The Notorious B.I.G. was almost right. I've tentatively
determined that mo' problems doesn't accompany mo' money. Instead, the amount
of problems stays about the same, but problems themselves change in response
to mo' money. For one thing, the problems are more interesting.1
My car's odometer passed 100,000 miles; coincidentally, I'm contending
with some costly preventive maintenance.
Worse, my landlord put me in a bind about renewing my lease. I
should've received notice in December, about 60 days before my previous
lease expired. Instead, I received this notice, dated Dec. 11, last
month. The best rate the landlord offers locks me into a 13-month lease.
A shorter lease means a rent increase. I've resisted such long leases
before, because of uncertainty about the future
I was annoyed enough to finally seek new housing, through
Habitat Hunters. Jody Lockshin and Susan Speyer were terrific at coming
up with some choices, especially with the time limit.2
Unfortunately, my requirements – an apartment about the same size for less
rent, within reasonable commuting distance of work – limited the choices
to about a half-dozen complexes. One dollar per square foot is the going
residential rental rate in the Greater Austin area, with few exceptions.
I had to eliminate those half-dozen exceptions for other reasons, mostly
ingress, egress, or the surrounding traffic patterns.
One complex I looked at had installed those newfangled talking
The one in the unit I visited kept running
its mouth at me and the leasing agent.
I turned to her. "Is there any coffee left back at the office?"
When she left, I rolled up my sleeves, pried open the lid, jammed
a plunger down its throat and broke off the handle. "It's Giuliani
time," I snarled.4
The toilet briefly gurgled. Then it stopped and I knew it was dead.5
The leasing agent returned. "Forget it," I said. "This place isn't
She checked the toilet. "What happened?"
"Suicide. It told me it couldn't take any more crap."
Meanwhile, the local periodicals are gushing over The Domain
shopping center, which opened, if not grandly, March 8-9.6
upscale development, manipulated by city officials, has probably helped
increase the local residential rents (although not as much as federally induced inflation
is why I went looking for a new apartment.
The City of Austin sweetened the development with tax abatements,
which means local tax rates are too high in the first place, while other
businesses, especially local, are being taxed at a disadvantage vis-à-vis
their more politically powerful competitors.7
mall makes the neighborhood seem “upscale,” which means regular people
won’t be able to afford rents. The Statesman’s Feb. 27 business section
reports most apartments in the mixed-use project will rent for more than
$1,000/month for less square footage than my place.8
But that's OK with city officials, because the area was “on the
verge of decline," according to Councilman Brewster McCracken.9
Decline? I've lived here seven years and the only decline was during the recession
area has since rebounded, no thanks to any government at any level.10
Some of the other rentals have been set aside as affordable housing, meaning
a government-ordered giveaway to people who don’t have their act together
(note to self: upgrade car alarm).11
Worse, a law
firm will move into Domain office space. No doubt the lawyers will be
charging higher fees to cover the cost of their new lair.12
So what do we get for our troubles? A half-complete project that
requires more cops than at the state Capitol just to direct visitors
through the fenced-in routes wending through the construction debris,
whereupon you spend a half-hour looking for a parking spot, then go into
big-name stores selling brand-name clothes so ugly the designers must
be obliged to export them for their native countries to remain in the European
Union. And for all the hue and cry from people who have the clout about
not wanting Austin to look like Los Angeles, the completed parts of The
Domain looks remarkably Southern Californian, especially at sunset.
In other neighborhood news, the Feb. 23 Austin Chronicle contains
an article on Filipino restaurants, including one that opened on
Parmer Lane between Tomanet Trail and Limerick Avenue last summer.13
In the early morning of Feb. 18, I witnessed the aftermath of a
two-car collision at the intersection of Duval Road and the northeast-bound
frontage road of MoPac Expressway. On Feb. 9, News 8 Austin reported an
auto collision at Parmer Lane and MoPac.
