Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dog, The Bounty Hunter, Has Nothing On Leta

My 19 hours as a prisoner in the Eastland County jail had been a cakewalk compared to the next 2 hours.

I had officially been arraigned in front of the judge and charged with noncompliance as an uninsured motorist because I hadn’t submitted the infamous form 1022. I had pled not guilty which meant that I had to go to court at some date in the future. In the meantime, I had to get out of jail and that meant coming up with the $1,000 bail.

After I was finished with the judge, a deputy came and got me and sat me down at a 100-year old desk and proceeded to explain my options for posting bail. The easiest would be to simply fork over $1,000, but given that my purse was in my car in some unknown impound lot in Cisco, Texas, it’s not like I could write a check, or anything. And it’s not like I had an extra grand on me, either. At this point, I could make phone calls.

So I called my mom and dad. They were relieved to hear from me and were anxious for news about what was going on. I’m so fortunate that they happened to be in town from Colorado that weekend and I’m equally fortunate that they didn’t ask a lot of questions over the phone. They said they would get the cash and I was to call them back in 30 minutes.

Luckily, the deputy didn’t make me go back into a holding cell. He let me wait at that desk. I called my folks back.

OF COURSE it wasn’t going to be easy…why should anything be easy at this point? It turns out that the ONE ATM machine in Cisco would only let them take out $300 cash a day. So they found the ONE ATM machine in Eastland, and it would only let them take out $500 cash a day. So they were able to get $800. I couldn’t get any cash out because I was in jail. They felt so badly, but because it was a Sunday there were no banks open so it was really hard to get money. For them to drive to another town meant me having to stay longer in jail and that option was not appealing at all.

We were left with no resort. I had to call…. A bail bondsman.

Nothing - and I mean nothing - prepared me for this experience. I explained the situation to the deputy and he handed over a sheet of phone numbers for bail bondsmen in the area. It was an old Xeroxed copy that was tattered and worn and was probably 30 years old. I sort of looked at him blankly and he said,…”start calling ‘em”.

I soon learned that all of these bondsmen were actually in their cars outside of the jail. Since it was Sunday morning business was good springing people out who had been arrested on Saturday night. They just circled the jail and waited for the calls. They wait like vultures circling over dead meat.

I’m sure this will offend some, and for that I’m sorry, but after my experience I have an incredibly low view of bail bondsmen. I would prefer the company of pond scum. Bail bondsmen are evil bullies who use scare and shame tactics to broker their deal with you.

And Leta was no exception.

Leta was my bail bondsmen and my ticket out. She was a hard looking, mean talking, toxic soul who made my skin crawl. I had to fill out form after form after form. She took references and phone numbers and addresses and spewed all sorts of venom about what would happen to me if I skipped out on my court appearance. I was to report in to her by phone every Friday by noon until my court date and if I was late by even one minute she wouldn’t hesitate to “hunt me down” and have me arrested. She took many Polaroid pictures of me and I had to sign all sorts of documents saying I wouldn’t alter my appearance in any way. It was the most unpleasant experience of this whole ordeal.

But finally, my piddly $1,000 bond was approved and I was a free woman once again. The deputy walked me to the big, locked door, apologizing right and left for this whole ordeal. I had one of those Billy Jack moments where I was felt so righteous that I just walked out without saying a word to him.

But my tough guy persona quickly crumbled into an ooey gooey mess of weeping little girlness when I saw my mom and dad waiting outside for me. To the end of time I will never forget the comfort they gave me at that moment. And the beauty? My mom grabbed me and hugged me as I was telling her not to touch me because I had jail stink all over me and she busted out in big, hearty laughter. This got my dad laughing. Big laughs of relief. And then I started laughing. It was a weird reaction but we stood there on the curb laughing and crying and laughing. This was the damndest situation that none of us had expected and our reaction was as crazy as everything else had been.

When we finally composed ourselves and I was able to stop weeping it got more serious as I explained the situation. Mom and dad were so mad. So mad that dad marched across the street to the first attorney’s office he came to. The Eastland jail is right near the courthouse, which is in the center of town, and there are a number of small law offices in that same area. But being Sunday, they were all closed. So instead of immediately talking to a lawyer we went and ate pancakes.

Afterwards, we had to figure out how to get my car. I’m going to spare you the blow by blow but this was hard because again, it was Sunday, and we had to scare someone up at the Sanford & Son impound lot on the outskirts of Cisco. There was the stereotypical rabid dog guarding the fortress and it cost a small fortune in cash, but I finally got my car and we drove back to the friends where mom and dad were staying. I showered for about three hours.

And how could I forget to tell you this minor detail? MY DRIVER’S LICENSE HAD BEEN REVOKED! They took it because until I filled out the form 1022, I was not allowed to drive. And OF COURSE I couldn’t fill out the form 1022 in Eastland, I had to fill it out in Austin where I had received the ticket. Again, if it wasn’t for my parents my paddleless journey up shit creek would have continued and I was pretty much at wit’s end by this point. But my sweet mom stayed in Texas instead of going home to Colorado and she drove me back to Austin.

I had to miss most of work that Monday as we drove from one DMV office to another trying to get the blessed form 1022 completed, notarized and submitted. Of course it was all complicated because the warrant for my arrest kept appearing on all of the computer systems and I had to explain at least a dozen times that I had already served my time. I was quickly sinking into a major depression, but we managed to get everything finished and my driver’s license was renewed.

May none of you ever be as stupid as I was and have to go through the massive amounts of bullshit that accompany the bureaucratic red tape of the form 1022.

I was pretty shaky that whole week but I had to get back into my work that was always busy and chaotic…and I didn’t say a word to anyone about any of this. For a while, at least.

Because the big cherry on top of this ugly sundae? A few days later one of our favorite family members, my dad’s sweet uncle, called my dad.

Uncle Fred: “Uh, Ronnie? Was Lori in town last weekend?”

Dad: “Uh….yes, she was.”

Uncle Fred: “Well, is she alright?”

Dad: “Well, uh, yes. Why do you ask?”


Dad: “…… uh…… well……yep….that’s her!”

So my little secret? It was total public knowledge in the town where I have relatives. In the town where my grand parents lived. In the town where mom and dad were going to retire in a few years. Everyone knew that I was a jailbird and I can only imagine what scenarios they concocted about why I was in the big house. It took a lot of explaining.

May God smite small town newspapers.

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Wrapping Up an Arraignment Before Sunday School

I was suddenly very twitchy. Involuntary twitches I couldn’t control. Combine that with my ratty hair, swollen face and general sweatiness and I was about as homely as they come. The lights had just burst on in my jail cell but I had no idea what time it was. But since the lights were on, I expected the door would burst open at any moment and I would be whisked away to freedom.

But OF COURSE that didn’t happen. I just sat there and waited, and waited, and waited. I heard some footsteps and voices coming down the hall and I could tell they were pushing something on wheels. I could hear that they were at my door and I literally yelled when a plastic tray came shooting through the mail slot looking thing at the bottom of my door like a bullet. The tray slid to a stop at my feet. Apparently breakfast was served.

