The Harlan County Way


I grew up in Eastern Kentucky–born and raised as we say. What is Eastern Kentucky? I guess you’d call it a region or sub-region of Central Appalachia. It is not, as you might think, simply the eastern half of the great Commonwealth of Kentucky. Here’s my personal map of the area:


This seemingly random boundary results in some folks calling it Southeastern Kentucky which, geographically speaking, is more accurate. A few notes:

  • We can’t include any counties on the Ohio River. They aren’t isolated enough. This excludes Boyd, Greenup, Lewis, etc.
  • I-64 runs through Montgomery, Bath, Rowan and Carter Counties. Again, they are excluded because of lack of isolation. Elliott County is an exception because–well–you just have to visit there to see.
  • Once you push too far north, you get out of the mountains, and we have to exclude you. Goodbye Fleming, Nicholas and Robertson Counties. Robertson County is the toughest to exclude. It definitely has an Eastern Kentucky feel to it, but it’s out.

The qualifications for Eastern Kentucky status include:

  • Mountains. You have to have mountains, not hills. Fleming County has beautiful, rolling hills, but they aren’t mountains.
  • Isolation. It has to be kind of tough to get there or at the very least it’s just on the way to somewhere else. Rarely is an Eastern Kentucky county a destination. On this criterion, Robertson County would qualify, but again, it’s just too far north.
  • Coal Mining. You need some coal mines, either now or in the past. We’re from coal mining stock.
  • Accents. You have to sound like us. Now, people in Carter County pretty much sound like us, but they have that Interstate.

I hail from Harlan County, the Eastern Kentuckiest of all counties. We’re isolated. Very isolated. Harlan County is not on the way to anywhere. If you need to go someplace that can be accessed through Harlan County, I guarantee that there’s an easier, quicker way to get there. Harlan–that’s what we call it–isn’t a destination, either. There aren’t any hotels to speak of, really. No Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, etc. There are a couple of places to stay, and they’re okay. If you’re spending the night in Harlan, you probably have family there anyway.

We have mountains all around us.  We’re hemmed in.  We mine coal and have for over 100 years.  We also have accents, heavy mountain accents–the kind that can be indecipherable even to natives of the area.

I don’t live in Harlan now, but I’m still a Harlan Countian. Always.  So, I speak of how it was 30 years ago.  One of the great things about Harlan is that changes very little.  It’s still pretty much the same.

Now, don’t confuse Harlan County with the town of Harlan, our county seat. If someone tells you that he or she is from Harlan, they could mean any town from Pathfork to Holmes Mill to Cumberland to Cranks. Only if we’re talking to another Harlan Countian would we narrow the description to the town. Myself, I’m from Loyall which is three miles from the town of Harlan.


I’ll say I’m from Harlan, but don’t get confused. I’m from Loyall.

Unless you lived in the town of Harlan, you don’t go to the “city” schools–Harlan High Elementary and Harlan High School. I attended Loyall Elementary and Junior High and James A. Cawood High School. Cawood was named after James A. Cawood, long time Superintendent of the Harlan County Schools. None of my schools still exist. Now kids go to Harlan County High School which consumed Cawood, Evarts and Cumberland High Schools. We used to be territorial based on our schools. When we went to high school, we identified as being from Loyall or Hall or Wallins. We rarely hung out with anyone from Evarts or Cumberland–in those days, they had their own high schools. They might as well have been in different states.


The vast majority of Harlan Countians are proud to be from Harlan. We are our own world. We like that it’s called Bloody Harlan by some folks even though that name is based upon events which occurred 70 years ago. Bloody Harlan is just badass. We like being the badasses of Eastern Kentucky.


Your author proudly claims his heritage.

Many people watch the FX series Justified. Justified portrays Harlan as a lawless frontier of wanton violence. Harlan Countians like Justified. We like people to think we’d kill them for some trivial reason.

Before Justified, many people got their image of Harlan from the award-winning documentary Harlan County USA which followed the Eastover coal mine strike at Brookside, Kentucky. Harlan County USA divides us into two groups: Those that love it and those that hate it. The ones who love it love the depiction of rough and ready union brothers and sisters ready to wage war with the coal company thugs. The rest of us (that includes me) hate the image of Harlan Countians as violent, uneducated hooligans. They point to the many fine folks in the county who were (and still are) horrified by the goings on at Eastover. The truth, of course, probably lies somewhere in the middle. The folks in Brookside were surely Harlan Countians as was the chief gun “thug,” Basil Collins. Basil was a neighbor of ours when I was a kid, so I know he was real. My mother drove through Brookside to go to work every day, so I also know the strike was real.  Harlan has always been divided into pro- and anti-union.  It still is in some ways, although it has been many years since the United Mine Workers Association held great sway.

That bastion of journalism, Hustler Magazine, once listed Harlan (the town) as one the three meanest towns in America. It was described as a place where people only smiled when they heard that someone had died. Harlan Countians did not like that. Not at all. I suspect it’s mostly because they didn’t care much for Hustler, at least not publicly.

Overall, we like the stereotypical portrayal of Harlan. Harlan is tough. Harlan is mean. Harlan is total badass.

Growing up, I didn’t feel particularly tough. Then, I moved to Lexington, Kentucky and found out that I was pretty tough by Lexington standards. For instance, threats didn’t faze me. I knew that truly dangerous people don’t threaten much. They just inflict harm. Of course, there’s a downside.  A mouthy little man like me finds out the hard way that bad is good, but big is better.  Bad and small isn’t a recipe for success.


Who are the Harlan Countians? Besides the accident of birth, we have certain commonalities:

  • We know that houses have winders and chimleys
  • We mispronounce light, fight, white and night.
  • We all know someone named Lonzo.
  • We have accents which are obscured by our penchant for mumbling.
  • We know at least one person who has been shot with a gun by someone else or by themselves accidentally.
  • We own guns.
  • We are related to at least one coal miner.
  • We say Papaw and Mamaw.
  • We know trash when we see it, and I’m not talking about garbage pick up.
  • We know at least one person whose mother was really their grandmother, and sister was their mother. Trust me on this one.

Harlan Countians can be found everywhere. Who are we?

  • The Stalwarts

These are the folks who stayed in Harlan. They are either Harlan by birth or moved there at a young age. They might have gone to college or joined the military. Regardless, they came back. Maybe they never left.

These are small town people just like in every small town. Small town life can be hard or easy. If it’s hard, it’s hopeless. If it’s easy, there’s nothing better. In that regard, Harlan is Small Town, USA. There are doctors, lawyers, accountants, teachers, coaches, laborers, deadbeats and criminals. There are good people and bad people. Like anywhere else, you have to hope to you don’t cross paths with the bad ones at the wrong time.

Among this crowd are those that my father called “off the grid.” He said we had a sub-culture of people “so far off the creek” that they weren’t plugged in to the modern world. That is certainly true, but I must say that those unfortunates (if that’s what they are) are the in minority.. They may be from such places as Shields, Jones Creek, Smith, Cranks, Punkin Center or Happy Top, although I can name you folks from all those places who have done quite well for themselves.

Harlan is no more defined by any subculture than Chicago should be defined by its sad history of public housing or New York by the worst of its slums. Yes, we have folks living in poverty–too many (as though there is an acceptable level of suffering) but most folks live just fine.

My parents were stalwarts. My Dad was born in Evarts and–expect for military service and college–never lived anywhere else. My mother moved to Harlan County from Pike County at around age 12 and never left except to attend college. They had no desire to ever live anywhere else. And they didn’t.

  • The Outlanders

I am an outlander. An outlander is someone who used to live in Harlan. We’re still Harlan Countians. We just live somewhere else. There are a lot of us spread over the country, but we still think of ourselves as being from Harlan. I haven’t lived in Harlan in 30 year, but if someone asks where I’m from, “Harlan” is the immediate response.

