Uptown Rantz

Don't Wanna Be No Uptown Fool

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Cheney and Shoegaze

“When did you know you wanted to make Kristine your fiancé?” Cheney whispered while staring down at her Corona bottle, her voice barely audible above the hum of the central air conditioning in my North Austin townhome and Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque shooting from the stereo speakers…shoegazer music straight outta Scotland.

“It’s so cool you still listen to CD’s,” she grabbed the jewel case and used it as a makeshift beer coaster. The condensation from the bottle quickly created a water ring on it. We were sitting on the living room floor, waiting for the 101-degree sun to set so we could sit on the patio.

I leaned back on my elbows. “One day…I woke-up and Kristine was putting on her morning makeup in the bathroom…leaning over the sink into the mirror, naked from the waist up. Her iPhone was propped-up on the counter and she was listening to a podcast interview of Deathcab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. I loved Deathcab long before I met her, and she loved Deathcab long before she met me. That’s the second I knew I would marry her.”

“Oh,” Cheney replied, not looking up from the Corona, jewel case or water ring. She was visiting from Minneapolis on a one-way ticket and staying at my place. Kristine isn’t moving in until after the wedding, so Cheney was enjoying the spare bedroom and having the swimming pool to herself during the day when other tenants are at work.

“But what made Kristine different than Jessica or your other girlfriends?” She tilted back her head for a swig from the Corona and rested her eyes on me for an answer. Her blue two-piece swim suit was slightly visible under her long, white v-neck t-shirt. In the eight days she’s been here, her skin has gone from Minnesota pale to an attractive light bronze, more suited to her surfer girl frame.

I turned my butt 45-degrees and put my legs on the couch and lied back on the floor. Cheney’s knees were next to my head. She smelled like chlorine and suntan oil, her hair still wet from her swim. As long as I’ve known Cheney, she’s always had a smell to her…never an odor, but always a smell and always feminine.

“Timing, I think,” I said looking at the whiter than white ceiling. “It had gotten to the point where I wanted that commitment more than anything I’ve ever wanted. And I was at the point in life where I was almost ashamed of not being married. On airplanes, in line at the grocery store…I would tuck my bare ring finger beneath my phone or a magazine.” I grabbed Cheney’s Corona for a drink, most of it falling on my chin as I lay on my back.

Cheney sat straight up, reached both hands behind her head and removed the small band that had been holding up her damp, dark hair. Her hair fell and created a black curtain around her head. She handed the little elastic band to me, and I put it around my wrist. It smelled like her.

I got up and walked to the kitchen to grab a Corona for myself. Looking around my place, Cheney’s presence was unmistakable…Zippo lighter on the kitchen counter, stray cigarette butts on the patio, two Piccadilly writing journals next to the Keurig, guitar pick necklace hanging from the pantry doorknob, dirty pair of blue Vans classics inexplicably in the middle of the kitchen floor, a small pile of clean but unfolded underwear at the bottom of the staircase and the empty Corona bottles slowly amassing on the counter next to the fridge.

“Why? I thought you loved your single life,” I asked her while grabbing a Corona by the neck at the back of the fridge. My townhome felt colder than the inside of the fridge.

“Yeah, but I need companionship and love like that. I want that, I think…I don’t fuckin’ know, I guess.” She reached her right arm around the back of her head, grabbed all of her hair and set it over her right shoulder, so that it rested over her right boob. “I don’t even want it just for the sex like I used to. I need someone to talk to and laugh with, so that I don’t spend so much fuckin’ time inside my head. My thoughts aren’t always the kindest to me.”

“Or I’d settle for being that chick from Gospel Gossip. Do you still have their CD?” She asked while looking into the milk crates that I’ve used to store CD’s since college.

She found the CD in the milk crate before she even finished asking me if I still had it and placed it in the disc changer.

I laid flat on my back on the floor with my head between the speakers, holding the Corona atop my sternum with my hands. Cheney lay right next to me and did the same with her Corona. We must’ve looked like two corpses impaled with glass bottles. We listened to the Gospel Gossip EP from start to finish without saying a word. There was the bitter after-taste of beer in my mouth, a wall of warm fuzzy dream pop in my ears and the satisfying scent of chlorine and suntan oil to my right.

Kristine was seated to my right in the pedi-cab, searching her purse for lipstick. While unscrewing the lipstick cap and turning to me, she calmly said, “Your blood pressure reading can vary depending on the time of day you measure it. You were also in pretty severe back pain at the time, which can cause your blood pressure to spike.” It’s hard not to find it patronizing when she dispenses simple bits of medical knowledge to me like that. It’s something that she probably learned the first week of medical school, and I’m just now learning it as she tells it to me. It’d be like dating an MIT mathematician and having him or her help you balance your checkbook.

