"A wish is what brought him to me."
A wish is what brought him to me. He was a three-year-old Appaloosa cross of some sort. Small. Colorful. About 14 hands tall but built like a quarter horse—my first love. All I knew was he’d been herded in off some proverbial range, sold at a sale and ended up in the Texas panhandle at a ranch owned by a friend of a friend named Arthur. Or so they said. I don’t know what made Art’s boys madder: that this pony was only 14 hands tall and bucked off every man who tried to ride him or that he was 14 hands tall and bucked off every man who tried to ride him like they were rag dolls.
In their last act of rage, the boys roped and tied him, threw him down and trimmed his hooves so short he was four-legged lame. Then they brought him to me. And I gave him the name of my predecessor: Arthur.
In my first summer off from junior college, I’d broke three horses, each in two weeks. My approach was simple: 1) keep climbing aboard until they couldn’t put me on the ground and 2) once I was on, put a lot of time in the saddle. It was a mile-a-minute joy ride every moment I was aboard and the only thing I could attribute to my insanity was my void of capacity for consequences, so much so, it’s amazing I didn’t tend toward the criminal. But I’d only broke three. I couldn’t justify calling myself a “trainer” when only a trio of backyard horses got their start because of me.
What I’m saying is, I asked for Arthur.
I don’t know if my experience that short summer did anything more than develop a little instinct and lend itself to strategy. Even in infancy, however, the two are crucial. Instinct is something that’s hit or miss in a moment, while my approach has always remained simple: try not get thrown.
As cruel as it seemed, I knew I had to get on Arthur’s back before soreness wore off and his courage returned. So I bit the bullet, tied him to a post and pulled my saddle from the fence. Before groundwork or voice commands or anything to foster finesse, I vowed to climb on his back every single day, hoping the habit to have me aboard would trump his desire to treat me like a rag doll. And maybe, by the time his faculties returned, his instinct would be to accept me as a rider and not as an enemy.
In the back of my mind, I was actually thinking that if I could paint a prettier picture of this worst case scenario, I might actually be justified in calling myself a “trainer.”
"As I stared out over smiling faces desperate for words that would trigger laughter, I turned the room into a mortuary."
I was living near Amarillo, Texas in a small town named Canyon in a dry county. And I mean dry. Like a sizzling breeze that blasts your skin with sand and strips the moisture from your membranes. (Maybe that was too much information.) My point is, dry in every sense of the word. No alcohol, no night life, no fun. So dry, that when I heard a comedy club called Jollys held an open mic every Monday night, I was shocked.
Comedy? In the panhandle? Mind-boggling.
Five minutes is all you’d need and five minutes was all you’d get. So I wrote a monologue, memorized it word-for-word and recited it verbatim on stage as a roomful of patrons wished they’d had a few more beers before I started.
The crowd was nice enough. No one heckled. No one even made a peep. As I stared out over smiling faces desperate for words to trigger laughter, I turned the room into a mortuary. Fortunately, a veteran came on stage when I hit my last period, administered oxygen and gave folks a reason to order another round. Meanwhile a comic called Batman greeted me in the green room.
I was laughing at my inadequacies and stated the obvious, something like, “Wow, I sucked!”
Batman was kind. He was the actual act of the night. He was like a can of Glade in a public restroom. “It wasn’t that bad," he said. “They laughed—once.” On a scale of one to stink, maybe that was common for stage virgins.
From that moment on, a routine was born. Batman invited me into the writing group of 4-5 local comics, showed me the ropes and gave me more than a few killer punch lines. Eventually, I became a pretty good, poorly paid opener. That meant I had 15-20 minutes of average material that could warm up a crowd but not show up the subsequent acts. In the latter respect, I was very good at my job.
Fast forward 20 years. Somehow I found Batman on Facebook and since he was the only one from that now defunct Jollys crowd to heartily reciprocate my greeting, we played catch up. He no longer worked as a comic but you couldn’t tell by his posts. Still hilarious, I reached out to him to do for my newly written screenplay what he’d done for my fledgling stage act: provide the punch lines. He delivered, we formed a partnership on a hand-shake, and then he and I dangled the script in the big Hollywood pond, waiting for a bite.
WRITER, AUTHOR, BLOGGER
"What could they possibly have to say about life?"
