Music City Mayhem: One Night In The Box

It was 1999.  These were halcyon days of University of Kentucky football.  We had endured 8 years of the Bill Curry Era which resulted in one non-losing season.  Even that season ended in disappointment with a disheartening Peach Bowl loss to Clemson.  Curry was eventually fired.  In 1997, UK hired an unknown and incredibly ill-prepared coach from a Division III school–Hal Mumme.  Mumme brought one thing to the table: An insanely pass-happy offense.  We loved it. Our Kentucky-bred hero Tim Couch played quarterback and broke every school passing record.  At the end of the 1998 season, we actually went to New Years Day bowl game, losing a close game to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.

The 1999 season was also a success, albeit not quite what we had under Couch.  Dusty Bonner was our quarterback, and UK had another winning season!  For the first time in 15 years, we were going to bowl games in consecutive years.  This time, it was the Homepoint.Com Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.

At the time, I worked at a law firm which had an office in Nashville.  The Firm secured a luxury suite at Adelphia Stadium for the Music City Bowl.  Normally, I would have been excluded from benefitting from this without a second thought; however, I had stumbled upon some good fortune which made it possible for me to at least request a couple of tickets for the BOX.

Like most large law firms, the Firm embraced a concept known as “origination credit.”  Essentially, this was a system (I use that word loosely) which gave attorneys credit for bringing clients into the Firm.  Once you got origination credit, all the money generated by that client went into a column called “Origination.”  You wanted that column to swell.  If it did, you not only could make more money, but you could also gain access to some of the perks reserved for the Firm’s high rollers.  The Box was definitely one of those perks.

I had (and still have) a very close friend.  I shall call him “Nick” for purposes of this tale.  That is not exactly his real name.  Nick, too, had worked at the Firm where we became fast and lifelong friends.  Unfortunately, he parted ways with the Firm on bad terms.  As fortune would have it, he became quite successful, much more so than I.  Eventually, he became an officer in a large, publicly traded corporation.  He, understanding origination, sent me some work.  Not much, but some work.  I had the origination.  Nick’s company had myriad legal battles and eventually sent substantial business to the Firm for which I got all the origination.  I was now a “rainmaker,” the most envied title in any law firm.

At this point, you may ask:  How does this origination thing work?  If there were rules, I never saw them.  There weren’t in writing.  Origination was a Byzantine morass of standards and exceptions to those standards.  As its most basic, it worked like this:  Imagine that you are a salesman.  You sell a pencil to new Client X.  You are now the “originator” of Client X.  Next week, another salesman sells Client X a nuclear submarine.  You’re still the originator.  You get credit for both sales.  Makes sense, huh?  Just accept it.  Don’t question the logic.

In any event, I saw my opportunity to get into the Box.  I requested two tickets–one for me and one for Nick.  The Firm may have been aware of the possibility of offending Nick because of its troubled past with him.  Our Managing Partner quickly agreed and gave me two tickets to the Box.  We were in!

Now, Nick and I had a long, storied past of attending UK sporting events.  For example, the previous season, we took a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to witness a thorough thrashing of our beloved Wildcats.  That weekend was a booze-soaked orgy of football and revelry.  We were also well-known for our unique tailgating at home games where we carried beer in a plastic bag and roamed the parking lot looking for friends–old and new–who would provide us with more to drink.  You get the picture.  We weren’t exactly accustomed to life among the hoi polloi.  When we drank we became loud, obnoxious and wholly unmanageable.  Nick would frequently yell:  ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! for no reason.  I would laugh uproariously.  Good times.

We were indeed Bacchanals, but our drinking habits were vastly different.  Nick was–and is to this day–a “party” drinker.  He would go long stretches without drinking only to blow it out on occasion, at the risk drinking himself into a stupor.  I, on the other, drank more as though I were taking an ill-conceived medicine of some kind.  Imagine you are given a prescription for a drug.  This drug is harmless in small quantities but deadly poison when consumed to excess.  The instructions with the drug read:  TAKE DAILY UNTIL THE DESIRED EFFECT IS ACHIEVED.  THEN TAKE MORE.  Despite our varying approaches, we could match each other drink for drink.

I drove to Nashville and arrived on game day at around 1:00 p.m.  On the way, I  purchased a 6 pack of beer to ensure I had something to start the party with while awaiting Nick’s arrival.  Nick, experiencing largesse of which I had no understanding, flew to Nashville on his company’s jet.  While waiting at the hotel, I received a call from a client of mine.  His office was in Nashville.  He thought I might be down there and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting at his office at 10:00 the next morning.  After I explained that I would be adorned in UK clothing from head to toe, he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem.  One of his business partners was a UK grad and would be glad to see my school spirit.  I began thinking that I should take it easy so I would be in tip-top shape for my meeting.  So, I drank the six-pack and took a nap.  Nick arrived soon after I awoke (or “came to” as some would say).

We immediately headed downtown.  Neither of us were very familiar with Nashville, so we had the taxi drop us off when we saw a lot of people.  We began our bar crawl which lasted a couple of hours.  Time to head to the stadium.

Nick and I are both small town people.  As a result, we are, to some extent, socially inept, but we both have an “every man” quality which allows us to move at will among all social strata.  The problem–and it was a bad one–was that drinking often left us confused as to which stratum we were in at any given moment.  I, in particular, had a disquieting habit of becoming verbally abusive to people who would be considered my superiors–both professionally and socially.  It was a volatile cocktail that night, but I was ready to roll.

I must admit that I was impressed with the Box.  Very nice.  It was full of people sipping drinks and eating finger food, awaiting kick-off of UK and Syracuse.  Nick and I were already in our cups, but I felt we were both in fine form for some serious schmoozing.  We quickly made friends with the bartender and began to give him outrageous tips to bring us drinks.   Nick kept yelling ZOOM!  ZOOM! ZOOM! I kept saying:  “You’re gettin’ a night in the box, boy!” (in my best Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke).  For no reason, we would periodically high-five each other.  Our language was punctuated with all manner of obscenities spoken too loudly for polite company.  It was like the caddy swimming party in Caddyshack, and we were the caddies.

After some time, I felt the tell tale signs of nausea and needed a rest, so I leaned up against the wall.  The Box had theater seating to which you could walk down for a better view of the game.  Nick was sitting on the steps down to the seats beside the Firm’s Managing Partner engaged in animated conversation.  I observed him wildly gesticulating–it was unclear whether he was actually speaking or just flailing about while listening.  Then, he began to make some point and leaned over toward the Managing Partner, tilting his nearly full beer sideways.  A small ribbon of beer began to pour from the bottle–directly into the Managing Partner’s shoe.  I began to watch as if detached from my body.  It was oddly mesmerizing.  It resembled nothing so much as a man with a grotesquely enlarged prostate slowly and deliberately relieving himself into someone’s shoe.

When the beer had drained nearly to the bottom, Nick turned the bottom up and downed the last swig with a satisfied gulp.  The Managing Partner never reacted.  Perhaps advancing age had dulled his senses.  Perhaps Nick had brought so much money to the Firm that the Managing Partner was willing to remain passive while he was publicly degraded.  Either possibility is equally plausible.

Oh, yeah. They played a football game.  To the best of my recollection, here’s what happened:

  • Sometime in the first half, UK’s best player, James Whalen, dislocated his elbow doing something.
  • At some point, I leaned out the window of the Box (likely to yell obscenities).  I spotted a guy from my hometown directly below the Box.  I high-fived him and gloated about being in the Box.
  • At the end of the game, UK let Syracuse score so UK could get the ball back and try to tie the game.  Apparently, the strategy failed, as I later learned that Syracuse won 20-13.

The rest of the game is forever lost to a black out.  A black out just means that my memory was erased or never recorded.  It’s not the same as “passing” out, but the effect is pretty much the same.

The game ended, but it was still early.  We over-tipped our bartender one last time and headed out.  Our post game bar crawl lasted several hours, most of which are obscured by a dense brain fog, but I do remember two things:

  • We happened into a small sports bar at some point.  Nick somehow struck up a conversation with two women. (Understand that we were NOT philandering husbands.  Nick just became extremely talkative as he consumed more alcohol).  After chit-chatting for a moment, Nick announced:  “I have to go to the bathroom.”  I responded:  “It’s over there.  Go on.”  Nick then said:  “I REALLY have to go. I have diarrhea!”  Needless to say, had we been philanderers, that would have ended our adventure.  The ladies looked horrified.  I, of course, burst out laughing.  After he returned and assured us all that he did NOT, in fact, have any gastrointestinal distress, he and I went on our way.
  • I wanted to go to the famous Wild Horse Saloon.  We stood in line for 20-30 minutes.  We were both a little unsteady, but I had learned to simply be quiet in such situations.  Nick, on the other hand, was ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOMING and occasionally offering me an awkward high-five.  This caused me to burst into inappropriate laughter.  I cautioned him to be quiet when we got the door.  Finally, we got there.  I paid my $6 cover charge and stepped inside.  Nick then loudly announced:  “I AM SOOOOO F**KED UP!”  Boom! He was denied entry.  I stood staring at him and the long line, thinking about my $6.  Through the door, I told him to get back in line and be quiet.  20 minutes later, all was well and he gained entry.  Things happened after that, I’m sure, but I don’t remember.

