a food truck & a bookmobile walk into a museum.

I’ll admit it.  When I left Austin for Houston last summer, I did not not have very high expectations, culturally speaking.  I figured that I was leaving this haven of music and free thinking for the hometown bubble of job security and family proximity, trading hipster- for suburban sprawl.  The Houston I knew before I left for college eight years ago led me to believe this, and rightfully so.

But then I got here.  Here here.  Montrose.  77006.  The Austin, Texas of Houston, Texas.  A little haven of the Greater Houston Area, amid all of its oil and sulfur and humidity and people, that somehow retains many of the things I loved (and love) about Austin.  It’s not at all the Houston I remember, simply because it is not the Houston to which I was exposed growing up.  Sure, there were those couple of times my folks took me to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston on Free Museum Day or whatever, but as a general rule, we stayed, at the very least, a good twelve miles north of the north side of 610.  Until very recently, I had never experienced what I consider the true Houston, Texas, and that’s why I had such low expectations of coming here.

At the same time, what appeals to me about where I live now is its Austin-ness.  One thing I loved (and, when driving, hated) about Austin was how pedestrian- and bike-friendly it was.  Montrose is very similar in this sense.  There are certainly fewer bike lanes (let alone vehicle-friendly roads), but basically everything you need is within walking or biking distance.  Montrose is also gastronomically similar to Austin, and perhaps this is in part due to the direct import of Austin’s food scene into the Montrose area.  Three examples that come immediately to mind are Torchy’s Tacos, Uchi, and the Coreanos food truck.

Since moving to Montrose, food truck food has become a staple of my diet, possibly to the point of excess.  Sure, I appreciate food trucks for their accessibility, economy, and expediency, but the main reason I keep going back to them is because their food tastes so damn good.  So far as I can tell, Houston food trucks make some of the best food in Houston (shoutout to Bernie’s Burger Bus, Bare Bowls Kitchen, Ladybird, Fork in the Road).

Food trucks also speak to our ever-increasingly mobile society.  Don’t let anyone tell you any differently:  the main purpose of Twitter is for food trucks to alert their followers as to where they will be located on a particular day at a particular time.  Similarly, the main purpose of lists on Twitter is to aggregate food truck tweets, so that you know all of your food truck options on a given day at a given time.  A good 90% of my time spent on Twitter is spent seeking out food trucks (this amounts to about four and one-half minutes per day).

When I, jobless and with a fresh Master’s degree in Information Studies, first moved back to the Greater Houston Area, I proposed a business venture to a couple of my friends.  The idea was essentially this: a library/bookstore.  A place (particularly a relatively cheap commercial rental space in a strip center) where a customer could buy, rent, donate, trade, and/or sell books, music (cassette, CD, vinyl), and movies (VHS, DVD).  We’d start with our own personal collections and work from there – pay a months rent, buy some shelves, et voila.  (I understand, logistically, that this isn’t nearly all we would have had to do, but this is the gist of the idea.  I even at one point checked a “How to Write a Business Plan” book out from the library.)  But then I found a job, and I’ve sort of just been sitting on the idea for the past nine months.

As time has passed, I’ve become increasingly fond of making this (still very hypothetical) business mobile (i.e. of putting the business inside of a bookmobile).  Why not?  I imagine that we’d function very similarly to food trucks in terms of locations (coffee shops, bars, festivals, &c.) and networking (Twitter, the fb, $17/year website).  I also believe our services would very much complement those of the food trucks.  It is very easy to eat and read at the same time (no offense, food).

Last month, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) launched a program called Fine Arts + Food Trucks, where, quote, “A curated selection of Houston’s finest mobile food sources park in the lot adjacent to the main entrance of the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden every day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., or until quantities are sold out.”  I chaperoned a bus trip from my library to MFAH last month, maybe a week after Fine Arts + Food Trucks had premiered, and the aforementioned Bernie’s Burger Bus was there, just, waiting for me.  The Menil Collection (if you haven’t gone, you must go) similarly invites food trucks to utilize their parking lot and tweets their support.  In both of these instances, food trucks and museums are complementing one another as sources of culture.  I think that the bookmobile would fit right in here, right beside a food truck, offering the public yet other facets of culture.

There is a neighborhood library of the Houston Public Library system right down the street from where I live, and the West University branch of my library system (not to mention several other branches of HPL) isn’t too far off.  It would make sense for either system to work with MFAH or the Menil Collection.  A bookmobile service would advance the services of either system (if people aren’t coming to the library, you go to where the people [with proof of mailing address] are) and encourage and strengthen their relationships with various cultural institutions.  And yet neither system has one, and I do not imagine that either will any time soon.  Unless…

I like to think of libraries as purveyors of culture.  Ultimately, I would like to use my (again very hypothetical) bookmobile  for the betterment of public library services, be it one particular library system (like HCPL or HPL [therefore, health care]) or for any library in continental North America (self-explanatory).

At my library, here in 2012, a not statistically insignificant number of persons have come in with inquiries about accessing our Digital Media Catalog and downloading eBooks for free onto their iPad or Kindle or Nook or Sony Reader or what have you.  Most of these questions can be very easily addressed by a knowledgeable person in a wi-fi-enabled environment.  In that sense, the bookmobile, filled with physical library books and audiobooks and CDs and DVDs, could also double as something of a digital bookmobile.  The bookmobile takes all of these services out into the community instead of waiting for the community to find its way to the library.

