Page 19


Pho to by Ala n Pog u e not many hog-butchers, toolmakers or stackers of wheat here. Dallas is built on paper industries primarily insurance and banking. It is also a merchandising center, wholesale and retail. Dave Hickey of Fort Worth’ has observed, “Dallas has more sheer mercantile energy than any place outside New York’s garment district.” Stanley Marsh 3 of Amarillo has observed that in Houston people make money by getting stuff out of the ground, in El Paso they make money off the sweat of other people and in Dallas they make money by using their brains. That’s why it hustles, Dallas does, always a little insecure, always trying too hard. THE PLACE WAS founded in 1846 by John Neely Bryan, a real estate developer, and named after a particularly undistinguished vicepresident. It’s not a port, not even on a river, was never a fort, never a cattle or railroad center it took generations of boosters all hustling hard to make Dallas the largest commercial distribution center in this part of the world. And every day Dallas is still out there, selling itself. Trying too hard is rather an endearing fault. Only Dallas could try too hard too hard. Here is an excerpt from a 1982 Dallas Police Department rape report: “After sexual intercourse actor sat on edge of bed and told complainant to ‘Come here.’ Actor was very calm and told her not to ask any questions, not to notify the police. Actor was very apologetic saying, ‘I know I’m a sick person, I know I need help. I hope this does not turn you off to Dallas, ’cause Dallas is a great, nice city.’ ” There is a black Dallas, there is a chicano Dallas, there is a Vietnamese Dallas, there is a gay Dallas, there is even a funky-Bohemian Dallas. But mostly there is North Dallas. A place so materialistic and so Republican it makes your teeth hurt to contemplate it. You move to North Dallas with a perfectly good ’72 Chevy and within two weeks you have car embarrassment. You need a Benz, you gotta have a Merc, it’s gotta be silver-gray. North Dallas. Your trendy couple in the herpes bar, both wearing $250-from-NeimanMarcus plush-velour jogging suits and working on their Bible study course. Ten-year-olds comparing designer jeans and Rolexes. The colorful native costume includes Izod shirts and tassle loafers and the native food is pasta salad. In North Dallas they hold mustard tastings and play polo. Dallas women dress to the teeth. It is the make-up capital of the universe. In West Texas, when a woman is looking really knockout, her friends tell her, “Honey, you Dallas at night just look so Dallas.” The weight of conformity is heaVier in Dallas than anywhere else I ever been conformity of dress, thought, politics, religion, attitude. It is not terribly difficult to be a non-conformist in Dallas, but it is harder. Dallas is oppressive only when the famous Dallas earnestness turns into smugness and arrogance, something that has tended to happen rather frequently in the vicinity of Southern Methodist University. A few years ago at the SMU-UT game, SMU students held up a banner in the stands that read, “Our Maids Went to UT.” Since SMU no longer has a football team, thanks to the most classic case of Dallas arrogance yet uncovered, it can be hoped that even SMU is capable of acquiring humility. During the recent festivities on campus, the students held protest rallies, chanting over and over, “No more cheating, no more lying.” Dallas prides itself on The Arts. Dallas is earnest about Art. Also competitive. We just built a dandy new museum on the grounds that both Houston and Fort Worth were outdoing us. A.C. Greene, the Dallas historian, says, “Dallas salutes a person who can buy a piece of art, not a person who can create one.” At the corner of Federal and Bryan is my favorite piece of Dallas art a bronze statue of two bidnessmen shaking hands on a deal. The unnatural streak in Dallas’s boosterism sterns from the Kennedy assassination. This terribly self-conscious town found itself billed around the world as “The City of Hate” the Only place where such a dreadful thing could have occurred. Several assassinations later, we know the nuts and the guns are everywhere, but Dallas took the full brunt of the country’s rage over the Kennedy assassination and it was grim. It has taken the city a full generation to recover, and even so, scars remain. The city is still defensive and touchy about it. Southfork, the mythical home of television’s J.R. Ewing, recently surpassed the assassination site as the city’s top tourist attraction. Poor Dallas was grateful. There was something terribly wrong with Dallas 24 years ago. You can go back and read the Dallas Morning News of that era and smell it still, the nasty, self-righteous anger and paranoia screaming up off the curling yellow pages. Dallas at the time was no more bizarre than Waco or Phoenix or L.A. it was the heyday of the John Birch Society and all southwestern cities were infected by this lunacy: if Dallas was different, it was only by slight degree. The death of John Kennedy cured Dallas no one has been able to publicly preach hate there since. I speak with some authority on the current state of Dallas’s right wing: for several years now I have written a column for the Times Herald that is, by Dallas standards, to the left of Lenin. I am still un-hanged. Dallas is a tolerant town. For those ‘of you whose opinion of Dallas is still unchanged from the early 60’s, I recommend shock treatment: try a champagne brunch on the grassy knoll and let it go. The disgrace of Dallas today is that it is probably the ‘most segregated city this side of Johannesburg. Dallas was; typically, de-segged from the top down. According to Warren Leslie’s book on ton called the Citizens Council \(the big “We don’t want any Birmingham or Little Rock here it would be bad for bidness.” And so the signs came down, the city was de-segged, but not integrated. One result is that black Dallas remains curiously leaderless and largely quiet. There are a lot of middle-class blacks in Dallas bustling about the noonday streets, but none to be found in the Greenville Avenue nightclubs and the West End of downtown, where Dallas swings, as it were. Dallas doesn’t actually swing, of course. What you can do in Dallas is shop. Also, many good eats, especially upscale eats. Dallas has its full share of human folly, lunacy and wonderfully ludicrous absurdity and wouldn’t be half as funny as it is if it didn’t keep trying so hard to be straight. So here’s this whole city of pitch-in, can-do painfully earnest boosters. The result is that Dallas Works. It’s not beautiful or even especially interesting, it’s just funny. And everything there works. And it’s clean. It’s a nice place to live, actually. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13