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1944-2007

Queens Days
Molly Ivins. We’ll Remember.

“I have a grandly dramatic vision of myself stalking through the canyons of the Big Apple in the rain and cold, dreaming about driving with the soft night air of East Texas rushing on my face while Willie Nelson sings softly on the radio, or about blasting through the Panhandle under a fierce sun and pale blue sky….I’ll remember, I’ll remember…sunsets, rivers, hills, plains, the Gulf, woods, a thousand beers in a thousand joints, and sunshine and laughter. And people. Mostly I’ll remember people. […] I love you. Good-bye my friends.”— The closing paragraphs of Molly’s goodbye column to Texas Observer readers published June 18, 1976 , as she left to join The New York Times.

Here you go Molly: Willie's great “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” And what were her last words at the Times? “ Texas is a wonderful, funny and astonishing place, but it helps if you do not suffer from excessively refined sensibilities. Texas can be tacky.” So went the first lines of the last article Molly Ivins wrote on March 21, 1982. Actually she was already a columnist with the Dallas Times-Herald by then, several months after the Times fired her for doing with her style what she did in the Times newsroom: walk around shoeless, in her stockings (a habit no one else dared follow until Arthur Sulzberger Jr.—now the publisher—in his youngish days as an assignment editor stupidly picked up, to look cool with the staff). The Texas article was a travel piece, the sort of thing the Travel section buys off anyone with a good story. Ivins had plenty, with style: “ Texas is an unself-conscious place. Nobody is embarrassed about being who they are. Rich folk aren't embarrassed. Rednecks aren’t embarrassed. Liberals aren't embarrassed. Lobbyists, loan sharks, slumlords, war profiteers and K.K.K.ers are all proud of their callings. Only Dallas is self-conscious.”

Her last by-lined article for the news sections at the end of a stint that began in 1976, when the paper had hired her to shake up its staidness, was a long, colorful December 8, 1981 piece on Korean émigrés finding success “Amid the Stress of New York,” and as serendipitous coincidences usually have it, she was writing about a neighborhood a few subway stops down from where I lived: “Flushing, Queens, isn’t a spot that one normally thinks of as exotic, but Oriental food shops and Korean restaurants are sprouting there among the diners and the delis like cloud mushrooms after a heavy rain,” she began. “There is scarcely a neighborhood that does not now have a Korean greengrocer or fishmonger or dry cleaner.” (Our grocer in Sunnyside was Korean, beginning in a one-storefront hovel and eventually spreading to the whole bloc.) She quotes one Korean’s descriptions of the symptomatic stresses on new immigrants: “Mr. Kim said that one such symptom was an increasing number of cases of wife-beating and child-beating among Koreans. ‘Often a man is getting no respect in the outside world here,’ he said. ‘He is being called ‘Charlie-Boy’ by ignorant persons much younger than he is, he is working at a job that is less than he is accustomed to, that does not give him dignity, and then when his wife does not treat him with respect, this threatens him completely.’”

It was, you may remember, of the Flushing subway line that John Rocker, the one-time Atlanta Braves reliever and ace bigot, had said: “It’s the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the 7 Train to the ballpark, looking like you're riding through Beirut next to some kid with purple hair, next to some queer with AIDS, right next to some dude who just got out of jail for the fourth time, right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It’s depressing.” During the interview with Sports Illustrated Rocker also belittled Asian women. Surely Ivins wrote about John Rocker at some point, although writing as often as she did about George W. Bush was close enough. What a time to die though: it’s not as if liberalism could afford losing one of its most virile voices.

I never read her that often—not because I didn’t enjoy her when I did (my own newspaper ran her piece almost every week), but if I have column-reading time to spare I try to read the more reactionary sort by means of getting the juices flowing. The closest I came to Ivins on a regular basis was as a lower-echelon companion on Common Dream’s picks of the day, and in those days back in Queens when she was the Times’ Queens beat reporter and our paths must have crossed a few times on that subway line.

I found the very first piece she wrote for the Times, too, long before she was a reporter there. She was a reporter for the Texas Observer at the time (the wonderful and wittily liberal magazine that, by the way, has some of the best Molly memorabilia around). She must have submitted the column to the OpEd page of the Times, which, naturally, was all Texas: “As you whip along Interstate Highway 35 in Austin these days, you encounter a huge, brand new exit sign. A vast expanse of green that stretches across the freeway declares: ‘Lyndon B. Johnson Library—Next Right.’ It is larger than the sign announcing the exit for the state capitol.” Here’s to hoping that the road sign that’ll bear her name, wherever Texas plants it, as it should, as it must, is at least as big.

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