A Conversation

Damian Priour, Austin Temple (detail) 2000 fossil limestone, glass, steel In Memory of Buddy Langston 1947-2004 Frisco, Texas

Damian Priour, Austin
Temple (detail)
2000 fossil limestone, glass, steel
In Memory of Buddy Langston 1947-2004
Frisco, Texas

Life consists of making the decision of what you are going to do in the next split second. Nothing else exists other than the process of making that decision and executing it. Everything else is an illusion.

What if I make the wrong choice? What if I choose something that limits my future choices? What if I paint myself into a corner?

I didn’t say it was easy. I didn’t say it was a good thing. All I said is that that is all there is.

I thought that life was pain! I thought that life was suffering!

It is. Pain is choice. It is. Choice is suffering.

But if choice is all there is… and I can choose whatever I want – then I am totally free.

Choice is freedom. Total choice is total freedom. Freedom is all there is.

So I am totally free.

Yes – but if life is pain and suffering and choice is also freedom – then life is freedom.
But freedom is pain and suffering.

Freedom is suffering?

Yes.

I get it.

Yes, you do.

LED

I was walking home from somewhere the other night – late at night. Pitch dark. There was this big field – never mind exactly where – but the important thing is that it was between where I was and where I needed to be. So I walked across it, diagonally… which is the straight line, the shortest distance between the two points – where I was and where I needed to be.

It’s odd that there is a field like this, this big, this empty, in the middle of a city. Land is expensive, after all… and there is only so much of it. But if you look closely, there are a lot more of these expanses of empty space, of ragged grass, of nothingness, than you think.

But you don’t look closely. Nobody does. There is nothing so hidden, so mysterious, as a big empty field in the middle of a city.

It is so hidden and mysterious that it feels odd to walk across it in the pitch dark. Very odd.

In the middle of the field, when I was a long way from the nearest streetlight, when the only light was provided by the half-moon overhead, I saw something where I didn’t expect something to be. There was a small but bright red light hovering in space, not too far away.

As I approached, it began to change, and then it was blue. Then it was green. Then it was red again. Interested and confused, I walked toward the little light.

It turns out there was a small, ragged tree there, all alone, separated from the rest of the world of trees. You would really never notice that tree otherwise – it wasn’t much of a tree… more like a big shrub – though of a tree shape. And somebody had put something in the tree.

There was enough moonlight for me to make it out. Someone had firmly planted a solar-powered LED lit plastic butterfly in the tree. They had attached its metal pole to a branch and left it to run. It would hide there all day, soaking up the sun, so that its constantly changing light would stream out all night.

Here… I think this is it. Not too expensive, but not free, either. They did a good job of mounting it in the tree, with some padding to protect the branch and large, thick zip ties.

Who did this? And why?

It is impossible to see this from the street. It is only by sheer accident that I walked near enough to the thing in the night to notice the light. Even in the day, you would never see the thing unless you happened to walk right next to it then look up. I have never seen anyone in that field… ever.

So it’s a little secret between me and the person that put it up. I sort of like that. Don’t tell anybody about it… OK?

I walked back during the day to take a picture of the Solar Powered LED Butterfly in the tree.

I walked back during the day to take a picture of the Solar Powered LED Butterfly in the tree.

Blur in the Intersection

“The long triangular grooves on the car had been formed within the death of an unknown creature, its vanished identity abstracted in terms of the geometry of this vehicle. How much more mysterious would be our own deaths, and those of the famous and powerful?”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Pearl

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Pearl
(Click to Enlarge)

Sometimes the world is hidden in the nooks and crannies of the cable television spectrum – especially in the middle of the night.

There are these shows when some bunch of celebrity grease monkeys steal some poor victim’s car and then rebuild it – adding subwoofers that can shatter glass eardrums, lights visible from other planets, and an aquarium in the rear deck— things like that. Hopefully, they also shove in an engine that starts and brakes that stop.

At the climax – the reveal – the dupe is shown his new pimped-out chariot and he cries. He says, always, “Thank you. My life is changed.” The show ends with the impression that everything will be all right now.

I like that part. I am a sucker for redemption. I like to bask in the feeling that it is even possible that everything will be all right (although I know that it is not true).

Think about it. They are talking about a car. A hunk of metal and rubber – a capsule of steel and glass – a rolling coffin propelled by the burning ghosts of ancient jungles.

But maybe they are right. A car is freedom. A car is the ability to change your location at will. A car is sex… and a nice car is good sex.

When I was young, I went to a lake with a friend of mine and we were swimming in the green water, constantly being slightly bitten by tiny fish, and listening to some women talking to each other while they sunned on a worn wooden dock. One asked another if it was OK if she went out and had her hair cut the same way as the other. Then one asked another about her boyfriend.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “I don’t really like the guy, he doesn’t treat me that well, but he has that really nice sports car.”

