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August 20, 2004

Austintatious - The Unsolicited Sequel to “Keep Austin Weird?

We were standing nearly naked beneath the wet slate skies. Hung-over. Cotton mouthed. Somewhere in the distance, a flat church bell tolled. A shiver of guilt ran through me. I’m a generation removed from them. Tethered to an obsolete paradigm of relationships, religion, and work. I see boyfriends and girlfriends. Workdays and weekends. Right and wrong. Feel guilty for not going to church. They live without a calendar or moral compass. They have “fuck-buddies? and wonder why they can’t buy weed at the coffee shops on Congress Avenue.

Illegal Combatants

I followed the rest of the pigs down the chute toward the human grist mill airplane.

“Sir…you’ll have to check that. It won’t fit in the overhead bin.?

“I fly every week. It always fits.?

“Sir. This is a CRJ700. It won’t fit.?

“Well…how about you let me try anyway.?

“Suit yourself.?

When I boarded the plane, needless to say, it didn’t fit. Not even close. The overhead bins are the size of a glove box. I did the walk of shame…walking against the flow of passengers…like a spawning salmon ascending a fish ladder.

“Excuse me. Pardon me.? Suddenly my TravelPro seemed like an ocean liner vintage steamer trunk. Dejected, I lugged it awkwardly onto the jet-way and abandoned it.

As I returned to my seat, I began to stockpile pillows, blankets, and magazines. Politically Correct Quarterly, White Trash Living, and the New Muslim Extremist. I strapped myself into my seat, verified four or eight times that my ticket did indeed say 4D, and began fashioning a rat’s nest from the blankets and pillows.

“Excuse me. What seat are you in?? Some young Haitian was challenging me to my seat. I tried not to be too flippant, as they often assign multiple people to the same seat. The technology of 2004 being what it is.

“Did they put you in Four Dee also?? I asked.

“4E? He replied.

“E? How the hell do they get an E? The plane’s only four seats wide.?

“They’re numbered A, B, D, E.?

“Brilliant. OK. Fair enough. You got me, Sparky. I’ll move.?

“Keep your seat. I prefer the aisle.? he countered.

“Suit yourself.?

Horizon Air operated by Frontier Airlines. The plane was unfathomably small. “How low could one sink?, I wondered. Narrow plane. Miniscule seats. Zero legroom. No screens on the entire plane. Not enough room to bend over and untie your shoes. The arm rests wobbled to and fro violently as we elbow-jockeyed for control of the bitterly contested armrest real estate.

The baggage class passengers huddled timidly in the pale interior - prisoners in a slave ship, sailing toward an uncertain destiny.

The flight attendant began an arcane but monotonous diatribe detailing the nuances of the emergency exits and cell phones, and finished by explaining that anyone caught disabling the smoke detectors in the restrooms would be declared an illegal combatant and shipped down to Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay to have bamboo shoots driven under their fingernails.

The flying waitress began an announcement over the public address system. Judging from the volume, I guessed that the intercom system was probably originally designed for Mile High Stadium and retrofitted into the plane’s fuselage. I cupped my hands over my ears to stem the flow of blood from my ear drums.

“Dude. Is it just me, or what that way too loud?? I asked the guy in 4D.

“No. It’s not just you. That hurt my ears.?

It’s a federal crime to disobey a flight attendant, which makes them as accommodating as a border patrol agent on meth. But, feeling characteristically incorrigible, I pushed the flight attendant call button regardless.

The flight attendant came down the aisle, doubled over at the waist, peering underneath the overhead bins for the green light like a coon peering under a riverbank for crawfish. The bins were sufficiently low enough that she’d have had more luck on her knees. The whole affair was eerily reminiscent of “Being John Malkovich?.

“May I help you??

“Yeah. Just so you know, the announcements that you make are excruciatingly loud. It hurts my ears.?

“OK. Thanks.? And she was gone.

I’m sure OSHA has guidelines as to the amount of decibels a human can be exposed to without suffering immediate, irreparable hearing loss.

My laptop felt like a mainframe in my lap. The lady in front of me reclined her seat, so I could only open my laptop a crack. Then, she began to rock her baby to sleep. Apparently, no one told her the seat was not a rocker, and she was able to make it rock far enough back that, with each extension of her calves, the laptop would almost close on my fingers.