After beers at The Belmont, we decided to pedi-cab to La Zona Rosa on the other side of downtown Austin. The wind was blowing the smell of Kristine’s shampoo right at me. It was a smell that reminded me of our first date, which made me realize that I was establishing memories with this girl.

A month before, what ended up being a muscle pull in my lower back, had me bed-ridden for three days followed by a week of painful unannounced spasms. It was a month before I was pain-free and didn’t have to stretch for five minutes every morning. The trip to the strip mall urgent care also informed me that my blood pressure was slightly elevated. Every prior trip to a doctor resulted in the doctors or nurses being impressed with my healthy blood pressure numbers. Not this time.

I rifled my mind for answers, like using your index finger to flip through the used CD bins at Cheapo in the 90’s. I stopped running, I had introduced eggs into my normally oatmeal-only breakfast, moving across the country, getting used to a new city – all possible reasons for raised blood pressure, maybe.

I was certain that the doctor’s blood pressure cuff was wrong, but a trip to HEB the next day proved it was right. The do-it-yourself blood pressure reading confirmed that I am “pre-hyper tension.” I was half-convinced it said “pre-death.”

I was uncertain about disclosing this…this thought…the worry…this confrontation with my mortality to Kristine. It was because I was uncertain of our status. Over the past several months, she was beginning to have a larger role in my life, but I didn’t have a name for that role. We never talked about it or discussed boundaries. Ever since Dawson’s Creek and My-So-Called-Life, I’ve had the dangerous tendency to talk and overanalyze anything good in my life out of existence instead of just letting it happen and rush over me.

She smacked her lips together twice while throwing the lipstick back into her tote, which I saw also contained a stethoscope. I heard the Bobbi Brown hit what sounded like an Altoid tin. She grabbed her sunglasses and put them atop her head to keep the hair from her face. She said, while staring directly into the headwind turning off 4th Street, “I’ll bring my blood pressure sleeve from work and take your reading tomorrow. I’ll measure it every day for a week right when you wake up.”

“No!” I shot back. Kristine looked surprised at my quick and flat response. I wasn’t sure if I was yet her boyfriend, but I knew for certain that I didn’t want to become her patient. And of the various labels I could attach to her, being my doctor was definitely not one of them. I don’t want to hear my doctor saying, “Cum in me baby,” on a nightly basis. My girlfriend can say that all she wants. The more my girlfriend says it, the better, but not my doctor.

“Ok, let me know if you want me to do that for you, though. I’d be more than happy to.” I thought she grabbed my hand just for a moment of assurance, but she didn’t let go. She held my hand for the remainder of the pedi-cab ride.

Friday Night Lights Fandom

On my recent trip back to Austin, I had to track down the addresses to snap these photos of the Riggins, Taylor and Saracen houses. Luckily, Sue came through for me and we did the drive-by photos.

Matt Saracen’s, the QB, home.

Home of Tim and Billy Riggins

Coach Taylor’s home

Lunch with a Skull Ring

“Dude, you look like, awful!” Morgan said loud enough for everyone to hear – standing outside Jo’s smoking one of his American Spirits.  Since we were high school seniors, he’s never been without a pack of American Spirit cigarettes and at least one pack of Wrigley’s gum.

Senior year, Morgan, Sue and myself road tripped to Lubbock to see Buddy Holly’s grave.  On the way home, well past midnight, Morgan was at the wheel of his parents’ Range Rover when he dropped a lit cigarette on his lap.  He veered off the road and we hit an approach.  Sue was lying down in the back seat, and from the corner of my eye, I saw her stay horizontal and hit the car’s roof.  We came to a halt and the only thing we could hear in the dead silence was our panicked breathing.  We were okay.  The Ranger Rover was damaged to the tune of about two grand.

“Thanks,” I said, my voice sounding like an old scratchy phonograph record. We walked inside Jo’s and got in line.  My stomach felt like a pot of water on the verge of boiling, so I opted for coffee and toast.  As we sat down, I told Morgan about watching Bright Lights Big City at MSP International while waiting out my delay.

“I think the only reason you like that movie so much is because that guy spends the entire movie pining for a girl named Amanda,” he said, accusingly. Morgan always wears a giant skull ring like Keith Richards.  It stared right at me as he was putting french fries in his mouth.  It was like having lunch with two people.

“No,” I countered, acting insulted.  “I like it because in the end he walks away from a girl named Amanda.”  He made it seem so easy.

“And I bet you still haven’t removed her as the emergency contact on your gym membership,” Morgan said with all the confidence of a seasoned trial lawyer cross-examining a trembling witness.  His skull ring acting as the less-experienced junior associate.

“Only because it never occurs to me that she’s still my emergency contact.  Who really thinks of those things?”  I do.  It crosses my mind every single time the blonde kid swipes my gym card at the front desk.  It would be so easy to remove her…take maybe five minutes. But to do so would mean hearing the blonde kid verify my current contact, which means hearing her full name.  It would instantly transport me back to the day when we joined the gym together.

