Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Next Chapter

"You're like a ghost. You don't show up anywhere," said the real estate agent. He represented the landlord of a place I'd seen and really liked. There was a little stream in the back yard, named Turtle Creek, although I have no idea if there were really turtles in it.

What the agent was complaining about was that my credit report was coming up blank. That's hardly a surprise: for 20 years, I'd lived in a part of the world where there was, basically, no such thing as credit. Apparently one credit agency here in the U.S. had me down as owing Hertz $750 from 2010, but that's extremely unlikely, since I didn't rent a car from Hertz in that year. Couldn't have: I don't have a credit card. Other than that, though, nothing. Europeans generally don't have credit cards, because it's so easy to use a bank card tied to one or another of your bank accounts. I didn't have a bank account in France, so I used cash.

While the agent was trying to figure out if he needed an exorcist, it rained. I mean, it rained a lot. My cell phone, next to my head as I slept at my friends' house, screamed several times in the night with flash flood warnings. Apparently I now get emergency notifications. We were on a hill, so this was information I didn't need. But it was serious: my friend Lin, who'd been a reporter on the paper with me when I first arrived in Austin, now owns a horse ranch on Onion Creek in the southern reaches of Austin. Onion Creek flooded. Lin lost four mares, one of whom she'd had for 37 years. I had no idea horses lived that long. She was devastated, unsurprisingly.

I wondered if Turtle Creek had flooded, if the big living room at the place I'd like was now alive with turtles. I never found out. My own real-estate agent noted that a friend of her husband's, a guy I'd not only met but might have gone into business with if her husband had worked out a coherent business plan, had outgrown his house and was renting it out. I looked at it with her. It was even better than the Turtle Creek place. It had a nice kitchen. I mean, a nice one.

Oh, look! A gas stove!
There was a gigantic refrigerator whose freezer door gave forth ice cubes and filtered water (once it got going, at any rate) and a sink with a Disposall on an island. There was acres of prep space.

Still unpacking at this point. Painting by Dean Studeny. Coffee mug by Coffee of Doom

I needed a couch. I got on Craigslist. An hour later, a guy and his son were hauling the couch into the living room. I set up my old stereo speakers, attached to a new amplifier and found a box of CDs I didn't know I had in the boxes I'd (with help) unloaded from my storage area. There's $200 a month I no longer have to pay. There was a McCoy Tyner plays Ellington CD in there I don't remember ever having listened to. Although it was after 10 (neighbors call cops in Europe!) I put it on. It was enjoyable.

There was an office, wired to the teeth with outlets in case I ever need to set up a server farm. I spent a week putting together the desk in it and at one point crawled under an assembled one at my local OfficeMax to see how a couple of parts fit together. I still can't get the drawer in, but that's a detail. The guy from the cable company came and wired me up.

Note drawer to the right. Nice view of the back yard, too!
There's a whole room I call "the library" that, after I win the lottery, will be chockablock with CD shelves with alphabetized discs in them. Maybe a bed for visitors. It has a bathroom with a shower and everything next to it, too.

Room to think
There's a bedroom with a new futon waiting for its frame to arrive from France, a bathroom with a gigantic shower and two sinks just off of it.

No low-powered hose I have to hold myself!
And there's a two-car garage that, in the great American tradition, contains no car at all, but a buncha cardboard boxes. These are books from 20 years ago.

The ones out of boxes are, mostly, cookbooks, believe it or not. Book reviewing was a sweet gig. 

Over the next months, they'll be gone through meticulously and then start to show up on Amazon. Some are, apparently, worth a bit. But this is good: one of my goals is de-cluttering. The odds are against my making too much headway in this particular endeavor too quickly, because I've been told by the mover that the ship with my stuff will dock in Houston on Dec. 3, clear customs, and be here before long. There are books to get rid of in that shipment, too. And I'll be getting rid of them.