Eventually, the flying waitress felt obligated to make another announcement. Again, feeling irascible, I pushed the Flight Attendant Call button. Again, she came tottering down the aisle, bent over so that her cheap silver necklace drug on the floor, dangerously close to her worn, pointed shoe-tips until she again located me in 4E.


“It’s still excruciatingly loud.?

“Sir. We have no control over the volume.?

“You have no control over your voice? Could you possibly hold the microphone further away from your mouth??

I was dangerously close to the edge. I could see the twitch in her eye. In another decade or two, I’d have been sharing a cell with Martha Stewart. But for now, I was safe. She just pushed the button again to make the little green light go off, and disappeared into the shadows of the galley, like a coyote into the sunset.

I have stacks of free drink coupons from Frontier. They send them to me every so often, and I hoard them like a Mexican packrat. Jennifer uses them for playing cards and tapes them to Slinky’s fur when she’s bored. When I fly out, I grab a handful just in case. I was taking a cab from Bergstrom International Airport to the Animal House. So, I figured…what the hell. When the flying waitress came around, I’d order a drink.

“What kind of beer do you have??

“She looked at me as though I were the Shoe Bomber asking for match, before beginning a monotonous diatribe, sans microphone. I cut her short when she said Newcastle.

“Sounds great. I’ll have one of those.?

“Which one, sir??

“The last one you said.?


“Christ no. I despise Heineken. The one before that.?



She looked at me as though I were a leper, and began to dig disparagingly though the bowels of her cart. The carts contain everything from sunscreen to hand grenades, and how they ever locate anything in them is beyond me. Eventually, she admitted defeat and sent the entire crew scurrying from tip to tail in search of the elusive Newcastle ale. Unfortunately, she was unsuccessful in her trials.

“Dr. Kiser, I’ve checked around the plane, and we’re completely out of Newcastle.?

The passenger manifest had me in seat 4D instead of 4E, but somehow she’d figured out who I was, or rather who I claimed to be.

“Really. Because, you said you had one a minute ago.?

“Right. I’m sorry about that. Normally, we do have them, but, apparently, we’re fresh out. We have Fosters, though.?

“Fosters? OK. Fair enough.? And I managed to guzzle three before we’d landed. My seatmate and I were both typing away, furiously, in that inscrutable seven point airline font so the shoulder-surfers can’t read what you’re writing. Both of us pretending like we had batteries that would last to Mars and back, but each equally certain that we’d be confronted with a black screen long before we began our initial descent into Austin.

A short cab right later, and I was walking into the Animal House with my laptop in tow. When I’d left, a television was a forbidden item. “We don’t have much time for television around here? Ringo had explained. Now, there were three, perched on top of each other in a rather precarious state. The smallest, uppermost one was beaming some Start Trek Next Generation movie into the darkness of the room in letterbox.

“Ringo!? I exclaimed, still half-buzzed from the flight. What’s happening??

Ringo paused the movie, and walked me out back to show me the new house he was building. A gargantuan, two story leviathan that he was building with his own hands.

“Did you use a crane to get the joists up here? Is this all pre-fab??

“No, my man. Did it all with my own hands. Pulled it up with a ladder. We built all of this is 13 work days.? It was inconceivable. I’d spent three months in Colorado sleeping 18 hours a day and paying a stranger thirty dollars an hour to change my light bulbs. This guy had built a house with his bare hands in two weeks.

“OK. Look. I’m hungry. Is Hoover’s open?? I asked.

“Nah. You missed ‘em by 10 minutes. Go up to Starsky’s. It’s open 24 hours…Here. Take my truck.? Ringo said as he tossed me the keys.

“What’s wrong with my car??

“Dude. What’s wrong with your car? It has no brakes. Zero. It makes a grinding noise when you step on the brakes.?


“Dude. It’s frightening. It’s not safe to drive. When you step on the brakes it speeds up.?

“OK. Alright already. I’ll take the truck.?

“It’s the green one out back. Can you drive a stick??

“Yeah. Thanks.?

I backed his truck out through the mud. I pulled out onto Manor, tires spinning, mud flying. The light turned yellow, I shifted the three-in-the-tree tranny into second and floored it again. Tires spinning, mud flying, I raced through the red light thinking Holy Shit…I’m in Austin again. Suddenly, I felt alive for the first time in three months.

“Starsky’s? turned out to be “Star Seeds?. Basically, your requisite twenty-four hour greasy-spoon diner, but in Austin, nothing is a commodity. Sameness doesn’t sell in Austin. The walls were gyrating with brilliant art from some local starving artist. Philips 66 signs, prostitutes, pen knives, and Swastikas.

