Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Forget the Motor City (Darby's Meaning of Life)

As we lay this wet month to rest, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the meaning of life with local barside philosophizer Hunter Darby.

Many thanks to Steve of Utley for sharing the light.

Monday, July 30, 2007

So Long, Marvin

I'll never forget the first time I heard, "Maarvin Zindler, Eye-witness News!"

I was 6 and we'd just moved to Houston from Dallas. I couldn't believe they'd let someone pontificate so indignantly right in the middle of the TV news. It was kind of scary.

Zindler died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at age 85. KTRK-TV has a nice tribute section here.

Although he was best known for setting off the political firestorm that closed down the famed Chicken Ranch bawdy house (subject of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and ZZ TOP's "La Grange"), Zindler's "Action 13" segments on KTRK typically focused on more mundane matters like setting things right for "little guys" wronged by businesses and bureaucracies. His weekly report on area restaurants that had failed health inspection made "Slime in the ice machine!" a catchphrase.

I can't say Zindler's personality-driven excoriations portended good things for TV news in the sweeps-happy Age of Murdoch, but he helped out a lot of people over the years. Houston TV won't be the same without him.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Skipper of Reunions

My 20-year high school reunion took place in Houston last night at a hotel in the Galleria - a highly appropriate venue I was once kicked out of by a rent-a-cop after accusing him of selectively enforcing the mall's no-loitering policy against kids with sideways haircuts.

I initially felt like I should don some dressy casual duds and attend, but my enthusiasm waned as the calendar filled up and my desire for weekend tranquility asserted itself. I enjoy meeting new people and catching up with old acquaintances, but I find "working the room" often leaves me feeling exhausted.

Besides, the lawn needs mowing, the carpet needs vacuuming and I have writing to do. The great thing about excuses is that they always appear in droves right when you need them.

Although my social trepidation is something I'd do well to challenge more often, I decided it was really no less lame to do things like high school reunions just because I "should."

How's that for a rationalization? Hooray for being less lame!

I did order a copy of the reunion book, though.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Lone Star Kate

I am pleased to announce the launch of Kate’s brand new blog, Lone Star Kate.

Go there now and read all about the high water hijinks that ensnared our Thursday morning commute and forced yours truly to go into rescue mode alongside one of Austin’s finest.

On the Wrong Track

Last time I remember the Union Pacific railroad tracks that run between the suburban Houston enclaves of West University Place and Bellaire making news, it was because of serial killer Angel Maturino Reséndiz. In 1998, Reséndiz – better known as the “Railroad Killer” – raped and murdered a 39-year-old West University woman who lived near the tracks.

Today’s Houston Chronicle covers a much lighter track-related news story. Several railroad cars carrying wheat and corn derailed while traveling down the tracks earlier this month. West U residents allege the rail company did a lousy clean-up job and now they can’t use their yards because the rotting foodstuffs stink so bad.

“It smells like sewage just sitting there in the backyard," laments Alana Kirsch, adding that the smell has precluded her 5-year-old son, Texas, from using his backyard swing set.

I’m sorry, but what kind of 5-year-old boy can’t go outside to play because of an odor? Alana should thank her lucky stars that Texas wasn’t hanging around with me back in 1976.

I spent most of my childhood within a three block radius of those railroad tracks. Shortly after moving to Houston at age 7, I walked to the tracks with a brother and sister who lived down the street from us. We were there to pick blackberries, but the budding delinquent brother, who was about 12 or 13, showed me something much more interesting.

Several yards down the tracks from the blackberry bushes, there was a culvert with an old dryer in it. Inside the old dryer were scads of mottled hardcore porno mags. Apparently this was some sort of jack-off fort for derelicts. I didn’t know anything about that, but I knew pictures of naked girls were cool to show off to friends, so I grabbed one of the magazines to take home.

As we emerged from the brush surrounding the tracks, I saw my dad waiting there. He’d come to check on me. Knowing he would not cotton to my recent find, I casually dropped the magazine in the tall grass as I approached him. Unfortunately, I wasn’t casual enough to elude his watchful eye.

“What did you drop back there?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I lied.

“Greg, I saw you drop something. Now what was it?”

“An adult magazine,” I muttered.

“What magazine was it?” he asked, figuring we’d found an old Playboy or something.

“Um...Ball Buster.”

I’m not a parent, but I can imagine the sense of dread that might come with hearing your 7-year-old son tell you he’s been down at the railroad tracks ogling a porn mag called Ball Buster.

My dad quickly confiscated the penetration-happy publication. Years later, he told me it also contained photos of men putting out cigarettes on women. I guess I missed that part.

Later that afternoon, my dad dutifully returned to the tracks to dismantle the erstwhile self-love nook. He said there were hundreds of porn mags strewn around the culvert. He gathered them up into plastic garbage bags and took them back to his car. As he threw the magazines in the trunk, he worried the police might show up and think he was the pervert. Fortunately for all of us, that did not happen.

Over the years, the Ball Buster saga has become a beloved family story, retold countless times over holiday gatherings.

Thanks, Union Pacific!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Our Lady of the Lake

Effective today, Austin’s Town Lake will be renamed “Lady Bird Lake” in honor of our recently departed former first lady. Without Lady Bird Johnson’s beautification efforts, it is unlikely Town Lake would be the bucolic, fitness-fostering urban oasis it is today.

Although Lady Bird’s legacy is absolutely worthy of this honor, I remain wary of Austin’s tendency toward knee-jerk veneration via renaming prominent streets and spaces. It is both a budget drain and a source of confusion. How long will it be before our easy-to-understand numbered street grid becomes completely memorialized?

That said, “Lady Bird Lake” is already starting to grow on me.

Time for a New Template

After two and a half years, why the hell not?

If there's a groundswell of resistance to this new look, maybe I'll launch Beetsolonely Classic.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Down On the Ranch

A couple of weekends back, Kate and I drove out west of Boerne with David and Rachel to spend the night at Rachel's family ranch. Rachel's dad and stepmom were fine hosts and we had a great time.

The Hill Country is particularly verdant right now because of the insane amounts of rain we've been getting. Hillsides that are normally yellowed by the end of June are still dotted with wildflowers and all of the creeks are flowing. Rocking back and forth on the porch, drinking beer and listening to Willie Nelson as night fell was the perfect elixir for workaday stress.

Here Kate and I are donning our just-presented Rosen Ranch hats. In addition to the hats, we were given ranch names. Kate was named "Harley," which is one of her two middle names. I was named "Red" after my hair, though I've always considered myself primarily blond.

Still, Red Beets has its charm. With a name like that, I think I'll open a used car dealership.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Weekly World News Shutting Down!

As if having Rupert Murdoch buy The Wall Street Journal isn’t bad enough, American Media announced Friday that it is shutting down the Weekly World News.

Founded in 1979, WWN was the only supermarket tabloid that adhered to the weird and wonderful when all its cousins shifted their primary focus toward vomiting up dullwitted celebrity gossip. Now where will we go to learn of the latest exploits of Bat Boy? Who will tell us when the aliens endorse Hillary Clinton?

To borrow a phrase from the late, great Ed Anger, I’m pig-biting mad about this!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Walk with Gene Burd

Patrick George wrote an interesting profile of UT journalism professor Gene Burd in today's Statesman. I never had a class with Burd when I was in J-school, but reading about his ascetic frugality made me wish I had.

The 76-year-old Burd lives in a small apartment off Barton Springs Rd. He doesn’t own a car. His daily walks to and from his office at UT make him something of an expert on how much downtown Austin has changed in recent years. I really like his quote about city hall and the cluster of condos and ground-floor retail that has emerged around Second Street.

“It’s like a bad marriage,” Burd said of city hall. “It’s ugly but you get used to it.”

I happen to like the new city hall. It’s one of the only architecturally distinctive buildings downtown and I think it will stand as a monument to its time long after our vibrant economy chokes on its own limestone.

As for the rest of the “Second Street District” (does every neighborhood in town need its own brand now?), it’s much too posh for my admittedly downmarket tastes. Just give me some Paciugo gelato and my business there is done. I’m not one to recklessly play the “Dallas” card, but if the marked-up loafer fits…

I used to make fun of all the aging hippies crowing about how Austin hasn’t been the same since the Armadillo shut down. Now I know how they feel. When AT&T can sponsor something called the “Keep Austin Weird Festival” with no residual stink regarding the prima facie ridiculousness of such commingling, it’s impossible to avoid feeling like the falsely omnipotent “market forces” we’ve put more faith in than Jesus on Steroids are slowly consigning large swaths of Austin into cultural exile.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

BREAKING: Ron Titter Show Canceled

The Ron Titter Band show scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) night at Hole in the Wall has been canceled due to a band illness. Sorry 'bout that!

We will play again soon. I swear.

Can the Swiss Spray Away Shyness?

Researchers at the University of Zurich have created a nasal spray designed to reduce shyness. The spray contains a synthetic version of the neurotransmitter oxytocin, the natural version of which is produced by the body when one is in love.

In a study of 70 adults presented at the World Congress of Neuroscience in Melbourne, the Swiss scientists noted dramatic reductions in anxiety and improved levels of group interaction among those taking the spray. Large-scale clinical trials are now being planned.

As someone who has dealt with anxiety all my life, I’d gladly snort something that would make me less anxious and more at ease with myself in social settings. Especially if it costs less than cocaine.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The First Cut is the Deepest

This Supercuts billboard across the street from my job at the insane asylum was changed up a bit over the weekend by some well-meaning guerrilla marketers.

I haven't gotten my hair did at a Supercuts since Men at Work topped the charts. Apparently I've been missing out.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Anarchist Garage Sale

Wondering where to get the best deals on beat-up Chuck Taylors, thumbed-through Chomksy tomes and Crass on vinyl? Try your neighborhood anarchist garage sale.

There's no address given, because apparently that's just another one of the Man's tools to keep us in our place.

But what kind of anarchist wakes up at 7am?

