AUS2TXK 11.26.2003

Hey Austin folks:

Heading to Texarkana for the thanksgiving holiday. Will be back sunday night. Wish me luck on the drive, and you guys take care and have fun, etc., etc.

Hey Texarkana folks:

I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m comi– oor, uh, I’m, um, I’ll be there in a few hours. Keep the light on for me, keep the turkey warm, keep the couch ready, etc., etc.

Hey Other folks:

Borrowing a modem for my laptop. Will be online every now and then. See y’all later, etc., etc.

That is all.


I felt something this weekend.

I sit here at my computer, and I’m still trying to digest all the events of this weekend’s trip to Texas Renaissance Festival. Being away from Austin and all that my selfsame lifestyle entails, even if only for two short days, has given me a different perspective of myself and my angle on life.


I took friday off from work and headed out to TRF to meet with Jon, Laura, Liz, and Doug, my friends from Texarkana, at the campground. The drive was steady and swift, and never minding my lateness in leaving town, I still made it there in good time, albeit an hour and a half late, as is my proper idiom. My friends had taken a bet as to when I’d arrive (thankfully, not “if”). Liz won the bet over Laura.

I set up camp, got my things organized, and proceeded to take in the surroundings while hanging out with my friends, cracking wise, bringing up memories. A major kick to the memories was the presence of our mutual friend Jason who I have not seen in the 13 years since my high school graduation. He brought a few new faces; his wife Christy, his brother Eric, and his brother’s wife Amy, and some other folks who, and I will be honest, I did not learn their names (apologies if any names are wrong). So, all told, our camp was fairly sizable this year and lent itself well to having very few dull moments.

Friday night went kinda quietly. Sort of. We made dinner and continued drinking and unwinding, getting into the “proper mood” for the weekend. We met a guy who came to us first to ask permission to set up camp next to ours. We consented wholeheartedly (and thankfully), and in no time he was set up. His name is Jeremiah, he goes by “Lord Nightshade”, and makes some pretty kick-ass chainmail and fetish clothing (if you are in the Dallas area and looking for some well-made stuff, I can give you his number). Luckily, his being a total stranger paid off – he was totally cool.

So, many drinks, a couple of drum circles, and one campfire later, we crash out one by one to get some needed rest for Saturday.


The next day, we go to the first day of the last weekend of this year’s faire. I dressed out in full garb for the first time in three years, and if not for the heat and humidity of this mid-November day, it would’ve been completely perfect. I toured around some time on my own and ran around checking out the jousting match, a few booths and shows, and met up with three of my friends who work at various shops. It’s always a pleasure to see Stacy and Kate at Dream Shoes. Pete, a friend of mine from Houston, works at McCoy’s Armory – I didn’t get to meet up with him until later in the afternoon.

During my wanderings, I found Jon and Laura at a cafe, so I joined them at their table, finished my meal, and enjoyed this incredibly good band from San Antonio named [E Museki]. They play traditional Italian, Greek, and Gypsy folk music, and they are really good. After we bought CD’s we wandered on back to Dream Shoes so I could introduce some of my Austin friends to some of my Texarkana friends. We later ran into Doug and Liz on the sculpture trail, walked together for a bit, and split off again in Sherwood forest.

After some refreshments, we checked out the animals there, among which were two camels and four elephants available for rides. The urge was overwelming me, so I just had to ride a camel — that was incredible, being something like twelve feet over the ground on the back of this lumbering, tottering creature. I had Laura take pictures of me on the camel at my request (Perl programmers have a thing about camels…). At the elephant ride we saw someone working there whose job, I swear, bears an uncanny resemblance to The Poopsmith. We got quite a bit of mileage out of that joke. We had some more wandering, checking out stuff and joking around, then parted ways near closing time as I went off to chat with my TRF friends while my Texarkana friends went back to camp.

Pete and his coworkers were unwinding and getting ready to close the booth for the night, so he invited me into the area behind the shop to talk. I had the chance to meet several more people, among them Ed McCoy, who owned the shop. We talked about the way business is run at TRF, and I was enlightened; I had misconceptions until then. I like knowing more about that place. I get a better perspective on it.

Pete had to go back inside to close everything down, so I stepped out to watch the very impressive fireworks. He had invited me to join him in his quest to sneak over to my campground and visit his group brothers and sisters at camp Chaos. While I was watching fireworks and he was gathering his things, we lost each other, so after fireworks, I headed back to camp and changed into comfy clothes, getting ready for whatever may happen that night. We had dinner and started the campfire while I managed to reconnect more with my friends. Jeremiah came over to hang out and figure out some plans for the evening.

