Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Messin' With Texas

Outlaw one day.

Law abiding citizen the next.

Yes it is possible, especially if you live here in Texas.

You see today you would get a ticket for revving up your engine and doing 85 down the highway. But tomorrow Texas raises its maximum speed limit to 85. The fastest of any state.

But the ability to put the petal to the metal isn't the only new thing a Texan can do tomorrow.

No siree. September 1st also marks the first day you can hop aboard a helicopter and legally shoot feral hogs from the air. I'm fairly ambivalent on this new law. Texas does have a hog problem, but it's not like the average Joe has the means to fly about popping a cap in Porky's ham. And I'm no fan of shooting animals and leaving them lay. Especially when we are talking about animals that contain lots of tasty bacon.

And still the new fangled fun doesn't stop because starting MaƱana, a Texan can noodle without threat of fine.

Thanks to Animal Planets new show, Hillbilly Handfishing the "sport" of noodling is a bit more well known. For those in the dark noodling is the act of diving and or reaching under water to catch catfish, by hand. Now when you jab your hand into  these unseen holes you really don't know if it will contain a water moccasin, snapping turtle or what.

Now I'm not sure how many states allow noodling but the activity is most commonly associated with Oklahoma and it goes against this Texan's grain to adopt any practice that was though up by, or heavily engaged by Okies.

Besides, I can afford a fishing pole.

And I've grown quite fond of all ten of my fingers.

And if a sport wants to be considered a sport it needs a better name than noodling. Are you listening Curling?

Actually now that I think about it noodling and curling sound as if they belong together. Like twigs and berries. Or frank and beans.

If hillbilly activities like noodling and shooting hogs from choppers (okay I admit the latter is for rich hillbillies but hillbillies none the less) catches on here in Texas I got a feeling more out-of-staters, or foreigners as we prefer to call them, will be happy to speed right through the state.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ring My Bell

I'm taking the low road today and talking about junk. I don't mean abandoned cars and nonworking appliances stacked in hillbillies yards, but rather genitalia. Male genitalia to be exact.

You see I read this news article ...

Penis Size Linked to Finger Length - ABC News

and, well frankly, I found it quite disturbing on several levels.

Before I start quoting certain sections let me paraphrase the piece for those who will not click over and read the news piece.

Korean researchers believe the length of a man's ring finger in relation to his index finger is a true indication of his penis length. According to these Koreans, the longer the ring finger in comparison to the index finger = the longer the penis.

And here was the photo that accompanied the article ...

Like every other man that reads this article the first thing I did was hold up my own hand. Now folks, I like to think of my self as a pretty confident sort of fellow. I've never felt the need to drive a Porsche, smoke giant, foul smelling cigars, or become a Day Trader. And yet, I was somewhat unnerved to discover my hand like like this ...

For a few fleeting seconds I thought I was going to have to scrape my pennies together and put a down payment on this ...

 but then I kept reading the article and realized these researchers were not only quacks of some sort, but freaks as well. Here is a quote  ...

The research team, led by urologist Dr. Tae Beom Kim from Gachon University in Incheon, Korea, measured the fingers and penises -- both stretched-out and flaccid -- of 144 men who were anesthetized before undergoing urological surgery

Okay, it's peculiar enough for a Doctor to devote so much time to the size of a man's hootus when Cancer, AIDS, and and a slew of other diseases remain uncured. But what kind of person goes around stretching out, and measuring a dude's junk when he's passed out on the surgical table?

Doctor Kim my friend, that is a serious party foul. Bust out the magic marker. Draw a vagina on his chest, shave off one eyebrow with your Bic, stuff tampons in his nostrils and take a picture of Walrus man, but don;t go messing with a dude's wang while he's passed out. I dare say that Doctor Kim was never chosen to be in a fraternity.

Another quote from the article ...

The length of the penis when stretched is believed to correlate to its erect length, the team reported. 

Man-oh-man. I don't even wanna know how they did this research.

And women laugh all you want, but this research didn't leave y'all out. It suggests that the longer your ring finger is in relation to your ring finger then the greater the chance you are a lesbian.

If this theory caught on the world would be full of index finger extensions. Playgirl would feature dimensions of a man's fingers int he centerfold. Dirk enjoys moonlit walks, cuddling, old movies and his turn off include women who smoke. Dirk is a 5-5 1/8th-4.

Matter of fact this theory would bring about the most hand scrutiny since OJ and the gloves.

So let's hear it. How does your ring finger stack up against your ring finger. Are you the next Ron Jeremy? Rosie O'Donnell? Or do you think this study is shakier than Mark Fuhrman's credibility?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fifty-Fifty - A Yellow Flag Tale

The mercury is still hitting the triple digit mark more days than not here in the Texas Panhandle. There is no crispness to our air as of yet. The leaves have not began to change. There is no frost on the pumpkins, and yet I feel as if Fall is but inched away.

Why? Because the kids have started back to school, which means in the afternoons you can hear that tell-tale pop of helmets echoing across the Texas landscape. Yep folks, it is time for some Friday night football.

Once upon a time, I donned the striped shirt each and every Friday to ref these games. I blogged about some of my more memorable reffing experiences back in 2007. That series of posts can be found here.

