Saturday, October 29, 2005

Where have all the liner notes gone?

I miss those days. Unfolding the notes. Finding who played on what. And learning why this recording would or should be relevant.

I'm making a prediction.

Artists will soon start offering audio liner notes. iTunes will pave the way and brand them PodNotes. They will appear as the last downloadable track and be free with purchase of the album.

_________

Richard Buckner, a morose, Yoakam-like twanger who pours unexpected words together, put out his two best albums, Devotion+Doubt and Since, back-to-back in the late '90s. These recordings share at least two common threads. Both were released on MCA and both were produced by JD Foster (Marc Ribot, Richmond Fontaine, Dwight Yoakam).

I just came across a promotional CD that was recorded around the time of Since. It contains a Buckner interview with KCRW and could easily serve as the album's liner notes (soon-to-be-called PodNotes).

It is 16 minutes long, and a must for anyone who's had the pleasure of listening to Since all the way through.

Some highlights from that interview:
  • At 32, Buckner took up smoking for this album for the effect it would have on his voice.
  • "Lucky Buzz" ends with the line "As Congress falls/With Ego's down/I cannot keep/This buzz around." Said Ego's is a live music venue hidden in an underground parking structure in Austin, TX.
  • The title of the song "10-Day Room" on Since is a reference to Buckner's stay at the phallic-signed Austin Motel during the recording sessions for Devotion+Doubt.
  • Songstress Syd Straw faintly harmonizes on "Faithful Shooter."

________

Downloads from Since:

"10-Day Room"

"Lucky Buzz"

"Faithful Shooter"

"Hand at The Hem"

________

A favorite, oh-so-typical Buckner lyric from Since:

"Did you mean/What it meant" - "Hand at The Hem"

Friday, October 28, 2005

No. 16: Name that celebrity

submitted by tj1972

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman


I am betting more than a few of us can relate to J.S. Bankston's latest installment.

-------

It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Balding)
Tharelyn, mother-in-law of my friend James, mother of my friend Nyssa, and wife of a physician, examined my scalp a few weeks ago and came to the same conclusion I had several days before–that I am losing hair from the front of my scalp at a rapid and noticeable rate. She attributed this to all the different depression meds I’ve taken the last few years, and suggested I get on a Minoxidil regime quickly.

The Minoxidil they peddle at my corner supermarket is fairly pricey for a non-prescription item, must be applied daily without fail, has about 80% negative side effects to the 20% positive ones, and, alas, is only for the crown of the skull, not the front hairline. I mean, if I was getting a bald patch in back it’d probably just be easier to become a Franciscan monk, right?

I purchased a set of brushes and began brushing my locks 100 times a night like the old wives tale says to do, in order to stimulate my scalp. And I took close-ups of my hair line in the bathroom mirror and e-mailed the pictures to my mom late one night.

The following morning she left me a phone message where she briefly agreed that I was losing my hair, before launching into some long, boring, Edith Bunker-like account of the suicide of her former neighbor, a farmer named Clyde Froebel. All the time I was listening to the message I was screaming, “Never mind Clyde Froebel! Tell me about my hair!”

I called her back. She explained that Clyde’s wife had died a few years ago and that everyone in his farming community of Millheim (about 90 minutes northwest of Houston) was unsure how he’d handle the loss. But he seemed to be okay, even happy, and had even bought a new tractor, thinking that would make him more attractive to the ladies.

Sadly, the new John Deere did not turn out to be the pussy wagon Clyde had hoped it would be, and Clyde eventually divided his time between his home and an assisted living facility, before finally killing himself at the former.

Now I didn’t really know Clyde Froebel. I couldn’t have picked him out of a police line-up, and if I ever exchanged more than two sentences with him, I’m not aware of it. All I really remember about him was that he used to brag that his three sons were the best-hung young men in the county, and that they’d taken after their daddy. This claim struck me as especially strange and disturbing, since when he made it, nineteen years ago, his youngest son, Bradley, was about eight.

My mom asked me about my breathing problems. I explained my chest was still making squeaky noises, that the sounds had kept me awake one night, and that on another night I had entertained myself by pummeling my chest with my fists, making my fluid-filled lungs sound like a calliope. My mother, who is a great reader of medical books and a vicarious hypochondriac, made the cheery pronouncement that she thought I might be getting emphysema.

After she nagged me to go back in search of more dead-end, subsistence level, $10-an-hour jobs in fields that did not involve writing, I told her I wasn’t listening, and steered the conversation back to the topic of my hair.

Maybe you’re losing your hair because of all those years you wore it long.

Oh, please. That’s ridiculous even by your standards.

Well, after your father died and I was on that Paxil it made my hair come out in clumps.

See, that’s what James’s mother-in-law said. She thinks it’s the depression meds.

What I don’t understand is how you can be so upset about this and not worried about the rest of your appearance, about the fact you’re so fat.

