Sunday, January 29, 2006

Someplace Not Like Anyplace Else

I suppose that one thing you can say about our country is that every place is getting to be like everyplace else. Wherever you go there’s a Starbucks or a Pottery Barn and you could be in California or Minnesota or Texas or New York and you’d never know it. And it doesn’t really matter because that’s the point. Wherever you go, you’ll feel comfortable because it’s just like where you came from.

The things and places that make our world unique seem to become fewer. Those unique things, those special things are what fascinate me. The Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo is one of those things that make Fort Worth the city that it is.

I know that there are a lot of Texas haters around the country and world, mainly because Texas is the reddest of the red states in this polarized world we live in. If you don’t care for the direction of the United States, Texas becomes a pretty convenient whipping boy for those folks. Fine. Those people are as foolish as the ones who hate France because they don’t march lock step with the U.S. on every issue. Whatever happened to nuance?

Well, the Stock Show is a very red state activity. It’s red, white and blue and rodeo announcer Bob Tallman giving a shout out to everyone’s homeboy Jesus Christ. The ratio of rodeo audience members to pickup trucks in the parking lot is pretty close to 1.

But you know what? There is something pretty wholesome and appealing in a Norman Rockwell kind-of-way about the whole deal. Part of it is seeing real cowboys doing real cowboy things. Watching a cowboy leap from a horse running full speed onto a moving quarter-ton steer and then wrestling that moving mass of hamburger to the ground is pretty impressive. What’s more impressive is they can do this without losing their hats or having their shirts come untucked.

These guys are real athletes. Their sport is dangerous and you earn your paycheck in little tiny pieces. One cowboy came within inches of getting brained by a bull’s hoof. Another one was dragged around the ring three times when his hand got tangled up in the rope on his bronc. A bullfighter (rodeo clown) got boosted 20 feet into the air thanks to an irate bull.

But that’s what we imagine when we think about the cowboy. This is a real American story right there in front of you. It’s no movie, it’s the real thing.

The other thing I love about the Stock Show is the setting. They’ve been holding the Stock Show in Fort Worth since 1896, It’s been held at Will Rogers Coliseum since 1944. The Will Rogers complex is an awesome architectural feast for Art Deco lovers. The coliseum was a Public Works Administration (PWA) project completed in 1936. Socialism!

You’ve got a tower, much like the Main Building at the University of Texas. But you also have some wonderful Depression-era murals that celebrate Texas history from colonization by the Spanish through the 1930s. According to the fantastic book Cowtown Moderne by Judith Singer Cohen, the murals were created by Kenneth Dale and Byron Shrider for the Mosaic Tile Company of Zanesville, Ohio, under the direction of Herman P. Koeppe, chief designer of the Wyatt C. Hendrick architectural firm, who planned the Will Rogers complex along with architect Elmer G. Withers. When they were completed in 1936, they were said to be the largest set of tile paintings in the world.

When you walk into the Coliseum, there’s great bronze of Will Rogers that greets you. People rub his nose for luck and you can see how it’s rubbed as shiny as a newly-minted penny. Old Will once asked, “If stupidity got us into this, why can stupidity get us out?” With thinking like that, he could get a job in Washington today if he were still alive.

A big part of the stock show is – of course – the stock. We toured the barns after the rodeo, and much to my great regret, missed a photo op with the Llama Queen, a zaftig blonde with a ball gown, wand, tiara and a llama. My daughter loves to meet the rodeo’s other athletes, the horses. So we go greet them individually.

But there’s lots of nonsense there too. The midway with all the games. My daughter won a giant inflatable hammer with her feats of strength. She went in every funhouse. We had a time.

And, for me, that’s worth the price of admission right there. That’s part of the hog-stomping baroque exuberance of American Life and I’m glad to get to share some of that once a year. And no matter what color your state is, you should try it sometime too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Big, Fat Nightcrawler of Truth

I think Stephen Colbert is a really funny guy. But in his recent interview with The Onion’s AV Club he spoke a lot of “truthiness.”

