#100HappyDays Day 100 ➝ the Why-I-Did-This Edition

The banner pic is my favorite picture of Micha and me, composed of all my other favorite pictures of Micha I pulled from everyone’s Facebook accounts (sorry ’bout that). She lives on through all of our memories, most of which involve middle fingers. Click here to download the big-ass file; to truly honor Micha, do it from your mobile phone which has a limited data plan.

About 100 days ago, a group of us survivors made a vow to participate in the 100HappyDays project.  We were drowning in shock and sorrow, and it seemed an engaging project to distract from the pain by instead focusing on happiness.  For me, it served two purposes: I needed a balm for my soul, and I wanted to get closer to the other participants who were Micha’s other besties.

For day 100, I will attempt to explain what made Micha so special.  Such a thing seems obvious when you met her in person, but there’s so much more to Micha than what you perceive.  So in essence, this is the eulogy I wish I had the strength to deliver at her funeral.  It’s the hardest post I’ve written in awhile. Be warned, it’s a mix of the dark humor and honesty that permeated our friendship.

Micha came from a broken home.  By the time I knew her well, she was already living alone while her family remained scattered around the Metroplex.  When we met, I had just moved to Southlake from Dallas, where my junior high years were an emotional apocalypse that resulted in high amounts of mental baggage, while my brother was away at college, leaving me alone with my parents.  So it made sense that two separate souls like us bonded so quickly.  It’s the simplest explanation of why two random people decided to be brother and sister (the more-complicated one is here).

Micha was career-oriented in all aspects of life, one of her best traits.  She showed those traits in high school activities, so they must have been part of her DNA.  Later as an adult, she cared both about her job and the company she worked for, a combination I’ve never achieved at the same time.  But she inspired me to do both, especially during the short time we worked together at Dell.  I saw her advance via promotions and take on greater responsibilities which made her stand out, even in a company that large, and each time I thought, “I can do the same!” — and believed it.  She was confident, critical, visionary, engaging, judging, and the person I always wanted to be.

We were the same age, yet she was the older, wiser soul I always looked up to.  And when I hit lulls in life, Micha was always the best at helping me talk it out.  She less gave me answers vs. letting me figure it out on my own, and her responses were typically unvarnished.  Now that she’s gone, I don’t really have anyone like that in my life, and I’ve backslid into internalizing things once again.  Don’t get me wrong, I have other best friends the same age, but none of them have the same experiences I shared with Micha.  And outside of my family, no one has known me as long as Micha did (twenty-four years).  I struggled with the decision to remove her from my iPhone favorites, which I did eventually because it hurt too much to see her name & face everyday following the funeral.

Interestingly enough, our relationship had several identifiable quantum leaps over the years.  The first was on the last day of high day of our high school senior year.  I bore witness to her evisceration of my ex-girlfriend live on stage, as the two participated in a Lincoln/Douglas-style debate as the final examination of debate class which Micha made sure to win by all means necessary.  It was her means to extract punishment against the woman who had broken her big brother’s heart.  Not many people would step up to bat like that, and Micha was always as protective of me and her clan for the remainder of her life.

That same day, we also made an explicit decision to keep in touch.  Such decisions were a big deal in the dark age before email and texts — long distance calls cost major money, and your options were to either pick up the phone or write letters.  We were cheap and chose the latter.  During that post-graduation summer, I remained back in Southlake, working a summer job and preparing for school that fall.  Micha had left immediately for Lubbock to attend summer school at Texas Tech, a combination of determination and restlessness taking her out west.  I’ve kept all of her letters (she told me she did the same), which I can’t read without gesturing theatrically, embodying Micha as if she was speaking them aloud herself.

Micha Correspondence
It’s a good thing I have large enough feet that a leftover shoebox was big enough to hold all of these postcards, letter, and photos that Micha sent over the years.

We exchanged visits between Denton and Lubbock until her graduation, when she and Jay relocated to Austin/Round Rock and we reoriented the commute from west/east to south/north.  After a traumatic breakup with my college sweetheart, where I was thankfully shaken out of my comfort zone and prompted to finally leave school, I had the grand vision to move to Austin myself & eventually moved in the summer of 2000.