Well, maybe because I feel I can do something about my hair, but the weight is beyond my control, unless I get lipo or a gastric bypass.

You can’t afford that.

Don’t tell me what I can and cannot afford or I’ll go out and get it just to spite you.

Well, there’s always diet and exercise.

Well, that ain’t gonna happen either.

Have you been to the doctor yet?

No, I still need to pick a new one.

Well, I wouldn’t even tell them about the depression if I were you. Whenever you say the word “depression” they just concentrate on that and don’t give enough attention to your other conditions.

True enough.

Anyway, I don’t think you’re a manic-depressive after all. I know that some days when you want to [emphasis mine] you go out and go to the movies or take pictures or go on other outings you don’t tell me about.

While on other days I can’t bring myself to even leave the house and check my mailbox.

That’s right.

So how is that not a textbook definition of manic-depression, mania and depression?

I don’t think you’re manic-depressive. You’re just moody, or have a bad attitude, or mean, like your grandfather was!

God, one of these days my mother and I are so gonna wind up living in a ramshackle Victorian mansion behind an abandoned motel. She’s gonna keep up her nagging, and I’ll take up taxidermy, cross-dressing, and serial-killing ...

My buddy Matt got this hair-loss obsession started. Thanks to his busy City Hall job I only see him about three times a year now, and he pointed out the hair loss a few weeks back when he took me through the Katrina shelter downtown.

Normally my meetings with Matt are as structured as a Japanese tea ceremony: 1) He points out how my appearance has changed since we last met, 2) he spends 75% of the time talking on his cell, 3) he tells me “but seriously now” that I need to look for a dead-end, subsistence level, $10-an-hour job, 4) he talks about the stressful things that have been going on in his job, and 5) we go our merry ways.

Now I could probably handle baldness if I looked magnificent that way, like Yul Brynner, Patrick Stewart, Sean Connery, or even Stanley Tucci. But I always look down on young bald men. And I’m not talking about the naturally hirsute posers who think that if they shave their heads and get barbed wire tattoos on their biceps chicks will think they’re Vin Diesel.

To me a young balding man is a failure in that he is someone who has not succeeded in exercising super-human and godlike powers to stop the workings of Nature. You might argue it’s not the poor guy’s fault, but only if you’re not used to trumping Nature.


The last few years I’ve had several reunions with guys I knew in college, people I’d not seen in 10, 15, and even 20 years, and some of them have aged very badly. One guy had balded so badly he looked like the famous unwrapped mummy of Rameses II. And it’s pleased me a great deal that they’ve all been shocked that I either, a) have not changed at all, or b) look younger than I did in the old days.

But this is a family thing. My maternal grandfather was 61 when I was born, and in my christening picture his hair is almost completely black, and he still has a lot of hell-raising in his eyes. And he looked to be no more than 70 when he was in his late 80s.

The two things that make me look younger than my actual age (I’ll be 42 on El Dia de los Muertos) are my unwrinkled, pasty-white skin and my abundant hair.

For those still on Bankston hairstyle watch my look is currently something between Jean Cocteau (see B&W photo) and Kim Jong Il (see color photo). If I was to start losing my hair I might start...looking my age! And the loss of youthful beauty was one of the things that drove Yukio Mishima to run a sword through his innards.

The chief problem with this pre-midlife crisis is not aging per se as it is the idea of me getting closer and closer to the grave with nothing accomplished. Oh, sure, people always take me aside and tell me I’ve done this and that, but what others regard as my accomplishments aren’t important to me.

I regard the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” for example, as ultimately tragic and depressing. Yes, George Bailey has influenced everyone in his tiny-ass, podunk town, and they all bail him out financially at the end of the picture, but he’s still stuck in that town, doing that job he hates, and he hasn’t become a great engineer or seen the world, the way he’s wanted to all his life.

“Because life gets shorter.” I saw that somewhere recently–maybe on a men’s room wall. But it’s that notion that is at the heart of my crisis. With every hair that falls from my head I am further and further from flying my jet onto that aircraft carrier with the big “Mission Accomplished!” banner.

____________



In other news, this last week I butted heads with the new Security State. Taking a cue from Triple J’s photo feature, I started my own project, trying to document Mr. Bankston’s Neighborhood on camera. I went on a shopping and movie-going excursion, walking about as far as one could conceivably call “walking distance.”

I wound up at a nearby multiplex, and once inside, snapped a shot of the lobby. A cop working security ran up and said that was a serious no-no, verboten, not allowed. I shrugged and zipped my camera into my bag, but now the manager appeared, and said that I couldn’t even bring the thing onto the premises. I’d either have to take it out to my [non-existent] car, or he would lock it up in his office.

I considered making a fuss, even losing my temper. I thought about sarcastically asking if they thought I was an al-Qaeda bomb-thrower.

But I finally just said I wanted a claim ticket. He took out a business card and wrote my info on the back and handed it to me. I said I planned to see two movies and so would probably be one of the last patrons leaving. Would there be anyone who could actually get into the office that late, or would there only be a bunch of teenaged ushers on hand?

