Funnies – A journal of progressive Southern culture and politics Mon, 19 Nov 2018 13:02:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Funnies – 32 32 Queer Credentials Wed, 21 Mar 2018 10:36:16 +0000 Macon Herald, (Thursday, March 20, 1975): 1. The Birchite paper quoted Presiding Bishop James Dees, Anglican Orthodox Church, suggesting that my husband Ernest Clay and I had caused a local tornado. We did. That's queer power for you! We took good aim too, taking the steeple off the white Baptist church whose pastor had excoriated us.]]>

Forty-three years ago today: The headline blared: “National ‘Gay’ Group Active in Ft. Valley,” Macon Herald, (Thursday, March 20, 1975): 1. The Birchite paper quoted Presiding Bishop James Dees, Anglican Orthodox Church, suggesting that my husband Ernest Clay and I had caused a local tornado.

We did. That’s queer power for you! We took good aim too, taking the steeple off the white Baptist church whose pastor had excoriated us.

A dean and colleague at Fort Valley State University lived next door. He said that with credentials like that I should apply to head the school’s Department of Agriculture. A friend asked Ernest and me to kiss in her garden so that her greens would grow.

The funny bone of most citizens atrophied. The following year the vestry of my parish asked me to “find some other place to worship.” I explained that I was there not at their invitation, but at the invitation of the Lord of the feast. Sunday after Sunday the vicar refused to share The Peace with me, and the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta summoned me for discipline saying that I was “disturbing the peace and good order of the church.”

My friend Father Richard Younge in San Jose, California warned me not to get a big head about this attention: “It takes no special magic to cause a tornado in central Georgia. Instead, try making rain in the Mojave Desert.”

“Happy are you when people shall say all manner of evil about you falsely regarding your faith in me. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad.”

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When Holding Your Nose is not Enough Tue, 26 Dec 2017 20:15:45 +0000


My new friend Dr. Jim Vickery is completing the final edit on a book about the old B-movie Western films. A tome to which I made an infinitesimal contribution. Unfortunately, I neglected to add my most unusual picture-show story; I still don’t understand how I could have forgotten such a warm, abiding memory.

It transpired thusly:

When I was growing up on the Fairfax (Alabama) Mill Village, there was family living several houses down from us on Combs Street. The family consisted of a red-haired mother and father and a houseful of red-headed young’uns. They ranged from Hoyt, the oldest, three years my senior, to several children my age and younger.

Hoyt, a roly-poly lad, was about as big around as he was tall and freckled as a butterbean; but his appearance was not Hoyt’s most striking characteristic. No, Hoyt’s feet set him apart from mere mortals: specifically, he had the most awful-smelling feet on the North American Continent, if not the entire Milky Way Galaxy. Lethal. But, he was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky sort, who ignored the insults and jibes about his stinking feet.

However, Hoyt, not dumb by a long shot, but in fact, pretty clever – or at least possessing a low-animal cunning, used his odiferous feet to good advantage. When the Combs Street gang went to the picture show, almost daily, we walked in a boisterous herd and usually sat in a rowdy group.

But, if we didn’t leave soon enough and the theater was full, there would not be enough empty seats for us to sit together. The village picture show was really popular back in the pre-TV, computer and cellular-phone days.

No Problem. Hoyt, used to making do, would scan the theater until he spotted a vacant seat. Then he would quickly sit down, remove his shoes and shocks, and crossing his legs yoga fashion, shake his feet and wiggle his toes to unleash the full poisonous power of his reeking feet on those seated near him.

Naturally, people. gagging, eyes watering, and cursing the vile fumes, fled from Hoyt’s pungent feet. Whereupon, Hoyt, grinning, would stand victoriously and wave us all down from where we were waiting at the back of the picture show. After we we were all seated, Hoyt would put on his shoes and socks. If he hadn’t we couldn’t have sat that near him.

It never failed. I knew I would have a seat if Hoyt was along to work his never-failing magic, which was nothing less than a satanic, natural, overpowering mojo.

Hoyt dropped out of school at 17 and joined the Army. He served 20 years. I’m sure he started washing his feet. Otherwise, the other recruits couldn’t have slept in the barracks with Hoyt if he pulled off his boots and socks.

And I’m sure it would have violated the Geneva Convention to force a soldier to share a foxhole with Hoyt. The Geneva, Alabama, convention if not the more famous agreement.

I used to tell my buddies that Army Intelligence could use Hoyt to make captured war prisoners spill all their secrets. All they would have to do is sit the hapless enemy down handcuffed and shackled with a barefooted Hoyt seated before them wiggling his naked toes in their face. No human alive could tolerate that torture.

Dat boy’s foots wuz deadly! In the vernacular of the old days, “They could knock a hungry buzzard off a gut wagon.”

(Actually, I shouldn’t be making fun of Hoyt. After he retired from the Army, he moved back to the Valley with his fast-talking Yankee wife; who, while possibly. lacking a sense of smell, evidently, didn’t cotton to cotton-mill villages. She soon deserted Hoyt and lit out for the territories.

Not long afterward, Hoyt committed suicide by shooting himself with a gun, according to reports. But, I really don’t know if he shot himself with a firearm, or accidentally got a deadly whiff of his own feet. Either weapon would do the trick.)

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Nothing’s Gonna Touch You in These Golden Years Thu, 19 Oct 2017 18:55:37 +0000

lifecyle of a dandelion blossom

My right eye is doing the heavy lifting; my left, just along for the ride for now.

Six months ago, I had a detached and torn retina in my left eye. Thanks to micro- and laser-surgery techniques, they can fix that. Not that long ago, I would’ve lost the sight in the eye. The cause? Old age, my friend, old age. While detached and/or torn retinas can happen as the result of an injury, in folks my age, they’re caused by 1) a misshapen eye (mine are extremely myopic; I had worn glasses for distance since third grade until I had LASIK a decade ago) and 2) retinas deciding they have had enough of hanging on to the back of the eyeball, thinking enough is enough, and just saying, “to hell with this; I’m givin’ it a rest. You’re on your own, buddy; good luck.”

A enjoyable side effect of a surgeon rooting around inside your eyeball for a few hours is that – shocker alert – the vision in that eye goes for an extended vacation. Severe blurriness has been my best friend for six months. And – bonus! – you get a cataract. Again, thankfully, they can fix that, too. If all goes well, in a couple of months, they’ll fix the cataract, and my eye should be almost back to normal.

I tell you all that to tell you this: one of the things old age means is getting to know the delightful inner workings of the health care system. And oh, what bliss that is! In the last year, I have:

  • Seen no less than six different specialists: ophthalmologists, a gastroenterologist, a dermatologist, the list goes on. Even now, I get wistful, longing to be back in a waiting room, idly flipping through months-old magazines. (Speaking of which, have you ever thought about how seething with nasty, crawly, disgusting bacteria magazines in doctors’ offices are? You’re welcome.).
  • Had a medical device inserted into a location that might politely be described as a, uh, “one-way street,” if you know what I mean. And he didn’t even dim the lights and call me “sweetie.” Jeez, buy a guy a drink, at least, would ya? Speaking of drinks, the stuff – the “prep” – you have to drink the night before: mm-mm, good! And how much I enjoyed running – nay, sprinting – to the bathroom every 15 minutes that night, an invigorating cardio workout. So, bonus.
  • Experienced the sheer pleasure of hours of phone conversations with medical offices, billing departments, and health insurance bureaucrats:

Me, calling the doctor’s office: “Hi, I’d like to talk with someone about my bill; I think there has been a mistake.”
Them: “We can’t do that here; sir, you’ll need to call our billing office.”
“OK. What’s that number?”
“I don’t know, sir; I think it’s on your bill. You need to look at your bill.”
“Ah. Well, thank you very much; you’ve been a tremendous help.”
Me, calling the billing office: “Hi, I’d like to talk with someone about my bill; I think there has been a mistake.”
Them: “We can’t do that here, sir, you’ll need to call your doctor’s office and ask them to submit the right codes.”
“’The right codes?’”
“Yes, sir, we can’t correct a bill until we get the documents with the right billing codes from your doctor.”
“Ah. Well, thank you very much; you have been exceptionally helpful.”
I’m so thankful that life is long enough to have such satisfying conversations. There just aren’t enough such endless-loop runarounds, if you ask me.

