I spent the week of September the 19th like everyone else in Texas, waiting for the Hurricane Rita bitch-slap. After all the bad news in September I had planned one of my San Antonio day trips, but postponed it out of fear of being caught in a major rainstorm and being crammed into a bus full of evacuees on the return trip.
As I told some of you, Monday the 19th I got an e-mail from my mom and I called her to find out more. She was [worried] about Rita and planning to evacuate with her husband. She lives in Richmond, Texas, southwest of Houston, 100 miles from Galveston and 50 miles from the coast.
Her youngest stepson was unable to find a hotel or motel room in San Antonio or Austin, but did find one in Arlington, near Dallas. Her husband was measuring the windows in preparation for boarding them up. She and I fell into the dark gallows humor we often engage when we’re not at each other’s throats, and I assured her all would be well.
Tuesday the 20th I couldn’t reach her by phone and assumed she’d left already.
Wednesday the 21st I got another e-mail from her and called her. She was still in Richmond…packing valuables, and taking interior and exterior “before” photos of the house for insurance purposes. She was also [unsure] about where to evacuate to. She was afraid the hurricane or tornadoes and floods would follow her to Arlington, and so was considering staying with in-laws in Del Rio, out in West Texas. But Del Rio, she feared, could also be hit by the hurricane …
When I called Thursday they were just then getting around to boarding up the windows. Traffic on major highways and chicken-shit country roads was by this point so bad that my mom and her husband were stuck. They had to ride it out now….
Early the morning of Friday the 23rd I called again. She thought they might lose their roof, back fence, and several windows. They were unable to cover a lunette window way up in the top of their entry hall, and she feared if that broke they’d lose everything in the living room. They planned to hunker down in a bathroom with no windows, on a single bed mattress on the floor.
That Wednesday I ran around with my buddy, James, getting lunch and buying books. That night he saw footage on the local news of the empty shelves and panicky shoppers at the Wal-Mart near his house. I had considered a grocery run for the next day, but James called me late Wednesday night and suggested we make a run then, when the stockers come out and refill the shelves in grocery stores.
At 1am we went to a 24-hour Super Wal-Mart north of where I live. For that time of night and for suburbia, it was pretty crowded. There was a sense of panic in the air, minor, but still palpable. Stockers said that earlier in the evening people had been grabbing bottled water off the pallets before they could get them out on the shelves.
News reports said that locals were buying survival items as if Austin was going to take a direct hit. I admit I got a little caught up in the vibe and started buying as if I’d never be allowed into a grocery store again. I spent $177 and my cart was so heavy-laden it was actually groaning.
I had to go shopping again the next day. I got my dog Fred’s arthritis pills, had a late, gas-inducing lunch, then went to the grocery store, got my own meds, and tried unsuccessfully to find a flashlight.
The panic vibe was even evident at this neighborhood grocery store. Eschewing the $5 “romantically-unfulfilled-woman-reading-her-Sandra-Brown-novel-in-the-tub” aromatic candles, I stocked up on the 89 cent votives in the ethnic food aisle. I went by my apartment office to get a package and they seemed to be of the opinion that we’d get nothing but a little rain and that to prepare for anything worse was just silly.
There were two notes on my apartment door that sent me into a lather. One said maintenance men would be barging into my apartment in a day or two, spending 45 minutes installing some “money-saving” water heater meter. (I’d gladly pay them to just pass me by. This spring I came home one night to find two of those assholes inside my apartment, trying to replace my water heater, after having broken one of my patio screens and knocked over several columns of books. I flipped out, spitting obscenities until they finally left.)
The other note was from the complex’s business manager. He said he was preparing their annual budget and would have to walk through everyone’s apartment between Monday the 26th and Wednesday the 28th. The idea of this further intrusion gave me fits.
I learned that we in Austin could at least lose our electricity because of the hurricane. Ugh, no computer, no TV, no air conditioning. Kill me now! How is it modern technology can put a jackass with a cell phone every ten feet all over this God-forsaken planet, and yet still cannot keep the electricity running during storms?
