02. February 2007 · Comments Off on Tears of a Clown · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Media Matters Not, World

I think one of the sadder things about the recent death of columnist Molly Ivins was that the cancer that killed her this week seems to have also killed every scrap of humor in her writing long ago – it’s as if chemo killed the funny bone, too and replaced it with an advanced case of Bush Derangement Syndrome.

Nothing I read after 9/11 had the same panache, the same sort of hilarity and affection for even those she disagreed with politically. It was painful to read, and so I stopped reading her columns, possibly because I dropped a lot of the publications they were printed in. In the shadow of falling towers, magazines like Harpers, or Mother Jones and the local Current (the oh-so preciously politically correct weekly funded by ad revenue from titty bars and kinky personals) just seemed … well, frivolous. They hyperventilated over the same old obsessions and concerns as if nothing had happened at all, and if they so much as acknowledged 9/11 happening at all, well it was just one of those unfortunate things that was really our own fault for one reason or another. An air of antiquation hung over them, as if they were knights in tatty and hand-me-down armor, going through the rote motions of chivalry, holding jousts in the age of cannon. Besides, I got hooked on the internet and began blogging, exchanging one addiction for another.

But she truly was funny back in the day, in the same way as P.J. O’Rourke was, on the other side of the political spectrum. I enjoyed them both, by the way— so sue me for inconsistency. They both had the same kind of verve, a knock-down-drag-out, rollicking sensibility, pulling no punches about how they felt. In the age of preciousness, and of being ‘careful not to hurt feelings’ evenhandedness, they were a breath of fresh air. They told it as they thought, straight from the shoulder.

I can’t recall when I bought a copy of Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?, but I do know that it was a wonderful introduction to coming to live in that place which she called “slightly larger than life, in a pie-eyed way.” I read the book, then came to live in the State, and found that … well, certain observations were spot on, as well as hilarious.

The Texas Legislature consists of 181 people who meet for 140 days every two years, This catastrophe has now occurred 63 times. The legislature is, among other things, the finest free entertainment in Texas. Better than the zoo. Better than the circus. In 1971, the Citizens Conference on State Legislatures produced a comparative study entitled “The Sometimes Governments.” It ranked the Texas Legislature thirty-eighth out of fifty, leading to stunned reactions among connoisseurs of the local peculiar institution, such as “My god, you mean there are twelve worse than this?” “while the New Jersey state government might boast more Mafia ties, and Illinois did have that wonderful old fellow who stashed his loot in shoeboxes, nonetheless, the Texas Lege just has more … well, style. Class, you could call it. Panache, perhaps. Take the last all-House duke-out – although there have been a fair number of fistfights in the capitol since, none has qualified as total Fist City. On the last such occasion (the cause long forgotten) over half of the 150 house members were actively engaged in slugging their colleagues, insulting the wives and mothers of same, knocking over desks and throwing chairs. Now any legislature can have a mass duke-out, but where else would there be musical accompaniment? In mid-melee, four members mounted the speaker’s dias and held forth, in barbershop-quartet harmony, with “I Had a Dream, Dear.”

They still talk about the Lege being the greatest free entertainment there is: one of my contacts three or four jobs ago was an employee in the State capital library, and she couldn’t talk about the Lege without laughing, affectionately.

There are other priceless lines, throughout the book, like “Some days you open the paper and it’s kind of like finding Fidel Castro in the refrigerator, smoking a cigar. Hard to know what to think…” (The mental image of that, just cracks me up. Sorry.)
On the incident of an errant legislator who – oh, never mind for what, but he was called before the grand jury, and “… went into hiding instead. The Texas Rangers hunted him high and hunted him low. At last they tracked him to earth at his momma’s house, where he was found hiding in the stereo cabinet. He always did want to be the speaker.”

And “… the criterion for being considered an honest politician in Texas is as follows: If you can’t take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in Texas politics.”/em>

Finally, because I could pull quotes all day, and make this essay about three times longer:
“… I love Lubbock. I never claimed to have exquisite taste. I’ll be there with the die-hards to the end, trying to explain ‘No, this is a griddle with some Monopoly houses on it: THIS is Lubbock.'”

Leafing through my copy again, I realize that some of the essays in it have dated rather badly: she was quite terribly snotty about the Reagan Administration, although who wasn’t, at the time. The best essays, about Texas and local personalities are still pretty funny. I wish she had chosen to do as Carl Hiaasen did, and write a novel or two about it all. Something ribald and rambling, about which she could have said “No, I am not making this up – this really, really happened -, and gone out on the same amusing note which she started. Which overall, would have made a much finer memorial than Bushwhacked.

(This essay also cross posted at Blogger News Network)

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