first one out is the rotten

I was just at Way Beyond Bagels, cashing out at the register. As the clerk made change and printed a receipt, I noticed the hands of the woman beside me, crossing off what looked like the last items of her list.

“Ooh, well look at you,” I said. She looked up from her list and smiled the smile of a child who’s just been praised. “It’s a great feeling isn’t it?” I said.

“Absolutely! I’m just looking it over, and I’ve only been to three places.” She turned the list over, now examining the back of her paper where the list ended. “Just a few more stops, and, well, I just feel so productive!”

“It’s the best,” I confirm.
“You must not be from around here,” she says.
“No, I am,” I say. “Well, I live here now.”
Feasting words, little bites that lead to chewing the fat. “Oh, so where are you from originally?” she says this as if she’s just learned I’m a pediatric surgeon for her son Jerry or Barry. There’s that lift in her voice; now we’re getting down to it. “New York,” I say.
“Oh, me too. Me too.”
“But I’ve spent the last six years in Texas.”
“Well, that good ol’ Southern hospitality’s rubbed off on you.” And in that moment, loading up on bagels and lox, I felt for the first time in my life proud to be a Texan, thankful that manners are contagious, and also slightly horrified, because if they do rub off on us, after a while I’d have a case of Boca manners, which is like having the manners of John Candy at an all you can eat buffet, that is, no manners at all. I now take pride in being thought of as warm. Not that I ever felt cold, but in all the years of my life, no one had ever asked where I was raised because I’d behaved in a manner so uncharacteristically of its region. Basically, I’d never been called out for being nice.

And now here in Florida, I’ve heard it several times. Faith, a stranger sitting beside me in a nail salon, opened up to me about her epilepsy, remarking, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because you smile.” And I’ve thought about that. It’s not that I smile, there are plenty of smilers. No, what I do that separates me from most every other Boca stranger and I’m sure New York, too, is that I smile first.

When we first moved here I’d smile and wave to every car with a B’nai Israel sign on it, as if to say, we have that in common, we’re an “our kind” or “us,” in an us vs. them world. Not a select few, but we share a common ground and pride. The way if, when you were younger, you’d bond first with the kids who seemed most like you at school or a new camp. Or if when you’re outside Texas but see someone with a longhorn cap, you’ll say “Hook ‘Em.” Only when I waved to strangers with the same school decal, a small school, they looked at me as if I were wearing horns. Which I suppose I can understand. If I’m pulling into a parking lot and some stranger starts to wave at me, I’d question my own sanity. “Should I know her? Is my memory going? She must have me confused for someone else.” Though as I thought all this, I’d be waving back with a smile.



  1. So there is a bonus to living surrounded by rude people – they really notice the polite one! I bet if you keep smiling first, being kind and polite, it will rub off on a few of the locals. Whenever a stranger is kind to me it reminds me to pass it on. You’re doing a service to all of Florida!

  2. Hi there!
    Great post! Off topic, How was NYC? Fabulously wonderful I’m sure, any more pics to share?

  3. “I felt for the first time in my life proud to be a Texan.” Stephanie, you are not a Texan. You weren’t a Texan in the short time you lived here and you certainly are not now. I’m very glad Texas, which you seemed loathe to move to, has made you a more polite person, but please don’t claim to be a Texan. It’s reserved for those of us who A) were born here B)who live here now or C) have lived the majority of our lives here. Now, your children are Texans but you and Phil are simply parents of Texans.

      1. Of course! Dahlink. You can say you are whatever you want to be. But if your cat had kittens in the oven, would you call them biscuits?


    1. Whoa – I guess Stephanie spoke too soon about those good old Texas manners – because it doesn’t seem that yours are on display here.

  4. Stephanie, You are a Texan and a damn good one !!! Love the post, articulates wonderfully what part of being a Texan is all about.
    Please ignore the comments of Linda O.
    From admirer in Lakeway, TX

  5. Wow Linda O – I don’t think you are acting very Texas-like! How rude!

  6. Linda- your attitude is disappointing and not very Texan at all. Maybe you should move to Boca.

    Love from a Texan who A) was born here B)who lives here now AND C) has lived the majority of my life here.

    Congratulations on being recognized for being kind, Stephanie!

  7. Linda, I’ve spent some quality hours at the airport in Dallas. I’m tempted to now call myself a Texan, if for no other reason than it would probably tick you off.
    Thanks for proving Stephanie wrong on the whole “Texans are friendly” thesis.

  8. Having been to Texas many, many times, I probably won’t ever understand why anyone would call themselves proud to “be a Texan.” Then I read Linda’s comment and it enforces this for me.

  9. I also lived in Texas (Houston) for a few years in the 80s, and it definitely turned me into a much friendlier person. When I first moved there, I was totally — and I mean totally — freaked out by people I didn’t know making eye contact and saying “hello” to me. Coming from Brooklyn, I just didn’t get it, and saw it as a possible prelude to something less than desirable (like a mugging). But after a while I got used to it, and began doing it myself. When I moved back to Brooklyn, I cried after I left a neighborhood store where the cashier didn’t as much as look at me, and in fact, simply shoved the merchandise I’d purchased at me silently. That this was what I had accepted as the norm for my entire life was suddenly revealed to me. I decided that no matter how people might or might not respond, I wasn’t going back to how things were when I first left Brooklyn. What was nice, though, was once I moved out to Port Washington, acknowledging others turned out to be just about as commonplace as it had been in Houston.

    On the subject of considering oneself a Texan, they don’t want us, so why would we want to imagine ourselves one of them? I found that “Texas Pride” permeated every aspect of life there, to the point of nausea. It’s as if Texas is seen as a separate entity from the rest of the United States by those natives who habitually identify themselves as “Texans,” and not without much — and inexplicable — superiority attached.

    So imagine the horror on certain faces when during my first week there, I pointed at the top of a building (which at perhaps 25 or 30 stories high they consider to be a veritable skyscraper), and innocently asked, “What’s the Puerto Rican flag doing up there?”

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