John Colson: Don’t like Texas? Give something anyway

John Colson
Hit & Run

I have to note, at the outset, that I’ve never had a whole lot of use for Texas, but I understand that many of those living in the Houston area, or southeastern Texas in general, could use some help these days. And I think I’ll give it to them, regardless of my lifelong antipathy toward their state, because the plain fact is that we’re all in this mess of the 21st century together, and we’ve got to stop despising each other long enough to get our country back on track.

It’s that simple, and here’s why.

Growing up in south-central Wisconsin, I was an avid viewer of all things cowboy, and a lot of that involved outlaws and lawmen shooting it out in Texas-style landscapes (though I later realized the actual scenery could have been anywhere but Texas), and my interest was in the characters, not the backdrop, anyway.

The first time Texas broke through my hazy, somewhat ill-formed consciousness was in 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas while traveling in a motorcade. Kennedy’s shooting was followed quickly by the murder of the accused assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, in the basement of the Dallas Police Department, an event I happened to be watching on live television.

My 12-year-old brain concluded from these events that the people of Texas were insane and it was best to avoid them at all costs — despite the fact that Oswald was not a native Texan, though he spent some of his youth in Dallas. His killer, Jack Ruby, known to the world as a “Dallas nightclub owner,” actually was a Chicago native born under the name Jacob Leon Rubenstein.

In any event, I managed to avoid any contact with Texas or Texans (although a cousin moved there after coming out as a lesbian in the 1970s) until I moved to Colorado in 1978, and at that point it was all downhill in terms of my understanding of people who lived in Texas.

To begin with, in the resort counties of Colorado in the 1970s, Texans were viewed by many as loudmouthed, arrogant interlopers determined to buy up all the land and houses in every ski town they could find and kick the rest of us out into the street to make shift as best we could but to be sure to be at work to serve them every day.

Oh, there were some Coloradans who liked Texans back then, but they mostly stood to gain financially by their friendliness — real estate brokers, waiters at high-end restaurants, that sort of thing.

One of my first direct experiences with Texans, in fact, was during one skirmish of Great Colorado-Texas Tomato War in the tiny town of Twin Lakes, on the other side of Independence Pass from Aspen.

I think it was 1986 or 1987 when I signed up as a “war correspondent” and roamed around some woods owned by “General” Taylor Maxwell, proprietoress of the Inn of the Black Wolf in Twin Lakes, and founder of the “war.”

It was all in fun, with “soldiers” taking aim at each other using rotten tomatoes trucked in by the ton instead of guns. War correspondents were supposed to be exempt from the hostilities, but we were covered in seedy red goo like everyone else by the end of the event.

I met a couple of Tejanos at the evening party at the Inn, but of course we were not only exhausted by the day’s exertions but also well on the way toward roaring drunk, and their names were lost in my mental fog either moments after I heard them, or definitely by the next day.

They seemed nice enough, though I suspected each of them of being one of the evil trolls who deliberately targeted war correspondents throughout the day. We could tell that was happening, by the way, whenever we heard someone yell, “There’s one who thinks he’s safe — HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

Over the years, of course, my lack of enthusiasm for Texas and Texans has been exacerbated by the fact that, as a state, it is so deeply red (Republican, intolerant of people of color and political progressives and generally anyone not from Texas) that even rednecks from other states have to tread carefully.

It is one of the most gerrymandered states in the Union, for one thing, a condition that never ceases to raise my hackles.

Still, all things considered, I have met a few Texans over the years who have disproved my earlier conclusions about all Texans being insane and dangerous — those traits actually only apply to most of them, not all of them, as far as I can tell.

So it is that I will be sending some money (not that I have much of that, unlike your run-of-the-mill Texas oil man or corporate shill) to help with the relief effort for Houston and other towns devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

I’m a bit too long in the tooth and too likely to suffer back trauma from heavy physical activity to head down to Texas as a rescue volunteer, but I want to help in some way.

And while our family and personal financial status is rather puny, it’s healthy enough that we can do what we can in this minor way. And donating to the cause could not be easier, since the City Market grocery stores have collection bins labeled Red Cross. Plus, there are any number of sites on the internet that have popped up to collect money for the recovery effort — a increasingly standard response to the kind of natural disaster that has walloped Houston, southwestern Louisiana and points in between.

Giving in this way, or any way, should be nearly an automatic act for the rest of us, because, as Texas journalist Mimi Swartz wrote in last weekend’s New York Times, “Houston could use a hand” as it recovers from what is being called the heaviest rainfall and flooding from a tropical cyclone that this country has ever seen.

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