Librarian that I am (destined to be), I also see the appeal of a bookmobile-for-hire service to all public library systems (and college libraries, and museums, and Half-Price Books, and cetera) everywhere, where we would fill the bookmobile with their materials (including, in the case of public libraries, some library card registration forms, pens, library cards, a laptop with ILS software, etc.) and set up as a lending library (or exhibit, or pop-up shop) at a place of their choosing for whatever reason (within reason).    And I would personally find the experience of being a sort of Bookmobile Librarian freelancer extremely rewarding. (Brainstorming a name for this venture: Travels with Charley [where the bookmobile is named Charley]).

So, I guess the real question is, do I go to Seattle and buy this bookmobile?  Would it be worth it?  Would a twenty-seven year old bookmobile even be able to make it back to Houston?  Would everything go exactly according to plan?  A library/bookstore business (let’s call it a hobby) and libraries everywhere tweeting at me (@charleydabookmobile) for bookmobile gigs?  Should I crack open this Foundation Grants to Individuals tome I picked up at the library and give five or ten of those a shot?  Do you think I could qualify this as an Art project on Kickstarter?  What about you?  Are you feeling philanthropic?

Happy belated National Bookmobile Day, everybody!

My Thursday Night with Nikky the AT&T Technical Support Representative

Today, after a-whole-nother story’s worth of chats with various persons from various countries and various understandings of the English language (something one might, someday, in retrospect call a comedy of errors), we had our AT&T U-verse  internet and cable installed into our new home.

When the technician left, he checked to see if the DVR worked, as DVR and a luxurious switch from U100 to U200 were presumed to be a  part of the switch.  The technician even brought in a significantly larger cable box that, for whatever reason, was necessary for us to make the switch.  And as it turned out, we still just had the U100 plan.  Fine, okay, sure.  It will either switch over here in a bit, he said, or you’ll just have to contact them and ask them to, presumably, push a couple of buttons and switch it over.  And who are we kidding? Of course it didn’t just switch over.

Say, 9:30, I began chatting with Live Chat Technical Support Representative nr475y (Nikky) to ask her to push a couple of buttons and switch it over.  It started out fine, colloquial even:

I cannot say it was quick, because I chatted with Nikky for what felt like days, but things eventually got a bit out of hand:

Here is the full transcript of my conversation with Nikky:

System:        Connecting to server. Please wait…

System:        Connection with server established.

System:        Technical Support Topic: SST: More Help

System:        nr475y(Nikky) has joined this session!

System:        Connected with nr475y(Nikky)

nr475y(Nikky): Thank you for contacting AT&T U-verse Member Support. My name is Nikky(nr475y) Please allow me a moment to review your account details with the information you have provided.

nr475y(Nikky): I apologize for the fact that you had to wait for a little while to get connected to us.

nr475y(Nikky): May i please know the name of the account holder?

You:           [redacted]

nr475y(Nikky): How may I assist you with U-Verse service today?

You:           Today I had my Uverse cable switched from one apartment to another one, and this also included an upgrade from a U100 to U200 cable plan and DVR. And when the technician left, I still only had the U100 plan, and he told me that it should do it automatically, or that I would need to contact you guys and ask you to switch it over.

You:           And right now, I do still just have the U100 plan on my TV.

nr475y(Nikky): I am so sorry for the inconvenience caused. I will be more then willing to look in to your concern.

nr475y(Nikky): Could you please provide me with the 9 digit billing account number, as I am not able to pull up account with the information provided.

You:           Just a second.

You:           [redacted]

nr475y(Nikky): Thank you

nr475y(Nikky): Your account is opening up

You:           Still?

nr475y(Nikky): yes i am seeing that your TV package is U100

You:           Right, but it is supposed to be U200 with DVR.

You:           Can you help me with this?

nr475y(Nikky): yes

nr475y(Nikky): I will quikly change it to U200

You:           That would be greatly appreciated.

nr475y(Nikky): I will also provide you with the order confirmation number for your assistance

nr475y(Nikky): reference*

You:           For what reasons would I need to refer to it?

nr475y(Nikky): I am so sorry i would provide you with the confirmation number for your reference

nr475y(Nikky): I will also let you know when you can watch U200

nr475y(Nikky): To confirm that you are authorized on this account, could you please provide me your 4-digit pass code?

You:           [redacted]

nr475y(Nikky): I would like to inform you that the DVR would be free in U200

You:           I understand that.

nr475y(Nikky): I have also activated HD service on your account

You:           This is free?

You:          Or, included?

nr475y(Nikky): $10/month would be the fee for HD

You:           No thank you then.

nr475y(Nikky): It would be 100% free for the next 6 months

You:          I would like to not spend any more money than I am right now.

You:          I am happy with my plan.

nr475y(Nikky): after completion of the 6 months, if you want you can cancel HD service

You:          I don’t want to do this.

nr475y(Nikky): should i add HD service?

You:          Please stop.

You:           Can you just switch me to U200 and that be it?

nr475y(Nikky): okay

nr475y(Nikky): $72/month is the fee for U200

You:           Alright you know what.

You:          forget it.

You:          I’m going to talk to somebody on Monday.

