A chilly, foggy morning view in my yard.

A winter sunset in the Ballard County river bottoms.

The stories and commentaries on this page are, for the most part, the most recent ones. The categories on the left side of the page serve as archives for older stories I have removed from this page.

Help! Save me from “Customer Service”

 

July 13, 2017

 

I've probably written about this before but it deserves a second look. Calling customer service or tech support is enough to make me wish for an early death. Not that dying at 73 (74 in another month) is early. Maybe I should have written "immediate death."

We have had service with AT&T since 2000 or 2001. Most of that time we've had service for at least two lines, and for three lines more than half of that time. I'm not singling out AT&T. What I'm writing applies to many other companies, but since I just got off the phone -- several calls’ worth -- with AT&T, I'll use that company as my example.

I had what I still believe was a simple question. I called the 611 customer service number. The initial greeting was, “Due to unusually high call volume, we are experiencing long hold times to speak with a customer service professional.” (Professional, my ass.)

That’s a damn lie. That is the routine robot answer many companies use. I contend that the call volumes can’t be “unusually high” if a company uses that same greeting every day, every week, every month. (In fact, my hold time was less than a minute, so that in itself shows that the robot answer is a damn lie!) Be honest. Greet me with something like, “We are unwilling to hire enough support staff to provide good service to our customers, but we hope you will hang up and not talk to us. Try going to our website instead so you can become frustrated there. That way, we don’t have to waste our time pretending that we care about your issue.”

They do authorize me to record the call if I want. “This call may be monitored or recorded,” they tell me. Thank you. If I had a call recorder I would use it.

The recorded voice tells me I can speak in complete sentences. “What can I do for you today?” it asks. I tell it, “I want to find out when the change of service I requested two or three weeks ago that will start with my new billing cycle will go into effect.” That was a complete sentence. It’s clear that the voice actually can’t handle complete sentences. It wants key words, words like “customer service,” which isn’t a complete sentence. “Okay, you want customer service,” it will say if I say “customer service.” “What is the problem.” I say again, “I want to find out when the change of service I requested two or three weeks ago that will start with my new billing cycle will go into effect.”

The voice says, “I will transfer your call to a customer support representative.” The truth is that all calls go to the same group of mostly untrained phone answers, no matter what you tell the voice.

Someone eventually answers the transferred call. At least, I hear another voice that I suspect is human. Unfortunately it is so heavily accented that I can’t understand. I really try. In my days at national labs I worked around brilliant people from many countries and I could understand them. My hearing probably has suffered some loss since then, and I find that I rarely can understand heavily accented voices over the phone. I try. I ask what he/she said. Sometimes if the person speaks a little slower I can understand. Not always. Sometimes I apologize for not understanding, hang up, and call back. After two or five calls I often reach someone who grew up speaking Kentucky American.

I ask my easy question. “May I put you on hold for a minute?” is a common response to that easy question and the minute usually stretches into multiple minutes. I know what’s happening. The customer service professional is trying to find the right page in the “What to say when a customer asks a question and you need to act like you know what you’re doing” manual. Really competent, knowledgeable, expert people don’t work for telephone answering wages. If the support question relates to a computer, the aforementioned manual will tell the service representative to say, “Okay, let’s start by rebooting your computer and see if that helps.” (It almost never helps, usually because I rebooted at least once before I subjected myself to the agony of calling for tech support.)

Long and short of it, I called AT&T several times this afternoon, eventually asked to speak to someone who handles complaints, stated my complaint then complained because the answers I was receiving changed each time I explained why the previous answer wasn’t consistent with what the answer before that had been. After several minutes, she said she was going to transfer me to a specialist. The phone connection was lost immediately.

I called back to ask to speak to a specialist. “What kind of specialist?” That stumped me. “How would I know? The complaint department person told me she was transferring me to a specialist. She didn’t say if it was a heart specialist or a bowel specialist or a phone specialist. I thought it probably was a specialist who deals with assholes like me who call expecting to receive at least a basic level of knowledgeable customer support.” This time, the person to whom I spoke transferred me to another number, the same voice that answers the phone upon first call. “Are you calling about the number you’re calling from now?” the recorded voice asked me, citing an 800 number. I laughed because that must have been the 800 number of the customer support “professional” who transferred me.

I disconnected. I’m not calling again today. It may take me a week to bring down my blood pressure to a low enough reading that I can face another call with a “customer service professional.”

