How do I eradicate prickly pear cactus?
How do I eradicate prickly pear cactus?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: If I want to eradicate a stand of prickly pear cactus, can I just mow over it with a shredder, or do I need to burn it or dig it up or something?
Peter J., Amarillo

A: The Texanist, rather than advising that you go after it with a ferocious hunger for total annihilation, would have you stop for a minute, take a breath, tweeze out those remaining spines, and maybe have a cool drink of water. Although held in low regard and deemed a noxious weed in some parts of the world (g’day, mate), the spiked flora in your yard just happens to be our official and beloved state plant. Furthermore, though it may have aroused your appetite for destruction, it is just as capable of arousing your appetite for things that are delicious. The prickly pear (or nopal), of which you seem to have a good starter crop, can be used as a main ingredient in a variety of very tasty and very healthy dishes: cactus jam, cactus jelly, cactus juice (a scientifically proven and Texanist-approved hangover cure), cactus and eggs, cactus salad, cactus-and-fava-bean soup, and so on. Instead of haphazardly plowing over the thing with a rotary cutter (leads to spreading and vigorous regrowth), setting it ablaze (difficult to accomplish), or bulldozing it (expensive and you need a permit), you would do well to embrace this nettlesome green mass. (Not literally, of course. A friend of the Texanist’s, one James Richard, attempted thusly to display his love of nature some years ago outside La Kiva bar, in Terlingua; not a good idea.) Consider cultivating and harvesting it; try marketing the product roadside. These times call for enterprise, after all. The Texanist will ask only that you enclose 40 percent of the profits with your thank-you note.

Q: We travel between Houston and Tyler to visit family quite often. Why does Alto, Texas, smell like mothballs (but only after sundown)?
Charles Kennedy, Houston

A: The Texanist’s abilities as a sleuth are legendary throughout the Southwest, and though to enumerate the many cases he has cracked would instantly jeopardize our national security, he can freely attest that this is the first time he has been asked to get to the bottom of why Alto, Texas, smells like mothballs (but only after dark). All mysteries, however, being equally mysterious, the Texanist took up your case with his usual Sherlockian wits. At Alto City Hall, he reached by telephone a pleasant young billing clerk named Whittney Arriola. The odor was news to her. Or so she claimed. She was innocent enough, sure, but what was she hiding? Had they gotten to her already? The Texanist knew enough about mothballs to understand that he was dealing with a dark and dangerous underworld in which nothing was what it seemed. But after a four-day stakeout of Arriola’s office yielded no further clues (and some hard questions from a Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy), he returned to your letter for more information. Poring over the lines by candlelight, he suddenly muttered to himself, “Elementary, my dear Kennedy,” as the clouds of conundrum parted. At this very moment, sir, your own torso is very likely clad in the answer to your riddle! It is deceptively simple: You depart Houston in the morning and pass through Alto around lunchtime without event. You arrive in Tyler, visit with relatives, and shove off for Houston in the late afternoon. However, in addition to the peculiar feeling in your stomach from Aunt Teenie’s tuna salad and Clamato aspic, you carry a box full of sweaters that belonged to dear Uncle Carl­ton, may he rest in peace. To test the Texanist’s theory, the next time you call on Aunt Teenie, take an alternate route home. Bypass Alto by shooting over to Henderson on Highway 64, then take 259 to Nacogdoches, and 59 back on down to Houston. See if you don’t start whiffing mothballs somewhere around Mount Enterprise.

Q: My husband is a nice man, but he uses profanity all the time. I have told him how much it bothers me, but it seems to have only gotten worse. What can I do?
Name Withheld

A: The Texanist vividly recalls a similar situation that occurred during his formative years for which a simple home remedy worked quite well. Have your mother-in-law (this is her responsibility alone, and she should have taken care of it long ago) grab your foul-mouthed hubby by the earlobe, march him to the nearest bathroom, wash his dirty mouth out with a bar of soap (newfangled foaming pump soap or disinfectant gel will not suffice), send him to bed without dinner, and on top of that, ground him for two weeks. Also, and this is of utmost importance, be sure that an apology is rendered while she has him by the ear. Do not succumb to his shameful, teary-eyed pleadings of innocence. Unless he sails the seven seas for a living, this should do the trick.

Q: Can I bring my pocketknife to work?
B.S., Sachse

A: Unless your employer has explicitly forbidden it or your “work” happens to be run by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, with your stint more nine to ninety than nine to five, you should be able to tote a pocketknife of reasonable size and reputable manufacture to any office. What worked for Jim Bowie ought to work for B.S. of Sachse. Although the day-to-day situations in which men find themselves in need of such a tool have changed somewhat over the years, cold and well-honed steel, it seems, serves its purpose still. Bowie, before defending the Alamo, shivved an archenemy to death after being shot and repeatedly stabbed in the legendary Sandbar Fight of 1827. You, on the other hand, will most likely be leveling the score with loose threads, hangnails, and packing tape. The Texanist brings his blade to work with him every day and finds that, in addition to dispatching the occasional archenemy, he uses his for drawn-out bouts of lunchtime mumblety-peg and opening letters like this one.

Q: My wife (a sixth-generation Texan) insists that she is capable of driving a dualie with a gooseneck-attached sixteen-foot trailer, despite never having driven anything close to this size before. Her explanation: “How hard could it be?” Do all Texans feel that it is their God-given birthright to have this ability?
Andrew Tachovsky, Austin

A: The question you should be asking is not “Are natural-born Texans inherently capable of hauling sixteen-foot trailers?” It is, rather, “Are my insurance premiums up-to-date?” May God be with you, sir.