View from the Suburbs: Bug Love (not the VW kind) and Taxing Taxes

Just by chance--a very appropriate containerThis Monday has been a long one (and by the time I finish this, it’s sure to be Tuesday), but at this point, I know I’ve made some accomplishments.

Tonight I finished my income taxes.  They are not in the envelope yet, but the “written-in-black-ink” forms are all done, and I just need to make copies before sending them on their way.  Yeah, I know–I’m a procrastinator, but his year was all new to me.  I’m not a 1040 EZ kinda guy anymore.

I had felt it was going to be a bit of a daunting task, but I also knew that by asking a couple of questions and reading all the instructions I could do it.  And, yes, the 1040 along with Schedules A and E and–dum-ta-da-dum–Form 5405, the first-time homebuyer tax credit form AND accompanying supporting documents, are all checked and re-checked, laying  on my kitchen counter.  And I just want to say, if you’re chucking out bucks for someone else to do your taxes, unless you have a wide variety of financial goings-on in your life, you can do your own taxes.

I heard some tax preparation companies advertising on the radio that they would do 1040 EZs for $29.  Hey, that’s why they call it EZ.  Unless you flunked 2nd grade math, you can do the EZ forms and keep the $29 in your own pocket.

I know now that even with the additional forms that I needed with the 1040, next year I won’t procrastinate.

Speaking of ads on the radio, now with the commute to and from work, I’m listening  a lot more than I have for a long time.  I’ve mentioned before that Houston radio is pretty awful.  I just have 5 stations tabbed (Is that what it’s called? It’s late, and I’ve just done taxes.): 104 KRBE, NPR, Mix 96.5, Pacifica, and Mega 101–kinda eclectic, I guess.  I’m one of those guys that can’t leave the channel button alone on the TV remote, and I’m almost the same with the radio stations.  And I love it that the button is right there under my thumb on the steering wheel.

What usually gets me home most evenings are the mixes from DJs Manny Lopez and Sunny D on Mega101.  I’ve never gotten over dance music, and these guys definitely help make my drive home a bit more manageable.  It doesn’t matter if you like music in Spanish or not; if you like club-type music, you’re going to like driving home with the music these guys put out.

This evening, though, I had a different sort of entertainment as part of my drive home.  Over the weekend, I bought more bedding plants, and as I was checking out, the cashier said, “Hey, you got a lady bug!”  Sure enough, there was a big, fat one right on one of the leaves.  I paid and went on my way, took the plants home, but left them in the car for a few hours until evening when I could set them into the ground without the sun beating down.  By that time, I had forgotten about the lady bug.

Then tonight when I got in my car and was driving onto I-10, I noticed this small, busy orange bit, right at the point where the windshield meets the dashboard.  With me hurrying on my way a few miles over the speed limit, this little guy (some lady bugs gotta be guys, right?) kept trying to climb up the windshield.  He’d get about 3 inches or so up and then fall  onto his back and then rock himself to get back onto his feet. He kept this up, to no avail.  I kept worrying that he was going to fall into the vent, but he didn’t.

The question is: Will he take up residence?

I wanted to try to rescue him, but me, (yeah, I know “me” is and object pronoun, not a subject pronoun), the guy that complains about distracted drivers on cell phones, was not going to do anything while cruising along among those thousands of other cars out there on the freeway.  Finally, though, about two-thirds of the way home, I guess he got worn out from all his attempts at climbing higher and just stayed put right there in the corner between the glass and the dash.

When I exit the Beltway, there’s always a big line of traffic because there’s a stoplight about a quarter mile down on the feeder.  When the vehicles stopped, I reached down for an envelope that was on the floor on the passenger side, stuck it gently under Mr. Lady Bug, and surprisingly, he climbed aboard.  In the console was a little tin box that has been there forever, that still held one solitary, heart-shaped mint.  I opened it with my other hand (no hands on the wheel, that’s not usually me) and slid my little friend off the envelope and inside.

Finally, when we got home, I took the lady bug, still inside the candy box shelter, out to yard and ceremoniously shook him out onto one of my tomato plants.

Sometimes, something as small as a lady bug helps put other things, like doing taxes, into a completely different perspective.

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View from Suburbia: Thrustmaster, the Yellow Gate, and Garage Culture

One of the signs along my way home, photoshopped, the way my imagination does it every day.

