Picture This…

I like pictures, photographs to be exact. It’s likely a family thing. My parents had lots of photos. My mother in particular had many photos of her teenage and college years. She had even more, but her mother, enveloped in what must have been emotional or mental illness, shredded her photo albums. Still, there were a lot of photos of my mother at various stages of her life. She always looked like Mom in them, even if the image was of a younger and smaller version.

My paternal grandmother loved photos. She had many boxes full. We usually visited Granny on Sundays in the small Eastern Kentucky town of Evarts. Granny had framed photos scattered about her house in addition to the boxes. She said she would save money to have photos taken of her children whenever there was a photographer in town. Granny’s love of photos is why I have a framed photo of my father at 4 months old:

 babydad

Dad often said that this “little fellow” had no idea what a tough world he was being sent into in 1925.

Photos tell stories, of course, but often you must know a lot of background before you know the story. That is certainly true of this photo (of my favorites):

fam

As photography goes, it’s unremarkable. The lighting isn’t ideal and the color is a bit odd. My mother, for example, was quite pale. She never had that much color. Regardless, I like the people in it. The date was August 11, 1987, my 25th birthday.  It’s in my parents’ home in Loyall, Kentucky. It was my home, too, from age 12 on. That’s me, the Birthday Boy, behind the cake. On the left is my younger brother, Richard Kent Williams, born March 16, 1967. My parents are behind me–Earl Malone Williams and Anna Muriel Dye Williams. I’m not sure about the photographer, but I assume it was my future wife, Sherry.  It was important to my mother that I come home for my birthday, so I did in 1987 like every year expect 1982 when I was stranded in Lexington, Kentucky without a car. So, I guess the story is that I came home for my birthday, and we posed for a photo. It is also worth noting that birthdays were the rare occasions when my mother would pose for a photo. Otherwise, she was like pursuing J.D. Salinger for a portrait sitting.

There’s more there, of course. My Dad was 62 years old. Mom was 57. My parents shared the same birthday–January 19. From a young age, I knew that at any given time, they were five years apart in age. Dad was in remarkably good health, considering that he didn’t exercise or eat right or even ever see a doctor. Mom, on the other hand, had only recently passed her five-year anniversary of a breast cancer diagnosis. Her health had been poor, not so much because of the cancer but more from the “cure,” a toxic cocktail of chemicals which eradicated cancer cells but left her weak and unsteady. Today, I also know that Mom suffered from depression, at least that’s my unprofessional diagnosis. In this photo, I didn’t think any such thing. I thought she was just prone to spells of sadness, much like she described her own mother.

As I write this, I’m 52, but I’m not 52 in that photo. I’m 25. It’s tempting to wax nostalgic or melancholy and think about what was or what was to come. For example, almost six weeks later to the day this photo was taken, Richard was dead. As far as I know, this is the last photo of him. He’s fine in the photo. I like that. Like most people who die young, he became his death. Here, he’s just a 20-year-old posing for a birthday picture with his brother.

Here, Dad hadn’t had a heart attack, like he would two years later, radically changing his lifestyle (for the better, I should add). Mom would have her share of health woes in years to come, but not on that day. Me? I was a 25-year-old who finally finished school and was about to start a career as a lawyer. I hadn’t had the ups and downs of that career and the self-imposed stress which would help make me the exact type of person that this young man loathed–pompous, self-important and with an over-inflated view of his own significance.

I know that house well. My parents built it, and I thought it was a mansion when we moved in.  It was a classic 1970’s split-level home with four levels, but it had things I’d only imagined in my 12 years–air conditioning, for example. It had carpet all over the house, too! I still shared a room with my younger brother, but that was much better than sharing it was my younger and older brothers. After my father died in 2008, I sold the house, but I never out-grew my fascination with it.

A friend once told me that life “comes at you at the speed of light at point-blank range.”  What he meant, I think, was that things happen all the time, every day, and we just have to deal with them. It’s tempting to look at this or any other old photo and ponder all the things that were to come. I prefer to think that none of those things, good or bad, happened to those folks. They are frozen in that photo.

Sometimes, though, I do wonder about what those folks would think about what was to come. None of us would have accurately predicted the future. Unlike that young fellow in the photo, I’m the father of three sons. I didn’t even ponder such things in those days. Now, I’m the one who poses with his sons for photos:

fathersday2014

None of us in this photo knows what’s coming, either. It will surely come, of course, and we’ll deal with it. Or we won’t.

In the years after my 25th birthday, I wasted much of my young adulthood planning and hoping for the future, much of that little more than self-centered scheming to try to make the world suit my desires. This peculiar form of madness masqueraded as ambition. When I see these old photos, I realize how little I knew then. Then again, that 25 year old would be stoked to know about all the cool things that were to come. His view of the future sold himself short. There was a lot more growing up to do and the pains that go with it. Everything turned out pretty sweet.

