In the summertime, when we were kids, our mom would kick us out of the trailer and lock the door. She’d leave a big red Igloo water cooler of Kool Aid and a sleeve of saltines on the porch and would tell us to basically entertain ourselves all day – “you kids go play.”
I’ve now experienced the adult version now during this quarantine-work-from-home situation. But first, let me provide some background….
When my loving life partner XFE was told by his employer to work from home in mid-March, it became very clear right away that he would set up camp in the home office (formerly, “my office”).
There are a couple of very good reasons for this. First off, he has a very important, high-stress job which requires a non-stop day of conference calls and Zoom meetings with high-powered, demanding clients and his various teams and bosses.
This is quite different from how I run Poe Communications in which I have almost zero vocalic or auditory contact with anyone all day long, and the most stressful situation on any given day is that the cats are fighting right outside the office door while I’m trying to write.
Here’s how business goes at Poe Communications:
Email comes in: Hey, can you write/copy edit this 400/800/1200-word article/blog post/white paper? We need it by Friday. The creative brief may/or may not be attached. Let me know if you have any questions. – Signed, Beloved Client
Response via email from me: Sure thing. Sounds great. I’ll get started right away. Thanks. – Signed, Thankful Freelancer
Email goes out: Hi there, I’m a freelance writer and I’m checking in to see if you need any content help. Here’s my experience/a couple of recent links/my short pitch.
Response from potential/current/past client: Sounds great. We’ll be in touch. – Client (Maybe)????
This is apparently NOT how business is conducted in the corporate world. So, XFE definitely needs a dedicated office space with a desk and a door.
Also, he is the undisputed head of our household who is single-handedly keeping us fed and hydrated during quarantine, has steady employment (ie: not the jerky career rollercoaster of freelancing) and makes a hell of a lot more money than me. It was really a no-brainer.
So, I’ve been working downstairs at the dining room table/on the couch, which is honestly fine because it is closer to my beloved Bravo and the kitchen where the snacks and wine reside. But sometimes I really do miss my pretty, little home office. It made me feel so professional and proud. And I loved my chandelier.
This week, we came up with another work from home option for Poe Communications and, thankfully, it does not involve a red water cooler Igloo. Far from it.
Behold: The Poe Communications Annex.
Isn’t it pretty?
We’ve lived in this house for eight years and are just finally buying proper patio furniture. We ordered the set from Overstock last week and it was here by Tuesday. The umbrella stand showed up on Wednesday and we were in business.
We figure we’re going to be spending a lot of time out here in the coming months (we already had to cancel a July trip to Antigua that we had put a deposit down on), so we might as well make it a bit more comfortable.
Plus, I can send and receive all my super-important writing and editing assignments without being interrupted by cat fights. Now if we can just get a TV out here so I can watch Bravo…..
I have a question: Why are we mad at pants? And by “we,” I mean collectively as a people and as a country. Is there some conspiracy theory floating around that pants are what caused the coronavirus?
I’m not sure whether to believe this source, but something called YouGov recently came out with a poll that found that 47% of Americans working from home aren’t always wearing pants (or other legwear) during their workday.
As if to drill home that data there was this famous incident involving an ABC reporter who reported to remote work on “Good Morning America” in a suit coat, dress shirt but no pants. (He said he was wearing gym shorts for his post-segment workout).
When did we decide pants are optional?
All over Twitter and the Internet people are proclaiming their abhorrence for pants while working from home, with particular vitriol reserved specifically for jeans. As one fellow freelancer (and pro-jeans advocate) put it: “If quarantine has made anything clear, it’s that there are pro-jeans people and anti-jeans people, and rarely do they understand each other.”
I genuinely do not understand the anti-jeans hate. Jeans are as American as baseball, pickup trucks and apple pie. We invented jeans. Jeans are the fabric of our lives (oh wait, that may be cotton, but also, jeans are made of cotton—mostly–so this slogan still applies).
Do you know how many great songs center around jeans? Genuwine sang about “In Those Jeans,” not “In Those Leggings.” Mel McDaniel did not sing “Baby’s Got Her Pajama Bottoms On.” No. He sang about a fine woman in blue jeans. The Donna’s “Dirty Denim” is a lot cooler than “Dirty Sweatpants.”
I’ve been working from home for five years now and I wear pants–specifically, jeans–Every. Damn. Day. I wear them on workdays. I wear them on weekends. It never occurs to me to NOT be wearing pants. Except in the shower or in the pool. All other times are pants time.
Apparently, a lot of people do not find jeans comfortable, which leads me to ask: what denim prison casings have you been wrapping your legs in? Because I have lots of jeans that are comfortable: stretchy skinny jeans, baggy boyfriend jeans, straight legged high waisted jeans, all extremely comfortable.
