no name, no posted sign, nothing. You had to be brought there by someone to know where it was, like a speakeasy back in the 1920's. (I seem to recall it was sort of behind B-P's, but not connected.) It was just an unmarked door behind a building. Inside was a really great bar and restaurant. It was always full and busy and had a great smokey comfortable dark ambiance. I once was in a booth, making out with Jay, when in walked Robert, who was supposedly my bf at the time. Fortunately, it was so dark in there, I managed to escape before being seen.

Birra Poretti's aka B-P's
"One heck of an Irish bar, one great Italian restaurant".In spite of this corny slogan, the food was actually pretty good, (esp liked the crab and cheese stuffed mushroom caps) and the Irish bar part meant you could order anything and they had it. ( We used to get Irish coffees as a sure fire cure for the cramps.) It was a big collegiate hang-out, and I once went there in my pajamas on a dare. One summer, I lived in Houston, and shared a ratty apt with gf's Viv and Spud, which had a/c, but we were too cheap to pay for it. We used to go to B-P's, instead, every night and order summertime drinks like Mai Tai's and nurse them all night long, absorbing their a/c.

House of Pies , aka "House of Guys"
A traditional 60's style coffee shop, famous for 100's of kinds of pies, all made on premises, and also for eccentric gay late night crowd ( waiters and customers). I really liked all the food they made, traditional diner fare, and it was cheap and quick. Still has tacky 60's diner decor, oddly, which is exact match for The Frontier , in Albuquerque, another fave. My senior year of college, I ate here about once a day with bf Chip. I've visited it each time I've been to Houston since, and it still is pretty good food. Better than your avg Denny's.

Wonderful Cajun fare - gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, etouffe, po' boys. I first discovered the location held in an old downtown church courtyard, then other ones around town. Now it has a branch in Dallas, too.

Vietnamese place # 1
I used to eat a lot of Vietnamese food in Houston, which I have missed since I moved away. My fave place, my "local" had a name that was written in Vietnamese and not translatable for English alphabets. It was between West U and Bellaire and the owners knew me and my dish preferences . It was not a noodle house , just an all-round little mom and pop family owned hole in the wall and I loved it. I came back looking for it recently and it was not there any more. There is, however, an entire district of Vietnamese restaurants , just south of downtown, and I've tried many spots down there and haven't been disappointed, yet.

Black Lab
Is a traditional English pub. A great place to go for 100's of good beers, and fish and chips. Oddly, I go there for the trifle - a dessert made here of raspberries, cake, whipped cream, kind of like strawberry shortcake. It is to die for. Trust me.

Ouisie's Table
Perfect neighborhood salad , sandwich spot for the lady who lunches.

Martini and wine bar, has a great cold duck salad and other foodie offerings. Friends Gretchen and Brett both worked there for awhile, and we all used to meet and eat there frequently in spite of that.

Mark's American Cuisine
Used to be a little hole in the wall bar, with a name like Angeline's or something , but has changed owners , now the chief draw is not just the food, but the fact that it is housed in an old church. It is a very romantic location.

Vietnamese, two locations : one downtown, one suburban west out in the Memorial area. The downtown one is fancier, more upscale, the suburban one has more offerings, and better food, in my opinion.
The Great Greek
My fave Greek restaurant in the whole world - and as hubby #1 was Greek-American, we knew them all b/c we'd eaten at them all, from LA to NYC to Knossos, Greece. The avgolemono ( lemon chicken soup) is the true test for any Greek restaurant, ( as my former f-i-l used to say), and this one had awesome avgolemeno, and many other wonderful dishes. We had our wedding rehearsal dinner here, for wedding #1, and ending up dancing "Zorba the Greek " style all night long, into the parking lot. Sadly, this restaurant - who can explain it ? it was always busy ! - exists no more.

Several BBQ joints are located all in a row in this town, they all duke it out for "best in Texas". Definitely worth a special trip , to try them all, see for your yourself. I like the one with the open fire pit when you walk in the door,which used to be called Kreuz's....till the family split and now there are 2 of them and its all confusing. My friend Bill likes to point out that the knives are chained to the table , so no one can stab anyone else ( so he thinks). I think they do it that way so no one steals them. Check it out for yourself - just don't trip and fall into the fire pit, on your way in.

My knowledge here is a little weak, as I never lived there. I'm counting on my friends to give me the scoop.

I do like this one, on Barton Springs Rd, maybe b/c it's the first one I went to. More funky than tasty, but who cares ?

Sixth Street
I once went on a road trip to Sixth Street in college with a gf, MaryEllen ; we decided on the spur of the moment to drive here from Houston, eat dinner at some Mexican restaurant on this strip, and drive back (all in one night) , even after having had several margaritas. At one point in this great adventure we got pulled over by a cop on HWY 290, b/c the gf was driving about 90 mph. Somehow she managed to talk her way out of a ticket and the cop never noticed the alcohol on her breath. Lucky us. Those were the days.

The Nighthawk
My mom always talks about eating here in the 1950's when she was in grad school at UT. Does it still exist ? Is it any good ? She liked the pies, I think. Like mother, like daughter.
San Antonio
Mi Tierra
The closest thing to a Mexican diner - it's a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a bakery. When you are finished eating you can shop at the Mercado next door. The food is great and the ambiance is not typical touristy crap but wonderful. Lots of locals eat here , too - always a good sign. Open 24/7/365.

We have a saying in my 'hood, "northside, northside".( Means, support the businesses on the northside.) Denton has a subtle divide - the southern sector is newer, yuppier, full of mega mini McMansions and chain restaurants. The northside is older, funkier, college profs, large lots, big trees, family owned mom and pops. Support the northside, so those mom and pops will stay in business.

International Food
No "s", ( as in, International Foods) ,the owners do not speak English as their first language, and are a little shaky on subject-verb agreement. Not sure if they are Pakistani or Iranian, too embarrassed to ask. (Too embarrassed to admit that I am a little rusty as to whether they are speaking Farsi , Hindi, or Urdu, etc.) This spot,with a hard to read small print sign located behind a tire store, started as a groc store, eventually added a few tables, then scrapped the groc store part and now are all tables (with a few groc). Really good Mediterranean food - the sign does not steer you wrong. Gyros are best I've had in Texas. Spanokopita, dolmades, salad, lamb dishes all hand made and cooked from scratch. The husband cooks and the wife rings you up. One of my "locals", they know my table and my order when I come in.

Cajun food in a former Pizza Hut. Best seafood ( fried shrimp, gumbo , esp) in this little town, red beans + rice, really large wonderful salads and a bread pudding to die for (I used to never like it, but they got me hooked.)

Mi Casita
Another one of our "locals", we started eating here on Fri nights, years ago when they were only open for lunch and on Fri nights, and never got out of the habit. Now they know my children by name when they come with their Uncle Bill. Tex-Mex. I don't like their enchiladas, but I like everything else. I discovered this place when we first moved here - one day saw a college kid walking down the street , eating a giant burrito. It looked really good. Asked him where he got it, this was the place.

Funky indoor/outdoor bar restaurant that will remind you of someplace in Austin. Eclectic menu, some Tex-Mex, some southern, random gourmet. Nice patio.

Sukho Thai
Used to eat here, all the time, it was a buffet near UNT advertising "99c" per item (then "$1.99 "per item, then "$2.99", etc) . Good blend of Thai and Chinese, really liked their curry. Horribly ratty hole in the wall location, uneven floors, full of scruffy college kids b/c so cheap. Kids and I used to stop by for lunch in the summers, daddy would meet us there, we'd all share stuff. Recently, it suddenly got yuppified - sort of. Prices went up , a new coat of paint, (but the floors were still uneven, walls zigzag like crazy, some rooms have no air, some have too much), the buffet went away and now you have to order off a menu, prices went up, quality/quantity went down. Don't like the changes.

