Keeping Austin Weird
During the mid to late 90’s I lived in a neighborhood in east Austin that once was sketchy but was in the process of becoming gentrified like everything else on that side of I35. I place emphasis on “process” because while I lived there we were robbed by a child, we witnessed the aftermath of a drive-by, and the laundromat was transformed from a place to pick up hookers to, well, a laundromat.
I moved into this house with my then girlfriend, Mel. It was occupied by two other women but soon became a bona fide commune when the girlfriend of one of the other women moved in. None of that is important other than to say there were five women living in a 3-1 in east Austin before Austin became ordinary. What made this place remarkable, other than the tree roaches from another planet, were the neighbors. I lived in Austin for more than twenty years and these were by far some of the most memorable. (I’ll talk about Beer Boy and Jesus Lady in another post)
Neighbor #1: To our left we have a mom, her mom, and her seven year old son. Mom is an antique “collector” (a.k.a. hoarder) who specializes in vintage costume jewelry. Come on people, this is Austin, the market is saturated, give it up already. Anyway, I used to help her with some of her antique furniture while she was busy with her jewelry. What this meant was, I was supposed to make a ratty old bookshelf look “antique” by standing out in the yard spraying Easy Off oven cleaner on it, waiting ten minutes, and hosing it off so the lead paint oozed off into the Eco-system. Voila! It now looks like an early American farmhouse gem.
Neighbor #2: Across the street we have an older gentleman who keeps to himself for the most part. One day we went over to borrow a lawn mower. He comes to the door and we say, “Hi, we’ve just moved in across the street.” He says, “Hello! I’m Smitty, but y’all can call me Big Daddy.” I’m thinking, “I don’t even want to call you Smitty, but okay.” The poor fellow passed away a few months later. I hope it wasn’t from lead poisoning from all the paint and Easy Off oven cleaner in the soil.
Neighbor(s) #3: To our right we have a four thousand square foot wooden lodge that I can only describe as a multimillion dollar Spawn Ranch. It was build by a guy from Colorado who I guess changed his mind about living there because of the tree roaches and lead paint in the soil. Anyway, about ten to twenty hippies moved in but we never really saw them except for the occasional fire breathing and wafting of pot smoke.
I could go into more detail about each of these situations but this post is already too long so I’ll stop here.
The point is that Austin was weird and it still is to an extent. You just have to work a little harder at finding the weirdness.