Let me set the scene. It was mid-July — last week, in fact — and the sun hadn’t gone down yet. It was still a billion degrees outside in the setting sunlight. Driving to the restaurant, I couldn’t help noticing how painfully awful the landscape looks right now — dry, parched, brown, with low waters under the bridge, some kind of glaring miasma in the sky.
We’ve been in a drought for more than a year, and this summer may set a record, with its endless series of punishing, sweltering, triple-digit days. Even people like me, who like to pretend they’re tough, can’t stop themselves from talking about it, constantly bitching about the relentless heat. It’s been a bad summer, and we’ve all stopped pretending otherwise.
So, anyway, you get the picture. It’s miserable and we’re all kind of pissy these days.
Which is why I was surprised when I met my friend for dinner — and was introduced to her childhood friend, who’s just moved back to Texas from New York.
“I don’t care how hot it is,” she said, shaking her head at our whining and moping. “I’m just so happy to be back here that I don’t care.”
Well, maybe those statements blasted the self-pity away or the air-conditioning started to work. Either way, I felt oddly energized. I started telling this new friend about how desperately I wanted to come back to Texas, how much I missed it, the years my husband and I lived in Virginia (a state, or commonwealth, that my parents routinely referred to as “the northeast.”)
“I understand,” I said. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Well, this probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning if I hadn’t, over the next two days, run into two women I’d never met before whom I exchanged the same stories with. As the immortal Fran Lebowitz put it, one time is no big deal — but two? That’s constitutes a trend.
And three times, as you can imagine, is a veritable tsunami in my dried-out little mind. So I talked with them both at a gathering we went to in Cambridge, Mass., and they told me how much they wanted to leave the East Coast and return to Texas and I assured them I entirely sympathized. It’s one of those stories I always find moving, because none of us can quite articulate what it is we’re missing. We simply get sentimental, emotional and blubbery — and either you understand it or you’re already in a coma from sheer boredom and incomprehension: What in the hell are these women talking about?
“Do you think women value roots more than men?” I asked my husband later.
“We’ve already talked about this,” he said.
“Oh. So, what did we say?”
“I don’t remember.”
After thinking about it, he said he thought we probably agreed that roots are more important to women than men. He also agreed that Texans, in general, are more passionate about their state than most other groups. It goes without saying that we’re more obnoxious, as well.
As I said, I can’t quite articulate it. Here’s this vast expanse of prairie and dust and merciless sun and conservative values I find bewildering and repugnant, a state semi-governed by a blithering idiot who wants to secede from the union (since it worked so well the first time we tried it). The freeways are crowded, filled with aggressive, half-drunk drivers on cell phones, historic buildings are razed for “progress” and shiny new, deeply ugly buildings, the state legislature is a circus run by the animals, as opposed to the ringmaster.
I can’t make sense of it. I can’t make sense of myself — or anybody else — for loving it. All I can tell you is we do. We can’t help ourselves. We just do.
Read more about Texas.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)