Thursday, December 12, 2019

Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain

I'm dead.  This is why I've kept the same gmail account for the last 15 years despite the fact that every letter in the address rhymes and I have to repeat it 48 times any time I need to give it out.  Searching for something mundane, I came across the 500,000 emails and gchats my BFF and I  exchanged nearly a decade ago when that felt like a more acceptable thing to do.

I did not think that I had matured at any point since, ever, but I apparently have.  Or, failing that, I'm just less committed to maintaining my edge.  Now I'm just old and reasonable.*  Also, reading back on the problems and experiences of a person in their 20s is bizarre and hilarious, and sort of alienating.  Who is this person?  Even reading about this life is a bit more than I can take, much less living it, and that's why the changes associated with age are so necessary.  People may dream about being young and attractive and interested in everything forever, but isn't it just exhausting?  Wouldn't you rather just die? (edge activated) So much time spent agonizing over the personal life.  Do elderly people just not care about anything at all?  The amount of concern and baggage that I have dropped in a decade would indicate that there will be nothing left to care about in another one.

me: god i hate when people know i like them.
Laura: I do too but only because as soon as I know someone likes me, I lose interest in them
Laura: and I assume that is universal to some extent.
Laura: I think it depends on the person. I think some people who aren't used to being crushed on are so dazzled by the idea
me: oh probably
me: but i don't want them getting dazzled on my fucking dime.
me: i have to keep up my distance and mystery here.
Laura: LOLOL
Laura: you can't always be that one though.
me: haha. ah, fuck every person.

I'm glad I didn't get "fuck every person" tattooed on myself back then, because it would have been appropriate.

I listened to an interview with one of the oldest women in the US years ago.  She said her happiest years were in her 60s, and her worst were in her 20s.  Why can't we just enjoy ourselves when we are in peak condition and have few responsibilities?  I'm sure some people do.  Old-me would say those people enjoy themselves because they're too stupid to realize what's wrong.  Now-me is just like, I do not care if they're enjoying their lives or not.  Time to complain about how many times I see baby yoda every day.  No, he is not cute.


There are a lot of funny, shocking things in the emails that I had forgotten about.  My new (too late) fixation with privacy on the internet prevents me from pasting anything here, and I should probably go back through this entire blog and delete every identifying thing so that...what?  What's going to happen?  I'm going to get outed for writing ten thousand crappy posts about myself?  Someone's going to tell my dad I made fun of him on the internet?  He knows!  Or if he doesn't, he should.  Do these data mining companies trawl for old information or just current?  Bad things can happen, of course, but will they?  The data I produced back then is largely useless, I think.  You can't tell what I was buying or voting for for the most part.  And what else is data for.  What is a Youtube video of Sylvia Plath reciting "Black rook in rainy weather" paired with a picture of the moon going to tell the Russians about me, other than I was goth-basic and 26 years old.

*Not true, but truer.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Anna, Revisited

The things you find when you log into old accounts.

Setting aside my resentment of Ancestry, which is harder to quit than a gym membership, I logged into an old separate account that I had created to research one Miss Anna Ireland of Detroit, MI, 1936.  I was shocked to see what had developed in the intervening years, data-wise.  Photos upon photos of a woman whose trail had led to a brick wall for me years ago.  I almost couldn't process it - was this really my gal?

I still have to parse through this to make sure it's all correct, but here's Anna, and the things I had wrong.  Many questions still unanswered.
  • She married Jack at 27.  In 1936, this was basically past the point of old maidery.  No judgments, obviously, I'm just saying.
  • Jack ended up dying in 1954, when their daughter was quite young. Reasons unknown, but Anna fretted about his ill health as early as 1937.
  • She remarried a guy named Chick, but I haven't started looking at him.  Chick is an out of fashion nickname for Charles that I enjoy.

Anna and the baby.  1947-48.  Check those super-Forties rolls in her hair.

Jack and Colleen, guess '48-49.  I like this photo of he in his undershirt at home.

Jack, Baby Colleen, Anna.  Late 40s, tinsel tree.

Anna and Colleen already with Stepdad Chick when Colleen was still quite small.

Very much 1950s summer attire for mom and daughter. This would seem to be in Phoenix.

I could write an entire post about the '50s Mexican peasant dress, but I'm overwhelmed and I need to figure out if Colleen is still alive.  We'll see what turns up.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Ethnic Heritage

I did the Ancestry spit test a couple of years ago.  I was fascinated to learn how the genetic past would differ from the oral history, or the documented past by census and passenger lists.  I figured it might be quite a lot.