He assured me he would himself be around until 2am, so I reluctantly handed my camera over to him. I really, really don’t like parting with that thing, especially since, after my computer, it’s the single most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased. (That’s not that hard to believe–I mean, I’ve never bought a car or a house or anything like that.)

Fortunately, I got my baby back without a scratch.

I can only assume they took the camera to prevent me from making unauthorized copies of movies, or at least snapshot captures of various scenes for posting on the Internet. A multiplex movie theatre would make a poor target for a terrorist bomb, unless of course it was the site of a Rob Schneider film festival.

I worked from 1998 to 2000 as a librarian at a private school. One of my former students, who’s now in college, is an aspiring white boy rapper, and he’s spending this semester in Spain. He recently took a side trip to Venice and e-mailed me, ...“I even rode a fairy around the Grand Cannal, relaxed on a gondala ride, sought out and found Marco Polo's house (and went inside), and (after much searching) found the world's very first ghetto, which originated the word "ghetto". How many rappers can say the same?”
(I’m sure that not a few of you readers have ridden a fairy around Venice a time or two ... )

I make an extraordinary amount of copies. I give the lie to the notion that the Computer Age will create the paperless office. Not only do I use my printer and scanner a great deal, I also use the copy machine at the UPS Store across the street frequently.

If you have a private mailbox there or sign up for a copier code, they’ll give you a pass key that’ll grant you 24-hour access. So I’ll go in there in the middle of the night with a radio and a stack of UT library books and other materials and copy for four or five hours at a clip, until the paper or toner runs out or the sun starts coming up.

The only problem with this is I don’t like standing in one spot on a hard concrete floor for that long. It hurts my back. So this week James and I have been hitting all the sporting goods stores in search of a collapsible stool.

Of course, the fact that we’re “stool hunting” has obligated us to let fly with our most scatological and sophomoric jokes, and caused me to retell the humiliating and graphic story of when a doctor demanded stool samples when testing me for colon cancer. After I finally wound down my talking and caught my breath, I noticed what was playing on the car stereo and pointed it out to James: Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue.” Honest to God.

I think I’m coming down with something. I went to a late dinner with James and Nyssa at Kerbey Lane Café (where I almost attacked Manuel a few weeks ago). One family there was letting their kid run wild. He’d shriek at the top of his lungs, then charge across the room and throw himself against the windows. Now and again his dad would try to calm him down by picking him up and holding him upside down, but it did no good.

By the time I got home I had developed a rumbly, chunky cough, but still couldn’t clear my chest. I spent most of the day today in bed, having some strange dream that my Basset Hound Fred was starring in “Billy Elliott.”

__________


Anyway, I’ll close on a high note. The other day my mom sent me this from a “Houston Chronicle” health column:

Q: I am having trouble adjusting my medicine for hypothyroidism.... I have gained weight and I can't lose. What I am losing is my hair and often my temper. I am very irritable. What do you suggest?

A: Hair loss, moodiness, depression, weight gain, constipation, fatigue, dry skin, elevated cholesterol, memory problems, and cold sensitivity can be symptoms of an underactive thyroid. It can be hard to get the dose of thyroid hormone just right ... ”

Well, I’ve been on thyroid meds a few years now. Maybe they just need to adjust the dosage and I’ll be hairy and happy again.

I’m looking for a new doctor in my neighborhood. Apparently there are several dozen with offices at the hospital two blocks east of me. One is named “Dr. John F. Bangston,” with a “g,” but I think I’ll skip him, as there’s too much of a potential there for a “Who’s on first” type of confusion.

___________

Next week:
Satisfied ‘75 gets Bankston thinking about his own list of cool people.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rare, Rare, Finds: Damon Bramblett, Gary Floyd

The title comes from a Nick Drake lyric ... "Time has told me/You're a rare, rare find."

I remember the exact moment I heard those words. I was at the counter of Mojo's coffeehouse. Austin. A weekday, sometime around 10am. I ordered a cup of coffee. For here.

The guy behind the counter was a no-name-ever-given, familiar face. I asked who I was hearing. He told me, Nick Drake, and the song, Time Has Told Me. I spent the next hour or so next to someone who was probably reading Sartre and across from someone who was probably sketching someone reading Sartre, listening to Five Leaves Left all the way through.

When it ended, I left. And then I learned, and bought, and learned, told and bought more. But I also found that many others already knew this story that ended in suicide.

Over the years, I have gone through the same with Alejandro Escovedo, Phil Ochs, Richard Buckner, Reverend Horton Heat, Lucinda Williams, Townes Van Zandt, Roky Erickson, Fishbone, Fastball, The Glands, Doug Sahm, etc., etc., etc.

But along the way, there have been the few that you would only know if you were in that place, at that time. Maybe there are good reasons they never made it even as big as the just-listed acts above. Though, the songs below would argue differently.

