Volume 3 Number 7
Table of Contents
There is bad fat, and then, there is good...
It might seem strange that a rocker from Holland and an army brat from Comanche, Texas, came together to help bring Spanish flamenco to Austin.
Artist's Coalition of Austin had a gallery on Baylor Street, in a warehouse once used as a drop-off location for donations by the adjoining Goodwill store. As Marc Silva, an ACA member, recalls, "I used to open the back gate in the morning and find bags of shirts."
Something about Bill Frisell: he's got some crazy vision running through his head.
Los Angeles is the home of many a disgruntled poet. Many never escape the doldrums of obscurity, lost in the melee of starving artists and career waitrons. This is not the case for lgjaffe.
the people who come want to be here because they want to witness art...there is a level of respect that goes on and it is inspiring for artists to have an attentive audience.
-- Kimberly Zawislak
So you want to know what goes on behind closed doors, underneath the surface, behind the scenes?
-- Marc Silva
Oppressive discourse as a concept is a nice package.
I awoke at noon on a Tuesday to an antiseptic silence. My cat, whom, I swear, can hear my eyelids pop open from across the room, jumped onto the bed and nuzzled my listless hand. Silence. Peace. Something was wrong.
The sun dips behind the peaks
Orange pink liquid wisps sip
the darkening sky
the moon disrobes
gleaming in the silky indigo dusk
the snow glows and glistens
fresh ice slicks across
bald pates of mountain faces
Even in the gleam of evening
my heart sinks with the sun
my sleep is punctuated
by the past
fragments of angry days
on the stage
About fat, I am both pleased and troubled, for obvious reasons: fat is both flavor and texture, tough and tender. Taken in moderation, it is delightful. To the nose, to the mouth. Too much, however, becomes gristle,* rubbery and oily, upsetting tooth and tongue, thick down the throat and heavy in the stomach.
Books are much the same.
There is good fat and there is bad.
There are good writers, and, well...
I hope for the good, as do we all, but I am certain that in reading book after book, story after story, I shall come across tough, rubbery writers, their words like gristle, chewy and unsavory, their sentences and characters fatty to the point of disgust. But then there are those indescribable (nearly, or else I'd be out of a job) works of beauty, poignancy, wit, and skill, responsible for both artist and artisan. Full of words which slide down our throats, which do not trip our tongues, which leave us light-headed and rosy-cheek-ed. Characters, well-fleshed and well-spoken, tangible, believable, magical. Writers willing to risk, but unwilling to risk story.
There is bad fat, and then, there is good... And so ends my introduction to a book review column entitled "Ah, Fat." I hope to review at any given time contemporary works, short stories, small press publications, classical literature, plays, and playwrights, but as always, my words are more ambitious than my self, so have patience. I am but one man....
Frank Reed is much like any other man. Tired. At times, vain and selfish. At times, lost. Scared. Scared of life. He doesn't understand his daughter, has fallen out of love with his wife. The street on which he lives, his home, even, has become dark, uninviting, foreboding. He lacks ambition, watches as new and young men pass by him on the corporate ladder. He drinks too much. His love is mediocre, his thoughts are mediocre, his life is mediocre. And then he goes to Mexico. Business trip. He closes a few deals, eats barbacoa and tripe and frijoles, he sweats and he drinks bad scotch, brown water, and he expurgates. After a couple of days, he goes crazy. Takes his rental south. Chiapas. A small village, brown water, more frijoles and tripe and barbacoa. Jungle. Monsoon season. Bridge is out two, three days. And there he meets a woman. A girl. A dark girl: dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin, dark smell. He has a nervous breakdown. She gives him a hard-boiled egg, and he drives her north. To see her father, her brothers. Then to Mexico City. Then to the border. The United States. Suddenly, Frank Reed wants nothing more than to sneak this girl across the river, to the other side, to American freedom, no matter how gray and dreary, no matter how false. "It's not as good as it sounds," he tells her, to which she replies, thinly, "Life is like that." And for a moment, maybe even just one second, he falls in love. With the girl? Perhaps. But something more.
Border Dance (Southern Methodist University Press, $12.95) is T.L. Toma's first novel. His words are clean and crisp, his style -- rhythmic, visual, enticing. Impossibly written, measured, sharp -- a taste in your mouth, a memory floating through your mind: your first kiss, the first time you feel betrayed, an affair barely missed, your first romp through the hay. Border Dance takes us on a wild, often funny, but very real ride through one man's failed life and his last efforts to reclaim it.
Very little about Toma's characters -- Frank, his wife, Andrea, his daughter, Laura -- is fantastical. Magical. Except, perhaps, their tangibility. They are not characters. They are your next door neighbor. A friend. Someone at work, at a restaurant, at a hotel, on vacation, at the beach. They sit next to you at a stoplight, stand behind you at the grocery store, their child goes to school with yours. They are not characters, they are us, we are they. Only Socorro, the dark young woman whose eyes linger on the border, the United States, the modern riches within: Motel 6, Denny's, hot and cold running water, the Alamo. Americans. Gringos. Only she is fantastic, mystical. Shrouded in sensuality, dark and rustic aromas. And yet, Toma brings the two together. American realism, with its fears and doubts, its receding hairlines and missed promotions, guilt-filled affairs and loveless romance, is coupled with magical realism and its history and fantasy, hope and faith, its gods and its goddesses. And not only is Frank Reed swept up in the fantasy, the adventure, the infinite possibilities, the dark mejicana and her desires, but so are we. Swept up in Toma's poignant and clear imagination, swept up in the lives of Reed, Andrea, Laura. Socorro's simple magic. Even small characters' lives are revealed to us in a word, a phrase, and suddenly, we know them too. See them standing in front of us, clear and very real. Toma's wit and sharp eyes and ears forget no one. The waitress in San Antonio, the border police in Laredo, an old bartender in Piedras Negras, a woman with nice legs in Boston. Nameless characters, we know them still, name them ourselves, give them life through Toma's words.
Toma writes with experience. His dialogue melts in your head, and in between snatches of conversation, he leads you through the past. His voice holds weight. The weight of wisdom and cynicism, desperation and salvation. He has consumed the world around him and has given it back to us, just as clear and muddled as it was before. He is a stylist. And of him, we can only expect further great works.