And it was.  The data is (are? stop) dynamic because of the ever-growing sample size, so at first I was Lagertha: New Scandinavian.  Yes, it said I was almost 1/3 from those upper parts, which was a complete and total shock - it wasn't in the oral or written history, not even a little.  My dad was thrilled, not having done his test yet, because it confirmed all of his masculine bikerly dreams: I'm a fuckin' viking! I knew it!  He sent me a silver Thor's hammer necklace for my birthday, a rare personal gift post-Trump.

From that, I assumed that our German ancestors were partly northerly people who had settled there at some murky point.  A lot of those Germans and other northern Europeans have Scandinavian stock because, well, vikings.  When they weren't conquering, they were at least vacationing around and mingling with the locals.  We had always assumed from our surname(s), including the secret pre-Americanized one, that we were German AF.  And maybe some are, but not me, because genetics are confusing AF.

The results changed a year later.  Sadly for me, I changed from Lagertha to Colleen.  I was, it turned out, just mostly Irish.  Back when I was a northperson, I was fascinated to have to learn about a new culture that I had zero prior identity with.  But the "knowledge" of my true genetics had bred no newfound familiarity or sense of remembrance of my people, probably because they weren't, or not exactly.

When I was a kid, my best friend was Mary Beth, a super Irish kid from Brooklyn.  Her parents were very invested in being Irish: their doorbell played the first seven bars of "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" year-round, their pets were named things like "Irish Cream" and their home decor reflected their generalized hysteria about the island.  They were American Irish, New York Irish, all the way down to the mounted police dad, who had moved his young family to Arizona upon an early retirement from the NYPD.  They even brought the retired horse, ancient and gray-muzzled when I met him.  It didn't help that these two freckled, pale brunettes had birthed an only daughter with the reddest natural hair I or anyone else has ever seen.  This wasn't strawberry blond or even orange hair, it was red.  Crayola crayon red.  A red you can't get in the salon.  That only emboldened them and, even in middle school, I was repelled by their posturing enthusiasm for ethnic identity as status.

I knew my family was Irishish too and identified that way, but I didn't.  My Grammy (great-grandmother) and the people I was closer to were all Italians, and naturally I felt I was Italian too. CMAN!  I'm Milano eyyy!!

Well, not by the numbers on my card.  It's true that both of my Grammy's parents came from their Italian hometowns on boats like proper immigrants, but my DNA hardly recognizes that.  Today I am 65% "England, Wales and Northwestern Europe," which includes France, Switzerland and parts of Germany but is most strongly centered on the UK.  But I'm also 30% just Irish, and 5% "Germanic Europe".  Additional communities for honorable mention are "Southwestern Quebec French Settlers," which I saw in the data when I uncovered the fact that my paternal grandma's people were in Quebec for almost 300 years before they emigrated to the US, making them among the first Euro settlers to Canada.  That's 1. interesting and 2. so sad that they didn't stay.  I could be Quebecois.  Instead I'm from Phoenix.

But all this feels pretty removed.  I feel very unromantic and pragmatic about ethnic origins today. 
Partly because it's kind of hard to not politicize or re-litigate the past and count up all of the things they didn't know (care about) that we do, but mostly because I question the relevance of it overall.

My issue today is with time and how I can't square that with ethnicity and identity.  I read one researcher say that, once an ancestor was far enough back in history, you weren't really related to them anymore.  It's so far back, and so many other apparently less-interesting people have been involved since, that the connection is hardly there mathematically.  Is this true?  I better double check because I just remembered how they found some relatives of Richard III after they finally discovered his bod under that Tesco parking lot.

But my question has always been, what point in history are we basing this on?  Irish as of when.  Certainly not eternity, surely that DNA has evolved around over time.  What about whatever ancient people were there before?  Is there a simple answer I'm missing? (because I went to ASU)

They say people with heavily English ancestry returns are super rare, because of how many people passed through there from way back and diversed it all up from early days.  Well, my dad has that.  Pretty high numbers for someone not even born there.  Mr. Jack Daniels Jack Palance Dennis Hopper biker viking turns out to be an old limey Brit.  At least for now.

Friday, September 27, 2019


Monday, July 22, 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019


Heidi is so American.  Blonde, blue-eyed, loves tennis, married into a little bit of oil money, loves cars and dogs and margaritas ("margs") and pedicures.  As a girl, she went away to a fancy boarding school, but decided to move to Phoenix and chase wild guys around when it came time to go to college.  She thought about college, but she met someone instead and set about to fixing him up and making a husband out of him.  She made him stop recreational drugs, moved him into a two bedroom apartment to play house in, and hid the relationship from her dad.