You:           Or in the morning.

You:           That isn’t the price that I was quoted.

You:           I’m going to disconnect now.

You:          Please don’t change anything.

nr475y(Nikky): I have added discount for $25 for the next 12 months

nr475y(Nikky): so instead of getting charge for $72 you would be charge for $47 for next 1 year

You:           Okay, that is what I understood the rate to be.

You:           Why don’t your records reflect anything that has already happened?

nr475y(Nikky): what records you are talking about

You:           Do you not keep records?

nr475y(Nikky): I have just added promotional discount on your TV package

You:           That must be the problem.

You:           SOMEBODY HAS ALREADY DONE THIS.

nr475y(Nikky): Okay

nr475y(Nikky): shall i process the order?

You:           Let me ask you this first.

You:           How soon will I have U200 if you process the order?

nr475y(Nikky): well it depends on the available due date

You:           WHAT?

nr475y(Nikky): I must need to process the order to get the due date

You:           No.

You:          DO NOT PROCESS THE ORDER.

You:          DO NOT.

You:          I REPEAT DO NOT.

You:          NO

You:          NONONONONONONO.

You:          YOU SHALL NOT PROCESS THE ORDER!

You:          Are we done here?

nr475y(Nikky): Just to confirm would you like me to upgrade your TV package to U200?

You:          NO.

You:          NO.

You:          NO.

You:          Are you kidding?

nr475y(Nikky): If i do not process the order U200 will never activated

You:           Okay, then I shall never activate it.

You:           You are not to do this for me.

AT&T, do you know that this is how you work?  Y U NO FIX THIS?

It’s been a very interesting couple of days, and I’ve a strange feeling that it isn’t quite over.

And…scene -or- Das ist bemerkenswert: 1500 or so words on The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

On the back cover of my (and probably your) copy of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the Chicago Tribune is cited for deeming Michael Chabon “a reader’s writer; with sentences so cozy they’ll wrap you up and kiss you goodnight,” suggesting that the novel’s six hundred and thirty-six pages, though menacing, would be knocked out in no time (and, particularly, right before going to bed).

This was not my experience (I tend to do a lot of my reading during the day, and before work).  It took me more than a month to finish this book.  I stopped in the middle of it, read Paul Auster’s City of Glass, and came back to it.  I think my problem is that, while I am still very much a reader, I fancy myself as more of a writer than a reader.  I am studious.  I read with pen in hand, poised to underline the words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs that demand my so doing.  I cannot simply enjoy a work of art.  Rather, I have to examine it, in this case word for word, figure out what I think is good about it, and learn from it.

And there were so many overwhelmingly good things about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay:  the idiosyncrasies of each character (on Tommy:  “He had just eaten three bowls of rice pudding, and he had a milky baby smell.”); Chabon’s familiarity with the time period, and his insertion of the likes of Salvador Dali and Orson Welles to add to its Realist nature; and the rich descriptions and calculated word selection (“…inside the box, Joe lay curled, roped and chained, permitting himself sawdust-flavored sips of life through his nostrils.”) that comprised his beautiful and elegant prose, to name a few.

What I was particularly taken by was Chabon’s ability to write in scenes in an almost Salingeresque manner.  By the end of the very first chapter, I was completely blown away.  I felt as though I had just read something that could stand alone within the pages of The New Yorker, with no expectation of the six hundred pages that follow.  The first chapter is A Perfect Day for Bananafish, and the rest is Franny & Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction combined (but somewhat more sequentially, plotwise).

The scene I would like to focus on here can be located in the fifth chapter of the third part of the novel, The Funny-Book War.  This is the chapter after Joe, having already begun his rampage on everyone in New York City who looked remotely German, stumbled upon the office of Carl Ebling’s one-man Aryan-American League and, [E]scapist that he was, broke in, only to find that “Carl Ebling was, in spite of himself, a fan.”  During their brief encounter after Ebling returned to the office, Joe identified himself as Tom Mayflower, they scrapped a little bit, and, victorious, Joe took off.

It’s three o’clock on a Friday, the 25th of October, 1940.  Carl Ebling, well aware of the location of Empire Comics’ headquarters, and under the pretense that Sam Clay has recently ransacked his office and concussed his head, has called in a bomb threat on the Empire State Building, claiming that it would be going off within the half-hour.

Amid their efforts to evacuate, president of the building and former New York Governor Al Smith and his political crony, James Love, are informed by Harley, “the captain of the building’s private police force,” that there is a bit of an issue getting Joe to join them because, “He says he has too much work to do.”  By some sleight of hand, Joe has lifted the handcuffs off of Harley’s person and subsequently “seen fit to handcuff his self to his drawing table.  At the ankle, to be exact.”  Smith is convinced he can talk Joe into uncuffing himself and leaving, and Love, his interest piqued by the caricature of a situation, decides to come along for the ride.  Chabon writes of Love: “He had recovered from his spasm of mirth, though his pocket handkerchief now contained the evidence of something evil and brown inside him.”  Now there’s a sentence to wrap me up and kiss me goodnight.

