Saturday, August 9, 2008

Moving Out.

J and I are moving some time soon to a house built from shipping containers and building materials salvaged from movie sets, which our friend JP (of M&JP) is building on their land. JP says it'll be done before Christmas.

I was talking with J a few days ago about how -- though I'm excited and happy about our future home -- the move comes with some sadness. It feels like a farewell to a kind of life that I dreamed of when I was a kid and lived for many years, in New York and then briefly in San Francisco, and to some extent in Nashville. A big city life where you live and work and play, shop and eat, all nearby or in places that are easily accessible by public transportation.

I've continued or tried to continue to live like that here in Austin, but it's a struggle because public transportation is so spotty. Sometimes, without a car, I feel isolated, stranded here. I can walk to the post office. I can walk to the bar, movie theaters, coffee shops, restaurants, and various other businesses. But I can't walk to a grocery store. And if I need something outside my neighborhood, I have to do serious planning. I can't just hop on the subway. Usually I can borrow J's truck. If I can't, a bus trip is often an hour and a half to get to a place that might take 15 minutes to drive to. Austin is a driving city, and I hate driving.

So moving out to M&JP's is like giving up, admitting that it may be impossible to have that life now. Life in the urban core is more and more just for the rich. The kinds of neighborhoods I lived in (the East Village and Lower East Side of New York, Ft. Greene in Brooklyn, Waverly-Belmont in Nashville) flip too fast now. There used to be a window of several years between when the artists moved into ghettos and the developers and yuppies came and wiped everything out. Now, I look at the neighborhoods east of our present home, where there is still serious poverty, drug dealing, prostitution on the street corners, not infrequent shootings, etc., and across the street they're building "luxury lofts."

Our new home will be about 4 miles from downtown and the U.T. campus. A reasonable bike ride and a very quick drive. M&JP are family to me, and though I'll be farther away from downtown, I'll feel less isolated there with them. The house is going to be beautiful. We'll have windmills and solar panels generating most of our power, a composting toilet, rain water collection will provide most of our water, a bigger vegetable garden. We'll be more closely in M&JP's orbit, a big and varied group of artists, friends, family. M&JP are like magnets for good, generous, interesting, hard-working, smart, creative people.

This move is a relief. No more yuppies nipping at my heels. It's the end of a long trail of spoiled neighborhoods that were once full of life and art and danger and possibility and are now full of strollers and retail chains and rents that are way too high for the marginal people.

(The new light rail system they're building now will stop near our new home and it goes downtown and to the U.T. campus. And we're right on two major bus routes, one of which goes to U.T., so my commute to school if I don't feel like riding my bike will be quick and easy.)

Friday, August 8, 2008


It's 7:30 p.m. and it's 101 degrees here in Austin. But the sun will go down in a couple hours and the temperature will drop to about 95, and then it feels so good to open up the house and turn on the fans. That's the best thing about this extreme heat -- 95 feels cool.


I don't know about the comic book thing. It's not generational, the fact that I don't get it. If there is a comic book generation, I'm in it. I think I picked up an Archies comic book a couple times when I was in 5th grade, but that was as deep as I got. Superheroes just seemed kind of dumb and childish to me, even when I was 12. I hope I'm less of a snob now -- I don't dismiss the whole genre, but I still don't get it. I just don't get it.

J and I went to see the Batman movie at the iMax theater on Wednesday. It was fun. It was often beautiful to watch. Gary Oldman is always a treat. And who's more handsome than Christian Bale? (Now I've got a hankering for Velvet Goldmine -- the last time I had the DVD, I watched it about 10 times in 3 days.) Lots of shooting, everybody shooting at each other. Heath Ledger is funny and scary, though at times his performance reminded me an awful lot of Johnny Depp in those pirate movies.

But at the end of the two hours and whatever, I had very little idea what had happened, let alone what it was about.

