Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Lights Have Dimmed, but They're Not Out Yet.

I wrote the following piece for a little neighborhood magazine. The pay's pathetic, but it's good practice, and I try to practice what I preach. Dorothy Browne and her husband, Jan Reid, are old friends. Until last year, Elliott was our state representative and a damn good one at that. You probably know who Ann Richards was. Dave Richards was her husband for a while. He's a legend in the Texas legal justice arena. Cecile Richards is their daughter. Again, keep in mind that this was written for a neighborhood magazine, so it contains inside information that you might find impossible to decipher. If you run across other names you don't recognize, Google them.

There are one or two questions about Gary Cartwright — the novelist and Texas Monthly writer who died last month — that Dorothy Browne told me she wouldn’t answer. They are the personal ones. Everything else is fair game.
At the time of Cartwright's death, Dorothy was his best friend. They met in the early 1970s. Cartwright was a charter member of a pack of artists, actors, former Plan II majors, politicos, guitar pickers, liberal lawyers, chicken fried steak connoisseurs and assorted cage dancers who dubbed themselves “Mad Dog,” then worked furiously to be worthy of the moniker.
Dorothy knew most of them through boyfriends and husbands and from working with the Texas Civil Liberties Union, which kept an office on the second floor of the Joseph and Mary Robinson Martin House, built in 1903 at the corner of Seventh and Nueces. It was, essentially, Grand Central Station for Austin progressives, muckrakers and do-gooders. The TCLU shared space with the Texas Observer at a time when its editors were Molly Ivins and Kaye Northcutt, and the first floor was occupied by the offices of  civil-rights lawyers Sam Houston Clinton and David Richards, whose acid-tongued wife, Ann, would later become governor.
Since she had a young daughter, Dorothy declined full Mad Dog membership, not that it mattered. Not much took place that she didn't have a hand in or on.
It's hard to believe, given idiocy and cruelty of the current state leadership, that progressives once ran the state, that people who thought minorities ought to get a fair shake  once a blue moon, that women knew better than old, white used car salesmen what was best for their uteruses and vaginas, and that the oil and gas industry should give back as much as they took, and they shouldn't skip town leaving sink holes and tar pits and benzine leaching into the ground water.
The epicenter of all that rabble-rousing was West Austin. It served as playground, practice field and launch site for this eclectic cluster of men and women who, briefly, at least, changed the cultural and political landscape of the state. It was the early 1970’s, the heyday of redneck mothers, cosmic cowboys and Shiva’s Headband, a time when UT kids could catch Bruce Springsteen at the Armadillo World Headquarters on back-to-back nights for next to nothing, when the 20-somethings, just out of grad school or law school or hippiedom, threw parties so over-the-top that the next morning, if they woke, they pinched their eyes shut or bled to death, and they were never sure if they wanted to remember what they did, who they did it with or to or what was done to them.
Of course, this is typically true for college towns, but it was — and very likely still is — very true for Austin, and it was especially true for Mad Dog, and it was profoundly true for its class clown, Cartwright, whose outrageous antics Dorothy was all too thrilled to describe in almost sordid detail.
For example, at her 40th birthday party, he popped out of a fake cake, clenching a dagger in his teeth and wearing nothing but his son’s date’s bikini undies, which she snipped off with the dagger. He then cannon-balled into the swimming pool.
That was vintage Cartwright. The Dallas Morning News’ story announcing his death described him as “colorful,” which is like describing Saddam Hussein as “impolite.”
Cartwright’s fans idolized him, and his Mad Dog brethren adored him, even when he over-reached because his heart was always in the right place. Many of them came from places like Wichita Falls and Tyler and Lubbock, where their notions that government could look like lunch at the local diner instead of brunch at the country club were considered as absurd as eliminating the oil depletion allowance.
So, Mad Dog sniffed tails at Sholtz Garten, the Texas Chili Parlor and the now-defunct Raw Deal to vent and bitch and brag and spill their drinks and guts. They married inside the pack and out, divorced and married again while playing whack-a-mole with their innards.
 They raised rebellious children who somehow survived and emerged as responsible adults, and they’ve grown old and fought the ravages of time.
Dorothy has survived throat cancer. Jan battles chronic pain, the result of being shot in a robbery attempt by a Mexico City cab driver in 1998. You can read about it in his riveting book, “The Bullet Meant for Me.”
He was lucky not to have bled to death or been left paralyzed. He’s still walking. Other Mad Dogs and fellow travelers — Fletcher Boone, Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, Bud Shrake — were not as fortunate. Nor was Cartwright’s third wife, Phyllis, the love of his life. They transitioned, as the Baptists like to say, before their time.
•••
And now, Cartwright is gone.
“After Phyllis died, followed by Bud Shrake, Gary definitely considered Dorothy his best friend,” Reid said. “Told her so. Our relationship was also close, but he was 10 years older. A bit of a big brother/little brother dynamic.”
Reid grew up in Wichita Falls, and like most Texas boys of his time and place, he was crazy about the Dallas Cowboys. Couldn’t get enough of them. Read every word he could find about them, and that brought him to Cartwright, who covered them from 1960-66, the “unspoiled and innocent” years, as he called them. He might also have called them “the doormat” years.
But, in ’66, they began to jell, thanks to a stubborn defense anchored by Bob Lilly, and an innovative offense led by quarterback Don Meredith, aka “Dandy Don,” the pride of Mount Vernon.
Of course, the higher expectations tail-spinned, the more devastating the losses to Green Bay and Cleveland were, and Cartwright’s free-wheeling prose looked like mockery in juxtaposition to the algorithmic precision that head coach Tom Landry demanded. But Cartwright was a Mad Dog, not a lap dog, so nothing was sacred. His most famous lead parodied a hallowed line by the legendary sportswriter, Grantland Rice:
“Against a gray November sky, the Four Horsemen rode again. You know them as Pestilence, Death, Famine and Meredith.”
