Colonel Earl

“Why do men fight?” In his old age, my Dad would often ask that somewhat rhetorical question. I knew not to answer. He would answer it, explaining that men fight because they’re trained to fight–no other reason. I always saw the military through my Dad’s prism. He was a veteran of two branches of the military and two wars. He was as proud as one could be of his service. I was born in 1962, perfect timing to avoid military service. The draft was suspended before I was 18, and there were no wars while I was a young man. Besides, Dad told me that I wasn’t military material anyway.  He was right.

Almost everything Dad told me about his service was in the last 5 years of his life. Prior to then, I’d heard a few stories, like the time he debriefed a couple of pilots who spotted UFOs over China.  He also told a few stories about the time he spent in the hospital in WWII. Otherwise, like a lot of men of his generation, he didn’t talk all that much about it.

In January of 2003, Dad had a stroke while at a meeting. He passed out, but came to almost immediately. Because he seemed disoriented, a friend of his called me and said “Earl had some kind of spell. You better check on him.” I called Dad, and he seemed fine but very tired. I made him promise to see the doctor in the morning.  I talked to Mom, too, and she said he seemed okay.

Turns out that Dad had a major stroke that night. Oddly, he had no severe physical effects from it, but it did affect his mind. At first, I couldn’t tell any difference, but one day shortly after the stroke, my mother called and said I needed to make the 3 hour drive to Harlan to see them.  It was, she said, “a crisis.”

My mother was given to hyperbole, and I assumed this was more of the same. She had fallen about a week before Dad’s “spell” and was still pretty sore. I was talking to them both daily, and he seemed fine to me.  Nevertheless, I headed down there.

When I got there, Mom was on the couch and Dad was in his usual spot in the kitchen. I sat down with him and asked if he was okay. He said: “Did I ever tell about Korea?” He then drew a map of Korea and told me about it. In detail. He drew the map from memory, and it was remarkably accurate.  After about an hour and half of listening, I told Mom:  “Okay.  You’re right.  Something is wrong.”  After a few doctor’s visits, we found out he had a significant stroke.  As with a lot of my Dad’s ailments, he was an unusual patient.  His doctor at the University of Kentucky told me that out of the thousands of stroke patients they see each year, they get 3 or 4 like him–those who suffer severe strokes without physical damage.  The good news was that the doctor told me he would have these spells of “delirium” where he would talk and talk, but that it would get better.  It did.  In the meantime, I learned a lot I had never known.

Oh, and my mother was right.  It was a crisis.  Her fall led to a series of issues for her, and she was dead by May.  Dad was alone now, and we had much more time to talk than ever before.  He wore me out.  As with a lot of things, what at first was maddening turned out to be a blessing.  For the next five years, I got to know him in a way that I never had up until then.

Dad was born on January 19, 1925 in Evarts, Kentucky, the fifth of seven children.  He had four older sisters–Emma, Pauline, Mabel and Mildred–and two younger brothers–Jack and Paul.  His father, Walker, was a coal miner and later ran a gas station.  Dad grew up poor.  He said “You know how people say they were poor and didn’t know it?  WE knew it.”

Dad joined the Navy in late 1942. He turned 18 on January 19, 1943. He didn’t finish his senior year at Evarts High School, but he graduated anyway. They would do that for you in those days. My Granny accepted his diploma. He was 5′ 5″ and weighed 115 pounds.

1943. Dad at the Great Lakes Naval Station.

Dad went to the Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois. The last time I spent the night at Dad’s house, he said to me–completely out of the blue–“Did I ever tell you about playing the bugle?” No, he hadn’t.  Here’s what he said, almost word for word:

“When we got to Great Lakes, they asked if anyone could play the trumpet. Of course, you know I was an outstanding trumpeter. I said I could, and the Petty Officer said ‘You play Taps at lights out.’  Well, buddy, I knew I could do that. So, I played Taps at lights out every night. Then, I’d go to my bunk, square away my bugle and listen to everyone cry themselves to sleep. Every night. We were all children, and we all wanted was to go home.  How ’bout that?”

Dad saw no action in the Navy. He did get in a plane crash in Florida.  The transport plane took off without refueling and came down right after take off.  Dad was unhurt, but he saw one man decapitated.  When he got to Panama, he got sick. Very sick. I’m not sure what he caught, but he always said it was either malaria or black fever or both. He also got jungle rot, which ate up his feet. That pretty much ended his chances of seeing action in the Pacific. When he was in the hospital, nurses used to bring people to see him to show how young he was. As Dad liked to say, “I was a just a little fella.”

Dad living it up with some nurses in the Navy.

The Navy ended up training Dad to be an airship rigger. That’s right, airships–blimps. Dad noted many times that he couldn’t have been trained in a more useless vocation, although Goodyear did offer him a job. By 1946, Dad was out of the Navy.  With the future of airships not looking promising, he had to do something with his life.

Dad never hesitated to credit the GI Bill for his success in life. All he’d ever aspired to was a “good job outside.” By that, he meant at the coal mines but outside, not underground. Instead, he got to go to college. He went to the University of Kentucky and immediately signed up for Air Force ROTC.

Dad had enjoyed the military life but didn’t like being an enlisted man. He wanted to be an officer, and college gave the chance to do that. He graduated with a degree in geography and as a Lieutenant in the Air Force. He wasn’t a pilot. He trained to be an intelligence officer. He didn’t think there would be another war as soon as Korea, and he didn’t think the pilots would have much to do during peace time.

Well, Dad ended up in Korea, where he was an intelligence officer. He was attached to the 51st Fighter-Interceptor Wing of the 5th Air Force.  He oversaw spy missions.  When the war ended, he came home aboard a morgue ship. It was the only ship heading out, and he took a ride along with 1500 dead soldiers.  “It was a quiet voyage,” as he liked to say.

Dad sailing home from Korea, the epitome of cool. I have that scarf.

Dad returned to Evarts.  He had met my mother just before leaving for Korea–she was a school teacher at Evarts High School.  They married in 1957 and had three children.  Me, my older brother Tom and younger brother Richard.  Richard died in 1987 at 20 years old.  Dad weathered that like he did everything else.

Dad went on to serve 30 more years in the Reserves. Most of his service was as a Liaison Officer for the Air Force Academy. He recruited potential cadets for the Academy. He loved every minute of it.  We also got to visit the Air Force Academy quite a few times.

Dad had a variety of jobs, including Health Department Inspector and field agent for the old Kentucky Water Pollution Control Commission.  His greatest success was as one of the first environmental consultants for coal companies.  Nothing, however, topped his military experiences.

With all his military service, one would think Dad was a super-patriot. Not really. He was always proud of the military and his own service, but he had a very cynical view of wars and those who start them. He did not believe that there were war “heroes.” He told me that there were two types of “heroes”: One was a person caught in a dangerous situation who just did what he was trained to do. The other was a crazy man who just didn’t care. Dad’s view never wavered. Soldiers do what they are trained to do. Period.

Here’s an example of Dad’s view.  He served in Korea with a pilot about whom a movie was made. What Dad remembered about him was having to tell the pilot that he would be court-martialed if he got arrested again. As Dad said, “He wasn’t a hero. He was crazy.”

Here are some of the things Dad drove home to me, over and over:

  • Soldiers aren’t driven by patriotism. That might be why they are in the military, but it’s not what drives them. Discipline and training are their motivators. You are trained to follow orders, and that’s what you do.
  • No one wants to die for their country. They’ll do it, but not because they want to do it. Everyone he knew wanted someone else to die for their country. He met a lot of injured in the hospital. He said not a one of them thought it was worth it.
  • World War II was a miserable experience for almost everyone involved.
  • Nothing–nothing–got his back up more than politicians talking about soldiers “defending freedom.” Dad’s view was that wars may be about freedom–but maybe not. They’re about whatever a politician decides is worth it.
  • He despised George Patton. He said Patton was a “glory hound.” Dad told me that when he was in the Navy, he “heard about Patton slapping that boy in the hospital,” alluding to the famous story of Patton slapping a shell-shocked soldier. “Slapping was too good for that SOB. They should have shot him.” I said something like: “Geez, Dad, the poor guy was in the hospital.” Dad: “I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about Patton!”
  • He also wasn’t impressed with General MacArthur, either.  “A soldier who can’t follow orders isn’t a soldier.”
  • Never, never underestimate the importance of the GI Bill.  Without it, he never goes to college, and we all end up suffering as a result.

You’d be wrong to think my Dad didn’t love his country or the military. He did, warts and all, but he taught me to never overlook the warts.

He drew me maps of Korea and showed me where they flew spy missions.  He told me detailed stories right down to the names of those involved and even dates.  His stroke had scrambled up his recent memory.  He could remember most things, but he got the timing of things out of order.  His military career, though, stayed sharp.

Without intending to do so, Dad learned to compensate for his memory problems.  He kept notes.  He had a billing paying system that required him to keep every bill and envelope, but it worked.  He kept track of his medication on a legal pad that he kept with him at all times.

I also found out some less serious things.  When he was at Great Lakes, he used to like to visit the “Old Sailor’s Home.”  He said:  “I would sit and listen to the old salts tell their tales of the days of wooden ships and iron men.”  Wooden ships and iron men.  That had always been a favorite expression of Dad’s.  I never knew that he heard it at the Old Sailor’s Home.  He told me many times that, if he couldn’t take care of himself, to just send him to the Old Sailor’s Home.  Of course, he didn’t really mean that.  The one time my brother and I talked to him about “assisted” living, he responded with “I will die in this house!” (Which he almost did, by the way).  That was the end of that.

What Dad enjoyed most was being Colonel Earl, as a lot of folks in Harlan County called him.  He would have been General Earl, but he wouldn’t attend War College because he didn’t want to be away from us to do it.  He loved attending events where he could wear his uniform.  When I was a kid, we would visit the Air Force Academy in the summer.  I would love those times when someone would salute him.  Very cool.

Lest you think he was a hard-core military father, he wasn’t.  He wasn’t The Great Santini.  He was a kind, doting father who probably should have been much tougher on me than he was.  He had expectations of us, but no one ever praised our accomplishments more.  He could make any trivial success seem like the greatest thing in the world.   One of his favorite expressions was to say that one had a place at “the roundtable.”  This meant you had arrived.  He was always telling me that I was at the roundtable, even when I didn’t feel like I was even in the room.

In 2005, my brother convinced Dad to visit San Francisco, where my nephew lived.  I’ll admit that I was not in favor of this.  I could imagine Dad getting lost in an airport or just being generally difficult taken out of his element.  This is a guy who couldn’t stand to spend a single night away from his home.  As usual, I was dead wrong.