The night before Rita hit I noticed the sky had the jaundiced color that always precedes hurricanes and tornadoes. Fred went off and spent most of the night sawing logs in my walk-in closet, which is pretty much his sanctum sanctorum, while I surfed the Internet and watched Anderson Cooper, et al. dealing with stinging rain and flying debris.
As the night progressed it seemed more and more likely my mom’s place had avoided serious weather. Then a reporter in Galveston started talking about a block with two historic houses and a store going up in flames, and I freaked out. (God, please let it not be any of the really cool old houses!) When they finally gave the address of the fire I downloaded a Galveston map to make sure we weren’t losing one of the major old houses of Galveston. I was particularly worried about the Bishop’s Palace, which, fortunately, turned out to be several blocks away from the site of the fire.
The Bishop’s Palace was a stone mansion from the Victorian era that had for a time been the official residence of the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Galveston. It actually survived the infamous 1900 Hurricane and Flood, but when, earlier in the week, some talking heads were predicting Rita would be worse than the 1900 storm, I began to fear for the Palace.
You see, I am an architecture fanatic, and for almost 30 years I have tried unsuccessfully to take a tour of the Bishop’s Palace, and it has become a symbol of all the very ordinary goals that fate has prevented me from achieving for one stupid reason or another. Once as a kid I went with a church group for a day at the beach in Galveston. We arrived earlier than we’d planned and stopped at the Palace, thinking of taking a tour. But after 15 or 20 minutes of walking around the exterior the other kids got impatient and insisted that we leave–just 10 minutes before the house was about to open for tours. I was enraged and refused to participate in the activities at the beach. I just stayed fully-dressed under an umbrella, pissed off for the rest of the day.
I took other trips to Galveston in the years following. During some of them I had other plans in mind, like going to the beach or attending Mardi Gras, but there were trips where touring the Palace was the top of my to-do list, and I still wasn’t able to go there. I even had a dream once where I had moved to Galveston, to an apartment building across the street from the Palace, where I would see the Palace from my windows every day and night. And when the time came in the dream for me to finally visit the Palace, I walked up the front steps, reached out for the knob of the front door, and woke up, screaming, “Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!”
Nine years ago my mother remarried and one of the first weekend trips she and her husband took was to Galveston. She called me later to tell me all about it: “Oh, we went on a tour of the Bishop’s Palace. You would’ve loved it. Have you ever been there?”
The morning Rita hit I finally went to bed around 8am, surprised Austin hadn’t even gotten any rain. When I woke up later in the day there was a message on my machine from my mother: “The sun is shining, the wind is blowing slightly, we sustained no damage, and you didn’t inherit anything.”
Well, moving right along, apparently the Austin City Limits music festival went off without a hitch. When I saw the line-up announced a few months ago I noticed the names of several bands I like. (My musical tastes tend to be more, um, Anglophilic than seem to be common amongst the notjackkerouac readership.) But there’s no way in hell I’d go to an event like that outdoors, at least not in Austin. I wouldn’t go see a resurrected Ludwig van Beethoven conduct his Ninth Symphony if it was gonna happen outdoors.
And anyway, I much prefer the technical precision and production qualities of studio albums to live performances and even live albums. At concerts I’m always listening for elements that aren’t there, wanting to add things–a piano here, a string section there. Of course some of that may also have to do with the fact I seldom get out anywhere and tend to listen to music only in the privacy of my living room.
Well, since the last time I wrote a major blog America’s hygienically-challenged First Couple of White Trash has a Crown Prince–yes, the shoe-phobic Britney “Brandine” Spears and her layabout husband, Kevin “Cletus” Federline, have had their first semi-legitimate child.
After a great deal of confusion it was announced the lad would be named “Sean Preston Spears Federline.”
Federline had reportedly wanted to name the kid “Vegas,” after his favorite city. (Dear God–Swift, Thackeray, and Waugh on their best days couldn’t have made up shit like that!) Other names under consideration were “Preston Michael Spears Federline” (“PMS”–Smart one, that, Brit!), or “London Preston Spears Federline.”
