OFFICE FOLLIES

I’ve worked in offices my entire adult life. In fact, I’ve never had a real job outside an office. In particular, I’ve worked in law offices. This is, of course, because I’m a lawyer. Even before I became a lawyer, I worked in law offices, first as an errand runner and then as a law clerk. All offices have cultures, rules and oddities all their own. I’ve thought about writing a book and maybe I will but not now. A book requires names and details, and I’m sure most of the folks with whom I worked would prefer anonymity. Plus, I like a lot of them, and I don’t want to be sued. As far as the ones I don’t like, why give them unwarranted fame? If I ever do write a book, here are some things I’ll discuss:

RULES ARE RULES

The bigger the office, the more numerous the rules. I had it explained to me that “We have these rules because they are important. We give them a lot of thought. We don’t treat them lightly.” Okay.

When I first started working, everyone wore coats and ties. Even women. Their ties were these odd, floppy neck pieces that looked like poorly tied ascots or cravats. Suits were the order of the day, too. Sport coats were a little too reckless. These were the rules. Over the years, times changed and ties became optional in most offices. My office was different. We didn’t have Casual Friday. Nevertheless, I stopped wearing a tie. This was a bad move. Why? Here’s another rule: Don’t stand out. If you stand out, people play attention to you. The more attention, the more likely they are to find something you’re doing wrong. At least that’s what happened with me.

Office rules are rarely written down. This creates flexibility in enforcement. For example, during a performance evaluation, one of my superiors said “You have a reputation for going to lunch.” This was bad, so I stopped. After that, I ate at my desk or in the office kitchen/lunch room. This made me look busy and too important to be bothered with socializing.

At my next evaluation, I was told that I needed to socialize more. Specifically, I was told to get out in the town during lunch and “be seen.” Being seen was important. It might have even been a rule. So, one of my colleagues and I started taking walks at lunch. We were seen by lots of people every day. I then developed a reputation for walking at lunch. This was bad. And so on and so on….

When I first became an attorney, my employer gave us office etiquette advice. These weren’t rules as much as suggestions. Don’t wear any weird ties or flamboyant socks. No saucy lace hose for the ladies (or men, I guess). Don’t discuss client confidences in public. There was even advice on how to act in an elevator (move to the back when people enter, don’t smoke, no loud talking, etc.).

For the past ten years, I’ve worked in a small office. We don’t have rules, mostly because no one wants the job of enforcing them. We work in sort of organized chaos. I recently told one of my partners “One day I’m going to walk in on a Monday morning and say ‘Today is the day we all get our heads out of our asses!'” Of course, I won’t do that. First, that’s exactly where my head is most of the time. Second, that would put me in charge, and I don’t like rules any more than anyone else.

RETREAT, RETREAT!

Big law offices like to have retreats. A retreat is where the partners are forced to travel somewhere for a weekend to discuss the state of the law firm and future plans.You do things like make personal marketing plans, discuss branding and drinking excessively.

My old firm liked the French Lick Resort in French Lick, Indiana. If you’ve been to French Lick in recent years, I understand that it has experienced a bit of a Renaissance with casino gambling. When we went to French Lick, it was primarily known as the home of Larry Bird and Pluto Water. I assume you know Larry Bird. Pluto Water was a popular laxative about 100 years ago before the benefits of fiber were well-known. One of my partners described the resort as a “really elegant Motel 6.” Another said it was “the Place to Be…in 1925.”

frenchlick

My favorite place in French Lick back in the ’90’s.

We’d spend the weekend in French Lick (or the “Lick,” as I called it), more or less intoxicated the whole time.Once, my room was so decrepit that the title floor in the bathroom came loose and stuck to my feet. It’s quite terrifying to wake up from a semi-blackout in a bed full of tile.

Once, we had our retreat at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. This hotel is really nice, but it’s also a sprawling complex which combines Las Vegas sprawl with labyrinth-like architecture. You’d leave your room with no assurance you’d ever find it again. Despite the nicer locale, I still lost the will to live within a few hours of my arrival.

Your author at a law firm retreat in 1999. The sticker on my shirt says "I'M SO HAPPY!" I wasn't really.

Your author at a law firm retreat in 1999. The sticker on my shirt says “I’M SO HAPPY!” I wasn’t really.

I finally concluded that the purpose of our retreats was twofold: (1) Other firms did it, so it had to be a good idea; and (2) Much like when your mother forced to play with a kid you hated, there was a belief that bringing everyone together would foster collegiality rather than contempt. I usually left with new names to add the list of folks I didn’t care much for.

THE NAME GAME

It’s fun to nickname people in an office but only if you never tell them about the names. Here are some of my favorites (I won’t include the ones that aren’t fit for a PG-13 crowd) :

The Egg Man (He tried to buy human eggs in the office)

Chief Speakforyourself (Someone once called our office The Island of Misfit Toys to which he responded “Speak for yourself!” (which, by the way, is what the speaker was doing)

45 (See below)

The Marm (looked like a school marm)

Queen Victoria (Hey, he looked like her)

The Generalissimo (This is a long story. It would be an entire blog post)

Porter Waggoner (The guy came to work with a fancy pompadour)

Catdog (Two lawyers so inextricably linked that we could not tell where one ended and the other began)

45 was typical of how you could get a nickname. We were at our retreat in Nashville, and a group of us younger partners were sitting in the floor outside the hospitality suite bemoaning our status. One of our senior partners staggered out of the suite and asked “You boys seen 45?” “Huh?” one of us asked. He said “Room 45? You seen 45?”

