By Schleicher & Gallagher
As two recovered cosmopolitans, we were relieved and flattered by the praise heaped on our latest column in a letter to the editor by our friend Jim Johnson. Our transition from “smart aleck to a dumb butt” and what he labels “perpetual SOS drivel” came only with effort and meditation and the support of friends, family and the wider community. Thank you.
Johnson’s eloquence tied in nicely with a more recent article that warned Waco downtown development could bring in “a population of very intelligent and culturally aware people.”
We are all too aware of the dangers such hubristic interlopers pose. For years we were beguiled by the cosmopolitan agenda, visiting, working and living in a collection of elitist-infested swamps: Washington, D.C., London and, in our formative years, Austin. The risks, we know all too well, are not imaginary. Photography exhibitions. Lectures on astrophysics. Dim sum.
Take it from us: The steep slide to iniquity starts innocently with a poet or two, or a freelance graphic designer, before descending into chaos: open-air opera, pop-up art shows and literary festivals.
Check the cosmopolitans at the gate with a few simple policies:
- Shun the newcomer: Think not of a new neighbor as someone who may add spice to the melting pot but as an existential threat. Promptly confront new ideas. Phrases like, “Well…as someone who was born here, I…” or “You’re not from here, are you?” can quickly bring them to heel.
- Pigeonhole the stranger: When you meet a visitor, don’t ask something that would be routine in larger cities around the world like, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” Instead ask, “And where is your church home?” (Don’t let the fact you’ve only been twice in the last year stop you.) This has the benefit of allowing you to label people at the same time as making them feel unwelcome if their “church” is a synagogue, mosque or backyard hammock.
- Assail the arts: Whether complaining of high ticket prices (i.e., over $10), having street musicians arrested or defacing public murals, it’s imperative to abjure the arts. They draw the crème de la crème like flies to… well, you know.
- Cancel your subscription: Your local newspaper tends to ask hard questions, promote phonological promiscuity (AKA “excessive reading”) and some days even runs editorials on the opinion page that you may not agree with 100 percent. Remember, if you don’t know about the serious crimes your neighbor or council member was arrested for, it can’t keep you awake at night.
- Question ethnicity and accents: When encountering someone who looks or talks differently than you, press them on it. For example, a newcomer might tell you she moved to Waco from Los Angeles because of watching “Fixer Upper.” Respond with, “But where are you really from?” as if you will only believe her once she mentions another country, like Mexico. (PS, assume you have no accent.)
- Presuppose everything you do is typical: Look dubious and disgusted when someone new to town finds your traditions curious. For example, someone may ask you to explain what the “Waco Cotton Palace Pageant” is. Treat them as peculiar and perhaps a little dangerous for inquiring why people still dress up once a year in Civil War-era outfits, dance around and crown a king and queen for which the king is generally twice or more the queen’s age.
- Begrudge the tourist: Every tourist is a potential future resident. To play it safe, never offer them directions or water, treat their every error as intentional and don’t miss a chance to honk the horn when they cross in front of you.
Wherever you live, simple acts like these can play an important part in seeing to it that your property value does not rise, your horizons are unexpanded and the local unemployment rate maximized. Change may be inevitable, but only in the conurbations. There’s no drivel so sweet as parochial poppycock. Trust the word of a “dumb butt” on that.
Of eight cities, David Schleicher has lived the longest in Waco. David Gallagher is a transplanted Texan, living and working in London, England.
[This column originally was posted online by the Waco Tribune-Herald on August 11, 2017 and appeared in its print edition on August 12, 2017]