The “Michael” was almost certainly in honor of Michael Jackson, as Federline’s eldest son was named “Kaleb Michael Jackson Federline.” That name tells us two things about ol’ Cletus, actually: 1) He’s one of those idiots who thinks misspelling a child’s name makes him “unique,” rather than a poster kid for illiteracy, and 2) he believes, as many celebs do, that it’s 1983, that the last 22 years haven’t happened, and that Michael Jackson is still the biggest and most talented entertainer in the world, as opposed to a freakish, delusional pedophile who’s not had an original idea in almost a quarter century.
And “London”? Presumably that would’ve been in keeping with that extremely vulgar celebrity trend of naming a child after his place of conception, a custom pioneered by sarong-wearing soccer player David Beckham, and his ex-Spice Girl wife, Victoria. I keep waiting for a celebrity child to be christened “Range Rover” or “‘57 Chevy.”
Ah, but it could’ve been much, much worse. Had the little bastard been a girl Britney wanted to name her “Addison Shye.” “Shye”? God, that makes my teeth hurt. What the hell is wrong with people of breeding age these days? Is there no one left with any taste? People tend to give their kids names that may seem cute when the kid is a baby, but will be ridiculous when he’s 20, 50, or 90 and in a nursing home.
But this topic has been thoroughly dealt with at the site “Baby’s Named A Bad, Bad Thing.”
(FYI, your gentle host, Triple J, once told me he wanted to name his firstborn son “Dylan Kerouac Reed.” I responded I wanted to do like George Foreman, but instead of having ten kids all named “George,” I’d name ‘em all “Fred,” after my beloved Basset Hound.)
My two official invasions of privacy finally passed. I got a knock at the door the other day from some snapper-head from Austin Energy, who gave a little speech about installing this water heater thing, saying he needed access to my laundry room/pantry and the water heater off my balcony. I sat down and went back to writing. It took a grand total of SIX of those assholes to come a-knocking and nail a fucking box on my wall under my breaker box. Fortunately, they only took 15-20 minutes instead of the promised 45.
After I got that out of the way I had to worry about the apartment staff doing their official walk-through. They said it was to take place between the 26th and 28th. I basically cleared my schedule for the 26th and postponed researching my column until I could get these fuckers out of my way. I wasn’t gonna let them come in and prowl and knock more shit over while I was out.
I went to bed that day at 7am, and tossed around until 11, unable to sleep because I knew those fuckers would probably wake me. They finally showed–three maintenance men, led by the head guy, a smirking redneck named “Junior.” (Is there a law in Texas that all apartment maintenance crews must employ a guy named “Junior”?) They checked the balcony, under the sinks, etc., and were done in about three minutes. They were as unobtrusive as they could be while still in principle being obtrusive.
Tuesday–September 27th–I had to make up for lost time. I got up early and called Pease Elementary School. It’s been open since 1876, and seemed as good a subject as any for my local history column. I called and asked if I could come by and do some interior shots. I was told the Principal would have to okay that and I was given her voice mail. I waited two hours and when the Principal didn’t call back I called a cab to take me down there. I got the same Algerian driver who had taken me to the bus station in the wee hours a few weeks ago, when I went to San Antonio.
Once inside the school I went to the office, met the Principal (“Oh yes, Mr. B___, I was meaning to call you…”), took my fucking pictures in a few minutes and was gone. I did about an hour of research on my next three columns at the Austin History Center, then went over to the Old Land Office Building (another future subject) and took some shots there. I had my heart set on lunch at Mike’s Pub, a greasy burger joint near my old Citysearch offices, but it was closed for the day because the owner/cook was out sick. I settled for a lackluster po-boy at a pseudo-Cajun place on 6th.
I took another cab back to my neck of the woods, getting dumped off at Borders. I HAD to get the new “Family Guy” DVD, “Stewie Griffin: The Inside Story,” which was released that day. I got some other DVDs and some magazines and a book, then called a cab. I went to check out, but halfway through the process a second clerk took over from the first. Not too surprisingly, she rang up some of my purchases twice, which resulted in a huge total. I pointed out that that seemed a little much and she started going through the laborious process of crediting the double-charged items to me. I had to call the cab company a second time.