“What can I do you for??

“What do ya’ll have to drink? Do y’all serve beer??

“You betcha.?

“Let me have the National Beer of Texas with a bacon cheese burger and an order of fries.?

“Coming right up.?

As I wandered around Star Seeds, checking out the scene, I began to realize that the South By South West music festival was looming imminently on the horizon. Flyers were posted everywhere. The Rock Music Housing Project petitioned for anyone willing to donate rooms to accommodate the out of town acts. The Austin Chronicle sported a pull-out section for the movies that would be shown during the festival. The bartender and I scanned the list of movies.

“My roommate made one of these movies. I think it’s showing at the Paramount.? He offered.

“What’s it called?? I asked.

“I’m not sure.? He replied

“What’s today, the 10th?? I asked him as I glanced at the listings for the Paramount.

“Dude. Today is the 14th. Where have you been??

Where had I been, indeed? I felt as though I had just awakened from a long slumber.

Projectile Vomiting

A million energetic souls sparge their passions against the Austin canvas. The nights are punctuated with bubbling dialogues, live bands, indy films, and starving artists projectile vomiting on stage. Legions of individuals, uncompromised by corporate America, search for fuck-buddies or pelvic partners.

In early march, as the rains fell, Austin seemed to be holding its breath. When the weather broke, spring exploded and the Mountain Lilacs bloomed virulently in the sunlight.

Ringo had sworn that my car was beyond hope, but it started immediately and drove fine, although the brakes were making that finger-nail-on-chalkboard metal-on-metal noise that even women knew wasn’t right.

I went to get my brakes fixed at Just Brakes. Just Brakes has a scam where they claim to fix your brakes for a hundred bucks, but when they get you in there and get everything taken apart, they lie about what the problem is and claim that you need your calipers rebuilt. It’s a racket, but one that I fall for every time because I’m always scared to call them liars to their face, and I’m not foolish to attempt to fix my own brakes.

I tried to guess how much money it would cost to fix the brakes. I had only paid $1,500 for the car. I figured that they would charge me $1,200 for a brake job. $600 on the low side. Some guy without any front teeth in his lower jaw and his name on his shirt said that my rotors were damaged, but he thought he could save them. Like he was some sort of a doctor, I imagined.

“How much will it be, Martin?? I asked him.

“My name’s Mike.? He countered.

“Your shirt says Martin.? I replied.

“Yeah. It costs to much to buy new shirts for everyone.?

“How much will it be, Mike?? I resumed.

“Two hundred sixty five dollars and forty seven cents.?

“Done.? I said.

Twelve Days of Summer

It was excruciatingly hard for me to accept this position. I should start with that. I interviewed for a permanent position in Denver, but dropped out of the interviewing process before it was ever officially offered to me. That was earlier this week. It would have meant more time at home, more time with Jennifer. More time in Denver. But, I don’t know if I could live on the salary. It seemed too low. So, I’m off to Austin, pinging away at the keyboard at 30,000 feet.

It is odd to be leaving Denver now. Today, it was fifty six degrees in the mountains. This is the temperature where you throw open your blinds and begin sweeping out winter’s last vestiges. After suffering through the winter, it seems unfair to be cheated out of the spring, summer, and fall.

When I’m on the road, I frequently end up flying back to Denver every other weekend. If summer lasts three months, then that means I end up being at home for about six weekends, or twelve days.

The Salad Days of Turtleback Falls

I rent an unfurnished room in a house the Animal House on the wrong side of I-35. It’s the same house I lived in last year, but a different room. They put a mattress on the floor for me. No box springs. No bed frame. One sheet. One blanket. Someone else’s pillow. Bay windows with no blinds. I share a bathroom with two or three other people, depending on where everyone falls. The claw-foot bathtub rocks when I stand to take a shower. I found a forgotten iron on a bookcase behind a stack of beer brewing books.

“Do y’all have an ironing board?? I asked optimistically.


People drifted in and out of the house like apparitions. In the morning, you never knew who you’d find crashed in the house. Looking for drifters in the morning was a bizarre Easter egg hunt. Like Portland’s tag-and-release program for the homeless. They slept behind hanging sheet room dividers in rat’s nests in collapsing additions. On the sofas. On the porch. No place was sacred. It was a like a crack-house without all the drugs.