Oatmeal. Ugly, grayish oatmeal and a piece of toast. No thanks. But there was a small, sealed cup of orange juice, and I just couldn’t resist. I was so thirsty by this point that I gulped it down in two drinks.

I was going stir crazy so I walked in little tiny circles in my little tiny cell for a long time. I heard someone yell out from down the hall “You’re late, Anderson. It’s 6:30, man!”, so with that reference I estimated that they must have turned the lights on at about 5:00.

I felt a tremendous rush of anxiety and relief when I FINALLY hear a key turning in my door. Oh God, here we go. What next? The door swung open and it was another deputy I hadn’t seen before. “Good morning, Miss Holliday. Judge Hubert will be arriving soon. Please follow me.”

As I was walking out of by cell, I heard the ghost girl in the cell next to me quietly say through the air vent, “good luck Austin.” My thought bubble, “You too, Hot Check Writer, you too.”

I was led to a different room this time, more like one of those rooms where one is interrogated. There was a table in the room with a chair on each side and two way glass along one wall so big brother could watch you from the other side.

I sat there twitching for awhile until Judge Hubert entered the room. He was an older man, 70ish, short and stocky with a big shock of white hair, and he was wearing a light blue western cut suit and a white straw cowboy hat. He was a nice man and he answered my questions as best he could. I’ll save you the play-by-play, but throughout the course of our conversation, here is what I found out.

When I received that speeding ticket in 1996, I handed the cop my driver’s license and insurance card, and I remember very well how surprised and embarrassed I was when he pointed out that my insurance had expired a few days earlier. I had totally forgotten to renew my insurance – he was absolutely right about that. The excuse I like to use is that this was a highly stressful time in my life. I was working full time, driving 45 miles each way to graduate school at night, unhappy in my personal life; I was trying to figure out how to make everything work and just didn’t have all of my ducks in a row. Definitely guilty as charged on that front.

The officer was very nice. I remember it very clearly. He gave me the speeding ticket and the ticket for expired insurance, but he told me if I got the insurance renewed the ticket would be reduced to a $10 fine, only.

THE NEXT DAY I got my insurance renewed and went to the courthouse and paid the $10 fine.

Done deal. Hectic, crazy life resumed as normal.

Fast forward five years later and I learned from Judge Hubert that I had ended up in jail because I hadn’t filled out and submitted the infamous form 1022. You know about the form 1022, right? Doesn’t everybody? Well I sure didn’t. The judge told me that it was Texas law that when a motorist is ticketed for having no insurance, they have to submit a form 1022 to the state once they get insurance for proof that they have done so. I never submitted the form 1022, so in the great state of Texas’ eyes, I never proved I had car insurance and I might still be driving without it, EVEN THOUGH I had shown proof of insurance at the time I paid the ticket. At some point in the cycle, since the form hadn’t been received by a certain time, a warrant was issued for my arrest. That’s what happened to me. So, when I was pulled over in Cisco FOR DRIVING 38 IN A 35 MILE AN HOUR ZONE, and the cop ran my license through the system, it came back with a big “AREST HER IMMEDIATELY” order.

Okay. Let’s just sit here and reflect for a moment, as I did with Judge Hubert. In essence, it boils down to this.



Judge Hubert: Well, you would think so, wouldn’t you?

In the course of five years I had renewed my driver’s license (twice, because I had lost it), I had registered my vehicle every year, I had voted…I had done a number of things that are tracked in a statewide computer system. It seems to me there were a number of opportunities I could have been notified of this transgression. I NEVER received a notice in the mail for the original crime of not submitting form 1022 and I NEVER received a notice in the mail that there was a warrant for my arrest. So again, I ask, HOW WAS I EVER SUPPOSED TO KNOW I NEEDED TO FILL OUT THE FORM?

Let’s just say that is the main question I asked my attorney a few days later…but that’s jumping ahead in the story.

After some thought, Judge Hubert told me that he thought I “had a case” and should pursue this line of reasoning when my case WENT TO TRIAL. What? This all can’t be taken care of right here? Right now?

Oh no….that would have been way too easy. Judge Hubert let me know that I had to work my way through the system, but he suspected that I would be okay in the end. IN THE END? I want to be okay NOW! I don’t want to do this any more!

But I continued to be a pawn in the system. And without much fanfare, Judge Hubert let me know that he needed to get on to church so he was SETTING MY BAIL AT $1,000 AND I’D BE NOTIFIED BY MAIL OF MY COURT DATE.

As my left eye twitched uncontrollably, I sat there in amazement when I realized this ordeal was never going to end.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

Voices in the Night

It was after midnight, the lights had just gone out and I was sitting in my cell in the pitch black feeling sorry for myself and wondering how I had managed to get myself into this situation. It was really quiet and hot.

I looked around and wondered for a quick second how I could bust out. I knew it could be done because it’s been done before. Granted, that was in 1927, but I doubted too much had changed in the jailhouse since then. That notorious escape resulted in the last public lynching in the State of Texas, so I knew punishment would be swift and severe if I made a break for it. In short, the Eastland jail once housed one of the Santa Clause bank robbers in 1927 from a bloody bank heist in Cisco, Texas. Carvings of his name are still inside his cell. Once in jail, he took down and killed a well-liked jailer and broke out. This enraged 2000 townspeople to take matters into their own hands so the angry mob hunted him down and lynched him. You can see the monument to this story on the corner from the jail now - I've posted a picture of where the lynching supposedly took place. Yikes.

Suddenly, from out of the darkness, I heard a distant voice say, “Hey….hey girl…”

I jumped about 4 feet off my seat. What was that? Was I so dehydrated I was hallucinating? Was this a voice in my head? On top of everything else happening, was I going crazy, too? It wouldn’t have surprised me.

Voice: “Hey girl. Girrrrrl!”

I sort of looked around and got up the nerve to answer.

Me: Hello?

My thought bubble: God? Is that you? So you’re a girl! But I always thought you’d know my name…

Voice: Psst. Hey girl, what are you in for?

Me: Pardon me?

My thought bubble: WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON?

I finally pinpointed the voice. It was coming from the tiny air vent on the ceiling. Oh my gosh, the person in the next cell is talking to me!

Voice: Well? What are you in for?

Me: Uh, I don’t know.

Voice: What do you mean you don’t know?

Me. I mean, I don’t know. Um, what are you in for?

Voice: Hot checks.

Me. Oh.

This was so freaking weird.

I then started hearing kind of an “echo” of voices in the dark. Like background chatter. I could hear the mystery voice saying something, but I could tell she wasn’t talking to me. It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that she was talking to someone on the OTHER side of her. Since I was in the cell on the end of the row, I only shared a wall with one cell, but she shared a wall with two cells and must have had two air vents, one on each side.

When I focused hard, I could hear what she was saying to the person next to her, then I could hear that person saying it to the person next to them, and so on, all the way down the line! The prisoners in cell bloc E had developed a communication system of talking through the air vents and passing the information on to the next person. It was obvious that at that particular moment, I was the hot topic of conversation.

I could hear a question coming down the line. It started out really softly about five cells down, “Ask her where she’s from”, “Ask her where she’s from”, “Ask her where she’s from”, on and on getting a little bit louder each time until it got to the person in the cell next to me.