This is the first in an ongoing installment of Rare, Rare Finds. Recordings that didn't seem to make it out.

Damon Bramblett - Self-Titled (Namesake Records)
"Heaven Bound"
"Nobody Wants to Go to the Moon Anymore"
He sounds like a thin Johnny Cash. Kelly Willis and Sara Hickman have covered his songs. His close friends are Bruce and Charlie Robison. He dated Amy Farris (Dave Alvin's fav fiddler). The Damnations appeared on his self-titled album. Weeks following Townes Van Zandt's death, a memorial/tribute was held for Townes at the intimate Cactus Cafe in Austin. Joe Ely, Kelly Willis, and more played. The crowd begged only Bramblett for one more ... until he did.


Gary Floyd - World of Trouble (Glitterhouse)
"Absence"
"Tough"
Gary Floyd got his start in Austin with the punk band, The Dicks. I found him years later in the Bay Area fronting the rock quintet, Sister Double Happiness. The sexy, female drummer/bassist for Sister Double Happiness later became the sexy, female drummer/bassist for Imperial Teen. Post-SDH, Floyd released a country-blues album called, World of Trouble. The album was released on Glitterhouse, the same label that picked up Richard Buckner's debut after it was dropped by DejaDisc. Fans of I-got-a-girl-she-lives-on-the -hill-she-won't-do-it-but-her-sister-will-era ZZ Top should warm up to "Tough."

__________

And, in case you haven't heard it:

"Time Has Told Me" - Nick Drake

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Depp and Stipe perform six degrees of separation

This Bird Has Flown: A 40th Anniversary Tribute to the Beatles' Rubber Soul hits stores Tuesday.

It is what you think it is: Each song from the heralded 40-year-old album is re-recorded by today's artists including Low, The Donnas and Mindy Smith. Listen to L.A. Times writer Richard Cromelin's piece (see audio side bar) on the album, along with sound clips.

For those who don't know, the only time I prefer to listen to The Beatles is during a deep, Jameson's induced sleep, one where I am as close to unconscious as humanly possible and my chances of memory are slim. That said, this recording caught my attention.

The album was produced by Jim Sampas, who helmed the sw-e-e-e-et-at-times tribute, Kerouac -- kicks joy darkness. Here are two recordings from that album.

"Madroad Driving ... " - Johnny Depp & Come
"My Gang" - Michael Stipe


_______________

Around 1993, a band formed in Texas called P. They recorded one now-hard-to-come-by album for Capitol. Flea and Sex Pistol/Indie 103.1 DJ Steve Jones made guest appearances. The band's first and only single was entitled, "Michael Stipe."

Their first show (and one of only a few ever) was the 1993 Austin Music Awards. Here's how they got the gig: The 'they' was Butthole Surfers' Gibby Haynes, veteran guitarist Bill Carter, drummer Sal Jenco and Keith Richards-inspired actor, Johnny Depp. (At the time, Depp was in Texas filming, What's Eating Gilbert Grape.)

Here are two tracks from that album. One shows why Capitol took them seriously, the other shows why few others did.

  • "Michael Stipe" **Gibby Haynes meets iconic Depp in Texas. Forms a band with him. Gibby then bases P's first single on meeting R.E.M. frontman at a Hollywood Hills party. Gotta love Gibby.
  • "Dancing Queen"
_______________

Random fact: Depp played slide guitar on "Fade In-Out" off Oasis' '97 release, Be Here Now. The album's cover is devoted to reference points from Depp's life and career.

"Fade In-Out" - Oasis w/Johnny Depp

Friday, October 21, 2005

Tonight the bottle didn't let him down

We should all be practicing our backwards A-B-Cs. Well, that and dancing.

This cowboy certainly has been.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

It's Like a Steven Wright Wet Dream

HS boy #1: Okay, who's Pavlov?
HS boy #2: I don't know, it doesn't ring a bell.
--N train
_________

So That's Who Sparks Wrote Their Song About
Girl #1: All old people talk about is food.
Girl #2: Well, all we talk about is sex.
--71st & 3rd

_________

New York's Funniest: Unsung Heroes
Two cop cars are after someone, heading downtown on Fourth Avenue, sirens going. One cop brakes abruptly and throws it into reverse and makes a backward left turn onto 86th Street, where a civilian is sitting in his car, waiting for the light to change. The cop car smashes into the front of the civilian's car, and the cop announces on his megaphone: Wake up, dildo!
--Bay Ridge

_________

It's Like It's Supposed to Have Some Meaning
Man #1: Do you live in New York?

Man #2: No.
Man #1: Go ahead. Take my spot. I see that statue every fucking day.
--Cruise ship, Hudson River


_________

**These can be found on Overheard in New York. Brilliant idea, sometimes brilliant results.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Charles Manson – Little guy, yes ...

Love that line.

