Bennett’s First Birthday [Part 1]

The Cowboy Store in Kerrville is gone.

Karen had agreed to accompany me on my search for a pearl snap shirt, a semi-annual ritual during our summer and Christmas vacations to Kerrville, her hometown, from New York City,090909.HaMeD!caL mine, and where we live now.

I became somewhat taken with this style of shirt upon seeing it worn by a young buck working at Crider’s (spelled with a rope on an overhead billboard), a rodeo and outdoor dance hall in Hunt, Texas, that recently celebrated its 80th year of operation. Karen had told me early in our relationship that only cowboys and dorks wore snap shirts. Despite her clear delineation of coolness, and regardless of the near impossibility of my venturing into the livestock business, I have never been deterred.

Since my purchase three summers ago of a Wranglers snap shirt—white embroidered cotton with ¼-inch blue vertical stripes—I have been on the lookout both in stores and online for such western attire that can be worn in midtown Manhattan by a man who was born and raised there but wants to bring a little Hill Country to the Big Apple.

My four shirts have come from The Cowboy Store, which country music singer Jason Aldean has pitched on the radio, specifically on KRNH-FM 92.3 “The Ranch” and on KRVL 94.3 “Revolution Radio” before they changed their format from Texas country to classic rock. In fact, I couldn’t say that Billy’s Western Wear, off Sidney Baker Street in front of The Home Depot, was ever on my radar until Karen and I saw that The Cowboy Store was no longer in business. Billy’s is about 100 yards from interstate I-10, which gets you from El Paso to Houston in 10 ½ hours, or to your cousin’s in Beaumont in just under 12. This expanse within one state, however, doesn’t isolate the many small towns and larger cities from one another; rather, it draws them together through a sense of state pride unlike, for example, the dynamic mosaic of California, a state of restless or fleeing transplants from the East Coast, Mexico, the Pacific Rim and Southeast Asia; or New York, battleground between upstate and downstate—New York City versus everything else, even though the city provides Albany with much of its revenue to serve the rest of the state. Texas is one state and has been its own nation. The one thing I’ve noticed Texans don’t laugh at is any slight directed at their state, whether intentional or innocent.

It was this sense of community that allowed the cashier at Billy’s to tell me, when I asked, not only what happened to The Cowboy Store but also the family narrative of their own business, into which she married. To wit, it’s not often you get a Happy Meal at McDonald’s and learn that the fry chef is the granddaughter of Ray Krok. It’s also this sense of community that gives shows like “Greater Tuna” its bite, charm, and poignancy.

Tuna, Texas, the fictional third-smallest town in Texas—losing its second place status “when Irene had triplets,” and a town where all the characters on stage, men and women, are portrayed by four male actors—is kept informed about local and national news by two gregarious and carefree radio announcers who announce such offbeat headlines as when there is a “Nuclear plant disaster!…Six states affected….” Dramatic pause. “Texas not included. And onto other news…” It is the town where Stanley, the sociopath son of a tormented woman whose adulterous husband keeps her weeping over her children’s foibles and dead-end futures, laughs over the coffined corpse of a judge who earlier sentenced him to reform school. Stanley then proceeds, in soliloquy, to confess—after almost 80 minutes of laughs by the audience at the idiosyncrasies of small town life—that it was he who injected air bubbles into the ailing body of the bed-ridden septuagenarian, killing him. Moments earlier, the killer’s aunt, sister to the cuckolded mother, stares down at the judge’s body as she, too, laments to him—to us—that she should have never fallen in love with him years earlier. And then she fulfills a promise. She starts to sing a song, having told him she would sing over his grave. We see that it is those who are deeply alone, who have been abandoned or shamed or dismissed, who are the most hideous in their character. We see the show performed a regional theater troupe that included the local high school science teacher and my father-in-law’s barber, men showing the full emotional expression—exaggerated though it might be—of the men and women of Tuna, Texas. It is delightful, and—in the arcane sense of the word—terrible.

Sartre was wrong. Hell is not other people; hell is isolation. Or perhaps it’s eternal isolation pressed against other people.

And so as you read about pearl snap shirts and dorks—a title I wear at times whether I like it or not—and as you travel down my narrative into murder and vaunted love, you may wonder where the theme of “community” could have diverged into trails of joy and despair.