Henry Sakaida and Sandy Hart

Appreciate the letter

 

July 11, 2017

 

          Teresa Morris Salonimer asked to buy a copy of my book a few weeks ago to present to Henry Sakaida, who would be speaking at the Ballard-Carlisle Historical and Genealogical Society. (He spoke on June 27.)

          She said she wanted to present it to him because, “He says he likes small towns and their uniqueness and your book describes that better than anything else we have around here.” (Flattery works every time. I told her I would be happy to donate a copy of the book, no charge.)

          Sakaida, who lives in California, is an aviation historian, journalist, and World War II researcher. He spoke about Harry Melton Jr., one of the Wickliffe men who served in World War II. Melton was shot down over the Pacific. Sakaida’s program was presented by the society and the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum.

          Sakaida wrote a letter to me. It arrived in yesterday’s mail. It included a couple of photos, one of the cow he mentions in the letter, and one of him and Sandy Hart, printed onto the paper with his letter. Here’s what he wrote:

          Hi Joe!

          I was visiting Sandy Hart at the Kentucky Veteran and Patriot Museum in Wickliffe, and before I departed she gave me a copy of your book, “Characters by the Bushel.” On my four-hour plane ride back to Los Angeles, I had an opportunity to read it and found it very funny and interesting!

          In reading your book, it solved a 10-year mystery for me. You wrote about how smart cows are, that they knew the routine when it came to milking, etc. They’d go into the barn in an orderly fashion. Back in 2007, I went to Mongolia. And I saw the funniest thing! There was this lead cow walking about 30 paces in front, leading a herd of cows out into the pasture. No herder present. This was around 7 a.m.

          At around 6 p.m., when it was getting dark, I saw the same cow, leading the herd back into town. No herder! They spent all day grazing out in the fields, and when it began to get dark, the lead cow led his herd back into town!!!

          When I aimed the camera, the lead cow turned around and faced me, like, “What the hell are you up to??!!”

          When I got home, I went on Google and typed in “Monkey’s Eyebrow.” I was surprised when it came up! I visited Ballard County on June 27 just for one day. Sandy can fill you in. I thought Ballard County would be a nice place to have a second home – until someone told me about copperheads and water moccasins!!!! Yikes! And the nearest emergency hospital is in Paducah!!!

          Well, just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your book! Take care.

          Henry

How should I know? And a couple gripes.

 

June 9, 2017

 

I left the friendly confines of Monkey’s Eyebrow and went to Paducah this morning and decided to stop at Cracker Barrel for breakfast.

I look at the menu but almost always order the Sunrise Sampler when I stop there for breakfast. That includes a piece each of bacon, sausage and ham; a couple of biscuits and some gravy; a bowl of grits; a scoop of hashbrown casserole, and some fried apples.

The menu says it also includes a couple of eggs, but I always turn those down because I don't eat fried or scrambled eggs. I think they charge the same price for leaving off the two eggs as they do for including them.

The server, who was from Ballard County by the way, brought the plates and bowls and coffee to my table.

A woman I assume was a manager walked by. "Is everything good?" she asked.

I had taken one bite of something at that point.

"I don't know, I haven't eaten everything," I answered.

She said, "Sorry, we'll check back later," and she walked to some other table to ask if everything there was good. She didn't come back later to check with me. I thought everything was good despite her failure to return.

For some reason, that reminds me of the occasional phone call I get on my landline:

"Hello."

"Hello. Is this Joe Culver?"

"Yes it is."

"How are you this morning?"

"You don't really care how I am. What do you want to try to sell me that I am going to turn down?"

And that reminds me of some recent phone calls I’ve taken where the caller asks, usually in heavily accented phone-fraud voice, “May I speak to the lady of the house?”

I hang up immediately.

But the next time I get that call I’m going to answer in my best bass voice, “I AM the lady of the house!”

If you don’t know it already, let me give a quick lesson: Anyone who calls and asks to speak to the lady of the house is making a cold sales call and has no idea who you are, who is the lady of the house, or even if there is a lady of the house.

And also speaking of a "couple of eggs," as I did a few paragraphs above (re-read the second paragraph to see how often I mentioned a “couple of”), more and more people seem to be writing such things as "a couple eggs." People, I don't care if some modern, ignorant writer has said it's okay to write "a couple" (as a noun meaning two, or an approximation thereof, without the "of") you must stop saying such things as "I bought a couple shirts."