While I’m on the topic of health, let’s talk about entropy. Entropy, in broad terms, is the natural, universal tendency of orderly systems to become chaotic, to break down. Think of a nicely-cleaned house after a few days: dishes in the sink, clothes on the floor, dust on the furniture. That’s entropy…or procrastination, or laziness. Entropy is what’s responsible for our once healthy and toned bodies to go from lean and smooth to fat and wrinkled. OK, maybe procrastination or laziness, too, but I’m sticking with the undeniable force of the universe. For one thing, I don’t have to get off the couch if I stick to that story. Aching backs, thinning hair, blotchy skin, weakened retinas: all entropy. Organs I used to rely on to get the job done that now require medical attention: entropy. As one elderly gentleman told me, “What don’t hurt, don’t work.” Bastard entropy.

I try to resist the bastard entropy (for simplicity’s sake, hereafter referred to as “Satan”) by giving up good food and adopting a high-nutrient, low-enjoyment diet. Supposedly, I shouldn’t eat like a teenager in my so-called “golden years.” I’m evidently not supposed to eat so much fried food, so much red meat, so much ice cream…all the things I thought were supposed to lead to a happy, healthy life. Apparently, all along I should’ve been eating more “low fat, high fiber” foods, more of things called “fruits” and “vegetables.” Who knew? So now, I’m basically on a cardboard-and-pine-cone diet. If only I had known sooner; I could’ve been bitching about food much longer. (Which is another thing old folks are really good at: bitching about stuff. You damn kids git offa my lawn.)

I have also begun fighting entropy – excuse me, I mean Satan – by exercising more. My options are limited because of my bad back (of course I have a bad back). My choices are basically walking, bicycling, or swimming. Not having access to a pool means the last one is out. So I walk. And I cycle. Every evening, I walk my dog for a mile. Three times a week, weather allowing, I ride my bike about three miles. I bought a very used 15-year-old “Trek” 27-speed (27 speeds: really?) touring bike with a seat only slightly harder than granite. To ride it without fracturing a butt-bone, I had to buy biking shorts, which have padding in the, ahem, appropriate place that provides about as much relief as, oh, I don’t know, sitting on a hot plate with a sheet of newspaper as “protection.” Wearing biking shorts also feel like you’ve got a full diaper. Which is probably good practice for a few years from now. (Oh, for the days of my youth and my Schwinn “Stringray” bicycle with the banana seat and chopper handlebars and way-cool car-like gearshift on the upper frame, directly in front of the seat. We called that thing the “nut-buster,” because that’s what happened when you slammed on the brakes and you slid off the seat, but man, did it look cool. The bike and the shifter – not the nut-busting.)

And here’s the thing: I hate exercise. I know I need to do it, but it’s so damn boring. I walk the same mile, ride the same path, day after day. When I’m walking or biking, all I can think about is finishing. About retiring to my recliner for supine, sedentary rapture. And there’s this: I’ve never sustained a La-Z-Boy injury.

Entropy – uh, Satan – has affected my brain, too: I’ve started forgetting things. Mainly words and how to spell them. Really simple ones, which is extremely disconcerting. For instance, I couldn’t think of the name of the little room in our house where we keep our clothes. My wife asked me where something was. I knew where it was, but I couldn’t – absolutely could not – think of the word for that place: “It’s on the shelf in the … the, um… whaddayacallit… the place where we hang up our clothes…” “You mean the closet?” “Yeah, that’s it! The closet!” I went to a neurologist (speaking of going to doctors) about it. He ran a couple of tests. It’s not Alzheimer’s; it’s “just” “cognitive decline.” Oh, is that all? Well, color me relieved. He suggested reading more, doing things like crossword puzzles, things that would “exercise my brain.” I believe we’ve established how I feel about exercise. Plus, sometimes I don’t know what the words in puzzle clues mean, much less what the answer is.

So, to sum up … to live longer (and maybe avoid seeing so many doctors), I can eat right and exercise more (body and brain) and hate it all. Or, I can eat poorly and sit on my ass like a slug and enjoy myself. Hmm …

What was the question again?


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Ground Ball Back To You, I Got The Throw Sat, 16 Sep 2017 12:29:26 +0000

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I joined a Greek fraternity at the University of Virginia in the fall of 1976. Like most large schools with dozens of different houses, an incoming freshman had a lot to choose from. There were old Southern houses that dated back to the Civil War. There were heavy drinking houses. Other houses preferred the “herbal” life. Beach music houses, Grateful Dead houses, preppy houses, Jewish houses, bookworm houses, African-American houses, zoo houses and yeah, there were jock houses.

Pi Lambda Phi House at the University of VirginiaI joined Pi Lambda Phi, a mutt house. We had a little bit of everything. An “Island of Misfit Toys”, if you will. We had pre-meds and pre-laws, Young Republicans and Young Democrats, some “toolies” (engineers) and more than a few English and psych majors. We had long distance runners and couch potatoes both. Boozers, stoners and straight arrows. Some Casanovas but mostly wallflowers. Foosball aces and air guitar shredders. What we didn’t have was athletes.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

The fraternity intramural program at Virginia was cutthroat. Everyone knew who the jock houses were. Some of them even recruited new members based on what sports they were good at. We weren’t one of those houses. But I was happy there. It was a good bunch of guys and I made some new friends fairly quickly. We got crushed in intramurals though. Football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, softball, the scores were always the same. Them many, us few.

I had played baseball from a very young age all the way through high school varsity. To be honest, that was a lot more baseball than any other brother had played. The jock houses would rarely if ever allow their freshmen to play but our house let me, still a spring pledge, play wherever I wanted on the softball team. So I headed right for shortstop, my favorite position.

Our pitcher was Jimmy Joe Townsend. Jimmy Joe was everybody’s favorite brother, a natural leader and a certified party animal. Jimmy Joe had also graduated two years earlier. So he was now about to start his sixth season as the house team pitcher. Obviously, he was ineligible but nobody cared. We were the cupcake on everybody’s schedule. When Nebraska plays football against Eastern Michigan, we were Eastern Michigan. The other houses couldn’t wait to feast on us so a sixth-year pitcher didn’t bother them a bit.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I was a young, 19-year-old, hotheaded punk and I wanted to show these guys what “real” softball looked like. In the first inning of our first game, we gave up a single. Man on first, the double play is in force. So this punk freshman calls time, jogs to the pitcher’s mound and says …

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

“Get out of my face, pledge, and go back to your position”, Jimmy Joe snarled.

Okay, then.

Next inning, same thing. Man on first, the double play is there again. This time though, I stayed where I was and called out to him …

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Now, it was Jimmy Joe’s turn to call time and wave me to the mound for a chat. “Ground ball back to me? What are you talking about?”, he asked.

I told him, “Okay, look, we can get a double play here. If this batter hits a sharp grounder back to you, just turn around and fire it at the second base bag. Don’t worry, I’ll be there. Just throw it.”

Now it was Jimmy Joe’s turn to laugh. “We’re not going to turn a double play. Not now, not ever. So let’s get back to playing, okay?”

Next inning, same thing.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Now he was upset. He turned around to face me and yelled, “Are you going to remind me every time?”

“Yes, I am. Every time.”

We lost that game. Pounded into dust as usual.

Back at the house, Jimmy Joe still wanted to know if I was going to remind him every time a man got on first. I assured him that’s exactly what was going to happen. Every time. Baseball (or intramural softball in this case) is a game of repetition. You do the same things the same way every time. Everything. That’s how you react so you can make a play automatically. Baseball requires persistence, perseverance and rivers of infinite patience. Jimmy Joe was in for four more years of an earful.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

All year long, I reminded Jimmy Joe what to do. Once he understood I was not going to stop reminding him, he just stood there facing the plate with his back to me and nodded in silence. Every time. Persistence.

We lost every game that year. Nobody hit a grounder back to him. Not one. And yes, I was still a hothead. Bat slamming, glove tossing, ball throwing, yelling and screaming at my teammates, arguing with umpires, pouting at the house afterwards and so on. I was your typical obnoxious freshman with a serious hatred for losing.

