This article appears in our February 2019 “Love Letters to Texas” collector’s issue. Subscribe today.

May 2010

Q: My husband and I go dancing almost every weekend, but I end up dancing with his best buddy more than I do with him. His friend is just a better dancer, and there’s no hanky-panky going on, but I’m starting to feel guilty. Do I need to stick with the one that brung me?

A: The conventional wisdom would have you reserve your dance card for him that brung you, yes, but the conventional wisdom would also have you stop at five tequilas and refrain from trying to “sit in” with the band as guest vocalist on the “Cotton-Eyed Joe.” Where’s the fun in that? The Texanist learned how to navigate a dance floor from overbearing junior cotillion chaperones at the Knights of Columbus hall in Temple. (Another flaw in the conventional wisdom: Back then the one that brung you was often your mom.) These ladies instilled in him a firm conviction that dance cards are made to be filled. And if it requires the efforts of multiple partners to fill yours, you should not feel ashamed. The real question is not whether you must dance only with the one that brung you but why the one that brung you didn’t also brung his dancing shoes. If it’s because he would rather drink beer to excess and dribble tobacco spit down his chin and onto the crisp white Western shirt you gave him for Christmas, then he has only brung the situation on himself and you should not feel guilty.

August 2011

Q: I recently gave my grandson a bullwhip for his ninth birthday, and the last time I visited he told me that his mom, my daughter, wouldn’t let him play with it. I asked her about it, and she explained to me that a whip wasn’t a good toy for a kid these days. End of bullwhip and end of story. I had a bullwhip as a boy and had lots of fun with it. When did whips go out of style?

Grandpa Jim, Amarillo

A: According to recent studies, it’s not bullwhips that have gone out of style, it’s mothers who endorse bullwhips as appropriate childhood toys. The Texanist was lucky enough to have his entrée into the world of boyhood whippery come about when mothers still permitted that sort of thing. The occasion was a visit to Temple by screen legend Lash LaRue, who stopped off one summer for a cracking exhibition and a showing of one of his classic westerns. Whether the film was Law of the Lash, Mark of the Lash, Return of the Lash, or another of Mr. LaRue’s innumerable whip-centric movies the Texanist can’t be sure, but what he knows with certitude is that he was totally enamored of the man’s skills. For months after Mr. LaRue’s visit, the Texanist could be found roaming the streets with a succession of belts, rawhides, razor straps, ropes, quirts, and bullwhacks, terrorizing the insect and chrysanthemum population and making sticks dance. You can tell your daughter that this love affair with the lash left no permanent scars and that, with some help from the occupational therapist, both of his eyes have been restored to good working order. This old whippersnapper respectfully disagrees with the tendency, highly prevalent nowadays, to keep potentially dangerous toys away from children. A whip, with a little guidance, is a fine gift for a boy. So is a .22, a bowie knife, and certain small explosives. Try again next year.

November 2010

Q: After a relocation to the Corpus Christi area from Austin, I find myself frequently driving on lonesome two-lane roads. What the hell happened to the Texas hi sign? On a stretch from Cuero to Bayside I received only 2 hi signs out of 21 cars.

H. Segrest, Corpus Christi

A: Two out of 21! Jiminy Goddamn Cricket! All Texans worth their collective roadkill should be shocked and disheartened and then shocked again. To throw out 21 hi signs and get only 2 reciprocations amounts to a hi sign return rate of less than 10 percent, which is completely unacceptable. For the uneducated traveler, of whom there appear to be in the neighborhood of 90.47 percent too many, the hi sign—also known as the hidy sign, the one-finger wave (not that one finger), the Medina wave, or the Texas wave—is an effortless gesture consisting of nothing more than the raising of the index finger to salute an oncoming motorist. The rules of engagement couldn’t be simpler: You give one, you get one, and vice versa. When executed properly, it is a deeply satisfying, if entirely fleeting, form of social interaction, a timeworn expression of the neighborly ties that bind, even when we’re hurtling past each other at 65 miles per hour. The hidy sign is not performed in crowded urban areas for obvious reasons (too many cars, too many tourists), but also because it is, in its purest form, a subtle acknowledgment of the lonesomeness of our desolate country roads. A properly executed hidy sign does a better job of making those roads less lonesome than all the twelve-disc changers, dashboard televisions, smartphones, and onboard talking navigators you can muster. And that’s the real reason the hidy sign is disappearing. The explosion of vehicular computing has caused such a wadding of the mental panties that it’s a miracle today’s motoring public notices anything that happens beyond the windshield. This is the wrong way to drive friendly (or safely). Perhaps, in addition to making it illegal to send text messages while driving, it’s high time for some legislation to enforce the hi sign.

May 2011

Q: I was fishing on Toledo Bend Reservoir with some friends recently and kind of inadvertently broke the law. I realized the night before our sunrise outing that my fishing license had expired, but I went out anyway. And the next morning too. I came up totally empty, but this has made me wonder, Do you need a license to fish or just to catch fish?

Name Withheld

A: The law on this is clear: Fishing state waters, like Toledo Bend Reservoir, requires a fishing license. Period. Unless it happens to be the first Saturday in June, in which case it’s Free Fishing Day. Period. Or unless you happen to be fishing from the bank of a state park or on waters completely enclosed by a state park. Period. Or unless you were born before January 1, 1931, or are under seventeen years of age. Comma. Or unless you qualify for a handful of other exemptions. Period. Assuming that none of these apply, you were breaking the law. Exclamation point. Well, that’s the letter of the law, at least, but in regard to your question, the Texanist has often wondered if the many exceptions listed above should not also include an immunity for the chronically unlucky. The Texanist is thinking of this friend of his who was born under a bad sign. Unluckiest fellow you’ve ever seen. You could sit him on the edge of the sweetest honey hole in Texas with a tackle box full of high-end jigging spoons and this dude would get nary a nibble. Can’t catch a cold. Once, he tried to return a carton of night crawlers, claiming they were defective (no luck there either). The Texanist shudders to think how much money this poor devil has laid out over the years on gear, bait, instructional videos, et cetera. None of it has helped. So here we have a man who is guaranteed to never catch a damn thing. Should his futile piscations, which do nothing to disturb the aquatic life of our rivers, lakes, and seashores, require a license? Well, yes, actually. It’s called fishing, not catching. And it requires a permit.