Here’s an excerpt:

The A.V. Club: What's your take on the "truthiness" imbroglio that's tearing our country apart?
Stephen Colbert:
Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word. I don't know whether it's a new thing, but it's certainly a current thing, in that it doesn't seem to matter what facts are. It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the president because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what Is true?

AVC: You're saying appearances are more important than objective truth?
Absolutely. The whole idea of authority—authoritarian is fine for some people, like people who say "Listen to me, and just don't question, and do what I say, and everything will be fine"—the sort of thing we really started to respond to so well after 9/11. 'Cause we wanted someone to be daddy, to take decisions away from us. I really have a sense of [America's current leaders] doing bad things in our name to protect us, and that was okay. We weren't thrilled with Bush because we thought he was a good guy at that point, we were thrilled with him because we thought that he probably had hired people who would fuck up our enemies, regardless of how they had to do it. That was for us a very good thing, and I can't argue with the validity of that feeling.

But that has been extended to the idea that authoritarian is better than authority. Because authoritarian means there's only one authority, and that authority has got to be the President, has got to be the government, and has got to be his allies. What the right-wing in the United States tries to do is undermine the press. They call the press "liberal," they call the press "biased," not necessarily because it is or because they have problems with the facts of the left—or even because of the bias for the left, because it's hard not to be biased in some way, everyone is always going to enter their editorial opinion—but because a press that has validity is a press that has authority. And as soon as there's any authority to what the press says, you question the authority of the government—it's like the existence of another authority. So that's another part of truthiness. Truthiness is "What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true." It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.

No one agrees on facts anymore and it’s tearing our country apart. If you don’t like what the news says – well, fine. It’s all a bunch of lies anyway. I don’t have to believe that there were no WMDs in Iraq or that FEMA bungled Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts or Gore probably won Florida or the Theory of Evolution holds water or Congressional redistricting in Texas was politically motivated and Tom Delay is corrupt. That’s just what those liberals want you to believe.

It’s like some people want to take a permanent vacation from reality. The right wing has convinced a huge section of the American population that reality is what they say it is and not believing them is un-American. And it’s easy to believe those words. You’ll be safe. You won’t have to pay taxes. Just go to work, make money and enjoy the security that Big Daddy W provides. As long as you are straight, white Christian, make more than $100,000 a year, don’t have kids in public school, have health care coverage through your employer and never plan to study – or hell even use – science to do anything more than hook up your TIVO to your hi-def plasma sceen, you will be fine.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Rain Came Down

It rained today, which may seem unremarkable, but it's not. It's been months it seems since we've seen rain and the whole state is a giant tinderbox. Wildfires have raged across the state. In fact, one day several weeks ago, a mammoth fire burned out west near Wichita Falls and burned up nearly 20,000 acres and several small towns. Ash rained down like snow flurries that day in Fort Worth.

But today it rained and people talked about it like they had never seen it before. People went and stood in it. People smiled. Even though it turned cold and the rain went on all night and most of the day in a long steady soak, no one minded.

I was going to write about my trip to the Stock Show, another Fort Worth institution, but I was just so pleased about the weather that I didn't want the day to pass without commenting on it.

It rained today. Thank you, God.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Peters Brothers Hats

It’s something of a local tradition to give a hat – usually a Shady Oaks hat – to visiting celebrities and dignitaries. That hat will come from Peters Brothers Hats at 909 Houston Street – a Fort Worth institution. They’ve been making hats for 100 years and they're kind of good at it. President Kennedy spent the last night of his life in Fort Worth and received a Shady Oaks hat before he took his fateful trip to Dallas. (Unrelated sidenotes: Lee Harvey Oswald was a graduate of Fort Worth’s Arlington Heights High School and I used to work with three guys who were pallbearers at Oswald’s funeral – Jerry Flemmons, Jon McConal and Mike Cochran.)

For years, I have driven by their store and been intrigued by their sign with the Bob Wills-looking guy on it. I always meant to go in there and finally I made the trip earlier this month.