Fifteen minutes was about all that it used to take for me to get home from work, and after checking the mail and changing clothes, Annie and I’d take our walk, sometimes making a circuit to the edges of Memorial Park, but more often than not, just to “our” little Camp Logan Park, where we’d meet up with friends of both the human and canine kind.  I’d often drop my little digital camera into my pocket and take shots of flowers or interesting bits of architecture, signs, or anything else that caught my eye along the way.  The yellow metal gate at a house just down the street was one of my favorite points of interest.

Yeah, so? Maybe the commute does make my mind go a bit far afield. But what really goes on inside a place called "Thrustmaster"?

Now, most of the first hour after I head out my office is spent wending my way home on a mish-mash of freeways and roads in front of, behind, and alongside the thousands of other Houston commuters performing that same daily ritual.  As I get closer to home, the  small, mostly petroleum-related industries along 529  help stimulate my imagination, because the radio certainly doesn’t.  I have thought for a long time that Houston has the worst selection of radio stations anywhere in the U.S. and my drive home has only proven it.

Once home, I’m greeted by Annie, she runs out to the backyard to perform some of her daily rituals, and then we’re off for our evening walk.  First, we’re off to the communal mailbox around the corner to see what bills and advertisements there are (some expected some not, but there are sure to be some every day).

Once we see that nothing too unexpected has arrived in the mail, we start off on our walk around the neighborhood, sub-division, I guess some would say.  I like my neighborhood, especially my little cul-de-sac street and the next couple of ones which have large, mature trees and a nice homey feel.  But soon after we leave our street, the houses become newer and the large trees fewer.  Unlike in the old neighborhood in town, there’s no real park to head for; there is a kids’ play area on the far side of the sub-division, which can serve as a destination, but nothing much that would be worth taking photos of.

In reality, our neighborhood feels like it’s surrounded by a moat.  Driving out of it is no problem, but walking is another matter because the major streets on either side have big ditches next to them with no sidewalks, and the other two sides have high wooden security fences.  I suppose this is the way the developers designed this sub-division (and when I start paying attention, I realize it’s the same for many others), so even though there’s a Walgreen’s and other small businesses and services no more than a quarter of a mile away, it’s not that easy to get there on foot.  Adjacent to the sub-division are an elementary school, a junior high, and a parochial school, but because of the ditches, kids can’t really walk to them.

Likewise, when Annie and I continue on our evening walk, we’re limited.  Consequently, we take almost the same one or two paths every night, and while the houses aren’t as cookie-cutter as in some suburbs, there aren’t many interesting features like yellow gates.  Our walk, though, does give us some exercise and time to smell and think.  She does more of the smelling than I do.  Hopefully, I do more of the thinking.

Suburbia definitely has a different lifestyle.  One thing I’ve noticed here is people and their garages.  When I lived near Memorial Park, though I lived in an apartment, the people I met at the dog park generally lived in the surrounding townhouses, which, of course, had garages.  I’d hear stories about how someone had left a garage door open for a few minutes, and during that short time, bicycles or other items had been stolen.  Therefore, most of time, unless a car was going in or out or perhaps was being washed in the driveway, garage doors were kept closed.  Even when they were open, what I noticed, but hadn’t given much thought too before, was that aside from cars and maybe a few stored boxes and other items, the garages in my old neighborhood basically were used for keeping the cars.

And that was one of the big reasons I wanted a house–to have a garage to keep my car out of the elements and in a more secure place.

But here in suburbia, the garage is part of the life.  It seems as if there is almost a garage culture.  For one thing, people here must feel much safer.  When Annie and I walk, we see many garages left wide open, sometimes with cars inside but more often not.  These garages appear to be used not primarily for car storage, but as some type of game room or party room.  What struck me the most is how many of these open garages have TVs–big TVs– in them, which are almost always turned on, whether anybody is around or not.  Not that it’s just the TVs.  There are bars and recliners and other such items that add to this party room element.  One garage has a glass door into the rest of the house and another has an entire dining room set up.  Perhaps some of these garages are being used as “the man room”.  I have to laugh at that.  I’m wondering if any gay guys have ever felt the need to have a “man room”.  I mean whether you’re single or attached, if you’re gay, every room in your apartment or house is yours, you don’t have to escape, so is there any need to have a “man room”?  And then again,  if there were a need, what would be in it?  I’m just saying.

All of this “garage culture” has been a sort of revelation to me, a former apartment dweller, who only wanted a garage for a place to keep the car and as a place to putter and paint.  I had to ask myself if I was being nosy giving so much attention to what people in my neighborhood have in their garages, but in the end, I decided that I was just noticing what there was to notice, because when the neighborhood “moats” limit how far you can walk and when there aren’t any attractions like yellow metal gates, you notice what there is to notice.