In some sense, we’re still in 1987, I suppose, celebrating that birthday. At least that’s what they’re doing in the photo. That’s where I go when I look at it. I can’t claim to be the same person I was at 25, but that is me in the photo. I know, because I have the picture to prove it.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

Five Parenting Myths–or Lies (According to Me)

I’ve been a parent for over 20 years now.  I’ve also been a child for 51 years.  So, I know a thing or two about parents and children.  Experience is, after all, the best teacher.

I don’t listen to parenting advice, because most of it is useless.  I also haven’t done any research on parenting, except for my own hands-on research with three sons.  As a result, anything you read here should be taken with a grain of salt.  It’s unlikely that I know any more than you do, unless you don’t have children.  In that case, I know more about parenting than you will EVER know, unless you end up having kids.  As an aside, if you have dogs, I’m fine with that, but it doesn’t count unless you have to send your dog to college or it learns to drive a car.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of stuff about parenting.  Most of it is wrong, at least for me.  As a service to my fellow parents and future members of the club, here are the Five Myths of Parenting:

1.  PARENTING IS THE HARDEST JOB YOU’LL EVER HAVE

I guess this is possible, depending on what kind of job you have.  I’m a lawyer, and it’s a pretty hard job.  I’ve worked long hours under tremendous stress.  Parenting isn’t nearly that stressful.

Have you ever heard of a “belt mucker?”  That’s a job in a coal mine where you clean up coal spills on the conveyor belt line.  You use a shovel.  Often, you work bent over or on your knees because there isn’t room to stand up.  Sometimes, the mine floor is so wet that you have to use buckets to clean up the coal and muck.  It’s a hard, hard job–much harder than being a lawyer and a hell of a lot harder than taking care of children.

Watch the film The Hurt Locker.  Think about being on a bomb squad in Iraq.  Helping Johnny with his homework doesn’t seem so tough, does it?

I saw a guy pumping out a port-a-potty the other day.   I bet he wouldn’t mind doing your kid’s laundry.

None of this means being a parent is easy.  Nothing worthwhile is easy.  Nevertheless, there’s a huge gulf between easy and the most difficult thing on Earth.  If parenting is the hardest job you’ve ever done, chances are you’re doing it all wrong.

2.  YOU MUST DO THE BEST YOU KNOW HOW TO DO

We all like to think we’re doing our very best in raising our children.  That’s a lofty goal, but it’s not true nor is it necessary.  Is there anything you do that you always do the best you know how to do?  How about your job?  C’mon.  Everyone slacks off at work.  You take vacations don’t you?

The thing about parenting is that you’re always on the clock.  We all take breaks on occasion, and that’s okay.  Ever park your kid in front of the television?  I have.  My oldest son used to be hypnotized by Barney.  We need that sometimes.  Who among hasn’t sent one of the kids to a neighbor’s house just for some peace and quiet?  Again, it’s okay.

Here’s what we should do all the time:  Stuff. Something. Anything (assuming it’s not harmful).  Make your kids dinner, even if it’s crappy.  Ask them about school, even if you really don’t give a damn at the moment.  Feign interest in what they’re doing, even when you are much more concerned about yourself.    Go to their ball games despite them being poorly played or your kid not being any good.  Act like you’re interested.  Maybe this is the best we can do, but that’s doubtful.

Just do stuff.  Half-ass is okay.  Often, you’ll be totally on your parenting game and fully engaged.  When you’re not, just do stuff.

3.  YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR CHILD’S SUCCESS

This is a double-edged lie–that you are responsible for the success of your children and the converse that you are to blame for their failures.  Although you can make substantial contributions to either outcome, you can’t truthfully claim credit.

Your kids are people–human beings even.  They make decisions.  They don’t listen well.  Some of them, despite being otherwise fine children, rebel against your advice.  I was like that.  If told to do something, I spent all my energy on finding another way to do it.  The older they get, the worse it gets, too.  Have you ever tried to force someone to do something?  It’s not easy.

Maybe your kid does well, because you’re the greatest parent on Earth.  Then again, maybe your kid has certain natural strengths and exploits them.  I have two sons who are excellent athletes.  Why?  They were born that way.  Another of my sons is as smart as anyone I’ve ever met.  It’s just how he is.  I didn’t train him to be that way.

Let’s say you send your kid to only the best schools.  Here’s a little secret that your kid probably hasn’t shared with you.  Kids at the best schools drink, take drugs and have sex with each other.  They do. If your kid wants to find a bad crowd, it’s right there.  You can provide opportunities for your son or daughter, but if he or she does well, give credit where credit is due–and it ain’t to you!

