Austin Dispatches
No. 94
Nov. 25, 2006

I didn’t know.

Sep. 22 was supposed to be my last day with Neutron Technologies. The team lead was going to take over all the documents for the final crunch period before the project finally shipped.  

I restarted the recruit-o-rama with the speed and sophistication of an Allan Holdsworth solo.1  The week before, I did a second-round interview downtown. The former dotcom is a subsidiary to a French shipping company, so I had to pair wines with cheeses.2 Also, I nearly re-contracted with the previous client, but the execs dropped discussion when I asked for more money as a 1099 contractor.

Then some family crisis forced the team lead, a gloomy, grumbling Sicilian from back East, to take a leave of absence. The Monday of my last week, my agency and Neutron asked me if I'd stay on to finish the documentation, which deadline has since been pushed back to the end of January. This has allowed me to become debt-free for the first time in 10 years. I don’t owe nothin’ to nobody. Of course, as soon as I signed the extension paperwork, all the companies I applied to began returning my calls.

So much big good news makes me nervous.3  

Worse, I couldn’t ask out the cute Japanese gal in Logistics that I’d been flirting with for months.

To celebrate, I dined at a sushi bar. I ordered the New York roll. The waiter brought out a platter with seafood playing three-card Monte on a small cardboard box.

Startled, I stabbed it with my fork. “Ow! Bite me!” said the sushi.

“Don’t get fresh,” I replied.

Cultural Canapés

On Sep. 16, I saw Eddie Palmieri and the Dave Holland Big Band at a jazz festival in San Antonio.

The whole event was a surprisingly pleasant experience. I left home at 5:45, arrived in downtown San Antonio at 7:15, paid $5 for a garage space half a block from the stage. The birds flew away, people flinched and moved out of my way when they saw me without a smile, and a cool breeze blew by where I stood and saw the bands, which performed at perfect volume and sound balance for me. The festival itself was free, so the total cost of the night came to $40.88.
Oh yeah, the bands were good, too, although not as good as the jam session that probably transpired after the show.4
Even downtown San Antonio looked nicer than what I remember the last time I was there in Summer 2001.  Possibly because I was seeing the neo-Moorish architecture in neon and pastel floodlights, instead of daylight.5

Right before Halloween, I realized that the library stacks of the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection constitute a Borgesian labyrinth.6  I asked the checkout clerk about that. It’s just a coincidence.

The general re-evaluation of ‘70s culture, which I had predicted around 1985 and which was a regular trend story in the media about eight years later, has finally reached Rupert Holmes. He’s best known – if not notorious – for “The Piña Colada Song.” I remember it was widely despised while simultaneously a No. 1 hit in 1979 and 1980; MTV was mocking it as recently as the early ‘90s in promotional ads to prove the channel’s relevance; and the “Mystery Science Theater” cast hilariously overanalyzed the lyrics.7  Now the song’s in a limited-edition, comprehensive CD box set, along with everything else he recorded as a solo act.8  

Speaking of retro entertainers, I received a clothing catalog in the mail. Inside, Clint Eastwood is hawking a $150 microsuede jacket.9  I guess that film career didn’t work out.10  “Did you order six pair or only five? In all this holiday rush I lost track myself. But being this is the help desk, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do you feel lucky?”11

After years of clamoring from 13ers, the producers of “Sesame Street” have finally released a DVD set of early episodes. Some decades after seeing the material, I realized the Muppets have a broader range of facial expressiveness than the adults on the show.12  

On the Town

Oct. 18: I walked out on the directorial debut by Norman Mailer in his heyday as a cultural bigwig.13  It hadn't been screened since the '80s; the Ransom Center at UT has acquired Mailer's archives and has been hot to show his movies again.14  The Roger Corman flicks mocked on MST3K are better than this, if only because you can actually hear what the performers are saying.15  I kissed $7 goodbye and walked into a thunderstorm to get away from it. See "Tough Guys Don't Dance" instead.16

Oct. 20: A bunch of lawyers in town for a conference turned up at The Copa. I liked the extra dance partners.Until the next morning, when I received a bill charging me every quarter hour I lead them on the floor.

