Of Dogs and Men

I’ve been thinking about dogs lately.  This is odd, since I don’t own a dog and have no plans to do so.  As any devotee of social media knows, you can’t escape the world of dogs.  Facebook, in particular, is a dog cult.  Regardless of how diverse one’s friends may be, you will see posts every day about dogs.  They transcend religious and political differences, age, race and sex.  From the most staunch right-winger to the wildest-eyed liberal, dogs are beloved.

None of God’s creatures enjoys such good PR as dogs.  Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Old Yeller–beloved.  Even when dogs are bad, it’s not their fault.  Cujo was a good dog until that damn rabid bat bit him.  Even Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell was demon-possessed.  I’m sure he was a good boy, yes he was.

People don’t hesitate to say they hate cats.  In fact, if people love dogs, they usually hate cats.  Snakes are universally hated.  No one will admit to hating dogs.  Even Michael Vick–the most notorious dog abuser on Earth–says he likes dogs.  Go figure.

People will post pictures of their dogs on Facebook.  They will post pictures of other people’s dogs.  They will post funny photos, sad photos, sentimental photos.  The captions will range from the humorous to heart-rending.  There are posts about soldiers loving dogs, dogs loving soldiers, rescue dogs, abused dogs, dogs who dress like people–you name it, you’ll see it.  If alien life forms are monitoring our computer usage, they are likely to be surprised when they arrive here to find that the dogs are not in charge.

Anyone with a negative comment about this photo would immediately be placed on the Terrorist Watch List

You have to be careful, though. This humorous photo may draw the ire of both dog lovers and smoking haters.

I’m not a dog owner, but I like dogs, generally speaking.  Dogs are loyal to their owners and seem to be good companions.  They can’t talk (seriously, they can’t.  If you think they can, you may have a problem), which is good.  A mute companion is ideal.  I like the way they understand commands and respond to their names.  I like to see them do tricks, too.

My Granny had a chihuahua named Mousie.  He lived to be 19.  I really liked him.  When I was a kid my next door neighbor had a German Shepherd named Shirley.  We taught her to fetch our baseballs when they went over the fence.  I had a friend with a mutt named Sparky.  Sparky was good dog.  So, I’m not unfamiliar with dogs.

Much like my relations with humans, there are some dogs I don’t like.  I don’t like barking dogs.  I don’t like vicious dogs. I don’t like dogs that bite.  Out of fairness, I should note that I’ve been bitten by more humans than I have dogs, and I don’t like that, either.  Like their human counterparts, drooling dogs are kind of annoying.  I don’t particularly care for being licked by dogs.  Okay, now, I know what you’re thinking:  A dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s, by God!  I don’t where that comes from, and it may well be true.  But, I’ve seen dogs eat feces–and not just their own, either.  Plus, except under very limited circumstances, I’ve never enjoyed having a human lick my face, either.  If this ever becomes the accepted form of greeting, I’m not leaving the house.

Here’s a quick story about a dog–two in fact–that I didn’t like.  I once lived behind a house where there were two dogs.  A young couple owned them and clearly knew nothing about caring for them.  The couple would go out of town and leave the dogs in the back yard.  The dogs would bark…and bark…and bark, non-stop.  At first, it made me a bit sad, but that soon passed over into anger.  When the couple was home, the dogs ran in and out of their walk-out basement.  They (the dogs, that is) spent most of their time digging holes.  They dug around the utility transformer until they chewing through my TV cable–twice.

After the second destruction of my television reception (if you know anything about me, you know that is intolerable), I looked at the hole by the transformer.  They had dug down 2 to 3 feet, chewed through the cable and were working on the electrical cable.  I decided to pay Dog Boy and Dog Girl a visit to explain about the barking and the hole.  They steadfastly refused to do anything about their dogs telling me that the dogs were their “children.”  I kindly pointed out that if the dogs gnawed through the insulated cable, 12,000 volts would silence them.  Then, Dog Girl fairly screeched at me:  “We can’t make them stop barking!  That would be mean!  If you think you’re so smart, you get them to stop!”  In true Harlan County fashion, I kindly responded:  “Think about that.  Do you REALLY want me to shut up those damn dogs?  I will.”  We had no more problems after that.

I offer that tale only so you know that I’ve had my differences with dogs.  Rest assured, however, that I’ve never hurt a dog.  Okay, I did hit a dog with my car once.  I was driving through a neighborhood and this little lap dog ran in front of my car.  People came screaming, calling me names and saying I was driving too fast.  I probably was but–you know–the dog ran in front of my car.  Anyway, it was an accident.

A sad, tough truth that every dog owner should know is that not everyone loves your dog.  Dog owners reading this are now choking back bile, ready to attack–just like a dog.  Slow down, there.  If you have kids, think about this:  You probably love your kids.  You might even like them.  Not everyone feels the same way about them, though.  Some people don’t like your kids and almost no one else loves them.  That’s just how it is.

Why wouldn’t someone like a dog?  Well, I don’t know all the reasons.  Maybe they don’t like animals.  That doesn’t necessarily make one a serial killer, although it doesn’t eliminate one from suspicion either.  What if they don’t like “dog smell?”  Dogs do have a smell, you know.  It’s okay with some folks, but not with others.  Before you scream:  MY DOG DOESN’T SMELL!!” consider that I didn’t say they smell bad.  My Granny’s house smelled like snuff and mothballs.  I’m sure she didn’t notice, but I did.Some people are scared of dogs.  That’s true.  They are.  I’m not saying that’s right or can’t be overcome, but it’s a fact.  So, if someone doesn’t like your dog, they may have legitimate reasons, just like if they don’t like your kids.

Most dog lovers consider dogs to be vastly superior to humans.   Maybe they are.   They love the dogs, and the dogs love them.  The dogs won’t stopping loving them, either.  They won’t get bored with the relationship or go find new, younger masters.  Of course, one could point out that these are just the traits of any pack animal, but that would be unkind plus it would fall on deaf ears anyway.

Although they may be superior creatures, dogs are not people.  They’re dogs, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

If your dog looks like this, consider getting professional help or maybe a human companion of some type.

Even though dogs are dogs, they share certain characteristics with humans.  There are good humans and bad humans, just like good dogs and bad dogs.  Both are products of their environment or maybe their breeding.  Some humans are vicious and attack without provocation.  Some dogs do, too.  If dogs had opposable thumbs (or thumbs, at all), they’d use guns and knives, I’m sure.  The big difference is that we don’t blame dogs for their actions like we do humans.  A bad dog is caused by bad humans.  Bad humans are just bad.

I have a rule I try to follow at all times:  Don’t surround myself with creatures willingly and able to kill me.  That applies to both humans and dogs.  I’m told that Rottweilers, for instance, make great pets.  I’ve known folks that had them as pets. A Rottweiler could easily kill me, and there’s nothing I could do to stop it.  Not a good pet for me.  All he’d have to do is want to kill me, and I’m a goner.  A Maltese, on the other hand, couldn’t take me out regardless of its bad intentions.  I’d beat his ass.

Same thing with humans.  Some people are dangerous.  I don’t like being around them.  They could easily kill me on a whim.  I do my best to stay in the company of only those people unwillingly or unable to do me harm.  Admittedly, it’s much tougher to tell with humans.

I briefly touched on the topic of dog smell above.  Of course, humans smell, too.  Some good, some bad.  If a human is really funky, you don’t want that person around.  Maybe his or her family is okay with it, but you’re not.  Same with the dogs.  I don’t like touching smelly people, and I certainly don’t want them touching me.  Same with dogs.  I’ll pet just about any dog, but if you ever see me pet one, notice something.  I’ll quickly sneak a whiff of my hand.  Of course, I do the same thing after shaking hands with a human.

