ATTENTION YOUNG PEOPLE: THINGS THEY WON’T TELL YOU

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

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

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

1.  HARD WORK PAYS OFF

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

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

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

2.  YOU HAVE A SOUL MATE

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

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

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

3.  MONEY ISN’T IMPORTANT

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

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

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

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

4. THIS IS THE BEST TIME OF YOUR LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

5. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION

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

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2014

 

Hometown Loyall-ty

I’m told that I had a bad upbringing.  Oh, no one says I had bad parents, mind you.  Nevertheless, I had it bad.  Why?  I grew up in Eastern Kentucky.  Apparently, that’s bad.

I’ve written about Eastern Kentucky before and probably will again.  I haven’t lived there in three decades, but it is as much a part of my life today as it was then.  It’s home.

WHERE (OR WHAT) IS LOYALL?

I grew up in Loyall, Kentucky.  Here’s where Loyall is:

loyallmap

Exactly where is THAT?  As I told a guy who picked me up hitchhiking, it’s three miles outside Harlan, to which he responded “Where the hell is that?”  Harlan is the county seat of Harlan, County, Kentucky in the Eastern Kentucky coalfields.  When I was growing up, about 40,000 people lived in Harlan County.  Today, that number is closer to 30,000 and dwindling everyday.

Aerial view of Loyall today.

Aerial view of Loyall today.

The first thing to know is how to pronounce “Loyall.”  It’s not LOY-al, like the word “loyal.”  It’s kind of like “Lole.”  More accurately, it’s pronounced “Lowell” but without the “w.”

Harlan County is known for two things:  Coal mining and stone cold bad asses.  There’s not nearly as much mining  as there used to be and there never were as many bad asses as people thought.

Here’s what I can tell you about in which I was raised:

  • I always heard it was named after a railroad executive.  That might be true.
  • It had around 1,000 residents when I was a kid.  The welcome sign now says 776.  Frankly, that might be a bit of stretch.
  • Loyall consists of two parts:  Loyall and Old Loyall.  Old Loyall is exactly what it sounds like–the old part of Loyall.
  • The CSX Railroad Yard is in Old Loyall.  When I was kid it was the Louisville & Nashville Yard.  A lot of people in Loyall worked at the yard.
  • Trains ran day and night out of the yard hauling coal out of the county.
  • We had one traffic light.  It’s still there.
  • We had a full service gas station (long gone now).  They’d fill your car, clean your window and always ask:  “Check that oil for ya?”
  • We had a soda fountain, The Corner Store.  It sat on the corner, of course, by the traffic light.  They had fountain drinks and excellent hotdogs with chili.  They also had a pinball machine.
  • We had a movie theater until I was about 6 or 7.
  • We  had a barber, Gene Harber.  Very nice man.  He always asked “How do you want it?  ‘Bout the same?”
  • The Cumberland River ran through Loyall and washed us away in 1977.  Thanks to the largesse of the federal government, the river now runs through a man-made channel so it won’t flood.  Of course, they cut the town in half for that bit of high-tech engineering.
  • We had a school.  It was Loyall High School until the late ’60’s and then became Loyall Elementary and Junior High.   It still stands but hasn’t been a school for several years now.
  • We had a post office, City Hall, Fire Department and Chief of Police.
An artist's rendering of the Corner Store adorns my law office.  This was done from an old photo.

An artist’s rendering of the Corner Store adorns my law office. This was done from an old photo.

In other words, it was Small Town, USA.  You knew your neighbors and lots of the folks in town.  We slept with the windows open and the doors unlocked.

I must confess that I was not raised within the city limits of Loyall.  I spend my first twelve years in Rio Vista, a neighborhood just outside Loyall.  I spend the last years on my childhood on Park Hill which overlooks Loyall.  Still, we thought of it as Loyall.

I lived in this house until I was 12.

I lived in this house until I was 12.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH HARLAN COUNTY?

I thought it was a pretty good place, but I learned differently.  My first lesson was when I attended the University of Kentucky.  I talked funny.  Evidently, I had (and have) an accent.  That’s weird because I never noticed it.  I did know people at home with heavy accents, but I wasn’t one of them…or WAS I?  I was also a redneck, at least by Lexington standards.  Trust me on this one, but I was NOWHERE close to being a redneck by Harlan County standards.

