How to wear shoes


One of the waiters tells my dad they don’t open till three.

This isn’t gonna work.

We have to get back to my mom’s because we had to be back by then. That’s when my dad’s time is up.

Eating out is not something that is done with my mom; we’re going to have to wait until my dad is in town next month. I sigh.

Texas Roadhouse is a brand new restaurant in our sleepy Midwestern town. I am intrigued by the establishment: I’ve heard you could throw peanut shells on the ground. And naming a restaurant after a state? There are certainly no Indiana Roadhouses. My dad turns to me and says he’ll be back; he has to go wash his hands. He is always washing his hands. My ears tune to the music streaming overhead:

            She’s been readin’ about Nashville and all the records that everybody’s buying/Says, I’m a simple girl myself, grew up on Long Island

It is not cool to like country in Indiana. I know this. Only the slow-talking, burst-capillary faces across the Wabash River listen to country. But this song is plucking at a chord in me:

            She’s gone country, look at them boots/She’s gone country, back to her roots/She’s gone country, a new kind of suit/She’s gone country, here she comes

            “Sug, you ready?”

I’m brought back to the present. We head outside to the heat and the black suburban with my three brothers. We drive back to my mom’s house. And to my mom. And to shaky hands, and unkempt hair and, “I don’t know if I can take care of them anymore, Phil”. And three hours in my driveway in the suburban listening to my dad and mom and uncle and stepmom go in circles about custody and mental stability and what is best for “Our children, Phil; our children”, while the neighbors watch like crows on a telephone wire. And as we drove away that evening from my mom’s hallowed eyes and my home of ten years and the two weeks left of my sixth grade year, I know we wouldn’t be going to Terre Haute’s Texas Roadhouse next month.


Holy cow, this place is huge, I think as I walk by room after room.

Another new home. Another new town. I envision in my head of who I will be.


Nobody will have to know about the last few years spent moving back and forth from Indiana to Tennessee to Indiana to Tennessee. The fighting. The late-night police calls. Evansville State Hospital.

I set the box down on the kitchen island and look at the bare walls. There’s even an intercom system in this place. I look closer at the knobs. A radio, too? I turn the dial to “On”. Static mixed with an unrecognizable beat fills the room. I continue turning the knob. Country station. Shit. A few more turns. Another country station. Damn it. How many country stations does Louisiana need? I turn the dial again.

So she packs her bags to try her hand/Says this might be my last chance

             Wait a second.

            She’s gone country, look at them boots/She’s gone country, back to her roots/She’s gone country, a new kind of suit/She’s gone country, here she comes

I like this song. Why do I like this song? Oh, well. Don’t really have a lot of options. I listen to the rest of Alan Jackson’s “Gone Country”. And then keep it on that station for the rest of the day. And the next. Turns out, country is cool in Louisiana. I definitely am not. Nevertheless, I become hooked, clinging to country stations like a five-year-old to an outstretched arm at Six Flags: “Do not let go of my hand; do you hear me?”

You couldn’t pay me to unclench my sticky fingers.


“This is my first time…” Jimmie Vaughan trails off and turns his back to the crowd. Stifled laughs are heard throughout the dim-lit room.

“…playing the New Antone’s,” he concludes, body still facing away from the masses. A few chords later, he slowly rotates around, guitar leading, his left hand on the frets, his right hand holding a pick plucking at the strings.

First time or not in the new venue, the night belongs to Vaughan.

Vaughan and his band slide into songs…songs I don’t know. Songs I couldn’t pretend to know even if I tried. Songs that everyone in the darken room is feeling slice into the nails of their fingers and vibrate down to the ends of their steel-toed boots.

Everyone but me.

A bipolar ping-pong match ensues in my head:

Is this guitar solo ever going to fucking end? Seriously. How am I supposed to know what song he’s playing if he doesn’t start singing? What the fuck is wrong with you?? You do know who this is onstage don’t you?? Fuck you! Try to enjoy this. Try to enjoy this. Fuck. I will seriously give this man two twenties if he will play the first chorus of “Friends in Low Places”. I will do it. I have cash on me. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?!?!

I glance nervously at the Texas eyes fixated on the figure onstage. I bet they can smell the years of Nashville on me. I gotta go. Now.