Oct. 27: The Copa hosted the grand debut of a cheesecake – OK, flan – calendar of salseras, two of whom I’ve danced with. Their ability was best summarized in another context by the narrator of “What Makes Sammy Run?”:
She could dance all right. She danced the way professional models walk, with a haughty effortlessness. The only trouble with her dancing was it made me feel pretty much the way her talk had. She followed so well she seemed to anticipate me. At times it was really hard to tell whether I was doing the leading or not.17  
Halloween: Habana used the holiday to feature some special entrées. I ordered the “Cholesterol Monster,” slow-roasted pork with pumpkin rice.18  It was wickedly delicious. The only hellish aspect of the evening was the traffic on south MoPac Expressway (Loop 1) – the government’s fault. Flunkies blocked off lanes near an on ramp to no discernable improvement or reason. I dressed as an ‘80s stand-up comedian – loosened skinny tie, blazer with sleeves pushed up, and a smug expression.19  Hey, it could’ve been worse: I could’ve impersonated the Diceman.20  

See Spot Shoot Across the Bow

“Spot” plans to open a record store/rec room by Jan. 1 as a blow against Austin’s “granola mafia.” Even if the venture fails – maybe because the ex-Waterloo Records employee couldn’t afford a real name – he deserves credit for tagging the sort of people who’re culturally stifling this town21  – something I’ve touched on before22  – and about half of them have hepatitis C.23

My top three spots for dancing are threatened, mostly by government-subsidized commercial development. The Copa is on the same block the city and the Marriott hotel chain are eyeing for redevelopment.24  Dallas Nightclub is threatened by an investigation from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and complaints from Steve Kuehner, vice president of the Crestview Neighborhood Association, about late-night drunk drivers.25  Go Dance, at Northcross Mall, is at risk for disruption as Lincoln Properties plans to split the old mall into five separate buildings.26

In fact, the established character of the entire Crestview, Brentwood and Allandale neighborhoods between Dallas and Northcross is threatened by redevelopment, principally from Capital Metro’s plans for its commuter-rail station at Airport and North Lamar boulevards.27

Interestingly, whenever I hear serene modern chamber music on KMFA-FM, it puts me in mind of these neighborhoods. One day, I drove past the studio and realized it was just south of Brentwood.

Meanwhile, the Council spent $16,000 on a retreat for “inspiration.” For that money, I could’ve given them useful advice: “Don’t get any bright ideas.”28

In recent weeks, the Council’s bright ideas have included voting itself a pay raise,29  and shepherding through seven new bond measures, with a total indebtedness of $567 million,30 to join $7 billion in pre-existing accumulated municipal debt, according to Americans for Prosperity – Texas. Simultaneously, new accounting rules could make acknowledging the depths of red ink unavoidable, even at City Hall.31

The Council’s cheapest act was renaming the Congress Avenue bridge after deceased, defeated former Gov. Ann Richards, one of Texas’ worst. The bridge is inhabited by bats that lurk under the bridge, strewn with trash from pedestrians and pissed on by transvestite bums. On second thought, naming the bridge after her makes perfect sense.32

Meanwhile, my friend Steve Adams passed along news of a Nov. 21 daytime meeting at the Pickle Research Center by the Texas Appraisal Reform Task Force. The task force wants to “reform” the caps on property tax appraisals and government spending by abolishing said caps. Naturally, since the meeting was held during the day, government officials outnumbered working people to offer the task force input. And this when the Statesman has reported that housing has increased as a portion of people’s living expenses.33

In rare good news, a U.S. District judge overturned part of the city’s egregious smoking ban.34  

Milton Friedman, 1912-2006

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman died Nov. 16 at age 94.35  He was the second conscious influence on my worldview, after my family, and the first adult I knew of who seemed to have a plausible explanation for the world.36

Mom's parents had a paperback copy of "Free to Choose" that I read during an East Coast family visit in 1981.37  He was the first adult I knew of – aside from my family and various friends of the family – who made sense. Most of the adults I encountered or knew of from around this time – about the same time Rupert Holmes was a chart-topping pop musician – were palpably fearful of a world falling apart without their understanding why or what to do, besides fake their way through everything.38  

Neighborhood News

Stores in the Arbor Walk shopping mall have begun opening. Now I don’t have to drive so far to learn there’s nothing worth buying.39  

Twenty-five miles of toll roads, including the MoPac extension from Parmer Lane to State Highway 45, opened Oct. 31, about a year ahead of schedule. The Texas Department of Transportation will waive fees for the rest of the year – which is the least it could do, since I’m paying for it anyway.40  I cruised the roads after work the following Friday. I wasn’t impressed. The S.H. 45 overramp connecting Interstate 35 is always backed up during the evening rush hour, and drivers have trouble navigating the toll booth areas. Meanwhile, I’ve shaved about 10 minutes off my commute.

