MY MOTHER, who was visiting said, "Don't you watch 'Dallas'?" It was a mild scold, not as though I'd missed mass. I had never heard of the show. You're going to love the way J. R. peels off those bills, she promised.
That was in October. Now I can tell you about Miss Ellie's mastectomy.
I know why Bobby will never run Ewing Oil. (He's too clean.) And for the first hour after the show is over every Friday, I walk around the house calling my wife "C. R." Her name is Cecilia Regina and I say things like, "Now C. R., honey, don't you worry your pretty little head about that, hear?" I hurry the words together, too, just like J. R. does. By midnight, like Novocaine, it usually wears off.
Hooked, you might say. Born again for soap. I'm still a new convert in this church. But I believe.
Maybe there is something you should know here: One of my large regrets in life is being unable to say at parties, "Hi. I'm from Waco, Texas." Muleshoe or Big Spring or Odessa would do fine, too, though I've always been partial to Waco. Never even been to Waco. But it beats hell out of telling people you're from Wheaton, Ill.
The truth is, I love J. R. Yes, I know he's the prince of sleaze. I know he'd go to drilling in his mamma's roses if he thought he could find oil there. But he appeals to deep fantasies in me. Fantasies that I, too, if I really pushed myself and gave two hoots, could become an oil baron, could peel off rolls of hundreds, could take two bricks and my brass and put up the damn skyscraper by morning. That is the dark genius of J. R.'s other side, and in a way, of Texas itself.
You want ugly? Here's how ugly J. R. is: He had his father's will forged in his favor. He mortgaged Southfork out from under his parents so he could get Asian oil leases. He's carrying on an affair with his secretary who happens to be his wife's sister. But all of that pales next to his nonstop quest to wreck his brother Bobby's marriage to Pam. He paid a friend of Pam's to trick a man into bed with Pam, then had a photographer waiting to pop through the window. The next morning, the picture was in the paper.
"Bobby," J.R. said to his brother the other week, "You're just too damn good to be rich. As far as I'm concerned, I'm an only child."
It occurs to me I may be watching the show for the wrong reasons. (The last temptation is the greatest treason, T.S. Eliot once said, to do the right thing for the wrong reason.) I like it not because the acting's any good or the plots of incest or abortion are socially redemptive or even because the women are Texas-beautiful with fabulous breasts. I like "Dallas" because it's so gaudy and brilliantly overdrawn. Because it feeds a lot of fertile myths I cherish about Texas, myths I know are mostly wrong but excite me anyway .
I keep thinking: Did I go through four years of college and then graduate school to be zonked on this? I've got bad tube guilt. But I can't stop. Is there a DA -- "Dallas" Anonymous?
I know that all Texans don't go down the highway throwing empty Pearl cans out the windows of cream-colored Lincolns. I know, in fact, that a lot of Texans get hemorrhoids and cool their heels in dental offices just like the rest of us. Yet watching "Dallas," I can suspend that and let myself be a believer again for the space of 60 minutes and a lot of commercials. In a way it's like going to the circus: The ability to reason isn't nearly as important as the ability to believe in all that sequined magic. That is "Dallas."
I am convinced one of the reasons the show has seeped like a gallon of crude into my life, and maybe yours, has a lot to do with the name: "Dallas." cWith a bid "D." That stands for dreams.
Some of those dreams are terribly awry, of course. Nightmarish. For every Staubach and Neiman-Marcus Christmas catalogue, you've got three strippers and the ghost of Jack Ruby. And the Texas School Book Depository is still down there, lurking in the national psyche, even though the building has a different function now. I've stood and looked at it a half dozen times myself. All of it works to make the town, and the name, bigger than it really is. In truth, Dallas is pretty ugly -- treeless concrete. But I love it.
Imagine for a second "Dallas" wonderful opening sequence -- the acres of freeway, the lawns of cattle, the surging rigs, the glass towers, the wide splendor of Southfork -- leading up to a zooming graphic of "Omaha."
Texas has 267,339 square miles and over 13 million people. It has three of the country's 10 largest cities. It has Jett Rink and Jim Travis. It is our Saudi Arabia of oil -- and a place where there are still more cattle than people. In Texas, powerful men take advantage, gladly. It is a place of computers and lonely spaces, of boorish violence and stores that rival Fifth Avenue's. It is the keeper of our boldest legend, the American cowboy; and not even Elvis or the Kennedys or moon men can touch him.
So I really don't believe it when friends tell me they despise Texas and Texans. Actually, I think we're all secretly dying to be Texans. It may be the core of the core of the country. When Jock, the paterfamilias of "Dallas," angles up his mouth and says to J.R., "Now you listen, and you listen good," I get this little John Wayne tingle of jingoism.
I want to grab my wife "C.R." and my dog "C.W." (Cody, Wyoming, is his name), put on my Ralph Lauren $60 cowboy hat and my 8-year-old Acme Rough-Outs, climb in our overheating pickup, and say, "C'mon, guys, we're tearing us off to Texas."