You can treat me like a rockstar.

My new shoes

Shoes. For many years I hated shoe shopping. I did it as infrequently as possible.

This started at age 12 when my feet hit size 13. I bought my first pair of white Reebok hightops on a summer trip to visit my grandmother in Michigan. They seemed like a good idea at the time. They were a name brand. Which made me feel like I was cool, even if no one else saw it that way.

I got these same shoes the next year when my feet hit size 14. And the next when they hit 15. By the point they hit 15 it was less of a choice as that’s what they had in the store. The size 15 white Reebok hightops were hand carried in a suitcase into the Soviet Union. There is video of me dancing in them, my voice cracking. At the point the video was taken I was 6’2″ and somewhere between 100 and 120 pounds due to a bout of Amoebic Dysentery, and so the shoes appear to have been taken from a giant japanese transforming robot. There are many pictures during our travels of other children wearing my shoes. Engulfed up to their knees in white shoes.

When I came back, I decided it was time for something a little more practical. Something that would let my ankle bend. So I decided to go with the fashion trend from a few years back and buy some top-siders. I went down to the big-and-tall store. Figuring that was an appropriate place to buy large shoes. You know, because they sell clothes for big-and-tall people. Me being a tall person.

Once there the salesman found the top-siders for me and asked if I was going to go water skiing. Or head out to Colorado. At the big-and-tall store. And that’s pretty much how it went for years after. I would go into a store and ask what shoes they had in my size. They would bring me out a box and crack a joke. About watershiing, or snow skiing. And I would decide if I was at all interested in their 1 pair of shoes. More often than not it was on to to the next store.

A few years ago, my oldest sister (who also has feet proportionate to her height, but out of proportion with what stores want to stock) told me about Zappos. Where you could put in your shoe size, and they’d show you all the shoes they had in stock. I figured this sounded good, but I was completely unprepared to have thousands of choices. The first pair of shoes I bought there was almost impossibly difficult because I had too much choice. I had gone from the Soviet shoe-stores to the west, and it was too much.

Last night I went back again. Chose size-15. Men’s shoes. Black. And got my list of hundreds of shoes. I chose what I wanted and made my purchase at about 5pm last night. They have free shipping to you. And free shipping back if the shoes don’t fit. When I checked my email this morning, I got an email saying they’d expedited my order. Just because. I can only assume that there must be someone there with size 15 feet who knows what I’ve been through and sped things up for me. I had another email waiting with my tracking number. I went to UPS and looked it up. The shoes are out for delivery.

Wow. Around 14 hours after I placed my order the shoes are on a truck, and I’ll get them today. What rockstars.

My view on writing

Neil Gaiman sums up my entire view on playwrighting. He was asked to provide counterpoints to people who had interpreted or analyzed his work:

Once you’ve written something it’s not yours any longer: it belongs to other people, and they all have opinions about it, and every single one of those opinions is as correct as that of the author – more so, perhaps. Because those people have read the work as something perfectly new, and, barring amnesia, an author is never going to be able to do that. There will be too many ghost-versions of the story in the way, and besides, the author cannot read it for the first time, wondering what happens next, comparing it to other things that he or she has read.

And theater even more so. Because you have actors and directors who have crafted the characters in very specific ways. Some that veer further from what is in your mind, and some closer. You have designers who are creating an enivronment that is valid, but that can be very different from what you see in your head.

And if that isn’t enough change, you bring in the audience. And they bring in their own views, expectations, and experience. Every audience will laugh at different jokes. Be touched by different moments. And the reactions of their fellow audience members will color their reactions. As will the review they read in the press. And so it becomes this amazing collaborative effort, Between everyone involved, especially the audience. Rather than just passive, they make the meaning. And the playwright was just the person who started with a few words.

We actually saw a play last week that was very symbolic. And we were able to overlay this play like a stencil on the playwright, and her husband’s lives (as we imagine them), and it seemed incredibly personal and autobiographical. But we don’t really know the playwright and her husband. So we might have been reading too much into it. And the playwright might have had no clue that this symbolic play was almost a one-to-one parallel to her life. It might have been subconscious. So in that case who is the arbiter of meaning? Who is the most right?