I took a class at the University of Kentucky called “Appalachian History” or something like that.  It was taught by an odd fellow who had visited Harlan County on several occasions.  He had read Harry Caudill’s book Night Comes to the Cumberlands. He had been to Evarts (where my father grew up), which he pronounced EE-varts.  So, he was some kind of an expert.

I was told three things that I didn’t know:

  1. I was the victim of abusive Robber Barons who operated coal companies.  OR I was the victim of a well-meaning but misguided government which institutionalized poverty.  OR both.
  2. As a result, I lived in stifling poverty.
  3. It was likely that I was too ignorant to comprehend points 1 and 2.

I had a substandard education and health care.  Bad teeth, too.  Inadequate clothing.  Wow.  You’d think I would have noticed some of that, but I didn’t–maybe all the inbreeding made me less perceptive.

Later, after I graduated from the University of Kentucky with degrees in Finance and Law, I continued to learn about my homeland.  It was a bad, bad place.  Bad coal.  Bad government.  Bad drugs.  Bad, bad, bad.

Eastern Kentuckians, it seems, can’t take care of, or think for, themselves.  Others, though, can do it for them.  They need help.  Here’s why:

  1. Schools are horrible.
  2. Health care is horrible.
  3. Everyone is poor, even people with jobs.
  4. All the unemployed people are victims of something or other.
  5. Everyone is a drug addict.
  6. There is no drinking water.
  7. There are no roads that can be driven on.
  8. The people aren’t smart enough to know that they are unhappy.

Honest to God, it sounds like Somalia.  How the Hell did I survive?

LIVING IN REALITY

Fortunately, I grew up in the Real World.  It wasn’t a perfect world, mind you, but it was far from what was (or is) portrayed.  Imagine if your hometown–whether small town or large city–were always portrayed according to lowest and worst performers.  I now live in Lexington, Kentucky, the self-proclaimed “Horse Capital of the World.”  We have about 300,000 people here, but it’s a college town at heart.  It’s a nice place to live, and I’ve enjoyed raising my family here.  We don’t promote Lexington by showing our homeless shelters, the rundown shotgun shacks that litter downtown, the hobo jungle or our public housing projects.  If we did, one would wonder why anyone would set foot here–except maybe for the horses who wouldn’t know any better.

I like Lexington, but honestly I don’t see it as being that much better than Harlan County.  Lexington has poor people–a lot of them.  Unlike my life in Harlan County, I don’t see them here.  They don’t live near me.  My kids might go to school with them, but they really don’t socialize with each other.  That’s just how works.  You won’t see Lexington’s homeless shelters, unless you go looking for them.  The last time I went to one of them, I saw two men I know–LIVING IN THE SHELTER!  I didn’t know anyone who was homeless in Loyall.

In Harlan County, there was no insulation.  Your friends might live in poverty.  I had a good friend who lived in a housing project.  Housing projects in Harlan County are no nicer than anywhere else.  His father was chronically unemployed.  It didn’t matter. We were friends. Same with my friend whose father was illiterate.  He was a good man.  He just couldn’t read and write at any functional level.  I don’t see that here in Lexington, not because it doesn’t exist, but because it’s well-hidden.

My friends’ parents included teachers, railroad workers, government workers, politicians, coal miners, coal operators, dentists, barbers, doctors, lawyers and just about every other walk of life in the mountains.  Both of my parents were college graduates.  That certainly was not common in those days, but I was hardly the only kid with that distinction.

Growing up, we lived like kids.  Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Little League Baseball, school, dances, romances, fights and all the rest.  I have raised two sons to adulthood and have been surprised how they occupied their time much like we did–chasing girls, hanging out with friends, watching TV, all the while complaining about having nothing to do.  Like my kids, we had all the teen angst that exists everywhere else–wanting to leave our small town, broken hearts, drinking, drugs and general teen mayhem.  We just happened to be in Harlan County while it was going on.

We played Little League in Harlan County.  Your author is on the front row, far left end.

We played Little League in Harlan County. Your author is on the front row, far left end.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT BAD STUFF?