In fact, I have almost no other pants in my closet, except for jeans. Jeans and a loose, button up shirt is my daily work-from-home uniform. Along with slippers, which is maybe my one casual concession to work from home life. I see no reason to variate because of quarantine.
But honestly, I’m worried about what the rest of America is wearing. I suppose it’s all sweatpants and leggings? Or do y’all really walk around without drawers on whenever you are at home? Was this going on pre-quarantine? Were people going drawerless on the weekends?
All of which is ultimately fine, I guess. You do you, boo. I understand that we’re all just trying to get by as best we can. As for me, I’m going to get try to live as normal a life as possible, which includes getting up, showering, dressing (in jeans and slippers) and doing something presentable with my hair.
So, it’s getting to be that time. No, not time to begin going to bars, restaurants and bowling alleys again, no matter what various idiots in the government say.
I will not be leaving my house until there is an FDA-approved and completely tested vaccine shot, an at-home antibody test, and a comprehensive contact tracing program up and running. (By the way, where is our Google website directing me to popup testing facilities in the parking lots of WalMart and Walgreens? Huh, JARED??).
Anyway. Sorry to get so political there. I just get so mad.
What I’m actually talking about when I refer to “that time” is that first missed hair appointment. With salons closed across the country, we are all about to have to come to terms with our “natural” hair (likely for the first time in years).
My last hair appointment (single color touchup and a trim) was on March 3 and we went into self-isolation on March 13. I usually have my hair appointment every 7-8 weeks, and my regularly scheduled appointment would have been today.
Obviously, my salon is closed and I wouldn’t go anyway (see above). So, I’ve been having to do some deep soul searching. I’ve been fluctuating from Dora-the-Explorer optimism (“Oh, I wonder just how gray I am under there? Maybe it’s not so bad”) to Bill O-Reilly-Inside Edition-take-charge-meltdown (“F-it, we’ll do it live”).
I’m definitely not home cutting my own naturally curly hair. I’m pretty sure I’d end up looking like Rosanne Roseannadanna.
However, I might eventually cave in and home color my own naturally gray roots. I have not actually decided yet. I will say, those Madison Reid people appear to be reading my thoughts and are absolutely stalking me with ads on Instagram.
More likely, I’ll embrace a few hair accessories to tide me over until I feel safe to go outside again without dying, so, like 2021 or 2022.
And you know who knows how to work a hair accessory all the live long day? The ladies of the Bravo Universe. Here’s a few Bravo-inspired suggestions I’m thinking of adding to my Sally’s Hair Supply “essential needs” cart.
Wig: Clearly, there are many Bravo celebrities who enjoy a good wig, including every single cast member who has ever appeared on Real Housewives of Atlanta (in fact, several of them have their own wig lines). However, my current favorite wig devotee is Destiney Rose from Shahs of Sunset. Not only does she have a whole slew of them that she wears just for fun (her own hair is gorgeous), but she creates whole personas and back stories for her alter egos in each of the wigs. It’s great fantasy fun for our quarantined times and I am here for it.
Hat: There have been lots of hats in the Bravo Universe, including some really bad cowboy hats in the recent episode of Shahs of Sunset when the crew went to a Boots & Brews music festival. However, the true iconic hat on Bravo has to be my queen, Erika Jayne Girardi’s slicked back hair/Moschino couture confessional LEWK on season 9. (Sheer black swiss dot gloves optional). While I’m not confident it will cover my gray roots, it’s would look great on Zoom.
Headscarf:Real Housewives of Beverly Hill’s Lisa Rinna often dons a bandana on her way to and from workouts, but I’m interested in something much more glamorous. Which is why, once again, I turn to my Destiney Rose from Shahs of Sunset. This light blue silk print number (worn OVER A WIG to a POOL PARTY with a long, FUR-trimmed coat) is amazing. It’s a one-two punch that will definitely cover the grays and the growing out haircut.
So that’s it. A couple of mostly sensible hair accessory options to help tide us over while we all do what is necessary and stay inside.
Whelp, Netflix has done it again. The streaming TV service is legit winning the quarantine game, releasing one splendid, bingeworthy, let’s-forget-what-day-it-is-and-escape-this-hellish-landscape-called-modern-life program after another.
(I know I said I was going to talk about Tiger King, but honestly, in this fast-paced, binging environment, TK is old news and we have got to get to the hot, new, young disaster programming).