What do you think? Does meaning belong to the writer or the audience? And is one more right than the other?

Moi Racist?

Probably. A bit. I am human. But not in this case. I read a couple local real-estate blogs. I find it fascinating to read the statistics and to watch how Austin is changing. The blog post in question was about a Statesman article that talked about what a great deal East Austin was for investors. The owner of the blog commented that they still weren’t interested in investing in East Austin as there were still a lot of problems in the area. This got into a discussion of what the problems were, comparing and contrasting with the gentrification of South Congress, etc. My comment on this conundrum was:

South Congress the street was bad in the nineties (although not horrible, watch “Last Days of the San Jose” to get a feel for the problems). You’d drive down it and point and stare at the prostitutes, but it was also a street you still drove down, so obviously it wasn’t that bad. I’d say you can point at the closing of the porn theater as probably the turning point for the street. You could actually watch as the prostitutes and drug dealers moved further south. I’m not sure other neighborhoods can be fixed that easily.

The neighborhoods around there were still pretty nice. Travis Heights has obviously always been a fantastic neighborhood. Esther’s Follies’ running gag is that South Austin is known for cars on the lawn, junk sculpture, and garage sales. Which pretty much described the other neighborhoods. Junky, but not dangerous.

East Austin you’re dealing with some entrenched problems. The first Austin city plan in 1928 *encouraged* blacks to move into East Austin (or give up all municipal services). They were pushed out of some of the nicer areas like Clarkesville and Wheatsville. The I-35 divide is entrenched. The black community is built up around it being “their place” and that crosses economic barriers. Much of the local political structures are built around those ideas as well. And it helps to realize this when trying to understand local politics. Austin had mandatory busing into the late eighties I believe and thanks to transfers has fairly starkly segregated schools.

Which is not to say I don’t think it will gentrify. I just think the 3-5 years is a little optimistic.

I got called out today:

Does the blatant racism in this discussion bother anybody else? Tim’s comment about blacks of all ecomonic groups feeling attached to East Austin as an entrenched problem for that neighborhood… WTF? And should we really cheer for the removal of poor people at gun point? I haven’t read all these posts, but it seems like the silence in response to some very objectionable statement is deafening. There’s a moral difference in making money by investing in companies with long term potential (a al Buffet) and investing in making a neighborhood unaffordable for its residents, demolishing their housing, and advocating their dispersal, all so you can sell at a nice profit in 3-5 years.

Thankfully I was defended by the owner of the blog, who pointed out I was merely stating the historical facts. And so my response:

I don’t know where you got a racist attitude in my post. I wasn’t saying that blacks feeling attached to East Austin was a problem. It’s a reaction to the fact that throughout the twentieth century Austin forced its black citizens to move into East Austin, where they systematically denied them services. This has created an enormous amount of acrimony between the community and the city (which I would actually contend is generally well founded). I fail to see how that statement is racist. Go talk to prominent members of the community and see if you get a different story from mine.

I haven’t seen anything about the removal of poor people at gun point in the comments. Gentrification is difficult, but that’s the system we live in. I don’t understand the idea of “investing in making a neighborhood unfordable for its residents”. East Austin is already unaffordable for some of its residents. Heck, it’s already unaffordable for most Austinites. It’s not investors that have made it that way. It’s proximity to downtown. Its the fact that a house a couple miles away from East Austin in Travis Heights goes for $500k+. The only reason the neighborhood is affordable at all is that the city has neglected the schools, businesses have redlined the area, there are perceived problems with crime, problems with police/community relations, and the housing stock is dilapidated. So essentially, every problem that gets fixed that makes East Austin a better place, also raises the values of the homes.

But do we stop trying to improve the schools or lower crime just so the poorer residents can continue to afford their homes? Do we only allow slum-lord investors in, since they’ll help make the neighborhood worse? Maintaining the status-quo seems to me to be even worse.

