Vacation Diary, June 2021

The Student had not yet seen the house-in-progress, so we took the opportunity to get him up there. As it’s a Monday, of course, people are working on the house, so we can’t take him inside. And that, for me, is the magic: this is the frame of the house we are going to have. These are the wires, the internal organs. The writing on the floor…the way the thing gets made. I’ve loved walking around first the concrete block of the foundation, then the slowly growing skeleton. I wanted him to taste some of that. As he’s not going to be living here, maybe it would not have meant that same to him. But it would have been educational. As we looked at the outside of the house, the project manager came to talk to us. He was careful to keep a distance, and with the construction noise, I got maybe every third word. But my wife was nodding and making enthusiastic noises – so, after, I asked what the status is. “I don’t know, I couldn’t really hear him,” she said. She’d been very convincing. We are fairly sure that the insulation is about to be done. Fairly sure.

We had been admiring some lights in a lighting store from a distance for month, but hadn’t been able to find the time to stop in. So, a vacation is the ideal chance to finally get in to see some lights. We were after what my wife calls “statement lights”. First, of course, we have to decide what statement our light fittings are making. We have too much money? We want to blind you with light and our excellent, edgy taste? We had choices to make. We especially wanted to view a light that, with typical tact and class, we referred to to as the COVID light. It was, basically, a large light ball with sharp points sticking out of it. We had decided this was the kind of statement we would like to make in our entranceway. The price turned out to be $2,800…and we decided we would be happy to not make that statement after all. Although more than we wanted to pay, my wife was not surprised at the price, whereas I’d budgeted $800 total for two so-called statement lights. I don’t know what anything costs in the adult world, I guess. Mattresses, light fittings, leather reading chairs…they all cost way more than I have imagined. I would be a terrible Price Is Right contestant. As we left, my wife asked one of the sales people (who all had stayed behind their computers for the duration of our visit) a question. She responded reluctantly and remarkably tersely. But as I looked at us: The Student with his unwashed hair, my wife who clearly happy to be there (unlike the sales person), and me…checking every price tag. Well, what I’m saying is, I could see her point.

Going to get new glasses is a very different experience, and therefore one of the social highlights of my wife’s year. I tag along. She knows everyone there and they know her. They swap stories about family members, COVID experiences, that kind of thing. My wife sits in during my exam, it’s that kind of informal place. She tells the optician stories of the Great Freeze. Why aren’t there machines that can test my eyes by now? I’d want that more than jet packs. In the frame-choosing part of the store, I am (as always) overwhelmed. Our assistant, who has perfect Joker-green hair, whirls around my wife, picking exciting and colorful options from shelf after shelf. She has at least 20 to choose from. It takes her a while to narrow those down. I have three options. I know I’m choosing number 2. No matter how many more green-tinted frames or asymmetrical lens shapes our joker brings to me, I’ve settled on number 2. We’ll find out if it’s a terrible choice in two and a half weeks.

In Pottery Barn for perhaps only the second time in my life. Is it uncool to admit to liking much of their stuff? In which case, we can keep that between the two of us. But their “distressed” tables look good to me. We found a bed frame that is almost as expensive as the incredibly expensive mattress we found a few weeks back. And the sales assistant aggressively made friends with us. She clearly didn’t see us for the vagabond souls so clear to the lighting lady. She asked for our names – I of course was Colin again – and then she followed us around the store being “helpful”. We have her card and her number. I suppose we’re going to be invited to her next birthday. And we’ll go, just to be polite.

Three months before everything shut down in Austin, my wife and I were at the Paramount to see a show. And now, finally, we were back. Paramount movie classics…we were here to see West Side Story. Apparently it is 60 years old this year. How had I never seen this before? Just a couple of weeks ago, we’d been in a cinema to see In The Heights; the plight of immigrants told through songs and massive dance numbers seems to be our way back into the world. Honestly? I like this new normal. The spaced out seating is especially welcome. We had a whole row to ourselves, with small groups in the row in front and the row behind. Even waiting for the movie to start, the theater was quieter. I imagine the people behind us could hear every word we spoke, every ridiculous pun, inside joke, and non-sequiter. I have an ambition to have some bizarre conversation my wife and I have in public quoted in someone’s book, blog, or letter to the editor. We try so hard.

A slightly ramshackle pub around the corner from our temporary accommodation has a sign: Austin’s Best Fish & Chips. I had promised myself to be the judge of that. But, when the sign went down again, I lost enthusiasm. Instead, we opted for Quality Sea Food, which looks like a furniture store from the outside but is, apparently, a remarkably good sea food place. The cod and chips did not inspire confidence on arrival. What I am used to is a good stretch of fish nestled atop a heart-attack of chips. This…this was not that. More like fish bites, fish chunks. I dug in, my expectations suitably low. And yet. And yet…it was good. Really good. I’m calling it now: the best fish and chips in Austin. It is a low bar, but it sailed over it with ease. Crazy kids that we are, we wrote up the date in the style of the Guardian’s Blind Date section that we’re a little too fond of. I think it came out well. YMMV.

No vacation is complete without a BBQ Road Trip. This one wasn’t too far, but we have a small pack of pugs waiting for us back home, so long trips are off the table for now. Standing for nearly an hour in an increasingly hot BBQ place, with the doors all shut tight “against flies”, and the heat from the smokers filling the room…well, we assumed each other, it’s traditional isn’t it? It’s what Texans do instead of saunas. So that’s how we spent some of Thursday…and it cost us $100 to do so. For BBQ, sticker shock is part of the experience. But we came out feeling full and ingrained with the scent of smoke and grease. This must be what going to a spa feels like.

At the contemporary art museum, downtown. Lady Small Change: “Well, modern art isn’t supposed to make you feel good.” We went up to the roof and looked out at Austin.

At Die Due, which we’re fairly sure is pronounced “Dye Doo-ee” I tried not to have the burger, but I really wanted the burger. It was made with wagyu beef, which I don’t think I’ve had before, and had the bacon combined into the burger itself. The waitress explained this patiently to me after I asked if I could have bacon in the burger. I know this, I didn’t say, I just wanted more bacon. It was, in the end, a really good burger. I now needed to stop eating out and instead get back to the endless cycle of buying food, cooking food, eating food, washing up that was the signal that our staycation was over.

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