After Joe politely declines Smith’s invitation to “stand [him] to a drink,” Love, beginning to share Joe’s “air of amused disconcern,” says to Joe, “You’re quite attached to your work, I can see that.”  Subsequently, as Joe obviates his devotedness towards his work, and Love actually sees the work and recognizes it as a job well done, this witticism turns into something more profound:  Love finds himself attached to Joe’s attachment to his work.  He shrugs off the potential seriousness of the situation and opts to engage this artist, with whom he has just become acquainted, in conversation.  Here, Chabon writes of Love:  “he was fascinated, as always, by the sight of someone making something skillfully.  He wasn’t ready to leave either.”

Love is an incidental figure that disappears entirely from the story three pages later, but within this scene, and due his idiosyncrasies, he is perhaps the most well-developed character of the bunch.  But also in this scene, Love is the audience, the reader.  Because he is not ready to leave, the story, though told by a slightly more objective narrator (than, say, the one who, later on, can read Rosa Clay’s mind), sticks with our protagonist, our artist, cool as a cucumber, handcuffed to a bolted desk, so that we too may, in that moment, live vicariously through him.

Kavalier & Clay runs the emotional gamut.  Some of it is heart wrenching.  The whole basis of the novel – the context behind Joe’s venture to America – is horrible.  History is horrible.  History, and thus this novel, is filled with things I don’t want to write about:  Holocausts and anti-Semitism and homophobia and Capitalism and war and boats filled with refugee children sinking into the Atlantic and dead dogs and planes made of dead dog hides and the Surrealist movement.

But a good deal of Kavalier & Clay is really funny.  On my first read of this book, the above scene was the first, and perhaps the only, part of the book during which I actually laughed out loud.  It was Kavalier & Clay at its most funny.  Given the pretext of Joe’s encounter with Carl Ebling and the AAL, and the fact that there were four hundred pages behind it, it wasn’t difficult to approach the situation with a light heart, and a certainty that, by the scene’s end, Joe’s arm would not be “lying down on Thirty-third Street.”  Chabon took a situation typically of great concern – of horribleness and tragedy – and turned it into such a richly layered comedy of disregard and disconcern that by the time Love says, “Das ist bemerkenswert,” not of the bomb threat, but of Joe Kavalier’s work that, amid a bomb threat, Love has ever so carefully examined, one cannot help but to be left completely and riotously in awe.

There are enough scenes like this one throughout the book that Kavalier & Clay could pretty easily be adapted for a (two and a half, three hour) film without using very much artistic license in the screenplay.  Chabon’s prose develops each scene so well, so cinematically, that it is difficult to not see it unravel as a mental motion picture as you go.  IMDB tells me that a motion picture version is in development for a 2012 release date.  But IMDB also told me three years ago that Ed Norton was directing a screen adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn.  So, you never know.  If it is done, and it’s well-done (and how could it not be?  Anyone see Wonder Boys?), then it would probably receive some Oscar (and/or Sundance) nods.

Perhaps Michael Chabon is a reader’s writer, and perhaps I’m just not a “reader”.  What I’d like to assert is that Chabon is also a writer’s writer – a writer that writers read and learn from, a writer who sends lesser writers into fits of jealousy, who usurps all of the ink from their studious pens.  The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a great book and quite the accomplishment, for the American canon, as well as for the American reader.  I am very glad to have read it.

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS:

  • Over the last couple of weeks, I have incidentally stumbled upon a couple of works that deal with eras that overlap the time period covered in K&C.  The first is the HBO television series Carnivale, which takes place in the Depression-era (1934) U.S., particularly in the Dust Bowl, and is truly a companion piece to Twin Peaks and LOST.  The second is Saul Bellow’s first novel, Dangling Man, which takes place in Chicago circa 1942-3.  They are both very good.  Check them out if you haven’t already.
  • I don’t recall ever having read a comic book in my life.  Am I missing something?  Any suggestions?
  • I’m all for ambiguous endings.  My stories are filled with them.  But try to imagine an epilogue to this story, say, in 1960, or during the war in Vietnam.  What the hell would be going on with these characters then?

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Grawlsy just ate three bowls of rice pudding, and he has a milky baby smell.  He is fascinated by the sight of someone making something skillfully.  He is twenty-five years old, and resides in Austin, Texas with his bowling ball, Bertha.

 

(NOTE:  Originally published 13th January 2011 for Bookgum.)

 

Year of tha Boomerang: The Death, Resurrection, and Relocation of the Classic Cartoon

Yesterday, we discovered Boomerang.

There we were:  new residents of an unfamiliar home, water on, electricity flowing, internet connected, brand new digital cable box.  Sitting in our underdressed and oversized living room – a papasan, a recliner, a vintage armchair, a rug, and an entertainment center – we flipped with want through the two hundred or so channels SuddenLink provides us in search of the most satisfactory show, the show that best fit the pace of this slow, exhausted Thursday afternoon.

To be honest, there wasn’t much of a decision to be made.  Television programming doesn’t have much of a stronghold on weekdays at the two o’clock hour.  That’s more of a time to read a good book in a hammock, do housework, watch a classic film, exercise, or – better yet – work the second half of your nine to five.  But that’s a whole nother story.

