Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blood’s Thicker than Mud: It’s a Family Affair*

When it comes to Gatesgate—the mock “scandal” that, having persisted long past its acceptable expiration date, is beginning to emit an unhealthy odor—our sympathies, limited as they are, lie with the cop. Unlike in this closer-to-home incident, which, based on the available public record, appears to have been an actual, authentic case of RACIAL PROFILING, one with near-lethal consequences for the profilee, the Cambridge, Mass. officer was not out trolling the streets for innocent black men to arbitrarily stop and hassle but was instead dutifully responding to an emergency call—one in which the race/ethnicity of the allegedly, possibly, but possibly not suspicious "gentlemen" (suspicious, that is, to the neighbor who didn’t recognize her neighbor—goddamn, lady!) was not even clear to the caller.

The best take on L’Affaire Gates has been one we initially saw voiced by none other than Mika Brzezinski, the comely sidekick to cable TV’s Morning Joe (it's probably been articulated elsewhere, we dunno), who suggested that had it been two women at the house in Cambridge the confrontation would ended much differently, or wouldn’t have grown into much of a confrontation at all (to which we’d say: most likely, but of course it depends on which two women you’re talking about). To embellish Brzezinski's theory with further truthiness we’d note that the two men in this manly meeting of the minds—a tall Boston-Irish cop and a short Harvard professor—are doubtless conditioned to being constantly deferred to by other men during the course of a normal day (cue T. Petty’s Won’t Back Down). Still, we must wonder what sort of Harvard professor would tell a cop, “I’ll step outside with your mama,” as the cop claims Henry Louis Gates did. (Answer: One who knew he could get away with it.) It’s a shame that Red Foxx is no longer with us, for many reasons—one of them being that he will not be available to portray Gates in the upcoming straight-to-DVD movie “High Noon on Ware Street.”

Having had some first-hand experience in police-community relations as a young person (a young white person), we know damn well that had we, even at our advanced years, suggested that we’d like to pursue a sexual relationship with a police officer’s mother, we, too, would not have beaten the ride downtown. More than likely we’d find our self face-down on the concrete with a bony knee in our back.

It was, of course, unwise for our president to wade into the matter, and in such seemingly uninformed manner, but as part of his lifelong quest to establish his bona fides as an Authentic Black Man he must occasionally offer up a little something for the brothers and sisters. Still, his gracious recovery the following day—and his manning-up and calling the officer from the department he had accused of acting “stupidly”—was welcome, and of near-perfect pitch. As for those Republicans fanning the noxious odor by calling on Obama to apologize to the cop: Yes, Obama should apologize, right after Bush and Cheney stand up and apologize for Iraq.

*Truism once propounded by Sly and the Family Stone, a multiracial musical combo from the late 1960s that later disintegrated because of the bandleader’s taste for cocaine.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Orwell Avenue, a Street We Visit in Our Mind (Or So We’d Like to Think)

While recently performing deep-dish research on that alleged movement to rename a portion of Houston’s Hillcroft Avenue after Mahatma Gandhi—we’d be surprised if we hear of this proposal again, but we’re usually wrong about these things—we had occasion to re-read Orwell’s “Reflections on Gandhi.” Orwell viewed Gandhi with some ambivalence: While he admired his political skills and shared his hatred of the Raj—has there been another Westerner who wrote with such a cold eye of the soul rot of imperialism?—he was baldly contemptuous of the old boy’s “otherworldliness”—his sandals (Orwell really, really disliked such unmanly footwear), his vegetarianism, his pacifism, and, mostly, his attachment to “non-attachment” (we know folks who would say Orwell misunderstood the concept; we know others who would say he understood it too well). We had forgotten this choice bit, regarding Gandhi’s, and others’, pacifism:

