6-13-06, 10:03 PM -
A funny thing happened on the way to Austin.
It often distresses me to discover that I need things. I like to think of myself as fairly independent, wife and son notwithstanding. The view I've generally held of my future has more to do with following new opportunities than concerning myself with keeping familiar things around.
So it has come as rather a shock to find how very much I need my family and close friends these days. I'm fortunate to have a good enough relationship with my relatives that I enjoy spending time with them, and having regular opportunities to do so for the first time in 4 years has been refreshing.
The great thing about most of my Texas friends is that not only are they bloody hilarious, they're also badass musicians. This makes for fun-filled evenings that are rewarding not only emotionally but creatively as well. It's not that I didn't meet some immensely talented musical friends in New York, but there is a bond that comes from having earned your musical wings together, and it's been renewed as of late.
There is also an understanding that comes from being in a particular place in life. All of us are newly into our 30's, having spent our 20's seeking the grail like John Cleese's Sir Lancelot, stabbing unfortunate bystanders and chewing scenery while poor Patsy gets an arrow in the chest. We stormed some castles together and some separately, but in each case we found them grail-less and full of taunting Frenchmen. Okay, I think that metaphor's exhausted.
The point is, we're all in re-prioritizing mode, and thankfully, we seem to have all determined that music in and of itself is a reward worth pursuing. Not so much the fame-grasping, sweaty lapel-pulling, or trampling those underfoot, just making the music and putting it out there. That understanding has brought me to a place where I am not only producing my second album, but also assisting in the production of debut albums for two friends who also happen to be raving badasses.
All of this coincides with an interesting afternoon I had a few weeks ago. I started by going to Fred Fest, an all-day music festival out on the patio at Fred's restaurant in Fort Worth. After seeing several groovy acts and downing some beer & a burger, a wandering spirit hit me. It happens every so often, this desire for motion in some direction, no matter where.
On an afternoon scattered with showers and no car (the Wifely had dropped me off), most people would disregard such a notion. Some part of me, probably the expat New Yorker, took it as a challenge. Downtown was within sight, and I'd certainly walked farther in the not-too-distant past. I ambled off in the direction of 7th Street, which I knew crossed the Trinity River into downtown via an unusually pedestrian-friendly bridge.
7th is one of the quirkier streets in town. Dotted with art galleries large & small, and musical mainstays like the Wreck Room and the Four Star Coffee Bar, it's an artery of cool running through the heart of FW. But as much time as I've spent there over the years, I've never once discovered the groovy little antique shop that I found while walking that day.
Most antique stores conspicuously aim for the upper incomes, concentrating on classy furniture and covetable decorative items. I don't think this store got that telegram. Certainly there were nice bits of furniture and all. But scattered between those treasures, and indeed all over the place, there lay an assortment of battered old open suitcases. The cases themselves didn't seem to be for sale, and rightly so, but piled up inside was the oddest selection of merchandise I'd ever seen.
Most of it was paper, covered by plastic sleeves that served as protectant and price tag. The first piece I saw was simply an envelope, postmarked 1944, with a return address of the War Department in Washington. Whatever contents it once held were long gone. Other items were booklets, anything from local college poetry anthologies to commencement programs. Postcards abounded, yellowed shots of Fort Worth landmarks and roadside bluebonnet scenes. And then there were the photographs. Portraits from all over Texas, spanning the past century and probably beyond.
There's something in an unclaimed family photograph that just does it for me. The image of a person, born to a mother and father, raised, living through whatever lifespan they had coming to them, and now one of the only pieces of evidence that they ever existed sits moldering in a suitcase inside an obscure Fort Worth antique shop. The story the picture told is now lost, leaving the living to fill in the blanks.
It was with this odd state of mind that I finally left the little store and continued my walk. A few blocks down, I wondered idly how far my walking legs had atrophied since returning to Texas and rejoining the driving public.
I didn't have to wonder long. Truth be told, I could've made it, but upon seeing a bus stop in my path, I certainly wasted no time in plopping my newly softened butt cheeks upon the bench. Next to me was an old woman with a milky left eye, who asked what time it was. I told her, and got a huff in response.
"Damn bus don't never get here."