So, as we’re all sitting around and carrying on, we hear a bunch of shouting and merrymaking in the campsite 20 yards from ours. Someone looked over and remarked, “Hey, are those people naked?” We all looked, and sure enough, they were indeed naked and quite noisy about it. They were a wandering group of roughly 20 guys and girls in robes and cloaks who were going from campsite to campsite flashing people (I later learned they go by the group name “The Church of Shrinkage”). And wouldn’t you know it, they’re coming our way!

The first to reach us looks around, asks, and makes sure there’re no children present before anything naughty happened, and then the whole group swoops in and surrounds our pavilion to wait for the count from their leader. On threecount, the robes are open, and sure enough, they were all very naked. Wow. We laughed our asses off. They stood there for a good ten seconds wagging around their bits and having fun. Wow. And, if you ask me, not a single one of the girls was ugly, and they all were shaven (even some of the guys!). Wow. And there I was without my camera. Damn. But they moved on and we were left there totally dazed and laughing; most definitely lightened up our moods. I found myself completely unsettled (in a good way) for the rest of the evening because of it. Damn.

Later, Jeremiah and I headed over to the main drum circle to watch some members of Chaos and some other groups doing their firebreathing stunts. Absolutely amazing to see. I took many pictures. And guess who shows up to do some firebreathing? PETE! So after he finished doing his thing, I met up with him for some congratulations. He invited me over to the main Chaos camp to meet some people and just hang out. Since I only knew Pete and no one else there, I felt out of place, so I ended up wandering off after a while and walked around the campground. Meanwhile, drum circles were happening — the main one, a lot of smaller ones elsewhere, and the drunken and debauched one that I completely missed out on by leaving the Chaos camp. Double-damn!

So I’m back at camp, and later on, folks start filing off two by two for bed. Jeremiah and I sat around the campfire and entertained whoever happened to be passing through. I headed off to bed around 4:30am to get some necessary sleep.


This morning I got up around 10:30 with my tent, by my guess, a toasty 100 degrees. Completely groggy and gross, I stumbled out to take care of business and try to wake up. After sitting with my buddies joking and whatnot, I get myself cleaned up and strike my camp. Most of my friends didn’t go in today, either because of illness, lack of money to buy another ticket, or lack of interest, so I sat with them until something like 2:00pm. I caught up a bit more with them on Texarkana happenings and other stuff, then I made my farewells and went off to the faire.

Today’s wanderings were solitary, and I reflected a good deal on the happenings of last night, many details of which I’m leaving out here. I dunno, but last night gave me some perspective. Somewhere along the way, I think I lost touch with the thinking that goes along with having a good time, with becoming a social creature, with letting go. Both nights of faire I found myself gravitating back to the campfire where I became sedentary, just letting the activity wash over me and flow on past. Even though I had fun, I still missed out on a lot because I was too inside myself looking out. There’s still a lot I’m trying to digest, but walking around by myself gave me the chance to start the process.

I touched base with Stacy and Kate, then went on to get some food and smokes. Watched a few of my favorite stage shows and took a bunch of pictures. Actually found myself browsing shops looking for jewelry and chzotzkies. Around 5pm, the clouds that’ve been building and threatening all afternoon finally dumped everything they had on the faire. For some reason, I found that incredibly amusing. I simply pulled my umbrella out of my satchel, walked deeper into the faire and had a good giggle while watching all the people running like mad for the front gates. Heh. Like that’s going to help anything.

The crowd dwindled down to only of fraction of what it was (which today wasn’t nearly as much as yesterday), which was fine with me. But the shopkeepers weren’t happy, to be sure. I walked over to McCoy’s Armory and found Pete. He invited me to the back of the shop again and he gave me the lowdown on what happened at camp Chaos last night, after which I expressed my grief and regret over leaving too soon. We caught up on some more stuff before the word was passed around that the fair was to close an hour early, and I bid him farewell. He invited me to come visit him and his friends in Pasadena some time – I should take him up on that. I walked back to Dream Shoes to bid farewells and seeyalaters to Kate and Stacy before I made for the front gate and on to my car.

On the drive back to Austin, I listened to the E Muzeki disc I bought and fell in love with it. It touched the sadness I feel about seeing the end of something, the sweetness before the parting, the looking back on what all just happened and where I had missed so much. Sure, there’s always the net and the easy communication with people who’re far out of town, but that doesn’t replace actually being in their presence to hang out and carry on.

And it’s somewhere in all that that I felt something. I felt humanity touch me again. I can’t believe I’ve been giving a lot of these things the pass for so long. It’s there if I’ll just reach out, wait, or speak first. But I’m still digesting. I’m still learning.

Paper update and other updates

Hey folks.

Not sure if I overreacted about the local newspaper’s choice of story placement (see last journal entry). I did get a reply from the editor two days later, though. Here was his response:

Thanks for your email. We make these kinds of tough decisions daily, and inevitably the results trouble some of our readers.

