All posts by happywaffle

Vote for Project Connect

Way back in 2014, I appeared in a commercial to oppose the light-rail plan then on the ballot. I don’t have a single regret about doing so. Much like belief in science has become a liberal thing, the desire to spend our tax dollars wisely has become a conservative thing, even though neither should have the slightest connection to politics. That’s a long-winded way of saying that I was against the 2014 proposal even though I’m in favor of mass transit. It just wasn’t a good proposal.

Now it’s 2020, and a new light-rail proposal is on the ballot. Like all ballot items, it’s far from perfect. Unlike the 2014 proposal, it’s very much worth voting for.

And so I’ve done what small thing I can to offer my support: I’ve self-produced a commercial to endorse Proposition A. As you can see it’s an unauthorized sequel that turns the original concept on its head. I’ve got no money left to get it on the air (if you know any rich uncles, let me know) so instead I’m sharing it, hoping you’ll enjoy it and consider sharing it yourself. Thanks to all the fabulous creative people who helped it to look and sound so good (credits are in the video).

Vote YES on Proposition A, and please encourage your friends and family to do the same. https://capmetro.org/project-connect

Operation Market Garden

For all my travel these past few years, I’m much more of a homebody than you might think. I might judge the folks who never left their hometown after high school, but like a big ol’ hypocrite, I never left my hometown after college. In fact, I’ve never lived outside of Texas—let alone outside the US—in my entire life.

Well… it’s a crazy year.

Thanks to a very pretty, funny, and loving Dutch-Australian girl—and thanks to a country that would rather see me leave than welcome her as an immigrant—around the end of the year, I’m moving to the Netherlands. For the first time in 18 years I’m quitting my job. For the first time in 24 years I’ll need to learn my way around a new city, albeit one I already know and love.

To call this a big shift is an understatement. Amsterdam is no Kuala Lampur, but it ain’t Dallas, either. They do typically European stuff like putting the day before the month and pronouncing the letter Z “zed” and calling the first floor the “ground floor” and the second floor the first floor.1 Rush hour is a flood of bikes, hot or cold, rain or shine (usually “cold” and “rain”). Good Surinamese food can be found everywhere; good tortillas can be found nowhere. Football is played with feet. And so on. 2

So what am I doing when I get there?

First and foremost, after two and a half years, I’ll be in a relationship that’s NOT long-distance. I’m excited about the utter mundanity of seeing my fantastic girlfriend—and her fantastic cat, Percy—every goshdarn day. I’ll be privileged enough to stay funemployed for a bit, giving me time to work on my Dutch and tackle some creative projects (painting, writing, etc). I’m excited to join the fantastic Amsterdam improv community. Beyond that, who knows? Watch this space.

If the job search doesn’t pan out, I could always work at Amsterdam’s hippest clothing retailer.

I love Amsterdam, and I love Kiki who lives there. I’m deeply excited about having the adventure of a lifetime. But I can’t write this without acknowledging what’s bittersweet. There won’t be a farewell party or improv show. Austin is my favorite place on earth, and I’m leaving it at its lowest point. I’m swamped with guilt as I move off to (frankly) a better place while the places and people that I love the most are struggling. I sure wish I had an uplifting end to this paragraph.

I have so many things to do before I go. I’m doing what tiny amount I can to make Election Day a happy one. I still have 52 county courthouses to visit. I need to inventory every single thing I own and label it Store, Sell, Donate, or Pack. I need to see so many friends (even if at a distance) and eat so, many, tacos.

And no, I’m not leaving forever; I love Austin far too much for that. Hopefully in the near future our country won’t be such a fuckface about immigration and COVID, and Kiki can come here! For now, though, we’ll be there.

FAQ AND THINGS TO KNOW

  • I’ll be renting my house, hopefully to tenants who are excited to be chicken tenders. More details soon, if you’re interested.
  • The cats are coming—Sabado in December, Suitcase sometime next year. Moving them across an ocean and introducing them to Kiki’s cat is the most nerve-wracking part of this whole thing. (If you’ve read this far, maybe you’d be a good Suitcase foster parent?)
  • Holland is to the Netherlands what England is to the UK. Denmark, though, is a completely different country.

Eat less beef. It’s pretty easy.

I love beef. It’s soooo yummy. But a couple of years ago, I started cutting back on it, for reasons I’ll get to in a second.

