Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Horrors of Ron Titter

Don't forget to wash that candy down with beer at tonight's Ron Titter Band Halloween extravaganza at Hole in the Wall. We'll be playing 'round midnight, the Meshbanes play at 11pm and former Shindig Melissa Bryan starts us off at 10pm.

Monday, October 30, 2006


My former roommate Kevin Fullerton blew into town from Seattle on Friday with his pal Kelly in tow. After Kate and I met them at the airport, we headed for Trudy’s North Star for margaritas and migas. Trudy’s keeps their kitchen open until 2am on Friday and Saturday, which makes it the natural go-to sit-down eatery within stumbling distance of my house. Eating migas at midnight made me feel like I was in Las Vegas.

Saturday was spent gathering costume elements for the evening’s festivities from Goodwill and Savers. I settled in on a convict Elvis look and Kevin went as a Hot Wheels car. Kate made for an alluringly naughty Catholic schoolgirl and Kelly donned green hair to become the Chicken of the Sea. We made it to two parties and briefly stopped by the Victory Grill to see the Darling New Neighbors and the Unbearables performing as the Zombie Rock Orchestra. Sadly, the Neighbors finished before we arrived, but the Unbearables proved to be a toe-tapping closet pop delight. We were thoroughly enjoying the show until someone started up a smoke machine that smelled like a pee-filled vaporizer.

We drove out to Blanco on Sunday and gorged ourselves at Riley’s BBQ on the town square. I never see Riley’s in lists of best barbecue places, but Kevin and I have always had really good brisket there. The all-you-can-eat beans are a nice touch so long as you don’t mind driving back to Austin with the windows down.

On the southeast side of the town square, there is a paved path to the Blanco River that gets you into Blanco State Park without having to pay admission. The path goes right by the second largest live oak tree in Blanco County. We decided to climb the tree, demonstrating a complete lack of faith in my body’s ability to avoid falling. I was quite visibly petrified and I didn’t even get that far up in the tree. By contrast, Kevin scampered up the 400-year-old trunk like a monkey. I always was kind of an indoor kid.

We walked down to the river as the sun began to recede behind the treeline. It had been a picture-perfect day weather-wise and we couldn’t resist having a go on the swings. Everyone should swing from time to time. It keeps you young at soul if not heart. We finally had to abandon the swings when some actual children showed up.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine

This short-lived Saturday morning live action show aired on CBS in the mid-Seventies. The Seventies were the only decade in which anyone could've pitched a show called "The Harlem Globetrotters Popcorn Machine" with a straight face.

Harlem Globetrotter legends like Curly Neal, Meadowlark Lemon, Geese Ausbie and Marquis Hayes appear in the opening credits. Jack in the Box commercial star Rodney Allen Rippy also shows up here.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Crack That Shell

For the sand castle kicker in all of us, here’s your best chance to destroy an office building without being branded a terrorist.

At the ass end of the Nineties high-tech explosion, Intel began building a 10-story chip design center after extracting $10.6 million in incentives from Austin taxpayers. Two years later, the company halted construction and backed out of the deal, leaving an unfinished husk of concrete for all of us to enjoy. After years of negotiations, the much-loathed “Intel shell” at Fifth and Nueces will finally be brought down this fall to make way for Austin’s new federal courthouse.

The Austin Parks Foundation is now selling $10 raffle tickets to destroy the Intel building. One lucky winner gets to set off the implosion, wrecking ball, jackhammer or other means of destruction that wipes the Intel shell out of existence forever.

The winner will also be rewarded with the knowledge that the raffle helps fund improvements to nearby Republic Square Park, but that pales in comparison to the genital-engorging thanatotic fervor of demolishing a hideous symbol of corporate folly.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Boo, It's Titterween!

If you want to rock out on Halloween night without having to deal with the hassle of downtown Austin, come on down to the Hole in the Wall to see The Ron Titter Band (12am), The Meshbanes (11pm) and an extra super-special mystery opening band that will be named shortly.

Best of all, there's no cover and plenty of free stares for all the girls dressed up as sexy nurses, sexy maids, sexy cops, sexy bus drivers and sexy sexy costume vendors.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

10 Stupid Things I Did While Living in Jester Center

1. Drank a half-gallon jug’s worth of screwdrivers, kicked the metal casing off a drinking fountain and urinated in an elevator while returning to my 12th floor room, where I passed out kneeling against my bed in a puddle of vomit.