Her mom was gone by then, and her dad had remarried to a classic wicked stepmother, who pulled him away from his children and wore his dead wife's furs around their Long Island mansion.  He sent money to Heidi sometimes, enough to keep up a lifestyle, but otherwise cooled to her.  Meanwhile, Heidi and her new boyfriend got married, moved to the beach, raised dogs, quit smoking, got political, and grew older.

They traveled to Mexico for a niece's wedding and chanced to meet an Austrian man named Herbert.  They were with the bride's family, Herbert was with the groom's.  They got to talking and learned Herbert was from Salzburg.  This piqued Heidi's interest, because she's not really American, or not by birth.  Heidi was purchased in adoption from Salzburg in 1955 by the rich American couple who became her parents, a beautiful woman who looked like a movie star, and a handsome man who was the king of the huge, animated advertising signs of midcentury Manhattan.  The giant man exhaling real smoke in the Camel sign?  That was him.  The massive cup of Eight O'Clock Coffee that emitted steam into Times Square?  Him too.  He's famous in the annals of Mad Men-era advertising.

Unable to adopt in America due to their advanced ages (36 and 40ish), they turned to Europe.  Who knows how many orphanages they visited before they saw that pink and blonde baby, with blue eyes the size of silver dollars, fat fists curled around the bars of her crib as she stood and bounced and gurgled.  Once you know this, the name they gave her, Heidi, sounds rather on the nose, but it was appropriately exotic for her future life in New York.  They signed the papers and swooped the baby away to a life of big lawns, flouncy dresses, Kodachrome family photos and visits from Santa.

A decade and a half later, Heidi's movie star mother died after years of suffering from early advanced rheumatoid arthritis in much of her body.  Whether it was an accident or not, it was barbituates that finally did it, maybe a couple of years too late.  Heidi was already away at boarding school in Florida, only allowed to see her mother for a few moments at a time when she came home, where she was placed for viewing on a long glamorous couch with her nails done and head in a turban, puffed and pressed into an appearance not too ghastly for the child to see.

Then came the stepwitch, who pulled Heidi's dad away and kept him for about thirty years.  Then was Heidi's married life, fun but unremarkable, full of play and stepkids, adversity but always privilege too.

For me, it gets really interesting when Herbert appears.  Delighted by the coincidence of meeting someone from her "hometown," Heidi exchanged contact information with Herbert and sent him some of the adoption papers she miraculously retained after the stepwitch hauled every vestige of her husband's previous life to the curb after he finally died.  Herbert scanned the German words, and said, wouldn't it be funny if we looked your mom up?  What if she's alive?  She can't be, Heidi said.  We don't even know what the circumstances of the adoption were.  What if she died back then?  But go ahead and look.

Herbert's retired, his kids don't live in Austria anymore, and he's got the time, so he went down to the archives and checked it out.

And there she was.  Paula.

Paula was still alive.  Still there in von Trapp town, living in a retiree apartment alone.  Herbert called Heidi for permission, who held her breath and then said, "What the fuck, call her," and it began.

Paula's tough.  She's cold.  She is beyond reticent.  She is suspicious.  She and Herbert talked several times in an exchange both outraging and comedic as she cursed him and hung up, then called him back, then hung up again.  Herbert is a giver, though.  He couldn't let this go once he understood the mother was actually alive, and he was careful in his pursuit of her.  They become a sort of friends over the phone, and built a rapport outside of this American reality show plotline.  Herbert and his wife started to visit Paula, they took her to the doctor and did her grocery shopping and had her house cleaned.  She's old, and after a lifetime of menial jobs, she needs help.  She fixed meals for them and they drank together in the local biergarten.  They became real friends.

All the while, Herbert would periodically report back to Heidi on Facebook or the phone.

"She says she can't remember anything."  "She says you must learn to speak German."  "She can't remember your father."  "She loved your father."  "She won't talk about anything back then."

Paula couldn't make up her mind about how to handle this.  As Heidi and her husband became closer friends with Herbert and his wife, they decided to go to Austria.  They'd meet crazy Paula, and if that didn't work out, they could hang out with Herbert and see the sights and still have a nice trip one way or another.  It doesn't matter how early Heidi came to America, how much she loved Davey Jones or how much Coca Cola she drank, she's a lot like Paula.  Guarded, irreverent, unemotional: she could handle this.

