Honorary Altonite

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Michael Kupersmith

Honorary Altonite

Post by Michael Kupersmith »

I am on the road -- deliveing my son,Sam, to Beloit College (in Wisconsin) -- but I just read this piece about Honorary Altonite Kinky Friedman, overt candidate for Governor of Texas, and felt that I just had to get it posted while it was still available from The New Yawker website.

Kinky has had a checkered career that should endear him to Altonites. He "practically grew up" at Echo Hill, a summer camp for Jewish kids in Texas Hill Country. Much later, as you know, he founded the Texas Jewboys, who offended just about everybody. "The Jewboys got thrown off the stage in Dallas, chased off the stage in Buffalo, and threatened by both Jewish groups and anti-Semites in New Yawk." "'The truth is I don't remember all that much of it.' [said Kinky], 'I'd had a number of bad experiences with drugs, one of them lasting several decades.'"

You gotta love the guy.

This from The New Yawker:

Kinky Friedman on the campaign trail.
Issue of 2005-08-22
Posted 2005-08-15

Here are a few lessons from modern American music. First, he not busy being born is busy dying. Second, you can't hang a man for killing a woman who is trying to steal your horse. And, third, you come to see what you want to see; you come to see, but you never come to know.

These are good lessons. Bob Dylan provided the first, Willie Nelson the second. The third belongs to Kinky Friedman, who, in the nineteen-seventies, travelled around the country with his country-and-Western band?Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys?annoying audiences with a series of goading, satirical songs with titles like ?They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore? and ?Asshole from El Paso.? In the eighties, after the band broke up, Kinky reinvented himself as a mystery novelist. In the past twenty years, he has written seventeen mysteries starring a detective named Kinky Friedman?a Jewish cowboy from Texas who has quit a singing career for a life of sleuthing and one-liners in New York City. Today, Dylan and Nelson, whose onstage thrones in the great concert hall of musical divinity were installed decades ago, seem to intend to ride their tour buses forever. Kinky, who never learned to sit still much, has grown tired of his second career?this year, at the age of sixty, he announced that his most recent mystery will be his last?and has sought out a third. He intends to be the governor of Texas.

At nine o'clock on a bright May morning, near the start of his first real campaign swing, the candidate was sitting in the shabby ground-floor restaurant of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Houston, wondering what to have for breakfast. ?The decisions that kill me are the little ones,? Kinky told me later. ?Wardrobe kills me. I have two outfits. I have my Waylon Jennings vest, which is this booger here that Waylon gave me, and I have my preaching coat, and every morning it takes me half the goddam day to figure which one I'm going to wear.? On this occasion, he had gone with the vest?the preaching coat is usually reserved for more formal occasions?a slightly weather-beaten black leather number, worn over a black shirt and jeans, topped off with his customary black Stetson and the first of eight or ten cigars (Montecristo No. 2s) that he smokes each day. ?The Governor has decided on pancakes!? he barked, finally. ?Jewford, are there pancakes at this buffet? Do you see any kind of pancakes anywhere??

?Pancakes for the Governor! The Governor will have pancakes!? Little Jewford shouted, and promptly did nothing about it. Little Jewford?who was born Jeff Shelby?was one of the original Jewboys, a conservatory-trained pianist who played keyboards, accordion, clavieta, toy trumpet, and kazoo. In this new road show he acts as Kinky's driver, all-around bodyman, and voice of reason?or, often, a sort of profound unreason. They have known each other for almost fifty years, since they were children, and they play off each other in a continuous Marx Brothers-style high vaudeville?Kinky does Groucho, Jewford does both Chico and Harpo. Kinky, who has never been married, often introduces Jewford to crowds as ?very possibly the next First Lady of the state of Texas?; when asked about it, Jewford tends to shrug and say things like ?I need a gig.?

Kinky went off to look for breakfast in another part of the restaurant. Much as he has a set of different voices?a soft, ruminative tone for conversation, a booming, exaggeratedly countrified delivery when he's playing the role of bullhorn preacher?Kinky has a few different walks. Now he put on the full cowboy strut, shoulders back and hands at hips: the cowboy hunting breakfast. He soon found the buffet and pancakes, but no syrup. ?The Governor needs syrup!? Kinky said. ?Is there any syrup for the Governor??