“Too Hot To Handle” is indeed, muy caliente. The dating game/reality series was filmed at a $15,000 a night private resort in Punta Mita, Mexico sometime last year. The show feels very familiar at first: there are 10 very attractive young people (mostly from the UK and the US) with the expected outsized egos (Several of them mention their super attractiveness during their intro reels, as well as the size of their ahem, eggplants. Honestly, you start off hating each and every one of them).
There’s Haley, the sorority girl from Florida, Francesca, an Instagram model from Canada, Chloe, a model from Essex, Rhonda, a restaurant manager from Georgia; Nicole, a social media influencer from Ireland. On the guys side, there’s Sharron, a model/entertainer from New Jersey, David, a nutrition coach from London, Harry, a YouTube “star” from Australia, Matthew, a model from Colorado and Kelz, a football (not soccer, American-style football) player from London.
The whole show has very much got the whole “Love Island” vibe, right down to the soundtrack and even the setting, which is very similar. But unlike Love Island, which clocks in at oh, approximately 40 episodes, each one hour long (not kidding. My reality-TV-life-partner, XFE and I watched all of them over the holidays and it was a project, let me tell you), Too Hot To Handle is just eight sexy, sweaty 40-minute episodes.
THTH is also very reminiscent of that other Netflix gem, “Love Is Blind.” Not because our singles first meet each other by flirting through a frosted wall in a weirdly called, “pod.” But, both shows do push the ridiculous narrative of “forming deeper emotional connections” with members of the opposite sex.
But while Love Is Blind tried to capitalize on the idea of forming a connection based on personality and conversation, not physical attraction, the folks at THTH try to push a deeper emotional connection (PLOT TWIST) by banning sexual activity. No kissing, no putting things in other things, and no self-gratification.
And, because that no sex rule truly seems impossible when you have 10 hot, young horndogs running around in skimpy resort wear for 30 days, the producers had to add an incentive: a $100,000 pot of money. They don’t really outline who will win the money or how, exactly, but they do make it clear that money will be deducted for every indiscretion. Also, neither we, nor the contestants, find out how much will be deducted until an infraction occurs. Which it does, almost immediately.
And the reason we know that is because of an Alexa-like, digital assistant known as Lana who is placed throughout the resort and is basically spying on our hot, young singles. Lana then spills the beans on any infractions — often in graphic detail which for some odd reason was bleeped out — during a nightly gather-around-the-firepit.
The show was actually a very interesting psychological study, because you really did get an idea of how different people are motivated by different things. XFE pointed out that all of the contestants could just agree from the start that they were all going to bonk like little rabbits for the next 30 days on this gorgeous resort and who cares about the money? You basically got a free vacation and nonstop sex.
But they didn’t do that. Some of them (mostly those who weren’t immediately attracted to someone else) really cared a lot about the money and did not want to see the pot dwindle at all. Others, the “rulebreakers” often felt a lot of pressure to not give in because they didn’t want to get grief from the rest of the group. And in a few instances, the rest of the group felt the “rulebreakers” had actually formed a deeper connection by getting physical and therefore agreed that it was ok and probably worth the price.
There are a couple of other hokey, typical dating-show twists thrown in throughout: some self-improvement workshops that are mostly silly, a fantasy suite, a reward system, a couple of attractive “grenades” thrown in to try to shake things up—most of which didn’t necessarily need to happen, but kept the show from getting stale the last couple of episodes.
I think it remains to be seen whether any of the “rulebreaker” couples really did form deeper, more lasting relationships – unlike Love Island and Love Is Blind, there isn’t a reunion episode (but articles can be found all over the Internet). But Too Hot To Handle did help me form a deeper emotional connection with Netflix’s excellent programming choices and made me even more wary of our Google Home devices.
This seems like a good time to restart this thing, right?
I mean, after all, we’re all supposed to come out of this quarantine business with having acquired a lucrative side hustle, learned a new foreign language and musical instrument, perfected the art of sourdough bread baking and putting the finishing touches on the next great American novel (according to the inestimable Gwyneth Paltrow).
So, here I am, in the Spirit of Paltrow, taking a very brave and productive step and updating my blog.
It’s honestly, the very least I can do.
It is a weird time, to put it mildly. For everyone, to be sure. Including (and maybe especially) for freelancers and independent contractors. I know lots of fellow freelance writers whose work totally dried up, right away. Others who have stayed pretty busy. And then the third group, which had a bit of a bump and then a slow phase-out of work (this is definitely me). I get it. Believe me. I’m not here to make the argument that freelance writers are “essential.”
The weirdest part, I suppose, is that quarantine is not really a big difference from my normal day. For the past five years as a freelancer, I’ve been mostly a homebody. I have a home office (and an espresso machine) so I really don’t go out much. A big week would include a couple of trips to the grocery stores, the occasional lunch out, yoga class at the neighborhood studio, or a pickup or drop off at the dry cleaner (all just blocks from my house). Maybe if it was a really busy week, I’d have an appointment at the dentist, doctor or hairdresser (two of these providers are within walking distance of my house).
