Houston

11th February
2015
written by Jeff

Senior year, that hair's getting' a little long there, mister.

When I was very young, my grandfather, an ardent Christian conservative, put a lot of pressure on my parents to enroll me in a parochial school, an ironic choice given my parents were both public school educators. But, they chose to go along with the request, at least in part because the public schools near me probably weren’t the equivalent of Our Savior, where I went from kindergarten through eighth grade.

This was the 1970s and Christianity was, even in the south, somewhat different than what it became after the Moral Majority movement of the early 1980s. In many ways, it was hippy Christianity. We sung folk songs in class. We talked about water conservation and God in nature. I suspected sometime later that more than a few of the teachers and parents smoked weed.

It was still church-based. It was still in Texas. That meant the occasional fire and brimstone sermon, corporal punishment for a variety of infractions and a fairly closely guarded morality. But, it wasn’t the harsh, polarizing, political, often angry version of Christianity popularized on talk shows and in speeches today. My teachers were silk shirts and Birkenstocks, not three-piece suits and wing tips…at least not until high school, which was, to say the least, confusing for a 13-year-old who had no dog in politics and whose parents were decidedly liberal compared to most of the parents of kids my age.

This week, I read about a kid who left Lutheran High North in Houston, the high school I attended from 1983-87. According to a video he posted on YouTube, he was given an ultimatum by the school to to stop being gay or face expulsion. I didn’t find the story all that surprising.

Before I graduated in 1987, the school, already evangelically inclined, was deepening in conservative theology. Teachers who were on the fringe of those belief systems were leaving — rumors say they were being dismissed — and students were being forced into a more regimented approach to school. Long hair on boys and short skirts on girls were all but eliminated. Soon, school uniforms replaced jeans and collared shirts.

While I was there, the same institution that fostered my young Christian studies actually helped to begin my shift away from conservative, Christian beliefs, albeit inadvertently, via a viewing of Ghandi in history class (I simply couldn’t fathom that that man of peace was going to hell simply for being Hindu — nevermind the congregation of Hari Krishnas a block down the street my religion teacher referred to as “a cult”) and through long discussions about meditation and literature with various teachers who have all moved on to other schools and professions. After my time at LHN, the school began rapidly removing as many elements of secularism possible.

Of course, Lutheran High North was and is free to do whatever it wants. It is a Christian institution based on the beliefs of the church in this modern era. Lutheran is right there in the name, after all, and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod is only slightly less conservative than the Southern Baptist church and not close to the folksy, quaintly liberal American Synod as caricatured in NPR’s long-running series A Prairie Home Companion. As a school and a religion, they are all welcome to discriminate whether I agree with those beliefs or not.

And this is not to say there aren’t good people working for parochial schools. There most certainly are. The education kids receive there is often superior to what they find in overcrowded and under-funded public schools, despite the reliance on sometimes dogmatic theology.

Still, that specter of evangelical conservatism is something that must be dealt with if that isn’t your cup of tea. It makes me wonder if kids are still having sex, drinking and doing drugs to the degree they did in my high school years. There were clearly some gay and lesbian students when I was in school, long before “don’t ask don’t tell” was a thing, and, to my knowledge, no one pulled them out of class to tell them to get back in the closet. I have a suspicion that that is, for the most part, true today as well. The church can be notorious for conveniently ignoring people’s private lives so long as they don’t “put it in our faces” which, I suppose, could be argued this young man did when he posted about who he is online. Lutherans, Germans in particular, don’t care for outward displays of pretty much anything, so a boy kissing his boyfriend on YouTube likely qualifies in the minds of these religious folk as “in their faces.”

For my part, I got a good education from LHN and Our Savior before it. Let’s say I was mentally advanced but socially stunted. To go from a graduating class of just over 50 to my first psychology class at the University of Texas of 500-plus was jarring. To see kids openly doing things people at my school only did behind locked, closed doors in respectfully darkened rooms was eye-opening. And to experience a liberal college campus was as liberating as it was uncomfortable.

But, it became quickly and readily apparent that this was preferable for me. The year after I left school, they instituted a hair rule that would have forced me to cut my rapidly growing locks — this was the ’80s. Naturally, many of the kids with long hair simply shaved their heads, much to the consternation of those in charge. Kids will be kids after all. Within a few years, my hair was reaching my waist and people who knew me as the good, conservative, Christian boy suddenly looked at me differently, and I couldn’t blame them although I probably did at the time. I WAS different and that was totally fine, even if it felt like a betrayal to the 20-something version of myself.