Some are like me. I went to college and had personal and professional opportunities that pulled me away. Others leave to find better opportunities.

We outlanders like our Harlan roots. It’s a kind of mountain street cred. If we meet anyone else from Eastern Kentucky, we can get instant acceptance with a simple “I grew up in Harlan.” Translation: “Despite appearances, I will kill you if necessary. So, watch your step.  I’d hate to have to kill you.  Just kidding–about the ‘hate’ part. I am a badass.”

  • The Pretenders

There are people who will pretend to be from Harlan or any place else in Eastern Kentucky. That’s right–they’ll pretend. They have cousins or in-laws or remote ancestors who hailed from the mountains. This, so they say, makes them mountain people. Of course, it doesn’t. We laugh at them but let them have their fun. They’re usually the folks who dream of turning all of Eastern Kentucky into a massive tourist destination by having all the people who live there pack up and move. Then, they can come back and pay admission to see where they used to live.

Sometimes, these people would show up to help us.  We were always suspicious of outsiders, especially those offering “help.”  We could tell if you were from Ohio or Michigan or some other exotic place.  You talked funny.  You weren’t one of us.  Go help someone else.

  • The Loathers

These folks are Harlan Countians, but they don’t like it. They might even live in Harlan, but it doesn’t suit them. It’s too dull. It’s boring. There’s nothing to do. There’s no future. It’s bleak. But they don’t always leave. They just hang around and complain.  Most of us pass through this phase at some point.  Many never leave it.

Some of these folks do leave Harlan–a lot of them, in fact. They go to other parts of the state or country and live as ex-Harlan Countians. They don’t like being from Harlan. They don’t want to sound like Harlan or look like Harlan. They pity Harlan. They know what’s best for Harlan, though, and won’t hesitate to tell you. Even though they know what’s best for Harlan, we don’t really like them.


My children are fascinated and perhaps slightly horrified that I grew up in Harlan. Even though they have visited my homeland many times, they remain baffled by it.

Even though I haven’t lived there in many years, I still visit.  I’m fortunate that my job regularly takes me to Eastern Kentucky. Harlan is quiet, unless you grew up near the railroad tracks like I did. Then it was quiet except when the trains ran, which seemed like every 15 minutes or so.

Loyall had a school, a railroad yard, one stop light, a movie theater (at one time), the Corner Store (a genuine soda shop), a gas station, a barber and a couple of stores. A convenient store replaced the gas station and stores.  The school closed. All that’s left is the yard and that light.   We had our own post office, City Hall and fire station. They’re still there.   About 1,000 people lived there when I was a kid.  Maybe 700 or so now.  It was quiet then.  It’s quiet now.

We once had a train full of nerve gas pass through Loyall.  People gathered at the railroad tracks to watch it.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe they were hoping to see (or experience) some kind of catastrophe. Maybe they just didn’t have much else to do.

Sometimes you hear gun fire in the distance, but that’s in the woods. There aren’t running gun battles anymore like the famed Battle of Evarts many decades ago.  Oh, people still get shot occasionally but at much lower rate than we’d like you to believe.

The county is big, about 50 miles across, but sparsely populated. Like much of Eastern Kentucky, the population has declined for decades.  One can argue that it’s always been over-populated what with the chronic high unemployment and high poverty rate.

The “first of the month” is a big time in Harlan. That’s when people get their checks. Government checks. Disability checks. Welfare checks. Food stamps, too. Town is flooded with people. When I was young, the Government Cheese truck looked like a scene from an African relief mission. People were practically hanging on it. Although we certainly weren’t poor, Government Cheese is excellent, and my Dad would get us a block whenever he could. I miss Government Cheese.

We only periodically had a movie theater, the fabulous Margie Grand in Harlan. It would occasionally be condemned but re-open at some point. It was an old theater whose best days had long past. Plaster would fall from the ceiling and you could throw popcorn on the stage in front of the screen and watch the rats scurry out to eat. It was tough to find two functioning seats together. It reeked of Pine Sol. It was a movie experience like no other. Sometimes, the film would jam and you could watch it melt.  It even had an old balcony where–rumor had it–black folks used to be seated. Loyall also had a theater–the Roaden–until I was about 6 years old. For many years now, Harlan has had a multi-screen cinema. Sweet.

Mostly, we didn’t do much, because there wasn’t much to do. Oh, you might go to Gary’s Lounge and Roller Rink sometimes. Gary’s was a fun place. One side was a roller rink. The other side was the Lounge, a long, narrow open room with a dance floor. A friend of mine once drank a beer from a girl’s cowboy boot at the Lounge. You don’t see that every day.

Mostly, we just hung out. Funny thing is, that’s what my kids do, even though they live in a small city with a million things to do. I guess teenagers everywhere just hang out. Oh, and we moaned and complained about not having anything to do. My kids do that, too.


When I went to college, I befriended other Eastern Kentuckians. One guy said we were like Indians who left the reservation. Even though I had been lots of places, leaving Harlan took me out of my comfort zone. Honestly, it took me years to adapt. I went from a county of about 35,000 people spread over 1,000 square miles to a campus of 20,000 + crammed into a few blocks. No wonder I was overwhelmed.

Since I’ve been gone, Harlan–like all of Eastern Kentucky–has been devastated by prescription drug abuse. We didn’t have that problem when I lived there. If we had a problem like that today in my slice of Suburbia, there would be a full-blown panic. Now, sadly, it’s a way of life in the mountains.

Coal mining runs in cycles.  Right now, it’s in a big down turn.  That hurts everyone.

There is a bleak side to Harlan, as anywhere else. Like inner cities, there are generations locked into a poverty cycle. Some escape, but most don’t. There has always been tension between those who work and those who don’t or won’t. Nothing will get a hard-working coal miner or school teacher fired up like a discussion about those “drawing a check.”  That’s how it was when I was a kid, and it hasn’t changed.

We also suffer from stereotyping.  Our teeth aren’t all that bad, although mine aren’t great.  We didn’t all drink Mountain Dew as babies.  I’ve never known anyone who didn’t wear shoes–and I knew some pretty rough characters.  I knew no one married to his own sister and just a handful married to their cousins.

We’re also the last of a breed–and this applies to all of Appalachia. We’re the last group that can openly derided.  We can be called ignorant, inbred, genetically inferior, toothless, shoeless–you name it.  If you do so, you won’t be called a bigot or a phobe of any type.  You might even become a best-selling author or reality TV producer.

My life is very much divided into two parts–before and after Harlan.  Now, far in the past, at least until I visit.  Give me about 30 minutes, and it’s like I never left.  That’s pretty cool.

If you live in Harlan, I can’t say that I blame you. If you don’t, I can’t fault you for that, either. It’s a nice place. Different, but nice. If you don’t believe me, I just might have to kill you.

© 2013

The Ultimate Facebook User’s Guide

It’s 2013, and I guess everyone on Earth is on Facebook now–maybe not everyone but a lot of people for sure. I first joined Facebook in 2008 as a way to snoop on my kids. That didn’t last long as I became intrigued, then fascinated and then addicted to its wonders.

In 2008, most people were playing games on Facebook.  Mafia Wars dominated as your FB friends asked you to join their “mafia.” I never did. That gave way to Farmville, and Facebookers became virtual Oliver Wendall Douglases. They needed help building fences and barns and rounding up animals. It was like everyone was Amish after they logged on. Then came Words With Friends, CityVille, Poker and many more games. Now, there is a Farmville 2. We’ve come full circle.

