Sunday, September 2, 2007

Sarah Wants to Drink, Gossip, AND Smoke

The night started out simply enough, Sarah and I, old chums that we are, just out for a drink after dinner. Labor Day Weekend with its usual stuff, a little gossip, a martini, then the urge to smoke. But what with this new city ordinance, you gotta go outside the bar to smoke. Well we caught it all here on video, easy enough, Sarah in the starring role, me supporting with the fancy camera work. Little did we realize the perils that lurked just outside. Still piecing the footage together for that one, copious amounts of urban survival PSA stuff to come. So enjoy this little appetizer before the rain, sirens and flashing lights made their way into our night.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Let's Walk Backwards A Bit

Diogenes was walking backwards across the Agora, affecting a studied indifference to all who laughed at him. Finally, when he had collected a large following he stopped and announced, "You are laughing at me walking just a little distance backwards while you all lead your entire lives arse-about."

"And what's more," he asked, "can you change your way of living as easily as this?" Whereupon, he turned on his heel and walked off in normal fashion.

I'd like to look back just a bit, the past always seems clearer than the future. When you are in survival mode it is good to remind yourself of the positive things you've done. It was a time not so long ago, as a slightly younger man, and I was building my first new construction house. These pictures are from a friend of mine, the year 2003. I was building with a business partner in Angleton, Texas, and we were, for the area, innovating. Angleton is a bedroom community populated by people dominated by Dow Chemical, blue collar to be sure. Our concept was to give them the good stuff, the things no one else would do in a house in this price range. Instead of rolled vinyl in the Kitchen we installed tile, oh yeah and granite countertops, the whole house was brick with no hardiplank, we built out the closets, featured the front porch instead of the garage, all things that seemed normal enough but no builder down there was doing. It was exciting, difficult and fun all at the same time. The product was a definate win, and the house sold immediately. I can't wait to turn around to the future.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Curse Sir Walter Raleigh & Page the Physician

Everyone has to have an angle and even Sir Walter Raleigh, needed an angle. How do you make money from these wretched New World colonies? One word tobacco. Sir Walter has a bad head day, gets his lobbed off at the hands of an executioner and now cut to present I'm stuck smoking these awful cigarettes at $4.50 a pack. As mentioned in previous blog, "The Writing Is On The Wall", I intend to quit smoking for several reasons. Smoking has become a social no no, and even the great sport of sipping a Martini and smoking will become a thing of the past in bars and restaurants in Houston come September. Secondly, just do the math, one pack a day @ $4.50 a pack, thirty days in a month, lets say we just call it $150 per month, $1800.00 per year. That is a lot of wompam for really negative benefit. Smoking is bad for you, check it with American Cancer Association, it significantly increases your risk of heart attack and stroke check with American Heart Association.
So let's quit smoking shall we? there are about as many ways to quit as there are brands of cigarettes, including but not limited to prescription drugs Zyban or Chantix, need a physician for these , hypnotism, the nicotine patch/hand lotion/gum/inhaler, acupuncture (you know who likes that method) all designed to rid you of the addictive nature of tobacco. Now I'm qitting to get healthy, no doubt, but I'm also trying to save a buck or two and all these methods cost as much as the habit itself. So I am going to rely on the oldest method in the book: Cold Turkey. Simply put, just stop smoking, or put another way stop buying cigarettes. I've done it before, at the urging of a now ex girlfriend, I quit smoking, promptly gained about 40 pounds, she dumped me, I started smoking again. Weight gain is a big concern for smokers, so I really have some work cut out for me, quit smoking and to stay healthy. By the way, don't start smoking and you will never have to deal with this. By yet another bit of technical wizardry, I installed a cigarette counter to the right on this blog which will keep me honest. Hopefully in about three weeks, $120 saved, from today I'll have kicked the nicotine addiction part, and be on the path to clean living.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Just This One Time I'll Get Personal

From the movie The Godfather:

Kay: [asking about Carlo's murder] Michael, is it true?
Michael: Don't ask me about my business, Kay.
Kay: Is it true?
Michael: Don't ask me about my business...
Kay: No.
Michael: [slamming his hand on the desk] Enough! All right. This one time, this one time I'll let you ask me about my affairs.
Kay: Is it true? Is it?
Michael: No.
Kay: [sighing relief] I guess we both need a drink, huh?

What do you think is the best movie? What's your favorite movie? There is, at least with me, a big difference between the two. My mom might not have been the best person I ever have known, she was my mom after all, there are always issues, but she was definately my favorite person in the world, and still is. She was naturally beautiful, poised, and funny in a Lucille Ball sort of way. Flawed by the fact that she cared so much about everyone around her and her "boys" in particular. Rough times raising two boys in the 1970's, the pre Reagan, pre goody goody era. Growing up she would take me to see R rated movies, she let my brother and I listen to Richard Pryor albums that would make a sailor blush. She was protective, but when it came to thought and narrative she had no fear, this is the world we live in, this is how things are. She died unexpectedly 19 years ago today at the age of 55, a big rip off. I remember reading the newspaper that sizzling hot summer day and seeing that Enzo Ferrari, and Jean Michelle Basquiat had died, it was a very bad day for my favorite people. She one time quipped with me that if there were reincarnation, and she had to go through this whole being alive thing again, she at least would like to come back as someone with thinner thighs. After all these years, and all that has changed in this world since... I find not words, so I will defer to Aeschylus

He who learns must suffer

And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget

Falls drop by drop upon the heart,

And in our own despite, against our will,

Comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.

Mary Tom Semos Demopulos

November 10th 1932 - August 12th 1988

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Writing Is On The Wall

I'm not talking about some tawdry bar men's room philosophy. The above picture is from just such a place, Rudyard's, here in Houston, where obviously someone felt compelled to impart a little wisdom for all those seeking relief. No, I am referring to the behavior that goes on in this bar and countless others in the city of Houston, namely, Smoking. Drinking and smoking go together much like drinking and driving used to in the old days, but this is soon to end. The new city ordinance which bans smoking in all bars and restaurants takes effect in September. Now those of you with a keen eye for observation might have noticed in my previous blogs a clue into my personal habits. There it is right there, pictured in the my very first post as I exit my friends Porsche and again right before your eyes in the header to my blog I have taken the liberty of highlighting the objects in question, a pack of cigarettes with lighter. Yep, I smoke cigarettes. Let's use our crystal ball here for a moment and look into the not too distant future, I see smokers coraled onto a patio, bunched up, puffing away, with other smokers ruing the day that our nasty habit was expelled from polite socialising. Why? Why, oh god of justice and mercy is this happening? One reason: Smoking Is Bad For Your Health. Well I for one have read the writing on the wall and it's time to quit smoking. In upcoming blog I will set out a strategy for ridding myself of this most pervasive of drug addictions and hopefully will be the healthier and happier for it.

Sunday, August 5, 2007


It is a child's swimming pool game, Marco Polo, one person with eyes supposedly closed yelling "Marco" treading water while all others in the pool respond "Polo". Blindly I tread around this urban space waiting to tag someone, something, some sort of contact with anything. To survive out here you always have to work the angles. Then it hit me, like a diamond piercing my forehead, reach out! go big! China! That's right, China, this blog is about surviving in an urban environment, who best to profit from this advice and expertise but the burgeoning urban populace of China. Using a touch of technical wizardry I've installed an instant translation link above. Now I will address my remarks to the people of the great country of China.

Welcome all people of The Peoples Republic of China. I enjoy very much your mass produced products and glorious ancestry. Please heed closely this advice found here in this blog. Click often the Ads By Google box directly to the right for even more prosperous advice. I've included above this photo* of me with tofu plate and cell phone juxtaposed to a scene of my city, Houston, USA. Click on photo to make bigger. Get use to all the cars and traffic, always use your blinker when changing lanes and make sure your mirrors are properly adjusted. Please read my blog, and I will be working diligently on dubbing the video, "R134A Redux", into Mandarin, I'm sure it is hot there too. Thank you very much....Shay Shay

* For some reason the header picture does not show up on translated page.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Really, Happy?