Thai Ocha
Current favorite, our neighborhood gang eats here frequently. Food is really good and you can bring your own booze. Pleasant ambiance.
Neighborhood Italian and pizza joint. Their Italian dishes are ok, but I really like the pizza. Closest thing to Napolitan pizza around - really fresh sauce, the best pie is just simple cheese. I absolutely loathe chain store pizzas, with sauce that tastes like too much bitter tomato paste. Also lets you bring your own booze, and needs to get a cappuccino machine ! (To go with their fairly decent tiramisu.)
Taco Lady
Wonderful hole-in-the-wall real Mexican ( not Tex-Mex) taco shop. Only open for lunch. The best is the barbacoa on a soft corn tortilla. Located behind a washateria, you gotta know where this place is, to find it.

The Loop Hole
Great bar , with beers and bar food. We go there for St Patty's.

Wine Safari,Banter
Wonderful, funky little wine bars near the Denton square. In a role reversal of most dry places, they let you bring your own food.

Jupiter House
Really great coffee bar, makes Starbucks taste burnt and bitter. Free wi-fi,open 24-7. Pastries from Ravelin's.

A wonderful boutique French bakery - used to be on the north side of that imaginary dividing line ( past which I rarely go) , aka the Denton square. Recently re-located a few blocks south of it. I fought it, fought it , for a year or so, but must - can feel it pulling me - must - go- across - that - line, to get pastries, cakes, artisanal breads, cookies, tarts, croissants, etc.

Burger joint and bar, good food. Too smokey.

New York Subway
Independent little sub shop, authentic subs. Not that OTHER subway. This one gives you lots of meat, and a #20, short, all the way, is a potent cure for a hangover. (Maybe with a bloody mary.)

China Garden
Has a buffet, and also delivers. When the kids were little and I was tired from work, delivery was where it was at ! More dish offerings on the delivery menu than the buffet, but the buffet is a pretty good one, as these things go. I still prefer steamed ( on delivery menu) pot-stickers to fried ( on the buffet), but there you go.

The GreenHouse
For such a little town, we are blessed with some truly awesome restaurants. This one is eclectic American upscale, and also has a separate bar which is very cozy. I had a nervous breakdown one night last spring, and some good friends met me here so I could get over it.

Defying my desire to keep this post only to casual places, Hannah's is 3 or 4 star nouvelle American/French cuisine upscale restaurant, and I love it. I eat here any chance I get. Fortunately, we take everyone, esp visiting profs from out of town here, so I get to eat there, a lot. Lunches are more reasonable, and an entirely diff menu. Just thinking about it is making me hungry.....
Beth Marie's
Is that old fashioned cute ice cream parlor you 've only imagined in your dreams. Dozens of homemade premium flavors. Black and white floor, marble counters, wire chairs, old fashioned floats, sundaes, grilled cheese, etc. Open late nights and packed. Nice place to stop and rest up after shopping on the downtown Denton square.
The Cupboard
Feel a cold coming on ? My cure is to eat a healthy vegetarian meal and have a wheat grass smoothie. I am sure this does the trick. The Cupboard is an independent organic / health food grocery store, and has a little cafe that makes wonderful sandwiches, soups, salads, etc. Also really great take out salad bar, where you can pick up a copy of UTNE Reader or Shambala Sun on your way out. Nice wine and gift selection, premium chocolates. Kind of like "whole foods", but better.
Fuzzy's Taco
New wave taco / burrito diner. Nice fish tacos, migas, mole, tortilla soup. Very chi-chi but in a retro way. Extremely cool hip college crowd and great people watching.
Sanger is only 10 min up the road. Of course, soon I'll have to include other spots, like the Duck Inn in Lake Dallas, or Cattlemen's , which is in Decatur, or Krum, or someplace west.
Babe's Ooriginal Chicken Dinner House
While I generally eschew national chains, I will make exceptions for small mom and pop type spots that morph into small, local chains as their business continues to grow. There are a few Babe's restaurants around the DFW metroplex, and everyone I have ever met thinks each one is magical. The one I frequent, in Sanger, has a giant 10 foot tall chicken statue outside, next to a blinking 20 ft tall marquee on the roof, so if you are lost, way out here in the country, you can just head your car towards the lights and readily find it. The decor is what I call "Hee Haw" , but the food is worth the trip. Folks rapsodize over the friend chicken or chicken friend steak, but I personally think the fried catfish is the best I've ever had. You dine family style; they bring out huge platters of veggies and biscuits better than your grandma ever made. There is a grilled chicken entree available for that one family member who is on a special diet. Singing waitresses make it even more special. Not to be missed.
What are the asterisks for , you ask ?For some reason, I cannot get this blogger program to space my postings as I wish. Yes, I have spent HOURS re-doing various sections, to no avail. This is the only way I can think of the bend this technology to my will.

Tree Hugger

"A picture is worth a thousand words ," anonymous.

When you grow up in a place like this ......

......then move to live, during an impressionable phase of your life, to a place that looks like this....

......and your personal mythology contains references to places like this.........

........it is not surprising that you begin to channel those Celtic druidic roots of your ancestors , and become a TREE HUGGER.

What does a modern day tree hugger do , you ask ? I am too old, fat and infirm, have too many other responsibilities in my life, can't sit still that long , my joints ache - to live in a redwood for a year like Julia Butterfly Hill.

But I have served the greater good, by being a member of my local city council code development committee. I practice my activism by joining with other local citizens to help draft a strong tree preservation ordinance. I continue to be as "green", personally, as I practically and realistically can - recycle, drive small cars or hybrids, shop and eat locally , live sustainably, use public transportation, consume less, fund green charities, reduce my impact on this earth as much as possible. Am seriously looking into taking my entire home solar.

And am just self aware enough to realize that this all means very little to the planet as a whole.

But I cannot, and will not, EVER shop at the neighborhood Walgreen's, just down the street on West University Dr in Denton, TX, which cut down a 300 year old oak, the oldest in the county, for no reason other than to put in a parking lot.

Waiting for Ganesh*

"Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast stones," teachings of Joshua ben Joseph, aka the Christ, as reported in John 8.7

"Do not look at the faults of others, or what others have done or not done; observe what you yourself have done and have not done,"teachings of Suddhartha Guatama, aka the Buddha, as reported in the Dhammapada 4.7

* * * * * * *

If you are born and raised in the South, you can't live for very long without someone pressuring you to discuss whether or not you are saved, the nature of your personal savior, to tell all about the moment you were saved, whether or not your savior is the same one as someone else's savior, which savior is the "correct " one, and what is wrong with you if you don't happen to believe EXACTLY as the person does to whom you are speaking at that moment, etc.

If you live long enough in the South, this will happen to you at least a half dozen or times over the course of your lifetime.

My younger son, the smart-aleky one, upon returning from his second summer at an evangelical summer camp ( grandma sends my kids, she thinks it is good for them) said to me, "they kept pressuring me to accept Jesus as my personal lord and savior. But I said to them, 'don't you remember, I already did that LAST summer? ' ! "

Please don't think I am anti-religion, agnostic, a heathen, a devil-worshipper, an idolater, a scoffer, etc. I actually spend a fair amount of time reading, studying, meditating, seeking, discussing, and contemplating various spiritual questions. I could add to that list "praying on it " but such is not in my vocabulary.

