Saturday, September 19, 2015

Ruined by Jesus: The Trials of Estate Shopping

Estate sales can be awkward.  It's uncomfortable to paw through the belongings of someone's dead grandmother as the family watches, listlessly attaching price stickers to obsolete serveware and Porter Wagoner cassettes.

I'm hyper-aware of everything that's wrong within certain discomforting scenarios, so I kind of hate estate sales, but I also absolutely love them because they are treasure troves of amazing, mint vintage being sold for change by people who can't believe anyone would ever buy this shit.

Today I bought an armload of 1960s nightgowns, from the carefully handmade cotton variety to flouncy pink chiffon with embroidered rosettes, and even a buttery smooth nylon gown that clothiers stopped making 50 years ago because of their extreme flammability.  If you fell asleep with a cigarette in bed, as people were apparently wont to do regularly, you would be quickly engulfed in flames in one of these gowns.  And now I have one of my own!

This was excellent luck, as I've recently become interested in vintage nightgowns and have wasted endless time searching the internet for new pieces made in antique patterns of the Edwardian and Georgian variety.  Let me save some time for you: THEY'RE NOT OUT THERE.  So this dearly departed old Texas woman has saved the day for me, although she's lent me an evening fashion that is less Lady Mary and more Priscilla Presley.  I'm ok with it.

It felt so strange and wrong to be standing in another woman's closet, shrewdly inspecting the state of her clothes, holding things up to myself, and debating on whether I could pull off her things even in jest.  I know she was very old because she had a large collection of hats and gloves, and not only that, she kept them.  She had polyester pantsuits, pencil skirts cut to a 1950s length, chiffon and silk scarves, and dressing gowns with matching housecoats that were too old ladyish, even for me.  They made me recall my great-grandmother, old Italian mother Marian English, and her rigid observation of outdated fashion practices.  Curlers, nightgowns, polyester, and bags that matched your shoes.

My great-grandmother wore a nightgown to bed every night, and put a silk housecoat on over it if she was still up and about the house.  For years, I spent Friday nights at her house, and I remember when she tried to give me a nightgown and housecoat of my own.  I was around 10 years old, and this was too much for me to handle.  We had clashed many times as persons of different eras, and with a diplomacy reserved only for her, I'd usually back down.  I'd eat her bran muffins instead of doughnuts and let her serve me a bowl of frozen grapes as a "treat" instead of candy.  I'd let her listen to Dr. Bob Martin at a deafening volume all day on the radio without complaint.  I followed her instructions on etiquette when it came to answering the phone.  I'd let her force me to wash my face at night even though I for some reason hated to do it, but the nightgown was where I put my foot down.

I looked at this thing made of slimy pink satin, tattered and moth eaten from literal decades of wear, and threw a fit.  I couldn't stand the sight of myself in it.  Something about it repelled me.  It was the opposite of the image I wanted, and I cringed at the thought of my friends somehow seeing me in it.  This went on for a few weeks until she couldn't take it anymore and doubled down on me: I could not wear my dirty clothes to bed on her watch.  I gave in and put it on.  She handed me the matching housecoat - another layer, this time of lace, with floppy rosettes sewn to all the edges.  She had won.

Today's old Texan grandmother also had linens for me, which I purchased for impending projects, a collection of stories by Dashiell Hammett, and various pieces of Limoges porcelain dishes.  She had a collection of dish cloths from the 70s, which I loved, until I unfolded them and found they were all covered with religious art.  More perfectly fine items ruined by Jesus!  The perils of estate shopping in the bible belt.

The grizzly old guy at the cashbox reviewed my items, shaking the nighties and the linens out one by one, and leveled a googly eye at me: You want all this stuff?  Yeah! I shouted defensively.  He laughed and said, "Uh, five bucks I guess."  He doesn't know what a pink chiffon nightgown goes for on Etsy.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Late Summer Turning

I get a twinge each year around September.  A muted voice inside of my bones says the season will be changing soon.  I'm not sure why it's telling me.  It seems that a couple of hundred years or more spent indoors in an industrialized culture might be long enough to make the inner consciousness of your physical body forget about seasonal preparations.  Or maybe a handful of generations in modernity isn't enough to kill the internal calendar composed by thousands of years of agronomic ancestry.

