Sep. 3, 2003
The job inquiries are picking up. The twist is all the work’s in New York. The other day, a Hindu recruiter from Jersey called about a contract in Manhattan. It’s fitting karma, given how many jobs are being shipped out to his homeland, but I digress.1
“Technically, you’re a perfect match for the contract,” he said. “There’s just one more thing: I have to conduct a questionnaire to see if you can hack life in New York.”
“I got yer questionnaire right here,” I said.
|Q: When you order coffee --
A: I don’t ------- drink coffee.2
Q: ------ ------- ------, humor me, will ya?
A: Lotsa cream, lotsa sugar.
Q: Assume they give you a regular, what do you call it?
A: Besides a -------- mistake? A black. You call it a black.3
Q: When you’re queued up to buy tickets, do you stand “in line” or “on line”?4
A: Neither, ‘cause I don’t. You gotta be really ------- stupid to ------- wait around with a bunch of --------. If I can’t ------- buy the ------- tickets in advance, I hook up with a reliable scalper.
Q: A vehicle stalls in the middle of an intersection, halting traffic, including you. What’s the first thing you do?
A: Roll down my window and yell, “Yo!5 --------! Don’t block the box, ------------.6 Move that piece of ---- or I’ll kick yer --------------- --- from here to Greenpernt.”7
Q: Who’s got the better cheesesteak, Pat’s or Geno’s?
A: You dumb ----------- ----, that’s Philly.8
“Hey, shut the ---- up, -------,” he said. “You passed. You’re definitely ready for New York.”
“------- A,” I said.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch …
The schlemiel invited me to the grand opening of Cathy’s Steakhouse, formerly the Wild Ginger Restaurant.9 I nibbled a decent shrimp and chicken vermicelli with a sweet alfredo sauce, sipped white wine, and, after schmoozing strangers for work, chatted amiably with the schlemiel and his wife; Jeff Plotkin and Jody Lockshin; Rick McGinnis, Travis County Libertarian Party vice chairman; and Beth Jeszik, a massage therapist from Killeen.
The event pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed it more than I expected. As the evening progressed, couples thronged the dance floor to such superb selections as Frank Sinatra’s ’50s Capitol recordings.10 The brassy strains of “I’ve Got the World on a String”11 began and I experienced only the mildest twinge of regret at my travails in Austin. Moving here took a long time while I worked my first contract at IBM.12 I didn’t really feel like I’d finally arrived until the day I returned the keys to my Richardson apartment. On the return trip, as I reached the intersection of Interstate 35 and Braker Lane, that rendition came on the radio. In a movie, it would seem contrived. In real life, it seemed apropos.
Also in real life, I visited the new Carribbean Lights club at E. 612 Sixth St. Judging from the turnout, it won’t be open long. Including the staff, less than a dozen people were in the club. Among them was some woman who sauntered over to my table and asked me to dance. After a few turns on the floor, I bought her a Scotch on the rocks and let her do the talking. The club had the music turned up too loud, so I couldn’t understand much. What I did understand – “prison,” “cocaine” – chilled my interior emotional mood to glacially dismissive. Outwardly, I smiled and nodded as she showed me her Texas Offender card.
“Do you want to hang out tomorrow?” she asked.
I smelled a con. Or precisely, an ex-con’s con. Up close, she had the ravaged look long-term druggies get that I’d seen before. Plus, she was undisciplined on the dance floor. Regardless, I haven’t survived this long by trusting strangers. I wanted to disassociate from this woman fast.
“I’ve got appointments all day,” I lied.
She repeated her interest in helping me find a job and went to the ladies’ room. I snuck out of the club, shaking my head at spending $17.50 total for about an hour of awkward socializing. Fortunately, because we discussed job search matters, I can deduct the evening from my taxes.13
One event I won’t be attending is the Progressive Singles Dinner at Crimson on the 16th. For consistency, the restaurant will serve cat food14 and larks’ tongues in aspic15 during the courses of the Crimson fling,16 but I’ve been burned before by such events to willingly blow $40 – easy money17 to them – and wind up in the red.18 In a related vein, I understand Alabama rock bands have recorded a tribute album to Robert Fripp,19 "In the Court of the Crimson Tide."20
Fuddruckers, the Austin-based hamburger chain with the vaguely disgusting name, plans to expand.21 That’s all well and good, but when do we see an expansion by White Castle?22
The Downtown Austin Alliance is trying to lure more retail.23 Good luck. That group’s movers and shakers will find out the hard way that government is their worst enemy, between tearing up the streets, and the federal government taking over the abandoned Intel site for a courthouse, which in the current police state atmosphere means part of downtown is completely unvisitable by citizens.24
Firearms merchant Just Guns on South Congress Avenue has closed and will be replaced by a performance venue.25 Austin has too many arts venues already. One can never have enough weapons merchants. Not that Arnold Schwarzenegger would agree.
The San Francisco Chronicle has unearthed past interviews by the California gubernatorial candidate that show him flip-flopping on the right to keep and bear arms. Schwarzenegger now favors infringements upon that right.26 He really is like his father, a card-carrying Nazi.27
Speaking of Nazis, after about 25 years of being aware of its existence, I finally read the novel “Ecotopia.”28 It’s exactly the stupid West Coast hippie shit I always expected it would be.