The Peters Brothers were Greek immigrants who moved to Fort Worth at the turn of the last century and opened a shoeshine parlor before adding hats to their list of services. Although their store has been in its current location since the 1930s, I doubt if a bit of remodeling has been done during that time.

When my daughter and I walked in with our cameras, the two men working there welcomed us warmly and told us to take pictures of anything we wanted to. The younger of two men, a guy named Matt, was very helpful and loved to talk hats. Even though he’s probably only 20, he knows a lot about hats.

The best thing about the store in the beautiful old hatmaking equipment – giant chrome instruments for shaping, sizing and steaming. The hats in there are beautiful. They sell a lot of cowboy hats, but also fedoras, straw boaters, top hats and bowlers. And I discovered that there are more ways to shape a hat than seemed possible – the Gus (after Gus McCrae in Lonesome Dove), the Tom Mix (after the silent movie cowboy) and on and on.

It’s seemingly impossible to take a bad picture in the store because the light was so nice and there are so many interesting things to see.

Before I left, I asked Matt if there were any ghosts in the building. “We don’t call them ghosts exactly, but there are people who are here.”

Sounds like another story.

FWIW, I did buy a hat - a wide brim woven Cowboy hat from Mexico with a Gus McCrae crease. I plan on doing it again sometime soon.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Psychic Friends Network

If you’ve never heard of The Men Who Stare at Goats, consider putting it on your reading list. Actually, I haven’t read it either, but I heard Jon Ronson on Bob Edwards’ XM show and found the subject to be fascinating. Evidently, the Pentagon has put some effort into harnessing the powers of the Jedi, including feats of superhuman strength, walking through walls, out-of-body espionage, turning invisible and staring people to death. Sounds like Festivus gone horribly, horribly wrong.

The not-so-light side of all this is the innovation of things such as musical torture (for example, playing the theme to Barney the Dinosaur over and over until the subject cracks). All those tax dollars aren’t wasted as we employee these tactics from Guantanamo to Abu Gharib.

Austin Road Trip

Took the whole fandamly to Austin for the Longhorn National Championship Celebration Lovefest. We saw fireworks, confetti and photos of The Tower lit burnt orange (below) to commemorate the vanquishing of of our foes. Homecooking was consumed at Threadgill’s. Kolaches were purchased at Czech Stop in West. We covered all the bases.

Discovered a cool new Austin store – Austin Modern – on East 53rd. Great kitsch and mid-century modern. Ask for Elle. She’s way cool.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Believe it or not, I have been spending my time hiding from politics as much as possible because the never-ending grind of bad news from the world weighs on me too much.

I’ve tried to spend more time reading poetry and soaking up the beauty. There’s a book -- Poems of the American West -- that I had been avoiding because I figured it wouldn’t amount to any more than Woody Guthrie songs and Indian chants. Well, it’s a little more expansive than that. I found a devastating group of poems from a poet named Joe Bolton that have stayed with me for weeks now. Here’s one:

The Lights at Newport Beach
If there were time for everything
(And there is); if that phosphorescent light
Stunning the Pacific meant anything
(And it does); if all this world of worlds might
Become something more than a museum for something
We have lost (and it will) … but not tonight.
Tonight, love, Newport Beach is simply on fire,
The buildings blazing up under the sky,
The streets running headlong into the sea.
If we were not more than the sum of our desire
(But we’re not); if there were a language I
Could find to get beyond the opacity
Of zero…. But I’m tired of words and all we turn
Away from. I just want to watch it burn.

Wishful thinking?

I’ve been reading Christopher Hitchens’ Letters to a Young Contrarian and I am fascinated with his writing and his positions. I stumbled across this article on and I hope he’s right. But I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne made the following observation in his year-end column when sifting through letters from irate conservative readers:

“A reader from San Diego offered a view that was repeated in many different forms: ``Most liberals and some Democrats hate this president and will do anything to bring him down, including siding with terrorists against the president.

