John Roberts and the Temple of Doom

I’m a lawyer.  In 25 years of law practice, I’ve read a bunch of U.S. Supreme Court opinions, at least 4 or 5 in their entirety.  Everyone is abuzz about  National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius which was decided on June 28, 2012.  What is that, you ask?  It’s the Obamacare case.  I realize that most folks don’t have the benefit of my education and years of law practice to help them understand what happened.  As a public service, I’ve decided to address these concerns with this primer on Sebelius and what it means.


It’s a law called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  It’s 2700 pages long.  I’ve never read it and won’t.  I tried to read The Fountainhead one time.  It’s only like 1000 pages long.  I just couldn’t do it.


Good question.  It’s the only court required by the Constitution.  There are no qualifications to be on the Court.  You can be foreign-born, any age and have little or no education.  You don’t even have to be a lawyer, although I’m pretty sure all the justices (We call them “justices,” not judges) have been lawyers.  Geddy Lee, Alex Trebek and Jackie Chan could be on the Court.  So could Snookie.


That’s hard to say, really.  I’ve never been there and probably won’t ever be.  I know people who have, and it’s pretty intimidating.  That said, they only hear cases that they want to hear.  You have to petition for a Writ of Certiorari to be heard.  It’s hard to pronounce and even harder to do.  Don’t even try.


Well, there are 9 of them, although the Constitution sets no limit.  If I were in charge, I’d change it to like 27 to make it a free-for-all.  To the best of my knowledge, these are the justices:

  • John Roberts:  He’s the Chief Justice.  Smart dude.  Good writer.  He’s now a scurrilous lackey for the President.
  • Anthony Kennedy:  He’s the wildcard.  Hard to say if he’s liberal or conservative.  I had lunch with him one time.  Okay, maybe not with him, but really close to him.  He seemed like a fine fellow.
  • Antonin Scalia:  Another really smart guy.  Extreme ultra-conservative.  Excellent writer, but a little testy.  Kinda like if your grandfather was a genius and started writing legal opinions.
  • Clarence Thomas:  Come on, you know him.  Gets a lot of flak for not asking questions during oral arguments.  As a lawyer, I like that.  Don’t interrupt my brilliant presentation with your inane questions.
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg:  The tiniest Justice.  Almost elfin.  Wears fabulous neck wear with her robe.
  • Stephen Breyer:   Liberal dude.  His opinions are whiny.  I don’t like that.
  • Alito or Alioto or something like that:  Sorry.  Couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup.
  • Sonia (maybe?) Sotomayor:  Again, don’t much about her.
  • Elena Kagan:  Really liberal.  That’s about it.  Looks like a heavy Rachel Maddow.

They all went to really good law schools.  So, if you went to a state university like I did you got no shot.  Sorry.  Besides, I wouldn’t be any good.  My penchant for foul language would disrupt many an oral argument.  Plus, I’m not that strong a reader.


In a 5-4 vote, the Court upheld most of  Obamacare.  Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion.  He’s supposed to be a conservative but now is viewed as a wild-eyed liberal.

As an aside, I know that “Obamacare” started as a derisive tag for this act, but it’s really catchy.  It has a certain flow to it.


Honestly, I haven’t read the whole opinion.  Actually, there are multiple opinions.  All Supreme Court  rulings have a syllabus at the beginning that summarizes the ruling.  That’s usually good enough for me.  Eventually the opinion will be published and then will have “head-notes” included.  These are like bullet points at the beginning that tell you the highlights.  Sort of like Cliff Notes.  For most lawyers, head-notes will suffice unless you’re some kind of egghead. Or a law professor, but they aren’t really lawyers anyway.

The opinion has something to do with the Commerce Clause of the Constitution which gives the Federal Government the power “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian tribes.”  You’ll have to trust me on this one, but that little clause gives the government the power of Thor.  BUT, it doesn’t give it the power to make you buy health insurance.  Now, if you belong to an Indian tribe, you may be SOL, but I don’t know for sure.  Chances are that they can force the Indians to do anything.

What they CAN do is tax you for NOT buying health insurance.  So, Obamacare can tax your ass for not buying insurance.  That’s it.  Learn to live with it. Oddly enough, the Indians are exempted from this part.  Go figure.

I don’t know if they’re crazy (the Supreme Court, not the Indians).  They might be.  Justice Ginsburg looks a little crazy.  Thomas is quiet which is certainly a sign of craziness, but he was against the ruling.  If he’s crazy, it’s for other reasons.

Justice Roberts wrote the bulk of the Court’s opinion.  He doesn’t seem crazy to me, but he could be. Sometimes people who don’t appear to be crazy are really super-crazy.  He could be the Ted Bundy of the Court.  I’m not suggesting that he’s a serial killer nor am I suggesting he’s not.  Draw your own conclusions.


We can’t.  He’s appointed for life and would have to be impeached.  It won’t ever happen.  You have more chance of making out with Salma Hayek.  Or Bradley Cooper.  Or both.


No, unless you now qualify for Medicaid, which may be expanded if your state wants to expand Medicaid, which it doesn’t have to, by the way.  If you qualify for Medicaid, your life might suck so much that you don’t really care about staying healthy anyway.


Basically, the government can tax you now for not having health insurance (unless you’re an Indian).  Some now fear that they will be taxed for not eating broccoli, although I’m not sure that’s in the Act.  It could well be, of course.  Justice Roberts reaffirmed what we already know:  The government can tax you into the poorhouse.  I didn’t need him to tell me that.


Because you can afford health insurance but won’t buy it. What kind of idiot wouldn’t have health insurance if he could afford it?   It’s the Idiot Tax.  If you can’t afford the tax, you go to a gulag full of sick people.  It will really suck.  Okay, I made up that part, but they could tax you for not going to the gulag.  THAT would be perfectly legally.


Of course.  Taxes are bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  This tax is really bad, because it brands YOU as the problem.  You not only get taxed, but you’re also identified as a selfish jackass.


Nothing as far as I know.  But I’m sure there’s something about them in the 2700 pages of the Act.  Like our members of Congress, I have no intention of ever reading the whole act.  Here’s how it probably will work:  You’ll contract some deadly disease like Ebola virus.  At this point, the only decent thing to do is go ahead and die.  If you refuse to die, the Death Panel will tax you for staying alive until you do the patriotic thing and give up.  If that doesn’t work, they’ll invoke the Patriot Act on you and send Navy Seal Team 6 to your house.  And that will be that.


I think so.  I think it’s like the Supreme Court.  There are no real qualifications. Well, except you have to be alive, of course. Maybe.


Possibly, but it depends on how sick you are.  If you’re kinda sick, it’s okay.  If you’re extremely sick, that’s bad (see the comments on the Death Panels above).  Of course, it’s always bad to be extremely sick, but you might have health insurance now, unless you’re an Indian.


Of course.  Since everyone will be insured, there will be less incentive to stay healthy.


There is some good news.  The so-called Slacker Mandate allows you to stay on your parents’ health insurance until age 26.  Make yourself comfortable in the basement and get as sick as you want.


Good news:  They’ll have to insure you.  Bad news:  I was uninsurable for a while and bought my coverage through a high risk pool.  Good luck affording that.


Only if you are insured under the Slacker Mandate, in which case you must use them even if you are not in a relationship. Plus, you’ll be forced to use them with random uninsured people chosen by the government.


It’s simple, really.  Since more people will be insured, the risk will be spread around which will offset the increased cost of insuring pre-existing conditions and more people.  The insurance companies will pass this savings on to YOU, rather than just pocketing the increased profits.

Oh, hell, I just read that somewhere.  I have no idea how it would decrease costs.  My health insurance premiums go up every year.  Why would that change? If you know, tell me.


Sorta.  Sadly, the Constitution doesn’t have a Popularity Clause allowing the Court to throw out unpopular laws.  We can, however, vote.  Now, don’t get confused.  You can’t vote against Justice Roberts.  Remember, he has a job for life.


You’d think that would work, but it won’t.  The last amendment took over 200 years to get approved.  So, you’ll long be dead by then unless Obamacare results in us all living to be 300 years old.  If that happens, we’ll probably be okay with it.


