5 Steps to Success

I know many people.  Some are successful, but most aren’t.  They come from many walks of life.  They all share two things in common:  (1) they know me; and (2) they are oddly disinterested in my opinions.  The only exception to this latter point would the occasional mundane inquiry about something like how to get gum off a shoe or my view on the gold standard–neither of which, by the way, I know anything about.  Nevertheless, I now offer the world my secrets of success.  More accurately, my secrets of the appearance of success.  Let’s face it, most of us are not great successes nor do we stand the chance of being one.  I  have found that appearing to be successful is close to actual success, albeit without the financial windfall or fame which typically accompanies actual success.

As an initial matter, a very few of you don’t need to read this.  Drive, passion, intelligence and perseverance are the keys to success.  If you possess even one of those attributes, you likely are a success yourself and need no advice.  Also, an inexhaustible trust fund is the core of many a success.  If you have one of these, stop reading now.  Your bizarre and even repugnant behavior was long ago dismissed as the eccentricities of the rich.  You need no advice from me.  Finally, if you have married into money or a person with any of the above-mentioned attributes, hang on for dear life.  You have succeeded.  The rest of you should continue reading.

Below is my simple 5 Steps to Success Program.  I offer it free of charge as a service to the public.  Hang on for the ride of your life.  Remember: The only thing that stands between you and the top is all that stuff in the middle!

No. 1 AIM LOW

You have likely heard advice such as “surround yourself with winners” or “hang with the winners.” Nothing could be further from the truth.  Winners associate with winners.  If they would voluntarily associate with you, you would in fact already be a winner.  It’s not going to happen.  Besides, if you surround yourself with people far superior to you, how will you look?  Like a loser, that’s what.  Do you have a sibling that is far more successful than you?  How has that worked out for you?  The same applies in the real world

The first step toward the appearance of success is to surround yourself with people who appear to be vastly inferior to you.  Now, I realize that may be difficult to do.   In my case, it’s close to impossible.  Close.  We all know people who through a series of unfortunate choices or circumstances (or a combination) have failed to rise above mediocrity.  Seek these people out and embrace them.  Your meager accomplishments will shine in comparison.  For example, if you are a student, your 2.4 grade point average will impress compared to students who have been placed on probation or outright expelled from school.  If your parents berate you over your grades, you can point to the academic failings of your colleagues as proof that your junior college is a stern task master.

Similarly, in the employment arena, you will have many co-workers who are just as pathetic as you are.  Look for those who nap periodically, arrive late and are constantly in turmoil.  Perhaps, you have a co-worker with a drinking problem.  Avoid anyone with the appearance of being a “go-getter” or “self-starter.”  These folks will only drag you down.

You may be tempted to aggressively seek out losers.  Be careful.  Like many a good thing, this can be taken too far.  For example, did you know that every state in the Union has an on-line sex offender registry?  It’s true.  With a few clicks of the mouse, you can find numerous undesirables in your own zip code.  You may view this as a ready-made pool of potential colleagues.  True, but I must strongly advise against this approach.  First, such an approach is far too aggressive for someone of your ilk.  Second, while you certainly will shine in comparison to this pool of flotsam and jetsam, you may find yourself drawn into a lifestyle rife with its own complications.

No. 2 Talk Like the Winners

Successful people have a lingo all their own.  These words and phrases are a veritable gold mine of potential for you.  I offer some of the more important ones for your consideration.

Think Outside The Box: No one really knows what this means, but the successful say it and do it.  You must too.  The box is closed and confined, while outside the box the world is wide open.  Go out there and think.  That’s what the successful are doing.  Most importantly, remind people that you are outside the box and encourage them to join you.  Then, think.

Shift a Paradigm: Man, oh, man, successful people do this all the time.  They take a paradigm and just shift it.  Shift the hell out of it.  Find a paradigm and shift!  Again, tell people you’ve done it or, better yet, tell them to do it.  It’s always good.  Have at it.

Be Pro-Active:  This is just like being active, except you’re more pro at it.  Successful people LOVE proactivity.  Practice saying:  “I am proactive” and “You need to be proactive.”  Outside the Box is a world of proactivity waiting for you.

Take One for The Team:  Successful people want you to do this.  What does it mean?  Do something that a successful person would never do, regardless of the harm it will cause you.  Offer to take one.  Suggest that others do so, too.

Be a Self Starter:  This means do a bunch of stuff without being told to do so.  Now, you may be wholly incompetent at what you do.  In this case, being a self-starter is quite dangerous.  You are likely to commit all manner of foolhardy and dangerous acts.  So be it.  You are a self-starter

You’ve probably figured out that saying these things is far more important than doing them.  Remember:  Appearances are everything.

3. High Hobnobbery

The one exception to hanging with losers is when one of your loser friends inexplicably becomes a success.  It can happen.  Unexpected inheritances, lottery winnings, and large personal injury settlements are just a few of the ways that one of your friends may achieve great success overnight.  Take advantage of this.  After all, you’ve all been in the same boat.

Your newly successful friend has, in all likelihood, associated solely with people of your unfortunate ilk.  He or she will not have made any substantial friendships or associations.  This is where you come in.  Attach yourself like a stubborn barnacle to the hull of a luxury yacht.  Offer to tag along to cocktail parties, fundraisers and other important events.  Your friend, uncomfortable with his or her new financial largesse, will almost certainly take you up on your offer.

At this point, you may want to refer to my earlier blog on the art of small talk.  You’re in now.  You’re walking the walk.   Time to talk the talk.

I also suggest investing in a cell phone with an excellent camera. Why?  Nothing impresses more than photographic proof of your “success.”  I live in Kentucky, where there is nothing more impressive than to associate with the University of Kentucky’s basketball team.  You will have truly arrived when you move in these circles.  Of course, it’s laughable to imagine that you will ever do so.  BUT, with the resourceful use of a cell phone camera, you can appear to have “made the scene.”  I offer two examples of my own experience.

Below is a photo I took of Chuck Hayes, beloved former U.K. basketball star and current NBA player.  I surreptitiously took this photo at a football game where I had insinuated myself into the suite level of the stadium (by the way, it was at no personal cost!):

Chuck Hayes unwittingly becomes part of my world.