There were plenty of people who had hard lives in Harlan County and elsewhere in the mountains.  Poverty and unemployment rates have always been high and, in the remote parts of the county, people could live bleak existences.

As far as I know, my parents weren’t related to each other.  I did know a guy who married his cousin, but I know someone who did that in Lexington, too.  That kind of thing is frowned upon everywhere.

Did I know people who didn’t have indoor plumbing?  Yep.  I had an uncle in Pike County, Kentucky who had an outdoor toilet until the mid-70’s. By the way, my wife’s grandparents had an outdoor toilet, too.  But they lived in Franklin County, Kentucky, home of our state capital.  That’s not as sensational as one in Harlan County.

Did I know people on food stamps?  Yes sir.  I also knew people whose only goal in life was to “draw a check,” our Harlan County way of saying that a person just wanted to be on the dole.  Some did. My Dad called them “people living off the grid.”   They were cautionary tales.

Did I know any criminals or, as we liked to say, “outlaws?”  You bet–a bunch of them, too.  My Dad had a friend who killed his own father-in-law.  The guy who lived across the road from us served time for attempted murder.  For a time, we lived next door to a notorious bootlegger. I knew a bunch of people who’d been shot.  Like I said, it’s a small place.  You don’t get to hide from people.

Some parts of our county were so remote that most Harlan Countians never saw them.  Jones Creek, Bailey’s Creek, Smith, Black Star, Holmes Mill and many such places were well off the beaten path.  Still, those folks went to church and school and had jobs–a good number of them, at least.

The funny thing, though, is that the overwhelming majority of folks I knew didn’t fit these extreme profiles.  Most people had jobs and took care of their families.  Some families, like mine, had two working parents.  Like parents everywhere, most wanted something better for their children and tried to help them.  It was nothing unusual, just typical American life.

SO, WHAT’S THE  DEAL?

Have things changed since I left Harlan County?  Of course. Time changes everything.  When I grew up, good jobs were fairly plentiful.  That’s not the case today.  The economic base in Eastern Kentucky is shrinking and may well not recover.  The population continues to decrease and is likely to drop precipitously as the Baby Boomers fade.  We didn’t have the prescription drug scourge that has devastated Eastern Kentucky in the past few years.  Regardless of the changes, on my frequent trips to the mountains, I see the same sorts of folks I knew growing up.  These aren’t characters from a Norman Rockwell painting nor are they the “salt of the Earth” or any other such overblown characterization.  They’re just good, solid people for the most part.  They don’t see themselves as victims nor are they trawling for handouts. They’re just living their lives as best they can.

I had an uncle who was fond of saying “Mountain people have mountain ways.”  He meant that there were certain things about life in the mountains that were different–and not always different “good.”  For instance, a lot of people threw their trash in the river.  If we had high water, you see it hanging in trees when the river receded.  We use to have a county trash dump on the side of mountain.  No, it wasn’t a landfill.  It was exactly what it was called–a big, stinking trash dump.  People would line up on the side of the road and shoot the rats.  It was really fun, but you don’t see that everywhere.

Now, as then, some people don’t take care of themselves or their families, either.  They don’t go to the doctor or dentist or do much else.  They pretty much live like their ancestors.  Some of us might  have called these folks “trash.”  I’ve never been any place in this country that doesn’t have its pockets of trash.

Of course, like anywhere else, some people are born into bad circumstances and struggle.  Sometimes, they can’t overcome that.  They aren’t bad people.  They just start life with two strikes against them.  That still happens.  Everywhere.

Are some of my memories skewed by the prism of nostalgia?  Of course.  My father used to rail against people talking about the “good old days.”  He would then talk about Harlan County in the 1930’s when he grew up.  He always concluded with “There were no good old days.”  Fortunately, I don’t have those memories.  I remember the good people and the nice life we had.  Like a lot of people, I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time and probably spent too much time wanting to “get out.”

You may have never been to Eastern Kentucky, and this may not make you want to even visit.  You may have lived there in tough times or under bad circumstances.  Maybe your memories are not fond.  Consider this:  People from every part of this country have the same experiences.  Perhaps we should condemn their culture or treat them all as victims.  I leave that to you.  All I can tell you is what happened to me and most of the people I knew.  We were alright.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

My High School Commencement Address

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

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

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

john grad

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

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

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

johnchurch

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

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

Here is my commencement speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Sporting Life of Me

I like sports. Maybe I love sports. Loving something like that (or is it those?) seems odd to say out loud, but it’s possible that I do. Why? I’m not sure, but I know this much: It isn’t because I was ever good at any of them.