In this 1975 best seller, a New York Times reporter, circa 1999, writes a feature series on the breakaway region, formerly Oregon, Washington and Northern California, which seceded from the United States about 20 years earlier and has since maintained an independent existence, aloof and isolated.
Obviously, most of what the author predicted hasn’t happened, exactly. Change is one of futurist fiction's inherent difficulties. Never mind the cringe-inducing effect on us readers. Think of the poor writer, sweating over his story only to see it turn into the literary equivalent of a Nehru jacket a few years later.29
In real life, women don’t rule a deindustrialized land where materialism, competitiveness, and of course, "sexual hang-ups" are no more. Although that’s not for lack of trying by any number of politicians and general idiots, from the Green brigades30 to the Zerzanite anarchists in Eugene, Ore.,31 who treat the novel like a blueprint.
In reality, they've succeeded in driving out businesses. For example, Boeing got tired of being milked by Washington and relocated its headquarters to Chicago.32 As a journalist in Nevada, I covered many small manufacturers that relocated from California, so that Reno, depicted fictionally as almost a ghost town, is flourishing.33
In the novel, the Ecotopians also seized the properties of the rich and big corporations, and imposed a 20-hour work week.34 However, the country still has plenty of lawyers. No wonder Ralph Nader penned a blurb on the back of the edition I read. (“None of the happy conditions in Ecotopia are beyond the technical or resource reach of our society.”)
The Times reporter didn't return to America because he was getting laid all the time. But what about other desires? Too bad if it's 2 a.m. and he's in the mood for a cheesesteak and maybe a slice of Neapolitan, or some fries in gravy.35 Whoops! You can't get that in Ecotopia, because not even San Francisco accommodates people at that hour.36 Not to mention the government prohibitions on “processed and packaged foods,” including refined sugar.37 So much for Ghirardelli chocolate.38 I fumed about that until I had a couple of cheeseburgers and enough sweets to kill a pygmy with diabetes.
My friend Chris Loyd asked, “What the hell did they do all day? Produce one biodegradable hair brush?”39 Actually, they sat around getting stoned and discussing their feelings. And once again, we're back to problem of food. "I've still got the munchies. I could really go for a two-pound bag of M&Ms right now."
An invading force could use candy to bring down the country in weeks. The Ecotopians are fortunate they had to fight off a demoralized post-Vietnam U.S. Defense Department.40 And then, at the time the book came out, cocaine was beginning to supplant marijuana as the hip drug. Coke's not compatible with the Ecotopian lifestyle.41
Moreover, I could envision Ecotopia collapsing when blue-collar men leave en masse for better opportunities, or when the younger generation of women realize they can rent their bodies to satisfy men’s chthonian appetites.42 For that matter, the young and ambitious in general have no place in Ecotopia, unless they want to submit to their elders' brainwashing, or silently turn cynical and opportunistic as the dream inevitably turns sour.43 Douglas Coupland has an critique of Ecotopia in "Shampoo Planet," where the protagonist and his girlfriend visit his drug-addled biological father and his bastard brood out in the woods, stagnating like Dark Age peasants. They can't wait to flee back to a clean, modern city.44
I also found it amusing that the story took place almost entirely in the San Francisco metro area. Maybe his expense account wouldn't cover filing field stories from the Northwest, where the ruling elite would be even more fanatical, even if it's not comprised of women.
Fortunately, in real life, San Franciscans are too urbane and snotty to willingly associate with backwoods hippies, at least for more than one fashion season.45 When I visited in 1995 to buy an Italian suit off Grant Avenue,46 I spent much of the day flirting with all the hot, exquisitely dressed businesswomen, many driving European luxury sedans.
A Partial Guide to Northernmost Austin
We'll start with Wells Branch Plaza, south of the eastbound lane on Wells
Branch Parkway. Among the businesses of
Further eastbound, in Pflugerville, are your best bets for gas and groceries.
Countryside Place, at the corner of Wells Branch
and Farm-to-Market Road 1825, on the east side of Interstate 35, contains an H-E-B. It also contains a Cost Cutters hair salon that charges about $8 or so. Northwest of the shopping plaza, off the 1825 southbound lane, is a RaceTrac gas station. RaceTrac consistently has the lowest per gallon prices, beating out the nearby Texaco, Shell, and Diamond Shamrock competition.
Westbound, at the southeast corner of Wells Branch and Surrender Avenue, in the Wells Branch Corporate Center, is Pho Kim, a Vietnamese restaurant. The place had a bad problem with flies the one time I visited.
At the intersection's southwest, The Piazza contains the (Hoody's) Sub Stop, which features a decent cheesesteak. Nearby, the bar and grill Raggedy Anne's serves a redneck clientele.