I immediately uploaded this to various social networks with the caption:  I keep texting Chuck to distract him from the game.  Here he is firing one back at me!  Now, everyone thinks I know Chuck Hayes.  I have his phone number.  We text!  I have arrived.

Below is another example.  I happened to find myself at a luncheon where the speaker was none other than U.K. Basketball Coach John Calipari.  Someone asked me to take her photo  with him.  I did so, but kept a copy for myself.  Note how I skillfully cropped the offending bystander while keeping Coach Cal properly centered.  With a little computer magic, I deftly doctored the photo to remove all traces of the other person.

Little does John Calipari know that we’ve just become life-long friends.

Now, people think I know Coach Cal.  We’re friends.  We hang out with Chuck Hayes.  I am someone YOU want to know.  See how easy it is.

You can do the same in your world.  Wherever you live there are prominent people who lack sophisticated security.  You can get close to them and claim them as your own.  Try it.  You won’t regret it.  NOTE: Please consult law enforcement in your area regarding your state and local stalking laws.

4. Make a Name for Yourself

If you have followed my earlier steps, all that is left is to make your name known.  You could do something like invent the iPod or Post-it Notes.  Be serious.  You’re not going to do anything like that.  All the good stuff has been invented.  Don’t despair.  You are not defeated.

Letters to the editor and radio call-in shows are fertile ground to get your name “out there.”  Now, you’re thinking:  “Wait a second.  A lot of people do that, and I don’t know them.”  You’re inside the box, my friend.  Venture outside it with me.

You must choose controversial causes to champion.  Such “hot” topics as gay marriage, arcane zoning laws and war have been beaten to death.  Do you really have anything of substance to add?  Of course not.  How about bestiality?  Whether you support it or oppose it, you’ll get attention.  Legalizing child labor?  No one is offering anything of value on that subject. What if you became known as the person who opposes heterosexual marriage?  These are just a few ideas that quickly come to mind.  You can think of many, many more.

You may be tempted to try to educate yourself on a variety of subjects.  I must warn you that such a course of action requires a lot of reading, mostly books.  Some books are as long as 300 pages and very complicated.  There is no need to burden yourself.  The Internet is a vast canyon of knowledge.  Just do a quick Google search.  You’ll be conversant on your topic in no time.

One thing you should consider is quoting other, more intelligent people.  Again, the Internet is your friend.  Just search “Quotes about……” and you’ll find everything you need.  Now, many people quote so-called experts such as Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein and George “Goober” Lindsey.  In keeping with your new controversial image, quote incendiary figures.  Try Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan.  How about Benito Mussolini?  Serial killers also have insights on a variety of topics.  These and many others are a font of information.

Many years ago, I read a valuable suggestion from writer Michael O’Donoghue.  When quoting someone, freely use the Latin word sic to signify any word which is misspelled or the least bit odd.  Let’s say you’ve found a quote from famed Scottish poet Robert Burns.  Look what you can do to him:

“The best laid plans o’ [sic] mice an’ [sic] men gang [sic] aft [sic] agley [sic].”

You have butchered one of the most famous quotes in history by questioning the intelligence of the author.  You appear to be profoundly intelligent, while Burns has been discredited and rendered unreadable.

Regardless of how you approach your subject, just be sure to keep after it.  You may even find yourself writing missives, pamphlets, leaflets and whatnot about your subject.  Soon, they’ll know your name, and that’s all that matters.

5. SELF-HELPLESS

Keep your nose to the grindstone.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.  Put your shoulder to the wheel.  These old saws have been around for centuries and all mean one thing:  Help yourself.  Okay, let me ask you a few questions.  What will you get if you put your nose to a grindstone?  My guess is a ground up nose.  What the hell are bootstraps?  I guess boots used to have straps on them.  Imagine pulling on them. What?  Now, you’re wearing a freakin’ pair of boots.  Congratulations.  Exactly what kind of wheel do you put your shoulder to? A spinning wheel, like for making thread?  Hey, welcome to Loserville where we can’t afford to buy thread.

Forget all this well-meaning bilge.  While you’re at it, if you have any self-help books, pile them up and burn them.  Why?  Simple:  If you could help yourself, you wouldn’t need useless advice from self-help gurus.  Take Tony Robbins, the infomercial guy with the gigantic head and Chicklet teeth.  Do you really think he wants you to succeed?  Oh really?  The man sits on a throne of money.  He knows you can’t do what he’s done, because he wrote the books and made the DVDs telling people how to do these things that none of them can do.  From Dale Carnegie to Zig Zigler to Ho Chi Minh, charismatic snake oil salesmen have fooled you into believing that you can follow a few simple suggestions and–PRESTO!–you’ve made it!  We know this isn’t case at all. But all is not lost.

You can appear to be a the winner you have no business of thinking about being. If you follow my suggestions, you will soon seem to be the man or woman you want to be.  And isn’t that what life is really all about?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Gym Rant

The Man Whose Arms Exploded

Gregg Valentino is pictured above.  He and I have something in common.  No, it’s not the gun show.  We both work out a lot which means we spend a lot of time at the gym.  One difference is that he took dangerous amounts of steroids, got a hideous infection and his arms exploded, thus his nickname “The Man Whose Arms Exploded.”  Otherwise, we’re pretty similar.  That has nothing to do with this blog.  I just think it’s interesting that his arms exploded.

I spend about 10-12 hours a week at the gym.  That’s 500-600 hours a year.  As a result, I have reached certain conclusions, developed prejudices and pet peeves and have other observations which I will share with you.  This is the type of information which my wife calls “trivial BS that no one wants to read about.”  Indeed.

In that spirit and in no particular order, I offer:

WHAT’S THAT SMELL?

Gyms are like nursing homes.  Regardless of cleanliness, they don’t smell good.  The reason is simple.  The gym is full of sweaty people.  Sweaty people smell bad.  Thus, … you get the point.

I’m not talking about that smell.  I’m talking about SMELL.  The kind of smell that will cause your lungs to seize up and your eyes to water.  I believe it was comedian John Fox who described something as smelling of “ass and cat food.”  That’s the smell.  If you smell like that, do something about it.

Some people smell like food.  I was on the treadmill next to a guy who smelled like an Indian restaurant.  Another guy smelled like gasoline.  WTH??  Some people are just plain rank.  Bad. I don’t have any recommendations, other than just ‘do something about it.’

