Molly Ivins: Out of This World, In Many Ways
Writing about Molly is harder than I thought it would be, and not for the reasons you think. She and I were not close friends. We both wrote columns for the Metro page of the Dallas Times Herald. We were drinking buddies, which is not the same as buddies. We were competitive.
She was smarter and funnier, but I was more fluent in French. Then what happened: She stayed smart and funny, and over the years I lost my French. A bad bargain, I see now.
Molly was a strange creature. Brilliant and weird. She was so extremely Luddite that the Dallas Times Herald at one point confiscated her laptop. She was screwing up the computer system with it somehow, and they couldn't get her to stop.
She offered to sell me this wonderful old reel-to-reel tape recorder her father had given her when she went off to college. Needless to say it was already a techno-antique. I asked her why she was getting rid of it. She told me she had learned it was now possible to record television shows, but every time she tried to use the reel to reel for that purpose, "All I get is the sound."
She was very much of this world and very much not.
Her passing brings up an unpleasant chapter -- something I have never talked about with anybody, I guess. She and I got run over by the same bus, politically speaking.
We both wrote about Dallas City Hall, and we were trying to see who could out-hammer the bastards. Between us, we did some damn good hammering. We were able to move public opinion and shift the agenda a little.
This was mid-1980s, and the big issue was the real estate boom. We were both beginning to report the over-building story -- that the downtown business establishment of the time, dominated by real estate developers, had allowed the city to become flamboyantly over-stocked with commercial and multi-family buildings. The Dallas Morning News, of course, was telling people that what Dallas needed was more and more development as quickly as possible.
We were dead right, The News was telling big fat lies. It was the profligacy of the Citizens Council and the News and that whole gang that wound up putting Dallas in a 10-year Depression because of the over-stock in the real estate market.
But the downtown guys were desperate to shut us up. They were panicked about what would happen to them when the bubble burst. For good reason, as history showed. The only honest man in town was Trammell Crow, who kept saying you didn't have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that the city was dangerously overbuilt.
The Citizens Council guys hired the late Johnny Johnson, a lawyer and political fixer, to get Molly and me fired. In the day, the Herald would have told him to stuff it. But the paper was very weak, on its last legs and not in a position to make anybody mad.
Even at that, the editor, Will Jarrett, one of the toughest best editors I ever worked for, held the wolves at bay enough to cut a compromise deal. Molly would be dispatched back to Austin where she belonged and would no longer write about Dallas. My column would be taken off the Metro front and banished to the Op-Ed Page, where no one would ever see it.
Like a lot of the best people at the Herald, Molly saw the hand-writing: Even this half-measure meant the paper was mortally wounded and would never again stand up to the hucksters who ran Dallas. She took off on her now-famous career. Elsewhere. I stayed on until the bitter end in 1991. Personal reasons. Another time when you're having trouble getting to sleep I'll tell you about it.
But part of it was this. I was much more bitter about getting shut down than Molly. She said to me, "Who ever gave a shit about Dallas, anyway, Schutze? Oh, no, I have to go back to Austin? Please, please, don't throw me in that briar patch." She kicked the dust off her heels and ran away whistling.
I was bound and determined that some day somebody was going to give me a hat, a six-shooter and another shot at the bastards. It took me almost a decade of freelancing and working for other newspapers, but finally I found my way back to the O.K. Corral, otherwise known as the Dallas Observer.
So now Molly's dead, and I'm here, wondering about choices. In the end I'm not sure we have any. She was sure brilliant. Those guys knew that, and that's why she didn't belong here. Me, I'm just stubborn. Maybe that's why I am here.
She wound up where she was destined, and I guess I did, too. Everybody has his laughing place, or, as I might have said to Molly over 37 beers at Joe Miller's, "Tout le monde a son p'tit coin de bonheur."
I know what she would have said. "Schutze, give me your keys and call a cab." --Jim Schutze