We didn’t win the next year either. Same story. We were overmatched and there were no mercy rules. The other teams poured it on and beat us every way possible. But I still persisted with Jimmy Joe, now in his seventh year as our “ineligible” pitcher. Still no ground balls back to him with a man on first though.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Over and over again. Game after game after game. Inning after inning. Runner on first after runner on first. I had mellowed somewhat from the previous year but not all that much. I still hated losing but it didn’t seem worth being a complete jerk about it.

Next year, my third year, no change. Same games, same jock houses, same painful losses. But I didn’t let up on Jimmy Joe.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Still no grounders. Three years of reminding him and not a thing to show for it.

For our first game of my fourth and final year, we played Sigma Phi Epsilon, SPE, the “Spees”, a noted jock house. I still kept yapping at Jimmy Joe, he still kept nodding at me in silence and we still didn’t get a grounder back to him. The Spees killed us. 17-0. It was my worst game ever. I booted easy grounders, threw the ball away for errors, got thrown out foolishly trying to take an extra base and threw bats and raged at everyone including Jimmy Joe, now in his ninth year on the mound. I had had it with all the losing and took it out on everyone. Just an awful awful performance. But I kept reminding him. That rotten day and every other day.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

Our last game of the year arrived and we still hadn’t won one. We were actually 0-for-4 years. And we were playing the Spees again. Lovely.

As long as I’ve played and followed sports, I’m still amazed when weird and strange things happen for no reason. That day, in the rematch against the powerful Spees, someone somewhere had thrown a whole bucket of magic fairy pixie dust on our misfit nine. We couldn’t do anything wrong. Every ball we hit fell in for a base hit. We made every catch and every throw. We scored runs in bunches. Every time you looked up, our guys were wheeling around the bases one right after another. It made no sense. There was nothing to suggest this could ever happen. But to our amazement, and they couldn’t believe it either, we were destroying the Spees.

And then it happened.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

I can’t explain why but I was already moving as the batter swung and hit a sharp, one-hopper, chest high right at Jimmy Joe. This was it. Without a word, Jimmy Joe whirled and threw a perfect strike at the second base bag. Belt high, in an arrow-straight line as hard as he could throw it. Four years of persistent reminders, four years of patient nods, four years of waiting, planning and getting ready for this one moment in time. Jimmy Joe was ready and Jimmy Joe let out all his frustration by firing the ball at the bag.

I caught the ball just as it arrived, kicked the bag and then sizzled a bullet to first base. Smack, smack. Double play. It was so quick, so fast, so sudden that the Spee runners froze in their tracks. The umpire, with a shocked look on his face, didn’t even bother with either out call. And then we all just jogged off the field in silence as if we had been turning double plays forever. Nothing needed to be said. Jimmy Joe’s infinite patience with me had paid off at the perfect time. On the sideline, he and I just nodded and smiled at each other.

A few innings later, after the Spees made their last out, we all celebrated with Jimmy Joe at the mound. Final score was 19-3. It was our first and only win. When we got back to the house to continue the celebration, the other brothers there laughed when we told them the score. The very idea we could even stay close to the Spees was hilarious. Kicking their asses was too much for them to believe. But we tapped a keg anyway and continued celebrating until they finally realized we had actually won. And then everybody joined in for an epic all-night kegger.

“Jimmy Joe, ground ball back to you, I got the throw at second.”

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What the truck! Should monster pickups be outlawed? Wed, 30 Aug 2017 10:40:47 +0000

Big red monster truck

I was stopped for a red light while on my way to the grocery store when it pulled up in the lane next to me. I heard its rumble and felt its shadow fall like a partial eclipse before I actually saw it. When I glanced left from the window of my medium-sized sedan, I was eye level with its underbelly – the pristine wheel wells, the giant tires, the gleaming chassis, a concentration of chrome like a buck-toothed teenager’s orthodontics. The reflections of my car and the car just ahead of me in its side panels didn’t even reach as high as its door handles.

It was a truck. Not a semi, not a dump truck, not a tow truck. Just a pickup, but a pickup so ridiculously oversized, jacked up and tricked out that I wouldn’t have been surprised if had reconfigured itself, Transformer-style, into a robot with death-ray eyes.

I managed to grab my cell phone and snap a quick photo before the light turned green and the 4-wheeled, candy-apple monstrosity roared down the road to duke it out with Voltron.

What is it with pickup trucks these days? How did they get so big? Why?

Everywhere I go in Athens, Georgia, where I live, or on the road to North Carolina or Florida, I see them by the dozens – pickups made by Ford, Toyota, Dodge, GMC and other manufacturers that seem as big as the average fire truck of my youth in the 1960s.

They don’t just block your sight lines on the road. They make backing out of a shopping-mall parking space a daredevil chore. They give their drivers a feeling of invincibility that seems to make many of them bolder and more aggressive. They get lousy mileage and put excess weight on roadbeds. Some have even been modified to belch clouds of oily black exhaust. It’s apparently meant as a political statement, a sooty middle finger to the EPA and namby-pamby people who drive hybrids and electric cars.

What say we start a movement to ban them? Far as I know, there’s no Constitutional protection for needlessly big-ass trucks.

I actually have a soft spot for pickups. My first car was a pickup, a 1953 Ford with a flat-head eight, the spare tire mounted on the side and cattle bars around the bed that my daddy welded and installed himself. We pulled stumps with that pickup; we hauled cows, hogs, and hay bales stacked 10-feet high. Our first registered bull, a black angus, came home to our place in the back of that banged-up dark blue Ford. And it was only slightly larger than today’s Ford Ranger, which is practically a toy by current, oversized standards.

Explanations for this phenomenon vary.  Articles and discussion boards I’ve looked at put forth these theories:

  • We, the American people, have gotten bigger and fatter since the 1950s and ’60s, so it’s only logical that vehicles have ballooned to accommodate us.
  • Everything has gotten larger, from drink cups the size of mop buckets at convenience stores to living room furniture seemingly made for people who walk around muttering fee-fi-fo-fum.
  • People have gotten paranoid about their safety as the number of cars in use has multiplied.
  • Auto manufacturers make a bigger profit on trucks with lots of extras than on simple, utilitarian models, so they push the extras-laden big ones.

Whatever the incentive to make and own these vehicles, there are too many of them. And what really bugs me is that way too many of these Tundras, Silverados, Rams, Leviathans and Godzillas look as they’ve never been on a dirt road, let alone hauled a load of fence posts or been christened with cow manure. They’re show-room shiny and bear nary a scratch. They’re status symbols, purchased for flaunting, not utility. On one web page that’s devoted to hashing this question, a truck lover who yearns for a good, medium-sized, no-frills pickup referred to the big ’uns as “soccer mom pimp-mobiles.”

There’s good reason to consider banning them, though I would make exceptions. If somebody really needs a monster pickup for the work they do, fine, but let them prove it with affidavits documenting what that work is and renew their permits annually with photos of the truck in service.

The rest? The showboats? How about buy-back programs like some police departments have instigated to get guns off the street? Round them up, then melt them down for Focuses or Mini Coopers or bicycles.

To paraphrase Harry S Truman, the truck stops here.


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Today we were animals Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:50:24 +0000

For one brief, shining moment, we gathered near strangers, didn’t fear for our lives, and watched the moon blot out the sun. The moon & sun were gliding all over fly-by land, giving us a quick peek at our natural selves; amazed, amused and/or otherwise distracted from the chaos of our own creation. We thought about our place in the universe, among the other animals making noises and clustering together.

Preparing for the solar eclipse

We learned our science lessons (although some paid closer attention than others). Some, who should be role models, stared straight at the sun even when told not to.

Some of us became dumb animals again. Our lizard brains and senses urged our poor congested brain cells that were trying to sort out our society’s poisons to just shut up for a minute. Just smile, love and breathe.

Well, not all of us. Some fretted about the loss of “productivity“. I mean, how do we reconcile being a human with the guilt of contributing to almost $700 million dollars loss? Should we all run back to the office and work all night?