Here’s something NOT to do.  Don’t bathe yourself in perfume or cologne.  If you’re really exercising, you’ll smell funky during and after.  Crippling your fellow gym rats with overpowering “cover” does not help.  Plus, it gets on the equipment.  Then, we get to smell like that.  Again, don’t do it.

NO SWEAT

People sweat or at least they should.  It’s good for you.  It cools your body down.  I know a dude who claims he can’t sweat.  That’s a bad beat.  Personally, I sweat profusely, so I have no prejudice against those who do likewise.  At the gym, sweating is acceptable; however, there is one boundary you should never cross.

DON’T LEAVE THE EQUIPMENT ALL SWEATY!!  Do you urinate all over the chairs in restaurant?  (By the way, if you do, please explain).  Every gym has paper towels and disinfectant to wipe down the equipment.  They also have signs telling you to wipe down the equipment.  So, WIPE DOWN THE FREAKIN’ EQUIPMENT!  There is nothing grosser than to sit on equipment and realize that you are in a pool of someone else’s filth.  STOP!

CRUNCH TIME
Done properly, abdominal crunches are very good exercise.  If, like me, you have low back pain, they are especially good in relieving stress from your back.  Here’s what they’re not good for:  Giving washboard abs to a person 200 pounds overweight.

If you are at the gym to lose weight for beach season or just your health in general, I applaud you.  What you are doing is admirable.  Unfortunately, the crunch machines are not your first priority.  Monopolizing the crunch equipment does not help you lose weight, and it angers those of us who need the equipment.  We’re glad to share with you, but this is not the way to flatten that belly.  Get rid of the belly first.

ARRRGGHH!!

Weight lifting is, by its very nature, strenuous.  That’s the whole point.  You breakdown the muscle through lifting.  As the muscle repairs, it adds bulk.

There are many theories on the best way to add bulk or gain strength.  Some say a full body workout every other day.  Some say 3 or 4 days a week rotating different muscle groups.  Some suggest lighter weights for more reps, while others recommend heavier weights for fewer reps.  All have their advantages and disadvantages.  One thing I haven’t seen recommended is screaming your head off like a third-rate porn actress while you lift.

You know this guy.  If you belong to a gym, he’s there.  You can spot him.  He’s usually BIG.  Maybe not cut, but BIG.  He wears one of those weightlifter belts that look like some sort of leather truss.  He walks funny, kind waddling side to side. He drinks odd sludge-like drinks out of a plastic cup with a lid on it.  He’s usually in the company of another one of his ilk.  They “spot” each.  They may even ask you to spot them.  They put all the available weight on the equipment and maybe even throw a human on top as well.

Then it happens.  He starts to lift. He has these strap things to tie around the weights to secure his hands to them.  GRRROOAAWEHHHH!!!! The yell or scream or whatever you call it starts.  It’s a guttural sound that will blast through your iPod music and startle everyone in the gym.  That’s just the first rep.  It will continue until he’s exhausted.  You will be jarred each time.

Here’s the deal.  If you’re using that much weight, how about dropping a few pounds? I suggest that any amount of weight which requires you to scream like that may not be all that good for you.  Plus, it annoys the living hell out of everyone else.  I don’t like it, and it must stop.

THE RESOLVERS

They arrive every year like the swans returning to Capistrano or the latest installment of the Saw film series. They will appear just after New Years Day, walking around with a gym employee.  They stare at the equipment, nod their heads and then sign up for their new membership.  They have resolved to lose weight, get in shape and become new people.  They are the Resolvers.

They will invade the gym, usually in pairs (husband and wife, typically).  They fumble about the weight rack and machines.  They huff, puff and sweat.  You, as a regular gym patron, will find parking to be at a premium. Your favorite machines will be monopolized.  You will hate the Resolvers.

The good news is that the war of attrition takes its toll.  Their numbers wane over the weeks.  By mid-February, the herd has substantially thinned.  By the time March rolls around, only a few remain.  It is Darwinian.  The gym will be yours again by Spring.  Oh, a few of the Resolvers may become “regulars.”  You will accept them as one of your own.  In the meantime, don’t lose heart. Time is on your side.

WE LOVE SHORT SHORTS

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words:

Your author channeling Larry Bird, circa 1982.

If you have shorts like these, do not wear them.  Yes, there was a time when this was acceptable, much like child labor and public executions.  One exception:  if you are female, a lot of us will be okay with this look.

OH SO PRETTY

I belong to a gym in the suburbs.  Most of the people there are around my age–the Middle Aged.  Unless I live to be 100, I’m not middle-aged, but you get the point.  These are my people, and we’re not an attractive lot.  We want to get in shape, but time and bad habits have caught up with us.  So be it.

We are often subjected to Pretty People.  They are usually–but not always–young.  They are as tan as John Boehner. The girls wear lots of make up. The guys probably do, too.  The girls have matching, color-coordinated assembles.  The guys have ripped t-shirts.  They are pretty, pretty people, and they know it.

Leave my gym.  Now, I appreciate lovely young ladies as much as the next man, but I know that I am at the age where I am essentially invisible to them.  The Pretty People annoy the Middle-Aged.  We are not pretty.  We are not going to become pretty.  In fact, how we look today is probably the best we’ll look for the rest of our lives.  We don’t need to be reminded of this.  Pretty People need their own gym–or better yet–town. Leave us alone.  Thank you.

SUMMARY

This is but a small sampling of my random observations.  I’ll likely post others from time to time.  I could add dozens more, but I just got home from the gym.  I’m tired.

The Party Monster of Park Hill

I grew up in rural America, Eastern Kentucky to be exact.  To be more precise, I lived in a small town on Park Hill or Ballpark Hill or Ball Park Road, depending on your preference.  I would like to tell you of the hard times and struggles we had, but we didn’t have any of that.  We lived quite comfortably in a nice house and didn’t really want for anything.  One of the great things about my hometown was that it was a melting pot.  Like us, you might live quite well, but your neighbors may not.  Your best friend could live in poverty, but it didn’t matter.  We really didn’t notice or make judgments about that kind of thing, at least not to the extent that I see living elsewhere now.  Having a neighbor who had been shot or shot someone or been to prison wasn’t all that uncommon.  Heck, one of my close relatives was shot by a cop one time.  Occasionally, the melting pot would bring you into close contact with the “wrong side” of the tracks.  For a few years, we lived that experience.  His name was Billy.