Given that Friday kicks off the 2011 high school football season here in Texas I thought I'd post another tale today.

I was down in the town of Plainview, Texas which is about an hour south of Amarillo. Game time was upon us so I strolled over to the visiting sideline and told the coach I needed a team captain for the coin toss.

Tho coach nodded and then turned back to his player. In very intense fashion he relayed these instructions.

"Okay, when the refs ask what you wanna do I want you to defer. If the other team one the coin toss and we can;t defer then we want to receive the ball. If we can;t receive because they wont he toss and elected to receive than we wanna kick from that end. Got it?"

The kid nodded.

"So one more time the coach said," Defer if you can. If you can;t defer we want to receive. If we can't defer or receive we wanna kick from that end."

"Got it coach," said the kid.

The coach sighed. "Repeat the choices back to me one more time."

I intervened. "Coach, we gotta have a captain. It's time to get started.

"Okay, okay," said, the coach. "Remember Jimmy Defer, receive, kick from that end. In that order."
I gritted my teeth. I'd never reffed a game from this particular team, but I certainly had never seen a coach so anal about the coin flip.

As the player and I walked to the center of the field the coach kept shouting out his instructions.

As we met at the fifty another official gave a few instructions and then told the kid I'd ushered out to "call it in the air."

As the shiny gold coin fluttered upward, the kid yells out "Defer!"

My fellow official snagged the coin and stared at the kid, "Son, you gottta call either heads or tails."
The kid looked horror stricken for a second and then turned to his sideline. "Coach, he says I can only say heads or tails! Which one should I pick!"

The coach shook his head and hollered back, "I don't give a Tinker's damn what you call just pick one!"

Again the coin arched skyward. This time the kids shouts, "Tails!"

"Tails it is," answered the other referee. "You've won the coin toss so the option is yours. What do ya'll wanna do?"

The kids smiled, raised his chin and proclaimed, "We wanna kick. From that end."

I grimaced. After all of the coach's instructions the kid had screwed up.

The other ref said, "You can kick alright but the other team gets to choose the end."

Choosing to kick meant the other team would get to choose at the opening of the second half. This meant the anal coach's squad would kick off and give up the ball to begin both halves of play.

I walked back to the sideline and said," Coach, I hate to tell this but y'all won the toss and your player chose to kickoff."

I expected the coach to blow a gasket but instead he smiled and and said to me, "Know what's really bad?"
When I shook my head, the coach said, " That is my smartest player."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Hey, You Got A Pickup Truck

It's official.

I failed in my goal to blog every day this month.

But more and more it seems as if failure is the way of the world.

The stock market, dictatorships, Tiger Woods, The USA's credit rating. Things are falling all around us.

Not even my employer, the venerable United States Postal Service is immune.

Earlier this week Postal Management announced plans to shutter 60% of it operational facilities. Currently there are 308 such facilities. I work in one of them.

Is Amarillo, Texas important enough logistically or financially to make the top 40%?

I have my doubts.

We have geography on our side. The only operations plant close by is Lubbock 2 hours south but their building is small and old. They do nor house as much or varied equipment as us. We also have I-40, an important trucking route, running through town.

Amarillo is the only show from Dallas to Denver. Oklahoma City to Albequerque, but will that matter?

I have my doubts.

Will postal powers that be/congress care that a vast region will see their mail delayed both directions.

I have my doubts.

So what will that mean for me and my family? Well, unless the upcoming release of my book, of The Feedstore Chronicles sells tens of thousands of copies I will be forced to pack up and move to one of the few facilities that survives.

Dallas or Fort Worth? Oklahoma City? Denver?

Who knows which places will remain, but of those Denver would be my preference. I have family and many writing friends in the area. Besides, the hunting, fishing and great outdoors is better. I'm not a fan of state income tax or 3.2 beer or of leaving the great State of Texas, but heat/humidity/10 bajillion people/ and notoriously crappy postal facilities will keep me away from the DFW area.

So, while I hope Amarillo's faculty makes the cut, the time may come where this Texan becomes an ex-pat. On the bright side, that may be the only way I escape having Rick Perry as my Guv-nuh.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

For 3 Easy Payments

I hate QVC.

Now before my wife chimes in her and rats on me yes, I did once buy something from QVC. A large electric fryer. And yes, I love that fryer as it has produced many a fine and tasty meal, but despite that fact I stand by my original statement -- I hate QVC.

My wife loves the shopping channel and she will sit there with it on, not really watching per-say, but keeping a wary eye for any titillating bargains that might pop up. She likes to read while the Barbie-fied or Ken-efied "hosts" peddle their wares. Hosts my ass. These people are modern day hucksters. Snake oil salesmen. They draw their readers in with polyester charm, and plastic smiles. 

I cannot read with the "hosts" tittering on about Ionic Air Purifier 3000. Used to be every space age technological advancement had 200 at the end of it, but I suppose now that we have moved beyond that year things have to be referred to 3000 to be cutting edge. When I create my great invention I'm gonna call it the Lettuce Obliviator 1952 and appeal to nostalgia to help me sell it.

Back to QVC.