It was clever and funny, but it wasn’t particularly fair because Meredith was, for once, following Landry’s orders. He threw where a receiver should have been, and the pass was intercepted, and the Cowboys lost to the reigning NFL champs, the Cleveland Browns. Meredith was pulled after his third interception and never played another down.
Some claim that two or three of Meredith’s teammates planned to defend their quarterback’s honor by kicking Cartwright’s ass, and they might have had Meredith been as thin-skinned as, say, Tom Brady.
But Dandy Don understood that Cartwright was doing his job and that football — like life —is a game, and you win some, and you lose some, and it’s not fair, but it’s good, so you play it honestly, and when it stops being fun, it’s over and you move on. Transition, as the Baptists say.
He walked away from the game at the end of that season and ended up sitting in the broadcast booth on Monday nights, tormenting Howard Cossell.
That was Meredith, and Cartwright probably regretted that his most famous line came at the expense of a man he liked and admired.
Years later, Cartwright was invited to an exclusive reunion of Landry-era Cowboys. As he mixed and mingled, he searched for Meredith, perhaps hoping to ask if they were good. As he observed the physical destruction visited upon these stooped and gimpy old men, he said to himself, “It’s the fourth quarter for all of us.”
Meredith never showed up.
•••
A year later, Cartwright called it quits too. He left the Morning News in ’67 for a plum job in Philadelphia — a job he kept for a whole three weeks. He didn’t like them. They didn’t like him. So, he returned to Texas, bounced around, wrote a novel — “Confessions of a Washed Up Sportswriter” — became a hot commodity again, and in ’73 moved to Austin as one of two bell cows for a new venture, Texas Monthly.
The other was Billy Lee Brammer, the author of “The Gay Place,” a veiled portrayal of LBJ as an arm-flapping blowhard. It’s revered by the yellow-dog literati, who insist it’s as good as “All the King’s Men” or “Advise and Consent.”
Brammer and Cartwright were, as Reid calls them, “the adults in the room.” The rest of the reporters were 25, 26 years old. Thirty, tops. They were talented but green.
With the exception of Billy Lee and Gary, you could see that none of us knew what we were doing,” Reid admitted. “They knew I could write coming in, but I was still learning the ropes with the reporting.”
But he was learning quickly. A full-time reporter for the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, he covered high school sports, the cop shop, the courthouse and the carnage that is the city’s traffic circle during Wurstfest.
Then, after the paper went to press on Wednesday, he’d drive to Austin to check out Willie or Jerry Jeff or Delbert or Doug Sahm.
In ’74, he took off a couple of weeks to collect and catalogue his notes and magazine pieces and crank out a draft of what would become his first book, “The Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock.”
Though he returned to his job with the Herald-Zeitung, he knew he was done, that it was time to sink or swim, so he devoted himself to making it as a magazine reporter, and he did.
At the age of 38, he was still single and renting from a school teacher a small house on 125 acres near Zorn, which is 13 miles north of Seguin. He met Dorothy at a party thrown by a San Antonio lawyer, a guy he’d met and befriended while working on a story. The party’s theme, Reid surmised, must have been “Party ‘Til You Puke.”
•••
Actually, he didn’t meet her. She met him.
Dorothy was standing with Fletcher Boone, the beret-wearing beatnik sculptor and one-time co-owner of the Raw Deal, Mad Dog’s central command headquarters. Boone was haranguing her about one of those frivolous matters that seems preternaturally important after you’ve downed four or five beers and a flight of tequila shots, and she’d heard it all before, so she turned and noticed Jan and thought, “I think I’ll go talk to him.”
They were married about two years later, and they bought the house on 11th Street, and the party rolled on. They traveled extensively with Gary and Phyllis. One of the more memorable trips was to Mexico City and Oaxaca the summer before the taxi incident.
Had our pockets picked on a subway in Mexico City,” Reid said. “Hit some of the same night spots, jumped in what could have been that fateful gypsy cab.”
They also loved Italy. From Montalcino, a beautiful little town on a mesa in Tuscany, they roamed the wine country. They returned to Italy again — after the shooting — for a friend’s wedding in Venice, then hopped a train to the northeastern corner of Italy, bordered by Austria and Slovenia.
For many years, life was good.
•••
Someone gave Gary a medical alert watch, and a few weeks later called to ask him if he was wearing it, and he replied, ‘You know, I wore it for two weeks and nothing happened, so I took it off.”
He had joined Jan and Dorothy for dinner at Maudie’s — the one on South Lamar — and was according to Dorothy, “in great form, great mood.”
He’d been working out, trying to get back in shape, battling depression and chronic back pain that kept him awake for days on end.
In the middle of the night, he fell. Why? How? No one knows. He didn’t have a stroke or heart attack. Doctors couldn’t figure it out. But he was on the floor for four days and four nights. By the time neighbors found him, he was mess. They thought he was dead.
He wasn’t, but he was horribly dehydrated. Even so, he was alert enough to chat with Jan and Dorothy and explain how it was that he knew he’d been on the floor for four days and four nights.
 “Because it’s been light and dark,” he answered.
Well, duh. Doctors were optimistic. “Maybe this’ll be like a big bed sore, and he’ll be OK,” they thought.
But he died of renal failure, caused by muscle deterioration, which sent toxins flooding into his kidneys.
•••
By the way, Dorothy never confirmed nor denied that she hasn’t allowed herself the luxury of crying over Cartwright’s death. Perhaps she fears if she talks about it, she’ll cry, and if she starts crying, she’ll won’t stop. But she will because eventually she’ll recall some outrageous antic he pulled, and then she’ll smile and then she’ll start laughing.
His death reminds us that this eclectic cluster of men and women not only changed the cultural and political landscape of the state back then, but it changed it forever. Some kid out there in Wichita Falls or Longview or Lubbock will stumble upon Cartwright’s Four Horseman lead or his “Confessions of a Washed Up Sportswriter” and decide “To Hell with it. Bring me a dagger and a fake cake.” 
So, turn on the lights. Maybe the party’s not over after all.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Ain't It Sweet