It was hot as hell outside. Now normally I would just walk from Borders to my apartment, but not in that heat. When the cab finally arrived, it was the height of 5pm traffic. My fare was only $5. I know most cabbies hate short trips since they are usually not worth the money, but I was so grateful for the ride I tipped my cabbie $10.
I was so sweaty and weak my hands were quivering. I took Fred out, had a shower, and went to bed. I woke in the wee hours of the morning, tossed off a short 1500 column (short by my standards–my columns are normally 4000 to 5000 words), then went back to bed.
Wednesday the 28th–I don’t remember what I did this day other than sleep and watch the hilarious “Family Guy” movie.
Thursday the 29th–I almost never watch or read the local news, wherever I live. All it usually consists of is City Council goings-on, road construction reports, and area sports scores. So I was completely surprised when I walked out of the house Thursday morning with Fred and found a cold front had blown in during the night. It was a beautiful day, all cloudy and overcast like I like it, and so cool I almost cried with joy.
For the last seven or eight months I’ve not been able to so much as walk to my mailbox without becoming drenched in sweat. I really should move to the British isles or somewhere where the weather is more suitable to my tastes.
I took my friend James to lunch and then we went to his house to watch the “Family Guy” movie.
I have mentioned James before in these blogs. I stayed with him and his wife Nyssa for a month-and-a-half after the fire at my old apartment last year. They are the only friends I have that live in Far North Austin, and so, the only ones I see with any regularity. She works for the State and he works at home, so we often go to lunch and he drives me around and watches me piss my [money] away on books, DVDs, and electronics.
By the time he dropped me back off at my house it was around 5:30pm and I was already ready to go back to bed. You see, last winter, one of my doctors put me on a mood stabilizer. It didn’t work worth a damn, and I took myself off it. Then a few months ago my other doctor put me back on it. Since I don’t have insurance and those pills are very expensive and since they also, as I said, don’t work, I took myself off them again a few weeks ago.
But where I fucked up was that I ran out while on the maximum dosage. I should’ve gradually worked my way back down to the minimum instead. And so for weeks I have been sleepy to a ridiculous degree, unable to stay awake for more than a few hours at a time.
Friday–September 30th–I woke up this day with a little bit of energy for a change and decided to embark on a program of spring cleaning, either six months late or six months early, depending on how you view life.
The chill that was in the air yesterday was, sad to say, almost gone, and I got so busy working on the living room that I soon broke into a sweat, which is a bad thing. I hate to sweat, and I always get mad when I do, but there you are.
I took James to lunch at a Chinese place in South Austin, then we looked at magazines at Book People. (Book People is the largest independent bookstore in Texas, but I have yet to find a bookstore in this town that has a magazine section that is large enough to suit me. I normally hit about five major bookstores/news stands each month, and I still can’t find everything I’m looking for.)
I had a Barnes & Noble coupon that was about to expire and I didn’t want to waste it on a little $20 book or CD–I needed a big ticket item. The Barnes & Noble by my house has a small music and movie section, and I was having trouble finding a boxed set that suited me. Most of the contenders (“Miami Vice,” “Star Trek,” “Seinfeld”) I knew would be handsomely discounted at other stores at Christmas. I saw a cart of boxed sets off to the side and asked a clerk about them. He said they were all poor sellers that were getting sent back to the warehouse. But on them I saw a Criterion Collection DVD boxed set (my gold standard) of four Akira Kurosawa samurai films– “Seven Samurai,” “The Hidden Fortress,” “Yojimbo,” and “Sanjuro”– for $99. After my discount I got it for only $68. Good deal, eh?
Saturday–October 1st–My mom e-mailed and said that what with supplies, plyboard for her windows, and the replacement of a pane of glass that got broken while the windows were being boarded-up, she and her husband spent about a thousand bucks on Hurricane Rita, even though it didn’t hit their house.
9:45pm–Just up from a nap. Am trying to get my printer working, but it seems the damn drum is out now. Well, I do work this printer to death. I just wish it’d hold together longer. I was upset when I learned a printer has a finite number of potential jobs.