If you are fortunate enough to be able to provide the best for your kids–schools, clothes, houses, etc.–consider that your kids have many advantages.  In fact, they should do well under those conditions.  If you’re born on third base, you didn’t hit a triple.

The other side is that your kid may do very poorly.  Do you want the blame for that?  I sure wouldn’t.  The good news is that it’s probably not your fault.  Oh, you may play a part, just like with the successes.  You may be one of those despicable parents who do nothing for their kids.  If so, you’ve laid the groundwork.  Ultimately, though, your kid gets to own his or her failures.

Another reminder–here’s what you can do:  Something.  Just do something.  Try.  Give them some direction.  Set a good example.  Help them when they need help.  Be sure they go to the doctor.  Feed them.  Clothe them.  Just put forth a little effort.  Something is better than nothing.

4.  YOU MUST PROTECT YOUR CHILDREN

I’m not suggesting that you ignore your children.  Of course, we all should try to shield our children from harm and do no harm to them ourselves.  That’s not the same as insulating them from the world.  That just can’t be done.

Nowadays, we’re bombarded with terrifying scenarios:  drug abuse, pedophiles, bullies, Internet stalkers, ungodly schools and general evil.  It would be nice to just spare our kids all of this.  You can’t.  I can’t.  We can’t.  The world has a lot of rough edges.  And that is where we all have to live.  Sorry, but that’s how it is.  If your kid gets bullied or just does something disappointing, it’s not because of bad parenting.  It’s what happens in the world.  Deal with the consequences, but don’t delude yourself into thinking you can smooth off all those rough edges.

We can’t hide our kids.  Bad things can happen to kids, just like adults.  Illness, accidents–even death befall kids.  Everyone who dies is someone’s child, you know.  Now, I realize this will step on toes, but even God won’t protect your kids from the world.  What makes you think you can?

If something bad befalls your kids, it’s not your fault–unless you did it.  The world is a tough place.

Again, do stuff.  You won’t always do the best you can, but do stuff.  Every little bit helps.

5.  YOUR CHILDREN MUST BE YOUR NO. 1 PRIORITY

This is another lofty goal, but unrealistic for all but the truly deranged.  Think about it.  If your kids really are your Number 1 priority, that means they rank ahead of you; your spouse,  faith and job; and everything else.  If you have more than one child, you have to spread this maniacal devotion among multiple targets.  That’s a tall order.

I’ve heard many people say “My children come first.”  I doubt that’s true or even should be.  For example, I have a job and need it to feed, clothe and shelter my kids.  If I always put them before my job, I’ll soon be unemployed and spending ALL my time with them.

Are you married?  If so, you might think about making your spouse a top priority.  Here’s a radical thought for many:  Sometimes, your spouse should be your top priority.  If your kids rank ahead of your spouse, you probably have a fairly toxic relationship going on there.  Good luck.

There’s also a fine line between prioritizing your kids and making them think they are the most important people on Earth.  The latter is not good.  Kids are already self-centered ego maniacs.  They believe that the world exists for their entertainment.  Reinforce that for them, and pretty soon you’ll have little monsters.

Try this for a more realistic ideal.  Your kids should be a top priority.  Keep them in mind.  Just don’t let them choose the dinner menu or decide what time they go to bed or what the family watches on TV.  Just pay some attention to them.  My kids want my time–not all my time.  Just some of it.

So, I can sum up all I know about parenting with this:  Do stuff.  Some of it will be really good and pay off.  Some of it won’t.  One day, your kids will have kids and know just as little you do.  Then, they’ll think you’re a genius and may even seek your advice.  Do stuff.

©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

The Thinking Man’s Guide to Men’s Swimwear

My wife has never read my blog.  We’ve been married 25 years, and I guess she’s heard all the stories and all my opinions.  When I told her I was starting a blog, she said “One of those things full of trivial bullshit that no one wants to read?”  Indeed.

Communication is the key to a strong marriage, so I have asked her on occasion if there is a topic which would interest her.  She always says the same thing.   I should write something about men’s swimsuits.  No, that’s not a typo.  That’s what she wants to read about.  She used to work in the clothing business, so I suppose fashion will always interest her.  Here goes.

Although I am a man, I am not an expert on men’s swimsuits.  Like most heterosexual men, I try not to look at men in swimsuits, out of an irrational concern that they may see me looking at them and get the wrong impression.  The worst case scenario would be that an especially attractive man might cause some sort of shift in my sexual orientation.  My ignorance, you see, knows no limits.

But, what of swimsuits?  Why are they called “suits?”  They aren’t suits at all.  I’m lawyer, and to me a suit is a coat and matching slacks, cotton shirt and silk tie with a Windsor knot.  Add a smart belt (matching one’s shoes, of course), and you have a suit.  I would never swim in such attire.

