Q: I was born and raised in Texas and have resided in New York City for the past couple of years. On a recent trip back home, I visited a friend on his ranch in West Texas and was mocked unmercifully for wearing skinny jeans. I will admit that the jeans were pretty skinny. But from the reaction I got, you would have thought I was wearing a tutu and a pair of elf boots. Have rural Texans always been this close-minded, or did I get what I deserved?
Cale Bennet, New York
A: The Texanist is a little bit surprised that the reaction you incited with your big-city style has left you in such a state of shock. Did you really think that your fancy pants would fly in West Texas without eliciting derisive commentary from the locals? In Austin, where the Texanist lives, the skinny-jeaned populace is sizable enough that these creatures can roam freely about the city without much notice (or as freely as the skintight denim of their sausage-casing-like dungarees allows). This is surely also the case on the fashion-forward streets of Gotham. But it’s a much different story in the Texas hinterlands, where fashion is not forward—or leftward, rightward, or even backward. Those parts of the state are known to approve of a form-fitting jean when worn by a female (see: “Tight Fittin’ Jeans,” by Conway Twitty; “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” by Mel McDaniel; and other similar examples), but when the wearer is a man, the people out there do tend to lean, somewhat en masse, toward a more generous fit. Once upon a time the parameters for acceptability began and ended with the Wrangler 13MWZ Cowboy Cut, a style so prevalent as to have been officially sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1974. Nowadays, the variety of accepted looks has expanded—slightly. (Fun fact: just last year the PRCA updated its list of officially sanctioned jeans to include the new Wrangler 20X Collection Competition model, a.k.a. the 01MWX, which, in a sign of the times, features a cellphone pocket.) But as you surely know, West Texans remain a traditional folk in many regards, right down to the cladding of their lower halves. And since many of them are in the business, literally, of keeping the herd together, they are hardwired to take notice of mavericks and round them up. It appears that you may have pegged yourself as just such a maverick, sartorially speaking, and that your hosts, having spied you out there all alone in your skinny jeans, were only trying to get you back with the pack.
Q: My son is eleven years old, and his career record against me in horseshoes has to stand at something like two thousand wins to one loss, with maybe a draw or two in there. How long must I carry on the charade? Up until what age is it healthy for a son to be allowed to continually “beat” his father in horseshoes?
A: There are few things in life as rewarding as spending time around the horseshoe pits with the young ones. And not just because they are easy marks. But even though children don’t usually have much worth wagering, save for the occasional stick of gum, there is still a payday to be had in the endeavor. Passing along the valuable lessons of sportsmanship—how to win, lose, and compete graciously—can be just as gratifying as the collection of one or two bucks or another cold beer. Intentionally throwing games by misapplying points for ringers and leaners is an age-old instructional tool, and it sounds as if you have done a whale of a job familiarizing your boy with the sweet taste of victory. Perhaps a little too good of a job. His competitive diet is out of balance, and it’s well past time to start supplementing this fraudulent winning streak with some bitter spoon-feedings of whup-ass. The Texanist prescribes the opening of several cans. Really let him have it. How to be a good loser will prove to be a much tougher lesson, but out in life’s horseshoe pits (both real and metaphorical), it’s one that will serve him well.
Q: As a sixth-generation Texan, I consider myself to be a very proud and somewhat knowledgeable connoisseur of Texas culture, but while lost in the midst of last month’s barbecue edition of Texas Monthly, I was struck by something. Why is chili our official state dish? Seems like barbecue would be the obvious choice, no? Can this wrong be righted?
Millie Terrell, Houston
A: In November 1978, just a year and a half after Governor Dolph Briscoe signed the Sixty-fifth Texas Legislature’s House Concurrent Resolution No. 18, the piece of legislation designating chili the official state dish of Texas, Paul Burka penned a scathing rebuke of the decision in these very pages. Like you, Burka was puzzled as to why a bowl of red would strike anyone as a more suitable symbol than barbecue. According to his research, the whole thing got rolling when a Marshall legislator, after failing to get the farkleberry named the official state berry, turned his attention to chili. Ultimately, the deal was sealed when the powerful chili lobby (compared, that is, with the farkleberry lobby) provided our esteemed, if somewhat easily persuaded, representatives at the Capitol with a 259-gallon pot of Texas red. Just as important, the Texanist suspects, were the 24 cases of Pearl beer sent along to help wash it all down. Chili has been our state dish ever since. Does it have to be forever? No, ma’am, it does not. To accomplish the switcheroo you’ve envisioned, all you’ll need to do is get the House and Senate to pass another concurrent resolution, calling for barbecue to replace chili as the state’s official dish, and then have it all blessed with a gubernatorial signature. Give it a try! You will be remembered as the leader of the Great Texas Barbecoup. Since we’re plotting, the Texanist would suggest that it may require more, this time around, than a massive delivery of food and two dozen cases of beer to properly grease the wheels of democracy. Vive la résistance!
Q: When I was in college in Austin in the eighties, we used to road-trip down to Nuevo Laredo a few times a year. We’d stay at La Posada in Laredo and cross the border for shopping and afternoon drinks and dinner at the Cadillac Bar. Occasionally, I entertain the idea of taking a trip back to the border. Is Nuevo Laredo safe these days?
Janet Simpson, Burlington, Vermont
A: The Texanist also attended college in Austin in the eighties and would have a similar reserve of border town memories if only he could piece together the hazy fragments he has of those southbound sojourns. Perhaps you can help. Did you ever run into a pimply-faced kid with a puffy hairdo, shiny boots, fistfuls of Chiclets, and tequila breath? If so, please reply with any details you can recall. Alas, Nuevo Laredo has of late experienced a wave of tragic violence and does not currently resemble the town of your recuerdos. However, the first half of your old vacation remains as charming as ever. How about the Texanist meets you for a margarita in the courtyard at La Posada?
THE TEXANIST’S LITTLE-KNOWN FACT OF THE MONTH: Willie Nelson’s first Fourth of July Picnic, held forty years ago this Independence Day in Dripping Springs, had an advance ticket price of $5.50 ($28.80 in 2013 dollars). A ticket to this year’s picnic, at the Fort Worth Stockyards, will set you back $35 ($6.68 in 1973 dollars). A bargain then and now.