The Undeniable, Irrepressible, Dorothy Parker
Dorothy Parker, as you may well know (and if you don't, shame on you, and most, shame on me because I only recently found out), was one of The New Yorker's finest, writing poetry, short fiction, theater reviews, book reviews, and other miscellany. Dorothy Parker was, in a word, Wit. I must admit, however, that of her work I've read, I find her later stories and her book reviews (ironically enough, etc.) most enjoyable. Her poetry is filled with whimsy and wisdom and a great sense of rhythm and rhyme, but at times bitter and too sharp for my tongue. Her earliest short stories are well-written and funny, but just a little stiff and formal, as if Dorothy Parker, when first writing short stories, was not Dorothy Parker (the writer) but Dorothy Parker the Writer of Short Stories. As she grows more comfortable with her own voice and its place in her stories, however, they become light and remind me of (and no offense to either D.P. or any other Yankees present) good Southern writing, a nostalgia and style I associate with Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter and even Faulkner (when he isn't writing such long sentences). When writing reviews, though, from start to finish, she is the Dorothy Parker, undeniable and irrepressible. Her pieces are personable, one might say self-indulgent, irreverent and irresponsible, which makes her writing fresh and clear and precise. Her words can be harsh and cynical, blooming flowers of sarcasm so cleverly written that laughter takes some of the prick out of her stinging reviews. Some, but nowhere near all. And though most of her reviews would make any publicist, writer, publisher, and editor cringe, when she likes a piece, she lets you know, and she does so with a soft, simple, powerful prose. For the beginner, The Portable Dorothy Parker (Penguin Books, $13.95) is a fine and wonderful introduction to her works, as it provides the original Portable of 1944, "as selected and arranged by Dorothy Parker herself," along with her later stories, play reviews, articles, and the entire collection of Constant Reader, her book reviews for The New Yorker from 1927 to 1933. And if you have already read The Portable from cover to cover, frontwards and backwards, then I dare say that you already know what else Dorothy Parker can offer and where to find it, don't you?
* I realize gristle has more to do with tendon and cartilage and none to do with fat, but, please, leave me to the illusions of my analogy, thank you.
Around the World in 80 Days: Teye and Viva Flamenco Take Root in Austin's Fertile Music Scene by Thomas Ackerman
It might seem strange that a rocker from Holland and an army brat from Comanche, Texas, came together to help bring Spanish flamenco to Austin. But in this city, where punk rock bands play next door to blues bars, such a cultural frenzy is not so out of place. Hollander Teye has traveled much of Europe with his guitar, and made new homes in Spain -- the country and culture which he loves -- as well as the United States. Ciril Statem, native Texan and former music director for KLBJ, has performed a range of music including reggae, rock, mariachi, blues, and, in the past year, flamenco guitar. Together, and with a host of talented dancers led by Pepa Martinez, they form Teye and Viva Flamenco.
For the first time, Austin does not need to wait for touring road shows like Jose Greco's to come around. Spanish music lovers, as well as the curious and uninitiated, can see their energetic performances several times a week for little or no cover charge. It is enough of a rarity to have this opportunity to see trained musicians and dancers every week in a small and intimate setting, but it is rarer still that such a shotgun project has met such immediate local success.
Viva Flamenco did not even have its final member -- Ciril Statem -- until three days before their first performance at Miguel's La Bodega downtown. Nor had they all rehearsed together. But on April 1sth of this year, Viva Flamenco began their permanent Tuesday evening spot before what would turn out to be an enthusiastic and growing audience. The next month, Ciril began a booking spree and they had 27 shows -- a perfect opportunity to tighten and perfect their act. With the summer at a close, enthusiasts can now see them on stage at the Continental Club, the Iron Cactus, and Speakeasy, not to mention their original Miguel's show, which is billed as "every Tuesday until the end of time."
Such spontenaity, not to mention intensity, is part of what both Teye and Ciril fell in love with about the culture of the Gypsies, the Flamenco, and Southern Spain. For Teye, the people of Northern Europe were annoyingly work-oriented. When he showed up in Spain in 1983, his third and fateful trip there, he had already dyed his blond hair black, spent much of his time in hard rock bands, and knew some formal classical technique as well.
But in Spain, where his new Gypsy friends dubbed him El Gitano Punky, Teye discovered the modern Gypsy style of flamenco embodied in the warmth and humor of its innnovators. "They know how to enjoy life in Spain," explains Teye. "You take five Gypsies who have 75 dollars between them, and they still have a great time. They know how to stretch it out. They know how to make the most of everything they do."
This spirit, not to mention a love for the infectuous rhythms and discordant tones of Gypsy music, was enough for Teye to make Spain his semi-permanent home. For Ciril Statem the same spirit drove him, a year after first picking up a flamenco guitar, to learn enough to perform on stage with the more experienced Teye, whom he had met through mutual friend Joe Ely. Teye had accompanied Ely's band and recorded a number of tracks with him, including "Run Preciosa" from Letters to Laredo. When Eli introduced the two, the musicians immediately became friends, and the curious Ciril began to pick up new chords and song structures, switching from steel strings to the more expressive nylon of the flamenco guitar.
Ciril remembers: "I had to forget everything I knew about guitar. I had to start from scratch." This meant mastering difficult right-hand techniques and learning rhythms which confound most Western ears. In the past year, Ciril has played little else. But not only has he relearned the guitar, Ciril has also played a large part in the group's success, introducing their music to local bar and restaurant owners who are, more often than not, unfamiliar with flamenco. "I tell them it's unique," he says, "and once they hear the music, they know that it is. They usually invite us to perform pretty quick."
So far, Austin has given the newly arrived Viva Flamenco an enthusiastic welcome. When Teye first visited the city nearly 12 years ago, it was a place he knew he'd be back to. "Spain has the soul," he explains, "but Austin has something too. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's the openness. Maybe it's the freedom." This openness and freedom has even seen the group booked in dance halls like Dance Across Texas. The initial skepticism of bar owners is quickly turned on its head after the first performance. "We don't fit anywhere," says Ciril, commenting on the mix of unfamiliarity and interest, "but we fit everywhere."
If Austin has come to be known as the musical capitol of America, it is only right that it gives home to Spanish music, which influenced many of the Latin songs and dances that have become popular here. From its centuries-old Indian and Arab influences to its emergence in Southern Spain with the arrival of the Gypsies, cultural collage has always been part of flamenco's history. Its mix of song (cante), dance (baille), guitar playing (toque), and percussion (jaleo) include everything from partner dances to solo improvisations to story-telling. More recently, flamenco has been mixed with jazz and other styles, much to the dismay of purists, and has even spawned pop flamenco groups, which rival rock and roll in their simplification a richer tradition.
While American audiences are usually unfamiliar with flamenco, enjoying the music does not require a trip to Spain or long music lessons. The songs have an intensity and energy that are striking to anyone who listens. The music ranges from playful to melancholy to overwhelming, and the clapping of hands and stomping of feet command strong responses from anyone who listens.