Here’s the really crazy part: it wasn’t hard.

Now, there are probably some good health reasons to reduce your cow intake, which is fine and dandy. But I’m gonna skip that for the sake of your short attention span and get to some even better reasons why you can skip the beef stroganoff next time you have the choice.

It’s really good for the planet.

So the world is on fire, if you haven’t heard, and it turns out that our collective love for beef is a shockingly significant factor. Let me throw a crazy chart at you:

Source (good article)

If you pick chicken over beef just once, you’ve generated a sixth of the carbon emissions that you otherwise would have. Less methane from cow farts, less rainforest chopped down for cattle grazing. Not bad for a dang sandwich.

It makes beef fun again.

You’ve had a burger for lunch. You probably didn’t think much of it. It was good, but not great. You forgot about it an hour later.

Meh.

Guess what happens when you cut back on your beef? Burgers become special. “Oh my God,” you think, “know what I want to do tonight? Eat a burger.” You decide on a place that serves properly good stuff (RIP Hut’s; long live Casino). You make a plan to go. It feels like the tastiest thing you’ve ever eaten. Yeah, you might regret it the next morning; but you regretted that burger lunch, too, and this one was worth it.

Helloooo, lover.

For the same reason, I’ve cut my steak intake to once a year, on my birthday, which is five days from now as I type these words. Believe you me, I’m looking forward to that steak. It’s better than Christmas.

There’s usually something else to eat.

This part won’t make my vegan friends happy, but news flash: pork is delicious. Chicken is good. If there’s an option, you can take it. Here’s a heretical suggestion: turkey might be the worst of all meats, but next time you’re at a barbecue place, try the smoked turkey instead of brisket. Holy moly, it’s delicious.

And as for veggie options: I’m not over here yelling at you to eat a salad, but if you haven’t tried an Impossible Burger yet, now is the time.

And yeah, I cheat sometimes! You can too! But I’m beefing a lot less than I used to beef, and that’s me doing my tiny-tiny part. And if a couple of you can join me, that would make my tiny-tiny part just a little bit bigger. (That’s what she said.)

It’s a birthday present.

I told you that I wanted you to read this blogpost for my birthday. That was a dirty, sinful lie. What I really want for my birthday is for you to think for one minute—60 full seconds!—about eating less beef. Not to quit the stuff entirely; just notice it on the menu next time you’re out, and notice the other options, and maybe go for one of those.

You probably won’t mind the shift so much. You probably will notice beef tasting just a little bit better once it becomes a special-occasion thing.

Lola

The name on her placard at Town Lake Animal Shelter1 was “Shannon.” SHANNON. There has never been a worse name given to a dog. I like to think I lifted that curse when I adopted her. I also got her on sale; the shelter wasn’t no-kill back in those days, and “Shannon’s” days were literally numbered. Best $20 I ever spent.

She went nameless for a couple of weeks as my roommate Amalia and I sussed out her personality2 and wrote a dozen suggestions on the whiteboard in our small apartment. The finalist just behind Lola was “Lego,” which in retrospect would have been PAINFULLY on the nose. 

But in her trips to the dog park she turned out to be a speedy runner, doing aimless excited laps around the other dogs, red fur flashing in the sun. Her name was definitely Lola, and if you don’t get that reference—most people don’t these days—then you have a crazy movie to watch.

She followed me to seven different addresses over 18 years. She was there for friendships, relationships, heartbreaks both given and received, and marriages (well, just one of those). In her prime, she knew a fantastic array of tricks that we would do in sequence: “Sit! Lay! Roll over! Up! Down! Speak!” She followed along excitedly, her eyes shining, her ears perfect triangles, her curled tail wagging irregularly. When I got laryngitis at one point, she re-learned the tricks with hand gestures and whistles. Clever girl.

I’m not just a different person than when I got her; I’m two or three people removed. The college graduate half my age, clinging desperately to his thinning hair; the married suburbanite living in Leander (Leander!!); the world-traveling improv teacher. None of this has anything to do with Lola per se, except that she was constant. One of the very few who knew and loved ALL of those skinny bald men. 

The last picture is cheating. EVERYBODY looks better in dramatic lighting.

In 2014, doctors found a tumor the size of a dragon egg attached to her spleen—more accurate to say her spleen was attached to the tumor. She was rushed into surgery the next morning.