A lot of people who know me well are surprised that I like Facebook. I’m not the most social person. In fact, I’m an intensely private person. Why do I like FB? First, I’ve caught up with dozens of people I would never have heard from again nor made any effort to do so. I know about their families and lives now. Second, I would never have contact with most of these folks otherwise. I don’t do a good job of keeping track of folks. FB fixed that. Third, it helps me to hear opinions of others and the good and bad in other folks’ lives. It’s good to be plugged into to the human race, even if it’s just by a PC or smart phone.  Finally, it’s a way to interact with people without really having to fool with them. Perfect for me.

Even people who aren’t on Facebook know about it. They have co-workers, friends and family on FB. They’ll look at others’ pages and secretly pine to belong. Why don’t they? Usually, these folks are men who have deemed themselves either too busy or cool to be bothered with it. They’ll say things like “I’d never do that. I don’t have the time.” Translation: “I’m more important you are. Blah, blah, blah.” These are the same people who will join LinkedIn and make 2,000 connections, because they think it’s important. Look, I know housewives, doctors, lawyers, teachers, kids, CEOs, factory workers, journalists, accountants and unemployed folks on FB. You ain’t that important. Of course, there are the Luddites of the world for whom the whole thing is overwhelming. These are the folks still trying to figure out if they should get into texting. Don’t let any of these killjoys drag you down. If you want to live in the FB world, join us.

If you’ve never been on FB or if you are but you only log on every few weeks or months, there are some basic rules or guidelines which will help you enjoy the experience.


Imagine if your next door neighbor rarely left his house and, when he did, he didn’t speak to you. Yet, he would read your mail and stare in your windows. Sometimes, he would just stand in your yard. Even if you thought he was harmless, you’d get tired of this behavior. FB works the same way.

Don’t just go on FB to creep on other people. We’re not a shy lot, but we like some interaction. I’m not saying you have to post something every time you log on, but you can “like” a status or even comment on one sometimes. We won’t think less of you. In fact, we might “like” you right back. Even if we don’t, we’re unlikely to say anything. There is no “dislike” button.  You might even get “poked.”

When you creep, I call it going Rondo:

Creepers are scary.  Don't be scary.

Don’t go all Rondo on your friends.

Naturally, you might wonder: “If I post something, what should it be?”


The good news is that there really are no rules beyond a certain unspoken PG-13 standard. Posters fall into several categories:

The Lamenter: This is a person for whom the world is a difficult and troubled place. He or she is ill, has ill family members, job and money woes and usually doesn’t sleep well. We on FB like these folks. They’re part of our virtual family. Plus, they make us feel a little better about ourselves.  Vent all you want. We won’t judge you and, if we do, we’ll probably do it quietly.

The Prayer Warrior: This person is seeking or sending prayers for many things: the country, sick children, sick adults, the dead, the living and the unborn. He or she will post Bible verses and inspirational quotes from a variety of sources. If you have a problem, these folks will step up.  Most people are like I am–we’ll take prayers where we can get them.  It can’t hurt.

The Politico: This man or woman occupies either the far left or right of the political spectrum. He will post a long string of gifs and memes assailing his political opponents. Some of these will even be factually accurate. Many will be libelous. He also likes to quote people like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington, James Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Ronald Reagan. Oddly enough, these sources are quoted equally by both sides. You, too, can join in. Now, please understand that none of us change our opinions based on your posts, but we will be entertained, at least to some extent. If we’re not, we can always block you. You’ll never know.

Just like at the Thanksgiving dinner table or your local bar, droning on about politics will eventually offend someone.  The good news about FB is that you can just log off and let other vent at you.

Sports Guy: Based on his posts, he lives for sports, not playing them but watching other people play them. If “his” team wins, he will gloat and insult other teams and their fans, not just the one “his” team beat, either. His very worth as a human being is tied to whether a team of people he doesn’t know beats another team of people he doesn’t know. These victories fill him with joy and make him superior to fans of other teams. He won’t post about anything else. The flip side is that when his team loses, his posts become disturbing and deranged. He is a lesser person, and he knows it.

The Worker: This guy uses FB to promote his job, whatever it might be. He’s usually selling something. That’s cool. I might want to buy whatever it is he sells someday. I’d rather buy from a virtual friend than a total stranger.

Music Man: This guys rarely posts, and it’s almost always music videos. Why? I don’t know. I’ll check one out every now and then. It’s harmless.

Animal Farmers: These are folks who like animals. Well, maybe they love animals. Almost all their posts are about animals. There is an endless supply of comical photos of dogs and cats on the Internet. All of them have been posted on FB. If, like me, you don’t find animals particularly entertaining, you can scroll through these posts. Besides, if you don’t love animals these folks probably aren’t targeting you anyway.

Crusaders: These folks are against bad stuff. Oddly, the bad stuff they are against is the kind of stuff everyone is against. They want you to “like” their posts if you’re against such things as child abuse, cancer, child pornography, violence against women and animal abuse. These are good things to be against. Post all you want about them but don’t expect any spirited debates.

Family Affair: These folks post only about their families, usually their kids. Their kids are uniformly wonderful and blessings from God. We all like to hear about kids, so join in. One word of advice–don’t get too real. If your kid caught the basement on fire with his meth lab or got stabbed by a hooker, you probably should keep that to yourself, unless you need prayers.

They also will ask you to “like” or “share” posts that say things like:

If your mother is a saint, your best friend and greatest person who ever lived, share this status.

They never post things like this:

If your mother was a crack whore who brought home a new “daddy” every week and burned down your trailer while smoking, share this status.

So, if, as is the case with too many folks, your parents or siblings were or are vile monsters, you probably shouldn’t post anything about them.

Tin Foil Hatters: They like to post links to various conspiracies, usually involving President Obama. Such things as implanted computer chips, Kenyan birth certificates and Muslim wedding bands are frequent topics. They never check, and if you tell them to do so, they’ll tell you that George Soros owns Snopes. You, then, will become part of the conspiracy. Try to not to become one of these folks. Then again, if you’re so inclined, the fact that I suggest you not do so will only strengthen your resolve to do so. The good news is that FB gives you a platform. If you carry on like that at work, you’ll probably have to see a doctor.   On FB, we just scroll by you like people on the street probably do.

These folks also tend to think Facebook is evil. It’s sharing your profile and personal information and photos. It’s signing you up in Al-Qaeda. It’s garnishing your wages. They never explain why they want to be on Facebook, but they love to warn you about it.

Suckers: Facebook is a hoaxer’s playground. Folks on FB will believe anything. Follow the same rules you follow in real life. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. For example, Bill Gates, despite his vast fortune and philanthropy, is NOT giving away $5000 if you share a picture of him, even this one:


Also, no one won the PowerBall and wants to give you a million or even a thousand bucks. No beautiful women want to be your FB friends.  If it doesn’t happen in real life, it won’t on FB, either.

Newsies:  These posters assume that none of us watch or read any news, so they post links to news stories.  Some are also Politicos, and their posts only reflect their personal views.  Just like with music videos, it’s all pretty benign.  Who knows? We might even learn something from you.

Posting Tourette’s: This is me–a person who just posts various and sundry things that pop into his head. We can’t control it.  It just happens.  It’s almost like we’ve allowed FB to replace actually thought. Think it–post it is our mantra. We’ll post anything–family photos, videos, gifs, memes, jokes, rants, links. We’ll tell you about last night’s dream, our meals, illnesses and travel plans. We’ll complain about work and our families. We’ll brag and moan about things. In short, we combine all the best and worst of the other posters into one, manic posting monster. We post so often that if you were to read all our posts in sequence you’d be privy to the inner workings of our minds. We’ll wear you out on any given day, but we tend to be entertaining–or annoying. But, we’re never boring.