Eventually, a waiter turned up with the syrup. He couldn't stop grinning, and he insisted on addressing Kinky deferentially as Governor, which made the candidate a little nervous. He liked making the joke himself, but the waiter really seemed to mean it. Kinky's problem, he has said, is that he considers himself a serious soul who has never been taken seriously. But you might say that his problem is more that he's always taken seriously for the wrong things, at the wrong times. He's taken literally when he sings an entirely silly anti-women's-liberation song that's meant as satire (?Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed?); he's not taken seriously when he sings a sober, elegiac country song about the Holocaust (?Ride 'Em Jewboy?). At breakfast, he was just having fun with the idea of being governor-self-mockery as self-importance-and the waiter took it straight; later that day, he would be annoyed by reporters who insinuated that he was just faking a campaign for the hell of it. But in the restaurant he relaxed after a moment and smiled at the waiter, shook his hand, thanked him for the syrup, and told him he was a good Texan. Then he started in on the pancakes, pronouncing, ?The Governor is happy.? After another bite, he added, ?Well, maybe happy is going a little far. But the Governor has syrup. So that's something.?

Kinky Friedman's candidacy is bound to be something; what that something is is still up for debate. He is surely the only candidate for governor to have written extensively about his past cocaine use, or to have flown in Led Zeppelin's private plane, or to have performed at the Grand Ole Opry. He is also currently the only candidate in the 2006 Texas gubernatorial campaign to operate outside the party system, without party money. Kinky, as everyone calls him, is running as an independent candidate. He'll need nearly fifty thousand signatures to get in the race, all of which must be collected in the two months following the party primaries, next March. (Given that thirty thousand volunteers have already signed up to help on the campaign, this looks probable.) For the time being, he intends to capitalize on voter dissatisfaction, and on whatever's left of the tradition of Texas populism. In his latest book, a collection of essays called ?Texas Hold 'Em,? he writes, ?My platform is to remember that when they went out searching for Sam Houston to try to persuade him to be the governor?and he was the greatest governor this state has ever had?rumor has it that they found him drunk, sleeping under a bridge with the Indians.?

Kinky has no stump speech; he just talks. ?Seventy-one per cent of eligible voters in Texas did not vote in the last gubernatorial election,? he told a crowd of six or seven hundred at a public fund-raising event later that night in a Houston design store. ?And what that means to me is that Texans aren't happy with the choices they're being given.? The crowd ate it up, buying Kinky posters and T-shirts (?KINKY 2006: WHY THE HELL NOT??) like fans at a rock concert desperate for proof that they had seen their idol. There were a few hundred more of them than anyone had expected?Republicans and Democrats, blond society ladies with industrialstrength hair styles and balding hippies with ponytails, heavily tattooed bikers with necks like fire hydrants, lawyers in three-thousand-dollar suits, and hipster twenty-somethings with T-shirts that said things like ?Jesusland: pop. 59,459,765? (a slightly inaccurate reference to the number of votes cast for George W. Bush in 2004). The size and the seriousness of the crowd, as well as its deeply strange composition, seemed to take Kinky aback a little, and he shot Jewford a bemused grin.

Back at the Doubletree, Jewford, Kinky, and Beano Boynton, a large, fast-talking Texas Hill Country native, who is in charge of fund-raising, put together a kind of late-night strategy session in Kinky's room. Not a lot of strategy actually came up. No political observer in the state was giving Kinky Friedman any chance at all, and he was still saying things like ?If I win, the first thing I'll do is demand a recount,? and promising that, if elected the first Jewish governor of Texas, he would reduce the speed limit to 54.95. He had previously explained that he wanted the job because he needed the closet space, and he had already promised the job of warden of women's prisons to at least eight different guys. But, one after another, voters told him they thanked God that he had decided to do this, that they were sick of the way politics was being practiced.

?These people are deathly serious,? Beano said, sprawled on a chair that was slightly too small for him. He mentioned one of the organizers of the night's event. ?He's the regional director,? he said, ?the one who wants us to do the grand opening in Austin.?