HOMECOMING

It was the mid-1970’s.  Billy had been in prison for several years. He was the getaway driver in an attempted murder.  Due to the vagaries of prison rules, he somehow served longer than the actual gunman, who, by the way, was a fine fellow.  His mother, brother (Jeff) and stepfather lived across the road from us.  Jeff was in elementary school, and was a friend of my younger brother. They were a little rough around the edges but good neighbors.  They were the kind of folks who ate souse and ‘mater sammiches and would offer you one.  Good people.

Jeff kept telling us that Billy would soon return home.  I was in front of the house the day he arrived.   His mother’s house set on a little rise across the road (we lived on the side of mountain.  Everything was on a rise.).  His car swerved into their front yard and came to an abrupt halt.  Billy got out, took two steps and collapsed flat on his face.  Out cold.  He laid there for an hour or so until his mother got home.  She roused him, and he staggered to the house.  I assume he was overwrought from the excitement of returning home.

I would guess that Billy was in his late 20’s.  He had long, greasy hair–dirty blonde, with the emphasis on the dirty part.  He was small, maybe 5′ 5″, 120 pounds.  He had that hard, flinty look that only Eastern Kentuckians have.  His eyes were wild.

It didn’t take long for Billy to wear out his welcome with his stepfather.  The first peculiarity was that he rarely slept.  Perhaps he drank too much caffeine or was ADHD.  It’s hard to say.  When everyone in their home went to sleep at night, Billy would hook up a water hose and go about the house spraying everyone down and yelling “PARTY WITH ME!!’ You can imagine how disconcerting this was.  As a result, his stepfather banished him to a metal storage shed behind their house.

Now, Billy was nothing if not resourceful.  Somehow, he got his hands on a long spool of electrical wire and spliced it into the meter box of their house.  He then ran it back to the shed to power a lamp and record player.  At this point, I must comment on his innovation.  I watched him work on this. No insulated gloves.  Smoking and swigging a half pint the whole time.  Anyone else would have been electrocuted immediately.  Somehow, he did it with no problem.  It was impressive.

Now that he had power, he adorned the shed with many, many Playboy centerfolds (and a few pictures of Elvis) and would party far into the night.  He was having a grand time, albeit alone.  As you might expect, there were bumps in road in his transition from prison.  For example, his mother once gave him money to buy groceries.  He went to the store, came home, threw a roll of bologna on the front porch and disappeared for three days.  Then, there was the time he took off on Jeff’s bicycle only to be arrested for drunk bicycling.  Another time, my father spied him siphoning gas from one of our cars.  Dad ran him off.  The stepfather called to apologize, lamenting that “that boy is headed back to prison.”  Dad simply said:  “If he touches my car again, he’s headed to the cemetery.”  Later Billy apologized to Dad, stating:  “I wouldn’t cipherin’ yore gas.  I swear to God.”  Maybe not.  He could have been having a refreshing drink through the rubber hose in his mouth.

His years in prison had hampered his social skills, as one might expect, too.  He had a unique, if combative, way of answering the phone.  Instead of the more traditional “Hello,” he answered with “Yeah?  What of it?”  I’ll admit that my brother and I called their house more than a few times just to hear this.

By and large, Billy’s stepfather kept him in line.  Oh, we’d peer out the window and see him dancing by himself in the moonlight, but he was harmless.  For the time being.

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

After Billy had been home for a year or so, his stepfather died.  Billy moved back in the house.  Freed from the bonds of marriage, his mother joined the party.  They ripped and roared far into the night.   His mom picked up a boyfriend who also joined in.  There are too many stories to tell, but I will share one.

One evening, they began to crank up around dark.  My brother and I watched from our bedroom window.  We cracked the window just a bit to better hear the action.  Billy had the record player cranking, and his sister had dropped by. Long before the advent of the air guitar, Billy mastered the “air piano.”  He would prance wildly about the front yard “playing” along with the music.  His signature move was to run up and down the front porch while “playing” the porch rail. He would dance with a mop, twirling and dipping to the music.  It was astounding.

This particular evening, they were louder and wilder than ever, and they wore out fast–except for Billy.  As the night wound down, Billy was the only one left partying.  He  frantically jumped about the porch, singing and playing.  His sister came out on the porch and said:  “SHUT THE HELL UP!! WE’RE TRYIN’ TO SLEEP, YOU BASTARD!”  All Billy wanted was the party to continue.  So, he said:  “DANCE WITH ME, YOU WHORE!!”  Sister picked up a shovel and hit him.  Hard.  Across the forehead.  It made a loud clanging noise mixed with a slightly sickening thud.  He was on the top step of the porch.  He did a slow motion pirouette, his long, greasy hair flying straight back.  Then, he just sort of flipped backwards down the porch steps.  He was out.  End of party.  He was still lying there the next morning.  We had half-way hoped he was dead, but he came around.

At this point, you might ask:  “Why didn’t you people call the police?”  We did.  Unfortunately, a member of local law enforcement then was drawn into the party. It was our Studio 54, and there was no stopping it.  After that, my Dad gave me permission to shoot Billy if he ever appeared threatening.

As time went on, Billy had more and more conflicts with his family.  Once, he knocked on our front door.  My mother peered through the sidelight and noticed that he had a pick axe over his shoulder.  An impaled telephone was attached to it.  She opened the door and said:  “Billy, what do you want?”  He said “Can I use yore phone?”  Mom:  “Billy, you’ve been drinking.  I’ve told you to stay away from here when you’re drinking.”  Billy:  “I’ll admit that I’ve had a taste.  I need to call the law, and our phone ain’t workin’.”  Mom:  “I can see that.  Leave.”  Billy:  “You don’t think I’ll shimmy up that telephone pole and war (wire) this telephone in?  I’ll do it, by God!”  The door slammed in his face.  Oh, how we hoped he would shimmy up that pole, but he didn’t.