Facebook is a free speech zone, but all freedoms carry with them responsibilities. There are, of course, things you shouldn’t do:

Keep it clean: This should go without saying, but keep it clean, folks. Foul language, nudity (especially your own) and links to pornography are all beyond the pale. Hey, I’ve got no problem with any of that, but there are plenty of Internet forums out there for that stuff. At least that’s what I’ve heard.

Good taste: I am vehemently against child abuse. Honestly, I don’t anyone who isn’t. But, on the off-chance that you have FB friends who need persuading, photos of beat up or dead children won’t help. And they gross out the rest of us. Same goes for dogs that have been abused and killed. We know that’s bad.

It’s Not All About Politics: If you’re a Politico, that’s fine, but remember: Not everything is about politics. Don’t screw up someone’s post by trying to twist into a political statement. Example:

Post: We just had a great dinner-Steak on the grill, green beans, mashed potatoes and homemade yeast rolls! Thanks to my beautiful wife!

Politico’s Comment: Be thankful that Michelle Obummer isn’t your wife! She’d have you eating sprouts!

The Politico has now invited others of his or her ilk to make similar comments and hijack your wall. Bad form.

No Jesus Jukes: The Prayer Warriors will do the same thing with the infamous “Jesus Juke.” It goes like this:

Post: We had a great time at the game! 23,000 people rocked the place!

Comment: I wonder how many people would show up if Jesus was there and no game.

Your well-meaning friend has just brought you down and made you feel evil for enjoying the game. Don’t do that.


You may be like me and be a spellcheck illiterate. Years of word processing have eroded my spelling skills. I am far-removed from the brash young lad who finished second in the Loyall Junior High Spelling Bee in 1976. Facebook won’t help you.

Its and it’s have different meanings. Same with there, they’re and their. To, two and too are not the same. Facebook won’t help with these issues. You have to step up and take responsibility.


There may be occasions when you must unfriend someone or, God forbid, you are unfriended. It’s happened to me. Yes, me. A girl I dated in college unfriended me. I think it’s because it took just a few months for her to remember that she hated me.

Unfriending is a drastic step. It is the Internet equivalent of a slap in the face. You aren’t even worthy of being a pretend friend. Think about that. In real life, of course, we unfriend people all the time. We just quit talking to them. If it required some affirmative act, we’d be less likely to do it.

Now, Facebook won’t tell you that you’ve been unfriended. You have to be paranoid enough to notice. Let’s just say that some of us notice these things. And we don’t like it.


Post a few pictures of yourself. Maybe we haven’t seen you in years. We’re curious. “But,” you say, “I’m not a handsome person. It shames me.” Relax, my ghoulish friend. Most of us are quite unattractive, especially those of us with a few years on us. We’ve gone bald (mostly men), gained weight, grayed, sagged and generally decayed. It’s okay.

I’m a good example. I was never what you’d call a handsome man. Now, my hair is gray and I have numerous wrinkles. Yet, I’ll post many photos of myself. Why? Well, for one thing, I’m a narcissist. Two, I’m not bald. See? You look better than someone–hopefully.

Perhaps you’ve improved with age, which happens. If so, by all means, post photos. Of course, if you really have improved, I don’t have to tell you to post photos.

One thing to watch is posting pictures of other people. They might not like it. For instance, I posted this photo of my wife:


This made her angry because–she claimed–the lighting made her look pale. I should have cleared this with her first.

Please feel free to post as many photos of your kids and grand kids as you wish. God knows I do. They’re yours, and you should be proud of them. Even if they’re as homely as sin, we’ll still “like” them. Same goes for your pets. I have two rabbits and don’t hesitate to post about them, even though they are boring, do-nothing pets.  Yet, people always “like” them.  Go figure.


Come join us!  If you’re already on board, get in the deep end of the pool!  Join for real, too. Do not share your Facebook page with your spouse.  This will only show that you have trust issues, and we want to trust you.

It’s out there waiting for you, and there’s no time like the present.  In fact, I’m linking this post to Facebook as soon as it’s published.

You can even send me a friend request, and I’ll probably accept it.  I’m waiting.

© 2013

The 100th Post

This is my 100th blog post.  That’s apropos of nothing, I suppose, except that I’m quite full of myself to believe that I have that much to say of interest.  A year ago, I said to my wife:  “I think I’ll start a blog.”  She said:  “A blog?  Those are just full of trivial bull shit that no one wants to read!”  True to her word, she has never even looked at my blog.  So, I can say things like this:  I’ve been married 25 years, but it seems like 100 sometimes.

She was wrong.  A lot of people have read my posts.  My posts have been viewed 18,500 times, in fact.  One I wrote about hippies is the all time leader at almost 2700.  It even drew the ire of a real hippie who posted a scathing comment castigating me as materialistic.  People as far away as Estonia and Moldova have read me.  America of course leads the way, but I’ve had hundreds of readers in the UK and Canada, too, this despite posts needlessly attacking both those fine countries.  Go figure.

People often ask me: “How do you come up with ideas for your blog?”  Actually, I’m never asked that, but I like to imagine that people want to ask me.  Things just pop into my head.  I usually have drafts of two or three posts just lying around waiting for inspiration to finish them.  Sometimes, people suggest things–like my recent post about becoming Pope.  Other times–like the hippie post–I just spew a stream of consciousness which offends many, many people.  Occasionally, I’ve tried to be helpful with tips on small talk, child-rearing and the law.  Oddly enough, no one has thanked me yet for these pointers.

Some of my posts are torn from the fabric of real life experience–like the tale of my being violently assaulted by a coarse ruffian of a woman in a restaurant.  Some are apocryphal tales which could be true, at least to some extent.  Others are just things that interest me, like freak shows and the film Road House.  Sometimes, I blog about things I hate like TV’s The Waltons, Aunt Bee and Charlie Brown.  My blog is a vast array of trivial bull shit as some might say.

Some of the reasons I am so prolific:

  • I write a lot in my job, but that writing requires research and proofreading.  The slapdash nature of blogging is fun.
  • The use of curse words.  I don’t often get to use those in writing, unless I’m writing my Congressman.
  • It’s cheaper than therapy
  • It’s fun to broach a controversial topic and then deflect it with a series of flippant and inaccurate observations.
  • As long as I don’t defame someone, I’m free to write what I want.   Even if I do, it’s okay as long as the defamed person never sees it.
  • No one reviews or edits my work (obviously)
  • I can start sentences with words like “and” and “but,” and no one cares.

Now, I’m on the verge of a milestone:  100 posts.  What significant topic can I address?  Can I change someone’s life for better or worse?  Can I move someone to tears?  Perhaps I can intone on some mundane subject and move thousands of Brits and Canadians or even the random Moldovan to action.  What about that one guy or girl in Iceland who read one of my posts?  Maybe he or she is waiting for a topic of interest.  Should I blog about that Icelandic volcano–Eyjafjallajökull?  Probably not.  That’s just too damn goofy to type over and over.

100 is special.  A 100th blog post should be, too. defines 100 as “A cardinal number.  Ten times ten.”  That’s plain enough. It’s one after 99 and one before 101, too.  It’s the square of 10.  It’s also an 18-gonal number, which sounds slightly dirty but isn’t.

Anyway, 100 seems significant.  Why?  Maybe because 100 is an important number.  Don’t you feel kind of special when you have a $100 bill?  Four twenties or two fifties just aren’t the same.  The $100 bill is usually new and crisp.  It’s so special that you worry that people can even make change if you use it.

There are 100 pennies in a dollar and most other currencies are based upon units of 100.  100 is important.  Without it, our money would be a confusing mess.  We might as well go back to pelts.