Khaleesi?

Looking back on it, I realize that’s when her time was up. But Lola decided otherwise. The tumor was benign; she recovered within a week; and she lived on borrowed time for another five years.

She faded over time, of course. First went the hearing, then the vision, then the hips. In the last year or so, she would wander the house listlessly, nails clackity-clacking on the laminate, as though she were seeking a spot she couldn’t quite remember. I’ll miss that persistent sound as I go to bed every night.

When we got divorced in 2011, my wife requested a clean break, and specifically asked me not to let her know about Lola’s health. “I’m just going to imagine her living happily forever,” she told me before we parted ways.

She very nearly got her wish.

One Breath Around the World

Guillaume Néry has a superpower you and I don’t have: flight. Thanks to his massive lung capacity and low regard for safety, he can take a breath and soar around underwater spaces with the casual ease of a superhero. Here’s a lovely 12-minute video that made me painfully jealous. …But not so jealous that I’m going to venture more than two inches underwater.

God Forgives, I Don’t

This is just a hair too important for a Facebook post.

A year or more ago, I became enamored with a print that hangs next to the pool table at The Liberty in east Austin. It got to the point that I would specifically choose The Liberty over the other bars in the neighborhood, just to visit “my girlfriend.” I would even choose the table that faced the painting so I had a view of it. This doesn’t happen to me with art! But it did with this one.

It’s titled “God Forgives, I Don’t.” It’s by an artist called Gabe Leonard. He reminds me of Vermeer in how he captures an energized, dynamic movement and freezes it in amber. She’s swinging the gun around to fire, her face full of resolve, her dress shining and flowing; and yet she also seems perfectly at rest, stuck in time, never to pull the trigger.

Finally one day I got the courage to ask the bartender if it was for sale. No, it’s wasn’t; but they put me in touch with an Austin gallery that had some of his work. And his work is fantastic, you really should check him out! (This is a personal favorite.)

But it wasn’t the one I loved. Furthermore, they told me, Gabe had only created 100 prints of the painting, and they were all spoken for. And there my dream ended; any time I wanted to visit my girlfriend, I had to visit The Liberty. I told my friends that if anyone heisted the painting at any point, they could find it at my house.

My girlfriend—the real human one, not the painted lady with the rifle—knew about my obsession with this painting, and had seen it on a previous visit. And a few weeks ago, she confessed something: she had emailed Gabe Leonard directly (something I never thought to do) and asked if he knew of any prints that might be available. Alas, she told me, he didn’t know of any. That’s too bad, I said; but it was so sweet of her to even try!

A couple of weeks later, a roll arrived in the mail.

I may have gasped audibly.

Kiki told me the truth about contacting the artist, but she was a sinful liar about no prints being available. Gabe had put her in touch with a gallery in California; they mailed it directly to me.

I was astonished.

A few days later I took it to the framers; today, I got it back. I couldn’t be happier. It’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

South Africa 3: Saturday

The last full day in Cape Town was the warmest. Mid-70s, sky so clear you’d think you could see the stars. I found myself back at my preferred local dive, slowly sipping a beer1 as the open windows allowed in the air and noise of the afternoon, and—weirdly—a six-year-old boy seated next to me nursed his hot chocolate and occasionally showed me drawings from his Shopkins book. I’ve had weirder barmates.

I spent the afternoon with my fellow Americans festival-goers climbing Lions’ Head, a mountain adjacent to Table Mountain with a spiraling trail to the top that was more like a climbing route for the home stretch. Cape Town beneath us to the east. The Atlantic, impossibly huge, to the west. Dozens of sailboats drifting close to shore, with a cargo ship loitering on the horizon. Once, a trio of paragliders zoomed into view, each of them passing within ten feet of the trail before soaring off to the distant beach. Ground squirrels and songbirds stalked us at the top, hoping for snacks.

Once I got back to the Airbnb, my trip hit the fast-forward button. A brief shower.2 The crushing realization that I didn’t have time for a nap. The festival’s instructor showcase, which evolved into a narrative about a coup at a Catholic girl’s school. One final mixer show. Last visit to the local dive bar. Four underpriced vodkas. The penultimate History Under the Influence, which went very well. Festival afterparty. Nice chats with interesting people. Hugs and farewells.