TURN OUT THE LIGHTS.  THE PARTY’S OVER

The party ended for Billy after the death of his mother’s new boyfriend.  This guy died in an accident in jail, and there’s no way to make that funny.  Actually, I could, but it was a sad story.   Not long after the boyfriend’s death, Billy’s mom had a new man.  This guy was different.  He worked. He was tough.  My Dad liked him but said he was the kind of guy who would kill someone if they crossed him.  Billy’s days were numbered, maybe literally.

Billy ended up moving to Berea.  He pretty much stayed away.  He did call home once when his rings melted off his hands.  I’m not sure what was going on there.

His mother married her new boyfriend and settled back down.  We were happy that Jeff had a good man as a stepfather.  When the new stepfather was dying, he told Jeff that he had a brother who would kill anyone for a bottle whiskey.  He told Jeff to keep that in mind if he ever had any trouble with anyone.

Time passed, and Billy’s mom was a widow again.  She developed lung cancer, and Billy moved back home to take care of her.  By all accounts, Billy was a dutiful–if somewhat wild–son.  My brother died in 1987, and Jeff died in 1988.  In 1989, my Dad had a heart attack.  Dad was having difficulty breathing and laid in the floor.  While he laid in the floor, he told my mom to call Billy to bring an oxygen tank.  Billy’s mom was on oxygen at the time, and he ran over to the house with a tank.  He hooked Dad up to the oxygen while they waited on the ambulance.  Dad said he did it “expertly.”  He then added:  “I figured if I survived that, I’d survive anything.”  Dad said that Billy “smelled like old John Barleycorn, but he could handle that oxygen.”

My Dad died in 2008.  Coincidently, Billy’s father died just a few days later.  That dude was a story unto himself.  He lived in a shack down below the road on KY 38.  His house was small, but he had burrowed out under the road over the years and made a roomy cave for himself.  He was married to a woman who smoked a pipe.

As of 2008, Billy was still alive.  Implausibly, he survived two siblings, both parents and multiple step-parents.  I’d like to think he straightened up, but that seems unlikely.  He provided us with some great entertainment and more than a little anxiety.  My parents ended up kind of liking him.  Like I said, it was melting pot.  It just took some folks longer to melt than others.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Night I Fought A Girl

I never was a skilled fighter.  I’m small and have a big mouth, especially when primed by strong drink.  So, I did get in fights, but I fought dirty and usually ran at the first chance.  As a result, I don’t have good fight stories.  Except one.  Well, it may not be a good story, but it’s a story, and it’s more or less true.

I fought a girl.  There, I said it.  It wasn’t the only opportunity I had for such a fight, but it was the only one that turned into a real brawl.  Oh, I’d been hit two or three times before, had a couple of drinks thrown on me and been cursed at often.  I was quite the charmer in my youth. But, there was only one fight.

It was Oktoberfest 1986.  I had a friend who was working in the beer garden.  She told me that if I came by and helped her, I could have free beer.  Since she was also a fetching lass, I agreed to help.  I helped for a while and sold a bunch of these buckets of beer.  I had a few buckets myself (Note: If you measure your drinking in “buckets,” you may have a problem).  After a short time in the beer garden, I wasn’t really much help, but I kept working.

Toward the end of the night, a good friend of mine happened by, and I generously served him several buckets.  The evening wound down, and I was having no luck with any lasses, fetching or otherwise.  My friend (I shall call him “Stu” to protect his identity.  He is a respectable citizen now) offered to give me a ride home.  I closed up the beer garden and we left.

On the way home, Stu suggested we stop at Jerry’s Restaurant.  Jerry’s was notable for two things.  One, it was open 24 hours a day; and, two, it served breakfast all day and all night.   It was a favorite for late night dining.  We sat down and ordered.  I ordered the Big Breakfast.

While we waited for our food, two young couples came in.  Without any provocation on our part, one of the young ladies pointed at me and shrieked:  “What are you looking at?!?!”  Now, these are well-known fighting words, right up there with “What’s your problem?!?!”  My food had been served, and I wasn’t in the mood for any conflict.  So, I tried to defuse the situation by asking:  “WHAT THE —— DID YOU SAY?” The young lady then fairly screamed:  “Don’t make fun of our dates!!!”  This struck me as odd, since we hadn’t paid any notice to this girl or the “dates.”  Stu, being the peacemaker, said:  “Hey, shut the —- up. We’re eating.”  You would think this would have ended the potential conflict, but no.  It seemed to enrage her further.

She repeated her earlier demand stating: “STOP LAUGHING AT US!  DON’T MAKE FUN OF OUR DATES!”  Stu stood up.  He was a big dude, 6′ 3″ and about 230. I was a much less impressive 5′ 8″ 140.  Stu’s witty rejoinder was: “We weren’t making fun of those two —holes, but we will now.”  Well, that didn’t go over well with the girls or their dates.  The dates attacked Stu, who proceeded to beat the crap out of both of them–quickly.  He hit one guy in the chest with a forearm, and he just collapsed.  Stu grabbed the other guy and threw him into the coat rack.

Like I said, I’m not a fighter. I was watching.  I had a mouthful of food when the big-mouthed girl somehow sneaked up behind me.  Quite unexpectedly, I was being strangled.  Not just strangled, but strangled while swallowing a big forkful of pancakes.  Oh, and the fingernails.  They were digging into my jugular vein.  Now what?  She had come over the back of the booth and was literally choking the life out of me.  If I had my wits about me, I would have stabbed her in the neck with my fork, but I was disoriented.  As the life was draining from me, I reached behind me and managed to grabbed her hair.  With Herculean strength I pulled her over the booth and was prepared to beat the stuffing out her.  Here was the problem:  If a drunk chick is strangling you in a public place and you rip big chunks of her hair out, it is a mistake to pull her on to you.  It was like someone tossing me a wolverine.

Needless to say, Big Mouth and I spilled into the floor where she was wild-eyed and clawing at me like one of the Walking Dead on a meth bender.  For a split second, I realized I was fighting a girl and in real danger of an ass whipping.  This was all I needed to regain my composure. She came at me once more.  Mistake.  As she flew toward me, I grabbed her hair again.  This time, I slammed her face-first into the floor.  She didn’t look so tough after that, what with all the crying and carrying on.

