A pile of silver rings, tarnished and small enough to fit only on my pinky; water bottles half-full of watermelon flavored vodka and whiskey; uncashed credit from Conestoga regarding litmag 2005’s senior parting gifts; two bright yellow peer mediation FROG t-shirts; scrunchies, hair ties and sweatpants that have lost their elastic completely; “pea soup” on compact disc; an issue of W Magazine that holds a photo of Corey Brickley before I even knew him; a few floppy disks; a Titanic poster book; boxes of beads and bags of yarn (ill-fated hobbies); four issues of ALT with that kid Jay on the cover; eleven power bead bracelets; my favorite raspberry lemonade lipgloss and cotton candy body glitter from Limited Too that still smell delicious and are over a decade old; AP scores, voter registration and my data match results from all four years of high school; envelopes full of the most important notes I passed in class, labeled appropriately by year of middle school; a pile of my favorite jeans starting with a pair of Guess, size 27, ripped in the knee and under the crotch, legs covered with Michelle Branch lyrics that I scribbled during Algebra II; my Brown University deference letter; my bat mitzvah dress, in perfect condition and only worn once; an empty box of Black and Milds; my sticker book; ballet slippers & tap shoes; entire collections of YM, Seventeen, Teen People, Jane, Spin, Blender, Elle Girl and American Girl Magazines; professional photos from Jake’s senior prom that he paid for and I never even showed to him; graduation party invitations from 2006 that sit on my desk as if I’m about to attend them; piles of faded receipts from purchases I made in 2001, just in case I need to return something.
People are really nice in Texas. The follow-up calls I make at work could be much worse if I lived up north. “Hi, I was just calling to see if maybe you guys were planning on putting Shrek the Musical in your calendar event listings? I sent you a press release last week? No? Okay. Um, bye.”
But people here always give reasons as to whether or not they’re going to put information about my event in their publications. They’re kind, they’re respectful, they’ve got that southern drawl. Many of the women I speak to on the phone are giggly and helpful. The men are cordial with their “yes m’ams,” which is appreciated when I have to nag them over and over to find out when said article is going to hit newsstands.
So I ride my bike to work- just picked up this little gem of a helmet yesterday. It’s a pretty flat, neighborhoody commute. There is one busy road I have to cross, comparable at some parts to Route 30, but it’s never too difficult. Last week, however, I noticed an eldery black man on the opposite side of West Gray, wearing a bright orange vest and holding a stop sign. He saw me from across the street and walked right into the middle of the road, waving his stop sign and blowing his whistle. School had started, and the man was back in business. He has learned to expect me every day around 3:30 and always lets me cross the road.
There are a lot of homeless people in Houston, just as with every major city. Though the baddies are on the crack corner that is Hyde Park, there are goodies that generally just hang out at highway intersections with signs and change jars. Last week Zack and I were biking the Buffalo Bayou and came to a resting point by the highway (the whole trail runs underneath). I saw a young professional open his car door and throw something at a homeless person. Trash? A rock? No. A packet of peanuts. I smiled at the guy and he smiled back. Good people do exist in this world.
Riding to and from work, with errands in between, is difficult in a pencil skirt and smiliar business casual attire, I’m not going to lie. I’ve tried different ways of hiking my clothes up and down and all around but it’s hard. Most of the time I just pretend I’m not flashing everyone but then I wonder why the loiterers on Hyde Park stalk me when I get home from work with compliments like, “Oh there she is, the best part of the day! I like your dresssss.” The other day in the Kroger parking lot, a woman called out after me. “You should wear some shorts under there, honey!” Thanks. In other unrelated Hyde Park news, our neighbor Brooke just informed us that she saw a man jump the fence and take a shit in our backyard last weekend. Hooray!
Driving and parking lots are weird here, too. There is a grocery store called Fiesta where we usually buy cheap produce and $16 Bota Boxes (but never, ever meat). Zack gets mad every time we pull into the lot. “The dumbest parking lot in Texas,” he mutters angrily under his breath. People really do not know how to drive in Houston. Turn signals here are a thing of the past, or the future, I don’t know. People don’t use them, and they’re constantly cutting you off at the red light, on the highway, or in the parking lot. I do not drive here often. It makes me kind of nervous- that and I feel like I’m sixteen and driving with my parents. Zack tends to clench his jaw or say things like “whoa, whoa, slow down.” Or “whoa, whoa, stay in your lane.” I’m not a bad driver, I’m really not.
My grandma and grandpa used to come visit us from New Jersey, where people aren’t exactly known for their road skills. They would slowly and carefully pull into the driveway and step out of their Lexus For Old People and always make the same remark. “That was such a nice trip. People in Pennsylvania are so nice. They always let you into their lanes and they never cut you off! Are Pennsylvanians nice? I never really noticed.
There are a few things I really miss about Pennsylvania summers. Jesse Hein wrote on my Facebook wall last night- I smelled bonfire driving around Berwyn and realized, again, what August was missing. I miss that. Firepits in the backyard. No one wants or needs a firepit for late summer nights in Houston. The temperature is still way above eighty after the sun goes down. The other evening we were hanging out with our neighbors in the yard. I was tightening my cardigan across my body. “You cold?” “No, I’m not cold. I’m hot as balls. I keep getting bitten by these fucking mosquitos.” Houston is a swamp.
The thing I missed the most about Pennsylvania this summer was the sound of the cicadas at night. Always calm and quiet, like a little murmur from the trees, mumbling last-minute thoughts into your bedroom. Windows open, brisk August wind through the curtains. Sounds like the end of summer, tossing and turning in bed before the first night of school. Sometimes I could hear the cicadas in State College, but I would always hear them in Devon. My mother told me she recently held the phone up to the trees so that my grandma, who once lived in New Jersey but now lives in Florida, could hear the sound.
There are crickets and cicadas, mosquitos and roaches in Houston, that’s for sure. Only the sound of the crickets here is not low-key or calming. It’s just the opposite. The sound here is loud and scary and painful, like bad sex or an anxiety attack. A fearful heartbeat, as if the end of the world is coming and the cicadas found out about it first. The air conditioning drowns them out but as soon as you open the front door the sound will startle you. Lucky for us, I guess, we never get to sleep with the windows open.