Of course not.  We’re Americans.  You can use its catchy acronym:  PPACA.  Here are some other alternatives:  Barackacare; Robertscare; Obamalamadingdongcare; Osamacare; ObamaScare; Yomamacare; YoYoMaCare; and Whocares.


It’s either the greatest opinion in the history of jurisprudence or the end of the republic.  The Court struck a blow for better and more affordable healthcare or eviscerated the Constitution.  We’re on the road to Communism or joining the 21st Century.  It is the single greatest moment ever (Barack Obama’s view only) or the last puzzle piece needed to establish a worldwide caliphate (Glenn Beck only).  I have no idea.


That’s one possible solution–or you can join an Indian tribe, if that’s allowed.  Here’s the rub:  Almost every other country has some form of socialized medicine, plus they suck in all kinds of others way.  For example, they won’t have football.  Also, they may not speak English.

Greece has really good health care, but everything else about Greece sucks.  France, too, but, hey, it’s France.  What are you, a Commie?  I’m not sure what you should do.  People in Monaco live to be around 90.  They must be good.

Our government already provides about 65% of all the health insurance anyway.  Let’s just stay here and see what happens.  Plus, we have football.  Don’t forget that.


Yes, that’s what I’m saying.  At least there’s no hope of going back to Ron Paul’s childhood where doctors made house calls and you paid your surgical bills with chickens or pelts.

While everyone was chewing off their arms over Obamacare, the Supreme Court quietly delivered its opinion in United States v. Alvarez.  That involved a law which makes it illegal to lie about having military medals.  In other words, you can’t buy a Purple Heart off eBay and go around pretending to be a war hero.  The law is unconstitutional, because we have the right to lie.  Outraged, are you?  Don’t be.  If the government can criminalize lying, it can also decide which lies to criminalize and, ultimately, what is true and what isn’t.  That’s a blow for freedom.  All is not lost.  A good thing happened on the same day as a bad thing, assuming you think a bad thing happened at all.  That’s exactly what they want you to think.

Now, those of us willing to plumb deeper into the depravity of the Supreme Court note the “coincidence” of Alvarez holding that lying can’t be a crime on the same day they found that Obamacare is a tax.  The President, of course, said it wasn’t a tax, which means he was lying.  But lying isn’t a crime now, is it?  Hmmmm.  Well played, Mr. President and your lap-dog, Chief Justice Roberts.


Most–if not all–of what the government does is perfectly fine under the Constitution.  That doesn’t mean I like it, and it certainly doesn’t mean I support it.  In fact, most of what the government does is imbecilic. I’m not all that worked up about Obamacare, but I have a bunch of other stuff stuck in my craw.  I’m not counting on John Roberts and his cabal of Fellow Travelers to unstick my craw, either.  I’m voting.  You should, too.

One word of caution.  The call now is for “Repeal and Replace!”  Another gaggle of Congressional idiots will draft the replacement.  Oh well, that will just give us another crisis to get hair-lipped over.

© 2012

No Happy Endings in Happy Valley

During Jerry Sandusky’s trial a lot of thoughts came to mind. I jotted some down and pondered others. Here they are:

  • How many people had an opportunity to stop Sandusky? We know that there were several at Penn State–administrators, coaches, even a janitor. There were social workers and concerned parents. No one stopped it. If  there is anything in this sad tale that rivals Sandusky’s actions, it’s this silence.
  • As a lawyer, I like the way the prosecutor handled its case. The case was strong, and it was tried that way. The jury’s time wasn’t wasted. This wasn’t what I call a “California” trial where seemingly straightforward cases take 6 months to try.
  • A lot of folks enjoyed deriding Sandusky’s lawyer. I can’t imagine defending that case. What would I do? Probably no better than he did.  Sandusky was entitled to a trial and lawyer.  He had both.
  • Sandusky is a pedophile and fits the profile. I had heard of this profile, but this is the first time I’ve seen what it really looks like.
  • Sandusky isn’t a monster. He’s a football coach.  A father, a grandfather.  He’s your neighbor.  You go to church with him.  He volunteers in the community.  He does good things.  If he were a monster, it would all seem more palatable.  He is the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing who preyed on the poorest and the weakest.  We can no more pick this monster out of crowd than we can tell what flavor ice cream a person likes by looking at him or her.  That makes him more frightening than any monster.
  • All that said, a Sandusky doesn’t operate in a vacuum.  People turn a blind eye.  Some are willfully ignorant, for sure, but others give the benefit of the doubt when such doubt has long since stopped being reasonable.  From abuses in churches to homes to this, the stories seem to have common theme of missed opportunities to stop this abuse.  Worse yet, there are those who know or at the very least should know and do nothing.
  • One can’t help but wonder how many other people operate the same as Sandusky.  He got caught.  It is reasonable to assume that many, many others haven’t been and won’t be.
  • The victims who testified deserve admiration.  They are men now, no longer scared into silence by a criminal.  They stood up to him, and he had nothing.  No explanation.  No excuse.  No threats to silence them.  Stripped of his power over them, he was just what he appeared to be–a pathetic, perverse criminal.  He could resort only to what he surely would have done had they come forward as children.  Accuse them of lying and hope he would get the benefit of the doubt because he was Coach Sandusky.  The easy path for these men would be to continue to hide and push this into the past.  By facing Sandusky, they put him where he needed to be long ago.  One can only hope that this will give them each–and the others who did not come forward–some measure of peace.
  • At the outset of this sorry tale, there was a feeling that the folks of Happy Valley would never turn against mighty Penn State.  Sandusky surely would be in good shape with a jury full of fans.  As it turns out, the power of football collapsed under the weight of a small town’s shame over one of its own.  When Sandusky’s conviction was announced, all reports are that there was cheering outside the courthouse, followed by jeering of Sandusky as he was led away in handcuffs.
  • I didn’t spend much time wondering if Sandusky did what he was accused of.  I’m a big believer in the criminal justice system.  Even those who commit crimes are entitled to put the government to its proof.  The jury did its job and not just because it returned convictions.  Their job was to reach a verdict based upon the evidence, and they did.
  • Justice was served in the only way it can be.  Let the court and jury decide his fate.  But make no mistake, there was no winner here.   Even if they gain some measure of peace now, the victims can’t undo the damage done to them by a person who came into their lives to help, not hurt them.  Sandusky gets to live the rest of his life in protective custody–23 hours a day in a 6 x 8 cell.  His wife and children have this hung around their necks like millstones.  Penn State will be scrubbing this stain for a generation.  The administrators, coaches, social workers and no doubt others who could have intervened will live with the knowledge that much of this could have been stopped.  This sad, shameful story had many authors, and no one could come up with a happy ending.
  • I can’t help but wonder why these things happen.  No one asks to be a victim nor do they invite such attacks.  Really, there is no answer.  As surely as there are good people, there are bad ones.  We cross paths with both every day.
  • When this story broke, it was largely a Penn State football story.  Who exactly was this Sandusky? What did Coach Paterno know?    We needed to know more about Mike McQueary.  Paterno was fired–an unthinkable act before Sandusky became a household word.  As the victims made their stories public, football faded away–even in Happy Valley.  When Paterno died, that marked the symbolic–if not actual–end to the football story.
  • The story isn’t over.  Like the abuses in the Catholic churches, you can expect years of civil litigation.  There will be more stories, more brutal details, but none will have quite the impact of what we heard the past two weeks.
  • Despite the horrific details of Sandusky’s behavior, tempering our reactions is necessary.  Sports are not over-run with pedophiles.  Our children are not in constant danger.  We would do well to remember the McMartin Preschool case and its surrounding mania.  Such accusations are easy to make and difficult to defend.  I knew a man who was tried and acquitted on molestation charges.  It didn’t matter.  His life was substantially destroyed.
  • Following the trial, I was surprised at how important it became to me that Sandusky be convicted.  As a lawyer, I’ve become conditioned to allowing these things to play out.  I was glad he was convicted, and I’m equally glad that he will spend his remaining years in prison.  I have no interest in seeking revenge on him by turning him loose in the general prison population.  That won’t help the victims.  It will only turn Sandusky into one himself.
  • I still don’t know what I learned from this, other than there is bad in the world.  I already knew that, of course.  I guess I need a reminder some times.