If you’ve read any of my sundry blog posts, you know that I will opine on almost any topic–politics, religion, TV, movies, fighting girls, self-help and, yes, sports. These things interest me, and I like to write–and talk–about such things. One might call me self-centered. One might be correct about that, too. I assume that others will be interested in these subjects since they interest me. Mostly, I believe that others are, or at the very least should be, interested in what interests me. If not, they must be interested in me, generally. With that in mind, let’s talk sports.

I’m not an athlete. I never was. Oh, I tried my hand at various sports. Never, though, did I find my game.

BASEBALL

I played a lot of baseball growing up. I wasn’t particularly good, but I played. I had one God-given skill and that was speed. I was pretty fast. That was helpful, to some extent. I also have decent hand-eye coordination–decent, not excellent. I couldn’t hit very well nor did I have a good arm. In my 20’s, a doctor told me that it was likely that I had torn muscles in my shoulder when I was young, which would explain chronic pain and weakness. I use this now as an excuse to explain my overall mediocrity. I am now convinced that I tore my shoulder when I was 4 years old.

My baseball career, as it were, can be summed up in one game when I was 14 years old. My team faced a pitcher who threw side arm. I couldn’t hit him neither could my team-mate batting in front of me in the order. In the last inning of an extra inning game, we both had struck out four times. There were two outs, and I was on deck. Since we both had the dreaded Golden Sombrero (four Ks), I silently prayed that my team-mate would get out so that I would not end the game for us. He did. On strikes. I was happy. There may be no “I” in team, but there damn sure is one in “strike out.”

I was also volatile and difficult to coach. I would argue with my coaches. I would argue with opposing players. I would argue with my team-mates. These may seem to be attributes of the modern athlete; however, they are best reserved for the modern, outstanding athlete. The borderline, average teenager in the 1970’s did not benefit from such behavior. One time, I even got into an argument with my coach’s father during a game. Not a good move.

I combined lack of skill and bad attitude with laziness. If I needed to work on something, I preferred to just sit around and hope I improved. Oddly enough, it didn’t work.

BASKETBALL

I also played basketball or, more correctly, tried to play. To say that I was not a good basketball player is to say that William Shatner is not a good singer. The speed which I flashed playing baseball disappeared with a basketball in my hands. I couldn’t go to my left at all. I could barely go to my right. But, could I shoot? No. Try as I might, my jumper was always an awkward “push” shot. It would have looked good in the days of the two hand set shot.

My lack of skill limited my play to pick up games, except for a brief period in elementary school when I played what we called “Little League” basketball in my home town. I played for Loyall Christian Church. Although I did not attend church there, they sponsored our team. I played three years and might have scored 10 points total. Honestly, that’s probably a stretch. I do know that my high game was four points. Wow.

The highlight of my organized basketball career was a fight–not involving me, of course. My Dad had an older kid walk me to my games at night (Dad was often on the road for work during the week). One night, we encountered a hoodlum of some renown. My guardian slapped the cigarette out of the hood’s mouth, picked it up and took a long drag off it. He then flicked the butt off the hood’s chest. I can still see those ashes exploding against his chest in the dark. Why did he do this? I think it was just to make a point. Okay, that’s not really a fight, but I was just 7 or 8 years old, and I thought it was cool.

I would occasionally play pick up games, usually quite poorly. The only time I ever recall playing well was in a one on one game with a friend in high school. For reasons now obscure, I had mouthed off about how I could beat him. I don’t why I did that since he was taller than I was and, by all appearances, more athletic. He challenged me to a game to 20 by ones. Something possessed me and, for that one game, I could really play. I couldn’t miss a shot. My awkward, two-handed J hit nothing but net. The game winner was made after a quite accidental cross-over dribble off my knee. My opponent slipped and I nailed a jumper from about 15 feet. My friend was wowed. I used up all my basketball luck in one game.