The only thing worse is the callers who phone in to eagerly give their testimonial. They all sound like Waffle House waitresses, or Junior League rejects. If their voice hasn't been ravaged by cigarette smoke it's dripping with honey. I wish I could ignore most of it as my wife does but I can't. There I was not long ago trying to read while the QVC snake peddler droned on about he Ionic Air Purifier 3000. A bar fly of what sounded like considerable age called in to rave about the product.

Thad the QVC host : Phyllis in Tallahassee. Is it true you have already purchased the Ionic 3000?
Phyllis in Tallahassee : I did and I just love it. I'm a smoker Thad.
Travis, trying to read from the comfort of his couch : No shit

Sadly, much like football referees, neither QVC hosts or QVC callers can hear my commentary.

Phyllis in Tallahassee : And being a smoker, my house used to smell like cigarettes.
Thad the QVC host : You said used to Phyllis. Are you telling me the Air Purifier 3000 changed that?
Phyllis in Tallahassee : I sure am Thad. The second I plugged it in smoke poured right into my unit. Even though I didn't have a cigarette lit at the time.
Travis on Couch : (says nothing, but arches right eyebrow)
Thad the QVC host : That;s incredible Say that again Phyllis.
Phyllis in Tallahassee : It's true Thad. The smoke in the air flowed straight into my unit.
Thad the QVC host : So your unit pulled in Toxins you didn't even know was there.

Travis's wife who raises here eyes for the first time : Where are your going?
Travis, no longer sitting on couch : Outside. I can't stand to hear anymore about Phyllis and her toxic sucking unit.

Yep, I hate QVC.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Remember This Name -- Anita Howard

Back in May I introduced y'all to Anita Howard, one of my fellow Amarillo writers. Having read her work, I predicted big things for Anita and shared the trailer for her book Splintered.

Today Anita announced to the world that Splintered sold at auction in got a two book deal. It couldn't have happened to a nice person.

Congrats Anita!


Anita proves that the traditional dream is still out there to be had. However, as i indicated in my post yesterday, I no longer believe the long honored right way of ... writer writes book, queries and lands agent, agent pitches MS to New York. New York bestows its favor upon writer, all live happily ever after ... is the only or even best way to go.

It's been hard for me to abandon that dream especially given recent strides toward that goal. But in a series of events, I'm not ready to go into on here that track derailed earlier this week.

I have been described by more than one member of the publishing world as a regional writer. I still dispute that given that most of y';all who read and comment regularly live someplace other than the region I call home, but if the powers that be wanna label me a regional writer that so be it. I'll simply be the best damn regional writer I know how to be.

Long time readers might remember the days when I blogged every Sunday about my days working for the world's most morally bankrupt boss. Those tales about my teenage years working at the Feedstore were some of my favorite blog posts but I took them down when I turned The Feedstore Chronicles into a book. My rather vague post yesterday was the result of disappointment, anger, hope, and fear, but it was also about the resurrection of The Feedstore Chronicles and a brand new dream. Yeah, I'm still being vague i suppose but for the first time in months I feel like I'm headed the right direction again.   

Monday, August 15, 2011

It's A Jungle Out There

This isn't so much a post as it is a declaration.

For 11 years I've been chasing the publication dream.

I've tried to do everything the so-called "right" way.

I bought into the convention that the "right" way, was the only way.

Well the closer I get, the less I like the look of the conventional path. Sure the trail is well lit and groomed but guess what, I'm a bit darker and twisted myself. I like to stomp through the undergrowth even if I have to pick out a few stickers.

Travis is stepping off the path. Travis is taking the scenic route. Travis is going hiking.

Yeah I just went third person while talking about myself. So what?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Many Thanks

Not too long ago I released a small collection  of stories on both nook and kindle called Whispers. After an initial sales surge, thanks to many of y'all I know, the book has not sold very well, which would be both disappointing and disheartening if not for one saving grace ... the many wonderful comments and reviews I have received from those who have read the stories.

The latest of which can be found here at The Walking Man's blog. The Walking Man is a true wordsmith. A poet of outstanding talent whose prose I deeply respect. He rarely posts anything other than poetry so for him to honor me with his praise and blog space is a great honor for me.

At the risk of appearing braggadocios by tooting my own horn here are a few snippets gleaned from the Amazon reviews of Whispers.

"It's a wonderful balance of showing and omitting, of description and metaphor."

"Reading them is like touching a circuit alive with electricity. The tales are told simply but with great emotional power."

"Erwin is a strong and nuanced writer, and I enjoyed his stories so thoroughly that I read them in one sitting."

"While the subject matter might seem heavy, these are good summer reads that make you pause and reflect on your actions and the consequences."

"Travis Erwin is not afraid to spill his guts onto the page."

I appreciate those who have plunked down the 99 cents, and I doubly thank those who after reading the collection took time to email me, post a review on Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble, or to plug the book on their own blog, Facebook, and Twitter for word of mouth is all a book like Whispers can rely on.


P Is For

Given my post yesterday, on Rick Perry, I think this is an appropriate follow up. After all, Perry does start with a P.
Flash card anyone?

Friday, August 12, 2011

I Hate Blogging Politics, but ...

Now that is is clear my old bud, Texas Governor Rick Perry, is going to toss his Aqua Net into the ring and make a run at the presidency I feel obligated to comment. If the hair spray reference in that first sentence gave you pause let me introduce you to Rick.