If you’re a sports fan, answer this question within five seconds:  “Who scored the most points in an NCAA basketball game?”  Time’s up!  I have no idea, either.  Try this one:  “Who scored the most points in an NBA game?”  Wilt Chamberlain.  How do we know this?  Because he scored 100, not 98 or 102.  An even 100.  Wilt, as we know, was a man of prodigious numbers:  55 rebounds in a game; 20,000 women; averaged 50 points a game one year and 27 rebounds a game another; led the NBA in assists as a center and on and on.  But the number we remember is 100.  100 points in a game.  Because I am repository of useless information, I know that he also hit 28 of 32 free throws in that game, astonishing considering Wilt’s infamously horrible free throw shooting.  Others just know the 100.


Wilt knew how to set a record people wouldn’t forget.

One of the many reasons that American football is better than Canadian football is that our fields are 100 yards long, not 110 like our friends in the Great White North.  We know how fast is fast to run 100 yards or even 100 meters.  How about 110 yards?  No clue.

If a running back rushes for 100 yards in a football game, we take notice.  If he slogs for 99, we think “Eh, decent game, I guess.”   Pitchers who hit 100 mph on the radar gun are to be feared.  95 is great, too, but hittable.

It’s special when people live to be 100.  Bob Hope did (I think).  So did Charles Lane. Who?  If you watched TV in the ’60’s and ’70’s, you know him:


Actor Charles Lane, TV’s grumpy authority figure.

I bet you’ll remember him from now on.  I’ve had a lot of relatives live into their ’90’s.  My Papaw died at 91.  An aunt at the same age.  I have an aunt still going strong at 95 and another at 93.  My wife’s grandmother is 95.  100 years old, though, is rarefied air indeed.   During one of my infrequent forays as a regular church-goer, I went to church with a man who died at 104.  He seemed like a super hero.  Let’s be honest here:  90 or 95 or 99 are just as impressive as 100, but we don’t think of it like that.

If you’re 100, congratulations.  Also, why the hell are you wasting what precious little time you have left reading this?  You were 16 when the stock market crashed in 1929 and 28 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. When you turned 40, I Love Lucy had only been on the air for a year.  You are 4 years younger than JFK. You were in your 60’s when Nixon resigned. On 9/11, you were already 88.  You’ve seen the advent of air travel, sound films, TV, computers, cell phones, space travel, innumerable wars, super models, the Internet and just about everything else that makes life worth living these days.  You were alive when the Tsar ruled Russia and outlasted the Soviet Union for its entire existence!  You survived the Spanish Flu Pandemic.  You’ve seen a lot and probably done a lot, too.  You may even remember some of it.

I suspect that living to be 100 isn’t so great.  We probably just see the folks who are doing well, like this lady:


The ideal 100th Birthday Party

A lot of people at 100 are probably just like a lot of folks at 95–infirm and not able to do much.  Let’s just not think about that.  Some people make it way past 100–often in Japan.  That’s also impressive, but they usually die.  Even though living to 100 might actually be miserable, we all would like to do it anyway.

When the temperature is 100 degrees, it’s damn hot.  It’s still damn hot at 99, but 100 is worse.  Of course, I’m talking Fahrenheit, not Celsius of Kelvin or some other weird foreign scale.  100 is the worst.  100 degrees Celsius is probably a lot worse, but it could be better for all I know–I have no idea.

Take your temperature.  If it’s 99.5 degrees, you’ll think “That’s weird, but I feel fine.”  If it’s 100 degrees, you’ll become bedridden.  At 100, you’re sick as a dog.

What if you get a speeding ticket for driving 100 mph?  That’s seriously reckless behavior.  99 mph doesn’t seem quite so dangerous, does it?

100% is great in just about everything.  Athletes try to claim that 110% is better, but it isn’t, mostly because it’s not real.  100% attendance, grades, effort, etc.  All good.

100 is the sum of the first nine prime numbers which means nothing to me but is probably very cool to my son who is a math major.

100 is the atomic number of fermium which you can find in abundance in nuclear fall out.  Bad.

100 years ago is a long time.  A century is 100 years, not 90.  There’s a reason for that, I’m sure.

Everyone is interested in the President of the United States’s First Hundred Days.  No one gives a damn about his first 63 or so.

The number 100 is significant, for sure.  The evidence is undeniable.  A 100th blog post should carry the same significance.  Alas, I have failed.  Regardless, though, I can now truthfully say I’ve posted 100 times on this blog.  Now, that’s impressive.

© 2013

Papal Bull: A Modest Proposal

Pope Benedict XVI recently gave his two weeks’ notice.  He’s resigning.  I didn’t know the Pope could do that, but he can.  After all, he’s the Pope.  His real Pope name is Papa Benedictus Sextus Decimus, which is a bery cool name, indeed–much cooler than his real real name, Joseph Ratzinger.   

Now, there will be a new Pope.  Who will it be?  I know there’s an election and something to do with smoke being released when it’s over.  It’s not like the Dalai Lama where they go find some kid and name him Pope.  It’s also not like royalty–the celibacy thing prevents that from being effective.

My friend, Larry, suggested that I throw my hat in the ring (it’s a regular hat, not a big Pope hat–not yet).  I’m not Catholic which could be problematic.  Larry may or may not be Catholic, but his idea intrigued me.  Having failed in my quest to become football coach at the University of Kentucky, why not shoot for Pope now?

I don’t know what the qualifications are to be Pope.  Catholicism on at least some level may be a prerequisite. Maybe it’s like the U.S. Supreme Court–you don’t have to be a judge or a lawyer, but it helps.  I also don’t know how you get on the ballot.  So, let’s just treat this as my registering to run for office.  So, here we go.

As full disclosure, I’m married and have three children.  I don’t think this disqualifies me.  Some old-time Popes were married and had children before they became Pope, just like me.  My wife would be a fine Popess or Vatican First Lady or whatever.  My kids might be a bit unruly for the Holy See, but–hey–Lucretia Borgia was a murderer and her Dad was the Pope.  Mine aren’t likely to be that bad.

I don’t have time to become Catholic.  I know people who have converted to Catholicism, and it is a long process requiring counseling, classes and study–even prayerful reflection.  It’s harder than becoming a Shriner.  I’m a busy man, and I simply don’t have time for that.  This will be especially true when I win the election and am burdened with Poping duties.

I also want a really cool Pope name.  There has already been a Pope Hilarius (a funny, funny guy, by the way).  Of course, they was Pope Simplicius (also known as The Dim Wit Pope); and Pope Hyginus, the cleanest Pope. Linus, Liberius, Sixtus, Boniface, Innocent, Urban, Felix (huh?), Stephen, Julius, Eugene, Nicholas, Leo, Pius and many other Pope names are available.  There has never been a Pope Todd or Kevin or Earl.  My name is John, possibly the most popular Pope name, but I don’t want all those Roman numerals after my name.  I’m the Pope, not the Super Bowl.  Besides, there have been so many Pope Johns, that they’ve lost track of them.  I don’t want my number all messed up.  Plus, there’s already a Papa John.  I don’t want folks calling the Vatican wanting pizza. If elected, I’ll hold a contest via Twitter and Facebook.  NAME THE NEW POPE!  My personal choice is Sexius Beastus Superius, but I’ll let the people decide.

I’ll rock the Pope Holy garments.  I know the Pope wears an alb, because I have two friends who are Catholic deacons, and they wear albs.  My alb will be more like a bathrobe but encrusted with jewels.  Think Ric Flair but with overtly religious overtones.  I’m not wild about the dress the Pope wears or the red shoes, but I can take those on rare, formal occasions.