I enjoyed the breakdancing story and thought it thoroughly deserved front-page play. It told readers about a local phenomenon that, I suspect, few knew existed. I found it informative and interesting.

As for the mouse pox story, there’s no indication that an epidemic infection looms on the horizon. In fact, humans cannot contract a disease from it.

We’re mindful of the delicate balance we must strike between local and non-local, hard and softer news. Thanks again for your thoughts on the issue.

In some way, I can understand his viewpoint, but we each had a miscommunication about what our message intent was. My concern was something that the mousepox article barely touched upon: the ability to use the exact same research to alter the smallpox virus, which humans can get, into a supervirus. My stance remains; more exploration of the ethics and social code behind creating “superviruses” needs to be done in public forum. What we’re asking ourselves is if God can create a rock so large that even he can’t lift it. And right now, we’re creating.

Ok, on to current news:

I’ll be taking friday off (using some well-deserved vacation time) to head up to TRF a day early. Will be meeting my Texarkana friends and their entourage at the TRF campgrounds around noon to set up camp and begin festivities. The weather doesn’t look that fantastic, the group is smaller than expected (thanks to some last-minute backouts, dorks), and I’ve not been feeling my best this week, but it may end up a decent weekend. I can hope, at least.

Healthwise: monday, I suffered a sharp pain in my left kidney. It struck once and disappeared. My kidneys have been kinda tender for a few days, so I’m overdosing on water and trying to eat and drink right. So far I’ve noticed nothing else wrong — my “waste” is normal, in the normal amounts, no burning, no discoloration, nothing. Totally odd. I think after this weekend I may see my doctor if it persists.

Cardio-wise, last night I started tweaking out with something resembling hypoxia. I’m not a doctor, so I can’t make any diagnosis, but in my hypochrondriac research online it’s what it feels like. Google it sometimes. My smoker’s lungs breathe too shallow, especially when I lay down for bed. I just start freaking out. Today, after work, it was a bit worse, and it’s the head-rush-and-spin with the lung-tweak and the steady, hard heartbeat that only a smoker could love, and I hate it. I want to quit so badly. I need to. Again. For good. For life.

I’m a fucking addict.

On a lighter note, my roomate and I just extended our lease on the apartment for another sixth months. We love the apartment, and the feeling of semipermanence that living somewhere for over a year can afford, and this time around the rent is fifty bucks cheaper (to a grand total of $645/mo), but the tiresome situation with the stupider-than-trailer-trash neighbor and his fondness for “bass cars” is growing long in the tooth. I’m not sure how many people in this tiny complex appreciate his frequent gifts of “Skrew’d music”, and I most certainly don’t appreciate his and his girlfriend’s constant shouting, yelling, and loud thumps next door, but it appears to me the landlord, tho we like him, might be a little too soft on dealing with many complaints. Aside from calling the police on something that could quiet down as quickly as it flares up, what can we do?

Daily bothers, daily pains, daily regrets. I’m gonna take a “chill pill” and go to bed. G’nite, all.

Local paper nixes poxes

A friend of mine brought something to my attention yesterday. He presented to me a copy of yesterday’s Austin American-Stateman, our local newspaper, and asked me to read a few choice articles for my feedback. What I saw disturbed me. The articles themselves weren’t necessarily disturbing; it was the editorial choice of which article to place on which page I found disturbing.

Below is the letter I submitted to the AAS editorial staff:

Subject: Lead story misguidance (Nov 1 edition)
Statesman editors:

As I read the “A” section of the November 1, 2003 edition I noticed something that disturbed me. On page A4 there was a small, dryly-written and poorly-reported wire article titled “Supervirus fuels bioterror debate.” To me, and I’m sure to most of your readership and the citizens of the Austin area, this is major news. It affects us all. It deserves to be on the front page.

Instead, on page A1, roughly 1/3 of the page is devoted to a local-color piece called “A new spin on breakdancing,” which though it is light-hearted and reflects the atmosphere of the community which you serve, it does not bear more newsworthyness than the “supervirus” piece on A4.

Are there any reasons why this occurred? What was the editorial logic that set up this sort of transposition of stories? This, to me, reflects a moment of poor judgment on the part of the editorial staff; when the spectre of epidemic infection of modified strains of “mousepox” looms on the horizon, I, and I’m sure most everyone here, would care very little about breakdancing.

Please adhere to the principles of responsible journalism. As our local newspaper, you are one of the watchers on the tower. To most of us, hard news wins-out over fluff.

Thank you for your time:
Shawn Thomas

So. Am I wrong in feeling this way?

[This is the supervirus article].
[This is the breakdancing article].
(links active until articles go to archive this saturday)