I think not. I think Challenger, Gray & Christmas (who estimated that massive dollar loss) should think about the real loss of “productivity” that America has suffered since last November. Every day, our brains are assaulted with more barbaric ideas coming faster and louder, twitterfried or barked at online. How distracted have we been from our tasks at hand? How different are our thoughts and efforts now that monsters carrying guns are screaming at us with tiki torches?

Now the brief respite is over. We slog back to work, and turn back to our hopeless little screens for news about the problems we face, built on sins of the past. Exploitation of people and resources, and the ongoing repercussions of the twin sins of genocide and slavery. Ongoing assaults on our neighbors, friends and fellow citizens abound.

Yes, we need to think through solutions to the human condition we’ve created, and keep our jobs producing all those things and services Challenger, Gray and Christmas think are important. Just please, let’s not leave our animal selves at the door. We’re needed, all parts of us, if we’re going to really get busy and “productive.”

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The Honorable Senator from Alabama Wed, 16 Aug 2017 19:59:21 +0000 ...

AG Jeff Sessions, Republican Candidates Roy Moor and Luther Strong
Republicans: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Candidate Roy Moore, Candidate Luther Strong

The good folks in my home state of Alabama aren’t too sophisticated when it comes to voting excellent people into office. Consider that Jeff Sessions has been our senator for a long time, mostly running unopposed, or infrequently against some poor Democrat with no idea what he’s about to get involved in.

Sessions perfected the religious fervor that doesn’t quite slip over into craziness. This allows a candidate to gain support of small town church ladies but still gather the Good Ole’ Boys that don’t make Sunday services on a regular basis. Combine this with a slight undercurrent of racism without any connections to racist groups and we have a winner.

But when Jeff decided to hitch his wagon to the rising star that became Donald Trump, he gave notice he was interested in a higher calling. Everything worked perfectly until he recused himself over the Russia Fake News stuff and drew the president’s Twitter ire.

But all that is past history. Right now we are all breathlessly awaiting the election of the successor to Sessions’ Senate seat. Almost as soon as Jeff was proclaimed Attorney General, candidates began working on their Donald Trump impressions.

Democratic Candidate for Senate Doug Jones
Doug Jones, a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, won the Democratic primary.

Everyone involved began making Trump-like proclamations about each and every political issue; whether it involved the Yellowhammer state or not. The lead up to the actual primary election has been entertaining, almost to an SNL level.

Before he had laundered his underwear from the Congressional baseball shooting in June, Congressman Mo Brooks had a commercial ready for the campaign including gunshots from the event. What little karma he acquired from administering first aid during this horrible time was wasted when he decided to use this tragedy to try to get a move to the Senate.

Odds on Favorite Roy Moore kept thumping his King James; a strategy that has worked well in Alabama in the past. Most Alabamians claim to be familiar with the Good Book but really aren’t. They just support anyone with the audacity to claim to have God’s cell number.

Trump pick Luther Strange did things by the book. As State Attorney General, he helped ease the embarrassment of the Luv Guv debacle, and was rewarded with the interim tittle to Sessions’ seat until an election could take place. This showed he was a team player to Republicans, and also allowed him to get face time with the President, who is way too busy tweeting and watching Fox News to actually assess potential politicians’ real qualifications. Trump endorsed Strange in two Tweets a couple of days apart. This shows he means business.

With the primary upon us and so many candidates working on their best Donald Trump impressions, a runoff seemed likely. I was betting Roy Moore would get the most votes, especially after 50 Alabama ministers endorsed him last weekend. Like many others, I was correct.

Luther Strange, with Trump’s blessing, came in second. Mo Brooks garnered a lot of sympathy votes but fell short. Shredding common decency shows a will to win if nothing else. Now the real fun begins. A steel cage death match.

Moore, who has convinced most Alabamians he’s as close to Jesus as they will get and Strange, who got the endorsement of someone that thinks he’s on equal footing with the Lord.

Heaven help us.

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Football Sex and Old Time Religion Thu, 27 Jul 2017 12:46:22 +0000

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Ole Miss by photoreb

The recent stunning downfall of the Ole Miss football coach has all the elements of a Southern Gothic tale. I’m surprised this wasn’t based on a Faulkner novel. Hugh Freeze resigned abruptly after being caught with incriminating evidence of sexual hanky-panky. The story had all the true elements of a southern tragedy; sex, religion, and football. What better way to spend an Autumn Saturday afternoon.

The University of Mississippi has been under investigation almost since the day Freeze signed his initial contract. Posting Bible verses on Twitter and perfecting the clear-eyed steely stare of the morally persecuted, Freeze insisted to fans, administrators, and new recruits that he was innocent and God would help him prevail. He blamed his troubles on predecessors, competitors, the press, and sinful forces trying to destroy him.

This strategy has become very popular since the third week in January, but Freeze has been going at it for several years. The fact he was able to twice beat Alabama in the process, something no one else seems able to accomplish, added to his validity, and probably convinced several Rebel fans that God was indeed on their side.

His scheme to pin his troubles on former coach Houston Nutt doomed him. When his strategy involved doubling down rather than fessing up, Freeze was set upon by Nutt’s lawyer, which led to the discovery of a call to an escort service from a university phone while searching for incriminating calls between Ole Miss officials and members of the sporting press.

Freeze had an opportunity to explain that call away but stuck with his strategy. He either thought the Lord, or his supporters’ naïveté would save him. Anything but sex and he might have survived. His arrogance didn’t help. Most guys from these parts understand getting overpowered by sex but wonder why he didn’t either fess up earlier or act more humble.

There is an abundance of men in the South who are addicted to football and sex. Football simulates the age old process of fighting for the right to mate. Sex itself, well, no reason to explain that.

Not so many women are similarly afflicted, although there have been a few. I’m sure most men, in an honest moment, will agree that those women who loved sex and football as much as men have all been fondly remembered.

Women are more likely addicted to religion, what with their penchant for long term planning and making sure their offspring are well taken care of. Heaven appears to be a lot better place than College Station or Starkville.

We humans are bad to deny our urges. We are also bad to succumb to them when we think no one is watching. This started when we got civilized. The folks that study humans once considered the discovery of farming as the point civilization began.

More recent paleontologists believe we got civilized when we first came to accept myth as a bonding agent. This led to the ability of us to gather in large groups and share information and new ideas, rather than staying static like our hairy cousins. Among the most prevalent myths are religion, regional pride, and tribal superiority. Maybe we were better off as Hunter-Gatherers.

I’m sure Hugh Freeze currently thinks so.

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In a Word, Authentic Mon, 24 Jul 2017 19:55:05 +0000

The word “authentic” is being tossed around a lot these days … another empty-calorie, tasteless ingredient in today’s word salad. The kale of the word world.

The other day, a leaking pustule of a man, Anthony Scaramucci, took over the job of White House Communications Director from the former dripping abscess, Sean Spicer. During one of his attempts at deceiving the press and the public, Scaramucci, started rambling on about just how great Sarah Huckabee was, saying,

“I think Sarah does a great job. She’s incredibly authentic.”

Incredibly authentic? Just. What. In. The. Hell. Does. That. Mean?

Isn’t everyone authentic? Is it possible for a person to be inauthentic?

You can be good, bad, handsome or hideous, smart, dumb, truthful or lie like there is no tomorrow … but you’ll always be authentic. I’m pretty sure we are all authentic representations of ourselves. Now some of us may not be “incredibly authentic.” I was under the impression that there was only one degree of authenticity but apparently Scaramucci has shown us that there are varying grades of it. I will become terribly distressed if I come to find that I am only “somewhat authentic.”

Color me confused, but isn’t authentic defined as:

  • Of undisputed origin; genuine. Not false or copied; real.
  • Having an origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified:
    “the letter is now accepted as an authentic document”
  • Synonyms: genuine, real, bona fide, true, veritable.

Now a car, lacking OEM’s (original equipment manufacturers’ parts) is not considered authentic; a modern reproduction of a 1700’s pie crust table is not considered an authentic antique – but a person, isn’t a person always authentic? To play devil’s advocate, if you’ve had a heart or kidney transplant or are missing a couple of your teeth, that may mean you don’t have all your OEM parts … so let’s just ignore transplant patients and toothless hillbillies for the sake of this discussion.