That’s pretty much all I remember.  You may ask:  How did your meeting  go?  Surprisingly well.  I was hung over and reeking of beer sweat, but I managed to be engaged.  I was also fully decked out in my UK attire.  I returned home after the meeting, while Nick jetted off to parts unknown.

A few weeks later, the Managing Partner told me that he didn’t like the “atmosphere” in the Box.  I took this personally, of course, seeing as how Nick and I were the atmosphere that evening.  Perhaps having a beer poured in one’s shoe is more uncomfortable than it looks.  I’m sure I also berated him at some point.

Year have passed since then.  I’ve been a teetotaler for several years now.  Nick and I still attend UK sporting events.  He has risen to such lofty heights that he now has seats in his own luxury suite, and I cling to him like a stubborn barnacle during football season.  We still have a good time, and I remember all of it, which is not necessarily a positive given the fortunes of UK football.  Occasionally, Nick gives me a ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! or a high-five and I vaguely remember our rough and rowdy days.  Things are much better now–and more fun–but I do think about our adventures.  I’m just glad it’s all in the past tense.

© 2012

Bad Day at the Bar

I’m a lawyer.  I have been for almost 25 years.  Some say I’m a pretty good lawyer, at least to my face.  I’m sure others have different opinions but, for the most part, they keep those opinions to themselves.  Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.  Here is one example.  Again, like all my blogs, it’s more or less true, depending as it does upon my ability to recall details.

When I was a young lawyer, I worked with an older lawyer who was a bit disorganized (hereinafter [lawyer word!] called “Older Lawyer”).  Now, he was a good lawyer, but details were not his strong suit.  Often, he would send one of the younger folks in our office to the wrong court or the right court on the wrong day or to the wrong court on the right day or to the right court on the wrong case.  The variations on this confusion were endless.  After awhile, you expected something to go awry.  You got used to it.  That said, he was a fine fellow.

When I started out as a lawyer, I was in a big law firm, at least by Kentucky standards.  I had to do the usual grunt work of research and writing, staying in the library (yes, law firms had actual BIG libraries back then) for endless hours.  Only later in my career did I realize this was usually to search for the answer to some question which was essentially unanswerable.  What I wanted to do was go to court.  I had never been in a courtroom until I became a lawyer.  I actually tried the first jury trial I ever saw.  Honestly, none of that is uncommon, but it makes me sound like I came up through the Law School of Hard Knocks.

One way to go to court was to ask the aforementioned (lawyer word!) Older Lawyer for work. He would certainly give it you.  Court appearances, depositions, even trials.  So, that’s what I did.  He covered up me with work.

For you non-lawyers, we have something in Kentucky called Motion Hour or Motion Day or Rule Day, depending on the county.  The protocol varies, but it works basically the same everywhere.  This is the day when attorneys are heard by the judge on motions they file.  A motion is just a request for something.   They vary from the mundane (a motion for a trial date) to the ridiculous (motion for sanctions).  The judge has a list of all the cases with motions to be heard.  He or she will read them off to the assembled attorneys.  If the parties have agreed or there is no opposition, the judge usually deals with it immediately.  If not, you say “We need to heard, your honor.”  Some judges will then hear oral arguments.  Others will pass the motion to the end of the docket for hearing.  After you make your arguments, the judge will either tell you the ruling or take the motion “under submission.”  Motion Day can last from a few minutes to most of the day, depending on the county and the judge involved.  When I was a youngster, I loved motion practice.  You got out of the office.  You went to Court and you could bill time for doing very little actual work.  Pretty sweet deal.

Older Lawyer came to me one day with a thick file and said he needed me to handle a motion for him.  He had already prepared and filed the motion.  I just needed to read through everything and appear in court for the argument.  So, I started digging through the file.  This motion involved an arcane issue with a mechanic’s lien.  For the uninformed, a mechanic’s lien is a lien (lawyer word!) placed on a piece of real estate to secure payment to someone who provided labor or materials that “improve” the property.  In other words, if you do something that increases the value of a piece of land, the law believes you should get paid and allows you to screw up title to the property until you’re paid.  I suppose there was a time when people who worked on real estate were called mechanics. I don’t why.

Older Lawyer did talk to me about the motion, which was a bit odd since he usually just sent me off with a “Good luck!”  He said it was a “novel question.”  This is lawyerspeak for “No one has ever asked this question at anytime, anywhere.  Yes, it’s that stupid.”  He also said we had a “thin argument.”  This is lawyerspeak for “Our position is laughable.”  I’ll admit that this made me a little nervous.  Once I read our brief (lawyer word!) and did some research of my own, I realized that we had not even a colorable argument.  In other words, I would lose the motion.  Oh well, I would do the best I could.  I worked very hard preparing.  As is the case with many young lawyers, I went into overkill.  I might lose, but I would know everything you would ever wanted to know about mechanic’s liens.

Actually, we were opposing a motion–a motion to dismiss our entire case on the basis that our case was idiotic.  Okay, that might not have been the exact wording, but you get the picture.  Our clients were actually a small business which had placed a lien on this property.  Evidently, many decades of Kentucky jurisprudence dating back to the writing of the State Constitution all pointed to one irrefutable fact:  there was no basis in law for the claims we were pursuing on our clients’ behalf.  This kind of thing is where one might say that “your good lawyering” comes in.  I was the man called upon to do it.

The big day arrived.  I prepared more.  I arrived at the courthouse early.  The battle was joined.  Our judge had been on the bench many years.  An attorney who practiced regularly in his court described him as “traveling unencumbered by the law.”  He was of the “by guess and by God” school of jurisprudence.  He was also known for rarely reading–and even more rarely comprehending–motions filed before him.  Of course, I knew none of this at the time.

He called my case. Then he said:  “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a case of first impression here. I am very interested to hear the arguments.  Counsel, approach the bench.”  My stomach sank.  First impression?!?!?  I knew enough to know that meant he didn’t think there was a sensible answer, either.  First impression means no one knows anything about this. 

I made my argument, and I must say it was pretty damn good.  I argued.  I made my points.  I explained how the law must support my position otherwise the Republic itself was jeopardized.   I cited cases from memory.  I deftly countered every argument made by my opponent.  I lost.  Case dismissed.  The judge said it was an issue for the Court of Appeals to address.  Oh well.  I still felt pretty good about myself–for a few minutes.

When I left the court room, I stopped in the hallway for a moment when I heard:  “Hey! You!”  I was being approached by a middle-aged man dressed in a dark pin-striped suit oddly mismatched with an open-collared, canary yellow golf shirt.  He wore a spectacular gold medallion around his neck.  We had the following exchange:

HIM:  Who are you?

ME:  I’m a lawyer.

HIM:  Where’s Mr. [Older Lawyer]?

ME:  I work for him.  I don’t know where he is.  [This was a true.  I had no idea where he was.  All I knew is that he was somewhere else].  Who are you?

HIM:  My name is Mr. Johnson [This isn’t his real name.  By the way, anyone who introduces himself as “Mr.” is a braying jackass].  I’m here watching this for your clients.

ME:  Oh, good to meet you.

HIM:  How much time did you spend preparing for this?

ME:  I don’t know.  Half a day, maybe.  [Actually, I spent much more than that.  Being in a large law firm, I had very little experience with clients at that point.  I didn’t want to sound like I was overdoing it].

HIM:  No wonder you lost!!

ME:  What?

HIM:  That was the worst argument I ever heard, and I’ve sued a lot of people and seen a lot of lawyers! You are the worst!  [NOTE:  anyone who says he has sued a lot of people should be avoided at all costs, whether or not you are a lawyer].

ME:  Sorry you feel that way.  I’m going to go now.  I’ll tell Mr. [Older Lawyer] to call you.  [I turn to leave].

HIM:  [Grabbing the back of my coat]  I’m not done!

At this point, you should be aware that I was only 25 years old and had been removed from Harlan County only a few years.  I still had habits and reactions which were not always acceptable in civilized society.  I had made great strides over the years, but he grabbed my coat.  This, of course, meant it was ON.

ME: [Turning around and dropping my file] You’re done.

HIM:  Listen….

ME:  I said you’re done.  I’ve heard enough.  I’m leaving.

