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.

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