Nor did he, like most Western pacifists, specialize in avoiding awkward questions. In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: "What about the Jews? Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?" I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question, though I have heard plenty of evasions, usually of the "you're another" type. But it so happens that Gandhi was asked a somewhat similar question in 1938 and that his answer is on record in Mr. Louis Fischer's Gandhi and Stalin. According to Mr. Fischer, Gandhi's view was that the German Jews ought to commit collective suicide, which "would have aroused the world and the people of Germany to Hitler's violence." After the war he justified himself: the Jews had been killed anyway, and might as well have died significantly. One has the impression that this attitude staggered even so warm an admirer as Mr. Fischer, but Gandhi was merely being honest. If you are not prepared to take life, you must often be prepared for lives to be lost in some other way. When, in 1942, he urged non-violent resistance against a Japanese invasion, he was ready to admit that it might cost several million deaths.
In other words, Orwell recognized that Gandhi seemed to have the courage of his convictions, and was willing to see others die for them, even if those particular convictions were, to Orwell’s mind, abhorrent.

Orwell was writing in 1949, just two years after Indian independence and the outbreak of the still-simmering Hindu-Muslim hostilities, and in the end was moved to voice his admiration for Gandhi’s particular genius:

One may feel, as I do, a sort of aesthetic distaste for Gandhi, one may reject the claims of sainthood made on his behalf (he never made any such claim himself, by the way), one may also reject sainthood as an ideal and therefore feel that Gandhi's basic aims were anti-human and reactionary: but regarded simply as a politician, and compared with the other leading political figures of our time, how clean a smell he has managed to leave behind!
All of which has nothing whatsoever to do with the misguided effort to rename part of a well-traveled Houston thoroughfare after Gandhi, but we're feeling lethargic today, and Orwell is always timely.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Earthbound ’69

Journalist-author Ron Rosenbaum posted a couple of pieces on his blog this week that work as a healthy but gentle purgative for all the sentimental, overwrought and insipid glop churned out by the electronic and newsprint media to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing. It’s clear now that the premature passing of Michael Jackson was truly a large-scale tragedy, primarily because it deprived the world of his sharing of his memories of Neil Armstrong’s one small step. (Jackson, of course, would later popularize the moonwalk on a scale that Armstrong, alas, never attained.)

Yes, we remember the day the Eagle landed and Armstrong walked. We were playing golf that day. With our good friend R-b. At the country club, where we both pursued the solitary sport with maniacal determination and a crazed competitiveness. (Neither we nor R-b were much cut out for the country club: Both of our dads worked in the oilfield—we never heard anyone back then call it “the oil business,” which is where George H.W. Bush must have worked—and ours, having clambered his way up from driving a wireline truck to wearing a tie and running his oilfield services company’s local office, had the family’s club dues paid by his employer as both a perk and business expense.) On that day in July we had played the front nine and stopped at the little snack shack that sat between the 9th and 18th greens.

The snack hut—a thrown-together wood-framed structure with a covered but unscreened porch—was run by Joe Decuir, a gentle but stupendously large and well-muscled black man with a shaved head (not so fashionable back in ’69) and a small, well-tended mustache who claimed to have once been given a tryout with the Saints, even though he never attended college. We whiled away many long summer hours of our 13th through 15th years talking with Joe Decuir on many subjects, and although there were some on which he remained guarded he had a natural graciousness and sensitivity that, at least to our mind, managed to transcend the obvious gulf of race and class between himself and two suburban white boys who talked shit, stupid shit, like suggesting he’d enjoy listening to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention (which he didn’t).

Joe always had the radio going, and when he wasn’t regaling us he was singing along. On Saturday afternoons he’d really come alive, wailing and keening as loud as he could without disturbing the nearby linksmen. That was when the local Top 40 station would turn four solid hours over to Paul Thibeaux, “The House Rocker,” owner of “House Rocker’s Record Shop,” who’d play only the best of Black America’s favorite music, past and present, while plugging at the top of his lungs a local nightclub or a “big wedding dance” out in some exotic rural locale like Frilot Cove, which he’d pronounce as “Free Loco!!” Sometimes he’d excitably end these commercials with a personal guarantee to would-be customers: “No harm will come to you or your car!” Joe Decuir loved Paul Thibeaux, as did we.