I would estimate that before quarantine, I spent 90% of my time at home. So having to just “Stay Home,” isn’t really a big switch up for me. In fact, I’m a big supporter of quarantine. I started quarantining before quarantining was even cool.
But what is a big switch up is how the rest of the world (and work) is shutting down. At least for me (and approximately 16 million other Americans—and counting). So while I still feel like it’s “business as usual,” my clients definitely do not. One of them is involved in the travel sector, so…..that’s pretty understandable. Another is involved in retail. They’re proceeding with caution and tightening the purse strings for now, which is relatable. Another client is a service provider for meetings and events. A bit difficult for them to pivot right now.
And I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I still have a trickle of work, I have plenty of savings, I have a roof over my head, and food in my fridge (thanks to the tireless efforts of my non-husband, XFE, who spends a good chunk of his time tracking down and figuring out who can deliver what food and essential items to our house on any given day. And then does most of the meal planning/cooking).
But it all feels weird. For everyone. I know.
So, in an effort to stay busy and get back to something normal and distract myself from this “new” normal, I’m dusting off the ol’ blog. We should definitely start with some reality show recaps. Maybe “Tiger King?” Because you know I have thoughts.
Two big things happened since I last popped in here: One, we
went to New Zealand for three weeks in November. It was an amazing trip and I
plan to blog all about it. But not today.
The bigger thing that happened is that my mother died in September, which is such a weird thing to type/say/think about. Weird because I have not really had what might be called a “traditional” reaction to it. Especially compared to my sister. I know that “everyone grieves differently,” but for me, I feel only a sense of relief that our mother is finally gone.
The fact is, our mother had been sick most of her life – first, with Type 1 diabetes in her mid-30s (and entire myriad of related medical problems that came with that over the years). Then, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in her mid-40s. Finally, Alzheimer’s and several forms of dementia in her 50s and up until she died at 66. In addition, we suspect her mental health issues actually date back even further (probably to her early 20s, maybe earlier) and were just undiagnosed and untreated, but they were always very present in our lives.
All this to say: our mother was very, very sick for a very,
very long time. It was the slow, draining type of sick that required my sister
to become her full-time caretaker 15 or so years ago. The kind of sick that
slowly takes away every single little thing until you are just left with a body
that can’t perform its’ most elemental tasks on its own and a mind that doesn’t
know or care. So yes, I am relieved that my mother is finally gone and no
longer enduring the life she was barely living. Which makes me feel like a
monster for thinking it/saying it/feeling it.
It’s also a weird thing to get my head around for reasons that have to do with how relationships are complicated and fragile, and ours was definitely that. We were estranged, or more accurately, I was estranged from her, and had not talked to her in at least 14 or so years. In that sense, I had already said my “goodbyes” to any traditional mother-daughter relationship with her a long time ago. And that’s the only grieving I’ve really done – grieving for that relationship that never existed and never would. Grieving for two little girls—one who walked away and one who stayed—but both of whom deserved so much more than what they got in the parent department.
Over the years, when I would tell someone that I did not talk to my mother — that, for many, many deep-rooted reasons and for some that were even fresher and not-so-deep rooted, I did not believe I could not have a relationship with her — I would always be told, “You’re going to regret this when she’s gone.” People both close to me as well as those who were just getting to know me were so sure that I should let go of the past. They counseled me to make my peace and mend our relationship before it was too late.
The fact is, I keep looking for this regret. I really do. I keep poking various parts of my psyche trying to find it. I read books and blogs and all kinds of articles on what I’m supposed to be feeling over the loss of a parent. I’ve become quite morbid at holiday parties: if someone mentions they’ve lost a parent, I probe them to find out how they felt and when and why do they think that might be. And there really is truth to the adage: everyone grieves differently.
But here we are, three months on, and I do not feel any regret – only relief. Relief that it’s finally over and I don’t have to explain my relationship to people anymore. The discussion now ends with “my mother died.”
It hits you in the face the minute you open a door or window. A virtual presence that is so primal, your brain goes into full denial, telling you it can’t possibly be what you think it is. Perhaps that disconnect is made all the more dissonant by the fact that you are quite literally walking out the door into a verdant paradise, where as far as the eye can see everything is perfect and manicured and designed to delight the senses.
But there is one sense that is definitely not delighted….
People, let me tell you about sargassum.