The middle of Arizona is like a glass bowl full of dust placed under a heat lamp.  There's no reason to be worrying about fall in September when living on the cracked earth of one of the hottest deserts in the world.  Still, every year I anticipated a subtle turn that never came.  The feeling would make its way to my thoughts and, for an unconscious moment, I'd allow myself expect it: autumn.  Cold mornings, dark windows behind jarring alarm clocks, changing leaves, and that feeling one gets when it's cold outside but warm inside.  

The summer is long in Texas, too, but it's not that long - the sudden tapering of summer that I sensed a couple of weeks ago when first attempting to write this is real now.  A cool breeze drifts through the hot sunshine, and mornings are not quite cool, but they're no longer warm.  It'll take another month for it to get here, but it's coming.

I guess I just don't like warm weather, because over the past couple of months, I've slunk into something closely resembling the seasonal affective disorder I joked about when living in Arizona.  I really did sleep longer and do less over the summer.  I kept the blinds drawn and the television on.  Texas' summer is far less punishing overall, but in place of the soul-evaporating, dry heat is a constant, pervasive steam.  Mere moments spent outdoors will warrant a shower.  The air will stand and thicken, breezeless, so that you can feel the water vapor as you pass through it, and it lays sticky on your skin.  All movement is exhausting.  The lethargy and physical pain I experienced after exertion had me worried at first.  Had my metabolism simply ended at 32?  Was I dying of something?  Had I somehow gained hundreds of pounds of weight and not noticed it?  I felt like crawling up the stairs to my apartment after leisurely evening walks in my neighborhood.  I hadn't yet researched the great imposition humidity wreaks on the body, particularly when one is used to humid conditions of 8%.  In Austin, a nice day is under 50%.

I began to view the city differently.  To turn, unmoved, from beautiful views that I'm still not quite used to.  Although the creeks are dry and the toads are gone (dead? or moved), the trees and grasses are lush and the greenery hasn't vanished.  Still, the film of humidity smears the beauty of the city, and I began to complain openly of everything that isn't good.  The traffic, the housing market, the obsession with barbecue, my hatred of random live music and ironic mustaches.  Everything was wrong, wrong!  I began my research for a move to upstate NY.

As soon as the heat was cut through with the first cool breezes of autumn, barely recognizable but making all the difference, my mood changed.  The first coolness of the season is thrilling to me, and fills me with a sense of awe and potential.  Driving with the windows down, or leaving the door open for the cat to roll in a patch of cool sun make incredible differences in my quality of life.  Fall in Texas looks like any other time in Texas, but it feels different already.  Everything feels more beautiful, more charming.  Bluejays wing around while deer cavort in tiny preserves tucked unexpectedly around the city.  It's a bit like when Snow White woke up.

Enduring a new summer has given me perspective on my ideal landscape.  If I still believed in reincarnation, I'd think I was looking for something I lost: mountains and forests, and not the kind you find west of the Mississippi.  Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York feel like a return for me.  

Monday, September 7, 2015

Reunion Stories

Iowa is cold in May.  

50 of my extended family members, all mostly descended from my grandma's family of 13, visited tiny Percival for the second Monaghan family reunion.  The first was in 1959.

The farmhouse is still in our family, although it's decayed in the ten years since we saw it last.  It's one of those things you just can't think about, because you can't do anything about it.  It'll be ok, but it's not the showpiece it once was.  Some of the siding is rotting and one of the porch columns has been replaced by some kind of...jack.  

Circa 1915


It was very amusing for me to compare the branches of our family.  All of the Arizona people are dark, aggressive, funny, and a little scary.  My grandma moved to Phoenix in 1949 and two of her brothers soon followed.  Most of their children fit this bill, but none more than my grandma's four children.

