The Czarina regularly complains that I pull her leg so often that, after nearly nine years of marriage, she walks in circles. The problem is that while I am rather fond of rushing up to her with a new dictionary to tell her that her picture is in it next to the word “credulous,” most of my tales are true. If one of the best signs of having an interesting life is having interesting stories to tell in Valhalla, I’m going to keep Odin and Thor laughing their heads off. I could tell them how I’ve managed to scare the hell out of most of my childhood role models (including Stephen Jay Gould, Carl Sagan, and Johnny Rotten) without intending to do so. I didn’t scare the hell out of Harlan Ellison until after he was asked to relate his story of being fired from Walt Disney Studios (in the commissary at lunch, he suggested the idea of a Disney animated porn film), and I topped it with my tale of getting an FBI record for allegedly selling government secrets to the Daleks. There was the incredible bendy squirrel story. There was the story of joking about Elvis Presley living in the Roy Orbison Celebrity Rehab Clinic and Retreat in Sheepdip, Wyoming (where he took potshots on the small-arms range with John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, flew ultralights with Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and taught charm school classes with Sid Vicious and G.G. Allin), only to have a crazy woman calling up late one Sunday asking for directions to Sheepdip. There’s even the horrible saga of exactly how I know that savannah monitor urine looks exactly like crack cocaine.
The Czarina used to doubt these stories, thinking that I was yanking her chain. She knows better now.
Among these tales, there’s the best one: how I was born not far from Hell. This isn’t a metaphor for what a horrible kid I was, nor is it a friendly warning to parents about how they should keep their children away from a diet of palaeontology and sarcastic humor or face the consequences. I mean every last word: I spent just short of the first ten years of my life next to Hell. I’ve just never been there, and I suspect I’m not going there any time soon, either.
Those too young to remember the great Texas heatwave of 1980 wouldn’t have any reason to know this, but one of the only things that got many of us through that blasting nightmare of a summer was a bit of humor. Most of that involved a remarkably effective series of advertisements for Lone Star Beer. Well, “effective” in that we could always associate Lone Star with giant armadillos, but not necessarily effective in getting people to buy the stuff. Sometimes an ad campaign can be too effective.
The other entertainment? Calling up the receptionist in City Hall in Hell, Michigan and asking if indeed it was true that Texas was hotter than Hell. Much like my being subjected to Little Shop of Horrors quotes, it was probably funny the first eighty times or so. That’s probably when the receptionist started quoting General Phil Sheridan, the governor of Texas during Reconstruction: “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.” (Spoken by a man who’d lived through a couple of summers in Austin, no doubt.)
The funny thing is that, while I was born less than an hour’s drive from Hell, I never saw the place while I lived there. Oh, I could tell you all about Dinosaur Gardens up in Ossineke or the turtle derby in Paw Paw, or even about the Ingham County Courthouse in Mason. (With the last, right after it made the National Register of Historic Places, it had a bit of a scandal after someone dumped marijuana seeds into the flowerbeds, and a civic-minded courthouse employee encouraged the growth of “such a beautiful plant.”) Although it was recommended to me quite often throughout my childhood and adolescence, though, I never went to Hell, much to my later regret.
Since the Czarina is a native Dallasite, I’ve seen all of her old childhood haunts, and we’ve made vague noises about heading up to Michigan for a week’s vacation, just so I can see mine one last time. I just have no interest in moving there. We could be the absolute last tipping point, ensuring that there was no more room in Hell. When that happens, it’d be just like Dallas, so why leave?