I have been working as a freelance blogger for The Houston Press, and that’s why I haven’t updated anything really recently. I will be remedying that soon, and plan to get back on schedule.
Some of my recent material can be found here:
I have been working as a freelance blogger for The Houston Press, and that’s why I haven’t updated anything really recently. I will be remedying that soon, and plan to get back on schedule.
Some of my recent material can be found here:
I guess city rivalries are a standard thing in almost every state of the U.S. I grew up in the Houston area, lived in Austin through most of the 1990’s, moved back to H-Town, and then recently back to Austin after living in Houston for many years. I like both cities a lot, for different reasons.
But there’s a lot of weird hard feelings and mean-spirited criticism of both cities by people that live in the other, and it seems dumb to me. Especially considering that there are a lot of ignorant fools from outside of Texas that think the whole state is populated with subhuman stereotypes, or that the whole area in unfit for human habitation. They think Texas sucks and that we’re unsophisticated and stupid. Those are the morons we should save our disdain for, not people living a little less than 200 miles apart.
Rather than determine that one city is “better” than the other, it would be far more accurate to just say that they’re very different in many key ways, and the things that make one place paradise for a person, might make it a Hell for a different individual.
There is a really REALLY tired slogan for Austin – “Keep Austin Weird.” Oddly enough, I generally see that bumper sticker or t-shirt being used by the most average-looking people you can imagine. Middle-aged dudes in khaki shorts and topsiders that look like they probably are executives at a bank somewhere, or their completely mainstream (but slightly different) equivalent.
When you’re really weird, you don’t generally need to advertise that. You just are.
That annoyance aside, Austin quit being un-self consciously weird years ago, perhaps decades ago. For good or bad, it went from being a magnet for oddballs from all over Texas and beyond to becoming a hip place to live. It went from being weird to being cool. And cool is only cool if you like it that way.
Yes, Austin is still a college town, and it still has a very lively local music scene. But its population has also boomed, with people from all over the world moving here in droves. That’s fine, but it’s killing a lot of the quirky, small town feel that Austin had been known for. Throw in gigantic music festivals like SXSW that seem to draw a mostly out of town audience while the locals avoid it, and this does not seem like the odd little college town with a great local music scene that it once was.
Yes, many of the local places and pastimes that seemed to mark Austin as a unique city are still around. You can still go cool down at Barton Springs, or see the bats on Congress, and there is live music happening all over town, but it seems more like a Disney World replication of the Austin of years ago. Seeing families with children all over town makes it seem like you’re in some sort of approximation of what a “cool college town” would be if it were sanitized for suburban consumption. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but the spirit of this town has changed a lot, and I suspect that it will continue to.
Houston, on the other hand was never burdened by an image as a hip weird place where “anything goes!” It always seemed to be considered a good place to raise a family and make a living by Texans, but hip it was not.
I have to report that in the decades that I’ve bounced back and forth between these two cities, I’ve experienced just as many weird shenanigans in Houston as I did in Austin. It’s actually a lot more accurate to say “Keep Texas Weird” because Texas IS weird, an enormous state marked by its diversity of people and places. This state often gets snubbed by people from outside of it because…well, because people are stupid and mean, and because some will use anything they can to try to feel superior to others.
Austin is the sort of place where everyone you meet is an “artist” of some sort, and everyone is self consciously trying to broadcast how weird and edgy they are… While producing very little.
Houston wears it’s weird more secretly. It remains hidden, not self promoted as much, and then one day you realize that the quiet normal looking guy you work with has created art or music that’s really cool and strange without most people even knowing it.
I’ve known quite a few idiots that can’t conceive of living anywhere except for a small handful of cities. Places like San Francisco, Portland Oregon, New York City, Seattle, and unfortunately Austin also seems to be on that list.
We all like what we like, and that’s fine and dandy. Acting like anyone living outside those places is a cretin is both pretentious and shows a stilted elitism on the part of the moronic clowns who think that only those places matter. There’s a HUGE country outside of those cities, and it’s not all hillbillies and idjits occupying it. I’ve been all over this country multiple times, and discovered that, almost without exception, people are pretty much the same everywhere. Yes, some cities and even states have a certain “feel” to them that sets them apart from others, but I’ve never found a place that just won over all the rest.
To the people that have found that place that is perfect to them, great. Please move there, enjoy your life, and shut the fuck up about how everywhere else sucks. No one wants to hear from people like you.
Anyway, while Austin has long attracted a certain dubious fame as a hip city, Houston never has. But let’s look a little closer at the things Houston has to offer a person.
1. Houston has Great museums and a good art scene.
Let’s just get that one out of the way first. Houston has many exceptional museums. I’ve been going to the Natural Science a museum and the Museum of Fine Arts since I was a kid. I took summer art classes at the Glassell School of Art, and have hung out at the Menil Collection museum since I was young. There’s a Printing Museum, the Children’s Museum, and countless galleries throughout the area. Then you have the Commerce Street Art Warehouse, and the Orange Show, two longtime havens for local artists of all types. Houstonians have the opportunity to see work by contemporary artists, or head to see work by artists like Andy Warhol and Van Gogh. The city has an enormous art presence. It’s also known as a hotbed of folk art, as places like The Orange Show, Beer Can House, and Art Car Museum demonstrate. Houston also has a vibrant street art scene, and if we’re talking about music, the often dissed city has had a huge impact of popular music, particularly the hip hop world.
Austin is full of artists of various types, and it would never seek to insult the creative people in this city, but its museum presence is negligible compared to Houston’s, which is world class. Musically it’s got a lot going for it, but a Austin can’t touch Houston in regards to museums or other artistic venues.
2. Houston is the most ethnically diverse city in America.
Yes, even more so than New York City, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. This is probably shocking news to some people outside of Texas, but would not surprise most Houstonians who’ve bothered to look around town in the last couple of decades. Houston is full of people from all over the world, and is truly an international city now. There are many areas of town that offer cultural experiences brought from places like Russia, China, Vietnam, Mexico, and the list goes on and on. Perhaps the most notable effect this has had on the average Houstonian is the emergence of one of the nation’s best food scenes, but more on that later. It is common to hear people conversing in many different languages, and this melting pot of nationalities has infused Houston with a wealth of multicultural experiences to enjoy. The idea that Houston is some sort of cultural wasteland populated by lily white faces with red necks is utter bullshit.
Austin, on the other hand, still has a majority white homogeneous population. In a brilliant recent article in Texas Monthly, writer Cecilia Balli brought up the fact that it’s one of, if not the top, most segregated major cities in Texas. Minorities still live behind certain invisible geographic lines in this city, and seeing anyone that’s an immigrant from another country is rare unless they’re in town visiting, or going to UT. It’s just not a diverse mixing pot of people.
What you see a lot of here are a cross-section of white people. Austin’s not even as influenced by Hispanic culture as many other Texas cities are. Austin seems to be full of youngish white folks, a lot of whom are pretty comfortable, having come from nice middle or upper middle class backgrounds. They tend to be more socially liberal than young people in some other Texas cities, and some may look “weirder” – getting a few tattoos, piercings and a weird haircut while they spend their parents’ money pursuing an Art Degree or whatever. They’ll hang out at Austin music clubs, and keep it all weird, until they hit their early thirties and clean up their acts to assume their entitled positions of privilege (that were waiting like the wings of an angel to catch them if they fell the whole time). Then they’ll have kids with whimsical names, and will trade in their Fuck Emos shirts for khaki shorts and flip flops.
One will hear a lot of political and social outrage from these young Austinites, it’s like a real life version of some pissy Facebook community. Of course, there are minorities and white working class people making this city roll along, but those Peter Pan type young Austinites sure are plentiful. A lot of time they’re just waiting tables and biding their time before they can cash in their trust funds and move to some other urban paradise like Portland, which strikes me as an even more affected “weird” city. Grow thy beards and ride thy unicycles. Please just do it somewhere outside of Austin. We’ve got enough of that crap here already.