They went.  They saw her.  She was a tiny, shriveled lookalike to Heidi in a blonde bouffant, still pretty, with squinty laughing eyes.  She hugged and kissed and was warm as you would be to a second cousin from out of state, polite and gracious but that's it.  She wouldn't talk about the past because she didn't want to tell Herbert, didn't want him to serve as a translator, she wanted to tell Heidi herself, but Heidi can't understand German.  So they laughed and smoked a cigarette together and drank a beer in the pretty sun dappled place, all edelweiss, and smiled and gestured and made the best of it.  When Heidi got up from the table, Paula pointed and choked, laughing, mumbled a little something in German.  Heidi wheeled on Herbert, "Ok, this time you better tell me what the fuck she said," and Herbert said, embarrassed, "She says you have her ass."

And this goes on!  Heidi goes home, she comes back, she talks to Herbert who talks to Paula, then Herbert's wife tries talking to Paula, and slowly, carefully, like pulling a fragile, brittle thread out of an ancient tapestry, they get a narrative out of her.

Paula had other kids, and least two others.  The other girl is older and was put up for adoption too.  She lives in Russia now, but Paula can't remember where, and a jealous ex-boyfriend burned all their letters so she can't find her contact information.  The boy was born with dwarfism, and though she didn't want to keep him either, she did.  She was afraid he'd be abused in the orphanage and in his life.  He lived to adulthood, but died early, and she took care of him.

She said she was in love with Heidi's dad, a boy from a nearby village.  She said he never knew they had a baby.  She wanted to tell him but she couldn't.  He lived on a farm with his family and she couldn't figure out how to do it or be with him.  She told Herbert she really did love him, and he was beautiful.

Although she put Heidi in the orphanage when she was born, Paula would make the long walk back there every day or every couple of days to nurse her.  She said she didn't mean to officially put her up for adoption, but she just couldn't keep her then.  She said she made the walk to the orphanage one day and the baby was gone.

After that, she became silent.  She wouldn't talk about her family, her youth, or even her later life anymore other than she had cleaned a school for a living, and she got by.  She wouldn't talk about her parents or her own family or about living through the war.  She became angry when questioned and she cursed Herbert, for real this time, not in jest.  She insulted him.

By this time, Herbert's wife had had it with Paula.  They wanted to move to Spain to be with their son.  They were done with this episode of caretaking an old woman who wasn't even their family, who spat and insulted them when they were just trying to be helpful to people halfway across the world, who made rude demands.  And there it sat, seemingly over, just a surprising story of coincidence and unlikely meetings.

And it's all true.  Heidi is my mom's best friend.  She's my godmother.  I've known her all my life, ever since my mom placed my 6 week old glow worm shaped swaddle in Heidi's lap, and Heidi fumbled me and screamed, SHIT!! when the family dog simultaneously jumped into her lap, unconscious of the baby there.

My mom says (resentfully) that somehow I am actually Heidi's daughter, not hers.  She and I are the same in the ways that I am least like my mother, in the ways that my mother likes least.  Heidi and I cursing and making fun in the kitchen, hexing and insulting, talking politics (verboten to Kari).

In fact, this all started for me when my mom and I were having a fight in Heidi's kitchen.  A casual disagreement had turned into a real argument, one of those visceral mother-daughter things when everything she says makes me want to flip a table, and when she takes the imagined privilege of not backing off, no matter how visibly angry I've become.  In this familial environment, Heidi's space, it went on longer than it ever would in other company.  The topic?  Where are the grandchildren.  As I became increasingly defensive, telling my mom she was crossing the line for real, Heidi suddenly burst into tears.  Loud tears, maybe even a small wail.  We turned, both shocked, especially me because I thought Heidi had been on my side, and she said, through sobs, "AT LEAST YOU HAVE A MOTHER."

I fell back in my chair, completely dead, and she laughed through tears, "I know. Beat that, bitch!"  Heidi doesn't cry.  Or not for long.

That's when I learned about Paula.  I learned about Heidi's adoptive mother, and how she had committed suicide but how it was somehow ok, because of the pain she was in.  I became entranced by this story and I recorded her telling me everything she could possibly remember about both of her mothers, her father, hours of conversation while we staved her husband off with a closed door.  Heidi's husband is so extroverted that most people don't know how complicated and interesting her life is, because she is happy to never be a focal point while he can't be anything else.

The one thing I couldn't accept was how reticent Paula was.  How dare she?  What absurd vanity was she trying to protect after 60 years?  How dare she not share the father's name, and the story?  Does she not understand what this means to Heidi?  She was about to die, for god's sake!  All of the things she had done in her life, the kids she abandoned, and she still had to keep that story to herself?  She seemed so selfish, so foreign, so unnecessarily difficult.  I was pissed.  Heidi was pissed.  Herbert was pissed.  What the fuck, Paula?