Dogs and human babies bring out the best in people.  The roughest, toughest people will often melt at the sight of a dog or baby.  People will smile at them, talk to them, touch them.  They’ll baby-talk to them.   Dogs and babies are the keys to peace on Earth.  When I was kid, the principal of my elementary school, Nick Brewer, was the most fearsome person I knew.  He terrified our entire school.  Once, I went to his house.  When he walked in the door, a gigantic Saint Bernard came running to him and jumped up on Mr. Brewer, licking and drooling all over him.  Mr. Brewer hugged him and said:  “Daddy is home! Yes, he is!  Daddy wuvs his baby boy, yes he does!”  Mr. Brewer never scared me after that.

Of course, dogs aren’t perfect.  Let’s say you live alone–except for your dog.  You’re happy together.  Like most dog owners, you fully expect to outlive your dog, but you don’t think about that.  One night, while sleeping, you die quite expectedly.  Being a bit of a recluse, no one checks up on you.  Your dog wonders why you won’t get out of bed and take him for a walk.  After awhile, he says “Oh, what the Hell!” and does his business inside.  He’s still got some food and water.  Eventually, the water runs out, but he remembers the toilet and partakes.  Pretty good.

After a couple of days, he’s out of food and pretty hungry.  He’s given up on you getting out of bed but decides to lick your hand a couple of more times to see if you’ll rouse.  Nope.  Hey….that hand is pretty tasty.  Yep, he eats you.  This won’t bother a true dog lover, of course.  He or she would relish being eaten by their dog, so that they and the dog could become one.

Now, let’s say the same thing happens, except your companion is a human.  After a few seconds to figure out that you’re dead, he or she calls 911 (there’s that thumb thing again).  Of course, there are the rare occasions when your human companion may eat your corpse, too, but we’ll leave that for another blog post.

In some cultures, humans turn the tables and actually eat dogs.  This is unthinkable in our society, but it happens.  Let’s be glad that we have plenty of other sources of protein.  Honestly, I would expect us to resort to cannibalism before we even get to dogs.

Finally, you dog lovers, be patient with those who aren’t or are just dog likers.  If we don’t want your dog jumping on us and licking all over us, imagine if one of my teenage sons treated you like that.  Oh, you might like it at first, but it would quickly grow old.  If we don’t comment on all your dog photos and posts, it doesn’t mean we don’t like them.  Now, go to bed and cuddle up with your dog.

One more thing, I guess dogs had it bad at one time, what with sayings like “talked to like a dog”, “treated like a dog”, etc.  No more.  We should all aspire to a dog’s life.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Raising Cane’s Courts Controversy

In a stunning development, this reporter has learned that Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has become embroiled (or emfried) in its own marriage controversy.  Raising Cane’s reclusive President, Kane (possibly pictured below), has been investing in several well-known anti-straight marriage organizations for a number of years now.  These groups include Ashley Madison.com, the NFL Network, Playboy Magazine and Ted Haggard Ministries.  When reached for comment, Kane stated:  “Guilty as charged!  Heterosexuals present the greatest threat on Earth to the sanctity of marriage.  I’m proud to say that I stand by my principles in opposing these hellish unions.”

Kane notes that “One day you wake up and your spouse looks like me. Who in their right mind wouldn’t oppose that?”

This foray into such controversy might be a PR mine field, but Kane disagrees:  “Half of all married people get divorced anyway.  I’m certain that the other half want to.  That makes everyone on the planet welcome at our restaurants.”  When asked if his open prejudice applied to same-sex marriage, Kane responded:  “Not yet, but give it some time.  They haven’t had enough time to make a mockery of their wedding vows.  I’m confident that they will.”

When reached for comment, Herman Cain said: “I don’t have anything to do with that place, but they might be on to something!”

Raising Cane’s actually derives its name from the original Cane whose parents were, according to many, the first married couple.  Kane notes that he–and everyone else–is a direct descendant of the murderous offspring of Adam and Eve.  “Look at the facts.  The first married couple and–BOOM!–they produce a homicidal maniac. Let’s face it.  It’s gone downhill from there.  Paul said it was better to marry than to burn.  All I can say is that that sounds like something you’d say if you’d never been married.”

There are over two million marriages a year in the United States.  Raising Cane’s would seem to be courting trouble, but Kane is steadfast.  “We’re inviting God’s judgment on us with every one of those marriages.  Better or worse; richer or poorer; sick and in health–give me a break!  There’s only one thing for certain:  People like fried chicken.  That’s it.”

Dr. Timothy Vanderboosen of a well-known think-tank believes that such prejudice is more widespread than the public realizes.  “Okay. Half of the married people get divorced, right?  Then, they get married again.  I’d call that crazy. My own wife is a complete pain in the ass.  She gained about 50 pounds within 5 years of our wedding and just lies around the house all day watching Oprah.  Oh, and she has a goddamn mustache, too.  I mean, she’d have to do that on purpose, don’t you think? You’d think I could get a decent meal every now and then, but noooo…I’m sorry, what was your question?”

Famed Muppets Ernie and his long-time companion Bert are encouraged by Cane’s stance.  “We may not be welcome at Chik Fil A, but we can still gorge ourselves at Raising Cane’s.  Bert and I don’t give a shit if they’re heterophobic.”  For his part, Kane said:  “Hey, those two little fruit baskets are always welcome at our restaurant.”

Several anti-straight marriage groups have already rallied to support Cane’s.  Rumors are rampant that the thrice-married Newt Gingrich and four-times-married Rush Limbaugh are organizing a “Support Raising Cane’s Day” encouraging everyone who hates marriage to patronize the restaurant.  As part of a promotion, Cane’s is considering giving a house to a lucky male customer for him to give to a woman who hates him.

(Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  Any resemblance between the characters and story and any person living or dead is purely coincidental, except for Kane and Herman Cain, because I used their real pictures. This doesn’t mean that Kane  or Cain said any of things attributed them, which they didn’t as far as I know.  Kane, in particular, should take no offense.  I saw him in a movie called See No Evil where he tore out people’s eyes, which I don’t want to happen to me.  Kane is not really the President of Raising Cane’s nor does Raising Cane’s engage in any such outlandish behavior.  That doesn’t keep me from wishing it were all true.)

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The American Sport

The shootings in Aurora, Colorado have predictably sparked debate about gun control. That debate is easily rekindled. Sadly, we have many such opportunities in America.

I’m not part of that debate and neither is this post. I have nothing to add to the countless talking heads and political opportunists who stand on such tragedies as a platform to hear themselves speak. Although I am an attorney, I also won’t belabor the many court decisions interpreting the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution which guarantees the right to bear arms. We have that right, subject to limits.

I will offer this disclaimer: I have no problem with gun ownership. I own guns. I grew up around guns. When my father died, he left a veritable arsenal of weapons. The Second Amendment exists, and I wouldn’t support repealing it nor would I support leaving it to the states to decide. If this makes me a Second Amendment advocate, so be it. I don’t hunt, carry a gun or belong to the NRA. You be the judge.

I’m not foolish enough to say that what happened in Colorado had nothing to do with guns. Of course it did. I also recognize legitimate questions about how a person purchases body armor and thousands of rounds of ammunition without detection. That said, I leave it to others to decide what the legal reaction, if any, should be.

For me, the broader question, the American question, is Why? Why do we Americans kill each other for sport? We do, you know. We always have. It happens in other countries, but it is as American a sport as football. We’ve had our share of political murder, assassination and domestic terrorism. But, hunting each other remains an American past time.

We’re hardly the most violent or dangerous country on the planet. Many countries are little more than disorganized war zones. Organized crime permeates some societies. Our distinction is in the random or so-called “senseless” murder.

In our age of information overload, we tend to think that these things are a modern phenomenon. Nancy Grace will jump on one of these stories every day. My favorite cable channel is Investigation Discovery, an entire TV network built around people killing each other. Think about that.