“I now understand what it must feel like to be an alcoholic trying not to take that next drink,” an old friend wrote. “I decide every morning not to watch TV for a day and I can't stick to it. I have felt all along that Steve Bannon was going to weasel his way into running this country. It appears he has now made it.”

Don’t worry, I replied. Be happy. “As perverse as it may be, I'm enjoying the hell out of this,” I wrote. “It’s such a joy watching him melt-down and listening to his hirelings read — verbatim, it seems — his temper-tantrum rants.”

Just look at the guy. He’s paunchy. His peroxide mane is falling out. He looks as if he hasn’t slept in a month, and he probably hasn’t because — it appears — America is waking up to the fact that he’s not merely misguided, misinformed, uninformed and incompetent, he’s flat-out delusional. He can’t spout “Radical Islam” enough, but on Holocaust Day, he failed to mention the Jews because it might offend the other 6 million victims of the camps and the shooting pits. That’s how they roll in alt-fact world.

In reality, it’s more like fear of offending Bannon’s alt-right, beer gut Barcalounger lugs.

This morning, I read where DT’s handlers have warned Prince Charles not to lecture him on climate change, lest he “erupt.” You can’t make this crap up.

So, I’m not depressed. I'm taking great delight in watching the dupes and bigots and pious hypocrites hem-and-haw and pivot and blame the victims for the golden-plumed run-away garbage truck that is the illegitimate 45th President of the United States.

So, all the people I blocked, all the old high school pals and wacko cousins I unfriended because they compared Michelle Obama to a monkey and called Hillary Clinton a cunt, they’re back in. The posts that nauseated me a year ago have me in stitches today. They sharing boilerplate love-the-flag, hate-Madonna nonsense or puppy videos and dessert recipes. 


What fun! They emptied their bank accounts on ammo and guns three or four times during the Obama administration, and now, under Trump, they’re self-medicating with chocolate sheet cake and lemon bars. The irony is too sweet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Donald Trump’s Farewell Speech, January, 2020

Thank you. Thank you so much. I know how much you’re going to miss me. How much the country, the world, has come to admire me, but, as they say, all good things must pass. In 11 days, total slob Elizabeth Warren will become the new president. I know. I know. Sad. All the lies she told about me. I had no chance. It was rigged, I can tell you that. From the beginning. Half her votes came from Mexico. That’s been proven by Breitbart and InfoWars. Everybody knows. The other two thirds came from California.

You know what else is in California, right? Hollywood. Are there a lot of gays out there? [Jerking his arms around and holding his right hand at an angle, voice quivering.] I don’t remember.

Little joke. [Hired stand-ins howl in laughter, applaud wildly, chant "Lock them up! Lock them up!"]

No, there’s never been a better president than me. I am the greatest ever. Tremendous. In four years.  Washington. Lincoln. George Jefferson. The things I did. The things I accomplished. Many things. So many, I can’t even tell you all the great things I did, about how I made America great again. Incredible things. I’m now thinking of that Beatles song, Golden Showers. Beautiful song. They don't write songs like that any more. Paul McCartney, a very good friend of mine, wrote that. For me. Wonderful guy. Big fan of mine. Best of the Beatles. Lennon, I didn't like so much. Over-rated. And his wife, oh my God. A dog. He could have done much better. Trust me. Much better.

But let me tell you who’s not a big fan. Never way. So corrupt. The lamestream media. Total losers. The most dishonest people on the planet. Turn around and look at these scumbags. There they are. The worst of the worst. Everything I achieved, and it was a lot, I got it done in spite of these dishonest clowns who refused to do their jobs civilly of blindly supporting me. Except Fox. And my dear friend, Sean Hannity. Where are you, Sean? Is Sean here? I don’t see him. Anyway, thank you Sean.

Instead, the lamesteam media kept showing video me say things that I never said. Never did. It was all a lie. Fake news. You know that. Besides, saying something isn’t the same as thinking it. There's a difference. Big difference. I know. I studied it. No one knows more about this than me. But CNN and NBC and the rest of them — except Fox — showed it anyway. Liars. Everyone one of them. I wish I could just punch them in the face, starting with that dyke on MS-PMS or whatever. So unAmerican. Total loser.