Does he look like a man that would risk mussing so much as a single hair with a hat?

Now me and Slick Rick have a bit of relationship which you can catch up on here, and here.

The gist of those posts are this.

1) I make a disparaging comment of Mr. Perry

2) Weeks later I get an email from a member of Mr Perry's campaign team (he was seeking reelection for Governor at the time) The email describes me as both an influential Texan and a long time supporter of Rick Perry. The letter urges me to blog about my support of Mr. Perry's bid for another term as Governor.

3) I post a letter clearly stating I do not like or support Perry. I end the post with a sarcastic letter addressed to the campaign chairwoman. 

4) Weeks pass by and I receive another email from the woman. This time thanking me for my support and as a sign of thanks it includes a personal invite to a meet and greet session with Mr Perry during a private/invitation only function of his upcoming visit to Amarillo.

Sadly, I was out of annual leave and could not take off from work to attend. I would have loved to have gotten a picture of me and Slick Rick to aid in my mockery of Rick Perry but alas it was not meant to be.

Come December, Perry will have served as Texas Governor for 11 years. As George W. Bush's  lieutenant Governor he took over when W became president. I'm going to go on the record here and say W I think Bush did a fine job as governor. It wasn't until he sold his political soul tot he Devil for the presidency and became some kind of Aww-Shucks-Good-Ol' Country-Boy that I lost respect for the man. He didn't pretend to be stupid or behave like a backwoods hick while either campaigning or serving as Texas Governor.

But back to Perry.

Yesterday I wrote this Facebook post ...

I'm torn whether I want Rick Perry to run for president or not. On one hand, it might be the only way to end to end his monarchy here in Texas, but on the other I have an intense dislike for the fellow and I'd sure hate to see him in charge of the entire nation.
The post prompted several people to ask why I specifically will not vote for him. Along with info in those previous posts here are a few reasons why I will not vote for him to be President Of the United States. I will also point out out here that I will not be voting for the incumbent President either. Should it come down the those two names on the ballot I will most likely vote for the Libertarian candidate as my political opinions lean that direction anyway.
Perry's political career began in 1984, when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives as a Democrat. Yes, that's right folks. The Republicans party's poster boy once was a Democrat. A democrat that served as Chairman of Al Gore's Texas campaign during the 1988 presidential primaries. A year later Perry jumped ship and joined the Republican Party.

Why? Pure speculation on my part but I feel as he did it because Democrats have ZERO chance of getting elected to statewide office here in Texas. Only because of idiotic statements by Clayton Williams did Democrat Ann Richards when the Governorship for a single term back in the 80's.

In 2003, Governor Perry proposed the Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile highway cutting a swath thought the state. His plan laid claim to half a million acres of farm and ranch land. After the State spent more than $50 million overwhelming statewide opposition killed the plan.

In 2007, Perry signed an executive order (before the state legislature could ever discuss or vote on the issue) making Texas the lone state in the nation to require 6th grade girls to receive a vaccination against a sexually-transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer. Why? Rick will no doubt say he was concerned for this girls but the fact is Perry's former chief of staff had left that position to work as a lobbyist for Merck. And guess what Merck just happened to be the maker of the mandated vaccine. 

Back in 2009 Perry made headlines for grandstanding and refusing Obama's stimulus money. He was a bit quieter 4 months later when he asked the federal Gov't for  $170 million to bolster the states unemployment fund.

Perry described the oil spill in the recent Gulf Oil Spill as an act of God. Never mind the the gross negligence that has been brought to light by BP and others involved in the Deep Horizon.  

Really I could go on for a while but this post is long enough. I view Perry as a win at all cost carer politician. Yes, he has done some good things. Texas is leading the country in job creation. I happen to agree with his stance on gun control, parental permission for underage abortions, and he swiftly ended all gas price gouging immediately after 9/11, but I believe he will make deals and show favor to his friends and financial contributors without regard to to the welfare of the nation. Therefore Rick Perry will not get my vote to run this great nation.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


As most of you know, I work at the Post Office. I repair the automated machinery that sorts the mail.

Generally speaking when the equipment has a technical glitch we say it has a "bug" in it. This morning one of my coworkers opened up Delivery BarCode Sorter and discovered his bug had fur and innocent round eyes.

I have no idea how this kitten got in the building or why it crawled inside this machine, but given all the moving parts its a wonder this cat isn't ground up like a cheeseburger rather that looking like a future LolCat.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Like Butter

Metaphors and similes are dangerous things.

In the right hands they can be a clever way to get your point across. They can enrich a story and truly make it come alive to your audience, but at their worst metaphor and similes will shake your readers like the testicles of a fat man doing jumping jacks.

See what I mean? Jarring.

Or worse. All your metaphors and similes are cliched, in which case they are as worthless as tits on a bore hog.

Not too long ago I went to a childrens mass in which the homily was being delivered by a young priest. The priest had great intentions. He was trying to teach the kids about God's ability to uplift and comfort by comparing Him to a hot air balloon. Perhaps it worked for the kids but this jaded adult couldn't get passed the word choices he used ... hot air, windbag, nothingness. The homily sent my mind reeling away from the priest intended direction and truthfully I barely heard the last half.