When I was 28 years old, I was doing stand-up comedy part-time. The place I called "my home club" was very strict on one policy: no swearing. The owner was smart that way. You couldn't own a club in the bible-toting panhandle of Texas and offend your clientele, no matter how drunk they were. Only the comics whose headshots were familiar from television could pull that off.
We openers were far from recognizable. We weren't even locally popular. Admittedly, it was probably a stretch to even call us entertainers. But I had enough material to get paid to open on a regular basis and part of my duties included being the M.C. on open mike nights.
Open mike nights are how everyone who's ever done stand-up got their start. And in that era of Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay we'd encounter young bucks who were certain they could imitate those callous masters and gain overnight success. The problem was, they were warned straight-away, they'd have to shelf the f-bombs.
The other problem was, when you're 18 years old, you're sure even the club owner doesn't know shit.
That's where I came in. After the first infraction, the owner would give them the light. After the second, he'd blind them with it, and after the third, he sent me on stage to break the mesmerizing bond of a high schooler plagiarizing an entire act by summoning a loud round of applause to disguise his exit.
This happened one week when we happened to have a rare comedienne as the middle act and I found it a great change of pace to work with her. After the above offender had been inevitably whisked out the front, she shook her head and said what the veterans in the room were all probably pondering, but it was an iconic statement to me: "I don't know what these kids are thinking. They're what, 18 years old? What could they possibly have to say about life?"
She was right. Even at 28, what did I know? So I set my aspirations aside and lived. And lived, and lived, and lived, always with the prospect of writing again in the back of my mind. Then at 44, the opportunity to take time off shined upon me like a glaring noonday sun, and I took it. Then I never looked back.
Fast forward 16 years. I'd finished my first novel (A Boy Named Trevor Catcher) and begged anyone who was kind enough to invest 300 pages of time into reading uncharted territory, to fasten their seatbelt. Not long after that, an obliged teenager who took the challenge approached me with teary eyes and cried, "Oh my God, it's like you know what it's like to be seventeen!"
No kidding. And 27. And 37. And then 47. Now I love 50 so much I'll probably be like one of those obsessed concert goers who sleeps in the parking lot to buy the first ticket when 57 comes to town.
If you ever wondered what it's all about, I'm here to say, "That's the easy part." It's all about living your story. The hard part is sticking to the script.
That's why they say, "Thoughts become things. Pick the good ones."
SMALL BUSINESS OWNER
"A silent de-evolution into default."
A silent de-evolution into default.
That’s what I called it. In spite of dreams, education or goals, I took my Plan B and ran for the goal line. I became a contender at something for which I had never set course and the cause was simple: I was too focused on survival to check my compass.
It was by default that I became a small business owner.
Not that it didn’t come with rewards. Or serve a purpose. Don’t discount decisions you have made or failed to make as if they didn’t lead somewhere. There are different ways to reach a destination. My journey was just one of them. In retrospect, it seemed like the long way around. That was, until I heard that the man who’d bought me out, used my old customers as his own personal ATM machine to the tune of about $10 million.
The more we uncovered, the more it looked like that had been his intent all along.
Seven years prior, I had been running a boutique cash management business with an intimate clientele when he approached me with interest in my business model.
My first thought was, “What’s a business model?”
From what I could tell I did something well: I reported extensive expense information to rich people and their wealth teams for estate planning, taxes, insurance, and legal needs. But it was more than that. I was their watchdog. Nothing got by me.
Until this guy came along.
As I look back, I can see how his initial involvement in investments was what he considered his segue into embezzlement until he discovered that a business model existed where he could get his mitts on the cash at the source before it was monitored.
So seven years after I folded I was back in. The remnants of the business needed to be rebuilt from a place more primitive than scratch. Even worse, the bookkeeping that had been completed since I handed over my files was shoddy at best. But the fact remained, the new owner needed a way to reassure the few clients who stayed that they could put their confidence into his hands that, you know, would frequently pass over the till but wouldn’t dip in. To do this, he had taken one solitary employee hostage but needed another who knew what they were doing. And he needed them yesterday.
It was in my wheelhouse. There was no better person to step in and make sense of chaos than me. I’d spent my entire life starting from scratch amid some messy circumstances. I’m a project person and it was just another challenge. Only this time I had the chance to do it in a way that was new to me: I had the opportunity to do it with intent. To set course and follow my compass.
It was one of the first moments in time where the entirety of my life made sense.