"Been here for thirty minutes. Damn people think I ain't got better to do on a Saturday."
"When's it supposed to come?"
"Don't nobody know. I could be here till Lord Jesus come back."
"I'll tell him about it, too, child."
Ah, the world-renowned Fort Worth public transit system. I used to ride the Trinity Railway Express over to Dallas back in 2000, but I'd never been on a FW bus. Once it showed up (a minute or so after me & Lord Jesus' friend had our conversation), I was surprised how much like a NYC bus it was. And like Dallas buses...in the demographic sense.
I run into a few people who don't grasp what my song Union Station is getting at when I talk about Dallas bus ridership consisting of only "the black ones, the brown ones, and the ugly white women." It's indicative of the soul of a culture if people are surprised when a white male rides the bus. And as I climbed aboard this bus at 7th Street, driver and riders alike were most certainly surprised. A few things in Texas haven't changed.
There's a bit of Times Square in Sundance Square. The massive, gaudy, trumpet-blasting angels plastered onto the venerable Bass Performance Hall would be right at home on 42nd Street, as would the arty neon facades along Houston Street (that's "Hew-ston," not "How-ston," NYC types). But this is Fort Worth, so you get dwarfed by a cowboy mural instead of P. Diddy.
One thing that Sundance Square has is the most distinctive Barnes & Noble I've ever seen. The one on Union Square in NYC is larger and nicer, but may Pete strike me homely if the Sundance location isn't more interesting. Back in my Borders days, when B&N was the enemy, that store scared the pee out of me. What the hell can you do when your competition has castle turrets and a gigantic Remington horse-n-rider replica busting up through two floors? (though they did end up gelding the poor sumbitch when several old ladies got the vapors on the first floor after a face-to-face encounter with a 4-foot horse schlong...)
I wandered the square, and after making what rounds a man with 20 bucks can make, I retired to the B&N for some leisurely reading and leg-resting. Truly I am a Texan again.
It was only the vagaries of store layout, specifically the positioning of Religion next to the bathroom, that brought my eyes to rest on The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buddhism.
Growing up in the crotch of the Bible Belt, I've heard my share of conversion stories. A sizable portion of them involve people in dire straits, depressed, searching for peace of mind. Religion is very good at hitting you when you're down. Of course, I've developed a rather thick church-proof armor plating over the years where the Big Three western faiths are concerned. You throw me a scripture, I can parry with another. You give me the sanctified tones, I turn up the volume on my bullshit detector.
I've had no such coverage with Buddhism, because frankly, when would I run into it? Like Judaism, a fine quality Buddhism possesses is its lack of giving a shit whether you convert or not. I like that, and so I didn't feel threatened by picking this book up.
I read for at least an hour in a comfy chair next to a window with a grand view of those big, gaudy Bass angels. The feeling of impermanence I had picked up from the antique shop still haunted me, as did the dark thoughts I've lived with and given names to recently. And there, in the gray of rainclouded downtown Fort Worth, I think I became a Buddhist.
I say "I think" because I have an intense fear of joining things. To stamp yourself with an identifiable marker is to align yourself with whatever crackpot asshole may also be wearing that marker, and there are certainly Buddhists I want nothing to do with. The whole Dalai Lama thing irritates me, for a start. But like JudeoChristIslamity, there are countless splits off of the main tree which don't necessarily reflect the spirit of the faith.
Calling the core of Buddhism a faith, though, is somewhat misleading. In Siddhartha's teachings, there is really not a lot of weight given to what the hell God thinks. In fact, students asking the great teacher about God's will were often answered with his standard brush-off, "It does not further," followed by silence. From what I've gathered so far, Buddhism seems to be primarily about the reduction of suffering. What's not to like?
I will spare you a rundown of what Buddhism is or isn't. Here in America, we have an institutionalized misunderstanding of it, and frankly I don't care if anyone thinks I'm crazy for looking to the theories of a DIFFERENT ancient philosopher for enlightenment. If I did care, I wouldn't really be a Buddhist. Which I may be. No joining yet.
Over the past several weeks, I've given a great deal of thought to what has caused the bulk of the suffering in my life, and I find that some of it has to do with the expectations of others. I was a bit surprised to discover this, anti-social bastard that I am, but after narrowing the frequency, tuning out the shouting voices until the only one I hear is my own, I find that actually, I could be pretty happy here.