When we discovered that Popeye was even being offered to our spectatorship, we capitalized, and I mean capitalized.  We must have hit it on a particularly good episode, because it was entirely satisfying.  It was the one – I don’t know, maybe you’ve seen it – where Popeye and Olive Oyl are road tripping, and they run into this sort of Bluto-like lady that wants Popeye for her own.  Of course, Popeye isn’t going to hit a woman.  This is Olive’s battle. Sure enough, after being roughhoused by the other woman a while, to the point where she is stuck in a tree stump, Popeye falters and drops his spinach.  It happens to fall right next to the tree stump.  Olive Oyl stretches her free neck out, giraffe-like, grabs the can of spinach with her mouth and swallows the can.  Rejuvenated, Olive breaks free from the stump and flexes her muscles. Small as they are, since she usually has the flailing, twig-sized arms of a hyperbolically helpless woman, they proved effective.  Olive Oyl defeats this woman who can turn a forty-foot bridge around solely with her arms, who can row a boat with her feet, who can power a boat ashore from underneath at speeds exceeding acceptable human behavior.  And she drives the two of them off into the sunset as the victor – Popeye’s woman.

A quick aside – best advertising for a vegetable ever.  My children will certainly watch Popeye growing up.

As if anything could beat that episode, we anxiously awaited what this new channel we had discovered – Boomerang – had in store for us next.

To our excitement, the next program was Yogi Bear.  The theme song tagline of Yogi Bear – “Smarter than your average bear” – is far from being an understatement.  Sitting there and listening to the protagonist of this show speak, I couldn’t decide whether he was a comedic genius or a complete imbecile.  Upon further observation, I believe we decided it was the latter. But what do you want from a bear?  A bear that can speak – that’s pretty awesome.  But a bear that can speak well – well, that’s nearly impossible. But what about Boo-Boo?  That depression-ridden ursine sidekick sure speaks well.  I know he didn’t learn that from Yogi.

Both endings to the episodes felt in some way unresolved.  For instance, in the second episode, the Ranger and Yogi are trying to catch Boo-Boo because Yogi has hypnotized Boo-Boo and convinced him that he is a bird.  Sure enough, Boo-Boo perches up in his sleep and then takes off flying.  The Ranger and Yogi’s final strategy, after all else fail, is to attach a bundle of helium-filled balloons to Yogi presumably just strong enough to lift Yogi, but when he grabs Boo-Boo they’ll descend back to the ground.  So, Yogi floats up with the balloons and grabs Boo-Boo.  They continue floating upward, exchange some quip, and the episode is over.

But how do they get back down to the ground?!

The other one involved an alien Yogi and ended with the same lack of resolution.

We checked the programming for the next day or so.  A lot of the cartoons from my childhood were there – The FlintstonesThe JetsonsSmurfs,Scooby Doo, Where Are You?Looney TunesTom & JerryPink Panther.  I began to ponder the possiblities of a showing of The Flinstones Meet The Jetsons or Scooby Doo Meets the Harlem Globetrotters.  And, quite frankly, I got rather excited about this.

My childhood had caught back up with me, and it got me thinking quite a bit about cartoons.  Read what you want about the channel Boomerang.  Read that it was made to satisfy baby boomers.  But don’t believe it entirely.  Here is the reason Boomerang exists:  it is Cartoon Network’s apology for what Cartoon Network has become.  Cartoons weren’t what they used to be – extensive comic strips, far from being limited to just three or four panels – wholesome, family-friendly, timeless.  (And here I exclude the overtly racist cartoons Warner Bros. et al put out in the twenties, thirties, and so on.)  And because cartoons weren’t what they used to be, Cartoon Network created a channel in the year 2000 to exclusively play the cartoon classics, twenty-four/seven.  And while some of the modern series have creeped their way onto the programming schedule – Two Stupid DogsDexter’s Laboratory,Johnny Bravo – I’d still call it a worthy addition to the television world.

When Disney and Pixar put out Toy Story in 1995, the world of animation changed.  For one, people realized how much they could do with it.  Animation became an increasingly popular art form, and increasingly aimed at children, a departure from the original orientation of the cartoon towards the entire family.  That is not to say that Toy Story itself was not a film for the entire family, because it certainly was.  The departure happened, I would argue, in response to the popularity of Toy Story.

Four years earlier, the Nickelodeon network had introduced a series of cartoons – DougRugrats, and The Ren and Stimpy Show.  Of course,Doug and Rugrats were aimed at children, while Ren and Simpy was a poor attempt to mask an adult cartoon on a children’s network.  It climbed from there – Rocko’s Modern Life (also adult themed), Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,Hey Arnold!CatDogSpongebob Squarepants.  By 1995, Nickelodeon had a stranglehold on modern children’s cartoons.  They weren’t timeless, and they weren’t classic – okay, maybe Rocko’s Modern Life was classic andtimeless – and they weren’t exactly primetime TV like The JetsonsThe Flinstones, the cartoons of yore.  But they were modern, and they caught on.

Combine the craze that Nickelodeon created with these modern cartoons with a competition-driven TV network in the greedy hands of Ted Turner and the realized range of animation that Toy Story helped create, and of course you’re going to see the decline of western cartoonization.

Boomerang is sort of like a cartoon reservation, isn’t it?