The Onion confirms that several location shots in “Office Space”
were filmed nearby.14
The Dancing Dominatrix, and Other Excursions
The lingering cough
left over from the flu finally ended, so I went out for the evening
in the first serious way since New Year’s Eve. At The Copa, one
of the instructors handed out Mardi Gras beads. I wore them inside my
silk shirt, so they didn’t interfere in dancing with partners. But to
make the beads somewhat visible, I unbuttoned the shirt a bit more. All
I needed were some aggressively cheesy pickup lines so I could be laughed
out of the club.
Instead, I was invited to join a group, including a former Playboy
Bunny, which crashed a private party at Ringside at Sullivan’s for the
cast of the stage version of “The Lion King,” playing at the UT Performing
Good thing I didn’t have to pay to get in.16
We had to find this out surreptitiously in between dancing to the Cuban
band, the reason for us crashing. We were the only ones dancing, too, at
least until the waiters set up more tables on the floor.
Attended the grand opening of Cissi’s Market,
a frou-frou grocery store on South Congress Avenue, which coincided with
I had to slip out of the monthly meeting
of the Society for Technical Communication, which has become an increasingly
tedious imposition on my time since I agreed to serve as a committee chairman
– or whatever cutesy title
the STC uses these days.
The Blanton Museum held a Brazilian-theme version
of its monthly party, to coincide with "The Geometry of Hope," an exhibit
of Latin American abstract art.18
I thought it interesting
the maker of Tinker Toys is moving into the fine arts.19
We visitors were crowded into the first-floor atrium, waited endlessly for
drinks or hors d’oeuvres, and talked so noisily the bands were almost inaudible.
Lots of officious museum types kept blocking me at every turn when I wanted
to get away from the crowd with a drink in my hand. They were worried about
the exhibit artwork. I saw it: Food and beverage stains would be an improvement.
Upstairs, the exhibits were unchanged from the grand opening.20
I did chat with an acupuncturist, but I didn't needle her about
A coltish woman with a blonde crop and a pearl
dog collar arrived in The Copa's Buzios Room near the lesson's conclusion.
In a brisk Commonwealth accent, Rifa told me she was visiting town and
praised my dancing. The song concluded. We murmured pleasantries about
dancing together again soon. I escorted her off the dance floor. She moved
to the bar. I moved to the next dance.
Soon, I calculated Rifa might be receptive to another twirl.
She paused. "I'm still shopping around."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm shopping around for a Mexican."
"What are you shopping around for?"
She relented and we danced a second time. Soon she demanded I lead
her more forcefully. I've danced salsa for about six years and she said
she was a novice. I looked at her skeptically.
"Look, I'm a dominatrix."
I looked skeptically at her again.
"Be more aggressive," she insisted. "Boss the bitch around." She
accompanied her words with a series of pelvic thrusts.
We don't use riding crops or leather corsets in salsa dancing.
Nor do we regularly deploy pelvic thrusts. Certain proprieties are still
observed. Regardless, we must be mindful of injury, so I kept leading her
the same close way before she started critiquing.
"That's better," she said.
At the finale, she dropped to her knees and thanked me. While I
was considering the proper response, she scampered to the bar, to resume
draping herself around various swarthy customers, probably in search of
Barbie, a mirthful brunette I've danced with, had been watching
all this while leaning against the newel. I leaned in to talk to her under
the music. "Drunk foreigner," I said.
Barbie laughed knowingly.