In contrast, our midwestern family are all gentle, mild, religious, and peaceful individuals.  One of the cousins from Wisconsin said they were afraid of the Benz kids back in high school.  They were scary-looking, rude, and were still prone to fist-fighting in the living room.  My aunt threw knives at her brothers because she couldn't fight.  I always thought this was a funny lie my father told until he brought it up at a recent get together.  I looked to her for her denial - she only shrugged and said, "They deserved worse!"

My uncle got very drunk one night and missed the toilet in the bathroom the whole house shared.  My dad got up some time after this and became enraged when his bare foot met a puddle of cold urine.  He returned to the bedroom he shared with his brother, punched the sleeping boy in the face twice, and went back to bed.  His brother didn't even ask the next morning why his face was bloodied and his eye a little silver bag.  He just went with it.

Offensive jokes in the parlor
I love to freak my cousin out by recounting my morbid grandmother's tales of death in the house.  No house gets that old without a few grisly experiences.  The parlor we're sitting in held the body of my great-great grandfather Ed Monaghan, who entered the US illegally from Ireland, and worked on the railroads until he could bring his wife and child to Iowa.  They built a little house, and then built this house in 1895.  Their son married a girl from South Dakota and brought her to live in the home with his parents and sister, and over the next 20 years, she had 11 children.  They all lived to adulthood.

Ed's body lay in state in the parlor for a few days before he was buried in Nebraska City.  My dad made sure to tell my brother that the night he slept on the couch down there.

My great-aunt Julia died in the house during childbirth and she probably stayed a few days in the parlor, too.  Ed's wife Bridget died in there and doubtless lay in state as well.  These are practically ghost stories to us now, but death wasn't so intimidating back then.  It happened all the time.  When someone died, there wasn't a service to come haul the body off before you had to look at it like there is now.  You'd probably wash and dress the corpse yourself, then leave them in your front room for a few days in case anyone wanted to see it before it went in the ground.  No big deal.

The overture screen from Gone with the Wind?  No.  My great-grandma's porch.
My skepticism grows as I age and I can't even pretend to believe all the paranormal shit that I at least cautiously considered in the past.  Still, I think the house is a little disturbed.  I've slept there several times and each time has been less restful than the last.

It's the only place where I've ever woken up screaming in the middle of the night.  It was a setting of pure gothic horror: a lone Victorian house in the middle of an empty stretch of middle America.  A violent electrical storm with tree branches beating at the windows of the tiny upstairs bedroom I slept in.  A dream of a creature or spirit advancing upon me in the dark and a scream when it finally arrives at the bed.  

An old black walnut mirror sits on a shelf in my bedroom now.  It's from the farmhouse, some of the original set of furniture purchased by my great-great grandparents in 1895 for their fancy new house. The wood is chipped and splintering now and the glass is speckled and cloudy.  One of the few superstitions I allow myself is an aversion to keeping mirrors in the bedroom.  I don't like catching a reflection in the dark, and I guess that's one old Irish widow's tale that stuck with me - I don't want them in there.  But this one is, and it's ok.  I like to think of the faces that have looked into it and imagine the glass remembers them and could show them again.  That's not really reducing the creepiness of having a mirror in the bedroom, but ancestral ghosts don't seem so scary.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I missed Phoenix for the first time.  I think it was sleeplessness mixed with the frustration of too many minor mishaps and disruptions in my daily life.  I seem to really require a feeling of absolute peace and safety at home and when it's disrupted, I'm completely disturbed.

But I thought about the wide flatness and caliche and old citrus trees and oleanders and canal water sluicing silently through the city at night.  I didn't miss it, I just felt like it was a place where everything is completely understood and, although boring, pretty safe.  I might've wanted to be there for that moment.

Do not tell my mother.

It's probably that the summer heat is tiring now and that I'm frustrated too often and spending all of my money on terribly mundane shit, but life in Central Texas seems so charmless compared to how I felt before.  I don't see the greenery as much, am forgetting the dusty lifeless brown of the Sonoran desert, and didn't feel the swell of "oh thank god" the last time I drove home from the airport.  I travel every other month or so, and the first four or so times I left Austin, I felt annoyed and resentful: I wanted to stay here!  I didn't want to leave for a day!  And when I watched the shadow of the plane land at pathetic Bergstrom airport, I was so relieved. 