''And here is where I start worrying about our national mood. I don't mind being assailed myself -- even by a theologically minded reader who called me a ‘badly catechized Catholic.’ (Blame me, not the nuns and priests who taught me!) But when big chunks of the country begin to view their political adversaries as something close to traitors, we have arrived at a very dangerous time. For this badly catechized Catholic, it's a reason to pray hard for something better next year.”

That sounds pretty accurate to me. So many people in our nation believe that failure to side with Dubya on little things like habeas corpus and wiretapping are the moral equivalent of tucking Osama bin Laden into your guestroom with milk and cookies and copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

Like this guy. But if flawed logic weren’t bad enough, check out this downright stupid metaphor:
“For some liberals, E.J. Dionne notwithstanding, it follows that they must do nearly anything to bring the Republicans and their president down, and that accomplishing this constitutes a higher priority than combating terrorism.

“Many modern liberals seem unable to say what kind of country they live in. Most of the time, they speak as if they inhabit Frank Capra's Bedford Falls--a dull, nosy, and somewhat puritanical, but basically decent place where George Bailey and the forces of good fight to a stalemate with Mr. Potter and the forces of evil.

“Deep down, though, they fear they live in Pottersville, minus the fun. The defense of Bedford Falls, for all of its flaws, would be a top priority; the primacy of defending Pottersville is less apparent.”

I mean, what the fuck? Did Mr. Gower blow up the World Trade Center? Did I miss that?

Let’s make it clear. I’m not fan of W, but let there be no mistake: I do not like terrorists. I fact, I think they suck. Wanna drop some bombs on ‘em? Great. Do it. Spend my tax dollars to do it. I’m happy to help. But here’s a hint: try Pakistan. Specifically up in the Northwest Tribal areas of Waziristan. He’s probably in a cave. He’s the 6-5 foot Arab dragging the dialysis machine and the AK.

Now go get him.

The Greatest Story Ever Told

I apologize for being away so long because there’s so much to discuss. The past week has been a blur, from the trip to California to the entire surreal Rose Bowl experience to the wonderful afterglow.

It may seem like tremendous overstatement, but I have waited my entire life to see this:

Now, the Texas Longhorns have won a National Championship trophy in football for the first time since 1970. As the same pundits who last week proclaimed the USC Trojans as The Greatest Football Team Ever now rush to call Vince Young The Greatest Football Player Ever and the Rose Bowl The Greatest Game Ever Played, I am bemused, bewildered and more than a little self satisfied.

I am just glad that I was there. It was pure spectacle and I had a ring side seat. Just how good was it? Well, check this shit out (I'm the chump in the yellow circle):

Pretty good seat, huh?

You have Sandra Day O’Connor conducting the opening coin flip, LeAnn Rimes singing the national anthem, Matthew McConaughey (Alright!, Alright! Alright!) stalking the sidelines, the Goodyear Blimp, parachutists, B-1 bombers, and – My, Oh, My! – Keith Jackson. Talk about the Granddaddy of Them All!

You know what happened and how it happened. Here are a few random thoughts:

  • The stadium wasn’t as loud as The Shoe was for the Ohio State game, but it was close. And the Texas fans were as geeked up as I have ever seen them. Every touchdown, turnover and defensive stand was cheered with more fervor than I imagined possible. And when Vince glided across the goal line for the game-winning TD, I nearly broke my leg celebrating. “The Eyes of Texas” has never been sung the way it was after the game.

  • Texas fans razzed Reggie Bush mercilessly. After his lateral attempt turned into a Texas scoring drive, Hornfans taunted him with a chorus of “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” everytime he stood in the Texas endzone for a kickoff return. He was clearly uncomfortable. Then, after a dove into the endzone for a touchdown to cap his 26-yard TD run, he walked to the back of the endzone to strike a Superman pose directed at the Texas section. USC fans then began chanting “REG-GIE! REG-GIE!” on their own. If they only knew. After the game I yelled at him, "Hey, Reggie! Vince wants his Heisman back!" Yeah, I'm just a jackass that way sometimes.