Okay, the Opryland Hotel has 3,000 or so rooms. There could be 200 room numbers including the number 45. Yet, he was insistent. “45? Room 45? Where is it?” Finally, someone said “Yeah, upstairs.” That seemed to satisfy him. From then on, he was 45.

Another favorite involved a guy named Dale Josey. I use his name here for two reasons. One, I have nothing bad to say about him. In fact, I didn’t even know him. He worked in our firm’s marketing department doing something important, I’m sure. Second, the story requires use of his name. Why? Because we called him the Outlaw Josey Dale. That still brings a smile to my face.

A TIME TO PRAY

I have nothing against prayer. In fact, I do it myself. I worked in an office where it was quite popular, so popular that there was a morning prayer group. They’d pray about things. Usually, someone in the office was ill, so that would be a good subject. All in all, it was rather benign. Oh sure, there was the time that someone distributed literature which conclusively proved that the Pope was the beast of Revelation. That aside, the group seemed like a fairly affable bunch.

One of our senior partners like to pray, too. I once visited his office to discuss a personal matter with him. Before I finished, he reached for dog-eared Bible which was copiously marked with Post-it notes. It was kind of what I imagine Mark David Chapman’s copy of The Catcher in the Rye looking like. He started flipping through and said: “Can I pray for you?” What am I supposed to say? “Sure” was all I could muster. So, he did. Right there. I wasn’t sure of the protocol, so I just closed my eyes and said my own silent prayer–one in which I beseeched God to stop the other praying. It probably says more about me than it does him, but the whole scene made me uncomfortable. When it was over, I felt like I had been stripped naked.

I found out that I wasn’t alone. Others had been prayed over, too. It wasn’t like he thought I was especially evil or anything.

SCANDALOUS BEHAVIOR

At some point, all office workers are exposed to scandal, sometimes even their own. Discretion prevents me from offering many details here. Let’s just say that if you suspect two (or more) co-workers of engaging in inappropriate sexual congress, you are correct. In fact, by the time you suspect this behavior, it will have been going on for quite a while, maybe even years. Your suspects are almost always married but never to each other, of course. Just accept their shenanigans and move on. Judge if you must, but understand there are others in the office doing the same thing, and you don’t even know about them. Don’t you feel left out?

Sometimes, things get stolen in the office. The first thing you do is blame the cleaning people. After all, they are a sketchy group with free rein in the office. Only God knows what they do when you’re not working. If you don’t want them stealing from you, then stay at work, you lazy bastard.

Here’s the truth: The thieves are almost invariably someone who works in the office. We had a lady who had been arrested a dozen times for various forms of theft. We didn’t do background checks in those days. She came in and stole from us, too. Quit blaming the cleaning people.

Later, a purse was stolen in the middle of a work day. First, we blamed the cleaning crew. Next, we changed the security codes for the office. It never dawned on anyone that it almost certainly was someone working in the office, since we didn’t really have  problem with drifters roaming the halls. Oh, well, we all felt safer knowing that it was now slightly more difficult for the thief to enter the office.

NO REST FOR THE WICKED

I could write a whole book about office restrooms, maybe not a book but at least a lengthy pamphlet. Even in an office of well-dressed, educated people, the sights, smells and sounds of a public restroom rival your worst nightmares of any poorly maintained highway rest area. I’ll spare most, but not all, of those details. For example, there was the man who steadfastly refused to flush the toilet after making a major transaction. I assumed it was a statement of some kind, a protest against injustice. “This will teach those sons of bitches,” I imagined him fuming as he left the stall. His fiber-rich diet was no mere healthy choice. It was a weapon used to battle The Man.

One lawyer couldn’t hit the urinal. These were the big, trough-like urinals that stick about a foot out from the wall. You could sit on the damn things. Still, he missed it. He would zip up and nonchalantly walk away, unconcernedly shuffling through a pool of urine. The worst was to be beside him at the other urinal. I feared being soaked from the knees down. Fortunately, the privacy divider took most of the offending spray. Most of it.