Friday, July 13, 2007

Ron Titter Back in the Household on 7/19!

After spending June and most of July in a state of rock atrophy, The Ron Titter Band goes back into action on Thursday, July 19 at the Hole in the Wall.

There's no cover, but we'll gladly accept tips. We play at 11:30, preceded by Kevin McKinney (ex-Soul Hat) at 10pm and Ricky Stein at 9pm.

Come on out and help us tump this thing over!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Whole Foods' CEO Posts Self Into Corner

It seems Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey has a thing about posting anonymously to newsgroups.

In building their case to block Whole Foods' planned buyout of Wild Oats, the FTC discovered thousands of posts Mackey made to Yahoo! stock groups using the pseudonym "rahodeb," an anagram of his wife's name. And I thought I spent too much time dicking around on the Web!

Some of the posts deride Wild Oats, while others laud Whole Foods. Mackey insists he was just having fun and did not post any proprietary information. Unfortunately for him, a CEO spouting off anonymously on the Internet is a leggy news hook regardless of legality.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Get Your Brain Freeze On

In honor of its 80th birthday, Dallas-based convenience store chain 7-Eleven will be giving away free 7.11-ounce Slurpees in commemorative cups at all U.S. locations today.

7-Eleven's roots extend back to 1927, when the Southland Ice Company at the corner of Edgefield and 12th in Oak Cliff began selling select food items to compete with the 1926 advent of mechanical refrigerators. This budding convenience store was initially called Tote'm. The name changed to 7-Eleven in 1946 to reflect the store's business hours.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

After the Flood

Kate and I took a leisurely stroll around Town Lake Sunday afternoon to watch the region's flood control system do its job. Owing to an unusually rainy June, our placid city lake has been transformed into a muddy torrent of filthy floodwater in recent weeks. Here's the view looking east from the pedestrian bridge under MoPac.

Parts of the Town Lake hike-and-bike trail were submerged. Viewed under a blanket of oppressive humidity, scenes like this one reminded me of the Texas/Louisiana border region.

The lake remained under a total boating ban, which doesn't bode well for Texas Rowing Center's summer business outlook. These swans swimming around the oar house didn't seem to mind, though. At least I think those are swans.

Monday, July 09, 2007

What's Good for the Goose...

Quelle horreur! Statesman food critic Dale "Forks Up" Rice reports that seven downtown Austin eateries were spray-painted with obscenities last week by an animal rights activist who apparently doesn't approve of foie gras. Foie gras is duck or goose liver that has been fattened via force feeding of the animal.

The seven vandalized restaurants were Aquarelle, Eddie V's Edgewater Grille, Fleming's, Restaurant Jezebel, Ruth's Chris Steak House, Truluck's and the Spaghetti Warehouse.

I don't know what's more scary - animal lovers with a "beef" against ostentatious menu items or the absurd suggestion that one could order foie gras at Spaghetti Warehouse.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Cult of Dunkin'

Now that I’m sharing a home with a born-and-bred New Englander, it is of tantamount importance that I learn the ins and outs of that exotic culture as quickly as possible.

Accordingly, I’ve shifted my American League allegiance to the Red Sox, though I’d still have to pull for the Astros in inter-league play or (stifles laugh) the World Series.

I’ve learned that the horse-riding revolutionary who warned colonial Massachusetts of an incipient Redcoat invasion is actually named “Paul Reveagh.” One of these days, I’ll even figure out how to use the phrase, “wicked pissa” in a sentence.

Most importantly, I’ve started grinding Dunkin’ Donuts coffee at home. It’s pretty good joe all right, but I’ve yet to fully grasp the degree of New England’s allegiance to Dunkin’ Donuts. Mike Miliard attempts the brave feat of explaining the Cult of Dunkin’ in the March 2 Boston Phoenix.

Original post via Metafilter.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ghosts of Blogs Past

It was with a mixture of regret and relief that I decided to give up my Austin Chronicle music blog last week.

“If You Have Ghosts” went live just before SXSW with heady ambitions of frequent festival postings. As it turned out, I didn’t post once during SXSW and I’ve only posted five times since.

Between this blog and writing for print, there just wasn’t enough time to maintain a blog devoted exclusively to music. I felt guilty about not posting, but not enough to actually do anything about it.

I was raised to feel bad about quitting, which made sense because I wanted to quit everything I wasn't immediately successful at as a child. However, my experience as an adult tells me I need to become more proactive about walking away from things I've grown ambivalent about.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Shacked Up

Kate moved in with me yesterday. Actually we've been living together for a couple of weeks, but yesterday was when the movers brought in all the big stuff.

Once everything was put away, we celebrated our sinful living arrangement with a bone-chilling dip at Barton Springs. Take that, Satan!

Because Kate has a military-caliber ability to seek out and eliminate clutter, the house actually looks more orderly even though there are two cats and more than twice as much stuff here now. I'm not exactly sure how we did it, but everything seems to have its place.

Today our house feels way more like home than it did when it was just me living here. I couldn't be happier about that.