Postcards from Texas
Dear Carolyn Cates Wylie,Managing Editor,University of Texas Press,
Congratulations on the success of Wyman Meinzer’s photobook, Texas Sky. It’s a beautiful book, and I’ve bought several for gifts. But Texas is a big place, and it isn’t all mountains, rivers, cowboys, and sky; if we really want to celebrate our state, we should commemorate an accurate picture. That’s why I’m proposing a whole series of Texas photobooks to capture this state’s true appeal.
I understand: you’re worried about production costs. One suggestion for keeping costs low is to use John Graves’ introduction to Texas Sky in the other books, too. To show you, I’ve gone ahead and made a few illustrative changes. I think you’ll like the results:
On Texas Lottery Winners
… The lottery matters greatly to people, of course, and has always mattered. In its innumerable configurations it speaks of fortune to come — fortune in twenties or fifties, check or cash, stocks or bonds. Fortune that is often also elusive or benevolent, according to what an individual human gambler may need or want from it, not that our credit card bills, mortgages, and desires for a long vacation in Colorado have anything to do with what’s going to happen.
… In a practical way they matter most in terms of the corporate favors they can furnish or withhold, for most of the chemical industry is unregulated by definition, and the oil refining and plastic manufacturing and other activities of civilization require more copious tax breaks than did the ocean of grass and its roaming wild ruminants and Indians. As a result, legislative largesse has begun to matter there about as much as it used to. In the more blessed suburbs, it has never stopped mattering supremely.
Texas Belt Buckles
… The belt buckle speaks most clearly, I think, to those who wear pants and those who need to keep their pants up, and it is not strange that early settlers, venturing out from eastern dance halls with their virgins onto the rodeo dances of the plains, so frequently wrote back home about “a sea of belts” where pants threatened to fall down in all directions.
… Yes, it was, and inside I felt much the same as he.
Texas Cellular Phones
… In the wide aisles of churches and movie theaters, they are always there in their loudness, not to be ignored. It is not strange that diners, patrons of the arts, and the properly devout frequently complain to the management about “a roar of cell phones” where everyone had “forgotten” to shut them off.
Texas Conspiracy Theorists
… Scandals that matter to people tend to take on esthetic weight, and duped must be the mind of anyone who can absorb without a surge of response the vainglorious coverups and conspiracies in their limitless variety of angles of fire and mysterious deaths, boxes of documents, and bilious lies about who saw what where when, all of which obscure the dignity of the red, white, and blue.
… In much of Texas, as throughout the interstate system to which a wide section of the state belongs, the overpass is a far more emphatic part of scenery than it is in places furred and shaded by trees or fragmented by mountains and high hills. Yet the overpasses remain, little altered except perhaps over cities in smog time, and with few such additions as jet contrails or the occasional satellite glittering among the stars. The overpasses dominate the spreading land as they always have, and they still matter to the people who drive on them.
Texas Convenience Stores On The Other Side Of A Dry County’s Line On A Saturday Night
… To such people in dry counties a six pack of beer — lovely to most of the rest of humanity — is an abomination, portending further drunkenness, making their sons to roam the earth still further and to slow or halt their educations.
Texas History Museums
… William Perkins Wett, in his seminal study The Texas Ranger Museum, noted that three nineteenth century innovations were of primary importance in enabling white school children to understand the barriers to conquest and exploitation — the revolving pistol for combat with stubbornly and valiantly warlike Plains tribesmen, the revolving pistol for combat with justifiably angry and resistant Mexican landowners, and the revolving pistol for combat with Yankee carpetbaggers, train robbers, cattle rustlers, illegal aliens, home intruders, serial killers, atheists, and rooftop madmen.
… In the big open country, for many suburban people much of the time, the most beautiful heavenly phenomena of all are the strip malls, the big ones where they can buy lots of meaningless stuff (that may be on sale, or may not), and this veneration exists despite the threats that the environmentalists present, in the form of smart growth and the new urbanism.
… I myself live on the edge of that border country, have spent about half of my life in a part-time effort to renovate a patch of cardboard and tin roof — scorchingly hot during the day — for use as a home, and do not even now have the time to ground the electric line properly.
Texas Nuclear Waste Sites
… I myself live on the edge of the Andrews County nuclear waste dump, have spent about half of my life in a part-time effort to dig a hole deep enough — for use as a nuclear accident shelter, and do not even now have a Geiger counter to measure the time and effort thus squandered. Even now, my head is forged into a classic anvil shape by stratospheric nuclear winds, and its flat base is sporadically alive with tumors jabbing up through my hair, what’s left of it, and what used to be dark and thick.
… Nor do I much mind having become something of a corporate-welfare taxpayer who savors pale concrete banks of bleachers raging down out of the renovated downtown in announcement of brighter Jumbotrons to come, and the darker spreads of asphalt that also mean the disappearing of my taxes, and all other intimations of national championships.
Texas Gunshot Road Signs
… To such people, when they are drunk, a pristine stop sign — lovely to most of the rest of humanity driving down a lone country road — is an abomination.
… In the white country it is always there in its wholeness, not to be ignored.
Texas Oil Refineries
… As we talked we both kept glancing to the southeast, where a couple of miles away a high, intricately sculptured, gray-and-silver refinery rumbled smoke and grunted flame and spewed at us from time to time. Its top was forged into spires by stratospherically expensive environmental regulations, and its stacks were sporadically alive with jets of flame jabbing up through a dark column of smoke.
Texas Apocalypse Nuts
… The neighbor said, “Boy, I hope it gets here.”
… I thought the deer and I were moving our separate ways, but a half-second later the big pretty booger did slam across my hood and barge loudly through my windshield, leaving behind, when it had slid onto the road a little, a network of sparkling rivulets of blood on my brand new leather interior, what would prove a sickeningly stubborn stain, and an immense smash of cervine bone, hide, and innards — a disappointing sight to astound one’s insurance agent, for the blood of a wild animal resists even the most diligent scouring at times. Times, that is, when we’ve hit State Farm’s monthly quota of deer….
… You don’t even have to need computers to like computer chips in this region, so ingrained is their appeal.
Texas Oil Gushers
… You don’t even have to need an oil well to like one in this region, so ingrained is their appeal. “I don’t give a hoot about that,” my neighbor said with a grin. “Let her slosh. Around here there’s just about no such thing as too much oil. And ain’t that a pretty big booger!”
… Breast implants, of course, have multiplied, as everywhere else on earth, so ingrained is their appeal. “I don’t give a hoot about that,” my neighbor said with a grin. “Let her slosh. Around here there’s just about no such thing as too much cleavage. And ain’t that a pretty big booger!”
I look forward to hearing from you. Please give my regards to Mr. Graves.
Texas, and John Graves, matter deeply to Michael Erard, author of “Texas Low-Water Crossings” and “Texas Sell-Outs, Legend and Lore.”