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One’s own self is hard to get around. I have pictures of me standing in school pictures of the whole first or second grade class. It was a photograph of the whole lot of us kids, and when the print was made my eyes would look at that group and greedily find myself first. How did I look? Was I even there? That’s me! When I look at the picture over 30 years later, I still look for me first. As Walker Percy put it, why do I first find myself when I have always already been there for me anyway? Surely I am most familiar with myself already. This looking upon many and finding only me is almost desperate, but it is inevitable. Perhaps it is universal. I can’t help but find myself. When looking at any picture it happens, I always seek myself as someone important and outstanding in the group. Needless to say, I’m just some chump like the rest—even if standing front row center with a shit-eating grin in the third grade.

I like to think that this “me-ness” as important extends beyond just simply me, myself and I. I can remember being thrilled to see a notice of the basketball or tennis team in the local Galveston paper. It was even better to see a story about the city of Galveston in the Houston paper (Post or Chronicle). It was even better if the city was mentioned on national TV, and while growing up, that occasion usually referred to a looming hurricane—or it was some creepy story about a murder, or someone taking a false identity after embezzling thousands (never millions) of dollars.. Such shame and tragedy became a badge of honor for us youthful Galvestonians.

“Did you see so and so on the news?”

“He went surfing in a hurricane as Geraldo Rivera stood on the Seawall giving the latest report in front of the Balinese Room.”

”Wasn’t it funny when that wave threw Geraldo on his head on live TV?”

We’ll leave the stories of murderers and embezzlers (including the great Jean Lafitte) to interested Google searchers.

Such stories were exciting to us. We thought, “This is my home! We’re on TV! Hey man, check out FOX News, Geraldo just bought it on the Seawall! Hilarious!” Somehow we were pointed out on a national map that usually consisted of NYC, LA, or Chicago. After all, we were citizens of the USA too.

But those who were in the know, but who simultaneously sought themselves out of the multitude, knew that this Geraldo image was the same image on the album cover of Permanent Waves by the Canadian rock band Rush. And of course ZZ Top too sang a song called “Down At the Balinese”? At the Balinese, legend had it that a bartender named Santos first made the cocktail Margarita for the great singer Peggy Lee in the company of Frank Sinatra.. Such tawdry legends and images simply became emblems of one’s own importance. It was an importance connected to a city which somehow was bigger than oneself.

Oddly enough, the thrill that such notoriety gave was not met with any desire for good civic engagement—as the political scientists would put it. Generally speaking, everyone I grew up with wanted to get the hell out of Galveston after high school and most of them did so. Besides being a backwater town, Galveston was vulnerable to the overwater to the storm surges of category 3, 4 and 5 hurricanes. In addition to such natural devastation, the town seemed to go nowhere as outside entrepreneurs tried to capitalize on its mystique for the purposes of opening another failed tourist trap restaurant and/or bar.

God bless such futile hope. However, I once saw Harvey Mansfield on C-Span speak of the issue of nature in regards to the city of New Orleans and the hurricane Katrina. He stated that perhaps some cities, as great as they are, should not be built where they are. Galveston is such a case, but tell that to its founders in the early 19th century. It’s too late. We’re already here.

So why did our parents or grand parents or even earlier generations settle in such a place? Outside chance and necessity to be sure, but it is a hard question to answer. Growing up, we sought out (or were indoctrinated in) the minutiae of the historical importance of Galveston (e.g., the first newspaper in Texas, the first public library in Texas, the first synagogue in Texas, the fist Catholic diocese in Texas, Juneteenth, etc.), but the question regarding why anyone would settle there in the first place was an unanswerable question. Yes, the 1970s beach bums who chose to live there liked to sit around and smoke pot and listen to Jimmy Buffett while feeling existential (BTW, this is not authentically Galveston), but how was it that one actually grew up in a family in such a place if one wasn’t an aspiring, let alone loser, hippie artist? Growing up, one knew that one had to leave this place, but it was impossible to leave it in its entirety.

Insofar as one saw oneself as a citizen of Galveston, one’s whole life would become littered with memories of one’s own—like the great Jimmy Webb tune made popular by Glen Campbell . It’s a song about a soldier in Vietnam longing for his girl safely back home in his city while he fears his own death in battle. It’s a hauntingly beautiful tune (and this is an alternate version from the radio hit).

After seeking out such arcana, you became proud of favorite Galveston sons, and like Graham Parker’s song “Back In Time,” you were willing to give a whistling kettle to the hometown boy made good (or at least the one who became famous but luckily never infamous). After all, Galveston is the hometown of the great filmmaker King Vidor of “The Crowd” fame, amongst many other famous persons.

“The Crowd.” In spite of it, one seeks one’s own. And some people may think Galveston is a dump—as only its true hometown citizens can say that truly—but it is one’s own dump, and you cannot speak otherwise if you’re not what is called BOI, i.e., Born on the Island.

As is said in another context—“Don’t talk about my mamma”—but then again Galveston was and is no mamma.

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