2. Invited my hall mates to watch me create flash fires with non-dairy creamer in the stairwell, which led to me being a prime suspect when AFD had to roll several fire trucks to Jester because a different idiot set fire to a towel in said stairwell (fortunately I was out of town that weekend).

3. Didn’t lock the door to my dorm room after returning home from a Butthole Surfers show, which resulted in a very drunk unidentified male coming into our room at 3am and climbing into bed with my roommate, where he promptly pissed himself.

4. Smeared the remnants of my 19th birthday cake all over the elevator lobby in a fit of drunken pique.

5. Ate French fries at lunch and dinner every day for two years.

6. Went out of my way to convince my born-again resident advisor that I worshipped Satan shortly after a UT student on spring break was found murdered outside Matamoros by a drug-trafficking cult of Santeria enthusiasts.

7. Smashed a tennis racquet against my suitemates’ bathroom door after they propped a cup of water against my door and knocked, which sent water spilling into my room.

8. Hosted a pretend radio show on KTRD, “Turd 98 FM,” on an alarmingly regular basis until UT’s student radio station gave me a real show.

9. Incurred a constant stream of noise complaints by playing loud music and singing along at the top of my lungs.

10. Tried dipping Copenhagen at my roommate’s insistence, went zooming for about 30 seconds, vomited without honor.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back to School

Kate had a fencing tournament at UT’s Recreational Sports Center on Saturday. I hadn’t been to the Rec Center since 1990 when I was writing a story about its impending grand opening for UT’s alumni magazine. Between graduate school, playing the punk rock and slapping meat on bread, I didn’t have much time for recreating back then.

I’d never been to a fencing tournament, either. Once Kate gave me a brief overview of the scoring system, though, I could enjoy the matches on a rudimentary level. She won two of the three matches I saw and was pleased with her overall performance. So was I, and I’m not just saying that because she knows how to wield a foil.

I ventured over to the Jester Center Wendy’s in between Kate’s matches to grab a bite and watched some of the nail-biting UT-Nebraska game. It was fun to watch a game on campus again, and even if we would've lost, I still would've been happy to not be standing around in the snow in Lincoln.

I lived in Jester Center from 1987 through 1989. With a capacity of almost 3,000 residents, Jester is the largest dorm in North America. I never had much love for its brutal, Soviet-style ambience.

Walking through the doors, I still recognize the scent of college from two decades ago. If I had to describe it, I would say it’s a cross between dorm food and cleaning fluid. I’d know that smell anywhere.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Michael J. Fox for Claire McCaskill

This is a powerful political ad for Claire McCaskill, the Missouri Democrat trying to unseat U.S. Senator Jim Talent. I think this ad should be run against every member of Congress who opposes stem-cell research.

It's so sad to see what Parkinson's Disease has done to Michael J. Fox, but it's downright disgusting that a fascist-flavored cadre of fundamentalists is blocking research that might lead to a cure in order to violently ram their festering perversion of Christian love down all of our throats.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Friday Night Lights

Though nothing compares to H.G. Bissinger's classic 1988 book about the Permian High School Panthers of Odessa, NBC's Friday Night Lights is engaging television.

I'm not just saying that because they filmed some of it right down the street from where I work. Nor am I just saying that because Minka Kelly, the actress who plays perky, faith-driven cheerleader Lyla Garrity (the one in the middle), makes me feel inappropriate stirrings that God and Johnny Law can't do anything about because she's 26 in real life (ha!).

The pilot episode featured a hilarious cameo from UT coach Mack Brown portraying an obnoxious booster telling the coach of the fictional Dillon Panthers that you "don't need a quarterback" to win in Texas football. I'm sure that part was filmed before the Ohio State game.

I never cared much for high school football when I was actually in high school. I went to a few games in my freshman year, but that was it. Our team was lucky to rack up three wins in a season and there were plenty of other things to do besides watch football, like eating at Pancho's Mexican Buffet.

