As much fun as you can have in San Antonio without pissing on the Alamo

In spite of what I may have told you, I didn’t just fly into San Antonio a few days ago to piss on the Alamo, and then immediately return home. As much as I like the idea of zipping into a city, pissing all over their most sacred public artifact, and then zipping right back out to the safety of Michigan, the truth is, I had to be in Texas for a conference, and all my urinating was done in accordance with their local customs. As someone who isn’t a huge fan of the Lone Star state, I wasn’t looking forward to the trip, but, much to my surprise, I actually had a good time wandering around the city during the free time that I had between sessions. Following are my rough notes on some of the highlights, for those of you who might find yourself visiting the third fastest-growing city in America in the near future.

The Alamo
I didn’t go in, as I believe it costs money, and I already knew everything that the tour guide was likely to say, having seen Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I did stand outside, though, marveling at how low the walls were, and wondering how it was that the American heroes who took refuge in the former Catholic mission in 1863 could have possibly hoped to have held off the forces of Santa Anna. (And, by “heroes,” of course, I mean land speculators of dubious character looking to expand slavery into the West.) But, who knows what actually happened. Did the Texans holed up in the Alamo fight heroically as the commonly accepted myth would suggest, or were they, for the most part, gunned down while fleeing? As I stood outside, thinking about this, and watching the endless tide of gum-smacking high school girls in Chinese-manufactured coonskin caps making their way from the Alamo gift shop, I received a text message from Linette. “Arlo grew up while you were away,” she said. I’m sure her intention wasn’t to make me feel like shit, but it struck me particularly hard, as I’d just been reading about Col. William Barret Travis, the beloved hero of the Battle of the Alamo who had abandoned his wife and two children in Alabama to run off and make his fortune in Texas. So, feeling like a shitty father, I wondered off to a bar called the Texas T, to sit among the recently paroled, listening to Meat Loaf while staring blankly into space. And it was there, leaning against the sticky and cracked Formica bar, that I had a depressing thought. It occurred to me that the conference which I was attending probably wasn’t unique in that it featured an Alamo-themed session. No, I thought, every conference ever held in San Antonio must have had at least one. It’s just too easy a piece of cultural shorthand not to make use of. (“Don’t let so-and-so be your Alamo.”) And I found that incredibly sad. I just hope that, when I die, my passing doesn’t get distilled into a business lesson on the importance of preparedness in the face of adversity, or some such bullshit. Say what you will about the men that died that day, I think they probably deserve better.

The Granary ‘Cue & Brew
On my friend Gillian’s suggestion, upon getting checked into my hotel, I walked two miles across town to visit a new San Antonio restaurant called The Granary ‘Cue & Brew. (Gillian, an old high school friend, now lives in San Antonio. As it worked out, I wouldn’t end up seeing her until Saturday night, but she was instrumental throughout my stay, urging me, by way of text message, away from the San Antonio’s Disneyfied River Walk, and into more interesting parts of town.) The restaurant, run by brothers Tim and Alex Rattray, has only been open for three months, but, judging from the press they’ve been receiving, they’re already making a mark on the local culinary scene. I had the good fortune to spend some time with Alex, who brews the beer and runs the bar while his brother dreams up new ways to “fuck with barbecue.” (That’s my quote, not theirs, but Alex concedes that it’s accurate, saying, “Yeah, we can’t say that, but it’s what we do.”) As I’d like to follow up with a proper interview at some point, I won’t go into much detail now, but I will say that their beef clod (smoked beef shoulder, with coffee-infused quinoa, pickled celery and cornbread) was really quite good.

Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum
I had a little time Friday afternoon, so I followed the river into the King William Historic District. After having some delicious enchiladas at a little hole in the wall cantina, I wondered around, appreciating the architecture, and gradually warming up to the idea that Austin might not be the only city in Texas worthy of my acceptance. My walk eventually led me, quite by accident, to a the Blue Star Arts Complex, which I’d remembered hearing about from my friend Jennifer, who, before moving to Michigan, had spent a number of years in Texas. Fortunately, the museum was open, and I had the good fortune of seeing a retrospective on the work of text-loving mixed-media artist Gary Sweeney. My favorite piece of his was a false historic marker that he’d created to commemorate an international battle between ships of war on the majestic San Antonio River. (It reminded me of the work of my brilliant friend Greg Hischak.) I also liked the fact that he’d taken his mother-in-law’s recipe for sloppy joes, and rewritten it, in wood relief, in Abraham Lincoln’s handwriting. That, I thought, was inspired… And, better yet, upon leaving the gallery, I found myself in an unmarked, underground speakeasy, drinking a gin cocktail known as The Aviation. The place was called 1919, and this was my favorite of their posted rules: “There is only one vodka necessary in this establishment.”

The Goat Testicle Musical
So, on Saturday night, after the close of my conference, I grabbed a cab to the San Pedro Playhouse, to meet up with Gillian and her husband Lindsay. The brother of a friend of theirs had co-written a musical being performed that night, and they’d invited me to join them. I’ll start with the positive. The authors of the play had an incredible story to work with. The narrative centered around the rise and fall of Dr. John R. Brinkley, a self-promoter of epic proportion, who had overcome poverty to become one of the nation’s foremost thought leaders during the Great Depression, hosting one of the country’s most listened-to radio programs, and running a snake-oil empire that, in addition to making him extremely wealthy, made him the target of numerous government inquiries. (He essentially sold health tonics via the radio, which consisted of little more than alcohol.) Eventually he’d be brought down by federal investigators for mail fraud and his implantation of goat testicles into the scrotums of men seeking to regain their virility, but, when he was at the top of his game, he was one of the richest and most powerful hucksters in America. It’s a truly epic story. Not only did he construct the world’s most powerful radio transmitter, and perform upwards of 16,000 of these incredibly lucrative “goat gland” procedures, but he apparently even played a role in the presidential election of 1932, by having had one of his on-air personalities – a fortune teller – predict Roosevelt’s victory in the run-up to the election. The problem with the production… or, to be more accurate, the primary problem with the production… is that the writers, given the wealth of information that they had before them, just didn’t know when to stop. Over the course of the musical’s almost three hours, we weren’t just told of the creation of the nation’s largest radio empire, made possible through the widespread implantation of goat testicles, but of the Doctor’s son’s love of a singing cowboy, an astrologer’s infatuation with the Doctor, the fact that Brinkley may have been a Nazi sympathizer, and any number of other seemingly extraneous details, not the least of which was the intermittent presence of Wolfman Jack, who, in 1959, apparently bought the radio station from Brinkley’s widow. I actually liked the presence of the howling DJ, and I think he did an admirable job as narrator, but, given the fact that play was also being narrated by the Doctor’s grown son, who would eventually kill himself on stage, I found it all to be a bit much. (Interestingly, the son was still able to deliver a line after shooting himself in the head. I think he said, “Mother, we’re back in the news again.”) So, yes, I think it’s fair to say that it was a bit overwrought and convoluted. Asked to describe the play to a friend later that night, I said that it was like what R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet would have been, if he’d been forced to collaborate with an aging Garrison Keilor. With all of that said, though, I found it to be very interesting, and I commend the efforts everyone involved… from the Children of the Corn-like child actors in the cast, who looked as though they were created in a lab from 200 year old Appalachian DNA, to the older gentleman who danced and clucked during the Morphine-induced hallucination sequences. As someone who likely will never endeavor to write a musical, it’s easy to poke fun, but, the truth is, I admire people who overreach… There is so much more that I could say, but my eyes are getting droopy.

Thank you, San Antonio. I had a great time.

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13 Comments

  1. anonymous
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:00 am | Permalink

    Ozzy, from what I’m told, has to play San Antonio every time he tours because of that time he pissed on the tomb at at the Alamo. It’s like part of his parole or something.

  2. anonymous@aol.com
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:18 am | Permalink

    If only the men in the Alamo had a guy like Michael Winslow on their side.