?Are we helping them or are they helping us?? Kinky asked.

?We're getting their e-mail list,? Beano said.

?You know, we're going to wind up with five hundred thousand volunteers and no money,? Kinky said.

?Well, if that happens,? Jewford said, ?we can just forget the political stuff and form a new soccer league.?

But Kinky's basic campaign platforms were going over well, and he felt that he was staking out a centrist spot that party candidates couldn't. Earlier in the day, he had lectured the Society of Professional Journalists on America's divided culture (?I grieve that NASCAR people never go to the lesbians' tea-houses, and the lesbians never go to NASCAR?) and outlined his policies on education. ?I say, No Teacher Left Behind. The teachers are getting screwed,? Kinky said. ?Every appointee to the education system in a Friedman administration will have an education degree and classroom time.? In addition to the No Teacher Left Behind program, he has proposed financing public education through the legalization of video poker terminals in bars: Slots for Tots. The journalists seemed a little disturbed by his support for nondenominational prayer in schools: what sort of prayer would it be? Kinky didn't know, but offered an explanation for his position: ?Well, I confess that I get bored with the Lord on occasion, and, when I do, my spiritual adviser, Billy Joe Shaver, who has an affinity for the divinity, has convinced me that prayer is an excellent idea.?

Kinky says he is not worried about a heavily Christian state accepting a Jewish candidate. (He's a little worried by a joke he used to make about Baptists, that they don't keep them underwater long enough, but not too worried.) The issue came up the following day while he was talking to a film crew from Country Music Television, who were hoping to make a reality series about the campaign. ?Anyone gives me any of that shit,? he said, putting on his bullhorn-preacher voice, ?I'll just say, 'I'm washed in the same blood you are, brother.' ??Can we get that on camera?? a producer asked. Kinky ignored him. ?And if that doesn't work,? he said, ?I'll hit 'em with John 3:15.?

Everyone laughed, but it turned out that nobody had any idea what the passage said. Kinky grew louder. ?Does anyone know? You bunch of godless heathens? It's-it's-well, shit.? He lost the preacher voice for a moment. ?No, no, wait a minute, I got it.? He cleared his throat. ? 'That whosoever believeth in Jesus should not perish but have eternal life.' ?

Away from the cameras, he said to me, ?Eternal life! Christ. Did I tell you what Bob Dylan said to me about dying? He said, 'When you die they let you off the hook.' ?

Leaving Houston, Kinky stopped briefly in Austin, and then drove off to Echo Hill Ranch for a rest. Echo Hill is a four-hundred-acre property in the Texas Hill Country, about an hour and a half west of Austin. Kinky's parents bought Echo Hill in 1952, and founded a children's summer camp there that became an important summer community for Jewish Texans. The elder Friedmans, the children of Polish and Russian immigrants, who spent their lives as educators, ran it until they died; Kinky's sister, who works for the State Department, helped run the place for years, and now his brother, a psychologist, has taken over.

The Friedmans moved to Texas from Chicago in 1945, a year after Kinky's birth. (Of Chicago, Kinky, who was born Richard Friedman, has written, ?I lived there one year, couldn't find work, and moved to Texas, where I haven't worked since.?) Echo Hill is the site of many of Kinky's happiest memories, and when he's not on the road he spends most of his time there, in a small, slightly dilapidated one-story lodge, decorated with old Jewboy posters and countless photographs of his family and friends. He putters around, refills the hummingbird feeders that his mother put out decades ago, takes phone calls. He makes occasional trips into town, but not often. He lives alone, except for four profoundly unruly dogs whom he calls the Friedmans and on whom he dotes as if they were grandchildren. Over a meal of steak and beans?in fact every meal we ate at the ranch was steak and beans?the dogs are likely to end up with most of the steak while Kinky gets the beans.