That was it.  The fight was over.  The manager of the restaurant apologized to us and gave us free meals.  The scratches on my neck weren’t that bad.  Oh, the whole fight lasted maybe 30 seconds.  Seemed like a lifetime. Stu said it was one of the funniest things he’d ever seen.  Guess you had to be there.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Turtles Shells and the Art of Small Talk

“Ethiopians worship turtles shells.”  That was the ice breaker one evening long ago when I dined with a young lady and her mother and step-father.  The step-father’s simple statement about the religious practices of Ethiopians illustrates one of my life-long struggles:  How to successfully chit-chat.

Being a young man at that time and rather unworldly, I had no response.  I stared at my plate, briefly glancing at my date and trying to avoid both eye contact and sudden laughter.  I must admit, though, that I pondered the possibilities: Do Ethiopians, in fact worship shells?  If so, why?  How did he come across this information?  Had he been to Ethiopia?  My poor social skills prevented me from pursuing the topic further.  My prospective relationship was no doubt ruined by my inability to engage in stimulating small talk.

In the years since, I have been forced to attend various dinners, gatherings, cocktail parties, receptions, lunches and chance encounters where I have, fortunately, honed my chit-chatting skills to a fine edge.  We have all had those painful moments when someone ham-handedly tries to “shoot the breeze” and instead offends or bores those around him.   As a service, I offer my pointers on how to approach these most awkward of moments.

WHEN IN DOUBT, LIE

As a general rule, I oppose lying.  It’s just not good.  Plus, I usually get caught.  Chit-chat is an exception.  Sometimes, we must—in the name of polite conversation—lie in order to keep the ball rolling.  An example:  You’re at a cocktail party and a chit-chatter is prattling on about a drunken bender that he was on several years ago:

Chit-chatter:  “[blah, blah, blah]… and the next morning who but Peter O’Toole himself had a case of champagne delivered to my room with a note reading: ‘I told you we could have a good time for $50.’”

You haven’t been listening, and the speaker has concluded his story with some outrageous anecdote about noted actor Peter O’Toole (a lie, no doubt).  What shall you do in response?  You can’t just awkwardly blurt out:  “That is a damned lie!” and reveal yourself as a clod. Try this:

You:  “I’ve always loved Peter O’Toole’s work.  My uncle was his understudy on Broadway several years ago.  Fabulous chap.”

You have now commandeered the conversation to your fictional uncle’s acting career.  (Note:  Don’t say that YOU had an acting career.  That’s too easy to expose as a lie).  Now, you can regale the listener with your own second-hand stories of Peter O’Toole and any other actor you decide to include in your fantasy world.  You are almost as fascinating at the Chit-Chatter, plus you now have common ground on which to bond.

GIVE THE PEOPLE WHAT THEY WANT

Most Chit-Chatters enjoy hearing themselves talk.  That’s why they are talking.  One tried and true method of competing is to simply repeat back to the speaker what he or she has just said with your own spin on it.  This is especially helpful when, like me, you’re often in the company of people far more intelligent and well-read than yourself.  Example:

Chit Chatter:  “I tell you, if we don’t get the Greek government to take a hard-line on its austerity measures, the entire Euro Zone will collapse.  The result will be catastrophic.  It will make the Icelandic Bank Crisis look like nothing.  We’ve already seen the effects in some of the Eastern Bloc countries. Newt Gingrich nailed it in last night’s debate: How do we get these people to the table?”

You are now in deep trouble.  You don’t know anything about the Greek government. You didn’t watch the debate.  You were watching your backlog of “Hillbilly Handfishing” episodes last night.  You thought Newt Gingrich was on Hee Haw.  Here’s your response:

You:  “Lloyd, no sensible person could argue with you–or Newt–on that point.  The Greeks, for all the good they may have done, have not stepped up when it comes to austerity measures.  I can’t understand why, when it is so important to the very life of the Euro Zone, that they don’t take a hard-line.  You’re right about Iceland.  We can’t afford a repeat of that fiasco.”

See what you’ve done?  Without a single original thought, you’ve engaged in lively political banter.  By merely restating the Chit-Chatter’s banal declaration, you appear to be “with it” and engaged.

Top This

Often, the whole point of chit-chat is to impress the listener.  This is especially true in business settings.  If, like me, you are not very impressive and have a modest list of accomplishments, embellishment or outright fabrication is necessary.  While this is closely related to the first point above, the purpose is quite different.  Rather than being a response, you can use this to your advantage as your own ice breaker.  For example, you are at a dinner seated with several people who are, by their very appearance, superior to you in every way.  Try something like this:

“I must share this story.  While on vacation, I was strolling the Champs-Élysées when I saw an old friend, Uqba ibn Nafi, whom I met in Morocco several years before.  When I asked what he was doing in Paris, he paused, stared me straight in the eye and said: “Rambwa yekh chalyem!”  Oh, we both had a good laugh at that.”

This one inane story, made up from whole cloth, makes you appear worldly.  The listener, by contrast, is likely to think his own education and, indeed life, are meaningless.  Little do they know that you’ve recounted gibberish which roughly translated means “the traffic circle has a hideous beard.”  One consideration:  Your listeners may have been to Paris.  It may be a good idea to read about Paris on Wikipedia or change the location of  your story to Qatar or Ethiopia.

TABOO

Regardless of your nerves, there are three subjects to avoid at all costs.  They are summarized below:

Children:  If the listener has children, he or she will care nothing about yours.  If he or she has no children, it is likely that they hate children or are bitter over their sterility.  Think about when a colleague shows you a “drawing” by his 3 year old.  “It’s a horse!”  you’re told.  You say:  “Cute.”  What you think is:  “That ain’t no freakin’ horse.  What’s wrong with that kid?”  That’s how the listener reacts to small talk about your kids.

Health:  There is no way to make your gout or recent colonoscopy interesting unless you embellish them into gun shot wounds.  It is best to avoid the topic altogether as you may be in the company of someone with a truly loathsome condition, the details of which will horrify you.  The one exception to this is if your audience is all over 70 years old.  In that case, it will be the only topic of conversation.

Controversy:  Whether it’s as benign as the  Designated Hitter or as incendiary as legalizing child pornography, steer clear of controversial topics.  If such a topic is introduced, try to direct the conversation elsewhere.  This would be the perfect time to refer to item 2 above and dazzle the listeners with your erudition with a “top this” tale.

