Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Not a Shamus

I’m reading Raymond Chandler again. This time it’s “Farewell My Lovely.” I also acquired The Big Sleep, starring H. Bogart and Lauren Bacall. That is also good. Though it’s slightly harder to follow than the book. It’s a regular Raymond Chandler kniption I’m going through here.

I don’t know what it’s all about. (Besides my continuing retreat into film fantasy land—swear to god, I now replay and rethink and refeel some movies as if they were scenes from my own life.) (I need to get out more.) Maybe, though, I like this gumshoe-LA-broads-in-flouncy-dresses world because it’s so much like my own life and my own little Vienna. Phillip Marlowe dodges bullets. I worry about dodging shoes thrown by my Middle Eastern students. Every time Marlowe gets into a cab or a bookstore, it’s filled with curvy, yearningly available blondes. Everytime I get onto a bus, a big Turkish guy steps on my foot and grunts.

Here in this phase I’m having, I think, ‘It looks so cool when Bogart pulls on his ear. I oughta do that.’ But in Vienna, if I pulled on my ear every time I tried to have a thought, people would regard this as a schizophrenic symptom. Treatment would be recommended.

Phillip Marlowe untangles bizarre knots of happenstance, violence, greed and desire. I pull my ear as I try to figure out why the Viennese lapse into states of clinical depression when they see the first fallen leave of autumn.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Adventures in the Media Trade

So we were approached by a member of the media, a guy who's doing a story about foster parents in Vienna. We both thought it would be a good idea to talk to him. Anette wanted to try to adjust some of the wrong thinking about foster kids. As for myself, even before we met V., as we were adopting Adinah, I read a suggestion that adoptive parents should be vocal about their positive experiences, if only to counter some of the tv movie-media-horror stories about adoption. That made sense to me. So I still do take every opportunity to talk about the upside (and downside) of our family story. To everyone.

But V.'s situation is different. V.'s biological mother is alive and doing well. She reads magazines and newspapers--gosh, she might even go online sometime! That's one of the reasons I've never written V.'s full name or posted a recognizable foto of her (or Adinah) on this blog. Her first mother loves our sweet V. It's partly because of this that we were able to welcome V. into our house and have such a crazy wonderful family. We can and do thank V.'s bio-mother for that. And we owe her.

Anyhoo, the writer guy's people wanted to send a photographer to our house, but we offered to take the photos ourselves. They agreed to let us try. I made some nice, discreet pictures of Anette playing with Adinah and V. We e-mailed the pictures and the media folk were happy with them.

He came over to interview us last week. He seemed like a nice guy, seemed sensitive to the key issues, okay, good. I did get a little nervous when I saw that he wasn't gonna tape the conversation. (As a journalist myself, I almost always record interviews.) And as we talked, I paid attention to when he was listening, talking himself, and/or taking notes.

We talked about racism in Vienna, about differences between adopting and foster parenting, about some people's perception that foster parents are only in it for the state subsidies. And we talked about people who become foster parents to "save a child" or "do God's work." Let's call it the missionary position. I told the guy that I think that anyone who foster parents for this reason is gonna have problems. We told him that we adopted Adinah and brought V. into our house because we wanted to be a gang of four.

He wasn't writing much of this down.

I hope he was paying attention.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Best $5 and $10 Words

1) crummy

2) horseshit

3) horseradish

4) buccaneer

5) booty

6) indubitably

7) parsnip

8) crazy

9) sneaky

10) dope

11) mope

12) hush puppie

13) buxotic

14) peeve

15) peckish

16) bug

17) tortilla

18) waxing

19) zip

20) pest

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

sole freak

Looks like the financial system is still falling apart, and so is Sarah Palin. We've got a new President. But the big news around here is that Papa's got a brand new pair of shoes!

I told an Afghan colleague, and she smiled warmly. "I noticed--congratulations!" she said.

As a rule, I wear a pair of shoes until they fall off my feet. My Tommy Hilfigers are cleaved in the middle and look like coconuts about to crack. My other pair of sneakers have a cheese-shaped wedge worn out of the heels--they make me stand like a penguin.

Maybe I wear my shoes to death because my mom once told me my shoes were supposed to last me a full year? I dunno....

Anyway, as is always the case when I go shopping with Anette, I entered the premises wanting one new thing, and left with three. I even bought some shoe creme, and from now on, I'm going to take better care of all my shoes and boots. I will occasionally give that thirsty leather a nice cool drink.

