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Archive for May, 2009

1

Bud Shrake is a Texas writer I didn’t know much about until just about a year ago. That’s when the Southwestern Writers Collection at Texas State and University of Texas Press put out Land of the Permanent Wave: a Bud Shrake Reader. My friend Stayton Bonner reviewed it for the Texas Observer (READ THAT HERE) and I read his review and we both later drove out to San Marcos to see Shrake speak at the publication party.

2That’s when he signed my copy, above. To my eye, it adds a certain professional/sentimental value to a book whose cover is so godawful ugly I can’t believe the Chinese consented to print it. I’m certainly not going to offend your eye or mine with anything more than a thumbnail here. I’d never want anyone to get fired over such a thing, but somebody sure ought to be ashamed of this.

0For instructive contrast, see this much cooler original cover of Strange Peaches, maybe Shrake’s best-remembered novel, and the one so far that I think I like best. Almost all of Shrake’s novels are “historical” in one or another sense, but the historical period of Strange Peaches is the period immediately preceding the Kennedy assassination, which seems contemporary and comprehensible and interesting to me. Most of Shrake’s other historical fiction—as opposed to Permanent Wave‘s quasi-gonzo journalism—includes people riding horses, which doesn’t. My loss I’m sure.

Shrake died last month, which was occasion for us to write about him again, which I did.

Here’s an excerpt:

Strange Peaches is my favorite, for its mean, coolly deliberate and murderous (as Norman Mailer once praised the prose of Shrake’s fellow Texan, Terry Southern) explication of Dallas’ moneyed milieu in the days prior to the Kennedy assassination. In the book, a Texas native quits a successful TV show on which he plays a gin-yew-wine six-shooting cowboy and returns home, long-haired and strung out on Dexedrine, to make a documentary about the true state of Texas. The plot and dialog (“‘God dawg, pussy has ruint his brain,’ Billy Bob Teagarden said …”) are artifacts of their time, but it was an important time, and nobody knew its contours as well as Shrake. Larry McMurtry considered the writer of Strange Peaches “far superior to his drinking buddies,” and Shrake himself considered his best novels underrated. In the last substantive interview of his life, Shrake told Observer contributor Brant Bingamon, “Peaches and [Blessed] McGill are definitely overlooked, and yet I seem to find myself being asked about them constantly by discerning people.” They may not escape the Texas wing of the canon, but both books are firmly ensconced there.

You can READ THE WHOLE ESSAY HERE.

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51KKb7bk2VL._SL500_Incredibly dumb things I have done in cars: Drive a 1980 Chevy Suburban (my dad’s) with a loose steering gear from Clear Lake City to Galveston while touching the wheel with nothing but my teeth; drive a sixth-hand 1970 Porsche 914 (mine) at 120 miles per hour up I-45 to Conroe in the middle of the night, in the middle of winter, drunk as a skunk; lose my virginity in the uncomfortably humped back seat of a 1984 Camaro (my mom’s), or try to anyhow, until that bored campus cop showed up with a flashlight and not enough sense to mind his own damn business; and crack.

Incredibly fun things I have done in cars: driving the Suburban to Galveston with my teeth; stem-winding that little Volks hybrid up to the lake with the Targa top stowed; and getting more or less laid for the first time. (The crack was a terrible idea to start with and, as it turned out, cut to the point of pointlessness with soap, and therefore no fun at all.)”

That’s from my recent Texas Observer column on P.J. O’Rourke’s Driving Like Crazy, which is funny as hell, and stupid as shit. You can READ THE REST OF IT HERE if you like.

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51iEtpA44TL._SS400_Every year (at least it seems like every year), Texas Monthly magazine puts out a servicey cover story on the best BBQ n Texas (to go with their servicey cover stories on the best swimming holes in Texas and the best tacos in Texas, etc. etc.)

Requisite snideness aside, these listicles are super-useful, not necessarily as reliable assigners of superlatives — feel free to like some other taco better — but as catalogs or, even better, suggested itineraries.