Viva Flamenco, although they have yet to find a singer, draw from the other three traditions of dance, guitar, and percussion. Teye and Ciril both provide guitar songs and guitar accompaniment for the dancers. Belen Olivia and Pepa Martinez, when they are not dancing, provide percussion for the two guitarists, banging on a box and clapping. The other dancers join in this as well.
Only about one piece per evening is strictly traditional flamenco, however. Much of the music is from the modern Gypsy tradition, using falsettas (lead melodies) and variations which are passed around between flamenco troupes, and nearly half the music is written by Teye himself. "Flamenco is living, breathing, growing changing," says Ciril. "We try to be in-your-face with it." This attitude is not just evident in the group's love for modern flamenco; at a recent show, Teye pulled out an electric guitar and played a furiously paced solo, distortion and all. The audience may have been surprised, but they were no less appreciative.
That is not to say that Viva Flamenco's performances defy tradition. The sounds and images most of us carry around in our heads when we hear the word "flamenco" will all make their appearances: fiery music, bright polka-dot dresses, women making hypnotic gestures with their hands and kicking up their skirts. But in seeing the actual performance, the American impressions do not do flamenco justice. The music can be as subtle as it is passionate, and as carefree as it is profound. Much of flamenco is also improvisational, so in taking in your first show -- and your tenth and your twentieth, for that matter -- you never know exactly what to expect.
This is especially true of the dancers of Viva Flamenco -- Pepa Martinez, Theresa Goldbach, Sheila McPherson, Genevive Gwinn, Belen Oliva, and Elia Martinez -- all of whom studied at this city's own Flamenco Austin. While they use many similar steps and gestures in their improvisations, each brings to the stage a strong personality and a unique response to the compas (rhythm) and to the music.
This is something you will notice after even one show. Their performances prove flamenco's true range: sensuous, pensive, angry, joyful, melancholy, playful -- every adjective except dainty. There is also a certain give and take between the guitarists and the dancers. While the dancers are sensitive to the flavorful turns the music takes, the musicians are always conscious of where the dancer is going with the piece and whether she wishes to continue. As long as they feel the rhythm and structure of the piece, they are free to fill in the blanks.
It is difficult not to see the similarities between the performers of Viva Flamenco and their music. They both carry a wealth of cultural traditions, from flamenco's roots across Europe and the Middle East to the wealth of classical and modern styles the two guitarists have picked up. It is appropriate, also, for Austin to finally have the opportunity to hear such a collection of interrelated songs. Of all the cities in Texas, Austin has been the most willing to appreciate new perspectives, not to mention any behavior that is not quite the norm. Considering that Teye describes flamenco life as being "in disdain of materialist culture," it is about time Austin joins San Antonio in celebrating this heritage, which carries blatant similarities to common Austin lifestyles.
But right now the growth of flamenco in Austin lies largely on the shoulders of Viva Flamenco. They have no competition, and they will be the first glimpse of this music for many Texans. So far, they are meeting this responsibility, and the possibility of larger success, head-on. They have a project in the works for a stage show, are looking to bring in some male dancers and a singer, and have already put together a video for VH-1. Teye and Ciril still work and record with their old friend Joe Ely, whom both describe as a prince, and the possibility of a European tour is on the horizon.
Until then, Teye and Viva Flamenco are much-needed locals, making sure too many people don't call their art "flamingo." The Miguel's show is still going strong, and a regular show at Continental is taking them to South Austin. Other upcoming shows include and early evening show at Central Market on September 20. In just over four months, flamenco has begun to take its place beside the blues, reggae and swing of Austin clubs, leaving the rocker from Holland and the Texas DJ to see where else it can take root.
Empty and silent for four years, the rooms of an abandoned office building found new life at the start of this year when they became working quarters for a colony of local artists. Photographers, costume designers, painters and potters all moved in and set up studios in the three-story building dubbed Artplex. Located across the street from the Dog & Duck pub, Artplex's presence as an epicenter of artistic activity gave a big boost to the future development of an area known and being marketed as the Uptown Cultural District. Sharing the same block with the galleries Women and Their Work, Lyons Matrix, and Galeria Sin Fronteras, Artplex was a welcome addition to the neighborhood. Unfortunately, disputes between Artplex's landlord and a non-profit arts organization posed a threat to its future success and nearly resulted in a lawsuit.
In addition to 45 artist's studios, Artplex also houses the offices of a few massage therapists, a computer software company, and several non-profit arts organizations including AVAA (Austin Visual Arts Association), LACA (Latino Arts Consortium), and La Pena. On the ground floor, the Artist's Coalition of Austin has a darkroom available for photographers and offers life drawing sessions in a gallery officially known as the ACA Gallery @ Artplex. Questions regarding the management of this gallery are what triggered the disputes between ACA and Gary Peden, their landlord.
For 3 and half years the ACA had a gallery on Baylor Street, in a warehouse once used as a drop-off location for donations by the adjoining Goodwill store. As Marc Silva, an ACA member, recalls, "I used to open the back gate in the morning and find bags of shirts."
"We were off the beaten track, but we did have 30 or 40 shows a year," said Jan Roset, the ACA's treasurer. Formerly called the Artists' Cooperative of Austin, the ACA changed its name and successfully applied for non-profit status in 1992. As an organization made up entirely of artists, the ACA's main goal is give members and other artists an opportunity to display their works. To do so, they volunteer lots of their time to help to prepare the exhibits. When Goodwill decided to expand at the end of last year, the ACA was forced to move and set up a gallery elsewhere.
It was Gary Peden, a commercial real estate broker, who suggested the Artplex location. He had a vision for the vacant government building. "I saw an opportunity to do something good for a segment of the community," he said.
But the building remained empty, he explained, because "it had 20,000 square feet of space, but only eight parking spaces." It also required a lot of renovation if it was to be put to modern office use. Nevertheless, the 1705 Guadalupe location was ideal for artists.
ACA's members expressed enthusiasm for the location, but they couldn't afford to buy it. Peden then offered to buy it himself, provided the ACA agree to some conditions outlined (perhaps not specifically enough) in a contract. Under the contract, the ACA agreed, among other things, to construct and manage a gallery on the ground floor. In exchange, Peden would not collect rent from the gallery for a period of five years -- a substantial savings for the gallery. ACA's Ron Prince estimated the amount to equal around $100,000.
In mid-January, the ACA began knocking down walls and clearing space for a 1600 square foot gallery. "We put $6000 into the place, not to mention a lot of labor," Prince said.
During this time, however, the contract had gone unsigned by both parties. "We built this gallery without a lease -- that was our first mistake," said Jan Roset.
