Nothing but Blue Skies
Austin Dispatches
No. 76
Jan. 17, 2005

I couldn’t sustain the triumphs of late November. In expectation, I completed my holiday obligations by Dec. 1, a record. Alas, ‘twas all for naught. My life’s momentum sputtered, then stalled.

Originally, my new contract was supposed to start Dec. 6.  However, some internal snags prevented the client from processing its paperwork in a timely fashion. Instead, I started on the 27th. Between those dates, I was in a state of suspended animation. I could do little except read biographies of entertainers from the Golden Age of American Show Business, Friar’s Club division.1  

Now, daily, my car glides along what once were quaint county back roads being transformed into arterials for multiplying exurbanites, to ERCOT’s operations center hard by the Taylor airport. Inside the refurbished corrugated shed, each cubicle comes with Herman Miller chairs. These are the most comfortable office chairs I’ve ever encountered. (Starting at $500, they’d better be.)2

All that is small satisfaction against the regret at not visiting my family, including several members in various stages of decrepitude, for a larger-than-average Christmas gathering.  If the start date had been settled in advance, I could’ve traveled, even with the attendant logistical hassles and aggravations,3  and even though it would’ve left me subpar mentally and physically just before I started the new job.

Even if my December schedule hadn’t been so dicey, a personal gamble that failed wrecked my health.

My worst expectations manifested when the woman I met Halloween unmistakably snubbed me after a show of the Austin Cobra Players in the early hours of Dec. 20.  I’d thought we had potential. But my hope dwindled after she failed to reply to my phone calls and my birthday party invitation. 

Going to her show was an emotional long shot, but she intrigued me enough that I had to take the risk. She wouldn’t speak to me. Wouldn’t even make eye contact.

Atop everything else, I caught a cold from spending two hours in the drafty concrete cube that is Beer Land. So instead of choking on regret and self-disgust, I choked on post-nasal drip. 

I’d already flown with the flu in February. It’s an ordeal to be avoided under almost any circumstance, especially non-essential travel.

Although it might be worthwhile to leave town: Austin is the unlucky site for the next season of “The Real World.” 4 Filming begins this month; the train wreck airs in June.5  Look for lots of tilted zoom shots of the downtown skyline from Auditorium Shores in between the wacky antics of seven dolts picked to get on each others’ nerves while living in a trendy apartment rent free.  Of course, this being MTV, they’ll emphasize canned drama over real, street-level experience, such as …

On the Town

Dec. 8: Oslo held a “Holiday Sip & Shop.”6  I attended out of curiosity. For once, the place was packed.7  Under the atypically bright lights, swarms of women examined knickknacks, seemingly Christmasy but with perennial use. At least, that’s what my untrained eye discerned before I mentally recoiled at the scene.

I’d hoped to meet women, but they were in shopping rapture. No man, not even Brad Pitt, can compete against a woman’s search for the perfect toiletry.8

I fled across Sixth Street to the Thistle Café and Bar. There I had an easier time attracting women’s attention. Several followed me from Oslo, trotting into the restaurant giddily with their purchases. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a delightful artichoke-chicken pesto pasta.

Dec. 14: Saw Glover Gil and the Tosca String Quartet at the Cactus Café.9

Dec. 16: Dick Dale, king of the surf guitar, played at Red Eye Fly. Lots of minor-key, 64th-note tremolo picking with heavy reverb over 120 b.p.m Bo Diddley rhythms. Dale also played drums, harmonica and trumpet.10  The raucous crowd cheered lustily.

Dec. 17:  Speaking of lust, I was invited to a party at Dr. Natasha’s sensuously redecorated house.11  She and her fellow décolleté San Antonian lifelong gal pals, all of whom apparently now live within blocks of each other in the fashionable, tree-shaded side streets near Shoal Creek, dominated the affair, but seemed flustered when interacting with me, until, succumbing to their desires at last, they – stop that. 

Most of the other men looked liked aging golden boys whose looks were starting to crumble from the ravages of time and dissolute behavior. It’s a sad state of affairs when the most interesting person to talk to was an IRS agent. I conveniently avoided mentioning my radical, anti-tax views.12  By the same measure, I also avoided choking the life out of him, so maybe I’m mellowing with age.

Actually, the party was quite dull.  Maybe I just had that effect on everybody. Maybe they couldn’t wait for me to leave so they could start an orgy. Nice house, though.

Dec. 18: KOOP-FM celebrated its 10th anniversary at The Off Center in the east side’s bohemian archipelago. I enjoyed it, partly because the performances I wanted to hear were scheduled at the beginning. DJ Little Danny finished playing vintage boogaloo tracks; some self-proclaimed hillbilly band started. I didn’t feel like putting an ironic distance between me and the group, particularly in some unheated concrete warehouse with Everest-grade steps, wobbly patio tiles, loose railings, ice-slick bathroom floors – and a self-service wine bar. (Maybe whoever organized the party really wanted to get rid of the station’s listeners.)