Kinky spent his summers at Echo Hill?as boys, he and Jewford first performed together there?as a camper and then as a counsellor, through high school in Austin and college at the University of Texas. It was at U.T. that Richard Friedman became Kinky Friedman, a name given him by Nick (Chinga) Chavin, later a country singer himself, in reference to Kinky's hair??a little Jewish Afro,? as Chavin put it. (Kinky has referred to his hair as ?a Lyle Lovett starter kit.?) Kinky graduated in 1966, joined the Peace Corps, and was posted to Borneo. ?I taught the children to play Frisbee, and some Hank Williams songs,? he told me, sitting in a small field at the ranch. He has often noted that he was sent to teach agriculture to people who had been farming successfully for thousands of years. So he spent most of his time playing with the children, getting drunk with the adults, and writing some of the songs that he later became known for. ?We learned a lot more than they did,? he said. ?It changed us.? He paused, considered the half-smoked, extinguished cigar in his hand, and lit it up again. ?And the truth is if those people had come to Texas at that time somebody probably would have stomped the shit out of them.?

He left Borneo in 1968 and ended up in Nashville, trying to make it as a songwriter. Eventually, he called Jewford, who was in California, studying music and theatre, and started getting a band together. The Jewboys were in place by 1973, when they released their first LP, ?Sold American.? That summer, they performed at the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, and the title track of ?Sold American? reached the country charts. Soon, the Jewboys were performing with Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, with Jerry Lee Lewis and Billy Joel. Everyone from Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey to Abbie Hoffman and Keith Richards showed up to see them, and Kinky toured with Dylan on his ?Rolling Thunder Revue.?

No one quite knew what to make of them. Dylan Ferrero, a Peace Corps friend who became the Jewboys' road manager, told me, ?Major Bowles, our drummer, used to say, 'What's wrong, man?we don't have any groupies! All we got is Jewish sociology professors taking notes!' ? The concept of political correctness was just taking shape, and the Jewboys' entire plan of attack was to puncture it. There were serious songs??Rapid City, South Dakota,? for instance, which Kinky has described as ?the first pro-choice country song??but the satirical work got most of the attention. ?Sure, we wanted to shock the world, to a certain degree,? Jewford said. ?And what we were doing, well, Hank Williams and Bob Wills, absolutely, but also Lenny Bruce.? The Jewboys got thrown off the stage in Dallas, chased off the stage in Buffalo, and threatened, by both Jewish groups and anti-Semites, in New York.

?The truth is, I don't remember all that much of it,? Kinky told me. He once wrote, ?I'd had a number of bad experiences with drugs, one of them lasting for several decades.? Jewford told me, ?There was a doctor in Nashville everyone called Dr. Snap. You'd just go to Dr. Snap, and you'd say, 'Oh, I'm tired, really tired, Dr. Snap.' Of course, there'd also be nine hundred musicians in a line right behind you.? At one point, Jewford said, he was doing so much speed that the ends of his handlebar mustache just fell off. And then there was cocaine. ?All of a sudden, it was there. It just appeared. And it appeared in mounds. And then shovelfuls.?

The Jewboys didn't so much break up as drift apart. The way Ferrero remembers it, he was standing in line at an airport after a gig in 1976 and spotted Jewford standing in another line, waiting for a different flight. Jewford said nothing, got on the plane, and never came back. He and Kinky didn't reunite until twenty years later, when they began playing tours in Europe and Australia. Kinky ended up performing with new backup bands in a weekly slot at the Lone Star Caf?, in New York. It was a successful show, with a celebrity following that included John Belushi and Mickey Mantle, but cocaine was exacting a toll, spiritually and financially. ?Kinky was taking in something like six thousand dollars a week, and he still couldn't afford a place to live,? Mike McGovern, a former columnist for the News, told me.