The strangest–and certainly most disturbing–event concerned what became known as “The Device.” One morning I sauntered into the handicapped stall as I did on occasion. I normally eschew such activity at work, but nature has her own ways. When I entered, I saw it–a white plastic bag emblazoned with the name of local medical clinic. I should have run screaming, but curiosity got the best of me. I just had to look. Using my right foot, I pulled open the top of the bag and saw The Device. It was an orange cylindrical container with a tapered spout on the side. Below is my crude rendering of this dubious medical aid:

dEVIE

The top was sealed and it was packed in ice. Yes, ice. Whatever it contained required ice. What the hell was it and what was in it? I consulted my closest friend in the office, but I wasn’t able to show him because he was out of the office. (For you young people: This was in the ancient days when we didn’t carry cameras or even phones with us at all times). I didn’t dare ask anyone else. What if it belonged the person I asked? I would then have to hear about his hideous health condition which required this contraption. I could only conclude that it was some kind of sampling device to take specimens of God knows what. Based upon my description, my colleague speculated that is what some kind of crude colonic irrigation aid. If you know what this is, let me know. On second thought, don’t. Perhaps it’s best left a mystery.

I HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Offices are full of many different types of people, but they all have one thing in common–each thinks that he or she is the only “normal” person in the office. That’s always been true with me. Everyone else is a weirdo or social misfit of some sort. This is especially true in the law office. Let’s be honest–most lawyers were not “cool” when they were young. One of my partners once confided in me that she had been “kind of a nerd” when she was young. Really?

The sad truth is that each office has a culture, and you contribute to it. Maybe you’re like me and question everything. If so, you’re one of the reasons that they have rules. You have to be kept in line. Maybe you like to make rules. If so, there’s a place for you at the top, assuming you don’t get stabbed in the back on your way up the ladder.

I’ll post other office musings as time goes on. There’s really a lot of material here. Maybe a book is the way to go after all.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2015

The Boy Who Loved Christmas

I guess that’s not a very creative title. Lots of people love Christmas. I’m one of them, but I’m not a boy anymore. I’m 52 years old. I still love Christmas.

At the risk of drawing the ire of my Christian friends, I’ll confess that it has little to do with the Christian aspects of the holiday. It’s not that I discount that. That’s just not the hook for me. (Feel free to post your scathing comments below. I also don’t think there is a War on Christmas. Even if there is, Christmas won.

So, here’s what I like:

THE PRESENTS

I have to be honest: I like getting gifts. Admit it–you do, too. I won’t even return bad gifts. I just keep them. Really, I don’t think there are any bad gifts, just unsuitable ones. They way I look at it, no one has to give me anything. I should appreciate the effort.

Okay, sometimes I’ll give one of my gifts to someone else, but I never “re-gift.” I’ll just say: “Hey, someone gave me this, and I can’t use it. Do you want it?” Bourbon chocolates are a good example. Those are big here in Kentucky, and I don’t like them. I never have. Every year at Christmas, I’ll get boxes of them from various sources. If you’re not familiar with this confection, just imagine fudge drenched in bourbon. It’s an alcoholic’s idea of candy. (“Chocolate’s great, but you know what would make it better? BOOZE!!“). I just give them away. Fruit cake works the same way, except I can’t find anyone who wants that crap.

While I certainly appreciate the effort, despite no gift being bad, they’re not all good, either. Clothes are rarely good presents for me.  At I’m 5’ 8” and 160 pounds, I’m the wrong size for a typical American. I am, however, the perfect size for a middle weight boxer. Think about that: MIDDLE weight. This connotes a person of medium size, does it not? Why, then, do people insist upon buying me clothes designed for men twice my size? If a “large” size fits me, what size do actual LARGE men wear? I get sweaters that hang to my knees, shirt with sleeves falling below my hands and pants in which two of me can be stuffed. Even these grotesquely ill-fitting items are greatly appreciated, though. I try my best to wear them. I’ll hang on to them for a while, hedging my bets against being stricken with gigantism or morbid obesity. At some point, I’ll donate them to charities devoted to clothing behemoths.

With these limited exceptions, I like all gifts, especially if they are gift-wrapped. Socks, neck ties, cologne, fruit, books–you name it–I like them all. No one is obligated to give me anything, so it’s a nice gesture. Sometimes, I get great gifts. One year, my brother and I got like 10 G.I. Joes. I’ll never forget that. I got a baseball glove when I was 10. I still have it, too.

I also like giving gifts to people. In fact, I might like that more than receiving them. I don’t even care if you like the gift. My wife never likes my gifts, unless it’s something she has specifically identified, and I mean specifically. I need photos, serial numbers, model numbers, sizes, colors, etc. In fact, it’s most helpful if she just buys the gift herself. One year, I used a personal shopper to pick out maternity clothes. My wife hated all of them. The fact that she wasn’t pregnant may have contributed to that, but you get my point.

Christmas also makes me want to give money to worthy causes. Well, the tax deduction also motivates me, but it’s great that Christmas comes at the end of the calendar year when a giving spirit and greed combine so nicely.

It’s said that it is better to give than receive. I’m not sure about that, but they’re both fun.

THE MUSIC

Christmas music is great, too. Deck The Halls sounds good whether sung by Pat Boone or Twisted Sister. White Christmas? Bing Crosby, Elvis, Jewel, Leon Redbone—they all can nail it. All of us sing along when we hear these. We sing along to Good King Wenceslas, even though we don’t the words. We don’t know whether there are bells on Bob’s tail or Bobtail. Regardless, we cheerily sing along.

