Saturday, April 02, 2016

Roll Over, Alfred E. Neuman — This Blogger's Mantra Is... What, Me Move?

From Time to time, this blogger has received e-mail from longtime friends living in other state that usually begins: "Why the hell are you still in Texas?" This usually follows some story in the media about the latest outburst of nuttiness in the Lone Star State. Today, Texas Monthly's Mimi Swartz offers a defense of staying in place. Of course, there is another reason for this blogger: he hates to move. If this is (fair & balanced) self-deception, so be it.

PS: Listen to Gery P. Nunn;s rationale for staying in Texas (below).

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Why Texas Is Deep In My Heart
By Mimi Swartz

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"What I Like About Texas"
By Gary P. Nunn & The Bunkhouse Band

March was not a good month for a certain kind of Texas loyalist. There was the State Board of Education candidate, Mary Lou Bruner of Mineola, who insisted that President Obama had been a male prostitute in his youth.

There was the head of the Travis County Republican Party, Robert Morrow, who recently mused on Twitter about who “has a bigger penis: Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.”

There was the suggestion from a conservative talk-radio host that the former governor Rick Perry might be a viable candidate for an anti-Trump third-party run, despite having run against Mr. Trump already in the Republican nomination contest and been eliminated early.

And — I would never say finally — there was Sid Miller, the agricultural commissioner whose latest controversial expenditure of taxpayer dollars involved a $1,200 trip to Oklahoma for something called a “Jesus shot,” a dubious medical procedure that is claimed to take away pain for life.

In fairness, Mr. Miller did get banged up as a rodeo cowboy before entering state government.

Still, these are the kinds of events that cause people from places like Massachusetts, Manhattan and California, not to mention England, France and Sweden, to ask us: “How can you stand to live in Texas?” Their tone usually suggests that any explanation that doesn’t involve our incarceration here is indefensible.

I admit that a more positive response to this inquiry has become more difficult over time, especially since 2000, when Mr. Perry ushered in an era of government by people who, well, hate government. And it’s true that occasionally my husband and I scan the local headlines — coverage of the relentless assault on Planned Parenthood comes to mind — and ask ourselves whether we should be packing up.

“Are we crazy?” is the way my husband, who is from Virginia, puts it.

There are stock responses to the criticism. Texas PR firms have tried them all: our amazing urban sophistication, our amazing urban diversity and let’s not forget our amazing economy — at least when the oil price is high. And though we can say that we introduced America to Ted Cruz, we’re not responsible for Mr. Trump.

Sticking around here was never even my plan. Growing up, I suffered with the other kids who were incapable of following a football game but had mastered Oliver Twist (the book, not the movie). My best friend in middle school despaired at my incompetence with hair and makeup. (“You could be so pretty if you tried.”)

So when I headed for college on the East Coast in 1972, I never intended to return. I would move to Greenwich Village after graduation, and grow red geraniums in window boxes.

Instead, in a few years, I was back. There were sensible reasons: I had a job offer in Houston, a newly booming city that, even in the ’70s, featured some of the amenities of New York and Los Angeles without the cost-of-living sticker shock. Back here, no one asked me why I didn’t have a Texas accent. I had learned the dirty little secret that there was provincialism on the East Coast as well as in Texas.

I was homesick, too. From Houston, my parents and younger brothers were just a three-hour drive away, down a highway beside which grows in spring a carpet of bluebonnets.

I had missed the sounds of Spanish-language radio and barbecue on demand. I had missed people who were glad to see me, even if they barely knew me. And yes, I had missed a certain habit of being — witnessing a hilarious parade of people who had more money than sense, and legislators who came to work with five-star hangovers but who, back then, still saw the value of funding public education.

These may sound like the sentimental rationalizations of someone who couldn’t make it elsewhere, and maybe they are. Yet, there’s something to be said for finding one’s place in the world, especially when the world is such an irascible place, so in need of improvement.

Today, I find myself making a lot of defensive distinctions between the people in state government and the people who actually live here. That said, the United States Congress itself isn’t so different from the Texas Legislature nowadays, and neither is very funny anymore.

The azaleas have begun to bloom, turning Houston into a gaudy fuchsia sea. Yet, it’s still cool enough at night to sleep with the windows open, instead of running the air-conditioning. At the rodeo, they serve candied apples dipped in tajin, a Mexican blend of chile peppers, salt and lime.

A few weeks ago, Houston’s hoity-toitiest ladies showed off their ocean liner-size chapeaux at a spring fund-raiser that was interrupted by a tulle-wilting thunderstorm. I took off my heels and walked barefoot to my car, hopeful that the storm had blown over. Ω

[Mimi Swartz is an executive editor at Texas Monthly. Swartz received a BA (English) from Hampshire College. She is the co-author (with Sherron Watkins) of Power Failure, The Inside Story of the Collapse of Enron (2003).]

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