The lack of affordable inner-city housing is predominantly caused by neighborhoods associations consistently defeating high density projects. There simply is not enough supply of housing in the central core for any of it to be affordable. If we can increase the supply in central austin, it will eventually lower prices. Until we get more housing or some very complex legislation we’re going to keep seeing displacement.

It’s awesome, though because I realize that was me 5 years ago. Very knee-jerk response to a very emotional issue. Calling someone racist is a very effective way to shut them up. I’ve got to stop doing that. It’s really annoying.

My weekend?

So I didn’t see it this past weekend, but I recommmend seeing The Brats of Clarence. This is the most I’ve enjoyed a show in a long time. The Chronicle sums it up best – “most of all, it’s fun”. That’s it. Fun. Go see it. What you have too much fun in your life? Didn’t think so. Go see it.

Sunday, I spent five hours fixing leaky faucets. We have two leaky faucets. But it took me five hours and three trips to Home Depot to fix them. First trip was to buy replacement washers for the sink that leaked, and a handle puller. Since the shower handle had been turned so hard to try to get it to shut off that the plastic and metal have melded a bit. So store in your brain that I have a handle puller. And call me when you need it. I’d like for more than 1 handle to be pulled of with my $9 investment.

Once I got the handle off, I realize I needed sockets I didn’t have. Well, actually I don’t really have any sockets. I have a few random small socket sets around the house, but nothing truly useful. So I got to spend a lot of money on a socket set. That was trip number two. After spending about an hour trying to get one, very, very tight nut off, I was finally able to pull out the handle. And the washer was, of course, different from the two washer types I had previously bought. Back to home depot for trip number 3. After a bit more work to get the handles to be in a straight line, when in the off position, I got everything back together.

I had neglected to fix the cold water on the shower, though because the screw was stripped that held the handle on. Of course, it appears the cold water, does indeed leak also. So I get to tackle that next weekend.

We have a lot of home improvement in this house. Yesterday, they came back to put on our solar screens that we’re getting as part of our HVAC complete upgrade. The City of Austin structures their rebates in such a way that you get a bonus if you do all of the work required at once. One of the things you have to do is get solar screens. And solar screens just happen to be a little bit less than the bonus. So you essentially get them for free (do you get the feeling that a lot of people weren’t getting the solar screens?). Who can turn down free? They make the front of the house look really sharp, but they definitely make the back darker. So I don’t know how long they’re destined for the back of the house. We like energy savings, but we partially bought the house, because it feels like there’s nothing separating you from the back yard. Now it feels like there’s window tint separating you.

Finally, Stella is making jokes. Which I think might be reason enough to have a child. Once you get to encounter a two year olds humor it makes their temper tantrums seem worth it. On Saturday night we took Stella out to dinner to celebrate her Granddaddy’s birthday. We actually went out with the entire family, including Granddaddy. We don’t generally go out to celebrate people’s birthdays without the birthday boy and/or girl.

We had some sloooow service at Johnny Carino’s, and so we didn’t start driving Stella home until almost 10pm. Her normal bed time is 8pm. So we’re driving home, and she says “poopy shoes”. And starts laughing. Julie and I question her, “Are your shoes poopy? Does Stella have poopy shoes?” She giggles and says, “Stella poopy shoes”. Then she giggles and says “Daddy poopyshoes”. Julie and I start cracking up.

-“Daddy has poopy shoes?”

-“Mama poopy shoes”

-“Mama has poopy shoes, now too?”

(Stella is practically hyperventilating with laughter)

-“Baba poopy shoes”

(Julie and I are snorting loudly)

-“Baba has poopy shoes?”

-“Baby poopy shoes”

And so it goes. Since then she has made several jokes about poop. She’s quite the comedian.

Watchin’ the Neighborhood

Went to the Burleson/Parker Neighborhood watch meeting last night with Julie. It’s always interesting.

For instance we learned how to identify prostitutes. They are the women in our neighborhood carrying white styrofoam cups. Which they tip over to show they’re empty to say – open for business. So be careful about wandering around highway access roads with empty styrofoam cups, ladies.