I wouldn’t necessarily trade those years in parochial school. They, as much as any other part of my life, made me who I am today and I’m ok with that guy. But, I respect the struggles others like this young man must endure. Being different is not easy, especially when everyone around you can seem, at times, almost clone-like in their similarity, like one giant, religious clique to which you are, ever so politely, uninvited.

My only advice to him would be to be glad you can move on. Being who you are is always better than bowing to the pressures of those who don’t want you. People are going to think differently than you no matter how accepting the world becomes of you or anyone else. There will always be something to argue about, always a group that sets itself apart from the rest of the world because it believes something others don’t.

Be glad you figured it out when you were still a teen. Some people go their whole lives and never do.

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18th August
2010
written by Jeff

While I do maintain my blog, Broken Record, over at Chron.com and have posted there on this subject, I thought I might put some of my personal feelings on my own blog. Honestly, I’m somewhat torn and I’ll try to cover the angles here as best I can.

First, it should be said that I really never cared for the programming on KTRU. To say that most of their programming was extreme would be a considerable understatement. Pitchfork Media, the purveyors of all that is cool in alternative and underground music, would check their playlist and think, “Wow, dude, that’s freaking weird.” I have honestly tuned in to KTRU in the middle of the day and heard guitar feedback for 3 minutes.

Having said that, I understand and appreciate the contribution KTRU has made to the community, particularly for local musicians. While its narrowly focused demographic didn’t make room for most local artists on the airwaves, KTRU did play local music and the new station, I’m fairly sure we can safely assume, will not leaving only KPFT’s limited music programming and KACC’s weak transmitter to fill the void.

Additionally, consolidating one of Houston’s four major players in the independent radio market can’t be good for consumers on the whole.

On the other hand, I am a fan of NPR. For too long, Houston has missed out on its in-depth programming and news. I am hopeful that vibrant music shows like World Cafe and great news programming like This American Life and Fresh Air will have their place in the new format for KUHF. If we don’t get World Cafe, I’ll admit that I will be sorely disappointed.

Being the fourth largest city in America means we should have good choices for news. Since KTRH left its news programming in the dust in favor of conservative talk shows, it will be nice to have a station that covers news for most the day, particularly one featuring NPR.

What has been interesting for me to watch since this news hit the internet is the disdain from those who consider KTRU “vital to the community” or should I say, more vital than classical music. There is this sense that, somehow, what KTRU provided in programming is so important it cannot be simply lost in this way.

As one of the commenters on Broken Record pointed out to me, most kids don’t listen to radio anyway. That fact really cannot be underscored enough in this situation. I cannot imagine that KTRU’s listenership demographic skews on the old or technologically feeble side. My guess is that many of them would be more than happy to continue to listen to KTRU online.

And this notion that classical music is so much more mainstream than the alt that KTRU provided is just preposterous. There have been a few instances of classical music stations trying to survive in Houston and they have all failed. Much like the alternative music of KTRU, classical and fine arts programming is a tough sell and very much a niche market. But, more importantly, classical music fans do tend to be in the older and less tech savvy demographic, making them far more likely to tune in to a radio station than seek it out online.

Bottom line is that I’m sorry to see a true college radio station go. I’ve long wondered why Houston didn’t have a legitimate college station with alternative and more mainstream programming. Even with KTRU’s broadly eclectic palette, it still served a purpose and I hate to see it turn to static. Some of that disappointment will, fortunately, be tempered by access to a full-time NPR station, something our city has needed for years.

It would have been easier for many of us had KUHF just bought a defunct station or some commercial radio station that programs the same 50 songs ever day. But, if this is what it takes, I guess that’s just how it goes.

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17th May
2010
written by Jeff

Last August, I wrote a blog post about what I termed the “doucheification” of Washinton Avenue. This lead to a story in the Chronicle as well.

Since then, life on the Jersey Shore of Houston has continued unabated. Walter’s remains open as they supposedly search for a new home base.

Today, I ran across a story in the Chron about how one of the bars is bringing live music to Washington Avenue at the Salt Bar. Let me just post the excerpts and leave my comments.

The owners of Salt Bar on Washington Ave. have started a songwriter night, hoping to provide a venue for original work and, perhaps, build a live-music scene in Houston from the ground up.

Elecia Wheeler and her partners opened Pearl Bar on Washington Ave.three years ago. When they discussed opening a new watering hole next door she had a stipulation: “If we open a new space, it’s going to focus on live music.

“I want people to know that there’s so much great talent here in Houston,” Wheeler said. “You hear all the people, they’ve moved to Austin or they’ve moved to Nashville or they’ve moved to Branson. I want people to know they could come to Houston or stay in Houston and producers will come here looking for them.”

