Article — From the February 1970 issue

The Land of the Permanent Wave

For about five hours I had been drinking Scotch whiskey and arguing with a rather nice, sometimes funny old fellow named Arch, who was so offended by my moderately long hair that he had demanded to know if I weren’t actually, secretly, a Communist. “Come on now, you can tell me, hell, I won’t hate you for it. Wouldn’t you really like to see the Communists take over this country?” Arch had said, placing his bare elbows on the table and leaning forward to look trustingly at me, as though he was certain that if I had one virtue it would prove to be that I would not lie to him about such an important matter. Arch was wearing a jump suit; swatches of gray chest hair, the color of his crew cut, stuck out where the zipper had got caught in it when last Arch had excused himself from the table. We were in the guest lodge of a lumber company in a small town in East Texas. Arch is an old friend of the president of the company. Sitting around the table or nearby were my wife, a State Senator in town to crown a beauty queen at a “celebration” the next evening, a U. S. Congressman who had come down from Washington to make a speech between the parade and the barbecue the following noon, a lumber lobbyist who is mayor of still another town owned by this same lumber company, and I think one or two more people but my memory of that evening has a few holes in it.

“I don’t mind telling you what I believe, Arch,” I said. The Congressman, John Dowdy, was sitting in a chair in his shirt-sleeves holding a glass of bourbon and water that had been paid for—as had the Scotch that Arch and I were doggedly pouring down—by the lumber company in whose lodge we were comparing philosophies. Dowdy is a plump man with a pink face and sparse white hair. He sat forward with quite some interest when I spoke. Probably this was the first time he had ever been so close to a person he considered to be a Communist dopefiend hippie terrorist drunk. At first Representative Dowdy had been reluctant to drink in my presence. He knew I was a writer by trade, and thus unreliable, and it is not at all good for the Baptists in East Texas to discover their politicians have any vile habits. Most of East Texas is dry except for moonshiners and those who can afford to join country clubs or the private clubs to be found in motels. Representative Dowdy had no faith that I would not cruise the lonely roads through the pine forests shouting, “Dowdy drinks!” to the farmers on their porch swings and their wives chopping weeds in hollyhock beds in front of their wooden houses. However, a pretense of fellowship had been built up by the State Senator, Charlie Wilson, a tall Annapolis graduate who also works for the lumber company but is one of those curious creatures in Texas politics, a liberal. Wilson is enthusiastically disliked by Dowdy, and returns the feeling, but politicians will smile at and drink with their lowest, sorriest enemies. So Dowdy took a drink of bourbon and then two or three more and got interested in listening to me as he might have got interested in listening even to a nigger cotton chopper after sufficient liquor and with no physical menace.

“Arch, why are you scared of Communists, anyhow?” I said. “Do you think they’re going to raid Waco and steal everything you’ve got?”

“Damn right!” said Arch. “Haven’t you read Karl Marx? They’re gonna take over our whole country if we let them! And you’d really like to see that happen, wouldn’t you now?”

“You know what I think about Communists?” I said.

“You tell me,” said Arch, waiting.

“What I’d like to do to Communists, like in North Vietnam for example, is I’d like to blow their ass to yellow powder,” I said.

“What?” said Dowdy.

“I mean take that big bomb and blow their dirty ass to yellow powder!” I said.

“The whole country?” said Arch.

“The whole north part. South part, too, if that’s what it takes. You can’t give a Communist a damn inch, Arch. You know that.”

“Well, but the whole country …” Arch said.

“Me, too. That’s what I’d like to do, too. Use that big bomb over there,” said Dowdy.

“That’d get our boys home in a hurry. Just blow their Communist ass to yellow powder. Turn ’em into sulphur,” I said.

“You’re right!” said Dowdy.

“You know it, I know it, the generals know it, Arch knows it, so what are we waiting for?” I said.

“We ought to do it right now!” said Dowdy.

Dowdy’s bullshit detector had not been functioning while wet, but now there was a clattering in the machinery inside his head and he cast a suspicious, stricken look at us.

“I need to get some sleep,” Dowdy said abruptly and headed off into one of the bedrooms.

I noticed that whoever had made my last drink had done so with too light a hand on the Scotch bottle. Arch and I required a couple more and, with the Communist worry settled (if not to his total satisfaction), we talked about fishing. East Texas has some fine fishing and used to have better before towns, lumber companies, oil companies, paper mills, and real-estate developers began pouring their crap and garbage into the rivers and creeks, and sportsmen’s clubs began blocking off the choicer streams from the public. There are two very large lakes in East Texas—Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend—and several smaller ones, as well as countless bayous and ponds where the water is held by the red clay soil. Four sizable rivers carry crap down through East Texas into the Gulf of Mexico. One of them, the Trinity, flows through both Fort Worth and Dallas in the north and has become the color and consistency of green paint by the time it reaches the Big Thicket, a truly vanishing wilderness.

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a Texan, has written four novels and is finishing a fifth. An associate editor of Sports Illustrated, he divides his time between Austin and New York.

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