Monday, June 29, 2009
Belacqua reported that the Houston-born-and-reared IT corporation for which he’s happily toiled for a decade now has more employees in India than it does here in the county seat of Harris, and that many of his remaining colleagues in the locality also hail from the Subcontinent. The outsourcing has allowed the company, which sold its headquarters and now rents back space from the new owner, to close off some of its formerly occupied cubicle space. For Belacqua, that has meant a shift to telecommuting, which most workdays spares him from making the long commute up 45 and on to the Beltway and back down again in the afternoon. A half-empty sort, Belacqua did not sound sanguine about his future prospects—perhaps explaining his professed desire to get in on the ground floor of SuperSexy Donuts®*—but his wife says he shouldn’t complain, and we agree. In his mid-50s, he’s finally achieved the real American Dream: He’s getting paid, and he doesn’t have to wear any pants to work.
*SuperSexy Donuts is a soon-to-be-registered trademark of Slampo’s Place Inc. All rights reserved.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
an 18-year-old white kid.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Don't have to share it with nobody else.
Lock the gates, Goofy, take my hand
And lead me through the World of Self."
-- Splendid Isolation, 1989, by Warren Zevon (1947-2003), Los Angeles, Calif.
The pure products of America
... as if the earth under our feet were
an excrement of some sky
and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth
while the imagination strains
going by fields of goldenrod in
the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us
It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off
and adjust, no one to drive the car
-- "To Elsie," 1923, by William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), Rutherford, N.J.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Her book, Black Water Rising, got the kind of boost that most first-time authors might consider sacrificing a limb for when it was accorded a mostly favorable review by the New York Times’ Janet Maslin at the top of the newspaper’s Monday Arts section. Maslin called the book “atmospheric [and] richly convoluted” and invoked Scott Turow, Dennis Lehane and one of America’s best working novelists, George Pelecanos, in praising facets of Locke’s plotting and characterization.
Attica Locke—she was named, Maslin reports, after the site of the 1971 New York state prison uprising—is a graduate of Hastings H.S. and Northwestern University and a disillusioned aspiring screenwriter, according to this Houston Chronicle profile from last week, wherein she emphatically disclaimed the notion that Jay Porter is her dad, or vice-versa:
“I have to be clear that Jay is not really my dad. At all,” Locke says. “Some of the circumstances of the character’s life line up with my father’s in the sense that my dad was also a political activist at the University of Houston at that time period. He did go on to become a criminal defense attorney. He was on trial, not for trying to kill somebody, but for inciting a riot.Whatever the case, the daughter’s book can’t help but be fodder for local parlor-game amusement. It’s set in 1981—the year, coincidently, that we arrived in Houston*, along with half of the rest of North America—and the mayor is a white woman named Cynthia Maddox, an “old flame” of Jay Porter’s and onetime “outspoken member of Students for a Democratic Society, a white girl drawn to black radicals ‘as sure as if the Temptations had come to town.’ ” (Real-life reality check: Houston’s first and only female mayor, Kathy Whitmire, did not assume office until 1982, and Whitmire was no radical revolutionary, even in her youth, but rather a moderate, working-class North Houston-to-the-Heights Democrat [there used to be a whole lot more of ’em than just Gene Green]. As for the rest of it, including the Temptations part, well, we’d rather not think too much about it. ) According to Maslin, Locke also includes “arresting visual filed trips (to places like the huge country-and-western club Gilley’s … )" and other apparent deep-Houston touches.
We’ll refrain from any sweeping judgment, not having read Locke’s book, but we do detect traces of a clichéd mind at work in the plot turnings, if Maslin’s summary of the book is correct:
Where will the strike [by dockworkers at the port] lead this story? It will lead to “Chinatown”-style conspiratorial rumblings, with oil supplanting water as the natural resource worth killing for.Forget it, Jake: It's just the Big Bad Oil Business, always messing up people’s lives and minds. (Real-life reality check: Without oil [and the Ship Channel and attendant petrochemical facilities], this place would be Shreveport [maybe], a festering, sweltering dump of no import, not a moving-and-grooving multicultural polyglot world-class metropolis, the one where insider-lawyer Jay Porter … ’scuse me, Gene Locke … has a good shot at being elected mayor.)