First off, Ms. Wheeler, if you were SO concerned about having live music on Washington Avenue, why not keep Mary Jane’s alive in the Pearl Bar? That venue had a long tradition of live music dating back to when it was called the Bon Ton Room and the Arc Angels were among the regulars.

Second, if you truly wanted to build a music scene from the ground up, why not encourage the same from your neighbors – Pandora (formerly Rhythm Room), Front Porch (formerly Cosmo’s), Blu Salon (formerly Satellite Lounge) the small bar next to Walter’s (formerly Silky’s Blues Bar)? There are MANY former live music venues along the half mile stretch of road just waiting for revitalization.

Finally, who from Houston has ever thought moving to Branson was a viable alternative. Austin I get, even Nashville, but BRANSON?

But, there’s more…

Wheeler said she wants songwriters to get on stage and present original work, to share a bit of themselves.

[…]

For now, the event will continue to feature both invited, established artists, and newcomers with a song or two to share.

Croucher describes the evening as something of a hybrid between a songwriter showcase and an open-mic night, “Which is very Houston, really: a weird convergence of everything.”

Ok, so your decision to bring live music to Washington Avenue has resulted in a Tuesday night open mic night? That’s it???

There are quite a few of those all over Houston. Mucky Duck has one of the most well-established and well-attended in the area. There are great blues jams on Monday’s and Tuesday’s in numerous locations, none of which would think to consider itself a “showcase,” understanding what they are, which is a chance for musicians to hang out and jam, maybe test out some new material on an audience.

If you REALLY want to help, Ms. Wheeler, how about having live music five nights a week at Salt Bar? Do your open mic on Tuesday. Bring in bands for happy hour Wednesday and Thursday with full on music nights Friday and Saturday. Maybe once a month on Sunday, coordinate afternoon or early evening performances with other venues on the street.

Speaking of which, how about getting together with your sister venue, which could still conceivably put on shows (though I know they won’t), or with Walter’s, right across the street. Convince some of the other owners to suck it up and put on a live original band a few times a week. Imagine the impact if 9 out of 10 of the venues up and down Washington had live music even three nights every week?

If you are truly serious, don’t put on an open mic night on a Tuesday and then expect every musician in town to drool at the prospect of a gig on Washington Avenue and don’t expect this sudden infusion of one night a week to make everyone in the city think we’re on the road to Sixth Street.

Look, I commend your desire to have live, original music on a stage in the heart of what is rapidly becoming the most popular entertainment destination in Houston and I will HAPPILY eat my words the day your Tuesday night open mic turns into an every-day occurrence along your thoroughfare, but please don’t expect any of us who have any history with this city to appreciate all the hard work it took to set up a mic and some speakers and invite people to play for free at your bar on a Tuesday night.

Photo by kshilcutt

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4th September
2009
written by Jeff

Posh KrogerI’ve been seeing a lot of you ask on Twitter, “Where the hell is Zombie Kroger and why is it called that?” By “a lot,” I mean like three people I sorta know but have never met.

So, I figured I should put together this little rundown of the four Krogers that have been given monikers and why they are so named.

Disco Kroger
Montrose at Hawthorne (near Westheimer)

The original. I don’t know when people started calling it Disco Kroger. I first started going there when I worked across the street. I also had my truck towed from there when I stupidly parked in its parking lot during a show at Tower Theater (you know it now as Hollywood Video – sigh). But, if you’ve ever been in there later at night, particularly on the weekends, you understand just how it got its name.

Ghetto Kroger
Shepherd at 11th

As far as I know, I’m the one that handed this Signature store with the name dating back to this post about how crappy that store can be. I first started going to Ghetto Kroger when it was decidedly less ghetto many MANY years ago. It was also significantly smaller. I’m told this will be the largest Kroger store in the US when re-modeling is complete. To understand its ghetto nature, all you have to do is go in there, see the construction and note ZERO signs saying “Please excuse our mess” or anything like that. I guess in a few months, we’ll have more ghetto to love.

Zombie Kroger
Shepherd at 20th

As outlined here, Zombie Kroger is so named because it is marked both by really sweet, exceedingly slow elderly people and a dearth of checkers most of the time. Plus, it seems to be in some sort of vortex that swallows normal time and has soda that looks like Windex.

Posh Kroger
West Gray at Dunlavy

Only recently this River Oaks store (pictured) got its name for both its clientele and the fact that you feel as if you are walking on diamond-encrusted floors and breathing caviar-infused air as you mill about in this hoity toity market. I see a blog post in my future.

