Houston

I Hate a Rainy Night

 

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Walking the dog with Rainy Day in Houston by Third Ward bluesman Lightnin’ Hopkins playing in my head. Heights Hike & Bike Trail, Friday, August 25, 2017.

Thursday, August 24, 2017. Hurricane preparation begins with a conversation about a small claims court case involving a batch of botched edible underwear. I am on the phone with my mother who is regaling me with her latest round of America’s Court binge-watching, oblivious to the Hurricane Harvey pre-game coverage forecasting Houston on the dirty side of a slow-moving storm. It is now clear to me that I am in the delicate position of convincing my mother, a grown ass woman, to leave the relative safety of her apartment and 200+ channels of cable tv to shelter-in-place at my house with promises of Netflix and quality time with me, my husband, and our bulldog. My mother accepts the invitation without much effort on my part. After all, she did spend Hurricane Ike with us and she had previously acted as host during our exile from Hurricane Katrina when we lived in New Orleans. But by Saturday, she was ready to make a break for it after having had her fill of PBS and playing with my hair. I overhear her asking my husband for a ride home where she can sleep in her adjustable bed with CNN turned up to 11. Begrudgingly, I agree to her release on house arrest, wishing I had the means to electronically monitor her movements – taking her threat to visit IHOP in the midst of an ongoing storm event very seriously. (Spoiler alert: She restrains her urge for stuffed French Toast and stays home the entire time.)

Saturday’s relative calm is subsequently replaced that evening with monster bands of rain that keep circling the city – regrouping, reforming, reincarnating into a bigger, badass rager of a rainfall on a weekend bender. My ears now expertly attuned to the distinct sounds of precipitation from a light drizzle alerting us that it’s our chance to walk the dog to the steady hum of raindrops falling in unison and then working their way up to a balls out deluge with hammering punches mirroring the moves of the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight going down.

By Sunday, my ears are also now accustomed to the grating buzz of cell phone alarms announcing flash flood alerts and their inevitable extensions. And then our first tornado warning. My husband and I dutifully march into the downstairs closet and shut the door. But this is no seven minutes in heaven, especially with our bulldog wedged between us wondering why we are stuffed in the closet reserved for our massive collection of coolers and dog leashes. Instead, we have 15 minutes until the warning expires and the question that I’ve kept stashed away in my brain spills out of my mouth. “How do we get on the roof?” My husband responds, “We have a second floor outdoor balcony – we don’t have to get on the roof.” Well, according to the instructions on the tv, the roof was the place to be. I press on, “But how exactly are people getting to their roofs during the storm?” He replies, “They go through the attic.” Our attic was a place only frequented by professional handymen who went up there to make occasional repairs. My husband continued, “You take an ax with you and cut your way out.” An ax? We don’t own an ax. Not even a decorative ax. Even our flotation devices are limited to two life vests with the ominous brand name of Black Sheep. Nor do we have the right size of canned goods for propping up furniture to rescue it from the threat of water coming into our house which has become our newest concern given that I-10 three blocks away is now filled with eight lanes of water rather than bumper to bumper traffic.

And these are just some of the reasons why I don’t mark myself safe on Facebook because this isn’t a static situation. Against the backdrop of pop up floods and high water marks appearing all over the city, I am only capable of nowcasting, as our local meteorologists say. Furthermore, I feared labeling myself safe would jinx me. Clearly, my mind was not a safe space either. I curbed my social media diet – eliminating my Twitter feed where once pithy remarks now read like last words. Television coverage was limited to local news stations with reporters who knew our massive swath of neighborhoods and roadways.

So to take the edge off, along with numerous glasses of wine, I forced myself to sit still and write. Even though writing seems thoughtlessly self-indulgent as I sit across from my laptop while thousands of my fellow Houstonians stand in front of volunteers with nothing but a garbage bag filled with their most valuable possessions. Again, like during Hurricane Katrina, I am on the observation deck of this disaster. An insider whose reality is vastly different than the one unfolding on the television screen. However, this time, I am actually in the city while this natural born killer alters Houston’s landscape and the lives of our citizens. I am thankful for my family’s safety and well-being but grief-stricken for those who actually went through the nightmare scenarios playing out in my mind.

Thanks to my dual citizenship as a gulf coast resident of both Houston and New Orleans, my list of weathered storms reads like categories from the Craigslist Personals section: casual encounters and thankfully missed connections with Andrew, Georges, Lili, and Rita to name a few. All my exes apparently live in Texas and Louisiana too. The time has come to cross another name off the list – farewell Harvey – you clingy motherfucker although that’s no consolation for the cities now facing the storm’s sloppy seconds.

With the sun making a brilliant appearance yesterday, more stunning than last week’s solar eclipse, a new song has formed in my head. It’s a recovery anthem from another Third Ward native, Johnny Nash, whose 1972 hit, I Can See Clearly Now, seems tailor-made for these trying times.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

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Tuesday afternoon, August 29th, taking in a dose of much-needed sunshine to fuel up for the hard work to come.

