Friday, January 30, 2009

The coolest thing about being a dad

Watching Nicholas play with "vintage" Matchbox cars saved from my own childhood.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Variety drops the ax, punches out the Dude

Dude? Dude!!!

I should say up front that I used to free-lance some for Variety, but made inside the building only once. But this news is bizarre:

Read Anne Thompson's blog for info on how critic John Anderson punched out "The Dude," aka film rep Jeff Dowd, during the Sundance Film Fsstival.

Worse news? Variety sacked Thompason, one of the most respected film industry writers out there. Not for this blog item, but because the times they be tough. Also gone is Texan Mike Jones, who should promptly move back to the Lone Star State and make a great movie to spite them. Here's more on the layoffs from Nikki Finke.

It's once again the story of cutting off your arm to improve your posture. Getting rid of the name people who bring you the news will not help you to make more money. Try giving them a raise and cutting at the corporate level. You'll see better results.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day

They huddled in the hallway around a television. Another TV was wheeled into the tutoring lab and all thought of work came to a standstill. Change is indeed in the air.

Elizabeth Alexander (poet): "Praise song for the day - Each day we go about our business walking past each other catching each other's eyes - or not - about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din. Each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire... repairing the things in need of repair. Someone is trying to make music somewhere..."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Me in East Texas; my mother at peace

A Tiara-wearing member of the Pulpwood Queens.

A photo I took in Grand Cane, Louisiana.

What an odd last few days. I've been at the Pulpwood Queen's Girlfriend Weekend talking about my novel-in-stories Evacuation Plan (read my Austin Chronicle blogs about it here), and also visiting the area that spawned my mother. Today I went to Grand Cane and ate chicken and dumplings in the tiny town's lone cafe. It was once a grocery store, and its customers certainly included my mother's father's people--the Castleberrys.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, my mother's best friend and my two brothers today scattered my mom's ashes in the Pampa River in far South India. Somehow there's nice symmetry to this.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Waffles for mom and the school

Stunt legend Gary Kent talks music with Bob Livingston of the Lost Gonzo Band.

My sisters chat with Arnold, my mom's old boyfriend!

Almost 100 people ate waffles this past Sunday to benefit Sri Atmananda Memorial School in Austin. It was also about honoring my mother who died in November. It was a great event.

Today my mother's ashes are somewhere in the sky as they travel to India, where they will be placed in the Pampa River.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Texas film in a new year

It's an interesting commentary on newspapers that though I have a film column that runs in two newspapers, a lot of people see them only through list serves that post them and assume it's a blog I do. Nope, I prefer to be paid, and I haven't found a way for the Web to do that for me yet.

You can see my Top Ten Texas Film Stories of 2008 in The Austin Chronicle FILM NEWS column and some thoughts on the upcoming Texas film incentives push in the Dallas Morning News SHOT IN TEXAS column.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A new year in Fredericksburg

Nicholas checks out some motorcycles peeling out onto Main Street.

Nicholas' first trip to Luckenbach.

I've got my son's socks on my hands and Mr. Senor Socky and his twin brother Senor Mr. Socky are nibbling at Nicholas' ears. It's a sign of how my life has changed in the last couple of years. We're in a bed-and-breakfast in Fredericksburg, a destination for Tiffany and me since we started dating. Then it was about a bottle of wine and a jacuzzi--quiet moments away from the big city.

This was again to be a getaway for the two of us, but Tiffany's mother fell ill, so Nicholas is along with us for the weekend. The b&b operators were understanding and Nicholas makes every day a treasure--particularly as he experiences new parts of the world. That always includes looking at trucks, buses and motorcycles. He saw plenty and often grabbed my hand and guided me down the wide Main Street in search of adventures.

