My work continues at ERCOT. Yes, that ERCOT.
There was much clucking of tongue in the office the day the agency announced
the state indictments of former top managers, one of them a former FBI
agent, for bilking ERCOT of $2 million with phony employees.1
|Mar. 3, 2005
Turns out that's why my start
date was delayed – the client had to sweat extra
diligently to confirm I really exist (hold the philosophy jokes).2
Afterward, though, the matter has had no impact on the nature of my
work, or my contract, other than having an excuse to banter with my
officemates on and off the job. Some regular employees invited me to
join their group of golfers, which is really a pretext to gab, gamble
and gulp at courses between Taylor and Round Rock. I may take them up
on their offer.
I have to go through five electronic checkpoints just to
get to my desk, but ERCOT also let me wander around unsupervised
through the new building at the Taylor Operations Center, dribbling
cookie crumbs on the new carpet.
Overshadowing all this is the IRS raping me out of thousands
on last year’s earnings. I knew then I’d take a hit, but I
didn’t think it would be this severe. I didn’t have any good options
then to shield myself, either. I needed the money immediately,3
and spurned the quarterly withholding on Form 1040
Schedule C income. Also, the job agency reimbursed my expenses
for the Midland contract, which was a good thing
at the time, because again, I didn’t need ballooning credit
card payments. But my new tax bill undercuts my long-term plans
for the next 18 months.4 Once again, the Midland contract
has managed to screw me.5
One-Man Cocktail Party, and Other Excursions
Jan. 16: The American Big Band Museum presented
a dance at Skate World in Northwest Austin.6 The
older hot blonde from New York was there. She was one of the few people
there who didn’t look like they belonged in a museum. We did more cheek-to-cheek
dancing. Afterward, we and a friend of hers went to dinner.
I turned on the charm. We seemed to click.
I saw her again Feb. 4 at Go Dance. I might’ve danced
with her, but she came in late and was hanging on some guy. Looked like
a retarded faggot.
I said hello to be polite. The faggot asked where I was
going. “Going? I’m going home, to bed. I’m tired. I’ve been up since
“Dude, you gotta be more proactive. I was up at four, working
out.” I was wrong. This guy was worse than a retarded faggot.
He glanced sideways, then lowered his voice. “What you
wanna do, is find some girls to dance with.”
I figured he might be trying to send me a subtle, coded
message. For all the good it did. “Right,” I said.
I flashed him a “crawl off and die” smile. Then I sauntered
out of the studio, drove home, and went to bed, like I intended.
Jan. 22: Go Dance held a salsa social that turned
into a who’s who of local dancing masters crowding the floor. Meanwhile,
those who weren’t at the studio attended a private party – conveniently
chronicled by Queen of Sky.7
Feb. 10: I was pretty much the only customer at
a Valentine party at Therapy, sipping a free martini and
wandering around the store, noting the merchandise, and making awkward
small talk with the clerks. Why do I keep going out, only
to encounter stark loneliness? I don’t need anyone. I can be miserable
on my own.8
Feb. 20: Some Puertorequeñas down
from Killeen praised my dancing at Pedro’s Place.9
That was worth about $10,000 in lessons. Salseras aren’t prone
to praise just to be nice.10 It was a perfect evening, except
for the odiferous curry breath of my partners, who’d eaten at the Clay Pit Indian restaurant downstairs.
I finally read Brian Doherty’s book, “This is Burning Man.”11
It’s solid coverage of a phenomenon I’ve decided I don’t care anything
about. I’m at the point in my life where I’m too old, too tired, maybe
even too rich to bother with sweating in the wastelands of Northern
Nevada.12 And he’s way more intrigued than me with
alternative subcultures. In my experience, they’re usually propagated
by narrow-minded assholes who strain to prove just how radically different
they are from regular people, while positioning themselves atop rigid
social hierarchies that surpass WASP country clubs or the Roman Catholic
Church.13 Burning Man enthusiasts will probably hate
this, but while reading about the event, I realized that it’s just a
dweeby, antibourgeois version of the annual bonfire at Texas A&M.14
Stuff magazine, which I’m inexplicably receiving
free in my mail every month, named The Continental Club to the “Dive
Bars Hall of Fame.”15 I’ve been there several times in
the last seven years, and it’s no dive.16
Jimmy Smith died. He invented jazz organ as we know
it in the ‘50s.17 More recently, he recorded “Dot-Com
Blues,” intended as a trendy title, which became an ironic theme to
the end of the tech boom.18 To promote this CD, Smith performed
at a now-defunct club on Sixth Street in late September 2001. His
music was background to the hipsters’ mini-dramas and posturing with
cigarettes. In fact, I saw every known pose one can strike with a cigarette
So much for real musicians. On Feb. 6, “American Roots”
on KUT-FM played an attempt by Bob Dylan to sing jazz. I’ve already dismissed
Dylan, so I won’t belabor his talentlessness.20 Rather,
I was amused to note that his voice was drowned out by his accompanists,
and not just because he can’t carry a tune in a bucket. It’s an old
musicians’ trick to keep the bad performer from making the rest of them
sound bad. Without Dylan’s voice, I would’ve heard a nice, swinging tune.