Nature Boy Ric Flair modeling one of my choices for Popely garb

I will tone down the hat.  Okay, I’m sure the hat has a holy significance, just like the staff or cane he carries.  But, I’m a baseball cap kind of guy.  The hounds-tooth hat, fedora, bowler or derby don’t look right on me.  The Pope Hat would be particular difficult for me.  I also favor wife beater t-shirts and sweat pants.  I’m sure those can be modified to a more dignified look for the papacy.


My Pope Hat

I want the Pope car, the famed Popemobile.  I know that the Vatican doesn’t like it being called that, but I love it. I’ll have a fleet of Popemobiles, Popecycles, Popeboats, Popecoptors, Poperockets, Pope Jet Packs and Pope Hovercrafts.  You’ll know me when I show up–in style.

I’ll have a steep learning curve what with my almost total ignorance of Catholicism.  I assume that the Vatican–like any government–has a staff of long-time civil servants who can show me the ropes.  How hard could it be, really?  Get me an alb and a sensible hat, and I can fake my way through it until I get the hang of it.

Once elected, I will embark on the most ambitious Popely agenda ever.  Among my many reforms will be the following:

  • No more Latin.  We’re going all English all the time.  I’m almost certain that God speaks English.  Why shouldn’t we?
  • The vows of poverty and chastity are going to have to go, at least for the Pope.  As the first Protestant Pope (as far as I know), I can’t be expected to get bogged down in all that minutia.  That’s for Catholics.
  • We’re going to simplify all the kneeling and chanting.  As a non-Catholic, I’ve found myself baffled to the point of delirium attending Catholic church services of any sort.  Kneel, say something, repeat this or that, etc.  It’s exhausting.  We’ll install light-up signs like in TV studios that will tell everyone what to do and when to do it. Problem solved.
  • There’ll be no more indulgences.  You step out of line, and that’s it.  I’m not running a loose ship.
  • I’ll immediately issue a papal bull putting an end to this University of Notre Dame nonsense.  One of my first acts will be to read off a list of all the Catholic universities in the United States and show their overall sub-par performance in athletics.  If that doesn’t work, I will simply display a huge photo of Digger Phelps with the caption:  IF GOD FAVORS YOUR SCHOOL, EXPLAIN THIS!
  • I will officially declare that any comical photos of empty dresses, chairs, etc., describing Manti Te’o’s girlfriend to be mortal sins.  It was funny at first, but it’s grown tiresome.
  • Wilt Chamberlain’s former home in Bel Air will become “Vatican West,” because…well…it’s cool and so was Wilt.  It will also be known as the Wilt House.

Vatican West

  • I’ll re-institute the Crusades.  At first, we’ll start small, terrorizing the Italian countryside.  If that goes well, we’ll branch out.  Perhaps we can go somewhere like New Guinea and give everyone a deadly strain of the flu.

You’re probably wondering why I want to be Pope.  First, have you seen where the Pope lives?


The Pope’s turf. Not too shabby.

Next, the Pope is just generally well thought of by folks.  Okay, there was that one nut job who shot John Paul II, but think about this:  He was shot 5 or 6 times and lived!  Even Stallone couldn’t do that.  There’s something to this Pope thing.

I also like the idea of papal infallibility.  That would be a big confidence-booster for me.

According to some really sketchy research I’ve done, the official title is cool:  Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God.  (Okay, the “Primate” thing isn’t so cool, but I guess it’s accurate.  As far as I know, all the Popes have been primates).

Finally, it would have to boost my standing with God.  Now, the Pope isn’t a god, like the Dalai Lama or the last Emperor of China or Emperor Hirohito of Japan, but he’s pretty important.  Given my many past transgressions, that has to help.  It certainly can’t hurt.

Will I be a good Pope?  It’s doubtful.  But, I certainly won’t be the worst Pope ever.  Come on, there have been so many Popes, at least one or two had to be terrible.  Surely, there was a Franklin Pierce or Andrew Johnson among them.  Now that I know I can resign, that takes some of the pressure away.  Worst case scenario, I’ll be the Richard Nixon of Pontiffs.

If I can’t be Pope, I can be Antipope.  There hasn’t been an Antipope in at least a few hundred years.  As Antipope, I could claim to be Pope but not really be.  I can even appoint Cardinals who will be called Quasi-Cardinals and Cardinal-Nephews or Quasi-Cardinal Nephews.  I have cousins who might like that.

Oh, there will be some rough days ahead for the Church.  I might cause a schism, maybe several.  My tendency to addresses my audience as “You miserable bastards” will take some getting used to.  But, I’ll do the best I know how, which is probably what every Pope does anyway.  Remember:  “No Pope, no hope.”  I’ll be better than nothing.  Or not.  At least I’ll make the next Pope look good.

© 2013

Cheerleader God


Ray Lewis shows God His Lombardi Trophy

I’m a big sports fan. Huge, actually. I’ve ruined substantial chunks of my life grieving over sporting events in which I had no stake other than as a fan. None of the players or coaches knew me nor did they care one way or the other about how their pitiable performances affected me. Nevertheless, though, I grieved.

You know who else is a big sports fan? God. That’s right. Capital “G” God. The Big Guy. The Alpha and Omega. The Big I AM. How do I know that about the unknowable? Athletes have told me. Repeatedly.

Ray Lewis says so. God glorified him (or vice versa–sometimes it’s hard to follow Ray) with a Super Bowl win. After the Ravens’ win, Ray said “It’s simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?” That is pretty simple. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and omnipotent. If He’s for you, who CAN be against you? Well, a lot of people, really. The other team, for instance. Their fans. Maybe people who just generally hate your team or you personally. Atheists, too.

Ray’s simple observation begs many questions, of course:

  • Was God against Colin Kaepernick?
  • Was God for John, but not Jim, Harbaugh? If so, why?
  • What did God think of Beyonce?
  • How about the guy in the suit that John Harbaugh screamed at? What sin did he commit?
  • What was God’s deal with the Harbaugh parents? For or against?
  • Why didn’t God see that holding call on Crabtree? Or did He see it but smite the officials with blindness, because he was for Ray?
  • Is possible that God was on the side of Michael Oher, the guy from the movie The Blind Side, and Ray just benefited from it?
  • Why did God turn out the lights in the second half?
  • What kind of God would allow Destiny’s Child to reunite?

If it were just Ray, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. Other athletes are just as bad–or maybe it’s good. Boxers praise God–right after they beat the holy crap out of someone. “Thank you, God, for giving me the strength to inflict permanent brain damage on this other child of yours.” Basketball players do it. Baseball players. Everyone who wins has God on his or her side. Some invoke Jesus, which is really the same thing except with a decidedly Christian take.

That’s right. God picks sides. He’s picked the World Series, Super Bowls, NCAA Championships, fights–you name it. There isn’t enough hard drive in the Cloud to list all the athletes that have credited God for their wins. God plays favorites. No doubt. God is definitely a Calvinist when it comes to sports.

The uncomfortable flip side of this is that God clearly dislikes certain teams and athletes, too, not to mention their fans (like me). This is rarely acknowledged, with one notable exception. Former University of Kentucky football player Stevie Johnson is now a star wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. A couple of years ago, he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass. Just dropped it. Stevie saw the hand of God in it.


Stevie Johnson’s ill-tempered tweet reflected a lot of fans’ thoughts.

Predictably, Stevie took a lot of heat for this. But, if you are a sports fan, haven’t you at least thought this before? Sure you have. Of course, I remember Stevie catching a touchdown pass to beat the University of Louisville. An act of God, for sure.