Voice: So, where you from?

Me. Austin.

Voice: She’s from Austin. And I heard that get passed down and down and down the road.

I heard another question start somewhere a few cells away that eventually made it to my buddy next door.

Voice: Why are you in Eastland?

My thought bubble: Oh man, how do I answer this in a short enough snippet that it can make it through in tact to the other side?

Me: I’m visiting my parents.

The message was sent down the line.

Voice: How long are you in for?

Me: Until tomorrow morning, I think.

Voice: I’ve been here for three weeks.

Me: Wow. Poor you.

This was so, so strange sitting in my dark, hot cell having a conversation with a ghost through the vent. And the questions kept coming and coming and coming. Since I wasn’t feeling very social, I didn’t really play along and ask any questions of my own. At one point, maybe 25 questions later – every question from what was my job to did I deal drugs to why did I think I was in jail to what color was my hair to did I have a boyfriend – I decided that I was tired of this and I wanted it to stop. So I just stopped answering. Interestingly, they never did ask me my name.

Voice: Hey! What’s going on? Are you asleep?

I heard her passing the message down Death Row that I must be asleep. I sat there for awhile and just listened to them chatter. At some point in what must have been the wee, wee hours of the still dark morning, all the echoes hushed and the floor sat in silence.

It was such a long night. I really needed to tinkle and I would have killed for some water, but I was way too big a wussy to use that toilet near my bed and I think the water coming from that rusty sink might have killed me. So I just waited it out.

KA-POP! All of a sudden the lights overhead shot on and it was eye-squinting bright for awhile. I guess that was Eastland County Jail’s way of saying everyone rise and shine! I took a deep breath, wondering what in the world was in store for me now that a new day had dawned on cell block E.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dead Man Walking

It was about 6:30 p.m. that Saturday and I had been officially booked into the Eastland County Jail for some unknown crime that involved mishandled paperwork. That’s all I knew as I sat there in that hot, 12’x12’ holding tank with two other people. It was then that I decided to stop crying. I had been a weeping train wreck of rattled nerves for over 3 hours and I was tired.

The one girl in the tank with me looked so young. She couldn’t have been over 20 years old. She was skinny and stringy and frail looking and she stared straight down at the ground. The other person in there was a middle-aged man with a wife beater t-shirt on who was sprawled out on the floor, sound asleep – probably passed out as I smelled a whiff of beer every now and then. I was NOT in the mood to be chit chatty, and neither was the girl, so we sort of gave each other a cursory nod and went back to staring and contemplating the injustice of it all.

There was no clock in the cell, so it was hard to tell what time it was. Time felt like it was creeping by, or possibly just standing still, because time would do that to me. I felt like the whole world was against me at that point, so why would time be any different? It wasn’t like I could engross myself in a good book or magazine. I just had to sit on that stainless steel bench, lean against that pea-green cement wall, look at the stainless steel toilet in the corner, and tell myself that I could do this. I could endure anything for one night.

At some point the door swung open and an inmate wearing the orange jumpsuit came in pushing a cart. It was dinner. Without making eye contact with any of us, he put three plastic trays and 3 plastic cups on the bench and left. I have no idea what was on that plastic tray because eating was the last thing on my mind. I was, however, incredibly thirsty. From all of the heat and crying, I had managed to dehydrate, but I just couldn’t reach for one of those plastic cups. I just couldn’t do it.

So I sat.

At some point in the night, things started hopping at the Eastland County Jail. It was Saturday night and apparently a lot of nothing good was going on because people were being thrown into the holding tank right and left. Mostly men, but certainly some women, too. And almost all of them looked, smelled, and/or sounded drunk or stoned. Because the tank was so small, we all had to sit side by side on the metal bench against the wall. Except for the guy who was still asleep on the floor.

I invoked the power of my invisibility shield and just sat there as still and quietly as I could, hoping not to be noticed, while others were talking, and in the case of some, ranting and raving. I was now in One Flew Over the Coo-Coo’s Nest.

That time in the holding tank ranks right up there as the worst moment in my life. I was trapped in a hot, stinking cell for an unknown crime with shit-faced people who were yelling that “Joe Bob had better watch his back” and hard, leathery looking people jonesing for a cigarette and others who were sitting quietly like me, with murderous looks of rage in their eyes. Not good.

At some point, the door swung open and a deputy I hadn’t seen before called out my name. It startled me to hear it. I got up and walked by everyone and stepped out of the holding cell. The fresh air felt so good. I glanced at the clock on the wall over one of the desks and it was midnight.

The deputy was a nice enough guy, called me “Miss Holliday”, and kept apologizing that I was in this situation. “I’m so sorry that we didn’t get you processed before 5:00. I’m so sorry that you have to stay here tonight. I’m so sorry that there was some paperwork fiasco that got you here in the first place. I’m so sorry…I’m so sorry.” You and me both, Mr. Deputy, you and me both.

Then he laid it on me that he had just received a call from “dispatch” that a group of “rowdies” had been arrested and were on their way over. The holding tank was too full to accommodate this new batch of societal menaces, so he was going to have to put me in a cell. So I could be spared from the sardine can holding pen. All I could process was that I was going into a jail cell. I’d sunk to an even lower low.

He then opened a very large closet and took out an old, flat, pad, about 6’ long and an inch thick. It was my “mattress”. He rolled it up and stuck it under my arm, and then he gave me a plastic cup. All prisoners get a mattress and a plastic cup when they are put into a cell.

Death row was down a hallway off of the central booking station, and it was one of the creepiest, longest walks of my life, because, OF COURSE, my cell was the very last one. There I was, sweaty and gross in my bad shorts, bad shirt, bad hair, puffed up swollen face, holding my bed roll and my cup, following the deputy down a dank corridor with cell doors on each side. I could see my cell door open at the very end of the hall…open, just waiting for me.

This facility didn’t have the bar “gates” that we think of a jail cell having, where you can see the inmates inside. These were the big, metal doors with only a peep hole at eye level and what looked like a mail slot at the bottom. I could hear some rustling around so I knew people were behind those doors, but you couldn’t see them. My contact lenses had such build up on them at this point from all the tears that it was like I was looking through wax paper, which made the whole scene even more bazaar.

We got to the end of the hallway and the deputy pointed that I was to go inside. He gave me a pity-filled look and said, “Just try and get some sleep, Miss Holliday. We’ll come get you in the morning when the judge arrives.”

So I walked in, and that big door slammed behind me. I could hear his steps walking away and all of a sudden I felt so alone.

Imagine if you will… the cell was so small, about 8’ x 6’ and the walls were pea-green painted cinderblocks. Jutting out from the wall was a stainless steel plank – the “bed”. Next to the bed was an old, rusty “sink” with only a cold water knob and next to that was the old, dented stainless steel toilet. If I stood in the middle of the room, I could spread my arms out and almost be touching both sides of the room. Overhead was a yellowish fluorescent light that was humming loudly.

I set my “mattress” on the steel plank and sat down. The mattress grossed me out because I kept thinking about how many people, in various states of grossness, had laid on it before me, so I just sat upright, not wanting to put my head down on it.