I guess my point is that Austin seems full of entitled white kids play-acting at struggle, while the people that really ARE struggling (minorities and working poor whites) either can’t afford to live here anymore, or are too busy trying to survive to go check out some fucking music festival. Houston offers a lot more things for people of all types, and socio-economic groups to enjoy.
Which brings us to…
3. Houston is cheaper to live in.
Surprisingly, that’s NOT true over all. Houston is actually a little more expensive than Austin in most ways that people measure their cost of living, and that includes rent, utilities, and groceries. But the average income is also marginally higher in Houston, and where the disparity comes into play is in scale. Houston is a big freaking city, and when we’re talking about things like rent that’s important. Yeah, it’s expensive as fuck to rent a decent place in the previously quirky and affordable Montrose neighborhood, but a broke ass Houstonian can find reasonably priced places to live in many other not so in-demand neighborhoods. Austin is not as small as rumored – it’s currently the 11th largest city in America, and grows with a steady influx of new residents with every passing day. But there are fewer and fewer cheap places to live here. Unlike the mighty sprawl that is Houston, pretty much every neighborhood here is getting pricey, so those rent averages are less “average.” If every place available is $1200 a month, does that make it better when Houston’s average rent is say $1300, but that takes into account rents in the $1500 range AND places that cost much less? You just don’t have a wide range to choose from if you’re on a limited income. InHouston, you’re more likely to find something livable for less.
When it comes to home prices, that also seems to be the case. I live in a modest 1300 square foot home with a train track behind it. It’s nice, but far from palatial. For the same money in Houston, I’d have my pick of much bigger places in some nice neighborhoods. Your home buying money just goes a lot further in H-Town. It’s been weird seeing formerly affordable neighborhoods mutate into hip hotspots over the last twenty years. The run down homes that I once rented in a South Austin would cost close to half a million dollars to buy now. That’s no joke. Some of those places were selling for $80,000 back in the 1990’s.
But this one is somewhat of a draw when either city is compared to other places nationally. Texas cities are just far more affordable for the average person than many other cities across the USA. Neither Austin or Houston bury the other on value.
4. Food. Houston is one of the nation’s best food cities.
It just is. I think it’s pretty obvious to any Houstonian who eats out a lot that the city is pretty special in that regard. It’s part of that international and ethnically diverse trend that’s been happening in the Houston area for decades. You can easily find many different options when it comes to eating in Houston. Vietnamese Pho is everywhere, along with a Indian food, Tex Mex, Cajun, and everything else under the sun. There are thousands of restaurants ranging from four star affairs down to food trucks dotting the culinary landscape of Houston.
Austin, on the other hand, offers much less variety.
Sometimes it feels like Austin has three types of basic cuisines – (mostly watered down) Tex Mex, BBQ, and “Breakfast.”
Be prepared to have black beans and home fries with every fucking meal when you eat out. Also be prepared to encounter vegan and vegetarian options everywhere, including the BBQ joints. I’m not saying that’s a “bad” thing, just that eating out here is pretty homogenized and boring after maybe a year. Houston in comparison is a dining adventure that seems like it could take a lifetime to explore.
But hey! You want some black bean goo on that burger! Fuck it, we HAVE that here!
5. For all of the negative stereotyping, Houston is a tolerant town in general.
Maybe it’s all of that ethnic diversity, or the huge gay population, but Houston is a pretty tolerant place to live. There’s an openly gay Mayor, making it the city with the highest elected homosexual person in the nation. Houston has the Pride Parade, and just feels like there’s a “live and let live” attitude there. Not every place in the country can boast that. I work with two lesbians who came from New York, and both have told me that they encountered a lot less discrimination when living in Houston than either New York or Austin. Granted, that’s anecdotal, but I see no reason to doubt their experiences.
Austin is pretty friendly to gays too, but they don’t have the developed community or leadership here that Houston provides.
When it comes down to it, Houston and Austin are both great cities in their own way, and we should collectively hone our hatred for the miserable shit hole that is Dallas, home of thieves and villainous scum.
OK, maybe Dallas is alright. I’ve never spent a lot of time there.
Let’s get a couple f other things out of the way. Houston by and large is not a “beautiful city”, although it has a sort of spiraling urban charm that some people come to love. I certainly do. Austin is in a very pretty part of Texas, and you’re never more than a few minutes away from some pretty bit of nature.
BOTH cities have traffic issues if that’s really important. I routinely drive during rush hour across town in both Austin and Houston, and I don’t get what the ruckus is. If you live in a big fucking city, traffic is part of the price you pay. I somehow have learned to avoid the traffic hotspots, other people should learn that survival skill too before bitching about “bad traffic”.
When it comes down to it, neither Austin or Houston really “win” over the other. Both are cool places to make a home, depending on what is most important to a person. If growing a stupid looking beard and mustache, and scooting down the road on a unicycle playing your ukulele sounds like paradise to you, you might be happier in Austin. But please do us all a favor and just head straight to Portland with that shit.
Seriously. We’re sick of that crap around here.
OK, more seriously. A young liberal person that wants to be surrounded by people much like themselves, and who really likes things like frisbee golf and seeing bands every night might enjoy Austin more than Houston. Someone that likes living in a huge city, with the cultural activities that offers, while enjoying a diversity of people and neighborhoods would probably enjoy Houston more.
The coolest thing is that you can like both. These are two Texas cities, not warring city states. I love both for very different reasons.
I remember the first time I ever set foot inside The Studio. My friend Renee took me there. She was a concert promotor at the time, and was friends with an intense local band named Bozo Porno Circus. They had a very cool studio that was located in the heart of the Montrose neighborhood. Soon after that introduction to the place, I was asked to join the band, a decision that would radically change the direction of my life for several years. Possibly forever.
The Studio was located right next to a nondescript mom-and-pop convenience store about a block from the major intersection of Montrose Boulevard and Richmond Avenue. I’d probably passed the place without noticing a hundred times in the past. To the left of the convenience store’s entrance was a blacked out door and display window. A location that spawned so much Houston music was hidden in plain sight.
“The Studio” was Bozo Porno Circus’s home base, and was a nice set up. It was big enough for a large band like BPC to comfortably practice, was a good storage place for the numerous props and gear that we needed to perform, and was also set up as a recording studio. It was decidedly not fancy but it was one of the better practice rooms I’d ever seen, definitely nicer than any of the band rehearsal complexes that I’d been in prior to that.
As that band became a second family to me, the studio became a second home, and I spent almost every day there for several years. The studio had a benefactor and “System Administrator” named Al that kept the technical end of things running smoothly, while also paying a lot of the bills.
I wouldn’t know it at the time, but Al would go on to become a very good friend of mine over the years.
Without getting into the history of the bands that played in the studio back then, eventually BPC moved on and Asmodeus X became the main client. Even though my band had left, I liked the space enough to want to keep my foot in the door. Spaces like that one were not something I ran across often, and I’d grown quite fond of it over the few years I’d been there.
So I made a deal with Al, and my catch-all music project Pitchforque moved in. By then, the studio was known as Fjardeson Studios and other bands had found homes there.
Honestly, the place meant more to me as a gathering place for creative types and a club house as much as anything else, but it also was the location of a lot of great music over the years.
I became a much less frequent visitor over the last three or four years. There were many reasons for that, primarily a demanding work schedule out in the real world, and I sort of lost touch with the newer bands filtering through the place. Most of those people seemed to view the place as just another practice facility, and a lot of the comradeship that had made The Studio such an important part of my world seemed to taper off. Things change. Places change too. That might be one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in life. Change is inevitable, and it’s probably best to accept that reality rather than to attempt to hold on to something forever.