© 2012

Hatin’ on the Hate

Haters keep on hatin’, cause somebody’s got to do it.  So said the eminently hateable Chris Brown. I’ve thinking about hate lately, mostly because I’ve been hearing a lot of it  for some reason.  Montgomery Burns once said “I know you all hate me.  Well, I hate you more.”  That’s how most of us approach the subject.

Rod Smart was a football player in the ill-fated XFL. His nickname was “He Hate Me,” as in “He Hate Me. She Hate Me.  Everybody hate me.”  He wore the name proudly on the back of his jersey. No one remembers much about the XFL (“NO FAIR CATCHES!”), but a lot of football fans remember He Hate Me.

Rod Smart. His jersey said it all.

I doubt that a lot of people really hated Rod Smart, but maybe they did. He lived in America, and we are very good at hating people, things, institutions, events–you name it.  He also played sports, and sports draw a lot of hate.  Even if we’re okay with Rod Smart, we hate a lot of other things.

I hate Jim Carrey movies. And kale greens. And hangnails. And the sound a fork makes scraping a plate. And lots of other things. I try not to hate people, but sometimes I do. It usually passes. Right now, I’m pretty sure I hate Jerry Sandusky.  If you’ve seen the video of those assbags harassing that school bus monitor, you probably hate those kids.  I know I do or at least I did while I watched the video.

I hated a girl I dated.  Well, I didn’t hate her while we were dating.  I liked her then.   She hated me while we were dating; thus, we broke up.  After that, I hated her. Then we got back together, and I didn’t hate her as much.  Then we broke up again.  Hate. I’ve still got some work to do on that one, I guess.

When I was kid, people would say: “I don’t hate him. I hate his ways.”  Nowadays, I hear people say: “God loves the sinners, but hates the sin.” Really? Let’s cut to the chase. If you hate how someone acts, there’s almost no chance that you don’t hate the person. Here’s one I’ve heard 1,000 times:  “I don’t hate gay people. I hate their lifestyle.” Translation: “I don’t hate you. I just hate everything about you.” Wow.  I’m sure that makes gay people feel much better.

As Americans, we’re allowed to hate.  We do have hate crimes, but they’re pretty vague and rarely used.  Plus, they only cover small areas of hate–race, religion, sexual orientation and the like.  There are so many other things and reasons to hate.  In addition, hating itself really isn’t a crime anyway.  You have to commit some other foul act in conjunction with your hate. General hating is still perfectly legal.

We hate sports teams. I am a University of Kentucky fan. It’s socially acceptable for me to hate the University of Louisville. Okay, maybe not the entire University. Just its sports teams. If I hate the Dean of Students or some English professor, that would just be weird. Rick Pitino, however, is fair game.

When Pitino coached at UK, we loved him. U of L fans hated him. One day, he showed up as U of L’s coach. We hated him. They loved him. Hate is funny like that. It’s very arbitrary.

We hate food. I hate lots of food. Most people do. Pickles? Hate ’em. Raw tomatoes? Hate.  Mayonnaise, Diet Coke, malted milk balls:  hate, hate, hate.  My son hates hamburgers, for God’s sake. You hate some foods. You know you do. Think about them.  Feel the hate.

Do you hate any music?  Sure, you do.  I hate rap.  I hated disco back in the ’70’s but now I’m okay with it.  That means that one day rap might be okay with me.  For now, though, it’s hate all the way.

Do you hate your job?  Well, no one cares, because almost everyone else hates their job more than you hate yours.  Just ask them.

Some folks hate poor people. Others hate the rich. I don’t know anyone who hates both, but I’m sure someone does. Does anyone hate the middle class? Yeah, I’m sure someone does. Maybe you do. If you do, explain yourself.

We hate religion. Okay, not ALL religion, just other people’s. We’re right. They’re wrong. Of course, we all have a small nagging thought that maybe they’re right and we’re wrong. We hate that even more. If you’re a Christian, you have to think that all non-Christians are just flat wrong. That aggravates you. Sometimes, it makes you hate another religion, especially if that religion hates Christianity. Atheists hate all religions, except their own.  Of course, most people won’t openly say that they hate other religions.  That’s just not kosher, which is okay to say even if you hate Jewish people.

Let’s take the vile, reptilian God Hates Fags troglodytes from Kansas. When I see them or even think about them, I hate them. Oh, it will pass, but I hate them for a few minutes. I’m betting most Christians hate them, too, if only for a minute or two.  Atheists, I’m sure, hate them.  They’re very hateable. If God hates anything, it’s those turds.  Of course, it’s unlikely that God hates anyone, except maybe Job.  Then again, there were also all those smitings, too.  Hmmm.  I may have to think about that one.

Politics and religion are often compared.  We all know that those are two topics that you just don’t bring up in polite conversation.  They both engender a bunch of hate or, at the very least, hatefulness.  Why? Because it allows us to hate entire groups of people based on little more than their associations or views.  Politics is the ultimate hatefest. It’s the last bastion of irrational prejudice. You can hate an entire political party, yet be a welcome member of society. Try that with an entire race or religion, and you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time alone.

Politicians are the most hated folks on the planet. Do you hate President Obama? If you answered “no,” there’s a good chance you hate Mitt Romney. If you hate both of them, then you might love Ron Paul. If you hate Ron Paul, then you probably love Ralph Nader.  Obama and Romney both might be right fine fellows, but they’re hated because they are in the wrong political party.

There is an important difference between hating something or someone and actually expressing that hate.  No one cares if you openly hate a sports team. Irrationally loathing someone because of their uniform is no big deal.  Same goes for politics, obviously.  But, we have to be careful about expressing hate for the wrong reasons.  You go from being a rational hater to a dangerous misanthrope.

We can easily hate someone who is in the wrong group, whether it’s a political party, church, or sports team. It’s different when we personalize it to, say, our next door neighbor. Tell people that you hate Obama, and a lot of folks will high-five you. Tell them you hate the kid who mows your yard, and they’ll be creeped out.

Now, you shouldn’t hate Obama because he’s black, although surely some do. That’s just wrong. If so, you better keep that to yourself. Here’s the good news: you can hate liberals, regardless of their race. Hate all you want. By extension, you can hate anyone who is a liberal, regardless of race, creed or national origin.  One caveat:  Be careful about how vociferously you express your hate of the President.  Don’t write him letters about it.  The FBI will visit you.  They hate that shit.

Let’s take Romney as another example. He’s a Mormon. My grandparents were Mormons. So were my Mom’s sisters and their children and grandchildren. I’m not a Mormon, but I think Mormons are fine folks. Some people disagree. They think it’s a cult of heretics where everyone has 10 wives. Mormons have been hated. Probably still are in some circles. You can’t say: “Man, I hate Romney because he’s a Mormon.” But you can say: “I hate that Romney. Damn Republican!” Odd, isn’t?

So, you can hate a religion, but you should keep it to yourself.  Same with race.  Politics, though, is different.  Hate all you want and do it in public.  No one cares, except the people who will hate you as a result.

You really can’t hate some things.  Animals, for instance.  I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who says he hates animals.  Okay, cats are an exception.  People will say they hate cats, but cats are smug, and some hate that in a pet. Otherwise, if you hate animals, you’re going to fit a serial killer profile.  Some people love animals but hate humans.  As a result, animal hate is dangerous territory, indeed.

Here’s a little experiment:

  • Create a group on Facebook called “I Hate the President.”  Make the profile picture the worst thing you can find of the President.  Maybe this one:

  • Then, create a new group called “I Hate Romney.”  Use this ridiculous image:

  • I assure you that some people will like these pages.  In fact, some people will become enthusiastic members of your group with their own outrageous postings.
  • Now, create a page called:  “I Hate Rescue Dogs.”  Not only will no one like it, everyone will hate you.  You’ll probably be subjected to all manner of investigations and be banned from Facebook.  You will be unfriended. Your student loans will be declared in default, your mortgage foreclosed and the IRS will audit you.  Even the ACLU will turn on you by representing the rescue dogs in a class action against you.  The Southern Poverty Law Center will declare you to be a hate group.

The lesson?  Hate people if you want.  Leave the animals alone.

