The Birdman of Texas

Looking back, I don’t think my initial reaction to Victor Emanuel was out of line. I first encountered his name years ago, when George Plimpton, who was giving a reading at the Texas Book Festival, spotted a trim, friendly-looking man entering the room. Plimpton beamed as if the president of the United States had just sauntered in. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he bellowed, “Victor Emanuel!” If memory serves, Plimpton tried to get the audience to applaud. Not recognizing the name, I leaned over to a colleague sitting nearby.

The Lost Boys

One morning this past September, Mrs. Mary Scott walked out of her tiny brick house, one hand clutching a plastic tub of birdseed, the other holding on to the front door in case she lost her balance. Taking her time, she stepped off the front stoop and onto a pebbled sidewalk that her husband, Walter, dead now for a decade, had laid down one weekend in the mid-sixties. From out of nowhere, half a dozen doves arrived, soon followed by half a dozen more. “Look at the one that’s all white,” Mrs. Scott said.

The Last Empire

The two men seem to be floating quietly on a sea of cattle. They ride through the herd slowly, without rippling its surface. The rust-colored Santa Gertrudis cattle make room for them, then close back in from every side, jamming the riders’ legs against the flanks of their horses.

The Good Book and the Bad Book

O God, make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride, and strife. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged and strong enough to turn back the tempter’s power. God, make the door of this house the gateway to Thine eternal Kingdom.—quote on the front doors of the upper school chapel at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, in Austin

Law and Disorder

Darla Lexington sleeps in a very dark room in a very large bed, alone. Like a particular kind of Houston woman, the fact that she lives on the top floor of a luxury apartment building is a sign of reduced circumstances, though in her case the loss of an impressive River Oaks home resulted from a death instead of a divorce. The bedspread and curtains are black, giving the room the gloom of mourning.

Innocence Found

The 6,640th day of Anthony Graves’s incarceration—October 27, 2010—began like any other. He awoke at five o’clock in the morning to the sound of the food cart rattling down the hall of the Burleson County jail, where a guard slid his breakfast tray through a slot in his cell door. At seven o’clock, the overhead fluorescent lights came on, illuminating the windowless cell where he had lived in solitary confinement for the past four years. Graves turned on the TV, switching it to the local morning newscast.

Innocence Lost

Editors’ note: On October 27, 2010, just a month after the publication of this story, the Burleson County district attorney’s office dropped all murder charges against Anthony Graves and released him from the county jail, where he was awaiting retrial.

Gentling Cheatgrass

The mustang has eyes that are large and dark and betray his mood. His coat is bright bay, which is to say he’s a rich red, with black running down his knees and hocks. He has a white star the size of a silver dollar on his forehead and a freeze mark on his neck. He cranks his head high as a rider approaches, shaking out a rope from a large gray gelding. The mustang does not know what is to come. His name is Cheatgrass, and he’s six years old. In May he was as wild as a songbird.

The Soul of a Man

On August 20, 1977, NASA launched the Voyager 2 spaceship on a one-way ticket to oblivion. Three weeks later, its sister craft, Voyager 1, blasted off with the same destination. Their mission for the first dozen years or so, as they cruised through the solar system, was to gather data from the planets. Their goal for the next 60,000 years or so, as they leave us far behind, is to carry a message in a bottle to the stars.

Big State, Small Screen

The snowball of critical gush that started rolling with the debut of Friday Night Lights, in October 2006, was actually a little embarrassing. That so many critics around the country would deem a show about Texas high school football to be the year’s best new drama was itself a surprise, but only mildly so, as some program had to be. But then the New York Times took the discussion somewhere else.


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