Someone told me that moving out of state is very traumatizing.  I don't think it was for me.  Getting in an absurd car accident was a thousand times more traumatic.  The only traumatic thing about my move was staying overnight in Van Horn, Texas.  For that I owe my good friend Andrea an all expenses paid trip to someplace exotic and, some day, I'll give it to her.  Is Galveston Island exotic?  It is to me!  They have turtles and everything.

My mother and poor grandmother have made comments about 15 times since I moved about my eventual move back - asking if my employer has Phoenix offices, and letting me know that there's no humidity in central Arizona, and that I can call them in January when it's 30 degrees and raining and blowing in Austin to get a real nice description of Phoenix's sunny 65 degree day.  I laugh every time, because my grandma is 80 and I can't argue with her.  But it's strange to me that my mom still thinks that when I leave here, it'll be to Arizona.  Maybe I will one day, but when I do, I sure as hell won't be in my 30s.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Essential Summer Tunes

Playlist of Summer 2015!  PARTY

I daydreamed of my mother traveling to LA in the 60s and socializing with the musicians in Laurel Canyon.  She was a little too young for that.

My dad was perfectly aged to be a late 60s bohemian, but instead he just dated them while maintaining his workaday blue collar lifestyle, buying homes and driving pickup trucks.  He's a strange combination of wildness and staid Americana.  When I was a little girl, I would flinch and silently swallow tears during his infrequent, but memorable rages, but now sympathize more with my dad's angry side, and sometimes I shock even he with my acidic comments about the world.  Sorry, dad, but I guess you shouldn't be that surprised?

But here's something I love:

Eric Burdon and his subdued and wry body language in this video which could otherwise be another silly 60s beach party.  He acts as though he's written the lyrics himself.  But we know he didn't - he just loves good music.

Because no matter how upbeat it is, nothing is sadder than Sam Cook's version.  Unlike most hit artists of the day, Sam actually wrote this song.  If you've ever read about his death, you're unable to hear his voice without wanting to clench your fingernails into your fist.  Police cover up in civil rights era Los Angeles.  What's changed?

But let's go back to olde towne.

You're welcome.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Disaster of Unknown Proportion

I have never been so relieved in my life by something so irritating.

My mother is constantly telling me that I freak out too hard before I have all of the information, oftentimes almost dying from silent, heart-rupturing stress before finding out that whatever is troubling me is either 1. fictional or 2. not that bad.  It's so far been impossible for me to apply this opinion to my life in any meaningful way.

Here is the chain of events.

I noticed some black specks on my bedsheets.  Tiny, inexplicable specks of indeterminate origin on my clean sheets in my safe and hallowed bedroom.  Seemed odd.  I have a cat, so cat-related shed on the foot of my bed is a pretty regular thing, but I've never seen this before.  I thought about it in the shower until the Acme safe of painful realization fell upon my heart:

ONE: A COWORKER TOLD ME THAT THE HOTEL WE STAYED IN LAST WEEK FOR A STAFF RETREAT HAD A BEDBUG OUTBREAK A FEW YEARS AGO.  She learned this on Trip Advisor.  Naturally, my only response was, "What? NOOO!" "Well you didn't have any bites, right?" She asked.  I guessed not and, for the sake of my own peace, resolved to forget the interaction.


Conclusion: Bedbugs.  BED BUGS.


I rushed to my bed and closely inspected the spots, memorizing them.  Then I rushed to the internet and learned that bedbugs do in fact leave little dark spots in their wake.  They're shitting your own blood back onto the sheets in which you sleep.  This is the fucking LEVEL we're dealing with.

I ran back to the bed, carefully peeled all of the layers off, and stuffed them into a laundry hamper.  I then inspected the entire bed and floor, searching for signs of bugs.  I pulled the bed away from the wall, the protective cover from the mattress, inspected the walls, the floor, the box spring, for any sign of insect activity, and found none.  This was no comfort, for I knew that the bugs are crafty and they can hide anywhere.    