  3. Meta
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    Speaking of Texas. Here’s some great LOL from today’s NYT.

    The fight to restore family-planning financing that was cut from the Texas budget in the last legislative session has taken a turn toward primary care. Republican state senators have proposed adding $100 million to a state-run primary care program specifically for women’s health services, an effort that could help avoid a political fight over subsidizing specialty family-planning clinics.

    “It’s a much better way to treat the women because they don’t just have family-planning issues,” said Senator Robert Deuell, Republican of Greenville, a family physician who has advocated an increase in primary-care services for women.

    Using taxpayer dollars to finance family-planning services has become politically thorny in Texas, largely because of Republican lawmakers’ assertions that the women’s health clinics providing that care are affiliated with abortion providers. In the fiscal crunch of 2011, the Legislature cut the state’s family-planning budget by two-thirds, with some lawmakers claiming that they were defunding the “abortion industry.” Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, found that more than 50 family-planning clinics had closed statewide as a result.

    Now, amid estimates that the cuts could lead to 24,000 additional 2014-15 births at a cost to taxpayers of $273 million, lawmakers are seeking a way to restore financing without ruffling feathers.

    Read more:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/texas-may-restore-some-family-planning-budget-cuts.html?_r=2&

  4. Anonymatt
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    I’d like to comment, but I’m too busy working on Michael Winslow Takes a Solar-Powered PA System Back in Time to The Alamo: The Musical.

  5. Edward
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Every step Santa Anna takes toward the Alamo, there’s another hellaciously loud fart. By the time he gets to the wall, he’s beat red, and men on both sides of the battle are doubled over in laughter.

  6. emma
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    There is no entrance fee to The Alamo.

  7. double anonymous
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    I need for there to be at least two states between me and good BBQ. It’s the only thing keeping me alive. If I lived in Texas, I’d be 800 pounds and my slowly beating, cannonball-sized heart would be encased in a thick layer of quivering brown fat.

    Also, if there are any doctors willing to attempt the procedure, I’d be up for trying out goat testicles for a month. At this point, I’ve got very little to lose.

  8. History Lesson
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    It has long been part of the Alamo legend that Crockett died fighting.

    The legend was firmly established by the 1955 Disney TV show in which the hero was seen swinging an empty rifle as the hordes of Mexican soldiers closed in for the kill.

    But in his book, ‘Exodus from the Alamo,’ Dr Tucker painted a much less glamorous ending.

    Using recently discovered Mexican accounts of the battle, the historian wrote that the defenders of the Alamo in the war for Texan independence did not die defending their garrison under brilliant sunlight.

    Instead, the Mexicans launched a surprise pre-dawn attack, climbing the walls under cover of darkness and causing mayhem in the fort while most of its defenders were still asleep.

    Bowie is rumoured to have been bayoneted in his bed.

    According to a diary kept by Colonel Jose Enrique de la Pena, an officer in Santa Anna’s army, Crocket was captured with a handful of others and executed.

    Although the accuracy of the diary is disputed, he claimed Crocket and his fellow prisoners were hacked to death with swords.

    And most of the Mexican casualties inflicted within the fort were said to be the result of ‘friendly fire.’

    Source:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2026338/Davy-Crocketts-defiant-stand-Alamo-lasted-just-20-minutes-claim-historians.html#ixzz2Ma6IRqK2

  9. Eel
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    Well, is there an exit fee?

  10. Texas Forever
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    If Ozzy were to come to Ypsilanti, where would he piss? What’s your most sacred public space?

  11. K2
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    The closest thing we have to sacred ground would probably be the spot in the Carpenter mobile home community where Iggy Pop grew up.

  12. Mr. Y
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    In Ozzy’s defense, it wasn’t urine. It was orange juice.

    Video:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnLKgTyqup0

  13. koosh
    Posted March 4, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

    if ozzy came to ypsilanti, he’d piss where everyone else pisses…

    …all over the floor and sink of the restroom at woodruff’s.

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