But not before Oct. 2, when a police standoff made me and my bosses late for work. The owner of a game room at The Market at Wells Branch pistol-whipped an Arab chauffeur over a disputed limo bill, then holed up until he surrendered to police.41

On Oct. 4, KXNE-FM reported a traffic collision at Parmer and MoPac; KKMJ-FM reported collisions at Duval Road and MoPac, at Kramer and Braker lanes, and at Gracy Farms Lane and Stonehollow Drive.

E-mail: austindispatches -at- swbell.net

1 AD No. 89 (Mar. 29, 2006); EAD No. 8 (Oct. 8, 1999).
2 WB, 83-88.
3 Eisler, Dan. “Re: Beat the Press.” E-mail to KT Hernandez Woods, 22 Sep. 2006.
4 Eisler. “Re: Tell Me About Travis Park.” E-mail to Woods, 17 Sep. 2006.
5 Eisler. “Re: Austin Dispatches No. 92.” E-mail to Chris Loyd, 28 Sep. 2006.
6 Williamson, Edwin. Borges: A Life. New York City: Viking, 2004.
7 Beaulieu, Trace et al. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide. New York City: Bantam Books, 1996: 82.
8 Cast of Characters: The Rupert Holmes Songbook. Hip-O Select 4263, 2005.
9 The Player’s Catalog Fall 2006: 17.
10 Thompson, Douglas. Clint Eastwood: Billion Dollar Man. London: John Blake Publishing, 2005.
11 Dirty Harry. The Malpaso Co./Warner Bros. Pictures, 1971.
12 Borgenicht, David. Sesame Street Unpaved: Scripts, Stories, Secrets, and Songs. New York City: Hyperion, 1998.
13 Beyond the Law. Evergreen/Supreme Mix Productions, 1968; Teachout, Terry. “Great Expectations.” NR 22 June 1998: 56-57.
14 “Beyond the Law.” AC 13 Oct. 2006: 128.
15 Beaulieu, op. cit., passim.
16 Tough Guys Don’t Dance. Dir. Norman Mailer. Golan-Globus Productions Ltd./Zoetrope Studios, 1987.
17 Schulberg, Budd. What Makes Sammy Run?, rev. ed. New York City: The Modern Library, 1952: 86.
18 Habana Halloween Party. Advertisement. AC 27 Oct. 2006: 7.
19 “A New Kind of Vaudeville.” Newsweek 19 Aug. 1985: 58; R. Zoglin. “Stand-Up Comedy on a Roll.” Time 24 Aug. 1987: 56.
20 AD No. 48n32 (Mar. 10, 2003).
21 Gray, Christopher. “Music News.” AC 24 Nov. 2006: 63.
22 AD No. 76n26 (Jan. 17, 2005).
23 Moser, Margaret. “C Sick.” AC 24 Nov. 2006: 64+.
24 Gregor, Katherine. “Developing Stories.” AC 27 Oct. 2006: 26; Gregor. “The Good Fight.” AC 29 Sep. 2006: 21; Gregor. “My Migas, My City.” AC 21 July 2006: 26+; King, Michael. “Tough Tacos.” AC 29 Sep. 2006: 17-18.
25 Gonazales, Suzannah. “Dancers, Drinkers Dwindle at Dallas.” AAS 31 Jan. 2006: A1; Nichols, Lee. “Crestview at the Crossroads.” AC 6 Oct. 2006: 30-32+.
26 AD No. 71 (Sep. 15, 2004); Nichols, op. cit.; Novak, Shonda. “Wal-Mart Part of Northcross Plans.” AAS 8 Nov. 2006: D1+.
27 AD No. 92 (Sep. 27, 2006); Giordano, Angela. “Phil’s Servers Burgers From Mimi to Mega.” DT Weekend 5 Oct. 2006: 4; Nichols, op. cit.
28 Coppola, Sarah. “Will Council Find Inspiration at $16,000 Retreat?” AAS 4 Nov. 2006: A1+; Dunbar, Wells. “Retreat, Hell!” AC 10 Nov. 2006: 18.
29 Alexander, Kate. “Council Votes to Raise Its Own Pay.” AAS 17 Nov. 2006: B1+; Dunbar. “Raise Politics.” AC 24 Nov. 2006: 18.
30 “Austin Municipal Bonds: The ‘CliffsNotes’ Version.” AC 3 Nov. 2006: 26; Black, Louis. “Bond on Bond.” AC 27 Oct. 2006: 6; Coppola. “Voters Approve $567 Mil in Bonds.” AAS 8 Nov. 2006: A1+; Evans, Akwasi. “City of Austin Special Municipal Election Endorsements.” Nokoa 26 Oct. 2006: 1; Reeves, Kimberly. “Bond Booty: Fantasy and Reality.” AC 20 Oct. 2006: 24.
31 Selden, Jonathan. “New Accounting Rules Could Wreak Havoc on City’s Finances.” ABJ 30 Oct. 2006: 8.
32 West, Michelle. “Congress Bridge to Be Renamed for Ann Richards.” DT 16 Nov. 2006: 7A.
33 Taboada, M.B., and Claduia Grisales. “Housing Is Taking a Bigger Bite Out of Pay.” AAS 7 Oct. 2006: A1+.
