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The Texican: Grace, tacos and ‘Tiger King’

Houston Chronicle logo Houston Chronicle 4/22/2020 By Craig Hlavaty, Correspondent
a person posing for the camera: A still from Netflix's "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." (Courtesy of Netflix/TNS) © Courtesy Of Netflix, HO / TNS

A still from Netflix's "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." (Courtesy of Netflix/TNS)

We’re living through strange times. Our lives are housebound. Our explorations outdoors are few and far between. We wear masks, gloves and keep our distance from each other. We send virtual hugs, meet up online and text with friends we haven’t heard from in months. Some worry in public. We all worry in private.

Everyone has ways of coping, little tricks we play on ourselves to escape and while away the hours between meals. The “COVID 20” is what some are calling the weight we’re adding on. Some weight isn’t even physical, it’s mental, and we may never shed those pounds.

One thing I have been struggling with is giving myself some grace, remembering that I am living through a tumultuous and scary time in history. It’s all right if I don’t get in a workout every day or eat more fruit and veggies. I have entered into a domestic partnership with store-bought buñuelos. The wedding is in May.

Event coordinator Lauren MacQueen has really gotten into the lurid and darkly comic documentary series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness” on Netflix, like millions of us.

Who would have thought that a gun-toting, tiger-tackling gay polygamist tiger tamer with a blond mullet like Joe Exotic would become the national antihero we all needed during these troubling times? Halloween is going to be wild this year to say the least. Prepare for “Tiger King” costumes galore.

“I will be the first to say that I am highly motivated now to rock a mullet and buy some tigers,” MacQueen said. “He is the hero we needed and maybe didn’t deserve.”

“Carole Baskin killed her husband” became our rallying cry.

Brandon Hale has started to relearn German while his children are learning Spanish. He’s not alone, as I spoke with more than a handful of friends who are taking this time to become fluent in other languages. When he’s not learning German, he’s a safety analyst for a chemical plant.

“I took it in high school, and I learned that it’s very similar to English in the way sentences are structured, so it’s pretty easy to learn,” Hale said.

Many Houstonians are also learning that they could have been working from home this whole time, while others have come to realize that their jobs are very much essential.

Area machinist Chris Kalish goes to work daily for a valve company doing heavy-duty operations, the sort of job that can’t be done at home in sweats and a T-shirt. He’s happy to be working, and most everyone in his field is too, although his heart aches for those in his family struggling in the service industry.

“A lot of people don’t have the extra money to go without nightly tips or weekly checks,” Kalish said.

He has a son who works in the Austin hospitality industry, and he’s worried about his prospects, as one of the state’s busiest nightlife cities is at a standstill. According to service industry insiders, Austin hospitality was hurting even before South by Southwest was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.

Frankly, I miss the simple camaraderie that comes with working life, a feeling echoed by many. Who knew that we would miss the daily, humdrum existence of clocking in and sitting down? Co-workers, in the luckiest of cases, become friends and family that you rely on five days a week to mentally take on the day. A virtual meeting on Zoom just doesn’t cut it.

Krista Bryan runs a successful face-painting business, dubbed Rawr Party. The rodeo season and Astros opening day were to be big events for her and her team, along with other public gatherings that have since been scuttled.

“Working with friends is fun, and you don’t realize how much you really love your job, and the people you work with, until you have no idea when you’ll see them again,” Bryan said.

“I miss my purpose and I miss my people I share that purpose with,” Bryan adds. “My job is literally turning kids into Spider-Man or unicorns. Who wouldn’t miss that?”

Houston mom Meagan Clanahan told me this week that her new life has basically solidified her appreciation for the work that teachers do on a daily basis in the classroom. She’s at home with a set of twins, a boy and a girl, and getting used to becoming an interim teacher.

“I know that our teachers work so hard, and having two third-graders, I realize how absolutely unequipped I am to teach them the way they deserve to be taught,” Clanahan said. “It’s more than just the basics.”

One of her children has made great strides in the past year, and she’s worried about losing some of that momentum.

“My fear of her backsliding is real. I don’t know how to continue to teach her to decode sentences and break them down,” Clanahan said. “It’s so much bigger than math and reading. It’s all of our children that need additional help.”

Others are learning the sweet simplicity of cooking, baking and simply creating at home. With extra time on their hands, some homebound gourmets are creating feasts of their own. My Instagram and Facebook feeds are full of families making homemade bread.

Some of us are also learning just how amazing we really can be when left to our own delicious devices.

“I make some damn good breakfast tacos,” said Dane Schiller, former Chron staffer and current director of communications for the Harris County D.A.’s office.

Tacos, with a side of grace.

craig.hlavaty@gmail.com

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