There was a movie back in the seventies, I think, The Last Picture Show. It was in black and white. A lot of people thought that was for effect, but the truth of the matter is that format exemplified the Texas that I grew up in. Our lives were black and white, both politically and physically. Color movies were rare, and rainbow life was even harder to find.
We had the old pickups, piss warm beer, skinny, smelly girls, and, of course there was one hottie. Ours was Sharon. Sharon even looked like the blonde in the movie, and she had breasts, a bonus for white chicks because uually only Mexican girls had a set of those. She even ended up on the cover of Playboy years later as part of a spread called, “The Girls of Texas.” I never did get to first base with her because I was scared of girls, but she had a horse! I’m not kidding. Right there in the middle of town in her back yard.
Anyway, I digress. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got there as quick as I could which was the morning I woke up, at ten years old, in Texas, and the first thing I noticed was that it was flat. I was in central Texas. This place is like five states, and about the only thing they all agree on is they don’t like Yankees i.e. anyone outside of Texas! You can be a wetback and you’ll fare better than a New Yorker down here. It’s a little better now with the interstate and all, but there’s still some lingering resentment to people who talk too fast and and wear sneakers. All but Austin, they wear sneakers there but we have to accept that because we can’t move the capitol.
So here I was, in September, looking out of a motel window at hotter than hell Texas! Texas is hotter than chicken grease. Now, bear in mind that most of the population had to go to a movie to sit in air conditioning. Water coolers were the norm. Your state of the art water cooler had a hose keeping the pan filled, with this toilette bobber turning it on and off, and this little pump thingy pushing the water up, sprinkling the hay filters on the four sides, yeah, you heard me right, hay, and at least in theory that would cool a house. Well, that was a crock of shit, and it smelled like shit. Horse shit! Well, nobody had one of those! What they had was no hose, no pump, second hand, rusting gadget with several tow-headed kids running out with a pan pouring water over moldy hay when granny started wheezing.
It would cool you if you sat right in front of it. Consequently everyone drank beer. Dad drank beer, Mom drank beer, the kids snuck beer, the dog drank beer, EVERYONE drank beer. You could drink beer all day, with sweet tea, tons of water, and never piss. I missed Shreveport.
I had to get into school. Killeen had so few schools we went a half a day. It was totally integrated because there were no schools so I saw my first black kid in school. Didn’t affect me. No, I mean it. Made me no difference at all. It was so damn hot nobody cared. We were all just trying to live. There was another tribe there, too. Mexicans. There were aspects to that phenomenon I appreciated.
Back in Louisiana the physical education was recess, maybe a little baseball IF you were up to it, and it wasn’t very challenging because we were all white. But TEXAS! You ran until you puked, played baseball with Willie Mays third cousin and then took a shower with some kid named Santos, who SHAVED! By the way, this was the same Santos who slept with your wife years later when you were in the county jail. You’d be in there, and some guy would say, “Hey man! Santos is crawling up on your wife right now!” Well! I went to school with Santos.
In short order I was in Junior High. I was dumber than a box of rocks. I was eating a little better than back in the states , but the heat cancelled that out. Had to walk to school. There were guidelines. If you, say, lived in the next county you’d get a bus, any closer than that, and you were on your own.
In Shreveport if you misbehaved you’d get a stern talking to with a note home. Of course, I was always stupid enough to take the note to my mom, and she’d chew on me, quoting the note, emphasizing the wording as she went, but TEXAS! They got around all that crap, just dragged you out in the hall and beat your ass. Every morning sounded like rifle shots from a firing squad. I must admit it was entertaining when you got a “crier,” and if you got a begger, oh my GOD! We’d hang out the door to see that, and if it was Santos, well, my heart would actually skip a beat.
Now, education. Let me gauge the quality. I didn’t learn a Damn thing in all my years of Texas public schooling except typing, lunch, and how to avoid getting my ass beat. They were actually stupid enough to put a clock in every room so we all learned “clock” real good! Long about the ninth grade I discovered girls. Oh, they were always there it’s just that they all had to wear dresses below their knees and looked like Olive Oyle. I fell in love with a girl named Grace Barnes. She looked like Olive Oyle, too, but she had a cute face. It wasn’t a torrid romance. She gave me her cake at lunch once, but then I came upon these new creatures we didn’t have in Louisiana. MEXICAN GIRLS! When you consider the separation of the races in Louisiana you must understand that Hispanics were not the issue. Everything was black and white. That, and I never saw a Mexican before I came to Texas, except on the John Wayne version of the “Alamo.” But, Texas was completely different. And Mexican GIRLS? Viva Zapata!
For the record, Mexican girls are born fully grown. Just thought you needed to know that. They had to wear the same dresses as the other girls but I’d trade one Mexican calf, even half a calf, for a butt naked Anglo girl any day, all except Sharon, of course, but they all have a brother named Santos.
I didn’t excel in high school except one time. We had this fountain in the commons. Kids threw coins in it. Ok, do the math; fountain full of change, poor white trash, yeah, you get the drift. Anyway, me, Joe Leeth and some other numbnut came up with a plan. I mean there was a lot of money in there, just sitting. So, Joe was gonna hold my belt and I’d brace my feet against the edge of the fountain. The plan was to ease me down and once I was close enough I’d just reach in and scoop up the loot.
We should have paid more attention in physics class and we would’ve understood the laws of Leverage better. At about forty five degrees my weight increased exponentially, combined with the chickenshit that was holding my belt, and in I went.
I made a perfect human shape in the green slime on the bottom of the fountain. Didn’t get a dime. Came up, and as the water drained out of my ears the laughter rolled in. Well, we all got taken to the office. Of course you know they had to beat all our asses, my wet ass being first. Then they marched us out to the football locker room, because that’s where the clothes dryer was, and they beat our asses, then back to class. Life was so much simpler back then. I’m just glad I didn’t have hemorrhoids.
I began writing in high school. Don’t know what drove me to it, I hated school, and everything that had anything to do with it, but for some reason I could string a story. Beginning in the tenth grade I’d buy a two hundred page spiral notebook and jump right in. When the notebook was full, the book was finished. The first was a collection of short stories. I got my ideas from dreams. Now in old time Texas you dreamed a lot because we had those old timey gas space heaters. They were free standing with no outlet to the outside, just this hot box at the center of the main room. I guess that constituted central heat. Anyway it beat freezing, however, it did put out a fair amount of carbon monoxide, but them old timers weren’t worried about that shit. You got thirteen kids what’s one, more or less. So, during the school year in your sleep, hovering between heaven and hell, you’d dream, and I wrote it all down.
My first book was a hit. Now this was the sixties and my stories were right up there with the Beatles. Next year I wrote a gangster story, but my best seller was in my senior year. I came up with a plot about this pissed off little nerd (it was autobiographical) who planned to bomb the school cafeteria. God, it was good. It went hour by hour as the bomb ticked away, kids milling around, teachers watching, then BOOM! First responders, last kisses, and lots of drama.
I passed it to my school mates, and all went well until someone gave it to Miss Hornbuckle, who never had a date in her fifty-six years, and she gave it to the principle, Mr. Patterson! From there I went to the office. Patterson had read it, and, of course, first things first, he beat my ass, but then he called the cops. There was an issue with my book. Uh, the bomb was functional. You see, I’d spent the first ten years of my life in Shreveport, Louisiana, with oil drills, dynamite, blasting caps, stuff like that, and it wasn’t very hard to run two wires from the bell and striker of an old alarm clock, throw in a lantern battery, run the two wires down to a blasting cap that was tucked inside six sticks of dynamite, alarm goes off, striker hits the bell, sends sparks to the blasting cap, lunch is over. It was a good bomb, too. Blew my ass up!
Well, there I was rubbing my ass in Mr. Patterson’s office when the cars rolled up, the boys got out, and the room filled up with laws. Now, to be a cop in 1960s Texas you had to own a gun, and and your training was not pull it on folks like Bonnie and Clyde. But, a kid with a Big Chief notebook and a bruised butt? Shut the front door. You gotta remember, Killeen was a boring town. In the sixties we couldn’t even muster a race riot. I must admit that Mr. Patterson was a tad bit smarter than the cops. They didn’t have a clue so he clued them in. Old bastard! Well, to make a long story short, got my ass busted, missed lunch, and they kept my book as “evidence.” Oh, and Miss Hornbuckle told me I’d never be able to communicate in the English language. What did she know about English? She taught school in Texas!
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