I want to thank Satisfied '75 for 'tending bar' in my absence - telling great stories, attracting a colorful crowd, and saving a barstool at the end for Bankston.

Check out all the great music on Satisfied 75's site including recent posts on Spoon, Bob Dylan and Richard Buckner.

------------

Also be grateful I wasn't here to relay, in a comment, an I-know-to-be-true Richard Simmons story that included Hollywood in the early-90s, a private-show-only Chippendales dancer, Simmons' recorded voice on an answering machine, and the famous gym short enthusiast's need to be 'showered' with attention.

And, in case there was ANY question, I was told the story, not directly a part of it.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Audioscrobbler

I have mentioned this on my own blog in the past, but wanted to take this opportunity to again pimp the Audioscrobbler site. Here is what I said in September:

"I read about Audioscrobbler a few months ago, but didn't jump on board until last week. For those of you not familiar, Audioscrobbler is a free service that links to your preferred computer listening device (iTunes,WinAmp, etc). Every time you listen to a song it catalogs it and after awhile begins to list other members with similar tastes, etc. I'm really digging on this...check it out HERE...Here is my Audioscrobbler info -- add me to your profile if you sign up."

So that was about a month ago that I began using the service. The thing I love about it is that you can go back and see what tunes/artists/genres you are listening to the most (on your computer anyway.) I am curious to see what becomes of this site in the next few years. It could be a real goldmine for labels to get a feel for what the public is really listening to, not just purchasing. One to keep your eye on for sure.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Forget The Good, Let's Hear The Bad & Ugly

Hi. I'm Satisfied '75. I will be your host while TripleJ is away.
-----------------
So who would you not like to meet? In many cases the opposite side of the coin is often far more interesting -- and revealing. Here are a few people I would not want to be locked in a room with for an extended period of time. Let’s hear some of yours.
  • Michael JacksonFreeeeaaak show. Close your eyes. Imagine being trapped in said room with Michael when eventually your body must sleep…only to awaken to Jacko sitting Indian-style inches from you while replacing his false nose? Also, is he a Eunuch? Terrifying.
  • Charles Manson – Little guy, yes. But from most accounts I have read, those who have interviewed, or had close proximity to him, have described his presence as pure Evil incarnate. Scared poor Dennis Wilson out of his own home at the height of the Beach Boys fame. Helter Skelter, indeed.
  • Jeffrey Dahmer – Creep out, dude. Top shelf homo-erotic cannibalism. There is just no place for these types....this guy was as sick as a rabid dog. If memory serves me, he was killed in prison shortly after arriving by a fellow inmate.
  • Regis & Kathy Lee (Gifford) – This original television duo could drive any man bat-shit within a single day. Kelly Ripa in Gifford’s stead would be a slight improvement. Slight being the key word here.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Man, I Love Me A Wild Horse

Hi. I'm Satisfied '75. I will be your host while TripleJ is away.

America 2005. Interesting time to be alive. But are there as many "interesting" people inhabiting this world as there were, say, 50 years ago? A lot of the folks that grabbed my attention by the collar have passed on. So my question is: who reels you in? Who is out there mixing it up...making shit happen? Let's hear from the peanut gallery -- boards are open, comment away. Here are a some folks I would have liked to have known had I had the opportunity.

  • Neal Cassady - The template for Kerouac's Dean Moriarity in "On The Road" and Cody in “Visions of Cody.” Ginsberg has alluded that Cassady is "N.C." is his epic poem Howl. This guy was a real animal...a wild card...goofball. Cassady is the key link between the '50s beats and the '60s hippie counter-culture. After falling in with writer Ken Kesey, Neal was introduced to Jerry Garcia who later described him as “a tool of the cosmos.” Heavy, no?
  • Dr. Hunter S. Thompson - A personal hero of mine. Seriously. Thompson created a journalistic genre while playing by no one's rules but the ones he made up. To be a "success" and heed no doctrine but your own is no little feat. Hunter did both, and beautifully. I was saddened to hear the news of his death, but it made complete sense after reading his note. Everything was on his own terms, even his exit from this plane of existence. Thompson's final book, Kingdom of Fear (2003), painted a portrait of the grim reality that would take hold after Bush's re-election. Perhaps for him, it was time to check out.
  • William S. Burroughs - I have read Naked Lunch twice. Once in high school and once this past summer on vacation. At 17 the narcotic-pedophile-dopesick-ramblings made little sense. At 30 it still didn't make a damn bit of sense. BUT, his more coherent works (see Junky) and assorted essays are both entertaining and enlightening. Again, an outlaw living a subversve existance on his own terms. He killed his wife...got away clean, too. Innarestin' character, as Neil Young would say.
  • Ernest Hemingway - Saved the best for last. Papa Hemingway is the essence of cool. Having read not only his novels, but several biographies and historicals tales of the man, I can say he was the True Renaissance Man. He did it all and with style, finesse and character. I have, admittingly, co-opted numerous Hemingway traits/expressions/etc. over the years...for better or worse. From my interest in Cuba, numerous beards, and a love of booze to name but a few.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

While I'm away ...