*At the time the local constabulary's reputation for railroading and whipping up on blacks and longhairs was so fearsome that upon arrival in our Chevy Biscayne we made a solemn vow to our self that we would do everything possible to avoid arrest and/or overly long contact with the police, a vow that, amazingly, we've been able to keep, lo these many years.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Man, it's hot.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
And the weather: we’re very tired of this weather (perhaps the source of our ennui). This afternoon we noticed that even the trees in our neighborhood—the water-gulping behemoths—seem bedraggled and listless, as if they were too dry and brittle to root down any further for a sip of H20 and would just as soon keel on over and end their misery.
But this, mi amigo, is H-Town, as the Chronicle’s Teen Columnist-Blogurbator so jauntily calls it (and calls it and calls it), so you and I know that some trifling entertainment tailored to capture our full, undivided attention is never too far down the massively cracked, seamed and pot-holed road. Sure enough, the road rose up to greet us today in the form of this blog posting by Chronicle art critic Douglas Britt (which came to our attention via linkage from the eagle-eyed tastemakers at blogHouston—we’re not a regular reader of the newspaper’s arts blog, although we’re open to the possibility of becoming one if days are lengthened to 26 hours.). It seems that Sr. Britt had the gall, the temerity, the sheer cast-iron cojones, to actually criticize—let’s be precise: mildly criticize—one of the scared moo-cows of the local art world, the duo selling themselves as the** Art Guys, who, thanks to corporate largesse and near-worshipful local “critics,” have gone about staging their conceptual-art works, to rarely a discouraging word, for well more than a decade.
We actually read Britt’s preview/review of the art guys’ latest “show” in last Thursday’s newspaper and found it to be a gentile, good-natured dismissal of the art guys’ “big, fat, not-so-gay wedding,” in which the two artistes, who apparently are both married heterosexuals (nothing wrong with that), were to “marry” a “live oak sapling,” as Britt described it, during an outdoor ceremony Saturday at the Museum of Fine Arts (we couldn’t make it ’cause we had to stay home and scratch our nuts). Britt believed that this performance was some statement or commentary on, or somehow hooked to, the debate over legalized gay marriage—a belief that one of the art guys both strenuously denied and seemed to kinda confirm (“piggybacking” on the issue) in the critic’s piece. If it was such a statement, it was a strange and muddled one, paralleling, as Britt noted way too far down in his review, the “slippery slope” argument of gay-marriage critics that once you allow men to marry men and women to marry women the next thing you know people will be petitioning to get hitched to dogs, cats, emus, ’74 Buick Electras, live oak saplings, etc. It even crossed our mind that if Britt were right maybe that the art guys were against gay marriage, which would indeed take some cast-iron cojones, to be so contrarian in the not-so-wide world of art. (But they ain’t—against gay marriage, that is).
After the art guys (or guy, we weren’t clear on the logistics) were conjoined to the sapling in holy matrimony, Britt followed up with a blog post affirming his initial judgment (accompanied by some sort of video we didn’t watch--scratchin’ our sack again). That posting drew an “open letter” from art guy Michael Galbraith--with footnotes, real footnotes!***--which Britt put up on his blog. Galbraith, coming on like Huey Newton in a wicker chair in 1969, opened up with a right-on-man quote from artist Bruce Nauman that included a bad word the Chronicle can’t print (it was “poo-smacker,” if we remember right), then again empahtically denied the tree-marriage ceremony had anything to do with gay marriage and drew this strange 2+2=5 analogy:
In your article you referenced an older work of ours, "Bucket Feet," in which we walked around downtown Houston with buckets of water attached to our feet. Now, what if someone believed that the action of impeding our normal capabilities of walking somehow referenced walking disabilities? I suppose they would be free to do so, but we simply walked around with buckets on our feet. And that's that.And this:
We, The Art Guys (capital "T," by the way) do what we do regardless of what people think or how they think. And for the most part, we do it right in front of people so that they may share and experience and judge for themselves. There are other ways of working. This is what we often do.(We’ve never judged for our particular self, because it seems we always have this itch to scratch.)