Then I realized the embuggened sheets were with my dirty clothes and tore them from the hamper.  I had read that a bedbug can travel from 5 to 20 feet looking for a host.  I put the sheets in garbage bags and left them by the front door, for future washing or incineration.

Then came the real research.  I flinched and flailed, reading story after story of thousands of dollars and multiple years spent battling the bugs.  I learned that trained dogs can sniff out the bedbugs during an inspection.  I learned that 50% of bites are undetectable by humans.  I looked at pictures of the bugs at all life stages, the bites, and the stains they leave behind.  I noticed cautiously that their stains didn't look like my flecks.  I went back and looked at the sheets again.  Definitely not consistent with the photos from bedbug infestations.  Nevertheless, I emailed a local bedbug exterminator, requesting a quote for a dog inspection. (how cute! dogs with jobs)

Then I remembered mocking my cat earlier in the day when she fell over while frenetically licking her own back.  She seemed to be unusually hurried.  I also noticed a black speck in her fur while petting her.

I went to the cat, turned her over, and shook her over the bathtub.  She wailed like an indignant fire engine while I ruffled her fur.  Just as I suspected, more black specks rained out.  In an alternate, hopeful internet search, I had learned that fleas leave specks of their own.  Much like the bedbug, the flea shits your own blood back onto your body, if you happen to be a dog or cat or 14th century peasant.  The way you can determine if the black specks are "flea dirt" is to wet them.  If they turn red (because blood), it's fleas.

I tested this.  The specks turned red.  Somehow my indoor cat has gotten fleas.  Instant relief!  It's easy to deal swift and permanent death to a flea outbreak without packing your entire house, fumigating it, burning it, freezing it, or enduring the other end-times procedures necessary to eradicate bedbugs.

Whether they bit me is unknown.  My leg was indeed itching yesterday, but I did also spend an hour and a half last night sitting in grass under a bridge in 90 degree heat and 60 percent humidity waiting for some bats to fly out of a hole so I could take a picture of them.  If anything could create a rash, that's probably the environment.

So, after only a couple of hours, a modest freakout, and a call to my mother, I have determined comfortably enough to sleep at home tonight that I probably don't have bedbugs.

I am definitely improving.

Post text: And sleeping with the door shut tonight.  And maybe forever.  Sorry, cat.

hashtag parasitic insects, hashtag rather have freddy kreuger probably.  hashtag still not bedbugs.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Only Children: Obnoxiously Not Needy

Today, a person at work made a comment about how someone we mutually dislike is annoying because he is an only child, and only-children are always flailing about for reassurance to match that which they assumedly received while basking in their singleness during childhood.

Dude: only child here to confirm that is bullshit.

1. He is annoying because he's stupid, and
2. I think only-childism actually breeds a problematic lack of reverence for belonging, and for the approval one receives from others in their pack.  All of the only-children that I have known have followed a pattern of deliberate self-isolation, neither requiring nor (oftentimes) accepting praise.  They're fuckin' weirdos, man.  Missed out on some important social times in the formative years!

My sample size is pretty large.  Growing up, my close friends always seemed to be only-children.  I am thinking of three different longterm BFFs 1993-present.  Secondly, I have dated other only-children, sometimes at length.  I know what I'm talking about.  These people don't want a high five.  I also begin to wonder if only children link up together subconsciously.  At one time, in my early 20s, 6 out of 8 of my main everyday crew were only children.  Were 75% of YOUR friends only children?  I think not.

I think it is the more thoroughly socialized who require consistent back patting.  These are the same people who tear up whenever they are alone, because they don't know what to do in the absence of chatter and touching, like little tree monkeys taken away from their communities, for whom context only exists in the group.

I mean, no judgment.  It took me decades to turn my antisocial behaviors around into something that closely resembles normalcy, and being an only child definitely creates a deficit when it comes to understanding other people.

I am not big on jesusy forgiveness of people who have committed significant transgressions, and I think it's because I don't have a community-oriented brain.  I have no problem ejecting people from my life once I've come to the objective conclusion that there's no value in it for us, no matter how close we were once.  Hey, I'm not a monster.  If we were close friends, then it may take me a few years (or an unforgivable event) to do it, but I will eventually do it, and it won't be difficult.  And, if I'm honest, I've only waited to end those friendships because I didn't want to be perceived as cold, enhancing the deluded narrative that the idiot I'm getting rid of will doubtlessly create about the situation.

