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Tintin in America
I prefer to have transactions with people who are bad at selling things. One should never hope for a fair fight in an adversarial relationship. It is better, always, if the enemy is dumber than you. Of course, they might know this preference. The ones who are onto you make entire careers out of playing dumb.
I met Brendon at the gym. I overheard him awkwardly mention to a man nearly twice his size that he was a realtor. Pouncing on the hesitancy in his elevator pitch, I introduced myself and said I wanted to rent a house. He got my number and never followed up or sent a cursory note. That's how I knew he was the right guy to find me a place to rent. Then, I left Texas for two months. Nothing had changed when I returned. It was still 100 degrees. The soles of my feet felt like they might melt and become one with the concrete sidewalk. Too sunny to look up at the sky. The paved sidewalks angrily reflected back the sun into my eyes. The baristas scowled at my audacity to order hot coffee. I hoped everyone had deserted Austin and the rent had gone down.
When I met Brendon at a house in Hyde Park one afternoon, he was wearing a straw sun hat, floral shirt, and tapered chinos. Sweat trickled down the side of his head, over the edges of his full beard. He asked me how my summer was, and I told him I spent it in Oakland. He told me he had moved from there three years ago.
"I wanted to pursue music, so I moved out here," he said.
"Austin has a better music scene?" I enquired
"Oh yeah," he replied, making the face that people confidently make when they realize you're ignorant.
He showed me the apartment without making a single observation. Nothing about how great the location is or how much sunlight the living room gets. At one point, he noted, "Oh, gas stove," and then moved on while I waited for him to sell me on it, longing for him to tell me how cooking with gas is better. I was put in the position of having to do most of the talking with a realtor.
Perhaps he was just an aloof musician, begrudgingly selling houses on the side. I wanted to know, so I asked, "How's the music going?"
"Oh, I have not started playing. I have stage fright," Brendon replied without hesitance, with the same matter-of-fact tone he had used to point out the gas stove.
"But I have two open mics I am planning to go to this week", he assured me and more importantly, himself.
The next house we saw was a 1910s bungalow. It still had outlets for gas lamps. The hardwood floor looked like someone had dragged a dead body over it just before we arrived. "Yeah, this place is old man," Brendon noted. "It would have been a good place if you were a bohemian type or something, you know?" he said wistfully. It is typical of rental listings in Austin to deny how poor and destitute the house was with a price tag that signaled bohemia. There will always be demand for these homes. At least as long as bohemians move from Oakland to Austin to pursue music.
Running out of things to talk about, I mentioned how the gym where I met Brendon had poor air conditioning. "Oh they fixed the air conditioning," he assured me. His tone suddenly became more confident, not natural confidence but the confidence of someone who had just watched a YouTube video on how to be confident. With this tone, he continued, "If you go too hard, you still sweat. That's my fault you know? Going too hard at the gym is my fault." Unsure which response he desired, I laughed. When that didn't seem to suffice, I nodded.
Another Austin house archetype is the wolf in sheep's clothing. This house has the sterile, soulless aesthetic of a modern home but has been built on the frame of an old collapsing bungalow. Someone who found Austin charming in spring and then decided to move immediately is most likely to rent these. You learn to pick up the scent of a wolf once you've lived in the city for a few years - A dampness in the air, floor ventilators for air conditioning, and single-paned windows are all telltale signs. We saw a few of these. I noted that Brendon always talked to the dogs in the neighborhood. The dogs always barked at him. I decided that I liked a visibly distressed home better than one that hid behind thin veneers.
The house that I decided to rent had tenants living there when we walked through it. Brendon perused the articles in their house. When we were outside, he exclaimed, "Tintin, Seth Godin, looks like this guy has taste." He paused and turned to me doubtfully. "You ever heard of Tintin?." I was tired. It was 7 p.m., and still 102 degrees. I saw a woman scan me head to toe, probably wondering why I was wearing a full-sleeved shirt. I replied to Brendon, "No, I have never heard of Tintin." It was too hot to explain that I read Tintin when I was 9, sitting in a dimly lit corner of the pantry, watching my mom cook dinner. Too tired to explain that Tintin might be how I learned to read fluently.
"Oh cool, you should check it out man. I just found out about it about a month ago," Brendon suggested sincerely.
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