The same thing can happen in a book. A writer must match the words with the genre. A historical writer, whether it be medieval western or even World War I writer would not want to describe something as being as shiny as a cubic zirconium.

Likewise it should match the scene's tone and tempo. You wouldn't want to write ... She wrapping her legs around his bare waist and clung to him tightly, like piece of chewed gum to to the underside of a diner table, while writing a sex scene, but that same simile might work if some guy was trying to escape a bad relationship with an overly clinging girlfriend.

I'm a big fan of metaphors and perhaps rely on them a bit too much especially when writing humor. Here is a scene from my story Plundered Booty, which is available in the anthology Deadly By The Dozen.

I joined the other salesmen in pretending to study the sticker of a candy apple red Mustang. That convertible pony was a hot ride, but it had sat in the middle of the showroom for a couple of weeks. What they were really sizing up was their chances with this new girl. To tell the truth, I wasn’t even sure Junior had a chance with this one.

Hair darker than a new set of Michelin’s. Lips that put the gloss on that Mustang to shame. A body with more curves than a Porsche. But it was those eyes that got me.

Bright, innocent eyes. Big and round like the headlights of a late-fifties sedan. The kind of eyes that said, I got a big block under the hood, but I’d never use my power for mere thrills. I’m only looking to get you safely to your destination. 
I trusted her from the very moment she batted those long black lashes and gazed my direction. Some would say that was my first mistake. And maybe they’re right. Those same people would say I fell in love with her right then and there. But they’re wrong about that. At the time, I still loved my wife. 

The first person narrator of this story, Hank Zybeck is a car salesman, and I use many car references throughout because they fit the character. Hank is a simple man with few interests -- Cars, Pirates, and Food. So anytime I needed to show the reader what Hank was thinking I drew from this pool.

Word spread among our wives faster than a puddle of oil beneath a Chevy, and all of us got stained. 

Hank is a Ford man so Chevy is almost a dirty word in his vocabulary so by using it in conjunction with an oil leak the reader understands this is a bad event without me having to actually say so. 

I'm not sure I have a point to this post other than to warn against the dangers of metaphors and similes and to urge my fellow writers to stop, think about the characters world. Ponder the story at hand and create imagery that conveys the message you want to send. You don't want to be the kind of writers that portrays God as a windbag full of hot air.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Something From Nothing

I recently caught part 2 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Long time readers of this blog might remember I was highly critical of book 7 after being a huge fan of the first 6. I am happy to say I think the movies, both part 1 and 2 improved on the flawed aspects of that last novel, so I'm hereby decreeing  that the movie Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows is better than the book. This place the story in rarefied company as far as I am concerned. Dang few movies can claim that status in my opinion but here are my top five movies that were better than the book they were based upon.

#5 One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest I saw the movie long before I read the book and I'm sure picturing Jack Nicholson jaded me somewhat, but truthfully author Ken Kesey's style of story telling simple did not work well for me.

#4 Sideways Again I saw the movie first. I enjoyed it so much I sought out the novel but the characters neurosis didn't come off as endearing on the page as it did in the hands of Paul Giamatti.

#3 The Shawshank Redemption I liked Stephen Kings version titled Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, but the movie is one of my all time favorites. Technically a novella and not a novel I didn't realize until half way through this one that it was based on King's story and that I'd read it. Not until the poster came into play.

#2 Big Fish Again, I saw the movie before the book. I sense a trend.

#1 Forrest Gump I recently had a battle with a friend over this one.  Her claim is that both sucked but the super sugary sweet movie was too saccharine. I claim at least the movie made you feel good and the soundtrack was excellent. Reading the novel was pure torture for me and I lost track of the times I flung the book aside while exclaiming bullshit. I tend to avoid the top grossing movies and books. Reluctantly I usually get around to watching or reading them but not until the fad has passed. I actually read Forrest Gump when the movie was the big thing and for a while I thought the American public had gone mad but then I saw the movie and thought. "huh, that wasn't half as bad as I expected.

Okay so let's hear it, What movie/book did I forget? And a follow up. What is the best 1,2 combination of great book and stellar movie? Me? I'm going with Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo and starring Paul Newman.

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Special, My Town Monday -- Tip Of The Hat To Some Local Heroes

Of all the gifts my mother bestowed upon me, I count the love of reading as the greatest.

I went out of my way to instill this same love in my boys, but as any parent knows wanting your child to do something is not anywhere close to the same thing as having them do it.

My oldest took off reading as soon as he learned how, but my youngest was reluctant. You see he hates to fail and expects to be perfect at everything he attempts so when he couldn't read every word he came across he simply refused to read. Especially out loud, for he feared he would come to a word he didn't know and would look dumb. Of course we didn't figure all of this out at the snap of a finger. He would tell us he couldn't read and we would work with him, but he'd resist and I was beginning to think her perhaps had a learning disability.

And then an event changed everything.

Members from The Crown of Texas Arabian Horse Club here in Amarillo, Texas brought the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation  to my son's school.

The Black Stallion Literacy Foundation currently with programs in nine states, motivates 1st and 4th grade children to become better readers through the gift of books and interaction with horses.  