The Montrose has been gentrifying for the last twenty years at least, and recently it seems like that process has accelerated. It’s sapped away a lot of what made the neighborhood interesting to me, and it’s also made rents skyrocket.
The seemingly inevitable cycle of a neighborhood becoming desirable because of its local color, and then driving out the creative types that gave it its specialness is in high gear. The owners of The Studio property, the family owning the convenience store next door, doubled the rent. Taking it steadily from a “great deal” into “almost a mortgage payment” territory.
Al couldn’t really hang on anymore, and no one else could afford it either. The Studio was going to go away. I actually teared up when I heard the news. Places become a big part of our lives, and like a seemingly eternal family home, it was a shock to realize that the source of so many good times would soon be gone, replaced by a stupid nail salon or flower shop, something ordinary and lame.
But that’s life. I realized that with the loss of the actual place, a location I’d been a part of for over fifteen years, that the friendships I’d made there were the really important things, and that those will last forever.
The Studio will always be part of who I am, and its memory will last the rest of my life. I imagine some of the other people that were a part of that place feel the same way.
801 Richmond Avenue. I will always remember that place.
Several months ago I bought a used chopper from it’s original owner. Great bike, but it had a ridiculous looking “Tribal tattoo” paint job… Pretty much the exact opposite of anything I would consider cool.
I entertained getting a professional repaint done, figuring maybe a budget for a solid color might be around $600 – $800. I was wrong. Both places I contacted quoted me around $2,700, enough to buy another bike.
Was not going to happen.
So I did some research on various custom motorcycle forums, and there are lots of people doing great paint jobs with cans of automotive spray paint. The stuff you can buy at any auto supply store.
You’ll read scary warnings about how shitty spray can paint jobs will look, don’t believe that, those rumors are probably started by guys that paint motorcycles for a living. Any person willing to spend a few days doing prep work and taking their time can get great results.
A few tips:
Warm your spray cans with hot water. It makes the paint flow more evenly. Buy one of those little spray can trigger/handle rigs. they’re inexpensive and make it a lot nicer to spray.
Almost all spray paint is lacquer. Lacquer paints have solvents in them, and they dry as the solvents evaporate. they dry really quickly, and are easy to work with. The downside to them, is that if you rush things, the final product will look like crap, and any solvents that land on that paint will mess them up. Gasoline being a solvent, makes a lacquer painted motorcycle tank… Risky. Lacquer paints also tend to chip easily, and generally don’t last a long time.
These unfortunate properties extend to most if not all of the straight out of the can clear coats that you can get at an auto supply or home improvement store.
Fortunately, a few years ago new “2K” spray paint clear coats were developed. These are just like the stuff a pro would mix up and use to paint a vehicle, the two part chemical process is set up so a person can trigger it in the can, and then has around 48 hours to spray before the stuff hardens too much.
I got great results with using the SprayMax 2K glossy clear coat over standard Rustoleum and Duplicolor rattlecan paint.
I would do it again anytime before spending almost 3K on some pro job.
Is it perfect? No. But for a custom cycle with lots of personal touches and small imperfections already, it looks great.
In the late 80’s, I was seventeen years old and freshly relocated from a podunk high school in a small town to a huge new school in the middle of Houston. I didn’t really know anyone there yet, and felt like an alien in a strange new world.
I still had good friends from my old school, but only saw them on weekends. I was a weird looking kid into weird music (mostly hardcore punk rock and thrash metal at the time) and while that had been enough to mark me as an outcast at my old school, nobody seemed to care at all in the new one.
I was like most boys my age, trying to find a comfortable spot in my own skin, trying to rebel a little bit, and trying to figure out exactly who I was. So I was basically a disaster as a teenager, a total mess. Pretty typical I’m sure.
Nevertheless, I’m sure I looked scary to some folks. I was a large, long-haired guy that wore Slayer t-shirts and leather jackets, maybe occasionally even sporting a pentagram necklace or something vaguely sinister that I’d picked up at a weird music culture boutique somewhere along the line. In a world of mainstream late 80’s high school kids, I was still one of the weirder ones.
But I was pretty much just a shy kid that would’ve liked to have made more friends. Maybe a little scary looking, but very harmless despite my attraction to dark music and horror movies.
There was a problem brewing however. In the 80’s there was a social phenomena called “The Satanic Panic” going in full force, and it was a witch hunt that claimed many innocent victims.
Somehow, a large number of extreme fundamentalist Christians, crazy people, and money-grubbing con men convinced enough people and law enforcement organizations that it was reasonable to believe that there was widespread Satanic Ritual Abuse happening around the country.
Many of those people thought any kid wearing a concert shirt or playing Dungeons and Dragons might be an agent of Satan, leading a double life as a murderous cultist waiting to sacrifice innocent Christian classmates to dark and unholy pagan gods.
In retrospect, the entire phenomenon seems ridiculous. Modern people made insane claims that, under even light scrutiny would’ve been proven impossible, and yet they were often assumed to be fact by the media and by some law enforcement agencies. Such an environment of hysteria, where outlandish claims were taken entirely seriously, and lives were ruined as a result? Yeah, the 1980’s had a seriously dark side to them. It wasn’t unseen devils or people killing because of their occult beliefs that made the decade that way. If anything it was the primitive religious folks who demanded that their simplistic view of good and evil be used to persecute others.
So back to me and my awkward teenage rebellion. I stood out, and I guess that in an environment where certain people actually thought Ozzy Osbourne was a Satanist, going to school wearing a Venom shirt was probably a good way to get the wrong type of attention.
After a few months at the new school I got it, and good.
I was sitting at my desk in History class when it happened. A stern looking toad of a man came in, whispered something to the teacher, and walked over to me, demanding that I follow him out of class. Turned out he was an assistant principal that I’d never seen. I hadn’t been at the school long enough to really know too much about its inner workings or faculty.
Principal McToad led me to his office, and I was met with quite an ominous scene. The head principal of the entire school, my father, and a campus cop of some kind were all gathered there. It looked like I was at my own funeral.
On the principal’s desk was the entire contents of my locker. They were picking through the pile like it was a crime scene, and any piece might be the vital evidence they were searching for. At the time I was drawing designs for a friend’s small skateboard company, so I had a couple of sketchbooks filled with typically sinister looking drawings. The types of things one might expect to see on a 1980’s skateboard – skulls, monsters, things of that nature.
Long story short, there was absolutely nothing criminal found, since despite appearances I was a pretty boring non-criminal kid. I hadn’t even snuck a beer at a party at that point in time. I mostly went to concerts with my equally non criminal friends, and hung out at arcades. We looked a little weird, and we listened to scary music and watched a lot of horror movies, but none of us was secretly killing babies under the full moon in exchange for magical powers.
In fact, I can’t speak for my other friends, but I personally didn’t believe in the reality of a Devil.
Since a giant sack of heroin or human skulls wasn’t found in the locker raid, I was suspended from school and then totally transferred to another school across town. It was all very traumatic at the time, and it screwed up my relationships with my parents. There was nothing fun about it at all. The upside was that the school I got sent to was some sort of magnet for weird punk rock and heavy metal kids, and I met some people that I’m still very close friends with today.
It turned out that the reason I had been taken out of class was that a religious cheerleader that I’d never met or talked to felt threatened by me. I guess she thought I looked scary. At that point of time in the 1980’s that’s really all it took to end up on the wrong side of things.
I didn’t even know her name.
So when I hear people today talking about “Satanic Ritual Murder” or how Satanists really DO run some evil network of baby sacrificing Hell factories I may laugh a little at the obvious bullshit they’re spewing, but I’m always mindful of just how dangerous that kind of bullshit can be.