My relocation resulted in the next of our relationship’s quantum leaps.  Both young and kidless, I spent tons of time with Micha and Jay, just us and the dogs Six and Bus.  On weekends when Jay was checking off the miles with his bicycle, Micha and I would hang out on Saturdays, adventuring around Austin, whiling away at gardening, sucking up pancakes at Kerby Lane, playing drunk racquetball, and burning down the house.  It was such a weekly habit that years later, we’d still call each other early on the occasional Saturday because such mornings weren’t truly Saturdays without a few minutes together.

During my stint in Austin, Micha had just gotten her job at Dell, and the company still had the street cred of a hot startup.  I tried hard to get a job there myself, but no one would hire a fresh college graduate with no experience and a fine arts degree.  The universe displayed a great sense of irony years later, when after working at Perot Systems in Plano, TX, that company itself was bought by Dell in 2009 for $3.9 billion.  The day the acquisition was announced, I called Micha at her desk & bragged about how Dell wanted me so bad they paid through the nose for me!  To this day, I still carry around this warped sense of inflated self-awareness.

Unfortunately, a crappy job market pushed me out of Austin in 2001, and I relocated to Dallas, TX for several years.  Of course Micha and I kept in touch, but over the course of 13 years she encountered new friends that filled her life more than I could hundreds of miles away.  These friends, some of whom I hadn’t really known well until Micha’s last days, are truly amazing — each is liking looking at a mirror,  perfect reflections of Micha’s soul and spirit.  Each of you — Alex, Jennifer, Jig, Nelwyn, Vaden, Jig, Charles, Laura, and more — were so lucky to be in Micha’s close orbit.  You may not know I was incredibly jealous of your access to her, not because I thought it challenged my own relationship with Micha but because I missed being able to see Micha as often as you did.

Micha Report Card
Micha’s dominant character trait was judgement, as evidenced by her report card regarding our friendship.

Micha and I kept few secrets from one another.  We often shared intimate thoughts less because of getting things off our chests vs. we just had to tell one another because of some secret brother/sister code.  The one secret I never told her: I had feared the worst since that fateful Thursday she called with news of her diagnosis.  This is because I come from a family where the worst can and does happen, despite the odds.  I give her credit for always being honest with how she felt during her cancer treatment.  It’s one thing to put on a brave face, it’s another thing to respect those you love by being both honest and hopeful.  If something like cancer ever happens to me, I hope to approach it with the same defiance and zest.  It always seemed more like a speed bump to Micha’s life than a hinderance.

Our relationship always had that sense of foreshadowing.  We found ourselves together during major moments of global tragedy: once driving around town the night Princess Diana died, another time packing away Julie’s house while north Texas was littered with space shuttle Columbia debris.  I’m sure if we were alive then, we’d find a way to be present at Dealey Plaza at the same time.  Yet we were also together during some more-intimate yet tragic moments.  Shortly after graduation, our high school classmate Jason passed away, as the first of our class to meet such an end.  I’d listen to her tell me stories about Jay and Ted shortly after Jay’s father passed away.  We regularly discussed her mother Julie’s slow decline.  I felt like I was there for all of it, even if I was hundreds of miles away.  We’d commonly cold-call (later text) each other just to say, “DIE!”, then hang up.  We played the good twin/evil twin model daily, slipping back and forth between the two roles (although let’s admit that Micha is always the evil one).

For awhile, as our families grew and it became harder to escape on the weekends, we settled into a pattern of seeing each other only once a year.  One time, I looked up remaining life expectancy, did some math, and told Micha that we only had 40 more times to see one another before we died.  Then my Dallas company was bought by Dell, and I found myself traveling to Round Rock every week for a year.  I told Micha that these weekly visits counted against the 40 figure.  “DAMN IT!” she said while shaking balled fists at the gods.  Micha would get a little bit of revenge against me soon enough.

I learned about Micha’s cancer the day of her diagnosis.  She called me and said, “You know how you’re always telling me to die?  Well, you might get your wish.”  Point, Micha.  Although shaken by the news, I had the gumption to immediately reply that she’d beat this, if only long enough for me to do the deed myself.  Above all, my goal was always to destroy Micha before Reagan had the chance.

