Sunday, September 06, 2009

Saturday, September 05, 2009

10 years an Austinite: Blow-up sofa meets Ms. Snooty


So there we were, me, my wife and my then 16-year-old daughter, near an air pump at a South Austin convenience store, unsuccessfully trying to stuff an inflatable sofa into the back of my pickup. Can you picture this? Well, this scene played out within the first month after we moved to Austin.

The sofa was my wife's idea. Before we'd moved to Austin, she insisted we sell our living room furniture. She never liked our set because I'd purchased it before we got married and, apparently, she had a dislike for overstuffed brown and plaid tweed.

Actually, she'd insisted many times before that we get rid of the furniture, but I was more of a practical person. Sofas were for sitting, not for looking at, or for matching the curtains. I'd paid for that furniture, it was less than five years old, so it didn't make any sense to get rid of it. But we were moving to a new city, and I was ready to begin life anew. I sold our living room set for practically nothing. Go figure.

We moved to Austin at a time when everyone else in the country was moving here, too. The occupancy rate for apartments was something like 99 percent, so I was lucky to find an empty apartment for my family.

We rented a small, newly-built, three-bedroom apartment in South Austin. It had central air, an automatic dishwasher and garbage disposal — a new experience for us. We were living large compared to where we had come from, with the exception that we were sitting on the floor. The move hadn't cost us a dime, but we didn't have enough money to purchase another living room set.

While shopping, my wife purchased a sofa that fit our budget perfectly. She brought it home one evening in a Target shopping bag. It was no heavier than a blanket, silver and see-through, retro-looking. Inflated, it looked like a miniature model of The Hindenburg. Or a Marine rescue boat. Had we lived in a flood plane, there would have been no worries.

The sofa was larger than average, and it sat higher. To sit down, you practically had to climb up on it. And worse yet, it filled the entire apartment with the aroma a shower curtain.

I thought: Is she kidding? I'm in a brand-spanking new apartment, in a brand-spanking new city, with a brand-spanking new job. I'm not furnishing my home with an over-sized birthday party balloon. I objected, but my objections were overruled by our budget. We kept The Hindenburg with a plan to get new furniture when we had a house built.

On most days it wasn't an issue. We didn't know anyone in Austin, so we didn't have any visitors . . . well, except for one: Ms. Snooty. My daughter had become best friends with a girl at her school. Her mother was one of those bourgeois people who had acquired a little money from her in-home nursing business and looked down her nose at anyone who didn't drive a Lexis nicer than hers.

Ms. Snooty and her daughter lived in a beautifully furnished house, in the upscale and affluent Circle C subdivision. I'd been there many times to drop off and pick up my daughter, and Ms. Snooty often offered advice on the proper ways to raise a teenage daughter — like we had been doing it wrong all along. One time, she even offered to keep our daughter for us, because, she said, our daughter would be much happier living with her. Biach!

After a football game one evening, the girls had planned to sleep over with us. So before the game, Ms. Snooty dropped in for a visit to check things out.

"Lovely place you have here," she said, as she walked in to our apartment. Her tone was disapproving. She scanned every inch of the kitchen and living room, which was mostly naked with the exception of a small dinette set, a television, and The Hindenburg.

"Have a seat," I said, reluctantly, stretching my hand out towards a chair at the dinette. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Water," she said, dryly. The girls scurried off to the back bedroom and slammed the door. My wife removed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, poured it into a glass and handed it to Ms. Snooty, whose eyes were frozen on The Hindenburg.

"It's just temporary," I said, giggling nervously. "We plan to get new furniture after we buy a house." I made small talk about the Austin housing market when Ms. Snooty unexpectedly walked over to the sofa and sat down. The friction from her leather skirt and the plastic made an unfortunate, flatulent noise. If it were possible for a Black woman to turn red, Ms. Snooty would have been purple.

My wife and I looked at each other, wanting to crack up. We didn't because, suddenly, the side of the sofa that Ms. Snooty was sitting on began to sink, while the other end began to rise. Within seconds, The Hindenburg was standing upright near a 45-degree angle. Squatted down there with her butt on the sofa — and one hand on the ground for balance — she looked like the Center in a football game, ready the hike the ball. Our so-called decorative pillows had slid down and piled against her side, which made her balancing act even more awkward.

The three of us continued to chat for a half-hour, acting as though nothing out of the ordinary were happening. When Ms. Snooty had enough of our plastic airship she quickly made an exit. It was a humbling experience for everyone involved.

We lived in that apartment for six months before we moved into our new home. The Hindenburg currently resides in our garage, folded up in a corner, to be sold at our neighborhood garage sale later this fall.

I couldn’t find an image of the actual sofa, but I did find the chair version. Just imagine it four times the length and twice as tall.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

10 years an Austinite: The interview was much about hair

A few days before my interview at the Austin newspaper, I made an appointment with a barber to have my dreadlocks cut off. I really wanted the job, and I didn’t want my hair to stand in the way. Dreadlocks weren't mainstream in the late 90s, at least not in Des Moines, Iowa — not even with Black people.

I hadn’t been to Austin, Texas before, so I didn’t know about the city’s laid-back atmosphere. I didn’t know about the "Keep Austin Weird" slogan, or that Austin was known as the Live Music Capital of the World, a place where dreadlocks were considered tame in comparison to purple spikes and the gothic vampire look.

I didn’t keep my appointment with the barber, though. I loved my dreadlocks and knew I'd be angry with myself for cutting them, especially if I didn’t get the job.

After my plane landed in Austin, I took a cab to my hotel. As I stood in the shower, I began to scold myself. Are you stupid or what? You should have cut the things off. Maybe I didn't want the job. Perhaps I was too scared to move away from Des Moines, the only place I'd ever lived. Did I intentionally sabotage my interview? I dried myself off, slipped into a suit and tie, and pulled my dreadlocks back neatly into a ponytail. Then I crossed my fingers and went down to the lobby, where I was to meet the newspaper’s graphics editor.

Nervous about the interview, I stepped outside to get some fresh air — which, in retrospect, was ridiculous considering it was about 110 degrees out there. I paced the sidewalk, taking in Austin’s beautiful downtown skyline. The picturesque view put me at ease. Within a few minutes, a small black racecar with a dingy paint job pulled up and parked near me. It’s engine rumbled loud like a modified Harley Davidson motorcycle.

An African American man, about my same age but a full head taller, opened the door of the car and stepped out. “I’m the graphics editor for the newspaper,” he said, shaking my hand. His dreadlocks — almost twice as long as mine — bounced wildly around his shoulders as we shook hands.

I had a great interview. And, yes, in between talking graphics and journalism and Austin oddities, we talked dreadlocks. I got the job.