Joe talked often of sex, a subject on which he professed to posses vast experience and expertise, and on which we had none of either (we believe it was from Joe that we learned of the Black Man’s supposed historical aversion to cunnilingus, which we see now as a dated 20th century notion). Once, on a steamy afternoon, he provided us, gratis, two ice-cold beers—just one each. We were grateful, possibly because it was not the Falstaff that we occasionally filched from the refrigerator at home. Another time, after the discussion had rolled around to exactly how strong he was—he perhaps had initiated the discussion—Joe emerged from his kitchen and, standing adjacent to one of the pillars that held up his humble fiefdom, began slamming it with an upward thrust of his giant forearm, much as he would had he been exploding off the line for the Saints. The building shook and shuddered, and the post jumped a little bit off its concrete foundation. We feared he was going to knock the place down. He was the strongest guy we knew.

On a wall behind the screened-off counter, in the kitchen where Joe cooked up delicious burgers and fries, hung a shitty little black-and-white TV bolted to a rickety stand, and it was on that instrument that we saw the moonwalk, although “saw” is not quite the right word. The picture, already dark and cloudy from the moon transmission, was made more so by the quality of the TV and the counter screen we had to watch it through. We remember having to crane our neck and shift our eyes as afternoon shadows pitched into the kitchen, and after a while that seemed to be more trouble than it was worth.

We don’t remember much of the rest that particular July day when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. We knew it was big deal, or course, but not one that really touched us, not like, say, Otis did with Try a Little Tenderness. We suppose that as Neil Armstrong prepared to tee one up on the lunar surface we finished out the back nine at the country club, arguing with R-b over gimmes and the lies of our respective balls in the rough, perhaps making fart noises or clearing our throat as he drew back to putt. Neil Armstrong’s walk has faded into a fuzzy, indistinct memory, one we initially registered at a poor angle off a bad TV image. But Joe Decuir we remember clearly.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We’ll Give Up “Hillcroft” When You Pry it from Our Cold, Dead Fingers

A Slampo's Place Special Report

We almost choked on our paneek paneer last week while dining at our 3rd or 4th favorite Indian vegetarian restaurant (the one that weirdly proclaims itself “Best in Texas, Good in Houston”) and perusing the Pakistan Chronicle (which weirdly proclaims itself “The newspaper you read”). There, tucked at the bottom of the front page of the July 17 edition, was news of a looming civic atrocity, one of which we theretofore had not been informed: “Hillcroft May Very Well Become Gandhi Avenue.

You read that right: That’s Gandhi, as in Mahatma, who as far as we know was not a Houstonian, not a Texan, not even an American, and, as far as we know, never set foot in Houston, or Texas, or even the United States. Yet, according to the story, “efforts are under way” by some outfit called the India Culture Center to change the name of Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark to honor the long-dead spindly proponent of peaceful resistance and opponent of British imperialism. This supposedly is desired by Indian merchants on that stretch of the many-miles-long street, although none are directly quoted as saying so in the story. (You know that stretch: it’s a good place to get paneek paneer and/or a sari, if you’re in the market for one, and stock up on your Hallel meatstuffs.). According to the newspaper’s un-bylined report

Those who favor [the name change] say that Houston is an international city and should be reflected in the names of the various streets of Houston … Since Hillcroft between Highway 59 and Westpark, [sic] has many international shops and restaurants from South Asia, those in favor of change in name are saying that this section of roadway qualifies for a new name, which can be either Mahatma Gandhi Street or Gandhi Avenue.
But wait—if that's not good enough, there’s another justification:
Also as Gandhi’s name is associated with Non-Violence, that will help to restrain crime and ferocity in the area.
We can just imagine some tattooed, burr-headed cholo declaring, “We’re on Gandhi Avenue now, vato, therefore let us restrain our ferocity and refrain from ripping the gold jewelry from the neck of that middle-aged Indian woman.” It could work.

