Friday, June 17, 2016

Black 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 first. 

This desirable and expensive zipcode 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, 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 seven 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 black 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, exactly?

Sealed tightly forever.  Why?  Why not a museum to 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 in these parts very often.

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 native 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 even 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 little girl, 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, that's a thing, Texas 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

Lots to learn about old Texas presidents here in Austin, but there's a distinctive crickety sound when one researches historic people of color around here.  Not to sound too like a social justice warrior (I am; suck it) but it's true.

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.

Next on my list of Austin history rambles is the cabin I see on Robert E. Lee Rd (yuuuuuuuup) as it winds beside Zilker.  I have read about very early cabins from city pioneers being relocated to parks and I think that is one.  Looks to be half the size of my kitchen from the road, of wood and pebbley mortar construct.  The banal occupations of just staying alive have kept me from my history stalker status for too long.  Glad to be back at it, unexpectedly reinvigorated by this modest and lonely old church, standing quietly in its field.

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 like whoa.  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.

The lush greenness, with the magnolias and the occasional willow and the crawling crawling vines does suit the mental image I had of Louisiana as a kid, which was where I thought I'd end up!  Funny to think of it now with New Orleans in such a terrible state and my new awareness of humidity and my desire to personally strangle most religious conservatives with my own ungloved hands, but you never know.

Two more years in Austin, I think.  Barton Springs Baptist Church updates forthcoming.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dad Theories

I feel like a jerk making fun of him, sometimes, but I feel obligated to because I'm the most qualified.  I know that he doesn't share the crackiest of his crack political and conspiracy theories with most people - maybe any other people - and when he does share with me, it's only after about 25 minutes of talking.  He sounds indulgent when he says it, like he's been percolating all of these little ideas, but his common law wife got no time for that shit in her day.  One moment, we're talking about the Kennedys and Tallulah Bankhead (as you do with your dad), and then:

"Look, 9/11 was an inside job, we know that."

Instantly, my mind pulls out a small notepad.  In a moment, I switch from adversarial to bemused.  I am Hedda Hopper.  "And who are 'They,' Dad?" (scribble)  This will be good Skyping material the next time my work bestie and I compare dads.


Conspiracies According to VB, 2016 Edition:

1. 9/11 was an inside job.
         a. It was and yet was not the Saudis.
                i. The Bush dynasty had been in bed with the Saudis forever (this I also believe to be true) and so arranging that part was easy.

2. George Bush Sr., as a CIA agent, was in Dallas the day JFK was murdered, and helped to facilitate that murder, because that was also an inside job.  Evidence: when asked where he was when he found out JFK was murdered, Bush Sr. said he couldn't remember.  "EVERYBODY knows where they were the day JFK died." -Dad

3. Deborah Palfrey, the "DC Madam," was murdered.  Because politics.

4. If the RNC can't put someone else up and Trump gets the nomination, then Trump will be assassinated.  Because politics.

5. Hillary was already chosen by the New World Order leaders.  It's a done deal.  They are probably giving her this because they denied her in 2008.

6. Al Gore won the 2000 election.  (This I also believe to be true)

Opinions Held by VB, 2016 Edition:

1. The Dems should have put up an attractive man instead of Hillary.  Then we'd have less controversy.

2.  Bill Clinton looks like he has AIDS.  (After researching, I see this is a favorite Breitbart headline)

3. Bernie is too old.  (I say, He's one of few people older than you. You should like that.  BURN*)

4. Clark Gable was a man's man, in spite of his Hollywood lifestyle, because of what he did in the war.

5. The death of Carole Lombard is one of the saddest stories in the Hollywood annals, and I AGREE.


So naturally, I can't help but mock his ass, because seriously.  It's still a true fact, in spite of all of this, that my dad is the only person that I can talk about damn near all of my main interests with.  He cannot be shocked, he knows every name I throw, he dwells in the same eras, he has read or read about most of the things I have read.

The first time I read In Cold Blood, I gushed about it to him on the phone.  Among the greatest novels of the 20th century!  First true crime, and a high water mark with the soulful retelling of an unthinkable crime and heart-wrenching aftermath.  He shocked me because he knew, 20 years after his first time reading it, the names of the murderers and of the dead family.  He threw them out casually in the conversation, and knew all of their backstories, too.

In this anti-intellectual, vapid world, I'll take my crazy dad with his conspiracy and book collection, over most other people.

*Making fun of people older than myself staves off the ever-present feelings of impending doom re: my own age.  I recently said, during a feud with my haughty, wealthy landlord, "Well, I have something she doesn't: the ability to not pee when I laugh."  (catholic cross)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Goth Chronicles part 5 of 500

I always thought it was kind of funny that my grandmother still listened to the music of her youth while she hung out at home in her 70s.  It can't have been that good, I thought.  Not tired of it yet?