The first grade program begins with children receiving the hardcover book Little Black, a Pony during a visit at school from the book's characters, Little Black and Big Red. The program completes with a field trip to the Will Rogers Range Riders Arena for a special hands-on learning experience which includes learning stations and a second book, Little Black Goes to the Circus. The learning stations, about horses and horse care, reinforce vocabulary from the book and most importantly, each child has an opportunity to read their favorite page of Little Black, a Pony, to a horse. 

For some kids this program is about the opportunity to own a book of their own. For my son it was the chance to read OUT LOUD to something that couldn't and wouldn't criticize, laugh, snicker, or think him stupid if he struggled over a word. He came home from the first event absolutely beaming. He read that first book and told us all about how great his day was. When he received his second book  and actually read to that horse he describes it as the best day of his life. No I am not exaggerating or using hyperbole here, but keep in mind, six-year-olds are free with their praise and exuberance.

What is undeniable, however, is that this program turned him from a reluctance almost closet reader into a bold confidant one. He owned dozens of books already and has acquired hundreds more in the nearly two years since, but his Little Black books are still cherished by both he and myself for I love them for giving him the gift of a love of books. I wish i could scan in the picture they took of my son reading to the horse but it is taped inside his book and I fear taking it out to scan it would damage the photo.

The local group hopes to add a fourth grade program in the near future, but for now they are struggling to gather the funds to continue bringing it to as many 1st grade entry level readers as possible. 
In the Amarillo area, our BSLF experience with first graders as shown us that the program promotes success by motivating children to read books. Many of the children who were significantly behind at the beginning of our program became avid readers, ready to advance with their class to the next grade level.

In the second program, fourth grade children are given a copy of Walter Farley’s timeless classic The Black Stallion.  It has been found that these children are truly motivated to read such a wonderful book. At the end of the fourth grade curriculum the students are treated to the “Arabian Nights Show” starring the Black Stallion that will travel from Florida to Amarillo for these successful readers.

Last year six schools participated in the BSLF first grade program. We are looking forward to increasing our number of first grade schools and including fourth graders in the future.Your contribution can make it possible for us continue to touch the lives of Amarillo area students. This is our fourth year bringing the program to Amarillo area first graders and we assure your donation will make a significant difference in the lives of these children.
The first grade program requires $10.00 per student and a donation of $300.00 will allow an entire class to participate. The BSLF is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, your donation is 100% tax deductable.

Donate to our local area Black Stallion Literacy Foundation through the Crown of Texas Arabian Horse Club

If you have more questions about the program or their needs visit their website or to provide a cash donation to help spread the program you can do so via PayPal using the club's email address

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Primed and Ready

Last night, as I watched Deion Sanders deliver his induction speech into the NFL Hall of Fame, I was reminded of the time he flipped me the bird.

The year was 1998. The month December. Deion was playing for his third NFL team.

Being a New Orleans Saints fan of long standing I of course despise the Atlanta Falcons so when the dirty birds drafted the brash talking, cocky, cornerback out of Florida State I was quick to decide I didn't like him either.

From Atlanta, Deion moved on to the San Francisco 49ers and oh how I hated the 49ers because in those days they were the elite team in the Saints division.

And to top it off "Primetime" as Mr. Sanders billed himself signed on with the Dallas Cowboys. Given the fact 90% of my buddies were Cowboy fans and gave me constant shit about the Saints having never won a playoff game in the history of the NFL I didn't like anything about the boys with the blue star.

I viewed Deion "Primetime" Sanders as the epitome of the primadona athlete. He had no loyalty to his team or their fans. Only the the limelight and the almighty dollar. He was a defensive mercenary willing to play for Satan himself.

The morning of Sunday December 6th I woke up in my New Orleans hotel with a considerable pounding in my head. It was me, my wife, and a buddy who was a devote Cowboy fan. We had tickets for the Saints/Cowboy game at high noon but as my feet hit the floor I wasn't sure I'd love that long, for you see I'd had a bit TOO much fun the night before.

My buddy had never been to the Superdome so we headed to the game extra early to look around. With every heartbeat the throng in my skull hit harder than Deion ever did an opposing ball carrier.

In those days the Superdome had a sort of rundown mall attached to it. Most of the stories were empty and I've heard it has never reopened since Katrina but I can't say for sure, but we arrived before the doors to the dome were open so I headed over to the mall to buy some aspirin or Tylenol. I found the pills I needed but soon discovered at 9:05 on a Sunday morning there wasn't a single place open to buy a bottle of water or a can of cola. However, I did find a place already selling beer, so I bought a Blackened Voodoo Dixie and chased my medicine down with some hair of the dog.

We wandered over to watch Buddy D rant and rave as he delivered his radio show live from the mall. By the time I finished that first beer I was feeling much better so I bought another.

When the Dome doors opened we were some of the first fans inside. This was back int he days of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin so the Cowboys were still a good team though Barry Switzer had began the act of destroying them so the end was near.

For the Saints it was the dismal Mike Ditka, Kerry Collins, Wilmont Perry years. My buddy was cocky confident. I was not, but by the time I finished my third and fourth Blackened Voodoo Dixie I was starting to feel some Who Dat magic.
Our tickets were on the next to the last row of the Superdome. As we sat down I noticed a lone player was out on the field running and cutting. The swagger - the do-rag - quickly revealed it was none other than Deion "Primetime" Sanders. He'd been injured and missed a few games for "turf toe" but the talk was he was going to play this week. Feeling rather boisterous I headed down to the bottom rail of the the Superdome's third tier and began calling out.