Mostly, they were young and white and out of school.

“Do you go to UT??

“No. I’m through with school.? That’s what they always said. No one had graduated. They’d just attended for some indefinite period of time, and were “through with it?. Formal education was like a graft that didn’t take.

Not that I could blame them. Higher Education in the U.S. was long ago commandeered by the corporate profiteers. They’d strong-armed the nation’s colleges into churning out an army of fodder for the corporate cubicles. Indebted college graduates – incapable of independent thought, in debt beyond their wildest nightmares, they were easy prey for the corporate ass-hats that stalked the campus every May.

So, it wasn’t like I didn’t understand them. I understood them perfectly. Empathized with them. Even envied them.

But I’m saddled with responsibilities. I have a house, a time-share daughter in Denver, and a car in three different time zones. I’m just a space monkey. A corporate meat-puppet on a short leash.

They were young, urban, and underemployed. For most, they’d never had a car, a house, and a job all at the same time. They lived without calendars. Without the detritus of the technological revolution. No laptops, palm pilots, or digital cameras. They were living hand-to-mouth. The stereotypical starving artists. Working odd-jobs. Hustling for beer money.

A colony of feral artists had won control of the house next door in a dice game one night. The monthly mortgage was scraped together on the kitchen island from whatever money they could raise by selling their work each month.

Their house was a continuation of our house. It wasn’t physically connected, but, short of that, it was the same house. First floor…lingerie, lesbians, and art supplies. Second floor…starving artists, palmists, and psychics.

The sprawling, symmetrical, houses collapsed and rotted in the liquid Austin air. Machete thick jungle foliage out back. At night, when the grackles finally fell silent, it was hard to believe we were inside the city limits of Austin.

The young and downwardly mobile ebbed and flowed between the houses like waves on the beach. They partied every night as though it was their last night on earth. In the small hours of the morning, the party would finally spit them out and they’d crash where they found themselves. There was no order to it. There was no concept of “this is my room…that is your room…why are y’all in my bed.? It wasn’t like that. They slept in a cluster, piled atop one another. As free and morally unfettered as hamsters in an aquarium.

Someone had built an impressive sound stage in the backyard of the house next door.

“Christ. I didn’t realize the neighbors had a stage.? I’d told my slumlord. “I remember it from the party last year, but I thought they had just set it up for that party.?

“It’s not a stage. It’s a deck.? She countered.

“Hmmm. A flat square deck, sixteen foot on a side, two feet off the ground with no rails. Fair enough. My bad.?


The Red Buds and Pears bloom in the mild wet Austin Spring. I had intended to go to bed at a reasonable hour every night. To spend my mornings shooting graffiti. But each night I stayed up later. And each morning, I found it harder to go to work. I was being sucked in by SXSW(South By SouthWest). Falling under Austin’s spell.

I woke up this morning in the loft in the artist colony next door. I looked around the room and surveyed the scene. Bare wooden floors. High ceilings. Dozens of two ounce paint samples on the floor. Disturbing impressionist oil paintings. Photos of naked women on the walls. Dishes on the floor.

I looked at the woman lying next to me. She was still sleeping. I wondered when we’d finally fallen asleep. How long had we slept?

I rose and staggered outside onto the upstairs balcony. Doves mourned beneath the gray sky clouds. Grackles whistled and bleated. The chocolate lab licked his balls in the yard below. The campfire still smoldered in copper kettle.

The woman came out onto the balcony and stood beside me. There was no railing. Just a wooden floor perched about twelve feet off the ground.

“Your bedroom’s pretty trashed, huh?? I offered.

“This isn’t my bedroom.?

“Who’s is it??


“Who’s Carey??

We were standing nearly naked beneath the wet slate skies. Hung-over. Cotton mouthed. Somewhere in the distance, a flat church bell tolled. A shiver of guilt ran through me. I’m a generation removed from them. Tethered to an obsolete paradigm of relationships, religion, and work. I see boyfriends and girlfriends. Workdays and weekends. Right and wrong. Feel guilty for not going to church.

They live without a calendar or moral compass. They have “fuck-buddies? and wonder why they can’t buy weed at the coffee shops on Congress Avenue.

“You want some coffee?? she opined.

“Yeah. That sounds good.?

In the yard below, the campfire began to burn again in the kettle, of its own volition. We must not have been asleep long, I figured. I noticed a long two by six with a dozen six-penny nails angled towards the heavens in the yard near the sound stage. I dimly recalled stumbling barefoot through the yard a few hours before.