Now, I am twenty-two and a half years old.  The first six years of my life preceded the onslaught of Nickelodeon, the forthcoming of Cartoon Network, and the self-destruct sequences, qualitywise, each network eventually fell into.  During those years, and even further along, I watched the shows that I found on Boomerang – PopeyeYogi BearThe FlintstonesThe Jetsons,SmurfsScooby Doo, Where Are You?Looney TunesTom & JerryPink Panther.  These were the staple cartoons of my childhood.  RugratsDoug,Rocko – those all came later for me.  What precedes them in my memory are the classics.  I grew up with the cartoon classics.  I loved the dynamic duos Warner Bros. et al created – I always rooted for Wile E. Coyote to catch the Roadrunner, Tom to catch Jerry, Pepe Le Pew to finally get the girl (cat), Bugs Bunny to escape Marvin Martian, or Elmer Fudd, or Yosemite Sam, for Popeye to defeat Bluto, to win Olive Oyl.  These are the cartoons of my childhood.  I watched Rugrats because I had a younger brother and sister.  At least I like to think that’s why I watched it.

But the real question is, did my younger brother and sister also grow up with the classics?  And the answer is, absolutely not.  How could they have possibly?  My sister was born in late 1988 and my brother late 1991.  Rugrats premiered in 1991 when my sister was not even three and my brother not even alive.  So, by the time my sister had memory, Nickelodeon had already begun its domination with these quality modern children’s cartoons.  These shows appeal more to a, say, rugrat than a mentally slow bear hunting for picnic baskets, and so they opt to watch that instead.  By 1995, my brother’s three and my sister six, and Nickelodeon has even more quality modern children’s cartoons.  Meanwhile, Cartoon Network is about to introduce Cartoon Cartoons to try to catch up and eventually even stop showing Looney Tunes, not unlike Nickelodeon on their network.  And because of the success of Toy Story, more and more people are expressing some artistic vision through cartoons and the audience is getting younger and younger and Yogi Bear won’t be catching picnic baskets for a while.  The year 2000, my sister eleven and my brother eight, Cartoon Network apologetically creates Boomerang to reintroduce all of the classics.  The problem is, nobody knows what Boomerang is and no cable company carries it and it isn’t until 2008 until someone like me even realizes what it is.  Thanks to Space Jam, my brother and sister know what Looney Tunes is, but they certainly didn’t grow up with it they way that I did.

Between my sister and I, there’s a three year age gap.  I got a moderate dose of these cartoon classics growing up, whereas my sister got a very small dose, if any dose at all.  And my brother will stare at you blankly if you try to talk about The Jetsons yet expect you to follow his entire description of The Fairly Odd Parents.

This is a significant realization.  This means that I am on the cusp of a cartoon generation that my brother is on the exact opposite side of.  For my sister, it’s even more complicated.  She’s not on a cusp at all – she’s a product of a transition period, a synapse.  She grew up as Nickelodeon grew up, and that’s the majority of her cartoon intake.

Even more interesting is how long the cusp I’m tailing lasted.  These episodes of Yogi BearThe JetsonsThe FlintstonesSmurfs, etc. that I grew up with are the exact same episodes that my parents grew up with.  Many of these series premiered in the sixties and persevered until the early nineties.  It’s a bond that I share with my parents that my siblings do not, and it makes me think.  It’s not anything profound, but maybe that’s why I feel like the seniors my sister recently graduated from high school with seem so much younger, immature, than I was when I graduated from high school.  I hope that’s the case, because if it weren’t, I think I would feel a little embarrassed about my eighteen-year-old demeanor.

Maybe the new cartoon generation separates me culturally from my brother and sister.  And it makes me wonder, will the culture my cartoon generation grew up with survive these changes?  Will kids still read The Catcher in the Rye in high school and be able to connect with Holden Caulfield?  Will they watch Pinnochio or Peter Pan or Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs?  Will they ever discover The Beatles?

They better.

Regardless of the effect of cartoons on our culture, one has to ask – what’s happened to all the wholesome, family-oriented cartoons in this world?  It’s like someone took a giant sledgehammer and cracked family-oriented cartoons in half.  One half was stronger than the other, and the other is so weak and fragile at this point that it is just about to shatter into a million tiny little pieces. Of course, the strong half is the adult half.  Point in hand:  Adult Swim took place of Boomerang Block on Cartoon Network when it re-launched in October 2004 (wiki Boomerang (TV channel)).  The twenty-year legacy of cartoon sitcom The Simpson’s on Sunday night primetime television speaks for itself.  But King of the HillDariaBeavis & Butthead (the Mike Judge Cartoon Trilogy), Family Guy, and some of the shows on Adult Swim – Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Space Ghost Coast to Coast, for example – are quality modern adult cartoons.

Meanwhile, the other half, the children’s half has become so mind-numbing, so lowbrow that it’s difficult to really accept.  The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy?  I don’t think so.  At least Spongebob is surviving.  That episode where Spongebob and Patrick learn swear words cracks me up every single time.

Cartoons aren’t comics anymore, but it’s great to see that their spirit has penetrated digital cable.  Viva Papa Smurf!  Viva Barney Rubble!  Viva Boo-Boo!  You are all immortal, and you shall never die again.

 

(NOTE:  written 11th June 2008, originally published 22nd September 2008 for CA Jottings.)

Moustache-Less – A Piece on My Elephant Room Experience.

I thought I was having the best day of my life.  And maybe I was.

My November 30, 2007 went a little like this*.