So if I get this right, Scaramucci is saying that Sarah is not somebody else. She wasn’t copied and is an actual, real person. She is not a robotic facsimile produced by DieBold, the voting machine people. This comes as a relief, because she looks exactly what I think someone with the name Huckabee is supposed to look – that is to say, fair to middlin’ and with a strong hankerin’ for some collards and a buttered biscuit.

To be honest, all this time, dumb ol’ me, simply assumed she was actually Sarah Huckabee, the daughter of the, bass-playin’, perpetual imbecile Mike Huckabee. I didn’t have a single doubt about her Huckabee legitimacy as she spouts fictional stupid ‘bout as good as I’ve ever heard it spouted.

According to the definition, it means Sarah likely has a long-form birth certificate or at the very least a Walmart Gift Card documenting her “undisputed origin” as “unquestionable evidence” of being herself.  Which puts her head and shoulders above that other “inauthentic” president, who shall go unnamed, who didn’t have a legit birth certificate.

If Scaramucci is trying to imply, however incorrectly, that “authentic” means you are a person who is honest and doesn’t lie, he couldn’t be further from the truth. Sarah Huckabee has one job and one job only – and that is to avoid the dissemination of any factual information what-so-ever. If North Korea were to hit California with a nuclear ICBM – Sarah, in bib overalls, would hold a press conference saying, “North Korea has sent us, via air-mail, a request to re-negotiate sanctions, delivered in a large shiny metal tube and president Trump is tweeting an appropriate, strongly-worded response from the golf course.” (The last part would be factual, the first part not so much).

Or does “authentic” mean something else entirely? Does it refer to her “regional authenticity” as in, Sarah speaks authentic Doublewide Hillbilly fluently? Perhaps it simply indicates she wouldn’t be caught dead eating liberal, Northeastern cuisine. To be sure, only grits and field peas pass her lips on their way to fertilize the Washington swamp.

Maybe it is some sort of 2017 euphemism meaning “She’s the real deal.” Sarah is an authentic hard-charging, bible-thumpin’, 100% ignorant, lie-my-ass-off conservative, believin’ in a flat earth and talkin’ snakes. The medieval world simply loved those types, and yes, they were, and still are, authentically ignorant.

We really should be careful about how we use words inaccurately. Words mean something. They reveal truths and falsehoods, they define and explain. Words explore old history and outline yet-to-be-proven concepts. They educate and elucidate, they clarify and explain. Words can lay the concrete four corners of a law and are the building blocks of poets. Words can also be used to lie, confuse, deceive and obscure. We use them to craft soaring oratory and wield them to sow sorrow, great conflict and harm. Countless authors, orators and philosophers over the ages have used the abstraction of words in an attempt to move us out of the darkness … but words can be used to keep us there as well.

Above all, our politicians should be careful how they use words. Our constitution is merely a scrap of paper with a laundry line of words penned across it. Though far from perfect, those carefully selected words are the attempts of long dead men to guide a future people into forming a more perfect union – something not yet achieved, but hopefully still worth pursuing. We should be very careful about the sloppy use of words and redefining them without careful thought.

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Clinton Tried to Win Election Mon, 17 Jul 2017 16:14:40 +0000 Breaking Newz: A quickly unfolding scandal has revealed that Hillary Clinton colluded with millions of democrats nationwide to vote against Donald Trump during the 2016 elections. In a statement today, Satan’s BedBug, Kellyanne Conway, said “We hope it is clear to America now how unfairly Donald Trump was treated. When Donald Trump ran for president, Hillary purposely tried to win. We see this as proof she colluded with American Democrats...]]>

The Ties That Bind by Trevor Irvin

Breaking Newz: A quickly unfolding scandal has revealed that Hillary Clinton colluded with millions of democrats nationwide to vote against Donald Trump during the 2016 elections.

In a statement today, Satan’s BedBug, Kellyanne Conway, said “We hope it is clear to America now how unfairly Donald Trump was treated. When Donald Trump ran for president, Hillary purposely tried to win. We see this as proof she colluded with American Democrats to derail our campaign. We hope each and every one of them will be brought to justice and punished for their crimes. And by locking up millions of democrats the Trump administration will create thousands of new prison jobs.”

Hillary has been caught on tape talking to unnamed voters on the campaign trail sayin’ that “Donald Trump is unfit to hold the highest office in the land.” While no one, not even the Trump campaign, disagreed with her assessment – it looks like Hillary herself was holding the smoking gun.

Some of the most damning evidence is a tape where Clinton, at a Michigan campaign stop, says multiple times “Vote for me.” It can’t get much clearer than that. Most Russian journalists see that as evidence she tried to win.

The Washington Post was quoted saying “What would have happened if she had won? Would there be two presidents? Wouldn’t her winning be unfair to the other candidate even if she got more votes? Thank goodness we have the Electoral College so we can select who we want. We feel Clinton’s actions if not illegal, are pretty un-American.”

The Clinton campaign illegally obtained opposition research from ABC news of Donald Trump screaming at a campaign rally “smash his face – don’t worry I’ll pay your bills” and giggling about “grabbing pussies with my tiny hands.” It is thought that Hillary obtained this information by watching a newscast in a Holiday Inn lounge. Also in attendance were several foreign born Mexicans who were “cleaning up the gin and tonic Hillary threw at the TV.” It still has to be determined who cleaned what up, and when did they clean it?

The FBI is looking deeper into this story and a special prosecutor has been selected. Trumps newly pardoned selection for the FBI, Charles Manson, said today “there may have been other democrats trying to win elections around the country and we need to put a stop to this. I will take this as far as I have to. It appears Bernie Sanders was in on this too.”

Mitch McConnell, who is still looking for the rest of his face that he left somewhere, thinks this goes much, much deeper. In chambers today, he stated, “The American people need to know the truth, we think this corrupt desire to defeat our candidate goes even further – There is evidence that Barack Hussein Obama did this same thing to Mitt Romney.”

Al Franken has been subpoenaed to appear before Congress and was quoted saying “can’t these stupid fucks take a joke?”

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Barbecue and Patriotism Both Have a Price Mon, 03 Jul 2017 13:01:50 +0000

Uncle Sam

On the Fourth of July, we naturally think of Uncle Sam, our nation’s favorite icon. While I try to keep a positive attitude about Uncle Sam in July, I can’t forget the day the old man hurt my feelings in October.

Let me explain:

Back in the day, Fairfax (AL) Cotton Mill chartered a bus to take the mill-village Boy Scouts to the Southeastern Fair in Atlanta. As a proud member of Fairfax Troop 10, I was thrilled at the prospect of such a magical journey. Going to the Southeastern Fair was like a trip to Mars. Atlanta was a heap farther away back then than it is now.

So, early one glorious Saturday morning in October, we piled on the bus and headed up Highway 29, giddy with anticipation. Unfortunately, the fun came to a rattling halt when the bus, as if preordained, broke down in Newnan, Ga., right in front of the legendary Sprayberry’s barbecue joint. Sprayberry’s is to many barbecue aficionados what Mecca is to devout Muslims.

With all the boys helping, aided by some motorists who stopped to assist, we managed to push the stalled bus into Sprayberry’s parking lot. It wasn’t easy.

The parking lot was empty that early, but Sprayberry’s barbecue pit was already in high gear. Not only was the pit in high gear, as country boys used to say, they had it down in grandmaw! After admonishing us not to leave the bus, our scoutmaster left us milling about and waiting while he went inside and phoned home for help.

But, when the beguiling, heavenly aroma of barbecue wafted over us, we stormed into the restaurant in a feeding frenzy, and started buying sandwiches, and Brunswick stew. And fried apple pies. And we went in again and again. Sprayberry’s barbecue was more addictive than crack cocaine.

This was in the early Fifties and the Chattahoochee Valley cotton mills were on short time. While Boy Scouts wearing uniforms got into the fair free, none of us had much spending money. By the time another bus arrived to rescue us, four hours later, we were all broke; but packed full of Sprayberry’s delicacies. Because of the long delay, we arrived at the fair only two hours before we were scheduled to return home.