CONCLUSION

Had I known these simple rules, imagine how I would have handled the turtle story:

ME:  “That is very interesting.  My uncle worked in the mission fields of Ethiopia years ago.  Turtle shells were known as “ukajobu” or “shell of the Gods.”  They would grind them into a fine powder.  It was reputed to be an aphrodisiac of sorts.”

There you have it.  I have conquered the conversation with my own interesting retort.  Perhaps the young lady would have been impressed and changed the course of my life. Then again, my life is pretty fine as it is.  Maybe all this small talk is just a load of crap.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

My Evening With The Mongolian Stomper

I grew up watching professional wrestling.  I am neither ashamed nor proud of this.  It’s just a fact.  We in Harlan County, Kentucky had cable TV before the rest of the country because of the terrible signal reception in the mountains.  As a result, we had a lot of TV channels and a lot of wrestling.  Ernie The Big Cat Ladd, Ric Flair, Austin Idol, Harley Race, Mr. Wrestling II, Baron Von Raschke, Abdullah the Butcher, Maniac Mark Lewin, The Destroyer, Paul Jones, Ronnie Garvin, Bob Fuller, The King of Kingsport Ron Wright, Whitey Caldwell, Wahoo McDaniel, Superfly Jimmy Snuka and many, many more were household names in my home.  The Mongolian Stomper was one that always fascinated me.

The Stomper was certainly not from Mongolia, but he did stomp a lot of people.  He was also afflicted with an unspecified condition which made him acutely sensitive to sound.  As protection, he wore wrestling headgear like amateur wrestlers wear.  Fans–insensitive to his malady–would scream, causing the Stomper to hold his head in agony.  Then, he would stomp the crap out of his opponent. Evidently, he was mute and barely controllable.  He stomped, screamed and spit.  He often bled profusely.   He was a bad guy–a “heel” in wrestling parlance.    Of all the wrestling characters I saw over the years, the Stomper–along with Baron Von Raschke–was as over-the-top as any.

At this point, I suppose I should confess that I never thought wrestling was “real.”  By this, I mean that I knew it wasn’t real athletic competition.  For example, Baron Von Raschke was not a Baron nor was he even German–his name is Jim Raschke and he’s from Nebraska.  Maniac Mark Lewin did not kill a man using his deadly “Singapore Sling.”  Abdullah the Butcher did not actually hail from “Parts Unknown”  (he’s Larry Shreve, and he hails from Canada).  My father, perhaps disturbed by my interest, made sure I understood that it was for show.  This never diminished my enjoyment of it.  In fact, I eagerly awaited the next outrageous storyline, such as Ernie Ladd tearing up Wahoo McDaniel’s ceremonial headdress and stuffing the feathers in his mouth or Baron Von Raschke enraging crowds by wearing his Iron Cross around his neck.

Occasionally, professional wrestling came to Harlan County. Usually, it was some third-rate bunch, but sometimes we got the real thing.  I never attended but must admit that it caught my interest.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t go because I didn’t want anyone to know that I was THAT into.  I believe it was in my senior year of high school when fate intervened.  Someone (probably me) proposed that the Beta Club handle the concessions for the next wrestling event.  Of course, I volunteered.

I must digress here and tell you some things about Harlan County.  Harlan County is quiet and calm, despite its reputation.  Not much happens most of the time, but most Harlan Countians relish the county’s reputation of being a wide-open territory of gun play and lawlessness.   Most of us don’t fit the stereotype, but we like it nonetheless.  Many of us–me, for example–aren’t tough at all, but we are quite proud to be from Harlan.

When we tell someone that we are from Harlan, we mean Harlan County.  There is a town of Harlan, too, but I’m not from there.  We tend to tell “outsiders” that we’re from Harlan, because most people know the name.  Now, if you tell a Harlan Countian that you are from Harlan, he is likely to ask:  “Whereabouts?”  (Yes, that’s a one-word question).  Then, you will say “Loyall” or “Evarts” or “Catrons Creek” or “Punkin Center” or whatever community in the county in which you grew up.  Occasionally, however, someone will say something like “I’m from up above Smith.”  This will send a momentary chill up the back of a Harlan Countian, because we think:  “Wait a second.  I know where Smith is, but there’s NOTHING up above Smith!!  Where the Hell is this guy from?”  The same is true of being from “just past Black Star” or “up above Cranks” or “the head of Jones Creek” or sundry other desolate locales.   Even Harlan Countians don’t know these places.  These places are, as my father used to say, “off the grid.”  The folks off the grid came to town to watch wrestling.

Back to the wrestling.  I got to the gym about an hour early and watched them set up the ring, which was cool.  It had a huge spring in the middle of it and was well padded.  It was still pretty hard, and you could definitely get hurt.  One of the guys setting it up asked me:  “You ever seen one of these shows out here?  This is the wildest damn place in the country.”  I thought to myself “Of course, it is.  It’s Harlan, by God!”

While setting up the concessions, none other than Ronnie Sexton asked me if I could bring “the guys” some food.  Sexton was a some time wrestler and some time referee.  I recognized him immediately.  I gathered up hot dogs and some drinks and headed back to the area where (I hoped) the wrestlers would be gathered.   The first person I saw was the Mongolian Stomper himself.  He was sitting in a folding chair and looked up at me, his forehead a lattice work of scars.  What would he do?  Hammer me with the folding chair?  Scream at me for being too loud?  Stomp furiously about while eating his hot dog? Perhaps he would spit on me. Nope.  He just put down the book he was reading and said “Thanks.”  Oh well, I was already fairly sure he wasn’t a mute anyway.

As the crowd filled the gym, I noticed that I didn’t recognize anyone.  This looked like a casting call for Deliverance.  I guarantee you that the skilled writers of Justified have never imagined the likes of this crowd.  They were loud, profane and ready for some wrasslin’.  The King of Kingsport himself, Ron Wright, warmed up the crowd by taking the ring microphone and demanding:  “Shut up, you toothless, shoeless, inbred hillbillies!”  The man knew how to work a crowd.   Now, most of the crowd couldn’t have reasonably argued about the tooth observation or the obvious genetic issues, but they must have been quite offended by the shoe and hillbilly references.  They pelted the ring with anything they could find.  It was great.  (Rumor had it that Wright’s airplane was burned one night at the Harlan Airport after a particularly hostile crowd took offense to his baiting.  I don’t know if that’s true, but Harlan Countians liked to think it was).