  • Texas tight end David Thomas was nails – 10 catches for 88 yards and almost all of them clutch. I'll miss him as much as Vince.

  • LenDale White is a beast and the USC O-line were everything people said they were - big, nasty and disciplined.

  • Things I learned from t-shirts at the game: You can't spell suck without USC, O.J. Simpson is an example of Trojan pride, Trojans bust occasionally and VY is not from this planet, just visiting.

  • With six and a half minutes to play and down by 12, it seemed the Horns were done. I remember thinking, “OK, if they can score on this drive, then stop SC, they should get the ball back with enough time to score.” After Vince scored a few minutes later, I turned to Mike and said, “If we can stop them, we’ll win this game.” After they did stop them, I said, “We are going to win this game.” And then we won the game.

  • Former SMU Mustang Craig James flashed the Hook’em to Hornfans as he walked behind the endzone to the ABC booth during the game. And Mark May, USC’s main butt-boy at ESPN, got to hear 10,000 Hornfans chant “Mark May sucks!” as he took the Walk of Shame across the endzone after the game. That had to make Mark-e-Mark feel special.

  • This guy in front of me brought his nephew’s Flat Stanley to the game to photograph. Actually, Flat Stanley was on a little bit of a bender. He hooked up with Flat Stacey in Vegas and got married by Flat Elvis at a wedding chapel off the Strip.

  • And when it was over, we were champions. Here I am with my homeboy Mike:

    What can I say? I have a new thing at the top of my list of Coolest Things I Ever Did.

    After the game, Colorado Boulevard in Old Town Pasadena was like Sixth Street in Austin after a home game. We ate at as nice little Italian spot called Mi Piaci where everyone dining inside and everyone walking by outside was wearing the Burnt Orange. We sang “The Eyes” in the middle of dinner. It was great.

    OK, good times but – so what? I know that the anguish of the Longhorn fans pales in comparison to the long-suffering Red Sox or Cubs fans, but 36 years is a long freaking time. And I’m not exactly a t-shirt fan either. My first UT home game was 16-12 loss to Joe Paterno’s Penn State team at Memorial Stadium during my sophomore year in 1989. Those weren’t exactly the glory days.

    The Horns had their moments – I was there when Peter Gardere found Tony Jones for a late TD to upset OU later in the fall of 1989 and then the next year when Butch Hadnot helped steamroll No. 3-ranked UH. But for every stunning victory, there was always an inexplicable defeat – like this ass-whipping Miami gave us in the ’91 Cotton Bowl or losses to Rice and TCU. Even the stunning victory in the 1996 Big 12 title game was followed up by the utter humiliation of the Rout 66 game to UCLA. Every step forward was followed with a step back.

    But being a true fan is like a marriage – you gotta be there for better or worse. I stood in the rain at the Cotton Bowl in 2000 and watched every minute of the 63-14 drubbing OU hung on us. I watched the other Debacle in Dallas – the 2001 Big 12 title loss to CU – as a conference championship and BCS title game berth slipped away in a bizarre litany of mistakes and Mike and I sat stunned in the aftermath. And then I watched the Debacle in Dallas, Part 3 – when Bob Stoops hung 60-something on us – as my father lay dying in the bed beside me.

    And I suppose that is what makes the victory that much sweeter. I didn’t just show up for the party. I know how hard the journey was to get there. And I know it’s about enjoying the moment.

    It’s thrilling to watch VY cross the goal line to win The Greatest Game Ever Played, but it’s also over so quickly. The Moment is ephemeral. Already Vince is cashing in his chips and heading the NFL – and rightfully so. Already fans are looking forward to next year. Like a wonderful meal with people you love or standing in front of a work of art at a museum in a city you may never visit again, you have to savor the moment because it is gone too quickly. And, believe me, I’m savoring it.

    Thanks for the memories, Vince. We’ll always have Pasadena.

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    Unknown soldier


    Two years since my father has been gone and I probably understand less about him now than ever. There is so much I feel and could say, but none of it comes to me now. All I can say is I love you and miss you.