We also learned that the Timberridge HOA had torpedoed a condo project where one of the hotels is currently on the I-35 northbound access road before Oltorf. It was apparently a 30 unit project that was going to sell for about $500k each. They thought that no one would pay those prices and they’d end up having to sell them out to the city as low-income housing. So now they’re going to get another cheap hotel. And more prostitutes. Hopefully this isn’t going to happen with the Riverside condo projects.

I don’t understand the mentality to keep competition away from your property at all costs. A $100k condo sitting next to a bunch of hotels is going to stay a $100k condo. A $100k condo down the street from a $500k condo might become a $200k condo. Although, I do feel for Timberridge. My friend Erin has lived there for 9 years now, and they have consistently stayed one of the nicest condo neighborhoods in Austin. I’m sure there’s a lot of stubbornness involved in thinking that you can have a fantastic community when bordered by rental slums, low-income housing, hotels and gas stations.

Many of you may have noticed that there’s some sort of amazing lot with a big house on the South-East corner of Riverside and IH-35. 1317 E. Riverside Drive. I think it’s been a day-spa and a bed-and-breakfast. According to the Timberridge inhabitants, it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright that’s going to be destroyed for condos. From looking at a list of Wright houses, he never built any in Austin, so it’s probably one of his students. Anyone know anything about it other than it was built around 1947?

Apparently one of the houses on Manlove street got the condo developer to change the buildings so that they would still have their view. Which is awesome. Although the views from those condos are going to be spectacular.

The final thing we talked about was panhandling. Which is such a weird issue. On the one hand I feel like people who are really destitute should be able to ask for help from their fellow man without going to jail. On the other hand, I know from taking the bus that most of the panhandlers in Austin are not homeless. They’re not rich people, but they’re not homeless. Our Neighborhood Association(NA) is going to join with a bunch of other NAs when the new city council is elected to do a letter writing campaign to try to crack down on panhandling. I don’t think it’s the solution to the problem, but we’ll see.

I also pulled up some poison ivy for my mom after the meeting was over, and I’m happy to report that I still seem to be unaffected by poison ivy. It’s fun monkeying with it for me. Because every time I psych myself into thinking, “maybe this is the time that I’ll be affected”. Then for about 2-3 hours afterwards I’m scratching constantly. But always in places that could not possibly be affected (like the back of my head). Then I wake up the next day, happy that it was all just in my head. Of course, writing about it, I’m feeling itchy again. scratch

best picture – really?

Julie and I watched “No Country for Old Men” last night. And we were underwhelmed. To say the least.

Did we just not get it?

I mean, you have a pure-evil bad guy. No nuance. No suspense since you know he’s going to kill everyone. You have a sort-of main character, and then you have Tommy Lee-Jones’ cop whose character is distinguished mainly by the fact that he is NOT investigating crimes. And chatting a lot.

And the biggest death of the movie? Happens offscreen. Not like, “You shouldn’t have to watch this violence” offscreen. But like, “we didn’t shoot that scene offscreen”.

Our friend Josh Meyer was great in it though. It was one of the few scenes where the actors finished their scene. It didn’t feel like the director just eventually said, “Ok, um… I guess we’re done staring at the scenery. Time to move the camera now.”

We were wondering if perhaps it was funny if you weren’t used to Texas accents and Tommy Lee Jones, ala Fargo.

We didn’t get it. Which shocked us. Because we both really thought we were going to like it. A lot.

distribution of wealth

Robert Reich has this fascinating quote on his blog from FDR’s fed chief:

As mass production has to be accompanied by mass consumption, mass consumption, in turn, implies a distribution of wealth — not of existing wealth, but of wealth as it is currently produced — to provide men with buying power equal to the amount of goods and services offered by the nation’s economic machinery. Instead of achieving that kind of distribution, a giant suction pump had by 1929-30 drawn into a few hands an increasing portion of currently produced wealth. This served them as capital accumulations. But by taking purchasing power out of the hands of mass consumers, the savers denied to themselves the kind of effective demand for their products that would justify a reinvestment of their capital accumulations in new plants. In consequence, as in a poker game where the chips were concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, the other fellows could stay in the game only by borrowing. When their credit ran out, the game stopped.