Fred woke me, needing to go outside. Before I obliged him I tried to stand on my head, to force the fluid out of my lungs so I could breathe better, but I was unable to get into the position. Then I tried hanging my head and part of my torso over the edge of the bed, but that just brought a rush of blood to my head and made me woozy.
I gave up smoking in 2002 after 20 years of cigars, cigarettes, and pipes. Of course, in the last few years of that period, yuppie assholes and pretentious frat boys had made me look like I was following a fashion by cigar smoking instead of pioneering one. (Believe me, taking up cigars as a habit while I was in college was expensive, especially when I’d go through a box of 50 in two weeks.)
But two weeks of flu followed by an X-ray scare, followed by two weeks of pneumonia, and an other week of coming down off the medication was all it took for me to quit. It was really pretty easy. The hard part was learning what to do with the nervous, fidgety energy and how to disassociate certain occasions from the rituals of smoking.
The downside of all this is my illness left a residue of fluid in my lungs for three or four months which my lungs were too weak to dislodge. Every night when I lay down in bed I’d have a coughing fit, until one night I coughed so violently I coughed up a mouthful of the phlegm that had been the culprit.
Then I got another case of pneumonia last winter, a week after starting a dead-end, part-time library job I didn’t want. [To make a long story short] …I didn’t get a chance to recover from my pneumonia in peace and quiet and went back to that stupid job, which I was to quit in a few months anyway. But ever since December 2004 I have had more fluid stuck in my lungs, and anytime I sit quietly with the TV off, from deep within my chest I can hear a sound like mewing kittens, squeaking leather, or a whistling tea kettle. It’s maddening.
Today was the day most churches in town did their annual Blessing of the Animals, in honor of the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi on the 4th, but most of them had their services at 9am or 9:30, which was too early for me to get someone to drive me and Fred around. And I’ve had bad experiences trying to get cabbies to take dogs aboard.
I continued with my house cleaning, working on part of the living room and bedroom. The latter showed improvement almost immediately, but it’s hard to tell right now that I’ve accomplished anything in the living room. I’ve filled up four large garbage bags and still have a long way to go.
Around 2pm I decided to break for lunch. I checked my mail and picked up a package at the office–a biography of Eric Gill I’d won off Ebay that took three tries and several months before it made it here from England.
Then I headed down the street to a section that has six restaurants in a row, three of which share one parking lot. I was going to the barbeque place. I don’t much like it–it’s noisy, the counter guys yell motivational team cheers as if they’re football players, they play the shitty kind of country music (Toby Keith, Brooks and Dunn, as opposed, say, to Rodney Crowell and Dwight Yoakam; if you don’t know why one is preferable to the other, Triple J will gladly give you a seminar), and the clientele is mostly yuppie salesmen. But it is the closest barbeque restaurant to my home.
As I approached I wondered why so many people seemed to be walking around on the side of the road. I’m about the only person that walks anywhere up in the far reaches of suburban northwest Austin. It wasn’t until I reached the back turn-in to the parking lot that I saw what was going on—there was a classic car show being held there.
This was not the kind of scene of which I wanted to be a part. I could think of few things less suited to my tastes than this unless you could perhaps scare together a convention of screaming babies selling cell phones and wearing patchouli oil.
The dining room was full up, so that meant I had to sit under the awning outside amongst the flies and hot breezes, and as Dame Fortune had it, the one free table was right next to the barbeque pit itself, in case I wasn’t already warm enough. But I did have an excellent view of the sordid spectacle going on in the lot.
It was nothing less than the apotheosis of the Hank Hill/Dale Earnhardt/Kevin Federline redneck culture, the same culture into which I was born, of which I have always been deeply ashamed, and from which I have tried unsuccessfully to escape for my entire life. It’s a society where the women grow larger than the men, though the men have the bigger breasts. It’s where a formal occasion means you wear long pants with your flip-flops instead of shorts. It’s where “Auto Trader” and “Bassmaster,” rather than “Dwell” and “Utne Reader,” are the periodicals of choice. How this culture produced William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, and Truman Capote is beyond me.
Understand, I am a proud and loyal Southerner–I just hate the white trash side of it.