The fever associated with Friday Night Lights is largely a product of small towns and/or large suburban high schools with a decent enough tax base to build top-notch facilities and hire the best coaches. But it is most definitely a fever in large swaths of Texas, and if you want to have something to talk about with people who reside in those swaths, it doesn't hurt to keep up with who's up and who's down.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV

There are a lot of pathetically bad novelty anti-war songs out there right now, but this variation on Tony Orlando & Dawn's "Tie A Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree" by Austin's venerable Asylum Street Spankers is pretty goddamn hilarious, especially in tandem with their Lawrence Welk-style video.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Guest Room

For nearly three months, the guest room of my new home sat empty and unfurnished except for the obscene amount of vinyl I've crammed in the closet.

That all changed this weekend, courtesy of my folks and my Uncle Mark. They brought an old family dresser up from Houston in Mark's truck and went one better by picking up my new guest bed. Then we all had barbecue and ice cream.

I spent Saturday night buying linens, which may be the lowest-key thing I've done on a Saturday night since 1980.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Near-North Austin Grocery Scene Report

In reading the minutes of the Allandale Neighborhood Association’s August 30th meeting, I came across some interesting information regarding the H-E-B at the corner of Burnet and Allandale. If Knight Real Estate is to be believed, H-E-B is apparently staying put on that corner and has no plans to look at the redeveloped Northcross Mall property.

Knight is the property manager for Allandale Village. H-E-B’s 50-year lease there expired two years ago, but they’re now two years into the first of four five-year lease extensions. They have no plans to renovate or expand the existing store.

Anyone who shops at this H-E-B on a regular basis knows it’s the smallest, least well-stocked and most cramped-up location in the Austin area. I typically drive the extra distance to the Far West location if I have serious shopping to do. Although a bad H-E-B is still beats a middling Randall's or Albertson's on price, the San Antonio-based chain stands to lose its neighborhood allegiance if a marginally better grocery store moves into the redeveloped Northcross Mall.

If H-E-B isn’t moving into Northcross, the only logical contender left for the proposed supercenter there is Wal-Mart. Target has a recently-remodeled store at Ohlen and Research, so I doubt it would be them.

Although hatred of Wal-Mart’s business practices and political leanings will keep a few people from shopping there, it won’t take much effort from Sam’s shock troops to pick off Allandale H-E-B customers. At that point, they’ll have no choice but to expand or wither.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Freddy Fender R.I.P.

Legendary Tex-Mex singer Freddy Fender died today in Corpus Christi at age 69. Fender had suffered from a battery of health problems in recent years. He was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in January.

Born Baldemar Huerta in San Benito, Fender enjoyed success in the Rio Grande Valley as a regional rock and roller in the late Fifties and early Sixties. After serving three years in Louisiana's Angola State Prison for marijuana possession, he left the music business to become an auto mechanic.

Doug Sahm led a rediscovery of Fender in the mid-Seventies, bringing him to Austin's Soap Creek Saloon. Huey Meaux signed Fender and persuaded him to cut "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," which topped the pop and country charts in 1975. A new version of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" also topped the country charts and was a top ten pop hit.

In the Nineties, Fender, Sahm, Flaco Jimenez and Augie Meyers became the Texas Tornados, enjoying yet another round of popular success with the Tex-Mex sound. I saw them at the Texas Union Ballroom in 1992. It was a great show that was chock full of hits.

Fender's long career and wide-ranging appeal made him a natural for commercials. He will almost surely go down in history as the only man to do commercials for both the Texas Department of State Health Services (for its hepatitis C awareness campaign) and Pancho's Mexican Buffet.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Theme to TV's Hello, Larry

If you were alive in 1980 and watching NBC on a Friday night, you might remember this infectious little ditty. I love a jingle that sticks to your brain whether you want it there or not.

Hello, Larry was a short-lived and altogether awful sitcom from the Fred Silverman era. McLean Stevenson gave up a sweet gig on M.A.S.H. for this turd and his career never really recovered. Can you imagine how Stevenson must've felt when the producers told him they were bringing in Meadowlark Lemon to shore up the ratings? Kim Richards sure was foxy, though.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cursive, Foiled Again

Today’s Washington Post asks if the rise of keyboarding equals the end of having to learn to write cursive. God, I hope so.

I never understood the point of learning to write in cursive when block printing is so much easier to read. My elementary school handwriting grades reflected this lack of understanding.

As soon as teachers no longer required me to write in cursive, I quit doing it and everyone was happier. One can only guess at how many kids have their love of writing destroyed by this excessive focus on aesthetic over content.