I also played in the occasional pick up game in college. Again, poorly. My friends tolerated me, because…well…they were my friends. I’m sure it pained them to watch me. Sometimes, I would play against girls. They were also better than I was. Perhaps the highlight of my college career was a violent body check/pick laid on me by a University of Kentucky football player. He was about 6′ 4″, 350 maybe. No front teeth and he wore a down vest to play basketball. After his bone-pulverizing pick, I predictably collapsed in a pathetic heap. He then screamed obscenities at me, rightfully questioning my manhood.

I used to play basketball with my kids. Then, they got better than me, too.

GOLF

I also tried golf. There weren’t a lot of golfers when I was growing up in Harlan County, Kentucky. Some people belonged to the Harlan Country Club. I heard that they played golf up there on a 9 hole golf course. Other than the occasional miniature golf game (they had miniature golf in Evarts), I didn’t touch a golf club until I was in my 20’s.

I thought golf would be a good game for me. It didn’t require much (or any) athleticism. I imagined myself strolling the links with fellow hot shots, playing and making lucrative business deals. Sadly, my golf play resembled nothing so much as Spaudling Smails in Caddyshack. Here are some of the reasons golf didn’t work:

  • I discovered that most people didn’t enjoy playing with someone in a blind rage the whole time.
  • People would give me pointers which I desperately needed; however, I HATE pointers, advice, helpful hints or whatever the hell you want to call them.
  • I broke my pitching wedge beating it against a tree after sailing an approach shot over the green.
  • I broke my 9 iron. By running over it with my car. On purpose.
  • I bent my putter. Throwing it.
  • I would curse loudly and often.

Ultimately, I abandoned the game because I was just terrible at it. Terrible. The only thing I liked about it was that one could drink alcohol while playing. In my case, it didn’t affect my game at all. Now, I often think about what my father said of golf: “If a man has enough time to play golf, he should do something productive instead. Like work.” That gives me some comfort. Some. I don’t do much productive, either.

BOWLING

I tried other sports. Bowling, for instance. Sucked. Like golf, I can tell you all the fundamentals one must embrace to excel, but I can’t execute any of them. Once I stopped drinking, I found out that the only reason I ever bowled was for the alcohol, anyway.

BILLIARDS

How about pool? I love shooting pool. I can visualize every shot on the table. I can’t execute any of them. I’ve broken a couple of pool cues over my leg. I used to have a nice pool table, but I gave it away. It taunted me every time I walked by it. Again, though, one could drink beer and play. It had that going for it.

YO-YO

In the 1970’s, there was a yo-yo craze. That’s right–yo-yo. Everyone had a yo-yo, me included. The craze even reached Harlan County. Every hay-shaker and hill jack in the county was walking the dog, rocking the baby and going around the world. Me? I cracked myself in the mouth once trying to go around the world. Split my lip. Sometimes, I would walk the dog, and the yo-yo would pop up and hit me in the forehead. It was just sad.

EVERYTHING ELSE

My mediocrity knew almost no limits. Ping pong, darts, dodge ball, volley ball and softball all mastered me. PE in high school was a struggle, because there were no games at which I excelled. Our PE teacher was an affable enough fellow who went on to a successful career as a college football assistant coach. He was affable, that is, until he had a psychotic episode of yelling and screaming about something. He once hit a kid with a desk. He was better, though, than the head football coach who someone once aptly described as a “shaved ape.” They brought to mind the old Woody Allen joke: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.”

Of course, it was a right of passage that one take PE. At the time, I suspected that it was because of a homoerotic desire to force us all to shower. I guess that was wrong, but–hey–I was 14. It made sense at the time.

One sport I never tried was football. I was WAY too small and have an aversion to being hit. I also don’t like injuries of any kind. When I grew no one played soccer. I never ran track or swam competitively or played Frisbee. I like to think that I could have excelled at any of those if I’d only tried.

Later in life, I met many people who didn’t grow up with me. Someone would ask if I played basketball, and I could say, “Oh, yeah. I was pretty damn good, too.” Or I could say I was baseball star. Fortunately, when you reaches a certain age, people don’t challenge you or invite you to join their teams. If they do, you can alway claim some injury like a torn rotator cuff or unresolved sports hernia prevents it.

