Two days ago I saw, for the last time, a Texas landmark.
This morning, with 23 teachers all having called out sick (stomach flu) I covered a class during my only free period. Not a problem. I enjoy the time with the kids. They were seniors, many of whom I had taught last year. They were taking a test when the familiar tri-tone ding of an Apple product notification pierced the silence. “Sorry, kids, I didn’t realize my iPad wasn’t silenced.” I quickly flipped the mute switch and then looked at the screen. “Big Fire at State Fair” read the headline from the Fox4 app. It took me a while to actually find a live shot of the story behind that headline. The video required Flash which, as we all know, is a four letter word in the Apple universe. Finally pulled up a live feed on the desktop computer and I was shocked. It wasn’t really a “big fire” as such. It was a big man on fire — Big Tex, the 52′, 60 year-old mascot of the largest state fair in the nation had gone up in flames.
Word of Big Tex’s “passing” spread through the school faster than the stomach flu. I started receiving texts from other teachers and the above picture from my wife. “Mr. H. I feel like we’ve just lost a national monument…” said one student. Remembering that this is Texas and in many ways sort of is another country; well then, Big Tex has served as our equivalent of the Statue of Liberty. He’s ridiculously campy and he looks like he suffers terrible arthritis but he stands over the great State Fair of Texas. Every fifteen minutes or so his mouth begins to flap with the words “How-dy Folks! Welcome to the State Fair of Texas” followed by a series of announcements.
I tried to serve as an impromptu grief counselor to this bizarre scene of mourning. I swear one of my football players had a lone tear rolling silently down his grizzled cheek. I tried to liken this to the collapse of the Old Man of the Mountains in New Hampshire a few years back. But the kids had never heard of him. I just had to realize that I wouldn’t really be able to understand their full grief.
So I decided to go full-humor with them. And the lines began flowing freely…
“Hey kids, it looks like they really do fry everything at the Fair!”
“He died with his boots on…”
“He must have caught that bug going around. He had a high fever. In fact, he was burning up!”
Sorry, it’s what I do when I don’t know what else to do. I figured that if the State Fair’s Facebook page was opening a condolence book for him and people were leaving flowers near the pavilion then all bets were off. Did I mention they removed his steel skeletal remains covered by a white sheet. I’m surprised they hadn’t toe-tagged the giant dude.
But fear not! As one news report this evening put it: “We have the technology. We can rebuild him.” This is Texas. Why do I get the feeling rebuilding him will mean he has to be 104′ tall?