I tried to research her on the internet, but it was fruitless.  I didn't know her family's names, I didn't know her exact birth date, I don't think she was even born in Salzburg.  I didn't know where to look and finding records from back then on the internet in another country is hard.  Herbert couldn't even find her without going to a library in Austria.  So I started looking into the area and the other towns, I thought Heidi said she was from nearby somewhere.  I started trying to find a context for her life.  Heidi shared all of her documents with me and I scanned them, translating and saving for my reference.  When she was born, Heidi's name was Sieglinde.  A beautiful name I have never heard of.

Paula was about 20 when WWII began in Europe.  She lived in a place that sympathized with the Nazis.  As I learned more about the details of life in this part of the world during and immediately following the war, I started to think.  If you're an American with a functional but one-sided understanding of WWII, even if you watch the History channel religiously, you don't know how it was for the Europeans.  You don't know what the war was like for Germans and Austrians and others, starving and no work and everything taken away, the bad times that happened before and then what it was like afterwards.  I watched an old documentary made in the 80s, when more US vets were still alive, and the same observations rang over and over: the Russian soldiers were so cruel, unspeakably violent, and the American GIs, who hated the Nazis and their supporters as much as anyone, were repelled and repulsed by the way the Russians treated the people in the towns they occupied.  To say that they raped and stole and burned is an understatement.  And they were everywhere.

And Paula, a young girl, working alone in another town away from her family.  There, in the middle of all of that war and inhuman chaos.  It's trauma that makes her inconvenient now, doubtlessly trauma that is big enough to occupy sixty years of time.  How could it not be?  In what scenario was she there in that melee not being victimized and abused?  Fuck, to think of it.

I tried to say this a little bit to Heidi.  Heidi doesn't read history, doesn't know any more about that part of the world back then than anyone else here.  This is the same Heidi who was like, "Fuck it, I'm too old," when I asked if we could get her on Rosetta Stone to learn enough German to talk on the phone to Paula.  I didn't want to say, yo I think your mom might have been psychologically destroyed by a war machine and the worst of humanity, but tried to impart it in ways that wouldn't keep her up at night, or hurt her now after she's been hurt in so many other ways.  At the same time, I wanted to talk about how, hey, maybe this is really complicated.  Maybe there's stuff there that no one is allowed to know.  Maybe it's not about you, that baby, the accident who happened when your mother was just trying to get ahead, when things were just starting to turn up in that part of the world.  I know Heidi knows that, somehow.  It's why she's ok to leave it alone, and leave Paula alone for now.

They're thinking about visiting one more time, before Paula dies, maybe next summer.

Until I hone and perfect this, make it better, do more research, editorialize less and learn more, I can't comment any more than this.

Friday, May 17, 2019

In Defense of Dan

I'm a weekly listener to the Blabbermouth podcast, which is produced by Seattle's Stranger news staff.

I started listening because my best guy Dan Savage is a regular contributor, but over time, I have very slowly grown to semi-like a few of the regulars on the show.  Eli is a great writer and good moderator in spite of his slow, choppy speaking pattern.  I'm torn because the way he speaks annoys the actual living fuck out of me, but I still like him in spite of myself.  I originally thought Rich was the sort of untenable wildly leftist young millennial type who wants to cancel everyone, but he's not so bad, and I've even found myself agreeing with him most of the time when he's being challenged by everyone else.  I also enjoy his dour personality and the constant references to his failed relationships, and the references to his resemblance to Robert Mueller.  I like someone who leans hard into their dreariness despite being young and smart and attractive.  Katie Herzog is the most hated character, but she's just sort of what I expect from someone who is probably 26 years old but thinks she's 100.  You might could* say I've been there.

This week, they took Dan's absence as an opportunity to pile onto him about his being a boomer and generally dominating all of them at work and on Blabbermouth.  Apparently he's an overwhelming presence in the Stranger offices, but instead of enjoying it, they just grumble and roll their eyes.  HE IS DELIGHTFUL YOU INGRATES.  Anyway, they seem to take his constant owning of them as an example of boomerism because, by some bizarre stretch of generational classification, he is apparently technically a boomer despite being only 50ish and otherwise very Gen-Xey in general.

They accuse him of centrism because he says we should all vote for the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, in order to destroy Trump.  Because he thinks Biden's gaffes are regrettable but not bad enough to vote for anyone else if he's the nominee, or to not vote.  But he thinks that about every potential candidate, from Warren to Buttigieg.  (I just want to note that I spelled that correctly on the first try, my first time actually typing his last name.  Not bragging, just surprised)  I think this characterization of Dan as an old yelling guy is just reductive laziness.  I almost always agree with him, but I also almost always agree with Bill Maher too, so that probably makes me a cancellable old jackass as well.  It's also not nothing that Blabbermouth would be adrift like a broken sailboat if not for Dan.  When he was away in Europe for weeks earlier in the year, the Blabbermouth Facebook page just became a spam zone of "WHERE'S DAN" posts.