The red in our neck began to rise as we read this small article. We generally like most native Indians and Pakistans we’ve met in Houston (with a few notable exceptions, such as the surly anti-American Paki-asshole co-owner of the now-shuttered and torn-down Hugo Chavez Fill ’Er-Up out on, yes, Hillcroft, but far south of the “Gandhi Avenue” section). We presume that almost all of them are here legally (we’re sure there’s a few here and there who’ve overstayed a visa in their day), they have entrepreneurial drive, their kids are excellent spellers whose presence is generally a boon to the public schools they attend (with a few exceptions), the ones who are our neighbors keep their yards tidy and mind their own business, and some of the women look really, really fine when dolled up in the spangly jewelry (sorry … just call us “Rajah,” “Rajah of the Jungle”). We even enjoyed those Harold and Kumar movies, the way they turned ethnic and racial stereotypes on their heads. Yet the great, great majority of the “members” of these “communities” have been in Houston for, maybe, 10 or 15 years, 20 at the most, and suddenly they’re muscling in to claim a portion of well-traveled and traffic-choked thoroughfare in the name of “diversity” and “multiculturalism”--a street that already switches its name to “Voss” a little north of the future Gandhi Street. To that we can only say, as compelled to do so by our Franco-Germanic-Scots-Irish-Cherokee-Shanty Irish East Texas-Southwest Louisiana heritage, “Screw that” (trying to be polite). We’d bet our large right gonad—it’s very precious to us--that most of the Indo-Americans who (allegedly) are pushing this change don’t live within miles of Hillcroft, and, most likely, reside in the multicultural Valhalla of Sugar Land (future site of Tom DeLay Middle School).

Apparently we now live in a city where it is offensive to name the panhandling professional soccer team “1836”, after the year that our town’s namesake, the great Sam Houston (a practicing multiculturalist and assimilationist who, as you know, after resigning as governor of Tennessee lived among the Cherokees for six years and took a Cherokee wife) beat down the effete Euro-Hispanic Santa Anna, thus ensuring that today drug cartels are not wantonly shooting up the street of Santa Anna, Tejas (“Home of the Porfirio Diaz Space Center”). But somebody, apparently somebody who hasn’t had a stake on the soil all that long, can propose with a straight face to name a street after someone who had absolutely nothing to do with this town’s history or heritage. At the risk of repeating our self: Screw that.

We feel strongly, perhaps inordinately so, about this naming business. We were not greatly enthused when the school district named the newest eastside high school after Cesar Chavez—couldn’t they have found a local Mexican-American educator or entrepreneur or somebody local with the required Hispanic surname to honor?—but at least Chavez was an American, and the choice was in keeping with a long tradition of naming local streets and institutions after well-known presidential and non-presidential out-of-towners (MLK, of course, and Eisenhower High School and Pershing Middle School and Webster Street and Roy Benavidez Elementary, after the Viet Nam War Medal of Honor winner from El Campo). The district avoided the issue entirely (and correctly) when it dubbed the new westside high school the prosaic but more inclusive “Westside High School” (which is quite a bit more diverse [and English-speaking] than Chavez High). And we’re still puzzled why the city hasn’t taken at least some small step to honor its great and abiding blues heritage by naming something, anything, even a dead-end cul-de-sac, after Sam Hopkins. We’d take some time out of our busy schedule to start a counter-movement to name the targeted stretch of Hillcroft “Lightinin’ Hopkins Avenue,” except that we’re pretty sure that Hopkins didn’t spend a whole lot of time over on Hillcroft. (He might have driven up or down it once or twice late in his day, perhaps when he had a hankering for paneek paneer, which before his passing he reportedly declared to be “some really good shit.”)

Hillcroft seems to be suitably neutral name, too, and we’re sure the name has a history, although we’re damned if we no know it, and we’ve asked around. We’re pretty sure the platting of the street occurred after World War II (for younger readers or recent immigrants, that’s a war the United States fought against fascist Germany and imperial Japan in the 1940s, and many Americans—mostly white men--died in it to keep you from having to goose-step in the Town Square on Hitler’s birthday), and while we see no hills or crofts anywhere along the thoroughfare the name appears to be part of a general faux-Scottish theme among areas and neighborhoods of southwest Houston (“”Braeburn” this and “Braeburn” that, etc.).