It’s still unacceptable to hate your family. I find this odd since some people’s families are dangerous criminals or worse. Folks will say “Don’t forget to call dad on Fathers Day!” What if your dad is Charles Manson? Or just a total bastard? I know people who hate their families, but they keep it quiet. If you do, you should probably just keep it to yourself.  Think about this:  With all the hateable people in the world, how can some people not hate their families?

I’ve heard it said that hating someone is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. That’s true for me. So, I try not to do it. I’m not always successful. Sometimes, I will hate the entire UK basketball team for a fleeting moment or two.  Then, I love them again.  I think my children hate me on occasion, and it’s tempting to hate them back.  So far, I’ve resisted, but it’s a struggle. I used to be an angry young man, who hated a lot of stuff.  Then, I realized that all that stuff didn’t hate me back–or really even know I existed.  This realization freed me up to spend more time thinking about me.  One good thing about being egocentric is that there isn’t much room in my head for dwelling on others, what with all the things going on with me.

Sadly, there are few things that I’ll confess to hating, and I don’t think those will change:  Jenny from Forest Gump; gum on my shoe; migraines; Winter; poke sallet; toothaches; door to door salespeople; port-a-potties; being hit in the face; Aunt Bee; the two warts on the back of my right hand; Christian Rock music; and people who hate too many things.

So, that’s my screed on hate.  I’ve professed myself an expert. Don’t you hate it when people do that?

© 2012

Soccer Punch

Typical soccer fans cheering on their teams

I’ve been watching some soccer lately.  I do that on occasion, like when I’m at the gym and flipping around the channels while I’m on the Stair Master.  I like sports.  Soccer is a sport.  I’m told it’s the most popular sport in the world, and that appears to be true.  Fans paint their faces and act nutty.  Sometimes, they kill each other.  Sometimes, they even kill the players.  The word “hooligan” is used almost exclusively for soccer fans these days.  I like that word, so I should like soccer, I guess.  But, I don’t.

Hooligans have their own version of The Wave.


I know it’s fashionable for Americans to say they hate soccer.  I don’t hate it.  I just don’t get it.  If I had grown up playing it, that would be different.  Where I was raised, we would have been more likely to play that Afghan goat carcass polo game than soccer.  I also know why kids like it (soccer, not that goat game).  It’s a bunch of running around and kicking things.  I would have liked doing that.

Heated buzkashi match, where the object of the game is to hurl a headless goat carcass across the goal line. How has this never caught on in Harlan County?

I also don’t dislike the foreign-ness of it.  I’d watch a buzkashi match.  In the early days of ESPN, it didn’t show any real sports, just stuff like snooker and badminton.  It did, however, have what was probably the exclusively North American right to Australian Rules Football.  I used to watch that and enjoy it.   It’s a hybrid of soccer, American football, rugby and a bar fight.  I came to believe that “Australian Rules” means no rules at all.  But, it’s not soccer–not even close.

If you’re anything like me–and you probably aren’t–you don’t much about soccer.  Watch a little, and you’ll pick up the basics.  Here are a few things I know about soccer:

  • I’ve tried to learn the rules, such as they are.  You can’t use your hands–that’s pretty clear.  Your head is okay.  We don’t like people using their heads to strike things in American sports, but it’s okay in soccer.  I guess the ball isn’t very hard.  Americans prefer sports where the things hit your head–football, boxing, MMA and baseball to name just a few.
  • Matches (not “games”) are divided into halves, each roughly 4 hours long or so it seems.  The clock never stops.  Some games are called “friendlies.”  Those don’t count.  A friendly is like an exhibition game, I guess.
  • You don’t play on a “team.”  You’re on a “side.”
  • They have offsides, which I don’t understand at all.  It happens sometimes, but I never see it coming.  Often, I think I see it, but I’m wrong. When it happens, a guy holds up a flag like at a NASCAR race.
  • Soccer is played on a field, except it’s called a “pitch.”  Why?  I don’t know.  It’s a big field.  BIG.  On TV, it looks about 500 yards long.  I’m sure it’s not, but that’s how it looks.  The players look like ants.  Maybe the pitch isn’t that big, but the players are tiny.  It’s hard to tell.
  • I think there are eleven players on each side.  Sometimes, it looks like there are 200 players on the pitch.  Other times, I think there are only about 5.  I’m sure it’s an optical illusion caused by television.  I’m not sure what their positions are, except the goalkeeper. I also don’t know what they are supposed to be doing, other than kicking the ball around.  Obviously, I know that they want to kick it into the goal, but most of the action takes place far away from the goal.
  • They have referees, but I don’t know what they do.  If you do something wrong, they whip out a Yellow Card, which is kind of silly, but no more silly than throwing a yellow flag, I guess.  A Yellow Card means you’re in trouble.  They call it “misconduct,” a polite way of saying you play like a complete bastard.  You’ve might tripped someone or spit on them or even killed them (not out of the question in soccer).  Something bad happened, for sure.  A Red Card is BIG trouble.  I think it means you’re ejected.  Maybe they throw you to the hooligans.

I’m not up on all the rules, but this appears to be a misconduct.

  • There aren’t a lot of goals made. Most Americans complain about the lack of scoring in soccer.  That doesn’t really bother me.  Let’s face it, in football (by the way, I KNOW that every other country calls soccer “football” or even “futbol.”  I don’t care.), there aren’t that many scores, either.  It’s just that, as Americans, we were clever enough to count each score 3 or 6 points to make it seem more action-packed.  My problem is that I never know when they are close to scoring.  Fans will be cheering wildly and I’ll think there is no chance of anything happening.  Maybe they’re cheering about something other than scoring.  Possibly, there’s been a fire set in the stands.
  • I think they run plays in soccer, but they might not.  Occasionally, it seems that the players are working in some type of coordinated effort to get the ball past midfield.  Near the goal, it’s bedlam.   Eventually, someone will actually kick the ball toward the goal, but it’s rarely successful.
  • I’m never quite sure if I’m seeing good plays or not.  Someone will post on Twitter something like:  Egbert cocked up the play with that flick header. Barmpot!#DIEMANU.  I will have been watching the same match but see none of that.
  • The exception to the paucity of scoring is the penalty kick.  A player gets to kick the ball at the goal with the goal keeper standing there trying to block it.  I don’t know when or why they get these kicks, but it has something to do with the Yellow Card business.
  • Like a lot of European-ish sports, gentlemanly play and sportsmanship ought to be important.  Then again, maybe they aren’t.  Soccer hooligans certainly don’t follow any such rules what will all the burning and killing that accompanies many matches.  No insult is too politically incorrect nor is violence necessarily frowned upon.

Poor Jimmy Hill. Not only is he openly hated by this child, but he’s also apparently a “poof.”

  • Soccer broadcasters are good.  They are very into it.  ESPN has a guy who sounds the Lucky Charms leprechaun.  He’s entertaining.

Soccer uses a ball and keeps score.  That makes it a sport by my definition.  The players are certainly athletic, running madly about the pitch.  The games are competitive, and the fans are insane.  It has all the elements of something I’d like, but I just can’t get there.  I’ve thought about it, and I have a few ideas about spicing it up.

What could soccer do to hold my interest?  Here are a few of my thoughts:

  • Let them use their hands.  Hell, let them throw the ball to each other but not backwards, only down field.
  • Put in some real defense.  If a player has the ball, let the defender knock him down.
  • Let them pick up the ball and run with it.  With that many players on the field, it’s going to be tough to get very far anyway.
  • Make the goal bigger.  I mean REALLY bigger, like the entire width of the field.  Oh, and get rid of the goal keeper.
  • Instead of just running around willy-nilly, give each team 3 or 4 shots at moving the ball toward the goal.  Let’s say that you can keep the ball if you can move it 30 or so feet.  If you can’t score, you can just give the ball to the other team.
  • Instead of the odd random markings on the pitch, maybe you could mark it off in a grid to keep track of team’s progress.
  • Limit the kicking of the ball.  Honestly,  99% of it doesn’t accomplishment much anyway.  Maybe you can keep the old goal to kick the ball into, but make it count less than running the ball across the goal line.
  • Rethink the ball itself.  Instead of round, it could be kind of oblong.  That would discourage all the kicking and make carrying it easier.
  • You might want to change the uniforms to provide a little more protection.  Instead of shorts, I’m thinking odd, tight knee pants with padding in them.  Maybe a helmet of some kind, too. If you really want to rev it up, let the players put padding on their shoulders to wallop the hell out of their opponents.