"Couple" requires "of" when used that way. I don't think any of you would say, "I bought a pair shoes."

Zero is better than nothing

 

June 7, 2017

 

          Wow! I didn’t expect so much difference between my old tractor-style riding mower and my new zero-turn mower.

          I’ve never used a zero-turn mower but my son, Joe Ray Culver, told me it would reduce the total mowing time from about three hours to about one hour. His guidance, and the fact that my tractor-style mower was ready for replacement, are why I was cutting didoes on the orange Husqvarna this afternoon. (Didoes. Didoes. There is no L.)

          The zero-turn mower apparently comes programmed to demonstrate its assortment of turns, whether or not the new operator wants to make them.

          I probably didn’t need that stump anyway, and it was a good test of the durability of the mower’s blades. Maybe I didn’t need the side of the shed either, but I wasn’t ready to get rid of it.

          It did cut down my mowing time. I didn’t manage to mow the whole yard here at Monkey's Eyebrow before fear brought me back indoors, but I do have a very neat circle of mowed grass in that one spot.

Precision run amok

 

June 4, 2017

 

Scrounging through the cabinets for something to prepare for lunch, I came across a box of Hamburger Helper Potatoes Stroganoff. Then, scrounging through the refrigerator, I discovered a one-pound package of only-slightly-out-of-date ground chuck. (According to the box, the potatoes stroganoff would have been good for almost another year. Some of those boxed or canned things actually will last forever, which is about the same amount of time as our wars in the Middle East and Afghanistan. I don’t think ground chuck lasts that long.)

After step 1 (browning the beef), step 2 is to stir in some hot water, milk, the Sauce Mix and Potatoes (their capitalization, not mine).

Then we come to step 3: “Reduce heat. Cover; simmer about 23 minutes ….”

“About” 23 minutes? Isn’t that too precise? I will go along with “about” 20 minutes or “about” 25 minutes, but 23 minutes sounds like an exact amount of time.

For instance, what if the instructions said to stir in “about one and 9/16th cups of hot water”? That would sound to me like a warning: “Don’t use just one and 8/16th cups of hot water, and for damn sure don’t dare to use one and 10/16th cups of hot water!”

Now I’m worried.

What if my timer is off a little bit and I wind up cooking the potatoes stroganoff 22 minutes? Will they be undercooked? Will the undercooked, slightly-out-of-date ground chuck give me a case of food poisoning?

Or what if the not-accurate timer allows me to cook it for 24 minutes? Will it be burned and have to be thrown out? Will even my dog Herman turn up his very accurate sniffer at it?

To hell with it. I’ll cook something else.

Is that what Dick Vitale means by Diaper Dandy?

 

June 3, 2017

 

          I was checking out this afternoon with all my items on the conveyor belt at Walmart. A couple behind me also had most of their stuff on the belt, too.

          The check-out lady – Nancy is her name, and I think she’s been working there a long time and she’s always very pleasant and polite, which probably is more than I can say for myself – had finished my stuff.

          There was no bar between my purchases and those of the people behind me. The first things on the belt after my purchases were two bags of diapers, Pampers if I remember correctly.

          “Those aren’t yours, are they?” the checker-outer asked.

          “No,” I answered, “I stopped wearing diapers about a year ago.”

          Short pause.

          “Mother thought I never would be trained to go without them.”

          Short pause number 2.

          “It really got to be embarrassing when I had company over.”

          Short pause number 3.

          “But truth be told, when you become an older person, you start looking at the diapers again.”

          And talking of diapers reminds me that I took Bella to see the movie, “Captain Underpants,” today. I was impressed by how short it was, about five minutes. Bella says it was much longer than that, it’s just that I slept through most of it.

          I was awake long enough to see some people come in with babies. At least one of them was a very small baby tied within some sort of rag device that held the baby to the front part of the mother’s body.

          Naturally the baby started crying.

          I think the movies should charge parents full price for babies.

          “Whoa!” you argue? “Why should they pay for the baby? The baby won’t watch the movie.”

          Exactly. Why bring a baby to a kid’s movie or, even worse, a grown-up movie when you know that a 6- or 7-month old infant can’t watch the damn movie and the baby is almost certain to start crying?

          Beats me.

          I stopped at the men’s room after the movie, as I always do, you know, large prostate gland and all. As I stood there contemplating the porcelain or whatever it is that men’s urinals are made of, someone called my name.