Dad toured the USS Hopper that week during Fleet Week.  Because he was a retired officer, the ship’s bell rang when he boarded and he was treated like a celebrity.  He absolutely loved every second of it.  He also had dinner at the Top of the Mark restaurant where he ate in 1953 when he returned home.

Dad aboard the USS Hopper in 2005, no doubt telling this young man of the days of “wooden ships and iron men.”

Few people knew how bad Dad’s health was the last few years of his life.  We would visit his cardiologist, and the doctor would be amazed that Dad could walk up steps or even breath unaided.  The day before he died, Dad and I talked. He was in bad, bad shape and lucid for only brief periods.  He said:  “I think I might have a death rattle going on now.  I’m not scared.  I’ve lived a life mortal men only dream about.  Don’t you go moping around about your poor old daddy.  This is how this is supposed to go.”  He died the next day.  I spoke to him on the phone only minutes before he died.  The last thing he said:  “I feel fine.”  You know what?  I think he did.

Dad’s last big military honor was his funeral in May of 2008.  The Air Force Honor Guard from Wright Patterson Air Force Base served as pallbearers.  A bagpipe played Amazing Grace.  The Harlan County Honor Guard was there, too.  One of the men presented me with a Bible.  He leaned over and whispered:  “Your daddy was a good buddy to all of us.”  At the end, a bugler–unseen, mind you–played Taps just as three jets flew over Resthaven Cemetery.  I thought about that little fella from Evarts playing Taps at Great Lakes.  Mostly what I thought was that Dad would have LOVED it.

© 2012

The Gaiety of Marriage

I’ve been married for 24 years to a woman.  Wow.  Congratulations to me.  It’s pretty surprising to think that someone married me.  More surprising is that I don’t recall anyone asking me about my views of marriage until recently. Oddly, though, it’s never about my marriage or how I could convince someone to marry me or stay married to me for so long.  No, people want to know what I think about gay people marrying.  I’m not gay, so I’m not really an expert on that.  So be it.

Several folks have asked me about my views of gay marriage.  Now, I’m a fairly conservative sort, and I expect that my response is supposed to be some form of outrage.  Instead, I say:  “I don’t care.  People can marry whomever they want.  It doesn’t affect me.”  Then, I’m likely to be lectured on the Bible, societal collapse and sundry other topics of limited interest to me.    The gist of the response is “HOW CAN YOU SAY THAT??”

Here’s how:  It’s not that big a deal to me personally, but it is to the folks who would like their relationships legally recognized.  When I say I’ve been married 24 years, no one really cares all that much.  Oh, they’ll congratulate me and say “that’s great” or some other lukewarm response.  But, the truth is it’s really only important to me–and my wife (I hope).

If your hands are now poised over the keyboard to explain the Bible to me, stop.  I’ve read the Bible, and I know that it doesn’t speak highly of homosexual relationships.  Speaks poorly of tattoos, too.  And women.  It also says that I should stone my kids to death if they are disrespectful.  Maybe I’ll do that one day.  In the meantime, I’m not one who thinks we should build our laws around the Bible.  Just like the more radical Muslim countries adopt Sharia law, some would have us do the same.  Not me.  By the way, traditional Islam condemns homosexuality, too, so there may be some common ground there with our Muslim brothers.

If you want to belong to a church that won’t ordain a gay marriage, go ahead.  Again, I don’t care.  That’s your business. Now, if YOU are gay and want to get married in a church, I’d suggest changing churches, but again that’s not my business.  Just don’t expect an entire denomination to change its ways to suit you.

That’s church, not the government.  Those are two separate entities, as they are constitutionally required to be.  Our government, which is supposed to provide equal protection under the law, isn’t a church.  The government can–and should in some instances–recognize rights where a church may not.   Some churches don’t approve of dancing.  Yes, that’s right–dancing.  That doesn’t mean we outlaw dancing.  Same goes for drinking and gambling.  Serious vices when taken to extremes, to be sure, but down right Hell fire sinful even in moderation to some folks.  Hey, don’t do it if it’s sinful to you.  If you think a man marrying a man is sinful, then don’t marry a man, unless of course you’re a woman.

What about the collapse of society?  Here’s a secret I’ll share with you:  There have always been homosexuals.  Always.  Society has not yet been crushed under the weight of this fact.  I grew up in just about as conservative an area as one could.  We had gay people.  We knew who they were.  Some were prominent people in our county.  It didn’t seem to affect anyone.

What about destroying marriage and the family?  PUH-LEASE!  I know a guy who’s been married three times who told me that gay marriage would destroy marriage.  Maybe a dude married and divorced that many times is destroying it.  He sure helped destroy three marriages.  I’m not sure how this is supposed to happen.  Will hoards of gay couples come to our house and convince us that we shouldn’t be married?  In my case, I figure if two DUDES can be married surely my beautiful wife and I can handle it.  Maybe we’re supposed to be tempted to marry someone of the same sex if it’s legal.  I pretty comfortable that I won’t do that.

But, what of the Gay Agenda, you say?  I used to know a guy who often spoke of the Gay Agenda.  He never really explained it to me, but from what I could gather it was some type of conspiracy to turn us all gay.  I think I can resist, especially since I’ve known a lot of gay people who people tried to make straight.  That didn’t work either.  Plus, I’ve always been attracted to women.  That’s not because someone made a persuasive argument to me about it or because I weighed the pros and cons of it.  It’s just kinda the way it is.

There are some things the law will allow that churches frown upon and vice versa.  In some states, you can marry your first cousin.  Some churches allow polygamy.    (Polygamy, of course, is a sign of madness since it’s always the men taking more than one wife, but that’s for another post).

One thing that seems to be lost on everyone is that just because the President or Vice-President or former Vice-President say they think gay marriage is okay doesn’t make it legal.  As matters now stand, each state can make its own laws and many have banned it.  Perhaps they’ll ban divorce one day, too.  Some churches do.

If you are genuinely tormented by the prospect of gay people marrying each other, relax. It’s likely that half of them will get divorced if they’re anything like their hetero counterparts.  Hell, they may be no better at it than we are.  If you really don’t like gay folks, think about this:  Half of them will end up divorced, fighting in court over alimony and child support.  That’ll teach them.

I’m not suggesting that you turn gay or that you attend a gay wedding.  I’m not even suggesting that you like gay people. Personally, the vast majority of crap I’ve taken in my life has been from straight people.  Gay people can’t be any worse.  The gay people I know are like the rest of us.  Some are alright.  Some aren’t.

We’re Americans.  We’re free to disapprove of everyone.  You’re entitled to think what you think and believe what you believe.  Just think about giving everyone else a break.

© 2012

Love and the Color TV

Your author pictured in the middle being forced to watch black and white TV. I can’t even look directly at it. December 1962.

“This is the happiest day of my life.”  Thus I spoke one day in 1967.  I was 4 years old and talking to a television salesman.  Why was I so happy?  My family had just purchased its first color television.  Color TV, my friends.  It was that simple.  I had seen Batman and Get Smart with their tantalizing “In Color” graphics at the bottom.  Until that day, I could only dream of what that really meant.  Lost in Space, too was in color, as were many other TV shows.  Even at 4 years old, I knew that a life-changing event was unfolding.

My first color TV. No, it wasn’t crooked. That’s the photo–I think.

I think the TV was an RCA.  Could have been a Philco or Zenith.  Of course, it had a round screen.  No remote control, either.  The only remote control I had ever seen was on an episode of Dennis the Menace.  It was roughly the size of a brick.  No, our new TV had a dial.  That was okay, because I liked to sit so close to it that I could just reach up and turn the channels as needed.  My mother told me that sitting close to the TV would cause me to die of radiation poisoning, but I was willing to risk it.  (As a side note, she said standing beside the TV would give one a mega-dose of deadly radiation waves.  I never bothered to find out if any of that was true. After all, you couldn’t see the screen).

TVs used to be complex.  They were called TV “sets,” for some reason.  If you removed the back, the cabinet was full of vacuum tubes of every size imaginable.  Those tubes held all the magic, especially the big one–the picture tube.  I was never allowed behind the TV.  My mother made it clear that to venture to the back of the TV was almost sure to result in sudden and fatal electrocution injuries.  I did, however, have occasion to watch the TV repairman work on it.

Oh, yes, there were TV repairmen.  They would come to your house and work on the TV.  They carried large cases full of vacuum tubes.  Once, I mistook the Jewel Tea Man for Mr. Simms, the TV repairman.  I furiously castigated him for being so late to fix the TV.  I think I was 6 years old at the time.  I was serious about the TV.

TVs used to be full of these. They held all the magic.

Remember vertical and horizontal “hold” dials?  If you do, you’re as old as I am.  For the uniformed, these were tuning knobs you could use to adjust the picture if the screen image began rolling or zig zagging. “DON’T TOUCH THOSE DIALS.”  If you messed up the picture, you might never get it right again.

TV was dangerous in those days, too.  If you broke the picture tube, the TV would explode, killing everyone in the house.  “DON’T HIT THE SCREEN WITH ANYTHING.”  There was the poor boy who–for reasons that remained obscure–kissed the screen and died immediately.  My mom never said whether he was related to the boy who died under similar circumstances kissing a toaster, but it seems likely.  Perhaps my unbridled love of the TV made mom concerned that I would get carried away with passion.  At least I understood the toaster story, given that I liked to stare at my reflection in it like a small Narcissus.

TV stations used to go off the air at midnight, some at 11:30.  They’d usually sign off with The Star Spangled Banner.  You’d just have white noise or maybe a test pattern until 6:00 a.m.

Black and White Test Pattern. What this was supposed to test or why it had an Indian on it are beyond me.

I don’t know the purpose of the test pattern, but someone used it to test something every night.  The old TVs were powered by the magic of the cathode ray:

Diagram showing the basic set up of a TV picture tube.

To this day, I don’t understand any of this.  To me, here is how it works:

Your author’s basic understanding of television technology.

We all know the power of television.  Dress up any troglodyte and put him on TV enough, and–PRESTO!–he’ll be elected to public office.  Have you ever been on TV?  Doesn’t it make you feel like you’re just a little better person than you were before?  People will say:  “Hey!  I saw you on TV!”  You could be on TV eating a live squirrel and people would still think:  “Hmmm.  There’s something different about him, now.”  The first time I was on TV, I was probably 8 years old.  It was the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival Parade.  My brother and I were riding in a convertible.  I think it was John L. Belcher’s car.  If not, it should have been.  It was the kind of car John L would have driven.