By "here," I mean Fort Worth. A twin realization--one, to disregard others' measure of my success; and two, that I truly need my close friends and family in my life on a regular basis--has brought me to the conclusion that I may indeed belong here for a while.
I haven't been inclined towards reading tea leaves in recent years, but there may be something serendipitous about the sudden dearth of job opportunities for the Wifely in Austin and my own journey towards feeling at home in the city of my birth. Being a nearly-Buddhist, I won't presume to divine the will of a higher power, nor even to argue for his existence (though I still believe in Pete The Incompetent Demi-God, which is quite another thing), but I do know a perfect storm when I see one.
All of this is to say that as of June 1st, we have signed a 1-year lease on our own place in Tarrant County, the first time we have done so in 5 years. What's different this time is that I don't feel guilty about it. No sense of wasted opportunity, nor of being pinned down in nowheresville under the weight of my own lack of gumption. What I want is to make and release music with my friends, to spend time with my family, and to raise my son as best I can.
What also happens in this arrangement is that DFW gets two more lefties on the voter rolls, something Austin doesn't really need. There are many things I would still like to change about this place, both for my sake and for Nathan's. For at least the foreseeable future, this is his home as well as mine.
It's odd to be responsible for shaping the pattern of someone else's life. I am who I am because of where I grew up and everything I experienced there. Right now, the foundation for Nathan's personality is being laid, moment by moment. Our decision to raise him in Texas rather than New York will result in him being a different person than he would've been had we stayed, just as I would be a different person had my parents not moved us from River Oaks to Weatherford when I was in the 4th grade. Or if we'd lived on a different street, or if my friends' parents had moved them out of Weatherford before I met them. The people Nathan meets, the landscapes he sees, the weather, all of those things will be different depending on where he lives, and any change in that will bring about an incremental change in who he is.
Of course, there's no way to know which potential personality would be better. Until we get that control-of-the-4th-dimension thing down, all we know is that he will be who he will be, and our choices as parents will partially determine that.
Who he will be is becoming more evident by the day. My son is very curious, and very focused. He can be distracted, but only with effort. Sometimes he likes to be startled, which is funny. If you leap up from where you're hiding and yell, "Boo!" he will break into a wide grin and an amused giggle, after first flapping his arms and feet around in excitement. He seems to think I'm funny, but then, he doesn't have a lot to compare me to.
His favorite place is the mall. I guess the combination of colors, people, and interesting noises is a veritable cornucopia of stimulus to someone who doesn't know what anything is yet. Not being a mall person, I only took him there so I could go somewhere out of the house that wasn't a sun-bleached inferno. I worried that he might get bored, but after a few minutes of walking around I looked down into the stroller to find him grinning and slapping his knees like Grandpa Jones. Little mallrat. I hope he doesn't think I'm taking him to Abercrombie & Fitch for some designer baby duds. So far, he's been mostly a Target baby, and he's likely to remain so.
"Baby," of course, is kind of a relative term. He looks less and less like a baby every day, which is partly due to the Massive Child Genes I gave him in my DNA contribution. Still, the wide open eyes and mouth and lack of English comprehension makes it pretty evident that even at 7 months old and 23 pounds, he's still a baby. He's working hard on learning how to crawl, so some battening down of hatches will be required very soon.
Having our own place makes that easier, mostly because we have very few possessions. We chucked most of our NYC furniture to avoid moving it cross-country, and what we do have now is mostly baby-oriented. We did make a trip to the Ikea store up in Frisco to pick up a bed for ourselves, so we won't have to sleep on a pile of books. I must say, those crazy Swedes know how to make a badass store full of badass products at a badass price. It's a much better use of their time than putting on horned helmets and beserking the European coast.
As for the new place, it goes without saying that it's quite a bit nicer than our old linoleum death box in Brooklyn. New carpet, new everything, and half the price of our last apartment. I have to say that I could hardly believe that so little money could buy such splendor. NYC really did a number on my standards...
Far past time to wrap this long-winded thing up. Nathan calls, and we got stuff to unpack. Hello, Fort Worth. Nice to know you again.