I don’t remember who else was on the card that night, but the crowd was loud and insane the whole night.  I think The Canadian Lumberjack Joe LeDuc was there–I vaguely recall him threatening someone with his axe.  Ronnie Garvin, maybe.

What I do remember is the Stomper’s entrance.  He came out of the dressing room doing his trademark stomp.  When the crowd saw him, they exploded.  Spitting, cursing, throwing things–someone threw a chair at him.  People removed their dentures and clacked them together like hillbilly castanets. He was in torment over the noise but kept stomping toward the ring.  A grizzled, little old lady stepped directly in front of him and flipped the bird.  He just spit at her and kept stomping.  It was epic.  I have never seen anything like it.  I looked at the crowd, and I realized that this was what an unruly mob must look like.

Honestly, I don’t remember the Stomper’s match.  He probably  stomped the daylights out of some nondescript wrestler.  When he made his exit, I watched him walk back to the dressing room through the same din of madness.  As soon as he was out of sight of the crowd, he stopped stomping and became whatever he was when he wasn’t Mongolian.  He put on a tremendous show.

Then, it was over.  The unruly mob became ruly.  Everyone left the gym like a basketball game had just ended.  They didn’t burn Ron Wright’s airplane–at least I don’t think they did.  They headed back to wherever they lived in the outlying areas of the grid.  They were all probably fine folks.  Like The Stomper, they were part of the show–a scary part, but show nonetheless.  These were the real Harlan Countians, and they did not disappoint.

The Stomper’s real name is Archie Gouldie.  He’s Canadian, not Mongolian.  He wrestled in Canada as Archie The Stomper or The Stomper.  Apparently, when he came to the States someone thought being Canadian wasn’t exotic enough to turn him into a Mongolian.  I’ve read about him and, by all accounts, he’s a fine fellow.  He’s not a mute and doesn’t have any super-sensitive hearing issue.  But, the guy knew how to work it one night in Harlan.  He was worth the price of admission.

That was the night the real Harlan Countians met up with the Mongolian Stomper, neither really being what it appeared.  They all stepped up and put on a show of a lifetime.  It may not have been “real,”  but you sure couldn’t tell that night.  Oh, that was 30+ years ago and the first and only time I’ve attended a wrestling match.  I think I went out on top.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

An Homage to Next of Kin

Have you seen the 1989 film Next of Kin?  If you have, I don’t expect a public acknowledgement.  Just softly say to yourself  “Yes, I have seen Next of Kin.  Please blog about it.”  I have, in fact, seen NOK, several times in fact.  Understand that this is not a movie review.  NOK is unreviewable with its wild cast of characters, Byzantine plot and acting that borders on hysteria.  Yes, I love this movie.  Allow me to explain why.

NOK stars, in no particular order:  Patrick Swayze, Adam Baldwin, Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Liam Neeson, Ben Stiller and Michael J. freakin’-Pollard.  I’m not making this up.  There may not be a more diverse cast in the history of cinema.  Pollard alone makes it worth watching.  You know him–he’s the weird dude with the scrunched up face in Bonnie and Clyde.

Here’s the plot.  Swayze (at his the peak of his Swayzeness) is a Chicago cop from Eastern Kentucky (Hazard, I think).  Neeson and Paxton are his brothers.  Paxton loses his job in the coal mines and moves to Chicago.  He somehow crosses the Chicago mob headed by the guy who played the one-armed man in The Fugitive.  Paxton gets murdered, and Swayze sets out to find the killer.  Neeson, portraying “Briar,” heads to Chicago to exact Mountain Justice.  He is disgusted by Swayze’s unwillingness to join in the blood feud.  He moves into a sleazy hotel run by Pollard who twitches and shrugs through all his scenes like he’s mainlining Thorazine.  Briar speaks with an accent which can only be described as “brain-damaged,” but I have to give him credit for trying.  I’m sure it’s difficult to go from an Irish brogue to Eastern Kentuckian.  Not since Edward G. Robinson played an Egyptian in The Ten Commandments has there been such a bizarre casting choice.

Anyway, Ben Stiller is the nephew of the head of the Mob (One-Armed Guy).  Ben gets himself brutally murdered.  Meanwhile, Briar is trying to find Bill Paxton’s killers, while Swayze is trying to stop him from being a vigilante.  Helen Hunt is Swayze’s wife and teaches the cello.  She frets a lot. There’s a lot of violence and other stuff.  Briar is also murdered after being framed for killing Ben Stiller.  Unbeknownst to the Mob, Briar has left instructions with Michael J. Pollard to call his relatives in Kentucky if something happens to him.  Swayze then quits the police force to join in the blood feud.  The Kentuckians show up in a bunch of trucks and a school bus.  A battle takes place between the mountain men and the mob in a cemetery. Swayze goes off on the Mob with a crossbow. The mob is wiped out with some of them even being killed by a huge collection of deadly snakes on the school bus.  Then the movie just kind of ends–happily, I guess, expect for Liam Neeson, Bill Paxton and Ben Stiller–and the Mob.

Why do I love this piece of cinematic tripe?  Maybe it’s Liam Neeson, at what was surely the low point of his career, portraying an Appalachian backwoodsman. How did he establish a successful career after this? Then again, Helen Hunt won an Oscar after NOK.  Perhaps it’s Ben Stiller in a decidedly non-comedic role playing a mobster. He also went on to great success.  It could just be Swayze, beating and killing people when the dude was only about 5′ 7″, 145 pounds.  Michael J. Pollard might have been the key.  I envision the casting director saying:  “What’s the name of the weird cat in Bonnie and Clyde?  Wonder where he is these days?”  He was probably working the hoot owl shift at a convenience store.  Hell, he may have actually been working at that sleazy hotel.

Ok.  I don’t know why I like NOK, but I do.  I like to think that somewhere in Eastern Kentucky there is a family that would load up and head to Chicago and wipe out the Mob.  That Michael J. Pollard works at a sleazy hotel somewhere.  That Helen Hunt teaches the cello.  That Ben Stiller is in the Mob.  That Swayze is still alive and implausibly kicking ass somewhere right now.  I don’t know.  Maybe I just have no taste.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012