Back in more modest times, folks tended to cover up quite a bit when swimming.  No one was tempted to take indecent liberties with the young ladies of the day.  I don’t know if the same could be said of the men:

swimsuits

I’m not sure what these fellows are doing, but those certainly qualify as swimsuits.

What kinds of swimsuits are there?  What should YOU wear?  Personally, I prefer basic trunks–not too long, not too short. Conservative is the byword for your author.

beach

Your author in appropriate beach attire with an unidentified woman.

Of course, others prefer the Speedo-type swimsuit.  The small, tight swimsuit is known as the Speedo, although there are many different brands.  Regardless, this is definitely NOT a suit.  It’s more of a slim-fit loin cloth.  Whether you call them Nut-Huggers, Tool Bags or Junk Slings, the form-fitting racing suit is not for everyone.  Some would suggest that they are not for anyone.

I’ve only known one guy who wore Speedos.  He was a co-worker of mine and a bit of an odd bird.  We belonged to the same neighborhood pool.  He would show up in his lime green Speedos.  I would pretend I didn’t know him.

Needless to say, most men suffer from varying degrees of superfluous body hair.  The Speedo will only draw attention to this evolutionary mishap. It also will accentuate certain body flaws such as, for example, a hideous or undeveloped physique.

Body image is the biggest problem with Speedos.  Men just don’t see themselves accurately.  Here is how we think we look:

Settle down, ladies. This guy will not be at the beach. He's somewhere doing crunches or shaving himself.

Settle down, ladies. This guy will not be at the beach. He’s somewhere doing crunches or shaving himself.

Sadly, here is how we really look:

This guy--he's at the beach.

This guy–he’s at the beach.

It’s just best to leave the Speedos to the Olympics.

Then, there is so-called boxer swimsuit which combines the worst of trunks and Speedos:

Too small for trunks.  Too big for Speedos.

Too small for trunks. Too big for Speedos.

Again, note that no one looks like this dude.  I’m not sure who can wear these.  Maybe the same guy who can wear these:

No one wears these.  No one.

No one wears these. No one.

Good taste prevents me from showing examples of thongs or more revealing unitard swimwear.  Suffice to say that no woman is interested in seeing your hairy ass hanging out of your swimsuit.  Just because we men like to see women dressed like that (hairy ass or not) doesn’t mean women find the same thing appealing.

Steven Tyler. If a rock star can't pull off this look, neither can you.

Steven Tyler. If a rock star can’t pull off this look, neither can you.

When you get right down to it, swimwear is nothing more than underwear worn for swimming.  In fact, most swimwear contains a lining  which acts as an underwear of sorts.  Women may not be aware of this, but it’s true.  I don’t think women’s swimwear is like that, but it might be.

Don’t confuse your underwear choice with your swimwear.  Personally, I am a briefs man.  The boxer brief is also good.  Nevertheless, this is not appropriate for my beach attire.  (See illustrations above).

You might be a boxer man.  If so, I pity you because your underwear is nothing more than a loose-fitting lining providing no support or comfort.  In essence, it is simply a prophylactic barrier between your clothes and whatever foul discharges your body emits.  It’s just another layer of clothes.  The boxer lacks both function and originality.

Oddly enough, though, this same style is ideal for swimming.  It is loose-fitting and modest enough that there are no embarrassing revelations.  The swim trunk contains the aforementioned lining, too; thus, it is a functional swimsuit plus effective underwear.  The lining, being similar to the classic brief, provides the needed protection plus practicality.  It is the best of all worlds.  You can’t go wrong.

Some men do the unthinkable and wear swim trunks AND underwear.  My sons do this.  Why?  I don’t know.  The redundancy is obvious.  There is no point to it, so I guess you can go wrong.

Regardless of one’s personal taste (or lack thereof), due regard should be given to your choice in swimwear.  Here are several factors to consider in choosing your swimwear:

  • Body hair:  The more you have, the more you should conceal it.
  • Abs:  You don’t have them.  Don’t make a point of proving it.
  • If you are a competitive swimmer, the Speedo is for you.  That’s it.  No one else.  Even then, confine that look to the racing pool.
  • Be considerate of others, especially your family.  One embarrassing incident can haunt them for a life time.
  • Just because you think you look good in your underwear doesn’t mean you’ll look good in a similar swimsuit.
  • Walk around your house in your underwear.  Gauge the reaction of your family.  That’s the same reaction they’ll have at the beach.
  • Better yet, wear your underwear in your yard.  Get your neighbors’ input.
  • T Shirts are acceptable swimwear, too.  Examine your physique in a full length mirror and do the right thing.
  • Anything that fits snuggly is likely a bad look for you.  Trust me.
  • Nude beaches are off-limits.  Just know this:  The only people who frequent nude beaches are those we do not want to see nude.  This includes you.

Now, my wife can read my blog knowing that I have contributed at least one worthwhile post.  Plus, this should help her when shopping for our vacation. Something tasteful, of course–maybe in a mesh?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

My Over 50 Not-To-Do List

I’m in my 51st year on the planet.  Although many people have exceeded my longevity, this impresses me.  Of course, lots of folks lived less time than I have and did much more–Mozart, for example.  All in all, though, living longer is a good thing.

I now read AARP publications.  AARP recently ran a tongue-in-cheek article about things NOT to do after age 50.  It was somewhat humorous.  Somewhat.  Like a lot of things, it got me thinking.  Now, that I’m 50 (and have been for several months now), what won’t I do?  Here are five such things:

PLAY BALL!  I’ve written before about my mediocrity as an athlete.  That never stopped me from trying to play sports.  No more.  No basketball.  No softball.  No flag football.  Nothing where I risk injury.  Why?   I don’t want any other injuries.  The older you get, the more injury-prone you are.  My sports are now limited to baseball and basketball with my youngest son and even then I don’t go all out.

I’ve never had a serious injury.  I’ve never worn a cast or had surgery or used crutches.  I did tear a muscle in my shoulder once, but they can’t do much about that.  I had a stress fracture in my foot, but it went away.

In my 30’s I scraped the outside of left calf sliding during a softball game.  It looked like a burn and hurt like hell. It scabbed up in a couple of days.  Then, the scab disappeared, and it looked like an orange peel, except oozy.  You know how your mother said that a cut with red lines running from it is bad?  It had those, two.  It was something called cellulitis.  The doctor said it was a “galloping infection.”  I had to elevate my leg and put a heating pad on the open wound.  I also had to draw a circle around it with a Sharpie.  If the red spread past the outline, that would be bad.  When I stood, the blood rushed to my leg and it felt like a thousand needles.  I  had to get a shot every day, too, for a week.  The shot gave me diarrhea.  For days, I was reduced to lying down with a heating pad on an open sore which burned like it was on fire while trying to control my bowels and drawing on my leg with a magic marker.  I’m just too old for this kind of thing.

Even if I wanted to play sports, I probably can’t.  The simplest of sports may be beyond me now. A few months ago, I passed baseball with my 17-year-old son who is a high school baseball player.  He can throw 80-85 mph without much effort.  I was terrified.  Enough of that, too.

Fortunately, my youngest son is almost 11 now.  If I had a younger kid, I’d hire someone to play with him.  No sense taking unnecessary risks.

ANGRY UP MY BLOOD:  The great baseball player Satchel Paige once cautioned against eating fried food, because it would angry up one’s blood.  I don’t necessarily agree with that, because I like fried food.  I do, however, agree with the caution about angrying up the blood.

I was an angry young man.  Angry about all kinds of stuff–my job, politics, religion, sports–pretty much everything.  I had a short fuse which was easily lit, too.  I was an unpleasant person.  I’m too old for all that, as well.

It seems that my peers become angrier with age while I mellow.  I am aging in reverse, like a far less handsome version of Brad Pitt as Benjamin Button.  It seems that everyone my age is mad about liberals, conservatives, the rich, the poor, taxes, drones, sports, religion and life in general.  Here’s the deal:  We all have opinions.  So do I.  I’m certain that mine aren’t all that important.  In fact, I may be flat wrong on many (most?) of them.  Same goes for you.  I’m sure that pisses you off.  Relax.

I’m confident that being mad shortens my life.  How?  Well, every minute I waste fuming about something, I could be doing something else.  So, there goes part of my life down the old crapper.  As a live and let live guy, I really don’t care if you’re mad, even at me.  Just don’t ask me to play along.

GET IN MY CUPS:  I was once quite fond of strong drink.  I may still be, but I haven’t partaken in several years.  Understand that I have no problem with those that do.  I just believe that such indulgences are a young man’s game.  Hangovers had bad for my brain.  Why else would my head hurt like that?  Vomiting is no good under any circumstances.  Also, not remembering conversations or where I’ve been or what I’ve done is problematic.  Soon enough, age itself will cause such problems.  No need to speed the plow.

Here’s the kind of thing I did when I drank.  A few years ago (not as many as you might think), my wife and I went to a party.  I drank quite a bit before the party and quite a bit at the party.  Oh, I had a grand time–or so I’ve heard.  When we came home, I retired to the basement whereupon I quickly dozed off (the more crass of you might call it “passing out.”)  A couple of hours into my respite, I had the urge to relieve myself.  Rising from the couch, I was unsteady on my feet.  No doubt this was from the deep REM sleep.  As I staggered toward the bathroom, somehow I fell forward, striking my head on a wooden post.   Oh, I also broke my glasses.