As I was sitting there, getting a little bit weepy again, with a loud “pop” sound, the light overhead shut off. That startled me. Lights out on cell block E. I sat there wondering how this night could get any worst.

I shouldn’t have wondered…OF COURSE it could get worse…because every known force in the Universe was conspiring against me.

(I promise, Dear Readers, that this long, drawn-out, tragic tale of whoa will soon come to an end. But not until next week as I will be out of commission for a few days!)

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Book Him, Dano

I had already been in the holding tank for over two hours, but when I was officially booked into the Eastland County jail – for an unknown crime! – it was as if they were seeing me for the first time. I had to state my name and my address and social security number and all sorts of other information. The deputy was reading straight down a list of questions, and half of them didn’t pertain to my situation.

At this point, I was so mad and frustrated for having to stay overnight in jail that I could barely spit out the answers.

Deputy: Please remove your shoelaces and belt and put them in this receptacle. Your shoelaces and belt will be returned to you when you are released.

Me: I’m not wearing shoelaces or a belt.

My thought bubble: Do they really think I’m so distraught that I would try and end it all by hanging myself with my shoelaces or belt? Well, I AM pretty distraught… Do they make shoelaces that strong?

Deputy: Please state your occupation.

Me: I’m a Director at a very large television station in Austin, Texas.

My thought bubble: No need to tell him I’m a MEMBERSHIP DIRECTOR at a medium-sized PUBLIC TELEVISION STATION. Just let him think that I have the force of an army of hard boiled investigative news room reporters at my disposal and we’re coming up to Eastland Texas to shine a bright light on this whole false arrest scam that’s bilking honest tax payers out of good money. This isn’t communist China - you can’t just stick an innocent person in jail for no reason. Be afraid, be very afraid! Wait a minute…I’M afraid, I’M VERY AFRAID. Apparently you CAN stick an innocent person in jail for no reason.

It went on and on and on.

During my interrogation, I almost jumped out of my skin when from out of no where I heard a man’s voice shriek, “THANK YOU JESUS!”. The deputy hadn’t moved a bit as he continued to type out my answers on a green form. Without looking up he said, “That’s Brother Parson. He and Sister Parson come to the jail on Saturday nights to witness to the inmates. Would you like to pray with Brother and Sister Parson this evening?”

Me: No.

My thought bubble: HELL NO!

After the green form was complete it was time for fingerprints. This was the most man-handled I had ever been. It’s not as simple as sticking your finger on an ink pad and pushing it down on a paper. The deputy has to do it for you. He has to hold your finger and forcibly push it into the ink and forcibly roll your finger 180 degrees on the paper. He has to do this 3 times per digit – for a two-hand total of 30 times. It’s really uncomfortable. If at any time I offered any “resistance” by tensing any muscles in my hand or arm, he would recite his memorized script, “Do not resist. Your arm should be completely dead weight”. Of the 30 prints he took, he said that line to me at least 20 times. My thought bubble: resistance is futile.

After the individual prints he needed a print of my entire hand. This is really gross as your hand is covered in ink and then he mashes down on the top of your hand really hard.

Then it was time for the infamous mug shots. The deputy wrote my number on an old chalk board and told me to hold it in front of me. “You shore are tall” he kept saying as he cranked the old camera to tilt up to get my picture. With my bad hair, sweaty, no make-up having, tear swollen face, I held that sign in front of me as he took pictures. I turned to the left – CLICK – I turned to the right – CLICK – and I looked straight ahead – CLICK. About half way through I burst into tears again, which just made Barney Fife nervous and twitchy. This was so ridiculous!

With the passing of time that has healed my anger and replaced it with humor, and a proclamation of innocence behind me, I would now give just about anything to have copies of those mug shots. Even though my record was eventually expunged, in some computer system or in some file tucked deeply away somewhere in the Texas criminal justice system, I have mug shots. Really, really ugly mug shots.

Because the booking station is in the center of the building, I could see all of the comings and goings that were happening around me throughout this inquisition. Men and women wearing orange jumpsuits and plastic prison flip flops were pushing carts around and mopping the hallway and sweeping with brooms. I could hear shouting and loud guffawing down where the men’s cells were located. Older plain-clothesed men were coming in and out of the building and shooting the shit with the couple of people who were on duty. Every now and then a deputy from some small town in Eastland County would bring someone in handcuffs where they’d be dropped off in the holding tank. And the random shouts of THANK YOU JESUS coming from the Parsons rounded out the whole surreal scene.

When I had been sufficiently booked and made an official inmate of the Eastland County Jail, Deputy Fife started rummaging around in a closet and started to pull out an orange jumpsuit. Uh uh, no way. I was not putting that thing on. And I told him that in a voice that was trembling and weak. “Please don’t make me put that on. I haven’t done anything wrong.”

For as prone to following the rules as this guy had been up to this point, I was thankfully shocked when he looked at me for a second and then put that atrocious orange horror back in the closet. Without acknowledging the jumpsuit in any way, he said that he was going to put me back in the holding tank for the night and dinner would be served shortly.

But the night was young and there was so much more to come.


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Monday, February 19, 2007

Serving Time

Central booking in the Eastland County Jail was the last place I expected to be that Saturday afternoon. It’s a small jail with about 20 cells, 10 on one side for men and 10 on the other side for women. In the middle is the main booking station and the holding cell. There was a moldy, old smell to the place and yellow lights that were bright enough to perform surgery. The picture I've posted is the older part of the jail I'm talking about.

I was terrified walking in to that place, mainly because I had no idea why I’d been arrested. I tried to collect myself, but it was hard because no one would talk to me. They sort of looked right through me, if that makes any sense. They kept saying that they would let me know more when I was booked in to the facility.

I knew my poor mom and dad were somewhere around, but they wouldn’t let me see or talk to them. I was able to reach them when I got my ONE PHONE CALL, and I don’t remember much of that conversation. I was less than composed. So mom and dad eventually had to leave and go to their friends’ house – the place they were staying while in town – and tell them THEIR DAUGHTER WAS IN THE EASTLAND JAIL! How humiliating. But I’m jumping ahead in the story.

I learned the law requires that the arresting officer be present when the prisoner is booked. Well, we’re talking about a town here that has one patrol officer. Right as I arrived at the jail, that officer was apparently called away to handle a domestic disturbance or some other such thing. So what did this mean for me? I had to wait to be booked and post bail. It was about 3:00 p.m. at this point. This is an important fact to remember. So the handcuffs came off and I was put in the holding cell. I walked in, and the huge metal door slammed behind me, making that huge metal jail-door slam sound you hear in the movies, and I was all along in an institutional pea-green 12’x12’ holding pen with an old dented stainless steel toilet in the corner. Dear God.

I waited, and waited, and waited there was no way I could sit still so I just walked in circles. Circle after circle, thinking. Crying and thinking. What had I done? I searched my memory. The only thing I figured it might be was an outstanding parking ticket that I hadn’t paid. I worked at a location on a busy campus where parking was virtually impossible and getting tickets was part of the deal for working there. I thought I had paid my ticket, but maybe I didn’t. Can you go to jail for an unpaid parking ticket?