Kinky's first forays into mystery writing, he likes to say, came out of a dead horse: his record label had dropped him, and the Lone Star show was flagging. ?I was at a real low point,? he told me at Echo Hill. ?Desperation drove those early books.? He wrote the first, ?Greenwich Killing Time,? in 1984, on a typewriter that had belonged to McGovern's mother; McGovern himself features as the police's main suspect in a Greenwich Village murder. But Kinky was tired of New York. He had recently lost his ?spiritual big brother,? the actor Tom Baker, to heroin, and a girlfriend, Kacey Cohen??the love of my life, as they say??in a car crash. In 1985, he went home to Texas; that year, his mother died of a heart attack. After that, he stayed home, leaving drugs and, for the most part, the wild life behind him. It's not lost on him that, in effect, he simply moved back in with his parents and never left. ?I'm still a child, very immature,? he told me. ?Never really grew up, never really did a conventional job.? Children pick up on this and see a kind of ally in Kinky, immediately fixing on him as the most interesting person in the room. ?Treat adults like children and children like adults? was one of his father's guiding credos, and it is perhaps in an only slightly twisted homage to this that one of Kinky's favorite lines, when he spots a child in the audience, is ?The Kinkster never likes to say 'fuck' in front of a c-h-i-l-d.?

Kinky moved into a little green trailer at Echo Hill and set about writing novels, which began to appear at the rate of nearly one a year. Populated by people from Kinky's life, the books are based in reality but jump off from there into loopy mystery plots. The plots are always subordinate to the voice, that of a somewhat addled cowboy-philosopher-king: ?It's OK to think you're a cowboy, unless, of course, you happen to run into someone who thinks he's an Indian.? These riffs are offset by the doings of a host of additional troublemakers, who run around New York bickering and ignoring Kinky's wit and eating Chinese food, while Kinky ends up having conversations with his cat. Eventually, a crime is solved.

?My primary aim is to amuse Americans on their aircraft,? Kinky once said, but, as with the music, his ambitions have always been, subtly, a little higher. Bill Clinton, a fan of the novels?he has asked Kinky for a cameo role in one?has said, ?Some of them are actually quite good as mystery novels, but they're all good in terms of the development of his take on life.? In this sense, the books are, like the music, a vehicle for the essential, unchanging product: Kinky himself. Lyle Lovett, who cites Kinky's music as an influence on his own career, has said, ?His career with the Texas Jewboys was just a way to introduce Kinky to the rest of us.?

There are those who maintain that there's a Richard Friedman behind the curtain, pulling the strings of a Kinky character, both in the books and in life. But the majority of his friends feel that Kinky is Kinky onstage and off. As his friend Penn Jillette, of the duo Penn & Teller, put it, ?If you keep scratching Kinky, peeling off layers, you've got more of an onion thing going on than a mask.? As we drove back to Austin from Echo Hill, I asked whether the character is an idealized version of himself. ?Well, he's not an alter ego,? he said. ?I mean, he's not a guy who does great things. All he does is, he stumbles around, he can't get laid, and he fucks up.? Then he added, ?You have your life and your work, and you should get the two as confused and as mixed up as possible. Make it all one fabric. Vincent van Gogh did that. Hank Williams did it, Allen Ginsberg, Bukowski, those kinds of people did it.? He thought about it for a moment, lit his cigar, and added, ?Anne Frank, of necessity, did it.?

Kinky, in his life and work, has always felt most comfortable as an outsider: a Jew in Texas, a Texan in New York, a reactionary in progressive circles, and a progressive in conservative circles. ?Too smart for country, too country for the intelligentsia,? as the journalist Larry Sloman?better known as Ratso, who in the mysteries plays Watson to Kinky's Sherlock?once put it. In front of a liberal crowd, Kinky throws in as many racist and sexist epithets as he can think of. If it's a country crowd, he uses bigger words and makes fun of rednecks. Naturally, this is part of his political appeal: politicians are always careful to say nothing offensive, whereas Kinky is careful to always say something offensive; he provokes not to stop conversation but to start it. It's a delicate balance, however. As Evan Smith, the editor of Texas Monthly, for which Kinky wrote a column for four years, put it, ?If he's too much like the Kinky we all know and love, he risks not being taken seriously?but if he's too serious he risks just being another guy. People will say, 'If I wanted an unfunny guy, I'd vote for one of the actual candidates.' ?

Kinky will have to convince voters that he's at least a little serious, and this means convincing them that he is sincere. Willie Nelson, aboard his tour bus just before a show in New Jersey, told me, ?They come to hear just how far out is this guy, and I think that's true of any entertainer who is being honest and truthful.? Kinky has said that he would appoint Nelson as his energy czar, in order to explore expanding the use of biodiesel, an alternative fuel that Nelson uses in his buses and cars. ?They want to know how honest you're gonna be,? Nelson said, ?and I haven't seen him back off on anything.?

