All posts by tim

Hello Cold War

It seems like we only recently learned how to miss you. This article makes it look as though we’ll be back to the same system that was called Communism under the Soviet Union quite soon. I imagine the Cold War will reemerge soon. We have our new Stalin. He looked good for a few years. A reformer. A man who could make his completely broken country work. But we’re back at the same point. The major opposition candidate in jail. All industry controlled by the “democratically” elected state party. People forced to vote or face loss of job or disappearance.

It might be my lack of sleep, but I’m feeling a bit emotional about this. I remember 1990. Everyone was talking about Perestroika. We went to see a Russian museum tour in downtown Dallas. It seemed so distant and yet so possible that something was happening. We’d seen the Berlin wall fall. Things could change.

We moved to the Soviet Union in August of 1990. We spent the most miserable 9 months of our lives there just trying to survive. The system was crumbling, and while they were still trying to present a facade of a functioning economy they couldn’t provide enough even for foreigners (for years they had a massive propaganda machine to make it look as though all was well). We horded food. I found sugar once at a store while out picking up a loaf of bread and carried home 100 pounds. My parents bought something like 8 palettes of eggs in one grocery trip. My sister Caroline went out several times a week to stood in line at 4am to fill a 5 gallon bucket with unpasteurized milk from a tanker truck in our neighborhood. We spent all day pasteurizing milk. Washing clothes and cooking food. We fought like cats cooped up in our apartments. Only the adults were willing to make any effort to leave the confines of our apartment building.

After that year we took a 3 month vacation in England. In a small pastoral suburb of London. It was heaven. And then we watched in August 1991 as the putsch threatened to oust Yeltsin. The countries first marginally democratically elected leader. It was a tense few days. We had our entire lives back in the Soviet Union. We had our friends back there. And we had a Russian friend staying with us. If things had gone differently he would have probably defected and I would more than likely have a brother.

And then it was over. And we went back to the Soviet Union for another year and things were better. And people were mostly more optimistic. I say mostly because there are probably still people there complaining and praying that the czars will come back. And there was food. It was expensive. Too expensive for most of the people who lived there (more legitimate complaints). But there was food again. And stores weren’t completely filled with empty shelves. And in February of 1992 I sang the star-spangled banner as the American Flag was raised for the first time over the new independent country of Kazakhstan. A new country. Trust me. It’s pretty amazing to be around when a new country is formed.

And when we left in May of 1992. On our way out of the country we stayed in the American Embassy in Moscow. And we looked over the walls where Yeltsin made his stand on top of tanks. And where they hoisted the Russian Flag. And where the back of communist party was finally broken.

And now we’ve circled back. 15 short years. We’ve been witness to a pretty amazing piece of history. 15 years of calm more or less. Of not thinking about mutually ensured destruction. It’s depressing to think that my children will be back to living with that fear.

And my new play “The Automat” takes place in the cafeteria of a missile silo.It’s amazing how the subconscious works.

…haven’t slept a wink

I get more creative at night. I say this because I had to leave to drive my parents to the airport at 4:20 this morning. So I didn’t go to sleep. I’m much worse off with a little sleep than I am with no sleep. My grandma is dying. That’s why I had to take them to the airport. I’ll miss my grandma, but most of all I’ll miss my grandma and grandpa’s house. Located in Flint, MI it was the Thomas Family hub. I remember summer spent days down in the bowels of its basement, or playing in the sprinkler in the back yard, or doing gymnastics on the front lawn. But there weren’t many of them.

Days in Flint that is. Not Thomases. There’s are plenty of Thomases.

No need to get maudlin though. If Flint’s real estate market stays the same I expect that the house could be in the family for generations.

Just remember. If you’re feeling priced out of Austin you can always move to Flint. Houses on my Grandparent’s street average around $32k. 2 story. 2000+ ft2 4 bedroom houses. I believe my Grandparent’s is 2 bedroom. 3 if you count the converted basement.

So I wrote last night. And then I took them to the airport, and then I tooled around Austin.