Apparently, everyone else at the recording shared my opinion. In other
words, Dylan can’t get respect from professionals on his own session.
In cinema, “The Assassination of Richard Nixon” misfired.21
Before, Sean Penn managed to combine the mannerisms of Robert
De Niro and Harvey Keitel in “Mystic River,” but I didn’t care
anything about the schmuck he played in this new movie.22
Maybe being the butt of laughs in “Team America” threw him off his
Fact is, the real-life protagonist was just another deluded dope in an
era filled with them. (Had he succeeded, he’d’ve been acclaimed
a national hero.)24 And, unlike now, fewer adults then
– certainly fewer adults responsible for anything important, like your
loan application – had drilled holes in their brains with toot, weed,
and prescription psychotropics. (We're actually witnessesing a reversion
to the horrors of the '70s under Boomer management, but that deserves
fuller treatment in some future issue.) The filmmakers missed the chance
to make a nasty social satire.
Meanwhile, The Daily Texan reports De Niro says
he and Martin Scorsese have been discussing a sequel to “Taxi
Speaking of Method actors, Al Pacino surprisingly neither
chewed scenery, nor behaved as prime prosciutto,26
nor even deployed Robert Klein’s “palsy shake”27
as Shylock in the new “Merchant of Venice.”28
It’s like when De Niro appeared in the remake of "Frankenstein"
about 10 years ago. Nobody wanted to see him play it straight. Instead,
they wanted to see …
EXT. THE COUNTRYSIDE
FRANKENSTEIN’s MONSTER (Robert De Niro) lurches along a
It’s the monster!
FRANKENSTEIN’s MONSTER turns to face the PEASANT and grunts
In like manner, Austin Dispatches herewith doth
DAYS OF VENICE
INT. THE VENICE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE.
A sumptuously decorated High Renaissance building interior.
At the podium, the chairman pounds a gavel.
For our next
agenda item, we shall hear a presentation on how to revive the fortunes
of our fair city from Signore Pasquale Shylock of … er?
podium and speaks in an anachronistic New York accent)
… Shylock, Luzzato & Associates. Here’s my card again.
Friends, Venetians, fellow merchants, lend me your ears.30 We’ve got trouble, right
here in water city.31 Even since that Genoese pazzo
splashed around for the spics, our revenues have dropped.32
But we’ve still got a world-class city,33 and now’s the time to capitalize
on it. Therefore, I propose some week in the year where the temperature’s
just right – not too cold, not too hot – we entice all Christendom
– nay the world – to come to us for high-quality goods at discounted
prices. I call it …
emerge from wings, carrying large framed canvas with campaign slogan)
… the Merchant Days of Venice.
noise increasingly louder now, this time in outrage)
like a cheap play upon that base English poetaster who besmirched
the repute of our city!
Precisely. Why shouldn’t we score some points off his work?
This Chamber shall ne’er agree to such self-mockery!
Well, you didn’t like the “I Love Venice” campaign from
Machiavelli Consulting, either.34
What about gondolier rates?
podium and bangs gavel)
Order! Order! That’s out of order.
That’s right! YOU’RE out of order! YOU’RE out of order!
This WHOLE FUCKING MEETING’S out of order!35
Where was I? Oh yes – transportation for visitors is free.
