Page Two: The Best of Austin
A concept in search of an author; characters in search of a form; memory in search of meaning
A Silent Film Serial in Many Chapters (projected at the correct speed, accompanied by a small orchestra, with appropriately colored tints)
You Play the Red and the Black Comes Up; J'accuse and Remember; Reminisce and Accuse
[Against a gray morning sky, a Model T drives up to the top of a hill. A dog jumps out to run across a field.]
September and October have long been "the Rocking Horse Winner" months here at the Chronicle, breeding the "Best of Austin" out of an already sapped staff, with nothing left to give, still giving. It is a quiet hum but always there. It is a hum of hunger demanding to be fed by a constant tabulation going on, a hum insisting it be fed by content – content to be decided on, thought about, researched, written, proofread, corrected, fact-checked, designed, printed. It is a hum of worrying – never shouting, always urgently whispering to all that they go quicker, do more, finish entries, vet sections – a hum of concern that time is fleeting. Without changing sound levels, it gets louder and louder. No longer just in the walls, it enters into the head and the blood.
There are no explosions, no detonation, usually little outrageous conduct, but the hum is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
All the time in Austin, there is the unrelenting drizzle of lament – of voices recalling, dismissing, celebrating, singing, and accusing – of voices torn with pain. Neither geological nor structurally permanent, the intellectual, social, and political swift-moving violent white-water rapids of conversation, discourse, and disagreement rip through the city, defining it daily. Guiding it without directing. Dominating dangerous mirages of illusion, weather and emotion, metaphoric and real, poetic and bland. City veterans love the thrill; novices often are swamped and nearly drowned.
Any citizen here for not much longer than 24 hours soon spices his or her conversation with the true vernacular incongruities and accents of the Hill Country. They slip into pot, beer, barbecue, Mexican food, harder drinks, and beginning too many sentences with the most classic River-City-polite phraseology, "You should have been here when ..."
They talk of the loss of the magic city of Oz past. They note how much better the city used to be when the Armadillo was open or KUT-FM was when the population was so much smaller and John Aielli was on for stretches of 24 or 48 hours or more. They bemoan the present's lack of quality, waxing nostalgic for how good ... Austin City Limits TV show, cable access, Joe Ely's band, Güero's tacos, Esther's Follies, Ruby's barbecue, Threadgill's chicken-fried steak, and Curra's whole menu ... used to be, about how easy it was to park, that the summers were never so hot, and sometimes in the winter it even snowed.
They recall the good old days when Guy Juke's and Micael Priest's posters were everywhere, the Butthole Surfers were dangerous, all the people were decent, pot was inexpensive, traffic was always light, and more often than not the cost of living was so cheap that landlords would be paying rent to the tenants. They reminisce how great KLBJ-FM was when Dale Dudley and Bob Fonseca were on in the morning or the KGSR-FM glory days with Jody Denberg and Bryan Beck, when Antone's and the Continental Club were cool, Ann Richards was governor, Raul's was open, South by Southwest was hip, and the Chronicle relevant and interesting.
When Clifford Antone, Janis Joplin, Danny Young, Townes Van Zandt, and Doug Sahm were all alive, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, years away from becoming a statue, played the Rome Inn most weekends.
One of Mad Magazine's most legendary features was published some number of decades back, a riff on advertising that continually insists that products are currently at their very best! Consumers are assured that now these products are newer, stronger, cheaper, healthier, more powerful, better-tasting, and better for you. Imagining some consistency in advertising, the magazine offered parody prior to ads of products – declaring that the taste was off, the cleaners ineffective, ingredients weak, that they weren't healthy, and indeed couldn't do much at all.
In Austin, it is rare to hear a positive comment about anything local except if it is in the past tense. One of my recent columns was about Austin as it is now. It was not advocating change but arguing that change had happened. Some were so obsessed by what has been lost that they were missing the wonders still here.
Some chastised me for acquiescing so easily and not resisting. Resist we had; this was not advocacy but acceptance. The Chronicle has fought and continues to fight one of the longest rear-guard actions in history. The column was simply describing where this city is now, finding it still outstanding though different. The choice is not to change back – that is not an option. The choice is to embrace it or not.
The "Best of Austin" issue brings home the changes and the resulting losses as well as the ongoing and newly added strengths.
[Characters that will appear throughout this teleplay are now introduced:
Jean Pierre Melville – a traveling minstrel
Humpty Dumpty – a philosopher
Eddie Romero – a Filipino film director
Women in Cages – The Patton Family Singing & Dancing Sisters
Ann Savage – Ann Savage
Supplying the voice of the madman relative kept prisoner in the third tower that could only be reached by going through the always-locked red door on the third floor – Harry Langdon
Alaskan Oil – Fuzzy St. Gabby, a prospector
Weather People – The cast of Cats, in costume]
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. Ed Lowry Teaches Us Everything.
[There are broad plains. Men on horses ride across them. A long line of Model Ts drives off into the distance.]