The walk home was serene. I’ve been warned to stay vigilant on the streets here, and I did. And my heightened senses reported back nothing but the sound of my steps bouncing off the pavement of the narrow street and the security walls to either side; the faint hum of the orange lights overhead; the whisper of highway traffic somewhere in the abstract distance. Orion watching over me, upside down, like he was doing a handstand.

I finally figured out just the right jiggle to unlock my Airbnb’s security gate—the last time I’d ever need to; don’t it always go that way?—and let myself in.

PS: I’ve said precious little about the festival itself! I had a great time teaching my workshop. The performance highlights were Lusty Mannequins, two instructors from Second City Toronto; and La Teatre Andre, a spectacular trio from Oslo.3 The locals were, as always, fun to be with on and off the stage. To any improvisers reading: if you have the means—for the plane ticket; it’s stupidly cheap once you get here—I do recommend applying.

South Africa 2: Wednesday

I subjected myself to the second modern-art museum on this trip—the Zeitz, opened only last month—not least because of its startling architecture: it was carved from a grid of 100-foot concrete silos to create hypnotic geometric spaces.

I liked the museum even better than the Tate in London. Maybe the fact that African culture is so unknown to me helped me to appreciate the enigmatic weirdness of its modern art.

Next I walked a couple hundred meters to the famous V&A Waterfront, only to discover that it’s a giant shopping mall and tourist trap. And that’s all I have to say about that.

After an equally uninteresting wander through downtown—Cape Town’s CBD is long on office buildings, short on local dives—I finally stumbled across a pub that served me something called Portuguese Chicken on a sizzling platter. Yummy. Including beer and tip, I spent over $10 on lunch! (I spent $11. This place is cheap.)

The Uber back to my neighborhood1 coincided unfortunately with rush hour, but gave me a chance to examine Cape Town more closely as we crawled eastward out of downtown. Salons, tyre shops, and incongruously posh restaurants; one private bus after another competing with cars and motorbikes and daredevil pedestrians for room on the street, the painted lines on the street merely decorative; a lifetime’s worth of carbon monoxide through our open windows.

South Africa 1: Flying There

To get from London to my stopover at Dubai, I boarded an Emirates Airlines Airbus A380, which felt like the biggest thing I’d ever seen. It’s two stories from tip to tail, like something a child might draw. As we rolled down the runway, I trusted they had done the math to ensure this monstrosity could actually take off.

Take off it did. The cartoon airplane took us over the heart of Europe, then Turkey, then Iran (taking an awkward detour around Iraq). I gawked out the window at cities I’ve never heard of, trying to discern their structure. Tourism in the dark at 85% of the speed of sound.

Finally we flew across the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf (floating oil platforms; cargo ships anchored by the hundreds) and approached Dubai. Unluckily, I didn’t get a proper view of the famous skyline, either landing or departing.1 But even the areas around the city were otherworldly. Geometric subdivisions separated by inexplicably large gaps of desert. Glittering compounds that might have been power stations, or tourist attractions, or both. Highways to god-knows-where, stretched like orange ribbons across the black, literally disappearing in the distance.

I was on the ground in Dubai for literally an hour, scampering from one Emirates jetliner to the other, at 3 in the dang morning. I’d like to see the city some day, but this wasn’t it.

Then I slept most of my way across the African continent, at some point crossing the equator for only the second time in my life. Fall became spring outside my window. When I woke it was day again, South Africa coming up at me from below.

The plane shot out over the Indian Ocean—my first glimpse of the Indian Ocean—then turned back north for a landing. Cape Town came into focus, subdivisions and shantytowns. With hardly a glance in my direction the customs official stamped my passport. I ignored two dozen taxi hype men and made my way outside, where the festival producer Tami was waiting. The weather was fucking perfect: mid-60s, warm sun, blue skies. Time to begin.

London Blog

(Get it? Like fog? Never mind.)

My first-ever visit to London1 would have been a whirlwind even without extraneous factors. It was a mere 56 hours between my arrival from Austin on Saturday morning and my departure to Cape Town on Monday afternoon. That’s hardly enough time to visit a couple of museums, take a couple of selfies, and get hit by a bus cause you looked the wrong way while crossing the street.