We have school shootings. SCHOOL shootings. That should be unthinkable, but it isn’t. Here’s a story you probably haven’t heard. Andrew Kehoe was the Treasurer of the Bath Township Consolidated School board in Michigan. Like a lot of folks, he was against tax increases. The board approved an increase in property taxes to fund the schools. Kehoe owned a farm and was very much against this increase. He was legitimately concerned with his ability to pay the tax increase and keep his farm. He made his objections known but to no avail. Here’s what he did next.

He bludgeoned his wife to death and set off explosives in all his farm’s buildings, destroying his farm and all his livestock. The previous day, he planted explosives in the Bath Consolidated School. They detonated almost simultaneously with those at the farm. Over 30 died, most small children, while Kehoe watched from his car. The school Superintendent was at the school and approached Kehoe’s car. This time, a bomb exploded in the car, killing Kehoe, the Superintendent and an 8-year-old girl. In all, 38 people died. If Mr. Kehoe had committed his crimes today, he would be the subject of 24 hour a day coverage.

Why don’t you know about this? Because it happened in 1927. Our history of violence is as long as it is disturbing. Ted Bundy was the first murderer that I can recall being called a “serial” killer, but he was far from the first. Google the name Carl Panzram, and you will read of one of the worst of God’s creatures, an unrepentant misanthrope whose last words were: “Hurry up, you Hoosier sonofabitch! I could have hung ten men in the time it’s taking you!” He was hanged in 1930. There was Albert Fish, child killer and cannibal, a predator so vile that prosecutors weren’t sure how to even present his crimes to a jury. He was electrocuted in 1936. What of Ed Gein, a mild-mannered farmer from Plainfield, Wisconsin? When he wasn’t farming, he was a murderer, graverobber and necrophile and the inspiration for Norman Bates and many other fictional killers. He committed his crimes in the 1950’s and died as a model prisoner in 1984.

Read Erik Larson’s excellent book The Devil and the White City for an account of the crimes of H.H. Holmes during the Chicago World’s Fair in the 19th Century. The 1920’s saw The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders near Los Angeles. So common were child disappearances that as many as 20 children may have been killed before authorities acted.

Howard Unruh was a decorated World War II veteran. He was also a dangerous psychotic who woke up one morning in 1949, shot his mother and then roamed the streets of Camden, New Jersey shooting and killing 13 people at random. American as apple pie.

Charles Starkweather, Edmund Kemper, John Wayne Gacy, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy–the list goes on and on. These are the ones we remember. In 1984, James Huberty prepared to leave his home when his wife asked: “Where are you going?” He responded: “Hunting humans.” He went to McDonalds and killed 21 people. Remember that? Maybe not. After all, there have been so many since then. Murderers all, but they all don’t have guns in common. What they have in common is murder for sport.

Why? Maybe it’s because we have so much freedom that the dangerous and demented feel free to cut loose. Because of our freedoms, the police are often left only to pursue criminals, rather than prevent crime. That’s a trade-off for freedom. We don’t have tools to apprehend those with the potential for mayhem. The odd, curious or even dangerous person is free to roam the streets. You see them everyday. You might be one of them.

Of course, we can curtail some of this if we’re willing to pay the price. Nowadays, folks are fond of saying “Freedom Isn’t Free.” This is a mostly empty platitude said by folks like me from the comfort of our living rooms. When it comes to crime, that old saw is certainly true. We can restrict the Second Amendment. While we’re at it, why not the 4th and 5th Amendments, too? Allowing the state to randomly search us and extract confessions could well prevent the next Aurora. Too extreme?

Have you noticed the fine job the federal government has done apprehending potential terrorists? How do they do it? Whether you like the Patriot Act or not, it has been effective. The government can tap your phone, read your mail and pretty much track your every movement based on nothing more than suspicion. Add to that a prison in Cuba where suspects are held forever without facing charges or trial and you have a pretty effective crime prevention system.

We won’t, can’t and shouldn’t ever go down that road, of course. The swap of liberty for security is rarely a fair trade. Does this mean there should be no gun laws? Of course not. But taking the rights of the many because of the acts of the few is dangerous territory. The Aurora gunman (I will not dignify him by mentioning his name) is to the Second Amendment what the Westboro Baptist Church is to the First Amendment. Both abuse their rights to harm others, but neither is worth taking the rights of those who don’t.

Despite what some think, we aren’t easy on crime. Our prisons are bulging at their seams. We also execute people, putting us in the same class as Iran, China and North Korea when it comes to jurisprudence. Regardless of how brutally we’ve done it, killing people never seemed to help. Hanging, shooting, stoning, electrocution–they just keep on killing. We could hang every convicted killer tomorrow, and I can guarantee that there will be murders that afternoon.

The big question is never debated. What is it about our society that lends itself to these crimes? England and Japan, hardly police states, see almost no predatory murder. Yet, we see it daily. Someone smarter than I am will have to find a way to detect and stop these folks before they strike.

Despite all this, it is a mistake to condemn society. Most people–almost everyone–are good people. They work, help their neighbors and are good to their families. The exceptions scare us and fascinate us.

Where are these exceptions? Everywhere. Our towns, neighborhoods–maybe even our own homes. We can’t hide. We can’t pray our way into a protective bubble. We just have to hope we don’t cross paths with one of these folks at the wrong time.

We feel for the people of Aurora, although most of us, thankfully, can’t imagine what they feel. I imagine the sadness and terror are palpable. On a random night, they were visited by the worst in us. Hopefully, they will now see the best in us.

By chance, I once spoke to a man whose sibling had committed a notorious and brutal crime. He said he his family had no idea that it was coming and many years later couldn’t come to grips with it. He said: “He just had something bad going on with him, and no one could see it.” The question, which I certainly can’t answer, is Can anyone see it?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

High Marks for Groucho

Groucho Marx was a good guy.  I know this from personal experience  How, you say? First, I have to give you some context.

As you may have gathered from some of my earlier posts, I was, to put it mildly, a bit of a different sort of child.  For example, I liked Richard Nixon and hippies.  At the same time, too.  It seemed reasonable to me.

I also loved the Marx Brothers.  If you don’t know the Marx Brothers, please stop reading and leave our country.  Groucho, Harpo and Chico should be well-known to any American.  You should know Zeppo, too, but he was the straight man.  You may have forgotten him.  I could forgive you if you didn’t know Gummo.  I didn’t know about him until Groucho told me.  Groucho was the best of the bunch, firing one-liners as fast as he could speak.  He always made me laugh.  Still does (“I never forget a face.  But, in your case, I’ll try to make an exception).

In addition to general oddness, I was one of those brooding kids.  I kept my own (poor) counsel and didn’t have a lot to say unless I wanted attention (which was often).  I’m fortunate to have had great parents.  In the hands of poor ones, I’m sure I would have become a sociopath.

One of the things that my parents battled from the time I was 5 years old was school, starting with kindergarten.  I hated school, only “hated” isn’t strong enough a word.  Abhor, despise, something else has to be more accurate.  I went to a fine school with good teachers and mostly good kids.  Hated it.

The first day of first grade I cried.  A lot.  So did other kids.  One little girl’s mother decided to just pull her out and wait a year.   I can still hear that mother ask my Dad:  “Are you just going to leave him here?”  Dad’s response:  “If crying helps, let him cry.  He’s here to stay.” Indeed I was.

The good news is that I eventually stopped crying, but I didn’t stop the hating.  Couldn’t stand it.  I was a good student, as had been my older brother, and a good kid.  Teachers liked me.  I had friends.  In fact, I made one of my lifelong friends by making his acquaintance while we BOTH were crying during recess.  Misery loves company.  I soldiered on making good grades and staying out of trouble.  Good student.  Good kid.

By the time I was in the 5th or 6th grade, everyone thought I was pretty much under control.  Oh, I’d moan and carry on about school on occasion but no more than any other kid.  My parents breathed a little easier.  I was still a good student, had friends and seemed okay.  A little high-strung maybe but okay in general.  Unfortunately, it was the calm before the storm.