HIM:  You’ll leave when I’M done!

ME:  You’re done or I’m taking you outside and whipping your ass in front of everyone.  Don’t touch me again!  I will kick your ass right here!

HIM:  You can’t talk to ME like that!

ME:  I just did, and I don’t think you’re going to do anything about it.  Are you ready to GO, ’cause I am? Let’s go!  I’m dead serious.  Outside!

HIM:  I’ll be calling Mr. [Older Lawyer]!

ME:  You do that.  Just be sure I don’t ever lay eyes on you again.  You better drop this right now.  If you don’t, you’ll see me again.

Then, I left.  A volatile situation deftly handled by dazzling people skills.  Needless to say, as I drove the 30 minutes back to my office, I began to panic.  I would be fired for sure.  I better hurry back and confess that whole scene.  Maybe I could put a spin on it that would make me look less psychotic.

I immediately went to see Older Lawyer.  He was his usual affable self.  I recounted my argument and how we lost.  He said:  “Don’t worry about that.  It was a tough position.  Sounds like you did super.”  Then I told him about my encounter in the hall.  I sanitized it a tad bit, leaving out the whole “ass kicking” part.  Older Lawyer just said:  “No kidding?  I never heard of that guy.  Thanks for the warning.”  After not hearing anything for a few days, I moved on to other things. I have to admit, though, that I was still pretty rattled.  One day, Older Lawyer stuck his head in my office and said:  “Hey, that guy called me.  Boy, you were right about him.  He sure doesn’t like you!  I told him they could find another lawyer if he was that upset.  What an ass!”  That was that.  End of story.

I’m a better lawyer now–or at least more confident. I’ve learned that the practice of law doesn’t resemble Law & Order or John Grisham books.  Want to see what trial work is like?  Watch My Cousin Vinnie.  It’s pretty close to real life.  Herman Munster makes a very believable small town judge.  Good movie.

This is what we lawyers call a “war story.”  We say we hate war stories, but we all tell them.  I’m sure some lawyer reading this can top it.  He or she probably garroted a client during trial or shot a witness.  We’re like fisherman, someone also caught something bigger.

I don’t threaten people anymore, and thankfully my clients don’t send representatives to berate me anymore.  At least not yet.

© 2012

The Horrors of Camping

Your author as a mountain man. 1982 on Little Shepherd Trail in Harlan County.

I don’t camp.  That’s not particularly interesting, is it? I also don’t hunt or fish. Mind you now, I don’t have a problem with those who do these things.  I’ve done all three at various times.  As for hunting, it’s kind of fun to walk around with a gun and shoot at things.  I just don’t like dead animals.  They’re gross, especially if you skin them and pull their guts out.  I found that I had no more use for an animal I killed than for one I ran over with my car.  If you like to hunt, that’s cool.  I support you.  Fishing is  just plain boring, but I do understand the appeal.  Like bowling, it’s an activity where being stinking drunk is not a hindrance.  Unfortunately, you still have the whole skinning and gutting thing.  It’s just not for me.  But, this is about camping.

If I may digress for a moment, hiking–camping’s cousin–is okay.  I have hiked quite a bit.  I grew up on the side of a mountain, and my friends and I would often take treks into the woods.  There is a place above my hometown called Long Hollow.  It’s way back in the woods and kinda cool.  There were also old coal mine portals back there and related relics–trucks, picks, shovels, etc.  Occasionally, we would encounter feral dogs which scared the hell out of us.  I liked all that, but it’s not camping.

I grew up in Eastern Kentucky where it is assumed we’re all mountain men.  People assume that I’m a hiker, camper, hunter, fisherman, etc.  I’m not.  I was what was called “book smart.” If you ever call someone “book smart” or say that a person “doesn’t have common sense,”  what you’re really saying is:  “This person is infinitely more intelligent than I am.  I admit this and have no sensible way to counter it.”  Here is an actual discussion I had once with someone, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons:

Him:  You ain’t got common sense.  You’re just book smart.

Me:  What do you mean?

Him:  All you know is what’s in books.

Me: If you mean I can read, I agree, but you can read, too.

Him:  But I don’t know nothing from no book.

Me:  I’m not following you.

Him:  How do you trap a bear?

Me:  Why would I trap a bear?

Him:  See?

Me: Why not kill the bear?  A trapped bear would be pissed off.

Him:  You don’t know how to set a bear trap.

Me:  I guess I could do that, but don’t you have to kill the bear after it’s trapped?  Seems like you should just shoot the bear and be done with it.

Him:  F*ck you!

That’s pretty much how it went in those days.  Anyway, I HAVE camped.  A few times, in fact.  We  had this huge tent my Dad bought somewhere.  We’d set it up in the backyard and sleep in it.  I liked that kind of camping.  If you get cold, you can go inside.  You get to use plumbing.  Otherwise, I’m not much of an outdoorsman for a number of reasons.

Plumbing:  Indoor plumbing separates us from the animals.  My ancestors didn’t come to this country on filthy, crowded ships just to have me wallow in my own filth for “fun.”  If you are comfortable relieving yourself outdoors, good for you, but that’s not a lifestyle choice I’m ready to make.

Electricity:  I am a HUGE fan of electricity.  Almost everything I do requires electricity.  Central heat and air conditioning requires tons of electricity.  Mother Nature doesn’t.  The result?  Constant discomfort.

TV:  I like television.  There are lots of good things on TV.  Sports, movies, reality TV, weather, news and many other things.  When you camp, you’re cut off from all that.  It sucks.

Filth: In addition to the obvious hygiene issues, I tend to get dirty when I camp, and I don’t like getting dirty.  I don’t mind sweating some and even smelling bad, but dirty isn’t good.  It leads to only one thing: germs.  The more germs you get, the more likely you are to contract some foul and loathsome condition.  For me, to camp is to eventually die.

Wildlife: I have nothing against animals, BUT they’re animals, and I’m not.  They live in their world, and I live in mine.  I don’t expect snakes in my house, so I try to stay off their turf, too.  You know what poses no problem for a snake?  Tents and sleeping bags.  Same goes for bears.

Plant life:  Aren’t the plants and flowers beautiful?  Of course they are.  Right up until you get into poison ivy or poison oak.  You can eat hemlock or belladonna or something else which will cause you a slow, agonizing death.  Before you die though, you’ll soil yourself, stripping you of your last shred of dignity.  Fun stuff.

My last camping excursion ended camping for me for good.  I was 14 years old and my friends, “Bobby” and “Steve” (These are there real names.  Read on, and you’ll see that they don’t deserve anonymity), asked me to go camping.  I didn’t really want to go, but I agreed.  How bad could it be?  Pretty damn bad, as it turns out.

It was the first Saturday in April, 1977.  We went to an area above Sukey Ridge in Harlan County.  Later, this area would become better known as the Blanton Forest, reputed to be the oldest old growth forest in  universe or some such distinction.  (By the way, the forest would be much larger if some of the Blanton descendants hadn’t logged it, but that’s for another time.)

Anyway, we hiked back into the woods, a couple of miles maybe.  I had a Vietnam War issue rucksack which must have been made of cast iron.  It felt like it was filled with bowling balls.  I assume it was designed to make our soldiers as miserable as possible.  My cousin was a Green Beret and brought it to me straight from Nam.  He also gave me a big, 10 inch knife.  I carried that, too, along with a pilot’s survival knife.

“Lightweight” tropical rucksack used in Vietnam. Full loaded it weighed more than I did.

We hiked way back in the woods.  I have to say, it was beautiful.  Big, old trees and a creek running through the woods.  Very nice–for a while.

First, the rednecks showed up.  Just as we found us a nice cave to stay in for the night, we heard the roar of motorcycles.  Three guys, probably in their twenties, came roaring into our campsite.  They were there to party.  Fortunately, there was another cave down below ours and they settled into that.  Other than the constant stench of marijuana emanating from their camp, they seemed harmless enough.  The leader of the pack told me that he wouldn’t give us any pot, because he had a brother our age and he wouldn’t want him to be “smoking dope.”  Fair enough.  He was a man of some honor evidently.

The bikers would have been okay.  They seemed content to keep to themselves, except for one of them who visited us late in the night to see if we had a gun.  That was a little creepy.  I had seen this guy before.  Sometimes, he rode his bike behind our school bus and flipped the bird to the kids in the back.  Nevertheless, the bikers weren’t the problem.  The rain was the problem.

Nowadays, I suppose the Weather Channel and sophisticated radar would prevent three teenage boys from heading 2 or 3 miles into the woods into the teeth of the heaviest rainfall since Noah was trying to figure what the hell a cubit was. We had no such luck.