My corner of the internet is filled with these types of crazy politically fringey kids, people who aren't even that young but who want to burn and bury anyone who isn't 1000% in lockstep with their own views as they are today despite the fact that they (the accusers) have been evolving by the minute, and forget their own recent pasts in which they have been, as the kids say, hell of problematic.  Some of the people I am thinking of had extremely, objectively questionable views 5 and certainly 10 years ago, when they were younger, dumber, and less aware of the lived experience of anyone not just like them.  No sense of irony in these people.

If Dan is to boomer as I am to millennial, then, fine whatever.  I'm considered an "old millennial" (thank you) based on my birth date and the fact that much of my life has included the internet, but I fully remember days before home computers were normal, when people recorded their answering machine messages on cassette tapes and answered the phone without caller id or hesitation.  When having a pager caused your uncle to jokingly ask if you were a drug dealer.  When pagers were even a thing.  Those memories are getting dimmer and dimmer, but I remember what it was like to, as some New Yorker or Vanity Fair article said, stare into space for long periods of time in the absence of the constant demands and lures of social media, and I got through my adolescence that way, which I think was probably valuable.  

aw dan
"Republicans are always carving new orifices in our body politic and finding new ways to fuck us." 
Dan Savage, 2018

My fondness for Dan is only somewhat an endorsement of his podcast, The Savage Lovecast.  Go for the rants at the beginning, but based on your lifestyle, you might skip the rest.  I've been listening for years, and I am dead tired of most of the questions that people ask.  They're usually like, "Is my abusive partner garbage or should I stay?" or "I've been dating someone for 5 seconds and they're garbage, how long should I stick it out?" Who cares, Lindsay.  


*"Might could" just means something like "maybe" in Texas.  It's my favorite old timey localism.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Reflections of! A life that used to be.

When I thought about it, I was sort of sad that blogs died.  Wasn't that fun?  Writing and sharing interesting things, before half the shit you saw on the internet was just shares from your stupid uncle, something about mooslims?

And it is kind of sad.  The blogs I read are all either gone or frozen in 2013.  And before that, the Livejournals I read, all frozen in 2004.  Livejournal was what Facebook should have become: part expression and part commentary.  But then I realized that it might actually be perfect that the world has moved on from the traditional blog, the one with no ads and no real names.  I think that means that I can skitter back in like a mouse to live richly in the ruins.  I can get back to trying to write for fun without the bother of colleagues and family.  Or without worrying that what I'm posting is crap, because no one is looking.

I've been diving into old stuff a lot lately.  Every five years or so I have some kind of mini crisis as I remember another part of my life and try to decide if it was better.  When I was younger, I always thought the past was better, but as I've aged, I find I've become almost savagely pragmatic.  Things were fucking dumb back then and if I remember it fondly, I'm probably just wrong. 

Then I broke into an old laptop that I had forgotten the password to.  I began to browse, increasingly shocked as I opened folder after folder of old pics, some of friends and family (appalling young, all of us), some of things I had saved as inspiration (dumb or trite mostly), and then my iTunes folders.  So much old music, a strange and senseless mix of saccharine 1950s radio tunes, cheesy European synthpop, 90s hip hop, 80s goth, and Type O Negative.  So much Type O Negative. 

I listened to the Jarvis album, Jarvis, from 2006 and remembered copying the cd for my friends.  I loved to make little presents then, so I bought cds that looked like records, and printed out the album cover and reverse and stuck them in the jewel boxes to give to friends.  Basically pirating shit they should have bought for Jarvis' sake, but I always gave music away then.  I made three volumes of mix cds over a couple of years, all of which Michael gloriously still has, and bless him, still listens to in his little Dodge Charger, the most unexpected car in Portland.  All self important cool kid music that is still so indulgently good, The Crystals and Serge Gainsbourg and Pulp and Liberace, Harry Nilsson and Goldfrapp and Joan Baez.  Music to be young to.  

Now, as I balance on my gnarled cane of agedness, I see that my more recent, highly unromantic take on the past is probably wrongheaded.  I've always had a weird thing about the past, either hating it (my own, bad friends, problematic boyfriends) or obsessing about how much better it was, which was what I did for my whole life about the generations before mine.  No middle ground here, either it SUCKED or was better than anything can ever be going forward. 