Now that I’ve written this, I think I know why I love sports. It’s precisely because of my incompetence. Perhaps, I live vicariously through these athletes. Perhaps, I admire their expertise. It could be that they represent all that I wanted to be. Or maybe it’s because I REALLY love watching TV. I am very good at that.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

My Evening With The Mongolian Stomper

I grew up watching professional wrestling.  I am neither ashamed nor proud of this.  It’s just a fact.  We in Harlan County, Kentucky had cable TV before the rest of the country because of the terrible signal reception in the mountains.  As a result, we had a lot of TV channels and a lot of wrestling.  Ernie The Big Cat Ladd, Ric Flair, Austin Idol, Harley Race, Mr. Wrestling II, Baron Von Raschke, Abdullah the Butcher, Maniac Mark Lewin, The Destroyer, Paul Jones, Ronnie Garvin, Bob Fuller, The King of Kingsport Ron Wright, Whitey Caldwell, Wahoo McDaniel, Superfly Jimmy Snuka and many, many more were household names in my home.  The Mongolian Stomper was one that always fascinated me.

The Stomper was certainly not from Mongolia, but he did stomp a lot of people.  He was also afflicted with an unspecified condition which made him acutely sensitive to sound.  As protection, he wore wrestling headgear like amateur wrestlers wear.  Fans–insensitive to his malady–would scream, causing the Stomper to hold his head in agony.  Then, he would stomp the crap out of his opponent. Evidently, he was mute and barely controllable.  He stomped, screamed and spit.  He often bled profusely.   He was a bad guy–a “heel” in wrestling parlance.    Of all the wrestling characters I saw over the years, the Stomper–along with Baron Von Raschke–was as over-the-top as any.

At this point, I suppose I should confess that I never thought wrestling was “real.”  By this, I mean that I knew it wasn’t real athletic competition.  For example, Baron Von Raschke was not a Baron nor was he even German–his name is Jim Raschke and he’s from Nebraska.  Maniac Mark Lewin did not kill a man using his deadly “Singapore Sling.”  Abdullah the Butcher did not actually hail from “Parts Unknown”  (he’s Larry Shreve, and he hails from Canada).  My father, perhaps disturbed by my interest, made sure I understood that it was for show.  This never diminished my enjoyment of it.  In fact, I eagerly awaited the next outrageous storyline, such as Ernie Ladd tearing up Wahoo McDaniel’s ceremonial headdress and stuffing the feathers in his mouth or Baron Von Raschke enraging crowds by wearing his Iron Cross around his neck.

Occasionally, professional wrestling came to Harlan County. Usually, it was some third-rate bunch, but sometimes we got the real thing.  I never attended but must admit that it caught my interest.  I’m pretty sure that I didn’t go because I didn’t want anyone to know that I was THAT into.  I believe it was in my senior year of high school when fate intervened.  Someone (probably me) proposed that the Beta Club handle the concessions for the next wrestling event.  Of course, I volunteered.

I must digress here and tell you some things about Harlan County.  Harlan County is quiet and calm, despite its reputation.  Not much happens most of the time, but most Harlan Countians relish the county’s reputation of being a wide-open territory of gun play and lawlessness.   Most of us don’t fit the stereotype, but we like it nonetheless.  Many of us–me, for example–aren’t tough at all, but we are quite proud to be from Harlan.

When we tell someone that we are from Harlan, we mean Harlan County.  There is a town of Harlan, too, but I’m not from there.  We tend to tell “outsiders” that we’re from Harlan, because most people know the name.  Now, if you tell a Harlan Countian that you are from Harlan, he is likely to ask:  “Whereabouts?”  (Yes, that’s a one-word question).  Then, you will say “Loyall” or “Evarts” or “Catrons Creek” or “Punkin Center” or whatever community in the county in which you grew up.  Occasionally, however, someone will say something like “I’m from up above Smith.”  This will send a momentary chill up the back of a Harlan Countian, because we think:  “Wait a second.  I know where Smith is, but there’s NOTHING up above Smith!!  Where the Hell is this guy from?”  The same is true of being from “just past Black Star” or “up above Cranks” or “the head of Jones Creek” or sundry other desolate locales.   Even Harlan Countians don’t know these places.  These places are, as my father used to say, “off the grid.”  The folks off the grid came to town to watch wrestling.