When I see Internet fools tossing around crazy conspiracy theories that involve the Illuminati or Lizard People or just the old classic evil Satanists, I never forget that all it takes for complete paranoid fantasy to ruin a few lives is for enough people to believe that the patently unbelievable might be true. That Ronnie James Dio was a devil worshiper, that listening to Judas Priest albums makes teens kill themselves, that kids wearing black and listening to Metallica are the likely suspects when someone is murdered, that Dungeons and Dragons unleashes REAL black magic, and that demons actually empower every album that has scary lyrical content…there are people that believe these ridiculous fairy tales, and they are dangerous. Not the things they fear and rail against, but them. THEY are dangerous. We should never forget that.
I know people that are, for lack of a more specific name, actual black magicians of one type or another. You know what? The vast majority of them are no more criminal than the average Christian. In a lot of cases, far less so. Sure, there is the occasional story of some usually deranged, drug-addled loser that’s read “The Satanic Bible” and claims to be a Satanist that does something illegal, but nine times out of ten, that person isn’t affiliated with any real occult organization. They are often people that used to be Christians, and who still believe the mythology that they grew up believing in. They just switched sides because they hated their parents or something. A lot of the time they’ll find their way back into the fold once they’ve been sentenced to prison and feel the need for forgiveness. It’s all a very simple view of good and evil, of light and darkness.
But the ridiculous things that the types of religious people who think certain music is “Evil” believe about the occult and its connection to the world? It’s all bullshit. The actual devil worshipers out there are not interested in using Twisted Sister to snare souls for Satan, and guys like Marilyn Manson are trying to get paid and get laid. It’s very doubtful that they are trying to lead kids to eternal damnation, or even believe in it to begin with.
Most organized occult groups are not actively battling Christianity or trying to pave the path for Satan to take over the world. Those are the kinds of fantasies that certain kinds of religious people have. Where would be the evidence of these activities? In a D&D manual? In the liner notes to a Motley Crue album? Or all in the too bored minds of people with a simple and silly view of the world? I’ll let you guess which one I think is closest to the truth.
Two weeks ago I got one of those calls people dread getting. My younger brother was dead.
Before shock set in, I started to get additional calls as word got around. The are a lot of cliches about what happens to a person when someone close dies, but I’m not sure how I feel about those things.
I don’t tend to grieve openly. Nor do I go through the various stages of grief that we’re supposed to all go through. I have no problem accepting when someone dies. I don’t go through denial, nor do I get angry at them for leaving me alone. There is no guide book for this kind of thing, and quite frankly anyone that’s trying to tell you what you are feeling, or should be feeling, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
My brother and I were not very similar to one another. While we lived near each other, we were not the types of siblings that saw eye to eye on everything, and we didn’t call each other on a weekly basis. Some might see “distance” between us, but that’s not true either. We were just cut from different cloth, enjoyed different things.
I mostly have been deconstructing our youth together. We lived out in the country, and for a lot of our childhoods, we were each others’ only playmates. I remember catching my brother playing with matches when he was three and I was five. I still feel bad about ratting him out.
That’s the weirdest part of this for me. Even though we never called each other with any regularity, now I CAN’T. I’ll never hear his voice again.
So, like everyone else that loved him, I’m left with a ragged hole in my life. Although it’s not a savage wound that feels like I will also die, it feels like it will always be there.
One thing his death has reminded me is that every day I wake up is a lucky one, and is not guaranteed. It’s also a reminder to live life – not to avoid doing things I want to because they carry some risk, but to embrace them because that risk is part of life. Cowering because death is around the corner is no way to go through this world.
One cliche worth observing is that nothing in life is certain, and spending time with those we love is important. It may be the only thing that is, and it’s not something to be pushed aside until later. Because “later” might never come.
Anyway, I probably would not normally share something like this so openly, but my brother was worth it.
I love you, James. Some day we’ll play by the creek again.
In the late 80’s, I was still living in a small town outside of Houston, and was trying to figure out what to do next. I was recently out of high school, and trying to make that awkward transition into adulthood.
I was casually dating a lady I’d known in high school, someone I’d had a crush on and really liked, but the whole situation was confusing to me. Most things in my life were at that point.
I still enjoyed silly things like going to the County Fair (to be honest, I still enjoy stuff like that) and so the girl I was dating (I’ll call her “Alma”) and I went on a double date to the Fort Bend County Fair with my friend George, and his girlfriend “Donna” (also not her real name).
The night went well, a fun but typical outing to the Fair, when we stumbled across a seedy collection of freak show attractions in the back corner of the midway. I always loved freak shows, and while they were not common by the late 80’s, they were still a lot more common than they are now.
One had huge elaborate banners advertising “The Lobster Boy.” The garish paintings showed a little boy with red lobster claws instead of hands, engaged in a variety of activities befitting a mutant kid.
I knew I had to see whatever lay behind the door of the trailer framed by those banners. I assumed that it was probably some sort of gaff – a fake of some kind, probably a guy wearing fake claws. That was fine with me, I loved the fake stuff too, and had already seen a “Spider Woman” several years before that was nothing more than a big fake spider body with a woman poking her head through a hole in the floor. I counted that stuff as worth the price of admission.
So after a brief discussion, we all headed towards the line to get in, paid the admission, and were allowed entry.
I don’t think any of us were prepared for what lay behind that trailer door. The inside looked like some old guy’s home. It might as well have been anyone’s trailer house. There was no stage, no glassed off display area displaying a fake stuffed Lobster Boy or anything.
Instead the place was occupied by a slightly rotund older man with badly malformed hands. he happily berated us, and offered me his hand to shake. Instead of the normal five fingers, he had two large ones that really did resemble lobster claws. I shook hands, but we were all shocked by this meeting. I don’t think it really had anything to do with the man’s deformity as much as we all suddenly felt like low-lives exploiting some old guy with a genetic disorder.
I shouldn’t speak for anyone else that was there, but that’s how I felt. The Lobster Boy himself wasn’t particularly strange, nor did he seem uncomfortable. Decades of plying his trade in this manner probably made the experience completely normal to him.
After leaving the trailer, it seemed like a slight pall had fallen over our outing, and we left soon after that.
Years later, I found out that Lobster Boy was a famous sideshow performer named Grady Stiles that had been in the business since his boyhood in the 1930’s. He lived for years in Gibsonton, a town in Florida famous for being home to many circus and fair performers when not on the road. Stiles was an abusive alcoholic, and tormented his family members for years. He even shot and killed a man his daughter was going to marry. Despite showing no remorse for the crime, Stiles was only given 15 years of probation due to sympathy for his medical condition. Apparently this light treatment by the law gave him a sense of invulnerability, and his abusive tendencies became even more severe.
Eventually, certain family members had enough, and Stiles was himself murdered in 1993 by a hit man hired by his wife Maria.
I own the true crime novel about his life and murder, and every time I see it, I’m taken back to that moment at the Fort Bend County Fair all those years ago. Alma and I didn’t last together much longer,and that date sort of tanked, but we’ll always have our moment with the Lobster Boy.
When I was 19 I went through a weird transitional stage in my life, although I suppose most people are experiencing many changes during that period of their lives. In my case, I was living in an old house that my grandparents owned, with a revolving cast of my male friends that were staying there for one reason or another. I was also working at a movie theater in Houston and it was a very strange place.
It had been built sometime in the 1940’s, and retained a lot of the architectural charm that theaters from that era often had. It was independently owned by a man that lived in the surrounding neighborhood, an affluent city called Bellaire, which was completely surrounded by Houston. You had to be careful when crossing into Bellaire, because they had their own over-enthusiastic police department. Despite that fact, the Bel-Air theater was a blast to work at.