All I want to know is, now that Michael Jackson is cancelled, can I still love the Jackson 5?  Because this is my favorite song.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Austin, year three

I was reading back in this blog to remember my life as it was and saw a lot of flailing and spittle about Austin vs. Phoenix, and Austin in general.  I figured I'd weigh in, in year three, basically a native now, with some observations about the capital of Texas.

1. Locals are low-level obsessed with letting you know they were born here if they were.
Probably for good reason, they resent the extremely dramatic changes the city has incurred in the last 20 years.  The younger they are, the less they care, but the old ones are ready to go at any time or place with the comparisons.  This is the same everywhere, but not many cities have experienced the drastic changes that Austin has.  Now that I am an old-timey resident, I feel for them where I used to just roll my eyes.  It does suck, mon.  Unless you owned property before the deluge, and then it fucking RULE$$$ and you're hoodrich, where you were dustbowl poor before.  I kind of hate those people, because they think they are Richard Branson-style wealth geniuses, when in reality, they're just bumpkinasses who didn't leave the place they were born and eventually struck oil on their land, due to other people.  Yeah, I'm looking at you, former landord.

2. Hyperlocalization.
When I got here, I was sort of enraged by how hyperlocal people are, and by that I mean they won't travel outside of the 2 mile radius of where they live.  Coming from a city that's legit 500 square miles, I thought that was some kind of full bullshit self-absorbed need to never travel for anything.  Everyone I knew in Phoenix lived 50 miles away and we just dealt with it, finding central spaces to meet upon.  But, just this afternoon, I was reading the review of a new restaurant that opened about 5 miles away and said to myself, "Sounds cool but I'm not going that far."  Turns out there's a valid reason - traffic is truly satanic at all hours of the day, and traffic in that particular direction (central city to south Lamar) is basically totally fucked up at all times.  Unless you have to go (to Target or to a special movie showing) you ain't gonna bother.

3. No food to eat
So this isn't entirely true, but Austin's food selection is often just a lot of the same thing.  Like upscale versions of garbage comfort food?  You got it, dude.  Tex-Mex?  It's aplenty.  Want barbecue, preferably with low quality sides?  GET HERE WITH A QUICKNESS.  Chinese, Italian, Greek?  Forget about it.  Yeah, it's here, but it's either a chain, or not good, or real far.  I don't know, man.  We're no Houston.

4. History 50/50
The large quantity of sentimental boomers still in Austin (see #1) means that there's kinda? some appreciation of older architecture, but the vastly more powerful developers, who are dominating everywhere and everything are prevailing.  Austin has a big sense of self and a sense of its history, but it's a very localized, white thing.  The people of gentrified neighborhoods are trying to preserve what they can where they can, but it's a tough fight and they don't have the power or money to really get anywhere.  So, if you want one vein of history, again, get here, but be warned that it's only fancy white history.  You'll never learn about the legacies of black or latino peoples unless you dig real deep, and care a lot.

5. Parties and Events
Yes this city still loves a party.  I finally moved away from the Zilker area, home of SXSW, ACL and other massive-ass events I'll never take part in, and yet I can still hear and feel the deep thrumming of bass drifting over the river and trees to my bedroom.  Although I've moved miles from the center of destruction, and I'm now in a fully silk-stocking old timey beautiful rich neighborhood, it still touches us.  I'm not mad, because it mostly doesn't disrupt my drive or life, but it's there, and I can't go south during the Christmas season because of the completely underwhelming yet popular Trail of Lights.

and that brings us to

6. Local Pride
Yes, the locals be loving their city and state in a way that anyone outside of Texas, who was never a Texan, will never understand.  I appreciate the sense of place, but it's still foreign to me to be that defensive of a geographic area.  I personally think they should calm down, but they don't care what I think because I'm a dirty foreigner forever.  Even someone who moved here at 6 mos old is a foreigner by some estimations.  Many believe that you must have been born on the soil, whether it be the deserts of west or south, or in the bayous of the east, or in the distinctly Oklahomaish handle, to have absorbed the *magic* of Texasness.  Perhaps it's true.  Perhaps I could feel the same way about Arizona, if I was possessed by a supernatural sense of pride or MDMA.

You can tell a local by their accent, which is an admittedly pleasant mix of twang and drawl, and which is utterly rare, leading me to believe that they were raised by real Southerners, or that they are exaggerating.  Nevertheless, I enjoy it.  You can also tell a local by their familiarity and/or love of Ann Richards, which pervades even the conservative-est of local Republicans.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Heritage Church

While walking around in my new hood of Zilker, I came across a stark block building in the middle of a huge lot.  It's an odd sight in a part of town where every square inch of land is at a premium and new mcmansions occupy entire footprints of land, interspersed among the modest 1940s bungalows that came before. 