34 AD No. 83 (Sep. 7, 2005); Elliott, M.T. “Judge Overturns Portions of Austin’s Smoking Ban.” DT 5 Oct. 2006: 1-2A.
35 Summers, Lawrence H. “The Great Liberator: Milton Friedman.” International Herald Tribune 20 Nov. 2006: 6.
36 Frazer, William Johnson. Power and Ideas: Milton Friedman and the Big U-Turn, Vol. I-II. Gainesville, Fla. Gulf/Atlantic Pub. Co., 1988.
37 Eisler. “ Re: !@#$%^& school, or Feel the Hate.” E-mail to Loyd, 14 Aug. 2003.
38 Baritz, Loren. The Good Life: The Meaning of Success for the American Middle Class. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf,1989: Ch. 6; Bartley, Robert L. The Seven Fat Years -- and How to Do It Again, rev. ed. New York City: The Free Press, 1995: Ch. 2; Bax, Martin. The Hospital Ship. New York City: New Directions, 1976; Branden, Nathaniel [Nathan Blumenthal]. Judgement Day: My Years with Ayn Rand, 1st ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1989: 17; Burgess, Anthony [John Burgess Wilson]. 1985. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1978: Pt. 2; Burgess. The Complete Enderby. New York City: Carrol & Graf, 1996: Pts. 3-4; Frum, David. How We Got Here: The 70's -- The Decade that Brought You Modern Life --For Better or Worse. New York City: Basic Books, 2000; Greider, William. Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. New York City, Simon & Schuster, 1987: Ch. 1-6; Herman, Arthur. The Idea of Decline in Western History. New York City: Free Press, 1997: Ch. 11; Johnson, Paul. Enemies of Society. New York City: Atheneum, 1977: Ch. 7-8, 10-16, 18-19; Karl, Frederick. American Fictions 1940-1980: A Comprehensive History and Critical Evaluation. New York City: Harper & Row, 1983: Ch. 11; Katz, Howard S. The Warmongers. Ed. Susan Harris. New York City: Books in Focus, 1979; Leonard, Elmore. City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit. New York City: Arbor House, 1980; Lindsey, Hal. The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon. King of Prussia, Pa.: Westgate Press, 1980; Lindsey. The Late Great Planet Earth. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1970; Miller, Stephen Paul. The Seventies Now: Culture as Surveillance. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1999; Moffit, Phillip. “Goodbye to All That?” Esquire Jan. 1990: 131-132+; Moody, Rick. The Ice Storm. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1994; Nocera, Joseph. A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Money Class. New York City: Simon & Schuster, 1994: 167-168, 176-179, 187-189; Percy, Walker. The Second Coming. New York City: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1980; Reed, Ishmael. God Made Alaska for the Indians. New York City: Garland, 1982; Reed. Shrovetide in Old New Orleans. 1978. Rpt. New York City: Atheneum, 1989; Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. New York City: Broadway Books, 1997: 193-194; Updike, John. Problems and Other Stories. New York City: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979; Updike. Rabbit Angstrom: A Tetralogy. New York City: Everyman's Library, 1995: 621-1045; Vidal, Gore [Eugene Luther Vidal Jr.]. Kalki. New York City: Random House, 1978; Wanniski, Jude. The Way the World Works, rev. 4th ed. Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 1998: Ch. 12.
39 AD No. 86n62 (Nov. 13, 2005).
40 Wear, Ben. “More Tollway Entries, Exits Opening.”AAS 9 Nov. 2006: B1+.
41 “MoPac Reopens After Standoff Ends.” KXAN-TV, Austin, Texas. 2 Oct. 2006; Plohetski, Tony, and Joshunda Sanders. “Limo Bill Led to Assault, Standoff, Officials Say.” AAS 3 Oct. 2006: B1+.