Little matter. We didn’t have money left for the rides anyway. We could only mope around for the short time we had, looking at the free exhibits, feeling pangs of buyer’s remorse for splurging on barbecue. Then, as we were about to leave, an epiphany: A bearded man on stilts, dressed as Uncle Sam, was selling copies of the Declaration of Independence to passersby near the gate. He was carrying the copies in an American flag-colored bag.

I quickly ask to see one of the copies and he handed it down to me. The stilts made him look ten feet tall. The document looked like the real Declaration of Independence, with parchment-type paper, and that old-timey curlicue lettering. I had to have a copy. I excitedly asked Uncle Sam how much they cost? Peering down at me from his lofty height, he said they didn’t have a set price; they cost whatever I could afford to pay.

He added dramatically, “Every American should have a copy of the Declaration of Independence.”

I was in luck! I gave him all the money I had – one lonely, solitary quarter. After examining the quarter like he had never seen a silver coin before, Uncle Sam frowned at me like I had just shot Abe Lincoln. Then he leaned over, snatched my copy of the Declaration of Independence out of my hand, and flipped the quarter on the ground at my feet.

Drawing himself up to his full height, he shouted, “Look, hicker-nut head – you can’t buy no bloomin’ copy of the Declaration of Independence for no durn quarter!”

In a huff, Uncle Sam stuffed the copy back into his bag and stalked off through the crowd, leaving me stunned. And more than a tad mortified. I could not believe that Uncle Sam would use that abusive language and tone of voice with a Boy Scout of America, who was in full dress uniform, including a sash almost full of merit badges. Not only did I play the bugle at assemblies, I usually led the Pledge of Allegiance, for gosh sakes! Our here our country’s beloved, avuncular mascot had abused me in front of God and man and left me shaken.

I learned a valuable civics/life lesson that day. You can buy a copy of the Declaration of Independence or you can buy a bellyful of Sprayberry’s barbecue. You can’t do both. But as traumatic as this incident was, it could have been much worse. It could have happened on the Fourth of July. Then it would have been like Jesus – in full view of everybody – giving you a wedgie at Bible school.


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Leroy of Barnwell and other Southern gothic characters Wed, 28 Jun 2017 11:58:53 +0000

A collage of famous historic and important people history

Hand over my heart, this is a true story.

The South is known for its unusual characters, right? They populate the stories of Southern writers like Erskine Caldwell, Harper Lee, Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, etc. and et al.

But we Southerners know, don’t we, that you don’t have to crack one of these authors’ famous books to find such a fictional character’s prototype? Often they live right next door to us, or just down the street, or they show up at the other end of a random conversation. To wit:

In sending email, I often include a favorite saying or famous quotation in the message’s personal signature section, at the bottom of the page. Recipients of the emails often comment on the quotations, which I change from time to time, as the spirit moves me. Some samples:

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” ~Ben Franklin

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” ~Walt Kelly’s Pogo

And a personal favorite: “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.” ~Henry Ford

Still with me?

Well, recently I sent an email requesting information from an out-of-town bank. A woman named Louise, the bank’s computer teller, called the next day to give me the information. “But first,” she said in a Southern drawl dripping molasses, “tell me how you know my husband. I asked if he knows you and he doesn’t.”

“Your husband?” I said, puzzled. She was in Mississippi; I was in South Carolina. Hadn’t been to Mississippi in years.

“Yes. You quoted him in your email,” Louise said. “I was amazed to see that.”

“Quoted? Your husband?”

“Yes,” she said. “I’ve got it right here on my screen: It says, ‘Fortune favors the bold.’ ~Virgil”

The light bulb came on. “Oh,” I said. “That’s a quote from Virgil, the ancient Roman writer.”

“Oh, then that’s not my Virgil,” she said. “I don’t think he’s ever been out of Mississippi.”

I wish I had had the presence of mind to ask Louise if she knew a young woman named Velma that I used to work with in Aiken, S.C. Velma glowed with vitality, but the glow did not extend far above her neck. (Nor did it need to; Velma was drop-dead gorgeous.)

Anyhow, one day when the office staff was having a working lunch, the boss’s way of keeping our noses closer to the grindstone of commerce, somebody brought up that old parlor game in which you are asked to name 12 people you’d invite to a dinner party if you could include anybody who had ever lived. Alive, of course.

Soon, names like Jesus, Hitler, Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Elvis, the virgin Mary, Robert E. Lee, Babe Ruth, and Thomas Jefferson rang around the table — until it was Velma’s turn.

So help me, with not a hint of self-consciousness, Velma, in all seriousness, named 12 of her relatives: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins!

I couldn’t believe my ears. Give somebody a chance, in theory, at least, to have a tête à tête with the likes of Jesus of Nazareth, and she chooses Leroy of Barnwell and Cindy Lou of Allendale!

We all stopped in mid-bite to stare in disbelief at Velma, but I doubt that she even noticed.

Anyhow, I’ve often wondered if Louise, the wife of Virgil of Mississippi, was one of Velma’s relatives.

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Daddy and the Sweet Old Lady’s Apoplectic Fit Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:21:42 +0000

Wooden toy snake by David Poole

I was never exactly sure whether my father, Bill Strickland, was an amateur adult or a professional adolescent. Here is just one of the many incidents that led to my confusion.

The Pledgers, Bryant and Erma, a middle age childless couple, were our next door neighbors in Fairfax, an east Alabama mill village, when I was growing up. Mr. Bryant operated the Sinclair Service Station at the cotton-mill village crossroads, which also served as the bus station. Miss Erma ran the cash register and kept the books.

The Pledgers were great people. Mr. Bryant was a tall, raw-boned laid- back fellow, leather-skinned from his years in the sun. He always wore a green-khaki Sinclair uniform with the military-style cap. Miss Erma was a petite, friendly, neat little woman who kept a permanent in her short salt and pepper hair and wore sweaters and knitted collars on her dress. When she hugged me, and she always did, there would be a pleasant scent of lavender about her.

Miss Erma opened the station up at five in the morning with her husband, but would come home around three to start his supper. She did not drive so one of the station pump jockeys would chauffeur her home in the Pledger’s ancient Ford Model T. This was usually a mill hand who worked at the filling station part time. More than a few lintheads augmented their mill income at Pledger’s.

When Miss Erma left at three to cook supper, they usually had a high-school girl who came in to run the register.

They must have had four or five employees, including the part time folks. Mr. Bryant also did tune-ups and would pick up cars to wash and change the oil and return them to the mill parking lot, or to the owner’s home. He had a good business.

Pledger’s was a busy place, and was also a mill-village hangout. From opening to closing time, there was usually a gang of loafers sitting about the station, crowding the glowing pot-bellied heater in the winter or enjoying the breeze through the open double doors in the summer. Most were having a mill-hand’s snack of a Coke, cheese crackers and a Stanback.

photo of Bill-Strickland and young JL
Most of my old pictures were lost during a house fire years ago. This photo is one of the few remaining, was taken of my father, Bill, and me about the time he nearly ‘bout caused Miss Erma to have a bowel movement with the wooden snake. If I remember correctly, we were standing on the old one-lane bridge across the Little Tallapoosa River. Shortly after this snapshot, he dangled me by my ankles over the bridge railing, threatening to drop me into the cold water. Even more terrifying because I couldn’t swim. Neither could he. That was his way of showing his love for me.

So during this time, I had bought another of my favorite ten-cent store items, a toy wooden snake. These cheap wooden snakes, popular with boys back in the day, were painted green, and actually consisted of carved segments of wood that were strung on a string like beads. By manipulating your wrist just so, the snake would wiggle, flick its red felt tongue, and move like a living serpent. Upon closer inspection, it was easy to see that the snake was fake, but for a few seconds, it would startle folks. Especially people who were horrified of snakes anyway.

The wooden snake usually lasted until the string broke and all the segments fell apart, just like a cheap broken necklace.

Anyway, I had squandered my ten- year- old’s meager allowance and bought yet another of these wooden snakes at Keith’s dime store and was practicing my moves with it as we drove over to Pledger’s one cold December morning. When we got to the filling station, Daddy took the snake from me and put it in his coat pocket, saying he was going to “have some fun with it.”

(Things had been somewhat strained between us and the Pledgers for a few days. When their employee recently brought Miss Erma home at three one afternoon, as the fellow turned the car around, he backed over my dog and killed it. It was all an accident, but I was upset and so was Miss Erma; she and Mr. Pledger couldn’t stop apologizing. They even offered to pay me for the dog, but Daddy refused to take the money. )

So, we headed into to the crowded station that morning and got us a Coke from the chest type cooler and a pack of Tom’s crackers from the glass jar. When Miss Erma reached out to take Daddy’s money at the register, instead of money, Daddy laid the wooden snake in her delicate, little hand. As it turned out, Miss Erma had a deep-seated phobia of snakes, real or fake. She let out a hideous scream that could be heard at least a mile and probably over the sound of the thundering looms in the nearby Fairfax weave shed; an ungodly shriek from so small a person.

Miss Erma’s body went stiff like she was having a seizure and she fell backwards, crashing into the shelves behind her and collapsing, unconscious, on the concrete floor. Her head hit the floor with a dull, sickening thud.

Everybody in the station gasped and jumped up. Mr. Pledger had been at the edge of the room opening cardboard boxes of oil with his pocket knife and stacking them on the shelves. Dropping the knife, he ran to see what had happened to his wife. Unfortunately, he tripped over another unopened box of oil cans, and stumbled into the counter where the cash register sat, striking the corner of the counter with his head, flipping his cap off, laying open his scalp, buckling his knees, and knocking him out, momentarily.

This all happened in just a matter of seconds. One minute Daddy was standing there grinning like a fool, shaking that fake snake at Miss Erma, and the next second, there were two twitching bodies, both Pledgers, unconscious on the floor. It was surreal.

Mr. Pledger was soon on his feet and, with blood pouring from his head wound, helped Miss Erma up. She was shaking violently and sobbing uncontrollably. I had never, before or since, witnessed a human-being so distraught. Completely undone.

Mr. Pledger explained that his wife had a horror of snakes and would go apoplectic when she saw one – real or fake.

Daddy was really taken aback. He tried to apologize to Miss Erma by sticking the snake in her face to show her that it was fake. When she saw the snake again, just inches from her nose, Mrs. Erma let out another pitiful moan and her terrified eyes rolled back in her head for the second time.

“Bill, put away that goddamn snake!” Mr. Pledger roared at Daddy. It was the only time I ever remember hearing the soft-spoken Mr. Pledger raise his voice, much less using cuss words. He was really riled up.

Mr. Pledger scooped up Miss Erma in his arms, like she might have been a child, and hurried a few doors down to the village doctor’s office. We didn’t tarry long before leaving the station.

It seemed like a good time to go. On our way out the door, a fellow behind us said hoarsely, “Damn, Bill…”

Neither Daddy nor I turned around to see who the commentator might have been.

This was during the holiday doldrums between Christmas and New Year’s, so we were at home in our three-room mill house a few hours later when I heard the Pledger’s T-Model chug into their yard. Daddy and I ran to the window to see if was them. When Mr. Pledger got out of the car, he wasn’t wearing his hat. Instead, his bald head was bandaged where Dr. Hunt had sewn up the nasty gash where Mr. Bryant had hit the counter.

Slowly, tenderly, Mr. Bryant eased Miss Erma across the yard. His big right arm was wrapped around her, his huge gnarled paw was holding her dainty left hand. She was leaning against him and seemed too weak to stand by herself. Her eyes were closed. Her lips were moving, but no audible words were coming out.

As they disappeared into their house, Daddy, with an irritated tone in his voice, said, “I guess now they’re both pissed off at us.”

Before I could ask where he got that “us” business, he added, “Well, we’ll just look at this way – we’re all even now for them killing your dog. Tit for tat, I god.”

The fact that that it was the Pledger’s hired help who ran over my dog, and not them, didn’t enter into Daddy’s thinking. His logic was always as flexible as a jointed toy wooden snake. It could bend to fit the situation. And, like a toy wooden snake, his conclusions could be convincing if not examined too closely.

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Hey Nineteen Mon, 12 Jun 2017 11:55:24 +0000

Little League Baseball by Andrew Ahearne

I was nine years old in the spring of 1967 when my father asked me if I wanted to tryout for Little League. I had no idea what Little League was but when he explained it was baseball, I quickly agreed. He had taken me to my first ballgame when I was six so any combination of my dad and baseball meant an instant yes. Back home a few hours later, he told me someone called to say I’d been picked to play for the Beachwood-Pine Beach (NJ) Little League Cardinals.

As a nine-year-old Cardinal, I was relegated to where all 9-year-old Little League “rookies” go to play. Right field. Kevin Buckman’s position. My year in right field consisted of keeping meticulous detailed records of dandelions, both flowers and blowballs, as well as the various insect species endemic to a Little League field. And when an occasional batted ball made its way out to my peaceful domain, I usually celebrated by gleefully throwing it over the nearby fence with immense satisfaction despite the runs I had just cost my team.

As a ten-year-old, I moved to shortstop where a lot more action was in store. However, the Cardinals that year had a pair of 12-year-old pitchers, Doug and Rocky, who pretty much struck everybody out all season long. Doug and Rocky were so good that the Cardinals won the league title that year. I might’ve fielded 5 or 10 groundballs all season but I made up for this lack of participation with months of quality “Hey, batter, batter. Swing, batter” encouragement backing our dual star hurlers.

As in all Little Leagues around the world, 12-year-olds move on and the younger players step up. Stripped of our twin lethal weapons, the Cardinals went a first-to-worst 0-18 the next year. That was also the year I moved behind the plate to catch, my final position move. And to quote Forrest “Forrest Gump” Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

I continued to catch full time as a 12-year-old but I wanted to try pitching. At least once. Just to see what it was like on the mound. Our coach agreed and gave me the ball for one start. Armed with a eminently hittable fastball that traveled right down the middle of the plate, I could’ve been clobbered but instead got enough swings and misses to pick up a shaky win. The Cardinals went 10-10 that year, a far cry from our dismal winless record of the year before.

Prior to 1971, our twin boroughs did not have a Senior League. Once you turned 13, you were done playing organized baseball until high school. So 1971 was the inaugural season for the Beachwood-Pine Beach Senior League for 13 to 15-year-old boys. My father had chosen to be an umpire while I was a Cardinal but now he wanted to coach one of the new teams. And of course, he named his new team the Phillies.

The new league had a rule that placed a coach’s son on his team so I was a Phillie too. One of the other new teams, the Senators, leveraged this rule to devastating effect. The head coach’s son, Mac, was a very good player but Mac’s dad struck gold by recruiting the father of three more outstanding players to be his assistant coach. With Mac, Lou, Carl, Billy and several other good players, the inaugural Senators were loaded.

That first year was hard but fun. My dad’s Phillies won a few and lost a few. We were okay but no one could touch the Senators. I caught most of the games but also saw time at third base and shortstop.

The biggest difference between Little League and Senior League was the field itself. The bases were now 90′ apart, the standard distance. And the outfield fences were now set at 300′, not 200′. It took a few practices and games to get used to the new field but we all eventually got the hang of it.

The next year, 1972, I was 14 years old and, for some inexplicable reason, I got the pitching itch again. That was also the year the real Phillies in Philadelphia had traded for pitcher Steve Carlton who went on to one of the greatest careers in major league history.

So naturally, I decided to copy my new hero’s windup and throwing motion. Never mind that Carlton was a lefty and threw perhaps the most vicious slider any pitcher has ever thrown. With my one pitch, a mediocre fastball with no movement, I was determined to be the next 14-year-old, right-handed “Lefty.”

And so the lobbying campaign began in earnest. I wanted to try my new Carlton impersonation on a real mound against live hitters. I pestered my eternally patient father-coach for weeks to give me a start. He tried to tell me as gently as he could that I was a really good catcher for a 14-year-old. He also reminded me that pitchers need pinpoint plate control whereas catchers just need “vicinity” accuracy. I’m sure you can see where this is going. I thought the old man was nuts. I was ready to announce my presence with authority. Just give me the damn ball. Cooperstown, here I come.