Once you start divvying up streets for naming among the town’s many and various ethnicities, where will it stop? Will the Chinese, who already have their street signs in the Chinatown of southwest Houston, petition to have a portion of Bellaire Boulevard named after, say, sawed-off Commie Deng Xiaoping (who, unlike Gandhi, did actually once set foot in Houston)? Here’s the comma-challenged Pakistan Chronicle again:

There are others, who say that since the majority of businesses are South Asian, it will be proper, if both Indian and Pakistani personality names are part of the new name for Hillcroft, like Gandhi- Jinnah Avenue.
Ah, Jesus. Let's just rename the street "Kashmir" and let the Hindus and Muslims fight over it. In a stab at fair and balanced coverage, “the newspaper you read” gives us the other side of the story:
However, there are others, who say feel that this same area has famous businesses belonging to Spanish, Guatemalan, Arab and Persian communities: As such they feel that there is no need to change the name, it should be all inclusive.
Bingo! But according to the P-Chronicle, the idea has the support of at least one elected official, our very own City Councilman-Who-Didn’t-Actually-Live in-The-City-of-Houston-and-Still-May-Not, M.J. Khan, who’s now seeking to become our Controller-Who-May-Not-Actually-Live-in-Houston. Apparently paraphrasing the councilman, the ethnic newspaper says Khan is “favoring the change saying of the people of the area want the name, then it should be changed.” What a pandering weasel. This alone will disqualify him from being honored with our vote in the November election.

By the way, have any of the mayoral candidates mustered the 1/32nd of a gonad necessary to stand up and say, at the risk of offending a teensy-tiny but probably heavy-voting slice of the electorate, “This is a stupid idea!"?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Roky Erickson: 62 Years Young and … Impervious!

Wednesday last was Roky Erickson’s birthday, and although Gov. Rick Perry once again failed to order state offices closed in observance we our own self did pause briefly during the hard turning of the day to consider the resiliency, the durability, the sheer Faulknerian indomitability of the human spirit, in particular the ragged-but-right spirit that we and a couple of hundred other Houstonians witnessed radiating outward last month at a downtown venue we will always know as the Former Site of Guy’s Newsstand.

We had stayed up way (way) past our bedtime, assisted by no stimulant other than a large iced coffee (makes Gramps “frisky”) to take in Roky’s Return to Houston—fittingly, on the night following the day when the temperature hit a brain-frying 106. According to this advance of the show by the daily newspaper’s learned rock critic, it was the first time the erstwhile Erickson had visited Houston, at least in a strumming-and-singing capacity, since 1984. (We caught that show, at the long-gone Consolidated Arts Warehouse on Montrose, and while we do not remember whether Erickson played guitar that night or not, we do clearly recall how he looked: He had shaved his muzzle but sported large, bristly muttonchops, not the height of fashion in the godforsaken ’80s, and wore a pair of madras bell bottoms, the kind of pantaloons that were fashionable for a few months in 1966 among young American males whose daddies could afford to buy them Mustangs, along with a tight-fitting pinkish or orange-ish Disco Era shirt that must have come off a Goodwill rack. He apparently did not dress “up” for the performance.)

All of the news concerning Erickson has been good for the past few years—how, with care and attentiveness and modern medication, he’s been able to return to performing, semi-regularly and triumphantly. But you never know. Roky fandom is not an entirely comfortable seat: On the one hand you dig all those churning, hard-charging goofs on horror and sci-fi movies and comics of the ’50s—centered, we presume, in that place where we go to “scare” our self, the place where Count Floyd stages his 3-D House of Schlock and E. A. Poe filches from the day’s take—and on the other you’re keenly aware of the guy’s recurrent bouts of deep mental illness. As the unflinching 2005 documentary You’re Gonna Miss Me suggests, Erickson hit the Trifecta of mental imbalance: a genetic disposition thereto, courtesy of a distant, hard-ass daddy and a hothouse-flower of a mama who appears to have been the yoga-besotted Blanche Dubois of Austin; one too many acid trips as well as go-rounds with heroin and crystal meth in the 1970s and, apparently, well into the ’80s; and, probably most devastatingly, confinement at Rusk State Hospital in the late ’60s-early ’70s after his bust by the Austin cops for one sorry matchbox of dope. (Imagine what it must have been like to be in Rusk State Hospital in 1969; hell, imagine what it was like to be in Rusk in 1969. According to a Rusk State doctor interviewed [while, for some reason, sitting at a pedal steel guitar] for the documentary, Erickson’s fellow musicians in a hospital pick-up band included notorious murderers and child killer-rapists.) So when Erickson sings about working in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog and not being shaken by Lucifer and walking with a zombie (the best part of that great Holly-inflected tune being the tacked-on time specificity of the walk: last night) a reasonable person might wonder whether these are songs of experience or imagination, and whether by whooping it up for Night of the Vampire you’re inadvertently encouraging another psychic break. If you’re, y’know, the sensitive type.