Naturally, not all the songs are great. During three or four Christmas seasons, my youngest son played Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer over and over (and over). I’ll admit that I found it humorous the first couple of dozen times. After that, it became tedious. It’s Cold Outside is a fairly new classic, but its tacit endorsement of date rape doesn’t put me in the holiday mood.

Then there are the Christmas Carolers. I don’t see them as much as in the past, but they still roam about. Maybe they focus more on hospitals and shut-ins. That’s for the best. Honestly, carolers make me a tad uncomfortable. I just stand there and watch them. Singing along seems unnecessary, inappropriate even. Just when I think they’re done, they sing another song. When they finally do finish, there’s an awkward moment of silence. I’m never sure if I should applaud, hand them money or just shut the door. The whole scene makes me uneasy.

Otherwise, Christmas music is always good. It puts me in the Christmas spirit, even if our radio stations start playing them in October. Once Christmas is over, I don’t want to hear them. It just makes think about how far we are from next Christmas.

THE EXCITEMENT

If we’re honest, most of us will admit that we don’t remember a lot of details about childhood. Mostly, it’s just a highlight reel. I remember Christmas. The nerves and excitement bordered on terror. I had a friend who would stay awake all night, practically mad from excitement. He still talks about it. That’s Christmas to me. Christmas made me totally mental.

Even after I passed the Santa phase, I was still excited—maybe even more so. Without the North Pole bureaucracy, my chances of getting cool presents increased. I was a pretty good kid. Besides, I knew my parents didn’t have Santa’s unrealistic expectations regarding behavior.

I was fascinated when I realized that my parents got me all those presents. Certainly, it explained a lot. Now I knew how “Santa” figured out what I wanted. It answered my questions about the seemingly impossible logistics of covering the entire planet. Plus, I had come to realize that reindeer really could not fly. Elves, of courses, were just creepy.

But in those days of Santa, I was full-on believer for years. Sure, there was the Santa at the Sears catalog store whose red hair showed under his cheap wig. I dismissed him as one of Santa’s many “helpers.” That our chimney led straight to coal-burning furnace was no issue for me. I just assumed that Santa had the good sense to come through a window at our house.

I’ll admit that Santa also stressed me out. I worried about my behavior. Like most kids, I only focused on this as Christmas neared. I fretted that my transgressions from earlier in the year might cost me a G.I. Joe. What needless worry!

One year, I was so overcome with joy that I had to remove myself from the living room where Santa left our substantial take. I went the kitchen and promptly downed six glasses of milk to calm my nerves. Then, I vomited. Now, THAT’S excitement! I don’t puke on Christmas Day anymore. I miss that.

I’m glad to say that my own three sons picked up some of this from me. My middle son, in particular, was always so excited that he would cry when saw his gifts. Even now, as a young adult, I still see that he’s thrilled on Christmas Day. Nothing wrong with that.

I’m older now, even old some would say. I’ve passed from believing in Santa to being Santa to retiring as Santa. Regardless, I still get a thrill thinking about Christmas.

THE COMMERCIALIZATION

I’m one of the few who will admit that he likes the garish commercialization of Christmas–the advertising, the lights, the sparkle–all of it. Here’s what my house looks like:

We like to think we strike a delicate balance between festive and obnoxious.

We like to think we strike a delicate balance between festive and obnoxious.

We love it.

I like Christmas movies. I’ve seen Christmas Vacation a dozen times, at least. Elf is a new favorite. I even like Black Christmas, Bob Clark’s classic about a murderous lunatic. I am, however, one of the rare few who does not care for It’s A Wonderful Life. I find the whole thing depressing. Oh, sure, there’s the upbeat ending where George realizes everything is great. Up until that point, it’s like a barium enema–painful, uncomfortable and you just wish it would end. Just when you think it can get no worse, it does. That you ultimately get relief does little to erase the memories. I come away questioning whether George’s life is all that wonderful. Everyone else seems to love it. So, maybe it’s just me.

I know there are folks who don’t like Christmas. They tend to be vocal about it, too. I don’t care. I think I’m still the boy who loved Christmas, just older. In fact, I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling like a kid pretending to be an adult. That’s problematic in many areas of my life. In the case of Christmas, I’m okay with it.

©www.thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2014

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

Here’s Something Funny: How I Talk

I talk funny.  No, I don’t have a speech impediment.  If I did, it’s likely that very few people would mention it.  Then again, maybe they would.  Still, I talk funny, and I know it.

I didn’t always know it.  For 18 years, I thought I sounded just fine, better than most, in fact.  I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky, the very heart of Eastern Kentucky.  Harlan is Appalachia at its finest.  We’re proud of our heritage.  We’ll tell anyone who’ll listen.  Unfortunately, many times those people won’t understand a damn word we say.

When I was 18, I went to college but not very far from home.  I attended the University of Kentucky, a mere 3 hours (at most) from Harlan County.  There were a lot of Eastern Kentuckians at U.K., and those folks became my friends.  As one friend from Bell County (Harlan’s next door neighbor) told me “We’re like Indians.  We’re lost when we leave the reservation, so we have to hang together.” So we did.

I met people from different places, and they talked funny.  They had accents.  We did, too, but not so bad.  I knew plenty of people in Harlan with accents, heavy mountain accents.  They were hard to understand even for a native.  I didn’t sound like that.  Or so I thought.

When I was 19, I met a girl from Louisville–Kentucky’s big city.  She broke the news to me about my accent. For example, I pronounced the word “light” all wrong.  It has a short “i”, not the long, flat “eyyyyyye” I used.  In fact, I was practically saying “lat” instead of “light.”  Damnation.  Who knew?  She complained about my mumbling.  Little did she know, that she should been have happy that she couldn’t understand everything I was saying.

Once someone talks about your accent, the relationship is doomed, I suppose.  Nevertheless, I realized that I did have an accent.  I’ve been cognizant of it ever since.  You can’t tell I have an accent by reading this, but I do.  It’s a pretty thick one, too.  You know what?  I don’t give a fat damn about it.  [“Fat damn” sounds really good with my accent, by the way.]

What kind do I have?  Appalachian.  That’s not southern.  I don’t sound like Foghorn Leghorn, although folks in the Northeast will ask me if I’m “from the South.”  I’m not from the South.  I’m from the Mountains.

Our accents are a mountain drawl combined with a distinct mumble.  Our words run together but kind of slowly.  We aren’t fast talkers.  Go to Michigan if you want to hear that.  Our accents have so butchered the English language over time that translation is often required:

You from upair? Translation:  Are you from up there? [Up where, you ask?  Upair.]

Them yor people?  Translation:  Are you related to those people? 

He done got farred.  Translation:  That fellow was discharged from his employment.

Gimme em warcutters.  Translation:  Please hand me those wire cutters.

He thoed that out the winder.  Translation:  He threw that item out of the window.

I et a mater sammich yesterdee.  Translation:  I dined on a tomato sandwich yesterday.

Them fellers fit upair.  Translation:  Two gentlemen from up there engaged in fisticuffs.

He clum upair and worked on the chimley.  Translation:  He climbed up on the house to repair the chimney.

These are but a few examples, extreme though they may be.  We’ll say “tar” instead of “tire.” Someone may be “lexicuted” rather than electrocuted.  We fish with “minners,”not minnows.  People live in hollers or they may holler at you.  We’ll even “GARNT-tee” something for you.  We can do all of this but you won’t have a damn clue if we explain it to you.

So, you’re thinking:  “You people are ignorant hill jacks.”  No, we’re not.  That’s just how we talk.  I guess we have our fair shares of idiots, but almost all of us have accents which render us, to some extent, incomprehensible.

Now, not all mountain people have accents.  Some work very hard to get rid of them or to never have them.  I’m cool with that.  That’s not how I was raised, though.  We just talked how we talked.  We didn’t really think about it much, except for my mother who was a stickler for correct grammar.  She pointed out to me on many occasions that only the lowest of trash used double negatives.  “Ain’t” made her practically shriek, but not as much as “hain’t” did.

I do feel a bit bad for the folks who lose their accents.  They become sort of like people from Nebraska.  Try to say something and sound like someone from Nebraska.  You can’t, because no one knows what they sound like.  I can identify an Appalachian accent in about 5 seconds.

One group I don’t care about is those who shed their accents because of their shame of coming from the mountains.  They don’t want to sound like us.  It’s embarrassing.  They’re above that.  They are the same folks who pontificate about people in the mountains need, when in truth they wouldn’t care if the place was used for nuclear waste disposal.

So, how thick is my accent?  I was eating at my neighborhood Waffle House recently, when the waitress asked where I was from.  When I said Harlan, she said “I thought so.”  Oh, she then added:  “Half my family is from Harlan–the half we don’t speak to.”

Recently, I was in Las Vegas and struck up a conversation with a couple of strippers on the street.  One asked:  “Where are you from?  Your accent is so cute.”  I gave her five dollars.  I also met aspiring rapper, Young Cheese.  Even he asked me where I was from.

These ladies like my accent.  That's not so bad, is it?

These ladies like my accent. That’s not so bad, is it?

The obvious downside to my accent is that I am often incomprehensible to the untrained ear.  I once ordered lunch in a restaurant in Gloucester, Massachusetts.  The waitress couldn’t understand me nor could I her, yet we were both speaking English.  My lunch companions worked as translators.

My own wife struggles to understand me, and we have lived together for over half our lives.  Here is a typical exchange:

ME:  What’s for dinner?

HER:  What?

ME:  What’s for dinner?

HER: Huh?

ME:  DINNER!  WHAT ARE WE HAVING?

HER: Don’t yell at me!

ME:  I have to yell.  You can’t hear.

HER:  What?

ME:  YOU! ARE! DEAF!

HER:  I am not! You mumble!

…and so on and so on. It always ends with my wife pointing out that her friend Lisa can’t understand me, either.  Maybe I do mumble, but you’d think 26 years would be enough time for someone to get used to it.

 [In my defense, I would note that my father often accused my mother of mumbling.  He was almost completely deaf, yet never conceded that his lack of hearing was an issue.]