Where's Sean? He here yet? You are a great American.

I want to thank another great American, my gorgeous wife, who’s been by my side now for six months, Natashya Zubkov Trump. Stand up, sweetheart, and let everyone get a look at ‘chu. Do I know how to pick ‘em or what? Look at that piece ‘ah... Amazing, isn’t she? Just turned 21. Who would ever believe that six months ago, she worked a blackjack table at the new Trump Tower and Casino in Moscow? 

Sweet girl from the southside of Rostov. We met a year ago. Six months. A year. Two. She’s so smart. Highly educated in the gaming and adult entertainment industry. Thank you, sweetheart. You are my bestest friend, the mother of our child, little Donaldika. The most beautiful child ever. I can tell you that. She’s going to be a real star. Huge. If she weren’t my daughter and only two months old, perhaps I’d be dating her myself one day. No, seriously. She's a 10.

Of course, many of you continue to ask, "Where's Melania?" I cannot tell you that. She returned briefly to her native country, and she hasn't been seen since. Of course, I mourned. She was once a 10. Once. Then, she became an eight. Maybe a seven. She just didn't have the look or the stamina any more. She got a bit large too. A cow. Disgusting. But she disappeared, and we move on.

That reminds me, I also want to thank my dear friend, Vladimir, the great leader of the Russian people. A man of the people, whom I have great admiration and respect for, to whom I am indebted, bigly. A true statesman and patriot and so strong. Always working to improve the lives of people. Not all, of course. But some. Some people, you can't help. Losers. But Vlad, he came from nothing to become so powerful, such a great leader. Who does he remind me of? Let me think for a second. Hmmm. [Hired attendees chant, "Trump, Trump, Trump!] 

You're too kind. True. But kind. Thank you. I grew up a poor kid out in the hinterlands, the wilderness. We barely had enough money to pay for a chauffeur. My father was forced to buy and sell tenements in Queens and in the Bronx so I could attend military school and wear a soldier uniform, which I looked, by the way, absolutely fantastic in. Unbelievable. Trust me. And I would have been a great soldier — the best ever. A general, probably. 

And Vietnam? I was denied a chance to serve my country in a time of war even as the country cried out for a real leader who didn't get captured and tortured in a Hanoi prison.  And I would have answered that call if I hadn’t had bunions or a cold sore, so I was classified 4-F — the only "F" I ever got — but I served my here, in New York, buying and selling tenements and getting laid by the most beautiful women in the world all the time. Those were hard times for me. Very hard. Very, very hard. [Hired attendees woo-hoo, applaud wildly, leer and grab at a nearby pussy.]

So I took a tiny loan from my father and turned it into a fabulous fortune like none the world has ever seen, and in no time, I rose to the top of my father's company, which was an amazing feat. Never done before. And I became the most successful and famous businessman. Ever. Again, never done before. Unbelievable. No one more successful, more famous. Everything I touched turned to gold. Trump Airlines. Trump University. Trump Ice. Trump Vodka. Trump magazine. My hotels and casinos in Atlantic City. The list goes on and on. Every decision an unbelievable success. No wonder I've been on the cover of Time magazine like, 25, 30 times. More times than anyone else. Ever. Not even Washington or Lincoln have been on the cover as many times as I have. What does that tell you?

And why? Because my IQ. Highest ever. Off the charts. My doctor told me once, “Donald, your IQ. Wow.” So, people beg me, “Mr. Trump. It's always, Mr. Trump. Never Donald. Please make America great again.” I must have got a million tweets from Kansas alone. “Only you can save us.” You know, the real Americans out working two, three, four jobs, they love me because I’m like them.

So, I decided to run for your President, and boy, did I kick the crap out of them all. Rubio. Hillbilly Mike. Dog-face Carly. Kasich. Light-weights, all of them. They were haters, once, but they came around. Even Carson and Rick Perry, both of whom joined my cabinet even though neither one knew upside down from Adam's apple. And Ted Cruz. Oh, jeez. What a scumbag and a liar. Still, I tried to appoint him to the U.S. Supremely Court, but the liberal scumbag media reported, wrongly, I might add, that the President doesn’t have the power to appoint a justice to the Supremely Court. They said it was in the Consternation. It’s not. [Hired attendees boo fiercely.]

You know that. Everyone knows that or else they wouldn’t ask me all the time, “Why don’t you just appoint someone like Ted Cruz to the Supremely Court?” I'll tell you why I didn't:  His wife — whoa — what a pig! Disgusting. Trust me. He can do better too. Not much, but some. Total Yoko. 

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yea. I then defeated Crooked Hillary, in every way possible — in the debates, in the popular vote, on the campaign trail, everywhere, total landslide like they haven't seen since what? Reagan and Walter Mundane? But Hillary. Such a nasty woman. And crooked. Low energy too. She didn't have the stamina to keep up. So weak. She spent her time studying. No wonder she lost. All that studying. Crazy. She was nice, though, afterwards. I gotta give her credit for that. Crooked, but nice. Bit of a moron too. Really boring in person. Bill could have done a lot better. Trust me. ["We love you," hired attendees chant, somehow in perfect unison.]