And what's with people randomly citing only children in their lists of demonstrably fucked up people?  RUDE.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Haunted by bad taste

I was pretty sure my apartment was haunted for a week.

As an introvert with strange feelings about emotional safety, I hate the idea of other people being in the place where I live.  Obviously, I don't mind friends and family, but I don't want strangers and their leavings in my place.  I don't want them looking at my things and polluting up my air with their stupid breath and their ugly and sad thoughts.  Living in the world is psychologically taxing to me, and I need a place that feels clear and safe to relax in after work.  It is a fragile ecosystem that can easily be disrupted.  I recall having a plumber in my apartment last year and looking forlornly down at the perfect dirty shoe print he had left on my vintage white crocheted bathroom rug.  Invader.

After the chaos of moving settled, I began to notice the little calling cards left by the prior owner of my apartment.  Yes, this late 60s dream palace is a condo, and rather palatial by the standards of midtown New York.  I began to piece together the clues that the prior inhabitant was a woman, and an old one.  In drawers, I noticed errant curler pins that haven't been in stores for decades, ones that looked exactly like the ones my great-grandmother would stick in her rollers in front of the tv on a Sunday night.  Once, I found a prescription pill previously lost forever under the bathroom vanity.  Worst of all was when I pulled the stopper out of the bathroom sink and found it was attached to hair.  THE HAIR OF ANOTHER PERSON.  I reeled in horror and disgust, considered complaining to my landlord, but ultimately stuffed it away with the other terrible experiences of my life.  I later poured an aggressive amount of Drano into the hole.

The hole in the sink, not the one in my sense of peace and placidity.

It was in this atmosphere of discomfort that I met my neighbors, also elderly, who expressed relief that the apartment had been rented to someone so reasonable looking as my self.  "It was a real bad situation in there," Rita said as she hooked a thumb towards my door.  I nodded in bland sympathy, Yeah, I hate bad situations too, and didn't ask questions because I didn't want to know.  "She was real sick," R continued.  "Real sick."  I looked into my darkened apartment.  "And she must've smoked three packs a day."  Fucking really?  I thought of my bathroom closet, which had been missed in the repainting that followed my landlord's recent purchase.  The dank and hideous cubbyhole smelled like a combination of mothballs and smoke, with remnants of spilled bath products staining the walls.  I had already repainted it myself in an emphatic turquoise to kill the scent and appearance.

That night, the furnace turned on by itself every two hours, from midnight to 6 am.  It was 65 degrees outside, and each time I heard the jet engine sound begin to crank into gear, I dragged my limp body from the bed and angrily held the "down" button until it said 40 degrees.

"It's her," I thought in my sleep-addled state, which is always 80% more delusional and superstitious than my waking self.  "It's the ghost of the bitch who lived here, angry that I'm inhabiting the space she died in." Oh, I had already assumed she died in here.  She was old and sick and now she's not here.  What other conclusions were there?

"Maybe she didn't die," my mom suggested hopefully.
"Oh right, she's probably just on a cruise," I sneered.

Of course she had drawn her last rattling breaths in the space now occupied by my bed.  Of course she had lain in here for days in the middle place between life and death, sweating and waxy, dreaming of her youth, alone and uncalled on and increasingly distressed, permanently staining the spiritual parcel with the confusion and ugliness of the end of an unremarkable life.

I mean, what else?

Turns out, I guess she just moved to Dallas.  That's what the landlord told me.  Maybe my mom paid him to say that, but I believe it, and the furnace doesn't act by itself anymore.  That was just a problem with the thermostat.  I've thrown out all of her old pins and hairs and pills, and I've disinfected the place to my liking, and I haven't had any dreams of half woman-half demons in curlers rocking in chairs in my bedroom or anything.  I think the place is clean.

