IT’S A GOOD THING THAT TEXAS’ SESQUICENTENNIAL YEAR is here at last, because number 149 wasn’t good for much except Bum Steers. The price of oil went down, and the price of Southwest Conference football players went up. The Legislature started out to cut the budget and ended up tripling college tuition. Bill Clements came back into politics, and Benny Eureste left politics. Mark White left too—for Honduras.
Attorney general Jim Mattox beat a felony rap. The baseball Rangers didn’t beat anybody. The Spurs, Rockets, and Mavericks quickly exited the NBA play-offs. The state tourist agency said that Texas has the best fall foliage, and New England took notice. The New York Times said that Houston has the Amon Carter Museum, and Fort Worth took notice. Billy Clayton switched political parties, and no one took notice.
Some things never change. Billie Sol Estes got indicted, and the Oilers fired their coach. Horse racing didn’t get out of the legislative starting gate. Clinton Manges didn’t pay his Gunslingers football team. And speaking of money troubles, the bankruptcy courts had some unlikely visitors: Clint Murchison, Sakowitz, the Hunt brothers.
Of all the boos and boo-boos, one stands out as worthy of joining such past notables as George Bush, Carolyn Farb, Jackie Sherrill, Mike Martin, J. R. Ewing, and Farrah Fawcett as Bum Steer of the Year. For producing the longest unbroken string of Texas clichés ever compiled, we salute . . .James Michener and his not-so-novel Texas.
WHAT’S BLACK AND WHITE AND UNREAD ALL OVER?
Its first printing of 750,000 sold out.
More than a million copies have already been sold.
And why not? After all, wasn’t James Michener invited to Texas back in 1981 by our very own Governor Bill Clements to write a novel honoring Texas’ 150 th birthday? Didn’t he get his own office at the University of Texas and all the research help he wanted? Didn’t he have access to every nabob of the state?
Doesn’t James Michener deserve something special?
You bet he does—the 1986 Bum Steer Award. Michener’s Texas makes J.R.’s Dallas look like an informed and sophisticated portrayal of Texas today. Ordinarily we’d say, “Don’t take our word for it, folks. Read it yourself.” But as far as we can tell, no one has. So, as a public service, here’s everything you need to know about James Michener’s Texas.
MICHENER ON RULES TEXANS LIVE BY
Want to make it big in Texas? Here, in the mortal words of Michener’s characters, is how to do it.
• “Don’t never steal cows in Texas, boy. Down here they play by different rules.”
• “If you’re gonna do it, son, do it Texas-style.”
• “A Texan who can’t handle a gun ain’t fit to be a Texan.”
• “A handshake is a handshake, and by God, you better not forget it.”
• “Never forget, son, when you represent Texas, always go first class.”
• “Son, would you pee on your mother’s grave? To befoul Texas football is the same thing.”
• “Life in Texas is like a giant crap game, a perpetual gamble.”
• “A good chicken-fried steak smothered in white gravy, or a big slab of barbecue with baked beans and potato salad, that’s a man’s food.”
• “If you grab enough Texas land, somethin’ good is bound to happen.”
• “The University of Texas has one overriding obligation. To turn out football teams of which the state can be proud.”
• “If I have only one life to live, one dent to make, I want to make it where it counts, in Texas.”
MICHENER ON WHY TEXAS IS TEXAS
Are we smarter? Braver? Tougher? Meaner? None of the above. We’ve got anomie.
“Anomie is the emotional state of mind we are apt to fall into when we are wrenched away from familiar surroundings and thrown into perplexing new ones. The two key words for me are disorientation at first, followed by alienation if it continues long enough. . . .
“I have no opinion whatever as to whether our great-great-grandfathers were criminals or rowdies or gentlemen scholars. All I’m concerned with is: ‘How did they behave? What did they actually do?’ And when I study that restricted body of information, I must conclude that most of them experienced anomie. . . .
“Texas has always been a neurotic place, a breeding ground for anomie. But it’s the neuroticism of activity, of daring, and I hope it never changes, even though the cost can sometimes be so tragic.”
DID HE REALLY SAY THAT?
Somehow we weren’t surprised to come across the following lines:
• “The Texan who guns down his neighbor does not visualize himself as committing a crime.”
• “They were Texas gamblers and they did not whimper.”
• “This isn’t an ordinary ranch. This is a Texas ranch.”
• “Sounds illegal,” Cobb said, but Lakarz corrected him: “Sounds Texan.”
• “This is heroic land and it demands heroic people.”
AND WHAT IF I DON’T?
Two plastic flamingos were taken from Nancy Prather’s yard in Grand Prairie. One came back with its beak taped shut and a ransom note attached to its body reading, “If you ever want to see your other flamingo again, then place a dollar and a half in a Gucci briefcase.”
THEY’RE HANDLING THE CASE PRO BONE-O
Martin Pinnas of Houston hired two attorneys, whose usual fee is a $10,000 retainer plus $300 an hour, to help resolve a divorce case in which he said the only issue was who would get custody of the family dog.
FILE IT IN THE PORTFOLIO NEXT TO “40 PER CENT OF THE TEXAS LEGISLATURE”
In a land deal, Houston investor and power broker Walter Mischer bought 12 per cent of the nation of Belize.
GUANO TO TEXAS
Dr. Merlin Tuttle of Milwaukee, the founder of Bat Conservation International, announced that he wanted to move his organization and research to Austin, which he called “bat nirvana land.”
ESPECIALLY OF THE BRAIN
Donnie Trest of