With these few little tweaks, I think I’d watch.  They could put games on TV on the weekends–Sunday would be good.  Monday night, too.  I think it would work.

If you’re a soccer lover, you’ve read this and are poised to rebuke me with the beauty of the game.  Don’t bother.  This lad sums up your views perfectly:

Enthusiastic young soccer fan expressing his displeasure at this post.

© 2012

Confessions of a Baseball Dad

I loved baseball as a kid. Loved it. Loved watching it, listening to it on the radio, playing it, reading about it. Before there were girls, there was baseball.  After girls, there was still baseball.

I’ve been watching youth baseball since 1998 when my first son started playing t-ball. Two more sons followed. My middle son has continued to high school and Summer travel teams. I don’t know how many games I’ve seen, but it’s somewhere north of 1000. My youngest, 10 years old at this writing, is just getting cranked up in the baseball world.  This year alone–among high school, Little League, all-stars and American Legion–I’ll probably watch over 100 games.

Why do I write this? Because I’ve learned a few things. Some by watching others, some by my own stumbles. I’ve always thought the best way to learn is through the mistakes of others, but life isn’t always that tidy.

I played baseball but not particularly well. I was fast, but that’s about it. I also had a stubborn unwillingness to work hard or take instruction. Couple that with limited natural ability, and athletic success was not within my grasp.  One day I might have kids.  Boys even.  They would play. I did have boys, three of them.

Like a lot of first loves, my baseball love faded over time but never died out. I wanted my boys to play. I wanted them to be good. I wanted them to love it. Baseball rattles, tiny uniforms and little bats were the baby gear I favored.  I wanted my boys to play baseball–and any other sport they wanted to try.  Sports build character.  Teaches life lessons.  I found out that all that is true, but I’m the one who may have learned the most.

Three Teachers

My oldest son didn’t love baseball. He liked it.  When he played t-ball, he figured out that if you threw the ball from the outfield, play would stop. So, he’d picked the ball up and toss it maybe 3 feet. Dead ball! It was one of many early signs that he was smarter than we were.  But, he liked playing and seemed to have fun in his distinctive low-key style.

I knew early on that my oldest son wasn’t going to be a ballplayer forever. Now, I suppose the dramatic story would be that I struggled with this and it tortured me. It didn’t, but he taught me.  He was supposed to love it, because I did.  But, he didn’t.  Now, I don’t think he played in order to please me.  It’s just something he did, like going to school.

He taught me that my kids can find their own way without me mapping out their every step.  He found his interests without much help from me. No, it wasn’t baseball, although he played until he was 15.  I enjoyed it, and I think he did, too.  But the things he loved were different.  He could draw.  He loved to read. He taught himself to play the piano (I certainly was no help with that).  He loves math. Again, I’m pretty useless with that, too.  He taught me what my Dad told me long ago about my kids:  “Find out what they like and learn to like it, too.”

In his last season of baseball, my oldest was used mostly as a pinchrunner.  I didn’t like that one bit.  I suspect he didn’t, either.  He showed up to every practice, every game and rarely complained.  He pinch ran, stole bases and scored runs.  For the first time, I admired one of my children.  He showed up and did his job.

My second–and middle son–was different. He loved baseball. He made me throw him grounders when he was 3 years old until my arm ached. He made up a game called “cool scenes,” which required me to give him increasingly difficult plays to make. He wanted to be catcher–the BEST catcher. So, we worked on it. He put on full catcher’s gear and I would bounce baseballs to him. Oh, yeah, he kept his hands behind his back and stopped them with his body. And he was 6 years old. He became a helluva catcher,  starting as an 8 year old catching 12 year old Little Leaguers. When he was 12, he was a one man wrecking crew.

If throwing baseballs at a six year old sounds extreme, it is. It’s also extreme to tell a 5 year old before his games: “Remember: You’re the best there is. Prove it. Kick their butts!” I did that, too. He ate it up and believed it. He also played like it.  I was from the Marv Marinovich School of Parenting.

With me, there was a problem with this approach.  It’s hard to reign it in. If you do that before the game and after the game, it’s hard not to demand it during the game. That’s problematic. I would yell. I would rage. I would want to strangle coaches, parents and opposing players. In short order, I started to become Monster Dad.

You’ve seen this guy. He yells. He paces. His face is red. He barks instructions or criticism between each pitch. His kid’s success is his success. Failure is an indictment of his parenting and, indeed, worth as human being.

I will say one thing for Monster Dad: This approach can be quite effective. Sadly, it’s downside is the creation of Monster Kid. At least–to some extent–that’s what I got. My son would fume, throw things and curse. Or he would exalt in his accomplishments far beyond their real worth. In other words, he acted just like I did.  Of course, I attributed none of this to me.  It was just his personality.

So, I had this kid who played ball the way I always wanted to. Hit the snot out of the ball; strong arm; fast; played all out. He also preened at home plate after home runs; threw helmets; and punched walls. Hmmm. How do I get him to stop this?  What will people think of me?

Well, in my case, I had to stop my behavior first. And I did. I shut my mouth. I stopped blowing up every good game into the greatest event I ever witnessed. I stopped critiquing his every move.   Turns out that some of it was his personality, but a big part of it was mine.  I had to change before he did.  I’m now the dad you rarely hear at the games and never hear yelling AT his kid.  If he has behavior issues (which is rare now), his coach will handle it on the field.  My job is after the game–in the car or at home.  I’m not perfect, either.  He could tell you that.  I still have my flare ups, too, but all in all I keep my mouth shut.

What have I gotten in return? A kid who matured into a young man. He’s still too demanding of himself but goes about his business on the field. Oh, occasionally, I’ll hear a helmet placed down none-too-gently or hear him muttering expletives on his way back to the dugout. That’s okay. Striking out is not the same as getting a hit.  I’ve matured along with him, and we both enjoy the experience. The only time he’ll ever get criticized by me is if I see behavior that has no place on the field. Then, he’ll hear about it from me, but it will be between us.  He still wants to be the best and works hard to be just that.  He’s more intense than I’ve ever dreamed of being.  I admire that.

My youngest found his own way. He is almost 7 years younger than my middle one. He watched his brothers play. He started swinging anything that looked like a bat from the time he could stand up. Left handed, too. Sweet swinging. He’d throw anything that resembled a ball.

My youngest never met Monster Dad. I just let him play. He’s good, too. Same physical attributes as his brother but little of the attitude. He’s egocentric, but all decent ballplayers are. When he steps on the field, he believes he’s the best player.  He has fun, smiles a lot and rarely hears his Dad’s voice during games.  He has his moments.  We’ve had tears and tantrums, but very rarely.  He plays hard and always has fun.  I admire that, too.

I used to attribute these differences among my kids to their personalities–which are very different, by the way. That was until I took a look at my own actions. Each child reflects–to at least some extent–my attitude toward him. I learned something from each of them. I can’t take credit for their athletic ability, though I’d like to do so. My influence came through how I dealt with each of them.  While I was dealing with them, they were teaching me.

Teaching Moments

I’ve seen towering home runs and lock down pitching. Slick fielding and laser-like throws. I remember my 10 year old coming in to pitch against the best team in his league and striking out the side on 10 pitches.  And an 8 year old catching a cut off in the outfield, spinning and nailing a runner at the plate. There have been many, many others. These are easy.

Now, for the hard parts. Strikeouts, game-killing errors, injuries, pitching meltdowns and countless others. Hey, you gotta be there for those, too.  How about your kid dropping the F Bomb on his way to the dugout? That’s happened.   Ejected from a game?  Been there.  Benched for throwing a fit?  Yep.  We’ve learned to say: “Hey, that sucks, but it’s over. Time to move on.” No one enjoys these moments, but they happen.  Suck it up.

It took me awhile to figure out something and apply it to my kids.  I don’t like being yelled at.  Ever.  For any reason.  If you yell, I don’t listen.  I just want to yell back.  It’s no surprise that my kids are pretty much the same way.  Honestly, aren’t most people?  I see the parents who yell and rage at their kids.  If you do that, take a look at your kid after you do it.  You won’t see a look of affection, I’ll guarantee that.