But I should back up. I really hadn’t planned on going out at all. I was reading my email, getting ready for bed when a drunk female wandered into the house. She was bubbly and confused. In the excited darkness, a stranger can easily be mistaken for a target of opportunity.

“Dude. You’re the new roommate. My name’s Karen. What’s your name??

“I’m Rob. Nice to meet you.?

“I’ve heard so much about you. Wow. Did you really shoot a cop last yeat??

“No. That’s crazy. I never shot anyone. Who told you that??

“Oh. By the way my name’s. Karen.?

“Right….er….Hi….I’m still Rob.?

“Oh my god. I’ve heard so much about you. You have to come party with us dude. We’re having a huge party next door. ?

“OK. Fair enough. You talked me into it.?

And that was how I got pulled into the party next door. The huge party turned out to be me, her, and some random guy. We sat outside on the soundstage drank everything we could find in the house. All of the beer and all of the wine until we were down to the “End Of The Line Wine? – the last bottle in the house.

When we finished that, Carney suggested that we that we needed to go to another party.

“What time is it?? I asked him.

“It’s three o’clock.? He said flatly.

“OK. Let’s go.?

But, before we were able to get rolling, we got a phone call that the other party was dead, but that everyone still standing coming to join our “party?(of three). I decided to call it a night and retired to my room for the second time.

I had just laid down on my mattress when another giggly woman appeared.

“Rob. Dude. You have to come over and party with us.? It was Linda, and she was clearly intoxicated.


“Because. We want to party with you. We heard about you.?

“What did you hear??

“You’re the guy that shot that ATF agent last year.?

“I never shot anyone in my life.?

“Whatever. Just get your clothes on and come party with us.?

“There’s nothing left to drink.? I lamented. “We drank everything in the house.?

“We’ve got more. And we’re going to build a fire and cook some food. Come on!?

And that was how I ended up aborting my second, furtive attempt at sleep. I went over barefoot, wearing only jeans and an undershirt. Somehow, I failed to find any of the nails in the two by six with my feet.

“Where are you going next, Rob??

“Somehow, Linda had replaced Karen. I was losing touch with my surroundings.?

“I’m going to Mexico City in two weeks. You ever been there??

“No. I’ve never been anywhere. I went to San Antonio once. Would you take me??


“To Mexico City. Is it in New Mexico??

“Mexico City is the capital of Mexico. Not New Mexico, though. Just Mexico.?

“Old Mexico??

“Yeah…I guess. I’ve never heard it called that though. Mexico is what I always called it.?

“You don’t have a fuck-buddy, already, do you??

“I’m not sure.?

“Ha!? She laughed. “That’s funny. You’re a funny one, you are. Take me with you. We’ll have a fun time. I’m a good fuck-buddy. You’ll be like…. ‘Damned, man! How do I get this girl off my nuts!?’ ?

“It does sound like it would make for an exciting trip.?

The salad days of our youth sailed past us in the Texas Spring. We sat around the campfire, swapping stories about Dead Peasant Insurance. Turtleback Falls on the Horsepasture River. World travel. The fire welded the stories together and sent them rising on the thermals, swirling like sparks into the skies. Sometime during the small hours of the madrugada, I went up stairs and fell asleep in a big bed with Karen watching some vampire movie on a rented DVD that was way past due.


To the roommates of the animal house, I am an oddity. They use me as a sort of esoteric reference manual than anything.

“What do you know about the Pledge of Allegiance?? Ringo asked me.

“They added “Under God? back in the fifties. I think it was Ike that did it….? And he was gone.

“No. You were right…they added it back in the fifties.? He was saying to his wife.

I never really had a normal relationship with any of them. They really didn’t understand what I did. No one did. A friend of mine shipped me his laptop in a box via FedEx to Austin because it died. Like I’m a triage surgeon for some mail-order computer lab.

I was sitting, deftly copying the files from the frail laptop into my digital camera when one of the roommates pulled up. It was about 1:00 in the morning.

“Hey there, roomie.? She offered.


“I’m going to start taking you up on your offers and going out more.?

I looked at her. I couldn’t recall ever asking her to do anything to me, for me, or with me.

“Don’t do me any favors.? I cautioned her.

“No. Not for you. For me. I want to go out with you. We have a good chemistry, don’t you think? We always have fun together.? She replied.