I woke up refreshed.  Two weeks shy of graduating from college, I had found myself with relatively little to do in the way of schoolwork.  In fact, the only traces of school on my mind were remnants of our in-class viewing of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, but I wasn’t going to let the applicability of a film released in 1989 to the current state of race relations in our American society dishearten me.  Not today.

I also woke up anxious.  Two weeks shy of graduating from college, I had found myself an avenue for entering the real world by applying for a technical writing position with National Instruments.  On this particular day, I had an afternoon interview with two women, both fairly recent Southwestern alums, to become part of their department.  My résumé had passed the initial test.  It had made me look good.  In fact, it probably made me look too good.

So anyway, I spent most of my morning and early afternoon fretting over this interview.  I studied the company.  I studied the position.  I studied my cover letter and résumé, remembering how I had sold myself.  I even showered.

Eventually, I dressed in my most formal wear – my black Van Heussen outlet suit, my secondhand white button-up, my black payless dress shoes, my stepdad’s tied that I had to have my roommate John tie for me.  White undershirt.  Black socks.  A clean-shaven face to round out the commitment left me feeling severely uncomfortable and looking surprisingly sharp.

My first job interview.  And I looked the part.

I got there ten minutes early because – I don’t know – I felt like that would put a good taste in their mouths – the Starlight Mint of arrivals.

We just started early.

We went through the motions.  I was a nervous wreck with my signature nervous wreck reddened face.  They introduced themselves.  Through their questions, I kind of introduced myself.  When they had finished grilling me with hypotheticals, I asked them questions about life at National Instruments.  Their answers effectively made me eager to embrace adulthood, as a functioning and helpful member of our society.  This was, I had decided, the job for me.  I was a twenty-minute editing activity and a Christmas break away from a dream job.  I could feel it.

Somewhat less of a nervous wreck, I completed the twenty-minute editing activity, shook their hands and left, fairly confident in my chances.

I went home, my roommates sitting on the couch, immediately curious of the shenanigans my suit and I had gotten ourselves into.  I answered them, extremely confident in my chances of getting this job.  It had nearly become a certainty in the ten minutes that had passed since the interview had ended.

Prior to my November 30, 2007, my roommates, the tie-tying John and Rubin (who can also tie ties), and I had decided to look for a decent bar to go to in Austin.  We’d all been over twenty-one for at least five months and had failed to really embrace what that actually means. Residing near the Austin area, where conventional wisdom equates Sixth Street with twenty-one-and-up heaven, we were slowly realizing how near-fatal this mistake had been.

For proximity’s (and drunk driving’s) sake, we tried out this bar on the Georgetown Square called The Loading Dock.  But the Shiner Bock and twenty-four inch flat-screen televisions glowing with images of football fields and basketball courts could not save this bar.  The experience was dominated by bad service, worse music, and that eerie feeling that we just did not belong, that nobody else thought we belonged either.

So we looked elsewhere, semiconsciously humming the theme song to Cheers.

What we found was wonderful (Thesis alert!).

Through an extensive search that delicately involved alcohol and music, with a preferred concentration in the Austin area, we came upon The Elephant Room, a seemingly quaint little basement jazz club with full bar.  Though the website engineer obviously had little training in HTML formatting, there was enough there to convince us that we should go.  And soon.

I listened to music samples and wrote down potential dates to venture down there.

Nov. 30 – Django’s Moustache and the Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet.

Dec. 1 – Beto y Los Fairlanes.

 

November 30 was upon us, and I was wearing my suit.  And I was feeling festive.  Why not take a celebratory trip to Austin?  How can you not be excited to see a group called Django’s Moustache anyway?  The roommates agreed.  Our significant others consented.  We had tentative plans to do something in Austin together for the second time in our eleven-month roommate history.  The first?  The Peter Pan Mini Golf place on Barton Springs.  If you haven’t gone and enjoy frustratingly difficult mini golf courses, or worn-out concrete obstacles, I strongly recommend it.

John had an obligation, working ‘til close at The County Seat on that cursed (pronounced cur-sid) Georgetown Square.  To our understanding, the music at The Elephant Room started at 9:30.  To our understanding, The County Seat would close at 9:00.  Perfect, right?

Hardly.

9:00 rolled around, and Rubin and I spent a good deal of time playing foosball, with two balls, mind you, waiting to hear from John.  We were to take two vehicles, John his own, Rubin and me rock-paper-scissoring for it.  But it was our first time going to The Elephant Room.  And three is a more comfortable traveling pack than two.  So we waited for John.

9:30 rolls around.  No word from John.

10:00 rolls around.  No word from John.

10:30 rolls around.  No word from John.  Paper covers rock.  Rubin starts driving us to Austin. Fifteen minutes into the drive, John dials Rubin up.  He’s just gotten off work.  He’ll meet us there.

The Elephant Room is located at 315 Congress Avenue.  Naturally, we tried to park on Congress, between 3rd and 4th Streets.  Failing, we then drove concentric circles (or, should I say, squares?) around our focus.  After twenty minutes or so, I suggest we try the street byMoonshine, off of 3rd and Red River, towards the highway.  Perhaps I shouldn’t inform the reader of this, but after around 10:30, this is a surefire bet for a place to park in Austin.

