I wanted to go to Austin because of Reality Bites. I loved that movie in high school–Winona Ryder smoking cigarettes in her Austin apartment, hanging out with her cool friends, dealing with crisis of conscience like should she date Michael, the soulless corporate guy with money, or Ethan Hawke’s character, the smart philosophy major who is also her best friend? It seemed like an important question to me at age 16. Who would I choose?

Aside from the heat, I liked Austin a lot. It reminded me of Portland with interesting-looking restaurants and shops. The art scene there is struggling, the local alternative weekly informed me. That made sense–it did feel like a place that had had its golden age already and was still hanging on to it.

Not that we didn’t have a great time. We had steak and played pool and then listened to two really good blues bands play.

Downtown Austin

We also drank lots of iced tea. And by “we” here, I mean “Kyle.”

O’Henry lived in Austin. He’s the guy who wrote The Gift of the Magi, the short story about a couple who wants to give each other Christmas presents but are too poor, so she sells her hair to give him a case for his gold watch and he sells his gold watch to give her a comb for her hair. On Christmas morning, they discover their folly, but it’s okay because while they are poor in finances, they are rich in love.

O’Henry wrote hundreds of short stories in his lifetime–there is even a prominent short story award named after him–but The Gift of the Magi is the one most people remember today. It was certainly all I remembered. So we decided to check out the tiny yellow house O’Henry lived in for two years with his wife and daughter.

O'henry house

The old Texas man who gave us the tour of the house, didn’t seem to entirely approve of O’Henry.

“And at that point, he got himself a job as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle,” he said, rolling his eyes. “He sure liked that writin’.”

The reason the old man didn’t like O’Henry, it turned out, is because the writer was arrested for embezzling money from the bank he worked for in Austin. He stole $800 from the bank, was caught, fled to Honduras for six months, returned to Austin because his wife was dying, and then went to jail for three years “leaving his poor little girl motherless,” the tour guide concluded. Who knew O’Henry was so colorful?

I learned later that while in jail, O’Henry started publishing the short stories that made him well-known, and he emerged a successful writer when his sentence was up. I always thought that it wouldn’t be the end of the world for a writer to go to jail–all that downtime to think and write, no one bothering you, lots of books at your disposal…

Not that I want to try it out.

2 thoughts on “Day Five: Austin

  1. Krista

    I so look forward to these. I check your blog every day, eager to read of your adventures and tantalizing tales. More please!

  2. joy

    Thanks! That makes me feel good. I was wondering if anyone was even paying attention!

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