Her job as urban watchdog now redundant, Zippy roams the Texas Hill Country with a spring in her step and a howl in her heart.
I once possessed the hypersuperpowers of a cross between a Navy Seal and a Thompson’s gazelle, the guile and sagacity of a denizen of a war zone, the graceful-if-slightly-jokey self-preservational finesse of Jackie Chan.
When I moved back to Austin after my 25-year exile in St. Louis, I lost my edge. I don’t mean I lost my mental acuity; my reluctant estrangement from that treasured faculty is, alas, entirely unrelated to geography. No, I allude to the finely-honed kill-or-be-killed jumpiness I developed as a survival skill when my home was a lawless, freewheelin’ Interzone of crackheads, artists, lunatics, racist cops, drunken musicians, Vietnamese restaurants, homophobic hoosiers, and the furtive thugs who collect in doorways like old newspapers.
The topography of my new hippie South Austin neighborhood is not composed of crumbling despair and neglect, nor does it smell like a brewery, nor does its sparkling ambience derive from the glittering crunch of broken auto glass beneath every footstep. The route between my bungalow and the quickshop is not impeded by desperate junkies screaming “Scuse me! Scuse me!” (which siren call, a preamble to the separation of the own-business-mindin’ ambulist from her pocket change, is the most commonly recorded vocalization of any species — other than the police car — on St. Louis’ South Grand Ave). Nothing about my tranquil Austin domain encourages me to open the eyes in the back of my head, or to constantly re-calibrate my extrasensory ability to identify a raving nutjob at 50 yards merely by assessing the quality of his gait, or obliges me, when brunching at the lesbian coffee shop on Sundays, to absorb with my scrambled tofu the weekend casualty report: Fran was raped in her apartment on Friday night, Clara and her boyfriend were mugged outside the Upstairs Lounge on Saturday, all of Thee Lordly Jellycups’ equipment got ripped off from their van at the Hi-Pointe, that nice guy Eric died in a suspicious fire, Renee’s addict girlfriend killed herself, Elroy’s brother Spud –you know, the dude with the pit bull and Picasso’s Guernica tatooed on his neck — got stabbed in Tower Grove Park.
Before I moved back to Austin (the Lone Star State’s blue oasis in a desert of unenlightened red), I was under the impression that these elevated levels of violence and debilitating melancholy were normal. So it was unquestioningly that I’d slither through town like a ninja, scanning the horizon for raging dope-fiends, checking between cars for shadowy attackers, listening in the dark for sinister footsteps, inspecting the bushes for unconscious overdosing acquaintances.
But now that I’ve lost my edge — possibly a more accurate description of my new edgelessness is that self-preservation no longer demands that I maintain high levels of hyper-adreno-vigilance-with-persistent-low-grade-anxiety — and have been lulled into a non-false sense of security, a weight the size of Guam has been lifted.
“But what,” you’ll want to know, “occasions this tiptoe down memory lane, this comparison of rotten Midwest apples to organic Hill Country oranges?”
Well, the explanation is twofold. The first fold is this: I heard on NPR the other day that St. Louis has just galloped home with the gold in the race for our great country’s Most Dangerous City, not that it comes as any great shock. St. Louis has never been far out of the running for top honors, it’s just that we’d usually get consigned to also-ran ignominy by an extra last-minute double-murder in East St. Louis or something — East St. Louis being the continuation of regular St. Louis on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, a right proper hell-hole where dissipation-friendly Illinois laws encourage the sale of liquor, crack, angst, and strippers until 6 in the morning.
Anyway, having discovered how footloose and fancy-free a spinster aunt can be who doesn’t feel compelled by patriarchal tradition to hasten down the street with her keys protruding from her knuckles, I can’t help feeling a pang for the decent and deserving homeys I left behind in St. Louis. I can’t help wishing that they, too, could know the incalculable joy of emerging from a nightclub to discover that their car hasn’t been broken into, their favorite mix tape gone forever, and a sinister used condom left on the seat.
Of course, now that I’ve gone soft, I can never go back to St. Louis. I’d be eaten alive.
The second fold of my twofold explanation for this hokey St. Louis reminiscence is that in the agreeable wake of the midterm elections, I feel exactly the same way that I did when I escaped the the Gateway City and learned that life did not have to be lived beneath a subumbra of persistent personal peril. A pestilential gloom the debilitating extent of which I had only the vaguest pre-election inkling has, I am delighted and somewhat surprised to report, been ameliorated by the exceedingly pleasant turn of recent political events.
In other words, I had no idea how chapped my hide had really been for the 6 years that W and the Godbag Killers’ Coalition were the Champions of the World until I heard the words “Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives”* emerge like dewy unicorn rosepetal sundrops from my clock radio on Wednesday morning.
I’m not saying that I won’t continue to suffer post-traumatic stress. There are two more years of W, and anyway, let’s face it: if my fellow Americans ever take to nurturing — in the comforting, legislative way that honky male Christians take for granted — the interests of the radical feminist lesbian atheist spinster aunt, I’ll eat my mouldering garbage bag of sports bras. But I’m not exaggerating when I say that I sprang from the Twisty Tempurpedic and did a little whoopty-dance when I heard that the odious maggot Jim Tallent had been smushed like a slimy, oozy rotten-log-inhabiting invertebrate by Democrat Claire McCaskill in the Missouri Senate race. You go girl!
* But could you believe fucking W, in the press conference where he knifed Rumsfeld, when he made that lame “joke” about decorating tips for Pelosi’s new office? I noticed he didn’t have an opinion on interior design for Rumsfeld’s replacement. Of course it had nothing to do with the fact that Pelosi, as a woman, should first and foremost concern herself with drapes. My god, what a knob.