Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Even though I am a 3rd generation Texan and proud of that heritage, early on I found the Texan social structures somewhat stifling. It seemed that folks just wanted to dig into my personal business deeper than I wanted to permit. Not that I had anything to hide or that I was averse to bragging, it was more that I liked to move around with a certain degree of anonymity without being constantly measured by what others thought they knew about me. I like the notion of the here and now…that the present words and deeds should either carry a substantial weight or they don’t.

I think it started in the pre-high school years when I encountered some of the social cliques and suffered a small bit of their exclusion. More tellingly, once accepted into a clique, I disliked their somewhat aggressive stances toward either accepting or rejecting others. I like everybody and always have. Well, that’s not quite accurate…I have encountered some monumental jackasses, too.

Once paroled from Texas after EH and employed by a large corporation, I had the opportunity to not only learn more about how other folks in other regions thought and acted, but also to come back to Texas on business. To the Texans I visited, I was now a foreigner…someone who was not from Texas, and therefore, not one of the group. Although this attitude was encountered in other southern states, it was strongest in Texas.

Only if identifying myself as a Texan were an advantage to my mission, would I do so. Of course, my accent often gave me away. My work took me into some of the large industrial installations in the region where safety was a paramount concern and where wearing a hard-hat was mandatory.

Wearing the hard hat opened an amusing avenue for social experimentation.  I was always given a brand-new, white hard hat and a DYMO label maker with which to make a name label for the hat. Since I was usually an independent contributor, an expert from from afar, I had some freedom to do as I wished. So, also having the youth to not really give a damn about any consequences, I would pick one of those Chicago-style Slovakian names that was full of consonants, always ending in “ski” and having enough letters in it to wrap all the way around the hat so you couldn’t see all of it from the front. 

Something made up like, “WZBIKYZEWSKI".

In the land of Joe Bobs and Mary Ellens, someone wearing the name, “WZBIKYZEWSKI” on his hard hat never failed to draw attention. But something we Texans tend to practice is to not ask about things like that. We’re curious, but we don’t ask.

 I’ll never forget riding an elevator down from the top of a large plant with one of the plant operators. We stood across from one another in the elevator, looking down at our feet. The ride was about 15-stories, so it took some time.

I caught him when he first spotted “WZBIKYZEWSKI” on my hat. He just glanced and quickly looked back down. Then he did the double take…a second glance, this one longer. He couldn’t see all the letters, so he shifted just slightly, trying to look around the edge to see the rest of them. I started to slowly look up and he quickly shifted his gaze back to the floor. This continued for a couple of cycles and we reached the ground floor. He never asked!

Me, I would have asked, “how in the hell do you pronounce your name and what are its origins?” I’m curious about things I don’t know. But none of the Joe Bobs in Texas ever asked. That may have been one of the starting points of my lifelong fascination with presenting others a puzzling situation just to see how they handle it.


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