The storm hit when I was about 11 or 12.  Today, I suspect that school counselors and psychologists would be called in.  This was the 1970’s, though.  What started was truancy.  And a lot of it.  I would be dropped at the front door of the school and walk out the back.  What did I do on those days?  Not much.  I was what became known later as a “latch key” kid.  I’d just go back home.  One of my weaknesses is my unfounded belief that I am smarter than everyone else.  It did not serve me well in this instance.

As you might suspect, my plan was ill-conceived.  Unable to convince school officials that I had contracted the Plague, I was soon found out.  Oh well.  My parents, of course, were frantic.  How could this happen?  What was wrong with the boy?  Honestly, I can’t answer that.  Maybe it was anxiety.  Probably it was some form of depression.  Could have been some kind of half-baked rebellion.  All I know is that I aged my parents in dog years for about a year.

What does all this have to do with Groucho Marx?  Bear with me.  As I said, I was a huge fan of his.  I read books about him and watched  old Marx Brothers films whenever they were on TV.  In those ancient times before the Internet, one had to really work to find out much about people–even famous ones.  You had to read books and that type of thing.

One Sunday when I was around 11 or 12, I saw a letter someone had written to Parade Magazine asking whatever happened to Groucho?  He was still alive, of course, but was a bit of a recluse.  He was in his 80’s and lived in Beverly Hills with a woman who looked after him. Erin Fleming was her name and she was either his companion, secretary, Svengali or succubus.  It depended on whom you asked.  I was intrigued. I, too, was a bit of a recluse.  I lived in Harlan, Kentucky, not Beverly Hills, but that didn’t matter.  I thought:  “I bet he’s a lonely old guy, now.”  I had a thought.  I’ll write him a letter and check on him.  Why not?

Nowadays, you can find anyone, anywhere.  40 years ago, it wasn’t so easy.  I had no address for him, but I had ingenuity.  You see, I had written many letters to baseball players over the years and knew that all you had to do was get pretty close with an address, and the Post Office would do the rest.  I figured “Groucho Marx, Beverly Hills, California” would work.  So, I wrote him a letter.

It was the typical embarrassing fan letter, “I’m a big fan, send me an autographed picture, etc.”  I was a kid, so I could be excused, I suppose.  I also asked about his health and if he had any other siblings besides the famous ones.  I wanted him to know I was genuinely concerned with his well-being.

Well, what do you know?  He sent me a picture.  He even wrote on it “My 4th brother is Gummo.”  Here it is.

The photo I got from Groucho in 1974. I later learned that this was from the press kit for an album released in the early 1970’s.

This was very cool.  Very, very cool. I loved it.  My parents loved it. They were very impressed.  Now, my mother was a fabulous person and a great mother.  She, however, tended toward the maudlin.  She loved the picture, but it made her sad.  She imagined this old man getting a letter and having nothing better to do than sign a photo and send it across the county to some kid.  Being a depressive sort myself, I agreed with her.  She said I needed to write him a thank you note.  So, I did.

It wasn’t just a thank you note, of course.  I thought of Groucho as my friend (sort of), so I told him a little about me, where I lived–that kind of thing.  I also told him that I had read about how he dropped out of school and that I thought that was very cool.   This was my plan, too.  I told him that I refuse to go to school and that it was obvious that one could be very successful without it.

I didn’t expect a response.  I really just wanted him to know how much I appreciated the photo and that I really admired him.  I was wrong.  He wrote back.  Quickly.  Here’s what he had to say:

My letter from Groucho. I was 12. He was 84.

You might think this thrilled me.  You would be wrong.  I didn’t like it.  He had, as some might say, called me on my bullshit (forgive the language, but sometimes that’s what it is).  Funny thing, though, I kept the letter and read it over and over.  He was right–and pretty funny, too.   A good way to wrap this up would be to say that it inspired me and made me straighten right up.  That’s not real life.  I continued for some time to be a thorn in my parents’ sides until it all just passed.  Nevertheless, the letter made a great impression on me.  Here was a man who took the time to write a letter to a little kid he’d never meet.  It was nice.  Very nice. In fact, it’s one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.  I’m almost 50 now, and it still impresses me.

Note how someone typed “G.Marx” above the fancy engraved address.

Groucho was not generally considered a great guy.  He had difficult marriages and, by some accounts, equally difficult relationships with his children.  When he died, his son battled Erin Fleming over money from his estate–and won.  After many years of mental illness, that lady killed herself.  I guess the point of this is that there are layers to everyone–some good, some bad.

When I got older, I learned more about him.  He was a relentless letter writer.  He corresponded with everyone.  I guess was not so unusual that he wrote me a letter.  He was a friend of such diverse people as George S. Kaufmann, Dick Cavett, Alice Cooper, Elton John, Carl Sandburg and T.S. Eliot, to name a few. While he was writing letters to these folks, he found time to fire one off to a kid in Harlan County.  Cool.

A collection of Groucho’s letters (The Groucho Letters) were donated to the Library of Congress as “culturally significant.”  Groucho said that was his greatest achievement. They missed one.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Richard Nixon and Me

I was an odd child.  I readily admit that.  I could deny it, of course.  My parents are dead, and they were the ones who remembered my childhood best–better even than I do.  My older brother would remember, too–he remembers everything.  But, he’s far too classy to regale the world with tales of my odd behavior.

One odd thing was that I liked Richard Nixon.  I did.  I was only 6 when he was elected President, and 11 when he resigned.  My Dad despised him, even though Dad voted for him. Dad said Nixon was “the kind of man who would do anything.  Anything.  You can tell by looking at him.”  Nevertheless, I liked Nixon.  Maybe that’s why.

As I said, I was an odd little feller.  I spent a lot of time concerned about things that 1st graders ignored.  The Vietnam War, for instance.  I would watch the news and be horrified.  We needed to win the war.  It worried me.

I worried about the POWs.   One year in our Christmas parade in Loyall, Santa gave out POW/MIA badges.  I got a bunch of them.  As aside, Santa actually threw them from the back of a fire truck.  If they hit your head, they hurt like hell, but it was worth it.

I also paid a lot of attention to politics.  Again, odd.  In 1972, I knew George McGovern was pretty much a Communist and that Nixon would beat him.  I didn’t like Communists.  I knew they were bad.  I used to worry about Communists, too.  They could be anywhere. Everywhere.

Democrats used to have a telethon to raise money (quaint, huh?).  I watched the telethon.  I picked up the phone and called in.  I told them I would give $10 if Hubert Humphrey said my name on TV.   He did.  I then told my parents they owed Hubert Humphrey $10.  My narcissistic desire to hear my name notwithstanding, I supported Nixon.

Of course, Nixon won.  He was going to end the war.  I liked that.  I imagined some sort of Hiroshima-type finale.  After all, this was Nixon.  Before we could get to that, though, we had Watergate.  You either know what Watergate is or you don’t.  I’m not going to explain.  If you don’t know what it is, just know that it’s the reason that all political scandals now end in GATE.

As you can imagine, I was heavily into Watergate.  I watched the Senate hearings.  Read about it in the paper.  John Dean, Howard Hunt, Gordon Liddy, et al., rivaled my baseball heroes for my time.  I learned about the CREEP, the Dirty Tricks Squad, Rosemary Woods, Martha Mitchell and on and on.  One thing I knew for sure, Nixon was neck-deep in it.  It would tug your heart-strings if I told you that it broke my heart. It didn’t.  It was Nixon.  It was to be expected.

As another aside, I could do a killer Nixon impression and Sam Earvin, too.  Really spot on for an 11-year-old.  I had been perfecting my Nixon since I was 6, so it should have been good.  I could also draw a picture of Nixon.  Understand, now, I am not artistic, but I practiced until I could draw a pretty fair likeness.

I wrote Nixon a letter, kind of a “keep your chin up” missive.  I imagined him reading it to Pat after dinner.  Little did I know that he was so odd himself that he greeted Pat at dinner with “Hi.  How are you doing?”  I doubt they sat around reading fan mail.  I got a letter back from some staffer thanking me for the letter.  I’m sure it helped.  I’d like to think it did.

