Note: What you're about to read is part of a writing project I'm working on outside of this blog. But, since it concerns me and it concerns Austin, I thought I'd share part of it with you. I vacillate on how much of this blog I want to dedicate to local happenings, and how much of it I want to dedicate to personal writing practice, but since you guys seem to be happy with both (I think), today I'm dishing up some of the latter.
I hope you enjoy!
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Something is rotten in the state of Austin, Texas.
In a city that adores its messy youth, its sweaty guitarists and unshaven baristas, a 28 year-old girl is having the time of her life. Dusting.
And that 28 year-old girl is me.
I’ve reduced myself to this state so many times, forcing myself into the least-dirty outfit I happen to have on-hand (on-floor, rather), that I’ve begun to suspect it’s not accidental. Not at all.
When I refuse to do the laundry, I believe it’s actually my way of proving to myself that I’m still young and irresponsible. Like, look: I still make poor choices! Maybe I’ll leave the cap off the toothpaste bottle next! It’s not quite a cocaine addiction, but it’s something.
And yet. Some troubling incidents have given me pause.
Lately, I’ve been volunteering to vacuum clean.
In the past, I would try to pawn off this task on Ross through flattery, reminding him how good he is at scaring the cat with the vacuum cleaner.
“Here, I’ll shut all the doors in this room while she’s inside, and then you’ll come in and do all the cleaning,” I explain.
“And then when you’re all done, and only when you’re all done, we’ll watch her run away from the vacuum cleaner and it’ll be so funny!”
Ross would go along with it, but only out of pity. Who wouldn't feel sorry for the inventor of that flimsy ruse?
Now, I can’t wait to clean the carpet. I feel a holy satisfaction in the neat tracks the machine creates. Before, I used to give a whole room a quick once-over, see a gigantic roach carcass in an impossible-to-reach corner, and whistle, “oh well!” before skipping off to watch reality television. Last week, after spying a roach carcass (perhaps the same one from a year ago?), I actually turned off the vacuum cleaner, walked over to the closet, found the special attachment with the satisfyingly tiny nozzle, fastened it to the machine, sucked up the carcass, detached, put the attachment back in the closet, and continued with my room, just like a responsible person would do. As if it were the most natural thing. As if the Hoover Steam Vac Floor Attachment and I were old friends.
But vacuuming isn’t the only change. When my mother phoned me the other day, I was having a moment with a can of Pledge.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Dusting!!” I cried. I might as well have said, “ice skating!!” Meaning, the level of enthusiasm did not quite match the stated activity.
And here again, I’m left with questions. Namely: Do all young Austinites experience an existential crisis when they learn they love to clean?
When I was in grad school in my early 20s, I was amused by the Truman Show level of lawn perfection in Davis, California. Not a blade of grass out of place. And in those lawns, children. Good God, the children. Children who always wore their bicycle helmet, children chased by the silkiest of golden retrievers, children inculcated into a very safe world of Dora the Explorer and organic milk. It was the cleanest place I had ever seen outside of Switzerland, and for a time, I shucked off everything Texan in me and traded my motorist ways for a bicycle. I, too, joined the healthy, happy masses of Davis, California, going to the farmer’s market and proudly, aggressively not-polluting.
But deep down inside, I missed the mess of Austin.
It’s important to identify some key municipal forces here. Austin is a bit of a never-never land, where homeless transvestites can run for mayor with the best of ‘em. But more intriguingly, the city – much like its youth – encourages a little bit of unkemptness.
Proof: When a friend visiting me from California a couple of years ago, he pointed out our sidewalks.
“What exactly are we walking on, here?” he asked, stepping over a pile of rubble.
“This is a sidewalk,” I said.
“This would never happen in Sacramento,” he remarked. And I had to agree, it wouldn’t. I’ve seen Sacramento’s sidewalks, and they look great. Austin’s look ok in places, too. But could I walk to Sixth Street right now, and kick off a little piece of the Sixth/Brazos intersection with my foot? Yes. I’m confident I could do that.
When it comes to cultural markers, Texas in general is a contradiction in terms. Is it the South? Or is it the Wild West? No one is sure. Are we belles, or are we outlaws? One thing is certain: We are a proud, viciously proud people. Texas is the largest cult in the greater United States. Have you ever seen more paraphernalia for a collective identity? I doubt that you have. Our cool shape is part of it, practically begging to be embroidered onto pillows. But I also think Texans are bound by a “we’re all in this together” sort of limbo, where we’re not 100% clear on our heritage, but we know we have a heritage, dammit. And by God we’re going to celebrate it. Remember the Alamo!
And then … Austin. Austin, to me, always seemed more lax in its Texas-ness, more embracing of a “live and let live” type of lifestyle, a town where I could be at peace with my sloppy, dirty-dishes-left-carelessly-in-the-sink ways. It never occurred to me that, one day, I would be in the shower by myself, and use hair conditioning time not to relax and enjoy myself, but to manically scrub soap scum off the insides of the tub.
Who else would do that but a grown-up?
And then I realized: Like it or not, that’s what I am becoming. A boring ass grown-up.
When twentysomethings – not just Austinites, but perhaps Brooklynites, Seattleites, the youth of Springfield, Missouri – realize they enjoy the responsible tasks they used to despise, when the eyes cease rolling in their sockets, when the groans catch in their throats, it is a deeply conflicting time. We know it’s a slippery slope to 401k’s. A mortgage. A subscription to Consumer Reports. What we don’t know is what awaits around the corner. It could be a spouse, but it could also be orthopedic shoes. There’s just no telling.
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Note: I'm going to end this post here since it's getting a little long, but the whole thing goes on for a bit more. If you want more then I'll post it, if not, thank you for reading!