I think I just heard a sound in my bedroom.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Austin Dispatch Part II

Moving to a new place is being like a baby.  You learn every day!  I moved into my own place 2 weeks ago and I no longer have to use google maps on my various paths home.  I haven't had to use it for several days, in fact.

So I looked at this blog, recalling that it exists, and realized that I have answers to my questions posed so few days ago.

Q: What's the difference between an oak and a live oak?  Are they different?  Oaks here are often smaller than I expect, and twisty like an olive tree.
A: So, I asked an actual field biologist this question. I work for a nature conservancy ("the" nature conservancy, if you want to get real) and had the opportunity, and regretted it as soon as I asked.  "Well, dumbass," she began, "there are many types of oak trees, as with every fucking plant ever.  When you think of oaks, you probably envision the Southern Oak, but the one that lives here is colloquially called the Live Oak."  :|

Q: Is this an acorn? Is this other thing an acorn? 
A: Yes.

Q: Do you call it a crik or a creek?  
A: Crik. Don't dump in it. Or in your gutter. It'll get in the crik!

Q: What is cedar fever?  When will I get it?
A: First of all, what they call a cedar is goddamn juniper. I was so confused when I got here because I had never seen a cedar before and thought they looked like the junipers in Arizona, but yes, the things that grow here are in fact junipers, and the people who live here are just in collective agreement to be wrong, kind of like all fans of the Boston Celtics.  Secondly, yes, I will get it, after I have been here for exactly 6 years, which is how long it takes for the allergy to develop, according to common social wisdom.  

Q: What's with the whitish-yellow granite?  Slabs of this locally harvested stone are EVERYWHERE.  Houses are built from it, and long rectangular hunks line freeways and parking lots all over the county.  Pieces of it are arranged artfully in front of city hall as makeshift benches that no one uses.
A:  Oops!  That was limestone!  I guess it's everywhere because it's what Texas is made of, in addition to oil and a curious and mostly unfounded sense of self confidence.  

Q: Where are all the references to native tribes?  Streets and areas here are named after the topological features, or early Texan politicans.  Cedar-this and lake-that, Lamar here and Houston there.  I have observed zero references to native culture.  There is a modicum of Spanish names, but nothing remotely proximal to the Mexican heritage or population.  Even crazily-racist Arizona has native names galore.  What the fuck, liberal Austin?
A: I had a fight about this with a local recently, but sorry bitches, the proof's in the pudding or whatever: YOU HAVE NO REFERENCES TO NATIVE PEOPLES ANYWHERE.  Every street is named after an early Texas president or Confederate or some kind of rabble rousin' white dude.  So far, my impression of the social history of Austin is: hell of white washed.  I can't speak for other Texas cities because I will never visit them for non-business purposes.

Q: Why is everyone so nice to me?  Do they want money, or sex?  I don't understand.  
A:  I don't know!

Q: What will happen when even more people move here?  The city, small until approximately 8.5 years ago (based on a verbal Pew poll, just kidding, based on anecdotes) is bursting with obnoxious new people who drive the rent and traffic snarls up up up!  How dare they?!
A: I do not know.  All day long I talk to people who remember and honor the "old" Austin, which is Austin from any time between the 1960s and 1999.  People stream into this place in a near-constant flow, most frequently from CA & NY, which really chaps old TX hide.  Honestly, I'll probably have to move in a few years.  Traffic is already regoddamnediculous, and the city just does not possess the infrastructure to continue to support the influx of new people.  The general answer will be sprawl, but the inner city will only continue to increase in ridiculous price and outrageous human snarl.  

I know Phoenix is cheap because it's meaningless and artless, and because it's 500 square miles which means you can find what you want anywhere and at any price, but apartment hunting in Austin did cause me to appreciate my prior situation in Phoenix: Downtownish, decent square footage, high ceilings, historic features, tons of natural light, and original tile.  In Austin, that would cost about $2500/mo. 

The other thing that sucks is that Austin evidently did not experience much dynamic growth in the 1950s and 60s, which means that midcentury architecture is pretty uncommon.  There are plenty of ranch styles from this era, but the surrounding commercial structures have either been demolished or were in short supply to start. You'd think the rareness of MCM would make it precious here, but locals seem not to know what it is.  That's one thing about Phoenix - miles of midcentury.