There were five screens in the place – several large rooms, and a couple of smaller screens, too. The ground floor had a bar, and the theater hosted a strange mix of mainstream movies, as well as foreign and independent films. With the exception of the owner, who never seemed to be around, everyone that worked there was pretty young – most of us were still in our teens or early twenties. As one can imagine, this combined with late hours (the theater played midnight movies on some nights) led to all sorts of fun times at the place.
It was an ideal environment for a weird person perched between being a teen and an adult to work, but there was a catch – the place was haunted.
After a couple of shifts, I noticed that I often felt like I was being watched, and that feeling increased in certain specific parts of the theater after my first week. Our manager noticed that I looked a little creeped out one evening, and said “Oh, you noticed this place is haunted.” He then explained that everyone noticed the creepy atmosphere the theater had after being there a while.
What was really strange was that everyone seemed to have very similar experiences. Even trying to explain some of the stories away by reasoning that people will project stuff after they’re told a place is haunted didn’t explain the similarity in what people seemed to experience, and it didn’t explain why patrons with no prior knowledge of the haunting would occasionally report seeing the same things that the employees did. More than once I listened to a late night report from a moviegoer that a teenager wearing grey had followed them into or out of an otherwise abandoned part of the theater.
And that’s what most people experienced – Seeing a teenaged blonde boy wearing grey, often seeing his image reflected in glass behind them, or seeing him walk by alone in an interior window. Items often went missing, or were found in another part of the building right after one of us had used it. The screen upstairs, number five, was particularly creepy. Some employees wouldn’t go up there alone. Another reported a large shadowy figure grabbing him when the house lights were abruptly turned on while he was in there. Number five was the only part of the theater that I felt uncomfortable in. I didn’t like it up there.
As for the origin of the kid in grey, there was no smoking gun. No verifiable story about who that kid had been, or what had happened to him. The most convincing thing I heard was that he had been killed in the parking lot back in the 1970’s. Certainly possible, but never fully confirmed.
My friend Joe spent a lot of time working and hanging out at the theater, and he has a really good personal account of the kind of phenomena that we all experienced at one time or another. I’ll include that, in his own words:
“You feel like getting something to eat?”
“Sure,” Vince replied, “This place is dead, so I’ll just close up a little early and we can hit Bibas or something. Just let me tell
Dox we’re closing up.”
“Dox” was the nickname of Greg Dokzakis, an irrepressibly witty and charming young Greek guy who was one of our regulars.
He was at the bar with a date this night and the two of them were the only people left, even though it was only 12:30.
The Bel-Air Bar was a unique place. It was a split-level floor plan inset into the lobby of a 1940s era movie theater. The lower
level contained the bar; the upper level had a kitchen and food bar. The food bar came off of the kitchen and was backed by a
long row of mirrors that extended off into the kitchen itself, ending about six feet in, with a set of double swinging porthole
kitchen doors at its base. From the right angle, the mirrors would reflect the entirety of the kitchen’s interior. At this time of
night it was dark and closed, so all that was reflected were silhouettes of kitchen equipment.
In the main bar, the décor was all uniform. A curving wall of glass brick served as a boundary with the theater lobby. Along the
entire base of the wall, built-in black booth-style benches followed the flow of the curve as it meandered along. Tables of
various sizes were placed neatly along the benches, as well as in the open space of the bar. Lush dark green low-pile carpeting
covered the floor. Giant pink and green pillars rose at two points within the main seating area: one in the center and one by the
three steps that led up to the kitchen area that was on the lobby level. The glow of pink neon was everywhere. Three strips of
neon hung above the glass brick, and even more came in from the entrance to the theater lobby which was situated by the
grand old marquee.
Behind the bar were windows that looked out into the hallway running behind the main theater. Opposite the bar windows, the
projection booth was backed in glass so guests could see how the projector worked. Another smaller theater had been added at
the end of the hall, beginning about where the upper level of the bar began.
It was a magnificent place.
And it was haunted.
Most of us who worked there knew about “The Kid”. The Kid was a teenager with longish blond hair and a gray t-shirt. From
time to time this kid would run down the windowed hallway into the empty small theater. Many of us had looked for him when
it happened, thinking it was a real person. Despite hours of searching, nothing was ever found. The Kid’s nighttime runs weren’t
the only thing that happened in the theater. Around ninety percent of the people that worked there had some sort of strange
experience at one time or another, ranging from the mundane to the downright terrifying.
Oddly, our descriptions of the strange goings-on had little effect on some of our regulars, and two in particular. They were
professional stage hands and spent a good deal of time in local theaters building sets or erecting stages. They told us that every
night before they left, they set a “ghost light” out on the stage. According to them, the ghost light was put out at night so the
ghosts in the theater could “find their way around and not mess things up.” They told us stories of the few nights the ghost light
hadn’t been put on the stage, and said the day after each of these instances sets were falling and lights were popping. So it
came as little surprise to them that a movie house could have a ghost as well.
Despite the absence of our own ghost light, most nights The Kid wasn’t a problem. However, this wasn’t going to be most nights.
Dox and his date got their last drinks and closed out their tab. Vince started to do his paperwork on the liquor and count the
beer. I sat at the bar smoking and listening to the music being played. Things were tranquil and I looked forward to my usual
late-night meal at Bibas’ One’s a Meal, a small chain of coffee shops that had been in Houston for over sixty years.
As Dox finished his drink, he got up and headed towards the restroom, which was situated near the bar just up the stairs to the
kitchen level. He was gone for a few minutes, but when he came out he headed towards the bar instead of his date.
“Quit fucking with me,” he said to Vince.
“I know you must have a switch back there that turns the lights on and off in the bathroom. Flashing the lights and banging on
the walls… c’mon, man. Quit fucking with me.”
“Dude, I don’t know what you are talking about. I don’t have a switch back here.”
“Actually he doesn’t,” I added, “I’ve worked here for three years and I know every switch in this place. There isn’t one back
“OK, whatever. I’ll see you guys tomorrow,” he said as he walked away to collect his date.
As they walked out, Vince gave me a worried look. The banging and flashing lights were new, but we had a pretty good idea
where it had come from.
He picked up speed as he started doing his closing duties. As he was cleaning his speed gun, he looked over my shoulder and
froze. With a flick of his head, he directed me towards the glass bricks. I turned and saw an unpleasant but familiar sight: there
was the shadow of a person pacing back and forth along the length of the wall. The shadow appeared to be coming from
someone on the other side. However, when it would reach a gap in the glass brick nothing would emerge and the shadow would
reappear in the next section.
The walking shadow was usually one of the first things to happen on nights when the ghost activity was unusually bad. I quickly
scanned the bar to look for the other usual signs. The windows behind the bar were gently moving in and out as if they were
breathing lightly. The double doors of the kitchen were swinging back and forth about a half an inch.
“I’ll do your cleaning; you get your paperwork done, and let’s get the Hell out of here,” I said.
Vince nodded in agreement, and we nearly ran into each other as I headed behind the bar and he came out to sit down and do
I washed dishes furiously, splashing soapy water and sanitizing bath all around the three basined sink. When that was done, I
plunged a bar mop into the soap and began wiping everything down.
I did another scan of the bar. The shadow was still walking. The windows were breathing more heavily. The doors were swinging
a little faster and harder.
“Hurry up…” I said
“Going as fast as I can…” he replied.
I turned around to wipe the area by the liquor bottles. I looked up just in time to see The Kid run by the windows and into the
Goosebumps rose up on my arms. I turned to Vince and he was shaking his head.
“What?” I asked.
“I have to pee.”
“Just hold it and let’s get out of here.”
“I’ve been trying, but I can’t… I just gotta go.”
He got up from his chair and headed towards the restroom. When he got to the second of the three steps, he stopped suddenly.