I've read some great graphic novels, one called Blankets is probably one of my all-time favorite books. And Stuck Rubber Baby is also great. Those are comics, right? Blankets is a beautiful book; the combination of great drawing and great storytelling -- I know I came late to this realization -- is powerful. I'm a huge fan of great drawing, and I can see that there's some great drawing in the superhero comics, so I wonder why that doesn't draw me in. When I try to read the actual comic books, I just can't work up much concern for the characters. It looks silly and contrived to me, the outfits and the things they get really worked up about, like cryptonite or whatever it is. All those cackling villians. I had a hard time not giggling when Batman was on screen in his costume talking to people in regular clothes. (How are these people keeping a straight face standing next to this guy in such a ridiculous outfit?)

So can someone give me some help with the comics genre? (Michael Chabon is one of my favorite writers, but I have avoided reading his most praised book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, because it's about comics.) Is it possibly related to gender? There were a lot more men than women at the Batman screening. Usually when it comes to those big cultural things that divide men from women (love stories or action thrillers, cooking or sports, etc.) I fall on the female side. There are traditionally-male genres that I've come to appreciate and enjoy because I've connected with particular artists -- like Patricia Highsmith and Jim Thompson for crime stories, Samuel R. Delany for science fiction. Pan's Labyrinth changed my mind a bit about fantasy, though I'm still in the dark with Lord of the Rings. It's a ring, right? The big fuss is about a ring?

I've really enjoyed some porn comics, especially Hard to Swallow, but sex is compelling in any genre.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

High School.

I promised to share my Indiana epiphanies, but I should know that making promises doesn't work for blogging. Every day is something new, and I can't go back and catch up. The only writing about the past that I seem to be able to do, and I know I do it a lot, is writing about the distant past. But if there are gaps in my chronicle as the present streams relentlessly by, I just have to let them go and start where I am.

And I say all that just to let myself off the hook for not writing in depth about my encounter after 25 years with T, my best friend from high school, while I was in Indiana last month. Short version: T was the friend I did all the bad things with first (drinking, drugs, sex, shoplifting). T was that friend.

I don't trust my memories from that time. I used to assume that high school was a blur for everyone after so many years, but I've talked to people my age who remember clearly. Generally I have poor recollection of long past events. I lose the details, I lose the chronology. I wonder sometimes if it's a result of being so mentally and emotionally fragmented back then. I was one person in my head and heart, another in the world. Broadly speaking, that's the closet. My art teacher had a record-player in her classroom, the old kind that looks like a little suitcase, and for some reason there was only ever one record, the Moody Blues (I can't remember the name of the album, but it was the one with "Never Comes the Day"), and we would play it over and over in her class and I would fight back tears, "If only you knew what's inside of me now / You wouldn't want to know me, somehow."

When was it that we bought a few dozen eggs and ran around campus throwing them at college kids dressed up on their way to a dance? Whose idea was that? And how did we not get caught? If I was only ever half present in any moment, how can I be expected to remember the details?

I can't put things together. There's no through-line. We drank a lot when we were pretty young, even before high school I think, and started smoking pot when we were around 14. We lived in a college town, and it was easy to walk into frat parties and drink whatever was at hand. We'd both been smoking cigarettes since we were about 11 or 12. But midway through high school, I went through an anti-drugs and smoking phase (can you imagine?) and I didn't start smoking or drinking again until near graduation. I did lots of high school theater and those friends were clean-cut and separate from my pothead friends.

T remembers everything, though. He remembers all the mean nicknames we had for people. He remembers the time his father was beating up his older brother because he'd found his rolling papers and T ran down the road to my house and stayed for 2 days. (I remember how worried my mom was.) He remembers that it was him who first taught me how to give head.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More Old Stuff.

J and I did this commercial for MTV2 (which was called M2 at first) when they launched the station. The guys playing with us are Mike Brenner and Alan Hewitt who used to have a great band in Philly called The Low Road, and Rob Meador.

Something Old.