It’s hard enough for me to turn a thought into a sentence without having to worry about making it look pretty.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Song is Over for Tower Records

Another day, another one-time vanguard retailer down the drain. After struggling to climb out of bankruptcy for years, Sacramento-based Tower Records will be closing all its stores and liquidating its stock.

Austin's Tower location in the former Varsity Theatre at Guadalupe and 23rd closed in 2004 after 14 years. Between the overhead of maintaining a deep catalog in a worldwide chain of stores, deep discounts offered by "big box" stores like Best Buy, Internet retailing and downloading, Tower didn't stand a chance in the long run.

There were four record stores within a block of the Drag when I moved here in 1987 - Sound Exchange, Hasting's, Discount Records and Inner Sanctum. Today there are none.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Stretford and Soles

Saturday night was fun upon fun. I started out at Waterloo Park for the Alamo Drafthouse’s free, inflatable screening of Rock ‘N’ Roll High School. The Mullens (right) came down from Dallas to play some soul-tinged garage punk to get things started.

Toward the end of the Mullens’ set, my Alamo pal Julie took me over to meet P.J. Soles, pictured here (left) introducing the movie with Kier-La Janisse and Tim League. This, my friends, was a teen-age fantasy come true 25 years after the fact, as my sheepish fanboy demeanor undoubtedly demonstrated.

Soles was really nice, indulging everyone in stories about the movie and signing my vinyl copy of the soundtrack album. You know that’s going up on the wall. I learned Soles was 28 in 1979 when she played Riff Randell (her last teen-age role) and that she and former husband Dennis Quaid had the Ramones over for Thanksgiving dinner during the breakneck, three-week shoot. She said they were very polite.

Although I’ve seen R&RHS dozens of times, seeing it in the park on a mild October evening with a crowd of fans was a whole new experience. The Ramones’ concert sequence was played extra loud and everyone cheered when Riff blew up Vince Lombardi High. My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo with Soles.

After wolfing down a couple of fajita tacos, I cruised over to the Longbranch Inn to see Stretford. What a fun show that was. I had an instant familiarity with almost every song they played, even the ones I hadn’t thought about in years. Everyone was pogoing in front of the stage and singing along like it was 1993 all over again.

One thing I’ve finally learned is that you should always bring a camera to reunion shows because you never know who you’ll run into. To wit, here’s me and trumpeter/man about town Bill Jeffries.

Trumpeter Jennings Crawford (who you may recognize from the Wannabes) was the most dapper of the altogether dapper Stretford crew. Here he is (center) looking suave with Melissa Bryan and Bonnie Spanogle.

Photographic evidence of the traditional Stretford audience sing-along can be found here, with good ‘ol Tim Stegall from the Hormones leading the charge. He's the guy with the spikey black hair and white jacket. Tim just moved back to Austin after several years in New York and Las Vegas.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Storehouse Closing Its Doors

When I was a kid, I remember going with my parents to Storehouse and shopping for contemporary home furnishings to the strains of Eumir Deodato's version of "Also Sprach Zarathurstra (Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey)."

Storehouse opened its first location in Atlanta in 1969. During the Seventies, the company was known for sharp design at accessible prices. As their prime demographic aged, they became more upscale, but it remained a good place to buy furniture.

Sadly, 2006 will be the end of the line for Storehouse. The company began a court-ordered liquidation of its nearly 70 stores on Friday, including the one here in Austin on Burnet Road.

The good news is that you might be able to pick up a nice piece of furniture for a deep discount as the closing date draws near. Right now everything in the store is 15-30% off.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Stretford Reunites Tonight at Longbranch Inn

The vintage Nineties Austin Brit-pop-punk stalwarts of Stretford return to the stage at the Longbranch Inn this evening for a special reunion gig with fellow travelers Richard Head and the Friendly Truckers.

Stretford is the name of the Manchester suburb where bandleader Carl Normal grew up. He wrote some great pop tunes, like "Zerox Love," "It's Over Now" and "I Used to Know," to name a few. If you come across a copy of their 1996 Unclean LP, Crossing the Line, snatch it up.

I think Stretford got together in 1990 and I know they broke up in 2000. I probably saw them more than any other Austin band in the Nineties. Aside from the many bills Cheezus, Noodle and the Peenbeets shared with them, they were always one of my go-to acts for nights when I just needed to get out, drink some beer and not think about shit for a few hours.