Right now, recovery rests on those of us, like me, who are fortunate enough to focus on rebuilding the city while others are still being rescued. For those wanting to help from afar, there are ways to donate but better yet, please consider paying us a visit in Houston. Whether you come to volunteer or just spend your cold hard cash buying a beer at our icehouses or a taco from our trucks, money spent in this city not only helps on a monetary level but normalizes life for us all.

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Film

Famous Last Words

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“They’re coming to get you, Barbara!” Johnny, the jerky brother taunting his sister in the cemetery where he will eventually join the undead.

I first watched Night of the Living Dead on a big screen TV at my aunt’s house on Long Island. Summers there were spent watching slasher movies rented by my aunt at the urging of my older brother who fancied himself a fan of the genre and even an amateur filmmaker whose contribution was footage of me lying in a pool of blood, poured from a jar of La Choy sweet and sour sauce. I was a reluctant viewer who watched the movie with my hands held over my eyes like blinders, peeking out of the corner of my eyes when I thought it was safe, only to quickly divert my gaze from the stampede of zombies feasting on human flesh.

Things haven’t changed much. I recently saw the movie last Halloween for an outdoor screening but despite my advanced age, I still watched with the same wary eyes from my youth. And despite the movie’s age, which was released in 1968, the film retains all the unease borne from the realization that family ties won’t save you from a zombie’s hunger pains nor would perseverance in the presence of armed townies anxious to exterminate the undead uprising.

And last night I learned the news that George Romero, Night of the Living Dead’s brainchild and director, had died. A few hours before, I was watching this summer’s action-packed blockbuster du jour loaded to the hilt with car chases and cool catch phrases which now stood in stark contrast to the grainy, black and white film that creepily made its way into the mainstream with zombie fun runs and pre-packaged costumes for kids. A low-budget legacy that will undoubtedly, like the zombies, outlast us all. RIP George Romero.

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Music

Classic Rock

A steady stream of music fans moved towards the Toyota Center in downtown Houston where Roger Waters would take the stage for his US+Them tour accompanied by Lucius, a two-woman team lending vocal muscle and might to Pink Floyd fan favorites and Roger’s uncompromising anthems asking the audience: “Is this the life we really want?” T-shirts sported by concertgoers provided a timeline of tours from Dark Side of the Moon to those purchased fresh from the merch table. Generations represented by groups of families, couples, and friends gathering for music they grew up with or, as in my case, music that grew on me. Music equally at home in a planetarium’s laser light show, a backyard bbq, the confines of a teenager’s bedroom, or a protest march.

Music simultaneously rooted in the past but uncannily present. The evening’s set list of Pink Floyd titles on point more than ever: Welcome to the Machine, Money, Bring the Boys Back Home, and of course, Another Brick in the Wall with Part II featuring a lineup of young boys and girls singing the chorus while wearing the unmistakable orange of inmate apparel that they shed to reveal t-shirts emblazoned with the present-day battle cry: RESIST.

Music steeped in shapeshifting where a farmyard pig floats above the audience’s head with a bank for a belly. A dog, man’s best friend, turned against him as a tool of torture and intimidation. A president transformed into a diapered, belligerent baby no one wants to hold.

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The Piggy Bank of War taking a victory lap.

Music paired with mammoth-sized video screens streaming scenes of collateral damage later making the drowsy, dreaminess of Comfortably Numb less of a song and more of a statement on our own complicity. But shock turned to awe as the Battersea Power Station smokestacks separating the audience gave way and a mirrored orb shiny as a disco ball floated overhead while Dark Side‘s signature triangle sprung up like a lightning bolt with confetti showering the crowd that now was a community. Wish I was still there.

 

 

 

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Film, Inspiration, Women

A Letter to Wonder Woman

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Dear Wonder Woman,

I hail from the Lynda Carter era. Although the crime fighting prowess of Charlie’s Angels was more my style, I was captivated by your cuffs and crown, not to mention your makeover moves. As a little girl, I couldn’t imagine a greater superpower than spinning myself into a whole new look. But big screen debuts of beloved characters, whether from tv or comic books, are often fraught with apprehension for fans. I resisted at first – unwilling to accept that your attire was now more gladiator than glam. But the sisterhood persisted with talk of your Margaret Sanger, suffragette-inspired roots and coverage of female-only screenings with attendees sporting Handmaid’s Tale womenswear.  I now wanted to be wowed and filled with wonder with a woman at the helm of the male-dominated, summer blockbuster multiplex scene. So imagine my disappointment when you were dispatched to save humankind from ……….. the Nazis. I thought Indiana Jones finished them off in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Earth to Diana: Papa’s got a brand new nerve gas and it looks like you still got the wrong guy.  Suggesting I wait for a sequel or for your pals at the Justice League to join forces just won’t do. Women in the United States scored the right to vote in 1920. 2016 marked the first time in our history when a woman became the first presidential nominee of a major political party. That’s almost 100 years later. And instead, we got a pussy grabber for President. We don’t have time for another flashback when your high-powered accessories could be put to better use right now. Those bulletproof cuffs could come in handy the next time an unarmed black man pulls over for a traffic stop. Your shield used as a suit of armor protecting crowds from suicide bomber shrapnel.  And you might want to try wrapping that lasso of truth around a guy named Bill Cosby. Pro tip: Do not accept a drink from him under any circumstances!