Despite the photographic primacy of Wyatt McSpadden’s gorgeous work (he’s really good at conveying the medievality of the retail meat-cooking business), that’s how I’m presently using the new book Texas BBQ, too. Back on pages 156 and 159 there’s a handy index of the establishments photographed in the book, including addresses and phone  numbers. Though some of these joints obviously have them — and the inevitable mail-order meat and tourist-trade merch that comes with them — no websites are listed. 

photo by Wyatt McSpadden, from Texas BBQ

photo by Wyatt McSpadden, from Texas BBQ

Screw surfing. These are roadmaps made for the Sunday drive, and though it’s Saturday, that’s what I did this morning. Got up just before 7 a.m. and left the house a little after 8 and by 9:30 I was sitting outside at a picnic table in Lexington, Texas, at Snow’s BBQ, shooing away flies and eating, all in all, the best BBQ I’ve ever eaten. No question about the brisket. Sausage, definitely. I might like the pork ribs at Smitty’s just a little better, and am looking forward to making a confirmation run to Lockhart soon, but it’d be close.

In a surprise move, Texas Monthly named the relatively new and more or less unknown Snow’s the best BBQ in Texas last year. The New Yorker thought that was interesting enough that it sent Calvin Trillin down to take a sniff. Neither Calvin nor I seem to be able to find any reason to quibble.

Snow’s isn’t in Texas BBQ, but Louie Mueller’s BBQ is, and three and a half hours (and two good bookstores) later I was 31 miles north in Taylor, at an indoor picnic table there, rain pounding the steel roof, eating more brisket, more sausage, and a beef rib that weighed almost a pound and looked like something I could kill a possum with.

I’m not passing final judgment on Mueller’s yet. It looks right, and everything’s got a heavy peppered crust and they give every plate a charred piece of brisket heel, and that beef rib is like a steak built from butter, but 1) I was already pretty full, so I didn’t have the seasoning of appetite, and 2) there’s still the Taylor Cafe’s highly reputed BBQ around the corner from Louie Mueller’s to try before I even know what BBQ I like best in Taylor, never mind Texas.

photo by Wyatt McSpadden, from Texas BBQ

photo by Wyatt McSpadden, from Texas BBQ

So far I’ve tried Austin’s Salt Lick (meh), Lockhart’s Black’s (great pork chop, pass on the sausage), Meyer’s Elgin Smokehouse (not so much), and Luling City Market (pictured on the book cover above, and plenty good enough to go back).

I’ve got to try Lockhart’s Kreuz Market (that’s their woodpile at left) soon. Texas BBQ essayist John Morthland says their pork chop is the best BBQ in Texas, and though I’m a little uncertain about a pork chop being BBQ, precisely, few Texas BBQ places seem to share the qualm, and John Morthland should know better than I.

I’ve got pounds to eat before I’m well e’t enough to judge, but so far it feels like a statistical dead heat between Snow’s, in Lexington, and Smitty’s, in Lockhart. Smitty’s get extra points for the dungeonality of their premises.

I’m trying to eat as much Texas BBQ as I can before I leave for Michigan this fall. They didn’t know BBQ in Montana and I’m betting they won’t know it in Ann Arbor, either. I may get Snow’s to mail me some meat up, but I’m betting it won’t be the same.

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61KmCgd0qoL._SL500_AA240_Man, it’s been a long time since I posted anything here. My apologies to the both of you for the slim pickins.

I meant to post this essay, LIVING LESS LARGELY, a week ago when it was published in the Texas Observer, but I don’t suppose it’s going anywhere, so I’ll do it now.

I’ve lived in a lot of little houses, but none as little as the several-hundred-square-foot-tops houses in Tiny Houses, which purports to be part of the small house movement.

Which purports to be a movement. I have my doubts. America’s drive-thru super-size menus (not to mention my BBQ dinner last night) have proven to my satisfaction that people will eat as much as they can possibly stuff into their gullets. And as long as they’re doing that, they’re likely to continue buying as much house — as measured in square footage — as they can possibly (or not) afford.

Still, they’re pretty cute, all tucked away in their gorgeously expansive and otherwise empty landscapes, dontcha think?

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