For I was raised Presbyterian, in the old style of Calvinism, where we memorized the Old Testament, studied the New - verse by verse - and we didn't blow a lot of gas over SAYING things, but instead, focused on DOING things. My mother, a southern Baptist turned Methodist, forced me to watch Billy Graham every time he was on tv, and sent me to the same evangelical summer camp she later paid for my children to attend. Somehow, none of that ever rubbed off on me. Most of my childhood friends were Jewish, and early on, I became a kid who questioned what I had been taught . My Jewish friends were godly people, kind and moral. I loved and respected them. Would God really burn them for all eternity in hellfire , just b/c they held to the covenant He had made with them and Abraham ? Does the fact that , later, He sent Jesus (because mankind had erred) , mean that at some point, He changed His mind ? But if He is truly omnipotent, all-knowing, wise, for all eternity and omnipresent, wouldn't He have foreseen the need for Jesus before He actually had to send Him, and thus just sent Jesus to start with, not wasting his time with Abraham and Moses -struck a more permanent deal with the Children of Israel ?

You can see my problems here with standard religion as I was brought up.

In college, I dabbled in various cosmologies, here and there. Came under the influence of a scholarly Benedictine monk, a rather secular archaeology professor, a kindly Episcopalian priest(-ess), and several boyfriends who wanted to "discuss" their faith as a means of getting into my pants. Had a truly profound religious experience of my own in Jerusalem, at the Wailing Wall, when my prayer ," what should I do about my evil, lying, drunken, fornicating boyfriend back home, who wants just one more chance, but has already broken my heart a dozen times over ?"
A little voice in my head, maybe an answer to my prayer, or maybe just the incipient beginnings of schizophrenia, told me, "dump him". When I came home, I did just that , and it was a decision I have never regretted.

I must confess, and this is as good a point as any, that my ancient history major taught me
way too much about Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, ancient Greek and Roman faiths, compromises made in the early history of the Christian church over doctrine, to ever look at Christianity the same way again.

At some point down the road, I started attending the Episcopal church with various boyfriends. I liked the liturgy , something my Presbyterian upbringing had completely lacked. It was sort of Old World , catholic (small "c") without the whole "pope" issue, (the history major, again, getting in the way on that one), and the music really appealed to me .You cannot underestimate how important this is to me : I have grown up loving Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Handel, English church choirs and organ music, and simply CANNOT ABIDE folk-singing, guitar strumming, earnest white gospel singers softly saying "hallelujah, praise the lord ". I just don't feel its in the best of musical taste. When I was shopping for a priest to marry me the first time, I came back into contact with the female priest I had known earlier; she was thoughtful and intelligent and upbeat, and so that became the church I joined as an adult.

I later had the interesting opportunity to teach literature at a parochial school, one that professed to be of the same faith as myself. I thought it would be no problem to attend daily mass there. I did find that it was a school that was extremely tolerant of other faiths in some ways, for example, it offered the Jewish kids a chance to take world mythology instead of Bible study, and I could teach anything I wanted with no flak at all, as long as it was literature. When the visiting rector was good, it was very very good. The choir master was extremely talented and the music just filled me with joy. But when the visiting rector was bad, it was horrible. My last year there, the rector we had at that time preached on and on about how evil and doomed we all were, sinners all of us, every day, and it just got on my nerves so that I had to start skipping daily chapel. I was going through a rough period in my life, full of personal problems, but still had to ask myself, " what evil am I doing, really ? " I taught kids, took in stray pets, I volunteered my time, my money, my talents to those less fortunate than myself. I did not lie, steal, cheat or kill. I was kind to all I met. The answer, in fact, was , "none".

One day, I ran into one of my rather charmingly naughty students, and young man with a reputation for being quite a rogue. I was looking to hide out in a quiet corner on campus, seeking a place no one could find me avoiding chapel. He was hiding out, too, smoking a cigarette. As I turned the corner, there he was. We were both rather surprised to see the other one there, for a moment. We sort of looked each other over, with some tension . Then he scooted over, waved at a spot for me to sit down next to him, and said, "get behind thee, Satan," as he blew out streams of cigarette smoke from his nostrils.

At a later school where I taught, my best teacher friend there had been raised Jewish but was an active member of a Buddhist temple just down the street. Several of the Buddhist monks came over on a frequent basis to volunteer at the school, and I began to talk to them about their beliefs and how they practiced their beliefs in real life. This experience opened me up to the idea that one could be more than one religion at a time. My friend self-identified as both Jewish and Buddhist. The one did not preclude the other ; since I was having trouble making one faith "fit", I decided that I could be something similar, could meld faiths from around the world into my own personal religion. Wasn't this the original premise of protestantism ? That each human being was given a brain, could study the holy books and divine the nature of god for him or herself, and did not need a priest or any other person to tell him/her what to think ?

Over the course of my adult years, I have continued my spiritual quest. I have raised my children in the church I attend, figuring that whatever they chose to believe as adults, at least they will have knowledge of one faith, which they can choose to accept or reject, wherever their own spiritual quests take them . The liturgy continues to soothe me, I enjoy the music, even if I do not believe absolutely every little word of what the rector says.

And so I have continued on that path to this day. Living in a college town means I have neighbors and colleagues from all over the world , and all faiths. Some are Muslim, some are Hindu, some are Mormon, some are Jewish. Quite a few belong to the many mega-Bible churches here in town, for we seem to be "ground zero" of evangelical fervor. ( All those college kids, all those young souls, eager and waiting to be converted, I suppose.) I attend my own quaint little Anglican style church, and I also hang out on a regular basis with several Buddhists I know. Some are native (from Tibet , China, India, Japan) some are aging hippies and college professors. Seekers all, just like me. Over the years, I've lost several friends who, for some reason, feel threatened that I just can't believe as they do, no matter how hard I try. One gf gave me the brush-off when I explored becoming Roman Catholic when I married spousal unit, but just couldn't make myself BELIEVE all aspects of it. I think, to convert to something, anything, you must be able to truly believe it, all of it. It's one thing to be born into a faith, to be able to say, " Oh, I was just raised a follower of Zeus; I don't actually believe in all that Mount Olympus fol-de-rol, with Cupid and Hera and all." But to go to the effort to convert to something, it seems hypocritical to lie and say you believe it all, every last bit of it,when you don't. I am sorry that I could not make myself do it, you would think I would get points for attempting. But alas. Another gf has accused my dear husband of being a "cafeteria Catholic", for being born into that faith, he does feel he he can pick and choose what he believes. You just can't please all people.

I have actually had a co-worker who felt that, because I didn't go to her particular church, I was Satan incarnate. She used to leave little Bible verse bookmarks in my desk drawers, preferenced everything she said or did with ,"praise the lord ! ", and "I'll pray on that for YOU ". She would say to my other co-workers things like, "I'll do it for you, b/c you are a godly person, " then begin glaring at me pointedly. All this while I was teaching Sunday school and going to church, reading books and continuing my lifelong quest to understand the nature of the divine - just my version, not hers.

If you come to my house, you will see a small sign by the doorbell, which reads ,"No salesmen, no missionaries". Some people , when they read this , are curious, or offended, or find it hilarious, or it makes them nervous. As if I were a crank. What they don't realize, is, that because I live on a main street, we get more than the average number of proselytizers come to our door. Saturdays, esp , the local evangelical churches literally unload vans full of eager young men and women, right in front of my house, and on their way up and down the street and back to the van, they ALL pass by my door ( seriously, 16-20 doorbell ringers an hour, some days) , all wanting to hand me pamphlets and tell me " the good news". It's really hard to take a shower, or work in the garden, make dinner, or clean out the attic, when you have to answer the door a dozen times , to tell them, "thanks, but no thanks."

I just always wonder, do they have any luck with this ? Does it work for them ? Are there really people out there, who have never heard a single word on the topic they want to talk about ? Someone who answers the door, and says, "Golly, why , no, I've lived in American for 47 years and I've never heard of this person about whom you speak. Tell me more."

I originally titled this piece, "Get behind Thee, Satan", but my Dear Editor said it didn't make any sense. I said, you know, like either I'm leading the line of evil people ( b/c where I currently live, others regard me as non-religious), or else I'm trying to be good and do what is right, but just can't (so, devil, leave me alone). "Still doesn't make sense," he said. So, I just changed it.