I drove the new 183-A toll road, while it’s still
free of charge, to Liberty Hill and back.21
Later, for $4, I saw Robert Cray perform at the Bob Bullock
Texas State History Museum, part of the Texas Independence Day celebrations.22
At the same event, promoters handed out free samples of Spam. So
I tried some, for the first time ever, astounding as it may seem. Then
again, I never drank coffee when I was a reporter, either. The Spam
tasted bland, with a grainy texture. In other words, a very low-quality
lunch meat, of the sort I never bought even during my lowest periods.23
Austin Death Watch
After years of wrangling, the uncompleted Intel site downtown
was blown up to make way for a new federal courthouse. Expect construction
to delay your visit downtown through 2012. What’s happened there, of course,
is a perfect metaphor for the local ruling elite’s mismanagement of our
The demolition didn’t even happen the way the engineers
hoped. Big pieces of the structure still stand, so the contractor had
to close Nueces Street between Fourth and Fifth streets.25
Legal wrangling for the infamous 1991 yogurt shop murder continues.
The upshot: The man convicted must be retried.26
when I lived in Waco, worked in newspapers, and visited Austin often,
a couple of libertarians I knew, fairly useless to me, were convinced
some sort of conspiracy or frame-up was attached to the crime and wanted
me to uncover the real story. I pointed out that I didn’t live in Austin;
what’s more, I didn’t do that kind of work for free. “Who’s going to put
up the money and make it worth my while to investigate this? You?” I asked.
That ended that
A letter in the March 2 Chronicle mentions the City Council approved
fluoridation of the water for $1 million in January. This, the writer
says, despite the health problems.27
Of course, the
letter can’t mention all the potential problems, such as the possible
connection between fluoride and hypothyroidism or hypothyroid-like
and other documented health concerns about
fluoride that overlap with those raised by the likes of Murray Rothbard
and the John Birch Society.29
The matter could be
the focus for a broad-based local coalition.30
hold your breath.31
The Austin Police Department faces the prospect of 150-plus cops
retiring this year. Naturally, civic leaders are concerned.32
Frankly, we might be better off without so many cops around, given the
historically dubious origins of the police, controversies over use of
force, abuses of authority, glimpses of possible big, juicy scandals
just below the thin blue veneer, and rapid consumption of the overtime
It’d be cheaper, too.
The Austin fire chief reprimanded two 911 dispatchers for
their inaction that charbroiled a longstanding barbecue joint near campus.34
Actually, I’m surprised the ruling elite hasn’t exploited this incident
to start a crusade against barbecue – all that smoke, and red meat,
and artery-clogging sauce, and people having a good time – akin to the
one against smoking on private property.35
The University of Texas added another tentacle of empire this month
with the establishment of a chair in national security at the Lyndon
B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.36
The chair is
half-named for Walt Rostow, a Communist fellow traveler37
turned economist and national security adviser to presidents Kennedy
As an economist, he came up with the notion of automatic,
inevitable stages of economic growth for a nation, provided it already
has a strong, centralized state.39
As a national security adviser,
he contributed to America’s debacle in Southeast Asia, including manipulation
of intelligence reports.40
Comments at the inaugural luncheon from his widow and from former
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger tip off the observant that this ritual
continues the tradition of academics serving as “court intellectuals,”
who provide pseudo-scientific rationalizations for the grisly actions
of the corporatist, managerial-therapeutic, warfare-welfare state in
exchange for pieces of power, pelf and pomp.41
Ironically, the widow spoke against the current administration
because – what? – it’s an embarrassing reminder that the same mindset
and policies failed then42
and fail now?43
Similarly, the Feb. 22 Daily Texan carried a paean to the late
Barbara Jordan, closet case, former LBJ School teacher, and onetime
black Democratic officeholder, who’s treated like some sort of saint
by those who currently frame the local civic discourse.44
I saw her once on television and pegged her as a pious fraud. Meanwhile,
Rothbard once wrote of her:
… sounding for all the world like a basso Franklin Roosevelt,
complete to the Groton accent and the whistled s's, whose call for a
"national community" was strongly reminiscent of Adolf Hitler, though
Hitler, of course, had a lot more pizzazz.45
We’ll reframe that discourse yet.46
I passed by a beauty salon poster that exhorted me to “be curly.”
So I lobbed custard pies at the customers. Nyuk nyuk nyuk.47