By that time, for some odd reason, we both had to piss like proverbial race horses.  I know a place.  We walked into the lobby of the Hilton Hotel, which is pretty much made for (1) stragglers, (2) people that have to pee, and (3) people that have to wait on people that have to pee.  We were both #2.  We both went #1.

Coming out of the Hilton, who do we see but John, who is, incidentally, walking from the street by Moonshine.  From there, we, a comfortable traveling pack, make the rest of our way to The Elephant Room.

We got there sometime around midnight.  We walk downstairs.  A basement jazz club.  We’re greeted by a loveable bouncer – backwards cap, thick-rimmed low-hanging glasses, a copy ofThe Austin Chronicle under his arm, cover charges filling his hands.  We show him our IDs, give him five dollars apiece, and walk into The Elephant Room for the first time in our lives.

We are not in love with it.  There is no music, no open tables, and a bartender who doesn’t really want to deal with bar rookies.  Overwhelmed, I order a seven dollar beer called Chimay – they have neon signs, coasters, and special mugs advertising Chimay, so I figured I’d give it a try.  But seven dollars?  My god.

Rubin buys the first round.  A table becomes available.  This place is looking better and better. Still no music, no Django’s Moustache.  But the twenty beers on draught, low black basement ceiling and candlelit tables make me feel more at (bar) home than my previous experience (singular) had.

12:30 (??!) rolls around, and the band returns to the stage.  This is not Django’s Moustache! This is a woman!  This is The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet, and within five minutes, I could not be any happier.  Her voice is entrancing.  Her backing band crafts a beautiful sound, working together harmoniously.  None of the quintet is overbearing.  They are all perfect.

I require a Long Island Iced Tea.  I request a Long Island Iced Tea.  This round’s on me.

At some point, Kat covers The Beatles’ Michelle.  Around this time, I decide to break all three of us from our respective unflinching gazes and conclude that “this may be the best day of my life.”

At about 1:30, to my dismay, The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet calls it a night.  We had caught the last of three sets.  We had loved every minute of it.  We seemed to make some sort of unspoken agreement to become regulars at The Elephant Room, got up, and left.

The good thing about parking a distance from a bar is that you can walk off your drunk a little bit before starting to drive home.  If you are a driver and ever intend on driving anywhere near me, I strongly recommend it.  The street we parked on is perfect.  It’s not so far away that the walk is exhausting, but it’s far enough away to have you thinking marginally straighter than you were before you started walking.  Another good thing about a designated surefire parking area is that it makes it nearly impossible to forget where you parked.

Again, please do not park here.  It’s ours.

My uncertainty in my declaration of my best day ever proved necessary.  Four days later, I declared Tuesday, December 4, 2007, the day after my twenty-second birthday, to be the worst day of my life.  My interview did not go as well as I originally thought.  I did not get the job, and I did not take it well.  On top of that, I got a message from Best Buy informing me that I needed to replace the motherboard of my laptop and, to do so, I would have to give them something like nine hundred dollars.

I know what you’re thinking.  Wow.  This guy must live a pretty good life.

I do.  I really do.

But, while part of my exhilaration on my November 30, 2007 was, well, unfounded, the exhilaration that The Elephant Room brought me that night stuck with me and, I hope, will for a long, long time.

We went back the next two Fridays.  We got there earlier.  We like to stay for two sets.  On December 7th, we saw Elias Haslanger, a fairly decent saxophonist that was fun to listen to. We had four rounds:  White Russian, Shiner Bock, White Russian, Live Oak Big Bark.  Though I drank twice as much, Eli wasn’t half as good as I thought Kat Edmonson was.  December 14th, John and I saw Beto y Los Fairlanes, a fun group with eight players, four horns, and an overall understanding of music as a whole.  I rank them this way:  (1) Kat, (2) Beto, (3) Eli.  We had three rounds:  Live Oak Big Bark, Christian Brothers & Coke, Newcastle.  I rank them this way: (1) Live Oak Big Bark, (2) White Russian, (3) Newcastle, (4) Long Island Iced Tea, (5) Shiner Bock, (6) Christian Brothers & Coke, (7) Chimay (for spite, and symmetry).

Same bouncer.  Same bartenders.  Good music.  Good aura.  Good friends.  Comfort.  Love.

Selfless as I am, I have recommended the hell out of The Elephant Room to people.  When my family was in town, I tried to convince them to overcome their sleepiness (and drunkenness), go have some drinks at The Elephant Room, and listen to The Kat Edmonson Jazz Quintet. They just would not.  Their loss.

I also recently wrote a letter to Chuck Klosterman (author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, et cetera) that, among other things, suggested we hang out at The Elephant Room.  I am heterosexually in love with Chuck Klosterman and have dismissed the idea that he would actually go with me.  These two statements may or may not be related.  So, if you ever see Chuck at The Elephant Room, convince yourself that it is my doing, and tell him that Grawl says hello.

 

(*I use the phrase “a little like this” for two reasons:  (1) because it’s a pretty great phrase and (2) because I don’t remember every aspect of the day.  Asking me to do so would be absurd.  Also, I recognize the “best day of my life” surpassed the midnight hour, and the technical part (read:  most) of me argues with this subtlety.  If you find yourself appalled by this misdating, (a) thank you and (b) get over yourself.)

 

(NOTE:  written December 2007, published 19th July 2008 for CA Jottings.)