texanist nude sunbathing
How do I explain topless sunbathing in Austin to my children?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: I was in Austin visiting my brother recently, and he took me and my kids, a nine-year-old girl and a ten-year-old boy, to Barton Springs Pool to go swimming. Right after we laid our towels down, my kids noticed that two women behind us weren’t wearing tops or trying to cover themselves at all. I’ve never seen anything like that, not even on South Padre. I didn’t know what to say to my children, so I asked the women to cover up. They  refused, and they were very rude about it too. We ended up moving, but now I’m wondering: Should I have pressed the matter?
Felicia Thompson
, Brownsville

A: Among the numerous things for which the capital city of Texas has become known—state government, live music, Mexican martinis—its conspicuous liberalism, a lifestyle that includes casual nudism, rests at or near the top of the list. The blueberry in the tomato soup, as they say, is not only organic but also free-range. The Texanist knows this from long experience, having made his home in Austin since the eighties, when as a raw and callow youth, incapable of taking good advice let alone doling it out, he arrived in the capital to further his book-learning and to expand his horizons. It did not take long for the loose attitudes of the place to inflame the small-town sensibilities he had brought with him, like so many pairs of carefully labeled white undershorts, from his boyhood home of Temple. Like a choirboy in darkest Sodom, he wandered the streets bug-eyed, stammering red-faced replies when encountering the sorts of behaviors that you and your children witnessed. There was, in particular, a certain neighbor who liked to tend to the small plot of vegetables in her front yard without the encumbrance of a shirt. Was it the Texanist’s fault that the route to the bus stop took him back and forth past her garden, where she would sometimes rise from her summer squashes and address him directly, inquiring about his classes or disserting on the weather? Even these many years later, the Texanist can recall those squashes in vivid detail . . . Now then, where was he? Ah, yes. The truth is that the indecent-exposure laws of the state of Texas permit women like the Texanist’s old neighbor to remain top-free unless a local statute prohibits it or a local citizen complains. So the women in question were breaking no laws. But should you have complained? Well, the Texanist believes, after years of study, that the citizenry of Austin are themselves one of the town’s main tourist attractions, much like a zoo’s silverback gorillas. And just as it’s unwise—and sort of beside the point—to harangue a gorilla, it is also not recommended for out-of-towners to complain about the conduct of the locals. No, for all parties involved, this was, in fact, a matter best left unpressed.

Q: This is going to sound crazy since I live in central Dallas, but my back fence neighbor’s chickens are driving me insane. The keepers are a nice young couple, and they give me fresh eggs every week, but the chickens start crowing before the sun comes up, and it’s very annoying. How can I lodge my complaint with them in a way that will not endanger my supply of free eggs?
Name Withheld
, Dallas

A: The Texanist is a chicken egg man, and he can think of hardly a thing in the world that he’d ever let scuttle an arrangement like yours. A few early-morning cock-a-doodle-doos certainly wouldn’t cock-a-doodle do it, not when a weekly delivery of these farm-fresh goodies hangs in the balance. Instead of getting your hackles up, try finding a new way to work with the racket. Think of the barnyard shrill as a helpful alarm clock, albeit a model that can’t tell time worth a damn and comes with no snooze button feature. Or opt for a loop of the last few minutes of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture played full blast through expensive noise-blocking headphones. But whatever you do, the most important thing is to smile, act nice, and enjoy your bottomless carton of Big D’s finest (free) farm-fresh eggs.

Q: My husband and I have just finished remodeling the front porch of our home, but our homeowners’ association nixed our paint color choice for the porch ceiling, saying it didn’t conform to the guidelines. This color, a shade of baby blue, is very common for a porch ceiling in Texas, and we think it should be added to the list of acceptable colors. Can you back us up on this?
Name Withheld
, Houston

A: You and your husband are correct with regard to the color choice for a porch ceiling and its commonness throughout Texas. The Texanist’s own eaves are this same hue. He is not entirely sure of the origin of this practice, which bears some similarity to the “haint blue” tradition, in which dwellings throughout the South were painted in a bright, watery shade to ward off “haints,” or evil spirits. In Texas, the color is believed to ward off yellow jackets, which is also important. So for what it’s worth, you have the full backing of the Texanist on this. The HOA is on unsteady, yellow-jackety, and possibly “hainted” ground. They should relent.

Q: I recently visited Luckenbach after having not done so in about thirty years. Is it okay that there’s a gift shop in Luckenbach, Texas?
Parker Schotz
, Los Angeles, California (formerly of Austin)

A: The Texanist certainly understands the need for a small, iconic hamlet made famous by iconic outlaw country artists to make a buck. This is America, after all. But having recently perused the Luckenbachtexas.com online general store, the Texanist can also tell you that all the biker do-rags, beer gloves, and custom patio bricks do seem to represent something of a departure from the laid-back, uncommercial Luckenbach of the song. The Texanist wouldn’t want to deny them the successful life they’re livin’, but maybe it’s time for Luckenbach, Texas, to get back to the basics of being Luckenbach, Texas.