H. Ross went seven bubbles off plumb (and other tales); letter from Texas.
On matters cultural, when the World's Fair in New Orleans had Texas Week recently, they invited two of our biggest stars, Willie Nelson and Ralph the Diving Pig from San Marcos, Willie has been galaxy-famous for years now, but this was Ralph's first shot at international exposure, so we were all real thrilled for him. Ralph's the Greg Louganis of porkerdom.
We're having another bingo crackdown: we are big on busting grannies for bingo. If you bingo bad enough in this state, they'll put you in the Texas Department of Corrections, the Lone Star Gulag. Texas and California are running about even to see which state can put the most haman beings in Stripe City. We got a three-strikes law here--three felonies and it's life--so we got guys doing terminal stretches for passing two bad checks and aggravated mopery.
T.D.C. is so overcrowded they were like berserk rats in there in the vicious summer heat. There have been more than 270 stabbings in T.D.C. this year. Judge William Wayne Justice, who, in my opinion, is a great American hero and, in everybody's opinion, is the most hated man in Texas, has declared the conditions in the system unconstitutional. Judge Justice continues to labor under the illusion that the U.S. Constitution applies in Texas. Just last year he de-segged a public housing project in Clarksville--almost twenty year after the Civil Rights Act--so the citizens started threatening to kill him again. Anyway, the prisons are being worked on; the Legislature passed some reforms because they knew if they didn't, Judge Justice would. He already made them clean up the whole juvenile corrections system. So now it's just a question of whether the reforms can beat the riot in under the wire.
We have also had educational reform, and it come a gullywasher. First off, our new Governor, Mark White, shows signs of intelligence above vegetable level, which means he will never make the list of truly great governors, such as Dolph Briscoe, the living Pet Rock. So Marko Blanco (all our politicians are trying to be bilingual these days, but as Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower says, it just makes most of them bi-ignorant) appointed H. Ross Perot to head up this committee to figure out what's wrong with the public schools. H. Ross took off like an unguided missile. I keep having to explain to foreigners that some loopy right-wing Dallas billionaires are a lot better than others, and H. Ross happens to be one of our better right-wing billionaires. This is assuming you don't make him so mad that he goes out and buys an army and invades your country with it. But he mostly does that to no-account countries full of tacky ragheads, so no one minds. Anyway, H. Ross decided everything was wrong with the school--teachers, courses, books. The Board of Education had ruled that no one could teach evolution as fact in Texas schools, and H. Ross said it was making us look dumber than the Luzbuddy debate team. Actually, he said "laughingstock." Then H. Ross went seven bubbles off plumb, crazy as a peach-orchard boar, and announced the trouble with the schools is TOO MUCH FOOTBALL. That's when we all realized H. Ross Perot is secretly an agent of the Kremlin; yes, a Commie, out to destroy the foundation of the entire Texian way of life.
The Legislature had a fit of creeping socialism and passed nearly every one of H. Ross's reforms, so now a kid can't play football unless he's passing all his courses, and he has to take stuff like math and English. Probably means the end of the world is close at hand. The Legislature even raised some taxes to pay for all this school stuff; first time they've raised taxes in thirteen years, so you see how serious it is.
Economically speaking, Texas is a very big (it's real embarrassing to have to say that, but they make us learn it in school here). Most economists break it into six zones to report on what's going on. It's not unusual for Texas to be declared a disaster area for drought and flood simultaneously, and our economy is like that too. In the Metroplex, which was called Dallas/Fort Worth back before chairs bacame "ergonomically designed seating systems," there is just a flat-out boom. The area has technically achieved full employment, 3.5 percent un-. Its building boom should crap out before long, but its economy is almost recessionproof--insurance, banking, merchandising and defense contracts. The Centex Corridor (A.K.A. Austin and San Antone) is also Fat City; lot of high-tech firms coming in, supposed to be the new Silicon Valley. But Austin and San Antone are both mellow ol' towns, never wanted to be like Dallas or Houston. Fair amount of no-growth sentiment there, for Texas. But we reckon it's too late: both towns about ruint; gonna need separate books for the White Pages and Yellow Pages before long. The land sharks are in a greed frenzy, turning over sections every couple months for another $1 million, building all over the aquifer. There never was much around Houston or Dallas to crud up, but the limestone hills and fast rivers of Central Texas--that's shame.