Thank you. Thank you for that spontaneous display of affection. I came into Washington promising to drain the out-of-control swamp and build a great wall along our southern border, and send the bill to Mexico and ship all the rapists and murderers back to Guacamole, and defeat ISIS, and abolish Obamacare, and abolish the EPA and slash taxes — on the super-rich, anyway. And it all seemed possible, but the media, those lying scumbags, kept printing lies about what I said or did, so then pretty much everyone else outside of Texas turned against me, so I was forced to compromise on some of my more ambitious plans, like handing the national parks over to Exxon-Mobil. Not my idea, but I liked it. Where’s Rex? Is he here? No? Great American. From Texas, a classy state. Nobody respects Texas as much as I do. I love Texas. I love Texans. If it were up to Texas, no compromises.

But, I had to, so I compromised, bigly. As you all know, no one is better at compromising than me. I have been compromised so many times, you wouldn’t believe. Trust me. You can’t imagine.

I also want to talk to you tonight about bigotry and injustice and income inequity. Did I mention radical Islam? Bad hombres. [Hired attendees boo fiercely.]

Moving on, democracy, Democracy is a big word. Very special word. America loves democracy. I love democracy. I love the Consternation. No one respects the Consternation more than I do. No one knows it better than I do. It is a gift to the American people — particularly those of us who make upwards of, oh, let’s say, $50 million a year. But for all Americans, it’s very precious. You know that. I don’t have to tell you that. It’s valuable. This is what I mean when I talk about “American values.”

Values are so important. They're guaranteed in the Consternation. For example, my business colleagues and all the lobbyists, and all the agents of foreign countries trying to do business with my administration found that my hotel, the Trump Tower in New York, had the best food, best beds, hottest showers, hottest cocktail waitresses. As far as values, each and every one of them got a great value. A great American value. I mean, a room like that in Midtown? Unbelievable. Best ribeye in New York. Peter Luger's? Keens? Delmonico's? So weak. No one goes there anymore. They're all terrible. But Trump Grill? The best. 

And what does the media report?  That I used my position as President to enrich myself, that I profited. That I broke the Consternation's Emollient Clause.  Total lie. Fake news from haters. Never happened. Anyway, I did OK on the side, not that I know anything about it. I don’t. But it was a tremendous deal. Unbelievably great, and when Trump is great, America is great, so never let it be said that I didn’t keep my promise to make America great again. 

As you remember, the nation was on the brink of complete collapse when I took office. Sharia law was about to be declared in Oklahoma. UN takeover. All babies, about to be aborted. Ripped from the womb. It's true. Every word. Total disaster. Lot of challenges and hardships. 

So, I transferred power back from the government to the American people, the forgotten men and women who, because of unfair tax laws and regulations, couldn’t afford a new private jet or even a summer home in Colorado because they were forced by the government to offer their employees health insurance, which is socialism. Communism. But I stopped it. [Hired attendees woo-hoo, chant "Trump, Trump" in strangely perfect unison.]

So, you're welcome. I want to thank my friends and associates and even my enemies, who have opposed me because they are jealous of my women and my money and my long, slender fingers and, of course, my hair. It's natural. 100 percent. The haters, I don’t blame them. I’m jealous of myself, that’s how handsome I am. I’m the best looking president of all time. Better than Kennedy. Better than Dwayne “The Rock” Eisenhower. My looks are unpresidented. Terrific. That’s the beauty of me.

But even though I won the 2020 election — the popular vote by 70, 80 percent, at least. Everybody agrees. It was stolen. It was all rigged against me. No way I was going to win — I very classily accept this decision. [Hired attendees weep, howl, rip at their shirts, tear out their hair.] And will continue to accept it unless the generals join me in a bloody coup, if that's what it takes. 

If not, then I leave you with one final thought: “The Apprentice.” It’s coming back and hugely, I might add. Thursday nights. ABC. Don’t miss it. Unbelievable show. Fantastic. Very fantastic. All the critics, they agree. Five stars. Six. Most stars of all time.  So, don't miss it. I will make American television great again. 

So, thank you. You're beautiful. God bless you and thank you. God bless America. ABC. Thursday nights. Watch it. [Hired attendees woo-hoo, clap wildly, stomp feet, never see a dime from Trump. Ever.]

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Merle Haggard

My dad and I agreed on perhaps two things: The Dallas Cowboys and Merle Haggard. We loved the Cowboys but knew they'd find a way to twist our innards into Spaghetti O's by giving up a last second touchdown to the Packers or the Colts or the Steelers. Perhaps the most profound statement my father ever made was, "The damn Cowboys cannot stand prosperity." My guess is, if my father were still alive, he'd hate them as much as I do. Thank you, Mr. Jones.

As for Merle, I grew up listening to his music (along with Hank Williams, Marty Robbins, Webb Pierce, George Jones and such) because my dad played it in the house, but I was too much of a Beatles/rock fan to listen to C&W. And I took a personal dislike to the knee-jerk jingoism of "Okie from Muskogee." It was a huge Mayberry fairy tale, and you had to be an idiot not to know it or a liar not to admit it because, for one thing, Merle smoked his fair share of pot and had five wives and who knows how many one-night stands. In other words, there was more going on in that tour bus than holding hands and pitching woo.