          I looked over to my left but didn’t recognize the man’s profile.

          He identified himself as Phil Lawrence, son of the late J.T. Lawrence and brother of Keith Lawrence, the very good writer for the Owensboro newspaper. As soon as he turned his face toward me, I recognized the Lawrence in him. He’s the better-looking brother, by the way.

          Following proper men’s room urinal etiquette, neither of us offered to shake hands.

A not-too-long-ago picture of Jeanne

You should see the other guy

 

June 1, 2017

 

          My sister, Jeanne, had the pleasure recently of having dental surgery, which involved a couple of dental implants and bone grafts. That sounds like something a person would do for entertainment on a Saturday, doesn’t it? If you answered, “Hell no,” then you got it right.

          Jeanne was raised in Ballard County – in Wickliffe and later just outside of Wickliffe – and went to school here, including part of her high school years. She moved to Oak Ridge, Tenn., with the rest of the family when my father got a job there. I had already run away from home by then and may have been working at the Cairo Evening Citizen. Jeanne became a graduate of Oak Ridge High School. She then earned a degree from Tennessee Tech.

Jeanne retired not too long ago after teaching nuclear worker safety at a Department of Energy site in Oak Ridge. Now, like me (oldest of the six siblings by at least a few days), she’s an older person, married, living in Knoxville, the mother of a beautiful daughter and the grandmother of a handsome young boy.

          She sent me an e-mail about the dental experience. I thought it was clever – it made me smile, which is a rare thing – so I asked for permission to use it and she said I could, so here it is:

          While waiting for my turn to see my dental surgeon, I had time to reflect on the young generation that manages and directs us these days. Do you remember when we were young and our elders had to explain to us some of their humor? We have become our elders.

Last week, I had dental surgery to insert two dental implants and two bone grafts. One of the side effects, in addition to the pain, are the bruises on my face and down my chin and neck. Looks like I have grown a beard.

I have been asked more than once, “What does the other guy look like?”

When I reported to the dental office, I announced “I'm here to see the other guy.” All I got were blank stares. I said “never mind” and told them who I was and who I was there to see. I shuffled to my seat and waited for my appointment. (At least the staff was kind and well-mannered – I don't think that they talked about the “batty” old woman until after I left.)

On a better note, my dentist understood when I said “You should see the other guy” and laughed. I added “You are the other guy.”

Thoughts while not-quite-gourmet dining

 

May 16, 2017

 

          I don’t know why some people put a napkin on their laps (or, in the finest restaurants, let a waiter place one on lap).

          That was one of my thoughts earlier today when I stopped for lunch at Captain D’s in Paducah.

          Captain D’s probably isn’t a gourmet restaurant, but it’s about as close as I get to gourmet when I drive from Monkey’s Eyebrow to an eating-out place, usually in La Center or Paducah.

          In the old days when I was employed in meaningful jobs, I had a few opportunities to dine in really swank restaurants. I owned a tux back in those days. I never got comfortable with a waiter trying to put a napkin on my lap. I’ve read stories about men who like to get too close to my manparts. I’ve been known to say no thanks; I was taught how to use a napkin years and years ago and I can put it on my own lap, thank you.

          It’s not just the worry of what the waiter might touch when he places the napkin. The fact of the matter is that I don’t put napkins on my lap. If I put one anywhere, I tuck one corner just above the top button of my shirt.

          Some of you might rank me as “un” on the couth scale. That’s okay. I’ve been called uncouth or worse by couthier people than you.

          To me, it’s a matter of practicality. If I drop food, it doesn’t make it to my lap. That round bulge just above my lap catches any dropped food or spilled drink before it falls far enough to land on a napkinned lap. What would be the point of putting a napkin so far away that no food or drink will land on it?

          A napkin tucked behind the top button of a shirt becomes the repository of all things spilled. It becomes a barrier between uncouth dining and upperwear couture.

          I used no napkin today belapped or beshirted. For one thing, Captain D’s doesn’t have napkins; there is a roll of paper towels at each table. I managed to eat lunch without a single spill. That is a rare experience. Most of the time after I eat I have to come home and spray my shirt with Oxyclean stain remover. I never have to spray the lap of my pants. A shirt is as effective as a bib to keep pants unstained.

          The main other thought I had came as I started to leave. I carried my tray to the trash container, but an employee took it and emptied it, after telling me, “Thank you, sweetheart.”