My first few walk-throughs of apartment rentals in Austin were...interesting.  I'd turn on my heel after a few beats, "Ok. Thanks for your time (and your fleas)."  I learned that <$950 = GHETTO RAT TRAP ROACH PARADE if the place was within 10 miles of downtown.  

Luckily, I eventually found a totally acceptable place within a reasonable distance from work for a price that only kind of guts my monthly net income!  Heyo!  Wood floors!  Ghost stories to follow.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Austin Dispatch Part I

I don't miss Phoenix, and only the Facebook feed of Arizona Highways magazine, with its occasional grandiose photos of rugged craggy sandy-colored Saguaroed desert, is capable of inspiring a pang in me.  But I've always loved the high desert and the forested west and the canyons and peaks and plateaus - who wouldn't?  I remember driving north on the I-17 as a twelve year-old with my dad, off to see some family in Cottonwood, staring out the truck windows at the sun setting over canyons spotted with pinions and junipers and thinking, I love you! I love you, desert.

One of the most annoying things about recent transplants to new cities is their tendency to draw constant comparisons between places.  I did it every minute for months.  Fog?  Oh we don't do that.  What are all these stickers for my car?  I don't like IPAs!  Don't you guys know Four Peaks, jesus I thought the whole country loved them.  Sometimes I don't feel like having a taco for breakfast.  Toll?!

I'm finally beginning to stop as the treeish, big-little city of Austin starts to feel like home.  I think I offended my dad when I called here "home" on the phone the other day, but I can only have one home at a time and Arizona ain't it.

I love a new place because I love learning new history and new plants.  I have a thousand questions, and I feel frustrated when locals don't have the answers.
  • What's the difference between an oak and a live oak?  Are they different?  Oaks here are often smaller than I expect, and twisty like an olive tree.
  • Is this an acorn? Is this other thing an acorn? 
  • Do you call it a crik or a creek?  
  • What is cedar fever?  When will I get it?
  • What's with the whitish-yellow granite?  Slabs of this locally harvested stone are EVERYWHERE.  Houses are built from it, and long rectangular hunks line freeways and parking lots all over the county.  Pieces of it are arranged artfully in front of city hall as makeshift benches that no one uses.
  • Conversely, the Capitol building is built seemingly exclusively of a decidedly pink granite, which I understand to be found in the hill country.  It's everywhere in there, dusty pinky gray.  The Capitol is an expert combination of gilded era polish and 19th century rusticity.  Inside, you will find quality oil paintings of every governor of Texas since the Confederacy.  I happily took a photo of poet/ladies man/Texan president Mirabeau Lamar, but Bush II was also there.
  • Where are all the references to native tribes?  Streets and areas here are named after the topological features, or early Texan politicans.  Cedar-this and lake-that, Lamar here and Houston there.  I have observed zero references to native culture.  There is a modicum of Spanish names, but nothing remotely proximal to the Mexican heritage or population.  Even crazily-racist Arizona has native names galore.  What the fuck, liberal Austin?
  • Why is everyone so nice to me?  Do they want money, or sex?  I don't understand.  
  • What will happen when even more people move here?  The city, small until approximately 8.5 years ago (based on a verbal Pew poll, just kidding, based on anecdotes) is bursting with obnoxious new people who drive the rent and traffic snarls up up up!  How dare they?!
I don't know if I'll stay here forever, probably not, but this is the only place I've ever been where I can eavesdrop on the conversations of construction workers and find they're talking about how to blanch kale, and where I can chat with a bus driver about the premier bat caverns of the world (hint: they're here!) and where the best Detroit pizza is (yes this is a thing), and where people on the street smile at me for no reason in a non-sexual way, and where twenty-somethings who elect to be homeless sit on Congress and bang on overturned buckets next to dogs lazily blinking in the sun.  Those guys aren't unusual in a city, but the ones who hang out around my office are clever even by my asshole standards, and when someone can call something to me in a street and I don't get offended and possibly even laugh openly, then magic has happened.  

The end.