Late in the day it started raining.  This was a rain like I’d never seen.  It poured, sheets of rain.   Of course,we needed a fire to stay warm, but we couldn’t build one outside.  So, we started one in our cave.  (Honestly, it was more of an overhang than a cave).

Steve was a damn Boy Scout, and he was supposed to know this stuff.  He camped all the time.  If I had thought about it, I would have realized that the cave did not have a flue.  With the knowledge I have today of underground coal mining, I would now immediately recognize that we had inadequate ventilation and that the air would reverse on us.  All we needed was a strong fan and a few ventilation curtains. Alas, I had no skills to prevent what happened next.

Funny thing about thick smoke, it’s very difficult to breath.  You’ve heard of people dying of smoke inhalation?  By God, they do.  And it doesn’t take very long, either.  The good thing is that if you are asphyxiating from a fire right next to a driving rain storm, it’s pretty easy to put out.

After we put out the fire,  it took a little time to get the smoke out, but we did it.  My eyes were watering, and I smelled really bad–like a stinky cave fire.

Since we were stuck in the cave with nothing to do, it didn’t take long for us to eat what little food we brought.  I’m not sure why I didn’t have more food–maybe I planned to forage off the land.  In any event, I was down to two Payday bars.  It started to get cold, too.  Did I mention the rain?  If you had to pee, you could just stand there and pee in your pants.  It wouldn’t make any difference.  You were soaked regardless.

The cave was also dirty, what with it being a cave and all.  The soot from the fire didn’t help things.  Sleeping there was like just lying in a fireplace.  I lay there, nibbling on a Payday, planning to kill and eat one of my companions if it came down to it.

My lips got chapped, too.  I mean damn chapped.  Cracking chapped.   Bleeding chapped. Hurting like hell chapped.  Did I mention the rain?

Well, it rained all night.  When we woke up it was still raining.  At some point, we headed out.  I recall that Bobby’s dad was meeting us somewhere to give us a ride.  As we hiked out, it rained on and off.  I didn’t care anymore.  I had no more dignity.  I was tired, hungry, filthy.  Oh, and my lips were really chapped.  Bad ass chapped.

It kept raining and raining and raining.  It rained nonstop all Sunday and into Monday.  By Monday afternoon, Harlan County was almost completely underwater.  My hometown looked like a lake.  My fantasies of being back in a warm home were scotched by the biggest flood in the history of our county.  No electricity.  No water.  Back to roughing it, but it could have been much worse.  At least our house was high and dry.  Many of our friends weren’t so lucky.

Ironically, as an adult I love to watch survival shows on TV.  Man vs. Wild, Dual Survival, Survivor Man, Man Woman Wild–you name it–and I’ll watch it.  I learn how to distill urine into drinking water, start fires with sticks, kill porcupines, purify water and many other valuable life saving skills, none of which are likely to be necessary sitting in my chair at home.  You want to teach me a skill I could use?  How about fashioning a satellite dish out of a pile of sticks and rocks so I can watch Sports Center?   THAT could come in handy.

Oh, to this day I’m addicted to chapstick.  It’s a constant reminder of that weekend.  It took me many years to eat another Payday.  When I do, I taken back in time to the cave.

My idea of roughing it today is no HD TV or poor cellphone reception.  I never did learn how to trap a bear, although I’m still confident that shooting a bear is a much better approach.  So, don’t ask me to go camping.  I won’t do it.  I’ve served my time as an outdoorsman.  Now, what’s on TV tonight?

© 2012

Richard Kent Williams (March 16, 1967 – September 26, 1987)

August 11, 1987. Richard (left) and our parents help me celebrate my 25th birthday. Six weeks later, Richard would be dead.

Richard Kent Williams was five years younger than me.   He was my brother, and he’s been dead for over 25 years now–more than half my life.  “Been dead” isn’t exactly right.  He is dead.  It took me a long time to say that.   Passed, passed away, gone or lost were much gentler terms.  Eventually, I could say that “he died.”  Something about the past tense took the edge off it, as though one could die and that be the end of it.  This ignores the obvious:  those who die remain dead.  They are dead.  That’s the case with my brother.  He would be middle-aged now, but he isn’t.  He was 20 when he died, and 20 he remains.

Richard died in the early morning hours of September 26, 1987, but I’ve always thought of the 25th as the right date.  That was his last day.  He was a student at the University of Kentucky.  He came home to Harlan County for the weekend.  He had a rented tux in the back of his car.  He was going to be in wedding.  His last day.  He didn’t know it, but that was it.

My phone rang at 4:47 a.m. on the 26th.  It was my older brother, Tom:  “There has been a terrible tragedy….”  The rest is now just white noise.  Richard was dead.  He died in the parking lot of a movie theater in Harlan, Kentucky.  It was a handgun accident.  The details have long since become insignificant if, in fact, they were ever significant.  I called my parents.  As I expected, my mother couldn’t speak.  My dad spoke in an eerie, flat tone, almost devoid of emotion.  He said to hurry home but take it easy.  My dad was a tough guy.  I had never seen him upset.  Angry maybe but never emotional.  He just sounded tired.  Very tired.

I left Lexington with my girl friend (now my wife of over 25 years).  I’m sure I was in a form of shock.  Bursts of emotion were followed by almost a catatonia.  I just kept driving.  I didn’t know what to expect at home, but I knew it would be bad.  After our 3 hour drive, we got to my parents’ house.   I recall that there were a bunch of people at the house.  The first person I saw was my Dad.  He was standing in the kitchen, hands on the countertop staring straight down.  He turned and looked at me, his eyes glazed over and red.  “I can’t take this.”  That’s all he said.  This was worse than I expected, because if he couldn’t take it there was no chance for me.  Honestly, I don’t know what happened those few days until the funeral.  I know that Dad and I got Richard’s car from that parking lot.  We picked up his clothes from the funeral home.  There was a visitation and a funeral.  Lots of relatives came from near and far.  That’s about all I remember.

In my favorite film, Apocalypse Now, Col. Kurtz describes a massacre and says:  “I cried like some grandmother.  I wanted to tear my teeth out.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”  That perfectly describes those days.  None of us thought we’d survive it, but we did. We all did.  The world didn’t stop.  The mail ran.  Banks were open.  People went to work, to school.  Our world had stopped spinning, but the rest of it was humming along.  At some point, the inertia of that world carried us forward.  Dad said that going to Harlan was like “running the gauntlet.”  He was so weary of people telling him how sorry they were.    Mom stayed home, which was pretty much what she always did anyway.  One day, Dad told me that “there’s no such thing as not taking it.”  I knew he would move on.  For Mom, it always seemed to shadow her but she, too, continued on.  It got worse before it got better, but it got better.

We moved on.  A month after Richard died, I was sworn in as an attorney.  Four months after that, I got married.  Tom’s son, who was 8 at the time, is now a grown man in his 30’s with 2 kids of his own.  I have 3 sons, the oldest of whom (whose middle name is Richard)  is now older than Richard was when the clock stopped on him.  Mom died in 2003.  Dad in 2008.  Our grandfather died in 1998. Our Uncle Jack, who provided us with so many laughs as kids, died In 2013. We’ve also lost other aunts and uncles in that time.  Life did go on.  Cell phones, satellite TV, HD TV, the Internet, email, texting, another space shuttle explosion, 9-11, three wars, UK won three NCAA titles, and many, many other things happened.  The world is a much different place than it was in 1987.

Those who die young become tragic figures, often mentioned in hushed tones.  Sometimes, they are cautionary tales.  Sometimes, they are examples of the unfairness of it all.  My mother had two uncles who fell into this group.  Uncle Ollie was 18 when died on the USS Houston in the Battle of the Tonkin Sea in 1942.  Uncle George died when he was 8 of liver failure.  He died in the car while his parents were driving him to a specialist somewhere up North.  “Poor little George” was how he was described.  I hated hearing about him.  It was just too sad.

Richard became “Poor Richard,” part cautionary tale, part unfairness.  In hindsight, I came to view his death as a sign of the ultimate fairness.  No one is immune from pain.  We’ll all get a dose of it.  It isn’t my intent to offer anyone grieving advice.  I have no magic pill.  We all grieve, and  I suspect that it’s different for each person.  I don’t know how  other folks feel, and they don’t know how I feel.  We all soldier through the best we can.  I lack the abiding faith that some have that the dead “go to a better place.”  Perhaps that’s because I’ve never heard anyone say:  “Well, Grandpa just went straight to Hell.” Seems like everyone goes to a better place.   Some days I think of “a better place.”  Other days, I just think dead means dead.

Other times, the dead become saints.  Now, this is usually reserved for older people, but let’s be serious.  Not everyone was a great person who will be missed by all.  As my Dad said of a friend of his:  “His headstone should read:  He will not be missed.”  Yet, we canonize our loved ones.  It understandable.  But, c’mon, someone has to go to Hell, right?  Just not anyone I know.