We’ll negotiation a rate with the gondoliers – make ‘em an offer
they can’t refuse.36 All these visiting customers
will need food and lodging while they’re here. And – hoo-ah – happy
days are here again.37
That’s not all. There’s room for another variation that
takes into account the success in recent years of small-budget art
movies centered around food.38 Such as…
INT. BUSY KITCHEN. DAY.
my liege. I come posthaste from the Senate, which entreats you to
perform your culinary magic upon a forthcoming event of high import.
Get your toffee-colored nose outta my ASS and get to the FUCKIN’ POINT.
stirring something in a pot)
wants you to cater the opening dinner for a big diplomatic conference.
Shall we resurrect the tetrazzini recipe for a score of four and twenty?
No, no. Something
different. Let me think.
Ah, yes. Mmmm, I can smell it now. Rosemary- and garlic-infused
venison chops, over a bed of polenta, and an olive garnish.39 Or perhaps a cerf daube
au vin rouge for an earlier course.40
repast of chops would sate even a king, were kings to be found in
Chops it is
I shall gather
the victuals from our most august suppliers.
you getting the olives?
From the finest
No. For this,
we need an exotic touch. A foreign supplier.
ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!41
I am off.
to a table)
sword. Take some cannolis.42
Show Business for Ugly People
Kinky Friedman announced his independent candidacy
for governor. He says he’s running against the “wussification” of
Texas, yet he supports the establishment of a Texas Peace Corps, and opposes
the death penalty, euthanizing unwanted animals, and the declawing of
cats.43 The Texas LP hasn’t decided what to do with him
– or to him.44
Down ballot, hottie businesswoman Jennifer Kim
threw a campaign kickoff for City Council at El Soy y La Luna. I braved
the traffic in search of free food. But the table, undersupplied
to begin with, was blocked off by her supporters, the usual yuppie
Democrats, and Koreans. So I was forced to listen to Kim’s
campaign kickoff comments. About a third of the time, she sounded
like Steve Adams, a Libertarian running for another council seat.45
Lowering property taxes a nd reducing red tape and tax credits for businesses,
to preserve the city’s character, sounds good to me. Then she sounded like
a Clintonista, with her notion of public-private partnerships on health
care and housing.46 Since she’s turned over her campaign
to local Democratic apparatchiks, and has received the endorsement of the
firefighters’ union, guess which side of Kim will win out if she wins office?47
The developers behind The Domain project are bandying about
really upscale retail brand names that will populate the mall.48
Bantam Electronics plans to expand.49
The nearest H-E-B has begun stocking items from its yuppie
subsidiary, Central Market.50 I wonder whether
my traceable shopping at Central Market helped contribute to this
decision. Regrettably, the retail price of store brand fat-free milk
has risen, from $1.09/qt. to $1.14.
On Feb. 1, I witnessed the aftermath of a collision at
Braker Lane and Metric Boulevard during the morning rush-hour. (The
same thing happened on Feb. 7, between Grand Avenue Parkway and Mile
249 on the northbound lane of I-35. This one involved a multi-vehicle
pileup, including an 18-wheeler gravel truck.) On Jan. 31, KBPA-FM reported
a collision at Parmer Lane and Metric.51 On Feb. 22, KGSR-FM
reported a collision at MoPac Expressway and Waters Park Road. On Feb.
25, KAMX-FM reported a collision at Parmer and Lamplight Village Avenue.
A hot new club, Molotov, opened on Sixth Street. I tried
to get in but I’d been purged from the guest list.52
Carl Icahn, ‘80s corporate raider extraordinaire, is mounting
a takeover attempt of Temple-Inland.53 I interviewed
with that company for a job in 1998, and it may be the one time I fumbled
an opportunity by taking Mom’s advice.
I was living in Waco, and routinely driving to Austin for
job interviews. Mom thought I wasn’t getting hired through a combination
of road rage and hunger. I tried to eat light before the interviews,
mostly to feel alert and look presentable. A few months earlier,
after an interview about a job at Dell, on the first really hot day
of spring, I lunched at a restaurant at 35th and Jefferson streets
that featured Frenchified Southwestern cuisine. I ordered
a bowl of tortilla soup while wearing a white shirt and a black-and-white
tie. You can guess the rest. When I returned to Waco, I looked like
a stabbing victim, and my confidence was as wilted as my appearance.
