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Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

This is the Kind of Thing That Happens Here, Part I.

This is the Kind of Thing That Happens Here – A Defense of All Things East Texan.

By Michael Pape

INTRODUCTION

We are driving to the Lake House in Dam B, which is apparently (I say apparently because you won’t find it on any map) the name of a town. We are driving there because we were invited by a girl my wife teaches with named Juli, whose parents own the house. This is an annual offer, but it’s our first time taking them up on it. I am riding in the back seat for reasons that are unimportant right now – all you need to know is that we are in a rental car. This rental car doesn’t have cruise control, which is annoying my wife. She’s also annoyed by the fact that she is driving in unfamiliar territory, on a 2-lane highway, at night, with her eyes bothering her. The directions said it would take 3 ½-4 hours to get there, and we are approaching hour 5. We are not lost, however. The only turn we miss is the very last one, because the road looks more like a driveway in the dead Texas night.

OBSERVATION: East Texas looks a whole lot like many parts of Southern Wisconsin, from the trees to the terrain. All it’s missing is the massive amount of natural lakes (a situation which the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to address by building them, including the one in Dam B).

The road they live on is a dirt road that turns into a steep gravel private road after a quarter mile. And I do mean steep. We, like all intelligent people, start to wonder (a) if we’re on the right road, and (b) if we’ll be able to get back up the gravel death hill in our rental car. Very quickly we see our destination, so (a) is taken care of. We don’t figure out for sure the answer to (b) until the very end of the trip, but I will tell you not to be too worried since I’m at work in Dallas right now writing this. We must have gotten out of there by Monday somehow.

We get out of the car. The Lake House with the Texas flag painted on the roof is beckoning us. We enter, and the world changes…

THINGS WE LIVED WITHOUT FROM 11PM FRIDAY UNTIL SUNDAY AFTERNOON:

Cell phones, TV, radio, movies, restaurants.

THINGS WE HAD IN ABUNDANCE THERE, PERHAPS SURPRISINGLY:

Full Showers, toilets, food, drink, air conditioning (yes!), washer/dryer units, beds, cameras, crazy cousins.

THE BEST WAY(S) TO GET INTRODUCED TO LAKE HOUSE LIFE

When we got[1] out of the car, we were immediately invited to go down “to the lake,” which is I’d say about 80 yards or so from the house. We walked this in the dark, because there were no streetlights (save the big one in the yard of the lake house, which may or may not have been put there by the city). We had a mag-lite and what looked like a portable floodlight trained on the ground as we walked. This floodlight came in handy when we got to the lake, for we were able to avoid all the crap on the beach that the people who came before us had graciously pulled out of the lake (as well as the evil snakes that slither on in the darkness). We stood on the beach looking out at the dark water, and Juli’s mom used the floodlight to show us a few of the alligators that were chilling in the lake, minding their own business. You couldn’t see their bodies, just a pair of ghost-like orange eyes. As the light shone on them, they all started to move to the middle of the lake, as if they were having some sort of alligator conference. It occurred to us that they may have been plotting the best way to attack us, if it came to that.

Truthfully, I didn’t see for sure that they were alligators. But the stories I was told (one of Juli’s cousins was attacked by one, and several people later went out “hunting” for them in the boat) convinced me. It’s my imagination anyway, so deal with it. They were green, scaly, massive alligators, and they prowled the shallow man-made lake like fricking U-Boats.

When we got back to the house, people started drinking, and I was invited up on the “roof.” It turns out that “roof” is not a euphemism for anything – my wife and I were taken by Juli up onto their roof. When I went up, the ladder seemed real unstable, but I figured that Juli did this all the time and I didn’t want to be a ninny. When I got up there, the roof turned out to be made of wavy steel that buckled slightly when you walked on it. Getting to the ridge, I saw the Texas flag painted on the other side of roof. Yes, there’s a lot of Texas pride out there in East Texas. They’re planning to paint something else next to it that I don’t remember right now – possibly a “Lone Star Beer” logo. They do love that logo[2].

As I was about to come down, Juli discovered that the ladder was upside down. That would explain the instability. She flipped it over, and I climbed safely down, thankful to be on the solid earth, no matter how many snakes there were down there. This is the kind of thing that happens in East Texas.

DRUNKEN HORSESHOES

I don’t know for sure that I was the only sober person who was still awake at midnight that night, but I suspect that to be the case. Even people who never get drunk were loopy. This made everything funny, especially to them. It’s amazing how much drunk people laugh. These are the things you notice when you’re sober. It’s ok, though. I’m not complaining. And it’s not like they were totally plastered or anything, or showing the amazingly bad judgment of the average drunken horde. They were happy, and they were loose -- in a good way.

I don’t know why, but that night the subject of this blog came up a lot. Ok, I do know why. People were wanting to know how everything that happened would come out here, and what I would say about it. Once the non-blog-oriented ones got their questions out of the way (that I answered badly, btw – see a couple of posts ago on the word “blog” and its lack of meaning), and my friend Clay got over making drunken fun of its web address (at one point he said it was at “epth.blog.splot.” Come to think of it, I’m not sure if he was making fun of it or just too confused to get it right), people wanted to know what it was all about. This whole story is in many ways only being written to avoid disappointing them. How I hate disappointing people. It’s the pleaser in me.

So this is what went down that night, as I saw it.

THE ALCOHOL PRODUCTS WE HAD AVAILABLE:

Bud Light in bottles (I didn’t have one – I’m from Milwaukee and I drink Miller), Shiner Bock in bottles (an ok beer that Texans swear by for some reason), Guinness in bottles (brought by me, secretly hoping nobody would drink them so I could drink them at home, which I did last night), Milwaukee’s Best in cans (famed cheap beer that the cousins and Juli’s dad seemed to be a fan of. I had one – it wasn’t good, but I don’t really like beer), Tequilla shots (I didn’t partake, but they seemed to fuel the drunkenness more than anything else), and finally Smirnoff Ice products for the ladies (I mean, no dudes would drink those, at least not in East Texas).

Juli’s dad Kirby is a trip and a half. Seriously, the man is funny sober, drunk, or neither. The man is even funny sleeping (as he sits in his chair on the porch and his head rolls back and hits the side of the house). He was describing all the people who were related to them who happened to own houses near the house we were at[3] – it seemed like about ¾ of the houses were owned by somebody who was in some way related to them. This gave that part of the road a family atmosphere, as well as a feeling of being in a foreign country far away from civilization with a bunch of people who knew the language but you didn’t. Kirby described the name of the couple across the street, the Montauks(?), as “French for we’re really German.” This is the kind of thing Kirby says.

We were talking on the porch, which is directly in front of the house. Directly in front of that porch – too close to the porch, if you want to know the truth – is a horseshoe pit, in which one plays the ancient game of horseshoes. We got some rousing games going, and all went well except for the fact that I thought my wife was going to hit the porch every time she threw a horseshoe. This isn’t a slam against her, it’s just that it would have been easy for the shoe to slip a little too early, with her in the state she was in[4]. As these horseshoes were going on (and I did play a game in which Kirby and I won, mostly because Kirby’s awesome at horseshoes even when drunk), people berated me about my blog on the porch. There certainly was a lot of blog material on that porch, so I didn’t mind.

THINGS OF INTEREST ON THE PORCH:

Two nectar-things that attracted hummingbirds, a “redneck wind chime” (4 Lone Star Beer bottles strung from a board), some sort of Texas Pledge of Allegiance, a sign on the window letting you know which subjects of conversation were off limits and would result in a $5 fine, a one-person chair swing, a ledge with a shootload of empties on it, and the porch floor itself, which reportedly floated in one day from Dam B, completely intact and practically begging to be attached to the front of the house.

It was during horseshoe time that Porno Mike showed up. The oldest of the cousins, he dwells year-round in a lake house across the street and down a bit from where Juli’s house is. We were repeatedly warned not to “cross the street,” because strange and icky things were rumored to go on inside. I repeatedly didn’t know whether or not to take the warning seriously, because Mike didn’t seem at all “porno.” And in Porno Mike’s defense, we did eventually cross the street with Juli when he wasn’t home, and we didn’t see any porn lying around. It seemed like a normal bachelor pad, actually. Ok, so there was a disco ball hanging from the living room ceiling, which is admittedly a bad sign, and a hot tub, but there were no signs of sketchy behavior.

HOW PORNO MIKE INTRODUCED HIMSELF TO MY WIFE, CAUSING HER TO LAUGH ALL NIGHT LONG WHENEVER SHE THOUGHT OF IT:

“Hi, I’m Mike. I like porn. Wanna cross the street?”

Porno Mike was so named to distinguish him from me, “Clean” Mike. If they only knew, right? Anyway, after playing around with names like “Dirty Mike” and “Hardcore Mike”, we settled on Porno Mike, who will be referred to as P.M. from now on. There was a little confusion when Kirby misheard my clarification name and called me “Queen Mike.” I thank God every day that the name didn’t stick.

Another cousin, Aaron, brought a dog to the festivities. This dog was tied to the streetlight, and was trying to chew through the chain. When asked if the dog was likely to be successful in this endeavor, Aaron said, “No way. He’ll never chew through that.” Of course, an hour later the dog was free and in danger of getting hit by horseshoes. This is the kind of thing that happens here.

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR

The one group of people that it’s still ok to bash or portray openly as stupid and evil are “hicks.” They have other names – rednecks, hillbillies, etc. All these prejoratives conjure up a picture in the mind of the average American who considers himself civilized. I am here to tell you that the picture you have in your head is wrong. These are not stupid people, these East Texans. They are not what we would think of as hicks. They have the same capacity for thought as anyone else. The priorities are just different out in the country, and you know what? They like it that way, and I don’t blame them. The lake house had a relaxed atmosphere, purposefully created to be comfortable and natural and fun and easy and rewarding. These people know what they are doing, no doubt about it. That’s why they have a tendency to view “Northerners,” or “Yankees,” or “Citified jerkoffs,” with a mix of distrust and disdain. They don’t like being told that they are stupid, or racist, or backwards, or in any other way inferior. The “Yankees”[5] want to tell them what to do, when many “Yankees” themselves are hateful stupid sinful creatures who think that it’s a good idea to dedicate one’s life to gathering material possessions. Is it more civilized to “keep up with the Joneses” or to “hang out with the cousins”? I’ll let you discuss that amongst yourselves as you wait for Part II.


[1] Switching to past tense now, for the sake of clarity and comfort. Just think of the preceding part as being written as it happened, and the rest as being written later.

[2] Lone Star beer is quite well-marketed, judging by the massive amounts of Lone Star logos I saw. They even had a framed Lone Star “quasi-constitution” in the Kitchen, signed by some Texans and basically telling people “from the North” to stop bothering them.

[3] This sentence sucks but I don’t feel like changing it. The next part of the sentence clarifies, so suck it.

[4] To be fair to her, and you know that I’m always fair, she did win two games of horseshoes. To be fair the other way, she won because she was playing on the same team as Kirby.

[5] There are few things I hate more than being referred to as a “Yankee” because I come from Wisconsin. I might be a Badger, but not a Yankee. I really, really hate the NY Yankees, you see, ever since they ruined baseball. I use the term here to fit in with the East Texans, even though I wish they would give it up.

7 Comments:

  • At 5:01 PM, Blogger Lord Bif said…

    Could be worse, when I was 9 I had someone call me a damn Yankee Carpetbagger. All because I asked for a soda instead of pop.

     
  • At 9:12 AM, Blogger Brian said…

    1.At a family barbecue at my brother-in-law's uncle's house last night, I saw a redneck windchime for the first time. Now, I hear about in print for the first time the morning after. That's pretty nuts. Except Dave made his with Miller Light cans. And, let me just say, hangin' out with the cousins is awesome, even if they're not technically my cousins at that party. I still got to hear and see plenty of awesome, hilarious things. And we played bags.

    2. Isn't Queen Mike a bowie album?

    3. In response to Biff, except for the carpetbagger thing...don't take it too hard. At nine, I had no idea what a carpetbagger was, but I definitley knew what a Damn Yankee was.

     
  • At 5:18 PM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    I remember that story. Isn't a carpetbagger an American dude who fought for the British in the Revolutionary War? Or maybe a British dude who fought with the Americans? And what does that have to do with the South?

    Bags isn't nearly as dangerriffic as horseshoes (my wife has a big bruise on her shin that demonstrates this). Next year, we're getting the Jarts from my parents' house and bringing them (if we can smuggle them out of Wisconsin. I suppose it would have to be a time we drove, since I'm not going to even attempt to bring those on a plane).

    The Darn Yankees bring back lots of bad memories. My college roommate loved them.

    I've got gas.

     
  • At 7:28 AM, Blogger Boom said…

    I am hoping that I just missed the sarcasm Mike and you really know the meaning of the word carpetbagger :) Even so, the teacher in me compels me to go ahead and provide it just in case... Carpetbagger - phrase used to refer to Northerners who moved South during the reconstruction era. Today, it tends to be used to refer to someone who moves into a community (often the South) just to get rich off of them.

    And I saw the Damn Yankees in concert. I think they opened for Bad Compnay. Ted Nugent was singing for DY. I remember him coming on stage with a long heavy loeapard striped trench coach and shouting at the crowd: "I want to rip off all your heads and **** down your throat!" And the crowd, of course, responded with an outburst of cheers and shouts. "We love you Ted!" "Yeahhhhhh!" "Rip off my head, Ted!!!!!" I, on the other hand, stood by my third to last row seat noticing that, as I looked at the crowd of people flashing I love Satan (or hang loose...always get them confused) gang signs, that I was perhaps the only person lacking a grateful dead, dragon, or skull tattoo on my forearm. Having described my bit of culture shock, it was a pretty good concert.

     
  • At 8:11 AM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    I can't think two bands I would like to see less than Darn Yankees and Bad Company -- unless Tommy Shaw (of DY) ripped on Styx during the concert, which would have been great.

    And I'm glad you didn't join the "We love Satan" gang, also known as the Texas Longhorns.

     
  • At 12:04 PM, Blogger EPH32021 said…

    It's too bad you're wasting all that hatred on the NYYankees, when you've got a perfectly good team to hate right in your own backyard....well....your former back yard: The Packers.

     
  • At 2:21 PM, Blogger Mike Pape said…

    A-ha. You're trying to bait me, aren't you. Well, I won't even dignify that with a response.

    Ok, so I will. The Packers are the antithesis of the Yankees. In Sunday School as a kid did you root for Goliath to pummel David? Because that's what you seem to want.

     

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