As he slowly turned back to face me, it appeared as if all the blood had drained from his face. Thick streams of tears were
pouring down his ashen cheeks. “Joe… look in the mirrors…” he whispered.
I took a look at the mirrors by the kitchen.
It was The Kid. He was standing looking at us in the mirror from inside the kitchen. His face was dull and expressionless. His
pale blue-gray eyes gave off a faint eerie glow.
“Oh Jesus Christ, man, hurry the fuck up. Piss yourself if you’ve got to. We have to get out of here.”
Vince came down the step and turned to use a trashcan instead of the restroom. He was visibly shaking.
I was shaking. I felt sick.
And I was confused.
Some people messed with The Kid. Mostly it was people who hadn’t had anything happen to them before trying to get him to
show himself, or it was an attempt to show some sort of bravado. I had never been one of these. In my mind, I should leave him
alone and he should leave me alone. Vince treated him the same way as I did.
So why was he doing this to us? It didn’t make sense.
Vince sat back down and frantically counted money. I began haphazardly tossing items he’d brought to work into his backpack.
He finished and went into the storeroom to lock up the money. I followed. I just wanted to get away from The Kid.
I glanced out and saw the kitchen doors swinging as frantically as I’d ever seen. It was generally a slight flutter, but now they
were moving about two inches back and forth. Mercifully my vantage point no longer permitted me to see into the kitchen
mirrors. I refused to look back at the bar windows. I didn’t care. I just wanted out.
We steeled our nerves to make our exit.
“Just run out as fast as you can. I’ll get the car started while you lock the door and let’s get as far away as possible,” I said.
With a nod of agreement, we ran towards the door as fast as we could. We bounded the three steps in one giant leap and ran
past the kitchen, looking at the ground the entire time.
I hit the door like I intended to take it off its hinges. I felt as if something was right on my tail.
As I ran to my car which was parked immediately alongside the exit, Vince turned to lock the door. As soon as he turned his key,
a giant roar like that of a lion or tiger came directly out of the marquee.
I lept into my car and turned the ignition. As the big V8 in the old Ford Country Squire came to life I reached over and opened
the passenger door. Vince dove in yelling “Go! Go! Go!” and I did. We were exiting the theater parking lot before Vince even got
his door closed.
We sped off into the misty Houston night. The roads were wet and reflecting the streetlights. I didn’t care about that. I just had
to get as far away from there as I could, and do it as fast as possible.
As we drove across town we sat in silence. Both of us were musicians, but neither of us reached to turn on the radio or pop in a
cassette. The silence was both blessed and ghastly. Neither of us could understand any of it.
When we pulled into Bibas about ten minutes later, Vince slammed his backpack to the floorboard.
“FUCK!!” he screamed in exasperation.
I knew exactly what he meant and I agreed.
After about two weeks passed, I was out riding around with a girl named Ellen. We were in that awkward stage of getting to
know one another where we weren’t exactly sure if we were dating or buddies, but we did enjoy each other’s company. I
suggested we swing by the Bel-Air and get a drink, so I began telling her the story of what had happened to Vince and me. She
was very skeptical of the entire thing and thought I was making it up, but when we got to the theater Vince was standing
outside under the marquee.
“Dude… I’m so glad you guys are here. It’s bad tonight and I’m the only one here.”
I gave him a sympathetic nod as we walked in. Ellen rolled her eyes thinking she was being set up. We sat down at the bar and
Vince drew three Shiner Bocks from the tap. We all took drinks. Ellen and I lit cigarettes.
Then the whole thing happened again.
She believed me after that.”
Joe’s story seems to capture the spirit (Almost literally) of the place when only a few people were still the, and the Bel-Air ghost felt frisky.
Many others had encounters with “The Kid”, and sometimes those encounters were quite frightening. Other times he seemed content to let his presence be known – Minor activity that let us all know he was still around.
I quit that job to go work at another foreign film theater. That one was an interesting place, but free of any otherworldly activity. Unfortunately the Bel-Air didn’t last very much longer. Apparently, a combo dollar theater/art house with a bar in it, with a bunch of young weirdos running the place proved to be a shaky business venture, and it closed down.
It is now some kind of entertainment center for young children. I haven’t been inside since that transition took place, and it always makes me sad when I drive by. I have to suppress the urge to go in and ask people if they’ve seen a spooky looking blonde guy wearing grey hanging around the place…
Shortly after fleeing the Hell Kill trailer, me and my room mate Jeff moved into a comparatively swanky apartment in downtown Houston. The new place was hardly a palace, but it had a definite charm – It had originally been a hotel built 80 years previously, and although it was in a cruddy area or town, and was pretty dilapidated, the place was still impressive. It had very high ceilings, hard wood floors, and oozed a kind of tarnished grandeur that had been absent from our shabby trailer.
The rent was almost nothing, and because this was long before the age of downtown Houston becoming hip and expensive, the whole building was inhabited by weird artists, musicians, and drug addicts – Our kind of people. Jeff and I felt immediately at home.
I had continued working at the movie theater, but because I was growing sick of tearing tickets and cleaning up spilled soft drinks, I had begun to casually look at other job options. I had been going to a comic book store to buy underground comics, and jokingly asked if they were hiring one day. To my surprise, I was told that I could work a few days for store credit, and if it worked out, maybe they would hire me. I was not exactly a comic book nerd, but this sounded like a dream gig compared to the movie theater job – I had long lost my appreciation for that profession’s perks… Free screenings off movies, and lots of leftover popcorn. I was eager for a greener pasture.
I worked for free at the comic store for about a month, mostly bagging huge piles of comics and cleaning up the back store room. Finally, I was offered a job. I happened to have Jeff along that day, and they hired him on the spot too… A success for the two of us, but I was a little pissed off that I’d worked for free, and he was offered the job without the spending the time and hassle I’d had to. In any case, it was good that he’d be able to contribute to our rent at the new place.
The comic shop was a weird place. It was owned by a guy in his 50s, that didn’t care about comics at all. The store had it’s original roots as a toy store at a mall back in the 1960s. Frank, the current owner, had managed that store for an older lady that owned it. Frank’s interest in the venture had been toy trains and old style war games , which were hobbies of his. The lady that owned the toy store eventually died, and somehow Frank ended up owning the place. By then, he had transitioned the place into a game store, and with the popularity of role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, the store had become very successful. A year or so earlier, the store had branched into comics, because that industry was booming at the time.
In the 70s, Frank had hired a young guy named Dave… Sort of a drop out hippie kid, to work there. By the time Jeff and I got our jobs, Dave was a manager, and Frank’s daughter “Taysha” also worked at the store.
Frank the owner was a nice man, but like a lot of small business owners I’ve known, he had a mercurial temperament, and was a little bit crazy. He was a good enough guy, but looked like the living embodiment of a comic store owner – Fat, in his 50s, balding but with long hair. He would bristle anytime a customer would complain about a store policy, taking it as a personal insult, and I saw him throw more than one person out of the store for uttering a mild profanity, even though hardly any kids frequented the place, Frank himself would drop f bombs like it was going out of style, and we had an enormous selection of “adults only” material for sale.
Frank would occasionally get hopped up on something…. Maybe speed… Not sure… And he would stay up for days at a time growing increasingly nuts. It was during these manic periods that he would write his strange store policy handbooks. These were crazy and very lengthy in nature, composed mainly of rambling nutso drug babble, but with weird new store rules mixed in.The whole concept of an “employee handbook” fora tiny business with four employees including himself, was a little crazy anyway, but. Frank used these late night amphetamine driven sessions to take on his own personal list of work irritations.
One such irritation was our restroom policy. Frank didn’t want the customers to be able to use the store’s restroom. The only exception was for pregnant women, but Jeff and I would generally let regular customers use it if they wanted to. There was no really reason not to, and Franks mandate to tell inquiring customers that there wasn’t a restroom in the store was obvious bullshit that no one believed.