Sargassum, also known as Sargasso, stinks no matter what it’s
called. It’s a seaweed (or microalgae) that is choking beaches from Mexico to the
Florida. Here’s what Chemical & Engineering News (not my regular
literary diet, but, ok) says about it:
“Sargassum wasn’t a regular sight outside its native arena in the Sargasso Sea until 2011. That year, enormous mats of the algae started brewing farther south, in the central Atlantic, eventually washing onto beaches on the eastern and southern coasts of many Caribbean islands. By 2018, the mats had grown into the largest macroalgae bloom in recorded history, an 8,850 km long mass extending from the central Atlantic and Caribbean Sea to West Africa and the Gulf of Mexico. Chunks of Sargassum, circulated by ocean currents, now regularly wash ashore in the Caribbean, where they rot on the beaches, giving off a strong, sulfurous stench.”
That is putting it mildly. We had heard slight whispers
about the sargassum problem when we first started researching our
last-minute, mid-summer trip to Mexico, specifically, the
Secrets Maroma Beach. But we thought it was just a bunch of seaweed washing
up on the pristine white beaches and making them slightly less Instagrammable.
Since we planned to spend most of our time lounging on the patio of our swim-up
room or under an umbrella around the thoughtfully designed pool areas, we didn’t
think it would bother us too much.
Other than an occasional morning walk, we really don’t spend
that much time on the beach and we don’t pick our vacation destinations based
on the quality of the beaches. But there is so much more to sargassum than
aesthetics. There’s that smell.
I would almost call it unrecognizable, but that’s not true.
It is instinctually recognizable. In fact, we live in the lovely suburb called
Old Town, which has a
river-adjacent sewer system dating back to the late 1800s. So we are very
familiar with the occasional, river-flooding-induced smell of excrement around
these genteel streets lined with historic, million-dollar townhomes.
But this sargassum is a whole other poop game. And it is growing, reaching approximately 20 million tons, according to one NPR report. In fact, Inside Science noted:
“This spring, the seaweed invasion was comparable to last year’s, if not worse. In May, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador instructed the country’s navy to lead the beach-cleaning effort and to prevent the sargassum from reaching the coast. In June, the situation was so bad that the southeastern state of Quintana Roo — home of the tourist destination of Cancún — declared a state of emergency.”
And just like there would seem to be a disconnect between
living in one of the most expensive areas in the Greater D.C. area and smelling
sewage after every heavy rainstorm, so too, was it jarringly incongruent to smell
the overwhelming stench of sulfide gas at the beautiful Secrets Maroma Beach,
which happens to be in Quintana Roo.
Because SMB was gorgeous. Just beautiful. Here’s a
description from Trip Advisor,
“Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun is tucked away on secluded Maroma Beach, voted the World’s Best Beach by the Travel Channel four years in a row. This unlimited-luxury heaven provides opulence to the most discerning traveler with a pure white sand beach, stunning ocean views stretching as far as the eye can see, elegant suites providing 24-hour room service, daily refreshed mini-bars and several of them with swim-out access to twelve smaller pools plus a shimmering infinity pool, gourmet dining options and chic lounges.”
And it’s true. You look at pictures of the beach (even recent ones) and it’s all white powdered sugar magical-ness. That’s because there are dozens and dozens of workers (aka: sargaceros) busting their butts to cart away literally TONS of seaweed around the clock. Trucks full of it. But they can’t cart away that smell.
Not to mention the fact that while sargassum might be bad
for tourism in the region, it is even worse for coral, fish and other
seagrasses. It smothers and destroys virtually everything in its path. Again
from Inside Science:
“Since 2015, we have lost a significant number of seagrasses and they will take many decades to recover, assuming that the sargassum is controlled. If it continues to arrive, they will not recover. As of last year, we already began to record massive wildlife mortality — we began observing dead animals along the beach. Last year, we identified dead individuals of 78 species on the beaches, especially fish, but also crustaceans, lobsters, urchins, octopuses and others. As of May of last year, corals also began to die from a disease called “white syndrome.”
The good news is that there appears to be a season for
sargassum. It’s not a year-round thing. The sargassum season runs roughly from
April to August. And, the government, science community and resorts from Mexico
are studying the issue carefully and trying
to find solutions, everything from literal barriers in the ocean to finding
alternative uses for the seaweed. Hopefully, they’ll come up with something
before next year’s sargassum tide comes rolling in.
I’ve discovered a new, annoying habit. Actually, I’ve caught both myself and my travel-partner-for-life, XFE doing it a lot over the past few weeks.
We’ll be talking to friends or neighbors or coworkers or the pet sitter or (in my case) the eye doctor. We’ll be chatting, catching up on our lives and the latest news when the conversation will inevitably turn to this question: “So, did you guys go anywhere this summer?”