Contrarywise, the Rio Grande Valley's a disaster area. It's truck-farming country, mainly citrus, and also the most Third World place you can find in the U.S. of A. In fact, it's still feudal in some ways. The Valley was already reeling from the peso devaluation last year--we're talking as high as 50 percent unemployment in some Valley counties--when the big freeze hit right after Christmas and just wiped out the whole crop. Now the question's not how widespread unemployment is; it's how widespread hunger is, how bad malnutrition is. A real mess. The governor and the churches have been great; the Reagan Administration, zero.
Also hurting real bad is most of West Texas. This drought has cut so deep the ranchers have had to sell off their starter herds. Just nothing left. The Panhandle, the Plains, even in Central Texas, there's no pasture. A goddamn drought is just the sorriest kind of calamity. A flood, a hurricane or a tornado hits and then it's over, but a drought takes a long, long time to kill your cattle and your spirit, and gives you so many, many chances to get your hopes up again--in vain. You folks back East, your beef's going up considerable; we got nothing to start over with when this does break. Our farmers are bleeding to death. Mark White carried every rural (we pronounce that "rule") area in this state in 1982 against a Republican incumbent with more money than God. But one of the laws of politics is It Ain't a Trend Till You've Seen It Twice. The polls show Reagan winning Texas with 75 percent of the vote.
Politically, we've got more talent in statewide office now than in living memory: not a certified Neanderthal in the bunch, and the Treasurer, Ann Richards, is one of the smartest, funnies people in politics anywhere. Our populist Ag Commish, Jim Hightower, keeps us amused with his observations: "Why would I want to be a middle-of-the-road politician? Ain't nothin' in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." (Tell the truth, I also had a great fondness for Hightower's predecessor, an entertaining linthead named Reagan V. Brown, who wanted to nuke the fire ants. Brown probably lost because he called Booker T. Washington a nigger, but there were extenuating circumstances: he called him a great nigger.)
Our Congressional delegation still boasts enough wood to start a lumberyard. We've got a helluva U.S. Senate race. In one corner is Phil Gramm, the former Boll Weevil Democrat, now a full-fledged Republican, named the most rightwing member of Congress by the National Journal. Man makes Ethelred the Unready look like a radical. And in the other corner, a 38-year-old liberal State Senator from Austin named Lloyd Doggett: smart, clean, hard-working Mr. Integrity, actually looks like the young Abe Lincoln. If you could jack up Doggett and run a sense of humor in under him, he'd be about perfect. Ever since I mentioned that in a column, Lloyd's been working real hard on his sense of humor.
Doggett's a long shot because there is an ungodly amount of right-wing money in this state, and no decent newspapers, except for the Dallas Times Herald. (I'd say that even if I didn't work for it.) Gramm is running a charming campaign, accusing Doggett of being soft on queers and Commies. That usually sells well down here. Doggett can get pretty nasty his own self, in down-populist fashion. Right now he seems to be concentrating on convincing the corporate types that Gramm's so far gone in ideology he doesn't have enough sense to protect the state's economic interests. We used to have a Congressman like that from Dallas named Jim Collins. The rest of the guys would be trying to sneak gas deregulation past the Yankees, and Collins would go into a diatribe about school busing. He didn't just miss the play; he never understood what game in was.
People always try to tell you how much Texas is changing. Hordes of Yankee yuppies have moved in, and we have herpes bars, roller discos and other symptoms of civilization. I think, though, maybe Texas is in a permanent state of plus ca change. While it is true that there are Texans who play polo and eat pasta salad, the place is still reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious.