Thursday, April 22, 2010
Tom's Texas: What you'd expect
"I believe in God," says a woman on the bus whose cigarette I helped light, and who is now my BFF, "but why'd He have to go and create Lucifer? Why'd He have to do that?" she asks me. Her tone implies less the plaintive cry of the beleaguered theodicist and more the irritated tone of the DMV customer who just wants to renew her driver's license, but that jerk-ass Son of Perdition is always on the desk making shit tougher than it needs to be.
"Well," I say to her, "that's something of a perennial problem for theologians. It's called the Problem of Evil, and --"
"Yeah, I know that one," she says impatiently. "But listen, if you have three doors, and two of them have a goat behind them? And so you pick one -- go ahead, pick one..."
Suffice it to say she can not figure out the Monty Hall problem. I try to explain to her that it isn't about working the odds - we're not Rain Man here - but about demonstrating that intuition is sometimes at fault. "You flunk!" she yells. This from the person who took twice as long as she ought to to light a cigarette because she had to tell me about the guy who has demons in his house and can't get rid of them with Jesus because "He just hangs there!" so he buried a bunch of guns in the cemetery and one of these days is going to unleash hell on the soup kitchens and halfway houses of Austin, Texas.
All in all, the most surprising thing about Texas is how much it smells like potting mix. I wish I could tell you I had my expectations confounded, but if you went to Texas thinking that Texas was where the run-off from the American psyche pooled in a shallow drain, there to drip-dry in its own paranoia and genuine, unabating, somewhat terrifying weirdness, well, you'd be getting a bit needlessly dramatic, but then again, I wouldn't argue with you. The lead stories in the paper the day I get there are about how Juarez residents are getting bored of walking past crimescenes where innocent small-business owners have had their heads blown off, and how nobody's sure how to reduce the amount of prison-rape in Texas.
Every evening, all of Austin gathers by the riverbank to watch the bats. You have never seen this many bats in your entire life, I guarantee it. The largest urban bat colony in the world! You wait and watch the sun sink lower and lower into Lady Bird Lake - named, of course, for the wife of the world's creepiest stand-up marionette - and a subtle chirping slowly builds. As the sun's last melon-pink glow sinks beneath the horizon, a flitting cloud begins to zip from under Waugh Bridge, endless tiny squeaking little darts that sometimes zip close enough to remind you that they're not birds, sweetie. On the way back up to Commerce Street, I walk past a young guy on a park bench. I only catch a fragment of his fevered speech: "-- Son of Man and I know time's soon ending and I am sorry I'm truly sorry --"
The buses in Dallas have news tickers installed in them. While riding from Dealey Plaza out to Bachman Lake - which is basically Eastbourne with better and more readily-available Mexican food - you can catch up with the news of the day. On the day I was traveling, the news of the day was: "THE KFC CORPORATION HAVE ANNOUNCED A NEW SANDWICH MADE ENTIRELY OF CHICKEN FILLED WITH BACON. THE SANDWICH WILL GO ON SALE APRIL 12. AND NOW THE WEATHER."
Fueled with my knowledge of global affairs - or at least those portions of global affairs that look like the world's least charitable drawing of a vagina - I kept watching the ticker for other information. "THINGS TO BE HAPPY ABOUT," teased the ticker. "NO SCHEDULED APPOINTMENTS. LIBRARY READING TABLES."
At Dealey Plaza, an old man talks non-stop for twenty minutes about Woody Harrelson's father, Jack Kennedy banging Mariln Monroe, and the ass of a girl on the Grassy Knoll. This latter is the only thing that diverts him from his banter: "Fifteen gets you twenty," he repeats until he's sure I understand the subtext. At the end of his spiel, he becomes irate when I refuse to give him $20 for telling me that the Sixth Floor Museum doesn't give equal time to the theory that Lyndon Johnson had Kennedy killed. I offer him $5 for his engaging ramblings and tell him, "Good day to you, sir." He hunches over the fence of the Dealey Memorial and gazes balefully at the X in the street while turning my inadequate offering over in his hands: "How can I have a good day, Tom?" he sulks.
At a bookstore whose door opens onto the spot where one of Charles Whitman's victims was gunned down, the proprietor expounds on his theory that Whitman was a victim of mind control. He offers no evidence to support this theory, save for the fact that you can see the Clock Tower from the door of his shop, the implication being that he ought to know from Charles Whitman. He goes on to tell me that the ugliest building in Austin is a monument to child sacrifice.
Again: potting mix. Even the airport. Genuinely surprised.