And the way we hem and haw and get all awkward over our answer is just so weird. We’ll look at each other and start mumbling about, “Yeah, we took a quick, last-minute trip but it was just to Mexico. Just for a week. Just a fly-and-flop at an all-inclusive resort. Really, it was no big deal. Nothing glamorous at all. What about you?”
It turns out, we are vacation apologists.
There are a couple of reasons this might be/is the case. For one thing, we tend to take really big trips to some far flung places. Like, safaris in Africa, driving tours through Sri Lanka, living it up in luxury in the Maldives, roughing it on a dive boat in the Barrier Reef, eating tours and temple hopping through Singapore, Cambodia and Hong Kong. So any vacation that’s less than a week or is in a location that takes less than two days to get to makes us feel like we’re letting our expectant audience down.
(OK, now I just feel like I’m bragging about all the great vacations we take. Which I am, because, hi, hello, Maldives? But I don’t mean to brag. I’m really, really grateful. I pinch myself all the time. Really, I have bruises from all the pinching. I can’t believe I get to go to any of these places. So then there’s that: I feel a lot of shame that I’m so fortunate. Thus, awkward apologies.)
Plus—to further belabor the bragging theme—we actually have a big trip coming up: three weeks in New Zealand. Which we are really, really excited about and has been our primary trip-planning focus for the last few months.
Then there’s the fact that we pretty much planned to not go
anywhere this summer since we knew work would be so busy and we would be
spending so much money on New Zealand. In fact, just this past spring, we had
turned down an offer to go on a group vacation to the very same part of Mexico
that we ended up running off to for six days in July. And the group trip was
actually right around the same time (literally, we were only like two days off
from passing each other at the Cancun airport).
Whatever it was, we have consistently minimized our Mexican vacation, both before we went and after we got back (Heck, I only posted one photo on Instagram). And we shouldn’t minimize it.
We shouldn’t downplay our Mexican vacation for a lot of
reasons but first and foremost is because we are just so privileged. Some
people spend all year saving up the time and money to go to a beautiful, all-inclusive
resort in Mexico. They are genuinely excited about their vacation and they
Going on vacation is (obviously) a luxury that a lot of
people—people who really, really work hard and deserve a break–just don’t get.
We are both so damn lucky to have the means and ability to just go on vacation
whenever and wherever we want. Yes, XFE has worked very hard at both his real
job and his other job – racking up and managing all those hotel points and
airline miles. No doubt. But again, we’re incredibly privileged. Just for the
fact that we can carve out the time and make arrangements to cover our medium-sized
obligations while we’re gone.
Secondly, our trip (which, by the way, was to Secrets Maroma Beach in the Riviera Cancun) was really, really nice. The resort was an adults-only, all-inclusive with all the amenities—great service, gorgeous grounds, delicious food, impressive entertainment and a variety of activities for those who wanted to partake.
We booked a swim-up room and that’s pretty much where we spent most of our six days. It was definitely low-key (we didn’t go on any excursions, but there are a lot of things to see and do in that region of Mexico) which was exactly what we were looking for.
To be honest, the trip planning for New Zealand has been a
bit overwhelming. There are a lot of moving parts and logistics and decisions
to be made, but with Mexico, we didn’t have to make any decisions. Plus, unlike
New Zealand, Mexico was a short direct flight from D.C. We left in the morning
and were drinking our first pina coladas by that afternoon.
So let me shout it from the rooftops: We got to go to Mexico
this summer. And it was great. I got a few mosquito bites but I didn’t get
sunburned. We met tons of nice people who worked very hard to make sure we had
a good time, all the time. We ate the most amazing fresh, grilled fish for
lunch every day (which I shared surreptitiously with some of the very friendly stray
cats you’re not supposed to feed and which the staff pretended not to notice
that I was, in fact, feeding). And the pina coladas were always delicious and
refreshing. Everyone should absolutely go, if they can. Even vacation
I’m from El Paso. It’s my hometown. Yes, I’ve lived in other
parts of Texas, including Austin, and Dallas. I have family in San Antonio, and
in Oregon, in Louisiana and other places, I’m sure, but we all came from El
My mother’s dad exited the military while he was stationed
at Fort Bliss and they just stayed. It’s where my mother grew up, where she
went to high school (the same one I would later attend), met my father and got
married before they eventually moved to Dallas. It’s where she brought us
(briefly) after my parents divorced a few years later while she figured out
what to do next.