Why do I avoid shopping for clothes? Is that a male thing? (Umm, yes.) I always feel very fancy indeed after I've made my multiple purchases. Once, when my wife was 'assisting' me in finding a winter coat, she pulled something off the rack and handed it to me. A long, gray polar bear pimp of a coat. I wrinkled up my nose and said, "Naaah, that'll make me look like a rock star." Twenty minutes later, after buying it, I was watching my new coat flap around my legs as I walked down the street, and I thought, 'Cool. This makes me look like a rock star!'

My new shoes just make me look gainfully employed. That's pretty exciting too.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Back in the Day, Part Two: an Open Question for you, Dear Reader

Five years later, the Austin punk and hardcore scene had burned up and blown away. Raul's got shut down and became the fratboy-friendly Texas Showdown; Voltaire's Basement reverted to being just a basement. Like some of the other best and brightest, Terry Marks left town: I did finally get to have an actual conversation with her, but I had to move to New York City to do it. Curiously enough though, the Hickoids--as a concept and an influence, if not as an actual band--did survive: in 1995, for example, my younger brother was playing drums in a country-punk band who revered the Hickoids, though they may have never seen them play.

But I believe the Austin punk, new wave and hardcore scene of 1979-1985 left permanent stains on the city, its music and its culture. In fact, as non-snoozing readers may have guessed, I'm working on an essay about this era for an upcoming museum show in Austin. Because of this, and because I know a lot of my Austin friends will have their own ideas about it, I'm gonna do something I've never done before (tee hee): I'm asking an open question or two of Euro Like Me readers, especially any of you Austin folk who are still tuning in. (Ed, are you there? B, are you still checking me?) Here's the question(s): What is the legacy of bands like the Big Boys, the Dicks, the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid in the Austin of today? Who are the extreme or amazing and freaky bands of 2008, and do they owe any debt of influence to some of the aforementioned superfreaks? And do any clubs in the city bear the traces of great old venues like Club Foot or Dukes Royal Coach or the Beach?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Back in the Day, part 1

I don't live in Austin, Texas, anymore, but I was at the Fluc, my favorite cool-kids bar the other night, and it made me think of the golden era of punk rock in my hometown: of Raul's club, and the Hickoids, and Terry Marks. It may be standard for bohemians the world over to believe that their local bands, and their club, and their scene is utterly unique and awesome. But it isn't always so.

So as I leaned against the DJ booth at the Fluc, too tired to blink, I watched a dumb-ass student film, shot in black and white and projected on the wall. It seemed intended as a film-noir remix of Mother Goose. Five feet away from me, a lithe, foxy lesbian was canoodling with her girlfriend. Then she crossed the room, started flirting with a man, and left with him! Finally, a conceptual artist, wearing one of those clean suits the Centers for Disease Control folks use when there is an outbreak of bat pox, swept through the club telling everyone that the next act of her S & M puppet show was about to begin on the sidewalk outside the place.

Actually, now that I think about it, the Austin punk and hardcore scene, ca. 1984, was usually not quite this silly.

But there are parallels. Back in the day, on any given night in the clubs--Raul's, the Ritz, Club Foot, Uncle SuSu's, Studio 29, Voltaire's Basement--you might have seen a singer with a toy airplane glued to her head, fronting an unlistenable new wave band. Or you might have gawped helplessly as David Yow, the singer for Scratch Acid, attacked Gibby Haynes, the singer for the Butthole Surfers, smashing him over the head with a beer bottle, and then grabbing the microphone to take over the song the Buttholes had been playing!

For every renegade who didn't get the attention from the scene that he deserved, like the filmmaker and experimental musician Bryan Hansen, who died very young, there was a band who probably got more juice than they deserved, like the Hickoids, who turned corn-pone and country punk into low art. Sort of.

And even though Austin bands like Scratch Acid, the Big Boys and the Dicks later became legends, especially for people who never saw them play, we tend to forget that this was a bar scene, and all this amazing music was spilling off the stage even as everyone else in the place was trying to get laid, look cool and/or drink themselves blind. Even as I craned my neck to get a better view of bands like Poison 13 or Sharon Tate's Baby, I was really hoping for a brief glimpse of Terry Marks, the foxiest motorcycle-riding, moshpit-conquering, asymmetrical haircut-having chick on the scene.

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Free @ Last

This is the picture that got to me. To see the Reverend Jesse Jackson crying as Barack Obama became our President was to know--instantly, wordlessly--how much this election means to people, and how different it is from the selections which preceded it.

People often use giant metaphors when they talk about the US, but usually language like this reminds me of a terrible old fifties sci-fi movie. I see the US as a lumbering, 80-foot cyclops in a diaper.

