Recently I happened to tell a native New Yorker that my great-grandfather* was a Texan communist.
He acted like I was studying to be a half-wit and about to flunk out. “Really?” he said. “In Texas-of-all-places. I didn’t know there was a Leftist tradition there.” His tone suggested I might’ve confused communism with snake-handling.
Thanks to David Brooks and friends, lots of people who’ve never been west of Pennsylvania or south of D.C. now view themselves as experts on “Red America.” And some of them seem convinced that no one could have lived in the Lone Star State at any point in history and not tattoed a picture of George Bush on one arm and a pissing Calvin on the other. I wish those people would sit down with some of my Delta relatives and try to talk about how much they must love NASCAR.
As I’ve mentioned, I come from a long line of Texans, was born in Dallas, and have a Mississippian father, but grew up in Miami and so am basically a Yankee; still, I keep jotting down notes for yet another touchy and hectoring blog entry on this false Red/Blue America dichotomy and Mark Twain’s humor and a bunch of other things. I already suspect that the post will go the way of my college “senior thesis.” (A simple paper about Moby-Dick as a search for the “lost mother,” based on some textual similarities with the Biblical story of Ishmael, somehow expanded to include the notion that Yahweh felt more threatened by Eve than Adam and that the punishments meted out in the Garden of Eden were commensurate with that fear. I never finished the thing.)
Last weekend I found a printout of Molly Ivins’ Texas Observer article on Texan storytelling and liberal humor. I figured I should point you to it, both because it’s much smarter and more focused than whatever I was going to say about politics and culture and Twain, and because it includes this joke:
“Y’heard about the Aggie who went to Harvard? Yeah, he went up there and asked one a them Harvard men, ‘Where’s the liberry at?’
“Fella says, ‘My good man, don’t you know you must never end a sentence with a preposition?’ So the Aggie says, ‘O.K., where’s the liberry at, asshole?'”
* Not the hay hook one, but my mother’s other grandfather.