My mind started freaking out. Maybe it was the still stinking heat in that holding pen making me sweat or the glint off the old toilet blinding me or the hum of the busted florescent light hurting my head, but I started getting paranoid. Maybe someone I know got busted for something and they needed a scapegoat and they used my name! What if I had been implemented in a serious crime? What kind of lousy friend would do that to me?

I walked in circle after circle after circle.

What seemed like forever later, the door swung open and Barney Fife, the one who had arrested me, told me to follow him.

We went to the old central booking desk. It looked 100 years old. I had huge swollen eyes from all the crying and my sinuses were so blocked I couldn’t breath. I was sweating, wearing my ratty shorts and an old blouse I wore when cleaning my house. Let’s just agree that I looked mighty fine, indeed.

Barney Fife was looking kind of sheepish, and he wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and all of a sudden he was calling me “Miss Holliday” and being MUCH nicer than he had been when he told me spread ‘em out on Highway 6 so he could frisk me.

He told me they had received word from Austin that the warrant for my arrest had stemmed from a speeding ticket I received when driving to San Marcos in 1996, five years earlier. I remembered exactly the ticket to which he was referring. But I had taken care of that ticket. I was absolutely sure of this. But before I could say anything, the deputy said that it looked like there might be a situation WHERE I HADN’T SUBMITTED THE PROPER PAPAERWORK when I made restitution for that ticket. (An explanation will be forthcoming). I had no idea what this meant. But at least I could stop falsely accusing people in my paranoid mind for setting me up to send me down the river!

Barney got even more fidgety and sheepish when he went on to tell me that it was 5:10 p.m. and one cannot post bail after 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays in the great state of Texas. “Uh, I shore am sorry bout that Miss Holliday.”

Then silence. I stood their blinking trying to figure out what Deputy Fife was telling me. At last it hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks. Like a swift kick to the gut. Like a rock ricocheted off my pickaxe in the chain gang I had earlier thought I was going to be sent to. He was saying that I couldn’t leave.

In a voice that bordered on sheer rage, I locked eyes with that guy and said, “Are you telling me that I have to SPEND THE NIGHT HERE?”

“Uh, yes ma’am. Since it’s after 5:00, you can’t be arraigned until 7:00 tomorrow morning when Judge Hubert gets here before he goes to church. I am sooooooooooo sorry.”



I was still confused about what I was charged with, but all this Simple Simon could tell me was that Judge Hubert would have more information in the morning and in the meantime I had to spend the night in jail.

My righteous indignation seethed out as I spoke in my I’m-really-pissed-and-am-trying-to-control-the-rage-inside-of-me-that-if-let-loose-would-blow-your-ridiculous-mullot-off, “SO YOU’RE TELLING ME, THAT I WAS ARRESTED AT 3:00 BUT BECAUSE YOU LEFT AND ARE JUST NOW RETURNING AT TEN MINUTES AFTER FREAKING FIVE, THAT I HAVE TO SPEND THE NIGHT HERE?”

“Yes ma’am. I’m real sorry. But we need to book you now.”

The ordeal was just beginning.

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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Having the Right to Remain Silent

It was a Saturday in May like any other. A beautiful hot Texas spring day. My parents still lived in Colorado full time, but had bought their place in the country between Eastland and Cisco and the Last Stop was born. They knew that is where they were going to retire (hence the name the Last Stop…get it?) , so they had started plans to build their home. But during that process, when they would come to Texas, they would stay with their friends, Victor and Janice, just like they were doing this time.

Since I immediately fell in love with the Last Stop, I tried to get there whenever I could, too, especially when mom and dad were in town.

I left Austin and all was well. For about 200 miles until I had made the final turn towards the Stop in Cisco, Texas.. I was, literally, FIVE MILES from my final destination when I came through little Cisco. And I made the fatal mistake of driving 38 in a 35 mile an hour zone on the edge of town. That’s right, I was driving 3 miles over the speed limit. And I remember I’m singing really loudly to the song on the radio.

I look in my rear view mirror to see Cisco’s ONE police car pulling me over.

Oh man, I don’t feel like dealing with this. What was I doing wrong?

I pulled over and deputy sheriff Barney Fife stepped out and came over to my car where he told me he had “clocked” me going 38 in a 35-mile an hour zone. And he was real lectury about it. As if I had been tearing top speed down a street full of blind, deaf children while being loaded and blindfolded, instead of going 38 down a road that was 10 yards from the “city limits”, flanked by fields on both sides. I held my mouth shut because I knew the only thing that would come out otherwise would be a smart aleck comment, and that never goes down well with any officer, but especially a small-town cop. I just handed him my driver’s license and registration, which he took before returning to his car. “Oh, I see you’re from AUSTIN”, he said kind of sneerily, as if that totally explained my unexplainable speed limit ignoring behavior. I WAS 3 MILES OVER THE LIMIT!

My folks and I had made a definite plan to meet at 3:00 that afternoon because I had the key they needed to open the first gate. Dad had left his in Colorado, which was no problem, because I had one too. While waiting there on the side of the road, I called them to let them know I might be a little bit late. Cell phone service is sometimes spotty in that countryside, so unfortunately I didn’t reach them that time.

I organized some things in my car. I laughed when I looked in the rear view mirror and realized how ugly I looked. It was a hot May day so I was wearing old shorts and an old blouse, no make up and my hair looked pretty gross. Oh well, this was a coveted day off – of which I had few back in those days because of my job – and I was just excited to get to the Last Stop and check it out.

It was about this time that I realized Barney Fife had been gone for a really long time. I knew the process didn’t usually take this long. So I became even more irritated, but chalked it up to Cisco’s small town system.

Finally, about 30 minutes later, I look out my side mirror and I see that Deputy Fife is getting out of his car. But instead of coming straight to my door, he’s circling way out and around me. The first sign of trouble hit me at that point. As I watched him creep way around me, I NOTICED HE UNSNAPPED HIS GUN HOLSTER, as if he was getting ready to draw his pistol! That was the first time I uttered the phrase I would say again at least 100 times that day, “What is going on here?”

Deputy Fife is circling around me and he yells out, “STEP OUT OF THE VEHICLE”.

Blink. Blink, blink.



I will never forget the shock of adrenaline and feeling of total fear that surged through my body at that moment. It was that fight or flight reaction that is a part of us just as surely as our opposable thumbs.

I yelled out, “What’s going on?” but again he told me to step out and put my hands on the car.

So I did. Shaking like a leaf, I got out of my car and put my hands on the roof.

Barney Fife comes up behind me and says, too loudly, “YOU’RE UNDER ARREST. You have the right to remain silent…”. I tuned out of the Miranda rights reading because all I was able to register at that moment were those two words, “under arrest”.

What the f is going on?

He then tells me he’s going to have to PAT ME DOWN! I’m wearing shorts and a shirt – there weren’t many places I could hide my AK47 - but there I was, on Highway 6, five miles from home, with my feet spread, hands on the roof of my car, being patted down after being told I was under arrest.

For going 38 in a 35 miles an hour zone.

When I saw him get out the handcuffs, I finally became unfrozen and burst into tears. WHAT’S GOING ON HERE? I was finally able to shout. I think that freaked the guy out that he finally heard my voice. WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO ME? “Ma’am, you’re under arrest and I’m taking you in.” TAKING ME IN? TAKING ME IN WHERE? FOR WHAT? Ma’am, there is a warrant out for your arrest, I’m taking to the Eastland County Jail.


He never did tell me. I learned a lot about our law during this whole episode, and one thing I learned is that they have 24 hours to charge you with your crime. If there is a warrant out for your arrest, that’s all that matters. No one has to tell you anything until you are arraigned before the judge, and they have 24 hours to hold you before presenting you to said judge.

It was then that Barney Fife put me in handcuffs and led me to his car. And put me in the back seat like you see in the movies, by putting his hand on top of my head and pushing me in. I was completely terrified and near hysterics.

We drove away I looked back and saw a tow truck hooking my car up and taking it away. This might have been the most surreal moment of my life thus far.

FIVE MILES down the road we passed the turn off to the Last Stop, I pleaded and convinced the cop to pull in so I could give my parents the key they needed. He begrudgingly did this, but unfortunately, mom and dad hadn’t arrived yet and they weren’t there. So the guy glared at me and we turned back around to get on the road to Eastland.

We drove two more miles and I couldn’t believe what I saw ahead of us.

It was another black and white in the middle of the road with its lights on, with the door to the back seat open and another deputy waiting outside the door HOLDING HIS SHOTGUN across his chest. The Cisco cop tells me we’re at the Eastland town limits and he is going to transfer me to an Eastland officer for the rest of the trip – those remaining THREE MILES. So with cars passing on both sides of us, with me in shorts and bad hair and hysterics, wearing handcuffs, I’m taken out of one car and led to another cop car in the ditch where I’m pushed in the back seat again. The Cisco cop drives away and the Eastland cop gets behind the wheel and drives into town WITH HIS FLASHING LIGHTS ON.

Without asking for permission, I managed to get my cell phone out of my purse and I called mom and dad. Conjure up the image of how difficult that was to do with handcuffs on. THANKFULLY dad answered. In that happy dad voice that he has, making jokes that they were just a few miles from the Last Stop and couldn’t wait to get there! All I had time to say before the deputy made me turn off my phone away was, “Dad, I’m being taken to jail.” To his credit, dad didn’t waste any time asking what was going on. He just said in that more serious dad voice that often gives me comfort, “Hang in their doodle. We’ll meet you there.”

I will never forget the total fear I felt when we pulled up the Eastland County Jail and I had no idea what was about to happen.


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Friday, February 16, 2007

Serving Hard Time in San Quentin Pales in Comparison

Okay, it’s time.

It’s time I tell you about my unfortunate incarceration.

This is one of those stories that I file under “Damndest”, cross indexed with “You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me”.

It’s a story that used to make my stomach ball up in knots, but now I hold it close as one of the most notable experiences of my life.

It’s a story that has provided ENDLESS ribbing fodder for those friends and family who know the deal.

It’s the story that desperately makes me want to find my mug shot – because I have one - and put it on a Christmas card with the caption, “From the Big House to Your House, Merry Christmas.”

It’s one of those stories that no matter how I tell it, I always feel the compelling need to begin by saying that when I finally appeared before the judge, I was found innocent. I was innocent, damn it! I had been wrongly accused. Or at least SORT OF wrongly accused…

But that didn’t matter much on May 15, 2001. The day I was arrested in Cisco, Texas and taken to jail. In a black and white. In hand cuffs.

The very best part? I DIDN’T KNOW WHY I WAS BEING ARRESTED. Nothing too scary about that, right?

And the second best part? MY MOM AND DAD HAPPENED TO BE IN TOWN FROM COLORADO ON THE VERY SAME WEEKEND. Nothing like getting arrested when the folks are visiting.

It’s a wonder the anxiety of that day and night didn’t give me a heart attack. Or that I didn’t hang myself with my shoelaces. Oh, wait a minute, the jailor TOOK MY SHOE LACES so that I wouldn’t do myself in.

It’s one of those stories that will be a multi-parter with the first installment coming soon.

It’s a little story I like to call, I Fought the Law and the Law Won.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

My Funny Valentine, Sweet Comic Valentine

I made it through St. Valentine’s Day yesterday and it turned out to be okay. Choosing not to spiral down into a funk for not having a sweetie, my strategy was simply to ignore it as any kind of special day other than a Wednesday.

But there were a few nice moments.

Really delicious cookies baked by my friend Holly. Aren’t they pretty? They tasted even better.

And this righteous ring from my friend Sam. I love it so much. It’s called a roe ring because it looks like a cluster of fish eggs, made out of glass beads. Truly fabulous. Sam mailed it to me, because he’s out of town. He and I are just friends, so the jewelry was a surprise, but he’s goofy like this. He often shows up bearing gifts, which is kind of fun. He's given me everything from African sandals to watches to crystal glasses to rings. He's sort of my high roller friend, which cracks me up, because I'm not a high roller girl. At all.

I got a call last night from an ex-boyfriend from YEARS ago, which was a huge shock and awkward conversation. But ex-boyfriends are a story for another day.

And I received some nice valentine cards from family and friends, too.

So I survived Valentine’s Day feeling pretty good about things. Yea, me!

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Best in Show

Remember beautiful James, the English Springer Spaniel who won the Eukanuba dog show? That sassy guy won Westminster last night! He’s such a stunning dog and I was not surprised that he won.

I’ve been watching enough dog shows in the last year that I now recognize almost all of the finalists who made it to Best in Show at Westminster, the granddaddy of all dog shows. As I’ve said before, I’m truly becoming one of those dog show weird-ohs parodied in the movie, Best in Show. I find the whole thing fascinating – from the long history of dog shows, to the dogs themselves, to the strange pomp and circumstance of it all, to the obsession of the owners and trainers. It’s so odd! It’s the same feeling I got when I first started watching Iron Chef years ago…such an over-the-top show but totally intriguing.

While watching Westminster Monday and Tuesday nights, I immediately recognized the Dandie Dinmont Terrier who won the Terrier group, the Petits Bassets Griffons Vendeen who won the Hound group, and the Bouviers des Flandres who won Herding. (Have you ever heard such ridiculous breed names in your life?) The Toy Poodle won the Toy group and he’s the one that always sets Dot off when she sees him prancing around the ring. The only new dogs I hadn’t seen before were the Akita who won the Working group and the Standard Poodle who won Non-Sporting. But I was rooting for James, all the way.

My plan now is to go to a big dog show in person this year, something I’ve never done. There’s a big 2-day event in Dallas that I have my eye on.

What a dork.

Last night I had the TV remote control smoking, I was working it so hard. Flipping between the dog show, House, and a fabulous documentary our production team at work put together, I was multitasking a number of different story lines. The occasional stop over on American Idol would get me sidetracked, too. I don’t consider myself a TV junkie, so having so many programs working at once was funny.

