Saturday, April 14, 2007


J. and I were walking somewhere the other night. Oh, yeah, to see a movie at the Alamo, but it was a special Austin Film Society screening, cash only, and we didn't have cash or enough time before the movie to get cash, except at the ATM right outside the theater, which charged $4, so we went and had fish tacos and beers instead.

The movie was Fish Kill Flea, a documentary somehow related to the upstate New York town of Fishkill, which is where the Fresh Air Fund camps for poor kids from New York City are located. I worked as a counselor there the summer before I moved to New York, when I was 20.

Anyway, it's the walk I wanted to write about, not the film. Walks in our neighborhood often spur discussion of gentrification; there are so many houses being built or restored, moved or torn down in the blocks around us. It's an exciting time to live here, while this neighborhood changes. Of course, gentrification is good and bad, usually depending on where you sit class-wise, but there's a lot of effort in city government to plan sensibly, to manage the growth of Austin so it's sustainable. We'll see. J. and I could easily be displaced. The house we live in is pretty run down, but the lot under it is probably worth a truckload of money. I don't know the economics of it, but at some point it will probably be more lucrative for our landlord to sell the house than to keep renting it.

As we walked down a block on which every house has been razed and new, much bigger houses are being built, I was telling J. that Z.'s parents have been trying to sell him on the idea of buying a house in Austin. I guess that's something a lot of parents do: try to get their kids to buy a house, so they have something secure for the future.

I like the idea of owning the home I live in, having something stable. It's an appealing thought after a lifetime of renting and being at the mercy of landlords, some benevolent, some not so. But it's hard for me to buy the security argument when I look at what's happening in our neighborhood. People who have owned their homes for decades and have paid off their mortgages suddenly can't afford to live in them anymore because the property taxes have gone up. What kind of security is that?

J. has talked on and off about his desire to buy a home. He has thought about buying a house; lately he's been thinking more along the lines of a condo. There are several big condo developments going up around us. Some of them are actually not bad: mixed-use high-density developments. J. asked me if, were he to buy something that was big enough for us to share, I would be willing to pay half his mortgage payment as rent.

I came to Austin to live with J. I love Austin, I love living here, but I don't think I'd be here if he weren't here. I want to live with him. He's my family. So, yes, I would share a home with him if he wanted to buy a home.

I worry sometimes that this attitude of mine puts pressure on J. I asked him if he saw himself, in the future, possibly meeting someone, becoming involved in a relationship, wanting to set up housekeeping with this person, and asking me to leave. The conversation took many turns as we walked, and I don't think J. ever gave a direct answer to my question. I didn't expect one. Because really, who ever knows that stuff?

There's no category where J.'s and my relationship fits. It falls somewhere in the space where long-time friends, married couples, college roommates, and spinster aunts overlap. I can't imagine a more ideal domestic situation. I have the benefits of companionship, emotional support, without the expectations and hurt feelings of a romantic relationship. I can ask for attention if I need it, but my feelings are not hurt by a shut door.

It's also a bit like an artists colony here, because we inspire and motivate each other and leave each other alone to work.