It was around the time of Watergate that my school was selling posters for a fundraiser.  Some kids bought posters of singers or athletes.  I bought this one:

This poster adorned my wall as a kid.

By this time, my parents were thoroughly disgusted by Nixon, but Dad liked the poster.  He thought it was funny.  My  Papaw loved Nixon and the poster.

Once, when we were visiting my grandparents in Salt Lake City, we went to hear Nixon give a speech.  Papaw was part of the security detail at Temple Square.  He stood right behind Nixon during the speech.  I was impressed.


Trust me on this. Nixon is in there somewhere–with my Papaw.

I watched Nixon announce his resignation and his sad parting speech the next day.  His upper lip poured sweat.  He called his mother a saint.  It was sad. I felt bad for him, even though I sensed that he had brought it on himself.

I moved on from old Tricky Dick.  I’ve never really cared much for politicians since.  Mind you, I’m not disillusioned.  Nixon was what I thought he was.  That probably says more about me than it does him.

Nixon’s first public appearance after his resignation was actually close to my home in Harlan County, Kentucky.  He came to the dedication of a library–or something–in Leslie County.  I thought about going over there, but I was a teenager then.  Other things to do, I suppose.  Dad said he wouldn’t walk across the street to see Nixon.

I kind of liked seeing Nixon become something of an elder statesman in his old age.  Oh, I’m sure he would have still done something tricky if he had a chance.  At least I’d like to think he would have.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Way of the Waffle

My neighborhood Waffle House. Like most people in this part of the country, I live close to one.

“I love Waffle House, and not just because watching someone fry an egg while they’re smoking reminds me of my dad”

Jim Gaffigan

I travel by car quite a bit.  Some of it is for work and some for my son’s baseball teams.  I’m not a big fan of hotels, but I enjoy seeking out places to eat.  I’m not picky, either.  Sometimes, I’ll just see some place on the side of the road and think:  I wonder if that place makes decent food?  In the past year alone, I’ve eaten at The White Flash (Jackson, KY), Dave’s BBQ (Guthrie, KY), Beaver Creek Restaurant (Topmost, KY), Big Shanty Smokehouse (Kennesaw, GA), Bridge Street Cafe (Fort Walton Beach, FL), One Place–Two Tastes (Somewhere in TN) and other off-the-radar spots.  Some are better than others, but they’re all good.  When I travel, I try to avoid fast food (expect Dairy Queen Blizzards) or chain restaurants.  The one big exception is Waffle House.

If you live in the South, you know Waffle House.  They’re everywhere, and they’re all the same.  They have a big yellow and black sign that simply says “WAFFLE HOUSE” in block letters.  They’re small restaurants with a few booths and a counter where those of us dining solo are seated.  They all have jukeboxes.  According the Waffle House website, they’ve been around since 1955.  I’m guessing that they looked the same in 1955 as they do now.  Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

I know what you’re thinking:  “Why Waffle House?  It’s the poor man’s Cracker Barrel!”  Here’s why:  I love it.  It’s never crowded (except after the bars close).  The people are nice.  The food is good and reasonably priced.  More than all that is the Waffle House Experience.  It is it’s own world.

If you sit at the counter (on a stool, no less) you will be within feet of the griddle and, of course, the waffle makers.  You’ll see the cook sweating over your meal, hear the stories from the regulars and learn a lot about the folks working there.

The waitresses all call me “honey” or “sweetie.”  They refill my coffee constantly.  They can be a rough-looking bunch, but they’re all out of Central Casting when it comes to diner waitresses.  I love it.  Just this week I was at a Waffle House in Northern Kentucky and heard this exchange:

Customer:  “Where’s Mary?”

Waitress:  “Oh, honey, she don’t work here no more.  She got accepted to this big tattoo institute.”

Customer:  “Oh, hell, she’ll be back.”

Waitress:  “I don’t think so.  This is one of the biggest tattoo institutes in the country.  It’s hard to get accepted.”

Customer:  “She’ll be back.”

Waitress:  “We’ll see, honey.   She’s good.  She’s done a bunch of tattooing for people.”

Where else can I hear that?  Do you think they carry on like that at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse?  Hell, no!  I didn’t even know there WERE tattoo institutes, much less that they have high admissions standards.  I hope Mary has great success and why wouldn’t she if she graduates from one of the biggest tattoo institutes?

You know something that you’ll never hear at a Waffle House?  Nice job cleaning up!

Jim Gaffigan

I’ll admit that most Waffle Houses have a certain look to them.  They might need a thorough scrub down.  The tables might be a little greasy.  Don’t look at the waffle irons.  They need cleaning.

A couple of years ago, I was driving back to Lexington from Western Kentucky.  It was getting late, and I was pretty hungry.  I passed several exits along the way until I saw the familiar yellow sign of the Waffle House beckoning.  Imagine my disappointment when I approached the door and saw this notice:


You see, I’m a bit of a germaphobe.  I know that to get a C on a restaurant inspection, you’ve got some bad business going on.  Maybe you’re storing kitchen utensils in the toilet or your cook has TB.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  The lure was strong as was my reticence.  I went in anyway.

As you might expect, there were no customers in sight, just the usual hard-living waitress and the sinewy cook.  I was greeted with the familiar “Hello, honey, what can I get you to drink?”  I ordered my standard black coffee and water and then ventured “Looks like y’all had some problems with the Health Department.”  The following ensued:

Waitress:  “Oh, lord, I wish we could take down that sign.  People just look at it, get back in their cars and take off.  I seen you lookin’ at it, too.”

ME [exaggerating]:  “Well, yeah, I mean, it covers about half the door.”

Waitress:  “Well, don’t you worry about it, honey.”

ME [lying through my teeth]:  I’m not worried about it.  What happened? [an astute observer would realize that I was, in fact, worried about it]

Waitress:  We had a problem with the refrigerators and some cleaning supplies, but it’s took care of now.

Refrigerator?  I had some experience with this issue.  I was at a bowling alley late one night and decided that a cheeseburger would hit the spot.  When I ordered the burger, I was told “We don’t have no cheese.  Our refrigerator busted yesterday.”  At this point, you should be aware that I was once fond of strong drink which clouded my judgment.  “Well, I’ll just have a burger, no cheese.”  And so I did.  Had I not been in my cups, I would have realized that the proper refrigeration of ground beef is no less critical than that of cheese, perhaps even more so.  24 hours of food borne illness taught me this lesson.

The Waffle House cook sensed my unease and said:  “We’ve had everybody in the world up our ass.   Health Department, the owner, my boss, Waffle House.  This place is so clean now, you could eat off the floor.”  I looked around and realized that the unfortunate dust-up with the authorities had, in fact, resulted in the cleanest Waffle House I’ve ever seen–before or since.  My fears assuaged, I ordered a ham, egg and cheese wrap and side of grits.  Excellent as always.  Even better, no ill after effects.

Now, I don’t really think Waffle House is dirty.  That’s just part of its ambiance.  It’s made to look filthy.  Really, if you knock an ash tray over in your plate, whose fault is that?  Okay, maybe there are some food scraps lying around.  Take a look at your own house.  Better hope the Health Department doesn’t show up.  It’s possible that they wipe down every table all day long with that same rag, but how do you really know?  It’s Greasy Spoon Chic.  Enjoy.

“Imagine a gas station bathroom that sells waffles.”

Jim Gaffigan

What about the food?  It’s good! Some of it is great.  My personal favorite is the egg and cheese wrap, whether with ham, bacon or sausage.  Side of grits, too.  Good stuff.

The hash browns are as good as they get.  They’re fried up right there on the griddle.  You can have them diced (ham), capped (mushrooms), smothered (cheese) and various other ways.  I had some just last week from a cook preparing his very first meal.  I had ordered grits, but he seemed proud of the hash browns:

COOK/WAITER:  Here are your grits, sir.