But there was no cause to fret. Erickson, backed by a youngish band whose name we missed, put on a astoundingly good show—“heroic,” in the estimation of our colleague and fellow Roky idolater Il Pinguino. The mere fact that Erickson can stand on his hind legs and bark before an audience, much less perform at such a flawlessly high level for an hour and a half or so, is indeed heroic. His voice—it’s one of the great voices in rock ’n’ roll, sounding always as if something inside him is tearing and clawing to get out and he’s exercising great concentration to keep it under control—was in fine, supple form. (Erickson has a way with a song that’s at least equal in its naturalness to Van Morrison’s, who came out of basically the same mid-’60s musical milieu, so it’s not so absurd to wonder whether, if things had gone another way for Erickson, he’d be playing Vegas, or wherever it is Van plays these days, instead of the Continental Club on a Thursday night.) He even played a crackling lead guitar on some numbers, with his back to the audience at first but turning to face it later in his set. Between numbers he looked tentative and a little lost, turning to the other band members for directions, but when the music began he was transformed, an entirely other person. He tore that place up and burned it down.

Our favorite moment of the evening came during the spoken-word interlude to Creature with the Atom Brain, when Roky reported that atomic power has not only given the undead superhuman strength but has rendered them “impervious” to bullets. There was something about the way he pronounced impervious … but guess you woulda had to have been there.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When Frogs Go Missing ...

We finally got around to reading a long, couple-of-months-old New Yorker article by environmental writer Elizabeth Kolbert on “The Sixth Extinction?” [reg. required]—the notion that our planet is currently experiencing another mass die-off of animal species and has been for maybe 50,000 years, this one thought to be unwittingly caused by the spread of a Chytrid fungus by human, um, civilization—and were surprised to learn that a Houston municipal operation plays a role in trying to preserve the variety of frogs that are rapidly vanishing* (without question mark) from the forests of Central America. The Houston Zoo, Kolbert reports, is the prime mover and funder of The El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in central Panama, which, as noted elsewhere, is sort of a Noah’s Ark for such going-going-but-not-quite-gone species as the horned marsupial frog:
EVACC is financed largely by the Houston Zoo, which initially pledged twenty thousand dollars to the project and has ended up spending ten times that amount. The tiny center, though is not an outpost of the zoo. It might be thought of as a preserve, except that, instead of protecting the amphibians in their natural habitat, the center’s aim is to isolate them from it. In this way, EVACC represents an ark built for a modern-day deluge. Its goal is to maintain twenty-five males and twenty-five females of each species—just enough for a breeding population.

The first time I visited, [EVACC director Edguardo] Griffith pointed out various tanks containing frogs that have essentially disappeared from the wild. These include the Panamanian golden frog, which, in addition to its extraordinary coloring, is know for its unusual method of communication; the frogs signal to one another using a kind of semaphore. Griffith said that he expected between a third and a half of all Panama’s amphibians to be gone within the next five years. Some species, he said, will probably vanish without anyone’s realizing it: “Unfortunately, we are losing all these amphibians before we even know they exist.”
At first glance this sounds like a much more agreeable extracurricular overseas activity for a city of Houston-connected operation than those engaged in by, say, the Houston Airport System Development Corporation.