Virgil Q. Wacks filmed the parade for his TV show, Virgil Q. Wacks Variety Time.  If you’re not familiar with Virgil Q, I can’t describe his show.  It was a kind of an advertising/travelogue program.  He filmed us in the car and there we were–on TV.  His film collection is archived at East Tennessee State University where we live forever.

There were many disadvantages to growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky, but TV wasn’t one of them.  We had cable.  That’s right–cable TV in the 1960’s  It was the only way to get a TV signal in the mountains.  (As a side note, I am the owner of 1 share of Harlan Community Television, Inc., the longtime local cable company).  In those days, TV channels ranged from 2 through 13, with the little understood UHF channel to boot.  We had signals on all the channels on the dial:  Lexington, Kingsport, Knoxville,  Asheville.  We might have been Ground Zero in the War on Poverty, but by God we won the TV War before it even started.

I loved that color TV.  Eventually, the dial (or channel changer, as I called it)  fell off.  As most families did, we replaced it with a pair of pliers until it could be located, a minor inconvenience.  Sometimes, I would lie on my back and watch the TV upside down just for the hell of it.

I spent many hours in front of that TV. Yes, Batman was in color.  Spectacular color, too.  By the end of the ’60’s, everything was in color! When I was around 8, I started watching sports on that TV.  Hey, kids:  There used to be one Major League Baseball game a week on TV.  It was called, fittingly enough, The Game of the Week.  It came 0n Saturdays, and I always watched.  There was also an NBA Game of the Week.  My earliest sports memory is Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers vs. Lew Alcindor and the Bucks.   You rarely saw some athletes at all.  The only time you’d see some players would All-Star games or playoffs.  The NFL, being ahead of its time, always had a couple of games on Sundays.

I am part of the TV Generation.  I knew the TV schedule every night of the week.  When I was 3 years old, I surprised my parents by counting to 100 one night.  When my mother asked where I learned that, I could only reply:  “From the TV.”  I was told–and still am–that TV will rot my brain.  Perhaps it has.  I know the lyrics to the theme for Gilligan’s Island, yet I will sometimes forget my children’s birth dates.

One of the calling cards of the intellectual is the refrain that “I don’t watch television.”  I’m not an intellectual, and I do watch TV.  Always have, always will.  I watch sports on TV.  I watch movies on TV.  I watch sitcoms and true crime and reality shows.  I’ll watch anything for a few minutes.  I’ll watch Toddlers & Tiaras just to get outraged.  I’ll watch shows about 900 pound people.  I’ll watch reruns of King of Queens just to marvel at how it could have been on the air for years.  It’s as funny as a truck load of dead babies, but I’ll watch it.  I’ll watch the news, the weather, the History Channel.  I’ll watch Road House for 500th time.  I may know more about the Beverly Hillbillies than any person alive, and I’m proud of it.  TV series, miniseries, short films, previews, reviews–everything.

That first color TV didn’t stay around all that long.  Within a few years, my father enjoyed some financial success, and we had TVs everywhere.  We even got a remote control Zenith.  We had a TV in our bedroom (technically, it was my brother’s).  We had a TV in the kitchen, too. The old TV was relegated to the basement where we continued to use it, but it was now like an old horse put out to pasture.  Like a horse, it sat in that basement for many years after it quit working entirely.

Now, I have monstrous TVs.  46 inch, 60 inch, plasma, LCD, high def–you name it.  Hundreds and hundreds of channels–all at my finger tips.  I not only have a remote control, I have a pillow which doubles as a universal remote. None of them, though, ever thrilled me like the first one.  I’ve loved them all, but none of them–none–ever made me declare that it was the best day of my life.

One day, there may some disaster which destroys society and forces us to start over.  The first thing I’ll do is try to figure out how to build a TV.  TVs–like ships and airplanes–work on some kind of magic, I’m sure.  So, I don’t where I’d start, but I’d get right on it.

Oh, and it would have to be a color TV.

© 2012

Become a Constitutional Expert

People nowadays love to talk about the “Constitution.”  Of course, I mean the United States Constitution.  Here in Kentucky, we don’t talk much about the state constitution, except when we want to amend it for things like gambling and eliminating the Railroad Commissioner.  The US Constitution is all the rage, though.  It wasn’t always that way.  Twenty or thirty years ago, you rarely heard people debating it, but they do now.  I suspect that’s a good thing.

I’m lawyer, but I’m not a constitutional law expert.  I don’t know anyone who is.  Now, I do know lawyers who are skilled in certain areas like criminal procedure and civil rights.  They have to know about the Constitution.  I have occasionally dealt with constitutional issues, but it usually requires a fair amount of research on my part.  With that disclaimer, I’m willing to bet I know as much about the Constitution as most folks.  Even if I don’t, I still feel free to offer this handy guide to all you need to know about it.

One way to learn about it is to go to law school.  Con Law, as we call it, is pretty dry stuff.  You have to read a lot of case law.  That’s a lot of work to do for something that people like Glenn Beck are free to opine about it without so much as a college education.  No, you don’t have to go to that trouble.  Here’s what you do:  Read it.  Then, realize that there is over 200 years of jurisprudence involved in interpreting and applying it.  Pretty simple.  But, if you’re American, it’s your Constitution, whether you went to law school or not.  If you’re not American, go read whatever nutty thing you have in your inferior country.

Here’s what the Constitution won’t do for you:  It doesn’t protect us from everything we don’t like.  Just because we don’t like a law, for example, doesn’t make it unconstitutional.  Let’s say the government brings back the military draft.  It would be horribly unpopular, but it wouldn’t be unconstitutional.  On the other hand, a popular law can be unconstitutional.  Pretend for a moment that the government outlaws Islam.  If, for one, would be horrified by that, but I know many people who would cheer.  Sorry, but it would be unconstitutional.

Another point:  the Constitution doesn’t guarantee “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  That’s actually in the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration of Independence isn’t part of the Constitution and wasn’t written at the same time.  It’s completely different and not the basis of anything important–except the breaking away from King George deal.  Forget about it, except on the 4th of July.

The guts of the Constitution are in the seven articles that made up the original document.  Don’t worry about that much.  It’s just a bunch of details about how the federal government is set up, interstate commerce, elections and other minutia.  It’s like the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy.  It’s important, but it’s mind-numbing.  It’s the amendments that get everyone worked up.  The Bill of Rights is the first 10 amendments, but there are a bunch more.  Here’s a summary of all you need to know about them.


Most people know something about this one:  Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.  Here’s how it works:  The government can’t make it illegal for you to call your boss a son of a bitch.  If you actually call your boss a son of bitch, the government can’t do anything to you.  Your boss, however, can fire you.  He’s not the government.  There’s no constitutional protection against people getting pissed off at you.  It also allows us to lie.  That’s right.  You have the right to lie.  But, you don’t have the right to defraud or defame people.  General lying, though, is okay.

Freedom of the press works the same way.  That’s why you get so worked by what you read.  The press is free to express whatever opinions it wants, whether popular or not.  During World Wars I and II, we kind of trampled on speech and the press, but otherwise we’ve been pretty good about protecting these.

Here’s an important tip:  You can’t threaten to kill people.  Constitution won’t protect you.

Assembly:  Hey, if you want to join the Ku Klux Klan, go right ahead.  Now, of course, that doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t condemn you over it, but the government can’t throw you in jail.

Religion:  The government will allow you to worship as you see fit and won’t establish a state church or religion.  I know we spend all our time fretting about prayer in schools and contraception and the like, but this should be embraced by everyone.  The government butts out of the religion business.  Now, what the government can’t do–much to the chagrin of many–is declare the United States is a Christian, Jewish, Muslim or other nation.  I know that chafes people, especially those that are unburdened by history, but it’s a fact.  The Constitution itself does not make reference anywhere in it to being based upon Christianity or any other religion.  In fact, just ten years after the Constitution was adopted, the United States entered into a treaty with the nation of Tripoli, which said:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

There is no record of even slight debate about President Adams signing the treaty.  Rather than causing people to tear at their robes (to use a favorite Biblical image), we should all be glad.  No one can tell us how or what or if to worship.  It’s up to us.  That’s good.


Another popular one, the right to keep and bear arms.  We can own guns.  Yes, there can be restrictions, just like there can be on speech, but the right exists.  It doesn’t mean that there can’t crimes related to the USE of guns or restrictions on possession.  The bottom line is that we can be–and are–armed to the teeth.  Good thing about this one is that you can become a Second Amendment fanatic or advocate.  It’s a full-time job for some people.  Thank you, First Amendment.


Don’t worry about this one.  It’s about being forced to quarter soldiers in your home.  If that happens, you don’t have to put up with it.  Once, I tried to become a Third Amendment fanatic, but I couldn’t get any followers.


This is a biggie.  No unreasonable searches and seizures.  The cops can’t just show up at your house and kick in the door.  Understand though, that if they have a search warrant all bets are pretty much off.  My criminal lawyer friends love this one and know all the ends and outs of it.  You probably don’t need this one unless you are in serious trouble.  If you are, I can give you a referral to a good lawyer.

This is also one of those “technicalities” often cited when charges are dropped or evidence excluded against an accused criminal.  Remember that.  This “technicality” is also the same kind of technicality that lets us own our guns and go to our churches.


Anyone who watches much TV knows this one–taking the “Fifth.”  There used to be Ecclesiastic courts.  They would accuse you of a crime and then demand that you prove you didn’t do it.  We don’t do that.  The government has to prove its case against you without your help.  Again, if you need this one, you’re probably in a fair amount of trouble.  (See the Sixth Amendment)


Due Process:  You have the right to know what you’re charged with; the witnesses; speedy trial; right to an attorney.  This is all good stuff.  Government can’t hold you in jail forever without charging or telling you what you did.  Folks like to say that criminals have more rights than their victims.  They don’t.  They have the same rights.

If you want to know what it’s like without this, check out the inmates in Gitmo.  No Sixth Amendment, no rights.


If you get into any of the above trouble, you can have a jury under certain circumstances.


Government can’t inflict cruel or unusual punishment or excess fines.  For example, if you have outstanding parking tickets, a law putting you in jail for 100 years is a no-no.  Also, a fine of $1,000,000 probably is too harsh.  This also eliminates such things as burning at the stake and drawing and quartering.

What about the death penalty, you say?  No problem.  It’s not cruel and we certainly can’t call it unusual.  Of course, this depends on the method and the reasons.  Hanging, electrocution, shooting, asphyxiation by gas and deadly drugs are all okay.  Burning alive and ripping apart are not good.  A friend of mine once suggested sticking the condemned’s head in a bear trap.  That’s probably no good, either.  Must be proportionate to the offense.  Murderers are fair game.  Treason?  You bet.  After that, it gets sketchy.  We used to execute rapists, kidnappers, horse thieves and pretty much anyone who seemed problematic.  It’s a little tougher now, which is probably good.  Probably.


