You can’t see the wind in Houston, but you can be blown about by. it if you stand in front of the Allied Bankplaza building. The aerodynamic high-tech profile of the edifice has sent more than a few pert secretaries and slim office boys sailing toward Main Street on a blustery day. The building seems to reach for wind from Oklahoma. Houston’s downtown business district, like any other in the Southwest, often seems like a soundstage; suspiciously artificial backdrops howling with the fakery of backgrounds in turn of the century family portraits. Of course, this is the turn of the century! Lorenzo Thomas is a poet and critic who teaches at the University of Houston. He is the author of Chances are Few \(Blue The Bathers \(Reed & The Poetry of Black America \(Harper & Our perceptions will be the prophecies and dreams that will be worked out over the next 50 years by the same young people we spend our afternoons hollering at today. Here’s Arnie, a very talented young painter having a conniption at the midtown Tip Top Cafe. They have, the #$& %x %’s, actually hiked the rent on his loft! “Hell,” he shouts, “I’m doing Houston a favor by staying here!” He thinks he’s good; but he’s no Goya, Rauschenberg, or John Chamberlain. He’s also pretending not to know how much a same sized artist’s loft will cost him in New. York. And here, of course, is darling lovely Sue. She wakes each morning in a different mood. Today, there is a jingle on her TV set: Some of us were born In the city on the bayou Some of us came Looking for the sun and she believes it. Now, she feels “Houston Proud.” Henry, getting up for work in 3rd Ward, a few auto minutes from the job as the buck passes looks up to see the , world’s best postmodernist/expensive/astounding skyline sculpture garden . . . northeast, glittering above the trees . . . the eye might ever wish to see. But grnnk grunkk grnnuk the car won’t start. Others see bleak mornings in those office towers. A few will just sit home with Donohue . . . and some of them will last through Oprah Winfrey. The down and up Travis Avenue. Curiously, at some telepathic appointed hour and moment, everyone contrives being. Downtown. At dark, each one goes home. Wherever that is. We watch the NEWS. No one has seen the wind. And no one really cares. LIKE MANY OF her citizens, I came to Houston following a job; still lucky enough to keep it, I live in the city ambivalently, half happy immigrant and half internal exile, forcibly relocated by Capital. It may seem too obvious to recall that cities exist primarily for economic reasons; and when those reasons begin to collapse, the atmosphere turns thick with regrets and reconsiderations. For those of us still at work, things are going well enough, under the circumstances; for the many without such good fortune \(10 percent “officially” unemployed, by Wonder says, they’re living just enough for the city. So there are at least two Houstons that of the rich and the poor symbolized concretely by the imposing oil and banking towers of the downtown skyline, and the rows of residential shotgun shacks on the forgotten streets a few blocks south. Anyone wanting a quick but vivid introduction to the two Houstons might begin by driving across Michael King lives and writes in The Heights, just north of downtown Houston. town from the far west side perhaps along Memorial and San Felipe where they begin, in the plush suburbs of Piney Point, down through car-busy and money-thick thoroughfares of high-tech and higher markup specialty stores, past the garishly serene mansions of River Oaks, down into the meaner and darker streets on the edge of Montrose, steadily into the narrow and often burned out or just worn out, broken down and dispirited neighborhoods of the east side. It is not a homogeneous descent Houston’s lack of zoning makes each change of block wierdly unpredictable but unlike more rigidly segregated cities, this one makes it less readily forgotten that comfort and misery are intimate if largely unrecognized neighbors. With this larger contradiction in mind, allow me to praise my present home for its many graces: that stunning and imaginative skyline that leaps suddenly from ‘the horizon into a dramatic and sea-changing sky; the lushness of semi-tropical greenery, luckily unconfined to scattered public parks, twining into the neighborhoods and public spaces; the bluesy, latin, creole/cajun feel of unexpected corners and outposts, marking the restaurants and the music with a mix of traditions unavailable elsewhere; the weedy vigorousness of the arts, which seem to survive and even flourish with preciously little public support of the institutional kind; the sturdy determination of the rare progressive organizations, working in depressingly fallow ground \(and here let me single out Radio KPFT Pacifica, still crazy after all wildness of the place, sprawling over several counties and a dozen sub-cities like a monstrous social amoeba driven by greed and energy, though lately bruised and retracting. The recent history and uncontrolled growth of Houston made it impossible to get a single grip on the place; now that the growth has just as suddenly collapsed, one realizes as well that there is little sense of a larger community at all, or even a social contract: the relative weakness of city government, and its accompanying lack of progressive ideas or action, makes the community far too dependent on intermittent charities or wistful public-relations gestures like “Houston Proud.” Last week I was traveling elsewhere in Texas, and was struck again by the instinctively negative reaction outsiders reserve for Houston; I leapt to its defense, while muttering to myself, “hell, it’s not my town, I just live there.” Texans, who like most Americans mainly live in cities, like most Americans imagine a green home somewhere else with the result that American cities are too much unlivable. I consider these things as I walk at night through my green and quiet innercity Houston neighborhood, ringed with manicured small lawns, bright gardens THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11 I Just Work Here By Michael King
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