One morning Jeff and I showed up for our shift, to find a ten page manuscript forbidding us from allowing customers to use the bathroom for any reason. One page in the middle simply read:
“You two continually let people use the John, and some filthy motherfucker blew shit all in the toilet that no amount of scrubbing would remove!”
While we questioned the concept of indestructible blown shit, we had to give Frank credit for his determination to keep customers from using the restroom. We also both knew that the individual most likely to have created the blown shit episode was almost assuredly his right hand man Dave…. In any case, we continued to let regular customers use the facilities when asked.
Taysha, Frank’s daughter was also quite a character. I never figured out what the story was, but she’d been raised somewhere In Mississippi, and was very Southern, and also not very smart. She was probably thirty or so, and not attractive at all. We got along fine for the most part, but there was a weird disconnect there -She was nice to Jeff and I, and we were both strange looking weirdos, but when people came in that dressed similarly to us, she was rude and would follow them around the store to make sure they didn’t steal anything. She did this even if they were regular customers, or if Jeff or I were friends with them. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she also had the same reaction to minorities that came in.
Taysha was very prim and proper, and one of those women that would openly call another woman a whore for dressing in any way attractively. She wouldn’t venture into the “adults only” section of comics and magazines, and would look at anyone buying that stuff like they were unclean, but her prudery didn’t prevent her from working at the store. One day Dave told me that Taysha would go back to Mississippi once a year for some sort of local county fair, and would hang around until she could hook up with a strange guy for a yearly sexual encounter. The idea of her actually having a sex life had never crossed my mind, and pretty much horrified me, as well as the “hanging out at a fair until a drunk carny took her back to his trailer” aspect of the whole scenario. It still creeps me out all of these years later.
The main character in the store was Dave. I say “main” because Frank was in and out a lot, Taysha only worked a couple days a week, but Dave was there seemingly all of the time.
Dave was probably in his late thirties when I met him, although he looked much much older. He was very tall and thin, with long stringy blond hair and an even longer beard. He was always dirty looking, and could have easily been confused for a homeless person. Dave was a serious alcoholic and drug abuser, and had the reddish complexion that years of serious drinking will give a person. He was also moody and irritable, prone to lashing out at people. Despite these characteristics, Dave was relatively intelligent, and had a lot of street smarts from years of living dangerously. He also seemed to have a developed hatred of women, although he also let many of them walk all over him. Both of those tendencies seemed intimately related.
Dave had a million stories about women fucking him over, and there were rumors that some coke addled stripper was sponging off of him and living at his dingy apartment for free… Or for whatever revolting domestic arrangement they’d agreed to… He seems to take in a lot of young runaways and women that had dropped out of mainstream society because of various personal issues. He would rant endlessly about these relationships while we were all at work. Dave distrusted just about everyone, including me and Jeff, so our work relationship was strained to say the least. In my case, he was also especially an asshole because he was jealous that most of the attractive young women that ventured into the store were friendlier to me than him, but there was nothing I could do about that… He looked like a scary old ex con, who could blame them?
As noted before, the guy was a little unstable and really weird. Once he announced that he’d been feeling “sickly” (A steady diet of whiskey and cocaine will do that to you) and needed to “power up”. This consisted of him walking down to a nearby grocery store and buying a raw steak, which he then devoured in our parking lot like an animal. Another time, he came to work looking dazed with a bunch of dirt, sticks, and dead bird pieces stuck in his beard. He had passed out during his nightly bender, and collapsed outside of his apartment, crushing a bird to death… And then come straight to work with parts of its carcass still in his facial hair. On yet another occasion, one of his live in coke head strippers had found a squirrel, and wanted Dave to take it for her as a pet. In trying to accommodate the ridiculous request, the squirrel bit his finger, and it got infected. Somehow he managed to keep it from falling off, but the wound festered uncared for for days.
At least a couple of times a week, I would go to a nearby drive through pizza place to grab lunch. I was a struggling vegetarian at the time, so I always got a slice of cheese pizza. Dave began demanding that I pick up a large meat lovers pie for him – He would eat half of it at work for lunch, and then take the other half home for dinner that night. One day I got him his pizza, and as usual he devoured half for lunch. When he came to work the next day he was angry with me… I couldn’t figure out why… And finally he told us that when he’d started to eat the second half late the previous night, he discovered halfway through that maggots had hatched – The meat was spoiled, and his pizza was teaming with the wriggling creatures. He had undoubtedly eaten many of the things by the time he discovered what was happening… He was shit faced drunk and in the dark at the time… And so Dave was convinced that I had somehow caused his horrible fate, and that he was going to die as a result. I told him it was extra protein and to get over it, but I half expected hum to burst open at some point so thousands of angry maggots could pour out of his carcass.
There are a lot of things that I learned working at that place. First and foremost was the sad realization that it was hard to relate to many of our customers. I been into comics as a kid, and I had played role playing games. Working in a comic store seemed like a dream job back then, and that had only been eight years earlier. I still read comics, but at that point only underground stuff… Nothing involving superheroes or typical fandom things. I was always friendly to our customers, but some of them made it really hard – like a drug dealer, the comic store provided those people’s “fix”, and it was hard to relate to people in their thirties that were really passionate about “Ritchie Rich” or “The X Men”. Nowadays, lots of adults are into comics and fantasy, but back then you were venturing into the land of “Never gets laid again” if you went to a comic store five times a week.
And that was another horrible aspect to the job. Occasionally… Really occasionally… A female would venture into the store. It wasn’t like it is now, where it’s relatively common for women to be into nerdy fan stuff as much as males. So this only happened a handful of times each week. Many times if the female was fairly attractive, she’d come in with a guy… She being the much suffering significant other to some lucky fanboy that wasn’t completely repulsive to women. Rarer still, were the attractive women that would come in ALONE, either to buy a nerdy gift for a boyfriend or because she herself was a fangirl.
Woe be to those sad females, for the minute they entered the store, half of the males shopping there would suddenly stop what they were doing and stare straight at her. In some particularly creepy cases, they would follow her around or try (And almost always fail) to chat her up. One regular customer did this often enough that we had to warn him to knock it off, as he was making the female shoppers nervous.
I spent a lot of time watching the social interactions of those folks. It was interesting, but also kind of yucky… There was one regular customer that was a cop. He would always try to talk to Jeff and I late in the evening… It was weird, because he wanted us to be his comic store buddies, but the same guy would probably have loved to pull two guys that looked like us over under different circumstances. He had this… “Opinion” that the comic store was a sanctuary of masculinity, and that we should ban women from coming in… He seemed to think our comic store was a mans club, not realizing that his desire was most likely illegal.
Then there were the super fans that wanted to open their own comic store. Sometimes these were father and son duos, other times just a couple of friends or a single fan with some money to burn… And burn it would, as comic stores were notoriously risky business ventures. Guys like that opened them all the time, only to shutter the windows within a year. Those folks always made me a little sad.
After a year of enduring my weird coworkers and watching our customers, I decided it was time to move on. The reality was that I’d decided to move from Houston to Austin, and I just didn’t see my future being as a comic book and role playing game salesman.
Some did though. Jeff still works there.
In 1990, I thought I was on top of the world. I had been dating a cool and attractive gothic girl, and nothing seemed like it was going to get in our way. The only problem was that at the time, I lived in Rosenberg, about forty miles outside of Houston, and she lived at her mother’s house near Louisiana.
After several months of driving hours and hours to either hang out at her mom’s weird house in the middle of nowhere, or to drive there and back to Houston so we could go to our favorite night club, we decided to move in together.