Just because something isn’t listed in the previous eight amendments doesn’t mean you might not have other rights.


A lot of people love this one.  Essentially, it says that anything not granted to the federal government belongs to the states.  WARNING:  There is a mountain of case law about this.  Militias and TV talking heads love this one.  Anytime you hear someone pontificate about “states’ rights” this is what they’re talking about.


It has something to do with suing states in federal court.  Basically, you can’t do it.


Fixes something screwed up about the electoral college.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.


Abolishes slavery.  Nuff said.


States have to give you due process protection, too, not just the feds.  Makes most of the first ten amendments applicable to the states, too. Oh, and the law applies to everyone equally.  Has bunch of stuff in it, too, about dealing with the Confederacy.


Can’t prevent people from voting based on race, color or being a former slave.


Good news!  The federal government can impose an income tax!  If some nut tells you he can prove that the income tax is unconstitutional, he’s wrong.


Senators are to elected by direct votes, instead of being chosen by their state governors.  Who cares?


Hello, Prohibition!  Woo hoo!  No alcohol in the US!


Women can vote!  Woo hoo! (I guess)


Something about terms of office.


Goodbye, Prohibition!  Woo hoo! (hic!)


President can only serve two terms


The District of Columbia gets to vote in the Presidential election.  Big whoop.


No poll taxes.  I don’t even know what that is.


This is about succession if the President dies or leaves office.  TIP:  Don’t even bother reading this unless the President and Vice President die.


You can vote if you’re 18.


This has to do with Congress’s salaries.  To give you an idea of how hard it is to get an amendment dealing with Congressional pay, it took about 200 years to get this one ratified after it was originally proposed.

There you have it.  The Constitution and all 27 amendments. You can readily see that the vast majority of these amendments are of no interest to anyone.  Some–like the 13th–are a very big deal.  Others, like Prohibition, are just plain stupid.  The Bill of Rights is very important–except the 3rd Amendment.

It’s hard to amend the Constitution.  That’s very important.  It keeps us from cobbling together such things as bans against Americans holding titles of nobility and legalizing slavery, both of which never got much traction.  If you want to see what a constitution looks like when it’s been frequently amended, read the Kentucky Constitution.  It reads like the unabridged version of the Unabomber Manifesto.

If you’d like to learn about how the Constitution was adopted, watch the School House Rock video on the Constitution.  It’s still the best thing I’ve ever seen or read about the subject.

Now, you’re an expert.  Or not.  But you have the right to pretend like you are.  Thank you, First Amendment.

© 2012

To All The Dead and Dying

Those are people who died…died.  They were all my friends, and they died.

People Who Died, The Jim Carroll Band

This is about death.  Not mine, of course, since I’m not dead or in imminent danger of dying (as far as I know).  At this point, you probably have stopped reading.  Who wants to read about something so depressing?  A lot of people, really, because we all think about it, we deal with it and–eventually–experience it.

Why I am thinking about it?  Not sure.  An uncle of mine recently died, and it got  me thinking about it.  He died in May, which is also the month that both my parents died.  That’s apropos of nothing, other than it happened.  My middle son was also born in May.  A bunch of other people were, too.

Could be because I’m an American, and Americans love death. Okay, that may be an overstatement. I don’t suppose we LOVE it. But it damn sure amuses us. Kurt Vonnegut observed that if you die on TV, “you will not have died in vain. You will have entertained us.”

We like death in our movies and video games.  Why do you think there’s a Saw V, for God’s sake? We have the death penalty, which seems to otherwise be the exclusive province of countries we consider evil.  Speaking of which, we aren’t even averse to war anymore. We want peace and will turn the planet into a graveyard to achieve it.

Some death is noble. Some not. Die in a war, and every future generation of your family will know your name. Get stabbed by a hooker, and you’ll be pruned right out of the family tree. I had an ancestor die of “swollen testicles.” That’s not a disease, but syphilis is.  Don’t know his name, but I know uncle Ollie died on the USS Houston.

We’re also the World’s leader in producing serial killers. We don’t get enough death through disease, war, executions and accidents. We kill for sport, too. No wonder I think about death.

Once you reach a certain age, you’ve seen a lot of people die–grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, aunts, uncles, co-workers–you name it.  In my life, I’ve lost both parents, a brother, two aunts, five uncles and a close friend.  That doesn’t even include distant relatives, co-workers and acquaintances.  You live long enough, and you’ll get your fair share of it, too.  Don’t live long enough, and you’ll just be dead.

Even if you haven’t personally experienced it, you can live–or die–vicariously by picking up the newspaper or surfing the internet.  Death is a common topic.  We run obituaries, some brief and to the point.  “Joe Smith died yesterday.  His funeral is today.”  Some are long tributes to the deceased, documenting their every accomplishment, great or small.  We have an unquenchable thirst for news of murders and accidents, the more hideous the better.  Death is everywhere, I suppose.

I think I’ve learned a few things about death, although what I’ve learned may apply only to me.  Indulge me.

Death may the greatest of all human blessings


I don’t know much about Socrates, other than he was supposed to be smart.  I went to law school where they use the “Socratic Method” of teaching.  So, I can also assume that he was a bit of a pain in the ass.  I hope he had better material than this quote to comfort the grieving.

Most people will say that they don’t know what to say to a grieving person.  Welcome to the club, friends.  Almost NO ONE knows what to say.  If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know this, because folks have said these things to you.  Here are some things which don’t help.

“I know how you feel”:  No, you don’t.  You don’t know how I feel about anything, really.  So, how could you know how I feel about this?  If you knew how I felt, you wouldn’t have said that.

“He’s gone to a better place.”:  Really?  Exactly how do you know?  I wasn’t even thinking about THAT.  If you’ve been dead, I’ll listen.  I mean REALLY dead, not just flat-lined for a couple of minutes.  Dead, as in taken to the funeral home, embalmed and buried dead.  If you’ve done that, you might have some helpful insight.  Otherwise, no one knows where anyone goes when they die.  Plus, even if you THINK you know, maybe my relatives all go straight to Hell.  Let’s just not talk about it.

“Life is for the living“:  My dad used to say this a lot.  Honestly, I don’t know what it means.  Of course, life is for the living.  Dead people don’t do a whole helluva a lot, being dead and all.  I think it’s supposed to mean, “Okay.  Show’s over.  Move on.”  Not helpful.

“Death is just part of life.”  This and other philosophical meanderings about the bigger picture mean nothing.  Yes, I agree.  It’s part of life.  The part that sucks.  Thank you.

“You’ll always have your memories”:  I had those before he/she died.  It’s not like I just got them.  I’m not grieving because I can’t remember things.  That would be a completely different problem.  In fact, if I DIDN’T have those memories, this wouldn’t be so tough.

So, what should you say?  “I’m sorry” is good.  Simple, to the point.  No way to be offended by that one.  “What can I do?”  That’s sort of useless, since you can’t do anything, but it’s a nice thing to say.  Honestly, there’s not much more to say.  And it’s better than saying nothing.

I wanted to tear my teeth out.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

–Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now

I can’t talk about death without talking about grief.  Real grief drains your soul.  It takes your life and flattens it.  Nothing looks or sounds right.  Food doesn’t taste good.  Time warps and you lose track of hours, even days.  It’s different for everyone.

Most people know about the Kubler-Ross seven stages of dying:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These were observed in dying patients and have subject to debate over the years.  Some extrapolate these stages to the grieving process.  I’m not one of those people.

I suppose people can go through some or all of those stages, but some people are more resilient than others.  Myself, numbness has been an immediate reaction followed by sadness.  I agree with C.S. Lewis who observed that grief was much like fear.  I want to run from it, but there’s really nowhere to run because it hangs with me.

I don’t know that I have become depressed over grief, as much as I’ve dealt with a heavy sadness.  It’s like wearing clothes that are just too heavy.  It wears me out by the end of the day.

I can say that I’ve been angry more than once over death.  A close friend died in the prime of her life, suddenly and without warning.  This seemed unfair–and it still does.  I raged against it, but it didn’t change.   I guess I’ve come to believe that death is actually very fair.  It comes for all of us.

Eventually, though, I do agree that acceptance settles down on me.  I’ve grieved both poorly and well.  I’ve held on far too long to some of it.  Thankfully, it loosens its grip over time.

That’s about me.  What about you?  I don’t know how to tell people to grieve.  If you’re upset and crying and raging, that’s okay by me.  Hell, you’re supposed to be upset.  That’s what we do.  Be upset about it.

What I don’t have is any good advice for how YOU should grieve.  It’s tough, and it’s miserable.  Some folks benefit from counseling.  Others just tough it out.  Some never get past it, and that’s the worst.

You should always go to other people’s funerals.  Otherwise, they won’t come to yours.

Yogi Berra

We have to talk about funerals, those odd ceremonies where we give our loved ones a send off (although they’re really already gone, of course).  I’ve been to a lot of funerals.  Some have been quite good.  Others have been lacking or had downright odd happenings:

  • A lady who was one of the finest people I’ve known had the strangest funeral. After the obligatory bible readings and songs, it morphed into Open Mic Night.  Anyone who wanted to say something could take the stage.  One guy–possibly under the influence of hallucinogens–said death was like walking through a “water wall just like in the movies.”  What movies had he been watching?  One man was so overcome by emotion that most of his comments were confined to odd barking noises as he choked back tears. One eulogized by telling HIS life story.  Others just babbled.  Three hours later, it was over.  As one person said:  “When I die, I hope people have good things like that to say about me and that they keep it to themselves.”
  • I had a friend in high school who died in a car wreck.  His funeral was at a Pentecostal or Holiness Church (one of those fiery denominations).  The preacher observed:  “Every Sunday we heard the putt-putt-putt of his car’s engine as he pulled into our parking lot…THE SAME CAR THAT TOOK HIM TO HIS DEATH!!!!”  There was much weeping and wailing after that zinger.
  • Saw a man come out of the closet during a eulogy.  There’s really not much more to say about that, other than that it was peculiar timing.