“If you say so.? I really liked her, but I didn’t want to admit it. Women demand to be treated badly, and if you give them any hint that you like them, they’ll disappear like a bunny in a briar patch.


One minute, I’m in Colorado and it’s a snowy day in March. The next minute, I’m back in Austin, sitting around a campfire burning in Carey’s copper kettle. I’m wearing my T-shirt wondering where the snow went. Ken is playing the guitar and singing. Karen has some woman doing nude modeling in her studio behind a bamboo door. Carey sold a painting today. With the money he made, he bought a new pair of shoes for twenty clams.

We’re swimming in a humid neon river of stories and lyrics. Paintings and sculptures. Mosquitoed campfire tales of starving artists pulling nails to make ends meet.

“What did you do this weekend, Carey?? I asked.

“Hmmm. I’m not sure. What day would you say it is now??

“Let’s say it’s Sunday.? I offered

“Oh yeah. We played disc-golf.?

For disc-golf, they apparently get high and drunk and throw a Frisbee through a goal. As it turns out, Austin has nine Frisbee golf courses, the most in the nation.

“Let’s go down to the hazardous on Tuesday or Wednesday? Ken quips.

“Yeah. OK.? Carey replies.

“What? Where?? I interject.

“We go down to the hazardous waste collection center.? Carey explained.

“Why?? I asked.

“To get paint.?


“Yeah. People drop it off there all the time. You just go pick up free paint. You have to sign for it. But you can get scads of paint for free.?


“I know the chick that works up there. She holds it for me…the metallic paint…the good stuff…she holds it back for me.?

For a staving artist, their main expenses are often their raw materials. Paint. Canvas. Clay. Free paint is a big deal. These guys didn’t look like much, but they had Austin dialed-in.

God-fearing Christians

The next night, I got home at seven. The place was deserted. No one at the Animal House. No one next door. A Ghost town. A woman walked up to the front door.

“I’m here to see Allison.?

“No one lives here by that name.? I countered. There were scads of people living in the house, but I couldn’t recall one named Allison.

I looked at her closely. Her teeth were gapped and crooked. She looked like she could eat corn on the cob through chicken-wire and was at least eight months pregnant.

“She said she’s staying with a guy named Ringo.? She continued.

“This is Ringo’s house? I allowed. And I reluctantly let her inside.

“Is this some kind of a co-op?? She asked. She was onto us. The house was more like a commune or a youth hostel than a house. But I wasn’t going to tell her that.

“Hell no. We’re all god-fearing Christians in this house.? I choked.

Later, I learned that Allison was Rudy’s lesbian girlfriend from New York. She’d only been in town for a day, but had somehow scheduled a massage, and decided that my bedroom would be the best place to receive it.

Someplace Less Than Omaha

I stood looking at the monitors in the centrum of Terminal A. Arrivals on top. Departures on the bottom. A bank of ten or twelve monitors. They were either run by the city, or they weren’t, depending on who you believed. I’d heard so many stories I gave up believing that there was a single entity that controlled them. They were always wrong, though. That much was certain. I liked to look at them if I had time to, just to get myself worked up into a tizzy. Sort of the same way I liked to listen to the tree-huggers on NPR. It had the same effect.

Today, the monitors couldn’t even agree on the date. Half of them thought it was Wednesday, April 21, 2004 at 1:22 p.m. The other half showed it to be Sunday, April 25th, 2004, at 7:32 p.m. I was reasonably sure it wasn’t Sunday. The flights were listed alphabetically by departure city. If you were flying to Omaha or greater, then you could divine your gate of departure with a reasonable degree of certainty. If you were going to somewhere less than Omaha, you were SOL, because those monitors were showing flights from last Wednesday.

A group of female travelers approached the monitors and began to try to read the tea leaves.

“Are you going someplace less than Omaha?? I asked.

“Is there anyplace less than Omaha?? One of them asked. “I thought that was as bad as it gets.?

“Well. I can’t argue that. I just wanted to point out that those monitors you’re studying appear to think today is Wednesday. And…last time I checked….it was Sunday.?

“What’s that got to do with Nebraska?? She wanted to know.

“Nothing, really. Just that by coincidence, Omaha is the first city of departure that is on the monitor bank with the correct date. So, if you’re going someplace less than Omaha, you’re outta luck.?