My cell vibrated and it was a text from Jeanine back in Minneapolis.  She’s throwing a party next month and wants me there…

“Seen her lately?” asked Morgan, as three UT cheerleaders with still-wet-shower-hair took the table next to us.

“Who? Amanda? Yeah, just recently.”  I told Morgan about running into her and hearing about her live-in boyfriend and their outdated rented condo.  How weird it was hearing her say, “My boyfriend,” a role I once played to mediocre acclaim.  How that little run-in left me somewhat shaken for a week, and she probably forgot all about it as soon as I walked away.

Morgan took a sip from his lemonade, “Sorry, man”

“Yeah…”

Night to Bishop

When I sat up in bed, it felt like my head was still asleep on the pillow.  The last thing I wanted at that moment was to have to be somewhere.  And I knew that a hangover would be my unwanted guest for the entire day.  The empty Heineken keg cans on the kitchen counter were looking at me as if to say, “I told you so.”  But I’m back in Austin, so they were probably saying, “I told y’all so, hook’em!”  I don’t smoke, but I smelled like cigarettes from the La Zona Rosa patio smokers.

I had to meet Morgan at Jo’s for lunch.  It’s only a few blocks away and their tuna melt with chips is to die for.  I popped two Advil and took a long hot shower with the fan off, so I would get the sauna effect and open my pores nice and wide so the alcohol could find its way out.  I was letting the hot water stab me like tiny daggers while my memory began piecing together yesterday.

My flight leaving MSP International was delayed…shocker.  But I had my Ipod Touch and Bright Lights Big City was posted in its entirety on Youtube.  The entire 1983 movie posted in ten segments starring Michael J. Fox as a struggling NYC writer with a yearning for booze, cocaine, 501’s and desert boots.

Bishop was waiting to pick me up at Bergstrom.  He still looks like the kid I grew up with, just taller. His parents emigrated from Korea and became devout Catholics – hence his clerical name.  Bishop’s parents wanted him to be a doctor, but he wanted to be Stan Lee and paid for art school by bartending and doing airwalks, heelflips, nollies and other tricks in skateboard videos.

The morning we graduated high school, Bishop got two tattoos: the image of Peter Parker on his right forearm and the image of Spiderman on his left forearm.  He’s never read a Harry Potter book, but he reads J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard commencement speech nightly before bed as some sort of self-affirmation prayer.   He survives as a graphic artist for now.  text of rowling’s pretty sweet speech

We headed to the Brown Building so I could drop off my luggage.  On the way, Bishop asked if I still talk to Amanda and I shook my head without saying anything.  It was better than audibly sighing, “No,” which would give away that I still kind of miss her.  “That’s cool,” he said squinting from the sun, “You’ll do better.”

Once in the loft, I washed up and we walked down to the Brown Bar.   As we entered the bar, we saw Shipley across the street and ran inside so he wouldn’t see us.  Shipley is perpetually on Ecstasy or about to drop Ecstasy.  He’ll stay near a bathroom because Ecstasy supposedly gives you the urge to crap.  Once the peristaltic wave reaches shore is when the high apparently begins.  We raised our glasses and it was good to be in Texas.

We eventually made our way to La Zona Rosa. I don’t think Bishop’s parents fully understand or accept their son’s creative drive. In the pedi-cab, he said they occasionally tell him that the Postal Service is hiring. But I’m happy that he’s following his talent and doing alright. He shares a downtown loft and he’s flying to Las Vegas in two weeks to interview at Zappos.com. But I could tell that not being able to fully share his life with his parents bothers him.

I vaguely remembered standing outside La Zona Rosa at what must have been bar time.  I told Bishop that I had recently talked to Amanda despite shaking my head when he asked me earlier.  She’s living with her boyfriend – the guy she started dating two months after we broke up.  They rent an extremely outdated condo and their combined salaries maybe equal mine.

That last remark came back to me as I started walking to Jo’s and I felt ashamed…it made my headache worse. Why should I judge Amanda and her boyfriend by what they earn? Hell, I’d probably trade places with the guy.  He can have my salary and I’ll take his $35k per year and a shared bed with Amanda.

Even more pathetic is that it made me look like Mikey from Swingers.  But I love how that movie ended, and I hope fate has a similar plan for me…

Sue and the South Austin Bully

Sue P.

The last thing I crave in this heat is food.  I haven’t felt anything close to hunger since I’ve been here.  The chips and salsa here at the loft and the street-vendor empanadas on the way home at night are serving me fine.