The highs are never as high as I think they are nor are the lows that bad.  I learned that watching my kids play baseball.  A clutch hit is great, but it doesn’t cure cancer.  A critical error is bad, but we still have everything we had before.  Relax.  Enjoy.  It’s just a game.  So is life.

What Have I Learned?

Left on their own, kids will play ball and have fun. Do you learn anything else? Do sports really build character? Maybe. Oh, there are kids from such bad backgrounds that any type of structure probably helps, but there aren’t a lot of those. The older they get, the more they see that working hard and being good at what you do pay dividends.  There are certainly benefits to that, but the sports world is not the exclusive proving ground for those lessons.

Everything isn’t a matter of life and death.  My kids aren’t the center of the universe.    I go to games to watch my kids.  Other parents show up to watch theirs.  If my kid has a bad game, I’m no better or worse parent than I was when the game started.  Simply put, we’re not all that important. I’ve never seen a really good athlete who wasn’t a bit of a narcissist. Would a star player really be okay with going hitless just because his team won? Nope. It’s just not reality. Youth sports feeds this. People slap your kid on the back and tell him he’s great. You do, too. That’s why some of those bad moments are okay. A little ego deflation never hurts

So, my kids have learned a few things, but the real student has been me.  Most of my life, I have been relentlessly critical of myself.  In my mind, a good day was fluke, and bad day would last forever.  No matter well I did something, it could always have been better.  The world, it seemed to me, was focused on what I was doing.  One slip up, and failure was sure to follow.

Turns out that I was wrong about all that.  If you strikeout, you get to bat again.  If you lose, you can play again.  Preaching to my kids to let things go and play the next game has had a positive impact on me, if not them.  I can’t tell someone something over and over without applying it to myself. Bad days, like bad games, don’t last forever.  There’s a next day, just like there’s a next at bat–even a next pitch.

In my case being a parent has built my character.  Taught me discipline.  Taught me patience, understanding, even empathy.  While I was trying to teach my kids these valuable life lessons, I was the one learning.  They were clean slates.  They didn’t have a lifetime of bad habits and ego-centric behavior to deal with.  I did.

So, here it is–what I’ve learned:

  1. Play to your strengths and don’t let anyone else tell you what those strengths are.
  2. Whatever your role, go hard.
  3. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best if you follow the first two rules.
  4. While you’re following the first three rules, have fun.

If I do these everyday, they’re all good days.  Thanks, boys.  Well, I’m done.  I have to pack for a trip to Georgia–baseball tournament this weekend.

© 2012

I Hate The Waltons

The whole contemptible Walton clan struggling through hard times with another meager meal.

I hate the Waltons.  Not the Walmart Waltons.   I like them.  Save money.  Shop smart.  Only at Walmart. That’s good stuff. I mean the TV Waltons–John, Olivia, John Boy, Jason, Mary Ellen, Jim Bob, Ben, Erin, Elizabeth, Grandpa and Grandma.  All of them.

In real life, I try not to hate people.  It’s just not good.  I have no such reservations with fictional characters.  Aunt Bee, Jenny from Forest Gump, Bruce Dern in The Cowboys, any Jim Carrey character–each of these is vile in its own way and intended to be so.  The Waltons, though, are different. They are supposed to be sympathetic, even likeable, yet I hate them.  Why?

The Depression

The Waltons lived in the Great Depression, except for them it was the Not So Bad Depression.  They had a house.  A sawmill.  A truck. They lived on Walton’s Mountain, which means they had their own freakin’ mountain, for God’s sake.  Ever see their meals? Roast pig, turkey, chicken, vegetables, pies, cakes–you name it.  My Dad grew up in the Great Depression in a house with seven kids.  Mush, that’s what they ate.  Oh, and maybe ham they cured themselves.  The Waltons lived like kings.  I hate that.

Here’s what a family with seven kids looked like during the Depression.

The Parents

John and Olivia were a lovey-dovey pair right up until Olivia got shipped off to a TB sanitarium in a contract dispute. So solemn, so wise, just like real parents, right?  Here’s how you’d be if you had seven kids with all the drama of that crowd:  John Boy would come in with one of his pressing social issues he was trying to resolve.  John would look at him and say:  “How the hell should I know?”  Or he’d say something like:  “Hey, egghead, how ’bout working at the damn sawmill for a while?”

The Kids

Okay, I know there were seven of them, but there really were only three and a half for all practical purposes.  John Boy, Mary Ellen and Jason. These were the Big Three before anyone ever heard of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.   The other four just drifted in and out occasionally.  I’m not even sure Erin was really on the show.  She disappeared for long stretches.  I never could keep Jim Bob and Ben straight.  I had to remind myself that Jim Bob delivered his lines like he’d suffered a debilitating head injury.

One would think that the casting folks could have at least tried to find kids who resembled each other to play siblings.  In a modern setting, that bunch would have subject to DNA testing the first time anyone saw them together.

John Boy is my biggest problem.  He’s like one of those people you should like, but you just can’t.  You know the type.  The neighbor who is very friendly, always speaks and will help you with anything.  You want to kick a nail into his ear.  John Boy is like that.  Almost every episode has “Here he goes, again” moment with John Boy.  He’s helping someone or misunderstood or stuck in the middle of some issue.  Lighten up, John Boy.

Earl Hamner wrote The Waltons, and I assume John Boy–being a writer–is modeled after him.  That probably explains why he dominates the Walton landscape.  Here’s a question:   Was Hamner called Earl Boy?  If not, why the hell is John called John Boy?  NO ONE HAS EVER BEEN CALLED THAT!  If you grew up in the ’70’s and shared this name, you were at some point called “John Boy.”  Even today, you will be called that.  I know from whence I speak on this one.  That is reason enough to hate John Boy.

I have to mention Fake John Boy.  At some point in the series, Richard Thomas (John Boy) decided to leave to pursue other acting opportunities in the most ill-conceived career move since Pernell Roberts abandoned the Ponderosa to embark on his storied movie career.  Fake John Boy was worse than the real one.  He wasn’t John Boy.  Oh, he was nauseatingly earnest like the real one, but you couldn’t help but yell “FAKE!” when he was on the screen.  Okay, maybe I’m the only one who did that.


Look, I know generations of families used to live to together.  I guess that was realistic enough.  Man, these two had their noses in everything.  I hated them.

Wil Geer played Grandpa.  He was a hippie and friend of Woody Guthrie, which means I should have liked him, but no, I didn’t.  I think it’s because the writers couldn’t figure him out.  Was he comic relief?  Was he a wise old sage?  Was he just a pain in the ass like some old people?  You never knew for sure.  To some extent, he suffered from a 1970’s phenomenon known as “The Hip Oldster.”  In the ’70’s, TV writers, being largely devoid of original ideas, wrote every older character the same.  They would be hip, oversexed, “cool” people.  They rode motorcycles and said naughty things.  Sometimes, that’s what they did with Grandpa.  Sometimes, he was the voice of reason.  Mostly, he just annoyed me.

Ellen Corby was a little more tolerable as Grandma.  She actually acted liked an old lady.  Surly, hard to deal with, opinionated and not particularly pleasant.  Now that I think about it, I kinda of like her.

The Godseys

Ike Godsey owned the General Store.  Other than a few passing references to “hard times,”  Ike seems to have thrived through the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II.  His store was FULL of stuff.  He was probably the richest man in Virginia by the end of the war.

Cora Beth wouldn’t have been so fired up about “Mr. Godsey” if he’d owned this Depression era store.

He married Cora Beth, an impossibly haughty friend or distant relative of Olivia’s who showed up to sponge off the Waltons’ inexplicable largesse.  Ike decided to marry her.  Even John recognized what a pain in the ass Cora Beth was and tried to talk Ike out of marrying her.  Like a lot of folks, he didn’t listen and married her anyway.  She continued to preen around for years.  Oh, and she always called Ike “Mr. Godsey.”  I hated that.

How about have Erin turn up pregnant and marry Ike in a shotgun wedding?  That would have been a ratings bonanza!  Plus, Erin would have actually played role in the show.  No, we got Cora Beth.  I hated her.

