Q: My fourteen-year-old daughter and her mother are already planning on having a big quinceañera next year. This is going to be very expensive nowadays, with the DJ and the dresses and everything. I’m Mexican American and my wife is not, and so I’m wondering if I can make the argument that the quinceañera tradition has been Americanized away. This would save me a lot of money. What do you think?
Name Withheld , Corpus Christi
A: The Texanist has some good news and some bad news. The good news is that you have a wife and daughter. The bad news is that the two of them are going to cost you, dearly, and the sooner you accept that fact the better off you’ll be. The Texanist speaks from experience. Listen to him: There are no familial combinations more lethal to a pocketbook than a mother and daughter. None. The line of reasoning you have formulated in hopes of dodging the bill for an extravagant fifteenth-birthday fiesta for your beloved daughter is almost touching in its futility. But the two of them will destroy it. “Americanized away”? This is so preposterous that the Texanist can only admire its creativity. Face it: The girl and her mother are on solid ground, clearly recognizing this landmark birthday as both an opportunity to throw the most awesome quince ever as well as a bona fide birthright. But don’t be too hard on your heritage. The truth is that every culture has a ritualized means of draining the parental bank account. Mexicans have their quinceañeras, Jews have bar and bat mitzvahs, and as for the Texanist’s own people, the Scots-Irish, well, let’s just say that you can spend a lot of money banging dents out of pickup trucks that have been piloted into stationary objects along Highway 36. Just be glad that at your ceremonial fleecing, you’ll be able to get a good meal. And then it’s back to work. You need to start saving up for the wedding.
Q: I recently gave my grandson a bullwhip for his ninth birthday, and the last time I visited he told me that his mom, my daughter, wouldn’t let him play with it. I asked her about it, and she explained to me that a whip wasn’t a good toy for a kid these days. End of bullwhip and end of story. I had a bullwhip as a boy and had lots of fun with it. When did whips go out of style?
Grandpa Jim , Amarillo
A: According to recent studies, it’s not bullwhips that have gone out of style, it’s mothers who endorse bullwhips as appropriate childhood toys. The Texanist was lucky enough to have his entrée into the world of boyhood whippery come about when mothers still permitted that sort of thing. The occasion was a visit to Temple by screen legend Lash LaRue, who stopped off one summer for a cracking exhibition and a showing of one of his classic westerns. Whether the film was Law of the Lash, Mark of the Lash, Return of the Lash, or another of Mr. LaRue’s innumerable whip-centric movies the Texanist can’t be sure, but what he knows with certitude is that he was totally enamored of the man’s skills. For months after Mr. LaRue’s visit, the Texanist could be found roaming the streets with a succession of belts, rawhides, razor straps, ropes, quirts, and bullwhacks, terrorizing the insect and chrysanthemum population and making sticks dance. You can tell your daughter that this love affair with the lash left no permanent scars and that, with some help from the occupational therapist, both of his eyes have been restored to good working order. This old whippersnapper respectfully disagrees with the tendency, highly prevalent nowadays, to keep potentially dangerous toys away from children. A whip, with a little guidance, is a fine gift for a boy. So is a .22, a bowie knife, and certain small explosives. Try again next year.
Q: I live in Austin in what is thought of as a nice neighborhood. As is probably the case all over Texas due to the drought, we have restrictions on water usage, which a neighbor of mine has been ignoring. If I say something to him it could affect our relationship. What should I do?
Name Withheld , Austin
A: Given the opportunity to wish for any one thing in the world, few men would be so selfish as to ask for an immaculate lawn. There are those, however, for whom the pursuit of a home ensconced in flawless turf gets wildly out of hand. These poor bastards become like drug addicts whose only “fix” is an impeccable green. Your neighbor appears to have become such a man. He has employed an “anything goes” policy: weed and feed abuse, sucking the water table dry, illicit watering, maybe even the occasional midnight spray painting. This man is on a downward spiral, and you owe it to him to intervene. Go over to his house, explain to him that the jig is up, command him to drop the hose, and then hold him in your arms as he crumples to the sumptuous sod. It may take a while (fall and winter), but he, like his grass, will be okay in time.
Q: I write in hopes that you can resolve a strange internal conflict: Something is telling me that it’s not okay to make chili in the summertime, that chili is a seasonal dish reserved for wintertime. But I’ve got a strong desire to do it anyway. Would I be breaking any rules if I were to go ahead and proceed with my chili plans?
Pete Sayles , Fort Worth
A: There is no better dish on a cold winter day, when that first blue norther’s bearing down, than a big, steaming bowl of Texas red, garnished with diced white onion, a sprinkling of grated yellow cheese, and three slices of fresh jalapeño, with a sleeve of saltine crackers, an ice-cold longneck bottle