I ate precisely, using a separate spoon for each of the side dishes and the dessert, then packed away my leftovers and decided to explore. I knew that if I forced myself into an alien world I’d probably find something to write about.
I should mention here that I have never in my life owned a car, I don’t have a driver’s license, and I am a lousy driver. Just about every time I’ve gotten behind the wheel a minor accident has resulted.
Of course I played with toy cars as a child, but I was always appalled on the playground when other boys would pretend to operate invisible cars or motorcycles. They would make skidding, screeching, and revving “VRRN, VRRN, VRRN” noises. I always found that silly and embarrassing and beneath me. I could never bring myself to making noises while playing with cars or other toy vehicles.
I also promised myself I would never learn the mechanics of the automobile. I was worried, because it seemed that most people who drove seemed to have some sort of knowledge about how their cars operated, and it seemed axiomatic that if you possessed this knowledge you’d sooner or later find yourself doing shade tree mechanic work, getting your hands dirty and your clothes oily, and that was definitely not for me. (I should note in passing that some of my grandparents were blue collar workers, so I don’t know from whence my “nasty-nice” elitism sprung, but sprung it did and early on too, and it stuck.)
As I got older I became afraid of the act of driving. When I was a pre-adolescent I was pressed into service by my father, helping him to clear some brush on our property. These exercises instilled in me a solid hatred of the value of hard physical labor.
On one of these occasions my father’s Jeep was for some reason parked on top of some felled branches and he wanted me to move the Jeep to get them. One of my step-brothers…came over and tried to show me how to drive a stick.
As it was, I stepped on the reverse instead of the gas, and went hurtling backwards into a yaupon thicket at high speed, knocking away a pole that held up part of the roof of one of our tool sheds. As soon as [my step-brother] …got over to me and turned the Jeep off, I ran into the woods to hide, and vowed I’d not take any more informal driving lessons with my family. I would wait until Driver’s Ed.
I was, therefore, the only person in my Driver’s Ed class, years later, who didn’t already have extensive experience behind the wheel. All the other kids had practiced and some already had hardship permits. I just wasn’t that interested.
And Driver’s Ed was such a snore-fest. I’d have to come to school really early in the morning when I was barely awake, and ride around for an hour with three other students and the instructor. I’d get fifteen minutes behind the wheel, usually driving into the rising sun, and then I was expected to “observe” the positive and negative aspects of the other kids’s techniques for the other 45 minutes. The observation aspect bored the shit out of me. I never could see anything, I got nothing out of it, and it was a total waste of time. And for the last quarter-century my mom has [insisted]… that I’d be a driver today had I only paid attention during Driver’s observation.
I seem to recall that Driver’s Ed took an entire semester, and at some point a trailer was brought onto school grounds, a trailer that had a projector at one end, a screen at the other, and two rows of automobile mock-ups in between. We students were shown films of various driving conditions and were supposed to operate our mock-up cars accordingly. Each mock-up was wired so the instructor could assess and rate what we were doing, and as I recall our rating appeared on a panel on our dashboard or something. This trailer, by the way, was called the “simulator,” but naturally, we called it the “stimulator.”
I remember two films especially. In one we were faced with three potential hazards at one time: a car had crossed the solid line and was veering into my lane, a child had run into the street after her ball, and a dog had also run into the street. The basso profundo voice of the film’s narrator (as the Voice of My Conscience or the Voice of God-as-Safety-Monitor) announced, “Potential hazard! What will you do?” Well, I knew what response they wanted. I also knew how I really would respond. I certainly wasn’t gonna have a head-on with another car and kill myself. And I sure as hell wouldn’t kill a dog. But kids are a dime-a-dozen ….
In the “Winter Driving” film I was taken through a lovely New England village at Christmas-time. Everything was all snowy and Norman Rockwell. A woman crossed in the middle of the street, carrying an armload of Christmas presents. As she ran, she dropped a few packages. She turned and ran back to get them.
“Potential hazard. That woman is standing in the middle of traffic.”
I floored it.
I took Driver’s Ed three times. Finally, the instructor was so tired he just gave my parents the certificate and said, “I can’t do any more for him. When you think he’s ready, give him this for his insurance.”
