July 4, 2019 618 PM
HIGH DESERT SKETCHES
As my legion of regular readers know, this column is intended only for those people who have high intelligence, a great sense of humor and a whimsical charm that endears them to all other people. They also are people who know the meaning of “satire”. However, occasionally someone will wander into the pages of The Sentinel and become outraged at my comments on the culture of West Texas, so I try to explain at least once a year the meaning of satire.
Leo Dominguez, a philosopher of our high desert, once gave me the best definition I’ve found so far, “My definition of satire is simply the cognitive conjuring of complicated cri
ticism that causes comical, critical and convoluted condemnation of a condition.”
I am now taking up a collection to buy Leo a dictionary that goes all the way to Z.
I became infatuated with satire in my mid-teens. It later followed me to Austin, Morgantown, West Virginia, Washington, D.C., New York City and finally to this prickly pear part of paradise. West Texas, particularly the Big Bend, lends itself to satire. I began by sending over a hundred emails to friends on the east coast explaining that scorpions were the size of skateboards, tarantulas were mistaken for fuzzy watermelons and that rattlesnakes had been known to take 18-wheelers off I-10.
I quickly discovered that I didn’t have to exaggerate (much) to fulfill my need for humorous mockery. I explained to my friends that there were only two doors in Alpine, the front door and the car door.
I discovered that there was much to satirize about Alpine’s suburbs. I described Terlingua, a mere 80 miles south, as a suburb of Alpine filled with ancient hippies, Satan worshipers and parole violators. I explained that Marfa, 25 miles to our west, was where Gertrude Stein wrote, “There’s no there there.”
But, I did praise Fort Davis, 25 miles north, as having a great selection of rattlesnakes.
I wrote numerous columns about the alumni of Texas Agriculture & Mechanical University (A&M i.e. Aggie). Everyone at The University of Texas knew that when an Aggie married, usually by a fundamentalist preacher in an uncured sheepskin wearing a goat skull, the preacher ended the ceremony not by saying “’til death do you part” but by saying to the new wife, “life without possibility of parole.”
In short, satire engages in an extremely dangerous activity; it attempts to make you think. It seldom persuades and often infuriates. I always try to do it with a sense of humor. If Aggies didn’t have a sense of humor, I could not safely cross any street in Alpine.
One of the first historic sayings I heard was, “In West Texas we drink the whiskey and fight over the water.”
“I’ve liked rain since I was a child, unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get enough of it,”says Stephanie Brooks.
The first joke I heard 9 years ago was in response to my question, “How much rain do you get in Alpine?”
Johnny Carpenter told me, “We get 16 inches a year, which doesn’t sound like much unless you’re here the day we get it.”
“When I first moved to West Texas, I was told about the 16 inches of rain a year,” says Joy Parsons of Parson’s Real Estate, “they didn’t tell me that they got that 16 inches by measuring between the drops.”
I once heard a person explain that their 8-year-old child still believed in Santa Clause. A friend retorted, “My kid’s 10 and he still believes in rain’’. And neither kid has seen the object of their belief.
“You can lead a horse to water, but you’ll be gone a really long time,” says Ft. Davis artist Margie Erkkila.
“Most of us have gotten used to the drought, but it’s sad when you realize that it’s so dry out here the fish don’t even bother to learn how to swim,” says Tawnia Gill.
The Big Bend is full of interesting and even fascinating individuals. One of those was a friend I met in Austin, Texas, 55 years ago. In 1964, I was 21 and a Young Republican. Lonn Taylor was 24 and a Young Democrat, but we both became friends. I lived at one end of Nueces Street, and Lonn lived on the other end. My end was boring and Lonn’s end had a young singer named Janis Joplin who kept late and noisy hours with her musician friends. Lonn was in town working on his graduate degree. I often wonder what would have happened if fickled fate had switched the apartments. Sometime during the mid-sixties, I explained to Lonn that I was becoming disillusioned with Republican politics and he suggested I come over to the Democrate side, “you’ll have more fun.”
Lonn never completed his graduate degree but went on to a successful career as museum curator and writer. I slogged through my undergraduate and law degree, but I’m certain Lonn had more fun. Vaya con dios, my friend.
• • •
George A. Covington has worked in the fields of law, education, journalism and disability rights. He considers himself retired from every one of them with the possible exception of journalism. He is a graduate of the University of Texas schools of journalism and law. He moved to West Texas – Alpine – in 1997 after a 20-year career in Washington, D.C. where he once served on the staff of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (Democrat) and shortly thereafter served as Special Assistant to the Vice President of the United States (Republican) 1989-93.
Crowcrumbs is a Houston-based illustrator. Follow her on Instagram@crowcrumbs .