You may be asking:  What is this blog about?  Here’s the deal:  Richard isn’t a tragic figure nor was he a saint.  He was a 20 year old young man who died.  But, before he died–and stained his memory–he was just a person.  I forget that sometimes.  I’ve made a point with my kids to never treat him as a shadowy figure, although to them that is surely what he is.   Here’s what he was:

  • He was born on March 16, 1967.
  • He was a small guy 5′ 5″ 130 pounds.
  • He looked like my Dad.
  • He was funny.
  • He could be short-tempered and profane.
  • He could fight.  I mean REALLY fight.  You’d need to be twice his size to have a chance.  He had lightning quick hands and could throw punches like a boxer.
  • He was one of those guys who never got injured.  My middle son is like that.
  • He was probably the strongest person in the United States for his size and age.  Seriously.  He was the national high school powerlifting championing and collegiate powerlifting champion at 114 pounds.  He could bench 260 pounds and deadlift 400.

Sports Illustrated, July 1985

  • He once put a block of wood in one hand and drove a two inch nail into a 2×4 with two  hits.  Try that.
  • He kept his teddy bear in his bedroom until the day he died.  Teddy stayed in my parents house until Dad died.
  • He was a huge fan of every 1980’s hair band
  • He liked guns
  • He liked cats
  • He was fiercely loyal to his friends.  He fought with them and for them.

Those are just a few things.  Frankly, my memory fades over time, but I can still hear his voice.  I can see his smile and hear him laugh.  He was just a regular guy.  Sometimes, I wonder what he would be like now.  Of course, that’s a futile exercise.  I might as well wonder what I would be like if I had been born in the 1920’s.   I wasn’t, and he won’t ever be 40 or 45 or 50. He’s 20.

August 11, 1978. Richard (and Teddy) and Tom celebrate my 16th birthday. Teddy would “live” in that house for another 30 years.

Like most folks my age, I’ve had my share of grief.  My parents died.  A close friend died unexpectedly.  Nothing ever hit me like Richard’s death.  It still resonates but doesn’t really hurt.  It’s  like getting hit with a hammer.  It would always hurt, but if you got hit with it everyday, you’d get used to it.  I got used to it over time.

Tom and I serenade Richard on his first birthday. March 16, 1968

I would like to say that his death seems like yesterday.  It doesn’t.  It seems long ago, enveloped in the fog of a bad dream.  His life, though–that’s still fresh. He were kids together.  I was his big brother, and I always will be.  I wonder some time if he’d recognize this old man.  He’d probably give me grief about all this gray hair.

When Dad died in 2008, the jacket Richard was wearing when he died was still hanging in the hall closet.  My brother and I just stared at it.  Then, one of us decided to just toss it in the casket with Dad’s body.  Oh, the teddy bear was still there, too.  Teddy got a ride in the casket, too.  After that, some 20 years after Richard’s death, it seemed over.  After all, we wouldn’t bury Teddy for nothing.  Richard is dead, but that’s okay.  It happens to all of us.  It just happened to him too soon.

© 2012

The Fan’s Guide to Big Blue Nation


I attended the University of Kentucky.  I am a proud alum, with two degrees no less.  I was born and raised and have lived my entire life in Kentucky.  Of course, I am also a lifelong fan of UK basketball.  Attending UK–even graduating–has nothing to do with that.  There are 3 million people in Kentucky, most of whom did not attend UK.  But, I’m willing to bet that the majority of those folks are also fans.  We’re born into it.  It doesn’t matter is you’ve never set foot on campus or even been to Lexington, you’re still a fan.

I don’t claim that we are unique.  Alabama football, Indiana basketball and other sports teams have similar followings.  Nevertheless, we have our lifestyle and our own way of viewing the world through a Big Blue prism.

We say our favorite time of year is the NCAA Tournament, though most of us approach each game with a mixture of excitement and fear.  To win would be the greatest of all things, while losing is a dagger in the chest.  The season ends.

We call ourselves part of Big Blue Nation.  You may be a member.  If not, you may encounter our people over the next few weeks at tournament venues, on message boards or just on the street.  You’ve been warned.


Any UK fan worth his or her salt knows that “the Fellowship of the Miserable” was coined not in relation to basketball, but by Bill Curry, our wildly unsuccessful football coach in the 1990’s.  This was his description of fans who complained to about our perpetually under-achieving football program.  The Fellowship was actually founded by our basketball fans, of course.

The Fellowship is at work, home, church, everywhere you go.  They speak of zones, defending the three, substitution patterns, timeouts, free throws, inbounds plays, recruiting.  And they never forget.  Here are sure-fire topics to stir the Fellowship at tournament time:

  • 2013 NIT:  We were the defending NCAA Champs and went to the NIT.  And lost.  In the first round.  To Robert Morris.
  • 1996 NCAA Champs: Why, oh why, did the Cats lose the SEC Tournament Championship game that year?  Was Pitino flat out-coached or did he tank the game in an act of genius? Oh, and our uniforms were ugly.
  • 1978 NCAA Champs:  When Joe Hall benched the starters in the second half against Florida State, was he a master motivator or was it the act of a madman? By the way, he almost blew the lead in the finals.
  • 1992 Duke game:  For the love of God, why didn’t Pitino put a man on the freaking ball ?  Regardless, Christian Laettner stomped on Aminu Timberlake!!  He shouldn’t haven’t been in the game at the end anyway.
  • 1975 NCAA Finals:  John Wooden announced his retirement before the 1975 Championship game just to screw UK. Wooden, by the way, was just as big a cheater as any of our coaches.
  • 1998 NCAA Champs:  Tubby Smith won with Pitino’s players.
  • 1966 NCAA Runners-up:  UK may have had an all-white team in 1966, but so did DUKE, by God!  Where is your outrage over THAT???
  • Middle Tennessee and Alabama-Birmingham:  Just ask any member of the Fellowship what is significant about those schools.  You’ll get an earful.
  • 1997 NCAA Runners-up:  If Derek Anderson was well enough to shoot a couple of free throws, he should have played.
  • 1984 Final Four:  Say “Seattle” or “Georgetown” or “2nd half” and watch the life drain from the faces of the Fellowship.
  • 1986 NCAA Tournament:  By God, you can’t beat any team FOUR TIMES in one season!

This is but a sampling of hot buttons for the BBN.  You can throw names out there, too:  Denny Crum, Dale Brown, Coach K, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, John Wooden, Billy Gillispie.  The list is endless.  One mention will dredge up memories best left suppressed, like tearing open an old incision.


I am a typical member of BBN.  I never played basketball at any seriously competitive level.  But, I’ve watched a lot of basketball.  A lot.  This makes me an expert, of sorts.  If I were the coach…..  You know the drill.  Every fan is different, but here are a number of coaching pointers about which there is a general consensus in BBN:

  • Full court press:  Full court, all the time.  We like this because it was effective under Rick Pitino, even though Pitino himself no longer employs it.  Because we rarely watch any team other than UK, we don’t know this.  We think Louisville presses all the time.  We want to do that, too.
  • Dribble Drive Motion:  This is the offense of choice of our current coach, John Calipari.  Few of us understand how it works.  We scream at the TV for pick and rolls and screens when they aren’t even part of our offense.  Here’s a link about the DDM which will confuse you to no end, making it only slightly less complex than string theory.
  • One and Done:  We hate the “One and Done” rule.  It doesn’t work.  We can’t win with freshmen.  Until we do….
  • Shoot the 3:  Pitino’s first team at UK made us 3 crazy.  We’ve never recovered.  Many of us still hold to the idea that firing the ball from 20 feet makes more sense than a lay up.
  • The Ball Line Defense:  This was Tubby Smith’s defense.  We think he invented it.  It’s also known as “man-you-ball” defense.  The basic principle is to position yourself between your man and the ball.  It based on the oldest defensive principle: The hardest man to guard is the one with the ball, so keep the ball away from your man.  It’s actually a good defense and was played well by Smith’s teams.  We don’t care, because those teams didn’t win enough.  We think it was a terrible defense.
  • Play Richie:  We know who should be playing and when.  We know that many games would have been won if only the 10th or 11th player had logged some minutes.
  • We Need More Kentucky Boys:  Not everything about BBN is admirable.  You will hear some fans say “we need more Kentucky boys.”  This is usually offered as a pretense to contend that Kentucky boys will play harder.  Sadly, this is often a thinly-veiled code for “white boys.”  Don’t be fooled.  When you hear this, that’s often what it means.