"Hey Deion!"
"It's just a toe!"
"Suck it up!"

He continued to run wind sprints and cuts for twenty minutes and I hollered down to him the entire time, never once getting a reaction.

"You're getting too old Deion!"
"Deion! You are passed your Prime Time!"

As he finished his warm-up Deion pimp walked towards the tunnel. His cocky swagger, along with the Blackened voodoo Dixie pumping through my veins, prompted one more taunt from me. "Deion! You Suck!"

Without ever turning around Primetime raised his right hand high in the air and extended one finger as if to say, Hey, loud mouth in the upper deck. I heard you and you can kiss my ass.    

A half hour later, when the rest of the team came out, Mr Sanders appeared in a fancy gold trimmed suit and he stood on the sideline that day and watched a bad New Orleans Saints team kick the crap out of the boys with the blue star. Saint won 22-3 in total domination, but last night as I watched Deion deliver is speech I couldn't help but smile realizing not everyone has been flipped off by a Hall of Famer.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

It Was The Best of Times, It Was The WOrst Of Times

Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing my 20th high school reunion. Caprock High -- Class of 1991.

It really is both strange, yet enjoyable to hang out with folks you mostly have not see in two decades. Some things change. Some do not.  Some turned out exactly how you imagined and others are shocking.

I can't say what people expected of me but they all seemed to be shocked by my size. You see for most of my school days I was of average size. Here is a shot of my 4th grade class.

Can you pick me out?

3rd row from the bottom. Right hand side. Dorky kids in the gimongous glasses and Nike sweatshirt.

Directly behind my right shoulder is my best friend Mark. He was the ladies man of our class and always taller than most.

Here is a shot of our group last weekend. 21  folks in this picture from a class of nearly 300. A dismal turnout but we had fun so it was their loss. There were a few others who attended other functions or left before this shot.

There are only four people that appear in both this and my 4th grade shot. I'll give a free copy of my E-Book Whispers to anyone who can correctly guess the two other than Mark and myself. I'm at the back over on the right hand side. Mark is immediately to my right. Despite our once being the best of friends, I have spoken to him exactly twice since graduation. First at our 10th and now at our 20th Reunion. And yet our conversation were never strained or awkward. We simply picked up chatting as if we'd gone to lunch yesterday. His wife shared a great story Mark's dad had told her about the first time Mark mentioned me in Kindergarten.

Mark went to his dad and asked if he could spend the night at my house. His dad said,  Son, I don't know these people and I can't just send you off to stay with people I don't know. "But Dad," Mark said. "Travis is one of my three favorite people in the world." "And who are the other two?" his dad asked. "Well," Mark said, "There's you, God, and Travis."

He got to spend the night and better than three decades later I'm proud to say we are still friends. Though I am fairly certain my ranks has slipped a few spots over the years given Mark is married with three boys of his own these days.

But truthfully, it was nice to see and talk with everyone, even the people I wasn't friends with in school. In one breath it felt like a lifetime ago since we were sitting in Government or History class and the next second it felt as if it all happened yesterday. Of course being a bullshitter of long standing I told a story or ten as I tend to do anytime I have a willing or at least captive audience.

 Here I am talking to Mark and his wife. Yes those are my Shiners on the table. One coworker worried after seeing this and several other shots on Facebook that people would get the wrong idea about me. As I told him, "I'm a writer, I have no kind of quality reputation to uphold. People expect us to be both liars and boozers. long as we are entertaining they are not disappointed by either facet of our being." 

But you know what I like best about this picture? The look on my wife's face to the left of me. No doubt she
has heard whatever tale I was telling a dozen or more times and still she graces me with that gleaming smile rather than a roll of her eyes, or a shake of her head.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Write Like Your Momma Is Dead

Write like your momma is dead.

This remains as perhaps the most useful writing advice I've ever received over the years, and it sounds simple enough, but I have not always had the courage to follow it.

Oh I thought I was being bold, daring, even when i wasn't and still there are times when I type out a sentence or paragraph and then delete it with the thought, No, I can't write that. Or I come up with an idea for a story and think wow, that would be great but people will think I've completely lost my mind. More and more, I eventually say to hell with what somebody might think. It's how or what I want to write and damn it I'm going to write it that way. I'm not all the way there yet, but I do believe of letting it all hang out these days.

Write like your momma is dead came from a fellow writer at a class I took some 11 years back, but an agent once told me something very similar. If your writing doesn't piss off somebody, chances are you are writing strong enough to truly reach anybody. 

At least for me this statement has a slightly different meaning as it's more about passion to your words than self censorship.It's the difference between the married couple that only has sex on the first and third Saturday of each month and the couple that sneaks off the the janitor closet when the PTA meeting gets dull. Passion, it seems to me is the key sustaining anything is this life. Which leads me to another statement about writing that has always stuck with me.

Talent, luck, and perseverance. To get published at least once, a writer needs only one of these things. To have a career they need only two.

I'm especially interested to hear what my fellow writer think about this statement.

