Highlights from Hair Balls
Houston, Circa 1981
A guide to an oil-booming city
By Craig Hlavaty
Recently I found a copy of Rosemary Kent's 1981 book The Genuine Texas Handbook at a thrift store off Highway 290. The 224-page golden treasury of Texicana hails from a time when 1980's Urban Cowboy and the oil boom were coloring the worldview of the Lone Star State, for better or worse.
The book is only a little bit more than 30 years old, making it outdated, to say the least, but still amazingly prescient in some passages. It's made up of infographics (which is how everyone gets most of their news now anyway) and cute chapters on things that you must know to be a well-adjusted Texan.
The Handbook tackles food, drinking, clothing, shopping, oil, rich people and everything in between, with a pinch of Texas history and a whole lot of outrageous generalizations.
The Texas the book describes is not the one we know today. This is a genteel, stereotypical, and prosperously white Texas. There are no mentions of upscale cuisine, gays, codeine, pollution, hip-hop, or any minorities beyond Mama Ninfa, border-town shop owners, Charley Pride, or Freddy Fender.
So it's like a time capsule, or hanging out with a grandparent who doesn't know that it's 2012. But for all its shortcomings, you can't but feel some sort of demented state pride while holding the book. What other states besides maybe Louisiana and California warrant a "handbook" — no matter how sarcastic — for its citizens?
According to the book, there are really only four kinds of food found in Texas – barbecue, Tex-Mex, chili and chicken-fried steak – for us jeans-wearing, cowboy-boot-stompin' drunks to grub on. Okay, that version of Texas doesn't sound like such an awful state to call home. Modern Texas foodies would clutch their proverbial pearls at the usage of the word "cook" in place of "chef."
There is no mention of food trucks, Vietnamese food, sushi, or even Tito's vodka, things that I can't imagine living in Texas without. Not even a mention of the offensively named "roach coach" is to be seen.
Speaking of drunks, the book lists Lone Star, Shiner, Pearl, Texas Pride and Gilley's as our state beers, naturally. A few Mexican beers and the margarita are listed as more exotic options. The land before micro and craft brews, my friends, was no place for those looking for IPAs and the like.
The money message is pretty heavy-handed, with many chapters covering the rich and powerful in the state, where they live (little spreads, big spreads, River Oaks, Highland Park), what they wear (cowboy boots and belt buckles), and how they got their dough (oil, duh). There is a two-page layout on Western shirts, which is pretty educational for a guy like me who has a few dozen of them in the closet at home.
A small passage on cheap pistols, "Saturday Night Specials," shows not much has changed. Except in 2012 you are more likely to get shot with a .380 at a nightclub then receiving a belly full of lead from a .25 revolver at an ice house. On the opposite page, the mechanical bull, El Toro, is hailed as the bar distraction that it remains today. You can still ride one at Rebels Honky Tonk off Washington Avenue if you feel like braving that sordid street on the weekends.
As a life-long Texan, I can't figure out whether or not this was a Texas that is extinct, or one that just evolved with the times. Some people still live by these codes of conduct and customs, but they are slowly dying off. The book was printed two years before I hatched, so by the time I got around to appreciating Texas, the simpler Texas in this handbook was fading fast.
Another bad noise-law bust
30th birthday in jail
By Steve Jansen
Some people celebrate three decades of Earth existence at dinner or by going on an out-of-town adventure. Lauren Garcia spent her 30th birthday in the slammer.
On June 9, Garcia threw a bash at her house, located just outside of downtown on the outskirts of the Heights.
"I gave my neighbors a heads-up that it might get loud," says Garcia, who enlisted some DJ buddies to play music through a PA in Garcia's yard. "They said they were cool with it."
Around 11 p.m., two Houston Police Department officers came by and told Garcia to shut down the good times.She told them "no," adding, "It's not midnight yet, so I'll make everyone go inside." The cops, according to Garcia, said that was chill.
Though the music posted up inside, some folks remained outside.
The officers returned.
"While some DJs were moving gear out of the house, I saw the cops hanging out in my backyard. When I walked outside, they immediately grabbed and put handcuffs on me," explains Garcia. "They said that they were putting the handcuffs on me to scare the others to move on out of there."
Garcia says that while she was in the back of the squad car, two HPD officers tried to get her to confess that there were drugs at the party. After searching every partygoer, "they found nothing at all," says Garcia.
She says that the cops discussed taking her in for public intoxication, but "I had only had a few drinks," recalls Garcia. Instead, according to an HPD arrest report, Garcia was charged with "generating sound causing others to be aware of vibrations or resonance" and taken to jail, where she spent the night.
As explored in the Houston Press' "Sound Effects" cover story, this Class C misdemeanor is a similar charge levied against many local club owners and musicians since Houston City Council gave an a-okay to an overhauled noise ordinance in October. Due to its cryptic language, many of the cases have been bombing in court, including Garcia's.
"When the judge read the charges, "He laughed and said, 'This is why you're in here? Go home.'
"I work a nine to five and I work hard. It was my 30th birthday and we were just having a party," says Garcia. "The whole thing is just ludicrous, insane and crazy."
City Hit By Lame Graffiti
"GOAT" epidemic spreads
By Mitchell Slapik
In case you haven't noticed the latest menace haunting Houston's streets, someone keeps spray-painting the word "goat" on stuff along Washington Avenue and in a couple other areas around the city. Recently they hit Kung Foo Saloon and the corner store by Blue Moose.
This is annoying for a lot of reasons. First, it's covering a lot more area than normal tags. City workers are running all over town trying to wash off the paint and keep Houston in (relatively) clean condition, although they don't help out with vandalized private property.
Second, it's not good. Unlike the warped, out-of-another-universe graffiti on Elgin and Crawford, this goat stuff looks like mindlessly lazy work. Marco Torres, a photographer who knows the graffiti scene, used the word "toy," which Urban Dictionary defines as "a graffiti artist's term for a novice," as in "that fuckin' toy threw up some shitty tag all over my graf."
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But Gregory J. Snyder, a professor of sociology at CUNY who studies graffiti and graffiti writing, said he saw some potential in one of the goat tags. No need to crush the tagger's artistic aspirations, I guess, just direct him to the nearest canvas and away from other people's property.
"I'm a big fan of the arts. But I don't want people to use my building. I'd appreciate it," said Virgil Cox, who's dealt with his share of vandalism as the owner of Cox Hardware.
Back in 2000, LL Cool J came out with an album called "G.O.A.T.," which stands for "Greatest of All Time." No one knows if that's what the tagger means or if it's just a name he picked up, though everyone I talked to agreed it isn't gang-related.
Taggers like this usually don't get caught by police, and the four-letter word allows whoever it is to finish the strokes quickly. The best the city can do is paint over the tags fast and remove the fame aspect that taggers look for.