When Harry Met Sally

Many people have asked Sally and Harry the story of how they (finally) got together. Friends in "the biz" have suggested it would make a great movie. I'll let you judge for yourself :

They seem, at first glance, an unlikely couple. Harry is a Yankee. Sally is a Southerner. Harry is a scientist. Sally is a liberals arts major. Harry is quite the talker, and an extrovert. Sally is more introverted, a reader, a writer; hence this web page. Yet they have many things in common, once one digs a little deeper. Harry lived in White Sands, NM, from 1970-1973. Sally spent her childhood vacationing in Colorado and New Mexico, every summer, and actually visited White Sands in 1973. They both have, shall we say, mothers with strong personalities. They are both catholic (small "c"), spiritual yet in an unconventional way. They agree (mostly) on politics, movies, books, friends, the issue of children, places to live, where to eat, favorite music, pets, and many other important issues, not just limited to a mutual affection for the American southwest, the place, the culture, the art, the food. They agree on many important issues involving family, how to live, how to spend money, how to plan their time and their lives. They bicker incessantly - don't think it's all perfection! That would be nauseatingly cute. But they bicker in the manner of those very old couples you see, who have obviously been bickering together all their lives, and somehow need this form of interaction to survive.

And they have known each other much longer than most people realize.

Like all great Southern Gothic writers, (here I put myself in a class with Faulkner, Welty, Mitchell, Capote, H.Lee), you have to know where one's family came from, to truly understand the current generation.

Harry grew up an army brat, born in Germany, lived all over Europe and the USA. His parents' families, of Irish /Polish /German stock, were recent immigrants (early 1900's) , smart and plucky, who figured out that the best way to move up in American society was to take the exam, get into West Point, and make being an army officer their career of choice. And that is exactly what both his grandfathers and his father did. They moved all over, but kept returning to the Wash, DC mid-Atlantic area as a sort of home base. Brief stint by one grandfather as a US Congressman from Connecticut . (It needs to be noted here that Harry's mom spent her formative years as the daughter of the military governor of Hiroshima, after WWII ; thus a sense of privilege and rank were bred into her and her descendants from an early age.) Harry went to high school in the northern Va suburban Wash DC area. As a teenager, his nickname could have been "rebel without a cause", and he decided to buck the family military tradition and attend Rice University in Houston, Tx.

Sally grew up in Dallas , Tx. Her father was a German immigrant Kansas farm boy who went to UT, and later, SMU law school. He worked initially as an engineer at TI and later as an attorney. Her mother was an east Texas small town blue blood . It must be noted here that her mother's family, mostly of British heritage with a little French and Cherokee thrown in for spice, has lived in America (and the South) in an unbroken line since 1605. That makes Sally DAR, DOC, DRT, OES, CD and OMC. (If you don't know what any of those letters mean, more is the pity for you.) Her mama's family owned the original sulphur springs in the town by the same name. Her mama's daddy also owned his own factory, which manufactured church furniture (pews, baptismal fonts, lecterns, etc) and made quite a profitable living, even during the Great Depression, selling furniture to all the small town churches in east Texas. No matter how bleak small town life in America might have been in the 1930's and 1940's , about the only thing you can count on is that the Baptists felt they had to outdo the Methodists, and vice-versa, when it came to church interior decor. Dorothea Lange may have photographed the Dust Bowl as a grim place for small town farmers in Oklahoma, but folks in east Texas and the South in general managed somehow to pony up what cash they had "for the glory of the Lord" and the churches they built. Any man who owned a business that made church furniture did not suffer. This business provided the kind of lifestyle for Sally's mother that included train trips into Dallas for a day of shopping at Neiman-Marcus as a quite ordinary event. Sally's mom went to Baylor and later UT for grad school - bucking the 50's trend of early marriage, to pursue a useless but enjoyable grad degree in French literature. It was probably with a sigh of relief from her parents that she finally married at the spinsterish age of 27 , moved to Richardson, Tx, and lived a more conventional suburban nuclear family lifestyle.

Like all true Southern Gothic stories, there must be an element of madness and decay. And so it is with Sally's family. By her teen-aged years, Sally's attorney father began his descent into schizophrenia. His increasingly strange behavior eventually resulted in his losing his job. The family barely had enough money to pay the mortgage, much less keep food on the table. Their home began to fall apart; there was no money to maintain it. Sally's mother, who had a been a home-maker all those years, was compelled to take on a job as a legal secretary, to try and keep a roof over their heads. Sally's grandmother (the grandfather had passed away years before, ending the church furniture making business, but he had invested well and his legacy continued on for future generations) , helped out financially now and then, with special projects, but not on a daily basis.

Sally, too, started to work as soon as she was old enough, holding a series of typical teenager dead-end retail jobs, paying for most of her own expenses - food, clothing, books, gas. She entered her "super girl" phase -maintaining straight A's in high school, president of numerous clubs, working 20's hours at Jack in the Crack or Sears , driving her little sister around to French horn lessons, keeping the house cleaned and running, doing all the cooking, etc. She somehow managed to get an SAT score that got her into MENSA (not that she would ever actually join, b/c only loser insecure freaks with nothing better to do with their lives would ever actually join that geek squad.) Because she was cute, she also maintained a frantic Zelda Fitzgerald type "Southern belle" social life, full of numerous boyfriends. (At her peak, she once counted 36 beaus among her admirers - simultaneously.)

One of Sally's many beaus, aka Greaser, had gone off to college at Rice University in Houston, a year ahead of Sally. During Sally's senior year in high school, Greaser came home one weekend with some of his friends. Sally and several of her gf's spent the weekend out socializing with these boys. One of these boys was Harry, now known to his college buddies as "Bluto".

Gerald O'Hara may have told Scarlet that "land is the only thing that matters", but our Sally felt instead that probably a degree from the best university she could get into was her ticket to a brighter future. She applied to Yale, UT Austin Plan II (honors program) and Rice, and got into all 3. Because her parents chose the moment of her high school graduation to undergo a divorce, there was even less money available than previously. Sally thought Yale might be a stretch, financially . Rice, back in the day, cost about the same as UT - plus the campus was prettier, the dorms nicer, Sally had lots of friends from high school who went to both, and she kinda liked Greaser's friends, people like "Bluto", they were sweet . So she figured, "what the hell ?" and chose Rice.

So off to the same college each of the characters in this story went.

Harry, out from under the thumb of his strong-willed mother, began his full throttle rebellion. He dabbled in what we shall call " the counter culture"; this was the 70's, after all . As a consequence, his grades began to suffer somewhat. Sally drove off to college without her parents but with her best gf , instead, and her car trunk full of dresses, shoes, and cases of beer - a gift from one of her beaus.

Harry and Sally became friends, and Sally discovered that she could veer past Harry's dorm room, each day at the same time after her p.e. class, and there he would be, sitting outside in the sunshine with his friends, engaging in what we shall continue to refer to as "the counter culture". Sometimes Sally joined in, and sometimes she did not. Harry introduced Sally to many new things, only one of which was the music of Bruce Springsteen, of whom Sally became a lifelong fan. She came up with lots of excuses to pop over to his room all the time, to see Harry, to learn about all kinds of new things. She thought Harry was very cute, and one of the most charming, interesting, polite, lovable guys she had ever known. His buddies were also kind and friendly. But Harry was so involved in his "counter culture" activities, he only vaguely noticed that Sally was hanging around a lot. Harry was in a daze.

Sally also continued dating around in her southern belle Zelda Fitzgerald style. No reason to change patterns just yet. It took her awhile to find her way, academically, and her friendship with Harry was not conducive to making good grades. After her first disastrous semester in college, Sally realized she had to really buckle down and study. That meant abandoning any previous destructive habits. That meant no longer hanging about with Harry and his friends, no matter how nice they were, engaging in self-destructive "counter-cultural" activities.

Harry, it turned out, had partied a little too much. He was already on his "second" freshman year by the time Sally arrived, due to his "counter-cultural" hobbies. His parents grew impatient for him to end this silly self-destructive rebelliousness, and forced him to leave college and move home for a semester to work a heinous front desk job at Holiday Inn, wearing a gold polyester blazer, answering phones and the strange demands of various cranky customers, all to give him time to "think about" what he actually wanted out of life. Did he want to end up at the local Jr college, working at the Holiday Inn and wearing a gold polyester blazer all his life ? Or did he want to do the work required to continue at his prestigious university, and get back on course in his proposed career of science ?

So Harry left Sally, moved back to Va, and this was the beginning of the diverging of their paths.

Sally shifted from her southern belle party girl lifestyle and into one of serial monogamy, so she could hunker down and study more. Harry was gone . Her first serious boyfriend in this new mode was a fellow her friends called "Horse", who was kind of cute when you cleaned him up (he dressed like a grunge rocker long before such a thing was cool) and he had fantastical "talents". He was an engineering student, from a wealthy Chicago area family, recently moved to Houston. He and Sally spent a lot of time exploring Horse's "talents", in every conceivable way. Doesn't everyone read the Kama Sutra in college ? Unfortunately, he was also an alcoholic - had several DWI's - and a bit of a womanizer. His friends treated Sally badly, too, and quite without consciously acknowledging it, she always wondered, why? Maybe it was something wrong with her. Harry's friends had always been so kind to her ....why were Horse's friends different ? Is it fair to judge one by the company one keeps ? Perhaps they picked up subtle clues as regards Sally, from Horse. She never fully realized it, but all her life, Sally held up her relationship with Harry as a standard, and men she knew either met it, or they didn't. In her youth and naivete , Sally thought maybe Horse could be "twoo luv", if she just tried harder.....Sally tried to overlook the drinking, but the lying and womanizing just would not go away. Horse's lies got sloppier and sloppier, b/c he just didn't care, and more and more of his friends kept feeling duty bound to come point them out to Sally . So humiliating. Sally also watched Horse's dad, who was 30 years older, still handsome and charming just like "Horse" - and still actively engaged in drinking and the womanizing. She could see her future and it was not good. Yet "Horse" had some good qualities, for example : b/c he knew Sally cherished foreign movies, he got a job at a theater that only showed foreign films, so he could take Sally to see all the free movies she wanted. It was rather endearing. Because he was so "talented", Sally kept Horse around as a "friend with benefits" for as long as she could, off and on for 5 years. She loved Horse and kept hoping she could make this relationship work, but in the end, just couldn't. The basic problems - the drinking and the cheatin', just never went away. To this day, Sally can't stand the smell of rum, b/c it reminds her of "Horse" and his drunken rum breath. Towards the end, she never got to enjoy Horse's "talents", either..... he just babysat her dog when she went out of town. So sad, all that lovely "talent"....wasted. But I digress.

Sally's next bead in the serial monogamy chain was a boy we shall call "Latin Boy". Sally had actually met "Latin Boy " when she was back in high school, although they grew up in opposite parts of Texas - she from Dallas, he from Baytown. Once at a state wide Latin club convention, "Latin Boy" wowed thousands of impressionable teenagers by memorizing a textbook of Latin grammar in 10 minutes and winning a competition as a result. He was sort of a "rock star" of the nerdy smart teens Sally spent her high school years hanging out with. Even though she had known of him from this previous environment, they met for the first time in college, through mutual friends, and embarked on what Sally thought of as the happiest period of her college life. From "Latin Boy", Sally learned how to study first, party later. She enjoyed the competition between the two of them in their mutual history classes, and she actually bested him once in awhile. He was funny and smart and romantic and sweet . He treated her the way Harry had, with kindness and love.They had rollicking fun together, dancing at a local smokey collegiate beer bar named Valhalla, and to this day when Sally hears any music by the Rolling Stones, she thinks of him. From LB, Sally learned the skills of how to drive a stick shift and how to peel and eat boiled shrimp, which are useful things to know for the rest of one's life. Their romance culminated in their running off to Europe together one summer, riding motorcycles , sailing the Mediterranean, and working on an archaeological dig . (See "The Real Indiana Jones" in this blog.) Sadly, Sally and Latin Boy had issues, which meant that long term, they could not be together. Sally still thinks fondly of him, to this day, wishes him well, and that's all she will say about it.

Sally next dated a young man her friends called "Chimp", although he was handsome in a preppy sort of way and looked nothing at all like his moniker. From a conservative Southern family in Memphis, Tennessee, Sally and Chimp met while working on the campus yearbook staff - she was the business manager and he was the head photographer. Long nights in the office, developing film, laying out pages, business trips out of town on an expense account to the the publisher's head office......the romance just sizzled! Extremely bright, but also confused, Chimp was going through his own rebellious phase, and having a crisis of religion to boot, and his parents pulled him home to sort it all out, much as Harry's parents had done. His lasting contribution to Sally's life was converting her to the Episcopal faith (Sally had been raised Presbyterian, although her mother was a Baptist turned Methodist, and her father a Lutheran. Who can explain it?).

During this time, Harry had returned to Rice, and dated a series of lovely girls, most of them Jewish. Although he was quite fond of some of them, and they were well suited to one another in many ways, they could never overcome the fact that their religions got in the way . Harry, being the good Irish/Polish child that he was, was Catholic . And neither he nor his girlfriends could imagine themselves living a "Bridget Loves Bernie" sort of life.

Harry and Sally remained friends throughout college in the loose meaning of the word, but their social circles never really over-lapped again.There was one pivotal moment in the spring of their senior year, (Harry's academic life now straightened out, he was planning to graduate the same year as Sally), only a few weeks from graduation , when they ran into each other one day outside the campus library. They said the usual " hi, how are ya ", stopped a moment to chat, catch up on each others graduation plans. The 5 minute conversation turned into a 3 hour conversation, in the gathering dusk, each hesitant to let the moment go. They talked about their hopes and dreams, their plans for the future, their lives . Each secretly thought, " I really like him/her, we have a lot in common, where has he/she been all my life ? " But soon the dinner bell rang and each had to leave ... reluctantly. They went their separate ways, graduated, moved on, and that was it.

Harry moved back east, eventually settled at Penn State, pursuing a PHD in engineering. Sally heard, through the grapevine, that he was there at the same time as one of her gfs, and she kept trying to set them up. But they were of vastly different personalities, and in spite of Sally's assurances that Harry was really a great guy at heart, her friend and he never connected. Harry went through a series of girlfriends during this phase of his life, but none of them were as pretty, smart and funny as Sally.

Sally stayed in Houston, got a grown-up professional job as a marketing manager for a national consumer goods firm, and dated lots of guys. Such as "Tex" - tall, blond, a handsome geologist, drove a Jeep, was a great kisser; and "Preppy" - an Ivy Leaguer, an architect, drove a Volvo and loved to ice skate, and eventually met future husband # 1, "California Boy". He was darkly handsome in a Mediterranean sort of way and was funny, a good dancer, and in grad school getting his MBA. What's not to like about that ? He was part of Sally's post-college social group, professional working yuppies who would go clubbing on the weekends. Years passed, the large group of friends started pairing up and settling down.

All the MBA -ers graduated, including "California Boy", and decided to spend a summer in Europe together travelling about, before starting their corporate jobs in the fall. Sally quit her own job, planning to go to grad school in the fall and complete her PHD, and joined them. She had just come into her family inheritance, and thought that some of it it would be well spent on this trip and putting herself through grad school, saving the bulk of it to buy a house, later.

Off to Greece Sally went with "California boy " and his friends. They had a great time, a romantic trip. Sally footed most of the bill for "CB", but she thought they were definitely "twoo luv", so it was worth it. His salary potential would even out this expenditure, which was considerable, over time. They came back to Houston, he started to work, Sally started classes in grad school. They got married. Sally paid for the wedding.

A few years passed, and the marriage began having problems. "California Boy" spent the rest of Sally's inheritance paying off his student loans, without telling her this was his plan - he just signed huge checks off their joint account without telling her. It turned out he had almost a hundred thousand dollars worth of student loans that Sally hadn't known about. ("California Boy" had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, coming from a blue collar working class family. His dad was a repairman and his mom, a maid.) Sally didn't discover what he had done till a check bounced from their joint account , b/c he'd spent all the money. Tens of thousands of dollars. When confronted with this act, he cried and promised he'd pay Sally back, "someday, when they had more money". Sally kept plugging along with her plans re grad school, in spite of the fact that "California Boy" kept throwing up roadblocks....he claimed there was not enough money, she must get a job, he had to move around the country for his job, she needed to quit her studies and earn more money, get a better job, they could not afford to pay tuition for her to go to school, she must do this, must not do that. Sally took on two jobs, then three, all the while taking classes, trying to meet CB's demands while sticking to her plan. It became clear that he had no intention of allowing Sally to complete graduate school, which had been part of their bargain. After all, she had supported him financially while he was in grad school getting his MBA. Sally eventually stopped going to school after she got her MA , (gave up on the whole PHD part, as not economically feasible), while working full time and supporting both of them 100%. She paid their rent, utilitites, food....sometimes CB contributed towards this, but often he did not. It was unclear what CB was doing, they lived at times like roommates. He bought himself a series of cars, each of which he soon wrecked, but did not help Sally support herself in any way. He was often out till all hours, but Sally was studying and working all those jobs and barely noticed. At one point, he moved out of town for 6 months, in the middle of the semester and without warning, leaving Sally behind, with no way to support herself financially. She got a female roommate to help pay the bills.
"CB" and Sally's relationship turned into one of those "can't see the forest for the trees" situations, where Sally was blind to the fact that she wanted a baby and a home but he did not, her mother had loaned them ever increasing amounts of money to buy a house which never got bought, (yet "CB" came home mysteriously one day with a brand new, very expensive car - and the hefty downpayment for a house Sally's mom had just given them mysteriously "disappeared".) "California Boy" kept changing jobs b/c at each and every company he ever worked for, "his boss was out to get him".
"CB" was also growing gradually but increasingly abusive. It started as emotional and financial abuse, and gradually turned into psychological and physical abuse. Withholding money, demanding control of finances, the phone, the mail, the cars. Killing one of Sally's cats. Denying Sally the ability to talk to anyone - her family and friends on the phone. Every thing Sally wanted to do was denied, under the excuse "it costs too much money", yet they both had good paying jobs. There was always enough money for what "CB" wanted , whether it was an expensive new car, or a stereo, a trip, a set of golf clubs. Yet never any money available for what Sally wanted - have a child, a home, to go to grad school. "CB" told everyone he knew that Sally was a shop-a-holic, in spite of the fact that Sally owned nothing but what she had owned before they were married, (old clothes and books). Everything she owned, Sally had payed for, herself. Most of the money CB was spending on luxury goods came from Sally's family inheritance. Irony there......
Sally worked a series of progressively menial jobs just to survive their continual moving around the country ( due to "CB" 's constant need to find another job. He was always getting fired.) It's hard to have to quite one's job, move to another state, and start all over with one's career....every 6 months. Sally was the "trailing spouse.", and her career took a series of hits as the two of them moved from Houston, to California, to Houston, then New York, then Conroe -as CB kept changing jobs. Sally was also at this time giving him huge sums of money from her family, b/c each place they moved, they started to buy a ahouse and needed a down payment . But the house never got bought - there was always some reason. And the down payment never got "refunded". It just disappeared. Now where do you think it went ? All the while, CB contributed nothing to their basic household funds for food, utilities, etc. They lived in a series of ratty rent houses and apartments of ever diminishing size and quality . They owned garage sale furniture. Sally drove a beater car she had paid for herself. (At one point, CB and Sally went to a friend's wedding in a rough part of town. CB forced Sally to drive them there in her car, least anything happen to his expensive sports car. When Sally's car was vandalized during the wedding, CB refused to repair the damages. So typical of the way he treated her, with total disregard. ) Yet CB had an MBA, worked as an oil company executive. Where was all his salary going ? Sally didn't try to figure it out - she was too busy working 2 jobs, taking classes, struggling to survive, to see that "CB" , after having paid off his massive student loans, was putting most of his salary up his nose with his best friend, "Joe", and sending some funds home to support his parents in their old age. This was the 80's, after all.
Things came to a head one night, when, on the eve of "CB's" 2nd move across the country in 6 months - this time back to Houston, to change jobs yet again- Sally found herself pregnant. "CB" was furious - wanted Sally to get an abortion, said "they couldn't afford a baby right now". Sally, who had wanted a child for years, had undergone multiple corrective surgeries for various infertility problems, refused. The violence from "CB" escalated. CB began pushing and shoving Sally around, screaming at her for this and that, demanding ever increasing amounts of money from her ( family) for various things......until one night he became infuriated that Sally had spent the $40 he'd given her (supposed to be enough for a whole week's groceries AND pick up his dry cleaning), and yet there wasn't enough food in the house (and he had no laundered shirts). "California Boy" chased Sally through the crappy apartment they now inhabited. She locked herself in the bathroom, till in a fury he punched his fist through the door to get at her. He grabbed at her wildly, grabbing her hair and pushing her down . They struggled. Somehow, she managed to poke him in they eyes, box his ears, ( self defense moves she had learned in college) , as he was hitting her and trying to pull her down to the ground, and ran out of the apt.
Her dog and the cat, who knew all sanity was fleeing with her from that home, ran out the door with her. Sally got in her car, with the pets, and drove and drove, trying to figure out what to do. It was pouring down rain. She pulled over at an all-night truck stop, ate dinner, and inspected the contents of her wallet - 23c and a gas card. She tried to withdraw some money from an ATM - access denied. She put the dinner on the gas card, fueled up, and drove home to Dallas, thinking she'd talk it over with her family and friends and figure out what to do next.

The very next day, "California Boy" filed for divorce. His wife Sally was 4 months pregnant. He shut down or froze all their banking accounts, (he told Sally in a later phone call that he "couldn't tell her why 1000's of dollars were missing, b/c she would get upset if he told her the truth"), and alleged in the divorce decree that his wife was insane, that she had in fact been the one who abused him, that she was an unfit mother because she was a shop-a-holic, and therefore he demanded full custody of their as yet unborn child.

It took Sally two miserable years and tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees (more family money wasted on that man) to finalize the divorce. "California Boy" stalled and stalled, filing one ridiculous motion after another, (demanding psychological testing of Sally, refusing it on himself, claiming that Sally had left him with nothing but "2 used old towels" of their matrimonial estate, dragging the "discovery " phase on for months, scheduling depositions then cancelling them, etc - anything to run up the legal fees and keep the control going), unwilling to give up the last remnants of power he had over Sally's life. He stalked Sally, from 250 miles away, grabbing her one day in the parking lot as she came out of a dr's office visit - till she got a restraining order to keep him away.
Sally made it through this darkest period of her life with the support and love and daily phone therapy sessions from her very best friends : Vincent, (who hates to be called that, but we can't help it, for it is his name, after all ) her oldest continuous male friend in the world and now her adopted brother figure, ( he gets his own story, someday), and "Spuddie", one the childhood gf's who had been at Penn State with Harry all those years ago. These two friends loaned Sally money when she needed it, talked her through those long dark nights of the soul, and never stopped believing in her. To this day she loves them and wants them to know she will always be there for them, please let her return the favor, if needed.