Satisfied '75 is gonna play. His taste in music and more is impeccable.

In the meantime, sample his site.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman


This week, J.S. Bankston keeps "it short, to a dream, a few jokes, and a few horror stories."

----------

Marching to Tijuana
I had a dream where I was standing on a long flight of marble stairs that extended down to a street crowded with thousands of people. Way down below me on a landing a group of soul, blues, black gospel, and R&B musicians, headed by Irma Thomas (who was treated like the queen of the event), were about to perform a benefit concert for the people of New Orleans.

I looked behind me, and saw Pope Benedict and an army of Vatican dignitaries standing at the top of the stairs. The Pope was a practical joker, and he got down on his hands and knees and pulled a massive black cable loose, cutting off the main source of power to the concert. Then he leaped over a wall and got down in a ditch and pulled another cable.

When he came back he said, "I want to show you someone who has been very dear to me since my childhood," and from behind his back he pulled a large sock monkey. I genuflected to it (the sock monkey, not the Pope), then we discussed how they don’t make sock monkeys as large as they used to. Then he offered me a job at the Vatican and went off down the stairs at the head of a big procession.

I wasn't expecting this. I rushed forth and began clearing the crowds away, saying, "Make way for his Holiness." I was wearing some sort of fancy ecclesiastical robes. Bishops and cardinals were coming up behind me and whispering into my ear what a great opportunity this was. But I wasn't so sure. If I took this job what would happen to Fred? What would happen to my plans of writing and seeing the world? I'd never get to do any of the stuff I've always wanted to do, but then again I realized, I haven't been able to do those things in my current situation either.

I followed the Pope down to the bottom of the stairs. The performers had moved elsewhere. The stairs turned right and led to an underground lobby with an elevator with golden, mirrored doors. The Pope and his closest advisors went in, the doors closed, and the cab went down. I’d have to catch the elevator the next go-round. But as the doors closed, I saw I was wearing elaborate Papal robes, and a blue doo-rag on my head, though I quickly snatched off the latter.

----------------------

Friday I went to lunch with James and his tiresome friend Manuel. Suffice it to say Manuel managed to press all my buttons in a relatively short amount of time, and was appallingly rude, insulting, and obnoxious. He doesn't know how close he came to getting either my drink or the back of my hand in his face.

I also was considering telling him, "If you can't say anything that's not rude and offensive, then why don't you sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up?" I was pondering how to word it to achieve maximum effect and whether to say it loud enough so just the tables next to us could hear, or amplify it for the benefit of the entire restaurant. As it was, I behaved myself out of respect for James. James later said that I had behaved with great civility, but he could see by my eyes that I was seconds away from blowing up and going psycho on Manuel.

After that, James and I headed downtown, and on our way passed
Jaime’s Spanish Village. This is an old school Mexican restaurant, across the street from Stubb’s, the famous concert venue and barbeque joint.

I used to go to Jaime’s when I worked downtown, as they have excellent queso. It’s one of the oldest restaurants in town. I’ve even got old Duncan Hines travel guides from the ‘40s and ‘50s wher
e it’s listed. (Before Duncan Hines was known as a brand-name for a cake mix company, it was the personal name of a food critic who toured the US incognito, searching for the best restaurants for travelers in every state.)

Anyway, I gave a loud yelp when we drove past Jaime’s and I saw a big banner under the front windows: “Jaime’s is a breast-feeding-friendly restaurant!” Ugh. I’m sorry, but I consider breast-feeding in public to be vulgar. I know all the earth mothers and hippie chicks will be on my ass about this and say, “But breast-feeding is natural.” Yes, it is. So is urinating and masturbating, but you don’t see me doing those things in public, do you? (Not lately anyway.)

I had a nightmarish vision of me narrating the opening scene of “A Clockwork Orange:” “There was me, that is Bankston, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, and we sat in the Jaime’s Spanish Village Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. Jaime’s milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus vellocet or synthemesc or chili con queso, which is what we were eating. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence.”

Saturday I ate alone at an Outback Steakhouse. The food was tasty, the waiter was attentive without being fawning or obtrusive. The problem was the music. They had it up so fucking loud I felt like I was eating in a car stereo store.

I tried to read the paper before my appetizer arrived, but couldn't hear myself think. I couldn't hear most of what my waiter was saying either, so I just played along and tried to anticipate where he was going in the conversation. (Since I'm hard of hearing in one ear anyway, this is sort of old hat to me.) I eventually got a headache, skipped dessert, went home, and had to nap for several hours, and although as of this writing it's been almost nine hours since I left the restaurant, my right ear still hurts a little.

I realize restaurants that cater to a younger crowd crank up the music to create an exciting atmosphere, and that some places like Starbucks deliberately make their stores only comfortable enough so that patrons will pay their money, consume their food and drink, and leave quickly and not burrow in, but jeez!