Our best (meaning cheapest) option was to move into a trailer house that my mom had inherited from a recently deceased husband. Mom had moved it into the middle of a neighborhood with no other trailers, so we were destined to be the weird, gothic trailer people that no one wanted living on the street. In retrospect, I can’t blame the neighbors for the chilly reception we received.
The trailer itself started out nice enough. Pretty standard design for an almost-new single wide trailer from the late 1980’s. Lots of brown shag carpeting, and wood paneling. Fairly hideous actually, but it was fully functional as a shelter, and I could rent it from my mother for next to nothing, which nicely fit our budget at the time.
I had a very humble and low-paying job working at a movie theater in Houston at the time. My girlfriend didn’t have a job, and didn’t really want one. As it turned out the relationship would not last long, since she preferred to do drugs and go clubbing, slept twelve hours a day, and also had serious intimacy issues. She converted the master bedroom in the trailer into a dark cave, covering the windows with aluminum foil and black sheets, and cranking the central AC as low as it would go. It felt like a meat locker, but it was easy to fall asleep.
Realizing that working for next to nothing at a movie theater, and then returning home to a trailer where my girlfriend would be asleep until dusk, rising like a clinically depressed vampire to go to a nightclub called “Numbers,” where she would most likely do some Ecstasy with her equally mentally unstable friends, before returning to repeat the cycle again…that wasn’t working out well for me. Since the aforementioned intimacy issues meant that I was only having sex once every two months or so, I was quickly reaching a breaking point.
I’d met a guy named Jeff through a mutual friend of ours, and we’d hit it off well. Jeff was a weird musician guy that didn’t care about the Houston goth scene at all, and that was refreshing to me at the time. He’d recently had a falling out with a band mate/roommate, and was looking for a place to live. He’d also recently lost his job, so he wasn’t a great prospect for a roommate, but I liked the guy, and money wasn’t the primary concern.
My girlfriend was very shortly an ex-girlfriend after a bad fight where her only defense seemed to be “You knew I was crazy when we got together!” It was true. I hadn’t know exactly how crazy, but the warning signs were there. I should’ve known better.
So she left that night, only to return the next day while I was at work to take all of her stuff as well as some of mine, and that was that. I never saw her again.
Jeff moved in soon afterwards, and we got along well. I would go to work, and he would hang around the trailer all day, and record music on our very crude little 4 track system. He took a lot of LSD, and just recorded music all day. The guy was a lot more accomplished as a musician than I was at the time, so I was always interested to see what he would come up with. Occasionally our friends would come by, and life was good. We weren’t getting anywhere fast, but it was a fun and mostly stress-free existence. I had a new girlfriend by then, but we had no plans to move in together anytime soon. Lesson learned.
Eventually, the trailer began to fall to pieces. We had continued to dime the AC exactly the way my ex had enjoyed it. I guess we figured that we were already the hated weirdos living in a trailer on the street, we might as well be comfortable weirdos. Unfortunately, comfort often comes with a cost, and in the case of our single wide that cost was a slow but certain water leak from the AC unit. This leak was undetected, because it was seeping underneath the carpet and soaking the wood underneath. By the time we saw signs of the problem, the AC was starting to malfunction, and the floor had warped, bowing in an unsettling manner. We both worried that eventually one of us would crash through the bottom of the trailer, and to our doom. Meanwhile the warped floor began to get so waterlogged that a permanently damp area had started to form, and it slowly became a small lake separating both ends of the trailer.
Jeff’s room was almost completely cut off by this murky carpet pond, and the humidity in that part of the trailer was thick in the air. The AC continued to work somehow, so it was a cold misty humidity, which was probably better than if it had been warm. Small favors, I suppose. There was never a question of getting anything “fixed” – my mother was just warehousing the place, it wasn’t something she really wanted, she definitely wasn’t going to spend any money on it, and I barely made enough money to pay for food and gas at that point.
In fact, I had been bringing large garbage bags of popcorn home from the theater. They let us keep any that was left after closing, and Jeff and I had been supplementing our diet of cheap generic hotdogs, generic fruit loops, and ramen noodles with as much popcorn as I could haul off. It’s surprising we didn’t die of malnutrition, but I guess we were young enough to survive on that junk for awhile.
So the soggy carpet-lined lake grew larger as the floor rotted away under it. I would just leap over it as best as I could, and Jeff rarely left his room unless I was home from work anyway. We had begun to dream of a better living situation.
Eventually, other problems cropped up at the trailer. The AC finally began to crap out, and we both knew that when that happened the cool misty environment within the trailer would become an unbearably hot swamp, and we would be forced to leave.
One night, I had arrived home from the theater, and rather than diving into another enormous bag of popcorn, I decided to indulge in a rare treat – I’d just been paid, and wanted to order a pizza for delivery. Jeff made the call, and since I had cash, we waited for the pizza guy to come. Jeff had left an album on his turntable playing in his room, and so “Caress of Steel” by Rush played in the background. Jeff was a huge Rush fan, and had taught himself how to play guitar by figuring out the band’s songs by ear.
The pizza guy finally arrived. We could hear him walking up our steps, and several things happened at once.
First, the Rush album seemed to stop, and then sounded as if it was suddenly playing backwards. The turntable was in Jeff’s bedroom, and so neither of us actually saw anything happen, but it certainly sounded like it was being played backwards, and that was decidedly strange. Stranger still, the twenty dollar bill I’d been clutching in my hand the whole time was suddenly missing. I panicked since it was all the money I had in the world at that time, and there was a pizza guy at our door that would undoubtedly be angry to discover two broke weirdos waiting for him while listening to Rush play backwards.
As the pizza delivery guy knocked at our door, I scrambled to find the cash. Jeff finally answered the knocking, just as I spotted the money – it had somehow found it’s way to the back door, a sliding glass patio thing, and was stuck between the door frame and the door itself. How this happened, I still have no idea, it’s as if the $20 was trying to run away and escape, since neither Jeff or I ever opened the door that evening.
I retrieved it, as Jeff greeted the delivery guy, a hulking giant with long stringy hair.
“You guys listening to music backwards? They hide evil messages on them records, you know.”
So yeah, the guy noticed the weird music anomaly occurring.
We paid for the pizza, and the delivery guy left. Jeff jumped over the swampy puddle to check on the record player in his room, and by the time he reached his bedroom door, the record player stopped playing. All of these things happened over about a minute, maybe two, and it left us with a strange feeling of unreality.
Jeff and I had already been considering moving into Houston, where most of our friends, and the things we liked to do were located. Considering the rapidly declining state of our trailer, a move was sounding better than ever.
As we sat on the hand me down couch that we had, Jeff stared vacantly towards the front door, and seemed to be deep in thought.
“Have you noticed that stain over the door?” he asked, still staring blankly.
I had noticed an ugly water stain slowly forming on the ceiling above the door a few days earlier. I figured that it was due to the high humidity inside the trailer from the rapidly melting down air conditioner. Just another sign that the place was falling apart.
“It looks like the stain is forming letters,” he continued.
Sure enough, the stain did seem to have a deliberate look about it, as if it was trying to spell out a nasty brown word.
“”Hell Kill. It says Hell Kill.”
I looked closer at the stain, and it really did look like words were forming. The more I looked at it, the more clear the “letters” seemed to be.
“Yes, it looks like Hell Kill. I guess we should start looking for a new place to live,” I answered.
I have seen some odd things in my time, and had some really weird experiences. I don’t necessarily expect people to believe in the objective reality of some of those otherworldly happenings, but when your Rush album seems to play backwards, the only $20 you have tries to run away, and a fast forming water stain seems to spell out “Hell Kill” over your front door, a person begins to get the idea that maybe something’s trying to tell them something… And that message was definitely “Move out of the trailer”. The only thing that would have made it more clear is if the oven had started saying “Get out!” Every time I opened it.
Within a month we had moved away, and never looked back.