ME [staring at the hash browns]:  Excuse me?

COOK/WAITER:  Your grits.  I’ve never made them before.  Do they look alright?

ME:  Uh, these are hash browns.

COOK/WAITER [after a long pause]:   Oh, man! I’m sorry! Man!

ME:  Don’t worry about it.  I love hash browns. Plus, you can find out if you did them right for the next customer.

I was pleased to tell him that they were excellent.  He was quite proud of himself.  He told me that he was planning to go to college.  I hope he does.

Did you know that Waffle House is the world’s leading server of T-Bone steaks?  I don’t know if that’s true, but they have a sign that says so.  Think about that.  More T-bones than Ponderosa, Longhorn Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse–you name it.  Say what you will, but that’s impressive, assuming it’s true.  Even if it’s not true, the hubris required to make such an outrageous claim is impressive in its own right.  World’s leading server of waffles?  You wouldn’t even question that.  T-bones?  Wow.

What of the waffles?  I’m sorry to report that they’re just waffles.  Nothing special, really.  Oh, you can get chocolate chips or peanut butter which are both good.  Honestly, if you have a waffle iron, you can do just as well.  Then again, the waffle itself is a pretty lousy main course.  Pancakes are far superior, but I assume that IHOP would battle over the name Pancake House.  I don’t even understand why there are waffles.  It’s lot easier to make pancakes.  Are pancakes just too boring looking?  I don’t get it.

“How Can You Freak Out on a Frog?”

Waiter, Waffle House

The people who work at Waffle House are a different breed.  I like them.  They have good stories.  I stopped at Waffle House on a particularly desolate stretch of Interstate.  There’s just me, a guy taking orders and the cook.  They’re both smoking, which I assume is a health code violation or damn sure should be.

WAITER:  “Hey, have you heard about them hallucinogenic frogs?

ME:  “What’s that?”

Waiter:  “Frogs, man.  They’re hallucinogenic. You lick ’em and freak out.”

Me:  “Oh, that.  I’ve been hearing that story since I was a kid.”

Waiter:  “No, man.  It’s true.  They’re in California.  It’s all over the Internet.”

Me:  “Okay.  How does it work?”

Waiter:  “You just grab ’em and lick ’em.  Then, you freak out.”

Me:  “Huh.”

Waiter:  “They’re supposed to be some around here.  I know a guy lookin’ for ’em.  I reckon he’s just grabbin’ frogs and lickin’ ’em until he finds the right one.”

Me [laughing now]:  “I guess there’s no other way to do it, is there?”

Waiter:  “How can you freak out on a frog?  Who the hell figured that out anyway?  Did he just start lickin’ frogs for some reason?  Of course, somebody had to start snorting bath salts, too.  My mommy makes homemade bath salts, and nobody will buy them now, because they think it’s dope.  Wild.”

I have nothing to add to that story.

“There’s a subculture out there that’s off the grid, buddy.” 

My Dad

Dad may have been talking about Waffle House.  I’m not talking about those who show up drunk at 2:00 AM for a T-bone dinner.  I mean folks like me, who show up at 2:00 PM to eat breakfast.  I’m talking about the regular crowd with their homemade tattoos and dental hygiene issues.  We are the Waffle House subculture.  We order our food off menus that double as place mats.  The menus have pictures of the food in case we don’t what the food looks like (or can’t read).  We know what we want and where to get it.  We just look for the yellow sign just off any Interstate exit in the South.

I’ll continue to eat at Waffle House.  I will have plenty of opportunities, too.  I once read (at a Waffle House, no less) that there are over 1500 Waffle Houses.  1500.  I have one within walking distance of my office, in fact.

I don’t ever take my family to Waffle House.  I go there alone.  To be among my people.  Besides, the tables are too small for five people.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Aunt Bee, as in……

The Evil that is Aunt Bee

On July 3, 2012, Andy Griffith died. Earlier this year, George (“Goober”) Lindsey passed. Don Knotts died in 2006. Aneta Corsaut (“Miss Crump”) died several years ago. Same for Thelma Lou (Betty Lynn). Floyd (Howard McNear), Howard Sprague (Jack Dodson), Ernest T. Bass (Howard Morris)–dead, dead, dead. Opie and Gomer are about all that’s left.

Like most people my age, I love The Andy Griffith Show or Andy of Mayberry as we used to call it.  It was the perfect TV show.  All the characters fit together seamlessly.  Andy and Barney really seemed like friends.  If you lived in a small town, you knew someone like Goober.  Even characters like Howard Sprague and Emmitt, though introduced several years into the show’s run, seemed like they had always been there.  Plus, Mayberry was the kind of town where you’d want to live.  That is was hilarious was a bonus.

The characters themselves were great.  Barney, of course, was the greatest of all TV creations (just ahead of Jethro Bodine).  I laughed myself silly at Ernest T. Bass.  The Fun Girls (“Heeelllooo, Doll”) were only in a couple of episodes but were classic characters.  Every person in Mayberry was alright, “good people” as we say.

The writers knew that the one basic requirement of good TV or film making is conflict.  Even in a 30 minute sitcom, you need conflict to push the story.  To do this, they created one character so vile, so meddlesome, so disruptive that it assured conflict whenever needed.  Of course, I’m talking about Aunt Bee, one of the most subhuman misanthropes to ever lumber across the TV screen. Only Torgo in Manos The Hands of Fate rivals her for sheer unpleasantness in a fictional character.

Andy thinking: “I’m the high Sheriff. I could shoot her and get away with it.”

Aunt Bee was Andy’s aunt, I guess, although the exact relationship is never explained. Since her last name is Taylor, I assume that she was the spinster sister of Andy’s father. As was painfully made clear when she bellyached about a statue of one of Andy’s ancestors, she was a blood relation for sure.

She was introduced in the very first episode when she came to live with Andy to help take care of him and Opie. Children often have a sixth sense about people. This was true with Opie. He wanted to send Aunt Bee’s freeloading ass packing the minute they met. Alas, he ultimately felt sorry for her and begged Andy to let her stay. Had he only known.

I’m not sure where Aunt Bee came from.  Seems like she was originally from Mayberry.  Floyd, at least, seemed to have known her for a long time.  Maybe they were lovers.  Odd, though, that it seems that Opie had never met her before she came to live with them.  Maybe she was one of those poor relations that you don’t talk about.  I had an uncle who worked in carnivals.  My Granny kind of treated him like that.

Aunt Bee was portrayed by Frances Bavier, an actress from New York.   During the first couple of years of the show, she tried to effect a southern accent.  She soon abandoned it for some kind of haughty accent which was probably how she really talked.  It fit her character, for sure.

Thus, began Aunt Bee’s reign of terror. It is almost impossible to catalogue the number of times Aunt Bee nagged, cajoled or browbeat the Taylors. Below I offer just a sampling of the times I was ready to dive into the TV mad garrote her. I have included in italics my writer’s embellishment offering common sense solutions to the Aunt Bee problem:


Poor Opie being forced to choke down Aunt Bee’s pickles.

Aunt entered her pickles in the county fair. Her big rival was the equally insufferable Clara Johnson (in later episodes she was dubbed Edwards). Aunt Bee’s pickles were an inedible abomination, while Clara’s were greeted as some sort of nectar of the Gods.

Andy can’t leave well enough alone. Instead of allowing Aunt Bee to be shamed in front of the town, he decides to replace her foul creations with store-bought pickles.  The store pickles are vastly superior to Aunt Bee’s and Clara’s, pointing out the common reality that “homemade” is not synonymous with “better.”

After finding out that Clara’s life is meaningless without that blue ribbon and that she may well stick her head in the oven if she loses, Andy and Barney eat all the store pickles forcing Aunt Bee make a new batch of her bastardized ones. Hilarity ensues, Clara wins the blue ribbon and Aunt Bee announces that will make even MORE because Andy loved them so.