They diverge when the judge throws the book at the 16-year-old sociopath (when he was but a troubled youth) and he spends only nine months in a reformatory that so thoroughly deadens his humanity that he takes mortal revenge on his enemy.

The trails converge again at the Guadalupe, as my nephew William, along with three school-age sons Carter, Bennett, and Teak drive to Mo Ranch outside of Hunt to swim in the river. They converge as five sun-tanned bodies float in the water wending between limestone cliffs—our goggles are on and we are staring at the river bottom 18 inches down. We are searching for an arrowhead that missed a deer more than a century ago. The father, a man who grew up in the city and knows more about finding an air-conditioned car on the downtown #1 IRT subway than about Indian artifacts, has offered $20 for the first arrowhead found by a boy 10 or under. The race is on and when it seems hopeless that an arrowhead will be found, the oldest son calls for a new challenge. The father, seeking to extend their time on the river—water at about 80 degrees, air at about 92—says he will pay 25 cents for every shell the oldest boy finds, 50 cents to the middle boy, 75 cents to the youngest. (The father is less concerned about economic justice than about quickly finding another reason for them all to stay.) In the end, of course, the cash winnings vary and the temper of one son flares, but 30 minutes later when they are eating hamburgers and recounting their day, they are content. The five males share a circular booth in the corner of a Fuddruckers in Kerrville, miles from the Guadalupe but still on the trail that had converged in the river. They all agree it is the best booth in the restaurant.


A week before I left for Texas to float in the river that afternoon, at eight in the morning, Sal and Chris from the Gristedes grocery store on 86th and Broadway in Manhattan paid me a personal visit because of a complaint I had emailed to the company’s corporate office the evening before.

[To be continued]

photo: HaMeD!caL


Leaving Herald Square

“Hey! Is that a pearl snap shirt?”


“No,” my coworker answered after coming to a stop in the hallway.  We blocked the entrance to his office.  Moments before, I ostensibly had something to do that was more important than admire what I thought was a pearl snap shirt.

052309.ellecer“Oh.” I said.

“But I used to have one. I lost it.”

“I’m sorry.” Awkward pause. “Was it white, like that one?”

“No, blue.”

The conversation went on, in this tantalizing fashion, until he referred me to H&M Clothing, on 34th Street and Broadway, steps away from the office.  Ostensibly, he had something to do that was more important than discuss pearl snap shirts.

I exited 1359 Broadway and walked the two blocks south, my mind anticipating finding pearl snap shirts in New York that were not the $100+ kind sold by Billy Martin’s Western Wear. At said establishment, on Third Avenue at around 62nd Street where — I can attest from having grown up just a mile north — there are no cowboys loitering or yodeling, the purveyors have outfitted with “upscale…Western-inspired” clothing the likes of Madonna and Mikhail Gorbachev. Need I tell you the horror of picturing in my mind Gorbachev riding along the prairie in pearl snap shirts, a tree branch catches the material, the shirt breaks open at the snaps the way the cowboys intended it to (so that they wouldn’t have to sew the button back on), and out pops… Mikhail. This is a scene that Remington did not envision, nor shall I.

And yet, my search for pearl snap shirts in NYC has been as fruitless as has been the search for authentic Tex-Mex cuisine, the most recent outing (twice) to Tequila Chito’s on West 23rd producing somewhat favorable results for me and my dining partners, but I anticipate would not be up to snuff for my wife, whose loving contempt for my last choice has not yet been lived down.

Having ascended the escalator to the third floor Menswear department at H&M, my suspicions were stirred when there was more chrome and black lacquer on the fixtures and racks than oak and pine. In Kerrville, Texas, where I buy all my snap shirts (at the Cowboy Store, where Jason Aldean shops), the guy at the front has a Jesse James-like pointed beard and dons a Stetson. He says, “Howdy!” which is in fact my childhood nickname, and so I feel right at home. Here, in NYC, sales tax is 8.375% and increasing to something like 8.625% (as if they need the five-thousands’ worth); in Texas, while there is sales tax, there is no income tax. I plan — in the future, sometime after retirement, maybe when I’m 90 — to show the statistical correlation between taxation and authentic pearl snap shirt offerings. I know it’s not scientific to come to a study with a conclusion in mind — I am supposed to follow the data — but in this case, there seems to be a preponderance of evidence proving that the overhead for stores like Billy Martin must certainly require the sale of shirts so outlandishly priced that only a rock star or former Soviet leader can afford them. (After all, we know that ommunist leaders are absolutely loaded, because everyone else in their countries is dirt poor.)