Oh yes, I almost forgot this-- By the time I paid my check I was so overcome with the noise I'd forgotten about something that happened shortly after I arrived. And I've noticed this same thing happening at other restaurants, and I'm not too happy about it: When my waiter came to take my order he sat down across from me in the booth. I arched my eyebrow (Orson Welles, John Belushi, and The Rock combined are nothing compared to me in the eyebrow-arching department), furrowed my brow, and gave him a look that said, "I beg your fucking pardon! I don't recall giving you permission to sit with me."

I actually saw something on TV where someone was holding forth that if a waiter or waitress actually physically touches a customer, that tends to result in the tip going up quite a bit because it personalizes the relationship between waiter and customer. I guess it's a good thing I wasn't a part of that study, as I'd have blown the curve. I'd be horrified if a waiter or waitress touched me. (Sorry folks--I cannot abide the term "server.")

"I can abide formality or intimacy, but I detest informality." Evelyn Waugh said that, and I'm usually in agreement with him, and though, yes, I'm notorious for walking my dog in my bathrobe, I've got to admit I neither care for informality nor intimacy. My friend Tim said that I "have one of the finest socio-political minds of the 19th century," and I'll have to agree with him--I'm very old-fashioned about some things, especially how people should behave.

I don't like work settings, for instance, where they refer to me by my first name, as if I were a child, and even more so, I hate it when a stranger, after being told my name is James Bankston, will automatically become so presumptuous as to call me "Jim."

(No, my first name's not "Baby"--it's "J.S."---"Mr. Bankston," if you're nasty.)

Now I'm on pleasant terms with most of the folks at my corner grocery store (except that one clerk who didn't appreciate the joke I made the day Michael Jackson was acquitted), but I'm not planning any time soon on inviting those people over for a beer. Nor do I intend on asking the delivery guys from the Chinese restaurant across the street to come in and watch "Danger Man" with me.

And anyway, when I'm well enough acquainted with a waiter that he's willing to hand me his keys and let me go borrow some of his CDs out of his car, then I'll be willing to let him sit with me at my table, but not before.

Now Thursday I went to lunch with James and three friends of his who work for some hellish software company, and we quickly fell into stories about bosses who have humiliated us and treated us like ignorant children.

I told them about when I worked for Half-Price Books in Bryan/College Station, the backwards-ass home of Texas A&M University. My manager was a real walking stool sample: he had severe psychological issues, he sexually harassed some of the female staffers, he abused the dog I gave him, he had temper tantrums in the stock room where he'd kick merchandise around, and he'd have cursing fits on the floor in front of customers. (It is with no small amount of pride that I add I authored an 11-page memo that helped get him fired.)

Anyway, like most bad managers, this guy had no faith in his staff, he didn't think they knew how to do their jobs, and he had a fit whenever anyone exercised individual initiative without first getting his okay.

As a used bookstore, we generated a lot of excess books we couldn't sell, and we had several charities who'd come get some of our left-overs.

One day I came to work, sauntering into the stockroom through the back door. The manager and several of my co-workers were there.

One co-worker asked, "Bankston, what did you do on your day off?"

I said, "Oh, I arranged for us to do a donation to Tempura House."

The manager flipped out: "Goddammit! Who told you could do that?! Who gave you permission to set up a donation on your own?! ... Anyway, what the fuck's Tempura House?"

I explained, "It's a shelter for lightly-battered women."

And naturally, everybody got the joke but the manager.

But my fellow diners had their own war stories. Apparently, though they are well-paid, their company is owned and run by a tantrum-throwing maniac. This guy figures that since he successfully got the company off the ground and has been making money, then every move he's made so far must be flawless and beyond question, so he plans to keep on doing what he's been doing.

He's fond of screaming fits, cussing people out in person and over the phone. One of the guys at my table, Jim, (yes, our group of five included two Jameses and one Jim) was actually physically struck by this prick before. Why he didn't sue this guy and take over the company is beyond me.

Once the Number Two guy at the company showed the boss figures that proved that if a middle-man was put between this boss and the salesmen, sales and productivity went up, but if the boss interacted directly with the salesmen, the figures went down. The Number Two then said, "So, would you rather be rich or would you rather be right?" And the boss then went into a tirade, screaming, "Well, goddammit, I've been running this company one way and I'm gonna keep running it this way, and if any of those mother-fuckers have a problem with it then they can fucking go work someplace else!"

This company micro-manages its employees to an annoying degree, and treats them like children. Each salesman is expected to make a daily quota of calls, and the company keeps a log of when a salesman calls and how much downtime there is between calls. One salesman was actually summoned in to be interrogated and chewed out by a supervisor:

"It says here you made one call at 9:50am and didn't make another until 10:10am."

"Oh yeah?"

"Well, that's twenty minutes. Do you mind telling me what you were doing all that time?"