Aunt Bee’s inability to make pickles–which, by the way are so foul that it begs the question of how you could screw them up–forces Andy to bend over backwards so as not to offend her.  This walking on egg shells around her was a common theme.

After Aunt Bee announces her plans, Andy looks at her with a steely glare and flicks his burning cigarette off her forehead. He then says: “I’ll say this once. I better never see another jar of those —-ing things again! If I do, Barney’s putting that one bullet square between your eyes! Oh, one more thing.  Even if we liked those damn things, who in their right mind would can 20 jars of pickles?  Jesus H. Christ!  They’re not a main course!”


Andy spent many years building a good relationship with Mr. Foley, the town grocer. Aunt Bee blew it all to Hell by buying an ENTIRE FREAKIN’ SIDE OF BEEF from a new butcher in town. Her rationale was that it was a few cents per pound cheaper.

There was no place to store the mammoth purchase, save for a freezer which malfunctioned. Rather than heeding Andy’s entreaties to “call the man!”–as in the freezer repairman–Bee gets Gomer to repair it.  Of course, he can’t, resulting in the potential ruin of the new purchase.

Compounding all of this is that the meat is tough and not fit for human consumption. Having no shame, Bee then asks MR. FOLEY (!) to store it for her! For once Andy intervenes and puts an end to her bullying. He buys a new freezer and then has to listen to Aunt Bee bitch and moan about him spending too much money.

Oh, Andy! You DIDN’T buy a new freezer! I know someone who would be much cheaper. Andy responds: “The last time I checked, I’m the only one with an income around here. Why don’t you do me a favor and shut the hell up?  Better yet, why don’t you take that side of beef and the rest of your shit and move in with Gomer?”


Famous rock star Keevy Hazelton happens to stop in Mayberry. Aunt Bee and Clara ask him to listen to their song, My Home Town, a treacly piece of tripe that could have been written by tone-deaf chimps. Surprise! Keevy agrees to sing it on the popular Keevy Hazelton Show.

Keevy, apparently wanting to keep his fan base, rocks up the tune with a groovy beat. You guessed it. Aunt Bee gets completely hair-lipped and refuses to let Keevy sing it. Like most folks, he bows to her yammering just to shut her up.  He sings the song in its original version and it is quite popular, much to the surprise of both Keevy and the world at large.

Keevy Hazleton and Andy. Andy thinks: “Go ahead, Keevy. Punch her right in the mouth.”

I would have made it slightly different.  When Aunt Bee and Clara refuse to allow the song to be sung, Keevy says “Fine.  Get out of my sight!”  Security then removes them both from the set of the popular Keevy Hazelton Show.  Andy then berates them both for wasting his time driving them to Raleigh only to be embarrassed once again.  He then goes on another rant about the pickles.

(As an aside, the guy who played Keevy was also Johnny Poke on an episode of The Beverly Hillbillies.  He was quite funny.)


There was some kind of dust up in Mayberry where all the women insisted on being arrested.  Running out of patience, Andy threw them in jail, Aunt Bee included.  I don’t remember the details, but it had something to do with some kind of inane protest.  Predictably, the menfolk were unable to function, burning their dinner and clothes.

Here’s what I would have done:  She wants to be in jail, fine.  Go round up the Darling Boys on some trumped-up charges and throw them in there, too.  A couple of nights with those Deliverance rejects should teach Aunt Bee and her gang of gadflies a lesson or two.

“I could wheel around and back hand her, and there’s nothing she could do about it. Nothing.”

I could include many, many more episodes.  For brevity’s sake–and to calm my rage–I won’t.  Aunt Bee learns to drive; Aunt Bee wrecks the car; A baby hates Aunt Bee (smart baby!); Aunt Bee and the elixir salesman; Aunt Bee’s deadbeat cousin; Aunt Bee and the egg man; Aunt Bee on the jury. This list goes on and on and on.

Aunt Bee was not the only annoying person in Mayberry. Warren was awful.  Howard Sprague’s mother gave Mrs. Bates a run for her money.  Emmitt was a bit of pain.  Mayor Pike? Whew.  These characters would come and go, making them at least tolerable.  Aunt Bee was a constant.

Andy showed remarkable patience with Aunt Bee.  Remember–this is the same man who threatened to shoot Goober over building a car in the courthouse.  Oh, he would occasionally snap at her but, by and large, he absorbed her abuse.  When he and Miss Crump married, though, he had the good sense to high-tail it to Alabama and leave her to terrorize Sam Jones and his kid.  Good move, Sheriff.

Just once, I wish Andy would have told Aunt Bee to shut up.  He told Goober shut up.  He’d yell at Barney.  Hell, he whipped Opie!  She got nothing but kid glove treatment.

Andy should have run off with Peggy, the uber-hot nurse he dated.  Even one of the Fun Girls from Mount Pilot–Daphne or Skippy–would have been an improvement.  He could have embraced an alternative lifestyle with Malcolm Merriweather.  Instead, he married Miss Crump, who was really nothing but a younger version of Aunt Bee.

Of course, I know that Aunt Bee is a fictional character.  Frances Bavier was real.  I would like to report to you that my scant research reveals that Ms. Bavier was a wonderful person.  She was, however, difficult with which to work.  Andy Griffith himself once said:  “There was just something about me she did not like.”  Regardless, most people deserve to be remembered for their best work.  We don’t honor Don Knotts for his work as Mr. Furley or Andy Griffith for his performance in Pray for the Wildcats.  I surmise that Aunt Bee was supposed be annoying and a source of conflict.  Frances Bavier played it well.

Interestingly, Ms. Bavier lived the last years of her life in Siler City, North Carolina.  She lived alone with a bunch of cats, but was by all accounts a nice lady but reclusive. She answered her fan mail and lived to the ripe old age of 86. She even called Andy a few months before she died to make amends for being difficult. When she died, the Studebaker she drove on the Andy Griffith Show was in her garage.

RIP Frances Bavier

A native of New York, turns out Ms. Bavier embraced the Mayberry ideal as much as anyone by actually moving to North Carolina.  I guess she wasn’t all bad, even if Aunt Bee was.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Friend of Coal

I like coal.  I like the coal industry.  I like the people in the coal industry, all the way from the belt muckers to the CEOs.  Full disclosure requires that I tell you that I work in the coal industry myself.  So did my father.  My grandfathers and other relatives were coal miners.  I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, the heart of the Kentucky coal fields.  So, if you think I’m biased, I probably am.

I’m not going to wear you out with numbers.  I could fill this post with statistics about electrical generation and steel production, cheap utility rates and job statistics.  If you support coal, you’ll cheer.  If you’re a coal hater (and there are plenty), you’ll just cluck your tongue and talk about how the miners are too ignorant to know what’s best for them or you’ll quote other numbers about how much greater the cost is than the benefit.  My purpose is not to persuade you to embrace the industry anymore than I would think I could make you change religions in a 2,000 word blog post.  That is beyond my powers of persuasion.

This is simply to say my piece about an industry that is bruised, battered and under constant attack.  I’m neither defensive about, nor ashamed of, the coal industry.  Here’s why:


I like coal miners.  They’re good folks to deal with and fun to be around.  They’re irreverent and funny.  They’re also admirable.  They work difficult jobs under tough working conditions.  Nevertheless, they take great pride in what they do and most really enjoy their work.  Don’t get me wrong–they view it as work, hard work in fact.

Imagine going underground 2 or 3 miles to go to work in a honeycombed, man-made cave.  When you arrive at your work site, the area is dark, and you don’t have enough room to stand up.  Add to that close confines with powerful, mechanized equipment.  It’s tough work, no doubt.

Yes, the hours are long and the conditions are tough, but this isn’t the 1930’s.  Miners are paid well, whether they are in unions or not.  Coal mines are safer now than ever before, although they are not without risks.  Whether you’re a farmer, truck driver, fisherman or a miner, any time human beings work in close proximity to powerful equipment, there are dangers.  The nature of my job brings me into situations where they are mine accidents.  I get to see the pain and grief up close with serious accidents.  If you believe that no one cares, you’re wrong.