And as for the kids who didn't burn their draft cards down on Main Street and didn't get a college deferment or didn't land a cushy post in a highly-prized National Guard unit patrolling the dangerous skies over Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange, well, they ended up getting shipped to Vietnam and getting their asses shot to pieces, and it was those shaggy-hair hippies with their beads and Roman sandals and their peace demonstrations that ultimately ended the quagmire and brought what was left of their asses and sanity home. Over time, Merle's thoughts on the song and its political message evolved, and here's an interesting link:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/music/artists/merle-haggard-sometimes-i-wish-i-hadnt-written-okie-from-muskoge/

Anyway, I was about to leave White Oak for Austin and UT in the summer of 1973 when my dad brought home the "I Love Dixie Blues" album, which was recorded live in New Orleans, and I fell in love immediately with two songs: "Carolyn" and "I Forget You Every Day," and from there, I doubled back to collect all his great '60s singles ("Mama Tried, Swinging Doors, Silver Wings, etc.) and then he came to Austin later that year and played the old Convention Center on Town Lake. Barbara Mandrell opened, and she was magnificent, and I wondered if I hadn’t just seen the best part of the concert. Then, he and the Strangers came on, and he sang ever damn song he knew except perhaps "Jingle Bells," and, of course, he finished with "Okie from Muskogee," and even us shaggy-hair hippies sang it like it was some kind of personal anthem. It remains the best concert I ever attended, and I've seen Elton John, Springsteen, McCartney, Billy Joel, Dixie Chicks, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, John Fogerty, Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, Boz Scaggs and quite a few others I can't think of off the top of my head.

A year or so after graduating from UT and returning to East Texas, I was smitten with a girl, and she moved to Los Angeles to live with her father, with whom she'd been estranged. She was escaping an boozy mother and a brutish step-father, so I didn't blame her, but it broke my heart. I drove her to Love Field in Dallas and put her on a plane, then parked beside Bachman Lake and sat on the hood of my '73 Monte Carlo and drank a six-pack of something — probably Budweiser — and listened to "Silver Wings" over and over and over, and then drove home to sulk and mope for about a month. 

Since then, I’ve seen Merle three or four times, once at Stubbs, after which my friend, Dick Holland, immortalized me in a short review he wrote for the Texas Observer. The last time I saw Merle, he played at that church underneath the Pennybacker Bridge out on 360. It wasn't a very good show because he'd been sick and he had his kids carrying too much of the load, and also, the good Baptists (or whatever they are) didn't sell or allow beer or wine, and I didn't think to sneak in a flask of Jack Daniels.

Last November, he played the Nutty Brown Café near Dripping Springs, and I considered trying to catch the show but for some reason didn't. It probably conflicted with some dip-shit football game I wanted to watch, and I figured Merle was going to live forever anyway, so “another time.” Tickets were only forty bucks.

In the end, the thing I most appreciate and admire about Merle is that he was real. He didn’t pander. He never put on pretenses to satisfy a demographic. If he wrote and sang a song about his Mama or America or misery and gin, it was because he had something elegant and profound to say about each one of them. He wrote songs from the heart and the mind and the gut, and those songs remain as original and musical today as they were the day they were recorded, and if a couple of them are a little corny or jingoistic, well, screw it. As I've grown older, I've become a little corny and occasionally even a little jingoistic myself. That is, I like manly footwear and living right, and I am, by and large, proud they still wave Old Glory down at the courthouse. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Mr. Paschal

Some of us remember Prof. James F. Paschal, director of the Oklahoma Interscholastic Press Association. A few years ago, I was asked to write a short piece about him for a history project that, as far as I can determine, never materialized. If it was published and distributed, I didn't see it. I stumbled upon this piece the other day and have decided to publish it here and now. If this violates some sacred trust or legal obligation, so be it. By the way, Jim was a TCU grad, thus, the purple. I would rather take a whipping with a switch than publish in crimson or whatever nuance of red OU claims to be.

