How do I approach my brother-in-law about the way he treats wait staff?
How do I approach my brother-in-law about the way he treats wait staff?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: My brother-in-law is a seemingly nice person. However, without provocation, he treats all waiters and waitresses like second-class citizens or worse. My sister seems to be the only person in our family not to recognize this odd behavior, and we don’t know how to approach her (or him) about it. Do you?
Name Withheld

A: Please excuse the Texanist for saying so, but your brother-in-law is a jackass with whom he’d prefer not to mix. Unfortunately, this choice may not be available to you or your family, but you would be doing your sister, yourself, and the rest of the clan a real disservice by letting this conduct continue unchecked. If it is truly not possible to appeal to his better nature, you might try scaring him into some common decency. The fact is that the strangers who bring us our food possess considerable power over our health and well-being. Your brother-in-law might consider that while biting the hand that feeds is unwise, chewing the ass of the hand that feeds may be downright dangerous. The Texanist has labored in several food-service establishments over the years and can attest to the fact that although most waiters seem cheerful while table-side, their plastic smiles often conceal bubbling cauldrons of bitterness and a very real need for a smoke break. The minute they are “off the floor” and in the relative privacy of the greasy kitchen’s back stoop, they’ll often eighty-six the pleasant facade and lash out at their diners with the foulest verbal abuse—or worse. Your brother-in-law really does not want to encourage the antisocial behavior of one of these borderline psychopaths, not if he’s going to eat those enchiladas con carne. In fact, if he ever wants to enjoy a restaurant meal again, he ought to just keep his mouth shut and tip 20 percent.

Q: I know somebody that tells everyone she is a seventh-generation Texan, but this person was born in Louisiana and her mammy and pappy moved to East Texas with her when she was a child. I don’t know whether her ancestors, the prior six generations, were born in Texas or not. All I know is what I hear her tell people. Can you be a seventh-generation Texan if you weren’t even born in the great state of Texas?
Andy Slack (Fifth Generation), Austin

A: The Texanist opens and reads his own mail and can tell you that although workplace conundrums, strange historical queries, and solutions for vexatious neighbors make up a fair share of the correspondence, by far the most pressing concern for readers of his column is determining precisely what constitutes a Texan. Herewith, some examples: “I was born in South Carolina, but my children were born in Texas. Am I a Texan?” (Your children are; you are not). “I live in Florida but recently visited Texas and had a great time. I love it there. Can I call myself a Texan?” (No.) “My wife and I are Texans, but our children were born here in Oklahoma. Are they Texans?” (The Texanist knows a good psychiatrist in Tulsa you might want to look up.) Many people whose origins lie outside state lines have been known to claim themselves—or have themselves been posthumously claimed—as Texan, and there is an unofficial process of naturalization that makes doing so okay in some cases (Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, George W. Bush, Darrell Royal, et cetera). This woman that you know occupies a different category, since she appears to hail from an old Texas family, though she herself was born elsewhere. Yet though he admires her zeal, the Texanist must conclude that whether confused with regard to her own pedigree chart or simply a teller of genealogical tales, no multigenerational Texan is she. And if she doesn’t like it, she ought to take it up with her mammy and pappy.

Q: Can I get my wife a gift card for our tenth wedding anniversary?
Name Withheld

A: Congratulations to you and Mrs. Name Withheld on what the Texanist guesses have been ten years of earthly bliss and perfect harmony. Ten years. Nothing to sneeze at. Good for the two of you. Now, tradition holds that the gift for this occasion would typically be fashioned from tin, but the Texanist understands your desire to break with convention here, what with the price of tin being so high (about 50 cents per ounce). A gift card is a splendid idea. It’s like a cherished keepsake that requires neither cherishing nor keeping. Genius. A dynamo of creativity you are, sir. She’s lucky just to have kept your company for the past decade. A gift card. Just marvelous. She’ll remember it forever. Bravo.

Q: Are mail-order steaks any good?
M. Goodwin, Plano

A: Science being what it is these days, many of these mail-order meat purveyors have gotten to the point where they deliver an okay product, but it still doesn’t feel right to the Texanist. The fact is that most Americans are already too disengaged from the process by which meat-based foodstuffs arrive in their mouths. It does our farmers and ranchers no favors for us to allow a generation of youngsters to go forth into the world believing that chickens are boneless, crunchy animals that grow in freezers or that cows live at Whataburger. Needless to say, it can only exacerbate this state of affairs when the mere click of a mouse starts the cutlets marching your way. Are steaks no different from books, electronics, fuzzy slippers, male girdles, X-ray goggles, adult DVDs, or any of the other material with which the Texanist saddles his postman every month? At least in the grocery store’s butcher department, the chain of custody is more transparent; you stand a chance of glimpsing some of the chopping and sawing and splattering that goes on in the back. And then, of course, there are the hours you get to spend chewing the fat (not actual fat) with the knowledgeable men of the meat counter. Besides that, the Texanist finds no greater thrill in life than the exhilarating moment when that digitized “Now Serving” device lights up with his ticket’s number. Fifty-seven. Fifty-seven. Fifty-seven. Fifty-eight. Fifty- . . . BINGO! You can’t get that delivered.