Peden said he didn't want to sign the contract until he had obtained the signature of the building's owner on a master lease. He didn't own the building himself; he was leasing to buy it, and building owner Duke Covert hadn't signed the lease because he was waiting for his lawyers to examine it.
In the meantime, problems arose. ACA members said Peden began issuing heavy-handed edicts that became increasingly demanding and hostile. ACA members thought he was being unreasonable, adding new conditions to a prior agreement as a means of bullying them. Peden wrote letters stating he was displeased that the word "Artplex" was missing from ACA invitations and advertisements. He also complained the gallery wasn't being kept clean.
The biggest bone of contention concerned a disagreement over tenant shows. Peden had guaranteed his artist tenants two shows a year, and he wanted the ACA to "provide" for them. He expected the ACA, not his tenants, to finance the shows. But the ACA expressed surprise that they were expected not only to pay for but also to manage the shows. For them, it was customary for artists in the shows to chip in their money and labor. Although willing to offer some assistance, they thought they had simply agreed to "provide" the gallery's space. "I don't think he understood how much work was involved in preparing and promoting a new exhibition," Marc Silva said.
"I was unfamiliar with the arts in general. It's overwhelming to sit down over coffee and think of every conceivable detail in advance," Peden said. Because the ACA needed to move quickly, there wasn't enough time to discuss the details in depth, he said.
In a letter to Artplex tenants, Peden wrote: "Much of this tension was the result of misunderstandings that arose from a lack of clarity as to how our relationship here at Artplex would best serve both parties."
Peden found that dealing with artists -- a new experience for him -- could be frustrating. There was no office and no person who clearly seemed in charge. "When you have a decentralized, democratic non-profit, show me the responsible party. When you have that kind of structure, show me how to get things done," he asked with soft-spoken exasperation.
Finally, Peden had had enough. He wanted to evict the ACA, which came as a shock to them.
Both sides sought legal help, with the ACA having the advantage of obtaining free representation. In the meantime, the ACA searched for another location while Peden began looking for another group to run the gallery. AVAA expressed a willingness to step in.
Thankfully, however, the ACA and Peden managed to settle out of court. For the next five years, the ACA will continue to run the gallery. Reluctant to discuss past events, members of both parties expressed a desire to restore their working relationship and put the past behind them.
"I was foolish for things I did, and they were foolish for things they did. I sincerely believe both parties share the blame," Peden said.
Peden looks forward to Artplex's future as a member of the Uptown Cultural District. When asked about past problems, he said, "I'm beyond that now. I feel good about the ACA being here."
The stars at night
Are big and bright,
Deep in the heart of --
Something about Bill Frisell: he's got some crazy vision running through his head. Another thing about Bill Frisell: you can see, first hand, his musical, tonal antics in October as Bill Frisell's Quartet swing through Austin's Bates Recital Hall, flying into town on their space chariot. And don't be surprised to see Gary Larson at the festivities, in spirit if not body.
In 1996, guitarist Bill Frisell released a work of art entitled, simply, Quartet. It is not his latest release, but is definitely one of his most fantastic, combining the diversity and talents of Eyvind Kang on violin and tuba, Ron Miles playing trumpet and the piccolo trumpet, Curtis Fowles on trombone, and Bill Frisell, whose fancy-free fingers lead electric and acoustic guitar into the magical, and often the absurd. It is, in a sense, chamber music: chamber music best suited for Gary Larson, Buster Keaton, and Italian film director Daniele Luchetti, as it combines music written expressly for their films (Tales from the Far Side, Convict 13, and La Scuola). In fact, only three tracks belong to Quartet and only Quartet, which might lead one to expect a disjointed and choppy CD, akin more to a Bill Frisell: Movie Samplings than the smooth and polished bit of improvisational fancy which Mr. Frisell has provided for us. Each song flows nicely, seamlessly, into the next as Frisell develops and maintains over his 13 mini-works of art a theme of the absurd, the choral, the beautiful, celebrating jazz by pushing its boundaries to include honky-tonk and blues, tastes of Americana and orchestra, spacemagiclunar effects and back-to-earth crunching and stomping solos, all through minimalization, minimalization, minimalization. The three Ms my friend, the three Ms.
At age seven, Bill Frisell took up the clarinet. Private lessons, band practices, before school, after school, marching, competing, learning Tchaikovsky, Bach, "Stars and Stripes Forever." He read music, played notes by heart, fingered flawlessly, never missing beat, note, or step. So how did this young, bright, energetic clarinetist -- or, this member of the band regime, known for its Gestapo tactics and finely tuned notes, become one of the day's leading improvisational, ground-breaking, throw - your - grease - on - the - fire - and - let - her - fly, jazz guitarist? Why, he picked up a guitar. "When I first started playing guitar," explains Frisell, "it was like a completely different side of my brain working. Clarinet was a real intellectual process. I read well, read music and played in orchestras and chamber groups. But when I started playing guitar, I just sort of did it all on my own. It was weird. I couldn't read music on the guitar, but I could figure out stuff from records." He later learned how to read music for guitar and combined his ear for guitar (and Americana and jazz and whatever other sound floats through his head as he sleeps) with musical, technical knowledge. Musicality and music-ology. He trained at the University of Northern Colorado and then Berklee College of Music Boston. In 1978, he lived for a year in Belgium, composing and listening and learning. He then began a trio with Kermit Driscoll on bass and Joey Baron on drums, and pushed his skill and love for music to its limits, and then beyond, stepping out of the trio's bounds, adding horns and accordions, building sextets and septets.
Then, Joey Baron left.
Rather than replace Baron and continue working with Kermit Driscoll, Bill Frisell took this as an opportunity to chase after the ever-elusive sounds he'd been hearing, on the streets, in people's voices, in his head, in a car engine, in a factory belt. The sounds of time and of the grotesque, those things frightening and beautiful, simple and complex. The sounds of space.
In 1995, he recorded Music for the Films of Buster Keaton: Go West and The High Sigh/One Week, where he and his guitar play storyteller, mixing the magic of their sound with the magic of Buster Keaton's slips, trips, and visual quips. And when his next door neighbor, Gary Larson, asked him to create a musical background to his land of walking and talking cows, dogs, geeks and freaks, Frisell composed a score more than suitable to The Far Side landscape, at once insightful and surreal, the voices of Quartet's guitar, violin, and horn blending into laughing harmonies, bewildered and playful melodies, and phantom rhythms.
