South Austin Cool

RECEIVED Fri., Aug. 20, 2010

Dear Editor,
    It was around 9am on a Sunday morning in September 2000. It was the hottest September on record, with temperatures reaching 117 degrees! It seemed impossible to get cool, unless you went to Barton Springs and stayed in “'til ya turnt blue!”
    I was living in the absolutely coolest apartment complex in South Austin. (OK, side note for you folks not familiar with Austin: The 04 ZIP is a status symbol. There is a reason Stevie Ray's statue is on the south side of Town Lake. South Austin Jug Band, the Continental Club, the Austin Motel, Saxon Pub, and the Broken Spoke. People you heard on KGSR were neighbors. My downstairs neighbor worked on the stage crew for Austin City Limits. So living in South Austin meant you were "cool" even in a record-breaking heatwave.)
    So I headed out of my upstairs apartment, and as I am going down the stairs I see in the middle of the parking lot shaded by large live oaks my neighbor. Henry has on tennis shoes, no socks, Seventies-style gym shorts, no shirt, and a 35mm camera, facing the apartment complex entrance. Now up to this point Henry and I had only introduced ourselves and never had a conversation of any length or substance (which if you know Henry, you know is a rarity). As I am passing by on the way to my pickup truck I say, “Smoke.” Immediately Henry turns to me, cocks his head back, and says, “The movie with Harvey Kietel?” (Wayne Wang film in which Harvey Kietel plays a shopkeeper and takes a picture from his door each morning at 8am.)
    Neither of us in our South Austin cool smugness would have ever assumed the other would have a clue as to the origin of the reference. So we stood there for more than an hour discussing movies, books, art, philosophy, psychology, and of course where the best Chinese buffet was in town. Thus the conversation began, and it has continued for the past 10 years.
    The conversation continues to yet another generation as Henry, forever the teacher, is now a counselor and mentor to my daughter as she follows in Henry's steps in becoming an exceptionally talented professional photographer.
    Just remember to keep your shirt on, sweetie.
Terry Roberts
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