First stop I wound around east riverside. There’s a lot of cool stuff over there. And it’s gentrified a lot since I lived over there. There are some amazingly large expensive houses across the street from some of the skeezy places on Montopolis. There are entire suburbs over there. Tons of stuff off the Golf Course. It really looks like people have realized that there’s a bunch of property over there that’s on a lake or a golf course.

Then I drove by our new house. Yeah, I’m buzzing neighbourhoods at 4:30am. So what? Does that make me a stalker?

Then I was bored so I drove through our old new neighbourhood. The house is still looking very unfinished. They haven’t painted it, and they had every light in the place blazing. At 4:30am. Green building it is not.

Then still being bored I drove by our old old house. That one is still up for lease. Some of my plants might eat the neighbors soon. The Thai Basil looks like it’s 4 feet tall.

But the house is still up for lease. It’s been 4 months. Hopefully our Californian investor will sell it at a loss and a nice family will snatch it up.

So I’m back at home waiting for Stella to wake up any minute now. Then off to work, and another night of write, write, write!

We’re going to Evant on Saturday and Sunday so hopefully that will afford me even more opportunities to write.

WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Dah, dah, dah, da, da, da, da…

oh, and go read the Austin Contrarian’s explanation of what a VMU is and how they work. Everyone should be edumacated. I can’t wait until the redo riverside. I’d post a link, but I’m lazy, and sleepy, so use the Google.

I Found Maps

So I found the subdivision maps for our new house. It’s C8-63-019, you can search here. Put that number in the second box. I’ve also found the wastewater and water permits, but I can’t find anything else. I think there might be a bug in that all the new searches want four digit years, and I think all the info for our house is stored with two digit.

I think I may need to sell my services in ferreting out information on city websites.

school districts and money

This map is fascinating:

Looking at it, you might think it was a rough map of income levels in Austin. Actually it’s the school district map. It’s fascinating how you can actually see the tendrils of gentrification stretching into east austin. Plucking out the water front views and academic residences. And the tendrils shooting the other way, pulling in the centralized apartment ghettos. The hook in District 6 that extracts the sub-200k houses from district 7. I wish I could find the historical maps on this one. I think it would probably be a fascinating look at gentrification.

I read this Statesman article over the weekend that talks about the destruction of some of the final cheap apartments with waterfront views. Frankly, I can’t be that sympathetic to those people. I used to live in apartments around there and I was constantly trying to figure out how one got one of those sweet super-cheap water-front apartments. But it will be interesting to see if that tendril from District 6 will stretch over to grab the rest of the south east town lake shore line in the future.

Paul Burka had a really interesting article on the changing demographics of Texas recently. It’s especially interesting when taken in context with our school systems. If you look at the “good schools” in Austin ISD you’ll see that they’re the schools that are majority white. But if you look at the changing demographics of our state it’s obvious that these “good schools” are not sustainable. And are in fact undesirable. We’re creating a very strong delineation between the upper and lower middle classes. And all the publicly available statistics on race, income, and test scores cement these delineations through real estate prices. I strongly believe that real estate is the strongest bastion of racism in the US today. And it’s so innocuous. It’s much easier for even the most liberal multi-culturally minded potential home buyer to say that a school with 87% of the kids getting free or reduced lunches has a negative effect on property values, than it is to say that a school with 96% minority students has a negative effect on property values.

What are we going to do if the majority of the US cannot sustain itself? Especially with the retirement of the Baby Boomers looming. We’re going to have some massive bills to pay in the future if we don’t make some investments today.

That said, I actually got really excited for Stella over the weekend. My guess is that she’s going to grow up learning a lot of Spanish. And that’s a very cool opportunity. It’s hard to stretch out from the communities we’re used to. I spent the entire 2 years I was in the Soviet Union inside. Learning nothing about the culture. I know only a few words in Russian. 1 in Kazakh.

I think it’s too easy to live in our own mono-cultures, and it’s very hard to step outside of them. I don’t think it’s just racism. I think we’re still very much programmed for tribalism. What are suburbs if not medieval fiefdoms with their localized governments (HOAs) and walls and moats? So hopefully this new house will be a chance to step outside of the world we’ve been inhabiting.

