Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Working Late Isn't Always So Bad (Confessions of a Slacker, Linklater style)

Right now I am at work, waiting for a co-worker who I’m supposed to take home. This isn’t a big deal (so don’t read that first line and interpret any hint of resentment in my voice, because it’s legitimately not there) as there’s a big deadline coming up and we’re all really busy. Since I reached a stopping point, though, I’m not about to dig into some huge task that I can’t devote enough attention to at the moment.

Staying late tonight was somewhat part of a coordinated team “late work night”, but if you’re like me and have spent every night this week (and most of last week) holed up in your office, then it’s just another night except for the solidarity you’re supposed to feel by all being here together. To do my part in contributing to the feeling of solidarity, I rounded up two of my co-workers to go grab a bite outside of the compound walls instead of having pizza with the team. Why would I not grab free pizza? First of all, I had free pizza last night with co-workers who stayed late, and also last Wednesday when we had one of these coordinated it’s-not-so-bad-if-we’re-all-here-right? kind of nights. Second, work is much better when you don’t have to deal with certain people, even if it’s in the context of free pizza.

Recently I’ve discovered that staying late isn’t so bad. I like working at night better than I do during the day, and the absence of the annoyances associated with having a company’s full staff present allows me to get exponentially more work done. (Thus, when it’s a “team” effort, the benefits of staying late tend to evaporate in the pretense of “bonding”). Also, sometimes I bring in my laptop so I can watch DVDs or movies, which makes work seem not so bad. No one’s ever contested me on this, and if they do I’ll just state that I’m spending extra time at the office, my fucking time, so I’ll work with whatever kind of atmosphere I damn well please. I may start doing this during the day.

Tonight I’m watching Slacker, which is Richard Linklater’s ode to the legitimately unique early 1990s Austin mentality. This was a time when the “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers weren’t ironic or sarcastic, and “weird” didn’t mean “still has a few coffee shops that aren’t Starbucks”.

Whenever I watch this movie (tonight’s only the second time) I get the sense that Austin is where I belong and I should just drop everything to move there immediately. I also get that feeling when SXSW is approaching, which is hardly coincidence. It also happens that SXSW is approaching at this very time, and maybe it was the last time I watched Slacker. However, this time I’m seeing the city as it’s portrayed in the movie and am fearful of the effects that the socialites outpriced from California may or may not be having on the city. While there’s still plenty of individualism and character in Austin, the city certainly ain’t what it used to be. The same can be said for SXSW, which is now something of an alternative spring break for hipsters (I am guilty of this) instead of a cool local thing.

The Austin that you see in the film is full of an academic underclass of disaffected 20-somethings so overwhelmed with conspiracy theories and political paranoia that they’ve created a society in which so many are avoiding working for the “man” that everyone gets along quite splendidly. Where are these characters nowadays? I guess there are still a few, and they probably aren’t as identifiable when the only time you go to the city is when there are thousands of people just like you, wearing tight jeans, Chuck Taylors (or the slightly hipper Onitsuka Tigers) and t-shirts of the bands that are cool, used to be cool, or are so uncool that they are now VERY cool.

In any case, there’s a certain “vibe” projected from Austin that you just can’t match anywhere else. I live in Madison, which is endlessly compared to Austin, but sadly the vibe is altogether absent. I feel like everything in Austin is different. The air feels different. A walk down the street feels better and somewhat fresher that in other places. Austin doesn’t even have my ideal city layout (it’s pretty spread out and there are some areas that are extremely suburban and nauseatingly generic) and I still only get this feeling there.

Some interesting observations:

In the background after the scene where the father is telling the daughter about the thief who persisted in the notion that there could be another person who looked like him, had the same hair, fingerprints, and name who in fact stole whatever it was the shopkeep accused him of, there is a truck with a sign promoting “Ron Paul, Libertarian for President”. In other parts of the film a few of the transitional group of protagonists are spouting off complaints about Bush, though in this case it’s H.W. Whoever said history repeats itself wasn’t fucking kidding.

Also, in this one part there are bottles of Shiner Bock on the table, and it has a much cooler label in that scene than the beer does now. Shiner, if you can believe it, used to be a Texas beer!

And finally,
that one broke ass guy’s band is playing at the Continental Club, which is the essence of Austin. It’s hip because it’s on South Congress (is the current location the original?), and it’s always cool to see places you know in movies.

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