“After being bombarded endlessly by road-safety propaganda it was almost a relief to find myself in an actual accident.”
― J.G. Ballard, Crash

Street Sign

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Olive

Time Exposure, Night, Downtown Dallas, Ross and Olive

Phoenix pushed back on his chair and leaned up against the rough brick wall. He grinned and watched the woman work her way through the bar, staring at every customer, one by one. She was obviously looking for someone. He was the only person in the place by himself – and he wanted to see what happened when she reached his spot. She glanced his way a few times, and it didn’t take long for her to clear the nearest table and look down at him. He willed his face into its most relaxed, nonchalant expression – something he took pride in and had worked on for years.

“Excuse me, but I’ve arranged a meeting here with someone I’ve never seen in person… are you Brett?”

“Why, yes… yes I am. Glad to meet you.” Phoenix had not even had time to think about the lie… it simply came out. And now… nothing to do except go with it. He put on his biggest, broadest smile and reached out his hand toward the woman.

Instead of taking it, she scooted back about half a step and reached into that cavernous bag she carried.

Phoenix had enough time to think, “Oh, that’s why she has such a large purse,” but not much more as the woman’s hand flashed out with a gigantic chrome plated revolver. She raised it and Phoenix’s brain noticed how it gleamed in the uneven light of the bar. He couldn’t do anything else, though. Propped in the chair like that, he was trapped, it would take at least two or three seconds to tip forward and leap one way or the other… but he had less than one.

The gun roared as the woman kept pulling the trigger and slug after slug pumped out and into Phoenix’s chest at point-blank range.

—- from The Smeebage Affair, by Armando Vitalis

Music Video

Filming a Mexican Music Video in Klyde Warren Park.

Filming a Mexican Music Video in Klyde Warren Park.

One of the nice things about living in the big evil city is that – if you keep your eyes open – you can see a lot of interesting things.

While I was walking around downtown I crossed from the crowded west section of Klyde Warren Park over into the less-used eastern part. A small group was filming a Mexican Music Video.

It was not a big operation – a guy playing an acoustic guitar wearing sunglasses and a huge blue fake mohawk. There was a photographer with a tiny handheld camera. An assistant with a boombox on a little cart – this was cranking out a tinny version of the tune so the signer could lip-sync along. There was also a video babe in a tight spandex dress and a bright red wig.

She wasn’t in the shot when I passed by – I imagine she does some wiggling at some point.

Six Skycrapers

I took the DART train downtown to a Beer Festival and made my train on time. Because of this, I was an hour early and sat down in Klyde Warren to hang out and wait until the festival opened. The sun was near setting and the sky was glowing – the skyscrapers sharp and elegant.

Looking at the collection of crystal towers, my attention was drawn toward six in particular. Thinking about why these meant something to me; I realized I had watched these (and many others) while they were built. I worked in Downtown Dallas in the early eighties – for a couple years in the Kirby Building (now converted into condominiums) and for a couple more in the historic Dallas Cotton Exchange (I loved that building – unfortunately, it was dynamited in 1994 to make room for a parking garage for the 1st Baptist Church).

The early eighties were a time of frantic building in Texas, especially in downtown Dallas. The giant construction crane was considered the state bird. This all came to a spectacular stop in the Savings and Loan crash of the late eighties – but at the time nobody could see that disaster coming.

I was young and a recent immigrant to the big city and was absolutely fascinated with watching the towers going up. In those pre-internet days detailed news was unavailable to the unwashed masses – so the construction was always a surprise to me. Since it would take, say, two years or more to build these it was like a slow-motion reveal, a mystery unveiled piece by piece, day by day.

A block would be cleared and then a gigantic hole slowly carved deep down into the chalky bedrock. Then the steel, concrete, or combination skeleton would rise, floor by floor, emerging from the scurrying crowds of hard-hatted workers like a living thing.

Finally, the skin would be hung and, only then, would the real shape and color of the building revealed. It was never really what it looked like while it as going up – the architects played with shapes and forms, adding extra corners and geometric sleights of hand. The final form was always a gigantic pleasant surprise.

Those were exciting, innocent days. Now, looking at the buildings bring back those memories. I can see, in my imagination, beyond the glass and stone cladding to the hidden skeleton of these skyscrapers, remember when the supporting framework was fresh and exposed.

Three skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Three skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas



The three towers to the east

The Chase Tower
2200 Ross – 1987
– I recently took photos of a helicopter making a delivery here.

People call this one the building with a hole in it. On the 40th floor is a skylobby that offers good views of the Uptown area of the city – I haven’t visited this, but would like to. I watched it get started but was working out in Garland before it was finished. The skyscraper was designed by SOM and is 738 feet tall with 55 stories, making it the 4th tallest building in Dallas.

San Jacinto Tower
2121 San Jacinto – 1982

This is the tan triple building in the center. I watched this one go up in detail. While it was being built it was not obvious that it would have that unique, triple structure – the effect was made with add-ons at the end. The building is 456 feet tall and is 33 stories, making it the 20th tallest building in Dallas.