By the same token, I’ve been to some excellent funerals, ones where you leave feeling better about the situation:

  • Once, I attended a memorial service for a baby.  It was like taking a beating to show up.  Beyond sad.  The minister, however, was outstanding.  The gist of his sermon was:  “We don’t know why this happened.  I don’t have an explanation.  It really is bad, but we will all go on.”  That may not sound very inspiring, but it was much better than a bunch of meaningless platitudes.  It was honest and all that could be said.
  • A few years ago, a friend’s mother died.  She was in her 90’s, and her death was no shock to anyone.  Her minister simply told stories about her.  Although I never met her, I came away feeling like I knew her.  Folks laughed at the stories, and everyone seemed to be uplifted by it.
  • Another friend’s mother died, and my friend was given the tough task of her eulogy.  He hit it out of the park.  It wasn’t maudlin or sad.  He just told what his mother was like and what she meant to him.  Good stuff.
  • My dad was a retired Air Force officer and had a military funeral.  A bagpipe played Amazing Grace and a bugler played Taps at the end.  Just as the bugler finished the last note, jets screamed by overhead.  He had an honor guard from Wright Patterson Air Force Base.  I still get chills thinking about it.  He would have loved it!

What have I learned from this?  First, a funeral should be respectful but short.  Second, it’s okay if it’s not a sentimental tear-jerker.  Third, simple is good.  A prayer, a song or two, a nice eulogy.  Thank you and drive safely.

What might wonder about MY funeral (or even look forward to it).  I don’t care.  I’ll be dead.  Whatever comforts those left behind is fine with me.  Now, I’d like to be cremated if for no other reason that to prevent people from gawking at my body.  “Oh, he looks so good.”  That should always be qualified by “…considering that he’s dead.”  If I am buried, I don’t care if my casket has an extra firm mattress or silk lining.  Remember–dead men don’t care.  Burn me.  Put me in an urn or scatter my ashes somewhere.  Actually, they’ll be someone’s else’s ashes at that point.  They can do whatever they want with them.

Please don’t bury me down in that cold, cold ground.

Please Don’t Bury Me, John Prine

Speaking of funerals, I love cemeteries.  I’m not sure why, but they fascinate me.  Ornate monuments built-in memory of the dead.  My own parents have a fabulous black marker.  So does my brother.  There are religious markers, plain ones, domes, obelisks, tiny stones, benches, huge vases, above ground tombs–you name it.  This doesn’t even include niches, columbaria, scattering gardens and mausoleums.

We visit them.  We talk to the dead people.  We bring them flowers.   Hell, we’re nicer to them dead than we were when they were alive!  Why?  Again, I have no answers.  Personally, I don’t get a connection to my dead loved ones at the cemetery.  I always think it’s just weird to see my parents’ and brother’s names on tombstones.  Other people get a lot out of it, though.  That’s fine with me.

One reason I don’t want to be planted that way is that I don’t want anyone thinking they’re obligated to “visit” me.  My parents are buried three hours from my home.  Honestly, I don’t go visit their graves.  Oh, if I’m in the area, I check on their graves, mostly to be sure no one has kicked over their headstone.  (I was assured that it is sufficiently anchored to prevent any such vandalism).

Well, again I’ve babbled on about a topic on which I have no expertise.  If you take this as advice, be warned:  It could be very harmful.  Of course, as you’ve often heard, we’re all dying.  Maybe so, but as Josey Wales (he killed a LOT of people) said:  “Dying ain’t much of a living, boy.”

© 2012

Grandma and the Cat Litter Beatdown

This is another largely true story.  This is my Mothers Day story, because it involves someone’s mother.

I knew all the folks involved, so  I guess I believe every word of it.  Like any event I write about it, I hope it’s true.  If not, it is certainly based on a true story, and that’s good enough for me.  I’m not using names in this story, because those involved may not appreciate it.  I hope it doesn’t make the reading too awkward.

I had two or three close friends most of my childhood.  Like most kids, my friends would come and go with the school year, people moving, etc.  I had one friend who was a constant . He lived a few blocks from me, and we spent most of our free time together.

Despite what you’ve seen or heard, Eastern Kentucky is not just shacks and run down trailers.  There are nice little neighborhoods in almost every town.  I lived in one of those.  So did my friend.

My friend lived at the end of a street in a garage apartment next door to his grandmother.  Grandma lived alone in a small but nice house.  That is to say that Grandma lived alone until my friend’s cousins moved in with her.  The cousins were teenagers, probably 15 and 17.  They had moved from “up North.”  Typically, up North meant Michigan or Ohio, where the people talked funny.  The cousins talked funny, too.

The cousins were odd lads.  They didn’t go school.  I never found out what happened–if anything–to their parents.  The cousins just arrived one day.  They delivered the morning newspaper for a while.  When people stopped getting their papers, Dick Russell, owner of a the store where the papers were picked up in the morning, spied on them one morning.  When the papers were dropped in front of his store,  Mr. Russell watched the cousins take the bundle and toss it in the river.  When they didn’t throw them in the river, they dragged the papers along the ground crying as they made their rounds.  Like I said, odd.

My friend was always regaling me in stories of his cousins’ antics.  The cousins were several years older than us, but we took great delight in terrorizing them.  Once, we told one of them that we had put grass and sticks in the gas tank of his car.  Oh, did he get mad.  The joke was almost on us as he lit his cigarette lighter to get a better look in the tank.  Our screams of terror made him drop the lighter.  Again, odd birds they were.

One of the cousins, in particular, was a bit of a thorn in the side of his uncle (my friend’s father).  Now, I don’t know if he actually did anything to merit this or if the Uncle was just generally disagreeable.  Regardless, it was a bit of ritual for the Uncle to castigate the Cousin when got home from work.  Usually, this centered around the Cousin being lazy and good-for-nothin’.  I witnessed this several times myself.  Normally, it started with the Uncle getting out  of his truck and greeting the Cousin with something like, “What in the hell have you been doing all day?  Pick up this stuff up out of the yard!”

So it went one fateful afternoon.  There was a driveway leading from the street to the garage on the left side of Grandma’s house.  The drive was about 75 feet long.  The Uncle parked his truck right in front of the garage.  He got out of the truck and slammed the door.  He immediately spotted the Cousin reclined at the bottom of a tree enjoying a cigarette.  “What the hell are you doing? Clean all this up!”  The Cousin had been working on some type of project requiring the dis-assembly of various small engines.  Apparently, he had lost interest or direction during the project and abandoned it.  The Cousin only responded that he was “working on it.”

This did not sit well with the Uncle, who glared but said nothing.  The Cousin–perhaps emboldened by the silence–yelled “You can’t tell me what to do!!”  The Uncle would have no more of his insolence.  A great shouting match ensued with each hurling threats and invectives toward the other.  Finally, the Uncle removed his glasses and headed toward the Cousin.  It appeared that the Cousin was about to get taught a bit of a lesson.

The Cousin hopped to his feet and looked about for anything with which to defend himself.  There were no weapons to be found, only random engine parts.  What would he do?  Then, he spotted Pedro, the family cat.  In a move which can only be described as a combination of madness, desperation and admirable creativity, he scooped up Pedro with one hand.

There was a bucket beside the tree.  I know this is true, because I had seen that bucket many times.  It was like a big paint bucket or maybe a drywall bucket.  It was full of water.

Often, heroic acts are performed not because the person is brave or fearless but because the person is in a situation where only a daring act can spare him.  Such was the case here, I believe.  By the time Pedro was in the Cousin’s grasp, the Uncle was mere 10 feet or so away and closing quickly.  The Cousin spotted the bucket, and without any apparent thought, dunked Pedro into the stagnant water.  In one motion, the Cousin pulled Pedro from the water and threw him at his would-be attacker.

By all accounts, Pedro hit the Uncle in the chest, claws out, tearing into his shirt.  This did nothing to stop the Uncle’s advance.  The Uncle wrenched Pedro from his shirt and tossed him on the ground.  The Cousin, though, had made a run for the back door of Grandma’s house.  He was not quick enough, and the Uncle cut him off.  The Cousin now ran to the other side of the truck.  The combatants were on opposite sides of truck.  Each move by the Uncle was met with a counter move in the opposite direction by the Cousin.

Grandma, being advanced in years and hard of hearing, had missed most of the action; however, she now emerged from the backdoor.  (As an aside, in all the years I knew my friend, I only saw her once or twice.  I had images of Norman Bates’s mother in her rocker.)  She tottered down the three or four steps to see what was happening.

The Cousin was in again dire straights, trying to keep himself on the opposite side of the truck from his uncle but the Uncle was relentless.  Underneath the steps which went up to the garage apartment were several bags of cat litter.  The Cousin grabbed one and ran from behind the truck. Here came his uncle. Like an Olympic hammer thrower, the Cousin twisted sideways with the bag at arms’ length.  He then swung forward with a mighty heavy toward his uncle, letting the bag fly.

The Uncle ducked.  Grandma, again being advanced in years, did not.  The cat litter bag caught her right in the old bread basket.  I was told that you could hear the air come out of her on contact.  Doubled over, she folded in half and hit the ground.

Say what one will, the Cousin loved his Grandma and was horrified.   He ran toward her, screaming “GRANDMA!”  This was a mistake.  The Uncle caught him with a really nice punch right in the middle of his face, breaking his glasses in two.  He fell to the ground and cried quite a bit.

Oh, Grandma.  She was okay.  Just had the wind knocked out of her.  Surprisingly, there were no broken bones or internal injuries.  She didn’t even go to the hospital.  Pedro was fine, too, although I’m sure he was traumatized by the whole experience.  I’m pleased to say the both Grandma and Pedro lived several more years after this. As far as I know, Pedro was never again used as a weapon and Grandma was never again violently assaulted.

Over the years, I came to realize that the cousins were alright.  They weren’t even all that odd.  Just a bit different. 

So, I guess that’s the end.  I don’t really have an interesting way to end the story.  The late, great Michael O’Donoghue once  noted that poor writers don’t know how to end their stories.  When stumped, he suggested this sentence: Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck.

 Since my story is set in Eastern Kentucky, here is the ending:

Suddenly, everyone was run over by a coal truck.  The end.

© 2012

Losing My Religion–Sort Of

Your author during a fleeting phase of religious fervor.

“That’s me in the corner.  That’s me in the spotlight, losing my religion.”                                                      

Losing My Religion, REM

I always liked that song, mainly because of its odd lyrics.  Plus, you can make up almost anything to go with it.  That’s me in the kitchen… That’s me in the bathtub… Anyway, I like it, but it has nothing to do with this post.

My seminal blog post on Radio Preachers, plus several recent events, got me thinking about my religion or-more accurately-lack thereof.  What I call religion is the basis of one’s particular faith:  Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, etc.  Each of these has its own subsets.  Christianity alone gives us Catholicism, Episcopalians, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Mormons, Pentecostals, and many, many others.  There are Calvinists and Arminians. Snake-handlers and faith-healers.  Evangelicals.  The Dutch Calvinists actually reformed their church, although I’m not sure what was wrong with it to start with.  Islam and Judaism, too, give us many different versions.  As with politics, I am sometimes asked:  “What are you?”  Hmmm.