As a lawyer, my accent comes in handy.  I handle many cases in Eastern Kentucky and sound the part with no real effort.  Occasionally, it’s a hindrance.  I recently tried a case in Illinois, and explained to the court reporter that she may have problems understanding me.  She did.

Mountain accents help in other ways, too.  They are really good when you threaten someone.  If someone with Locust Valley Lockjaw says he’ll kick your ass, you’ll laugh in his face.  When someone from Harlan says it–male or female–it has a ring of truth to it.  “I’ll whup your aaasss” just sounds serious.  It also makes curse words sound better. “Hell” comes out like “Haaaiiil.” Shit becomes “I don’t give a shiiiiiit.”  It creates an emphasis that others lack.  There are many more examples that good taste prevents me from discussing here.

The only time my accent bothers me is when I hear it.  I’ll hear myself on video and think “Man, oh man, I sound like a weed bender.”  I guess I do.

Naturally, many folks hear us talk and think we’re dumb. Many of these people are, in fact, dumb people with different accents. Sure, if we’re interviewed on TV, there may be subtitles, but we’re not dumb–at least not all of us. If you ARE dumb, a mountain accent won’t help. Nevertheless, it won’t actually make you dumb.

Of course, we aren’t the only people who sound funny.  New Englanders sound funny, too.  So do folks from Wisconsin.  New Yorkers are hard to understand, just like people from the deep south.  Appalachians just have the disadvantage of being in perhaps the last remaining group of people who can be openly derided with no repercussions.

Now, read this again in your best Appalachian accent. If you still don’t get it, watch the TV show Justified. It’s set in Harlan County, and they do a good job with the accents. Maybe you’ve seen the Patrick Swayze classic, Next of Kin. There are some good accents in that one, with the exception of Liam Neeson. I’m not sure what he was doing, but I’ve never heard anyone sound like that.

Aint’ got nuthin left to say about this hyere–nary a word.  I’m still upair in Lexington, but I’ve still got people in Harlan.  Reckon I’ll stay hyere, unless I end up somewheres else.  Proud to know you uns.  Holler at me if you get up this way.

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

Five Things You Don’t See Every Day

As any reader of this blog knows, I grew up in Harlan County, Kentucky.  I’ve written extensively about that before, but I got to thinking about some of the things I experienced there that I haven’t seen since.  Here is a sampling:

THE NERVE GAS EXPRESS

As my readers know, I grew up in Loyall, Kentucky.  When I was a kid, Loyall was home of a Louisville & Nashville Railroad yard, and I lived about 200 yards from the track that ran from the yard to parts unknown.  The 1970’s were the time of the Coal Boom and trains ran day and night.  They were as much a part of life as the sun coming up.  We didn’t give them a thought, until the Nerve Gas Express came to town.

Some one decided to ship old nerve gas by rail to somewhere.  Loyall was on that road to somewhere.  We knew it coming.  It was in the local paper–several times in fact.  People talked about what would happen if the train derailed (which they did sometimes) or, God forbid, there was a real wreck (which almost never happened).  The nerve gas would leak, and we would all die.  Everyone was quite excited.

What was the nerve gas, exactly?  I don’t know–sarin gas maybe. I also don’t know where it was headed.  I do know that it had the capacity to kill us all.

Given the deadly qualities of this Hellish trainload, one might think that the townspeople would have cowered in their basements or taken cover in old bomb shelters.  Remember now, we were Harlan Countians, which means two things: (1) We’re a fearless bunch of hill jacks; and (2) We don’t have a hell of a lot to do most of the time.  As a result, we did what you would expect, and gathered by the railroad track to watch the paralyzing cargo roll through Loyall.  It was reminiscent of the episode of the Andy Griffith Show where all of Mayberry gathered in town to see the “gold truck” pass through.

REPLACE "GOLD TRUCK" WITH "NERVE GAS," AND YOU GET THE PICTURE

REPLACE “GOLD TRUCK” WITH “NERVE GAS,” AND YOU GET THE PICTURE.

I should note that my Dad talked quite a bit about how stupid it was to watch a train go by.  He thought it was especially dumb since the only possible excitement was the annihilation of all the spectators.  He noted several times that if the gas leaked, you could get the same thrill of being gassed hanging out in your house.  He was not a fan of the Nerve Gas Express.

Just as planned, the train came through Loyall.  Unlike the Andy Griffith Show, I don’t think it was decoy.  As far as I know, it contained enough nerve gas to kill every man, woman, child and beast in the county.  I’ll admit that I watched it go by.  It was just a train, but everyone seemed pleased.  No one cheered, although that would have been somehow appropriate.  There were no protestors.  No one died.

THE WONDERS OF DUCT TAPE

Okay, the entire world knows about duct tape now, but there was a time when it was actually used mostly for duct work.  In the 1970’s, for example, it wasn’t as ubiquitous as today.  Naturally, we called it “duck” tape, just as many people do today.