Trammell Crow Center
2001 Ross – 1985

This one was really cool to watch. It was very close to where I worked and was clearly visible outside a window near my cube. Although I left downtown before it opened, I did see all the visible construction right in front of my eyes. The skyscraper is Post Modern in styling and is 686 feet tall with 50 stories. The Trammel Crow Center is the 6th tallest building in Dallas and is named after its principal tenant.

Three more skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

Three more skyscrapers from Klyde Warren Park, Dallas, Texas

To the west are three more:

Lincoln Plaza
500 N. Akard – 1984

This triangular building went up on the site of the old YMCA – I watched them implode that building. It has a cool upper-crust restaurant (Dakota’s) in the basement – you go into an elevator sticking up in the sidewalk to get down to it. Lincoln Plaza is 579 feet high with 45 stories, and is the 13th tallest building in Dallas.

These last two flank Thanksgiving Square – one of my favorite spots back in the day. It’s getting a little run-down and forgotten now – but in the early 80’s it was the place to hang out for lunch on a warm spring day.

Energy Plaza
1601 Bryan – 1983

This is another building that I watched with interest – it ended up looking a lot different than I thought. I.M. Pei & Partners designed this 49 story building located on the north side of Thanksgiving Square. On top of the tower is a triangular communications tower that is modeled after the Eiffel Tower — only smaller and three sided. Energy Plaza is the 9th tallest building in Dallas and with a height of 629 feet.

Thanksgiving Tower
1601 Elm – 1982

The rearmost of these three is Thanksgiving Tower. This was was almost finished when I started working in Dallas – I was there when it opened. This 50 story all glass skyscraper faces into Thanksgiving Square. Thanksgiving Tower is 645 feet high and is the 8th tallest building in Dallas. If you look at it you can see the the distinctive reflection of Republic Center Tower – a skyscraper that has been there since 1954 – ancient by Dallas Standards.

Mass Transit

J.G. Ballard wrote a short story named “The Concentration City” (you can read the PDF HERE) about a city that has grown to encompass the entire universe… theoretically and practically – whether it is actually is another question.

The protagonist tries to find the edge of the city, to find “free space” – to find an area where he can build and use a flying machine, by hopping a supersonic express sleeper train and riding it west for weeks.

Unfortunately, he discovers that no matter where you go, there you are.

Here in Dallas – which is shaped sort of like a bulls-eye, with concentric rings of highways and radial connectors – all the trains run out of the center and stop. There is no endless loop. They make you get off the train at the end, before it switches track and heads back in.

Otherwise it would be tempting to get on and never exit. Ride the endless electric rails – watch the city go by, circuit after infinite circuit, the commuters come and go. Everything would slide past forever.

Maybe it’s best that you can’t do that.

transit1

transit2

(click to enlarge)

[…]
“The surgeon hesitated before opening the door. “Look,” he began to explain sympathetically, “you can’t get out of time, can you? Subjectively it’s a plastic dimension, but whatever you do to yourself you’ll never be able to stop that clock”- he pointed to the one on the desk-“or make it run backward. In exactly the same way you can’t get out of the City.”
“The analogy doesn’t hold,” M. said. He gestured at the walls around them and the lights in the streets outside. “All this was built by us. The question nobody can answer is: what was here before we built it?”
“It’s always been here,” the surgeon said. “Not these particular bricks and girders, but others before them. You accept that time has no beginning and no end. The City is as old as time and continuous with it.”
“The first bricks were laid by someone,” M. insisted. “There was the Foundation.”
“A myth. Only the scientists believe in that, and even they don’t try to make too much of it. Most of them privately admit that the Foundation Stone is nothing more than a superstition. We pay it lip service out of convenience, and because it gives us a sense of tradition. Obviously there can’t have been a first brick. If there was, how can you explain who laid it, and even more difficult, where they came from?”
“There must be free space somewhere,” M. said doggedly. “The City must have bounds.”
“Why?” the surgeon asked. “It can’t be floating in the middle of nowhere. Or is that what you’re trying to believe?”
M. sank back limply. “No”
The surgeon watched M silently for a few minutes and paced back to the desk. “This peculiar fixation of yours puzzles me. You’re caught between what the psychiatrists call paradoxical faces. I suppose you haven’t misinterpreted something you’ve heard about the Wall?”
M. looked up. “Which wall?”
The surgeon nodded to himself. “Some advanced opinion maintains that there’s a wall around the City, through which it’s impossible to penetrate. I don’t pretend to understand the theory myself. It’s far too abstract and sophisticated. Anyway I suspect they’ve confused this Wall with the bricked-up black areas you passed through on the Sleeper. I prefer the accepted view that the City stretches out in all direction without limits.””
[…]
—-The Concentration City (1957). James Graham Ballard. The Complete Short Stories