Kentucky belongs to the SEC or, as we prefer to put it, the SEC belongs to Kentucky.  The SEC hates Kentucky, but not as much as the BBN hates the SEC.  The other SEC schools waste their efforts on football or–in Vanderbilt’s case–academics.  We’re all basketball all the time.  A quick overview of our take on the rest of the conference:

  • Alabama:  A football school pretending to play basketball and doing a poor job of it.
  • Auburn:  See Alabama.  Plus, we made Charles Barkley cry.  Tigers, War Eagles of Plainsmen?  No self-respecting school can be that confused on its mascot choice.
  • Arkansas:  Okay, they won a title. Big deal.  Their coach also said he would crawl to Kentucky for the UK job.  He didn’t, but he did kind of crawl out of town when he got fired.
  • Florida:  They won back to back titles.  Pure luck.  Any school that had both Dwayne Schintzius and Joakim Noah is worthy of nothing but contempt.
  • Georgia:  Their coach also abandoned them to come to Kentucky. Otherwise, we don’t know much about them, other than we regularly beat them.
  • LSU:  Cats came back from 31 down AT LSU on Fat Tuesday.  HAHAHAHA!
  • Mississippi:   We get them confused with Mississippi State.
  • Mississippi State:  See Mississippi.  They used to be called the “Maroons.”  WTH?  Somehow, they get credit for “crossing the color line” by participating in the integrated NCAA Tournament in 1963, twenty freakin’ years after UK started going to the tournament!
  • Missouri:  They have to be known for something, but what I have no idea what.
  • South Carolina:  They’re called the Gamecocks.  Nuff said.
  • Tennessee:  One time Ernie Grunfeld shot free throws when Bernard King got fouled.  They are cheaters.  Plus, their women’s team could beat them most years.
  • Texas A&M:  Another football school but without any particular football success.  Like UK, Bear Bryant quit them, too.  Their school concentrates on agricultural and mechanical stuff which seems kind of limited to me.
  • Vanderbilt:  Eggheads with a disproportionate number of white players.  They play in a dump with the benches at the end of the court.


We hate Louisville, the University, that is.  The city actually has more UK fans in it than anywhere else in the state. HAHAHAHA!!


Oswald acted alone.  Marilyn Monroe overdosed.  Obama was born in Hawaii.  Those statements sum up my view of conspiracies.  I don’t believe it is possible for two people to keep a secret, much less dozens; however, as a member of BBN, I do recognize the following undeniable conspiracies:

  • The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is designed primarily to give UK an impossible draw every year.  That’s why they don’t have cameras in the room.
  • The NCAA Infractions Committee has conspired against UK many times to impose unjust sanctions.  They have gone so far as to enlist the media, FedEx and the American College Testing system.
  • The print media conspires against UK by failing to acknowledge our superiority.  They also engage in yellow journalism by unjustly criticizing the Cats.
  • Broadcasters conspire against UK to offer undue criticism of the Cats and unwarranted praise of our opponents.  Only Dick Vitale does not belong to the conspiracy and that’s only because he’s so annoying they won’t invite him to their secret meetings.
  • Referees since the days of Paul Galvan have conspired against UK every season.  We know that they meet before each season to discuss how to hold back UK.  They demand that games be kept close for TV ratings and to boost up the rest of the sorry SEC.  This is the only thing that keeps the Cats from regularly winning by 75 points.


Like any good fan base, BBN lacks perspective.  I myself have smashed an ashtray (1992); broken a baseball bat (1993); ripped a pair of blue jeans in half (1995); and kicked a hole in the wall (1994).  These were just reactions to NCAA tournament losses.  There have been countless of other instances of temporary insanity, property damage and self-inflicted physical injury caused by a bitter defeat.


Your author reflects in the glory of the accomplishments of others.

We are the same fan base from which a caller told Coach Smith that he hadn’t “given up” on the Cats, even though they were 22-3 at the time.  People who camp out for weeks to attend a practice.  We hate Christian Laettner for doing what anyone would expect him to do–make a shot to win the game for his team.  We don’t care.  He beat the Cats, and we hate him.  Coach Calipari won the title in 2012, and two years later we were ready to brand him a complete failure, then he took his team to another Final Four.  He was a genius again.

Two kinds of seasons end with a win:  Wildly successful (NCAA Champs!) or soul-crushing failure (no tournament, NIT champs, probation).  This means that we are despondent at the end of almost every season.  We won’t read the newspaper or watch the news, lest there be a report on our humiliating loss.  We are lesser people, and we know it.  We have no hope…until NEXT YEAR!!

© 2014

Hitchhiking In Harlan County

Typical modern day hitchhiker

What happened to hitchhikers?  You don’t see them anymore.  They used to be quite common.  I grew up in a town called Loyall in Harlan County, Kentucky.   Loyall was, and is, the proverbial town with one red light.  When I was growing up, there was a store/soda fountain on the corner at the red light.  It was named, fittingly enough, The Corner Store.  John and Goldie Roaden owned it.  You could get two hot dogs and small Coke for 60 cents.  Hitchhikers would often work the road just up from The Corner Store.  Thumbs out, they waited for a ride.  If you knew the guy, you’d pick him up.  Even if you didn’t know him, you might pick him up anyway.  By the way, we called it “thumbing,” which sounds vaguely obscene, but that’s what it was.

Now, in my family, hitchhiking was unheard of.  It was one of the many activities reserved solely for the “lowest of trash.”  My mother relegated many things to the lowest of trash–smoking, cursing, drawing on yourself, fighting and associating with trash, to name just a very few.  My father would gladly pick up hitchhikers.  In fact, even late in his life, he would occasionally pick up someone.  This would invariably be a notoriously dangerous person.  He would say something like:  “I gave [FILL IN NAME OF DANGEROUS PERSON] a ride yesterday.  You know, he’s an outlaw, but he thinks a lot of you.  I was telling him all about you.”  I would just think:  “Geez, Dad, don’t tell that dude anything about me!  He might come and kill me.”  Oddly enough, I had a brief foray into hitchhiking myself.

I had a friend who liked to hitchhike. He’ll rename nameless for this story.   He was a funny, funny kid.  Now, he was not the lowest of trash, but he was the kind of kid  who wouldn’t hesitate to engage in any number of prohibited activities.  He would steal his mother’s cigarettes and light one up to show how cool he was.  A 5 foot tall middle schooler smoking his mom’s Virginia Slims may not sound cool, but he pulled it off.  I, on the other hand, was a good kid.  I did well in school and never got in trouble, but I always had a friend or two who lived on the edge.  For a long time, this guy was that friend.

When we were in the 8th grade, we decided that we were too old to ride bikes and should start hitchhiking.  My initial reaction was about how I would have reacted to the suggestion of human sacrifices.  No way, no how would I do this.  I would get caught, because I ALWAYS got caught.  No way.  So, of course, I headed down to The Corner Store with my buddy to thumb to Harlan.  My pal played baseball and was wearing his uniform.  I figured that was pretty safe.  We had our thumbs out for about 5 minutes when Mrs. Thornton, my 6th grade teacher, gave us a ride.  She lectured me the entire way to Harlan about the dangers of hitchhiking.  I figured she’d call my parents, but she didn’t.  We even hitchhiked home after the game.  Some old guy gave us a ride.  No sweat.

We continued our thumbing lifestyle for weeks.  Usually, someone we knew picked us up.  Even strangers were nice to us.  Then, things got weird.  One night, we got my parents to drive us out to the carnival which was set up in the parking lot at James A. Cawood High School.  We told them we’d get a ride back.  My parents weren’t concerned about me–they assumed I had good sense.  When we left the carnival, it was dark, and of course we didn’t have a ride.  We were about 5 miles from home, and old friend wanted to hitchhike.  At this point, you should know that I was far from being a  rough, tough Harlan Countian.  The thought of hitchhiking in the dark terrified me almost as much as the thought of walking home 5 miles in the dark.  We decided to start walking–with our thumbs extended.  We reasoned–quite logically–that we were kids and someone would pick us up.  I can still hear cohort say:  “Man, we’re little kids.  Someone will pick us up because they’ll be worried about us.”  That made some sense to me, proving that my parents’ faith in my judgment was sorely misplaced.

We had walked about a mile when the brake lights on a car popped on.  I knew this car.  It listed to one side like a ship about to capsize, but I knew why the car leaned to one side.  I said:  “Hey, that Jimmy Meeks.”  My friend said:  “So what?  He’ll be going to Loyall.”  Jimmy Meeks was a giant.  Anyone reading this who knew Jimmy would agree.  A giant of the Andre the Giant variety.  I don’t know how tall he was, but he had to be 6′ 5″ but looked a foot taller.  Jimmy told me one time that he weighed 430 pounds.  I’m guessing he fudged a little on that. He had to weight 500 pounds.  He looked like Bluto from Popeye.  He was one of these tall guys with a long torso shaped like a barrel.  Jimmy’s hands were huge.  I saw him take a swig out of a fifth of whiskey once, and I swear his hand went all the way around the bottle.