The "Best of Austin" issues feature readers' and critics' opinions. Each one is part of the greater story of Austin. Run together over the years, the "Best of Austin" issues offer a vast four-dimensional picture of Austin, of so many of the places, people, and businesses that define the city.
Hundreds of items are already here, additions and suggestions are always welcome.
Some would rather tear down than build, insult rather than praise. This column in past "Best of Austin" issues has talked of Bob Cole resurrecting restaurants, of C3's aesthetic and logistic brilliance, of Waterloo Records, Zilker Park, and good bread.
[Teaneck, N.J., 1955. Griggs Avenue. A 5-year-old boy sleepwalking leaves his home through the back door. Later he is awaken by a policeman in an unfamiliar living room.]
In Austin the topic of Whole Foods Market can attract such electricity, it makes lightning rods look inhospitable. Opinions abound based on everything from ideology to cuisine, from attraction to quality, to an obsession with economic class concerns.
Unfortunately, once you begin to eat organic fruits and vegetables and free-range chicken rather than skin-wrapped flesh and water, you can easily become addicted. It is not ideology or politics but taste.
Discussions often narrow focus. One of the realities we are privileged to live with is how Whole Foods has changed the supermarket landscape all across the country. In many, many communities where good food was once nearly impossible to find, now all kinds are readily available.
[President Bush and Vice President Cheney – the Ritz Brothers
The Bush daughters – Thelma Todd & Zazu Pitts]
Lies Sneak In on Little Cat's Feet
[Violent storms are stretched across the evening sky.]
Only three weeks until the election, the wild pre-election storms of wind and sand swirl about crazily – whacked-down streets, racing through schools, even though they lack substance and are without gravity, they still cover everything with dust.
The idea now is innuendo. Obama is chastised because of his past "relationships." This is not guilt by association, we are assured. No, the problem is the way he shared information about them.
If he had talked about them differently, then that would have been the problem. The idea is to attack and discredit and not to present an idea or anything that looks or comes across as one. The idea is the bucket of pigs' blood at the end of Carrie to be anonymously dumped on Obama again and again. Baptizing him, drowning the Democrats.
I knew some Weather Underground folks in Boston and in Vermont. During the summer of 1968 in Peekskill, N.Y., Jeff Jones and I got into an intense, ugly argument.
I never much liked the Students for a Democratic Society in general; the Weather Underground were worse. They quite unattractively combined a sense of privilege (because of their race and class) with an arrogant self-righteousness. They offered a very simplistic political, social, and ideological agenda.
Still, what drove them was not terrorists' hatred of the United States but rather the deep disillusionment and desperation of those who loved this country but were horrified by what was happening in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. The idea was not to destroy the U.S. but to right its course.
Twenty years or more after their brief heyday, when Obama met them (i.e., William Ayers), they were not on the run but were integrated legal members of the society.
The Association of Community Organi- zations for Reform Now hires folks to go out to register people to vote. They pay those that sign them up a rate per person signed. Not surprisingly, some of these folks got quite creative at generating voters.
This is not a top-down conspiracy. It is not really massive voter fraud until the registered noncitizens show up to try to vote. Don't expect much of that, because for the most part they won't show up at the polls. This is why the GOP is pumping it up now to capture the excitement before it implodes on itself.
I'm not sure how it works exactly, but it doesn't seem likely that an independent organization that registers voters can have much discretion over what voter registration forms it turns in and which ones it doesn't.
Think about it.
Now if only the blowhard, dishonestly disingenuous, hard-right pundits who now insist this blatant corrupting of the electoral system hurts them in their constitutionally pristine hearts had shown any but the most base partisan commitments to the integrity of the electoral system in Florida and Ohio, think how different things might have been.
President Bush sings a medley of songs about tax-cutting, insisting that he is cutting taxes for all Americans because it will stimulate the economy. The hard-right pundit gang trip over themselves explaining how American families will each save an average of $1,000 in taxes.
Some were just up to their usual tricks, kicking back into the sweet old dishonesty that brays about its own integrity while turning tricks on street corners. Casually condemning as worthless all who disagree with them, their staccato cadence lulls listeners into not objecting to their absurd claims that members of a racially mixed, nationally organized political party should be branded as racist because they simply bring up the idea of race in politics.
There is nothing quite as amusing as two or three relatively clueless cable news Anglo talking heads weighing in on racism, when they really have precious little idea as to what they are talking about, with some of them undoubtedly thinking the topic of race is related to the Triple Crown.
Later, as the lies go out into the night on little cat's feet, Sarah Palin shoots them dead.
COMING NEXT WEEK, TO A THEATRE NEAR YOU:
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
The State of the Union and the U.S. Constitution.
Humpty Dumpty sings, "Original Intent," "Fair and Balanced," "Judicial Activism," and "Common Sense," a song about lying by word choice.
[A dam bursts. It rains. A bank closes.]