Most recently released by Bill Frisell is Nashville, a tribute to Americana, to country, to good-ole picking and strumming, simple rhythms, simple melodies, and a simple, pure voice to remind us of simpler days. Good summer listening. Sit on your porch, in the shade, Frisell's acoustic passing through you like a breeze; or in your car, driving through Lubbuck (or leave it), along the panhandle by-ways and West Texas highways, traveling to the music that carries you home; or at Donn's Depot, shaking the sawdust from your feet as you stamp and clap, stomp and romp to good old-fashioned honky-tonk. Victor Krauss (of the Lyle Lovett scene) on bass, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Ron Block on banjo and guitar, dobro player Jerry Douglas, and sweetashoney vocalist Robin Holcomb add their talents to Frisell's latest accomplishment. Eleven original tunes by Bill Frisell and three covers: Neil Young's "One of These Days"; Hazel Dicken's "Will Jesus Wash the Bloodstains from Your Hands"; and Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World." A big step away from (or right into or clear around) the mystical sounds of Quartet, Nashville brings Frisell's earlier hints of country influences to the foreground and puts his stylized gee-tar pickin' to the test. All in all, he stands up nicely and gives us a musical interlude the color of my grandaddy's well-worn and well-loved Stetson.
But don't expect any of that honky-tonk twang this time around. Fall is jazz for Frisell and his performance in Austin will consist of his Quartet. Bill Frisell's Quartet will be performing as part of the Performing Art Center's Fall season, at Bates Recital Hall, October 4, 1997. Call the PAC at (512) 471-2787 for further ticket information.
Los Angeles is the home of many a disgruntled poet. Many never escape the doldrums of obscurity, lost in the melee of starving artists and career waitrons. This is not the case for lgjaffe. A confrontational style dominates his latest publication, Unprotected Poetry World Tour, and he brings that strong, justifiably angry voice to Austin on his own world tour September 19 and 20.
Who can protect you now that you have had unsafe poetry?
Igjaffe is dedicated to the eradication of oppression. His style is demanding, with exacting details of prejudice, victimization, and honest reflection on the state of our society, where the anti-establishment has become the status quo, and liberation from "freedomland" has become another disappointing ride in a theme park.
Igjaffe speaks of the rights of man and the rights of poets. He returns the language to the people, insisting that each of us participate in his indignation, and his frustration with unenlightened government and families, which could only be born of a greater love and admiration for humanity. Citing more musicians than writers as influences, Igjaffe maintains a pleasing rhythm in his work, with a percussionist's passion for explosion and dramatics.
Among his mentors, he names Leonard Cohen, Lightnin' Hopkins, Edith Piaf, Basho, and Maya Angelou. Of the Lost Poets, Igjaffe says, "In all their anger there is so much beauty and hope...," which is an apt description of his own work. Born March 31, 1948, in the Bronx, Igjaffe moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and published his first collection of poetry, Emotional Tone Poems, in 1973. He is currently the host of "Poetic License" at The Nerve Lounge in Sherman Oaks, California, and was recently featured at Celebrity Centre International in Hollywood.
Igjaffe describes this poem as "the culmination of feeling and desire to capture a part of Los Angeles that most people never see. I wanted to capture the raw naked feeling of L.A., so here it is."
the underground of
los angeles flows
like its river
hard and concrete
riff raffs of humanity
speaking in tongues
a crawling underbelly
a plaintive sax riff
rifles the air
and some almost
alive things drifting
as we move through
the underground of l. a.
on cerebral wavelengths
justifying our mediums
crucifying our gods
waiting for pickpockets
to search our
minds for quarters
with lost memories
and very little lust
no more plaintive cries
or pitiful glances
stripped bare and naked
l. a. underground
screams from indiscrimi-nate
races racing through the
streams of pathos
a guitar wails
in the moonlight
and souls drink from
an empty trough
people run from
each others arms
from woven tongues
soaked in ashes of disdain
the music continues
a stressed out choir of mismatched
voices scat along the
river of tears
echo in my ears
the silence of flowers
passions in their stems
we wander hopelessly
to the shores of
l . a. underground
delighting in each
losing airs with disdain
the bass drives
i look at you
i look at you
looking at me
coveting the silent storm
battering our egos
ids and other mechanical
things stripped naked
from the pavement
lying on the beach of the
l. a. river so hard
cherished not abandoned
just littered with grief
hearts pounding in
twisted acreage underground
yielding the flotsam and jetsam
of l. a.'s spiritual catharsis
how hollow are the
riffs bartending our souls
Igjaffe's scheduled performances in Austin for the Unprotected Poetry World Tour are Friday, September 19 at 11 p.m. at Mojo's Daily Grind, 2714 Guadalupe; Saturday, September 20 at 4 p.m. in the DiverseArts Little Gallery at the Heritage House, 810 East 13th, with a reception at 5 p.m., where he will be joined by local poets Dr. Marvin G. Kimbrough and Floyd Freeman; and later on Saturday for Quackenbush's Special Feature, 2120 Guadalupe, at 7 p.m. For more information, contact Stazja McFadyen at (512) 346-7773.
To nurture an artistic "movement," there has to be a place that is inspiring and free of restraints, in which artists of all kinds can come together and collaborate. This kind of environment has seemed to be lacking in Austin; however, in an easily overlooked spot on Sixth Street, there is just this sort of space, aptly named Movements.
The gallery has been a continually evolving project for the two owners, Kimberly Zawislak and Andrew Barren. It has gone from a practice space to an art gallery to what it is now -- a space that intertwines different media of art. There is an area in the back for performances (poetry readings, plays, musical performances et cetera), and in the front is space for artwork to be displayed. There is also a small bar for coffee and tea (it's b.y.o.b for now because they don't have a liquor license); however, the owners want to maintain a gallery/theater feel for the artists, instead of falling into the coffeeshop/bar atmosphere they are trying to escape.
"We have a different sort of vibe here," Kimberly explains, "the people who come want to be here because they want to witness art...there is a level of respect that goes on [in the performance area] and it is inspiring for artists to have an attentive audience."
Being musicians themselves, the owners of Movements maintain a high level of respect for the featured artist. They take only ten percent commission for the pieces they sell, so that the artist keeps most of the profits. He or she also gets almost total creative freedom. "Our goal is not to limit. As long as we can house it here, we really try to," says Kimberly.
One reason that Movements can allow such freedom is that the owners aren't relying on making a profit. What really motivates them is to be able to provide a space where artists can feel more comfortable and free. "Because selling here is not an issue, it becomes a much more free space to display work that can be more radical or more avante-garde...and all the artists that have shown here have been really into this space for those reasons," says Andrew.
As for the musicians that play at Movements, Andrew says, "We have typically tried to stray away from having groups that are folk, or blues, or rock oriented [because] they could play at so many other places on this street. And that, again, is the original reason why we created this place -- as a venue for art that was very uncomfortable in the rest of the places around Austin."