And yet, there *were* extraneous factors. This was a glorified stopover for me, but by wild coincidence, there were TWO enormous improv events happening in London: the Slapdash International Improv Festival and the 50-hour Hoopla Improv Marathon. This meant I had shows to see and perform in, and a wild number of friends in town. Improv, I just don’t know how to quit you.

I landed at Heathrow and took the tube to my host Phil’s neighborhood, with markets and cafés and double-decker buses and a peculiar number of barber shops. London’s concentrated diversity was everywhere—races, accents, and languages in abundance that’s hard to find outside of New York City.

I dumped the bags and headed back downtown. My first and biggest stop of the day was the British Museum, where 3,000-year-old sarcophagi lay in front of me, nothing but the honor system stopping me from placing my hands where some anonymous stoneworker placed theirs, over a hundred generations ago.

The magnificence of these ancient civilizations persists. Look upon my Works, ye mighty, and despair, the enormous statues instruct the gawking tourists. What of ours will tourists stare at 3,000 years in the future? Given how little stonework we do these days, I figure, not much.

A dedicated gallery displayed large portions of the Parthenon, which I would’ve expected to see when I visited—ya know—the Parthenon. The British Museum’s open dirty secret is how many of its greatest hits are straight-up plunder. One ancient Egyptian obelisk was labeled as a “gift from King George III” and I’m PRETTY SURE HE WAS NOT THE ORIGINAL OWNER, GUYS.2

Without consulting a map—intentionally so; I was happy to wander—I left the museum and walked roughly in the direction I figured the Thames was in. I managed to miss it entirely, but I did stumble upon Trafalgar Square and finally found a bridge at Big Ben. I’d forgotten to switch to my comfy shoes. The blisters were a-comin’.

After strolling along the southern waterfront (and discovering I was in the wrong neighborhood entirely), I finally got to the Slapdash venue, where I found an astonishing number of improv friends both expected and unexpected. It was like a family reunion. The highlight of the night’s shows was Decibel, a silent-improv trio featuring my friend Jacintha from Finland.

I stayed at the afterparty way too late, then doubled down by cabbing over to the Hoopla Theater, where they were midway through their 50-hour marathon. I watched improv to the point of true delirium (improvised Rick and Morty?!) before finally heading back to Phil’s place for a few hours of sleep. Sunday morning we headed right back to the theater; it was time for the antepenultimate3 History Under the Influence.

Jet lag + a few gin-and-Sprites make Kevin a silly boy. My cast performed wonderfully as we documented the Russian Revolution, the dissolution of the monasteries, and Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power. (“Did you guys see Ratatouille? It was like that, with an evil butterfly.”)

Thankfully, and as per plan, I hadn’t gotten so drunk as to waste the rest of my day. I took a 20-minute cat nap in the pub downstairs from the theater, then walked 10 minutes to the Tate Modern, the second of my two big museum visits.

Now, look, real talk: I’m not a super modern-art guy. But I only rolled my eyes a few times. There was some great great stuff, including the requisite Dalis and Pollocks and Rothkos, and entirely new discoveries.

Next I walked on the Millennium Bridge across the Thames.4 Looming in front of me was St. Paul’s, the overpoweringly enormous cathedral finished in 1720. I arrived during the informal changing of the guard, as Sunday-afternoon parishioners filed out and Sunday-afternoon tourists filed in. I examined crypts and sarcophagi and statues that were ostentatious AF; the bus-sized tribute to Lord Nelson is truly ridiculous. I then sat for a few minutes under the tremendous dome, neck craned back, staring at the frescoes and finding fascinating details everywhere.

Here’s a fun historic anecdote: on September 10, 1940, a German bomb crashed through the roof of St. Paul’s and failed to detonate. The bomb squad quickly conducted what was surely the highest-stakes defusing job of their careers, then hauled the bomb into the countryside and exploded it, creating a 100-foot crater. That’s how close we were to having lost this thing.

I took a couple of hours to rest my foots at Phil’s place and watch Phil’s Netflix, before finding dinner at the nearby kabob stank and making one last improv pilgrimage to the final hour of the Hoopla marathon. The night ended with drinks and stories at Phil’s kitchen table. I was in bed at something like a reasonable hour.

Off I go in a couple of hours to Heathrow, then to Cape Town, by way of Dubai. (Go check out a globe if you don’t realize how out of the way that is. Including this stop in London, my route from Texas to South Africa would make Indiana Jones scratch his head.)