I consider myself Christian.  Pretty weak response, huh?  What if someone asks me if I’m married, and I respond:  “I consider myself married.”  The listener will think:  “Is he married?”  “Is he gay?”  “Is he widowed?”  “Why does he just ‘consider’ himself married?”  It doesn’t sound like I’m very committed, does it?  I’m not, and that’s the problem, if there is one.  Of course, I’m talking about the religion thing, not marriage.  I AM married.  Let’s make that clear.

The 20th Century was the Golden Era of Christian Apologists.  Now, don’t get your back up.  No one was apologizing for being a Christian.  Rather, there was a great deal of writing in defense of Christianity.  C.S. Lewis, known to many for The Chronicles of Narnia, was the heavy hitter of the apologists.  His book Mere Christianity is the best book I’ve ever read on religion and Christianity, in particular.  It’s better than the Bible as far as explaining it.  Okay, all my devoutly Christian friends, I’m sure that raised your hackles.  If you don’t know what hackles are, trust me–yours are raised.  Settle down.  Lewis wrote of the Christian Trilemma, which was a kind of framework which apologists used for a lot of their writing.  It goes like this:

The two other Abrahamic religions, Islam (Lewis called it “Mohammedism”) and Judaism, recognize Jesus only as teacher, all round good guy and prophet.  This can’t be, and here’s why:

  1. If he is what he says he is, he’s the son of the living God and the Messiah. Strong stuff.
  2. If he isn’t what he says he is–but thinks he is–he’s insane.  Thus, all his teachings and prophecy are questionable, at best.
  3. If he isn’t what he says he is–and knows he isn’t–he’s a liar and con man. Why believe anything he says?

I never could buy into options 2 and 3.  So, I stuck with No. 1.  Not very inspiring, huh?  I’ll be the first to admit that I over-think these things.  Thinking too much is the mortal enemy of faith.

This post is only about Christianity, because that’s the only religion I’ve ever had the least bit of interest in.  I tried my hand at church.  Really, I did.  I wasn’t “raised” in church, as some like to say.  We went to Sunday School periodically.  That’s about it.  As an adult, I gave it good shot and attended church fairly regularly for a while.  I even got baptized.  Then, just about at the point of really getting into it, I lost interest.  Strange?  You bet.  Nevertheless, I’ve held on to some of it and discarded the rest.

I don’t know why I’m writing this post.  Maybe to get it off my chest.  Many are likely to be offended, but that doesn’t bother me.  It would, however, be a mistake to believe that I want you to believe my view of things.  I don’t.  If I’m the only one, that’s cool.  Wouldn’t be the only time I was right and the rest of you were wrong.

I learned to read some. I read the Bible quite a bit. I can’t understand all of it, but I reckon I understand a good deal of it.                                                                                                                                                                       

–Karl Childers, Sling Blade

I’ve drawn a lot of wisdom from Karl.  Plus, he’s fun to imitate.  His view of the Bible sums up my take on it.  Surprisingly, I’ve read the Bible cover to cover.  I’ve studied it.  I’ve read books about it. I understand a lot of it, but it still puzzles me.  The Old Testament God was a vengeful force.  He didn’t hesitate to engage in smiting and punishment.  The Old Testament itself is a violent, sexually-charged series of books which touch on almost every vile subject imaginable.  Genocide, slavery, child abuse, rape and murder are all frequent topics.  Bad stuff.

Marcion of Sinope was a bishop of the early Christian Church.  So horrified was he by the Old Testament that he repudiated that God as being anti-Christian.  For this, he was excommunicated.  Oh well.

I identify with Marcion.  He lived in the 1st Century.  There were probably people who knew a lot of about Jesus the man still around.  I also can’t reconcile the New Testament God with the vengeful, smiting God of the Old Testament.  Old Testament God raged until he went silent and left the raging to his prophets.

The Old Testament urges us to kill our children if they are disrespectful, yet it is surprisingly tolerant of slavery.  Killings, beatings and all manner of debauchery were the order of the day.  No one wonder God goes silent toward the end of the Old Testament.  He’s worn out.

We want to believe in the vengeful God when we want vengeance, the kind God when we want forgiveness.  No one wants to do all the burnt offering stuff in the Old Testament, but a lot of folks like the eye-for-an-eye.  Me?  I read the Old Testament for the entertainment value and the New Testament for the Christianity.

Pray to God, but row away from the rocks. 

–Hunter Thompson

That pretty much sums up my prayer life.  Of course, since Hunter Thompson shot himself, maybe I should find a more centered theologian.  Prayer is the one topic where I have heard the most divergent views, even from those I consider devoutly Christian.

I pray.  I do.  Sometimes I’m not sure why or what I’m praying to, but I do it anyway.  I’m not supposed to say that, of course, but it’s the truth.  Why do I do it?  Because, for me, it works.  Now, I’ll admit that I don’t have the ability to call down God to take care of all my woes.  For example, if I’m really behind at work, I can’t ball up in the floor and have God show up and take care of everything.  I have to row away from the rocks.  I also can’t call in God to heal all my relatives and keep them alive forever.  Wish I could.

People tell me that you can pray for money and get it.  You can pray to be healed from otherwise incurable diseases and be cured.  You can pray to protect people, and they’ll be protected.  You can pray to elect someone to political office, and they’ll be elected.  The list is endless.  You can pray these things for yourself or others.  Check out Facebook, there are calls for prayer all the time.  If you’ve had these experiences, I’m happy for you. I won’t argue with you about it.

I’ve made people very angry talking about prayer when I tell them that I  never have change in circumstances.  I can pray until my knees are bloody for God to protect our troops overseas.  Someone of them will die anyway.  Many others will be maimed for life. In the past, I prayed for people’s health and then watched them die.  Well-meaning folks say that it just wasn’t God’s will.  Hard to argue with that.  But, if not God’s will, praying for it to happen won’t do any good, will it? Likewise, if it is God’s will, does he only respond if I ask him or 10 people ask?  That’s all too complicated for me.

What I get is a change in ME.  I come to accept things the way they are and try to do the right thing in all circumstances.  I’ve had folks on the other end of the spectrum tell me that’s just a placebo effect.  Maybe so, but I like it.  In my world (where I alone dwell), being able to call down God to fix all my problems would really make me God.  That would certainly be a dangerous situation for the rest of mankind.

I’ve had many folks bristle at my description of prayer.  They tell me that God healed them and their families.  He saved them from dire circumstances.  That all may be true, but it is not my experience.   Plus, I’m a cynic.  I once saw an interview with Oral Roberts’s brother.  He said something very simple and without any apparent malice toward Oral.  He wondered why, if Oral had the power that he claims, Oral didn’t spend all his days in children’s hospitals.  (Note–please resist the urge to browbeat me over this.  It’s a valid point).  Indeed, why wouldn’t he?

Jesus gave an example of how to pray, the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s pretty simple, basic stuff.  He doesn’t ask for money or health or boundless good luck.  Basically, he says your will be done, give us our basic necessities and forgive us to the extent we forgive others.  The End.

Hey, Mama! Look at me!  I’m on my way to the promised land.  I’m on the highway to Hell…”       

–Highway to Hell, AC/DC

I’m a Hell agnostic.  I just don’t get it.  A loving God sends his son to die for mankind and then tortures a good number of them eternally.  I know, I know.  It’s not God punishing them but Satan.  I get that part.  Still seems pretty harsh.

Jesus didn’t dwell on Hell like a lot of his followers do.  If I had been Him–and I’m not as far you know–I would have added this to the Sermon on the Mount:  “Now, pay attention:  If you don’t follow me and believe in me, you’re going straight to Hell when you die.  Burning, weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth–the whole shooting match.  It’s going to be awful.  Trust me on this.  If for no other reason than to avoid this, you should pay close attention to what I said today.  Thanks!”  That would sure have cleared up a bunch of stuff.

Make no mistake about one thing:  When people ask you if you’re “saved” (they ask that a lot in Kentucky, by the way), they mean saved from Hell.  My typical response is “I’m pretty comfortable with my status.”  A piece of advice:   Don’t borrow that.  It never works.  It just leads to more questions and the inescapable conclusion that the yawning mouth of Hell awaits.

Carlton Pearson is an interesting fellow.  He’s a minister, but I guess he calls himself a bishop of something.  He’s a former protegé of Oral Roberts.  He doesn’t believe in Hell.  It’s that simple.  I’m not sure I agree with all he says, of course, since I don’t agree with almost anyone on any subject, but it’s a fascinating ministry.  As you might expect, he’s also considered a heretic in some circles, which likely condemns him to the Hell in which he does not believe.  He operates from a simple premise:  No one really knows what happens when you die.  Wow.  That’s some strong stuff for a preacher to say, but I agree.  I don’t know, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. Now, some folks have great faith in Heaven and the same faith in Hell.  I don’t have faith in Hell.

Here’s where I lose faith in Hell.  I’ve known lots of good, fine people–some in my own family–who either weren’t Christians or were Christians in the loosest sense of the word.  I just don’t see these otherwise fine folks burning for all eternity in misery.  Ghandi?  Hell.  The Dalai Lama?  Hell.  Thomas Jefferson?  Hell.  All the people who never heard of Christianity?  Hell.  Hell’s bells, indeed.  God doesn’t drive that hard a bargain.

Now, there seems to be a consensus (with the likely exception of the Westboro Baptist Church) that small children don’t take the rocket sled to Hell, but I’m not sure why.  Probably because it just wouldn’t be decent.  A Hell crammed full of kids just seems mean.  No kids allowed.

To believe in God is impossible.  To not believe in Him is absurd.


By now, you’re probably saying:  This guy is some kind of atheist.  Sorry to disappoint, but no, I’m not.  There isn’t “some kind” of atheist.  Atheism is an all or nothing game.  You believe in nothing.  In my youth, I pondered whether I was an atheist at one point, until I realized that atheism requires the utmost, unshakable faith–absolute certitude.  I can never get there.  Christianity–and religion in general–has a lot more wiggle room.  A mustard seed of faith, as Jesus noted, is all one needs.  That won’t cut it with atheism.  You can’t say:  “Hey, I’m willing to believe that there is no God.  Tell me more!” Atheists don’t allow doubt.

I’m told that the Earth was formed like 60 bazillion years ago by a big explosion out of nothingness and that life started and evolved over billions of years.  I can’t really argue with that, because I just don’t know.  I guess I believe that, but it takes a big leap of faith to do so.  For my mind, it’s no easier to believe that than it is to believe in God.