My grandparents lived in a makeshift double-wide trailer (they put two trailers together to make their own) at the end of a dusty farm road in a place called Socorro, Texas for years and years and years. Technically, Socorro is called “a city in El Paso,” but that’s quite the stretch. The population in 2010 was 32,013 and I guarantee it was a third of that back when I lived there in the late 1980s. There were like, no neighbors. There was literally an alfalfa field next door. The road wasn’t even paved until years later and that “road” dead-ended into a field of cotton. Socorro is a speck of spit on a cracked, dusty dune. And that’s where I spent my high school years.
It has taken me a very long time to claim El Paso as my
hometown. I used to always say “My hometown is Austin,” or ““I was raised in El
Paso, but my hometown is Austin,” mainly because Austin was where I lived
before my final move to Washington D.C. and, well, everybody knows Austin, but
(at least at the time) very few people knew anything about El Paso.
The other reason I never used to claim El Paso as my
hometown is because I actually hated it growing up. Absolutely despised it.
Couldn’t wait to get out of there.
I moved there under duress right around sixth grade, I think.
We moved around all the time for the first 12 years of my life and I had a
really hard time making friends. But right before El Paso, we had been living
in Huntsville and I had finally made a group of friends. These girls, who were
somehow related to each other and were probably a little bit older than me, were
a little wild. They were already hanging out with older boys and drinking and
smoking, which just made them even cooler in my eyes, so I really wanted them
to like me.
But, for various reasons involving lousy men and even worse
life choices, my mom up and decided that we were moving to El Paso.
I hated El Paso from the get go. In my pre-teen eyes, El
Paso was big and sprawling and yet there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. I
was crowded in by the Franklin Mountains on one side and the vast, scrubby
desert on the other. I didn’t like the desert landscape, which was the opposite
of the lush, piney greenery in Huntsville.
Everything was new and foreign, I didn’t understand the food or the culture. Everybody was laid back and not at all in a hurry. El Paso is where I learned the concept of “manana syndrome.” El Paso people spoke a different language that was a mix of English and Spanish and border slang and I could not keep up with it at all. Plus, everyone was way too Catholic for my anti-religious self.
Worse yet, people seemed to want to stay there or return to
El Paso after college. They just didn’t leave. They wanted to stay close to
their families, which was a totally foreign concept for me. I could not wait to
leave. I wanted to get as far away from my family and El Paso as I could, as
quickly as I could.
We first settled in a trailer park near Fort Bliss and I did
not make friends. Nobody looked like me, nobody talked like me. I felt like an
outcast. My new school (Basset Middle School) was especially tough….there were
fights there on the daily, usually breaking out in between classes between the
main school building and the portables. A lot of times those fights involved lengths
of large metal chains the students had brought to school. Random locker
searches were the norm. I got in a few fights myself and soon found out the
hard way that my scrappy style was no match for these military and Mexican
I retreated even further into myself and my hatred of El
Paso–this horrible place my mother had dragged me to—grew. I spent all my time
reading books as a form of escape and hiding in the library so I wouldn’t say
something that would get me into another fight.
For whatever reason (again, involving a no-good boyfriend),
we soon were on the move again, this time, down I-10 to Socorro. Things got
moderately better by the time we moved to my grandparents’ abandoned trailer,
but by then, my hatred had hardened and coupled with just general
pre-teen/teenager surliness, I continued to hold out to the charms of El Paso.
In fact, it wasn’t until much, much later—like, when I was in my late 30s—that I could finally admit that El Paso was, in fact, a unique and wonderful place.
I can now admit that the Franklin Mountains are a nice place
to go for an evening drive and the giant lighted star is really something
special. I slowly embraced the fact that the desert landscape that I had so
detested, was actually incredibly beautiful and calming. I appreciate (in
hindsight) that in the desert, you can smell the rain before it comes and when
the sky finally does split open, it’s a miraculous, powerful thing. I’ve come
around to (even if I don’t always practice) “manana syndrome,” because, really,
can’t most things wait?
And, I am now oh-so-grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in a border town, crossing easily back and forth over the bridge to enjoy all the best of both cultures—everything from late night rolled tacos at Chico’s Tacos in El Paso to dancing the night away and drinking 25 cent Colorado Bulldogs at the Kentucky Club in Juarez.
But most of all, I am now proud to call myself an El Pasoan
because of the wonderful people that live there. El Pasoans are generally –
with the exception of a few classmates early on — very welcoming and friendly.
Those traits and that openness was wasted on my surly teenaged self, but slowly
my walls have melted. I now appreciate El Pasoans’ focus on family and friends,
the willingness to help out a neighbor or your daughter’s
best friend, without expecting or asking for anything in return.
So, of course, the news that someone from outside the El Paso community would come in and kill innocent families out shopping for back-to-school supplies is just devastating. It would be—and is—devastating that such senseless violence happens in any community. But for it to happen in the El Paso community—which is so diverse and so warm and so open and so welcoming—it is especially galling and just egregious. It’s the last place you would expect something like this to happen. But we all know, it won’t be the last place that something like this happens.