Instead, I went to the new salsa spot Mambo Kings to hear a band.13  The club was closed. I glanced into the other clubs as I trudged up and down the hills of downtown back to my car. The scene was deader than my dating prospects in Austin.14  The bums, however, were out in strength on a rapidly cooling night, desperate enough to hustle even blacks for handouts (e.g., “Say, m’man, you can help a brother out with some spare change?”). No deal, obviously. I guess Robin Harris routines didn’t filter down to the gutter.15 

(I finally made it into Mambo Kings on Jan. 15. I stood around for 30 minutes while the band took its sweet time setting up for its scheduled performance. I was one of the few gringos in attendance, and one of far too many men, all of whom steered clear of me when they weren’t also standing around, waiting for something to happen.)
Dec. 31: I recovered well enough to go out for New Year’s Eve. After weighing the options, I settled on a succession of bands playing Brazilian music at Ruta Maya. The other venues were expensive, inaccessible (i.e., in a downtown that’s still torn up with roadwork and other construction projects), too potentially annoying (dating mixers for the lonely and desperate), or a combination of the above (e.g., paying $45 to watch other people have a good time gyrating to something that sounds like a cement mixer in operation).16  I think I made a good choice. I sipped a single beer, wished everyone a Happy New Year at the stroke of midnight, and left, because I have to stick to an a.m. cycle required by my new job. Driving back home on the surprisingly deserted elevated expressways, I saw multiple fireworks capping a 180-degree view of the metro lights stretching from Dripping Springs to Pflugerville, laid out before me like an glitzy gift. 

Later that morning, I awoke with a clear head and a clear conscience, and caught the first showing of “Beyond the Sea.”17  A lot of critics’ve been giving it bad reviews.18  Those critics are idiots. I was prepared to enjoy a cinematic disaster, fuelled by the colossal ego of star/writer/director/producer Kevin Spacey. But it’s actually pretty good. It’s the best movie the Rat Pack never made.19  The betuxed Spacey and his backing band look like they’re having a blast playing up-tempo renditions of obscurities from the Great American Songbook in a reproduction of The Copacabana.20 There’s nothing like a song, expressing heartfelt, tender emotions, being rattled off at 350+ b.p.m.

The real weak spot comes when Darin embraces the hippie counterculture, which stalls the movie like a constipated turd. Lots of entertainers made that mistake. But between “Beyond the Sea,” “The Aviator,”21  and “Auto Focus” from 2002,22  I’m discerning a new theme: embracing hippie counterculture = career death. Now, that’s a Hollywood message I can get behind.

Jan. 14: Go Dance held a social. I got in some quality time on the dance floor, especially some cheek-to-cheek rumbas with an older hot blonde from New York. At evening’s end, she snatched up some sugar cookies and began munching them on the way out of the studio. I regarded her quizzically. She had a flash of self-consciousness and looked embarrassed. She said she felt so comfortable around me that she guessed she didn’t think anything of it. Under the circumstances, I wished she were a little more uncomfortable around me.

Cultural Canapés

The Statesman’s Dec. 16 entertainment supplement managed to go completely off the rails with a holiday fashion cover story,23  featuring some of the ugliest apparel I’ve seen since the first Lollapalooza tour.24  Trailer trash wouldn’t be caught dead in most of these clothes, which, naturally, weren’t plucked from thrift stores, but instead retail in trendy boutiques per item for about what I spend every month in car payments. To cap the embarrassment, the model on the cover, whom I’d normally appraise appreciatively, poses in a fur stole that makes me think Oscar the Grouch died for his pelt so she’d have something to wear to a basement boîte.25  In some respects, Austin’s a deliberately hick town – perpetrated by the same people who aspire to be denizens of a world-class city26  – but I almost never see anyone dressing for an Ozarks bordello when I go out, and I go out a lot. Who buys this stuff?

