PORT ARTHUR —
Editor’s note: The following column from the Best of West collection was originally published in the Port Arthur News on Dec. 27, 1984.
Dan Jenkins is sort of a real life E.F. Hutton among those who make a living by chronicling life as it pertains to sports. When Jenkins cranks out another masterpiece, other writers listen. And laugh. And lament the fact God didn’t give them Jenkins’ way with words.
As noted Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray wrote: “Dan Jenkins is the nearest thing to Ring Lardner this generation — or any other — has ever seen. No one has captured the essential lunacy of 20th century sports — and TV — as accurately and hilariously as he has. Dan has an unerring eye, and ear, for the soft underbelly of pomposity that he pricks so deftly even the victim laughs.”
Jenkins’ latest work — Life Its Ownself — may not be his best, but if not it’s only because of being humanly impossible to top Semi Tough. It’s a book that should be read and then immediately read again because the message behind the philosophy of his ribald characters is too easy to miss when you’re laughing so hard.
In the process of advancing Billy Clyde Puckett, Shake Tiller, T.J. Lambert and other familiar characters from Semi Tough into the 1980s, Jenkins pokes fun at a broad spectrum of Americana. Among his favorite targets are television mentality, football coaches, football officials, the NFL, prejudice, marriage, religion and college recruiting.
It is certainly not a book to rush out and buy if you can’t deal with raunchy language or inflammatory words. But the minority readier who goes the distance will come away knowing he’s encountered more honesty than is to be found in the hypocrisy awaiting him/her in the ebb and flow of everyday life.
As Murray said in his review, ‘If you’re easily offended, wait for the movie. If you’re squeamish, prepare to be squeamed. T.J. Lambert and friends haven’t gotten out of the X-rated category, even though they’ve gotten out of the NFL. Little Women this ain’t. Jenkins writes the way people talk. And that ain’t William Makepeace Thackeray.”
What Murray should have said is that Jenkins writes the way Texas people talk. A native of Fort Worth, and former sports writer for the old Fort Worth Press, he draws heavily on the Lone Star background. If you’ve lived in Texas, particularly if you’ve hung out in bars and other watering holes, you’ll see some familiar faces.
Since the real joy of any Jenkins work is his characters, his subtle way of delivering a jab, the only appropriate way of reviewing is to take a peek through his own words. So read on only if you need a laugh and promise not to be offended.
Billy Clyde Puckett, in attempting to describe his relationship with Shake Tiller says: “We were about as close as you could be without buying each other jewelry. By close, I mean we were rendered brilliant on countless occasions by the same bottle of young scotch, we were quite often transformed into Fred Astaire by the same polio weed and from our friendly neighborhood druggist we share the same long-standing prescription for preventive fatigue.”
Billy Clyde on former teammate T.J. Lambert, who has resurfaced as the head coach at TCU. “He’d have an orgasm on every play. From the opening whistle, he’d be as mad as a redneck truck driver who’d heard a fag come back on his CB.”
T.J. Lambert to Billy Clyde on his coaching philosophy. “They’ve took the fear out of football. Face mask. Quick flags. Can’t touch the quarterback, he might get constipated. All I’ve did is put fear back in the game. Them little bleeps don’t win for me. I take away they cars, they dope, they girls and some I even put in jail. The deputy sheriffs work with me pretty close.”
Team owner Burt Gandy trying to convince an injured Billy Clyde on why he should get into television: “You think you make good dough from me? TV is God’s way of telling you to rape, steal and blunder. It’s bleeping soufflé! You know what those guys like Gifford, Summerall, Madden, Cosell and Meredith make? They can buy the Vatican and redecorate.”
Billy Clyde’s father to his son on marriage: “I ain’t too smart or I wouldn’t be trying sell cork tile. I know you play a tough sport. You got them big, mean tackles comin’ at you. But I’ll tell you one thing about life. You ain’t took no lumps at all till you’ve tried marital discord.”
Billy Clyde’s wealthy father-in law Big Ed Bookman on how he’s going to help T.J. Lambert land schoolboy running back sensation Tonsillitis Johnson for the Horned Frogs: “T.J.’s worried we can’t outbid Texas or Oklahoma for Tonsillitis. They’ll give him a car, an apartment, a summer job that’ll make him richer than two orthodontists. I said hell, I know how we can get him. We’ll give him his own 7-11, then tell him he can rob it any time he wants to.”
Shake Tiller to Billy Clyde on the deterioration of the NFL: “It’s NFL roulette. There’s six cylinders in the gun, right. Used to be you had five chanceS to catch a bullet when you pulled the trigger. There was always one lay down artist. Now you’ve only got one chance out of six. One bullet is in the gun. One guy who wants to win the game. On the Giants, before you got hurt, that was you.
“You know what’s in the other five cylinders. You have a coke-head . . . a gambler . . . a labor organizer . . . a millionaire who’s too rich to care . . . and a zebra.”
Billy Clyde on college football: “College football is a big business. The money it generates from endowments has built more wings on libraries than all of the intimate friends of Beowulf. College football has raised more than one chemistry professor’s salary and bought more than computer on which some chinless wimp can get a business degrees by learning how to screw up my bank statements and credit references.”
By now, you should get the picture. What we’re dealing with here really is Life its Ownself. And, in the immortal words of Billy Clyde Puckett hisself: “Laughter is the only thing that cuts trouble down to size where you can talk to it.”
Sports editor Bob West can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.