texanist rodeo
Is the rodeo really cruel?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: I’m a fifth-grade teacher in Houston and recently failed in an attempt to plan a field trip to this year’s Houston rodeo. Two of my colleagues refused to sign off on the plan because they view the rodeo as being cruel to the animals. I disagree but apparently lost the argument, as there will be no trip to the rodeo. Am I wrong? Is the rodeo really cruel?
Name Withheld, Houston

A: As an elementary school teacher, you are probably familiar with pop quizzes. The Texanist has one for you. The official state sport of Texas is what? (A) Animal cruelty or (B) rodeo. The answer is (B) rodeo. Now for the essay portion: A truer example of animal cruelty would be the work of your colleagues themselves, who have exhibited great callousness in their treatment of the small humans in their care. Children are animals too, and when born and raised in Texas (and/or Wyoming), they ought to have the right to experience firsthand the joy and excitement of the rodeo: barrel racing, calf roping, bronco riding, and bulldogging, one of the Texanist’s favorites, a thrilling event in which a cowboy hurls himself from a galloping horse atop the horns of a fleeing steer and wrestles him, kicking and snorting, to the ground. Sure, everyone gets a few cuts and bruises, including the cowboy, but this can hardly be called cruelty. It’s more like interspecies roughhousing. And what about bull riding, the marquee event of the rodeo? Who’s getting the abuse there? (Just ask Tuff Hedeman—or Bodacious.) The Texanist is not unaware that the rodeo has its detractors, but for those people, there is a midway full of rides, games of chance, and funnel cake to keep them occupied. The Texanist has not yet met the person who is opposed to funnel cake. The rodeo is our state sport. Make it happen next year. The youngsters will thank you.

Q: My wife and I were recently at a barbecue restaurant and saw an acquaintance there. What is the etiquette in this situation? Do you shake hands or not? It seems to me that while eating (especially food like barbecue, where hands are used), it’s best not to shake hands for sanitary reasons, yet one doesn’t want to appear rude. What to do?
David Newcomb, Hempstead

A: Shaking is generally a fine thing to do, but in this instance, holding back was the correct response. Extending a sauce-sopped mitt of greeting creates a two-way dilemma. As you point out, the recent whereabouts of a friend’s hand is often a concern, but also consider the disgusting state of your own glistening paw, what with flecks of sausage casing and tiny threads of rib meat clinging to the knuckle hairs, a discolored mush of potato salad and beans squeezed under each nail, and streams of reddish grease running from the palms and fingers straight under the shirt cuffs and up the arms to points unknown. And though you may be tempted to hastily cleanse your ten digits by sticking each one in your mouth and then wiping them on your pants legs, this will only make the situation worse. If you are anything like the Texanist, the sight of a heaping barbecue repast induces a kind of tunnel vision that blocks out everything but the delicious, messy task at hand. On such occasions, when the Texanist is interrupted, he usually just gives a nod of acknowledgment and a rib-bone salute. If you’re careful not to sling sauce, no one should have their feelings hurt.

Q: This past Christmas my parents bought me, my brother, and our families a cow. They had it butchered and processed and even delivered. Since then, they have been relatively disappointed in our level of appreciation. I have cooked steaks for them, and I have told them about all the hamburgers I have made, yet they still don’t think our gratitude is genuine. What can I do to show them I am indeed thankful for the cow? What exactly is the proper thank you for two hundred pounds of beef in your freezer?
Kelly Talavera, San Marcos

A: A tenth of a ton of beef is a bighearted and novel gift indeed. A little too bighearted and novel, perhaps. Allow the Texanist to entertain his suspicions for a moment. How often have you found yourselves recently preparing beef for your parents? Sure, the cow appeared to be an unusual but thoughtful offering, but for your loving parents it’s the gift that keeps on giving—back. This is an old trick. For example, let’s say you are a friend of the Texanist’s and it’s your birthday. Well, you’ll be excited to know that the Texanist got you a very expensive bottle of tequila. “That Texanist,” you say to your spouse. “He sure is nice.” Now, fast-forward three days. “Hey, who could that be knocking on the door at this hour? Why, it’s the Texanist. What’s that you say, Texanist? You’re parched? Came in all the way from Dodge City? Sure could stand to wet the old whistle? Have I got any tequila? You just gave me some three days ago.” And so on. You see, by giving this gift, your wily and carnivorous parents have ensured themselves a steady supply of steak, hamburger, pot roast, and fajita dinners. All they have to do is keep you in a perplexed state, trying to figure out how to show your gratitude, wondering if perhaps they’d like to come over this Sunday for meat loaf, or maybe London broil . . .

Q: I am a native Texan, but my years of living elsewhere seem to have dampened my Texan instincts. While recently visiting for a conference, I had dinner with several non-Texan friends. One of them turned to me early in the meal and asked about Texas toast. After I spent several minutes talking about giant slices of bread, another friend clarified that I was being asked how Texans say, “Cheers.” Under pressure, I blanked. I could offer only a lame “Cheers, y’all.” Can you suggest a good Texas toast so that if ever called upon again, I can make Texas proud?
Kristin Smith-Crowe, Salt Lake City, Utah (via Wheeler, Texas)

A: Among non-Texans, Texans often have a reputation, largely unwarranted, for excessive boisterousness, booziness, and pride. And while that paint has been applied with a broad brush, it’s fun to wear an extra-thick coat of it sometimes. When the Texanist is asked to deliver a toast, he’ll often leap up onto the table, spurs a-janglin’, and let loose with an earsplittingly loud Tejano-style grito, punctuated by a loud swat of his Stetson on his knee and four or five pops from his sidearm. If there remains one unhorrified guest, he’ll then hop down and dance the cotton-eyed Joe, maybe even throwing in some rope tricks if there’s a lariat handy. If that doesn’t suit you, “Cheers, y’all” will do just fine.