I did two laps around the floor, spying only some flat-fronted khakis that the Lovely K would have approved of (but which I didn’t need…I needed a pearl snap shirt) and a couple of dress shirts that were suitable for a meeting of which I have yet to conceive. No snap shirts. On one rack, partially blocked by two large 20-something males whose pants some stranger obviously had rudely and just moments before yanked down to within inches of their knees, I saw a short-sleeved collared shirt made of grey brushed cotton that had a matching thin tie around it. I recalled how my mother made my father a tie of green and white checkered gingham to match a sport coat he had bought at the St. George thrift store on Second Avenue. Yet he wore this set to cocktail parties at Point O’ Woods, Fire Island, where the object was to get drunk while discussing Woody Allen movies and stumble down sidewalks with no fear of powered vehicles running you over. What H&M was selling was clothes that you would have to wear sober enough not to fall onto subway tracks coming home from a rave.  This seemed an inordinate expectation.

The search continues, as it does also for Tex-Mex in New York. But don’t tell Karen.

photo:  ellecer

I knew they weren’t real pearl

Tonight is our annual pilgrimage to Crider’s, spelled with a rope, the site of the Hunt, Texas rodeo and dance.  Those of you who have read this blog for some time, or those of you from the Hill Country, know why I wrote the first sentence the way I did.


The word “Crider’s” is spelled with an old lariat on a billboard above the entrance.  You pay to get into the rodeo, which starts at eight, and then another amount, nominal, to get into the dance, held on a circular concrete slab surrounded by picnic tables, next to a large live oak tree, and under the stars.


At the Cowboy Store in Kerrville yesterday, I bought a new snap shirt, olive green with a white paisley pattern that shows up well against the darker background, but not as distinct as the snap buttons themselves, which look like pearl.


Karen reminded me that they’re not real pearl.


I knew that, of course.



photo:  farm1


When you make a wrong turn or – more likely – miss a turn that the kindly mechanical lady with the quasi-British accent on the GPS has told you to take, she gently reminds you that she is “Recalculating.”

I’m in the Bay Area, staying at the Doubletree Berkeley Marina tonight and taking a red-eye back tomorrow night.  Went 030408ohgizmo.jpgto hear my boss speak at an event at UC-Berkeley but the crowd was so great that they ran out of visitors’ passes.  I was a visitor.  Though I might be able to pass for a student, at least a grad student, I opted to return to my hotel room and work.  I have too few piercings, too few tattoos, and too clean-shaven a face, with my shirt too tucked in, to sneak in past the door monitors at Wheeler Hall.

This afternoon I had lunch in Sausalito – which the kindly mechanical lady called “suh-SALL-i-toe” but which I comprehended just the same; I mean, she and I have an understanding:  she gets me where I’m going, and I agree not to unplug her power supply.  It’s a symbiotic relationship, and I’m not sure who’s the parasite.

The restaurant I went to had a deck on the bay, with an unobstructed view of Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline.  It was a clear day and a no-brainer decision to pay slightly more for lunch ($14 for a salmon omelette) than somewhere else with a view of the dumpster out back.

Tonight, I was off to the event but first had to stop at Best Buy to get a web cam and headset for a skype call tomorrow afternoon to Hong Kong.  (I am telling you all this to try to impress you that I am a high-tech, globally minded kind of person…)  I missed the left turn onto Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland, and…


So, basically, you can’t get lost.  Lady tells you to turn right and turn right again and then leads you past a shoelace factory and the corner bodega, past the crack dealers in front of the schoolyard and then by the burnt-out row house, in order to get you back to the “highlighted route.”  Lady is awfully calm during these side excursions down darkened streets.  She seems unfazed, like it’s not her a#$ that’s going to get kicked if, at a stop sign, somebody breaks the window and reaches in for my neck, also grabbing her black metal casing – but oh so gently, for she will be resold and I will pay for it on my corporate American Express card.  No, she is oblivious.  Like she could care less.  Her job is to get me from Point A to Point B and do as few recalculations along the way as possible.  If we go through the ‘hood, we go.  But we’re not lost.  No, high above us there is a hunk of metal circling the earth that knows more about my minute whereabouts than my own wife.  I don’t know whether to be comforted or not.