I was talking to an actor friend during the run of Little Murders, and one of his guesses about why we were having such poor turnout was gas prices. Which shocked me because I’ve become somewhat immune to gas prices (public transport, single car with high mpg). And it made me realize that I need to get out more, and talk to people who aren’t software developers living in suburban houses with a Volkswagen or Subaru out front.

Anyway, enough of that. We had a delightful time with Stella over thanksgiving. She’s been in a great mood. Incredibly free with smiles, hugs, and kisses. We’d kind of noticed that she seemed a lot taller recently. She lost a lot of weight during her vomiting spell, so I think the height change snuck up on us. She just looked tall and skinny. But now that she’s got her blub back we’ve realized that she’s quite a bit taller. We helped The Holmes and Yer Mamma move this weekend and Stella is now officially taller than their son. Which is not surprising. Julie and I are taller than his parents. But it seemed like the official start of our child becoming the giraffe we knew she would be. She’s starting to get the height to match those Thomas feet. It’s fun to watch. Hopefully she’ll be more graceful in her growing than I was.

unexpected side effects of drinking water

So I got a good night sleep last night. This is obvious because my mind has time to think on random things not related to forward motion. My body did wake up at 4:30 this morning though.

It said, “Hey Tim, we got 6 hours of (mostly) uninterrupted sleep! Isn’t that great?”

To which I replied, “Yes, but we’ve got 3 more hours to go. Go back to bed!”

Ultimately my body decided that I really didn’t need that much sleep so I managed to make a lap of the trail at 6:30am. I’ve got a nasty sore throat and appear to be in a fog from a sinus infection I am battling . But it’s amazing how much better you can feel after a good night’s sleep.

I really would like to write a letter to my teenage self about 6 hours of sleep being a “good night’s sleep’. I probably would have upped my 13 hours of daily sleep to 16 or 18.

So here’s my random thought. Julie got me hooked on drinking lots of water. Well, Julie and running. I used to run at lunch in the 100+ degree heat and not drink much in the way of water. A few days of shaking and nearly blacking out got me on the water train.

So we all know that drinking water is great for you. It helps keep you thin, keeps your kidney’s healthy, etc. But I just thought about an unexpected benefit. Due to the volumes of water I drink I go to the restroom about once every 30-45 minutes throughout the day. Which means I wash my hands once every 30-45 minutes. I have to believe that severely lowers my exposure to germs throughout the day.

spurious, ill-conceived conclusion

So drink some water, it might work better than a flu shot!

I have seen the future

and it is no sleep.

I used to think I was lucky. I almost never get sick. I have allergies pretty much constantly, but I practically never get sick. So on Saturday night I dealt with Stella vomiting. Then on Saturday night Julie woke up with her. But of course I woke up too. Because I’m a Dad now, and I’m hardwired to shoot up like someone’s applied electricity to my genitals every time I hear the slightest sniffle out of her. Julie handed me to her yesterday morning so she could get a few more minutes of sleep and she immediately vomited on me. I’m really done with being vomited on. Last night Stella woke up every hour just to whimper a bit. I have no clue what that was about, but I got to get up with her.

Because last night Julie and my mom both got the stomach bug. Which is really kind of ironic. I’ve been swimming in vomit for the past few days. If anyone should have gotten sick it should have been me. I was pretty decent about washing my hands, but how good are you going to be when you’re giving your kid her seventh bath of the night at 5am?

And I still have gotten no sleep. You don’t want to be the one who doesn’t get sick. Because you’ll never get sleep again.

running in southeast austin

I’d been wondering where I’d run once we move to Southeast Austin. And if it was possible to get to the hike and bike trail. I found this trail today:

trail map

If they eventually finish building it out it should be really nice. Right now, from what I can discern it’s only about 1/3 done.

sick

This is me right now:

I have had almost no sleep. Last night after we came home from the show Stella began screaming at about 3am. She had vomited all over herself. She has been vomiting every 20-45 minutes since. It’s getting better, but still no fun. I stopped counting after the 7th load of laundry I did. I stopped counting after the ninth bath. I’m very, very tired.

