John Kelso

Yesterday, my phone lit up with messages – John Kelso, an Austin icon, had passed away.  If you in any way claim to be a true Austinite, separating yourself from the throngs who appear adding condos along Town Lake and driving up real estate prices, then you love a few things: Barton Springs, Zilker hillside musicals, Chuy’s  jalapeño ranch, ACL, and of course John Kelso.

I could recount some of my favorite articles, but y’all have Google and a curious mind, so I’ll let you enjoy the thrill of discovery.  That said, the time he shamed the city into re-thinking their stance on a goat’s living situation near “So-Co” (don’t get me started; I was here before South Congress started putting on airs) made me proud. Hey, sometimes gentrifiers need friendly reminders. (Chin up, guys you’ll eventually drive the goat family out thanks to increased property taxes. Every cloud, right?)

I was going to link to a blog piece where I’d written about my encounters with Kelso, but I did a search and discovered I kind of love talking about him. You see, he’s the kind of guy that one story would never do.  I can tell you that my adoration started when he joined my high school for a week posing as an 11th grade student named Clarence Frick (my year), then proceeded to write a series of articles about his experience. That led me to eventually inviting him to our 20 year reunion at Opal Divine’s where he accepted, showed up, and kept our school elite entertained.

Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to have my writing style compared to his. It even once inspired me to contact him, and see if he might have some advice for the likes of me. He encouraged me to give him a call, which took me a few weeks to muster up the courage to do. I mean, I write like me, not like him, and it seemed a bit uppity on my part to say “hello sir, people say I’m like you, how do I get better – how do I become you? What brands do you buy? Would you call your hair shade salt and pepper? How much salt to pepper would you say?” (I would have left off descriptions of said friends – their questionable tastes, their TBIs, etc.) When I finally did call, I got his voice mail, and didn’t hear anything back. I can’t attest to what my message said, but I suspect it was a bit rambly, and full of fan girl blithering.  The kind of stuff that sets off warning bells, and causes one to invest in a personal bodyguard or five.) He’s always had a lot going on, as one of Austin’s patron saints, so I suspect he was busy (contacting the APD).  Still, I held onto hope he’d one day share some pearls of writing wisdom.  Sorry guys, without those pearls this is what you get. Hey, you decided to follow this blog. That’s on you.

All of that to say, we will miss him and his humor – the way he influenced all of us to laugh a bit, and to inspire us. I hope he’s somewhere now having a beer with Molly Ivins, and Ann Richards, and that Leslie pops by to offer a lick of his “knob” (a story for another day, and not what you think so get your mind out of the gutter).

RIP John Kelso, and my favorite classmate, Clarence Frick.

Update

In addition to amusing my friends with stories they’re hearing for the umpteenth time (and you can tell they’re amused by the glazed over looks and plastered smiles), my website serves as a way to keep everyone up to date on my life’s little happenings. This is one of those updates.

I just have a couple of things. I finally met John Kelso. He came to our office to give a talk to a couple of people. Now anyone who knows me (including me) knows that there was no way in hell I was going to approach John Kelso. I may love him, but that doesn’t mean we have to share the same air. It’s a problem I have with the famous, even if they’re just locally famous; I’m just not hankering for a heart-to-heart. I tried that with the Ghost Hunters guys and you see what happened there. What was killing me is that I really wanted to meet John Kelso, so I had to figure out a way to work with my handicap. My solution – I told one of my co-workers about my high school reunion – one of those extroverts that can be the right amount of pushy. (It’s important with the pushy factor that you get the right mix – too pushy and I won’t budge – willing to take “no” from me and I wouldn’t meet Kelso.)

Friday comes along and she shows up at my office door. “Beth, go meet John Kelso.” “NO.” “Beth, come on.” “NO. I don’t want to meet John Kelso. I feel stupid” “Ok, well come feel stupid out of your chair and we’ll go meet John Kelso.” Clearly, she wasn’t just going to leave (one of the reasons I chose to tell her to begin with), so I got up and walked into the room where he was sitting and autographing his book. Barbara (the co-worker) announced loudly, “John, do you recognize her?” then blocks the one exit out of the room. I smiled my retarded little smile and said, “Hi, I’m Beth. I believe I stood you up at my high school reunion.” “Oh! I remember.” Then John chatted a bit, Barbara re-opened the escape route and I ran. Another proud moment for me.

… that was Friday.

Along comes Monday, which was mostly uneventful. I worked, went to tap, and headed home while listening to KUT’s Larry Monroe. The song that had just finished up was sung by an old blues man singing about being eighty and still lovin’ the women – a toe tapper. Then kabam. My first real wreck. The person on my left-hand side had drifted into my lane. I slowed down, she hit the guard rail and then spun out of control across three lanes of traffic – one of those surreal slow motion numbers. My reptilian brain sent all sorts of signals to get the hell out of there, but the civic minded “I’m not spending time in the pokey” side won out and I pulled over.

The thing I hate about sudden frightening things around groups of people is pushing down that urge to burst into tears. An EMT stopped me and asked if I knew what day it was and the city. I must have guessed right, since he handed me a form that said “no, I don’t want to go to the hospital. Yes, if my ribs explode or my head bobs awkwardly to the side I’ll seek medical attention.” I marched down the highway towards the driver’s car with my lip shaking and forced all that energy into anger, which wasn’t pretty – I was becoming a character from “Crash”. Thankfully when I saw the driver reality intervened – she wasn’t some avatar of Fate brought down to personally screw my life over – she was a woman with a car that was in pieces – its engine strewn all over the highway that was completely distraught and near hysterics.

I just spoke with her. She wasn’t injured, though her car was totaled. I’m completely fine and if I don’t show you where I was hit, you couldn’t easily find it.

Anyway, that’s my update. How’s your week going?