I realize this is more of a demand letter than a fan letter. But I am hopeful when you shed the coiffed, curator disguise and trade in the stiletto-heeled boots for your sensible superhero footwear, your flight path will take you to the battle you deserve to fight.

Stay woke,

First Set Girl

 

 

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Inspiration

A Note of Appreciation

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Thanks for the blue eyes and Willie Nelson’s Blue Skies.

Thanks for making an early riser out of me so I never miss a sunrise or a flight.

Thanks for letting me listen to whatever I wanted on the radio without complaint or commentary. Even during awkward moments like Madonna’s Like a Virgin and my endurance-testing mixtapes featuring Malcolm McLaren’s six-minute Puccini reboot of Madame Butterfly. I thought you liked opera. You paid me back with Roger Whittaker, Glenn Miller, and Marty Robbins. Thank you for chaperoning me and my friends to see Cyndi Lauper’s 1984 show at the Summit and subsequently deciding I no longer needed adult supervision at concerts. Thank you for taking me to see the Rockets play at the Summit when they had The Dream.

Thanks for taking me and my brother to see films because they were good, regardless of rating: The Blues Brothers, The Great Santini, All That Jazz. Although Grizzly, a 1976 film about a bear on a murderous rampage explains why I have an aversion to camping.

Thanks for taking me and my brother to dim sum on Sundays and letting us order the chicken feet every single time just so we could play with them.

Thanks for buying the entire bag of caramel-pecan cluster turtles I was supposed sell for a school fundraiser but ate instead. In one sitting.

Thanks for still making sure I always have a full tank of gas. Please note, I no longer buy groceries, including beer, on my Chevron card.

Thanks for loving our bulldog, Carlyle, like a grand dog, and my husband like family. That is not necessarily in order of importance. But thanks for also being cool when Jason got arrested in front of you for selling Saints tickets to an undercover cop.

Thanks for acting as my personal weatherman, traffic reporter, and in the age of professional influencers, you are the only one who matters.

With gratitude. #IAmMyFathersDaughter

 

 

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Music

Shut Up and Smoke

 

I swore I caught a whiff of a clove cigarette. But since you can’t smoke anywhere anymore, the scent must have been part of the punk rock flashback brought on by being in a room full of fans waiting for the band X to play their unique blend of gritty Los Angeles rapid fire rock & roll tempered with a rockabilly soul. The demographics skewed heavily towards representatives from Houston’s Montrose neighborhood circa 1980s – a group consisting of former garage apartment dwellers, former garage band members, their ex-girlfriends, and the critter in the tie-dyed shirt who was always front row at all the good shows.

Upon taking the stage, even the former power-punk couple, John Doe and Exene, reminisced of their early days playing Houston, noting the significant upgrade in venue for the band’s 40th anniversary. The Heights Theater, a proper performance space on a street known more for antiquing than live music was opposite in every way from the bunker-like, disco ball spinning atmosphere of Numbers where the band played in 1982. However, the crowd, in a standing room only formation, responded just the same as they did back in the day, albeit without a mosh pit as no one in this 40 + years fan base was taking a chance on breaking a hip.

This was an audience singing along to every song – songs that rarely went over the three-minute mark but provided a generous pour of indignation and desolation and a really badass cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’s Breathless. Four decades later, X’s music, much like the resurgence of The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984, remains totally on point as it was in the Reagan era. We chanted the chorus “I must not think bad thoughts” like a mantra for modern times. Despite the musical message reminding us “that the world’s a mess,” cathartic exhilaration bounced back and forth from the floor to the band members: grizzly ringleader John Doe, Exene, clutching the mike in her happy homemaker on a bender ensemble, the super cool DJ Bonebrake on drums and everywhere else, and guitarist Billy Zoom who maintained an unnerving perma-grin and used his forehead as a resting spot for his guitar pick while playing the the saxophone.

Fans quickly and unobtrusively snapped photos during the brief breaks between songs but otherwise kept their electronic devices in their pockets. A scene devoid of the constant chatter dominating many recent concert experiences. This crowd’s attention remained focused on listening to music they loved played by a band who still clearly loved playing the music. A punk rock show ironically turned master class in concert-going etiquette best summed up by the t-shirt worn by a mature music fan: Polite as Fuck.

Ain’t music grand!

 

Note: All photos taken quickly and unobtrusively by @j.hall.yall

Set List 5/22/17

 

 

 

 

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