Word Cookie

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Geography Lesson

I can’t believe it’s taken me so many entries to broach this topic—truly one of my favorites. In the confessional mode of this blog, allow me to let loose this tidbit about myself: I am from Texas.

I’ve taken all range of abuse about this fact for the past four years—which happens to be the exact amount of time I’ve been living in California, specifically, the Bay Area. Reaction to my homeland has sparked outright ridicule, muted disgust, and smartasses who never let the fact that they're meeting a total stranger stop them from insulting said stranger's home. Of course, the blame for all of this can be placed squarely on another kind of four-year installment--the Bush presidency.

Yes, thanks to W. and his endless, embarrassing parade of loyally evil Texan cronies, natives of my fair state can no longer relax and let our cultural stereotype be informed by J.R. Ewing and his dramatically explosive ranch (incidentally, Southfork Ranch is a mere horseshoe toss from my hometown) or sweet-natured bumpkins with oversized belt buckles offering bar-b-ques, chicken fried steak, and laid back, country twang with an invitation that "Ya'll come back now, ya'hear?"

No, we now have to battle the expectation of greedy, rich, uber-conservative, uber-Christianists, waving around their ideals with all the sensitivity of a stampeding longhorn. I mean, warring against our dopey accents, casual relationship with the rules of grammar, and love of poofy, supernova-like hairstyles was a hard enough job.

But, true to my Texan grit, I rise eagerly to this challenge. I have bravely defended my homeland out here in what my family affectionately describes as “Hippie Town.” I did not cower on the first day of a college class, as students were going around introducing themselves and I said, “Hi, I’m Paula. I’m from Texas,” only to have the teacher flat-out laugh at me as though I was joking. Really, I must be joking, right? Then, as she realized I wasn’t laughing, she asked me, wearily, “What part of Texas?” hoping that maybe I’d say I was from Austin and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. When I said Dallas, she narrowed her eyes and shot me a look of suspicion usually only reserved for Bond villains with thick Russian accents and twitchy movements, lurking near the playground.

Or when a question of grammar was raised in a writing workshop and the teacher explained that such parlance sounds uneducated with this pearl: “I mean, you don’t want to sound like you’re from Texas!” Or when faced with this excuse for W.'s abysmal mangling of the English language: “Well, he went to school in Texas! What did you expect?" Or when a friend tried to make a case for a socially-tolerant environment by saying, "I mean, we don't want it to be like we live in Texas!"

This raises my larger point about why Texas, really, isn’t so bad. I’m not going to go on and explain how my hometown is actually about as diverse as any gathering of people who all choose to live in the same place, or that my many challenging school books never once included the Good Book. Or that the preponderance of churches and mini-malls dotting the landscape doesn't necessarily make my hometown an evil, heartless place, and that I was just as able to listen to Radiohead, and read Allen Ginsburg, and pass out Nadar bumper stickers, and Damn the Man growing up in Texas as I am here in Hippie Town.

Instead, I offer this simple, illustrative anecdote: I’m sitting here, writing this entry in a little teashop on a sunny day in Oakland. I walked in with my laptop, and asked where I could sit to be near an outlet. The waiter pointed to the only table near an outlet, just as a woman sat down. Dammit! Normally I would’ve just let it go—Look, an excuse to procrastinate. Perfect!—but I’ve embarked on this noble plan to write every Sunday. So, I made sure she wasn't planning on using the outlet and then politely asked the woman if I could switch tables with her. I smiled and apologized, and she easily agreed. No big deal; another lovely example of people getting along in harmony and understanding. Incense, peppermints, and all that.

No big deal except for these two aging hippies who were watching the whole thing--offering a running commentary on my actions like an unwashed Stadler & Waldorf.

“She just asked a total stranger to move, so she could have her spot.”
“How rude.”
“Can you believe that?”
"So rude."
“Oh, it was to use the electricity.”
“Yeah, she’s just got to have her power. Pssshhhh.”
“Yeah, she just can’t live without using electricity.”
“It’s all got to be her way.”
“I thought it was a space thing, I mean, being by the window. Just look at her.”
“Pssshhhh. People are such slaves to their power, man.”

As the crazed adrenaline rush of realizing that these people were all up in my shit took hold of me, I rushed to think of some clever remark to defend myself. Do they think I'm just going to roll over and let them judge me? No way!

Alas, I was humbled into silence by the giant billboard for An Inconvenient Truth facing directly into the cafe window. I really couldn’t stand up against the backdrop of our impending global doom and say, “Who cares if I’m using electricity? Come on, guys, what could possibly be wrong with that?”

I was also humbled into silence by the circumstance. Dude was a balding peanut of a man, with a grey beard he would contemplatively stroke between his sage pronouncements. He was wearing a loose fitting shirt with some kind of tribal pattern bullshit on it, a leather cord necklace, tan shorts, and sandals held firmly in place by the layer of dirt on his feet. Lady was younger, had bad skin, long, lanky hair, and an eyes-half-closed gaping expression. She was showing off her rail-thin physique with a painfully short miniskirt fashioned from cutting off a pair of jeans just below the fly...So every time she stood up I got a nice view of her strung-out ass cheeks. Who knows why they felt that it was okay to openly criticize a total stranger (though apparently asking one to switch tables is outrageous)? I figured the answer was lost to the ages...probably about four decades ago.

Which brings me back to my larger point: stereotypical Californians are just as pushy, rude, and insensitively idealistic as stereotypical Texans. This can be hard to see if you, like me, tend to just naturally like California. Yet, having a general wish to avoid pushy people, I really don't care whether they're yelling at me to believe in creationism or burn in God's fiery judgment, or whether they're yelling at me to stay out of Starbucks and sign a dozen different petitions or burn in their fiery judgment. No matter which side I'm on--pushy is pushy. The only real difference, as I see it, is a certain amount of endearing bravado on the part of Texas--endearing bravado, which in the right places and amounts, can nearly equate to sincerity.

Just put "Texas pride" into Google, and what do you get?

A painstakingly layered photo montage, dammit. The visual equivalent of having a beer with Sam Houston and Jim Bowie, while constructing a life-size Alamo out of deer antlers and cowhide as you two-step on Santa Anna's grave. Or this guy:

That's a Tattoo of his love of Texas--featuring both the state and the flag in one. While he's in Texas. Drinking Lone Star beer. That's devotion; that's the extra mile walked uphill on a bad ankle.

What do you get from "California pride?"

Nobody is going to be inspired to emblazon their deltoids with unusually tasty produce. It's just not worth it. What else does "California Pride" come up with?

Stylish footwear. Sigh. Get it together, California.

And realize that just because your ideas seem to you to be the very best for everybody around, and the only conceivable outcome you can think of for the realization of all your hopes and dreams is the global equivalent of riding a sparkly unicorn over a rainbow sea of smiley, waving dolphins--that doesn't offer you a blank check to self-righteously pressure and insult others whenever you feel like it. Because guess what? That kind of attitude is exactly why you hate Texans so much. And in the meantime: