How To Win a Fight…or Die Trying.

I don’t fight people, at least not physically. As I write this, I’m 52 years old, and that’s just too old to fight. Truthfully, I never was much of fighter. Nevertheless, I’ve been in a few fights. I grew in Harlan County, Kentucky, deep in the mountains of Appalachia where people have a reputation of being rough and tough. I enjoyed no such reputation and for good reason. I am neither rough nor tough; however, these deficiencies give me great insight into the world of street fighting.

I haven’t been in fight in about 30 years or so. Even that fight was not impressive, as I was forced to fight a girl. You can read about that here. How, you might ask, would a man of such limited prowess ever even get in a fight? In my youth, I possessed two traits which made the occasional dust up unavoidable–a big mouth and small body. Pour strong drink into that mix, and you get in fights. The more I drank, the more I ran mouth. The more my mouth ran, the more people wanted to shut it. They would then size me up and determine that giving me a beating would be fairly easy.

I’m not offering any advice on how to start a fight. Starting one is easy. Mouth off, look funny at the wrong person, throw a punch and other offensive behavior will do the trick. I want you to know how to survive a fight. Here are the things you need to know:

PUNCHING IS OVERRATED

You know how in movies a guy will knock someone out with one punch?  That doesn’t happen in real fights, except by accident. Hitting someone in the face is difficult. Unless you are battling Mr. Potato Head or the Elephant Man, the human head is a small target. Hitting it with one punch is almost impossible, especially if the person is trying NOT to get hit. The exception to this is the Sucker Punch (discussed below). The other problem is that punching a head only works if you hit the face. The rest of the head is very hard as it consists of a thin layer of flesh and a really hard human skull. Punching a skull hurts.

Punching someone can hurt the puncher more than the punchee. I suspect this is because hands are made for such things as holding pencils and tying shoes. They aren’t made for beating things, hence the invention of the hammer. If you punch someone two or three times in the face, your hands are going to be pretty banged up. That hurts.

If you must punch, know your targets. The nose is great because it hurts and bleeds like hell. You will at the very least stun your opponent, if only momentarily. The throat is great, too, but almost impossible to hit. Under the armpit or directly under the rib cage are great, too; however, if you miss even a little, you won’t do any damage.

Real life punching is also goofy looking. You won’t look like Floyd Mayweather throwing a punch. Your punch will more like a close-fisted slap. You also are likely to be throwing the punch off the wrong foot, destroying any leverage you might have had. You likely have the wrong kind of hands for punching, just like me. I have bony hands with sharp, protruding knuckles. I know that sounds good, but it isn’t. I’m not a doctor, but I’ve determined that human knuckles are made of some kind of styrofoam-like material that crushes easily. Hit something two or three times and your knuckles will swell up and be useless.

Note your author's bony, protruding knuckles. These are ill-suited for a fist fight.

Note your author’s bony, protruding knuckles. These are ill-suited for a fist fight.

The best kind of fist for punching is a big, fat one that doesn’t even look like a fist. It looks like meat mallet. If you have those at the ends of your arms, use them.

KICKING IS UNDERRATED

Just as the punch gets way too much credit, the kick is virtually ignored. No, I’m not talking about some fancy karate-like spinning back kick. If you can do that, you should be out fighting all the time just to show off. I mean a kick like trying to kick someone in the testicles or the face.

The kick has several advantages. One, it doesn’t hurt like a punch. Two, it can create valuable space between you and your assailant (or victim, as the case may be). This space can be used for such tactics as running or head down bull rush. Third, if properly executed the kick delivers more force than a punch. The kick best applied when your opponent is on the ground. Despite what you’ve heard, kicking a man when he’s down is perfectly acceptable in a fight. In fact, it’s often necessary.

I must here mention the martial arts. I greatly respect any person who has mastered one of these ancient forms of self-defense. These people need no advice from the likes of me. Mastery is the key. As I once heard, martial arts teach you one of two things: (1) how to kill someone with your bare hands; or (2) just enough to get your ass kicked.

FIGHT DIRTY

This caption is deceptive. There isn’t any dirty fighting. If you want rules, become a boxer. Regular fights don’t have rules. Here are some moves to consider:

  • Sucker Punch: This is hitting a person when he doesn’t see if coming. This is the mark of coward, but it could win a fight for you before it starts.
  • Eye Gouging: This is an underutilized tactic. There are plenty of badasses who will dare you to punch them. None of them will dare you to gouge their eyes.
  • Groin Smash: If you’re male, I need say no more. If you’re female, well…I just don’t know what to tell you.
  • Clawing: I’m not talking about scratching (unless that’s necessary, of course). Clawing is similar to the gouge, except you can apply it anywhere (see Groin Smash above).
  • Rabbit Punch: This is a punch in the back of the head. This isn’t recommended because of the relative strength of the back of the human skull; however, you might want to just take a shot if you are running away.

These are just a few tactics you can use. During the heat of battle, you may think of many more. Try them all.

RUNNING

Running gets a bad rap. Many times, it is your last, best defense. The shame of running is no worse than the shame of getting a thorough beating and hurts it less. No one call tell you when to run. You must judge when the tide has turned. Profuse bleeding is usually a good sign. Unfortunately, many of us wait one punch or kick too late to utilize this move. For instance, I was once kicked in the stomach while on my hands and knees. At that moment, I thought “I need to run.” That thought was followed by another kick. Too late to run. Use your judgment.

AVOID WEAPONRY

I can’t emphasize this one enough. It’s bad enough to get in a fight. It’s even worse when you get killed. Weapons are good for that. For example, you might think hitting someone with a chair is a good move. You’ve seen movies and know that chairs splinter when they contact a human form. They don’t. They just hurt like hell (This all assumes you are strong enough to swing a chair like a club). You hit someone with a chair, beer mug, nunchucks, etc., and you better hope he doesn’t have access to something more deadly. You might find yourself at a gun fight armed with a chair.

CHOOSE YOUR OPPONENT

You don’t have to fight everyone with whom you have a conflict. If your potential opponent is a large, dangerous-looking man (or woman), you might want to think twice. You can save face by saying something like “Hey, dude, I don’t want any trouble.” That’s not cowardly. It has air of a man who has seen his share of trouble and wants to find a better way. If that doesn’t work, see RUNNING above.

Bear in mind, too, that there are people who actually like to fight. These people are deranged and will kill you. Avoid them. Sadly, usually we only discover this during the fight.

AVOID OLD MEN

I offer this for the young people. When you’re a young man, you feel indestructible to some extent. You are at your physical peak and look with pity at the middle-aged or older man, with his wife, kids, job and mortgage. This false sense of superiority often causes a young man to be mouthy or threatening. I know, for I was once young. Here’s some advice: Leave the old guys alone. Here’s why:

  • Old Man Strong: I don’t why–and science can’t explain it–but old guys are strong. They don’t look like it with their beer bellies and flabby arms, but they are. Even skinny old guys are strong. You will underestimate this, and he will beat your ass.
  • Old Man Don’t Care: Unlike a young fellow, an old guy isn’t concerned about losing a tooth or getting a black eye. He has no bright future ahead of him. He’ll wade right into you. It will catch off guard. Then you’re trouble.
  • Old Man Courage: Old guys don’t scare easily. Maybe it’s because they’ve  seen a lot or maybe they just don’t give a damn. Fights are scary. They get your adrenalin pumping. Old guys don’t get rattled. They just wail away.
  • Old Man Mystery: Let’s say you’re a college age man and you get in a fight over something you said in a bar. Chances are that your opponent is about like you–college guy, drunk, mouthy, etc. You know what you’re dealing with. Now, add 30 years to that guy. For all you know, he got out of prison yesterday after 20 years for skinning some guy just like you. It’s best not to find out.
  • Old Man Army: He could also be Marines, Navy, Air Force or even Coast Guard. If you fight an old fellow, you just might be locking horns with a military veteran. Bad, bad move. These guys are just waiting for someone like you. It’s better to apologize and buy him a drink.

Just as boxers should stay in their weight class, you should stay in your age class. If you are an old guy, at some point, some young guy will mouth off to you. Have at it.

Those are my tips. Of course, none of this applies if you are a large, dangerous person or just psychotically violent. If so, you need no pointers me. I’m certainly not trying to tell you what to do or suggesting that you can’t handle yourself quite well. Take no offense. I’m not looking for any trouble.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2015

ATTENTION YOUNG PEOPLE: THINGS THEY WON’T TELL YOU

During this graduation season, I always have the urge to offer my unsolicited advice to young people.  Why?  Because that’s how I am.  I’m middle-aged and think I know everything. Of course, I don’t, but I do know more than most young people.  Young folks are bombarded with advice from parents, friends and even strangers.  Most of that advice is ignored.  That’s not necessarily bad.  Take a look at who’s offering the advice.  Could be that they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about it.

On the other, maybe they know a lot of stuff, but just pass on the same poor advice they received in their youth.  Strictly speaking, I’m not offering advice here, as much as I’m critiquing advice.  You’re going to be told things that either just aren’t true or are too simplistic.  Who tells you things?  They do, of course.  They know a lot and are anxious to tell you about it.  Watch them, though.  They may not be as smart as they think they are.

Here are five of those things they’ll tell you–and what they won’t say:

1.  HARD WORK PAYS OFF

Hey, I’ve got nothing against hard work.  In fact, if I were giving advice, I’d advise you to work hard.  It’s difficult to accomplish much unless you make some effort.  Here’s what they won’t tell you:  Just because you work hard doesn’t mean it will pay off.  Let’s say that you really aren’t very good at something, but you work hard.  Chances are that the more you work, the more mistakes you’ll make.  You’ll make a bad situation worse.

Another problem is that hard work simply doesn’t always pay off.  You know who works hard?  Farmers.  A lot of farmers barely get by.  Their hard work can get ruined by weather, insects, the economy or plain old bad luck. A lot of jobs are like that.  Just because you work hard doesn’t mean you’ll be the CEO or that your lazy boss will even care.  Sorry, but that’s true.

So, work hard, but work smart.  If your hard work gets you nowhere, then go somewhere else or do something else.

2.  YOU HAVE A SOUL MATE

Well-meaning people will tell you that you have a soul mate, that person that God or fate has selected for you.  This person, among all the people you meet, is The One.  Find this person, and you will live happily ever after.

Think about this.  There are 7 billion people on Earth–half male, half female. That’s 3.5 billion for you.  I’ll concede that some of those will be too young under societal taboos.  Let’s say there are a billion or two available to you.  So, somewhere among those billion or so people is one for you.  Only one.  Assuming you can actually cross paths with this one person, you’ll have to know it.  Then you’ll have to do something about it.  Complicating matters is that this person must also recognize his or her good fortune. If you’re bisexual, the odds getting even greater or maybe they’re better–I can’t figure it out.  Regardless, good luck with all of that.

Half of all marriages end in divorce.  This means we are woefully incompetent at finding our soul mates.  Our soul mates are also incompetent, because they should have found us, too.  It also means that God has a twisted sense of humor.  He made us a soul mate, yet made it damn near impossible to find that person.

3.  MONEY ISN’T IMPORTANT

They’ll tell you that happiness is better than money.  Of course, it is, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t important.  I’ve had times that I lived paycheck to paycheck and times I didn’t.  The times I didn’t were better.

The old saw tells us that money can’t buy happiness.  This is true, but it can buy comfort.  Comfort isn’t necessarily happiness but it sure helps.  It  can even make unhappiness a tad easier.  I say everyone should be happy.  But, if you can’t be happy, at least be comfortable.

All of this is much different from believing that money will actually make you unhappy.  Hey, I’ve known quite a few poor people, and they haven’t cornered the market on happiness, either.

There is a limit to the need for money.  Ponzi schemes, thievery and various forms of graft should be avoided, if for no other reason to avoid prison.  Prison will make you unhappy.

4. THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE

You’re a young adult.  You have your whole life ahead of you.  The world is your oyster.  This is the best time of your life.  Boy, I sure hope not.

What are you–18, 20 years old?  You should have 60+ more years left.  If this is the best time of your life, then you have a long slog to the grave ahead of you, assuming you even care to try.

By the way, you are an adult.  If you can vote, marry, sign contracts and join the military, that’s all for adults.  You also may not have a good job or be doing poorly in school or living in your parents’ basement.  If these are the best times for you, life is going to be tough.

I have to qualify this.  When is the best time of your life?  How should I know?  Actually, now should be, but now changes.  Now is the best time of my life, but I’m in my 50’s.  I intend for my 60’s to be the best, too.  Now matters.  I used to 18, but that was then.  So, maybe now is the best time of your life, but later should be too–except not right now.  Don’t peak at 18 years old.  There’s too much ground left to cover.

Is that confusing?  You bet it is.  Life is confusing.  When you’re my age, you’ll understand.

5. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING

This is the most dangerous advice you can receive, because it simply is not true.  You can’t or, at the very least, shouldn’t.  Oh, you can try.  (See Item No. 1 above).  You are likely to fail at certain things.  Most of us do.  Failure is temporary, unless you continue trying the same thing.  As you continue trying, at some point you become insane and then you really can’t do anything.

Have you ever heard this?  Failure is not an option.  Oh, how wrong that is.  Failure is always an option.

You may dream of being a professional athlete.  If you can’t do it, at some point you must stop trying.  The same applies to intellectual endeavors.  Maybe you’re not smart enough.  That’s not a sin.  It’s just a fact.

Bad luck is another stumbling block.  You might not get the opportunity to do whatever you want.  Paying bills, eating, living indoors and the like often take priority.

Here’s something that could happen.  You could end up with someone who is not your soul mate.  This person could be a mill stone around your neck keeping you from doing anything you want.  It happens.

You also might have really crappy judgment.  The things you want to do may be terrible ideas.  Mobile meth labs, amateur pornography and random death threats are examples.  Yes, you may well be able to do these things, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.

CONCLUSION

So, what’s my point?  I don’t really have one.  That’s one luxury of getting old.  You can talk and talk and make no sense, but people feel like they need to listen.  Now, go out there and work hard, find your soul mate, ignore money and do anything you want to do.  This is the best time of your life or so they say.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

 

The Middle East: A Simple Guide from a Simple Man

As always, the Middle East in the news. The government of Egypt has been overthrown (again) and the USA is threatening something against Syria. Apparently, the Syrian government gassed some of its citizens. At first, it sounded like we were going to wipe them out.  Then, it sounded like we might just block them on Facebook.  Now, it sounds like we’re doing nothing.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know nearly as much about the Middle East as you should. After all, other than occasional lunacy from North Korea, the Middle East is pretty much where all the world’s trouble originates these days. I’ve penned this short primer to help others gain my limited knowledge of this troubling region.

DEFINING THE MIDDLE EAST

What is the Middle East? Well, first off, it’s not continent or a country. It’s actually a bunch of countries, mostly in Western Asia and a tiny part of North Africa. So, the Middle East is actually Western Asia and small speck of North Africa. Understand?

Below are all the countries that comprise the Middle East, along with my brief comments on what I know about each of them:

  • Bahrain: Didn’t know this was a country. I thought it was a city in Iraq.
  • Cyprus: Never heard of it. I don’t think we’ve ever attacked it or attacked anyone on its behalf. Thus, it’s safe to assume that 1) It has no oil; 2) It hasn’t attacked Israel; and 3) It isn’t another name for Israel.
  • Egypt: Egypt is actually in Africa. Did you know that? It was ruled by ruthless dictator Hosni Mubarek who was ousted from power by people who were then ousted from power. Most of what I know about Egypt is from The Ten Commandments. Looks like a bad place. They once had someone win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was assassinated.
  • Iran: The biggest of the troublemakers. Iran used to be called Persia and was known for its fabulous rugs and house cats. Now, it’s known for political and religious fanaticism and occasional wild threats against countries which could wipe it out in about a day and a half.  It’s only modern contribution to society was former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s embrace of business casual attire.
mahmound

Iran’s former president may have been nutty, but he made every day Casual Friday.

  • Iraq: Also known as the 51st state of the United States. Of course, it was once ruled by evil ruthless dictator Saddam Hussein. Now it is ruled by God knows what.  Hussein was the kind of well-balanced leader who tried to repel an America military attack by firing rockets at Israel.
  • Israel: Sort of like the United States’ little brother. It gets picked on a lot but always knows big brother has its back. Like a little brother, it also talks tough and doesn’t hesitate to threaten others. Beloved by evangelical Christians who somehow don’t care that a vast majority of its citizens reject the most basic tenets of Christianity. It has never been ruled by a ruthless dictator, but it has been governed by ruthless democratically elected leaders. Americans aren’t allowed to publicly criticize the Israeli government. Oddly enough, Israelis criticize it openly and often.
  • Jordan: I don’t know much about it, other than they seem like they’re friendly enough. I just found out the King Hussein died in 1999. He seemed alright to me. I was excited to learn that Abdullah is now the king–until I found out it wasn’t Abdullah the Butcher.
abdullah

King Abdullah The Butcher of Jordan (I wish!)

  • Kuwait: They have a lot of oil and a king or emir or something like that. They were invaded by Iraq 20 or so years ago, causing us to kick some Iraqi ass back to Baghdad. Since then, they don’t cause trouble for the U.S.
  • Lebanon: Beirut was once considered the Paris of the Arab World. During most of my life, it’s been a hotbed for troublemakers. Apparently, it still is, as it is the home base of Hezbollah, a disagreeable group whose sole purpose is the destruction of Israel.  Then again, no country is perfect.  We have the Westboro Baptist Church.  Oddly, though, Lebanon is a democracy–probably because it doesn’t have any oil.  Their constitution requires that the highest government officials belong to varied religions.  This keeps any one group of loons from taking over.
  • Oman: Hmmm. They’re too small to cause much trouble, I guess.  It sounds a lot like Onan, which makes me giggle.
  • Palestine: Not really a country, but it used be. That’s one of the big problems over there. They want to be a country again, but there isn’t enough land. So, they fight with the Israelis.  A lot of it has to do with the Gaza Strip, which sounds like an exotic dance, but it isn’t.
  • Qatar: Here’s what I know. The name is pronounced “Gutter.” Sometimes. It has a lot of oil (surprise!), but it’s a tiny little piss ant of a country. They seem to keep to themselves.
  • Saudi Arabia:  It’s a kingdom and also lousy with oil.  People wear robes and fabulous head wear.  They have a royal family.  May be best known as the home country of Osama Bin Laden, the lanky terrorist mastermind who had his sorry ass blown away by Navy Seals.  They’re heavy-duty Muslims, allowing religious leaders an official role in the their government.  Supposedly friendly to the U.S., but I have my doubts.  They remind me of friend who would sleep with your girl friend, and then blame her (not that I ever knew anyone like that or anything).
  • Syria: Doesn’t seem to get along with anyone, except Russia.  It is said that if Turkey and Syria ever go to war, they will fight until the last drop of Iraqi blood.  They’ve had a civil war going on for a couple of years now, but no one seems to know who is fighting whom.  There may not be any good guys.
  • Turkey:  Turkey is a democracy and has been for some time. It’s almost all Muslim but not Arab. They’re Turks, of course. They’re very sensitive about Armenians, so don’t bring that up around them. They’re best known for their wonderful baths and horrific prisons.  A friend of mine went to Turkey and ate a big bucket of cherries causing some sort of severe gastrointestinal reaction.
  • United Arab Emirates: This isn’t a country but a group of country-like states. They might just be cities. They’re all ruled by emirs and sheiks. One of the sheiks has a horse farm not too far from where I live. I’ve seen him at the race track. Dashing fellow that sheik. The best thing about the UAE is that it’s where former Iraqi Information Minister Baghdad Bob lives.
  • Yemen: It is the Unemployed Brother-in-Law of the Middle East. It’s real close to running out of oil which would pretty much turn it into the set for the next Mad Max film. They seem fairly friendly with the U.S., as do most impoverished nations. On the other hand, Yemen is a hot bed for terrorists resulting in the occasional lethal drone strike.  They don’t seem to mind.

Were you as surprised as I was to find out that Libya isn’t part of the Middle East, at least according to Wikipedia?  It sure seems like it should be with all its threats and saber-rattling over the years.  The late Muammar Gaddafi (Khadafi?  Qaddafi?) certainly qualified as a ruthless dictator.  I don’t get it.  Let’s just throw Libya in there anyway.

Libya's late strong man was certainly a bad guy, but the world misses his style.

Libya’s late strong man was certainly a bad guy, but the world misses his style.

Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan are in the Middle East, and we can’t stretch the definition to include them.  Remember this rule of thumb:  None of the “Stan” countries are in the Middle East.

GOVERNMENT

Middle Eastern countries have a vast array of governments from democracies to theocracies to monarchies to dictatorships.  They all seem to have one thing in common:  They like to threaten and fight with each or, at the very least, Israel.  Generally speaking, they also seem to despise the United States–and we ain’t too fond of them, either.

All Middle Eastern nations brag about their armies who typically provide little resistance to invaders (Israel excepted, of course).  They quickly surrender and often join forces with the invaders.

Strong men and ruthless dictators have always been popular.  They’re usually fairly despicable, although the United States has been friendly with some of them.  The Shah of Iran, for example, was a fast friend of ours.  One good thing about these folks is that they are able to keep the religious nuts out of their governments, which is more than we can say for our own form of government.  Of course, if you’re like the Shah, you may be unfortunate enough to thrown from power by the religious nuts.  That also happens sometimes in our country, but it’s through elections.

Some of the countries follow Sharia law, which is a form of theocracy incorporating Islamic law into the secular laws of the country–or something like that.  You may have heard Glenn Beck and others of his ilk decrying the possibility that Sharia law will become the law of the land in the United States.  Some states have even passed laws to prevent that.  If you voted for anyone based upon that, please consider not voting anymore.  Thanks.

RELIGION

If Middle Eastern governments are varied, their religion is not.  The countries are predominantly Islamic, with exception of Israel, which is mostly Jewish.  I don’t know about Cyprus.  Lebanon used to have more Christians than anyone else.  I assume that’s still the case.

As we all know, we’re not to discuss religion in polite company, but religion is a big deal in the Middle East.  Most of the countries don’t want any religion but Islam.  Of course, many Americans don’t want any religion but Christianity, but we are certainly more tolerant, if not any less hateful about it.

Some Americans think all Muslims are terrorists. It’s like people who say all conservatives are racists. Although there may be quite a few who are, the overwhelming majority are not.  Facts don’t matter.  People believe what they want to believe.  It’s sort of like religion.

My son has a close friend who is Muslim, and he seems harmless enough.  We have millions of Muslims in the U.S., and I’m reasonably certain they aren’t all terrorists.

We in America talk about radical Islam or Muslim extremists.  I’m not sure how you define those terms, but read the Old Testament and take every single rule and law literally.  You’ll probably be an extremist.

A lot of the fighting in the Middle East is between Muslim groups.  There are Shiites and Sunnis.  I don’t know the difference and don’t intend to find out.  I have a hard enough time with all the different Christian denominations.  Here’s a good guide for you.  If your church suggests that you blow yourself up or blow up other people, consider checking out another group.

CULTURE

I don’t know much of their culture.  They like soccer, so much so that Iraq once executed its national soccer coach.  They also play buzkashi, a game where you throw around a goat carcass (maybe that’s Afghanistan).  They probably play cricket.

I’ve never heard any of their music, but I imagine sitars.  If they make movies, they’re probably anti-American.

They don’t treat women very well or at least most of the countries don’t.  There is a lot of capital punishment (very American, too) and hand chopping (not American).  When excited, they randomly fire weapons.  Lots of Americans do the same thing.

American flag burning remains popular, too.  Throwing shoes is their idea of a cutting edge insult.

ECONOMY

Oil.  Tourism for Israel and Turkey. Oh, and don’t forget American foreign aid.

SO, WHAT NOW?

That sums up all my knowledge about this fascinating and controversial region.  I have never visited the Middle East and don’t intend to do so.  You may visited there or even be a native. If so, you are likely appalled by my ignorance and outright fabrications.  Well, too bad.  I’m an American, and I don’t have an obligation to learn about every foreign country on Earth.  I know a little, and so does everyone else who read this. Just don’t throw a shoe at me.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Talking Pointers: Steps to Speaking Good

One of my first blog posts was my seminal piece on the art of small talk. Although no one will admit it, I believe that it has shaped a generation’s approach to mindless nattering with total strangers. Likewise, my tome on the keys to success  swept the nation in the same sort of low-key manner.  As the voice of my generation, I now offer simple steps to effective speaking.

As a lawyer, I speak in public. It neither thrills nor frightens me. It’s just what I have to do on occasion. Sometimes, I speak in court hearings and trials. Occasionally I deliver talks to attorneys or other unfortunates on such topics as legalizing child labor and the law of Internet pornography. Of course, I’m joking–those topics might actually fascinate some people. My topics are more obscure–even arcane. As a result, am I forced to spice up my presentations with such things as this clip for the classic film Road House. You might think that would be difficult to work in to a talk about coal mine safety, but I did it.

You may not have a good speaker voice.  Don’t worry.  I don’t, either.  It’s not necessary to sound like Morgan Freeman.  But, if you do, you don’t need any of these pointers.  People will listen to you just to hear your voice.  The rest of us need help.

What makes a good speaker? I’m not sure that I qualify as one, but I’ve heard some good ones in my time. Beyond my earlier observations on chit-chat, speaking takes many forms–both public and private. Over the years, I have become at least competent in my communication skills. Thus, I want to offer my suggestions and observations.

SPEAK CLEARLY

My wife accuses me of mumbling. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky where mumbling is an accepted form of communication, and I make no apologies for that. I would note that I believe my wife has significant hearing loss, perhaps from stress fractures to the delicate bones in her ears caused by cranial vibration induced by her own shrill screaming. That debate is best left for another forum. However, my father–who was almost completely deaf–always accused my mother of mumbling. So there. Where was I?

You want to speak with a loud, clear voice. If possible, speak louder than everyone else. In this way, you will be authoritative and sound like you are “in the know.” Here is an example:

THEM: I heard that [INSERT NAME OF POLITICIAN].

YOU: HE’S A COMPLETE IDIOT!!!

By subtly insinuating yourself into the discussion, you have commandeered the conversation. Also, your insight will persuade others to join your “side” of the discussion. You come away looking knowledgeable while your unfortunate friend is branded a gadfly or even a simpleton.

This tip is vitally important if you encounter someone who doesn’t speak English. This can happen with no warning–unless you are a bigot engaged in racial profiling. Recently, at a fast food restaurant, I was approached by a young man who addressed me in a language that no sane person could understand. He may have been asking me a question. He could have been cursing God for all I know. I offered this response: “Do you speak English?” He misunderstood and prattled on. I then took control of the conversation by fairly yelling: “DO…YOU…SPEAK…ENGLISH?” He said “No” and walked away. There are two important lessons here: 1) It’s possible that people who don’t speak your native tongue may understand it if your scream it slowly; and 2) No one likes being yelled at, even in a foreign language.

Note, too, that yelling may even work with the deaf. Once, a man handed me a card which read: “I AM DEAF. NEED MONEY FOR FOOD.” I yelled: “SORRY. I CAN’T HELP YOU.” He pointed at his ears and walked away. See, it works.

Most importantly, you might know my wife. She doesn’t like mumbling. You know how she is.

CURSING

Whether it’s called cursing, swearing or potty mouth, foul language has long been condemned by skilled speakers. I once read that repeated cursing chops up one’s message rendering it nothing but a series of short, disconnected thoughts. Your larger message is lost.

To this advice, I say BULLSHIT! Many times, such language is all that can adequately deliver your message. More often, it can set the tone for your entire oratory. Here is an example. Let us suppose that you are asked to give a talk at your church. Naturally, you lack formal religious training. At best, you will make a fool of yourself. At worst, you will offend both the parishioners and God Himself. One approach would be to memorize a few scriptures and meditate upon them in prayer, asking for the right words. Good luck with that. Another approach is to immediately grab your listeners with an opening salvo along these lines:

LISTEN UP, YOU BUNCH OF MOTHER—-ERS!!

The congregation will be rocked by this forceful opening. They will immediately think “There must be a strong message from the Lord to follow.” You can then launch into a recklessly inaccurate sermon peppered with occasional obscenities that will hold the listener’s attention.

This approach works in casual conversation as well. Nothing will impress your friends more than your adroit use of all manner of filth. Let’s say you are in a conversation with someone far more educated than you. You make a casual comment about, say, the invention of the linotype machine, which you foolishly attribute to Grover Cleveland. Your friend says “Well, the linotype was actually invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler.” What do you do now? You could stare at your feet and excuse yourself from the conversation. Here is the better approach: Lock eyes with your friend and declare: “YOU, SIR, ARE GODDAMNED LIAR!!” (be sure to speak loudly as advised above). You have turned the tables on Mr. Know-It-All. Not only have you challenged his assertion, you have done so in a way that calls into question his credibility in general. Bystanders, unconcerned as they might be with the inanity of the topic, will view you as man with whom to be reckoned. You can bet that no one will take exception to you again in a public setting.

KNOW YOUR TOPIC

I can’t stress this one enough. No manner of loud swearing is an adequate substitute for knowing your subject matter. This is especially so if, like me, there are people who actually believe you know about certain things. If you have been in that unenviable position, you know it almost impossible to know enough about anything to intelligently speak for more than 5 minutes or so.

One approach is to research and carefully study your topic. Okay, that will work if you have no life and want to waste what precious time you have on the planet on such endeavors. Another approach is to pay someone who does know about the topic to prepare a PowerPoint presentation for you. Then, you can simply babble from slide to slide until your allotted time has been used up.

Another approach is to simply make up your talk from whole cloth. In the legal profession, this is especially effective. Usually, I speak at continuing legal education seminars where no one listens anyway. I can say anything! Almost no one listens, and the few who do don’t know anymore than I do. If someone asks me a question, I can either make up something or simply fire back “SHUT THE F— UP!”

The same pointers work in casual conversation.  Ignorance has never shut anyone up as far as I know.  As long as you talk incessantly, loudly and obscenely, you’re bound to say something close to accurate.  Again, remember:  Few people listen to you anyway.  Thus, it’s never what you say that matters.  It’s how you say it.

USE AN ACCENT

I have an accent. It’s Eastern Kentucky. Sadly, no matter what I say, to many people it sounds dumb. That’s because they think Eastern Kentuckians are dumb. You probably have an accent, too, unless you are from Nebraska or Kansas or some other accent-less part of the country. If you are a foreigner, you almost certainly have an accent, and it may be a really good one.

If you have a bad one, try another. British always works. Have you ever heard the BBC News? Everything sounds important. The moment the word “schedule” (SHED-yule) slides across your tongue, everything you say will sound authoritative. Consider Madonna. She is from Michigan but speaks with a British accent. How about eccentric actor Johnny Depp? Like me, he is from Kentucky, yet he has a vague, non-specific Euro accent. Neither of these marvelous entertainers is well-educated, but both sound erudite and informed. Isn’t that the whole point of speaking aloud?

There are many other accents available. Spanish, for example, sounds worldly and sophisticated. A word of caution–unless you master it, you may sound like Tony Montana and terrify the listener. This isn’t good unless that’s your goal. There are pluses and minuses of other accents:

Scottish: Kinda British but less understandable. You’ll sound friendly, if a tad odd.

Canadian:  You’ll sound like a plain, white American, except you’ll say “aboot” instead of “about.”  I’m not sure how that will help you.

Irish: Also possibly incomprehensible, plus the listener may believe you to be under the influence of strong drink. Has the plus side of being sort of funny.

German: You will sound commanding and more than a little frightening. Especially effective with curse words. If you actually speak the German language, everything sounds like cursing.

Russian: Extra terrifying. Great if you like to pretend to be spy.

Swedish: Goofy, but good if you don’t want the listener to understand you.

Australian: A rougher form of the British accent. You’ll sound less intelligent but considerably more dangerous.

Asian: Just avoid this one. The prospect of speaking stereotypical pidgin English is too great. Also, if you’re not, in fact, Asian, the listener will simply believe you are odd.

My accent is not always a drawback. The Eastern Kentucky accent adds just the right tone to such rejoinders as “I’ll whip your ass” or “What the hell are you looking at?” No Brit can deliver such messages with the same force.

GRAMMAR

Good grammar is good and important, at least according to my late mother. I don’t really know nothing about that, so I’ll move on.

USE THE RIGHT WORD

Some suggest using simple words. I guess this is good advice if you spend your time speaking to morons who are unlikely to understand anything you say anyway. I suggest using poorly understood words like sardonic, disaffected, nonplussed and irregardless. That way, you appear superior to the listener. Even if you don’t know what these words mean, use them anyway. No one else understands them, either.

You might say of an acquaintance:  “Carl just don’t give a shit about nothing.”  Admittedly, that’s an effective use of an expletive; however, consider this alternative:  “Carl has a disaffected attitude about everything.”  Have you praised or insulted Carl?  It’s hard to say, isn’t it?  The listener can be the judge.

Call someone obsequious or an opsimath. You can refer to this post as an amphigory.  Accuse someone of being an irresponsible jackanapes. I like to call people wastrels, slugabeds and layabouts.  Don’t bother looking up the definitions.  Just use them.

The use of indecipherable language might seem counterintuitive.  It is true that such use is unwise in the rare event that you want to be understood.  If you want to make an impression, though, there is no better way than to talk like you’re smarter than everyone else.  Do you want to be understood by complete idiots or by smart people?

CONCLUSION

Most of us have much to say but lack the skills to say it.  Honing your verbal skills is the key to making yourself heard, if not understood.  Now, go out there and talk to someone.

You may have found my advice inconsistent and even useless.  If so, so be it.  Better yet, JUST SHUT THE… .  You get it.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Be Fun and Offensive with My Family Lexicon

I recently had the dubious honor of listening to a self-important gas-bag blow about the poor grammar of my native Eastern Kentuckians.   While much of what he said is true, one could persuasively argue that it is more a dialectic question than one of grammar.  I’m not a linguist, so that’s beyond my analytical ability.  It did get me thinking, though, about how we all speak and how it is influenced by our surroundings.  For example, my mother railed against poor grammar, although I was not particularly receptive, peppering my language with my fair share of “ain’ts” and double-negatives.  (Whenever I hear a double-negative, I hear my mother’s voice:  “If you ‘don’t have no’ you really have some.”).  I realized that my family had its own language, which may not have been well-understood outside our small circle.

My father was the font of most of our peculiar dialect–a combination of sayings, words and colloquialisms. Here are some of the terms and sayings I learned growing up (and as an adult) which my family used liberally.

CRYIN’ RUBE:  Dad had a cousin named Ruby who, by all accounts, cried at the slightest provocation.  Thus, she was known as “Cryin’ Rube.” This pejorative was reserved for times when one of us kids cried for no good reason.  “Be quiet, Cryin’ Rube” or “Don’t be a Cryin’ Rube” would be Dad’s frequent response.  I’ve said it to my kids, but they don’t get it.

H.G.:  HG was another of Dad’s cousins.  One summer in the 1930’s, HG stayed with Dad’s family.  He was, as Dad said, a “muscle head.” (see definition below).  Dad described him as a “goofy-looking boy.” One day, HG was dancing on the front porch swinging a curtain rod around like a sword.  While dancing, HG inadvertently stuck the curtain rod into an empty light socket.  He was blown off his feet.  If I did something really stupid, Dad might refer to me as HG.  To be HG meant you exercised poor judgment or were just generally annoying.

MUSCLE HEAD:  We didn’t coin this term, but Dad used it often.  Essentially, it means that rather than having functioning brain matter, your skull is full of useless muscle.  This was often shortened to simple “muscle,” as in “Listen here, muscle….”

THE ROUNDTABLE:  The roundtable is where you sit when you have arrived.  You only get a seat if you are qualified (see Portfolio below).  “You are now at the roundtable” was perhaps Dad’s highest praise.  Impostors or wastrels need not even consider approaching the roundtable.  It’s invitation only.

PORTFOLIO:  Your portfolio is a list of your accomplishments, qualifications and general worthiness.  To be “without portfolio” was Dad’s way of saying that you just don’t measure up.  There is no room for you at the Roundtable.  In his later years, Dad was fond of saying (and saying and saying…) “I am my portfolio.  My portfolio is I.”  Outside immediately family, I doubt that was well understood.  My brother and I knew he meant that he would stand on his own accomplishments.  We knew this because he also said “I will stand on my portfolio.”  What really taught us was we call The Parable of the Washer Woman.  It went something like this:

If you are invited to the Roundtable, you will be judged on your portfolio.  If the washer woman approaches the Roundtable, they will review her portfolio, too.  “Let’s see, here, hmmm.  What are your accomplishments?  You are a WASHER WOMAN!  OUT!”  She is without portfolio.  If you have portfolio, you will get your seat, but you will earn your place.”

At this point, I should note that my father had no prejudice against washer women.  He was simply emphasizing that not everyone could sit at the Roundtable.  The titular washer woman lacked portfolio; thus, for her own good, she need not approach the Roundtable.  My brother and I understood.  Oddly, the first time my brother heard this, he thought it was a true story and was horrified by the treatment of the poor washer woman.  Don’t let that cause you to question my brother’s portfolio.  He has portfolio.  Dad said so.

HORSE FACE CUMPTON:  It would help if you had known my maternal grandparents, which is unlikely.  They were the finest of people but almost like a comedian team.  Papaw had a penchant for long, detailed stories which Mammaw constantly interrupted with irrelevant comments and questions.  Here is where Horse Face arose:

Papaw:  “When I worked in the mines at Benham, I worked with this fellow…”

Mammaw:  “Ireland (pronounced “Arlen”), who was he?”

Papaw:  “Muriel (pronounced “Merle”), you didn’t know him.  Anyway…”

Mammaw:  “What was his name, Ireland?”

Papaw:  “You didn’t know him, Muriel.  Back to  my story.  This fellow…”

Mammaw:  “I knew everyone at Benham, Ireland.”

Papaw:  “MURIEL, HE WAS A MAN NAMED HORSE FACE CUMPTON!!  THERE!!”

Mammaw:  “Horse Face Cumpton?  Hmmm.  That name rings a bell.”

Maybe that’s not funny to you, but you didn’t know Mammaw, did you?  She was the same person who once asked a lady with the last name of Pigg if she was related to the Hogg family in Letcher County.

Anytime that I’m interrupted trying to tell a story, I feel the urge to yell “HORSE FACE CUMPTON!”  Sometimes, I do, and no one understands.

UNEMPLOYABLE:  We all know this word, but few of us use it as a noun.  Dad did, as in “He is an unemployable.”  Dad put great stock in people having jobs and, more importantly, being willing and able to have a job.  Likewise, he considered helping get someone a job to be the greatest kindness one can offer.  He referred to some folks as “unemployables.”  I have adopted this as part of my vocabulary.  One word of caution, be careful about when you use it. People don’t like being called that.

One night I called Dad and asked what he’d been doing.  He said “I just returned from speaking to a group of unemployables.”  I still hope that he didn’t really call them that during his talk.

LOWEST OF TRASH:  I’ve written before about my mother’s use of this term.  It’s bad enough to compare a human to refuse but adding to that the “lowest” of such human garbage is harsh indeed.  Unfortunately, sometimes that’s all that applies.

BANK SHOES:  No, these aren’t worn by bankers.  These are shoes fit only for wearing on a river bank.

STREAK OF THE CREEK:  Dad’s way of saying that you might be too backward to make it in the modern world.  “It’s hard to wash off a streak of the creek.”

SIMPLETON:  Again, not an original but so frequently used that it became part of my vocabulary.  It’s similar to “wastrel,” a word no one uses anymore.  Dad used it.  So do I.

KNUCKLEHEAD:  No doubt, this came from our family love for the Three Stooges.  Can be used interchangeably with “loggerhead” or “numbskull.”

DAFT:  Like wastrel, this fell out of favor a couple of hundred years ago, but we liked it.

THUMBS:  A pejorative term used for a clumsy person, as in “Be careful there, Thumbs!”  “Ox” or “Oxy” can also be used.

HORSEY:  A rather unattractive woman, usually large.  “She’s a big horsey woman.”  I try to avoid this one.  It just doesn’t go over well.

THIS ISN’T A HIGH SCHOOL DEBATE:  Another one of Dad’s which he adopted late in his life.  Translation:  Regardless of how inane or plain wrong what I am saying may be, do not take exception to anything I say, boy.  Ever.

HUMMAQUEER:  My brothers and I and our cousin were riding in a car with Mom on a drive in Utah.  We were discussing someone and Mom wanted to ask this question:  Is he a homosexual?  Now, bear in mind that this was several decades ago before “gay” was in common usage in our part of the world.  Also, I doubt Mom had ever said the word “homosexual.”  In fact, it’s unlikely that she had ever said “sexual” in mixed company.  To her credit, she wanted to prove she was “with it.”  Here is how the question was actually asked:

Do you think he’s one of those, uh, you know, uh…humma…humma…uh…hummaqueers?

You may be offended by this.  If so, my mother has been dead for many years now and likely wouldn’t have cared about your opinion anyway.  Of course, if that does offend you, then you certainly will be offended by the question my cousin asked her:  “Is that anything like a fagsexual?”

Political correctness and common decency prevent the use of hummaqueer these days.  That’s a good thing, but I still think it sometimes.

THAT CAT LOVES IT UP THERE:  Another cousin of mine was a rambunctious child.  After a long car ride, he leapt from the car, grabbed my Mammaw’s cat and threw it up on the roof of my grandparents’ house.  As he was being scolded, he shouted:  “THAT CAT LOVES IT UP THERE!”  This always comes to mind whenever I do something inexplicable and don’t have a good excuse.  For example, I once kicked in my son’s bedroom door and immediately thought, well, you get the picture.

This is just a partial list.  There were, too, the requisite cautionary tales and the tales of woe (walking to school, no new clothes, no Christmas presents, eating mush, etc.) all parents tell.  I’m sure your family has its own distinct vocabulary.  Think for a moment about the names you gave your grandparents–Grandpa, Pappy, MeeMaw, Moo Moo, Granny, etc..  Consider, too, the various humorous family terms for bodily functions and genitalia.  You can easily make your own Family Thesaurus and Dictionary.  If you’re foreign, you can even do a bi-lingual version.  Try it.  You’ll have fun.

Now, back to the Roundtable.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

My Kindergarten Commencement Address

I have already tackled the difficult task of preparing a high school commencement speech.  Not surprisingly, no one took me up on my offer to speak at any high school commencement. High school, though, is not the only ground upon which to impart my wisdom.

Perhaps I should speak to a college or university. Public figures and captains of industry often do that. Alas, I am neither. That goal simply isn’t realistic.

What about elementary or middle school grads? I didn’t go to a middle school, so I don’t know anything about that. As far as those entering high school, most of them are morons and won’t listen anyway.

This leaves me with kindergarten, that Petri dish of preschoolers ready to take on real school. I graduated from kindergarten as part of the Harlan Kindergarten Class of 1968.  It was my only foray into private school, as there was no public kindergarten in those days.  I graduated with a haughty sense of entitlement.

kindergarten

Your author’s natty attire belied his naiveté as a kindergartener.

I would have benefited from wise counsel in those days.  I now stand ready to educate kindergarteners on what lies before them.  To paraphrase the late, great drummer, Buddy Rich:  These people.  They are my kind of people. So, here goes:

Hello, kids!  Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today.  Today is an important moment in your young lives.  After today, you are no longer preschoolers.  You are students and shall remain so for many years to come.

As you are no doubt aware, “kindergarten” is from the German, meaning “children’s garden.”  It was created by a German named Friederich Frobel in the village of Bad Blankenburg.  Stop giggling!  That’s the name!  You’ll be calling the world ahead of you blankin’-burg soon enough. 

Up to this point, many of you have gotten by on your appearance.  You are, as we say, cute.  That will rapidly fade in elementary school.  We will lose teeth and become awkward as you grow.  Being cute means nothing.  Every misanthrope and human monster was once your age.  Look at this darling child [I hold this up for the audience]:

Adolf_Hitler_Childhood_Photos-{1}

His name? Adolf Hitler.  Cute, isn’t he?

Many–if not most–of you are unprepared for school.  A great number of you are complete illiterates, unable to so much as correctly spell your full name.  Others are only functionally illiterate.  You cannot read even at the 1st grade level.  Your ability to understand or complete even a simple job application is nil.  Even rudimentary math is beyond your comprehension at this point.  As a result of these limitations, you are unable to function in modern society.  These handicaps, daunting as they may be, can and will be remedied in the coming years–at least to some extent.

Some of you now begin your long, slow trudge to failure–sad but true.  You will annoy your teachers.  You will gravitate to the worst of your lot and mimic their behavior.  Perhaps you will be the ring leader of a group of miscreants.  If so, make no mistake:  You can and will be written off at a young age.  The good news is that–for the only time in your life–time is on your side.  As unlikely as it may be, you can change your behavior for the better.

Many of you are angels or so your parents have led you to believe.  You are sweet and when you aren’t, you are simply misunderstood.  Your failures and shortcomings are not your own.  They are the product of misinformed individuals or society as a whole.  Your parents are failing you daily, but I do not expect you to understand.  Being egocentric as you are, you are comfortable with this arrangement.  This comfort sows the seeds of your ultimate downfall.  When you fall short of expectations at school, your parents will harangue your teachers, blaming them for your sloth and intellectual shortcomings.  Only when you are much older will you realize that your house stands upon sand.  Then, it will be too late.

Some of you are tethered to your parents like pets.  You never leave their sight.  They are determined to protect you from the evils of the world and the world itself.  They will often lunch with you at school.  Perhaps they will volunteer in your classroom.  Some may even seek gainful employment at your school.  They seek to smother you with their attention.  And they will succeed.

A few–and I hope very few–of you are little more than street urchins deposited at school by uncaring parents who neither deserve to have children nor any other human relationship.  There is good news for you.  It is possible–not likely, but possible–that you will encounter someone who can exert a positive influence upon you outside your home. School is the most likely place to find such a person.

You may be an only child.  By that, of course, I mean you are the only child in your immediate family.  YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY CHILD ON EARTH!  Just remember that.

Of course, you will encounter teachers.  In my experience, the good far outnumber the bad.  The good ones will care about you like no one outside your own family.  The bad ones will want to herd you on the next grade while they detest you almost as much as they do their dead-end jobs.  Most of your teachers do the best they can.  Your cooperation will help.

Your teachers may occasionally criticize or correct you.  That is their job.  That is how you learn.  This may be foreign to you.  Your parents may be the type who praise everything you do from feeding yourself to basic hygiene.  Your teachers shall prepare you for the real world where such tasks are not viewed as accomplishments at all.  In fact, society fairly demands you master them.

Your teachers also cannot praise your every move.  I have no doubt that all of you have drawn pictures for your parents.  Let’s say you draw what you called a “horsey.”  In reality, this horse resembles nothing so much as random scrawling with no form.  It is, in fact, completely unrecognizable as a horse or any other living creature.  When you present this picture to your parents they exclaim “Oh, what a pretty horsey! It’s beautiful!”  Such lies are meant to boost your self-esteem by lauding your crude art work.  If an adult produced such a drawing and insisted that it was horse, he or she would branded as mentally deranged.  Institutions and unemployment would be their future.

A decent parent would look at your drawing and ask “What exactly about that looks like a horse?” or “Why don’t we just call it a wildebeest or a fire hydrant?  Makes as much sense.”  I doubt that you have ever received such constructive criticism.  Those days are done.

No teacher worth his or her salt can engage in such foolishness.  If you declare that 2 + 2 equals 11, you cannot be praised.  You are not praiseworthy.

Despite what your parents think, there is almost no chance that you are a genius.  That you are able to distinguish letters of the alphabet means little.  It is axiomatic that most of you are average.  That’s not to say that there aren’t exceptions.  Some of you are far, far smarter than your peers.  That will not change, although you shall be witness to many years of people trying to bring your peers up to your level or you down to theirs.  But you are smarter than these people, too, and they will fail.

You are now headed to a world where failure is, in fact, an option.  The good news is that the educational system is designed to prevent failure.  In addition to your teachers, there are counselors, tutors, study plans and even medication at your disposal.  Perhaps you are now addicted to amphetamines in an effort to help you pay better attention in school.  That might help.  Of course, the downside to living as a speed freak is well-known but better discussed at your middle school graduation.

No doubt you reflect today that time flies.  It seems like only yesterday that you soiled yourself simply because you knew no better.  For a few of you, it literally may have been yesterday.  In any event, those days are behind you now–hopefully.  A new day dawns.

You now leave the garden and head straight into the jungle.  Knowing your penchant for distraction, I have kept my words brief.  Some of you have picked your noses throughout my talk while others have squirmed with annoyance.  Welcome to the rest of your life.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

My High School Commencement Address

It’s graduation time, that time of year when we celebrate our young people moving from high school into the adult world. It causes me to ponder what advice I can give to these young people as they enter the world. They aren’t much different from newborn infants. They are about to be thrown into a world where you learn as you go.

As a little background, I graduated from high school in 1980 from James A. Cawood High School in Harlan County, Kentucky. It was the first consolidated high school in Harlan County. It also no longer exists. Who was James A. Cawood? He was the long-time Superintendent of Schools in Harlan County. When they consolidated Hall, Wallins and Loyall High Schools, he decided that James A. Cawood was a good name for the school.