As Stretford gradually built up a small-but-loyal following, everyone would crowd around the stage at their shows, singing along on the choruses as trumpeter/court jester Bill Jeffries worked the room into a frenzy. I'm sure a similar scene will be replicated tonight. It'll be kind of like going home again, only I won't be able to drink as much.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Crestview in the Crosshairs

Lee Nichols has a nice article in this week’s Austin Chronicle about how two redevelopments at either end of Crestview might affect the character of the North Austin neighborhood.

To the east, there’s Crestview Station, a huge Trammell Crow/Stratus Properties residential/retail/office project being built on the old Huntsman Chemical Corp. property to coincide with the light rail station at Lamar and Justin Lane. Crestview Station could increase the neighborhood population by some 60%, and not all of those people are going to be taking the train to work.

To the west, there’s the impending redevelopment of Northcross Mall, which is rumored to involve a much-disliked retailing concern from Arkansas. Lincoln Properties, the mall's Dallas-based owner, is presently staying mum on that count, which isn't doing much to quell suspicions.

Though I moved out of Crestview this summer, its evolution continues to be of concern to me since I now live just north of Crestview in Wooten. As Crestview reaches critical mass, at least some of that growth is bound to spill over Anderson Lane into Wooten.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Study Finds Pot May Stave Off Alzheimer's

This is the best news I've heard all week. A study conducted by the Scripps Research Institute finds THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, may halt the progression of Alzheimer's Disease by preserving levels of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that allows the brain to function.

Now where the hell did I leave my keys?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Now That's the Wright Stuff

I have something good to say about Republicans today, so listen up because this probably won’t happen again for awhile.

Last week Congress voted to gradually scale back the Wright Amendment restrictions that prohibit airlines from flying to distant states out of Dallas Love Field. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation within the next 10 days. This is good news for North Texas, a region that has paid inflated airfares on long-distance flights for years.

The revised amendment will allow airlines to sell through tickets from Love Field to anyplace in the U.S. so long as the flight makes a stop in one of the current Wright Amendment states, which are Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Mississippi and Alabama. The amendment will be eliminated altogether in 2014, but gate restrictions at Love Field will always keep the airport from usurping D/FW Airport's role.

This compromise should keep Southwest Airlines firmly ensconced at their Love Field hub, which is good for Dallas' tax base. It may also prompt Southwest to fill in their national route map by expanding into hub airports like Memphis, Cincinnati and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Given current population growth patterns, an increasing proportion of the Metroplex will be closer to D/FW than Love Field by 2014. All of the exploding northern suburbs like Frisco and Allen now have easy access to D/FW via the new George Bush Turnpike, too.

Although D/FW is still hurting from Delta closing its hub there last year, their anti-competitive bellyaching failed to strike a chord with anyone not directly or indirectly vested in American's massive D/FW operations. People who actually have to pay money to fly overwhelmingly supported repealing the Wright Amendment.

Rock 'N' Roll High School with P.J. Soles in Person!

Who needs Texas/OU when the Alamo Drafthouse is presenting a special free showing of Rock 'N' Roll High School this Saturday at 7pm at Waterloo Park?

As the device that introduced me to the Ramones through repeated showings on cable during the early Eighties, the Allan Arkush-directed, Roger Corman-produced RNRHS will always be one of my all-time favorite movies. I've never actually seen it on a big screen, though.

The Mullens will play Ramones songs before the show to get everyone in the mood. Even better, P.J. Soles herself will be at the screening. You may also remember Soles from supporting roles in Carrie, Halloween and Stripes. Her perfectly-pitched portrayal of juvenile delinquent and Ramones superfan Riff Randell struck a major chord in my 12-year-old heart, but who wouldn't fall for a girl who brings the Ramones to class and blows up the school?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Ron Titter's Back in Town

Fresh off a two-month hiatus, The Ron Titter Band returns to the stage this Friday night at 10pm. Actually, we won't be on a stage because we're playing at the Parlor, 110 E. North Loop Blvd., with Many Birthdays (11pm) and a special mystery guest (9pm).

Admission is gratis and the show ends by midnight, which means you can either go downtown or go home and pass out. This is a show that will set North Austin on fire, so wear clean underpants.