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2005-02-21 - 12:38 a.m.

Over the phone I hear it…

Across the street from the convention center, a large bulging building with inflated parapets, there squats a ramshackle barn. Painted in blue it barely hanging on to existence. Rotted foundation and chipping paint, whatever once stood proudly on that small strip of land has been long since abandoned, now barb wired to keep out the homeless of the Austin streets. The Colorado twirls by just a block down, and five blocks up the children of the beat roll through their three day weekend, but there is nothing in flux here. The slow erosion on wind and rain takes its toll, but beyond that, the pale blue stands stolid as the new owners of RV’s drive the recent purchase by.

I get a call. It’s only eleven and I’m yawning. I’ve drained three one-dollar beers down my throat in a crammed drinkery slotted with the standards: a newly legal drinker in a ball cap turned thirty degrees and requesting Green Day's ode to loneliness, the partly Latina girl wearing what look and move like trimmed biker shorts and a tank top that streaks over her nipples and little else, the two business men come to look at said tank top. I curl my shoulders in as the congrigants make drink orders around me.

The Colorado splits off into little streams that take in the sewage run-off. As I pass the low lying drainage, curled and primped like a forest stream, my eyes shoot to the side, spotting what I think is someone following me on this quiet street. It’s my shadow running along the banks.

Walking through the run down neighborhood surrounding my hotel is well enough at nine-thirty, when somewhere deep in the recesses of your heart you think you might rustle up an evening from the shards of unreturned phone calls, but going back at near midnight, after such dreams are dashed in the dimly lit booth while you read a play in a bar called the “Library,” it seems a bit too much. In New York, fifteen taxis pass every other minute, all of them heavy, but here, there’s only one, and he’s empty. That’s when my phone rings out the chimes of a Grandfather clock.

I’m glad the cops busting the nineteen-year old on the corner are dressed in black, and don’t seem all that angry. Something ineffably frightening hangs over the shoulders of any police officer in a cowboy hat. At least to the eyes of anyone born and raised above the Mason- Dixon line, the simple combination of a Stetson and sunglasses is enough to chill the marrow. Throw a “Boy…” onto the barbee with that steaming impression, and you have outright terror. The blue-boys don’t even seem that angry at the youngin’ with Shiner Bock on his breath. They’re passing the minutes away waiting for him to sober up a touch, just to send him on his way.

There's a bench by the river, looking over some non-descript buildings barely lit on the opposite bank. I can think of no better place to sit slumped in the earliest of mornings slamming cigarette after cigarette, hoping the oddly still tides of the waters will provide a few answers; at least something to crib off of. The back door of the hotel is open, so I bide my time.

I nearly walk into a spider whose bite must surredly tender superpowers, at least judging by his rotund form. There isn’t even a squirm in the legs as I dodge by inches his artwork in spindle. Across the street an older couple just down to attend a conference; they walk a little bit faster, dodging the blond thug who must be tripping on that “PCP.”

The girls who’ve spent hours attending to ever last lick of hair dribbling over their shoulders offer nothing but eye rolls and tongue clicks to the men whose eyes scan from Prada to eye shadow. They came to be the hottest by the bar, not to cash in on the position. I make it my business to cut in line, grabbing my third pint before they can gobble up another Long Island Iced Tea. It doesn’t matter though, since the bartender, grinning from chop to chop makes their drinks ninety percent alcohol.

There’s no one here. I don’t know a single person here. I’m drinking and reading and smoking and sitting and that’s how I’ll be for the next few hours if I decide to fight off the oncoming torrent of exhaustion. I make for the door, ducking the groups of large large men who toast to the NBA All-Star Game.

In the back of the cab, I hear it. There’s a moment before I babble at the cabbie.

“I’m fucking stunned. The man who made Keith Richards look like a fucking boy-scout…he just shot himself.”

“Yeah?”

We pull up just outside the lobby.

“Damn, man. Well, this your stop?”

“Yeah.”

“Keep on livin’, man.”

“Apparently, that’s a challenge these days.”

He laughs over it, counting out his tip. I make my way inside to one of the single beds I’ve yet to push together.

Over the phone I hear Hunter S. Thompson died.

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