Here's a piece I wrote about Fredericksburg a few years back, I believe the last time we stayed in the town. It ran in a shorter form in the Austin American-Statesman Unfortunately, the Main Book Store appears to be another past-tense location in Fredericksburg:


By Joe O’Connell

We're three miles from Enchanted Rock and on the radio Tish Hinojosa is warbling something about the real West. We turn toward the Crabapple Community Center and I realize I am a fraud. A Texas by birth maybe, but I do not fit.

An old man is exiting his truck in that wobbly, ponderous way that says: "I'm from here. My grandparents were from here, and I'm in no hurry to get inside." Metal chairs are in rows under a gingham tent on the lawn. More men keep guard of the barbecue pits while women huddle together and tell stories. Our car creeps past, and they look up for only a moment, just enough time for the gaze of curiosity to ripen to resignation. We are not from here.

Down the road we turn onto a gravel road into old West tourist town. The Tin Star Ranch is a huddle of log cabins, an ancient church and a plastic-bottomed pond. We are staying on the end in the Frontier Cabin. In the bedroom, under a poster for Buckskin Bill's Wild West Show is our rustic bedroom and Jacuzzi tub. I turn the air conditioning to arctic and my wife and I settle in.

This is our latest Hill Country getaway. When Austin, the city of my birth, gets too hectic, we head to Fredericksburg, plop down a credit card and take up residence in nature, or reasonable facsimile of.

We've been coming for a decade but have begun to talk about it in the past tense. The Admiral Nimitz birthplace on Main was our first favorite bed and breakfast, its walls thick with permanence. But earlier today we had found it occupied by a cluster of shops. Fredericksburg's former hospital, which remained open as a doctors' office until recently, was filled with more stores, and cabinets that once held patient charts were stuffed with trinkets. The nurse's window served up coffee.

Down the street, the Palace Theater logo still promised once-nightly first-run features. We had wandered inside fondly recalling the sticky floors, salty sweet snacks and squeaky seats. The screen was now painted with a Southwestern motif of clouds and mountains as part of its transformation to a link in an upscale clothing chain with outlets in Santa Fe and California. I had no right to complain. A fraud, remember? This was not my town. Another visitor, the sales clerk's unseeing eyes said.

We stopped at the Main Book Store and flipped through the Texana section. My sweetheart, the daughter of German and Czech pioneers of Texas, bought a book about her ancestors. I grabbed "Southwest Stories," a compilation of short fiction by people who all seem to be from somewhere else. Chicago's Sandra Cisneros writes about San Antonio. Kentucky's Barbara Kingsolver opines about the Arizona heat. Larry McMurtry, a Texas nerd, pens tales of manly Texas cowboys.

Back at the Tin Star Ranch we pull up rocking chairs and read amid the neener-neener-neener of playful birds. Grasshoppers pop over our feet. Across the pecan bottom authentic longhorns moan as if asking wwwhhhyyy? Why are you here?

Silly cattle, I'm here because I'm a Central Texas city boy like my father before me, like his father since transplanting his Irish clan from Chicago. Like my mother's wild Louisiana brood who crossed the border seeking something lost to time. Not long roots like my wife’s, but they're growing every day amid the cedar, pecan and live oak trees that smell like home.

Near sunset, the summer heat melts into dusk. We walk the fence line toward a pair of beige horses. They turn away from us and nibble at the unseasonably ample grass this damp summer. Two semi-tame deer look at us curiously (Why are you here?). I hold a tiny crabapple in my palm and the braver deer sniffs my fingers for a moment before turning away.

As the sky fades to fingerpaintings of pink and purple, we stroll toward the faded wooden church. The stained glass has the look of newness. On closer inspection we realize it's painted tin.

Darkness drops like a knife and we take refuge in the Frontier Cabin. After a comfortable sleep atop Ralph Lauren linens, we pop the tops on tiny bottles of Dr Pepper and dine on German pastries purchased in town. Cows dot the tree-covered hillside. A light rain commences. We rock in our chairs and drift. This is my Texas. This, my friends, is why we are all here.