One, it was that good, as I later found.  I love Glenn Miller just as much as she did.  And two, you never do get tired of it.

I found an old Sisters of Mercy cd somewhere in my car, scratched and beaten and practically trash at this point.  Within moments I was playing Marian at a dangerous volume in afternoon traffic and wondering what Andrew Eldritch was doing.  If women fell in love with Sinatra for his voice, it's because they never met Andrew.

I stand behind that comment.

I guess the SOM are the greatest goth band of all time.  Other greats are, as Eldritch often incorrectly claimed about himself, not truly goth.  The Cure, Siouxsie, only peripherally goth.  Siouxsie's baroque theatricality was much too big for such a label, and Cure are their own genre.  Also, the sheer amount of squealing and puppety dancing coming out of Robert should probably cancel out the one time he wore a net shirt and the tens of thousands of dollars he's spent on Wet & Wild products over the years.

I love to get super deep about this shit because I know absolutely no one cares anymore.  Except for Anita, but we have to be careful because we'll fight if we tread onto a topic where we disagree, such as Are persimmons good? or What is the greatest goth band of all time?  She'd say Christian Death.  And, as with many ancient friends who, in their ancientness, take on a sibling-like status, I can't back down.  Like two dogs seized on the same toy, we will shake and pull for hours, and it's best to just avoid it.

My goth playlists are my most popular playlists on  I feel the reason for this is because, unlike the old danceclub djs from "BITD" (as Cher says), I know that people just want to hear the hits.  Don't throw in some experimental crap or a bad b-side just to show how advanced your taste is.  No one wants it!  They want an 80s drum machine, an angry Welsh man singing, deep bass, some synth, and that's it.

When I was trying to write about Bowie's death, I ended up writing about the Nile.  It got too tangential, so I deleted it, but it was kind of fun to remember.

I might have been 15 the first time I went to the Nile.  Seems so crazy young, but I had already put in lots of time on usenet's alt.gothic, and after reading so much about goth clubs all over the world (mostly in the sentimental memoirs of 80s goths), I had to go to my own.

I went on New Year's Eve and arrived to a big empty room, as most people had chosen parties instead.  It was a cavernous black space, occasionally cut through by revolving blue and white lights, and Bauhaus' She's in Parties playing ghostly and tall in the dark.  This, I thought.  It was everything.

The walls, floors and ceiling were painted flat black, and the space outside the dance floor was pitch black.  Flickering prayer candles occasionally disrupted the darkness along the walls.  It was a venue for bands on other nights of the week, mostly punk and metal, and sometimes denizens of those scenes intermixed, bemusedly, with the goths, mocking and looking for girls.

Odd to think of being a teenager in this environment, out all night with this extremely motley cast of characters, and odder still that I feel I was entirely undamaged by it.  There were addicts and runaways, creepy older men who I disgustedly avoided.  Basic guys who thought they'd blend in by putting on their only black Hanes t shirt.  You didn't venture into side rooms lest you saw something you didn't want to, like kids shooting heroin, or people having sex while their spurned lovers cried in the corners.  That this happened an area overrun by Mormons was funny.

I didn't recognize the danger that was probably around, and I was completely unfazed by the people.  Many things converge in a goth scene, and pieces of other subcultural groups accumulate, having nowhere else to go.  Sexual fluidity, trans kids, nudity on the dancefloor, bdsm, genital piercings, occultism on behalf of people who actually believed in shit like enochian magic, these things were everyday.  Being gay certainly wasn't the source of tension that it could be elsewhere in life and otherwise straight people occasionally dated or experimented amongst their sex without notice from anyone else.

It feels a little silly to even point this out as a thing because it just was, but all of this happened easily 20 years (and many more before me) before the rest of America began its slow tread to acceptance.  That was the best part about the scene.  Everyone just belonged, without comment, as long as they were there for the music or the aesthetic or, at least, were affiliated with someone who was.  It wasn't very complicated.  I saw a lot of lifestyles that aren't for me, but no more than I would see on the average trip to a mall.

It's also why I'm so disgusted by people who insist on being shocked by regular-ass deviance from social mores.  The dichotomy of being an adult, yet operating with the mind of a flappable, naive child is sort of repulsive to see in action.  I can't stand people who shrink from or are shocked by a past or a garden variety weirdness.

Friday, February 12, 2016

So on point.

Instead of hammers, though, my dad talks about knives.  "No one ever talks about how dangerous knives are, no one's trying to ban knives! Do you know how messy a knife wound is? My friend the cop said he's more afraid of being stabbed than being shot! People die faster from knife wounds because they bleed out too quickly!"  It's called derailing, and the first sign that you've won an argument is when someone starts to do it.

I'd like to send this to him, but I want my inheritance.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Attn: World