Stella is, as always, looking cute. Cause she’s a big sweety.

Thankfully she’s been fairly easy to keep hydrated. She’s been eating food the rest of us have been eating lately so I don’t think it’s food poisoning. I’m blaming it on the little girl she sat next to on the bus who was sneezing in her face and sucking on her toys.

so why did you choose another house?

So people might be wondering why we choose another house. It all started when we got our close date. We were completely disheartened. It was a month and a half away and we would close the weekend before Christmas. Talk about making a happy event suck. Julie really, really wanted to decorate and have the house nice for Christmas and they completely squashed that goal. And since we could could close on a built house quicker than we could our new house we decided to check the MLS again.

Oh, who are we fooling. We always look in the MLS. It’s our hobby.

On Saturday we were just tooling around looking at some houses in various neighborhoods. Stella had fallen asleep in the car after the play we took her to so it seemed like a good way to let her get a nap in. We ended up over by Agave and decided to tool around. Coming up one of the hills we noticed an open house. After circling 3 times like the creepy, creepy people we are we went in and checked it out. The materials were beautiful. The windows were beautiful. The floorplan often left you shaking your head. But we liked that first house, so we decided to go to the office and see what else they had. We checked out a few more houses. Some we really liked. But none of them had garages (which doesn’t really matter when you’re a one car family, but does matter when you’re a one theater company family). The one we really liked had amazing views of downtown along the entire second story. But you also had to walk past all those windows in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Because the master bedroom was down the hall from the closest bathroom. The designs were bizarre.

And all of the houses would be impossible to store theater stuff. And the schools sucked. And there were no trees (which seemed like it might be a problem with all those windows). But the views. The views were amazing. And the houses were modern. And that’s what we really, really want.

On the way home we decided to check on the house we were building and we asked to go in the models that were just being built. We went in and were just stunned. We really didn’t like it. Being in the modern houses I think we realized it just wasn’t our aesthetic at all. It was so big. Ridiculously big. There was wasted space everywhere. And it was so bland. The outside was cute, but the inside was completely generic. Boring. Nothing modern about it. So we went home and I was a bit upset because I wanted to make the Agave houses work even though I knew it was hopelessly impractical, and we both didn’t really like the house we were building anymore.

Then I guess it was Tuesday that Julie was searching the MLS and found 4 houses in the 78741 zip code that looked promising. An awesome split-level house with a basement (!), two fixer-uper ranches that were cheap, and a house with a ton of windows. 78741 was actually where we originally wanted to live back in 2001. Our budget back then was in the low-100s and the only houses you could get in our price range were those really dicey sub-1000 square foot houses on Montopolis. We wanted to live in that cute pocket neighborhood right next to AMD, but it was ridiculously expensive (or so we thought at the time, now we kick ourselves and wonder why we didn’t sell our kidneys).

We tried to get the realtor who sold our house on the horn, but quickly remembered why we didn’t really like working with him. He apparently was in Vegas and we couldn’t get a hold of him. We managed to get a friend of Julie’s who worked on murder mysteries with her to show us the houses. Which was a great decision. He’s been a great realtor.

So the first house we checked out was awesome. But it was overpriced by about 80-100k. It was a split level built in the sixties. It had a balcony that ran the entire length of the back of the house and that probably had a view of the lake if you cut down the bamboo that had taken over the backyard. Before we went in Jamie (our realtor) mentioned that it was a bit weird. The people were at home and we had just woken them up. We went in and there were two half-dressed 20 year old guys cooking breakfast. One was in the shower. The house had about 4 steps up from the main level that went to all the bedrooms. It appeared that they had covered up the hardwoods with industrial carpet. Industrial carpet with a really nice carpet pad. Really bad remodeling choice. The bathrooms were both perfectly preserved sixties pink bathrooms. Really lovely and with tons of cabinets and counter space. The kitchen and dining room were small, but they opened onto a huge living room with a wall of windows.