I have kept a stack of letters Jim Paschal wrote me over the course of my long apprenticeship to him. He wrote to stroke my ego, chew me out or correct something I might have said, written or thought.
I took none of it personally because I knew Laura Schaub or Randy Stano might have received that same day a similar letter, and all it meant was that Jim was in a cranky mood. Once, he insisted I disqualify a yearbook because the young adviser missed some nebulous deadline.
“I have no patience with people who can’t read,” he wrote to me. “I have even less patience with advisers who think they’ve got a lot to do! You and I know better than that — we’re workers!”
Well, I had plenty of chances to experience these mood swings. I taught and judged for him. He taught and judged for me. I knew when he came to Austin that he’d dine at Los Tres Bobos and Hill’s Café and complain about the Villa Capri Hotel, where I was obligated by state contract to house him. Even though the hotel was faded and sagging, but it had its charms.
Didn’t matter. Jim hated it. I’ve never known a man easier and harder to please, but to know him was to appreciate the beautiful contradictions of his leonine personality.  He could get misty-eyed over a piece of Waterford crystal (Lismore pattern only) and bug-eyed over a student newspaper that contained one too many staples. He hated bureaucracy. He loved all things Disney and the Boomerang’s Caesar burger. 
He especially loved the CSPA and dedicated much of his life toward seeing that it was worthy of its blue-blood connections. For almost three decades, Jim, Chuck Savedge and Charles O’Malley constituted the great triumvirate of American scholastic journalism. They were the gatekeepers, the giants. We shall not see the likes of them again.
I remember the night Ed Sullivan called to tell me Jim had died.  It was during the CSPA spring convention, and I had tickets to see “Miss Saigon” with Rick Hill and his wife, Donna. I didn’t want to ruin their evening, so I swallowed my grief long enough to make it through the show and dinner at The River Café afterwards. Back at the hotel, I gave Rick the bad news, and we both cried for quite a while.
That’s how important Jim was to me and all of us upstarts. It’s why we did whatever he asked. I personally cranked out one half-baked article after another for the half-dozen periodicals he edited, judged stacks of Oklahoma newspapers, and taught at dozens of OIPA workshops and conventions. In return, he taught me everything I needed to know about this quirky profession. Toward the end, he even asked me to speak at his retirement gala, which presented me the rare chance to goose him a little.
“English monarchs have left their thrones with less fanfare,” I said, then compared him to Hannibal Lecter with a pica pole and a cigarette.
I can still hear his laugh, a wheezy, high-pitched tremolo. He appreciated a good joke and didn’t mind being the butt of that one because he knew how important he was to all of us. He nurtured us and introduced us to each other, roomed us together in cramped cottages on the OU campus so that his friends became our friends. He invited us to important events and challenged us to rise above our back-water inclinations.
“It's difficult to describe how Jim Paschal influenced my personal life and mentored my professional career,” said John Cutsinger, who began his storied teaching career at tiny Poteau, OK. “He led by actions. His example of ‘getting it done just right’ inspire me even today. Jim recognized something in me that I didn't see myself and he nurtured it. Sometimes I hear Jim in the ideas I share with others. That's impact.”
Design guru Mario Garcia said Paschal was one of the most unforgettable characters he’s met during a 41-year career that’s taken him to more than 110 countries.
“I was instantly attracted to his wit, his comic timing, his attention to (and memory for) detail,” Garcia said. “Most importantly, it was his heart. Jim was like a constant flow of fresh water coming down from the mountains.”
Legendary photo instructor Joe Glowacki of Connersville, Indiana, said Jim’s special talent was finding the right people, inspiring them to think creatively and insisting that they have fun.
“No matter how many hours we put in teaching workshops,” Glowacki said, “Jim always made us feel like we were having fun because he himself had so much fun.”
For example, for his retirement gala, Paschal created a version of Trivial Pursuit devoted to — you guessed it — Jim Paschal, and everyone played.
“This is the one of the many quirks about Jim that made his close friends love him so much,” Rick Hill said. “If Jim saw great potential in you, or if you made him laugh, or if he just liked you, then he made you feel loved, wanted, intelligent and important. He was a mentor, a guide, a touchstone, an adviser and a consigliere.”
As for me, one afternoon, he and I were chatting outside his cramped office in Copeland Hall, and he said to me, for no apparent reason, “You, my boy, are a born teacher.”
I might have laughed or shrugged it off had anyone else said it, but Jim said it, and that made it real. With one off-the-cuff comment, he changed my life.

Well, I wish Jim were here to read this piece. I suspect he’d enjoy it, but I’m equally certain he’d find something wrong with it, and I’m positive I’d receive a letter from him, telling me all about it. That was his way of saying, “I love you.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Stereotypes and other lies

I attended my first gun show last Saturday. It was held in Dripping Springs, a once quaint little town that’s now being swallowed whole by Home Depot, Inc.
I went with a dear friend, Henry Robles — now a Los Angeles television screenwriter by way of Eldorado High School, UT and Stanford Law School. He worked for me as an undergraduate and remains one of my favorite people alive. He needed to see and hear and feel the vibe of a Texas gun show because he’s working on a script that involves one, and he chose Dripping Springs because it’s only 22 miles west of Austin, where he has friends and family and the W Hotel.
I picked him up at the airport, and we met my wife at Matt’s El Rancho for lunch. I ordered a beef chilé relleno, as I always do, and he ordered a fajita omelet. Since I was driving and saving him the cost of rental, he paid, and we set off for Dripping Springs and the Saxet (that’s “Texas” spelled backwards) Gun Show, which was being held in what looked to be a giant aluminum tool shed, a couple of miles west of 290 on Highway 12 West — about four miles from the local Dairy Queen and right across the road from the elementary school.
I tagged along because I wanted to catch up with Henry and because I figured a gun show would be an interesting learning experience. It was all that and more.
This is what I learned:

 Hillary lies.
That’s according to the 3x6-inch bumper stickers that were plastered everywhere, including the admission booth.
“About what?” I asked the crinkled woman working the ticket table.
“About what what?" she replied.
“Hillary. She lies. About what?” I asked.
“About everthing,” she replied in a flat, Marlboro huff.
“Such as?” I asked.
She slit her eyes and looked me over and said, “Ben. Gazi," like it was two words.
She then pointed to a sign: No loaded weapons. No cameras.
“Understood? she asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I replied, and she stamped my right hand.
I thanked her and ambled into what constituted the foyer, where earnest PaPa-types in overalls and suspenders peddled the non-lethal bric-a-brac, such as Bibles (old and new), Civil War and World War II memorabilia, vintage porcelain dolls, turquoise jewelry, and assorted other garage sale junk. The guns and bullets were in the main hall, next door — row after row of military pistols, police revolvers, assault rifles, antique shotguns, cammo, Kevlar vests, knives, tasers, holsters and belts, all stacked up and on display. 
It was what Spec's would be if Spec's sold carbines and chardonnay.