Images swirl through my mind as Vaughan’s fingers weave the strings…the red of Gary Clark, Jr.’s guitar gleaming at a crowded La Zona Rosa…the bewitching, magnetic pull of Jack White onstage in Zilker Park’s field…the rawness in the eyes and throats of the ratty-haired musicians on the streets of Sixth…music books from the Ruiz branch library strewn throughout my apartment room…lists scratched on receipt paper from the musicians I wait tables with: “Nevermind. Yeah, and put down George Clinton. And listen to everything from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.”

Two years I’ve spent in Austin. Two years I’ve done my best to expand my music tastes. But it’s hard to compete with the thirteen years of sound I’ve trained my ears to crave: a musical library comprised of whatever record labels deemed worthy to stuff into two and half minutes of airplay time on an FM pop-country station.

I breathe in, slowing my breath, staring at the figure on stage with the black holes for eyes.

I hope he can’t see mine.

I slip quietly through the Antone’s crowd and out the door, frozen smile plastered on my lips to distract from the naked parts of my eyes.

The drive home is silent, the radio dial turned off for once.

My mind drifts to the years of my turbulent youth, the one steady thing being the sound of the pop-country stations blaring through my Durabrand clock radio. No matter how many snarled words crept up the stairs and under the crack between the floor and my shut bedroom door, one upbeat, poppy ditty from 103 WKDF would let me escape it all, if only for two and half minutes.


“How long you been here?”

Everybody in Austin asks you that.

Nobody asks if you’re from here.

Because nobody’s from here.

I’m still trying to figure out if it’s cooler being the new kid, or the one that’s been here the longest. I think everyone asking the question is trying to figure out the same thing.

I’ve been in Austin now for two and a half years.

They’ve felt more like two and a half weeks.

Austin will do that to you. The city’s a bit of a Neverland. The sun effortless basks down on the topless Barton Springs sunbathers–yes you can in Austin. Skinny jeans and mullets pack the hipster-meets-cowboy-meets-at-least-two-people-in-here-don’t-have-shoes-on White Horse bar, regardless if it’s a Tuesday or a Saturday evening (a Minnesota tourist, “Does anyone in Austin actually have a real job? Also noted, the tallest building in your city is a residential one.”)

And then there’s the music.


The wooden fence on Red River, full of silver staples and white shreds of old concert posters, and sound absorbed from the thousands upon thousands of shows shaken out of the concert venue that is Stubb’s Austin.

The heads-magnetized-together couples that two-step to the honk-till-you-tonk Dale Watson. And a male- crooned version of Macy Gray’s “I Try”. And around the fact that hippies and rednecks and *insert any subcategory of human you might think of* don’t get along.

The hunched-over figure on Sixth, playing for coin, or just the recognition in a passerbyer’s eyes of, “Goddamn, that’s a song.”

Austin’s also opened me up to words I didn’t know could be paired together:

“A Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis”—I heaved for a solid four minutes upon hearing the drunk-on-honesty lyrics spewn through the shitty speakers of a five-year-old MacBook. Tom Waits may be the best thing that ever happened to my music world’s gut.

Eeyore’s Birthday—Ball caps on unicyclists playing a heavily referred game of touch football. Straight men waltzing around in bumblebee tutus and matching yellow roses in their closely shorn hair. A Bambi-limbed blonde, Chubby-Checker twisting in the middle of a drum circle—six years after sitting on her hands in the outskirts of another one.

And acceptance—if you’ll allow it in.

My history has remained with me.

Indiana will always be the thin, late-afternoon shadow hinting at the childhood I got halfway through.

The girl in the too-big navy polo and putty shade of khakis is there, too; ruffling for an invisible “something” in her Jansport before the first period bell rings.

Pretend to have something to do. Pretend to have something to do. God, I wish I had someone to talk to.

Bell fucking ring already.

The figure of the present’s there, too. The one with the SLR around the neck sometimes. Or a spiral notebook and black ink pen in hand at other times.

The one who craves a jazzercise microphone man when a Texas guitar god is playing.

I’m pretty sure Jimmie Vaughan could give a fuck less.

I’m still trying to get there, too.

            “The thing about Austin,” my friend with the carefully manicured beard and stone-washed jeans says. He’s an architect who’s headed to Amsterdam to try his hand at adventure and job searching for a month. Or a year. Doesn’t know yet.

            “The thing about this city,” he repeats himself. “Is the only thing it asks of you, is that once you’ve gotten to where you need to get with yourself, you go, you leave, and tell everyone about the city. And in so, you give your spot for someone else to have, to experience the magic of Austin.”

            He smiles with his eyes and we begin walking up Congress. He in his flip flops.

            Me in my cowboy boots.

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