So far, Andrew and Kimberly have been really impressed with the artwork they have been presenting. "We haven't had to deny a single person," said Andrew. "We've come up with an application process which weeds out most of the people that aren't serious, and the ones that are serious have so far been really incredible artists."
A concept that emerged after Movements opened and started attracting different artists was a desire for the space to be a meeting ground for different artists to communicate, grow, and learn from each other. Andrew recalls meeting other musicians through Movements and thinking, "For the first time in our lives since we've been here we finally saw a different side of Austin that you don't usually see because there is no other place for these groups to play." Kimberly relates similar experiences when people would come up to the gallery and afterwards be inspired to create after not doing anything artistic since college and feeling stuck in a nine-to-five job. She says, "That's just the biggest high...when you've got the artist and the community coming together saying you can do this and there is a place where it can be shown."
So, if you've been avoiding Sixth Street lately, the same reason you've stayed away may be a reason to come back. Because tucked in between Marisco's and Shop 24 is a place that has somehow kept a low profile yet is attracting people from out of the woodwork. "What we're giving the community, since it is supporting itself so well, is so worthwhile," says Andrew, "and it kind of helps bring some integrity back to Sixth Street."
The hours you can catch Movements open to the public revolve around the events going on. So here are some of them:
· Every other Tuesday the Austin International Poetry Festival schedules poetry readings at Movements. (These aren't open mic, so you can count on a serious show.)
· Also, Matthew Feiner and a group of artists that he has brought forth will be opening their show at Movements on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 8:00 p.m., and it will run for about three weeks. These art openings have been the most packed events at Movements. "It's really an incredible energy every single time," says Andrew.
· Then, during October, KOOP radio station is having an art auction of Halloween masks. The masks are being made by 200-300 artists around Austin, some of them regionally famous. This event is scheduled close to Halloween (Oct. 12-17) and people can come through and bid on or buy a mask for a costume. The proceeds will go to charity and to help the radio station.
Other than that, Movements is working on upcoming festivals in which you can pay one ticket price to come and see a bunch of different shows (music, a play, poetry, etc...) all in one huge weekend. To get more on these events, call the gallery at (512) 469-1745.
In the painting "Marionette" by Marc Silva, the strings attached to each finger of a mechanical hand lead up through a cloudy surface to the shadow of another hand. Silva explains the revelation depicted in and offered by the painting, "So you want to know what goes on behind closed doors, underneath the surface, behind the scenes? You follow the strings up into the shadows, hoping that they will lead you to the Puppet Master, to the one controlling the drama below, but instead you find a marionette." Silva's journey into depicting self-empowerment continues with "The Manner of Holding the Device for Retrieving the Memorie." This statuette stunned me when I came across it. It not only captured for me the act of remembering but also provided a memory of being a child with a powerful imagination with its simple mystical appeal. I was so fascinated, I clicked on the next image.
Boasting over 100 galleries, Austin offers a promising new season of visual artwork. A stroll in the historic downtown area which is home to many of these is a great way to spend an afternoon, but you may want to narrow your search first. Many Austin artists and galleries have websites that will give you an idea of where to start. The Viewtopia website offers the most comprehensive collection of local artwork. This site offers 400 pieces from 13 of Austin's galleries including the Artist's Coalition of Austin, Women and Their Work, and the Texas Fine Arts Association. Each gallery site features a collection of artwork shown there. Most also provide a mission statement and additional information such as a schedule for the upcoming season.
Several galleries and artists also have their own websites. The Violet Crown Gallery, named after the "hazy purple halo some say surrounds the city of Austin almost every evening at dusk" is featured on the Austin360 website.
Whether the purple halo is illusion or real, the Violet Crown features the work of 10 artists who paint Austin a visual heaven with a full pallete of colors. Also located on Austin360 is a partial list of Austin galleries, locations, and hours.
Some independents include Jim Janknegt's visual gallery entitled "Suburban Allegories."
It has all the feel of a real gallery from the comfort of your own swivel chair as you begin with a virtual room in which all the paintings are hung -- just click on the ones you want to see. All nine walls contain works that tell the story of life in the American suburbs, specifically those things "to rejoice in" and "be thankful for" such as a "Gardener's Prayer" and "Saturday Dusk." The Lyons-Matrix Gallery, where Janknegt's work will be featured in July, also contains links to the virtual galleries of 12 other Austin artists.
So if you're in the market for a new piece for over the couch, you want to see in advance which galleries are worth visiting or you just want to do a little stimulating surfing, the internet is a great place to check out the Austin art scene. Don't forget the bookmark. ;-)
Rest my heroes
Rest my elders
Rest my children
I hold this holy matrix now.
Let this nation be reborn,
Let this nation be reborn.
-- from Clayangels by Daniel Alexander Jones, Todd Jones
Austin playright, actor, performance artist, smart guy, cultural warrior Daniel Alexander Jones speaks articulately about something he calls the oppressive discourse in American culture. I agree with a lot he has to say about this discourse, so naturally it is something that I too want to talk about. After all, this column is really just a way for me to talk about stuff that interests me. My mission here is to provoke some thought in you, stir you up, and even perhaps spark a response. Sometimes the problem for me is the packaging of what's on my mind. Oppressive discourse as a concept is a nice package. And I thank Daniel and his brother Todd for the more than appropriate wrapping (rappin'). If we are all lucky enough they will soon revive their excellent autobiographical performance piece Clayangels. That's where I got the phrase oppressive discourse, but more than that, Clayangels gave me a lot of soulful food for thought.
So, for those of you who missed my last installment I'll try to quickly bring you up to speed. You see, I was trying to communicate how the play Clayangels hipped me to this way of talking about issues like ethnicity, race, culture, family, being American, being African American, being an artist, being an African American artist, being an African American artist working in Austin, being in the audience of the work of African American artists in Austin, being a working African American artist in a growning, changing Little Texas City where only about 11 or 12 percent of the population is African American, and how and/or if any of this matters when any or all of the rest of this is considered in the considering of these issues.
Now, I don't know if all of this came up for everyone who saw Clayangels (well, I know all of it didn't for all those folks who saw the play the night that I did), but let me tell you, every last one of these issues and more ran across my mind as I sat through this short piece of brother-love and pain, hope, memories, and visions/dreams of how life in American (in Austin) could be, but isn't. Clayangels is anything but angry. The messege of the piece, and I suspect of the of authors as well, is hopeful, questioning, prayerful -- let this nation be reborn. My feelings may be a bit cliched, but the feeling is kinda "I see it how it is, and I ask why does it have to be this way." And for Daniel and Todd that IT is big and very far reaching. And that is good.