What happened next is an endless story that goes back to the dawn of time, that is, when a father makes a tough but eternally wise decision to let his overconfident teenage son spread his wings and fly. “Sure, Bob, you wanna pitch? You got it. Next start is all yours.” “Thanks, Dad, I won’t let you down. By the way, who are we playing?”

Oh, shit.

I should stop here and tip my hat to my late father one more time. He did not feed me to the beast. He was not cruel and heartless. He had all the confidence in the world in me. But as a catcher. I mean, this was the man who had played catch with me in our backyard ever since I was six. After thousands and thousands of throws, he knew I had a strong arm for a catcher but that was it. I did not belong on a mound. He knew it but I refused to see it. And so, here it comes … “The Inning of Perpetual Despair” against the powerful Senators.

Top of the first. The Senators leadoff man is up. Ball one. Ball two. Ball three. Ball four. Up high. Too low. Too far inside. Too far outside. No command whatsoever. I stared at the catcher’s target just like Carlton. I wound up and threw it as hard as I could just like Carlton. And it went anywhere and everywhere except the strike zone. A four-pitch walk. Guy never took the bat off his shoulder. Not just like Carlton.

Okay, so man on first. Next batter up. No reason to panic. You can do this. I couldn’t help but glance over to my dad in the dugout. He was sitting stone still. Arms folded across his chest looking on in stoic silence. Naturally, I mistook this for his confidence.

So now with a man on base, it was time to try out “Lefty” Carlton’s pick off move, one of the most lethal moves any pitcher ever used. Only one problem, the same problem with my entire faux Carlton repertoire. I was right handed. So I turned like Lefty, I wheeled like Lefty and I threw it down the right field line. Runner goes to second.

And now I’m thinking, “Hey, um, Dad, maybe I’m not so sure about this.” I look over again at him and, while I’m doing Carlton, he’s doing Buddha. Not a fidget, not a sound.

So now here’s where our hopeless saga goes from uneasy to bad to horrifying to catastrophic in about 20 minutes. I can’t get any of these mashers out. If I’m not walking them, I’m throwing belt high fastballs right down the middle and they’re crushing them all over the field. My teammates behind me are frantically chasing balls from foul line to foul line. Nothing’s working. They’re scoring runs in bunches. 1-0, 2-0, 4-0, 7-0, 10-0. On and on the onslaught continued.

And then the worst possible disaster happened. My best friend, Bobby, who was also a Senator, came up to bat. I was determined to get him out. I reached back for a little more gas and threw it as hard as I could. Right down the heart of the plate. Same speed as my all other pitches. Same lack of movement. Bobby swung and it was gone the minute he hit it. Way over the fence in left field. So far gone that it landed in some scrub pine trees maybe 40′ deep behind the field. It was the ultimate humiliation. To his credit, Bobby kept his head down and circled the bases without taunting me.

Buddha still hadn’t moved. I even silently mouthed the words “Please, take me out” to him but he never budged. Eldest Son was going to get Introduction to Character Building 101 whether he had signed up for the course or not.

You wanted to pitch, son. Pitch.

My misery continued. More runs, more hits, more errors. The nightmare just would not end. Still in the first inning, the score was Senators 19, Phillies 0. It was the worst 45 minutes this 14-year-old boy had ever had. Worse than all the carsickness heaves over the Walt Whitman Bridge. Worse than the steak knife I accidentally buried in my 10-year-old leg worth four stitches. Even worse than trying to ask a girl to the 8th grade dance.

19-0. My father wouldn’t save me. My teammates were fed up with me. I was on the verge of tears. This was rock bottom.

Except it wasn’t. No, sir, there was more rock underneath rock bottom. As I mentioned earlier, my best friend, Bobby, knew I was hurting so he didn’t add insult to injury after his mammoth tater. His other Senator teammates however were not so classy.

One of the three star brothers came up to bat. He dug in to the batter’s box batting righty as usual. But then before I could throw him my next meatball, he called time, stepped out, walked behind home plate and stepped back into the left-handed batter’s box. The message was clear and unmistakable. The Senators were now going to bat left-handed so I could finally get an out. It was the ultimate taunt on a baseball field.

But then a miracle happened. Buddha actually moved. He slowly stood up, called time and casually made his way out to his stricken son standing all alone on The Mound of Misery. The score was 19-0 and the Senators were batting lefty, a cruel irony since I had failed so miserably at impersonating a lefty pitcher. My father looked me straight in the eye. His face was grim and stern. He said five words to me …

“Hit him in the ass.”

I threw one more pitch in my baseball career. From that point on, I played no other position but catcher. One more pitch. One last pitch for the ages.

It was the most accurate pitch I ever threw.

Thanks, Dad.

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Responding to a Medical Crisis of These Times Fri, 26 May 2017 11:35:22 +0000

chimps laughing

God made the funny bone, but it atrophies with disuse. Those of us who closely follow the evening news are highly susceptible to morphing into a sourpuss.

An excellent remedy over the long haul is to give no more than 15 minutes a day to the headlines and redeem the rest of the day by reading good poetry aloud, fly-fishing alone in a huge state or federal park, changing diapers (of the very old or of the newborn), looking in a mirror while sticking out your tongue… Use your imagination. That’s why we have one.

But for a quick fix, a good joke will do the trick. I offer three golden oldies from the 1960s.

1)  The students at a fine girls boarding school complained that they were completely isolated from the social life most enjoyed in public schools.

“Mother Superior, you could solve this problem easily by letting us have a dance. You and the other sisters can chaperone, and we have already demonstrated that we are proper young women. We would have no untoward behavior, and you could set clear times for the dance to begin and end.”

“Margaret, that’s not a bad idea the way you put it, but where would I find males for the dance? The nearest male boarding school is sixty miles away, and I doubt the local high school would be interested in coming to a private school.”

“O, that one is easy. We’re only 20 minutes away from the army base, and I am sure they would welcome an opportunity to break out of their male isolation.”

Margaret persuaded her. Soon everyone was hard at work gussying up the refectory to serve as a dance floor. Flowers were ordered. Crape paper abounded. Everyone was ironing or mending or….

Mother Superior had an excellent reception when she called the sergeant on duty and proposed that he send 75 soldiers since there were 70 female students. “That will inspire movement so that no one gets too close to just one person,” she explained.

“I am fine with that,” the sergeant replied.

“O, one more thing. And I hope you won’t take offense,” she said.

“Don’t worry; I won’t. What is it?” he replied.

“Well this is a Catholic school and well, I don’t know how to put this delicately, but I think it would be best not to send any soldiers who are Protestants.”

“No problem at all the sergeant replied.

At exactly the appointed hour of 6:30 p.m. the troop truck arrived with 75 very excited young black soldiers.

“O, there has been some mistake,” Mother Superior said, shaking in dismay.”

“Ma’am,” the private in charge responded respectfully. “Sergeant Goldberg never makes a mistake.”


2) A policemen trying to protect a group of war-protesters was alarmed to see a young nun carrying a poster proclaiming “Fuck war!”

A Catholic himself, the policeman delicately said, “Sister, that sign will likely incite a violent reaction from the crowd that you are trying to influence. And I am under orders not to tolerate any profanity. Here’s some tape. Please use it to cover the obscenity.

“No problem, officer,” she replied. She covered the word war.


3)  Caveat: Yankees and Republicans rarely get this last one. Bless their hearts.

A stranger startled a rich man who sipped juleps on his front lawn: “Could you spare something to eat? I am very hungry.”

Delighted to remember to say the clever thing at the right time, the rich man replied, “Of course, if you are willing to work for it”

“Yes, but what do you want me to do,” replied the importuner, almost too weary to move.

“Well, I’ll feed ya if you take this can and paint my back porch green.”

“Okay,” the man muttered as he disappeared out back.

Half an hour later he startled his host again: “Now may I have something to eat? I’ve finished.”

“Surely,” the host replied, and offered him two cucumber sandwiches.

As the guest gobbled them, he said, “But that is a Ferrari, not a Porche.”


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