The letter went on at some length in an apparent attempt to place the art guys in some conceptual-art tradition, which we always thought was not the point, but then we’re a product of the Louisiana public school system.
We don’t know who’s right or wrong in this and really don’t care. But we do enjoy a good fight (boxing’s gotten really dull of late, with all those slew-footed Russian heavyweights). We fervently hope these exchanges blossom into a full-blown blood feud, with the art guys designing their next promotion to fully eviscerate Britt (figuratively, of course, but perhaps literally if he’ll cooperate) and Britt using his blog postings to carry out a Winchell-like vendetta against the art guys. We don’t care if they collude. That’s exactly what this town needs--a meaningless yet vitriolic public feud.
Let’s get it on!****
*By the way, we’ve opened bidding on the coveted Slampo’s Place mayoral endorsement, starting at $100. The lucky winner will get unlimited free, laudatory and unquestioning “coverage” in this blog, some of it possibly “fact-based” (some possibly not). Plus, we’ll post funny hand-drawn pictures of the other candidates. Cash only, please, and we ask that the bribe be listed on your disclosure report as a payment to “SuperSexy Donuts” for “snacks for staff.”
**That’s the, lower case.
*** Not like these.
**** -- M. Gaye, 1974
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
You've probably been thinking the same thing yourself, so drop us a line at our email address (at right) and let us know how much you'd be able to contribute to this worthy commercial endeavor.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
No need to despair, though. Almost every comment affixed to the on-line version of the editorial questioned its premise, in mostly reasonable terms. As one reader wrote: “Show us pictures of all these starving kids with their bones showing. I'll bet most of these kids below the poverty line are fat.”**
Yes, obesity, not “hunger,” is an actual real-life problem among kids from lower-income families, so perhaps the Chronicle editorialists and Children at Risk could team up to fill up some more valuable newsprint space by campaigning for a new government program to monitor and restrict the caloric intake of Our Town’s at-risk youth.
*We know that some, perhaps many, self-righteous types will arise from the congregation and declare, with a certain self-congratulatory smugness, “Well, if there’s one hungry child in Houston, that’s one hungry child too many.” To which we’d say: Yes, that’s true, so go out and find this hungry child and take him to the Jack-in-the-Box near you.
** It wasn’t too many years ago that Phil Gramm (who, we must confess, was not among our favorite politicians, although he could be engaging in person) was reviled far and near by such deep thinkers as Molly Ivins for making the observably true statement, “We’re the only country in the world whose poor people are fat,” or something like that. While he certainly might have employed a better choice of words, Gramm was on the money, as subsequent repeated studies linking obesity to poverty have shown.
Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Then there’s another small annoyance, one of which you may only be faintly aware but which nonetheless arrives each year roundabout this time: a news story or editorial or op-ed piece suggesting that there are thousands upon thousands upon thousands of HUNGRY CHILDREN in Houston, apparently malnourished to the brink of starvation. Summer appears to be a particularly acute time for "hunger," according to the monolithic social services-media infrastructure, because so many kids aren’t going over to their neighborhood schools to grab the two free meals the government makes available each weekday. You read it and maybe start to feel bad, then you walk or ride down almost any street in town and never see a kid who looks anywhere near emaciated; in fact, about every third kid (rough estimate) you run across looks to be ranging somewhere between grossly and morbidly obese (big, big problemo amongst your Hispanic—’scuse me, Latino—youth [check it out]). You yell at the kid to go run some laps or do some push-ups—men push-ups—but of course he can’t hear you ‘cause he’s zoned in on his MP3 player. Come to think of it, you never really hear about any actual “hungry” or “malnourished” child, with a real face and real name, unless he or she is the victim of severe parental abuse.
