One thing that honks my horn? It’s these folks who tell you, “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?” Or, “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you move to (Canada, Russia, Outer Slobovia, fill in the blank)?”
I commonly hear one or the other of these suggestions from people when they don’t agree with something I’ve written in my column. Trouble is, these marching orders never come with a plane ticket or the financial assistance I’d need for a major move.
If I’m going back to where I came from, you’ll have to fly me first class and put me in a nice house with a view and a heated swimming pool.
Really, I’ve been told by readers to go back to a variety of places. See, I was raised in Maine. And since many Texans don’t or can’t distinguish one “Back East” state from the next, I’ve been told to go back to places I’ve never even lived. Somebody even suggested I return to Ohio. About 47 years ago I spent one night in downtown Cleveland in a hotel. That’s the extent of my Ohio living experience, except for just passing through.
Phil Aboussie, a native Texan who has lived in Austin since 1970, is another guy who has been told on occasion to go back to where he came from.
Phil was born and went to high school in Wichita Falls, graduated from the University of Texas in 1972, is a big UT football fan and has held a variety of occupations in Austin over the years. Early on, he worked with special needs kids for the state’s Department of Mental Health and Retardation. These days, he owns a food trailer park on FM 1626 called the Far Out Market Place.
I first met Phil in 1978 when he and a couple of buddies had just started up an Austin business called Three-Ring Service. The business would rent out a guy in a gorilla suit for kids’ birthday parties and such.
“And initially, that was me,” said Phil, adding that he worked as the guy in the gorilla suit for about a year.
Phil’s father was born in Texas, his mother was born in Oklahoma and his grandparents are from Lebanon.
So Phil is of Lebanese descent. And he looks it. Or as he put it: “I wear the map. I’m full-blooded Lebanese and I look like I just got off the boat.”
Sometimes people ask him if he’s from New Jersey. So, yes, Phil, 63, has been told to go back to where he came from. And on at least one occasion, he handled the situation brilliantly, with a touch of Texas humor.
Around 1999, Phil owned an eclectic business out on Burnet Road called Texas Radio and Wireless. The place sold car stereos and cellphones and rented out flat-bed trailers for $25 a day.
One day, a guy in his late 20s or early 30s walked in to rent a trailer. The guy was wearing a Nebraska shirt. So I’d say Phil showed remarkable patience when the guy got snotty with him and Phil didn’t tell him, “Why don’t you go back to Lincoln?”
The guy was less than diplomatic with Phil from the git-go. Apparently, he figured Phil was one of them furreners.
“He takes a look at me and has an attitude,” Phil recalled. “So he starts asking questions about the trailer, and he was being somewhat obnoxious about it.”
The guy asked Phil what would happen if the trailer got a flat. Would Phil come fix it? Phil told him, “No sir, you gotta take care of that.” The guy kept it up, asking more annoying questions and being belligerent. He was doing a heckuva imitation of a jerk.
“Finally, I looked at him and said, ‘Sir, I’m not going to be able to help you today.’ For $25, it was not worth the torment I was about to go through,” Phil said.
So the guy in the Nebraska shirt headed for the door, fuming red.
“Then he turns around, and as he walks out, he says to me, ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from?’” Phil recalled. At that point, Phil looked at the guy and asked, slowly and distinctly, “Wichita Falls? I don’t want to go back there.”
By the way, the showroom was full of customers at the time, and Phil’s Wichita Falls line brought down the house.
“Everybody in the room laughed, and he got madder as he raced out the door,” Phil said.
I wonder if the guy was headed back to Omaha.