Thursday, December 28, 2006

8th Grade Texas History, LBJ, Larry L. King, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Sam Houston, Big Foot Wallace, John Wayne, The Alamo, and Texas Rangers

The other day somebody made the comment that Bush wasn't really a Texan because he was born in Connecticut rather than Texas.

That may be true. But he took 8th Grade Texas History in Midland Texas. That pretty much makes him a Texan.

Find and read an old essay about LBJ and the Alamo Syndrome by
Larry L. King (the writer, not the TV one). It's in one of his old books, you
can find it an pretty much any library. It applies to George Bush just as well
as it applied to LBJ.

It's about 8th Grade Texas History and young boys and Vietnam and Texas Rangers
and The Alamo. Sam Houston and Davey Crockett and Big Foot Wallace and Jim
Bowie and John Wayne and the line in the sand in San Antonio.

Bush went to jr. high in Midland Texas. You have no idea how much influence his
teacher of Texas History has had on your life. If you took Texas History in
Midland Texas as a 13 year old boy, then as far as waging war goes you're a
Texan. I don't give a shit if you went to Yale later or not.

I found a review of the book of essays you can find it in here.

It's a pity that as fine a writer of humorous prose as Larry (L.) King has to share that name with an undeservedly reknowned hack whose only real talent is a seemingly infinite capacity for sycophancy. I first encountered King the Greater in the pages of his 1980 collection Of Outlaws, Con Men, Whores, Politicians, and Other Artists. I first read this collection before I migrated to Texas and, having recently reread it after living here for over 15 years, I find that it's only improved with age (the book more so than the state, alas). King is most famous for the piece herein called "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" - a tale of the demise of a house of ill repute in La Grange - that spawned the musical and the movie.
The villain of the story is Marvin Zindler, a Houston deputy sheriff charged with enforcing consumer protection laws who, when fired for failing to favor the wealthy and powerful, shifted his crusade to the private sector. King describes Zindler's (played by Dom DeLuise in the film) transition thusly:

"A lot of good people, long goosed and flummoxed by many avid practitioners of free enterprise, dearly loved and cheered Marvin. But fellow deputies judged him insufficiently bashful when it came to personal publicity, and his superiors soon got a gutful of bitching merchants. Perhaps, too, the more sensitive wearied of daily contact with Marvin's ego, which may be approximately two full sizes larger than Howard Cosell's. Marvin keeps scrapbooks. He dresses like a certified dandy in his 200 tailored suits and has bought himself two nose bobs; he does not permit his own family to view him unless he's wearing one of his many silver hairpieces.
When he got wind of the Chicken Ranch, he took up a crusade against it that eventually shut it down. This was to the great consternation of many, including the winners of the annual Texas-Texas A&M football game who traditionally celebrated their victory at the Ranch. It's a sad tale, although there's some poetic justice. The last time I saw Marvin (who was working as a consumer advocate for a Houston TV station at the time) he was gravely intoning about how several restaurants had committed the cardinal sin of having "slime in the ice box!".
The seventeen other pieces in the collection are equally enjoyable, including a portrait of the American Redneck, a remembrance of the depression, looks at big-time poker and horse trading, a description of Willie Nelson's annual 4th of July picnic ("The Great Willie Nelson Outdoor Brain Fry and Trashing Ejacorama"), and several political essays wherein the humor mixes with serious undercurrents (e.g. "The Alamo Mind-Set: LBJ and Vietnam" on why Johnson had to "nail that coon skin to the wall").

My favorite is "Playing Cowboy," an essay about an expatriate's planned return to his home state, having left for New York at age 18. King evokes the bittersweet nature of returning in the following:

"I miss the damned place. Texas is my mind's country, that place I most want to understand and record and preserve. Four generations of my people sleep in its soil; I have children there, and a grandson; the dead past and the living future tie me to it. Not that I always approve it or love it. It vexes and outrages and disappoints me - especially when I am there. It is now the third most urbanized state, behind New York and California, with all the tangles, stench, random violence, architectural rape, historical pillage, neon blight, pollution, and ecological imbalance the term implies. Money and mindless growth remain high on the list of official priorities, breeding a crass boosterism not entirely papered over by an infectious energy. The state legislature - though improving as slowly as an old man's mending bones - still harbors excessive, coon-ass, rural Tory Democrats who fail to understand that 79.7 percent of Texans have flocked to urban areas and may need fewer farm-to-market roads, hide-and-tick inspectors, or outraged orations almost comically declaiming against welfare loafers, creeping socialism, the meddling ol' feds, and sin in the aggregate."
That was written in the late 1970s and, except for the Tory Democrats mostly all having switched officially to the GOP in the interim, remains fairly accurate. If you get the chance, pick up this or any other book written by a man Roy Blount, Jr. says, "writes just like an angel would if it grew up in West Texas and drank."

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