Yoga Mats, Skilsaws, and Blackstrap Molasses

I make it a point not to mention when things go to shit in my apartment. The problem is that my landlady sends some bottom-feeder of a trade school dropout. The guy is guaranteed to be either an octogenarian who constantly is massaging his arthritic hands as he looks with grim trepidation at his rickety five-foot ladder, or else some grinning and trembling fast-talking alcoholic sweating last night’s malt liquor from shaved scalp to flea-bitten ankles. Last week’s specimen possessed a combination of the less desirable traits of both. He showed up with a very stoned companion (who, during the initial introductions, stood in the driveway cradling a Skilsaw whilst staring raptly at a squirrel grooming itself upon the neighbor’s fence).

Let me back up. Four weeks back my landlady was standing on my porch, bemoaning about how painful it was to evict a tenant (an unsavory task she’d recently accomplished for a deadbeat couple in my building). Her son and daughter-in-law were scoping out the rentability of the unit on the south-side of the house–you know, how much repair needed to be done. It was a hot day, and when my landlady asked how my air conditioner was doing, I made the mistake of telling her it was pretty weak. Not really up to cooling the whole place. And that was all it took. If her star tenant was unhappy, it’s time to jump to action. Before I’d realized what I’d done, she’d yelled at her son to come running. They quickly assessed that I needed a new window unit. My protestations were useless. Early the next morning, the son showed up. Between him and his two sons–teenager and hyper-active pre-teen–they managed to cram the new air conditioner into the window, and in the processed fucked up my window casement on a truly heroic scale. The landlady’s son crossed his arms and stood in my living room looking at the new air conditioner, purring away (the air conditioner, not the son).

“Well, there you go. It’s working like a champ.” As he packed up his tools, I looked at the cracked window pane, the sprung casement molding, and the little shafts of sunlight coming in from around the window unit. Just get this guy out of here, I thought to myself, and I’ll use some gaff tape and that caulking gun I knew I had around someplace, and, hell, it’ll be good enough for me. “Right,” the son said, patting me on the shoulder. “We’ll get some guy over here to fix this all up for you.”

Before I could explain how a little bit of calk and gaff tape goes a long way, he was gone. My window was all fucked up. And I had a shiny new air conditioner…that was as weak and ineffectual as the last one.

This is where I found myself last week. Heckle and Jeckle scarping and sanding and sawing and painting…and playing hate radio talk shows on a battery powered transistor radio (fucking Sean Hannity). I retreated to the bedroom huddled over my laptop with headphones catching up on Democracy Now. And after three and a half hours, I tottered out to the raspy cry of my name.

“What’s up?”

“Well, guy,” the geezer said, slapping on the back. “We’re done here for the day.”

I looked at the window. It looked almost the same. The window sill had been scrapped and repainted with primer. The window was still cracked. The molding untouched. No caulking. I steeled myself for the next inevitable statement.

“See you tomorrow!”

This madness, I fear, will never end. These sorts of situations, I understand, necessitate a proactive stance. But all I could think of involved pistol whipping or a more baroque scenario involving a two gallon jug of blackstrap molasses and a huge nest of very very hungry ants.

Please, friends, rally! Save me from myself!

@@@@@

The Saturday before last I headed to the SA2020 kickoff.

Because newspapers have become so pathetic and irrelevant, I was out of the loop about this major up-coming event which the mayor of San Antonio, Julian Castro, was instigating to facilitate a new thrust of local city planing.

I first became aware of this event when I received a mailing. You know, mail…in my mailbox! A card arrived. From the Mayor! I was asked to participate in this SA2020 event. Wow! The Mayor knows who I am? Shit, yes! I emailed my RSVP. But when I later headed over to the website–SA2020.org–I realized that anyone could be a part of this event. ANYONE. I mean you could sign up if you were, say, a crack dealer, a corporate lawyer, or even a trade school dropout. What a blow. Maybe I’m not so special after all.

But still I went. It was held at a YMCA over near Brackenridge Park. This was fairly centrally located. And what with the general obesity problem in this country (and in San Antonio in particular), a meeting at a health and fitness center is good politics. When I arrived, 20 minutes early, the parking-lot was completely full. I parked over on a side street. When I entered the facility, I registered and headed towards the meeting hall. And that’s when I saw my friend Elizabeth Moise Gonzalez (actress and local representative of TXMPA (The Texas Motion Picture Alliance)). She said she’d staked out a table up front. As I followed her, it became apparent that the over-flowjng parking-lot wasn’t just people coming to this event. The hall was still only 20 percent full. And that’s when I realized that this was a very popular YMCA. I mean, really, all those people coming in with their yoga mats weren’t part of this SA2020. (However, I should point out that by the time the event began the place wasn’t just packed, but there were people in two other rooms in the facility, as well as an over-flow off-site facility, three blocks away). Anyway, when Liz took me to her table, I was pleased to find my friend Malena Gonzalez-Cid seated at the same table. Malena is the executive director of Centro Cultural Aztlan, and I like her because she’s very intelligent and posses a wonderful sarcastic sense of humor.

Another actor, Ron Bush, showed up at our table. Also we had Mobi Warren, an educator and activist, who does some work with Gemini Ink, the preeminent literary nonprofit organization in San Antonio. Also, George and Catherine Cisneros (of URBAN-15 fame) were seated at our table at the beginning. Though they graciously gave up their seats to move to another table, without such a great front row view. So, basically, ours was the artsy table.

I like our young, charismatic mayor. Voting for Julian Castro was a liberating experience. Akin to voting for Obama. The biggest difference is that Castro has not yet disappointed me. But, truly, the two men have a great deal in common. Youthful good looks, intelligence, an easy and articulate way with the media, and, most unfortunately (to me, at least), a politically centralist position. Neither man has claimed to be a progressive. And, clearly, neither is. I’m not sure if either is actually what could be considered liberal. They’re pro-business fellers, pure and simple, keeping a studied distance from labor.

When Castro finally does do something to disappoint me, it will most likely involve the urban renewal development of downtown. Whenever I hear people harping on about how downtown San Antonio needs to be aggressively revitalized and developed, I’m quite baffled. What I’ve seen, in the eight or so years I’ve been in this city (and a resident of downtown–well, King William, downtown adjacent), is a slow and orderly development. I have witnessed a sane and healthy trend of expanded affordable housing, robust arts and cultural venues (not just for tourists, but also for residents), a clear respect for the ease of pedestrian movement–in short, the downtown area is becoming a healthy center of diversity and inclusion for the local inhabitants; and a well-crafted hub for tourists, whether they be here for the culture or because of some sort of convention. We do not need to aggressively speed up downtown development in San Antonio. We seem to be on a wise and solid trajectory. We’ll see. Maybe two years from now I’ll have a better response to the question of Castro’s efficacy as mayor. And, hell, maybe I’ll have a hand in things through this ongoing SA2020 deal. True the first gathering was purely a PR move. But maybe the process will continue to be transparent, democratic, and inclusive. What I do know is that San Antonio (oft labeled “lame”) is first and foremost an incredibly resilient city. In short, it’s hard to fuck it up. Because, you know, the people are watching each others’ backs. Solidarity? Yep. ¡Sí, se puede, motherfucker!

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