I’ll confess that I’ve prayed to God about sports. “Oh, mighty God, PLEASE let this free throw drop!!!” Of course, this type of prayer is fruitless, but I’ve done it. My life as a sports fan has proven and disproven the existence of God many times:

  • Jim O’Brien hits a last-minute field goal. Colts beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. No God.
  • Roger Staubach hits Drew Pearson with the original “Hail Mary” pass in the 1975 NFC Playoffs. God lives!
  • UCLA beats Kentucky for the 1975 NCAA Basketball Championship. No God.
  • Six months later, the Reds rally from 3 down to win the 7th game of the World Series. Big God!
  • Jackie Smith drops a touchdown pass against the Steelers. Cowboys lose the Super Bowl. No God.
  • Kentucky wins the 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012 NCAA basketball championships. Big, big, big, big GOD!!
  • Christian Laettner hits a three to beat Kentucky at the buzzer in the 1992 NCAA Regional Finals. There is a God, and He hates me.
  • Billy Gillispie is hired as Kentucky’s basketball coach. God hates Kentucky.
  • John Calipari is hired as Kentucky’s basketball coach. God actually loves Kentucky but has a twisted sense humor (see Gillispie, Billy).
  • University of Kentucky Football: No God or at least not one that will let us be great at two sports.

I, for one, refuse to blame God for this.

For brevity’s sake, I won’t list the other 200-300 examples. One can readily see that I have struggled to see God’s handiwork in my life as a fan. For others, look no further than this year’s NCAA Football Championship. Notre Dame has Touchdown Jesus, but Alabama whipped them like Samson breaking bad on a bunch of Philistines.

The problem is that for each instance in which I have been crushed by a sporting event, others have felt an equal and opposite reaction. Call it Newton’s Law of God In Sports. He loves one team and hates the other. Okay, maybe He doesn’t hate them. Only if you’re a member of the Westboro Baptist Church do you embrace the hating God. But, at the very least, He’s cruelly indifferent to the other team and its fans.

How does this happen? Do the other fans pray better? Are the players better people? If so, what can I do to help my team? If more of our fans pray will that tip the scales? Or is the quality of the prayers, rather than the quantity, that matters most? It’s hard to say, really.

What about Tim Tebow? By all accounts, he’s a fine young man, sincere in his faith and an all around good guy. He played quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2011 and won a bunch of games. Now, truth be told, he didn’t play particularly well, completing less than 50% of his passes. Yet, he won or, more accurately, his team won. Many folks attributed this to God. Tebow is a Christian, and God wins games for him. Many of my devoutly Christian friends manically cheered for him, as though he was the first Christian to ever play in the NFL (I don’t think he is, by the way). Then Tebow got traded to the Jets, because the Broncos preferred Peyton Manning at quarterback. Tebow barely played for the Jets and did nothing to help them win–to the extent the Jets did win. Did God turn his back on Tebow? Doubtful. Tebow just ended up on a team that didn’t want to play him. Like Tebow, Danny Wuerffel was also a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from the University of Florida and a devout Christian. He had no success in the NFL. Why? Because that’s sports, not God.

Now, you’re thinking: “What’s your point?” Here it is: God isn’t picking games. If he did, the parochial schools would never lose, and Bob Knight would have never won a game. God is God, which is a good thing, but one can only hope that He is occupied with more important things than Ray Lewis’s retirement and my desire to see a teenaged college student make a free throw.

I won’t even belabor the obvious such as the horrific injuries–and even death–suffered by athletes. If you’re a sports fan, you can think of an almost endless list of vile humans who have excelled in sports. What about cities like Chicago and Cleveland? What are they–the Sodom and Gomorrah of sports? If God is picking sides, surely he could cut them a break.

So, the next time you think God has picked your team or favorite player, remember that just means He’s back handing someone else. Eventually, He’ll show you the hands, too. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with praising God. Some believe that He demands it. It’s just that suggesting He won a game makes as much sense as crediting the military for it. After all, we should be thankful for our soldiers, too, but let’s be reasonable.

Okay, now God, UCLA has 11 NCAA basketball titles, and Kentucky has 8. Do you think you could see your way clear to…..never mind.

© 2013

The Three Horsemen of Stupidity

Lots of folks moan and carry on about the American education system. Some people hate public schools, envisioning children goose-stepping about while befouling the flag and hurling curses at a God they are taught doesn’t exist. Private schools chafe others who see them as elitist enclaves filled with privileged children who don’t need educations anyway because of their family largesse. Of course, there are the home-schoolers, helicoptering above their kids hoping not only for a better education but also to insulate their young angels from the evils of society, i.e., other children taught in one of the aforementioned alternatives.

All agree, to some extent, that we can do better. We can achieve higher and produce generations of intellectual titans conquering the world by the sheer force of their intelligence. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. We ignore the sad, brutal reality that a very real learning disability yokes many Americans to the oxen of mediocrity. This demon has not been conquered despite many years, centuries even, of effort.

I want to be clear about something up front here. I’m not talking about what most people call learning disabilities. For example, I once knew a guy who had dyslexia. That’s a bad deal to be sure. It makes it hard to learn to read and, once you do learn to read, it affects your comprehension. Fortunately, there are ways to compensate for this–at least to some extent.

I also know that ADHD and ADD affect people, too. Hey, if you can’t pay attention, learning is going to be pretty darn tough. Future generations may question whether addicting our children to amphetamines was the best remedy, but at least we recognize the problem.

There are people, too, with identifiable organic brain impairments which impede their ability to learn. Genetic and injury-induced impairments are well-recognized today, and we don’t expect these folks to achieve at the same level as those of us fortunate enough to have avoided the chance occurrence of such maladies.

Of course, mental illness is no impediment to learning. John Forbes Nash and The Unabomber are but two examples of brilliance developed through the fog of grievous mental illness. As we all know, serial killers are often intelligent, too.

No, I’m talking about a daunting condition which has eluded scientific treatment and continues to hamper many of us. Stupidity and its three horsemen: dumbness, ignorance and laziness. These three elements in some combination can result in chronic, untreatable and incurable stupidity.


Some people are smarter than others. I’d say everyone agrees with that. A corollary to that is that some people are dumber than others, too. Now, I’ve hit a hot button. Not everyone agrees with that. It’s become unfashionable–if not downright cruel–to acknowledge the obvious: Some folks just ain’t all that bright. We all know this but are hesitant to point it out, at least not loudly. Everyone should be able to do as well as everyone else.

I suppose when we acknowledge that some are smarter than we are, we can still cling to the idea that we, too, are smart–just not that smart. Then we can derisively note that those of superior intelligence are just plain weird. We’re smart, too, but not weird smart.

We all are less smart than someone. I have son who is smarter than I am. He is. It’s the same as him being taller than I am. It’s a fact. He studies math at a major university and is clearly far beyond my intelligence. His youngest brother laments that the oldest “sucked all the brains out of our family.” Perhaps, but it’s undeniable that he’s smarter than the rest of us. Being dumb, though, is much different from paling in comparison to someone brilliant. Dumb is dumb, regardless of the context.

We aren’t supposed to say people are dumb, of course. Perhaps they learn at a slower pace or differently or not at all. We’ll readily send the smartest kids to special or advanced classes or schools. When I was a kid, we had “remedial reading” which was pretty much an educational wasteland of some sort or that’s how I viewed it. I don’t even know if they do that anymore. It’s probably good that we don’t have dumb classes in school (assuming that’s true). School is hard enough as it is, I suppose.  I’m not talking about Special Education.  That’s a good thing, even though I was a bit frightened of the Special Ed room in high school (see my comments below about ignorance).

What happens when a child fails at school? The school or the teacher is blamed. If they would do better, so would little Johnny. Maybe, we blame the parents. But we don’t blame Johnny. We dismiss the possibility that Johnny is just a dullard. Maybe he’s dumb. Plenty of adults are. It only makes sense that kids would be, too.