When I graduated, I did not give the commencement address–mostly because I was not asked to do so. Okay, that’s entirely the reason. I think I was in the top 10 of my graduating class, because I looked like this:

john grad

The gown covers my suit which was 110% polyester, in keeping with the times.

My brother–four years older and much smarter than I–gave the Valedictory address when he graduated. That’s because he was the Valedictorian, which I wasn’t. Our Valedictorian and Salutatorian both spoke, as I recall. I’m sure they did a fine job, just as my brother had done. I don’t recall anything they said, but they were all quite bright, and I’m sure they said nothing inflammatory.

It’s just as well that I didn’t speak. First, I hadn’t spoken in public since the 1st grade when I read Psalms 100 at church. I’m sure I would have been terrified. Second, I was only 17 years old. I would have had nothing useful to impart to my fellow graduates.

johnchurch

I knew just as much about life at 6 years old as I did at 17.

I’m over 50 years old now with a veritable life time of experience behind me. I’ve made decisions–good and bad. I’ve done impressive things and baffling, hideous things. Now, it is my time. So, I offer my services.

Here is my commencement speech:

Good [morning/afternoon/evening]. I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the graduating class of [INSERT SCHOOL NAME] High School. I am over half a century old. This means two things: One, I am much older than all of you–hopefully. Two, I know more about everything than you do. Regardless of your experiences, I know more and have done more. Any story you can tell, I can top it, unless it involves farm animals and dwarves. Even then, let me hear the story, and I’ll be the judge of whether I can top it.

You are now high school graduates, along with tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of other people doing the same thing this year. I am not impressed. Indeed, it would likely take more effort to not graduate than it would to sit in your seats. Assuming he didn’t drop out, a fairly bright chimp could achieve the same thing.

Of course, some of you are impressive people. Let’s take the ones who come from dreadful families. You know who you are. Your parents don’t care about your academics or your social life or your behavior in general. Perhaps they are even abusive. That you have overcome this is impressive. Any achievement should be embraced. To you, I say this: Leave those people behind. You owe them nothing. Do not be shamed into believing that you are indebted to people to whom you are connected by nothing more than biological accident. These people will be millstones hanging around your neck. Cast them off. I am not suggesting that you sever all ties, unless that is necessary. That they fed and clothed you creates no obligation. They were supposed to do that. Take a long look at these people. You can and must do better.

There are also those of you who excelled academically. You, too, are impressive. Regardless of your course of study, that takes hard work. Hard work is good. You have the chance to go to college and excel, because you know the value of hard work in school. You may have the chance to go to any college you wish. Good for you. Here’s a suggestion: If your family can afford to send you to college, by all means choose the very best school. If, however, attending the college of your choice means saddling yourself with debt to pay for it, carefully consider your choice. You might paying that loan back when you’re my age. That’s a bad plan.

A rare few of you may have been born into money and have no concerns about your future. I don’t begrudge you that good fortune. Just do us all a favor and don’t pretend it’s an accomplishment. Do something with your life. Warren Buffett’s children are productive. You can be, too.

Some of you just barely got here today. You did the minimum to get your diploma. The good news is that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. I’ve known people who were poor high school students and did quite well in life. Notice that I didn’t say that I’ve known many people like that.

Even some of you laggards and wastrels will go to college. That is good. I’ve never known anyone who didn’t benefit from at least trying to go to college. Here is the catch: If you apply yourself in the same sorry-ass way you did in high school, it will likely be a short stay in college. Then, it’s into the work force you go.

Perhaps you have no desire to go to college and you plan to join the nation’s work force now. To you, I say: Good luck with that. Your diploma qualifies you for a vast array of minimum wage jobs. The minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Assuming you work a 2000 hour year, you’ll make $14,500. That’s not much money. Oh, and it won’t be a fun job or even a good job. You’ll be easily replaced. Don’t think about buying a house or a nice car or much of anything else. You’ll need a room-mate to help with your rent.

Understand, too, that college isn’t for everyone. Whether you lack the drive, motivation or old-fashioned brain power, you may not be college material. There’s nothing wrong with that but be realistic. For example, there aren’t high-paying jobs for video game players. Under no circumstances should your career plans include mooching off your parents. You’ve wanted to be an adult and have your freedom. Your time has arrived.

When I graduated from high school, some people–all young men in those days–considered the military an option. Often, they had good reasons for this choice, an admirable one if there ever was. A few, however, thought of it as just a better option than work. They were wrong. People in the military take it seriously. Nowadays, they would be extra wrong. Our military is in a constant state of war now. The folks who run things take that very seriously. You should, too.

You may have already derailed your life with bad choices–drugs, alcohol, pregnancy and the like. You can overcome these bad choices, but it won’t be easy. You’ve dug yourself a nice hole. You have a choice now–try to get out of the hole or decorate it and make yourself at home. One thing you can’t do is spend any time blaming other people. Your parents may be vile. It’s almost certain that your friends are. Maybe you are, too. Perhaps people have treated you unfairly. You are now an adult, and here is one hard, cold fact: No one cares about any of that. From now on, you are 100% responsible for your actions. Act like it.

What of those of you who are the outcasts? You’ve spent your high school years as a non-conformist. You don’t do things the way others do, and you don’t give a damn what anyone thinks. The world doesn’t work like that. If your face is covered in hardware or you’ve tattooed your neck, that goes over even worse in the real world. The real world seeks normalcy. If you are abnormal, it’s a problem. I’m not suggesting that you kowtow to people, but use some judgment. If you really don’t care what anyone else thinks, you’re probably going to be treated accordingly. Be sure you’re okay with that.

A small number of you are the nerds, the bookish sorts for whom high school might not have been much fun. Take heart. You will sign the paychecks of many of your classmates. That, my friends, is sweet revenge at its finest.

All you need to know can be summed up in a few points. Write them down, for you shall refer to them often throughout your life:

  • Life is not fair. It is random. Fairness is not random.
  • Don’t underestimate good luck. You’ll need a dose of it every now and then.
  • You are not judged on merit alone. How you look, act, dress, speak and carry yourself matter. Again, it’s not fair.
  • If you are the type who won’t follow rules, life from this point forward will become increasingly difficult.
  • Money is good, but once you have your necessities covered and a few toys, it doesn’t make much difference in the quality of your life.
  • Bad things will happen to you, many of which will not be your fault.
  • No one you know will live forever, including you.
  • If you are the same person 20 years from now that you are at this moment, you have done something wrong. Grow up.
  • Learning from your mistakes is natural, but it is not the best way to learn. The best way is to learn from observing other people make mistakes.
  • Play to your strengths. You are good at some–maybe many–things. Find out what they are, and do them.

I should now tell you that the world is your oyster and you can do anything you want, but that would be a lie. You can’t do anything you want, but you can do some things you want and many things that you must do. You will do some of them well and fail miserably at others. That, my young friends, is life and life is good–not easy but good.

Finally, you have spent the past few years believing you know more than you do. You are about to find out all the things you don’t know. One day soon, you will be 50, too, and you will fear that you must depend on the next generation. You will hate their music, their clothes, their attitudes, the way they talk and even the way they look. Take heart, though, somehow it always works out.

Before you depart, take a good look around at your classmates. I leave you with these words from the late Kurt Vonnegut: “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013