"Well, actually I had to go to the bathroom."

"You were in the bathroom for TWENTY MINUTES! Do you have a medical condition?"

And so on.

Robert Mitchum once described working in Hollywood as "like being nibbled to death by ducks." I know the feeling. I’ve been in that situation before. There's no way in hell I could put up with that sort of work environment more than a few minutes.

Anyway, Jim summed it all up beautifully: "When I quit this job I'm gonna go down to Tijuana and suck cocks for six months...until I can get my self-respect back."

And the winner is ...

... before we get to that I need to give due thanks to jjones. He did what I've been reminded of over the past few months. The thoughts of one individual are never going to be greater than what's accomplished as a result of that thought, by many. Here's a nod back at you, sir.

I am not going to explain why I picked this tagline. As X's John Doe said Saturday night on a panel with novelist Rick Moody, and as always, I paraphrase "Don't over tell the story. Give enough, but leave enough to interpretation."

With that, Satisfied '75 gets the nod. Congrats. A t-shirt is in the making.

And thanks to everyone for contributing. It is truly appreciated.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness ...

Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of Allen Ginsberg's first public reading of the poem, "Howl," at the Six Gallery in San Francisco.

Ginsberg wrote the poem-that-defined-a-time in 1954 in an apartment at 1010 Montgomery in SF. I know this because in the mid-90s, I spent 12 weeks sleeping on seemingly piss-soaked sheets at the Golden Eagle Hotel across the street.

I moved to San Francisco because of The Beats ... Kerouac, Corso, Ferlinghetti, Cassady, and Ginsberg, specifically his poem, "Howl." That power of some one thing to literally move a person still gives me pause and wonderment. And as many of you threw out taglines, I kept being reminded of this.

In 1994, Rhino released "Allen Ginsberg: Holy Soul Jelly Roll; Poems And Songs 1949-1993." The title of the box-set came from a rare bootleg years earlier that paired Ginsberg and Dylan. I've never sought out the bootleg, in large part, because as one critic said, it could "make the very hardest of the hard-core Dylan fan cry uncle."

But, I do own the box-set recordings of Ginsberg's poems. A highlight is his '56 reading of "Howl" after being introduced by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The reading clocks in at just over 30 minutes - making Bankston look like the king of the haiku.

Enjoy.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Drunken angel

Followers would cling to you
Hang around just to meet you
Some threw roses at your feet
And watch you pass out on the street
Drunken Angel

Those words are from Lucinda Williams' song, "Drunken Angel" and they're about Blaze Foley.

In 1989, the big-voiced, little-known guitarist was shot and killed by his son's friend. In the years following, many artists including John Prine, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett recorded his songs.

At the time of his death, Foley was in the studio recording a country album. Seven years later, that album, appropriately entitled "Wanted More Dead Than Alive," is set to be released next week.

Hall-of-fame critic Michael Corcoran tells you all of this along with the rest of the tale. He even supplies song clips.

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"Drunken Angel" - Lucinda Williams

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Putting the 'ass' in the classics. Celebs, music, media, opinions and more.


I have a contest and it includes a prize for the winner.

Thanks to some help from jjones (and feedback from many of you), NJK is undergoing its third redesign.

Above is where we stand. But, I need your help with a tagline that captures the site/blog in one or two succinct, memorable sentences.

Anonymous, otherwise known as ILoveJacksonBrowneSoMuch ... ThatMyBrotherHasAHaircutJustLikeHim, suggested a contest to name the tagline. He even took it a step further and submitted the first entry.
  • NotJackKerouac - Bankston's Blog

The Prize: a FREE NJK t-shirt with the new logo and tagline.

Please submit all entries through the 'post a comment' tool. A winner will be named in the near future. Thanks in advance for your help.

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**Banners by jjones

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

J.S. Bankston submits his latest installment as we find Fred safe and sound following Hurricane Rita. You'll have to settle in for this one, but when you do you'll find a great read.


Wake Me Up When September Ends
I spent the week of 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 freaking out 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, running around like a chicken with her head cut off, packing valuables, and taking interior and exterior "before" photos of the house for insurance purposes. She was also dithering about where to evacuate to. She was afraid the hurricane or tornados 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. She was feeling a bit cockier at this point, enough to bait me into a minor argument.

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 tornados. 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 predicted 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 this 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 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. Bankston, 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 inheritance 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 BookPeople. (BookPeople 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. Every day of my illness my mother would call to bleat and bray and whine and nag and cry, saying if I didn't get back to work they'd fire me. I said it was winter--it was normal to have pneumonia. They wouldn't fire me for getting a normal illness--not that I gave a shit one way or the other.

Well, 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 motorcyles. 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 (the amusingly-named "Buck Bankston"--I always thought that made him sound like the hero of a cheap action novel) 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 Buck 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 bitched at me that I'd be a driver today had I only paid attention during Driver's Ed 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 bussing 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'?"

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