Heading further west, we come to The Market at Wells Branch, at the southeast corner of Wells Branch and FM 1325. Of interest:
At Burnet and Merrilltown roads sits Italian Garden. Poor excuse for Italian food. The proprietors think extra melted cheese is the key ingredient to everything. This establishment has been in business since 1966, which makes it Olive Garden before there was Olive Garden. Next to Italian Garden is Texas Bar & Grill. It has a biker clientele.
Finally, we head east on Merrilltown to Bratton Square, at the intersection with Barton Lane. Of interest:
1 AD No. 53 (Jul. 30, 2003).
2 Hendrickson, Robert. New Yawk Tawk: A Dictionary of New York City Expressions. New York City: Facts on File Books, 1998: 64.
3 Wurman, Richard Saul. Access New York City, 8th ed. New York City: Access Press, 1998: 10.
4 Hedrickson, op. cit., 125.
5 Ibid., 179.
6 Wurman, op. cit.
7 Siegel, Larry, and George Woodbridge. “A Foreigner’s Travel Guide to the United States.” Mad Mar. 1983: 44.
8 “Yo, Delegates – Eat Our Cheesesteaks or Else.” National Journal 29 Jul. 2000: 2439.
9 AD No. 53.
10 Clarke, Donald. All or Nothing at All: A Life of Frank Sinatra. New York City: Fromm International, 1997: 119-122, 125-142, 149-157, 160-167, 174-176.
11 Sinatra, Frank. “I’ve Got the World on a String.” 1953. Complete Capitol Singles Collection. Capitol 38039, 1996.
12 AD No. 15 (Mar. 12, 2000).
13 AD No. 52n16 (Jul. 13, 2003).
14 King Crimson. “Cat Food.” In the Wake of Posideon. Atlantic SD-8266, 1970.
15 King Crimson. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. Atlantic SD-7263, 1973.
16 King Crimson. In the Court of the Crimson King. Atlantic SD-8245, 1969.
17 King Crimson. “Easy Money.” Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, op. cit.
18 King Crimson. Red. Atlantic SD-18110, 1974.
19 Tamm, Eric. Robert Fripp: From King Crimson to Guitar Craft. Boston: Faber & Faber, 1990.
20 Forney, John, and Steve Townsend. Talk of the Tide: An Oral History of Alabama Football Since 1920. Birmingham, Ala.: Crane Hill Publishers, 1993.
21 Hudgins, Matt. “Chain Beefing Up.” ABJ 25 Aug. 2003: 1+.
22 Richman, Alan. “The Real Burger King.” GQ Oct. 1996: 62.
23 Osborne, Jonathan. “Advocates of Downtown Set to Peddle Its Wares.” AAS 3 Aug. 2003: B1+.
24 Osborne. “Courthouse to Replace Intel’s Downtown Shell.” AAS 31 Jul. 2003: A1+
25 Gray, Christopher. “TCB.” AC 29 Aug. 2003: 53.
26 Marinucci, Carla, and Lance Williams. “Schwarzenegger Challenged Over Old Interview.” San Francisco Chronicle 30 Aug. 2003: A16.
27 “Arnie’s Father a Storm Trooper.” Liverpool (U.K.) Daily Post 25 Aug. 2003: 5.
28 Callenbach, Ernest. Ecotopia. 1975. Rpt. New York City: Bantam Books, 1990.
29 “New Generation Tries on Nehru.” CSM 2 Sep. 1994: 19.
30 Sifry, Micah L. Spoiling for a Fight: Third-party Politics in America. New York City: Routledge, 2002: Ch. 6.
31 Roosevelt, Margot. “In Oregon, Anarchists Act Locally.” Time 23 Jul. 2001: 36; Zerzan, John. Future Primitive and Other Essays. New York City: Autonomedia, 1994.
32 Starner, Ron, and Mark Arend. “Behind Boeing’s Flight Plan.” Site Selection Sep. 2001: 572.
33 Callenbach, op. cit., 5.
34 Ibid., 47-49, 97-98.
35 Scicolone, Charles, and Michele Scicolone. Pizza: Any Way You Slice It. New York City: Broadway Books, 1998: 35-61.
36 Callenbach, op. cit., 16, 31.
37 Ibid., 20, 24.
38 Beach, Neva. The Ghirardelli Chocolate Cookbook. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press, 1995.
39 Loyd, Chris. E-mail to Dan Eisler, 25 Aug. 2003.
40 Callenbach, op. cit., 122-125.
41 Maupin, Amistad. Tales of the City. New York City: Harper & Row, 1978.
42 Paglia, Camille. Sexual Personae, Vol. I: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickenson. New Haven, Conn.: Yale UP, 1990: Ch. 1.
43 Magent, Myron. The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass. New York City: William Morrow & Co., 1993; Roberts, Paul Craig. Alienation and the Soviet Economy: The Collapse of the Socialist Era, rev. ed. New York City: Holmes & Meier, 1990.
44 Coupland, Douglas. Shampoo Planet. New York City: Pocket Books, 1992: Ch. 46-48.
45 Callenbach, op. cit., 9-11, 13-14, 17.
46 Rodgers, Richard, and Oscar Hammerstein. “Grant Avenue.” 1958. Flower Drum Song. Columbia CK-2009, 1961.