I want to make one thing clear:  I’m not making fun of Jimmy.  Jimmy had developmental problems of some kind.  He was probably 10-12 years older than I was. Had he been born later, I expect he could have had  the kind of attention that folks get today, and his life would have been easier.  As it was, he struggled.  I got to know him growing up.  He mowed our grass, and we would sometimes give him rides to church.  Many people were terrified of Jimmy.  He was physically imposing but had the demeanor of a child.  Sadly, he frightened people.  Even though I liked him, he kind of scared me, too.  I had heard many stories (most of which were probably untrue) of him losing his temper with people.  I really didn’t want to get in that car, but of course I did.

Jimmy said:  “Where you boys going?”  “Loyall” we both said.  Then Jimmy lit into us about the dangers of hitchhiking and how he should turn us in to the cops.  I said:  “Jimmy, you know me.”  He looked at me in the mirror said “Johnny, I know you.  I’m going to tell your daddy.”  It went downhill from there.  Jimmy then told my buddy that Jimmy had seen him drinking whiskey and would tell his mother.  My little pal was not known for his diplomacy and responds with “Well, I saw you smoking and drinking, and I’m tellin’  YOUR mommy!!”  Okay, you might have guessed, but this was a mistake.  Jimmy exploded, yelling, cussing, beating his basketball-sized fist on the dash.  I’m saying useless stuff like:  “Jimmy, Jimmy, calm down, man.  No one is telling your mom and dad anything.   Ignore him.  He’s an idiot.”  Jimmy now says he’s going to throw us in the river when we get to Loyall.  I’m in the backseat trying to plot my escape. I figure I’ll jump out at some point.  I hate to leave a friend in the lurch, but–hey–no need for two of us to end up in the river.

Now, we’re in Loyall.  Jimmy is still irate.  He had this loud, booming voice that made your head hurt.  He’s still yelling about the river.   Finally, my friend says:  “Hey, you gotta let us out.”  Jimmy just stops the car, and we get out.  Crisis over.  I lean in and say:  “Thanks for the ride.”  Jimmy says:  “Tell your daddy I said hello.  I like him.”  That was it.  Maybe that was a close call.  Maybe not.  But I was sure I was done with night-time hitchhiking.

A couple of days later, we’re back on the road.  Same routine.  Thumb to the ball park and start thumbing home.  No sweat.  We get to the park with no problem.  We then head home, walking and thumbing.  A pick up truck pulls over.  It’s an old truck, maybe 15 years old or so.  California plates.  I got a bad feeling about this.  The guy throws open the passenger door and says “Get in!”  This dude is rough-looking, even by Harlan County standards.  He’s filthy, just dirty.  Greasy, slicked back hair and ratty t-shirt that covers about half his beer belly.  The worst thing is that he looks crazy.  So, of course, we just hop right in.  I’m sitting right beside this filthy, crazy guy, and my friend is beside the door.  Now that I’m right beside the driver, I learn that he also stinks like severe body odor, whiskey and cigarettes.  He puts the old truck in gear.  That’s when I notice the fifth of whiskey between his legs.   My stomach drops.

Filthy Guy:  Where the hell are you going??

Me: Loyall

Filthy Guy:  Where the hell is Loyall?

Me:  Three miles the other side of Harlan.

Filthy Guy: Where the hell is Harlan?

Friend:  Well, where the hell are you going?

Filthy Guy:  I got no idea.

At this point our conversation was interrupted when Filthy Guy spied someone with long, flowing hair walking down the road.  He yells out the window a stream of obscenities intended to express his desire for the person whom he believes to be a young woman.  Naturally, it’s really a man, causing my buddy to burst out laughing and say: “Dumbass, that’s a dude!”  That’s when I saw the gun.  He had it under his leg, and just pulls it out and points it toward us.  It’s a revolver (a .38), and it’s loaded.  That shut us both up.  Now, Filthy Guy has become Dangerous Guy.  He says he ought to just shoot both of us, because he’s just driving through. He could shoot us both, throw us on the river bank and be long gone.  Or he could do a bunch of horrible things to us, then shoot us.  Now what?

Here’s what.  My friend was a quick thinker.  In those days, you had to drive right through the town of Harlan.  There was no by-pass road.  When Filthy Guy slows down at the railroad tracks in Harlan, my friend throws open his door and says “We’re getting out!”  The guy just stops the truck–he’s still pointing that gun at us, and we jump out, running when we hit the road.  Filthy Guy is yelling at us and laughing like a maniac. We walked the three miles home.

That was it for me and hitchhiking.  I didn’t have the stomach for it.  My buddy kept doing it, as did a bunch of other folks.  When I was in my 30’s, I told my Mom that we used to hitchhike.  Her response:  “Oh, Lord.  I had no idea.  Only trash does that.”  True enough, I suppose.

Hitchhiking has changed.  I see the occasional hitchhiker, usually on the on-ramp to the Interstate.  They’re always scary, and I avoid even making eye contact with them.  Even when I go back to Harlan County, I never see any.  I guess it’s a lost art.  It’s probably a valid assumption that hitchhikers and those that pick up hitchhikers are a bit unbalanced.  At least that’s what I think.  That, or they’re just the lowest of trash.

© 2012

How To Be A Lawyer

I’m a lawyer.  Really.  Have been for almost 25 years now.  How did I do it?  Well, I graduated from college and then got admitted to law school.  Then I attended law school, passed all my classes and took the bar exam.  I passed the bar exam and was sworn in.  The substance of my oath was that I had never participated in a duel nor served as a second in a duel.  They still require that in Kentucky.  I guess Aaron Burr gave lawyers a bad name, assuming he was a lawyer.   I’d say he was.  He was a politician, and it seems that most politicians are lawyers.

Not just anyone can be a lawyer.  They have to do the things I described above or, as a lawyer might say, hereinabove (which is not to be confused with hereinafter).  It’s really quite a bit of work, and unfortunately results most times in your actually being a lawyer.  There is a better way.  If you’ve dreamed of being a lawyer (and who hasn’t?) you can now live the dream without all attendant stress and disappointment.  How, you say?  By being a lawyer or, most accurately, being like a lawyer.  There are secrets all lawyers know that make us lawyerly and, thus, like lawyers.  These secrets are not known to the general public, but I would like to share them with you.   Below (or “hereinbelow”) is my take on these secrets:


This is the first thing you must do.  Without it, you have no credibility.  Lawyers talk like lawyers.  We say things like “I submit to you…”  No one says that, but we do.  We say “With all due respect…”  The rough translation of that is:  “I disagree with you, you blithering idiot….”  That’s how we talk.

We use Latin phrases, although none of us speak Latin (by the way, I just guaranteed that some self-important lawyer who actually speaks Latin will now comment on this blog—in Latin, no doubt).  Why say “and others” when you can say “et al.“?  Normal people say “among other things.”  We say “inter alia.”  How about Nunc Pro Tunc?  One of my favorites, although I don’t know what that means.   I could slap a Writ of Audita Querela on you.

We call people names like Plaintiff and Defendant.  Or opposing counsel.  The Accused. The Witness.  Lessor and Lessee.  Guarantor and Guarantee.  Mortgagor and Mortgagee.  Obligor and Obligee.  Releasor and Releasee.  Part of the First Part.  Part of the Second Part.  In fact, you can take almost any normal word and make up a lawyer word for it.  How about Parentor and Parentee (Parents and children)?  Teachor and teachee (Teacher and student)?  Drivor and Drivee (Driver and passenger)?  The list is endless.  Try it yourself.  You, too, can sound like a lawyer in just a few minutes.

Where lawyers really shine is with the written word.  No one writes like a lawyer.  We take all our words and Latin phrases and just wear you out with them.

For example, we love the word “here.”  It is one of the lawyer’s most useful linguistic tools because of its many and varied uses.  Unfortunately, you are not likely to understand the use of these.  Below are helpful definitions:

Herein:  In here.

Hereinabove:  Up there

Hereinbelow:  Down there.

Hereinafter:  After here.

Hereof:  Of this

Heretofore:  Before now

Hereford:  A cow (we don’t use that one often)

Hereinbefore:  Before here

Hereinto:  In here

Hereunto:  On here

Herewith:  With this

Hereby:  By this

We can take these words, if they can rightly be called that, and render incomprehensible the simplest of documents.  Of course, you then will need a lawyer.  After all, a lawyer wrote your document and only a lawyer can rightfully translate it.  Would you read your own x-ray?  Of course not.  Why do we do this?  To prevent Joe Blow from recklessly attempting to write and understand legal documents.  We are, in fact, protecting you from yourself.  But, if you learn to use these words yourself, you can soon appear to be a legal scholar.