I'd like to think I have some writing talent and generally speaking I've always considered myself extremely lucky in life, and given the fact I'm still knocking on doors and rattling cages better than a decade after entering this business I do believe I am persistent. And yet, I at this point I can't honestly call my writing endeavors a career. It's certainly more than a hobby, but given that it's my 40 hours a week at the Post Office that pays the majority of the bills I can't truly say I have a writing career.

Another literary agent once told me ... No one under the age of 35 should attempt tow rite fiction as they do not have enough life experience to pull it off. I was 28 at the time. Her words pissed me off, motivated me. I was certain I'd prove her wrong by publishing at least one, if not more, novels before I turned 35. I'm not 38 nearly 39. She wins. I lost, but I still think her statement was bullshit. So I didn't disprove it these people did.

Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird was released 9 months before her 35th birthday.  
Stephen King was a mere boy of 26 when Doubleday bought Carrie.
and here is more authors who published their first book before 35 ...
  • Junot Diaz – 29
  • Thomas Pynchon – 26
  • Margaret Atwood – 30
  • John Barth – 27
  • Ayn Rand – 29
  •  Ernest Hemingway – 27
  •  John Steinback – 27
  • Joan Didion – 29
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald – 24
  • Francine Prose – 27
  • Kurt Vonnegut – 30
  • Salman Rushdie – 28
  • Italo Calvino – 24
  • E.L. Doctorow – 29
So tell me, what do y'all think about these statements? What writing advice or statements have most stuck in your mind over the years? Ever had sex in a janitor closet? I'm only kidding about the last one. Unless of course you feel the need to confess. In that case I warn you, anything you say just may end up in a book. Yeah it will be a book published by an author older than 3 but then again it's never too late to chase a dream.  

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Rise and Shine

There we were. me, my wife and our two boys watching Great White Sharks breach for whales. Shark week on Discover is a big thing in our household since Zalen, our 8year old considers himself the second coming of Jacques Cousteau.

A commercial for another show, Auction Wars I think, comes on. A husband complains that his wife spent 4 grand for a book and she retaliates by saying her husband spent 200 on a stripper pole.

Ten or fifteen minutes go by before Zalen says, "Mom, what is a stripper pole?"

His question certainly flustered my wife but not nearly as much as when our 10 year old piped up and said, "It's a pole naked women hold onto when they dance on for money."

My wife immediately shot me a glance. She didn't say a word but the question was there in her eyes. Did you tell him about stripper poles.

In self defense I turned to Tarek. "Where did you learn about stripper poles?"

"In a magazine," he answered.

My wife's brows arched higher.

"What magazine? I inquired.

"One of those fishing ones," Tarek answered. "In the back they have an ad for a stripper pole alarm clock."

So what did I do? I googled it and found this.

At least it doesn't spray glitter too.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meat Me Over There

Here we are on Day 2 of my post every day for the month of August quest. However, I never said all the daily posts would appear here so today you'll find me at my other blog ... Lettuce Is The Devil.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Red Dirt Rovings

For My Town Monday I thought I'd travel 240 miles east of Amarillo and show y'all a few sights from my recent trip to Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City is the capital and the largest city in Oklahoma. With a population of 580,000 it ranks 31st among United States cities. It's entire metro area is home to 1.2 million Okies, but don't hold that against the place for there are a lot of things to do in the area. Being from Texas I had to get at least one dig in regards to our stately neighbors. Texas and Oklahoma has a good healthy rivalry that spreads to many areas but is most prominent in collegiate athletics and mumbled cursings about how the others drive.

On April 19th 1995 the Alfred P Murrah federal building was bombed and 168 people lost their lives.

Today the site is the home of a memorial and looks like this ...

It is a very somber place and standing, looking at the 168 empty chairs is a stark reminder of how fragile life can be.

Oklahoma City is home to a water park named White Water Bay and an amusement park of medium size named Frontier City. Neither rank as tops in their field but both provide good family fun at fairly reasonable prices. Especially if you are a tightwad like me, and gather coupons.

The city is also home to The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the National Softball Hall of Fame, but I have not been to either in years so I can't weigh in on any current exhibits or features.

My family did visit the Science Museum of Oklahoma and we had a blast. The boys learned to ride a segway, flew a stunt plane in a simulator and discover whet it feels like to stand outside in a  tornado. We spent over 4 hours exploring the place and could have spent twice that much had time permitted.

Along with the NBA Thunder, the team is home to several minor league teams such as the Oklahoma Barons of the American Hockey League. The Barons are the top affiliate for the Edmonton Oilers, but of course this isn't hockey season so my family had to settle for a trip to Bricktown Ballpark to watch the AAA Oklahoma Redhawks, the Houston Astro's top minor league team play.

The crowd was sparse and the Redhawks lost but my boys had a blast and both of them snagged foul balls to take home as souvenirs.

And of course the University of Oklahoma is just south of the city in Norman to provide a variety of minor league sports. (Sorry my long standing dislike of the Sooners prompted yet another dig)

Oklahoma City has done a great job transforming their old warehouse district into an entertainment district known as Bricktown complete with restaurants, shops, a riverwalk, nightclubs, and manhole covers.

Manhole covers you say?

Yep. And only in Oklahoma would a sewer be considered sanitary.

Dang it, there I go again. Guess you can take the Texan to Oklahoma but you can't take Texan out of him even while he's there.