So I get to Best Buy in Emeryville, and when I approach the checkout counter with the cam and headset, a tall hip black woman of about forty asks me if I want to go ahead of her, because she is buying like a 100-inch TV along with accessories, and says, “I like that shirt.”  She is referring to my Wrangler brand pearl snap shirt, the white one with wide wale blue stripes that I bought at the Cowboy Store in the Hill Country.

“Thanks.  Yeah – a good Texas-style pearl snap shirt.”

“I’m from Texas!” she rejoined.

“Oh, yeah?!  My wife’s from Texas.”



Smiles and knowing acknowledgement.

I paid and looked back.

“Thanks again!  Take care!”

A wave.

photo:  ohgizmo

Does Jorge wear pearl snap?

Judging by who visits which posts here on MOM, there a goodly number of people who are searching for more information on pearl snap shirts (#1 post on this blog) and Jorge Buccio (#2), the Elvis-Johnny Fontaine singer at Puglia in New York’s Little Italy who has been performing there seemingly nightly for the past 23 years.

0220082pearlsnap.jpgFrankly, I think Jorge would look stupendous in The Cowboy Store’s (Kerrville, Texas) finest pearl snap shirt if he doesn’t wear one already.  The Lovely K and I are huge fans of his and of the hit, “Get up and shake your napkin,” which you must sing at least once in your life or you’ve never really visited Little Italy.  Today I acquired another pearl snap, this one an Ariat (the last was Wrangler), whose tag touts it as a “technically advanced product for the competitive rider. …ideal for riding, ranching and everyday wear.”

Well, okay, so that doesn’t exactly fit me to a “t,” but if you care about pearl snap shirts or Jorge, would you take 30 seconds to fill out this simple SurveyMonkey survey?  It could be vital for New York City’s future as a purveyor of pearl snap shirts and will also be informative for famous singers, like Jorge, as they choose their wardrobes.

Pearl snap, rich

People keep coming to this site to find out about pearl snap shirts, but I’m tellin’ you, friend, if yer lookin’ for ’em here you won’ find ’em.  Go to The Cowboy Store in Kerrville, about three miles from which I now comfortably sit, at my in-laws, watching Texas vs. Texas A&M – not that I care much about basketball, much less the Big 12 Conference – yet I watch on 021808essie82.jpgtheir HD set with a piece of chocolate cherry cheesecake resting on top of a beef chimichanga with queso on it in my stomach that I worked into submission today at the Family Sports Center weight room, about 1/2 mile from The Cowboy Store, aforementioned, which you have to getchyu to.

I know I have written twice previously about pearl snap shirts – of which I will procure another when I go to The Cowboy Store this week – which makes a Google search for this phrase point to this blog at #9.  This is an honor.  Especially considering how the Lovely K, who took vows to love me in sickness and in health, in riches and in poverty, but not necessarily when I try to act country – no, that’s love against all odds, love in the face of sheer idiocy – how she has lovingly chided me about my procurement and subsequent sartorial demonstration of same.


photo:  essie82

Pearl Snap Redux

Lots of folks – good folks, I’m sure – navigate their way on the information superhighway over to this site looking for details on pearl snap shirts, since I have written about them in the context of saying that the Lovely K once quipped that “only cowboys and dorks wear pearl snap shirts, and [the author of this blog is] no cowboy,” which leaves me with limited identity options in her declarative analysis.

123007pearlsnap.jpgI am sure they are well-intentioned folks who Googled their way over here, but they are also for certain to be disappointed, by about $70 and 1853.56 miles.  Where they’ll end up is a computer on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, not far from Billy Martin’s, one of the only stores around these parts that sell pearl snap shirts, about a mile and a quarter southeast from here and a world apart from the southwest, since its retail locations exist around the corner from Bloomingdale’s and – in California – on Sunset Boulevard.  Billy Bob Thornton bought a gift for Dwight Yoakam from the store, or so he attested in a reprinted testimonial about how he is one of Billy Martin’s most consistent customers.  Now, I like Dwight Yoakam, and the Lovely K likes his voice.  Sounds a lot like Roy Orbison.

But $95 for pearl snap shirts…

And next to Bloomingdale’s…

Where they really need to go is the Cowboy Store on Junction Highway in Kerrville, Texas.  They sell Wrangler pearl snap shirts for $27 on sale.

That’s where I got mine.

photo:  Cavender’s online store