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Texas Pissing

A man marks his territory.

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Stephen Lich, a professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recently shared a powerful story with Texas Monthly about watching the execution of the man who murdered his father, Glen E. Lich, who was killed on October 15, 1997, at his home in Kerrville. In his piece, Stephen describes his father as “an impressive and ambitious person.” Lich continues:  

[My father] was born and raised in the Hill Country and wound up having dual careers—one as an academic and another in military and government service. In his academic career, he went from being an assistant professor at Schreiner College, where he was the authority on the German Texans of the Hill Country, to holding a distinguished professorship in German Canadian studies at the University of Winnipeg.

He volunteered for the U.S. Army in 1972 and started as a buck private and a specialist in Eastern European languages. During summer breaks from teaching he worked as an army reservist and rose to the rank of colonel. He served as a military attaché and later as a diplomat. His team established a partnership with the Romanian military shortly after the Ceausescu government fell—a partnership that led directly to Romania’s membership in NATO.

My father was always proud to be a Texan, no matter where he was working. He once wrote a piece called “Texas Pissing” in his travel journal, about how, whenever he’d travel abroad, he’d go outside and urinate on the ground, marking his territory with a map of Texas. It represents the image he liked to portray: crass, yet intellectual; a Texas country boy at heart, while serving as a diplomat in Eastern Europe.

Below, we’ve reprinted Stephen’s father’s essay, “Texas Pissing.” Glen E. Lich was the author or editor of six books, including The German Texans and Fred Gipson at Work. In this excerpt from an unpublished travel journal, he writes about stopping to relieve himself on a road trip with two other men in Romania in 1990. 

As my two fellow travelers were settling with the mechanic and re­pack­ing their tools and our luggage which was loaded into the back of the ve­hicle atop the tools, I walked around the garage to find the men’s la­trine. When I finally found it, I eyed it with trepidation and decided to expose myself to the blustery outdoors. It was precisely at this mo­ment—turn­ing away from the dirty latrine and walking into the tree line along the small river behind the garage and adjacent filling station—that I re­mem­bered I had done this here before. Exactly at this spot.  Under these self­same, complacent willow trees. Driven by precisely the same primitive urge.

Stumbling so unexpectedly upon the scene of my own forgotten plea­sures brought a wry smile to my face as I remembered that this was a place where James, Bryant, and I had filled gas a year and a half ago in the summer of 1990. At that time too, as the boys were pumping gas, I walked behind this same building to relieve myself. I found the la­trine, turned toward the trees, and glanced over my shoulder to see if I might indulge in my favourite secret pastime.

During those few private moments behind this sordid service station in Romania I was able to think for a minute or two. I had a lot on my mind. We had driven ourselves hard for a week, and I was in sore need of a hot bath, a massage, and a day off in the Carpathians.

Thus heavy of mind and emboldened by creative solitude, I had stood be­neath several scraggly willows on that August afternoon in the summer of 1990 and outlined a bold Texas on the ground at my feet. So too today, all over again, under those now leafless willows, I rem­i­niscently cut a grand yellow Texas in the snow. Today my thoughts were dif­ferent, but the pleasure was the same. 

I can think of no safer or more satisfying joy for a traveling Texas man than to brand the for­eign landscape with the familiar and com­forting shape of home. It is a primal rite Texans share with all of the higher ani­mals of the male species. Even with hunting dogs. And it is a sport of artistry, skill, endless variation, and philo­sophic refine­ment—with the wind whipping between your legs, with a left or a right side wind, or into the wind, for novices or the foolhardy; onto the powdery caliche of Fort Hood, into Gulf coast sand, splashing against flat granite rock, into the waters of ma­jor Texas rivers, or etched into new-fallen snow after a long trip; drawing it starting in the west, north, or east, instead of from the south; ver­tical or hori­zon­tal elongation of the map, or an im­peri­alistic combina­tion of  both, thereby ennobling generous swaths of New Mexico, Lou­isiana, Okla­homa, and Tamaulipas, to the eternal credit of those unshapely territories; looped corners on the Panhandle or square right angles; hearts for Kerr­ville, Luckenbach, and other ma­jor cities; even a narrowly etched Padre Island. I can almost always do a re­markably cute Texas, and I never have trouble with one or two of the marginal cities like Houston, Browns­ville, or El Paso—but not all three. When I was young I once did the pre-1850 boun­daries—when Texas extended up into Wyoming—but now both the reach and the delivery fail me. Unless I am up in a hunting blind. Or standing on a bridge, like the one over the Brenner Pass. The rapture, though, is still undimin­ished, even if the Texas is sometimes less than it used to be. 

Apart from physical pleasure, the spiritual value of this sport is that it gives a man a chance to route vaca­tions or to plan where he wants to be in a week or in a year or two. Thus, I have marked a succession of research trips, jobs, and hoped-for political appointments to high posi­tions in the state government. For the most part, the jobs and the trips have worked out, and I openly admit that the sport of contemplative, speculative cartographic pissing deserves credit, along with good looks and timing. 

But timing is always important. Going clockwise, you have only about five or six seconds to get the boundaries made. Counter-clockwise I can get another second, but the upper extremities of the state often skew to the left.  Either way, you have only another second or two, maybe three, to speckle in your hopes and aspirations. There’s never any time to wash away ugly, detestable parts of the state, however much you might wish to sprinkle the Bible belt, so the result is always swiftly up­beat, positive, and ennobling.

I guess that working in succession, or in unison, with the wind nice and still, three or four manly Tex­ans could probably piss up a map wor­thy of a special foldout feature article in Texas High­ways. But Texans are pretty individualistic and pri­vate. As a result, the sport of Texas Pissing, while worshipfully idola­trous, has never developed into a wide­spread cult or anything as flagrant as a state religion. But it has apparent­ly often been used as a test for political and historical worth, since the record shows that all famous Tex­ans have been men. With the exceptions of Katherine Anne Porter and Silver Spoon Richards.

But that’s another story, and since it is getting late and we are still in Brasov, we should not indulge any longer in this reverie on the banks of the frozen River Timis.

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