Sally knew, somehow, that no matter how much of a failure her life had been, up to this point, if she could ever get free of the tick that "CB" had been on the ass of her life, she'd be free to start living again, and might find happiness, someday. She got a job, took care of her baby, and was trying to start her life all over, having been bled dry financially and emotionally wrung out by the ripe old age of 33.

The ink was no sooner fresh on Sally's divorce decree than it was suddenly time for her Rice 10th college reunion. Feeling a miserable failure, newly divorced and a single parent with a baby to boot, Sally decided not to go. All her college gf's tried to talk her into it, to no avail. So one of them, without Sally's knowing it, went to the reunion , and took along a recent picture of Sally and her baby. This gf went around to every guy, gay or straight, married or single, at the reunion, showing the photos and saying, "Did you know that Sally is divorced now ? This is a picture of her and her kid."One of those guys was Harry.

Harry had just graduated with his PHD in engineering. He 'd gotten a grown-up job, bought a house, bought a dog. His life was great, except that his love life wasn't going so well. He hadn't found THE ONE.

Harry got Sally's phone number from the gf at the reunion, put it away in his pocket. Came home, went on a date that wasn't great, waited two weeks, then called Sally up. They started talking - he was living in Washington DC, she was in Plano ( suburb of Dallas). They picked up where they left off, all those years before, that day they had stood outside the campus library and talked for hours. Got married just 6 months later, to the anger and fear of Sally's mother ( god knows she'd been through the wringer, too; helping Sally through her divorce was like reliving her own divorce, 10 years prior). But...... "true love is knowing that when you've found the person you want to annoy for the rest of your life, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible".

And Sally and Harry have been married ever since.
They live in a comfortable pleasant large rambling house in a college town where Harry works as a science professor and Sally as a teacher. They have two wonderful sons (one of them Sally's from husband # 1), lots of dogs and cats, and good friends with whom they share a glass of wine and a good yarn from time to time. Living well is the best revenge.
* * * * * * * * *
Post Script
It has now been many years.......Sally and Harry continue their charmingly frazzled, fun but slightly shabby college professor lifestyle. Sally's ex, CB, is on divorce number two, from his second wife, a lady lawyer. In the early years of his marraige to the lady lawyer, he used the lawyer-wife to threaten Sally with lawsuits, more custody battles over their son, whenever he didn't get his way or felt cranky (once, for example, b/c he didn't like the way Sally had written their son's name inside his winter coat) . CB continues in his lifelong pattern of changing jobs every few years, being perpetually late with his child support payments, and sees his son only about two or three weekends a year. He staunchly refuses to provide anything more than the bare minimum the law decrees for his only son, and refuses to pay for college, buy clothes or reimburse Sally for medical bills, buy the kid, now a teen, a car, or anything like that. He himself drives a car that cost more than Sally's house. He has a second child from the lady lawyer, a daughter, and lives alone in a giant ugly million dollar house that has no furniture , only large dark statues that leer at you from nooks under the stairs. A gf of Sally's who lives down the street says she sees him, often alone on weekend nights, playing on his computer, all by himself. That is how he likes to live his life. Sally almost feels sorry for him - almost.


We'll Always Have Italy

Rick Blaine to Ilsa Lund: "We'll always have Paris. We didn't have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night."

My husband and I may not always have Paris, but we will always have Italy.

We have both been blessed with a fair amount of world travels in our lives : Spousal unit was an army brat, born in Germany, lived there several years in his youth, travelled all over Europe while he lived there. Happy stories of driving around England in a VW bug, skiing in Berchtesgarten. Lived all over the US of A, too, and several more trips with his family back to Europe as an adult. But he had never been to Italy.

I grew up in Texas, ( aka , middle of nowhere, between the coasts , land of the land-locked ) and was given a "grand tour" of Europe as a high school graduation gift. Visited London, Paris, Rome, Athens, Greek island cruise, Turkey, and a grand finale visit to Cairo and Luxor Egypt. ( I like to remind folks that the very same time I was in Egypt , the museum exhibit of "King Tut's Tomb" artifacts was touring America. I didn't get to see it, b/c I was away the entire summer it was here......and I didn't get to see it in Cairo, b/c it was on tour in America. What are the odds ? How many chances does one get to go to Egypt in one's life ?) In college, I decided I needed to visit these same places some more , cleverly chose ancient history as a major to facilitate this goal, and went on archaeological excavations in the summer , one month each, in Beersheva , Israel and Metaponto, Italy. With a few side trips through Amsterdam, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, and Greece along the way. During grad school, I took off one summer with soon to be husband #1 and toured Scotland, England, Berlin, Bavaria, Austria, Italy and more Greece.

Then I went through a great "travel drought " of about 20 years - busy getting married, divorced, remarried, having babies, raising kids, moving about, buying a home . Important parts of my life, and all things I wouldn't change for anything. But they are each events that are extraneous income suckers, not conducive to world travels. And I forgot, mostly, about many of the places I had been and the things that I had seen, except in the most general way.

I am now, at middle age, entering a new era of what I am optimistically calling the "second great travel phase" of my life. Elizabeth Gilbert writes, in her novel Eat, Pray ,Love (One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy ,India , and Indonesia ) :
".....to travel is worth any cost or sacrifice. I am loyal and constant in my love for travel, as I have not always been loyal and constant in my other loves. I feel about travel the way a happy new mother feels about her impossible, colicky, restless newborn baby - I just don't care what it puts me through. Because I adore it. Because it's mine. "

I too, feel that travel changes you in a way that is profound. People who have seen other parts of this planet other than the square patch they were born on are different from those who haven't. (Once got into a big argument with someone on this very topic, who was shocked that I felt , at the tender age of 22, that travel could impact one's life as significantly as having a child. Over 25 years later, I still do, so if you are reading this, I HAVEN'T CHANGED MY MIND ! )

And I am still always looking for that next opportunity to go somewhere new.

One day I was driving to work and listening to WRR, just as I do everyday. A commercial for Lufthansa Airlines came on, and I half tuned it out, as I always do. At the end of the commercial, the announcer came on and said something about "registering for 2 free tickets anywhere Lufthansa flies" on the WRR website. That part, I heard. So when I got to work that day, I logged on , found the website, entered the contest. Of course, I have never won anything in my life. My husband however, always claims to have the "luck of the Irish". So I registered him, too, and my mother, and my best friend.....anyone I could think of. I figured, if they won, I'd get to go, too.Then I promptly forgot all about it.

Several weeks later, spousal unit calls me on the phone and says,"Did you enter me in some contest on WRR ? Well, I won it ." Just like that. Luck O' the Irish. No big deal, happens to him all the time- he takes it for granted. So after much discussion, (abbreviated here ) we decided to go to Italy. At first , we had a bit of a problem with WRR giving us ticket vouchers we needed to use right away, and not being able to get any flights b/c the soccer world cup was being held in Germany that summer and all the flights were full. But we got it all straightened out , and made our flight reservations for a later date.

My husband and I decided to spend 3 weeks touring Italy in July 2007. We flew from DFW to Frankfort, then on to Milan. Stayed several days in the very charming apartment of our friends , Kevin and Daniela, in the old city center area of town. At this stage of my life, visiting friends is more pleasant and charming than the impersonality of staying in a hotel and slogging day after day with a long list of tourist must - see sights. Seeing a city or country through the eyes of someone who lives there changes your entire perception of that place. You experience how people really live there.....and you get better restaurants, for one thing. As a traditional tourist, you plop down into any old spot, next to the museum or the church you just saw, tired and hungry and just eat whatever you can figure out off the menu. With natives as guides, you get really good food ( and wine ! ) in those off the beaten track places you'd never find on your own. You find stores , esp grocery stores ( have I told you how I love foreign grocery stores ?) and little neighborhood parks and smaller sites not listed in tour guides that are fascinating, too. We saw the Duomo, La Scala, and the original Galleria .