So far, those are the Krogers with nicknames. I’m sure others could be determined if necessary. Hell, add your own if you like!

Photo via Wikipedia

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1st September
2009
written by Jeff

Big BlueLeave it to me to sell my house, three blocks from Ghetto Kroger, and move into a place three blocks from Zombie Kroger.

Why do I call it Zombie Kroger, you ask (I know you asked, so don’t pull that “I didn’t ask” bullshit. We both know that you did!)? I call it that because the clientele appears to mostly be older than the average corpse and moves even slower.

I don’t like to shop there, but I stop by since it is close on occasion. Here are the five reasons I should NOT routinely stop by Zombie Kroger – and why you should avoid it altogether.

What the hell kind of food is that and why is it there?

See that bottle of weird blue liquid? When I reached in to grab a couple bottles of Deja Blue water, apparently, I got one bottle of that blue shit too. First, what the hell is that? Is it like the blood of an Oompa Loompa? Did someone bottle unicorn pee?

Second, why in the name of sweet blue unicorn pee do you put that on the same shelf in the refrigerated case with water that has a blue bottle? If I wanted the nectar of some made up fruit from Narnia, I’d call Aslan and tell him to ship me a crate.

And, while I’m at it, why would you put all the cat food EXCEPT THE IAMS at one end of the aisle with the two sections of cat food separated by hundreds of bags of dog food? What genius thought that good food for cats should sit on two shelves 15 feet from the Kibbles and Shit?

Check it out…or not.

During the day, you would be lucky to find more than two lanes open at any given time. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue, but when you have a store full of octogenarians who often buy food together and pay by check, you end up with issues. I was in line last week behind two women who had one cart of stuff divided into five separate batches of food that all had to be checked out separately and paid for with different payment types. Fortunately for them, every batch was fewer than 15 items so, naturally, they were in the express lane.

While I’m on the topic of express lanes and strange customers, when I was there tonight, a manager opened an extra express lane, but blocked it off with a sign and shut off the numbered lamp as the store got less busy so he could go back to whatever it is managers do. No one seemed to care. Several people – one woman pushing 90 wearing a full girl scout uniform (scout’s fucking honor!) – just walked around the sign and got in line.

Finally, since there are at least a few normals that shop here, how about a self checkout stand. I realize this could be an unmitigated disaster since many of the folks in the store probably don’t even know how to use a remote control for a television, but maybe try an experiment for those of us who do.

How about you widen the aisles or something?

I feel for the older folks who come in there on a regular basis and the many disabled as well. The aisles are so narrow, they barely fit one person at a time let alone a person, his zip scooter, an oxygen tank and the oversized nurse helping him shop.

It also doesn’t help that the store is often populated with some really odd characters who seem to stand and stare for what seems like hours at toothpaste or milk or tampons. One guy tonight was in an aisle when I walked into the store and still in the same spot when I left. I assume he was comparing the price of canned peaches to determine if Dole had enough nutritional value to justify losing the ten cents off coupon he had for Libby’s, but what the hell do I know?

Departments are more like compartments.

Speaking of small, what made them think that a customer service desk the size of a toll booth was big enough for the dozens who want to cash their social security checks twice a month? And I really hope you don’t want a birthday cake (you don’t!) from the bakery since the counter space is smaller than the jewelry display case my ex-wife and I used to haul to shows all over Texas (yeah, I sold jewelry…you wanna make something of it?).

I’m just saying that if your meat department offers only two cuts of beef and one of them is “ground,” that isn’t exactly what I’d call a wide selection. Just something to consider.

Which way do I park?

Finally, what kind of crazy bastard designed this parking lot? Angled parking is fine. It’s not the smartest way to go for traffic, but with all the giant ass cars people drive around, it’s probably a necessity.

However, don’t have the parking angled BOTH WAYS IN THE SAME LANE!!! I don’t have to do a million dollar traffic flow study to tell you that a lane that is really only big enough for one-and-a-half cars and has angled parking going in both directions is going to be a freaking disaster.

Now, add that parking to a lot where a LOT of very old and disabled people park. It’s like putting all compact car spaces at Whole Foods for all the Hummers – oh, right, they do that too.

Ingress and egress needs to be ultra easy when you have a bunch of people with cataracts driving giant Oldsmobuicks. It’s science.

I’m not a grocery store expert even though my four years of work at Kroger in high school does qualify me for upper management at Food City, but I can tell you that Zombie Kroger is terrifying, even more so than Ghetto Kroger and that is saying something.

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