If you’re dumb, learning is tough. Why? Well, you’re dumb. That about sums it up. If you’re dumb, you might not even understand why you need to learn something. Oh, someone can explain it to you, but you probably won’t get it. It just won’t make sense. You might think: “Why is that weird nerd telling me that?” or “Hey, there’s something shiny!” Lots of cloudy thinking will confuse you.

How do you know if you’re dumb? Hell, I don’t know. I’m smart, but not that smart. Even if I could explain it, you probably couldn’t understand it, anyway. We used to rely on IQ tests, but those are now out of fashion as inaccurate, culturally biased or just plain wrong. I suspect no one likes them because they demonstrate that some people are more intelligent than others. Then again, I’m not smart enough to know for sure. Not dumb, mind you, but not that smart, either. If you even suspect that you’re dumb, you probably aren’t. You have to have at least a modicum of intelligence to know that others are smarter than you are.

By the way, we took IQ tests in high school. I did alright on mine. One of my friends scored a 78. Another friend looked it up in what had to be an out-dated medical book. 78 was “high moron.” Oh, how we laughed. We would occasionally greet him with “Hi! Moron!” Like I said, school is tough enough, I guess.

I do think there are some tell tale signs of dumbness:

  • The Look: You’ve seen it. It’s a dull-eyed, vacant look. It’s in the eyes. There just isn’t much going on back there. You’re never sure if anything you say registers. Don’t worry. It doesn’t. George W. Bush has the look. So does Joe Biden. Oddly, George H.W. Bush doesn’t have it. Neither does Dick Cheney. Brad Pitt? Yep. George Clooney? No. Britney Spears? Oh, yeah. Madonna? Oddly again, no.
  • Disdain for the intelligent: “He ain’t got no common sense.” This is the calling card of the dumb. Desperate to denigrate the smart, they point to highly valued “common” sense as the true measure of intelligence. Sure, Einstein may have revolutionized centuries of scientific thought, but he lacked common sense. Just remember, the translation of this statement is: “That person is immeasurably more intelligent than I am, perhaps to the point that we belong to different species.”
  • He’s a nerd: A variation of the point above, this type of comment is designed to point out that you, although quite dumb in comparison, possess certain invaluable social traits lacking in your more intelligent counterparts. This is likely true. Why? Because the smart people are in the minority. If they were just average, they’d be hanging out with your ilk. Remember: The nerds are the ones that will sign your pay checks. Be nice to them.
  • Practiced Illiteracy: I’m not talking about literal illiteracy. Hell, if you can’t read, that’s a problem but fixable. Practiced illiteracy is the conscious choice not to read. No books, magazines or even newspapers. You might even call pornographic magazines “dirty books.” You’ll only look at the pictures in those, anyway. The advent of the internet gives you access to the same content without the need to be slowed down by type face. You’ll rarely read the newspaper, even then just the headlines. Reading is for nerds. (See point above RE: Nerds).
  • What do other people say? If you are often called names like dumbass, idiot, moron, fool, slack jaw, dullard, wastrel, lunkhead, muscle head, numbskull, nit wit, twit, git, pea brain, lame brain, brain-damaged, stupid, imbecile, simpleton or dolt, you’re probably dumb. Why else would people call you all those names?

When I was a young attorney, I took the deposition of a psychiatrist in a workers compensation case. The doctor described the claimant as suffering from “PPP.” When I asked what that was, the doctor said: “Piss poor protoplasm.” The doctor’s point was that this young man didn’t have the gray matter to do much in life. Sad, but true. He was just plain dumb.

(As a totally unrelated aside, that doctor was the ugliest person I’ve ever seen. He was the kind of ugly where you stare to try to figure out if he had some accident or cranial-facial anomaly. I don’t think he did. He was just ugly. I digress….).

If you’re dumb, you may be able to compensate for it to some degree, unless you fall prey to the other Horsemen.


“Ignorance is bliss” said someone named Thomas Gray in a pretensious-sounding work called Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College.  Dumb is different that ignorant. Smart people can be ignorant. Despite marrying me, my wife is smart, but she’s ignorant of history. She doesn’t like history and makes a concerted effort to avoid it. I could tell her that Chester Arthur was Bea Arthur’s real name before Bea’s sex-change, and my wife might believe. This isn’t because she’s dumb. She’s never tried to learn these things. She’s just ignorant (I mean that in the nicest way, of course).

I, too, am ignorant of such things as automobile mechanics. I understand the basic workings of the internal combustion engine, but that’s about it. When I look under the hood of my car, I get confused and a bit overwhelmed. Perhaps I could learn about it, I just don’t want to try. On the other hand, I have an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball history. Does that benefit me in any way? No, but it tells me that I can’t be dumb if I can remember all that minutia.

Ignorance, sadly, holds us all back to some extent. We readily recognize such vile things as racism or my fear of the Special Education room as being the product of ignorance or even dumbness. I submit that ignorance is a common thread binding us all. For me, it’s auto mechanics. For my wife, history and basic cooking skills. For you, it might be sports. Here’s the rub: For the dumb, it’s all kinds of stuff: Politics, religion, science, health, hygiene, math, world events, child care–the list is endless. The dumber you are the more likely you are to be ignorant of things. Sorry, but that’s just how it is.

The more ignorant you are the more likely you are to do something dumb. Here in Kentucky, stealing copper is quite popular, so much so that some thieves will steal electrical wiring. Now, one can persuasively argue that this is just dumb. It’s probably also a sign of gross ignorance. Electrical wiring often, by definition, carries electricity. Electricity, for all the good it does, can kill you. You need to know things like this before you steal stuff carrying electricity.

Stay ignorant about enough topics and pretty soon you’re stupid. Sorry, but that’s how it goes.

Most us, me included, write off our ignorance to lack of interest. If I’m not interested in something, why learn about it? That’s a pretty decent point, but it leads to my next topic.


Laziness is dumb’s lazy brother-in-law. Laziness gets a short shrift when discussing learning disabilities. Don’t underestimate the power of laziness. Laziness can neutralize intelligence and breed ignorance like a pen full of rabbits.

The lazier you are the less likely you are to learn anything. It’s just not worth the effort. As with ignorance, you do not have to be dumb to be lazy. Many smart folks are lazy, too. In fact, they can use their intelligence to half-ass their way through life. “Hey, if I can be average with minimal effort why wear myself out to be exceptional? Now, what’s on TV?” After awhile, your laziness and ignorance will lead to outright stupidity.

Sadly, I have suffered from laziness. Emptying the dishwasher, for example, is a daunting task for me, to the point that I am ignorant of where all the dishes go. Now, I’m not so dumb that I can’t figure it out, but it’s difficult because of my laziness.

The truly lazy have lost their ability to learn, if they ever had any. I have another son who likes to lie on the couch and watch television. School work is to him as the dishwasher is to me. His high school career has consisted of  gradually dumbing down his schedule to the point where watching television does not affect his grades. He doesn’t seem dumb to me, but it’s hard to tell, really.  His learning disability is laziness but stupidity could be in his future.

What do you do about being lazy? Getting up off your ass and doing something is a good start. At least that’s what my Dad thought.


If you’re smart, you may have noticed that this post is bereft of citations or any sign of research. That’s true, but it’s not because I’m dumb. It’s a blog, and I don’t have to do all that. So, I’m just lazy and possibly ignorant.

I maintain–and believe scientists would agree–that stupidity remains the number one learning disability in our country. Why do I say that? Because no one else will say it, even though in our heart of hearts we all know it’s true. If you’re stupid, that’s a hurdle that’s almost impossible to clear.

If you’ve managed to read this entire inane post, I have good news. You’re probably not dumb or you would have lost interest when you noticed there were no pictures. You’re also slightly less ignorant (maybe). And you’re not so lazy that you won’t at least read something. Congratulations.

© 2013