Returning to Austin, Kinky introduced a new media consultant to the press?Bill Hillsman, an adman who worked on Jesse Ventura's campaign for governor of Minnesota, in 1998. The Ventura campaign, with its tiny budget, outlandish candidate, and unexpected triumph, is an important model for the Kinky campaign?Dean Barkley, the campaign director, also worked for Ventura?and Hillsman lost no time in schooling the staff on how to attract what he calls ?unlikely voters.? At a strategy summit outside Austin, some of the campaign staff began to complain that the candidate's policy positions weren't being publicized enough. Hillsman, a pale Chicagoan rapidly turning pink in the strong Texas sun, told them, ?We're in the business of fomenting discontent. Even if we've got the greatest answers in the world, now's the wrong time to be putting them out there, because no one's really listening.? Most of the staff?a combination of Kinky's old friends and energetic twenty-somethings?seemed to agree, although Cleve Hattersley, a musician who managed Kinky's solo career in the eighties and is now the campaign's communications director, said later, ?I agree with Dean and Bill that less is best, but we do need more about who the fuck he is.?

The campaign was now several weeks old, and the lines about needing more closet space were beginning to disappear. Kinky found himself approached more and more by Texans desperate for an alternative to the sort of candidates they were used to, and he was starting to feel that he had a responsibility to these people. More and more, he was saying, ?You know, there's something happening here,? and ?I'm starting to think we could actually win this goddam thing.?

The CNN political analyst and former Clinton adviser Paul Begala, who is from Houston, said, ?It's still, obviously, a Hail Mary, but the conditions are there.? He pointed to the likelihood of a weak Democratic candidate and of a vicious and divisive G.O.P. primary. ?Kinky desperately needs a scandal,? he said, but, he added, that's hardly out of the realm of possibility, with grand-jury investigations of a number of prominent Texas Republicans. ?I think the stakes are lower in Texas, and Texans understand that,? he said, referring to the fact that the governor's power in Texas is, compared with other states, limited. ?We're unlikely to go to war with Oklahoma.?

The next leg of the campaign was a tour through the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Between fund-raisers, Kinky was dragged from his hotel across the street to the Bullring, a cavernous, mostly empty beer joint. Its owner, Ace Cook, a squat man with a yellowing walrus mustache, wanted to inform Kinky of his political philosophy.

?I'm for you,? Cook said, sitting down to write the campaign a check. ?I'm sick of these assholes who don't represent me, or represent people.? By now, this sentiment had become a common refrain. ?They represent A.T. & T. and Enron. How you gonna come and beg for my vote and then have nothing to do with me? Did Enron elect you or did I? I'm paying your salary, hoss. How'd it be if someone went up to the capitol and did what they said they would??

?It'd be a first,? the candidate said.

?I believe it, hoss,? Cook said. ?That's why you're gonna win.?

Later that afternoon, a fund-raiser open to the public at the Flying Saucer, another Fort Worth bar, turned out to be precisely the sort of thing that professional political operatives plan?a venue filled with at least three times the number of people it's supposed to accommodate. It was very hot and very humid, and Kinky's voice was suffering. His writing hand was starting to cramp as he signed T-shirt after T-shirt, poster after poster, and the playful gleam in his eye was beginning to glaze over. Two firemen asked what he thought about cities dipping into firefighters' pension funds. ?That's bullshit,? Kinky said, and more or less left it at that. But Kinky's answer, and his style, was enough for the firemen, who called themselves Johnny Bravo and Blue. ?He's my man,? said Bravo, who voted for Rick Perry, the incumbent governor, in the last election. ?I'm going to vote for him,? said Blue, who had voted Democrat. ?I'm willing to vote for him just to send a message. But if he could actually win, so much the better.?

Afterward, Kinky was escorted to a gigantic white S.U.V. and driven to the next event, at a bar in Dallas. ?Suicide,? he muttered. ?Suicide. Jesus, this could be a prison. What about all those security guys, talking into their sleeves? How's that going to work? 'Roger, roger, ten-four: Dirtbag 1 is moving. Repeat, Dirtbag 1 is moving.' ?

