Less than meets the eye

Shortly after moving to Austin, I visited the famous Sixth Street, downtown hub of music and public intoxication. At one end of Sixth Street, nearest the freeway, was a run-down dimly-lit doorway. High above the doorway was a sign:


In case you haven’t seen it, Midnight Cowboy is a famous 1969 movie directed by John Schlesinger, featuring Dustin Hoffman. It was the first X-rated movie to win an Oscar. It tells the story of a Texan man’s journey to New York, where he attempts to become a male prostitute.

So when I saw the sign, I initially thought that it was some kind of ironic joke. I assumed that underneath I would find a bar full of hipsters, or a themed souvenir store. When that turned out not to be the case, I decided that it was probably the sign of some unlucky Asian business that was blissfully unaware of the associations their name was bringing to mind.

At no point did I seriously entertain the idea that Midnight Cowboy was a house of ill repute. It looked so much like a stereotypical Hollywood idea of an Asian massage parlor offering ‘happy endings’, that I decided it couldn’t possibly be one. Yet that’s exactly what it was.

Austin police were apparently fooled as well. It was only after being tipped off by the FBI that they started a serious investigation. In 2011, they discovered that the massage parlor had plenty of (presumably stained) mattresses, but a suspicious lack of massage tables.

In retrospect, I felt like an idiot. Sometimes a place that looks so much like a brothel that you can’t believe it could actually be a brothel, is actually a brothel. Things can be a lot simpler than they appear.

And I’m starting to feel that way about Donald Trump.

Last week at a rally in Orlando he urged the audience to raise their right arms in salute and pledge allegiance to him. They did. At other rallies, his supporters have been heard chanting Hail Trump.

Trump says he wants to round up over ten million people for deportation. He says he’ll call Detroit carmakers into his office and tell them how to run their businesses. He says he’ll defend any supporters who end up in court for roughing up protesters. And through it all, my brain keeps saying: Look, if he was actually a fascist, the next Hitler or Mussolini, he wouldn’t be acting like a stereotypical Hitler-wannabe, would he?

But I keep thinking: Midnight Cowboy. Which, incidentally, is now the painfully hip ironic cocktail bar I assumed it was in 2005.