North Toward Home

I’M MOVING BACK to New York City this month after living in Texas for four years. “Big change!” you say. Not to me. Most people seem to think there’s a lot of difference between the two places, but they have a lot more in common than either New Yorkers or Texans care to acknowledge.

First, there are a number of similarities which may not seem so unusual standing alone, but which add up to an uncanny pattern of twinship. To facilitate compari-son, I’ve compiled this handy chart:

  • Phenomenon: pleasant restaurant practices
    • Texas: endless iced-tea refills
    • New York: water on request
  • Phenomenon: paragons of civic virtue
    • Texas: T. Boone Pickens
    • New York: Donald Trump
  • Phenomenon: non-candidates
    • Texas: Henry Cisneros
    • New York: Mario Cuomo
  • Phenomenon: plagues, home and yard division
    • Texas: fire ants
    • New York: cockroaches
  • Phenomenon: plagues, political division
    • Texas: Jim Mattox
    • New York: Ed Koch
  • Phenomenon: predictable but beloved journals of the left
    • Texas: Texas Observer
    • New York: Village Voice

Both New Yorkers (and here I mean the inhabitants of the five boroughs — counties to you — which make up New York City, not the denizens of Buffalo, Albany, Utica, etc.) and Texans nurture cherished stereotypes of the other. My liberal friends from Manhattan’s Upper West Side (perhaps the only Congressional district in the country where you have to be careful to maintain a 100 percent ACLU rating) thought I was coming here as a brave missionary to redneck country, where the chief civic activities are cross-burnings and Jimmy Swaggart revivals. A colleague here in Texas, born and raised in the Hill Country, scoffs at my rhapsodies on the rusticity of Central Park. While expatriate Texans, along with other exotics of all kinds, have long enjoyed a vogue in New York (where everyone is from someplace else), most Texans’ attitudes toward America’s largest city span the gamut from utter revulsion to thanking God on their knees that they don’t have to live there.

Now, seriously: what Texans mainly have in common with New Yorkers is an incredible chauvinism. Not in the misuse of that word as a synonym for sexism but in the original Webster’s sense: “militant, unreasoning and boastful devotion” to one’s homeland. The New Yorker is a New Yorker first and an American and everything else after, and the same is true of the Texan. Can you imagine an ad campaign proclaiming “I r Ohio?” How many residents of Texas’s sister states could identify their state flag?

A key word here is “boastful.” Everyone knows that Texans like to boast, generally about the bigness, beauty, and superiority of their state: how far El Paso is from Beaumont, how many times the high school football team has been to the state finals, how beautiful the night sky is over Big Bend. New Yorkers are proud, too — proud of surviving life in the city. A New Yorker is more likely to boast about how many locks he has on his door, how long it took her to drive in traffic from the Lincoln Tunnel exit to Rockefeller Center, how many times his car radio has been stolen.*

Having lived now in both places, and having a deep and abiding fondness for both, I advise both New Yorkers and Texans to continue the rivalry, by all means, but avoid the sin of smugness. New Yorkers are particularly guilty of this, and I aim to wage a one-man campaign against it. The next time I hear a brie-and-white-wine liberal tut-tutting over some awful jail death in East Texas and suggesting that’s all you can

*There is a Texas variant of this, at least among liberals who love to talk about how Texas ranks just above benighted Arkansas and Mississippi in every category of social services and how the Legislature once rounded off the value of pi. I perfer to remind New Yorkers that in Jim Hightower, Ann Richards, Cisneros, Mat-tox, etc., we have some of the most progressive and innovative officeholders in the country. expect from a former Confederate state, I might change the subject to Howard Beach. Instead of dining out, as I do here, on the tale of how I defended pornographers’ rights before an audience of 1,500 fundamentalists at the Calvary Temple in Irving, I will dust off my story about my debate with the New York Moral Majority leader at the Edmund G. Syeergy Republican Club in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, where a hiss went up from the crowd when my opponent refused to support abortions in the event one’s daughter was raped by “a syphilitic person of the opposite color.”

Wipe that smirk off your face, Texans! When they do the annual survey of homicide rates, New York City is pretty far down on the list — Texas has the highest murder rate in the country, which shows you how much deterrence you get for having the highest execution rate in the country.

I hope Tom Loeffler was right in saying “Texas will always be Texas.” I’m pretty sure New York will always be New York. I love them both, but unfortunately I can’t live in two places. When I drive across the Arkansas border in a few weeks, I know the air will lose an energy and dynamism which won’t return until the skyline of Manhattan looms ahead. New York and Texas matter, to each other and to everyone else.