I’m missing my little Dot, who is at the Last Stop right now where she’s been for a week. She gets to go there when I travel and she has a blast. Apparently, she has taken to barking at the cows when they are eating up at the barn, then hauling A when they come at her. Probably not the best practice for her, but it does create a visual image that makes me laugh. My dad says she has the heart of a lion. I’ll pick her up next weekend, but it sure is quiet around the casa without her.

What did people do for entertainment before TV? Or dogs? Or the Internet? Or pizza? (Note to self…GET A LIFE!).

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Monday, February 12, 2007


Nesting with Mason Grace in her big girl bed. Going to sleep giggling, telling stories and talking about the day’s events, being thrashed by flinging limbs and crazy blond hair through the night, waking up to two enormous blue eyes staring at me and hearing, “Aunt Lori today’s gonna be a GREAT day because you’re here!” And one night, reaching down to pick up a partially awake, partially asleep Macy who had fallen out of bed, who responded sleepily to the question if she was alright, “yes but I think I’d be better if we could cuddle, Aunt Lori.” That’s when my biological clock officially exploded.

Listening to Ruby sing and ROCK OUT to Blues Traveler’s “Dog Train”.

Life revolving around the potty, which is most important when you have a 3 ½ year old who announces at the top of her lungs, no matter where she is or who might be around, “I’VE GOT A FEELING I HAVE TO GO POOP”, and you have a 2 year old beginning potty training, at the same time. What makes the potty even more extra special? The small sized, cushioned Hello Kitty toilet seat. Remembering forever my not using the bathroom for 4 days for fear of that soft Hello Kitty toilet seat.

Taking a walk outside with Macy and finding a really big stick that looked kind of like King Neptune’s trident. When asking Macy what games we should play with the stick – maybe pretending it was magic like Nanny McPhee’s walking cane, or our paddle to row our boat across the ocean to Treasure Island – hearing her thoughtfully reply, “No Aunt Lori, I think we should use this stick to keep the idiots away.” Amen, sister. Amen.

Sitting downstairs and hearing Ruby upstairs singing Ariel’s “ah ah ah” theme, from Little Mermaid. Going up to get a better listen, peaking into her room and seeing her singing Ariel’s theme into the karaoke microphone. Witnessing proof that the Holliday “karaoke ham” gene had over powered and beaten down the Welter “tasteful” gene.

Being at the zoo hearing Macy say, “Look Aunt Lori, there’s an AFRICAN CRESTED CRANE. Oh…it has such BEAUTIFUL PLUMEAGE”. Picking my chin up from the ground I asked her when she turned 17, to which she corrected me, “Aunt Lori, I don’t turn 17 til April.” Oh sorry, my bad.

Waiting for Ruby to bring me every single one of her babies – babies she calls “sweeties” – and noticing that at least half of them are black. Finding out that when given a choice, Ruby often picks the black baby dolls to make her own. This is absolutely no problem in her world, and for that I am bursting with pride. When needing to distinguish her babies for one reason or another she sometimes calls them her “purple sweeties”, which nearly kills me. Death by cuteness.

Feeling the massive adrenaline rush when Mason looked up at me and asked if I wanted to play school. ABSOFREAKINGLUTLY!

Mugging the security camera in Target for about 15 minutes. Macy, Ruby and me waving, dancing, jumping and making faces, cracking ourselves up because “we were on TV!”

Enjoying heavenly dialogue. Imagine the sound of a chorus of angels. Their sweet, clear, high pitched tone…a tinkling little melody infusing every single word…the effervescent cadence popping with the most joyful sound. Then take the tiniest angel from the chorus and listen to her voice. It’s the voice that flip flops hearts, soothes souls and makes sour pusses smile. That’s Ruby Kate’s voice. Now imagine that tender little fairy voice when she says, after climbing up on her father’s lap to let him know it was time for a diaper change, “Daddy, me got monkey butt.” Needless to say, Daddy’s wife, Mommy, was not at all amused by her little angel’s quip that she felt quite sure was one that Daddy taught her. But the rest of us in her presence thought it was mighty funny, indeed. Which, as you know, was all the encouragement little angel Ruby Cake needed to continue saying “monkey butt” for the next twenty minutes.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Rocky Mountain High

I just returned from a wonderful long weekend visiting my brother and his incredible family in Denver.

It's late right now, but I can't wait to tell some stories about the two loves of my life, Macy and Ruby. Nothing gives me greater joy than the pure, unadulterated love of my little nieces.

Here's little Ruby Cake

My darling Miss Macy

And my new nephew, Domino.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Life on the Emotional Roller Coaster

Nothing like some tears to go with your morning coffee. I busted out the big, heavy, hot crocodile tears this morning – the kind of tears I normally reserve for when watching Terms of Endearment or reading Brian’s Song.

When checking the on-line headlines, I read that archeologists in Italy discovered this couple buried 6,000 years ago, hugging each other. The lead archeologist said she has never seen anything like it and has never been so moved.

The sweetness just got to me. This ancient couple is locked in an eternal embrace and their love is timeless. Timeless!

Then the bitterness got to me. But I want timeless love! I REALLY want timeless love!

So I got good and worked up. I felt like a female version of Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage) in Moonstruck. Like I was pointing my wooden hand at the love gods while shouting “Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride! You want me to take my heartache, put it away and forget?” (I love Moonstruck so much).

Then I realized I was being a completely hormonal drama queen, so I told myself to “snap out of it!”, quoting my SECOND Moonstruck line of the morning.

Who knew I'd get worked up over some old bones?

I think we should just bury this loving couple back up and let them continue their slumber untouched. But you know we won’t do that. We’ll poke them and prod them and dig them up and put them in a museum.

And I’ll be the one with my face pressed up against, hugging, the glass case peering in at the couple while boo-hooing that they look so in loooooooove. They’ll have to bring in the Windex behind me, I’m sure.

Love rocks!

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Problems...Big, Big Problems...

Alektorophobia = fear of chickens

Anablephobia = fear of looking up

Consecotaleophobia = fear of chopsticks

Geniophobia = fear of chins

Hippopotomontrosesquippedaliophobia = fear of long words


Monday, February 05, 2007

Putting Their Game Faces On

I was waiting in the long line at the grocery store yesterday, a few hours before the Super Bowl. The man in line ahead of me took a call.

Man: Hey baby, yeah I’m in line now.

Baby says something.

Man: Yes baby, I got the Velveeta and Rotel and the chicken wings. You got the blue cheese dressing, right?

Baby says something.

Man: Baby, I got 5 dozen chicken wings and I got 6 packages of L’il Smokies, too, that we can mix up with that barbeque sauce your mama made. We also got that brisket in the smoker and I think Donnie is bringing the ribs. You think we need more meat?

Baby says something.

Man: Baby, I got 6 bags of chips, bean dip and guacamole and I got 4 cases of beer. Hey, you want me to pick up some tortillas for the quesadillas or do you got enough at home?

Baby says something.

Man: Baby, you tell him to bring that potato salad he’s always talking about.

Baby says something.

Man: Okay, baby. If you think of anything else you need call me. We got Donnie, Jack and Big Earl coming over and we need to be PREPARED.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Vive Le Dave Barry!