Anyway, before my Temple-Inland meeting, I took Mom’s advice,
had lunch … and about halfway through my interview, I began experiencing
a headache, which I recognized as the onset of food poisoning. Now,
I’ve never see this matter covered in employment guides, but I’m pretty
sure the consensus is against vomiting on the interviewer’s desk, and
probably against interrupting the interview to leave, vomit, and come
back to finish. My heart sank while my guts rose. I rushed the interview
along, knowing I was scuttling my chances at the job as I did so. We
finished, I strode purposely into a company restroom stall, puked, flushed,
washed up, and left hurriedly, lest someone to make a hiring decision
Since then, I haven’t had the nerve to apply at Temple-Inland
when new openings appear. Come to think of it, it’s also been many
years since I listened to Mom’s advice about much of anything.
I’ve encountered a new free weekly broadsheet distributed
locally, The Epoch Times, which is broader than the standard broadsheet
by about 1½ inches.55 Otherwise, it’s just
another dull paper. “Fresh Look at Our Changing World”? Hah!
1 Gott, Natalie. “Six are Indicted in Grid Operator Fraud
Case.” HC 29 Jan. 2005: 1; Reddy, Sudeep. “Official Steps Down at ERCOT.”
DMN 19 Jan. 2005: 2D.
2 Hospers, John. “Conversations With Ayn Rand, Part 2.” Liberty
Sep. 1990: 50.
3 AD No. 60 (Dec. 20, 2003)
4 Mises, Ludwig von. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics,
3rd rev. ed. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1966: 484-486.
5 AD No. 62 (Mar. 18, 2004); AD No. 68 (June 21, 2004).
6 Welch, Diana. “Calendar: This Week: Sunday.” AC 14 Jan. 2005:
7 “Queen of Sky” [Ellen Simonetti]. 24 Jan. 2005. Diary
of a Fired Flight Attendant. <http://queenofsky.journalspace.com/?entryid=513>.
8 McGuire, Judy. “Unhappy Monday.” NYPR 8 Feb. 2005: 19.
9 Dye, Dale. Platoon. New York City: Charter Books,
1986: 111; Hardwig, Jay. "Rhythm is King." AC 25 Jun. 1999: 54+.
10 AD No. 75n19 (Dec. 5, 2004).
11 Doherty, Brian. This Is Burning Man. Boston: Little,
12 Woodward, Bob. Wired: The Short Life and Fast Times of
John Belushi. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1984: 276.
13 Frauenfelder, Mark, et al. Happy Mutant Handbook.
Ed. Frauenfelder et al. New York City: Riverhead Books, 1995: 14-15.
14 Heinaur, Laura. “A&M Bonfire: 5 Years Later.” AAS 15
Nov. 2004: A1+.
15 Sheftell, Jason. “Dive Bars Hall of Fame.” Stuff
March 2005: 113.
16 Kelso, John. “Continental Club, Sir, is No Dive.” AAS 20
Feb. 2005: B1.
17 Ratliff, Ben. “Jimmy Smith, Jazz Organist and Pioneer, is
Dead at 76.” NYT 10 Feb. 2005, late ed.: C17.
18 AD No. 26 (Apr. 27, 2001); Cassidy, John. Dot.con: How
America Lost Its Mind and Money in the Internet Era, rev. ed. New York
City: Harper Perennial, 2003; Gottlieb, Lori, and Jesse Jacobs, Inside
the Cult of Kibu and Other Tales of the Millennial Gold Rush. Cambridge,
Mass.: Perseus Publishing, 2002; Smith, Jimmy. dot com blues. Blue
Thumb 314 543 978-2, 2000.
19 Eisler, Dan. “The Chomskyites.” E-mail to Angela Keaton,
13 Jan. 2002.
20 AD No. 70n38 (Aug. 26, 2004).
21 McGonigle, Josh. “ ‘Assassination’ Satisfies History, Film
Buffs.” DT 21 Jan. 2005: 8B.
22 AD No. 48n1 (Mar. 10, 2003); Dougan, Andy. Untouchable:
A Biography of Robert DeNiro. New York City: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1996;
Eisler. “A One-Man Mean Streets.” E-mail to Frank Rossi, 21 Apr. 2004; Mystic
River. Warner Bros./Village Roadshow Pictures/NPV Entertainment/Malpaso
23 Team America: World Police. Paramount Pictures/Scott
Rudin Productions, 2004.