And you go hmm ...
Most of the media hand-wringings in Houston over the “hungry child” emanate, in some fashion, from an outfit with the ominous-sounding name Children at Risk, whose stock-in-trade appears to be ensuring that Houston is thought of—by Houstonians and outsiders alike—as a veritable hellhole for God’s innocents. Its solution to almost any “problem” it supposedly uncovers or spotlights is more, more, more expenditures of taxpayer funds. We don’t believe Children at Risk has ever cited “bad parenting” as at least an itsy-bitsy reason why some children may be “at risk” (although thousands and thousands and thousands of resilient Houston children actually survive that particular risk, daily).
Children at Risk is a non-profit think tank and advocacy group that’s been around since 1989 and has some fairly influential child health-and-welfare types on its board (its Web site also lists a couple of fairly influential media outlets as “collaborators”—check it out!). What we know about Children at Risk we’ve cobbled together from a few things we’ve heard over the years—nothing bad—and from the organization’s Web site. We don’t believe we’ve ever heard or seen any sort of an explanation in the local media of what Children at Risk is about and who funds it, beyond a description of the outfit as a “non-profit that focuses on children’s issues” or something equally as vague and meaningless. And this is the identifier that usually accompanies some extravagant claim or another that Children at Risk is making regarding the quality of the schools or all those “hungry children.” We figure the media take note of the name—Children at Risk—and automatically toss out their critical and evaluative faculties (which are not in large supply to begin with) and go with the flow. After all, how can you even question something that’s supposedly good for the children? Somebody might call you a Nazi or something, make you feel bad for being an actual journalist instead of a publicist masquerading as a journalist.
The latest eyebrow-raising epistle from Children at Risk appeared on the opinion page of Sunday’s Houston Chronicle in a somewhat disjointed piece authored by Robert Sanborn, the organization’s president and CEO, and headlined “Feed the hungry children right in our midst; Up to half of young here don’t get enough to eat.” Sanborn’s commentary does not reflect the second assertion of the headline—pretty much par for the course these days at the city’s leading daily newspaper—because nowhere in it does he actually make that statement. What he does say is this:
Contrary to popular belief and maybe a surprise to those of us wearing social blinders, poverty and hunger are far-reaching and widespread problems within the United States. This is especially true in the greater Houston area. Approximately 48 percent of Harris County children live in families with an income of $22,050 or less for a family of four. What is even more difficult to fathom is that here in Houston we are leaving dollars on the table by not fully taking advantage of federal money available to us to feed our hungry children. I, for one, want to see my tax dollars being fully utilized, especially if they were approved to help hungry children.So it appears that Sanborn isn't connecting the dots on the imaginary grid by actually claiming that all these children in $22,050 households “don’t get enough to eat” or are “hungry.” Which is a good thing, because that would be patently, blatantly untrue (if difficult to quantify). What he is doing is unclear, except for reminding readers (and donors) that Children at Risk is on the case. Most of the rest of Sanborn’s piece is given over to recounting, in numbing detail, all the public and private resources devoted to providing free grub to Houston youngsters, except that they’re not enough and we need to get more, more, more kids to participate.