I knew this guy who used it for everything.  Have you ever seen a shotgun held together with duct tape?  I have.  He had a Stevenson shotgun (12 gauge, as I recall), which he affectionately called “Stevie.”  Stevie had fallen into disrepair to the point that the stock (that’s the wooden part for you novices) fell off.  Duct tape fixed that.  He simply taped it back together.  I never saw him fire it, but swore it held together.  I have my doubts.

The same guy also made his own boots.  How, you ask?  Three pairs of tube socks and duct tape.  I’m not kidding.  He said they were both comfortable and water tight.

Okay, that’s actually TWO things you don’t see every day–duct taped a duct taped shotgun and duct tape boots.  I’m proud to say that I’ve seen them both, on the same day, in fact.

THE COAL MONUMENT

I’m sure other coal-producing counties have their tributes to coal mining, but we had–and still have–a genuine monument:

Our monument is in Baxter--right in the middle of traffic (such as it is).

Our monument is in Baxter–right in the middle of traffic (such as it is).

You have to navigate your way around the monument, which isn’t too tough these days.  Back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, this was the main drag to Harlan and quite busy.  Plus, Ken’s Drive-In was a popular eatery across from the monument.  For the uninitiated, this was as much a traffic hazard as it was a historical marker.  Nowadays, one could comfortably nap in this intersection.

We should salute the builders of the Coal Monument.  As I write this, I am 51 years old, and the Monument has been there as long as I can remember.  As far as I know, it’s never even been repaired.  I don’t know who build it, when or why it’s in Baxter.  If anyone knows the story behind it, please let me know.

If you live in Baxter, Kentucky, it’s probably wrong to say you don’t see something like this every day.  In fact, you may well see this every single day, but I don’t know many people who live in Baxter.  Close enough.

COON ON THE LOG

The only Coon on the Log contests I’ve ever seen were in Harlan County at the Fish and Game Club.  What is that, you ask?  It involves 1) A raccoon; 2) A log; 3) Water; and 4) Dogs.  Here’s how it worked.  A raccoon was tied to log.  The log was placed in the middle of a pond.  The dogs swam out to the log–one at a time, of course–and attempted to knock the raccoon off the log.  Simple enough. Now, you ask, what is the entertainment value in that?

You might be a city person who thinks raccoons are cute, like their cuddly cousins, the Pandas.  You would be wrong.  Raccoons are, in fact, vicious critters.  They have sharp teeth and long, razor-like claws.  They also have bad dispositions.  They might rabies, too, although I don’t believe that is true with competition-level raccoons.  Knocking one of these nasty bastards off a log is no mean feat.  They fight.  They claw.  They bite.

I was probably 6 years old or so when I attended the Coon on the Log.  My Dad took my brother and me. We sat by the pond and watched the dogs do battle with the hellish beast.   I only remember one dog.  He was black hunting dog of some sort and could swim like a fish.  He swam out the log and immediately engaged the raccoon.  They fought tooth and nail until the raccoon managed to claw the dog’s face, sending him back to shore much worse for the wear.  The next year, the dog was back, this time with a scarred face.  I recall that he vanquished the raccoon.  Honestly, it could have been a different less fierce raccoon, but I remember being pleased for the dog nonetheless.

I know you animal lovers are poised over your keyboards to attack me and, possibly, my late father, like a rabid, typing raccoon.  This is not an endorsement of Coon on the Log contests.  PETA hates them, as you would expect.  I doubt that they are very popular anymore, having gone the way of Donkey Basketball and Greased Pig Contests.  (I’ve attended both of these events, too, and they were quite entertaining; however, I do understand why the use of cattle prods in a basketball game is now frowned upon).  These days, people get all torn up over monkeys riding dogs (possibly the most entertaining thing on Earth, by the way).  The Coon on the Log doesn’t stand a chance.

TIRE WALKING

My Dad didn’t throw away things.  He always figured he could use them as some point.  Old magazines, engine parts and the like might come in handy.  For example, when I was a kid, he found a six-pack of beer and put in the trunk of his car.  While Dad was fond of Scotch and Bourbon, he didn’t drink beer.  But he knew a guy who did.  He said he would give the six-pack to that guy.  I don’t think he ever did, but he drove around with that six-pack in the trunk of his car for several years–just in case.

Among Dad’s collection were old tires.  He would change tires on his cars but keep the old ones.  You never know, he might need them one day.  During a summer of my childhood, my friend Jimmy and I were bored, having exhausted the possibilities of bike riding and playing Army.  So, we started rooting around in my garage where we happened upon two tires.  We could do something with those.

The first thing we tried was walking on them, kind of like a circus bear walking on a ball.  It just couldn’t be done.  Even though we were both slight of build, our inconsiderable weight caused the tires to collapse.

Then, we came up with Tire Wrestling, which consisted of rolling the tires at each other and diving on them.  That was kind of fun, but we couldn’t devise a scoring system.  So, there ended up not being much point to it.  It never caught on, not even with Jimmy and me.