*As Kolbert notes--for all you Darwinists who’ve never read Darwin (like us!)--Darwin himself rejected the concept of “catsrophism,” that is, sudden mass extinctions caused by such events as an asteroid smashing into Earth, a concept now embraced by most scientists.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Bill White Juggernaut Gathers Statewide Momentum

We believe we espied our first outside-the-Loop Bill White for [Office That Hasn't Been Vacated Yet and May Never Be] bumpersticker on Saturday as we were motoring up State Highway 71 near the Austin airport. The bearer of the sticker was a dark blue Scion that unfortunately made a quick juke to the right at the Lockhart exit, leaving us unable to get the license plate. We were, however, able to read the other sticker on the auto's back door: "Jesus was a liberal." Or, maybe, "Jesus is a liberal."*

*Again, we feel compelled to add that we only report the news.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Absolutely the Worst Effin' Street in the Whole Damn Town

Perhaps not "absolutely." These designations, after all, are local--we're sure that every quadrant of town, perhaps every hectare of town, has its own worst street (we, for instance, don't regularly ply the byways of northeast Houston and therefore can't wield a very broad brush). This just happens to be the street we drove down about 20 minutes ago, and we're still steamin' (although normally a happy-go-lucky, live-and-let-live kind of fellow). It's South Braeswood, between Buffalo Speedway and Stella Link, and it's one f'ed-upped mess and has been for years, if not decades: seamed and rutted, potholed, bifurcated--hell, trifurcated--and it always makes us feel as if we've returned to the spine-jarring days of the Model T when we inch our way down it ('course road conditions do keep most traffic well under speed limit). It's like you're driving in Belize--rural Belize.

So the city council agrees to fund the silly-ass Houston Arts Alliance with $11 million. (We're sure this was from some dedicated fund that could only be spent on dubious " art" and the administration thereof and not road repairs, right?) We haven't been paying much attention to the mayor's race, but we know the kind of candidate who will appeal to us (and our wide, deep sphere of influence) will be one who says ixnay to the baubles and trinkets and promises a strict concentration on bread-and-butter neighborhood issues. (Yes, we know, promises are one thing ...)

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Road Does Not Go on Forever, Nor Does the Party Never End

The congenial Texas singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen,* in a Q&A [not available in its entirety] in the June edition of Texas Highways,** unapologetically describing growing up in southwest Houston, back when gas was cheap and cars were big, the “domestic oil industry” was not an oxymoron and “Sharpstown” was not synonymous with graffiti, ill-maintained apartments and crappy schools*** but rather was considered a nice place to raise the kids:
We [Keen and his sister] grew up during what I call the bright, shining age of Houston, in the late ’50s and ’6os, when the space program was beginning and the oil business was rocking. Anybody who was involved in oil was just the coolest person on the block [his father was a petroleum engineer]. I remember “Go Texan Day” in Houston, which was the first day of the rodeo and the day the Salt Grass Trail Ride would end up in town. I used to keep a picture in my wallet of me when I was about threee, wearing one of those little felt cowboy hats and holding my parents’ hands as we walked down the rodeo to Go Texan Day …

*Who manages to elude critical enshrinement as a Texas legend or sumpin’ ‘cause he’s an Aggie and a nice guy and apparently has no serious substance abuse problems and has yet to be stabbed to death outside of a nightclub, although never say never ’cause there’s still time to work on the last two.

**A publication of the Texas Department of Transportation, the one whose lush color photography always makes everybody and every place in Texas look 2 to 3 times better than he/she/it does in person.

*** Sharpstown, of course, has been getting a worse-than-desaerved rap lately, especially after the killing of police officer Henry Canales, which actually happened on the far edge of Sharpstown, or where S-town bleeds into the Gulfton area, but in fact most of the single-family-home subdivisions in the area are nicely maintained and offer affordable housing for working/middle-class families who can somehow navigate the less-than-stellar public schools. We thought it interesting that Channel 11 could do this report after Canales’ murder on “the decline of Sharpstown”—a two-decade-old story that—without once employing the term “illegal immigration.” Such is the nature of coming to grips with “problems” in Houston.

Thursday, July 02, 2009