When we arrived, there were actually two different auctions happening concurrently. On the left side of the steps a police officer was auctioning houses that were delinquent in their city taxes. On the right side of the steps, banks were auctioning houses that were behind in their mortgage. About 60 people were crammed as tight as possible on the right, and at any point between three to six houses were being auctioned at once.
Someone with a clipboard would start speaking aloud, and an auction would begin. Two competing companies sold books detailing the upcoming foreclosures. Because of that, numbers were being yelled that corresponded with the different guidebooks. As soon as one auction would get going, another one would pop up somewhere else. Legally, the auction had to take place on the actual courthouse steps. Sometimes, it seemed like the bank wanted to buy the house for themselves so they would slink off to a remote part of the opposite steps and start quietly reading their clipboard, hoping no one else would catch on to what they were doing. As one of those moments began again, we too slipped away, not sure what we learned that day.
First Friday was less crowded than normal, probably due to the Spurs game against Dallas. Given the smaller crowd, I was able to spot some semi-familiar faces. At one point I remember talking to the Fl!ght Gallery crew about a possible werewolf sighting the night before. I wasn’t the one who reported it, nor really believed it, but according to them there might be a werewolf (from the Greek lukanthropos, “wolf man”) at the Alamo Quarry Golf Club lake. From there the conversation downshifted to the legacy of Cheech and Chong comedy routines, did Whitley Strieber lie, and most importantly, how does one say the plural of Big Foot? Big Foots or Big Feet?
Through visiting artist Luke Savisky, who had returned for one final performance at Three Walls Gallery, I was put on the guest list at the Magic Lantern Castle, a museum on Austin Highway that is the world’s authority on, that’s right, magic lanterns. Magic lanterns, I learned, were the dominant form of projecting images before the invention of motion-picture projectors. The museum, or castle, is so specific in its focus, at first I thought it was a put-on, in the same way Los Angeles’s Museum of Jurassic Technology is a wonderful jest. But the curator and owner Jack Judson is an enduring force of nature and his museum might be the most interesting one in town. `For a profile of Mr. Judson and his museum, see “The oldest picture show,” March 1-7, 2006.`
As I was sitting, waiting for Mr. Judson to begin his presentation, I realized this building used to be Shakey’s Pizza back in the early ’80s, and I was sitting in what was the old game room where Shakey used to show Buck Rogers serials. Those films had an H.G. Wells retro-futuristic vibe that seemed similar to the aesthetics and exotica of the magic lanterns . And so I felt old but young, back at Shakey’s pizza, back in town again after a long journey, moving forward, yet now intrigued by a past I didn’t know existed, and my own past I thought I had forgotten. Later, as Mr. Judson busted out his theremin, I went outside and got on my bike and made the slow way home. I felt like I was moving forward, I think.