I’m meeting Sue tonight at Auditorium Shores for walking and talking.  Sue and I spent our latch-key years together in Austin playing wiffleball, skateboarding and riding bikes to our parents’ offices to try and get money for magazines and books at B. Dalton.  She read all those Judy Bloom books and turned me on to S.E. Hinton’s stuff.  Although she majored in English at LSU, she ended up with a successful career in IT.  She is sent on projects around the world for weeks at a time and it’s rare she’s in town when I’m visiting.  I’m walking to the pedi-cab line and I’m flashing back to our early days.

Growing up, Monty Mack was the intimidator of South Austin.  He was older, dirty and we’re not even sure if he went to school.  His apartment building was on the corner and his terror cell stretched the entire block.  Out of boredom on a June afternoon, Sue wanted to bike down his street.  I told her Monty hits girls, but she was unwavering in her desire to test our bike speed and my bravery.  I figured if we kept quiet and pedaled quickly, we would be okay.

One block away from the gauntlet of dread and we could see Monty sitting on the steps of his building with his junkyard dog leashed next to him.  ZZ Top blaring from his ghetto blaster.  I told Sue that we’ll start building up our speed now, so that we’ll be nothing but a blur by the time we turn the corner down his street.  She agreed.  We put our 10 speeds in gear four and my stomach gets tight.  Monty perked up as he saw us approach.

I’m ready to coast speedily around the corner and then pedal down the straight-away.  But as we approached, Sue began to slow down until we were both at a dead stop with one foot on the pedal and one foot on the street.  Monty was 30 feet away and standing up.  It was a silent stand-off and I swear I heard a squeaky saloon door somewhere in the distance.  And then Sue remarked, “Is that your dog or your wife?”  I turned to Sue and wanted to ask why she just chose to end our lives at the tender age of nine.  But there was no time for that.

We didn’t wait for Monty’s reaction.  We began pedaling like the lead peloton racing down the Champs de Lysse in the Tour de France.  I looked over my left shoulder and Monty was in a full-on sprint behind us.  I knew we would be safe once we reached the end of the block, which was about six houses away.  Monty was fast, but there’s no way he would catch us.  That confidence lasted about two seconds until I felt a sudden lack of resistance in my pedals.  I looked down at my rear tire and froze realizing that the chain had come loose and my Huffy was now useless.

Monty was closing the gap.  I could hear his Adidas shell-toes on the hot asphalt, and there’s no telling what he would do if he caught us.  Sue stopped pedaling her bike and said, “Here, take mine.”  Lacking any concept of chivalry, I gladly took her bike as she grabbed mine by the handlebars.  I began pedaling as she ran alongside mine with the chain dragging on the ground.  In about 15 paces the chain corrected itself and was back on the gear wheels.  I don’t know if she knew that would happen or if she was willing to push my bike all the way to safer ground.  But I always think of that moment when I’m about to see Sue.

The Stars at Night are Big and Bright…and the Nose-Picker

I once read in an old Glenn Frey interview that the way to maintain a constant buzz is to drink two beers immediately and then one beer every one hour and 20 minutes. My experiment with that began back at MSP International. I set the alarm on my cell phone to remind me when I’m due for another. It will necessitate a couple of beers on the plane, so I make sure to have the exact change like they always request on the pre-flight announcement.

I board the plane and take my seat next to a high school kid. He continually picks his nose and then touches his iphone screen. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch. He has a Led Zeppelin biography on his lap. I know everything that’s ever been written about that band – the tour debauchery, musical virtuosity, the heroin, the witchcraft, the gangster manager, the shark and the groupie, the Yardbirds, the vomit asphyxiation. I know it all. It all remains the same. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch.

On my lap is A Preferred Blur by Henry Rollins. H.R’s not a great writer. He’s not even a good writer. I’ve read enough of his books that I’m used to the typos, poor syntax, staccato phrasing and repetitive themes of solitude and anger. His books are self-published so there’s no strict editorial process or publishing house standards to live up to. He writes despite his lack of formal education. But his books are a diary of his lonely, manic, focused, information-craving and sleep-deprived life that would make anyone feel lazy. His only ever “real” job was serving ice cream at a D.C. Haagen-Daz in his teens, and he still keeps in touch with the former manager who told him that if things didn’t work out with Black Flag he could return to the store no questions asked. Overall, he’s lived an uncompromising life and how do you not respect and admire that?

The flight attendant hands me my beer. Pick. Touch. Pick. Touch.

The humidity penetrates Austin Bergstrom Airport. The terminal feels slightly tropical, but I don’t mind. I text Kathleen to let her know I just landed and should be at her downtown loft within 30 minutes. For the past year, Kathleen has enjoyed a sweet gig as a freelance writer for Yahoo. Now that her contract is coming to an end, she was more than happy to rent her place to me again. We’ll spend a beer catching-up, she’ll hand me the key cards to the building and her loft, I’ll hand her the cash for the few days of rent and she’ll be off to her parent’s house.

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