We descended into the basement. Julie not coming from somewhere with basements I think was a little freaked out. I don’t think she realizes that the reason I was scared of basements as a kid is that they’re scary. Like caves. The basement had a set of glass doors that opened into the backyard, but mostly was just a big open basement. Then you went up to stairs and there was a laundry room (with chute!) and some storage.

There were tons of cracks, and the place resembled a drug den so I think Julie had a hard time with it. They also wanted 275,000 for it. Which considering we were going to look at 3 more places, none of which were over 225,000, it seemed like a lot of money for a house that needed a lot of work and possibly foundation repair.

But it was a sixties split level.

The second house was a home improvement nuts house. It was baffling. They had walled in their front porch (about a 2’x4′ area), so they could put a reclaimed stain glass door on the outside. So you walked in the stained glass door. Then you walked in the front door, one step later. Really bizarre. The colors inside the house were heinous (ketchup and mustard), but the kitchen was huge. It had two sinks, and two cooktops. There was an apartment with a door to the outside and tacked on bathroom. The living room had beautiful original hardwoods, but they had interjected some ugly tile right next to the doors (like you would with carpet). We went outside and there were still posts for where a back awning had been. The window seat in the kitchen that had beautiful reclaimed stained glass was being held up by 3 4×4 posts that were not attached to the ground or to the seat. But there were also tons of built up brick flowerbeds. And a huge brick grill. We went back in and the master had a fireplace, and a HUGE bathroom with (fugly green and yellow) jacuzzi tub and separate shower. It had french doors that opened into the back yard. Oh, and one of the bedrooms was lineoleum. It was cheap, but it was a lot of work. And it looked like there might be a lot of structural problems. So really it wasn’t that great of a price.

The third house looked great. It had that wonderful sixties slate on the front. It had a metal roof (which we love). The inside was uninspired, however. The kitchen had been remodeled at some point, and you couldn’t have your fridge in the kitchen. You had to keep it in the laundry room. Plus there were monster burglar bars. But that backyard had a wood burning fireplace and tons of storage and the lot next to it (which we could buy for 20k) had a creek running through it. So it was charming as long as you didn’t have to go in the house.

The fourth house I didn’t like the front of.

Still don’t. But we walked inside and it was perfect. Absolutely perfect. The floors are a beautiful walnut. They’re in all the bedrooms, halls, and living room.

The dining room and kitchen are tile.

There’s a breakfast nook for Julie’s wonderful 50s yellow table. The house was owned by an artist so there are contact paper designs on the kitchen cabinets and a mural in one of the bedrooms.

The bathrooms are a great mixture of 60s original tile, and modern upgrades. There is a walk in closet that runs the entire width of the master bedroom. I’ve never seen a sixties house with anything like it. It’s HUGE. Julie almost cried when she walked in. The entire back of the house is windows. Including the back wall of the master bedroom.

There is a dog door in the kitchen that leads out onto the grounds. It’s the backyard, but you’d definitely call it “the garden” or “the grounds’. It’s that beautiful. There is a big porch that runs the length of the house.

Then there are built up flowerbeds bordering that. Then the grass is behind that. There’s a beautiful modern fence that had to have cost 10 grand to put in. There are double-wide gates on both sides of the house. The one of the East side is on wheels so you just slide it open. And there’s a stage!

There’s a storage shed with windows (can anyone say playhouse?) that is hidden behind rows of box hedges. The box hedges are awesome. Basically this is the best place to play tag. I want to be a kid again.

We’d always built houses because we thought there was no way we could get a house like this. It’s so amazing. After a tense night Wednesday with the seller’s realtor out of town we got a call Thursday morning that we were in a multiple offer situation. We went for broke. Put in a ton over asking. I think our realtor was looking for us to pony up a thousand or two over asking so he had to talk me down a little bit. But we really wanted the house. I was sick all day. Afraid that the little bit I’d come off the max we could spend would mean the difference between us getting the house. We got the call last night right before we had to go to Julie’s show that we’d got the house. And our realtor is trying to get our money back from Newmark. Which would rock.

In any case. We’re really excited. And we should be in a house by Christmas. And it’s everything we wanted a house to be. Except the kitchen. I have to figure out something to do with that tiny, tiny kitchen.