It’s always in vogue to patronize so-called blue-collar workers as being the back bone of America or the salt of the Earth or some such other hollow praise.  Miners are like everyone else.  Some aren’t so good at what they do or don’t work hard.  That’s human nature.  On the whole, however, miners impress me with not only their work ethic but their skill in doing their jobs.

Whatever your job, imagine being expected to know the details of hundreds of government regulations.  Everyone in your workplace from the custodian to the CEO is expected to know these rules.  Everyday, someone from the government walks around your office making sure that you comply with these rules.  Everything from lack of hand soap in the restroom to life-threatening dangers will be examined.  Every misstep will cost your employer money.  The pressures are daunting.  This is part of the daily grind of a coal miner, too.

If your image of a miner is walking to work with a pick and shovel, you’re behind the times.  They don’t get paid by the ton anymore, either.  They’re not being randomly attacked by company thugs.  If you want to know what those days were like, read Harlan Miners Speak compiled by something called “The National Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners” in 1932.  Like any industry, today’s coal business bears little resemblance to the world of 80 years ago.

Nevertheless, these are hard jobs.  Yet, these men–and women, too–gladly go to work every day.  They are glad to have their jobs.  They don’t take them for granted, either.  Like I said, it’s admirable.  I like these folks.


I also like Eastern Kentucky.  Now, maybe that’s because I grew up there.  Like most small town people who left home, I’ve grown more fond of my home town over the years.  We may see the end of mining in my lifetime.  That will be a sad day for my people.

The coal haters will tell you I’m wrong.  The poor, ignorant mountain people don’t that they’re better off without coal.  Coal is bad and is to blame for all the woes known to the mountains.  Bad schools, bad roads, bad health. Bad coal.  These folks will tell you that if we can just preserve the beauty of the mountains, everyone will be okay.  Goodbye coal.  Hello, Utopia.

Reality, of course, won’t be like that.  When coal is gone, the people will follow.  The industrial base will be gone.  The mountains don’t support farmers or any other industry.  While the Federal Government has spent billions providing aid to the poor, the infrastructure, such as it is, has been ignored.  Money which could have provided modern highways, sewers and water systems, instead  went to fight the War on Poverty.  If there had, in fact, been such a war, Poverty would have won in a blood bath.  Now, we have a drug problem in the mountains that rivals anything in the inner cities.  The answer, of course, is less income, a lower tax base and decreased population.  If anyone proposed that solution for America’s inner cities, he or she would be accused of genocide.

So, the mountains will be pristine.  Perhaps, the former residents can visit from time to time.  But, if anyone believes that life will be grand and everyone will just move on to something better, it won’t happen.  Try to find a job in Eastern Kentucky paying $60,000 to $70,000 a year.  Miners make that kind of money.  For families that have struggled, that can change lives.

I take great umbrage at people who imply that Eastern Kentucky is hell hole.  Small towns there are like small towns anywhere else.  Everyone knows your business.  Life is slow.  It’s easy for some people and a dead-end for others.

The coal fields should be in charge of their own future. Eastern Kentuckians are not simple-minded children who need to be told what is best for them.  Every coal company I know, regardless of ownership, employs people from its area.  Local people who have pride in what they do.  They aren’t ashamed of it and don’t need to be told they’re wrong.  Leave them alone.


We have a newspaper in Lexington, Kentucky–The Lexington Herald-Leader.  It’s owned by The McClatchy Company, which is based in Sacramento, California.  Over the past few years, the Herald has laid off employees in Lexington and basically run the paper like its number one priority is to make a profit.  Rarely a week passes without the Herald running some ill-tempered screed about “King Coal,” decrying its absentee owners and that the industry is profit-driven. These are often accompanied by sophomoric editorial cartoons as humorous as a truck load of dead babies.  If the Herald’s editorial board and absentee owners see the irony, they certainly never acknowledge it.  For our paper, there is no greater villain than King Coal.  Every political or legal defeat for the coal industry is trumpeted like the polio vaccine.  One wonders if newspapers in the Detroit area react with glee when there is bad news for the automobile industry.

Coal loses the PR war and increasingly the political war, too.  I dare not bore you with the details of all the wrong-headed regulatory pressure brought to bear on coal over the last few years.  Suffice to say that President Obama has followed through on his promise to bankrupt anyone who wants to burn coal.  While the President may be subject to legitimate criticism for not following through on campaign promises, this is one that he has embraced with a vengeance.  When he hasn’t been able to get the legislation he wants, his appointed policy wonks simply decree the changes.  For example, his ill-conceived “Cap and Trade” law was never passed.  Incredibly, this law–designed to end coal consumption–was actually supported  by Kentucky Congressmen.  Not to be undone by this defeat, the Environmental Protection Agency has promulgated regulations with the same goal in mind–the end of coal consumption in the United States.

All this redoubles my support of coal.  Nothing gets my back up like fighting the power.  Something or someone has to be willing to stand between the government and private citizens.  Make no mistake–coal companies are made up of people.  CEOs, attorneys, accountants, superintendents, foremen, scoop operators, miner men, roof bolters, electricians and belt muckers.  Believe it or not, these are people.  When a coal mine closes–which is happening more and more frequently–lives are affected. Some are devastated.

As matters now stands, our government has decided–through appointed bureaucrats–that power plants must reduce certain emissions within the next few years.  These bureaucrats know that coal-fired plants cannot meet these requirements.  The plan is to take coal out of the market.  This isn’t okay with me.

But, what of renewable energy, windmills and solar and the like?  I have nothing against renewable energy.  Nothing.  Bring it into the market now.  Today.  Create all the “green” jobs possible.  Bring them to Eastern Kentucky.  Today.  If the market responds to these alternatives, there will be a place for them.  The United States produces 4,500 BILLION kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.  There is plenty of room in the marketplace.

The problem, and it’s a big one, is that there is no market for these alternatives.  This, I believe, is the reason that Obama wants coal driven from the market.  Get the cheapest, best fuel OUT of the way, and there will be room for less efficient, less marketable alternatives.

I rarely expound on my political views, mostly because it’s a personal matter, but also because I don’t think my  opinion will change yours.  As I said, that’s not the point of this post.  I will say that I will not ever support any politician whose idea of good energy policy is put my friends out of business.  I will fight the power.  As Captain Ahab famously said:

To the last, I grapple with thee.  From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee.

Of course, things didn’t turn out well for Ahab, and they may not for me.  But they’ll know there was a fight.


In the 1970’s, my father worked in the coal industry as an environmental consultant for surface mines.  People said then that there was 20 years of coal left.  When I started practicing law 25 years ago, there was 10 years of coal left.  Ten years ago, there was 10 years of coal left.  Naysayers say that now there is 10 years of coal left.  The future, its seems, follows its own course.

Long ago, I gave up predicting the future.  I don’t know what will happen.  I do know that the path we’re on isn’t good for Kentucky or the rest of the country, for that matter.  Utility rates will increase, resulting in more government money spent to subsidize green energy or just to help people pay their bills.  Countries that use coal–China and India to name just two–will have the advantage over us.  Americans are the ones who can lead the way in continuing to improve clean coal technology.  If we leave the market, we’ll be counting on the Chinese to take the lead.  They are decades behind us in coal mining technology.  There is no reason to think they will quickly embrace cutting-edge environmental technology, either.

A friend of mine and I joke that we are stagecoach salesman.  Our grandchildren will look in wonder as we tell them about this burning rock.  Of course, we don’t really believe that (most days at least).  I’m an optimist at heart.  I hold out hope that adults will enter the room at some point and realize that we can burn coal and improve our technology to minimize environmental impact.  We’ve done it in the past.

In the meantime, I’ll fight the fight.  Others will, too.  Oh, and now you know why my blog is called the Coal Troll.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012