If you leave for the airport early enough, the airport experience isn’t quite as traumatic. You can get to the gate early and sit and eat your dinner from a sack with the other lost souls, dispersing their lives across time zones, like dandelion seeds in the wind. If you get to the gate late, the plane will be on time. Get to the gate early, it’s sure to be delayed.

Our plane wasn’t in, and what’s worse, they couldn’t come up with a good cover story. Probably the flight had disappeared from radar. Crashed into the Pentagon or the cornfields of Kansas. The insipid gate agents were foaming at the mouth, tossing the microphone back and forth like a hot potato. Drooling into the microphone, sputtering about computer problems, mechanical malfunctions, and the weather in Kuala Lumpur.

I never believe the gate agents. They’re the interface between the airline and the befuddled masses. They’re pathological liars. Actors without cameras. They practice lying to themselves at home in the mirror while they’re putting on lipstick and crocheting their eyebrows together.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we regret to inform you that, due to the bad weather in Malaysia, our flight from Denver to Austin will be canceled. That is all.?

They lick their lips and mouth the fabrications, moving their lips in an exaggerated manner. And I saw that they were still at home in front of their dressers, pushing lipstick into the crevices of their chapped lips.

The delay gave me time to attempt to reconstruct the weekend. Things really started to spiral out of control when Barbie told me she was through with me via email. Two of my last three breakups were negotiated via email. A sign of the times, I guess.

Paper Mulberry Grackles

When Barbie told me she was done with me, I decided to take my neighbor Karen out to dinner for her birthday.

Karen is the quintessential starving artist. She paints stunning, vivid oil paintings on canvas in her studio. Created a masterpiece of the Virgin Mary from tiles she broke with pliers. Sculpted impressive nude clay figures with her hands. She watched porno for her models, searching through the sex scenes for just the right pose, pausing the porn, and kneading the clay into the rippled muscles of a nude couple embracing.

But she didn’t have her work in any galleries. So, there wasn’t much chance she would generate any significant income from her art. To make ends meet, she painted houses and laid tile. She’d come home each day, coveralls splattered in paint, open a bottle of end-of-the-line wine, and fall asleep in her bed, exhausted, without bothering so much as to remove her bra.

Every so often, we’d watch rented movies on her impossibly small television. But one night, she ordered me out of bed in front of some of my housemates, and I decided that I was through with her. I had really just wanted to crash, and I didn’t like the embarrassment of being tossed out of bed in front of an audience.

On her birthday, I decided to get over myself and offered to take her out to dinner, she took a shower and put on a dress, and she turned into a beautiful woman. She settled on the Hyde Park Bar and Grill, but, as it was Thursday, there was a long wait. I slipped the host a bribe so we could get a table.

“Oh. No….I couldn’t.? He complained, but he was looking at the money like a Grackle eyeing a Paper Mulberry. His brain and his mouth were seriously disconnected. He probably was working on an oil painting in a studio on the East Side of I-35 somewhere, hosting tables at night.

“We’ll be out front.? I offered.

Karen and I sat out front on the sidewalk in wrought iron chairs, separated by a modest table. We were lounging on breezes of the cool Austin spring, musing about Quack’s, Huff, and the murals across the street.

Suddenly, Karen blurted out “I gotta go? and was gone, spry as a gazelle. She hid behind a van in the parking lot as two men walked by, and when they’d passed, she returned, but only furtively.

“I don’t know how to say this, but we gotta go.? She explained.

“What are you talking about? I just bribed the host so he’d seat us. Where are we going??

“I really don’t want to talk about this right now. Can we just get out of here??

“Where are we going to go? I’m hungry. I thought we were eating dinner?? I complained.

“Let’s go to that place across the street. It’s much better anyway.? She countered.

“Who was that guy??

“Can I just take a pass on this one??

“OK, baby. Since it’s your birthday, I’ll let this one slide.? And with that, we went across the street and ate dinner.

Later, she explained that the guy was gay, and she’d been his beard for some time. Clearly, there was more to the story, but she carefully avoided going into any further detail.

We ordered a forty dollar bottle of wine and swapped stories over dinner. By the time the two guys she was dodging appeared at the bar, we were too deep into the meal to be bothered by it.

We went back and fell asleep with the windows open, listening to the time falling on the tin roof, like a soft rain in the Austin Spring. In the morning, when the alarm clock went off, I gave it a gentle nudge and it fell out the window into the spray painted poison ivy and honeysuckle below.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on August 20, 2004 at 10:04 PM