Our decades-long joke (besides clown-related humor) was, “the good really do die young — holy shit, we’re going to live FOREVER!”  In this case, not just the good but the best died way too early.  Did I mention foreshadowing?  As I type, I still smile about the fact our friendship allowed us to be that way to one another.  Yes, it’s stupid, but the ability to be an adult and stupid/silly was one of the best things about being Micha’s friend — otherwise, life’s too short to walk around with sticks up your ass.

Micha’s funeral was only the few I’d ever attended.  I’d done a good job up to that point of avoiding them.  The first was for our mutual friend George’s father.  We were so young at the time, it was hard to register what was truly happening (after all, us kids were going to live forever, right?).  The second funeral was for Archie, Micha’s father.  I remember being tardy, because I had gotten lost on the way to its location east Dallas.  I went up to Micha after the ceremony and apologized for being late.  “No big deal, Matt. It’s only MY FATHER!” she said with equal measure love and sarcasm.  When I was driving down to Round Rock last June for Micha’s own funeral, that day’s silliness played over and over in my head.  BTW, I was almost late for Micha’s funeral as well.

Micha Inscription
Words do have the power to change lives, as does a fear of no afterlife.

Besides her friendship, the greatest thing Micha ever gave me was a student bible.  Years ago, I had no relationship with God and was a very outspoken atheist.  While I was comfortable with this, it always bothered Micha but she never explained why.  I found out the reason when she gave me that bible.  Inscribed on the inside are words that make me cry every time I read them: “Heaven would be a lonely place without you.”  Less than a week later, I met my wife Jenn and my life changed forever for the better.  I believe in God now as a result of those two women, having two children, and more so after losing Micha.  It has to exist, and Micha has to be there — I will accept no other answer.  When I was writing this paragraph, the following verse serendipitously appeared in my Twitter timeline and seems quite apt:

Anyone who is among the living has hope — even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!

— Ecclesiastes 9:4

Now 100HappyDays has come to an end.  I’m a few days late on this final edition, because this has been the hardest blog post for me to ever write.  On day 100, am I happy?  Very much yes — my career has taken off in the past three months, my wife is healthy, my toddler girl is exploding in the good ways, and my son started kindergarten.

Am I sad? Undoubtedly so.  The pain of Micha’s loss is still sharp, and I find myself crying unexpectedly when my busy mind calms down enough to wander towards memories of her.  I apologize to my Austin friends for not keeping in better touch — for example, I haven’t spoken with Jay or the kids because I’m hesitant to talk about my grief.  I know I shouldn’t be, but just bear with me while I get my shit together.  Time does heal all wounds, even if it’s not enough for my tastes (after all, I’m an American. I want it here and I want it now).  I promise I’ll talk to y’all soon.

I’ll end with something said 20 years ago.  In one of Micha’s missives from Lubbock, she composed quite a bittersweet letter.  It ended with the following:

There is one other thing I would like to say to you, Matt.  Because life is so short and one never knows when it is going to end I want to tell you what a wonderful person and friend you are.  It takes a special person to put up with me and you do it freely (well usually).

I love you,

Always,

Micha

I love you, too, Micha.  I’ll see you someday soon enough.

Election Night Post-Script

George W. Bush Expression

It’s nearly 13 years later, and George W. Bush still sucks. But the night of his election was still one of my funnest memories.

That evening, Micha and I were interviewed by Bud Kennedy of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. I finally found a copy of that article, all three pages of which I have pasted below. Now I have all the written proof I need to sue my sister for bodily harm and emotional distress.

Photo credit: The Telegraph

My “Thankful” Journal

I sat down at the computer, armed with a steaming cup of instant coffee. In the midst of my morning routine of simultaneous web-surfing, podcast downloads, and lacing up of my running shoes, I saw evidence that Jenn had once again failed to sleep through the night. My RSS feed reader showed that her blog had been updated during the night.

Her most-recent entries contained three specific things she was thankful for that particular day. Reading each of those reminded me that I used to also maintain such lists myself, in a journal that I handmade from raw materials.

Although we had recently moved and many of my older things were still in boxes. I knew exactly where that journal was. So before I headed outside for my morning run, I dug it out of the closet and inadvertently journeyed eight years back in time.