Donald Trump, New York real estate mogul and game show host, now has a magazine named after him: Trump World Magazine. I flipped through it. The glossy appears designed to pimp his properties. Although I don’t know if I want to take vacation advice from someone who can’t stay out of bankruptcy court.27 

Similarly, you can own Trump – as a poseable, talking action figure. The hair is incredibly realistic.

e76fig3 The release of a JFK assassination video game has generated much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth, lead by U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. 28

It’s beyond my ken how this human distillery29 and unindicted killer30 musters the blarney-stone gall to feign moral outrage about anything, even the death of a relative, after what he and his shanty clan have done against the republic.31

Enough praise of that slimy Hibernian politician from Boston.32 Real Americans don’t look to government to provide “hope” in their lives.33  Even most foreigners know better. It’s enough to make one root for the “conspirators.”34

The Kennedy administration can’t even claim credit for early ‘60s style: tail-fin sharp and martini clear. True, much cultural creativity flourished during the Camelot period, but most of it was independent from Camelot itself.35  This era’s creative output had more to do with broad, favorable factors – demographic, educational, economic, etc. Put another way, Camelot gets credit for defining the era, but it's really the era that defines Camelot.36

Inexplicably, the game penalizes shooting others, including Jackie Kennedy, a snobby gold-digging spendthrift (“In an early letter to [couturier Oleg] Cassini, Jackie instructed, ‘Just make sure no one has exactly the same dress I do…. I want all mine to be original & no fat little women hopping around in the same dress.”).37 

Mind you, back when I was a kid playing video games in seaside arcades, in the period between “Pong” and “Space Invaders,” one military first-person shooter game in particular I liked deducted points for zapping ambulances and stretcher-bearing corpsmen. I quickly realized I could make up for the deductions with sheer volume by blasting through noncombatants to valid military targets that would otherwise have evaded my ammo.38 

Media Indigest

Difficult to believe, but the Chronicle’s news coverage just deterioriated further. City Editor Mike Clark-Madison, one of the best Austin reporters, is leaving the paper. News Editor Michael King will pick up the slack.39  While King is no Louis Dubose – King at least understands it’s 2005, not 198040  – he shares Dubose’s incomprehension about how the world works and why. A consequence of filtering life through the prism of an enragé pinko. The real misfortune belongs to the readers who naively engross themselves in the weekly’s news hole, instead of skimming them on the way to the arts listings and futon ads.

Meanwhile, their boss,  Editor Louis Black, tells Austin Daze he’s dyslexic and “a self-righteous asshole.” That explains a lot.41 

Rumbo, a new Spanish-language tabloid, has appeared in local news racks.

Dispatches Update

In No. 56 I pondered Jim Kelly’s career.  Well, he’s back – in a supporting role as a trash-talking villain in a Nike commercial.42  But it’s not as action-packed as a Pacers game.43

Highway Star

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Board got an earful from disgruntled citizens at the Dec. 13 board meeting in the auditorium of the LBJ Library and Museum, a pharaonic monument44 to a terrible president45 done in the best Space Age Nazi style.46
Except for the spineless players from the Austin Real Estate Council and a couple of other business groups that kowtow to government officials (and give other businessmen a bad name), most everyone in the audience jeered the board for trying to impose tolls on pre-existing major routes. Time magazine has emerged from years of irrelevance to expose this project as a vast boondoogle.47

One woman, a retired schoolteacher, i.e., a former government brainwashing agent feasting off my money, got up afterward and emphasized she was not a Libertarian. “I guess this would be a bad time to ask her for a donation to the Texas LP,” I whispered to Wes Benedict.48 

Neighborhood News

Andiamo, an excellent restaurant featuring Northern Italian cuisine, opened at the North Point Shopping Center at Rutland Drive and Burnet Road.

A Scottsdale, Ariz., company bought ClearCommerce for $19 million cash.49

Capital Metro installed a bench at the stop at the northwest corner of Stonehollow Drive and Gracy Farms Lane. LAN’s Edge moved from Northcross Mall to the Furniture Row shopping plaza at Burnet and Highway 183 (Research Boulevard).50  The Texaco station at Metric Boulevard and Parmer Lane has been dismantled. On Dec. 28, KUT-FM reported an auto collision at Burnet and Duval roads. On Jan. 6, KVET-FM reported an auto collision at Parmer Lane and an I-35 frontage road.

Business Roundup

Moving Trading Co., which sells and rents CDs and DVDs, opened for business on Dec. 10 at Highway 183 and Loop 360 with a small, dull selection.

A Dining Guide to Hutto


E-mail: austindispatches@swbell.net

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17 Beyond the Sea. Archer Street (Beyond the Sea) Ltd./Tigger Street Productions/QI Quality International GmbH & Co. KG, 2004.
18 Baumgarten, Marjorie. Review. AC 31 Dec. 2004: 68.
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21 The Aviator. Warner Bros./Miramax Films/Initial Entertainment Group (IEG)/Forward Pass/Appian Way/Cappa Productions/IMF Internationale Medien und Film GmbH & Co. 3 Produktions KG, 2004.
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34 Marrs, Jim. Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. New York City: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1989.
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38 Romeo, and Wendy Bryan. “Video Games.” Retro Hell, 236-237.
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49 Hawkins, Lori. “Austin’s ClearCommerce Bought for $19.4 Million.” AAS 13 Jan. 2005: C1+.
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