If you ARE an atheist, I don’t care.  It doesn’t offend me, and I’m not going to try to make you believe what I do.  Like Thomas Jefferson said, it doesn’t harm me if you believe in 20 gods or none.  Carry on.
A church is a place in which gentlemen who have never been to heaven brag about it to persons who will never get there

–H.L. Mencken

I’m a back slider, as the Baptists say.  I don’t like going to church.  That’s not a good thing, I don’t suppose.  Just a fact.  I’m not sure why.  I think it’s just boring to me.  Again, I’m not all swelled up with pride over that, either.  I’d like to have the enthusiasm for it that I see in some people.

I don’t care if people at church are hypocrites.  Isn’t the church where they SHOULD be? Seems to me that we should want all the worst sinners to show up every time the doors are open.  It’s probably where I need to be, too.  I’d like to get into it, but it never took. I didn’t lose my religion as much as I just had a tenuous grasp on it.  I’m lucky to have held on to any of it.

Could be that when we die, we meet God.  We might look around and see Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians of all stripes–everyone.  I would say:  “Uh, God, what’s the deal? How’d they get in?”  I imagine God saying:  “Look, since the Tower of Babel, I gave up on you people being able to do much together.  I knew if I gave you only one way to get here, you’d screw it up.  So, I gave you some alternatives.”  But, I’d have to ask:  “Ok, but what about the ones who, you know, didn’t believe anything?”  God would say:  “Oh, them?  They went straight to Hell, of course.  You all weren’t wrong about EVERYTHING!”

© 2012

My (Big) Blue Heaven

Since the end of our glorious University of Kentucky Basketball season, I’ve been jotting down my thoughts on the year from time to time.  Many of you have reveled in the 2012 NCAA Championship, but may feel slightly unfulfilled.   You’ve asked yourself:  “I know I’m happy, but what does HE think?”  Now, you can know.

  • In the span of one year, Anthony Davis was named a McDonald’s High School All-American; NCAA Freshman of the Year; NCAA Defensive POY; Consensus National POY; SEC POY; First Team NCAA All-American; and Final Four Most Outstanding Player.  In addition, he won an NCAA championship; is the likely 1st pick in the NBA draft; and has a chance to play on the Olympic team.  If this isn’t the best year a college player ever had, it’s got to be close.
  • I can’t overstate how impressed I am with the job John Calipari did this year.  It’s tough enough to meld a team of stars and potential stars into a cohesive unit.  When many of your players are straight from high school, it’s even tougher.
  • The post-championship statewide Trophy Tour was pure genius.  Cal knows his audience.  I also really liked including Joe Hall and Herky Rupp.  Hall has become something of an elder statesman of UK basketball, but Coach Rupp has been largely pushed into the background.  The Rupp family has spent far too much time defending his legacy.  It was a nice move to include Coach Rupp’s son in the celebration.  Well done.
  • Speaking of Davis, his high school team went 6-19 his senior year.  I can only assume his teammates were less than skilled.
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of my favorite players ever at UK.  He played hard on both ends of the court with the same demeanor at all times.
  • I’m the worst at evaluating NBA potential.  I’m the guy who thought Rajon Rondo would be out of the league in 3 years and that Ron Mercer would be a perennial all-star.  With that qualification–and as much as I like MKG–I really question his NBA skills.  I just wonder if a player his size without a reliable jumper can be a star.  I know he can play in the league, but will he justify being a top 5 pick?  Probably (see my comment on Rondo above).
  • I have the same questions about Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague but for different reasons.  There are players like them in every major basketball conference.  What sets them apart?  I’m not sure.  I hope they have great success, but I will be surprised.
  • Don’t be surprised if Darius Miller plays in the NBA for a long time.  He has the size and skills to do a lot of things well.
  • Eloy Vargas impresses me.  Like a lot of folks, I had hoped he would be a big contributor on the court, but he wasn’t.  Despite attending three colleges, he got his degree.  Plus, by all accounts (including that of my 10 year old son), he’s a nice young man.  A lot of players would have been frustrated with his situation.  He embraced the experience at UK.   I wish him well and hope he gets a chance to play for pay.
  • There has been all manner of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over the end of the UK-IU series.  Name the most exciting moments from the last 20 UK-IU games.  Ok, Mike Davis’s mental collapse is one.  Watford’s jumper is another, and that just sucked.  For whatever reason, the game wasn’t that important to either UK or IU.  I suspect that it’s because neither school is all that fired up about a tough pre-conference game.  Add to that the obvious close friendship between Cal and Tom Crean.
  • Speaking of schedules, I used to believe that a tough pre-conference schedule was a key to being tournament-ready.  Take a look at other schools’ schedules.  Duke rarely plays a good team on the road.  All its tough games are at home or neutral sites.  The same is true of many top teams.  Teams loading their schedules with killer home and home series are a thing of the past.  Seeding for the tournament is too important to get saddled with 3 or 4 non-conference losses.
  • I suppose it’s a function of age, but the Cats winning the title did not fill me with the unbridled joy of, say, the 1996 title.  I know it had been 14 years between titles, but now 14 years just doesn’t seem that long ago.  Plus, I guess I’ve reached the point where a bunch of children winning a tournament doesn’t REALLY make my life any better.
  • The NBA’s “One and Done” rule is here to stay.  I heard a recent interview with NBA Commissioner David Stern, and he expressed his view that the rule works quite well.  I agree.  It gives the NBA a one year screening tool to weed out those high school players with holes in their games or,  as in Anthony Davis’s case, to discover those who are far better than originally thought.  I don’t see the NBA changing it any time soon.
  • A by-product of the One and Done Rule is that predicting college basketball’s powers year-to-year is now almost impossible.  Right now, most assume that Louisville and Indiana are two favorites to win the title next year.  We’ll see.  Once you mix in all the incoming freshmen, the landscape may change dramatically.
  • People pay too much attention to the RPI during the season.   It’s not a game-to-game measuring stick.  It’s designed to place a value on a team’s entire season.  That’s why looking at your school’s RPI in December is useless.  Now, if your school LOSES to bunch of low RPI teams, you’ll see the difference come seeding time.
  • I guess the big recruiting “get” is Nerlens Noel and his flat top fade.  He seems to be an engaging young man and willing to embrace Big Blue Nation and all its madness.  Here’s hoping that BBN tempers its expectations of him.  He’s not Anthony Davis.  Davis was a once in a generation talent.  Let’s cut this young man some slack and let him develop as a player.
  • I’ve heard a lot of debate about whether Davis and similar short time Cats should have their jerseys retired.    Why not?  If the honor is to recognize great basketball players, it shouldn’t matter if they played one year or four.
  • It doesn’t bother me at all if a student leaves college after a year to play pro basketball.  For most, that is their career goal.  I’ve never known anyone who was harmed by attending college, even for a year or two.  They’re not being exploited.  They are being given a golden opportunity to change their lives and the lives of future generations.  Plus, the education is always available.  Shaquille O’Neal just earned his doctorate.
  • Of course, the downside to winning the championship is that it feeds the beast.  I fear that out-sized expectations have returned.  Remember folks:  Getting to the Final Four is hard.  Winning the tournament is even harder.  Enjoy the ride.
  • It’s hard now to imagine that Billy Gillispie coached at UK, but he did.  He gave me the gift of seeing what it’s like for UK to be irrelevant.
  • I hope our YUM! envy passes soon.  I realize that Louisville plays in a palace now, but I don’t care.  Rupp Arena is the home of the Cats.  Maybe it needs more upgrades and isn’t the prettiest venue, but I like it.  The last thing we need is a white elephant that can’t ever be paid off.
  • Can we stop with the talk that UK spends too much money on sports?  Here’s how it works:  Right or wrong, college sports generate  huge dollars.  The argument seems to be that UK should take all that income and re-direct it to academics.  Now, the football revenue–coming largely from the SEC–could be pilfered for quite a while.  The basketball program would quickly dip into irrelevance without paying coaches top money and spending on top flight facilities.  It doesn’t cost the university a dime.  Get over it.
  • While we’re talking about academics,  I’m certainly no intellectual nor I am an academic snob.  I have two degrees from the University of Kentucky, and I’ve done quite well.  It must not be nearly as awful a university as I hear others complain about.
  • Was the 2012 team the best ever at UK?  I don’t have any idea.  The ’96 team certainly had more depth and experienced talent.  The ’78 team was the only one that I thought would win every game it played.  My Dad would have said the 1948 team.  You can only compare teams and players to the their competition.  In its way, this team was every bit as dominant as UK team I’ve seen.  That’s good enough for me.
  • Calipari is ahead of his colleagues on dealing with modern college basketball.  The top shelf players want to attend college for a year, maybe two.  Cal has created a system to allow them to do that if they have the skills.  Yes, there is a revolving door, but that’s going to be the case with all the top talent.  UK just has more of these players than other schools.  That being the case, the Cats will be a top team more often than not.  I expect this will even out some in the next few years, but for now let’s enjoy the ride.
  • There will be annual speculation about Cal leaving UK.   I think there are a couple of reasons for this.  One, he failed as an NBA coach and the media (especially ESPN) holds to the idea that the NBA is the pinnacle of success.  The other is that UK, despite its success, is just not held in high regard.  There is never speculation about Roy Williams or, rarely, Coach K.  The implication is that a coach would be insane to leave either of those jobs, but equally crazy to stay at UK.  It wouldn’t surprise if Cal did jump back to the NBA at some point, but I don’t see it being the yearly flirtation that it was with Rick Pitino.
  • There’s been uproar over Cal’s views on scheduling.  He’s 102-14 with a title.  I’ll defer to him on that.  Like I said, he’s ahead of the curve.  I’m willing to bet he’s right about this, too.  I’ve heard comments like:  “They can’t expect to keep asking for big money if they don’t deliver a great home schedule.”  Really?  If you have season tickets, turn them in.  I’m pretty sure UK can unload them.
  • The best news since the title has been that a good friend of mine has purchased two seats behind the UK bench.  Sweet.  This fits well with my personal philosophy.

So, there you have it–the random thoughts which bounce around in my head from time to time.  Now, what we will look like next year?

© 2012

All the World’s a Stooge

Classic Columbia Pictures Title Card

I am an unapologetic Three Stooges fan.  I have been almost my entire life.  My Dad and I watched them and laughed together.  My sons and I have done the same.  My youngest son and I recently saw the Farrelly Brothers’ new Three Stooges film and laughed ourselves into fits.

