Category Archives: Austin

The Neighborhood and The Department

A lot of academics in my discipline speak of their respective departments as a community. The one we have in Communication Studies at the University of Texas is considered pretty strong.

But I don’t think of our department as a community.

For me it feels more like a neighborhood.

I grew up in a pretty tight-knit neighborhood that had a lot of families that partied pretty hard together. We had two kinds of parties: 4th of July, and whenever we felt like it. The first involved shutting down our street, being loud and obnoxious, and having the cops show up–to the free BBQ we gave them. The second kind usually started with the phrase “well, Ray and Tina are out in their driveway with the stereo up. What can we bring over?” Plan or no plan, both ended up with the adults in the neighborhood going long into the night.

I feel like I have somehow stumbled upon that same thing here in my graduate department.

This past weekend a bunch of my fellow graduate students, and some professors, celebrated a birthday in the form of a house party, complete with DJ and dance floor. The party was deemed “sold out” by the host, as both the smoke machine and guests repeatedly came billowing out onto the back porch, where the designated champagne sabering area was. It wasn’t anyone’s first time being at a house party where the cops made an appearance. But I’d be willing to bet it was that officer’s first time responding to a noise complaint at a party full of people with Masters’ Degrees.

Then the Superbowl, a day where no plans were needed, we all just “knew” to show up at our own designated “driveway.” Combining our “refined” tastes as graduate students (kegs and champagne) the night involved a lot of yelling, obnoxiously critiquing the power dynamics at play in various Superbowl ads, and a Rockband marathon going long into the (school)night. An actual neighbor, upon seeing the keg the birthday boy and I were unloading from my trunk, asked if we had any for her. Of course she was invited, this is how it works.

Most of the original families from the street I grew up on no longer live there. Some do, but for the most part they’ve moved on to different places. Yet from time to time they still meet up and throw the same parties. The Neighborhood is more a dynamic than a place. I feel the same thing about The Department.

For my family back home who want to know what graduate school has largely been like here in Austin, you already know.

For my new friends here, a bit of a glimpse into how we all ended up in this place.

Except here we are ALSO getting our PhDs.

Dazed and Confused: Housesitting with a College Professor’s Wife

Everyone I know is moving this summer, myself included. I’m finally settled in at my new place, which is great, but it has killed my productivity the past week, which is not so great.

I’ve been housesitting in Hyde Park all summer for a professor in my department, where all the houses look like this. Living rent free in one of the best neighborhoods in Austin has definitely been a lifesaver and somewhat of a Summer routine for myself. For the most part it’s been good, if a little solitary at times. Like having your own ranch. People have been asking me what it was like living by myself on nearly an acre of land in Hyde Park. I’ve decided to give you all my Top 5 “Highlights” of my summer Housesitting with the College Professor’s Wife (more on that soon).

1. Battling Raccoons

The most important part of housesitting usually involves making sure any pets stay alive. This was no different. The two cats placed in my care, Bella and Jasper, were pretty easy going if a little needy at times. Like a typical male cat Jasper loved hanging out with me, while Bella had the look of “who the hell are you” etched into her face for nearly two months.

What was different was the third “houseguest” to come through the cat door at night. On the list of things I didn’t think I’d ever cross off a list, coming face to face with a raccoon in a kitchen, on multiple occasions, is definitely near the top. It was like camping in the backwoods, only it was inside a house, in a major U.S. city.

2. Healing Sessions

Usually, when you housesit for people they tend to not be there. Such is not the case in Hyde Park Hollow, where I essentially had a roommate on the other end of the house for the first two weeks. Vickie is really sweet, really nice, and really interesting. Also she is Dr. Browning’s wife. Here is an email I got from my roommate regarding her spiritual prowess.

Hi Joe,

I will be doing an energy healing at the house today from 4:40 – 6:40PM, and Friday from 4-6PM. I have decided not to use the regular healing room, which is on my side of the house – the sun porch room, because it is too hot, and the air conditioning doesn’t reach it.

I will be using the living room. I will leave the back door unlocked, so you could enter through the kitchen. There might be the sounds of drumming and gongs and rattles during the session. Thank you so much in advance for being flexible!!!!

I think this can stand alone.

3. Becoming one with ALL of Austin’s Bugs

Welcome to the Jungle

The benefit of having such a rainy summer was that watering the thick forrest the house was essentially carved out of was a breeze. The drawback is that such an eco-friendly set up was especially beneficial to the eco-friendly bugs that were everywhere. After a few weeks I didn’t get out of bed for anything less than 3 cockroaches on the counter. And I’ve got so many mosquito bites it looks like my ankles have track marks. So much for the starving raccoon.

4. Playing landlord

Needless to say the Professor and his wife are very smart financially, owning and renting out several properties all over Austin. But someone’s gotta deposit those rent checks on the first of the month and that person was me. It was quite the experience to take a half-dozen checks from strangers each month and deposit them into another stranger’s checking account. No Questions Asked. And they say we are in a financial crisis!

5. Not having a single party (in case anyone of note is reading this).

Let me just say again, I did not have any parties at the house. I also did not tell anyone I was going to have a party, nor did I brag about how epic a party would have been. There was NO secret Evite or Facebook event that went out and that tree falling through the roof of the side room was definitely not caused by anything no one at the house was not doing during this party I did not have. Not really.

Note to everyone: Always take the opportunity to house sit for a professor. Their houses are usually baller, and this was no exception. They really hooked me up this summer.

Looking Up at the Night Sky(line): Austin, One Year Later

I’m a huge fan of skylines. Every place I have lived has an epic one. Places like LA, NY, and Phoenix.

The skyline is one of the first greetings one is given to a new town, and one of the first indications that someone has returned home. Austin is no different. A year ago today, pulling a trailer through Arizona, New Mexico and all of West Texas I arrived in a place that I never thought I’d be. It wasn’t my initial plan to move to Austin. I had already turned it down once before for a “sure thing.” But as I have become well aware, “sure things” are never such and sometimes the best option available is to just pack up. And go.

And so on a ridiculously hot and muggy night in late June, my friend Scott and I finally completed the last leg of our journey. As we drove up I-35 after a quick stop in San Antonio we were greeted to this:

My new home.

A year later some things have changed, others haven’t. I just bought my first house. I’ve finally done some good things in stand up comedy. My new academic program has been wonderful. I’ve become a better person in a lot of ways. And I still continue to make sense of how the heck I ended up here at all. But Austin, and its inhabitants have been amazingly supportive. I only wish I can do my new adopted town justice and one day return the favor. I haven’t fallen in love with the city as quickly and easily as everyone said I would. In many ways I’m still not ready. The skyline of New York City still gives me chills and LA will always be my first home. But the feeling I got on that night in June, rounding a curve on the I-35 in the Capital of Texas let me know that everything would be alright. No one cares how you got here. They’re just glad you came.

And I’m getting closer.