Between the Plasma Bank and the Crack House

Wednesday I met up with my friend Alston at the downtown campus of UTSA for a free screening of a PBS series on environmentally friendly architecture. We'd been the previous Wednesday for the first three episodes, and we were back for the rest.

As we walked into the architecture building, she shot me a glance. “Dude, you were way too nice in your blog about how really ugly this building is.”

I looked around. “Yeah, you're right.”

It's fucked up. Beyond ironic. Imagine attending Le Cordon Bleu cooking institute, only to discover that the school's cafeteria is catered by the Ralston Purina Company.

But don't let that dissuade you from their fine film program. I'm not sure how many more of these screenings they are having. It's part of the College of Architecture's spring semester focus on the subject of sustainable architecture.

Before the screening started, a middle aged man, looking very professorial, introduced himself to me and Alston. It seemed we were the only non-students in attendance.

“I remember the two of you from last week,” he said, impressed with our intrepidness.

He gave his name, but sometimes I'm very bad with names. I poked around on Google, and I think he's associate professor Marc Giaccardo.

At the end, Professor Giaccardo stood at the front of the room. He looked around at the crowd of maybe twenty people.

“Next week we're having Blue Vinyl. A very funny documentary about a woman's dilemma when she discovers how toxic vinyl siding truly is. Oh, and I'd like to introduce two guests.” I started to laugh. Me and Alston were already standing, ready to leave. “Austin, was it…?” “Alston,” she corrected. “Ah, then,” he said with a flourish of his hand. “Alston and Erik.”

What do you know? We were famous. We received no applause; however, as attention, in a vague way, had been directed toward us, I turned to the students and said: “Definitely come to see Blue Vinyl. I saw it three or fours years ago at the Dallas Video Festival. It's very smart, and very funny.”

Our new professor friend walked us out and we chatted. A very warm, pleasant man. I decided not to query him as to why his department was edificed in such an aesthetic abortion.

Outside, I mentioned that the building I thought I might be moving into was only an eighth of a mile away. Alston was curious to see it. We got in my truck and I found myself getting turned around a couple of times. I hadn't been to the place before at night. In fact, I'd only ever visited there twice.

We came up on it from an unexpected direction. “Oh, there it is.”

“We going in?” she asked.

“I don't want Alex getting his hopes up. I'm still not sure if this is a good idea. Besides, there's no lights on. I don't think he's home.”

Alston seemed impressed. True, the building, as a whole, looks cool. It's boxy. Two stories. Probably built around 1900. A wide railed balcony. The ground floor still bears a faded sign for the Monterey Bar, although by the layer of dust on the fixtures inside, the place has been out of business for over a decade. The apartment in question is upstairs. I drove around the block so Alston could get an idea of the neighborhood. It's pretty down-at-the-heel, and possesses a level of desperation somewhere between plasma bank and crack house.

I'd gone by there just the previous morning with Alex. He'd hammered on my door about 8:45, waking me up. He brought me breakfast at Casa Chiapas, and then we headed over. The place looked a whole lot worse than I remembered when I looked at it a year and a half ago — back when Alex was planning to move in. A lot of it had to do with all his clutter. True, it'll save me scads of money, but I haltingly told him I'd let him know in a day or two. I wonder if I'll be able to talk myself out of it?

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