Who were the Stooges?  Moses Horwitz (Moe Howard); Louis Feinberg (Larry Fine); Jerome Horwitz (Curly Howard); Samuel Horwitz (Shemp Howard);  Joe Besser; and Curly Joe DeRita.  Moe, Curly and Shemp were brothers.  The original line-up was Moe, Larry and Shemp.  Curly replaced Shemp.  Shemp then replaced Curly.  The abominable Joe Besser replaced Shemp.  Finally, Curly Joe replaced Besser.

People have always joked about men liking the Stooges and women hating them.  Back when Jay Leno was funny (yes, kids, he WAS very funny), he said the major difference between men and women is that all men believe that The Three Stooges are “comic geniuses” and all women think they are “shitheads.” Perhaps.

Just to prove my expertise to you the reader, I have done no research for this post.  I am simply drawing from my immense knowledge of the Three Stooges gathered over the years.  Impressed?  You should be.


In Harlan County, Kentucky, we had cable TV before almost everyone in the country–since the 1950’s, in fact.  Why? Because we were so isolated in the mountains that we couldn’t get decent TV reception from antennas.  Thus, someone came up with the brilliant idea of connecting our homes one huge antenna by cable connections.  This was my pipeline to the Stooges.

For you youngsters out there, televisions used to have “dials” to change channels.  The channels ran from 2 through 13.  We Harlan Countians had reception on ALL of them.  Good, clear reception, too.  One of the channels we got was WLOS out of Asheville, North Carolina.  WLOS delivered the Stooges. On weekdays, before school, most kids watched WLOS’s “Mr. Bill Show.”  Mr. Bill was Bill Norwood.  There was nothing especially entertaining about Mr. Bill.  He was just a nice guy who read kids’ letters and showed their drawings on TV.  He showed cartoons and–most importantly–Three Stooges shorts.  When Mr. Bill was on vacation, his substitute was WLOS weatherman Bob Caldwell.  Bob did the same things as Mr. Bill but seemed to me to be an utter failure.

The Shorts

What is a “short?” you ask.  Well, theaters used to show cartoons and “shorts” before the feature.  Shorts were typically 20-25 minutes long.  Our Gang (aka The Little Rascals) was a classic short.  The Stooges were Columbia Pictures’s cash cow when it came to shorts.  They made shorts from the early 1930’s through the late 1950’s.  When TV came along, the Stooges made it on the air and found a whole new audience.  By the late ’50’s, the Stooges (those left) were long in the tooth but became more popular than ever.

Stooges shorts consist of the Stooges finding themselves in some type of predicament (pretending to be chefs, buying a racehorse, in the Army, etc.).  They usually are in conflict with someone else and each other.  Moe is the leader and inflicts frequent, violent punishment on the other Stooges.  Eye pokes, hammers to the head and face slaps are but a few examples.  My personal favorite is when Moe raked a cheese grater across Curly’s face.

Most films follow a similar story arc.  This first 10 minutes or so introduce the characters.  Then, a conflict is introduced as the first plot point and turns the film toward its story.  A final plot point is introduced and turns the film toward the resolution of the conflict, or end of the film.  Here’s an example from The Godfather:

  • Introduction:  Connie’s wedding introduces all the main characters of the Corleone family.
  • Conflict:  The four other crime families want the Corleones in the drug business.  This is the first plot point.
  • Story:  Michael becomes involved in the family after his father is shot.  Kills The Turk and McCluskey.  Goes into hiding.  Eventually returns.
  • Resolution:  Final plot point is the meeting between Michael and the Godfather in the garden.  Then the film moves toward resolution of the conflict.  In that case, killing everyone.

A film scholar would debate me on some of the details, but that’s the basic set-up of every film. The Stooges had none of that.  Their films were too short.  We know the Stooges and we know what they do:  Hit each other a bunch, make fun of people and ended up okay.  We watch for the slapstick, not the story.

So, why do I love the Stooges?  Read on, my friends.

Gimme Moe, Moe, Moe!

Don’t we all secretly (or not so secretly) want to be like Moe?  Moe is the boss, the ringleader, the one everyone looks to for their decisions.  He gladly accepts this role and gives no quarter.  He doesn’t hesitate to rip out huge hunks of Larry’s hair or to poke Curly in the eyes, despite the retinal damage it will cause.  He’s sawed Curly’s head, pulled his teeth and put his head in a vise.  He’s steam pressed Curly, slapped and kicked him.  Moe had to keep them in line and he did.

Moe helping Curly with a tooth problem.

Moe was a big brother, a boss and stern taskmaster.  When all was said and done, Moe cared for his fellow Stooges.  How many times did he say:  “I’m sorry, kid”?  He meant it, even if those words were followed by a slap in the face.

In real life, Moe was a fine fellow by all accounts. Kind, generous and caring.  He looked after his brothers, especially Curly when his health failed at far too young an age.  Moe enjoyed the Stooges’s resurgence in popularity and never shied away from his Moe persona.  I like that.  He was Moe.

Moe being Moe on the Mike Douglas Show in the 1970’s.


Curly (or Curley, as it was sometimes spelled) was the Olivier of the Stooges. The Stooge by which all Stooges are measured. Whether he was barking or spinning in the floor, Curly left an indelible mark on every short in which he appeared.

Curly was a comic genius.  He was a phenomenon.  I laugh almost every time he appears on-screen.  The following is just a sampling of his greatness:

  • Woob! Woob! Woob!  Curly’s trademark yell.
  • Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.  Curly’s laugh.
  • The floor spin.  Curly lies on his side and spins in a circle.
  • “Soitenly!”  Curly’s pronunciation of “Certainly.”  Said in response to almost everthing.
  • “Hey, Moe!  Hey, Larry!’  Usually heard when Curly is in dire circumstances.
  • The Shuffle:  Curly’s ability to shuffle his feet in place, creating the illusion that both feet are off the floor.
  • “La da dee. La da dah!”  The tune Curly hums usually when he’s working on something.

Much more could be added to this list.  I always marveled at how agile Curly was for his weight.  He was one of the greatest ever at physical comedy.  Pure, unadulterated genius.

Like a lot of great comic actors, there was a dark side to Curly, or Babe as Moe called him. He ate and drank to excess and gambled away his money. Debilitated by a series of strokes, Curly died before age 50.  When he died, it seemed that the Stooges were done.

Shemp: The Once and Future Stooge

In Vaudeville, Shemp had been the “third” Stooge. Only when he left the act did Curly join. In the ’30’s and ’40’s Shemp had a modest but successful comedic acting career. Legend has it that Columbia resisted adding Shemp because of his resemblance to Moe.

Side by side, Moe and Shemp were obviously brothers. But Moe’s trademark bowl haircut and Shemp’s long, greasy slicked back hair created enough difference that it worked.

If Shemp was no Curly, he was a helluva Shemp. Whereas Curly was frantic and perpetual energy, Shemp was nervous and neurotic. This was, in fact, Shemp’s personality.   A typical Shemp moment has him terrified by some person event, his hair disheveled yammering “yeeb, yeeb, yeeb!” Moe would slap his face or poke his eyes.  Shemp would snap out of it.

Shemp also fancied himself a ladies man, usually finding himself the victim of a femme fatale.  It wasn’t unusual for Shemp to absorb a beating at the hands of a woman.   I can identify with that.  I like Shemp.

Real Shemp

Shemp died unexpectedly of a heart attack in the 1950’s. Again, it seemed that the Stooges were done. Shemp’s untimely death resulted in what die-hard Stoogephiles know as the phenomenon of Fake Shemp.

The Stooges had a contract with Columbia which required a certain number of shorts each year.  Shemp died while they were filming one.  To complete the film, they used a body double for Shemp.  The double was obviously NOT Shemp.

(L-R) Larry, Moe and Fake Shemp

To fulfill their contract, the Stooges actually “completed” several more shorts without Shemp, using stock footage and Fake Shemp.  Fake Shemp was always shown from the side or back. If you watch any of the films of director Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman), watch the closing credits.  He often dubs several extras in his films as “Fake Shemp.”  Only true Stooge fans get the joke.

It was the mid-’50’s and Shemp was gone.  The Stooges had begun to be shown on television, and Columbia wanted to continue the series.  Joe Besser was a fat, allegedly comic actor on Columbia’s payroll.  He would be Joe, the new Stooge.  Good God.


Joe has nothing to do with why I love the Stooges.  Nothing crushed my little spirit more than to see the title card pop up on the screen with freakin’ Joe as the third Stooge.  If you think I was disappointed when Mr. Bill went on vacation, I can’t describe how the mere sight of Joe sucked the life out of me.  I’m not going to spend much time on this, but Joe wasn’t funny.  He was a whining, mincing, pansy.  “Not so haaaaard!”  followed by ultra-feminine slapping at Moe was his usual response to any attack.  It turns out that Joe Besser didn’t like being hit.  Really?  Then don’t be a Stooge!  Go do Shakespeare somewhere.  Fortunately, Joe wasn’t around long.  Columbia shut down its shorts department and this horrific sequence was over.

The mere sight of Joe still disturbs your author.

I’ll qualify this by saying that Joe Besser seemed to be fine fellow.  He spoke fondly of his brief time as a Stooge.  He just didn’t like being hit.  Oh well.  Who does?

What about Larry?

Larry was the Forgotten Stooge, rarely discussed but the glue that held them together.  Larry was often the butt of Moe’s temper (especially during the dark days of Joe), but he was often the voice of reason.  He wasn’t a straight man.  He was the man in the middle.  He often doled out abuse to Moe, but it was usually inadvertent, followed by “I’m sorry, Moe.”  Moe, of course, would accept the apology only to crack Larry over the head or pull out his hair.

I’m a Larry fan.  Without Larry, there were no Stooges. 

Curly Joe

With their new-found popularity on TV, the Stooges finally made feature films starting in the late 1950’s.  Joe De Rita took Besser’s place as Curly Joe.  I’ll be honest.  I never really cared much for the feature films, but Curly Joe was pretty good.  The Stooges were old by then and it just didn’t seem the same to me.  That said, they could still be pretty funny, and Curly Joe was a VAST improvement over Besser.

The Foils

I couldn’t finish this without mentioning Vernon Dent, Christine McIntyre and Emil Sitka, all of whom were straight “men” to the Stooges.  One of the great things about the Stooges is that they were frequently in conflict with society’s upper crust, crashing parties or finding themselves pushed into the upper echelon.  They would abuse these folks thoroughly.  Many a pie fight started under these circumstances.  The straight men would be exasperated by these antics and quite often started doling out their own abuse. 

The End

My vast Stooge knowledge has no doubt staggered you.  Oh, I’m sure it takes up brain space needed for things like birthdays, internet passwords and important account numbers.  So be it.  I think I’ll hum “Three Blind Mice” for the rest of the day.