In my last column I got so into the Clayangels characters, the Misses Lillian and Vivian and their similarity to my real-life Aunt Virgie, that I ended up losing part of what I wanted to say about the discourse and the play in general. Well, my Aunt Virgie did die this past weekend. And her non-spectacular-but-significant stories of being a slave's granddaughter, respected neighbor, strong black woman in (Greenville, Texas) the city that prided itself in being the "home of the Blackest land, the Whitest People" died with her. I got hung up there because of an emotional, personal real-life example -- rest my elders. For me, my Aunt Virgie's stories and her death just amplified the importance to Austin of the kind of cultural/artistic work represented by works like Clayangels.
Clayangels, on the surface, has nothing to do with the last generation of grandchildren of African slaves in Northeast Texas. But for me, and some other Austinites who saw the play, the play starts to fill in part of that big hole (that just might be getting smaller...did you see Pill Hill?) that seems to have an established place in the theatrical seasons of Austin's playhouses.
Come on now! Yes we do sing and dance. Black folks also get sick and die, get divorces, marry and have kids, do a lot of other non-spectacular things, and believe in various versions of an American dream. The American Dream thing seems to be something, for Daniel and Todd, that has particular interest. I think that is where my interest in their piece comes into play also. Clayangels conjures a vision of this American Dream (with very high, but fair standards) in a way that it sits comfortably in a well articulated and reasoned, heartfelt emotional world view. That's a lot, but I think these brothers were right there, just right there when they were going through the changes to put this piece together. And for me, a vision of the American Dream that doesn't show one has some concept of how that view fits into a global picture, well, it just ain't shit.
In Austin we've got this situation where there are a number, a good handfull (Sharon Bridgeforth is definitely one), of very talented folks doing that kinda on-the-edge-of-comfort cultural/artistic work. Within that handful, there are also these folks who happen to be black folks, African American artists, persons of color with unique points of artistic view on life in Austin, in Texas, in America, in the world (there are too other groups, but my focus here is with black folks). Among the problems that exist for this group of folks is that thing of supportive/critical discourse of the work -- among the artists, their audiences, the media, cultural gatekeepers, and themselves. Yes, it boils down to community, communication and expectation. And in Austin, believe it or not, all of those can be pretty hard to come by. Just stop and think about it for a minute: you're black in a Texas town where less than 13 percent of the population is Black, and within that population you also happen to find yourself as part of the city's arts community, and you're telling your stories to audiences (and other artists) who happen to be in that small percentage of folks who also happen to support the cultural arts in Austin.
Now, take another intellectual leap with me. Your Blackself also has an even smaller presence when you consider the percentage of folks who view, for instance, live theater. And a smaller presence when you consider the city's other producing dramatic (or any other) artists. Smaller still when you consider the folks in the media who cover the arts. Smaller still when you consider the folks who run/program playhouses and executive produce shows.
Damn! For these black artists, who are their peers, who is their audience, who are their critics, who are their producers/employers in Austin? Yeah, that brings us back to all kinds of issues long discussed and still (for some) unresolved. Because of the way our Little City is built, these questions are valid ones to ask. Everyone -- yellow, green or otherwise -- who is here, is here because of things about Austin they consider to be positve attributes. The downside of that, regardless of what side of the table you sit, is that there are just not very many black folks here. That is the case in the larger venue of America-in-general, but, believe me, it is very pronounced here in Austin. And that is why I come back to the discourse itself. Believe me, it is a hard row-to-hoe in Austin for black artists, when they really want to talk Black, to truly connect with the primary audience with whom they are really attemping to speak.
I think I can safely say that most folks in the African American arts community have reason to think on these issues from time-to-time. And although I suspect these issues cross the minds of others, for them there is a level of understanding and appreciation that is probably missing. It's like the retelling of a story that's supposed to be funny, and you just don't get it. You know, sometimes you just have to be there. There aren't that many of us there sometimes.
Let me try to pull this back together a bit. Remember? We were talking about this oppressive discourse concept. Opressive, as in down-pushing. Discourse, as in conversation. And while I'm at it, let me throw in the concept of critical mass -- you know, that point at which it gets heavy enough to mean something significant. Maybe I can now make a connection that makes sense to someone other than myself. In a vibrant arts scene such as the one here in Austin, one of the things that inspires and motivates artists is the scene itself. The insider-scene, the community, the media, the audiences, other artists, training, technique, personal and collective history all come together to influence the quality and content of the work produced -- conjured -- here. Being an African American artist in this scene adds a dimensional spin that is unique.
So, if you are an African American artist in Austin, born in and of a culture that has done much to color the soul of what it's like to be American, the reality of the numbers here presents a whole 'nother set of issues with which to deal. Here we go. In the larger discourse of cultural and artistic work in Austin, how does the African American artist find critical mass of community, thought and conversation to effectively tackle issues that allow his/her artistic vision to speak specifically to black folks and, at the same time, to artists, audiences and critics in general? The element of critical mass is probably really the major player here. Individual black folks in general, and certainly individual black artists in particular, are hard-pressed to present to us the quintessential African American experience. The smaller the community, the more limited view of the culture we are afforded. black folks do, think, and say all kinds of things. But when the fish bowl is so small (as it is in Austin), only a limited view is possible. And within the small view of the small fishbowl are too limited interpretations of what is possible, accepted, and appropriate. This situation provides a great proving ground for in-your-face-without-appology cultural work.
It is also fertile ground for this infamous oppressive discourse.
And before some of you miss my point, this is not about white folks who just don't understand. It's bigger than that. See, there are white folks who -- conceptually -- do understand, brown folks who say "amen," black folks who won't acknowledge it, and biracial (and other) folks who wonder why we are wasting time arguing about misplaced priorities. And for some of us, it's the misplaced priorities that make this discourse oppressive, not just to black folks, but for all of the players in the conversation.
The question of "Is there is a legitimate place for ethnic-specific African American artistic and cultural work in Austin?" has been answered. Yes, there is and should be that place. Among the larger questions are those that relate to the quality and content of that work. Is there a place for work by African Americans that deal more with questions of gender than ethnicity? Does an autobiographical piece, written by a black man, that primarily focuses on questions of what it means to be American rate as African American art? Can a play about bi-racial brothers (black/white) really address issues of the black experience in America?
The answers to all of the above rhetorical questions is and should be a resounding YES. The element that is most oppressive here in Austin is our (low) level of diversity in the arts community in general and in the African American community in specific. Black folks have lots of stories worthy of telling. But in such a small African American arts community, there will necessarily be only a few stories that get told. The challenge for the folks who work in this situation is to avoid the tendency to repeatedly have appropriate content dictated to them by others.