No problem.  Holding my forehead, I made it to the bathroom and did my business.  My right brow was really throbbing, so I thought I might take a look at it.  Leaning close the mirror–remember my glasses were broken–I moved my hand from my right eye to get a good look.

The funny thing about cuts to the head is that they bleed far in excess of the severity of the actual injury.  When I moved my hand, blood fairly gushed from a small slice in my right eye brow.  It ran into my eye and down my face.  It just kept coming.  There was only one thing to do–I puked and went into a full-blown swoon.  Then I sat in the floor convinced that I was bleeding to death and would be found covered in blood and vomit–not a glorious demise.

So, I did the only thing I could do.  Holding a towel to my head, I climbed the two flights of stairs to the master bedroom and consulted my dear wife.  Let’s just say that the evening suddenly took an even uglier turn.

I’m too old for this kind of foolishness now.  Let the young men bleed profusely and copiously vomit.  I’ll sip my Starbucks, work the crossword puzzle and retire for the evening at 9:30 or so.

EAT WELL:  This takes some explaining.  I don’t eat all that poorly.  I don’t have a weight problem.  I’m a lean, mean 160 pounds.  Perfect middle-weight size.  Think of me as a whiter, less-imposing, soft version of Marvelous Marvin Hagler (if you don’t know Hagler, you’re not my age).  At one time I weighed 176 pounds, which was a little too much.  I quickly shed that weight.  That’s just a genetic thing.  Don’t get all pissed off (see section above).

People want me to eat well, and I guess I should.  My family has a bit of a history of heart disease.  Regardless, there are things I like to eat.  They include, but are not limited to:

  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Sugar
  • Chocolate
  • Ice Cream
  • Eggs
  • Bacon
  • Pork in general
  • Deep fried anything
  • Gluten
  • Peanut butter
  • Hot dogs
  • Red meat
  • White meat
  • Meat

I also don’t mind my food being laced with preservatives.  Why not?  Hey, I like it preserved until I want to eat it.  Call me crazy.

I’m not diabetic.  I don’t have celiac disease. Or diverticulitis.  Or any food allergies.  If you do, please watch what you eat.  The key here is to watch what you eat, not what I eat.

If YOU don’t want to eat this stuff, I’m okay with it.  I won’t force it on you.  I don’t have people to my house for dinner anyway.  Eat what you want.  You can eat free range horse for all I care.  Just don’t tell me what to eat.  I enjoy food and fully intend to continue to do so.

FIGHT CLUB:  Chief Joseph said:  “From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”  That’s a good philosophy, and I agree wholeheartedly with him.  Fighting isn’t good, especially if you run the risk of getting the crap beat out of you.

Like heavy drinking, fighting is a young man’s business.  When you’re young, fighting can be a test of your manhood.  It can also be provoked by heavy drinking.  Either way, it’s usually a one-on-one situation and little harm is done.

Unlike in the movies, real fights rarely result in a lot of punching.  A good punch is almost always a “sucker” punch which the recipient doesn’t see coming.  Otherwise, punching is mostly a bunch of embarrassingly wild swinging.

It hurts to be squarely punched in the face.  It also hurts to squarely punch someone in the face.  Your hand explodes in pain.  I don’t like pain.  That said, real fights end up with a bunch of rolling around on the ground.

Another thing about real fights.  No one gets punched in the face repeatedly and keeps fighting.  Nor do you punch anyone in the face repeatedly.  The human head is hard.  It’s like a bowling ball with a few soft places on it.  Go punch a wall five or ten times and let me know what you think.

At a certain age–maybe 30–I realized that people who are willing to fight might be dangerous, especially if they, too, were in their 30’s.  These folks also tend to carry weapons, because they’re looking for trouble.  I don’t want even a remotely deadly weapon used on me.  I don’t want to throw a punch and miss, only to end up with a Chinese throwing star stuck in my forehead.

One possible exception is that I might fight a younger man.  Why would I do that? Wouldn’t youth put me at a terrible disadvantage?  Possibly.  However, don’t discount the power of being Old Man Strong.  We all reach an age where our years create a certain toughness without us even knowing it.  Some suggest that perhaps we lose the will to live and become fearless.  I prefer to think of it as God’s way of rewarding us for surviving.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine foolishly punched his dad.  His dad didn’t flinch.  Old Man Strong. Fight over.

So, if you’re a young fellow, be careful.  If you get mouthy with an old guy and he just chuckles or, worse yet, takes a step toward you, run.  It may be all that saves your dignity.