Back to the wrestling.  I got to the gym about an hour early and watched them set up the ring, which was cool.  It had a huge spring in the middle of it and was well padded.  It was still pretty hard, and you could definitely get hurt.  One of the guys setting it up asked me:  “You ever seen one of these shows out here?  This is the wildest damn place in the country.”  I thought to myself “Of course, it is.  It’s Harlan, by God!”

While setting up the concessions, none other than Ronnie Sexton asked me if I could bring “the guys” some food.  Sexton was a some time wrestler and some time referee.  I recognized him immediately.  I gathered up hot dogs and some drinks and headed back to the area where (I hoped) the wrestlers would be gathered.   The first person I saw was the Mongolian Stomper himself.  He was sitting in a folding chair and looked up at me, his forehead a lattice work of scars.  What would he do?  Hammer me with the folding chair?  Scream at me for being too loud?  Stomp furiously about while eating his hot dog? Perhaps he would spit on me. Nope.  He just put down the book he was reading and said “Thanks.”  Oh well, I was already fairly sure he wasn’t a mute anyway.

As the crowd filled the gym, I noticed that I didn’t recognize anyone.  This looked like a casting call for Deliverance.  I guarantee you that the skilled writers of Justified have never imagined the likes of this crowd.  They were loud, profane and ready for some wrasslin’.  The King of Kingsport himself, Ron Wright, warmed up the crowd by taking the ring microphone and demanding:  “Shut up, you toothless, shoeless, inbred hillbillies!”  The man knew how to work a crowd.   Now, most of the crowd couldn’t have reasonably argued about the tooth observation or the obvious genetic issues, but they must have been quite offended by the shoe and hillbilly references.  They pelted the ring with anything they could find.  It was great.  (Rumor had it that Wright’s airplane was burned one night at the Harlan Airport after a particularly hostile crowd took offense to his baiting.  I don’t know if that’s true, but Harlan Countians liked to think it was).

I don’t remember who else was on the card that night, but the crowd was loud and insane the whole night.  I think The Canadian Lumberjack Joe LeDuc was there–I vaguely recall him threatening someone with his axe.  Ronnie Garvin, maybe.

What I do remember is the Stomper’s entrance.  He came out of the dressing room doing his trademark stomp.  When the crowd saw him, they exploded.  Spitting, cursing, throwing things–someone threw a chair at him.  People removed their dentures and clacked them together like hillbilly castanets. He was in torment over the noise but kept stomping toward the ring.  A grizzled, little old lady stepped directly in front of him and flipped the bird.  He just spit at her and kept stomping.  It was epic.  I have never seen anything like it.  I looked at the crowd, and I realized that this was what an unruly mob must look like.

Honestly, I don’t remember the Stomper’s match.  He probably  stomped the daylights out of some nondescript wrestler.  When he made his exit, I watched him walk back to the dressing room through the same din of madness.  As soon as he was out of sight of the crowd, he stopped stomping and became whatever he was when he wasn’t Mongolian.  He put on a tremendous show.

Then, it was over.  The unruly mob became ruly.  Everyone left the gym like a basketball game had just ended.  They didn’t burn Ron Wright’s airplane–at least I don’t think they did.  They headed back to wherever they lived in the outlying areas of the grid.  They were all probably fine folks.  Like The Stomper, they were part of the show–a scary part, but show nonetheless.  These were the real Harlan Countians, and they did not disappoint.

The Stomper’s real name is Archie Gouldie.  He’s Canadian, not Mongolian.  He wrestled in Canada as Archie The Stomper or The Stomper.  Apparently, when he came to the States someone thought being Canadian wasn’t exotic enough to turn him into a Mongolian.  I’ve read about him and, by all accounts, he’s a fine fellow.  He’s not a mute and doesn’t have any super-sensitive hearing issue.  But, the guy knew how to work it one night in Harlan.  He was worth the price of admission.

That was the night the real Harlan Countians met up with the Mongolian Stomper, neither really being what it appeared.  They all stepped up and put on a show of a lifetime.  It may not have been “real,”  but you sure couldn’t tell that night.  Oh, that was 30+ years ago and the first and only time I’ve attended a wrestling match.  I think I went out on top.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012