It’s a pretty exciting time to be in Washington D.C. The whole town is amped up over the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. The Saturn V rocket is being projected onto the Washington Monument, Neil Armstrong’s space suit is back on display at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Symphony Orchestra is putting on a special tribute concert at the Kennedy Center. (See even more ways to celebrate here).
But all I can think about is my first boss, Paul Haney.
Paul Haney was the “voice of mission control,” providing live commentary on some of NASA’s earliest space flights. He worked at NASA in its early days, becoming director of public affairs at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1963.
As a former newspaper reporter, he often butted heads with NASA bureaucrats in Washington on the need to have full agency transparency and provide the media and public with full access to information on NASA’s programs and astronaut training.
Without Paul’s input, it’s likely the American public would never have seen the moon landing televised in their own homes, the Houston Chronicle posited (although, they quoted Paul’s boss, Julian Scheer, where most other news articles I read, including his New York Times obituary in 2009 credit Paul for NASA’s transparency).
That insistence on full openness is also what got him fired 10 weeks before the Apollo 11 moon landing. Otherwise, we all would have heard Paul’s voice counting down the Saturn launch. Instead, it was Jack King. It must have been an especially bitter pill for Paul since the moon walk occurred on his birthday, July 20.
After further stints in reporting and corporate public affairs, Paul and his wife Jan “retired” to Horizon City, right outside El Paso and took over a small community newspaper called the Homestead News. In the 1980s, Paul wrote, edited and published the Homestead News. The staff was basically Paul, Jan, her son and his wife. Plus me.
I can’t remember when I first stepped into the Homesteader
offices. It must have been the summer after my sophomore year, maybe? My mom
drove me over and waited while I went inside and asked if they were hiring.
Paul and Jan looked at each other incredulously and said no, they were already
fully staffed. I went to the car dejected and my mom said, “So, you’re just
going to take no for an answer?” With the prospect of a long, hot, boring
summer at home stretched out in front of me, I went back into the office and
offered to work for free. “I just want the experience,” I said.
That’s how I became the Homestead News “intern.”
I can’t remember how long I worked there. It was pretty
sporadic, mostly in the summer, but a little bit during the school year, too. The
Haney’s did eventually start paying me, mostly out of guilt, I suspect. It was something
like $50 a month, I think. But it was an experience you could not put a price
tag on. I learned all about the newspaper business, everything from ad sales, clerical
work, writing, pasting and layout, and even accompanying Paul when he
physically took the mounting boards to the printer (these were pre-e-mail days,
Every day at around 5:30, Paul would make himself a screwdriver, grab a small cup of dry roasted peanuts and retire to the hot tub on the patio (they moved the office to their home shortly after I started.) While letting the day’s stresses float away, he would regale me and poor Jan (who had already heard it all) with stories of his reporter days in Ohio, Washington D.C. and later in Galveston and South Carolina, as well as his time at NASA. I remember I used to stare in awe at this plaque he had on the wall that was given to him by his former NASA colleagues. It said “happy birthday” and had the date of the moon landing, and a small moon rock mounted on it. Pretty incredible. I wish I had a picture of it.
Being a know-it-all teenager, Paul and I used to get into
some heated debates sometimes (refereed by Jan, of course) because—and here’s
that age-old generational thing at play—while his generation had fought wars (he
was in the Korean War) and put a man on the moon, subsequent generations hadn’t
done very much worth admiring (in his words). This was when I was like, 17, so,
of course I had no real comeback! Jan always stepped in and told him to stop
being an old grump.
Anyway, I distinctly remember when the Berlin Wall fell and communism was declared over. Paul grudgingly admitted that my generation might be on the right track after all. Which was pretty high praise coming from him.
I didn’t keep touch with the Haneys after high school and
when I moved away. I heard that Jan’s son and daughter-in-law took over the
Homesteader and the Haneys retired to a cherry orchard in New Mexico, before
cancer (first melanoma, then brain) took Paul in 2009.
I, of course, wish I had stayed in touch. I think Paul would
have gotten a real kick out of knowing I did pursue a career in journalism and
so many of the journalistic ethics he taught me – treat your sources with
respect and don’t betray their trust; check the facts not once, not twice, but
three times; always be curious and follow up; be open and transparent; get both
sides of an argument and be fair; don’t insert or share your own opinions in an
interview and definitely not in a story – stayed with me forever.
So while I’ll be enjoying all the hoopla around the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I’ll be thinking of Paul and trusting that he’s got a good view of it all somewhere.