Many years later I ran into my Driver’s Ed teacher at my father’s funeral, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him I still didn’t drive.
Eventually, in my freshman year of college I went to take the test at the Department of Public Safety. I drove there in my mother’s SUV (or whatever they called those vehicles then), and she sat beside me. At that time my mother gave a lot of private music lessons after school (both of my parents were public school band directors), and since my mother was often out after dark, my gun nut dad bought her a handgun and bolted a holster for it on the inside panel of the driver’s side door well.
When we pulled up at the DPS, I pointed to the pistol and said, “What are we gonna do about this? I can’t very well drive around with a State Trooper next to me with this hand cannon on display!” She took the gun and wrapped it in a quilt in the back seat, warning me not to brake suddenly during the test. The entire time the trooper was in the car I had to cover the holster with my left leg.
Amazingly, I passed the test my first try, but I never had cause to use my license except to cash checks or buy beer. When it finally expired I didn’t notice it for several months, so little did I use it.
Once, when I was making several thousand dollars a week writing term papers for rich frat boys and sorority girls and I had just stopped bothering to count how much money was coming in, a friend said, “Dude, you could buy a car with that, or at least make a down-payment on one!” I said, “Why the fuck would I want to do that? Think of all the books and CDs I can buy instead.”
On several occasions my grandfather would get into a beer joint deal and buy some rusty piece-of-shit clunker for a few hundred bucks and offer it to me. And I would always politely thank him but decline, because they were all in such poor condition it would’ve taken a fortune just to get them up to State inspection standards, much less to where they were drive-able.
The last such car he bought off some old boy who fifteen years later went crazy paranoid, decided the Mexican Mafia was after him, and got into a stand-off with the cops at his home, killing one cop before they finally wasted him.
My grandfather owned a fairly new truck at the time of his death. As soon as I inherited it, I told my mom to put it on the market. The money from that sale financed my move back to Austin, after four years of exile in backwards-ass Bryan/College Station.
But I digress.
Back to the car show …
After busing my tray I went out to the parking lot, glanced at some futuristic bubble car from Italy, then made my way to a display of fire engines. One was from the turn-of-the-century and seemed designed to be driven by midgets. It had been well-restored, except whoever had done the job had made the same mistake that’s often done in architectural restoration these days—he used an inferior grade of modern, porous wood, instead of the top-flight sort of wood they’d have used back in the old days. The Austin FD had one of their current engines there too, and I looked that over.
Then I saw a muscle car with a Rebel flag painted on the roof and a sign, “For $15 have your picture taken with the General Lee and Daisy Duke.” I had to chuckle. How many “General Lees” did they have at car shows all over the country today? For that matter, how many ZZ Top “Eliminator” cars were out there?
And as for “Daisy Duke”? Well, there was a little bit of dishonest advertising there too. Catherine Bach was not there. Jessica Simpson sure as fuck wasn’t there. Who was there was a squinty-eyed brunette in a pair of “Daisy Dukes,” and she looked like she was just there to supplement her night job at one of the local titty bars. Anyway, this exhibit was very popular with the law enforcement officers present.
Things kinda went downhill from there. The only cars I even looked at were those made before 1960, and some of those resembled the ones my grandparents had driven me around in when I was a kid.
All the cars were on display with their hoods open, and people were examining the stuff under the hood, looking at scrapbooks dealing with the restoration and specifications. The owners in some cases turned on their cars to show how the engines sounded. They all just sounded like plain old cars to me. Some of the people in the crowd even took pictures of the engines and gears and stuff under the hoods, which completely baffled me. I felt totally out of touch and at a loss to understand what the appeal was of all of this.
I think I made a series of serious faux pas–I just went up and looked inside at the upholstery (sadly–always brand new and cheap and unattractive). I got the distinct impression that in doing that I was putting myself in danger of having my male ID card revoked. I’d not been in such an awkward situation vis-a-vis my masculinity since I was living in the dorm in college and somebody asked, “Do you have the such-and-such issue of ‘Playboy’ in your room?, ” and I responded, “Oh, is that the one with the first part of Norman Mailer’s ‘Ancient Evenings’?”