But not today. I am proud of us today. And I feel like something almost forgotten, some fine ideal, has come striding forward through the murk and disillusion of my brain, just like Obama striding across that stage in Chicago last night.

To see Jesse Jackson (and Oprah) crying in that crowd, and to hear Barack Obama speak so powerfully of the giant ideals that people should think of when they think of America, and to just sit back and think of what we did yesterday and how far we've come lately, is to be reminded that there is something fine in us. And there's something truly grand about that place, over there, that I still call 'home.'

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Do the Right Thing

Four years ago, American voters broke my goddamn heart by re-electing one of the most dangerous presidents in the history of the country. Today, I’m hoping for the make-up sex.

I try to be a political guy. I rant. I read about the campaign in the NY Times online. I protest in the streets when that's necessary. I boycott Starbucks (and shouldn’t we all?) But mostly I just do the minimum expected of me as a citizen—I express my opinion and I vote.

Two weeks ago, I voted from abroad for Barack Obama. Here is why I did that:

--Obama wants to get us out of Iraq. We shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

--Obama does not want to ‘’Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.’’ And the NY Times is right: John McCain’s willingness to joke about it was scary.

--Obama wants to spread the wealth. This is a sound, democratic idea. To pretend that it amounts to socialism (with or without the help of Joe the Fucking Plumber) is a funhouse mirror distortion.

--Obama has campaigned with dignity, and asked for my vote. He’s run smart, and listened to people. He’s also been cool as a cucumber. His opponent has called him names, threatened me and other voters with all that September 12 politics-of-fear horseshit, and otherwise told us what we need. No.

I could go on, but election day is ticking away. Please vote, people. Peace.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Last Night...

Last night, before we got in bed, Anette changed V.'s diaper. But this woke V. up, and so the kid commenced with the screaming. After she settled down, we adults fell asleep, though not before I insisted, muttering, that we have to do something about these nights.

A few hours later, Adinah woke up and came over to our room three times, before Anette told her to get into bed with me. My wife moved to the green couch in the ballroom.

At about 1 a.m., and then again at around three, from the depths of Slumberland, I heard V. erupting again in her crib. It always starts the same way: she wakes up and calls "Mommy!" until one of us mommies wakes up and gives her a bottle of milk, tea or water. But sometimes V. cries out "Nein! NEIN!!" and she is almost...inconsolable. Great torrents of anger and fear exploding out of our baby girl. Sometimes we can talk her down. Sometimes we shout back.

Anette will go to V. three or four times throughout the night. Until they're both exhausted. The screams wake up everyone else all over again. We all get sleep, but no rest.

Sometimes I think Euro Like Me should be called a 'slog'--short for sleep log--because I'm always complaining about our bus station nights. (And I apologize for that, dear reader.) But I honestly don't know when V. will settle down and sleep through the night. When she will finally really feel safe. Somehow she must still be so scared and troubled about the world.

Maybe--likely--her night screaming has something to do with the fact that she's just started kindergarten. She's there Monday through Friday, 9 am to 2 pm, and that must be a long time away from us. Every morning, she tries to be brave and strong when she says goodbye to Anette or me, but her lower lip starts trembling anyway.

Or maybe our life is just too un-routine for her. Some afternoons she's with our babysitter Rosa, sometimes with me, sometimes with Anette's niece. Maybe she just doesn't know who's the real mommy....No, I'm sure she knows.

But, well, Anette and I both have to work. Try explaining that to a two-year old.

She's come a long way in the year that she's been living with us. But I think the night is still very dark and frightening for V. So our house may be unquiet for a while longer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

nice work, part 2

Well, yes, that was pretty fucking fun.

Garth Hudson wore black. Black pants, black shirt, black gaucho cowboy hat. Black bomber jacket with "Los Lobos" on the back and "Garth" embroidered on the lapel. He still has long hair and the beard. Says he shaved once. In 1973.

He told me about McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Charles Brown, Sonny Boy Williamson. About playing in bars with chicken wire in front of the stage. He talked about the jazz pianist Art Tatum as if he was an infinitely mysterious alien force.

He even talked about Bob Dylan a bit. He said Dylan worked an Olivetti typewriter like a jazz player taking a solo. He told me that he and Dylan used an Ampex tape recorder to make the Basement Tapes.

He told me about The Band, his band. He said the great and tragic Richard Manuel was the finest "energy" piano player he ever saw, and that Manuel's favorite sandwich was whole grain bread, a sweet red onion, and peanut butter. And he said The Band liked to play "the kind of music that could be performed by guys who wanted to be young forever."

What is it about talking to musicians and hearing stories about the making of great albums that still punches my ticket? I'll probably never know....