It’s an interesting repudiation to supply-siders and seems somewhat inevitable. To make an economy work you always have to have a balance between captialism and a view more oriented towards the commons. I think the Clinton administration was decent at this. It found a balance, but by embracing some of the dogma of supply-side they cemented it into the public’s mind as fact. And now we’re stuck with a tanking economy because very few people want to discuss whether this wealth equation is completely out of balance. It’s interesting too, because unlike in the 1920s most of the “robber barons” have not been asking for the tax cuts and regulatory cuts that have made them into these capital vacuums. It’s coming from the Republican middle-class who are essentially giving away their money. Giving away their quality of life, and schools, and roads. I don’t know how we’re going to fix this. Thoughts?

You can read the whole post here.

mouse is playing

So Julie and Stella are currently in Kerbyville visiting Julie’s grandparents. I have low tolerance for spending vacation days traveling to the middle of nowhere to sit around and do nothing, so I stayed at home.

I’m really enjoying the sleep. I just go to sleep at night, and it’s this satisfying solid sleep. I wake up feeling like I’ve been hibernating. So good.

So last night, I was painting the front door and listening to the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductions on TV.

The front door will be orange. I picked out the color myself. It matches the blue, so it’s not like I picked out a really ugly color, but I worry it might be too bright. Of course, bright was the point. I don’t know. We’ll see. We’re going to water down some black paint and get it into the cracks of the scrollwork to give it an aged look, so that should dim the wattage a bit. On the upside, you can now actually see the scrollwork from the street.

Did anyone else see Iggy Pop performed Madonna’s songs? That was really strange. Talk about covers that sound nothing like the original.

Damien Rice sang Hallelujah when they inducted Leonard Cohen. It was nice, but you could tell everyone there was thinking about Jeff Buckley’s version. Even Damien was channeling it. I really don’t know of a more beautiful song than Jeff Buckley singing it.

I think this might be Leonard Cohen’s acceptance speech. Which is a poem and perhaps the best speech I have ever heard.:

It speaks so eloquently about why we create art and the meaning of it. Beautiful.

you can’t dance to it

So, I was listening to “The Luxury Gap” by Heaven 17 again today. I got it for Christmas. I got introduced to the band with their song “Temptation” which was the club music in Trainspotting. Upon hearing it, I just couldn’t help wondering how this band wasn’t bigger.

Then I got “The Luxury Gap” and it all became clear. The entire album is essentially about the pitfalls of Thatcherism and commercialism. There’s a song about mindlessly slaving away. A song about the dangers of easy credit. A song about trophy wives. The first track on the album is “Crushed by the Wheels of Industry”. Which screams to me “happy-go-lucky dance song”.

I love it. I can see how most people wouldn’t. And I have no clue how they played this in clubs in the eighties. I know people don’t listen to lyrics, but still…

craigslist steal

Yesterday I was reading my rss feeds. I monitor craigslist austin for the term “mid-century modern””. A post came up for two herman-miller-esque shell chairs for $35/each. They were in great shape so I decided to try to get in contact with the seller even though Julie was still asleep. I got a call from the seller and woke Julie up, showered, and piled everyone in the car.

We ended up at a very nice apartment complex in north austin. Sandwiched between some of the scariest complexes I’ve ever seen. Say what you will about where I live. There are no apartment complexes with razor-wire. Yeah. Razor-wire. Julie, saw a drug deal as we were buying the chairs. In any case we got the chairs for the price and got them in the car. I still can’t quite believe it. I’m never one of the people who find vintage pieces for amazing prices.

Since we were up North we decied to go check out Eubank Acres. Elle who owns Austin Modern came to our oscar party. And complimented our house. She then talked about where she lived as being similar. Eubank Acres is bounded by Braker on the South, Lamar on the West and I-35 on the East. It looks a lot like our neighborhood although with fewer traditional houses. Lots of amazing houses with amazing windows. They also have lots of hills and creeks. Very nice place. And the fact you can get a house for under $200k should make it a really nice alternative to the Shoal Creek area. We drooled and drooled.

View Larger Map

Anyway, here’s a picture of our craigslist steal: