Friday, March 30, 2012

Quirky Museums

I was in Iceland when I first read about The Pest Shop, a museum of cockroach dioramas next door to the extermination business that supplies all the models. I was in Iowa when I read about the Devil's Rope Museum, one of our fine nation's barbed wire museums. In Iceland I was flipping through the archives of the Icelandic Phallological Museum. In Iowa, I wasn't four blocks from the second oldest natural history museum west of the Mississippi and its not infrequently costumed Ice Age giant ground sloth. Which is to say, I love a good museum, and I've been keeping tabs on Texas for a while.

So, too, has the New York Times. Even as I was wondering whether to cross the metroplex for the Fort Worth art museums or drive back the two hours towards Houston to catch the Texas Prison Museum during business hours, Annie Nilsson brought this article to my attention. The National Museum of Funeral History might just be my next destination.


"Texas is the only state to enter the union by treaty." This is the sort of superlative I now think of when I reflect on all the people I've talked to who know Dallas but have nothing nice to say about it--nothing. When it doubt, Dallas is part of Texas. And Texas, let's face it, is a pretty superlative kind of place. There's always something worth saying about Texas.

Texas, as you may well know, is second to California for population, second to Alaska for size. And while I always that thought that Chicago, as the Second City, really did embrace the Avis advertisement mentality “We’re #2, so we try harder,” I get the feeling Texas still takes itself as second to none.
Among its many firsts, Texas entered the union with the unique option to, at some future whim, break itself into up to four additional states. We still might. At any moment. Provided we don't decide instead to just break away altogether. Culture and politics aside, I always thought that just plain geographically it resembled India, a subcontinent of its own. The good people at NPR have done one better: as of today, they have liberated us. I'll let them explain the details.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rent Out Texas

My father likes a good quote. “Whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fightin’ over,” for instance. Or, “The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

When I was growing up, I remember him saying more than once, “If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d live in Hell and rent out Texas.” He didn’t credit this paraphrase of General Phillip Sheridan’s 1866 observation, or otherwise contextualize it as anything other than a great turn of phrase. It occurs to me now that his relish of the phrase might have been influenced by his military training at Fort Sam Houston, but that was something else he didn’t elaborate on—except to say that he was surprised in the service to discover that people still read comic books; he hadn’t seen one in years and had sort of assumed comic books went out of print some time after he grew up and stopped buying them.

As a person who now actually does rent in Texas, I feel I should say, at the very least, that it is better than living in Hell. I have deep affection for other places I’ve lived—for the garden apartment I swore I would never leave unless I had to leave Chicago itself, for my Iowa walk-up with north-, east-, and west-facing windows—and this Dallas apartment is no slouch. It is, in fact, the only apartment I can remember looking at that already had the walls painted in anything resembling a color that improved the place. Likewise, the only apartment already hung with floor-to-ceiling curtains, and certainly the only one with a chandelier.

Of course I can’t speak to Hell. Hell may have more cabinets and more counter space. Hell may be closer to the grocery store and major lines of public transportation.

While it probably speaks to nothing so much as the challenges of governing a young state in the early years of Reconstruction, I used to wonder if the Sheridan statement was really about the choices one makes as a landlord. In that reading, maybe Sheridan’s point was that he would sacrifice the more comfortable and attractive situation if that property happened to offer a better return when put on the rental market. Because who would rent Hell? Unless Hell comes with in-unit washer/dryer. I have never seen so many Laundromats as soak and wash and spin right here in my current neighborhood. Some people might prefer not to make the trip.

Ottomans of the Inwood Theater

They have couches.

Couches! Couches and giant easy chairs and big old ottomans and not one seating surface that isn't big and plush and pale blue. I am such a fan of the ottoman that this might be news in itself, but all this furniture is in a movie theater, theater #1 of what I can only assume will be my new favorite movie theater: Dallas' own Inwood Theater.

I might have suspected the Inwood Theater was a nifty place when I saw the listing for a midnight show of The Princess Bride. And had I originally googled "Things I love about Dallas" instead of "reasons to love Dallas," I might have realized the theater's draw that much sooner, as Suzy Bank puts the Inwood right there, at #8 in her September 2003 Texas Monthly article "25 Things I Love About Dallas."

For Ms. Banks it's the retro martini bar, the Perry Nichols murals, the nostalgic 1940s architecture. I would add that there are Texas Twist pretzels. And it doesn't hurt that the Inwood held the 1975 world premiere of Tommy, or that it hosted a two year run of The Sound of Music. All this is true and lovely and worth knowing, but how is this place not famous for the couches alone? I can only imagine what theater #2 and theater #3 have in store.

In the mean time, let me just say: you have not seen the new 21 Jump Street until you have seen it with your feet up.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reasons to Love Dallas

Dustin is my reason. For a lot of things, really, but certainly for Texas.

He was finishing up a PhD in Washington state while I was midway through an MFA in Iowa when he called to say he had an offer from a lab in Dallas. Dustin had never set foot in the Lone Star State, maybe never even crossed its airspace, and I’d spent exactly enough time passing through to know that, unlike my native Pacific, the water in the Gulf can be the color of Horchata and warm as a bathtub. But I already knew I wanted to join him there, wherever “there” might be, so when we hung up I turned to the internet to rustle up some concrete reasons to get excited about my new geographic destiny.

At the time, the Google search terms “Reasons to love Dallas” yielded exactly two results that weren’t just random combinations of the words. The first was a satirical list by a guy who was clearly tremendously pleased to be living 4 hours away in Austin. The second was D Magazine’s “119 Reasons to Love Dallas”—I stopped reading when I got to “Because we have manners.” I’ve since returned to the list, and I find it sort of charming, really kind of smart, that Dallas didn’t confine itself to the physical world—plus it turns out manners is nothing to scoff at—but at the time I was disheartened by a town that seemed so short on genuine things to love that right off the bat it was groping around for intangibles. And if that first list gave me a seed of doubt, a year of casual conversation confirmed it.

If I said Dallas, everyone, almost everyone I talked to, had grown up there or gone to school there or had a relative there or something. My flight attendant on an Iowa City to Dallas flight started telling me all about his sister and her family and everyone he knew in Dallas. “So what’s your favorite thing in Dallas?” I asked. “Oh no,” he was quick to say. “I don’t know it like that.” A lot of people seemed quick to keep their distance. In a year of asking what people liked about Dallas, I got only a handful of positive answers, and that’s counting the popular “It’s not that far from Austin” as a positive answer. It’s got to be better than that, right? Of all places, Dallas needs a cheerleader. I'm here now. I'll tell you what I find.