I didn’t give up on the idea of walking on tires but just couldn’t master it.  Then, Uncle Jack showed up.  My Uncle Jack was my Dad’s younger brother and probably in his 40’s at the time.  As a bachelor, Jack spent a lot of time at our house.  Jack had all kinds of tricks.  He would pull out his dentures and put a cigarette between them and make the cigarette bounce up and down.  He could play a mean harmonica.  He could shuffle cards like a magician.  He was always entertaining.

Jack was a small man, about 5′ 5″, maybe 140 pounds.  His hair was the kind of silvery-white you want if your hair turns gray.  He was quick with a joke or some smart-ass comment, and always laughed at his own stories.  He chain-smoked Phillip Morris non-filter cigarettes.

One day, I was on the back porch with a tire leaned against the side of the porch, studying the possibilities.  Our porch was a wooden structure about 3 or 4 feet high with railing only on the sides and 5 or 6 steps on the left hand side.  I was on the steps when Jack and Dad stepped out on the porch.

“Whatta ya know, boy?” Jack asked (this was the same greeting I got from Jack for the remaining 40 years of his life).  I explained that I had tried to walk on the tire but couldn’t do it.  Jack said, “Let me see that tire.  I can do that.”  Dad looked at Jack and said, “Now, Jack, you’ll break your neck on that thing.”

Jack ignored Dad, as he usually did whenever Dad started a sentence with “Now, Jack….”  Jack balanced the tire perpendicular to the porch, stuck his cigarette in the corner of his mouth and grabbed the side rail of the porch with his left hand.  He was ready to roll.

He did it.  It was the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen.  He just stepped off the porch on top of the tire and took off.  He looked like a tap dancer on hot coals.  His arms stuck out to side for balance and a thin trail of cigarette smoke coursed behind him like a contrail.

Had we owned a clothes dryer, I’m confident that he would have made all the way across the yard to the back fence.  As it was, our clothes line ended the ride.  It caught Jack just under the chin and flipped him backward off the tire.  He slammed to the ground like bag of sand.  For a moment, he didn’t move.  Then, he hopped up, grabbed his smoke off the ground and just laughed.  Dad was laughing himself into a fit on the back porch.  If you think walking on a tire is easy, try it sometime.

I could tell a lot of other stories about Jack but that one stands out.  Jack was always entertaining.  Every kid needs an Uncle Jack.

Well, that’s it.  Five things you don’t see every day.  If you’re ever in Harlan County, ask a local for directions to the Coal Monument.  I can’t promise you that will see any of the other things I described, but I’m confident that the Monument will still be there.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Amazing Hard-to-Believe Trivia

Now that I’ve grabbed you with that stunning title, I must confess that none of what you will read here is either amazing or hard to believe, that is, unless you really haven’t done or seen much in your life.  Maybe you’re 2 years old.  If so, the fact that you can read is amazing and hard to believe in itself.

Regardless, this is trivia, which is defined as “matters or things that are very unimportant, inconsequential, or nonessential.”  What is this trivia about?  Me, of course.  It’s Me Trivia.  Perhaps you have certain trivia about yourself which you find interesting.  That is what we call You Trivia, and you won’t find any of that here unless, by sheer coincidence, we share certain common trivialities.

Here we go:

  1. I’m afraid of heights, terrified in fact.  Enclosed places don’t bother me.  For example, flying is no big deal.  However, standing on a balcony three stories up or climbing a ladder are problematic.
  2. I’m 5 feet, 8 inches tall.  I could swear I was 5′ 9″ at one time.
  3. I have tiny feet.  Size 8–like matchboxes.  I’m surprised that I can even keep my balance.
  4. I have a terrible jump shot.  It’s a flat, no spin heave.
  5. I have difficulty telling left from right.
  6. I haven’t driven a stick shift in 30+ years, and I don’t expect to ever drive one again.
  7. I have vomited in public–more than once.
  8. I have a massive baseball card collection.
  9. I’m a tad claustrophobic
  10. I met Chuck Norris.
  11. I also met Captain Kangaroo.
  12. For some reason, I tried to learn how to juggle–and failed.
  13. I can’t go to my left, assuming I know which direction that is.
  14. I quit playing golf after I beat a pitching wedge against a tree.
  15. I have had drinks thrown on me–several times.
  16. For reasons that baffle me, I really like Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
  17. I have never felt like dancing.  Not even one time.
  18. I haven’t been in many fights, but I always fight dirty.
  19. Apocalypse Now is my favorite film.
  20. Slaughterhouse Five is my favorite book.  Or maybe it’s East of Eden.
  21. Crickets are the most terrifying of God’s creatures.
  22. It is well-known in some circles that I was runner-up in the Loyall Spelling Bee.
  23. I’ve never heard a Jim Croce song that I didn’t like.
  24. I find Tina Fey attractive.
  25. I always think foreign people will understand me if I yell at them.

So, there they are:  25 facts about me.  Now you know me better, and isn’t that what we all want?  Of course, I know you no better than I ever did, which suits me just fine.  That’s not to say that you aren’t fascinating in your own right.  It’s just that I remain more interested in me.  One final piece of trivia:  I was once evaluated as borderline narcissistic.  I didn’t include that, because it was obviously done by a quack.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com

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