Kevin and Daniela were wonderful hosts, but we didn't want to wear out our welcome. After a few days, we set off on our own , first for Venice. Saw beautiful views of Lake Garda on the way -every trip I've ever been on fueled my desire to return and do other things, not on the schedule of the current trip . I had been to Venice during one of my previous trips, but oddly, had no memories of it at all. (Some friends would argue, it's b/c I went there with husband #1, and 'forgot' about it on purpose. I really don't think so, but who knows ? ) Even looking at old photos of myself, standing in various spots around town, I had absolutely no memory whatsoever of what that place was , what I was doing there. Many Americans can't tolerate Venice - find it too old, crumbling, filthy- whatever. I find Venice charming. It was so cute, it was almost unreal - I kept thinking I was at Disneyland. (Oh, how American vacation spots have ruined us.) Thousands of Germans apparently thought so, too - they all came for their family vacations, and brought their kids with them. So, along with all the Germans and thousands of screaming, gelato licking kinder, we saw all the main churches, art museums - incl the Peggy Guggenheim, my fave - the great public square, the clock tower, la Fenice ,Doges Palace. Took a day trip to the island of Murano to watch glass blowing.

After several days , we then departed for Florence. Wisely, we had gotten reservations for all the museums in advance, so we waltzed right by the mile long lines of American tourists waiting to get in. About this time, the heat wave kicked in, and from here on out, it was 100 degrees or more each day of our trip. The heat, combined with the crowds, started to make it a bit stressful as we slogged about, checking things off our " must see, must do " list - the Uffizi, the Duomo, the Academia, etc. Yet Florence is still a wonderful place, and no one visit can ever do it complete justice. To combat our stress, we settled into a rhythm for the trip : we vowed to eat gelato at least once a day, preferably after ever meal, we stopped feeling guilty for drinking wine with every meal, spousal unit finally came to understand that my "need" for caffeine every morning was not just some wild exaggeration on my part, and so I developed the great cappuccino-wine-gelato , cappuccino-wine-gelato rhythm of my days. One bad lunch of bar sandwiches steered us into finding the local grocery store, everywhere we went, and we began building elaborate picnic lunches of meat, cheese, bread, fruit, wine, and dessert that were fantastically gourmet and far better than we had been getting in restaurants, anyways. The peak of this was a wonderful Sunday afternoon picnic in Fiesole, a hillside town outside of Florence with breath-taking views of the entire Tuscan valley.

After Florence, we then took a turn sharply south , and headed for Naples. Figured it couldn't get much hotter.... I had always avoided Naples, on previous trips while travelling about on my own, hearing "travellers myths" of how dangerous it was, yadayadayada. We found that Naples was just as safe as any other place we visited, (we try to travel carefully, anyways, dressing conservatively, with neck wallets and zippered bags over our shoulders, trying not to stand out too much as obnoxious American tourists, don't flash alot of cash, or jewelry), and far more pleasant than the crowded, over touristed areas north of Italy . Our money ( the dollar was actually shrinking in value, during this trip, day by day) went further. The mobs of tourists were practically non existent ( only present at Pompeii). Things cost less, so we let ourselves stay at a nicer hotel and eat at better restaurants. By now we were managing with our tourist guide book broken Italian , could read signs and navigate the public transportation systems. We tried speaking a few phrases and locals were patient and kind, understood our hand gestures if nothing else , and somehow we managed to communicate. The hi-lite of this city was eating real napolitan pizza at one of the most famous , original pizza joints in town. Let me tell you - it puts anything you've ever had in America to shame.

Next stop was Sicily, specifically Palermo.(My mother still nagging me to this day b/c I didn't make it to Syracuse - next trip, ma. Next trip. You can't do it all. ) It was nothing at all like what I had expected. Not sure what I expected - montage of mental images from old "Godfather " movies ? Instead, it was more like Rhodes, or southern Italian towns in general. One of the weirdest most fascinating things about getting there, is , if you take the train, they load the train cars into giant boats to cross the water from Italy to the island. I didn't believe it myself, until I rode in one . Surreal. Like most islands in the Med, the water and the sky are so blue it's unbelievable. Palermo was completely charming , full of medieval castles, beautiful churches, a charming old town district with restaurants, shops,etc. We stayed in a rental apt for several days , loacated in an old building , down a dubious alley in the middle of what appread to be the outdoor sidewalk cafes of grilled seafood street. It had gorgeous Chrismas style lights twinkling all night long. The apt was two stories, 2 baths, kitchen, living room, etc. Everything was recently updated, modern and posh - except the a/c, which like most of the ones we experienced in Italy, was only the faintest suggestion of cooler air, really more imaginary than real. We cooked for ourselves some - still enjoying the whole ouormet grocery store aspect , you get so spoiled to really fresh pasta , produce , and seafood - and ate out as well. Tried Moroccan as well as local seafood dishes and wine. (In fact, never had a bad glass/bottle of wine during the entire trip.) Took day trip to see the Greek temples at Agrigento - it was 120 degrees that day, so hot we and the rest of the tourists could barely stagger about and see them. They are awe inspiring, there are half a dozen of these maginificent arching Doric temples , all lined up along a high ridge, facing the sea - I think it was a "one stop fits all religions" in the ancient world. Tv/radio voice : On a journey to conquer some Phoneicians ? Stop as you sail by Sicily and say a prayer to the god of your choice at Agrigento ! Definitely one of those things I recommend to anyone as worth the effort to get there and see . Photos just don't do it justice.( And it is wheelchair accessible.)

After Sicily, we started to complete our loop, and headed back north towards Rome. By this point in the trip we were almost 3 weeks into our journey, and still married ! Tired ( note to self : 2 weeks is probably the optimum time length for a trip , as one starts to drag after that ) , hot , cranky.....husband dear wanted to bag Rome, to hell with all those ruins and churches and paintings and museums. You've seen one, you've seen them all. But I, gentle reader, forced him to hang in there, knowing how important the "Catholic pilgrimage" is to children of Rome. We managed to see it all ......the cappuccino-wine-gelato trifecta helped greatly. And we were somewhat rested from all the crowds and tourists by our jaunt to places south, ready to face the masses again. As we were nearing the end of our trip, the shopping on my part began in earnest, and poor dear husband had to suffer being dragged around to thousands of shops - although he likes to complain more about shopping in the glass boutiques of Murano. Did manage to eat tartufo ( ice cream dish to die for, seriously) at that place in Piazza Navona that I am so fond of, and throw some coins in the fountain to ensure we make it back.The Colosseum, the fountains, the Circus Maximus, St Peters were all duly impressive, and we sort of galloped through the Vatican, only stopping to look at our "top 5" and gently pushing timid Japanese tourists aside as we went. We "cheated" (did the crass American touristy thing ) just once - ate at the Hard Rock cafe, savored coca-cola and big thick juicy cheeseburgers, which after 3 weeks abstaining from same, tasted mighty fine. The over powering American style air conditioning in the place was great, too. We lingered and savored that a bit. Saw the latest "Harry Potter "film in English, with Italian subtitles, in an Italian movie theater which promised air conditioning , but lied.

Soon, too soon, it was all over . We headed back to Milan , flew back to Frankfurt and DFW and home. Just shy of 3 weeks, we saw 28 of the "top 30 " things to see and do in Italy. Not sure what the missing 2 places were, but probably wasn't interested, anyways. Hubby 's fave church was St Peter's , natch, mine was Monreal. We both agreed the best gelato was in Florence, the best pizza in Naples. We brought back as much wine and lemoncello as we could, and wish we had more. Italy is like that - glorious, exciting, full of sensual pleasures - food, sun, art. You can never take it all in in one trip. You must simply plan to go back for another.

Thank you , WRR and Lufthansa Airlines. This just goes to show, that once in a very blue moon, you really can win something for nothing.