* * *

This has all been a radical change. I live in more than three times the area I was living in a month ago. I have a back yard with a redwood deck, bare but for a curious wood-burning stove and a plastic chair where, two days in a row, after I've finished work, I've gone out and sat, doing nothing, for close to an hour. I have access to a radically different spectrum of foods: a Chinese supermarket way uptown and an Indian market just down the street, a tortilleria a couple of blocks away, and some very impressive supermarkets -- not just Whole Foods and Central Market, which are also wonderful -- not far away. My cooking gear is on the boat, but I can't wait to get started. 

I have a car, which I kind of like. 

It's a Vibe, baby
I don't like having to drive everywhere, though, nor do I like Austin traffic. I try to stay home after 4 as much as possible to avoid dealing with it. I rarely succeed at this, but it's a resolve. 

For the past three days, since Sunday, I've had something of a routine, which I like. I've got some work, and I've been doing it, which I also like. Other work seems to be out there, too. I have time to read, I have time to write, and I have a bit of time to goof off. I've been out a couple of times, not always successfully (I misjudged traffic last night and got turned away at an event I wanted to see: who knew it would take two hours to get to the University?).

But the main improvement has been people. I know people here. Early on I went to an odd event at the Continental Club Gallery which combined art, music, and people reading from their work, and met a guy who was one of my many Facebook friends I don't actually know. He wound up helping me empty the storage areas, just out of the blue. There were other people I knew at that event, too, and at the gig I went to on Saturday night (I still have lots of trouble seeing live music, though, and I walked out before the headliner went on). Even this area, though, has had its other side. I began this year with what I can only characterize as a love letter from a woman with whom I'd been corresponding for a couple of years, and we'd gone out a lot in March when I was here for SXSW. I'd been looking forward to seeing more of her when I got here, but, well, no. Not going to work out, sorry. But...fish, sea. 

Don't try to do too much too fast. After all, I still need a washer and a dryer, an end table for that couch (maybe two, one for each end!), a doctor, a dentist, and maybe some day I'll hang a flat-screen from the rack that's currently supporting Dean's painting there in the living room and become an American. I haven't had anyone over for dinner yet, but then, I don't have my good cooking stuff, either. 

Live like the alcoholics, one day at a time. That goes for the good times as well as the bad times. Judging from the shadows in the back yard, it'll be dark soon enough and then there'll be another day tomorrow. We'll name it Wednesday. 


  1. This is a lovely post! Welcome back to Austin.

  2. Welcome back. It looks like a lovely house. And it looks like you could so some serious damage in the kitchen. I remember a curry you cooked for me in Austin many years ago -- the first serious curry to which I'd ever been exposed. I have recovered.

  3. Party at Ed's!!!
    (Welcome home :) )
    ~alice b

  4. Hello Ed, Welcome home. I’ve worked overseas on several occasions. As your musings underline, fending for oneself “out of context” is a fine way to identify personal relevancies. I feel my “american-ness” the most when abroad. Since this is the traditional time of year to reflect on all we have to be grateful for I am regularly grateful to be a citizen of a country that grants me this freedom to come and go.

  5. I am so happy to see you posting here. The house is lovely.

    I'm sorry about your friend's horses. Keep safe.

  6. Lovely post. Wonderful to read. Welcome home. Curtis Roberts

  7. Great posts. Much fodder for many more. That's a nice, bright kitchen. Look forward to many good posts!

  8. GAS STOVE! I see lots of good food in your future...

  9. It's weird, but good, to see you in such very different circumstances.

  10. That house is going to feel like a dream after the apartment in Montpellier! And that kitchen makes me want to move back to the States. Happy to see you settling back into Texas :)

  11. I just moved back to the US a couple of weeks ago after 5 years in Berlin and am working on the adjustment. Interesting to read your thoughts and experiences on the subject. Welcome home!

  12. Good to see you are back in civilisation, Peter ...

    I went to the Xmas fair in Cassan today.


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