We’ll let you read the rest yourself, if you’re so inclined. In the meantime, we know you’re busy--possibly hungry for a salty snack--so we won’t draw down much more of your valuable but limited attention bandwidth. But before we go we’d like to make a couple of more points, in appropriately disjointed fashion, before somebody calls us a Nazi (but we voted for Obama, man!):
1. THERE ARE HUNGRY CHILDREN IN
2. SINCE WHEN DID SOCIETY BEGIN DEFINING DOWN “HUNGER” AS “MISSING BREAKFAST”? Yes, we know, it’s best to eat a balanced breakfast, especially for young children, for all the reasons that Sanborn lists in his commentary, but does going without breakfast actually equate to “going hungry,” or, as Sanborn puts it in cutting-edge social-service jargon, “food insecurity?” Isn’t such a loose construction a real affront to people who fight against actual, documented “hunger” in
3. HUNGER AMONG CHILDREN IS NOT “WIDESPREAD” IN
Go ahead and call us a Nazi, if you wish, but now we must reattach our blinders and rest.
Friday, June 05, 2009
As we suspected this notice of city law was not a random newsletter space-filler (curbside recycling is on the 28th of this month, by the way) but was aimed at neighbors of ours who for several years brazenly keep a lil’ red rooster in their garage IN VIOLATION OF THE CITY ORDINANCE. These folks are not your average urban chicken-keepers, being neither a hard-working family from the hills outside of Zacatecas (if there are no hills outside of Zacatecas, let’s move along) nor the kind of SWPL white folks you find up in the Heights. They are indeed Anglos—no, let’s scratch that; it’s an insult, as the paterfamilias is a hard-shelled little Irishman from upstate New York who, in fact, answers to the name of “Mick”*--but like heavy-metal music and as far as we know had no previous experience in animal husbandry aside from keeping many and various cats around their place.
It seems they acquired the rooster when their son’s girlfriend--at the time he and she were students at the public high school for artsy kids--purchased a baby chick to star in some movie she was making for a visual arts class** (we believe it was a remake of the remake of Mutiny on the Bounty, with the chick playing the Brando part), and after the chick had fulfilled its cinematic duties the son and his family took a liking to it and lodged it in a roomy pen in the dark recesses of their garage (why, we don’t know). The chick grew up to be a full-bodied braying Chanticleer, and as we learned many years ago when we briefly lived way out in the sticks between Slim's Y-Ki-Ki Club and Lawtell, La. (you know it as the home of the Lawtell Playboys, of course), roosters don’t just crow at the crack of dawn but are liable to let it rip at all hours of the day. This one did raise his hue & cry just before daybreak—we’d hear it crowing, faintly, from its garage perch when we’d go out for the morning papers—but otherwise seemed to follow no natural clockwork and could be heard cutting loose at 9 a.m., 9:23 a.m., 12 p.m. (when the hand is on the prick of noon), 2:57 p.m., 3:10 p.m., 5:30 p.m., etc.--but never too loudly or after dark.
We grew accustomed to the sound, imagining that it somehow put us in touch with the ancient rhythms of a more pastoral life, perhaps like the one our grand-père Slampeaux lived in the Old Country before he hopped a boat and washed up in East Texas. But we were amazed that the rooster was allowed to do his natural thing for a couple of years, maybe longer, unmolested by the constabulary or one of the neighborhood busybodies. Someone, though, finally took offense to the rooster’s presence and instead of speaking with the owners took the weasel’s path by complaining to the ordinarily toothless civic club, which further took the weasel’s path by printing up the blind newsletter notice. Our neighbors, not wanting to upset the commonweal, hastily returned the rooster to from whence he came, the feed and seed store up on Washington Avenue, and as of this writing know not of his fate.
It’s been a couple of months since his departure, but the other day we realized how much we missed the cock’s crowing when we saw one of those trippy Ambien CR commercials on TV, the one where the bleary-eyed white woman finds herself awake at 3 a.m. with a rooster crowing at the foot of her bed but then she wrangles a script for the sleep medicine and the stalking rooster is banished, last seen wandering off at dawn down the street of some godforesaken outlying suburb (side effects now include becoming “more outgoing or aggressive”) in search of other sleep patterns to disturb.
This modern life: It ain’t no good life, but it’s the life we choose.
*We don't make up the news--we just report it.
**We don't make up the ... etc.