The success of Austin's popular string of African American musicals is indeed a good thing for the scene. Yes, black folks do sing and dance, quite well, thank you. But we also do things such as: deal with death, vote Republican, have lots of money and education, drop out of school, take illegal drugs, marry white folks and have kids, and believe it or not, many of us moved here and are not directly connected to the Old East Side Family hierarchy. If our conversations about local contemporary African American expressive culture do not begin to more thoroughly address issues such as these, then we are out of step with what is real. Unless the conversation opens more, it is indeed an oppressive discourse in which we involve ourselves.
This was not meant to be a review of Clayangels. I saw it. I recommend it highly. But the larger issue for me is that I heard Daniel and Todd Jones in their piece tackle the kinds of issues that more and more should find discussion in conversations that deal honestly with life in black America. I hope you too will follow the development of Daniel Alexander Jones as he continues to let us know what's on his oh-so-thoughtful mind.
I awoke at noon on a Tuesday to an antiseptic silence. I had floated up from murky dreams to half-sleep to spongy wakefulness in a smooth, uninterrupted arc. This was unusual, and I couldn't understand why. I stared at the ceiling. My cat, whom, I swear, can hear my eyelids pop open from across the room, jumped onto the bed and nuzzled my listless hand. Silence. Peace. Something was wrong.
No kids. School had started. Summer vacation was over and the pool outside my apartment was empty. No screaming, splashing, shouting children. All summer long, they had been out there by nine o'clock or so, peppering my sleep with their kid-noises.
When I first moved into this apartment, on a brisk fall morning, the pool right outside my door seemed a luxurious amenity. Then came summer and her shrill hordes of children to shatter the somber, monastic dignity of my quiet life in my quiet apartment.
The first hot, clear day in late May brought an end to my peace. I work out of my apartment, and the noise destroyed my concentration, and any hope of continuing that day's work. A nap was also out of the question.
But what could I do? Kids are noisy. They are charged with a quicksilver energy that makes them wriggle and shriek at the fantastic newness of summers and swimming pools, of juice-boxes and gigantic water-pistols. In my eighth or ninth summer, the bright blue expanse of shimmering water in a real in-the-ground swimming pool induced in me a trembling ecstasy, and an anxiety that there just wouldn't be time enough in a thousand summer days to complete all the necessary splashing and swimming, flipping and diving, and I sometimes would be screaming before I could get into my swimsuit.
Confirmed bachelor that I am, I still refuse to be one of those sour grownups who are constantly shush-ing joyful children, or trying to stem the flow of mighty rivers with handfuls of cat-litter. I decided to go swimming.
That first day, five or six unsupervised children were splashing and giggling by the little waterfall in the shallow end. I dove in at the deep end and floated on my back, staring up at the hazy sky. The children continue their play, but in the hushed tones that they had learned to adopt in the presence of strange adults.
As I floated, I thought about a conversation with some friends from the night before. A long, tedious discussion of sexual politics in which the participants seemed to be motivated more by their own pain and disappointment then by any firmly held beliefs. Lots of quoting, pontificating, generalizing, and bitterness.
I looked up to find myself ringed by cantaloupe-sized heads plastered with dark shiny hair and bright, curious eyes. One of the little heads spoke.
"You have a black cat."
"Yes," I answered, recognizing the daughter of the family that lived next door to me.
"What's her name?"
She looked disappointed. I wondered why. I never found out.
"Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Sometimes," I said.
"I'm Sara," she stated.
"Nice to meet you. I'm Robert."
The ice was broken. Names were exchanged. Water fights commenced. I found myself instantly embroiled in the ancient and long-revered contest known as "Kill The Monster." I was The Monster, and they had to kill me. They nearly did.
This game evolved into the age-old ritual of "Chucking," in which the largest member of the group must hurl the smaller ones as high into the air as possible. All of the smaller ones. Even little Carlos, who is not so little for a nine-year-old. He likes to eat, his brother tells me.
The girls were not as interested in "Chucking" as the boys. The girls were ferociously commited, however, to playing "Kill the Monster."
I taught them the arcane water-tricks of my own childhood summers; how to make water-spouts with both hands at the same time; how to swim like a dolphin: the Sweeping - Two - Arm - Multi - Destroying - Splash Technique. I later had cause to regret showing them that one.
These activities were supplemented by occasional question-and-answer sessions.
"What's your job?"
"I'm a freelance writer."
"What's freelance writer?"
"I don't know."
The kids would sometimes volunteer bits of information about their own lives.
"My sister's boyfriend is in jail."
"I don't know."
Occasionally, a tired-looking woman would peer over the fence, glare suspiciously at me, and then disappear.
I could not keep up with the children for long. I dragged myself out of the pool after a scant hour, leaving them to shriek and yodel long into the evening, until their mothers called them to dinner.
I found that napping came rather easily that day, in spite of the noise.
This has continued through the summer. I have gotten to know most of the kids. There is Saul, the alpha-male of the group, blustering and cocky, brimming with the indestructable confidence of his 11 years. I think he has a crush on Veronica, a fawn-like girl with giant eyes and a bright, fleeting grin. Saul has no greater pleasure in life than splashing her until she explodes into a towering rage.
Eduardo is very small and very concerned with doing the right thing. He is perpetually on the horns of some moral dilemma, like whether to let a water-logged yellowjacket drown or scoop it out of the water.
Kevin wears very thick glasses and is very wary of water fights. He gets water in his eyes, and this annoys him to the point of violence.
William's father got drunk and passed out in the pool on Father's Day. William found him floating there, pale and still, and his screams brought everyone in the complex running to the pool. He kept screaming, even after we had revived his father and the ambulance came. He doesn't like to swim near the deep end. He's getting better, though, I think.
Carlos is not concerned in the least about his weight problem.
The noise stopped bothering me after a while. I found that I could sleep through it, most mornings. If it did awaken me, I wouldn't get angry, so it was easy to go back to sleep most of the time. I sleep late too much, anyway.
Now that school has started, I think I miss the sounds of children at the pool. The silence in the morning is kind of spooky. But Texas summers are long, and they come back in the afternoon, bursting with out-of-school ferocity, and head straight for the pool.
I was on the phone with a client yesterday. He was on his cell phone, stuck in traffic. He droned on about invoices and contracts. I droned back. I was interrupted by a long, impossibly shrill scream of delighted outrage. Saul was expressing his affection for Veronica. The client heard it over the phone.
"What the hell was that?"
"School's out for the day," I answered.
I got rid of him as quick as I could, and changed into my swimsuit. I hope the kids aren't getting tired of me.