 Stereotypes exist for a reason.
In preparing for my first gun show, I googled “What to expect at a Texas gun shows?” and was generally admonished not to stereotype. “Expect to see young and old, all colors and races, mothers and fathers, businessmen and homemakers who have a common interest in things that go bang.”
Young and old? Yes.
All colors and races? No.
Mostly, I saw white dudes fingering fancy firearms they very likely couldn’t afford without stiffing their landlord on next month’s rent. I saw a few Hispanics, fewer blacks and no Asians. I saw three or four young couples with young children, but mostly, I saw white dudes.
Not to stereotype, but the white dudes would have done well to spend more on their wardrobes and less on their guns and ammo. I saw a lot of beat-up sneakers and dingy T-shirts and saggy-ass Wrangler jeans. I didn’t see much in the way of designer labels, but then, I didn’t see a lot of Confederate flags either, so we'll call that a draw.
I wore tan khakis, a pressed white shirt, a pair of Timberland hiking shoes and a Stetson Open Road straw hat, what we used to call an LBJ hat. I thought the Stetson might help me blend in with the local ranchers in attendance, but I apparently the local ranchers were at home or Home Depot or home on the range, and so, I looked like Ben Cartwright on the set of Swamp People.
Generally, it was a rangy, scruffy crowd, and, frankly, Henry could have remained in LA and written his script pool-side, relying entirely on lazy stereotypes involving unconventional grooming habits, grammatical havoc, tea party proclivities and all-you-can-eat buffet lines. He wouldn’t have missed it by that much, and if that sounds snarky or snide, well, duh. Admonish me.

 Now and then, it's best to lie.
“What sort of gun you lookin’ for?” an old codger working a one-table booth asked me after I'd picked up and toyed with an automatic .410 shotgun that reminded me of my grandfather.
“I’m just looking,” I answered.
“Well, what sort of guns you already got?”
“Oh, I don’t own a gun,” I answered. “I'm just looking.”
“Well, happy hunting,” he said, and muttered something else and plopped down in his metal folding chair.
In retrospect, I should have lied. I should have said, “Oh, I thought I might stumble upon a good deal on a Krieghoff, not that I need one. I got two already. Thought I might pick up an extra one. Can't have too many, huh? Of course, I wouldn't mind another Remington. So, what do you think? A Krieghoff or a Remington?”
That would have given him something to mutter about.

  Never mention “the government.”
The government is evil and corrupt, and there’s only one thing standing between you and me and a forced march to the gulags, and that’s the Second Amendment, which protects our right to buy as many guns and as much ammo as we can afford and store in our underground bunker in preparation for the coming conflagration.
Take, for example, a used Beretta M9 that an excitable young man offered me for $699.
“It’s a steal?” he told me, then handed it to me.
“How does it feel?” he asked, and I had to admit, “Pretty sweet.”
“OK, I can let it go for $650,” he added.
He accepts credit cards but prefers cash, which I thought slightly odd, given his disdain for the government. I wanted to ask him if by “the government,” he meant all government — the  school board, the city council, the Parks and Wildlife Department — but I thought the better of it and chose instead to look as solemn as a undertaker as I fondled the pistol.
“Let me think about it,” I said to him very slowly, like I was pondering some arcane moral paradox, and then slipped away and disappeared into the scruffiness. Ten minutes or so later, I swung back by the table, and the excitable young guy was lecturing Henry on how any and all gun regulation is tantamount to fascism.
Of course, I knew where the conversation was headed.
“Take Obamacare, for example,” he spouted. “The government says I have to buy it, but I don’t want it because I can take care of myself. It’s the same like if the government tells you you gotta buy a car and it has to be a Kia, and maybe you want a car, but you don't want a Kia. See? That’s how it all begins. And the next thing you know, BOOM, we're  history. The Constitution. The Second Amendment. Freedom of religion. The whole damn thing, flushed down the drain. That’s where we’re headed.”
He put on quite a show — pistol porn to the dudes watching and listening and nodding in agreement.
“Damn right,” chimed in a lanky, raccoon-eyed 30-something wearing a faded maroon Aggie sweatshirt. If he ever attended Texas A&M, I doubt he majored in political science.

 When in doubt, blend in.
Maybe I should have chimed in too. It would have endeared me to the Aggie and the other bystanders. It would have been interesting, pretending to be one of them by blending in. I have enough East Texas still in me that I could have pulled it off. 
Besides, “The true triumph of reason is that it enables us to get along with those who do not possess it.” Voltaire said that. 
Anyway, I'm not trying to be any more snarky than I typically am. I'm simply describing what I saw during my 45-minute stroll through what was a two-day event. I concede that it is entirely possible that the Polo and Louis Vuitton crowd attended earlier that morning or perhaps after church the next day. And I am not suggesting that people who attend gun shows are all angry, paranoid time bombs. If they're dangerous, it's only because they're so wildly misinformed. I mean, if Hillary is a liar, then what does that make Donald Trump?
Here's the deal: I wanted to attend that gun show because my younger brother is a lifetime double-patron NRA groupie. He owns dozens of guns and attends gun shows as often as you or I feed our cats. He and I have wildly divergent opinions on most everthing, but I know that if my car breaks down 100 miles east of Marfa, and I have just enough juice in my iPhone to call one person, I'm calling my brother because he will drive 600 miles from Longview, hitch me to his 2-ton pickup and haul me home.
All the way, we will debate Ted Cruz and Jerry Jones and illegal immigrants and climate change and stupid bumper stickers, like the two or three on the tailgate of his pick-up that say, “Hillary lies.”