The Pathos

At the heart of The Waltons was some pitiable, sad story with a comparatively uplifting ending, usually because of the superior intelligence or morality of the Waltons themselves.   No family is THAT good, except maybe the Cartwrights.  I cared nothing for it and always wanted the Waltons to get put in their place.  It never happened.  I hated that.

The Ending

Good night, John Boy.  Good night, Mary Ellen.  Good night, Jim Bob.  Blah, blah, blah.  That’s how the show always ended.  Hey, were they all in the same freakin’ room?  That’s weird, especially since they were able to say good night to their grandparents without raising their voices.  I shared a room with two brothers when I was little.  It’s not fun.  Just once–once, mind you–I wanted someone to say:  “Hey, shut the hell up!  I’m trying to sleep!”  No one ever did.  I hated that.

Here’s the kind of house the Waltons would have lived in. I’m guessing they wouldn’t have been quite so chipper at bedtime in this place.

At this point, you’re asking:  “If you hate the Waltons, why do you know so much about them?”  First, that’s really none of your business.  Second, I watched a lot of TV as a kid.  A lot.  I didn’t care what I watched.  I watched the Waltons to just hate them.  Sometimes, my Dad would watch with me and ridicule them.  I liked that.

Occasionally, I’ll see the Waltons on TV and tune in for a few minutes.  It doesn’t take long for me to be disgusted.  I always hope I’ll catch the episode when their house burned.  At least I think that happened.  Maybe that was just my own fantasy.

Good night, John Boy.

© 2012

My Life as a Hippie

This title, of course, is deceiving. I’ve never been a hippie. I was born in 1962, far too late in the century to have become a hippie. I was, however, fascinated by hippies. They seemed cool. They seemed–appropriately enough–hip.

Growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky, there were no hippies or at least there was no real hippie movement. Oh, there were some hippies over in Letcher County–they founded Appalshop. In fact, they’re still there. There was a time when a “busload” of hippies was rumored to be coming to Harlan County to check out our horrible living conditions. Turns out that they were just run of the mill Communists, not really hippies at all.

My older brother knew a guy who was going to become a hippie. Charles was his name. Charles had been in and out of “Reform School,” that shadowy institution that none of us really knew much about it. Charles, however, had actually been there. Charles was quite fond of my brother for some reason. You must understand that my brother was a straight A student and all round good kid. Never got in trouble. For some reason, though, he occasionally attracted “friends” who were sketchy to say the least. Charles would occasionally follow my brother home from school. He’d hang out at the house for a while until my mother fed him. Sometimes, she would even give him a couple of dollars.

Charles once followed us home from school on a rare day when my brother had a bad day at school. He had a dust-up with a teacher over some silly infraction. When we got home, my brother laid out the story to Mom. Mom had no tolerance for injustice doled out to her children and made it clear that she would deal with the situation. Charles sat at our kitchen table and took it all in. When Mom was done, he said: “Don’t you worry, Mrs. Williams. I know a feller in reform school who’s gonna kill that teacher soon as he gets out.” That’s the kind of guy Charles was. Mom just said: “Thank you, Charles.” Secretly, I hoped that guy would get out soon.

One day in the summer, I was walking home from Russell’s Grocery, when–much to my surprise–Charles stepped out from behind a tree. He was probably 15 at the time. His hair was shaved down to a close crew cut. He wore mirror sunglasses, a buck skin vest (no shirt) and love beads. “Do you know me?” “Yes, Charles, I know you.” He explained that he had been released from Reform School. Of course, he followed me home.

Mom talked to Charles about his adventures in Reform School, and he announced that he was going to move to “The City” and become a hippie. I noted that his hair was far too short, but he explained that the Draconian rules of Reform School required that look. I think that’s the last time he was at our house. I don’t think he ever became a hippie, but his ambition gave me a new-found respect for him.

Back to the real hippies. During the Summer, we would sometimes travel to Utah to visit my grandparents or to Colorado Springs to visit the Air Force Academy for whom my Dad was a recruiter. On those trips, I saw the real hippies. I saw one in a Stuckey’s somewhere in the West once. I just stared at him. I saw one get arrested on the street in Salt Lake City, too. Very cool.

Once, when we were in Salt Lake, President Nixon came to speak at Temple Square. My Papaw was a security guard at Temple Square and stood on the stage with Nixon. This was probably 1969. The hippies were out in force. War protesters carrying signs–the whole nine yards. My Dad put me on his shoulders so I could see Papaw, but really I was checking out the hippies.

Somewhere in this sea of humanity are my Papaw and Richard Nixon…and a bunch of hippies.

The only person I ever saw in Harlan County that I thought was a hippie was the son-in-law of the people who lived across the street from us. He had long hair and a beard and wore hippie clothes. My little brother and I would peek out the front window of the house just to get a look at him. I knew he was a hippie, because my Dad said so.

At this point, I should confess that I didn’t really want to be a hippie. First, hippies were draft-dodgers and war protesters, which was really frowned upon in our home. Second, let’s face facts here–hippies were dirty, and I’ve never enjoyed being dirty. Third, they were dope fiends, and I was never into the drug scene. Nevertheless, they fascinated me.

I did have some love beads. My Mom bought them from some Indian kids when we drove through an Arizona reservation one time. I wore them proudly, although I’m sure they clashed with my otherwise cherubic appearance.

I wouldn’t have been a good hippie. Oh, sure, I would have loved the lack of responsibility and free love aspect. I hated school with a passion, so “dropping out” would have been right in my wheel house. Communal living, on the other hand, has never been my “bag”–as a hippie might say. I don’t like sharing my sleeping quarters with family, much less strangers. The being filthy would have been a drag (another hippie word!). Plus, I’m a bit of a germaphobe, and most hippies looked slap eat up with germs.

Typical hippie filthiness. There’s not enough hand sanitizer on Earth to get me in the middle of all that.

Hippies were also liberals. I’m talking real liberals, not the kind people talk about today. For example, a hippie wouldn’t take a political donation from a corporation. Of course, this assumes that a hippie would run for office which he or she certainly would not. They believed in real collective living–everyone living together and lying around in a big pile. I guess the word “Communism” comes from “commune,” and hippies loved communes. Like true Socialists, hippies would have seized the means of production if working weren’t so antithetical to the hippie credo. Now, I never was all that liberal and certainly didn’t live in a liberal culture. As I’ve noted, free love would have been cool or even groovy, but eventually the hippies and I would have clashed over something like the capital gains tax.

When they drove, hippies drove vans. I don’t even like mini-vans. Regular vans are certainly out of the question. Nowadays, full size vans are the typical mode of conveyance of serial killers. I prefer BMWs–definitely not a hippie ride.

Typical hippie van. I prefer my metallic gray BMW 328. I won’t even put a bumper sticker on my car.

I would have been good at sounding like a hippie. I’ve had an annoying habit of using the word “man” most of my life, as in “What’s up, man?” “Man” was very much a hippie word. So was “dude,” although it’s made quite the comeback in recent years. I always wanted to use the word “groovy,” too. Maybe I could bill myself as “The Groovy Lawyer.” “Cool,” of course, was a staple of the hippie lexicon, borrowed from the Beatniks. I still use “cool” in everyday conversation.

I also liked hippie music. The Beatles were liked by hippies, and I like the Beatles. Same goes for Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Led Zeppelin and countless others. Hell, I heard a recording of Charles Manson singing once, and he wasn’t half bad for a psychotic, murdering hippie. Say what you will about hippies, they dug some cool music.

So, I didn’t become a hippie, and I really had no chance to do so. That’s probably good, because you eventually become an old hippie. Worse, you become a former hippie and end up kowtowing to The Man like the rest of us, unless you become The Man.

Example of the tragic outcome of the old hippie. Nothing groovy about this.

In Maui a few years ago, I met a guy who said he moved there in 1969 to live in a commune. He never left. He didn’t look much like a hippie. So, I asked him what he did now, forty years later. He said he worked in construction, but added: “I’ll always be a hippie, man.” What could I say? “That’s cool, man.” It was a groovy exchange.

