Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at at time.

Educating the world about Texas one Yankee at a time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Texas monsters, mysteries, repairmen investigated, revealed

Jackalopes have been a fixture of Texas mythos for as long as I can remember. So too have monsters such as El Chupacabra and unexplained phenomena such as the Marfa Lights. I had to know if the tales of my childhood were real, so in honor of All Hallow’s Eve when things go bump in the night, I went in search of Texas cryptids.

The jackalope is a giant jackrabbit with antlers. It is said to roam free in the Texas wilderness, in search of what, I don’t know, but I’m guessing it’s looking for giant carrots or to settle a score with Elmer Fudd.

I did an Internet search of jackalopes and learned that rabbits occasionally suffer from something called Shope’s papilloma virus, which causes horned tumors around their skulls and faces. It is believed that rabbits with Shope’s might have been the catalyst for the jackalope legend.

I don’t recommend you do an image search. The photos I found were enough to gag a buzzard off a gut wagon.

The jackalope is real. Sort of. In a round-about, weird, disease-pathology kind of way. They aren’t the large, lumbering, wild-eyed killer beasts of Texas lore. But they’re certainly something to behold. And the jackrabbit that lives near the III Corps headquarters at Fort Hood is worth writing about based on his sheer size. I have seen him hopping across the lawn outside the newsroom window and, from what I can see, he’s not somebody to mess with in the parking lot after dark.

El Chupacabra has been around as long as I can remember. We don’t really know what it is, but we know what it does, based on the bloodless remains of goats and other farm animals the thing allegedly has attacked. “Chupacabra” literally translates from Spanish to English as “goat sucker.”

I think it’s more likely to be a mix between a pit bull terrier and a Texas divorce lawyer, but then that combination is less crossbreeding than it is inbreeding.

There have been reports that El Chupacabra has been discovered; that it is indeed the hybrid offspring of a canid creature and…something. There’s photographic evidence of something that looks more like a giant shaved rat. But is it the real thing? I’m not gonna sit out on a South Texas pasture to find out, that’s for sure.

When I lived in Dallas, there was the legend of the Goat Man of White Rock Lake.

Supposedly, the Goat Man is 7-feet tall, hairy, stands upright and sports the horns and hooves of a goat. He likes to throw things at people to drive them off his feeding grounds. No one has ever said on what the Goat Man feeds. I’m guessing fish, since White Rock Lake is known for its crappie and bass.

From the description, he sounds more like a University of North Texas art major. At any rate, I never saw him the entire decade I lived there, but apparently he got over to Lake Worth a time or two, since a similar monster has been seen there. At any rate, he might want to watch out for El Chupacabra.

Of the natural phenomena in Texas, the Marfa Lights, or Marfa Ghost Lights, are the most famous.

For more than 100 years, folks have seen something strange about nine miles east of Marfa. The lights have been described as fireworks without the smoke or sound.

Scientists have tried to explain them. Some folks believe they’re UFOs. Others think they’re the spirits of the Apaches wandering the Chinati Mountains. The city of Marfa simply acknowledges the lights with a festival every Labor Day weekend. I guess if you can’t explain it, celebrate it.

Cryptids and little green men notwithstanding, some folks are more concerned with the native Texas critters that have been documented as real.

Tim Swaggerty, an acquaintance of mine, was a park ranger at Lake Arrowhead State Park near Wichita Falls for a time. While there, he was quizzed by some visitors from Scotland about prairie dogs.

“Are they dangerous?” one of the tourists asked in a thick Scots brogue.

“Umm…well, they’ve been known to carry plague because they’re rodents, essentially. But immediately dangerous? Not really,” Swaggerty said.

“Rodents, ye say?” the other tourist responded. “Oh! Glad tae hear that! We envisioned packs of ravenous dogs roaming the Texas prairie! We were fearin’ frae our lives!”

Swaggerty assured the Scottish visitors the most they had to worry about with regard to prairie dogs was stepping in a hole and wrenching an ankle.

Texas also is known for its bats. Austin is home to Mexican free-tailed bats, particularly at the Congress Street Bridge. The best time to see them is in the spring and summer. If you go to see the bats, you’ll want to stand back a bit from their flight path. The bats aren’t particular where they relieve themselves and you might come home with a souvenir you really didn’t want.

Real or myth, cryptids capture our imaginations, and I, too, have personally witnessed the existence of a hitherto myth right here in Central Texas. Last June, my air conditioning died. I called a repairman who actually showed up when he said he would and fixed my A/C correctly the first time for the price originally quoted to me.

I know. I couldn’t believe it, either.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Understanding the Texas sense of humor, practical jokes

We Texans think life—and everyone in it--is funny.

We spend a good deal of time making as much fun of everyday living as we do making fun of ourselves.

I heard someone describe it as “American sarcasm” and I want to clear that mistake up right now. Sarcasm is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as “a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain.” Often people mistake sarcasm for wit. While sarcasm generally is witty, wit is not always sarcastic. This is the great humor tautology. Sarcasm can figure into the humor equation, but it is not the sole ingredient in humor, and that’s true of Texas humor, too.

Not everybody gets Texas humor. Sometimes it borders on the bizarre. I admit that. Even though I was born into the culture, I really didn’t see what was so funny about the time my father rigged my car’s engine to smoke and whine when I started it. He thought it was hilarious.

Daddy loved April Fools Day. Every April 1, he’d booby-trap his secretary’s desk with rubber snakes and cockroaches. He stopped short of fake dog poop. That wasn’t classy. Carol stayed his secretary for 18 years. I guess she thought it was funny.

I mentioned sarcasm earlier. The sarcasm in Texas humor usually pokes fun at those who need to be taken down off their high horses a notch.

One of my favorite jokes is that of the farmer being inspected by an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspector. The farmer gives the man the go-ahead to look anywhere he wants except for one pasture.

“Sir,” said the OSHA inspector haughtily. “I am an OSHA inspector. See this ID card? It entitles me to be anywhere I want to be during an inspection.”

“That’s fine, but I’m telling you that you really don’t want to go into that pasture,” the farmer said.

“I will go where I need to go and no one can tell me I can’t,” the inspector replied.
Pretty soon, the farmer heard a mighty commotion coming from that pasture. He saw the OSHA inspector being chased by his dairy bull.

“Help! Help me!” cried the OSHA inspector. “Stop this bull!”

“Just show him your ID card!” the farmer hollered back.

That is a prime example of Texas humor, and it was probably based on an actual event.

Another first class example of Texas humor is the fact many of us seriously supported singer/songwriter Richard “Kinky” Friedman for governor in the last gubernatorial election.

I said “seriously” supported, but this is Texas after all.

Campaign slogans for Friedman’s run for the governorship included, “Kinky: Why the (heck) not?” and “My governor is a Jewish cowboy.”

Umm…yep. That’s Texas humor in a (pecan) nutshell.

I’d like to point out at this point that I see the humor in the fact that the word “gubernatorial” begins with “goober.”

And I admit that I voted for Kinky. After all, Carol Keeton Strayhorn Rylander Hampton Laverty Oberlander had all her ex-husbands to vote for her and she didn’t need me. And we ended up sending Rick Perry right back to Austin. I'm not entirely sure Kinky was serious, but it was fun while it lasted.

Speaking of nuts, I was at one of the multitude of pecan shops along our Texas highways when I overheard a woman from another state remark about all the delicious “PEE-cans” in Texas. In Texas, we say “puh-CAN.” But from her it was “PEE-can” this and “PEE-can” that, and I had to save her from embarrassment. After all, she was a guest in our fair state and I wanted to make sure she had a pleasant stay. So I told her ever so gently, in hushed, gracious tones, “Hey lady! A PEE-can is a chamber pot!”

Are ya with me so far?

My friend Kristin Molinaro likens Texas humor to the prickly pear cactus. It’s well-rounded and dry on the outside, while holding a lot of water on the inside.

Sometimes it can be sharp. It shows up in places you’d least expect. And if you’re not careful where you walk, it will take you out at the knees.

I’d have to agree. Take, for example, our Texas public school requirement of indoctrinating every Texas seventh grade student with a year’s worth of Texas history. And I do mean “indoctrinate.” No wonder folks from out-of-state think we Texans are members of a cult. And that’s part of the joke. We’re not really. We just thought it’d be funny to watch all those non-Texan middle school parents wig out about having to do little Alamo shadowbox projects with their children or watch them get all balled up in a knot about spelling Mirabeau B. Lamar correctly.

Texas history, too, is fraught with examples of pithy humor.

On October 2, 1835, Texan settlers and a detachment of the Mexican army went head to head over a broken cannon. The thing didn’t work, but the Mexican government had previously sent an oh-so-politely worded letter which essentially said, “We’d like to have that gun back now.” The Texians (that’s what we called ourselves back then) saw the request for what it was, took an old wedding dress and stitched a black star and a cannon on it over the words, “COME AND TAKE IT,” which was a slightly more elegant way of saying, “BITE ME.”

I can just see the fathers of the Texas Revolution sitting around a campfire and posing the question, “How can we really poke the ruling government into a blind, blithering rage?”

“Hey! Let’s really get their breeches in a wad!” one might have said. “How ‘bout we hang that gun out in front of ‘em with a big flag that says, ‘COME AND TAKE IT!’?”
And a collective guffaw probably ensued, followed by another settler saying, “Ya know? If they didn’t want us to get their goat, they shouldn’t have told us where it was tied.”

Yep. That’s Texas humor, alright.