Sunday, February 06, 2005

"That's right, you're not from Texas..."

It's a comfort to me to know that in Texas there are some people as broad minded and open hearted as yourself. I suppose my impression of Texas is probably most of the world's impression of the USA. Can you say more about what you love about Texas? Any time I ever met someone from Texas,starting way back when I in 3rd grade and the new boy in school was from Texas, it's seemed that when someone from there even says the word Texas, they say it with a swagger that implies that they're so much bigger and better then you, and quicker on the draw too. Never seemed like an auspicious way to start a friendship. Is there more to Texas than the swagger?

A lengthy post was readied in response to this request: first detailing the geography and history of the state, the various groups who settled it and their influences on state culture; the dominance of Mexico in the South, of the American West on one side, the American South on the other; the connection to the great plains and even the fact that there's nothing between Texas and the North Pole but a strand of barbed wire (it's true; look at a topographical map).

But it comes down to this: we don't swagger in Texas, either. And we find the people who do, just as obnoxious as the rest of you. Why do you think we keep sending them to D.C.?

The one thing to understand about Texas, is that most of the people here are still working class, blue collar types. Not many "owners" of the "ownership" society in East Texas, or South Texas, or the Trans-Pecos, or the Panhandle. Most of us are what we've always been: working stiffs.

Those people who come here, or are born here, and start believing the jokes we tell, start taking them seriously, are the obnoxious ones. And we apologize for them. We even accept some responsibility for them. But we're sad, too, because we really meant for them to get the joke.

You see, the thing about Texas is, we know it's hot, flat, dry, dirty, everything that doesn't have a sticker on it has a stinger or fangs or teeth or claws, or some combination, and most of all down here it's hot. Houston, as Molly Ivins said, is L.A. with the climate of Calcutta. San Antonio is a military town that still doesn't understand it's really in Mexico. Dallas suffers from a huge inferiority complex (but please don't tell 'em, it just makes it worse). And still, most of us know how to have a good time, and welcome anyone else who wants to have one, too.

The most Texas thing possible, is the Texas Tall Tale, and the first rule of the tall tale is: it's a joke, and we know it's a joke, and we want you to be in on the joke. This is where the "swagger" comes in. We don't mean it. We've never meant it. It really comes from working cowboys too long in the saddle walking bow-legged on stiff knees and boots with high heels (useful in stirrups, but a little tricky for negotiating non-mounted travel). What we really like here, across Texas, is a good time. We like a joke, and we especially like jokes on ourselves. That's why we tell whoppers and fish stories and tall tales, and want you to be part of the humor, laughing with us as we laugh at us. It's all pretty funny when you think about it, because if you think about it some other way, why, it's enough to break your heart. And there's enough of that in the world. Better to laugh, any day.

So we're loud, because the spaces are big, and we're noisy, because it can get too quiet, and we're passionate, because we eat too much spicy food to sit still, and we eat spicy food because this is where it grows best, and because we're passionate. But we don't swagger, and we don't encourage swagger.

But some people, sad to say, swagger. They hear our tales and think we mean them, and think that's the way we all oughta be. They don't get the joke at all, and we're just too polite to laugh at 'em. That, and we have too good a time laughing at ourselves; we don't want to ruin it by starting to laugh at other people.

That may not be the best or the truest explanation, but it's the one we like, and the one we'd like to think was true about us. We don't want to brag, we just want to have a good time. We like to laugh, and we like it better when you laugh with us. And the tales are silly and loud and make us look funny, because we know we're funny lookin', but, hey, this is what we're really like. Except if we told it for true, and as it is, we'd cry. And there's enough in this world to cry about, without cryin' over us.

So if you don't quite "get it," that's all right. You're not from Texas. And if somebody else doesn't quite get it, and takes it all too seriously and decides the jokes describe them, well, that's why they're from Texas. They just sorta got squeezed out, like a watermelon seed. And we're sorry about that, but they aren't our ambassadors, either. They're just the ones who didn't get the joke. And if you think this isn't serious, consider this last of all:

All of my family and most of my friends are from Texas, and I've never known nicer, quieter, kinder, friendlier people. My family, aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, taught me that my friends were their friends, that no one is a stranger, that there's always room at the table and we don't care what color you are or how funny you sound or even much whether you talk or not. All we ask is that you laugh with us, because we want to let you in on the joke. Because Mr. Lovett was right: if you're not from Texas, well, Texas wants you, anyway.

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