This desirable and expensive zipcode (04) was once "nothing," according to a middle aged native Austinite I flew home from Phoenix next to recently.  "We liked it, but it was a poor area."

It's beautiful, though.  The neighborhood abuts Zilker Park, the Central Park of Austin, and is filled with old, old oak trees and big shading magnolias.  Vines and weeds and flowering plants tangle all over each other here, in the Austinian style.  All of the old, gracious parts of the city are full of overgrowth - plants spill onto the sidewalks and streets and grow big and wild.  Pastel paint peels from old houses and fences lean on properties that, as values have skyrocketed, you'd never imagine are worth high six figures.  You cannot tell a home value by its appearance around here.  This is nothing like Phoenix, where properties are pathologically groomed and clipped and repainted and edged, and leafblowers rage at all hours of the day.

But the church.  This is what the sign said:

I have some comments about the sign.  1. Is it that noteworthy that some of the people buried here beginning in 1866 were born before 1840?  26 was that notable an age?  Or is 1840 a reference to Austin's early days that I didn't catch?  Does it simply mean to point out that they were born in the antebellum slavery period?  2. "In the 1940s, the wooden church burned."  Because this was Dixie once, I feel suspicious at the assumedly intentional ambiguity.  Why did it burn?  It's wet here.

Sealed tightly forever.  Why?  Why not a museum to early black culture and churches of this era?  Why not a space to share this completely ignored aspect of early Austin?  This city's interpretation of its own history is so whitewashed.  This building is not only significant because it's still here and the land is still safe, but it's a touchstone for a huge group of people who don't get their story told here almost ever.

Big, beautiful treeish lot.

But as the sign says, it's a church and cemetery.  Underneath the weeds in the green lot are headstones.  Incomplete headstones.  Stumps and chunks, leaning shards, mounds of local lime melding, very slowly, into the grass and networks of vines.

Someone mows it sometimes.  It's rained so much lately that it's impossible to keep the greenery down, and it shoots up in uneven patches.  I stepped gingerly in the grass, deep into the shady back area to look at the stones, praying against snakes and cursing that the foliage was so dense and moist that the big black Texas mosquitos, who normally pass on me, lighted on my bare skin with glee.  I don't know how to hike or walk in backcountry, and although this is in the middle of a dense city, it feels distinctly lonely and untrodden.  I watched the ground for those snakes.

Age 87.

Worn down stone looking like a natural occurrence and not a grave marker.

There were a lot of spots, much bigger than this, where the grass wouldn't grow.  Some of the spots were...grave-sized?  Multiple feet by multiple feet.  Why?  Why would this enthusiastic foliage not grow in certain patches?

Condos to the left, apartments to the right, encroaching right up to the edge of the protected space.  No doubt tens of developers have cruised the big empty space, populated only by that lonely box just one step above a shed, and cursed the city for setting it aside.  A lot like that?  DREAM CONDOS! With a stupid fucking name, like Zilker Commons, or Greenview, or Barton Heights.

I searched for clues about the church and cemetery and came up with little more than what's contained on that historical marker sign.  There's an inventory of the remaining stones, or what remained of them ten years ago.  I couldn't find as many as the website had.  It takes a jaded, weird fucking person, weird beyond any measure I can imagine, to steal a fucking headstone.  When I was a kid, I thought to linger too long by any old grave would tempt the spirit belonging to it to follow me home, and I worried in the car that an illicit tour of the Pioneer's Cemetery in Prescott, Arizona (it was pre-renovation and closed to the public in the 90s) might have caused some old ghost to follow us home and scare me in my bed at night.  Needless to say, even this morbid ass would not remove a memento like that from a cemetery, not to mention the fact that it's vandalism and ruins historic spaces for the rest of us.  I did take ball moss home from the Texas National Cemetery once (yep, Texas still thinks it's a country), but it died.

I mean, seriously.  Where the fuck do headstone thieves put their prizes?  In their herb gardens?  WTAF

I'll continue my researches, but this might require IRL reading in an archive.  I must say it was easier to find the dirt I wanted in Phoenix, even about the most obscure of historic properties.

I will say that Austin in this early steamy summer is pretty and charming south of the river.  The big tangle of green paired with two years of inordinate rainfall has the lightning bugs out in force, and they're at their densest in unmanaged green spaces.  Apparently the eggs lay in the earth for about a year before hatching upon us, and in heavy rainfall, they germinate wildly.  They float and twinkle in the dusk all over this area, they flow into my house when I open the door sometimes, they're so thick.  Ugly bugs in the light, but neverendingly charming outside.