Dave Barry is one of my favorite columnists and he has been for a long time. I came to know Dave when I was living in France because in Chambery I would crave English. Everything around me was French…24/7 it was French, French, French! The audacity, right?

I never became totally fluent in French. I could hold my own in the most simple of conversations, and I could understand much better than I could speak, and I always appreciated the pure beauty of the language. While I always prided myself on my French accent – my ability to force all of my vowels through my nose and to swallow and growl out my “r”s like I was choking on them - one of my French friends called my accent “charming”. When pressed, he elaborated that is sounded “Country French” . So all I could envision was me sounding like one of the regulars on Hee Haw as I asked, “Ou est la biblioteque, c’il vous plait?”

One of the benefits of living for an extended period of time in another country is the total immersion into the culture. But it was always work. Always having to figure out what someone said, or figure out what you were reading, or know how to respond. Casual conversation just didn’t exist for me during that time…it was always an effort. And mostly I enjoyed the experience because it was almost surreal in some ways. It’s amazing how well you can really communicate with another person even if you don’t know their words.

This is how I came to love Dave Barry. Because once a week, on Sunday mornings, a little tobacco shop in Chambery would get in about 10 copies of the Miami Herald. Not the New York Times or the Washington Post, but the Miami Herald. I would get to that little shop every Sunday morning early enough to get one of the copies and I would read it from cover to cover because it was EASY to read. It was in English. It gave me some news of home in a language that I could understand.

Dave Barry works for the Miami Herald, and while his column is nationally syndicated, I felt like I knew him better given that I was reading his words from his hometown rag.

His humor always strikes a chord with me. I’m in awe that humorists can so consistently write such funny stuff without ever having to dumb it down or resort to cheap or easy laughs.

So one of my favorite memories of living in France are of Sunday mornings when I would sit outside of the café in the Chambery square where the buildings dated back to the 1500s, eating my pastry, drinking a coffee (I love how Europeans add quantifiers like “a” when speaking of their beverage) and reading Dave Barry in the Miami Herald.

Oh, I read a French newspaper on a daily basis but was never 100% sure of what I was reading and the effort it took with me and my French dictionary was exhausting. But not on Sundays.

I thought of all of this today as I was reading Dave’s column, “Magical Miami still entices Super Bowl visitors”. It’s just a really funny look at Miami, his hometown, and what visitors should expect. He takes some hilarious digs at the Congressman from Colorado who referred to Miami as a Third World country, but ultimately he leads you to believe that it is indeed a very similar experience.

Here are some of Dave’s lines that made me laugh out loud:

Chances are you’ll arrive – lucky you! – at Miami International Airport. There you will find a spacious, modern, convenient, well-designed, passenger-friendly, state-of-the-art facility depicted on murals showing what the airport allegedly will look like if they ever finish it. This is unlikely to happen in the current century because the airport is under the control of Miami-Dade politicians…I’ve lived here for more than 20 years, and for that entire time, the airport has been under construction, with almost all of the visible progress taking the form of larger and better murals.

Dave talks about a number of Miami’s attractions including:

Hot women. They are everywhere down here…When male friends of mine come to Miami from other cities, they constantly must drop to their knees and feel around with their hands to locate their eyeballs, which have ejected themselves from their sockets in an effort to get a better gander.

Chuckling along to Dave Barry on this Super Bowl Sunday has been fun and I’m now craving a warm croissant and a strong coffee with sugar.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

An Old-School Nerd From Way Back

PBS stations have developed unique educational outreach services to accompany the children’s programs we air. Most revolve around some form of workshop for parents and educators that use a PBS Kids program – like Clifford the Big Red Dog – as a way to teach reading and other lessons from the episode. Helping pre-school children become “Ready to Learn” when they enter school is the whole focus behind these initiatives.

I received some amazing teacher guides today, which accompany the awesome PBS program Between the Lions, full of lesson plans and activities for teachers to use in their classrooms, providing step-by-step instructions on taking children through the lessons then giving dozens of additional related activities to drive the learning points home.

Just flipping through the pages I see teacher guide instructions like,

“Talk about how Queen Oona wanted to touch the moon more than anything in the world. Ask, What do you want to do more than anything in the world? Prompt children to answer in a full sentence. Write their sentences on a sheet of…..etc. etc. etc.”

Reading these point by point instructions instantly takes me back three decades to the first grade, to Mrs. Bompart’s class. Mrs. Bompart was a total hard ass. She scared all of us first-graders straight, you know? She’d probably been teaching for 45 years and she wasn’t about to take any guff from any 7 year old.

We had 2 first grade teachers at C.R. Anderson Elementary in Helena, Montana and the other teacher was the spitting image of Aunt Bea on the Andy Griffith Show. All sweet, and soft and loving and warm. But Mrs. Bompart was all about structure and order and rules and consequences. She was a real “teacher’s guide” teacher. There was NO deviation in her classroom from whatever it said to do in the guide. When I think about Mrs. Bompart I imagine that she considered creativity to be the enemy and a huge waste of time.

Now, even before the first grade I had fallen in love with school. I believe this was primarily due to my utter devotion to Sesame Street, my Dick and Jane reader I found in the alley behind our house that I used to teach myself to read, and my good experience in kindergarten. I was the original annoying over achiever in elementary school and it started in grade one.

Even more than GOING to school, I loved TEACHING school. I had the usual set up at home with a little chalk board and some pens and paper and a chair that could be turned down into a table that my grandfather made for me. Matt, my younger brother, was the poor little guy who had to suffer through being my student. I was 7. He was 4. I made him sit with me four hours so that I could play teacher and make him do spelling and reading and math and art. We used one of those ‘70’s chic hard shelled suitcases as his desk, so that he could open it up and put his stuff in it, but write on the top.

I’d tell him to try again or to keep his eyes forward or ask him to read aloud or make him come up to the board to write his letters or figure his addition problems. I’d give him gold stars or big ugly red check marks depending on the caliber of his work. I seldom gave him a recess and occasionally even assigned homework. And for the most part, Matt was my prized pupil, primarily for putting up with me. I can only imagine how annoying I must have been!

One day, out of the blue, Mrs. Bompart told me to stay after class. She wasn’t a nice teacher, so the actions that followed were shocking – she told me she thought I might like having some of her old teacher editions of a few different text books. She handed over two books – the teacher’s guide to first grade math and the guide to first grade reading. It was as if I had been handed the holy grail and would now be privy to all her secrets. I held in my hands, THE TEACHER’S GUIDE.

I had struck pay dirt.

These teacher guides were among my most prized possessions. Because not only could I now teach Matt and my class of imaginary students, but I could teach them EXACTLY as instructed in THE BOOKS. Mrs. Bompart had found her kindred spirit in me.

I played school for years and Matt played along with me for much of that time. My classrooms and lessons became more and more elaborate and I tended to take on the teaching traits and styles of whatever teacher I had that year. I wish I would have kept a few examples of Matt’s work because it was awesome!

At some point we stopped because real school got harder so playing school wasn’t as much fun. But I credit rough old drill sergeant Mrs. Bompart with giving me something as exotic and as mysterious as the teachers guides that fueled my imagination for years.

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