March 2011

Q: My wife and I were recently at a barbecue restaurant and saw an acquaintance there. What is the etiquette in this situation? Do you shake hands or not? It seems to me that while eating (especially food like barbecue, where hands are used), it’s best not to shake hands for sanitary reasons, yet one doesn’t want to appear rude. What to do?

David Newcomb, Hempstead

A: Shaking is generally a fine thing to do, but in this instance, holding back was the correct response. Extending a sauce-sopped mitt of greeting creates a two-way dilemma. As you point out, the recent whereabouts of a friend’s hand is often a concern, but also consider the disgusting state of your own glistening paw, what with flecks of sausage casing and tiny threads of rib meat clinging to the knuckle hairs, a discolored mush of potato salad and beans squeezed under each nail, and streams of reddish grease running from the palms and fingers straight under the shirt cuffs and up the arms to points unknown. And though you may be tempted to hastily cleanse your ten digits by sticking each one in your mouth and then wiping them on your pants legs, this will only make the situation worse. If you are anything like the Texanist, the sight of a heaping barbecue repast induces a kind of tunnel vision that blocks out everything but the delicious, messy task at hand. On such occasions, when the Texanist is interrupted, he usually just gives a nod of acknowledgment and a rib-bone salute. If you’re careful not to sling sauce, no one should have their feelings hurt.

December 2011

Q: Oftentimes, when my husband is contemplating fashion decisions, a regular necktie is just too much and can even seem somewhat pretentious here in East Texas. I recall Daddy and Paw wearing bolo ties to dress up their attire. The bolo can offer a bit of formality without overkill, is easy to use, and, more significantly, adds a bit of Texas cachet. I would like to enlist your sartorial influence to start a bolo tie revival in this great state. So can I count on you to be in the vanguard of this crusade?

Sandy Bartlett, Center

A: Nattiness, it’s been said, has never been the thing for which the Texanist is known. Nevertheless, he has been at the forefront of a number of campaigns—sometimes unknowingly—to “bring back” various garments and accessories. Not all of these undertakings have been met with universal enthusiasm, or acceptance, or, as in the case of the short-short cutoffs, anything other than open mouths, pointing fingers, and a charge of indecent exposure (which he is still paying a Fort Lauderdale attorney to have wiped from his record). Do you think the Texanist is kidding? He has taken similar stabs at the cavalry-bib Western shirt, the argyle sock, the nightshirt (“commando” style), buckskins, bow ties, woolly chaps (standard and “commando”), and the coonskin cap. Compared with woolly chaps, the bolo tie will be a cinch. You have not only the full backing of the Texanist on this but also that of the State of Texas herself, whose Eightieth Legislature, in 2007, made the bolo the official State Tie of Texas, declaring that “the selection of a bolo over a standard tie can suggest that the wearer refuses to be bound by convention and relishes the freedom to exhibit a distinctive sense of style even as they maintain a dignified, formal appearance.” Here’s to the bolo; long may it dangle.

January 2015

Q: It has recently come to my attention that my college-age daughter is occasionally mortified by my drawl. I grew up a poor West Texas boy around the middle of the last century and am not unaware that my speech pattern can sometimes come off sounding a little “country.” But despite my background and my accent, I ended up doing pretty well for myself (as has my private-university-educated daughter), and I’m a little hurt that she’s embarrassed by me. In fact, I think she’s made me a little self-conscious. Is it time for speech therapy?

Name Withheld

A: The Texanist has been known to liken the accents carried by so many Texans to the striking tail plumage of the male peafowl. He once advised that such brogues are things of beauty, to be appreciated by their owners as well as by those lucky enough to find themselves within earshot. Your accent serves to remind you where you’ve come from, and you are right to wear it proudly. The Texanist, without knowing your daughter, can only assume that she’s experiencing some sort of weird new stage in her life and that she’ll soon come to her senses, realizing that her daddy, no matter how much he sounds like a clodhopping rube when he speaks, is the only daddy she’s got. Before you seek out a modern-day Henry Higgins to help rid you of what sounds like a fine specimen of a classic Texas twang, the Texanist would remind you, as he did that letter writer of long ago, that this accent is your birthright and that you should continue to strut unabashedly about with it—like the male peafowl does with his own brilliant feathers. To lose it, or even dial it back, would be a shame.

January 2012

Q: I’ve always allowed my dog to sleep in bed with me, but I have just moved in with my boyfriend, and he doesn’t want the dog in the bed or even the bedroom. So far I’ve gotten my way, but it’s beginning to have a negative effect on our relationship. How do I keep both of them happy and in bed?

Name Withheld

A: Let the Texanist get this straight: you want to know how to keep a man and a dog happy in bed. Heh. Well, it’s the Texanist’s experience that . . . ahem. So, well, if the Texanist understands your query, you want to know how to keep the dog in the bed and, at the same time, keep the man happy in the bed. Rather, keep the man happy in bed with the dog. Please pardon the Texanist. Not with the dog, of course. The dog will just be there while you are with the man. Or not. You don’t have to be with the man. That is not the Texanist’s point. Especially with a dog watching. But you see—okay, well, it looks like the Texanist’s editor is telling him that he’s out of space here for this month. Everyone take care!