CONCLUSION

This is hardly a comprehensive list of things I won’t be doing.  Such things as starting a meth lab, amateur pornography and polygamy are also taboo.  These, though, are things I wouldn’t have ever done, as far as you know.

I’m not perfect.  Maybe one day I’ll be shooting basketball with my kid, and you’ll wander into my yard spewing about politics and telling me to reduce the MSG in my diet.  Like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, I’ll take a swig of whiskey and then start a fight with you.  Let’s try to avoid all that.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Harlan County Way

harlansgn

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:

Kentucky_county_map2

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.

loyallsign

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.

WE ARE BAD

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.

bloodyjohn

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 WE?

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.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE?

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.

IT’S NOT ALL GOOD

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.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Flu Blues

I don’t have the flu–at least not yet.  My wife does.  So does my 10-year-old son.  My other sons–17 and 19–also don’t have it.  My 17-year-old rarely leaves the basement and, when he does, it is usually out the back door.  I find this habit both annoying and disquieting, but now I embrace it as preventative health care.  My oldest son is home from college on Christmas break.  If he can avoid the spreading virus for the next 24 hours, he will be on his way back to Pittsburgh.  He attends Carnegie Mellon University, the alma mater of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol, John Forbes Nash and Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  His academic rigors can ill afford to be interrupted by disease.  On my advice, he is staying away from his childhood home except to pack his belongings and flee.

How bad is this flu?  Pretty bad.  My 10-year-old, normally an energetic cuss, has been rendered almost immobile.  My wife, too, has been felled, for the time being at least.  The good news is that the horrid virus has not diminished her ability to bark orders.  Thus, our home will continue to run like a well-oiled machine.

I now face a conundrum. My office is less than two miles from home, making it an oasis from the disease around me.  I must, of course, occasionally visit them while they are sick.  How can I make enough of an appearance to still be engaged as the titular head of the household, yet protect myself as any sane person would?

Before proceeding, you should know that the flu fascinates me a bit.  Several years ago I read The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry.  It is an excellent book about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.  THAT was a bad flu, killing in the neighborhood of 40 million people, including 600,000 in one month in the U.S. Since then, I’ve read a lot of material about the flu.  If I wanted to appear brainy, I could rant about various flu strains, antigen drift, corona virus and other minutia.  But it all comes down to this:  The flu comes in many forms, changes constantly, is highly contagious and incurable.  The good news, as Barry notes in his book, is that–even its deadlier forms–it’s just the flu.  It won’t kill you.  Probably.  Now, if you’re elderly, it can lead to pneumonia which no old person wants.  Bad stuff there.  Much worse than the flu.

How do you know if you have the flu?  Oh, there are many symptoms.  Here is a simple test:  Are you coughing like you have Black Lung and do you feel like crap?  If so, you may have the flu.

Even though I won’t pretend to be a doctor, I do want to clarify something.  There is no stomach flu.  There are viruses which will cause unimaginable gastrointestinal disruption and strip you of your dignity.  You can be like I was about year ago.  Start feeling a little weird in your stomach and then–BOOM!–puking pizza through your nose for an hour.  But, that’s not the flu.  Could be a virus. Maybe it’s bacteria, i.e., food poisoning.  Just don’t call it the flu.  The flu is the flu.  If you say you have the stomach flu, it makes as much sense as saying you have a facial hernia.

Anyway, back to me (as if we ever left that topic to begin with).  Once the disease hit, I had to think fast to protect myself.  I considered several options before settling on one:

RUN LIKE HELL

Like any animal, fight or flight is my reaction to terror.  In this case, flight is the only reasonable option.  My initial plan was to get a room at the Hampton Inn across the highway from my home.  It’s close to my office and home.  I could stay there until the trouble passes, plus feign immediate availability for the sick.

I love Hampton Inn, by the way.  I travel a fair amount for work to many places that don’t have 5 Star Hotels.  Most areas do, however, have a Hampton Inn.  They are all pretty much the same.  Nice, clean rooms, pool, exercise room and free breakfast.  Good deal.

My wife shot down my running away plan.  I simply asked, “How bad would it be if I got me a room over at the Hampton and just brought you all stuff when you need it?”  Her answer:  “Very bad [cough, cough, cough].”

PLAN B

I have a friend who will occasionally come up with an idea for something.  He will call these ideas “Plan Q.”  Why?  I don’t know.  I considered calling this Plan Q, but–while a fine fellow–he is a litigious sort who would likely take umbrage at this.  So, I call this Plan B.

Here are the steps of Plan B:

1.  Wife and Son retreat to the master bedroom of our home on the second floor (now called the “Phlegm Chamber”),  It has a queen-sized bed, television, sofa, ample books and a bathroom.  In keeping with today’s lingo, we will call these wretched souls the “Ratchet.”