It really pains me to say this, but maybe it's time to sharpen the pencil just a little. Now fun is fun but from time to time we got to refrag the hard drive. I mean come on, it's now 2007, this isn't Caddy Shack, we are not throwing some Carter era kegger here. We know about stuff now, smoking bad, chicken fried steak leads to lipitor, don't drink and drive...too much. So what am I to say, Sarah threw an homage to an earlier time, a time in the Montrose not so long ago, where cheap beer, legal ecstasy, and the walk of shame still ruled the day. Why did she break these windows? I still have no clue even though she has been quizzed several times, still aloof. I give up, yep, other fish to fry let's just chalk this one up to a flash back. Rehappy!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No More Monkeying Around

Pictured above is my view as I open the front door of my apartment to greet the day and I wouldn't have it any other way. It can be a rather daunting assignment. Maybe you feel the same way, but I can tell you that if your not out there slugging it out then you don't belong in the game. As the Irish say "Is this a private fight or can anyone join in?" This urban landscape is what it is, and that sound your hear as you cheerfully stride out to your car, hopefully caffeinated to the gills, is not the hail of Nazi metal whizzing past your head, but more than likely a rise in blood pressure causing your ears to ring. If you don't like it, ring up American General Corp. or Century 21, I'm sure they would be more than happy to sit you down in a cubicle and start you pecking away at a keyboard for a little security and a big dose of the man.
Stay calm! ( I'm telling myself this but you can join in ) The situation is not that bad, your chances of actually getting whacked out here are slim and if it does happen at least your don't have to worry about that next electric bill. So yes, it does seem like I am running into a mealstrom of all hell, but this is not the truth. Surviving this environment is about staying on task, executing on what need be done, and keeping a keen eye on the outcome.
Now I have made plenty of mistakes in my life, but the only mistakes I regret are the ones I made because I was too afraid to confront certain situations. That said, I have made two "I was too afraid to confront certain situations" lists, one personal the other business. The ugly stuff on these "to do" lists range from confronting an intractable former business partner about some land we own, to calling the City of Lakeway about a warrant for a speeding ticket. I will spend the remainder of the work week knocking out this list, not everything will be settled this week but at least I'll know where I stand. Idea being, the less crap I have behind me the more effectively I can move foward towards my more critical goals of building. Now let's say you already run a pretty tight ship, and my loser issues are not your issues, fair enough. Just one question, how's the view? So start wading and enjoy!

Monday, July 30, 2007

R134A Redux

Let's try this again what with the video, the freon, the low side and the uploading to the web. Enjoy!

I'd like to extend a special "shout out" to Raymond, Nicaraguan handyman and A/C guy extrordinaire, who originally showed me how to add freon to a cars A/C. Haven't seen Raymond since he tried to make a fast buck by selling 20 Keys of cocaine to a DEA agent back in January, now awaiting trial in Federal lock up. Now that type of behavior in the city is definately a BIG no no. Lesson learned: stick to what you do best and don't get high on your own supply. Thank you very much!

Next up: gather up cash and get healthy, because damn I look puffy in that video.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

R134A and How to Roll Cool in the City

O.K. so as mentioned on the last blog ( You Got A Fast Car.....I Don't ), my intention was to fix the A/C on my 1994 Saturn using R134A freon I bought for 30 bucks at a local auto store and some old fashioned determination. Remember if you have to buy a heap cheap make sure the heap is 1994 or newer, older cars use "old" freon and require a conversion kit and a lot of bother to fix. It can be a bit nerve racking working on a A/C system since it is under high pressure, be sure to read the directions when trying for yourself. The air blows cold now and that is just what I am going to need rolling into the hottest month of the year, August. So witness now my first video blog, with the help of my friend Sarah as camerawoman, this rapidly edited video details some of the issues faced when working on you own car. Roll video...

Ooops due to technical difficulty with blog site, video is not available. Sorry, the above is a clip from the aforementioned video, just close your eyes and imagine me shaking that canister while attached to the A/C, engine running, and the pressure gauge registering "danger". Hope to upload later until then we have got to move on. The weekend is almost upon us and that is a particularly perilous time in the City.

P.S. Working on a car is easy compared to working on video, editing and posting it to the web!

Monday, July 23, 2007

You Got a Fast Car.....I Don't*

This city of Houston is based on the car, they are an essential part of life here. The city lacks any real form of mass transit and any thoughts of walking about in this auto oriented environ are simply insane. That might sound unusual for citizens of other cities around the world where the tube or subway or even decent walking distances are a part of life, but this city grew at a time in history around the car and roads and freeways that populate its landscape. I'm a big proponent of the car as important technology, forget the I Pod, cell phone or your laptop, here the car is the most important piece of technology you can own. They keep you, your friends and family safe, dry and cool in what can easily be described as a most hostile space, a space made of concrete, steal, glass and physics. Physics is in full force and a real danger, if you ever have witnessed a car wreck, you know what two tons of mass couple with velocity can do and more than a few people I know have been involved in some sort of accident with sometimes fatal implications. With that said, in order to get around and do this thing I do, I needed some wheels on the cheap and with few questions asked.

Enter Jim, he owns a baseball school, holds a State of Texas auto dealers license, a shrewd sense of business and was able to score me an auction car and finance it. So for $250 dollars per month, for better or worse, I secured this 1994 Saturn four door.

I've driven some damn good cars in my life, and as anyone who knows me knows, I love a fine automobile, but this is about survival. So frankly, this is without a doubt, the crappiest car I have ever driven, but it has four wheels, new tires, fresh Texas tags,

and brakes that make it stop. Really that is best I can say about it. Well and it has a small 4 cylinder that gets about 24 miles to the gallon, with gas prices at around $3.00 gallon, this is a big plus. The big minus, the Air Conditioning does not work .

It is now late July in Houston and although it has been a mild summer the month of August can be a real scorcher with temperatures easily reaching 100 degrees and heat indexes in the 120's. Navigating this city without airconditioning can be a very real drag both physically and emotionally. Nothing like meeting with prospective investors or bankers or even subs looking like you just ran a marathon. A new A/C compressor or trip to any mechanic in Houston can easily run about 3 to 400 dollars, money I don't have. In desperate need of some cold air I will show you how to quick fix a cars A/C on the cheap.
Tomorrow, I'll show how to fix the A/C for about 30 bucks in about 15 minutes, by adding some freon I bought at the local auto shop. Survival is about trying different things even if they don't work, hopefully this will be the solution I need. So stay tuned and stay hydrated.

*Or ..What I wouldn't do for an S Class Benz

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Survival In An Urban Environment

I find myself here in Houston, Texas the 4th largest city in the United States, it is a sprawling vast urban landscape located some 40 miles from the backwaters of the Gulf of Mexico. I am 43 years old, slightly out of shape and with precious little money. It is summer so the temperature here is hot, the environment humid and place filled with the confounding action you would find in any major city in the world. Cars, traffic and congestion are the rule, life is fast and the people can be crazy. It can be a dangerous place with crime and the social ills of any U.S. city. You have to keep your head up and your eyes on the prize. I intend to show you how to survive in such a place and possibly even flourish.

A word or two about myself are in order, suffice to say I've been in real estate and real estate development for the past 8 years. I've developed and built condos, townhomes and houses through out the inner city and a few in Angleton, Texas. I was born, raised and educated in this city, have experienced the best clubs and social engagements and the lowest dives. After a series of devastating losses I find myself now ready to move forward, but it's going to be a tough go of it. With no steady income and an expertise in a field that can be a rich man's game, I will try to show you and possibly myself how to get ahead in such a place. But I warn you, I'm starting from a point that can best be described as "dead in the water" so it might ( probably will ) get ugly at times. Fear and panic can be mortal enemies in a situation like this, but I've seen more than a few pitches come over the plate so I plan on using my expertise, experience, contacts and intimate knowledge of this city to stay focused and do the one thing I truly love - building.

Along the way a certain cast of characters will come and go, some are social friends, others business related, and some lifelong friends, oh and a few lady friends. Urban survival depends on a complex social networking of all and sometimes can mean the difference between losing or keeping your head about you. Highs and lows are commonplace in a setting like this. Here for example I'm exiting my friend's new Porsche after a robust test drive. My own mode of transportation can only be described as basic, but more about transportation and surviving the city later. All that said, with hard work, a little fun and some luck, I hope to document my attempts at getting back in the game. I invite you to come along, and promise it will not be boring.