24 Sondheim, Stephen. Assassins. RCA 60737, 1991.
25 Luciani, Curtis. “Nobody Backs ‘Baby’ Into a Corner.” DT
4 Feb. 2005: 7B.
26 Daly, Steven. "Mr. Saturday Night." GQ May 1996: 156.
27 Saturday Night Live. NBC-TV, 28 Jan. 1978.
28 AD No. 63n15 (Apr. 15, 2004).
29 Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. American Zoetrope/Indieprod
Films/Japan Satellite Broadcasting Inc. (JBS)/TriStar Pictures, 1994; Taxi
Driver. Bill/Phillps/Columbia Pictures Corp./Italo Judeo Productions,
30 JC Act 3, Sc. 2.
31 The Music Man. Warner Bros., 1962.
32 Davis, John A. "Venice." World Book Encyclopedia.
Chicago: World Book Inc., 2002: XX, 308; "Pazzo." Cassell's Italian Dictionary,
rev. 7th ed. Ed. Piero Rebora, Francis M. Guercio, and Arthur L. Hayward.
New York City: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1967: 365.
33 Loyd, Chris. “Re: The Return to Houston.” E-mail to Eisler,
31 Jan. 2003.
34 “Sodom Chamber of Commerce.” Saturday Night Live.
NBC-TV, 20 May 1978.
35 …And Justice for All. Columbia Pictures Corp., 1979.
36 AD No. 64n9 (May 1, 2004).
37 Scent of a Woman. City Lights Films/Universal Pictures,
1992; Yellen, Jack, and Milton Ager. “Happy Days are Here Again.” 1929.
38 Big Night. Rhysher Entertainment/Timpano Production,
1996; Dinner Rush. Access Motion Picture Group/Giraldi-Suarez-DiGiaimo
Productions, 2000; Sideways. Fox Searchlight Pictures/Michael London
Productions/Sidways Productions Inc., 2004; Soul Food. Edmonds Entertainment/Fox
2000 Pictures, 1997; Vatel. Gaumont/Le Studio Canal+/Légende
Enterprises/Nomad Films/TF1 Films Productions/Timothy Burrill Productions
39 Sarlin, Janeen A., and Diane Porter. The New Meat Lover’s
Cookbook. New York City: Macmillan USA, 1996: 170.
40 Lobel, Leon, Stanley Lobel, and Jan Messmann. The Lobel
Brothers’ Meat Cookbook. New York City: Cornerstone Library, 1980: 139-140.
41 Dog Day Afternoon. Artists Entertainment Complex,
42 The Godfather. Paramount Pictures, 1972.
43 Pratt, Hallie. “Texas Officially About to Get a Lot Kinkier.”
DT 4 Feb. 2005: 2A.
44 Eisler. “RE: ‘Kinky’ Runs for Governor.’ ” E-mail to TCLPActive,
5 Feb. 2005.
45 AD No. 50n59 (May 14, 2003).
46 Bovard, James. "Feeling Your Pain": The Explosion and
Abuse of Government Power in the Clinton-Gore Years, rev. ed. New York
City: Palgrave, 2001.
47 Liao, Ruth, and Pratt. “Endorsements Announced for Austin
City Council Elections.” DT 16 Feb. 2005: 1A+.
48 Novak, Shonda. “Retail All Stars May Sign Up for Domain
Shopping Center.” AAS 25 Feb. 2005: C1+.
49 Greenwood, Giselle. “Bantam Ready to Spread Its Wings.”
ABJ 11 Feb. 2005: 1+.
50 “Central Market Products in Your Basic H-E-B.” AAS 2 Mar.
51 Gross, Joe. “Say Goodbye to the Oldies, Hello to ‘Bob’ ”
XL 26 Aug. 2004: 4.
52 Anderson, Raymond H. “Vyacheslav M. Molotov is Dead; Close
Associate of Stalin was 96.” NYT 11 Nov. 1986: A1
53 Rayasam, Renuka. “Icahn Poised to Battle for Temple-Inland.”
AAS 18 Feb. 2005: C1.
54 Eisler. “Re: Austin Dispatches No. 54.” E-mail to Loyd,
24 Aug. 2003.
55 Harrower, Tim. The Newspaper Designer’s Handbook,
2nd ed. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers, 1992: 56.