2.  Dry foodstuffs, MREs, liquids, medicine and supplies will have been previously stocked in the Phlegm Chamber.  This will include, but not be limited to, Theraflu, Tamiflu, Kleenex, NyQuil, Advil, Tylenol, magazines, newspapers and a legal pad in case they want to draw.

3.  Once the Ratchet are safely ensconced, duct tape will place along the door facing.  This will ensure that the deadly miasma produced by their constant breathing and coughing will remain contained within the Phlegm Chamber, unable to escape to the rest of the house, now known as the “Clean Zone.”

4.  Cell phones will be provided to allow text messaging and limited phone calls to me.  I will guarantee a response within two to three hours of any message left with me, unless I am napping.  In that case, I may respond the next day, if at all.

5.  The Ratchet will not be allowed in the Clean Zone until they have gone 24 hours without a fever.  This is a bit of gamble, because I’m not insane enough to check their temperatures myself.  However, if they venture out while still feverish, I’m sure there’s some app for constantly monitoring a rectal thermometer.  If not, I’ll get my egghead kid at Carnegie Mellon to invent one.

6.  Once the Ratchet are able to leave the Phlegm Chamber, they will immediately visit a doctor to confirm that they are no longer contagious.  Once this is confirmed in writing, they are free to venture about the Clean Zone wearing appropriate surgical masks until all coughing has subsided.  Since the Clean Zone is likely to be a bit messy, the Ratchet are then expected to help straighten up a bit.

The problem with Plan B, despite its ingenious detail, is that it requires cooperation from the Ratchet.  Thus far, that cooperation has been lacking.

HOWARD AND ME

The name Howard Hughes likely doesn’t mean much to young folks.  To people of a certain age, like me, his name conjures up the image of fabulous wealth, daring adventure and, of course, crippling lunacy.

Hughes made fortunes in the tool, film and aviation industries.  He once declared that his goal was to be the greatest golfer, pilot and film maker on Earth and the richest man in the world.  Except for golf, he could at various times have laid claim to all those titles.

When Hughes was in his 50’s, he developed, at the very least, serious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Eventually, he retreated to one of his hotels, sitting in the dark, naked, watching the film Ice Station Zebra over and over.  He was so obsessed with germs that he wouldn’t wearing clothes or even bathe.  He covered his body in Kleenex and put the empty boxes on his feet.  His hair grew to his shoulders and beard to his chest.  He collected his bodily waste in jars.  He hired a staff of Mormons to serve him, because he believed them to be clean.  He had a good point about that.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes's last days.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes’s last days.

I’ve thought about adopting Hughes’s lifestyle, at least until the plague passes.  But, I’ll have to pass.  First, I’m concerned that I would quickly become enamored of living the life of a billionaire and not be able to return to my Regular Joe existence.  Second, being naked bothers me, especially in front of Mormons.  Finally, although it sounds like it would be effective defense against influenza, I suspect that I might expose myself to other equally deadly germs.

FULL COURT PRESS

I’m left with an all-out defensive effort to protect myself.  Here are my tools:

  • MASKS:  I am wearing a surgical mask at all times.  Two, on occasion.  The downside is that I’ve discovered that I have foul breath.  My breathing also fogs up my reading glasses.
johnboy

Your author fends off sure death.

  • GLOVES:  I’m wearing latex gloves.  That’s right–latex.  I don’t have a latex allergy.  Or a gluten allergy, either.  In fact, if they made latex gloves infused with gluten, I’d wear them just to prove what a bad ass I am.
  • HAND WASHING:  I’m washing my hands every minute or so–even with gloves on.  My skin is now like that of radiation burn victim, but I’m germ free.
  • LOOK, DON’T TOUCH:  This is simple.  Don’t touch anything. If you have to touch, use your elbows or feet.  The one exception is the remote control, of course.  You can scrub it with bleach and it’s as good as new.
  • BOILING:  Boil things.  You’d be surprised at how many things can be boiled.  Food, for example.  Toothbrushes. Shoes.  Some clothes.  Your hands.  When in doubt, boil it.  Caveat: It doesn’t work well with electronic devices.
  • MEDICINE:  Take all manner of medication.  If the Ratchet have prescriptions, take those.  Buy your own.  Just keep taking them.  Yes, the flu is incurable–as far as we know.  You might hit the right combination and win a Nobel Prize to boot.

This last plan, like many good ones, was born of desperation.  Yet, it has been remarkably effective so far.  Of course, the germs are everywhere, stalking me, crawling on me.  I am certain that all of this will ultimately fail me.  What now?  I wonder if Ice Station Zebra is on Blu-Ray?

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