Another important point is to always write in a complex way.  After all, lawyers are smart.  Smart people are incomprehensible.  Let’s say that you’ve received a daunting pile of legal papers which you–the average layman–must decipher. The first paragraph reads as follows:

“In the hereinabove numbered action which is currently pending in the court noted hereinabove, the Plaintiff seeks to enforce a mortgage lien held by it on the hereinafter described real property.”

On your own, you will read this sentence several times, scratching your head and ultimately mutilating potentially vital legal documents.  A skilled lawyer could tell you that this means:  Your mortgage is being foreclosed upon.  Now, let’s turn the tables a bit.  Say you receive a birthday card containing the banal greeting of  “Happy Birthday!”  The lawyer would write this in much more compelling prose:

Dear Sir or Madam:  The undersigned hereby wishes unto you, your heirs, representatives, successors and assigns, the best on the annual anniversary of your date of birth (hereinafter “DOB”).  As used herein, “wishes” means desires that you receive, with or without consideration, such benefits as are reasonable and customary in the community in which you celebrate said DOB; provided, however, that nothing herein contained shall be construed as a guaranty or other undertaking on the part of the undersigned, his heirs, representatives, successors and assigns to provide for you or anyone acting on your behalf or in your stead any tangible or intangible consideration, it being understood and agreed that the undersigned’s obligations are fully and finally fulfilled and discharged by delivery of this card.  Delivery of this card shall be deemed complete when placed in the United States Mail, first class postage prepaid affixed thereto, to your last known address.

When you receive the lawyer’s card, you know exactly where you stand.  Unlike the layman, who can only manage to mutter a half-hearted “Happy Birthday,”  the lawyer has clearly defined the legal parameters of the Birthdayor/Birthdayee relationship.  With just a little practice, you will be writing the same way.


I’ll confess that this is one area where I have failed.  I don’t look much like a lawyer.  The reason is that I don’t like wearing neckties.  You have to wear one to look like a lawyer–at least men have to wear them.  Why don’t I wear them?  Because the French invented them.  Seems that the French took quite a shine to the fabulous cravats worn by Turkish officers in some ancient war.  I’m an American.  I’m not going to easily give in to a bunch of rifle-dropping Frenchmen.  To me, the necktie is a sign of surrender.  It says:  “Hey, look at me.  I’m dancing on the end of a chain like a monkey entertaining The Man.”  Now, I’d wear a cravat, but that doesn’t seem to go over well.

You will note that when it comes to advice on appearance, I steer clear of advising women.  I have been married for many years.  I cannot and will not advise women on how to dress.  I won’t do it.  Here is my standard response to such inquiries:  That looks good.  So, if you want to be like a female lawyer, what you’re wearing is fine.  You look good.

Let’s talk about facial hair.  Never a good look for female attorneys, but often just as bad for the men.  Beards, mustaches and goatees are okay (again, men only).  Soul patches, mutton chops, Hitler mustaches, handlebar mustaches:  These never work.  Don’t even try.  If you want to look like a carnival barker, go work in the carnival.

Hair:  Men–only criminal defense lawyers and constitutional lawyers can have ponytails.  Everyone else, cut them.  Wash your hair occasionally too.  A comb isn’t a bad idea.

There are some general rules which applies to both sexes:

Stay out of the sun:  A pallid, even ashen, complexion tells the world that you work all the time and don’t have time for recreation.

Eat anything:  Fried food, fast food, spoiled food–you name it.  A lawyer won’t take time to eat a real meal, unless he or she is entertaining a client.

Watch your weight:  Either gain enough weight to qualify for your own Learning Channel reality show or be so thin that you look like Adrien Brody after a debilitating stomach virus.  If you give the appearance of being “fit” or “trim” this will send the wrong signal.  You will be branded as some sort of gadabout who is unconcerned with his or her client’s welfare.

Casual wear:  When you wear so-called casual clothes, it should be something like khakis and a pressed shirt; a sweater vest; or perhaps a cape.  If you must ever been seen working around your house, wear loafers.


Once you have mastered sounding and looking like a lawyer, you are ready for the final step:  Living like a lawyer.  I believe it was Montgomery Burns who said that faith, family and friends are the three demons which must be slain to succeed in business.  This certainly holds true for lawyers.  You must learn to address the following nettlesome annoyances:

Family:  Oddly, most lawyers have a family.  In fact, many reproduce and have numerous spouses during their lifetimes.  Most do not allow these distractions to get in the way of their important work.  Children, in particular, can be a source of great stress.  My suggestion is to write down various important facts about your children on index cards or, better yet, in your ubiquitous smart phone.  Such things as their names, birth dates, hobbies, etc., come in handy if you are ever questioned about them.  It’s a brutal fact of life that most lawyers are not attractive people.  Sadly, this is often true of their children, too.  Find a photo on the Internet of handsome, healthy-looking children to carry with you.  In case someone asks, you can dazzle them, rather than see them recoil in horror at your tots’ genetic misfortune.  Children will often expect you to attend various school functions and sporting events.  Explain to them early on that Mommy or Daddy has no time for such skylarking.  If you are divorced, you can firmly point out that the crippling child support payments are, in fact, the child’s fault and require you to work long hours.  If all else fails simply say:  “You are the reason Daddy drinks.”  That almost always works.

Crisis Management:  Everyone has times when there are legitimate personal crises which demand attention.  Illness and death are two of the most distracting.  Those close to you should understand that you are acting like a lawyer, not a doctor.  You can’t be expected to waste valuable time loafing about a hospital.  Most importantly, you’re likely to catch some disease in the hospital.  Then, who will do your work?  Medicine is best left to doctors.  Besides, they make a hell of a lot more money than lawyers.  Let them deal with it.  Funerals likewise are time wasters.  I guarantee that there is someone in your family less important than you are who can attend to the arrangements.  Honestly, what can you do for a dead person?  There is work to do.

Busy, Busy, Busy:  Lawyers are busy.  Always. It is a well-known mark of shame for a lawyer’s work to be slow.   If you ask any lawyer how his or her work is going, the answer is likely to be “I’m swamped,” “I’m covered up,” “I’m drowning” or another dramatic pronouncement.  Practice these types of responses. It’s not necessary that you be able to describe what you’re doing.  The beauty of this is that the only person likely to ask you that is a lawyer.  Once you say how busy you are, the lawyer will begin to obsess about why YOU are so busy while his practice has fallen apart. There will be no follow up questions.

Stress:  Lawyers are stressed out.  You must become stressed out.  Develop ailments like gout, colitis, peptic ulcers, hiatal hernias, shingles, syphilis, migraines, back ailments, and hemorrhoids which you can attribute to your stressful lifestyle.  Above all, just be stressed out.

BILL, BILL, BILL:  The billable hour is the stock in trade for most lawyers.  Even a non-lawyer can take part in this stimulating exercise.  Let’s say your are a stay at home parent.  Here is how you can record your day dealing with your children:

Hours:  16.5   Description: Meeting with clients RE: waking for school; Prepare and attend breakfast; Travel to and from school with clients; Prepare and complete laundry; Work on general housekeeping; Review mail; Multiple telephone conferences with teachers; Travel to and from school with clients; Meet with clients RE: homework; Prepare and attend dinner with clients; Meet with clients regarding preparation to retire for evening.

See how much fun that would be?  Soon, you too will mentally record and track every moment of your day, just like a real lawyer.  Before long, you’ll lie awake at night wondering how you are ever going to meet the unreasonable billable hour quota you will have established for yourself.


I used to have a job where I interviewed job applicants for a law firm.  I don’t think I ever confirmed that any of these folks actually attended law school or passed any bar exam.  Maybe they did, who knows for sure?  What I do know is that I worked with many of these same folks, and the good ones all acted like lawyers.  You can, too, if you just heed everything contained herein as stated hereinabove.

By reading this blog, you agree to waive any and all claims against the author related to the advice dispensed herein, it being understood and agreed that the author expressly disclaims any and all warranties, whether express or implied, regarding the soundness of said advice as set forth hereinabove.  You further acknowledge and understand that the author may not actually be a lawyer and may, in fact, be dangerously mentally ill.   You also acknowledge that the author is unreasonably temperamental and not receptive to criticism, whether constructive or otherwise.  Any comments regarding this blog shall be made with the express understanding that the author is also explosively violent and prone to unreasonable fits of pique.  You assume all risk in communicating with the author and agree that, by doing so, you willingly accept any irrational and abusive response you might receive, including but not limited to obscene and derogatory language and/or the use of distasteful or pornographic emoticons by the author.

GOTCHA!  See?  I AM a lawyer.

© 2012