Still yet, I have admiration for the hippies. I know many folks–now conservative pillars of society–who proudly declare that they are former hippies. I also know people who still claim to be hippies, although that’s doubtful. Being a hippie now is like claiming to be an anarchist. Maybe you are, but the glory days passed long ago.

So, if you’re an old hippie, I salute you. Now, get a haircut and take a bath.

© 2012

Festival of the Poke

Poke in its natural state.

It’s that time of year in Harlan County, Kentucky. Time for the Poke Sallet Festival. It’s been many years since I attended the Festival, but I have many memories of it.

“What is poke?” you ask. It’s a weed. It grows out in the woods. It doesn’t look like anything you’d eat. It also doesn’t taste like anything you’d eat. Legend has it that folks would go into the woods, pick it and put it in bags. Bags of course were–and still are–called “pokes.” You cook it down–often boiled–and slop it onto a plate. A green onion and cornbread usually completes the presentation.

The foul weed prepared for eating.

I’ll admit that I’ve only eaten poke a couple of times. It’s foul. It smells bad when it cooks and on your plate. I think it is served with an onion to give the diner something to kill the taste. It’s kinda like kale, only more pungent and weedier tasting. Like all greens, it also has a violent laxative effect when eaten in large quantities.

I don’t know what in the world “sallet” is, except a mispronounced word.  Sallet isn’t any easier to say than “salad,” but I guess that doesn’t matter, does it?  Besides, poke isn’t eaten in a salad, as far as I know.  It’s just cooked down into a slimy, nauseating mess.

Why am I writing about poke? Because I enjoyed the Festival when I was a kid. For several years, my father was the chairman of the Poke Sallet Festival. I was a little kid, and that impressed me. Dad seemed like a big deal. I liked that.

I don’t know why Harlan County chooses to honor poke. Seems like every Kentucky county has a festival for something. I guess Harlan wanted something, too. Coal was probably too obvious a choice.  We don’t have much else.

There are a lot of things from childhood that I don’t remember well. But I remember the Poke Sallet Festival.  What do I remember?

Gladys Hoskins: She was the long time boss of the Harlan Chamber of Commerce and lived across the street from us. I don’t know if she was Chairperson or President or what, but she was the boss. She and Dad worked every year to bring it all together. I can still see Mrs. Hoskins smoking a cigarette and–always–dressed to the nines.

Stone Mountain Park: It might have been Stone Creek, but it’s where the Festival was held when I was a kid. It was somewhere up around Smith. It was a couple of shelters but pretty nice–or I thought so. Eventually, things moved to downtown Harlan which makes more sense. Plus, there’s slightly less chance of getting killed in town.

The Red, White and Blue Band: There was always music at the festival. One year, The RWBB played. Never heard of them? They were, as Dad said, “a bunch of hippies.” It was the late 1960’s/1970’s early and that’s what they were, I guess. Actually, they were from Clover Fork in Harlan County. The lead singer was Merle English, one of my Mom’s students at Evarts High School.  Someone told me they played Acid Rock. An old man said they looked like “dope fiends.”  I loved them. I’m pretty sure no one else did. As you might imagine, the bands were usually country or bluegrass.  Years later, English became Max English and a successful lounge singer.  True story.

Jimmy Skidmore: Jimmy liked to dance. He danced to whatever the band played. He could dance the hell out of any song. No partner required. He was a nice guy and had a helluva good time. I’m sure today’s more politically correct world would frown on this. That’s a shame. He had fun and everyone enjoyed it.

Alfred: I don’t his last name, but he could sing. He also didn’t have front teeth, leaving him with prominent fang-like canines. But, like I said, he could sing. He would usually sing Six Days on the Road or Okie From Muskogee.He would belt them out. Good stuff.

The Governor: Governors Louie Nunn and Wendell Ford would come to the festival. Ford was great. He would eat poke, shake hands and pose for pictures with everybody. Nunn was good, too. One time they presented Nunn with a portrait painted by a local artist. It was pretty good, but for some reason Louie’s face was painted with a scowl. When it was unveiled, his reaction was roughly the same look. Even as a small child, I knew it was funny. Dad laughed himself silly.

Steve Lyon: He was Mrs. Hoskins’s son-in-law. He was a hippie–or at least I thought he was. He had LONG hair and a beard. In case you haven’t noticed, I was a bit fascinated by hippies. By “a bit,” I mean a lot. We didn’t have hippies in Harlan, but I’d seen them when we went on vacation. Steve was definitely a hippie. Anyway, he was also a musician. A pretty good one, too. He played at the Festival one year. He played the electric organ and sang a song about throwing his mother down the stairs. Even my Dad was impressed. Much like the Red, White and Blue Band, he wasn’t the audience’s idea of entertainment, but he was good.

Virgil Q. Wacks:  Virgil Q came to the Festival to film highlights for his weekly show Virgil Q. Wacks Variety Time. His show was part advertising, part travelogue.  He filmed around Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.  He used an old-fashioned, windup camera with no sound.  He would narrate the film on his show.  His trademark was the extreme close up where he would zoom in on his subject until the picture blurred out. He would also refer to most people as “smiling” and “genial,” regardless of how unfriendly or even dangerous looking his subject was. Virgil Q always excited the crowd, because you knew you might be on television.  It’s hard to describe Virgil Q’s show, but we loved it. Any time I hear the old song Happy Days Are Here Again, I think of Virgil Q.  By the way, I don’t hear that song all that often.

The Melting Pot:  The Festival was a true Harlan County melting pot.  People from all over the county came to it:  Loyall, Harlan, Wallins, Evarts, Cumberland, Benham, Lynch, Chevrolet, Cawood, Cranks, Smith, Punkin Center, Ages, Verda, Lejunior, Lenarue, Catrons Creek, Pathfork, River Ridge, Holmes Mill, Baxter, Keith–every town, community, camp and holler was represented.  Harlan County is sparsely populated but 50 miles wide.  You can live your whole life in the county and never see some parts of it.  The Festival was where everyone gathered.

It’s been over 20 years since I’ve been to the Festival.  By then, it was already firmly established in downtown Harlan. The poke dinners were served at Jay’s Restaurant.  I took a friend of mine with me.  He was running for some office and wanted to go to Harlan to meet people.  This was during the last gasps of the United Mine Workers Union in Harlan, and the UMW was out in force.  A lot of union folks were dressed in camouflage and fatigues like some militia.  My most notable encounter was with local character and raconteur, Rubber Duck.  I introduced him to my friend, whereupon The Duck said:  “Buddy, can you believe  I got run over by truck?”  My friend looked at The Duck’s scarred up face and said:  “Well, yeah…I can believe it.”  The Duck responded:  “It takes more than a truck to kill The Duck!”  That’s about all I remember, but, man oh man, did that make me laugh.

Back to the poke.  I don’t recommend it.  I think it’s something people ate back when there wasn’t much food.  You’d find something growing and eat it.  If it didn’t kill you, it was food.  My Dad said he used to eat mush, which he described as “not fit to eat, but that’s all we had.”  Poke is like that.  Now, I know people who eat poke and claim to like it.  Maybe they do.  I’ve known people who ate souse and other vile foods and claimed to like them, too.

I’m sure poke has all sorts of nutritional value–antioxidants and whatnot.  I’ve heard people say that it can cure various ailments.  That may well be true.  If you say it is, I really have neither the knowledge nor the energy to argue with you about it.  I still don’t like it.  Nevertheless, it makes for a helluva festival.  Corbin, Kentucky has a Nibroc Festival, which is just “Corbin” spelled backwards.  I guess Harlan could have the Nalrah Festival, but that sounds like some Middle Eastern deal.  Poke it is and should forever remain.

Based on the photos I see of the modern Poke Sallet Festival, it doesn’t resemble the one of my youth.  There are bands with real stages and sound equipment.  Sometimes, all we had was a guy with a banjo.  Honestly, it’s probably much more entertaining now.  Plus, you don’t have to drive all the way out to Smith.  It looks like there are multiple venues for entertainment, too.  Of course, there’s still the poke, but I bet you can get lots of other stuff to eat now, too.  Progress is a good thing.

There a lot of things I don’t remember about my childhood–birthdays, school events, holidays.  I remember a lot about the Poke Sallet Festival, so it must have been pretty good–all except the poke part, I guess.

© 2012