City Lights

Summer: The Story Continues.

By now no one could blame a reader for not paying me the attention I feel I deserve. I may have been the victim of sequential phenomena, or I may have just screwed up. In Mojo they call it the evil eye. In baseball it’s a slump. Al Capp assigned it the name of Joe Btfsplk.

My paean to the glories of summer in the August issue, only last month, was a good example of my losing streak. It was untimely, which can be an occupational hazard in the magazine business. I have recently learned that being totally wrong can be a lot more embarrassing to a monthly columnist than to a daily columnist. When I was a daily columnist, I was totally wrong on several occasions, but I was totally wrong only a little bit every day, as I watched and misinterpreted the progress of some issue. So by the end of the month, I got to the wrong side in fractional and less noticeable steps; whereas now I get off course in one giant leap.

In that essay, written shortly after the first day of summer, I vowed my undying love to summer, fondled summer, saluted and embraced summer. I promised to relish summer, to note and savor and commune with summer. I offered to give summer the shirt off my back, volunteered to mow summer’s lawn and wax summer’s car.

Hey, how was I to know that this was the Summer of 1980 we were on the cusp of? That phrase, the Summer of 1980, will henceforth carry a certain credential, a historical and unspoken recognition factor as in other phrases – the Blizzard of ’88, the Johnstown Flood, the Panic of 1893, the Crash of 1929.

The Summer of 1980, the one that I promised to be fond of, was the one that came not on gossamer lightning-bug wings but on little lizard feet. Hot, burning Gila-monster feet. It killed people by the hundreds and chickens by the millions. It brought out the National Guard in Missouri.

You didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. As they said on the radio: “It’s very hot.” “How hot is it?” “It’s so hot that the camels at the Dallas Zoo gave two weeks notice and demanded to be traded back to the Sahara. It’s so hot that the hens are laying hard-boiled eggs. And it’s not only hot, it’s dry.” “How dry is it?” “It’s so dry that the squirrels in Greenway Park are carrying canteens. It’s so dry that I saw a fireplug chasing a dog

We sat by the hundreds of thousands and stared at the TV weather maps, watching and wishing that damned H would get the hell off our map. Time and Newsweek took people off the recession and Studio 54 stories in order to acknowledge and record the terrible Southwestern heat wave. In some revival tents they blamed it on our wickedness. Mexico blamed it on our hurricane chasers. Several people blamed Mount St. Helens. President Carter, reportedly vowing to whip summer, too, visited Dallas on the 29th day of the Triple Digits to inspect our sun-ravaged landscape, and it rained. The H came back to roost on our weather maps. The only thing we had to fear more than opening the DP&L bill was having the air conditioner go out. Watching your plants shrivel and your dirt crack gave you the feeling of being trapped in an Erskine Caldwell novel. It got so oppressive that the weathermen acted strangely. Troy Dun-gan went to Las Vegas with his minister. Harold Taft plotted the stationary course of the damned H while marking the passage of five new anchorper-sons. Ice cubes became the coin of the realm, and cowbirds keeled over in the cottonwoods in Fort Worth. Some pilgrims cackled and some sighed as they passed the “Watch for Ice” signs on the freeways that we no longer seem to take down between winters.

Such was the Summer of 1980, about which I gushed on so ill-advisedly while under the ? nightingale’s moonlight thrall ion the first night of the Summer I of 1980. I just hope that nightingale was among the birds I -saw on July 4 perched on the ledge of an overpass on Hwy. 175, scrambling for a spot in the shade of the steel girde

“Dallas” Redux

Besides welcoming the wrong summer, I also mispredicted somewhat in a recent treatise when I said it was about time for the J.R. Ewing and Dallas craze to fade out. One of the first results of my pronouncement was that I noticed you can no longer pass a magazine rack without seeing Larry Hagman several times. Visiting the Mesquite Championship Rodeo, Mrs. Leonora Gallantry of Crewe, Cheshire, England said that the appeal of Dallas was its fan! tastic aspect: “We have unscrupulous men and charlatans in the United Kingdom, as well, but we enjoy watching Dallas because it’s so fantastic. They all arrive in their own cars!”

When the BBC held a contest for the best theory on who shot J.R., Mrs. Gallantry’s was the winner among 10,000 hunches. Her prize was a trip to Dallas for four days, with her daughter Barbara, 15. Her theory was that J.R. Ewing arranged to have himself shot, for certain Machiavellian reasons which she detailed cunningly. Mrs. Gallantry watches Dallas on Saturday nights on the BBC telly after a week of being an entomologist’s secretary, working in a supermarket at nights, and in a chain store on Saturdays. She has a ruddy complexion and wit and is knowledgeable in history, geography, and beetles.

Mrs. Gallantry climaxed her trip to the Fantasyplex by actually meeting J.R. during shooting of scenes at the defunct Daddy’s Money restaurant on LBJ Freeway. She gave him an 1824 George IV silver shilling. He gave her a stack of play money with Larry Hagman’s picture on it.

Home Movies Dept.

Shot of man looking for lawyer’s new skyscraper office on east side of downtown. Dazzled in epicenter of dynamic progress, man goes in confusion first to Diamond Shamrock building, then to One Dallas Centre, in quest for Plaza of the Americas.

Shot of man finding Plaza of the Americas.

Shot of man stepping over gutter of cement mix on way into building entrance.

Shot of unfinished walls with plaster blobs and streaks behind crisp young woman at spiffy information desk.

Shot of man looking up lawyer’s office number on wall directory, even as worker is still adding names to the directory.

Shot of man finding lawyer’s floor and getting onto elevator, with wooden saw-horse and cans of tiling adhesive.

Shot of man walking up to lawyer’s door, unfinished, with law firm’s name printed on a sideways piece of stationery attached to the door with tape strips.

Shot of man opening door.

Shot of man leaving building, past paint crew and landscape planters, thinking to himself, “Things seem to be moving fast lately,” and not being especially surprised when a young woman in a Wonder Woman costume passes him, striding to a Seville idling at the curb.

Shot of waiting driver almost not seeing her. He is on the phone.

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