?Don't flatter yourself,? Jewford said. ?More like Dirtbag 5. Plenty of dirtbags more important than you.?

But Kinky was not to be cheered up. He was worried that he wouldn't be able to deal with people at the bar in Dallas. It was a bigger place, and some of the crowd were there just to drink. But here, too, the line went out the door for hours. These voters had had more alcohol than the afternoon crowd; a woman asked Kinky to sign her breast. (?Rick Perry would never do this,? she said, inspecting the autograph afterward. ?Who'd want him to?? her friend said.) One slightly drunk voter asked Jewford why he wanted to be governor. ?I don't,? Jewford said. Several more asked him the same thing. ?I don't want to be fucking governor,? he said. ?What's your stance on the environment?? a man asked, unfazed. ?I don't have a fucking stance,? Jewford said. Kinky, signing a poster with his face on it, heard the exchange and cracked up. But afterward he collapsed into the car.

The next morning, Jewford drove Kinky to Houston. Kinky was still irritated about a few people at the fund-raiser who had asked him if this was all just a ploy to sell books, and he was tired of being followed around by the crew from Country Music Television. ?Do I really want to be one of these old-time, colorful political fucks?? he said. ?Do I really want to be this all the time? The Governor is sick of being miked. The Governor is sick of these fucks watching him all the time.? He opened the window to light up a dead Montecristo, changed his mind, and rolled the window back up. ?On the other hand, I do like the idea of being able to say, 'The Governor needs a cigar! The Governor needs a drink!' ?

He played with the cigar for a few minutes. ?W.W.W.R.D.?What Would Will Rogers Do? That's really it. Does that work? What did that lady call me? A modern-day common-sense philosopher? I think that's it. I think that's what we need.?

?Yes, Ma'am,? Jewford said.

?It's a corrupt and diseased system. It's the stifling of Texas's spirit, and it's the career politicians who are the real joke. Oh, hell. This could be something?but who fucking knows? We have no idea how this is going to turn out.?

?You don't know what the monkey eat until the monkey shit,? Jewford said, quoting a line from one of Kinky's favorite sages, Leon (Slim) Dodson, a Second World War veteran who worked for years at Echo Hill washing dishes.

?That's right,? Kinky said, very pleased. Thinking of Slim made him happy for a moment. But, despite the success of the evening, he was annoyed, and not looking forward to a private fund-raiser with a wealthier crowd.

?I'm sick of being a performing monkey,? he said after a while. ?I'm sick of these rich motherfuckers. But I'm also sick of people asking me if this is a joke. God damn it, I am serious. And they're going to see that I am, eventually.? He paused, then added, ?People are always misunderstanding each other. You can never think you have the last word on any human heart.?

You come to see what you want to see, but you never come to know. Although Kinky wrote that line more than three decades ago, he's never got entirely used to the idea that he was going to be seen a lot but never quite known the way he wanted. Intellectually, he accepts it. ?Well, I like to be as misunderstood as the next guy,? he once said, ?so I like guys like van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde, and Jesus Christ, and Lenny Bruce?yeah, I relate to them.? But he was still stewing about it when we made a rest stop in West, a small town near Waco, where he was approached by a middle-aged man from Dallas named Dennis Rainwater. It took just a few minutes for Kinky to know Dennis Rainwater a little and to like him very much; in just a few minutes, Dennis Rainwater came to feel that he knew and liked Kinky. They talked about Rainwater's family history, and his home town, Harlingen, down in the Rio Grande Valley, not far from the Gulf of Mexico and the border. They talked briefly about how vicious and empty politics had become, and whether Kinky could change it. Rainwater thought so.

?So you're half Irish, half Cherokee? Now, that, my friend, is a powerful combination,? Kinky said, and made a joke about the potential for whiskey consumption.

Rainwater didn't seem to mind. ?I'll see you on that ballot,? he said.

On parting, Kinky gave him his standard benediction: ?May the god of your choice bless you.?

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