The first entries were in 2000, inspired by my friend Ellen and her suggestion that tough times are easier to navigate when we remember what’s most important. In fact, she wrote the first entry, listing her five “thankfuls” that particular day:

May 1, 2000:

1) Brown eyes
2) D Milk
3) Horns
4) No fear of dog spit
5) My health

The next day, I started writing entires on a regular basis, each day trying to list five things that I hadn’t previously recorded. Some of my specific “thankfuls” require little explanation, and they all apply today:

“Poptarts and coffee — the breakfast of champions”

“A nice set of boobs”

“Being a Skeeball wizard”

“Knowing it’s not always my fault”

However, the context for others have faded with the passage of time. I once wrote “That Zoe has such good friends.” I have no idea who Zoe was, but I hope she’s doing alright. And I can only imagine the fun I had the night before I wrote “Not knowing where I was when I woke up!”

For a good stretch, I was dedicated enough to write five “thankfuls” per day. However, the entries began to peter out around July of that year. That was the month before I relocated to Austin — perhaps I had packed the book away in preparation for the move? If that was the case, it was eventually unpacked, as entries resumed again around October.

However, the last entry was dated October, right before I returned to Denton for my college’s homecoming:

October 4, 2000:

1) Hope that I’ll find love again
2) Pajamas
3) Big baby eyes
4) Celis White
5) Historical perspective

No more entries after that. It was during the following weekend I found out that Rebecca was engaged to marry someone else, as big of a kick to my spiritual nuts as could ever be given. I imagine that’s why I stopped writing altogether.

Yet as I reread that distant final entry, I winced at the thought that I had lost the ability to count my blessings. Obviously since then, I’ve rediscovered this resource, and nary a day goes by where I’ve not motivated by how incredibly freakin’ lucky I am. My homemade journal was so beautiful. Handbound with needle and thread, with a cover of delicate rice paper and rose petals, it would be a shame for this piece of art to continue gathering dust. That just wouldn’t do.

So I pulled out my pen and wrote the first of hopefully many new daily “thankfuls”:

May 21, 2008:

1) My home
2) My health
3) My wife

April 9, 2022

Everything was loaded in my truck Kilgore. I returned to my vacant apartment to perform one last survey and ensure that I didn’t forget anything before hitting the road to Austin, my next in a long string of hometowns. Just as I thought, nothing remained — except for my time capsule.

A petty cash box purchased from Office Depot, I had spent the past several years collecting the flotsam I intended to bury the day I finally moved out of Bruce Hall for good. Each item represented both my current time and place in the world:

  • One of my laminated ID cards from the North Texas Premiere Soccer Association, within which my team The Mama’s Boys competed
  • The operating manual to my first computer, a Intel 386SX with added math co-processor
  • Various photographs of family and friends, all of which I hoped I would remember
  • A VHS video cassette featuring a Kenmore advertising campaign, a separate contribution from my ex-girlfriend and fellow creative Margo
  • Tassles from both my high school and college graduation mortarboards
  • A small tin of Spam, my calling card
  • A black spiral-bound journal filled with sentiments from cover-to-cover

One by one, I added the items to the box, never pausing to consider their symbolism. After all, I had stared at these trinkets for over a thousand days, ever since I decided to create a time capsule on April 9, 1997, the day that the population of Bruce Hall buried a time capsule in commemoration of its 50th anniversary. With so much time cohabitating with such trinkets, they held no more intrigue. However, the last item in the list forced me to pause and ponder its contents.

In my hands was the black journal, whose insides I never once saw. For the past three years, I carried the journal everywhere I went, asking everyone I met to write whatever they wanted inside. I promised them I would not read the journal until I opened my time capsule a quarter of a century later. Contributors were not bound by my self-imposed trust, and in fact I encouraged them to read it. Sometimes, the journal would disappear for days, as my friends took the time to read it cover-to-cover. On occasion, I would hear a report that some daring things had been written inside. I know that some of the authors were girls I liked at the time, and for years I wondered if they used my journal to confess any romantic sentiments.

My mind returned to the present and the journal before me. Right before I was to hide the book for decades, I was tempted one final time to sneak a peek. Doing so would spoil the wonderful treasure I created and the joy I would feel when rediscovering it,. This chance to preserve a slice of my youth was too precious. With a grin, inside the box went the book. I gently closed the lid, turned the lock, and slipped the tiny key into my pocket, where it sits to this day mingling with my other keys.

Nearby was a stack of white vinyl stickers, each adorned with the green University of North Texas logo. Leftover as spirit giveaways from years of attending student housing conferences, I peeled the backing off each and adhered them to the outside of the time capsule, layering them like shingles on a roof. Soon enough, the entire box was uniform in outward appearance and quite well-sealed against the elements. The only feature exposed was the clear plastic window behind which I slipped the following note:

Ahoy, fellow spelunker!

This is my time capsule that was buried during the ancient 20th century. It is intended to remain closed until April 9, 2022, twenty-file years after I first began to amass its contents. Please do not remove or open this time capsule, as I plan to return that Spring day to retrieve my belongings. So if you are reading this, please put it back where you found it — and consider yourself invited to that day’s opening festivities. I look forward to meeting you then.

As ever,

Matthew

My time capsule was complete. Now came time to secret it deep within the bowels of Bruce.

Because I had already turned in the master key, the prime regalia of my recently-vacated job as hall director, I borrowed the submaster key from the key box downstairs. It would prove good enough to get me where I needed to go. Soon enough, I was on my hands and knees, crawling in dark passages, hiding my treasure in a dark, dank location known only to myself and Jim, in case I am personally unable to return 22 years from now.

I emerged from the expedition with caked dust on my shoulders and the musty smell lingering within my nostrils. It was a melancholy scent, as the fact I could smell it meant all of my work, my purpose, at Bruce Hall was now complete. It was time to leave Denton behind, and along with it the bittersweet memories of the past year spent trying to ride things out.

I returned to the key box both the submaster and my apartment key. Then I headed out the back door, hopped in Kilgore, and drove away to my new life.

Election Night

2000 Election Night Party in Austin
On November 7, 2000, Election Day, I was at work when my cell phone rang. It was my father calling to see if I had plans to attend George W. Bush’s big election party, which was being held that evening on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

At the time, I was employed at the University of Texas-Austin, putting me into close physical proximity to Governor Bush during his presidental run. If all went according to his plan that night, the grounds of the Capitol would be the epicenter of a grand old party.

Rainy Night in Austin 2000The newspaper earlier that day had done a report on the celebration and that it was free to attend, but I hadn’t too much thought into it beyond that. The weather forecast called for a clear cold night with temperatures well below 50 degrees F, so I was hesitating. Dad insisted that I should go, as life would present few other opportunities for a youngster such as myself to be part of history as it occurred. Since the words “historical” and “free admission” are words of equal magic to my soul, I agreed to attend. I called my sister Micha to invite her, that she should dress warmly, and meet me downtown after work.

Micha and I met up and together we walked to the capitol. The winter sun was setting, and the night quickly became chilly. Since I hadn’t anticipated going out that night, the only warm clothing I was wearing was my green University of North Texas light jacket. Thankfully we were moving briskly enough that we didn’t feel cold.

Once we neared downtown, the streets were becoming congested with long queues of people. We noticed that everyone in line was holding some sort of ticket. The nearest person I asked confirmed that they were tickets for admission. I said to him, “The newspaper said this event was free.”

“Yes,” replied the gentleman, “but you still need a ticket.”

Looks like the Austin American-Statesman dropped the ball on that one.

I asked him where he got his ticket, and he said it came courtesy of the local Republican Party office, which was nowhere nearby.

Micha took the initiative and dusted off her feminine powers of cuteness in an attempt to sweet-talk the security guards into sneaking us in. When that tactic failed miserably, I used my masculine powers to ask other people where we might get tickets. After a few tries, I discovered that some people had gotten their tickets at the Federal Building on 8th Street, about three blocks away.

Without hesitation, the two of us rushed over to the Federal Building. We soon arrived at a dark, empty office building whose front door was propped open with a rolled-up Austin Chronicle. We walked inside and encountered a handful of people who told us they found their tickets up in Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s office. Since we couldn’t find a building directory in the sim lobby, Micha and I began a methodical search of the complex one floor at a time. Upstairs in a dark elevator landing illuminated only by emergency exit signs, we found the prize: a plain cardboard box of tickets sitting in the shadows outside of Senator Hutchinson’s Austin office.

Taking a moment to gather our thoughts and breath, Micha said, “You know, it really was a pain in the butt to find these.” I understood where she was going with that. Instead of taking the two tickets that we needed, I grabbed the entire box and we rushed to the State Capitol.

As we reapproach the admission line, we see tons of people milling about in despair because they themselves don’t have tickets. Micha and I each grabbed handfuls of tickets, spread them out in our hands like Japanese fans, and like scalpers yelled, “Tickets!”

We were instantaneously mobbed.

Much like the climatic scene of “Trading Places” when desperate stockbrokers couldn’t get enough of what Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd had that they didn’t, the two of us were surrounded by the ticketless.

Left and right, all we could see were open palms pressing against our personal space, clamoring for our booty.

As Micha and I handed out tickets to people who were lost without admission like I was just moments before, we thought to ourselves, “Now we’re going to heaven!”

The commotion we started with the giveaway attracted the attention of two members of the Austin Police, who were approaching to investigate. Seeing this, we dropped the box, tossed bunches of tickets up in the air, and snuck away. We hopped in line and eventually made our way into the party.

And what a party it was!

To the north was the Texas State Capitol, a magnificent building of Marble Falls pink granite that is unlike any other such building in the United States. This evening, it glowed like an earth-bound moon in the dark November night, thanks to the reflections of camera flashes and camcorder lights. Laser beams and colored beams lazily tracked left and right across its facade. Directly facing the Capitol was a six-story tall grandstand of modern media — little skyboxes each filled with a camera, a light, and an anchorperson, all there to report on what may turn out to be a historical evening.

As we admire the setup and spectacle, I am approached by a middle-aged man who points at my UNT jacket and asks, “Did you go to school in Denton?” I said yes, and he identified himself as Bud Kennedy, a columnist for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, which is published near my old college town. Mr. Kennedy asks if he can interview me, since a former Denton resident living in Austin walking about Dubya’s big party seems like a good story.

First he gathered some information: my name, how old I was, the same information for my sister, etc. “Who did you vote for today?” he asks me. I reply that I voted for Al Gore.

He turns to Micha and asks her the same question. My sister, a lifelong Democrat the whole time I’ve known her, says, “Bush.”

My eyes grow wide and I explain, “What?! You did not!” It was my assumption all along that she would vote for Gore. She’s perturbed by my reaction and says sharply, “Yes, I did!” then proceeds to nail me in the arm with a punch that means, “Mind your own business.”

Mr. Kennedy, obviously curious as to what he started with his simple question, continues the interview. He asks me why I voted for Gore, and I provide a long, detailed answer of the difficulty of that day’s decision, but that I ultimately voted for Gore because of his stances on Social Security, the environment, and his previous record of reducing government waste. My reasonings were very long-winded, nuanced, and sound.

When asked the same question, Micha simply says, “He spoke at my graduation ceremony and seemed like a nice man.” That was it. No exploration of policy, opinion of his competency to hold the most-powerful elective office on the planet. Just that he’s nice. That’s what girls say about dudes they don’t want to date, not people who are given a briefcase of nuclear launch codes.

The floodgates between Micha and I are now fully open, and we begin to loudly argue about the merits of our choices. As the verbal barrages sling back and forth, Mr. Kennedy is documenting everything for his article that publishes the next morning. The next afternoon, I am getting phone calls from my parents that read the Star-Telegram wanting to know what the heck was going on.

After things settled down between us, we made our way into the crowd which was milling about in front of a giant Jumbotron screen. On the TV was a map of the United States, where the states were being shaded red and blue as the polls slowly started to close east to west. From time to time, famous G.O.P. members would flash up on the screen and be greeted by wild applause. In between such appearances were snippets of live CNN broadcasts calling the states based on exit polling. Whenever a state went red, the plaza shook with thunderous yells of approval. Should a state go blue, no amount of amplification on the Jumbotron would allow the broadcast to overcome the cacophonous boos emitted by the audience. Micha and I each cheered and jeered in our own fashion during each of these moments.

Since we were standing and not moving, we began to feel the night’s chill. It was getting cold enough that we felt like leaving soon, but we didn’t want to leave before everything was over and an announcement on the election’s outcome was made. So we waited. And waited. And waited. By the time 12:30am came around and everything was still up in the air in Florida, Micha and I finally decided to leave. “Let’s go home,” we said. “After all, we’ll be able to see who won in the morning.”

How naive we were.

Indecisive Election Night 2000 in Austin

Photo credits: Austin American-Statesman