          Restaurant people around here tend to call diners sweetheart or honey almost routinely.

          It doesn’t offend me, but it does confuse me.

          Sometimes I ask, “Were we married at one time?” As I age I get confused about some of the times in my past.

          If we were, I like to acknowledge to the former spouse just how good our time together was, whether it was years or only months.

          If we weren’t, then I wonder if perhaps we dated a couple of times.

          Otherwise, why is she calling me honey or sweetheart? I don’t call strange women (aren’t they all strange?) by such terms of endearment.

          If they called me honey or sweetheart or both and we have no history of marriage or dating, I leave a nice tip and my phone number.

As Shakespeare said, “To pee or not to pee”

 

May 4, 2017

 

          Growing old, along with its associated aches and pains and humiliations, is nature’s way of helping us come to grips with the notion that death may not be a bad alternative.

          What started a while back as a preparation to remove my thyroid gland and the parathyroids behind it if the parathyroids were where they should be, turned into a heart catheterization, a diminished capacity to use to my right leg, the discovery that my prostate is the size of a grapefruit, a tumor on the left adrenal gland and surgery to remove gland and tumor, concern over a small spot at the bottom of my right lung discovered by a CT scan (a spot which seems to be vanishing), and now a jug in which to collect 24 hours’ worth of urine. All of that is too long of a story to tell; just take my word for it. At least no one can say that I don’t have a pot to piss in.

          One might assume that the collection of urine was related to the grapefruit prostate, which makes it very unlikely that I can drive past a public restroom. I’m familiar with all of those public urinals because of the enlarged prostate. One would be wrong to assume that.

          In fact, the jug of urine, which will be housed in the refrigerator (yuck!), is related to the parathyroids, which might be responsible for the slightly elevated level of calcium that shows up in blood tests or urine tests or maybe both.

          I started the collection at 8 this morning. It ends at 8 on Friday morning, after which I drive to Marion, Illinois, to deliver the pee pot and have a bone density study at the VA medical center there.

          I vaguely remember a time many years ago when such things were not only not a part of my life, they weren’t even a part of my thoughts of the future. That was a time before the sound effects related to standing up from a chair, and a time before panty liners – well, I guess I should call them men’s absorbent shields to catch the drips and dribbles of growing old and having an enlarged prostate.

          Ah yes, the drips and dribbles. The creaks and cracks. The moans and groans. The prostate exams by doctors with big fingers. The pot to piss in.

          But through it all, for some odd reason I feel good. If someone asked about my health I would be tempted to say it’s excellent because I rarely get sick from things that produce symptoms. In fact, it’s probably less than excellent because of the various conditions: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, high calcium, heart caths and stents, type 2 diabetes, some level of kidney disease probably caused by the type 2 diabetes, a sine wave of blood sugar levels that oscillate up or down depending on how many times I eat at the breakfast or dinner buffet, damaged nerve in the right leg, and the piss pot alongside the various foods in the refrigerator.

          But I honestly feel good. With the long list of conditions, I think I should feel sick or decrepit, but I don’t. I have said this to my doctor on more than one visit to his office.

          Still, there is that humbling, humiliating reality of prostate fingers and peeing into a jug.

          If I let the doctors remove everything they think should be removed, I would be hollow inside and probably would feel much worse than I feel stuffed with a mostly intact set of organs and glands. One of the paradoxes we experience is that sometimes we feel worse after treatments that might prolong our lives than we would feel if we just skipped along as is.

          The more often we see doctors, the more conditions we learn we have, and the more things we can worry about if we choose to worry about things.

          But at least I have a pot to piss in. For the next 24 hours anyway.

It may not show up very well here, but the invalid HIN is just to the right of the serial number.

Those Fed folks can go to hull

 

April 26, 2017

 

          My aluminum jon boat is 12 feet long, just about the perfect size for fishing in the small cypress lakes spread throughout the Ballard County river bottoms.

          I have an electric trolling motor but I prefer to sit sideways on a front seat and move among the trees by a technique we call sculling, where the sculler moves the boat by using a small paddle off the front of the boat. I scull with my left hand and fish with my right. This technique allows me to move slower and not bump into logs, trees and knees as often as I would with an electric motor.

          Every year about this time I go to the Ballard County clerk’s office and pay the annual registration fee that makes it legal to use the boat with a trolling motor or with an outboard, which I don’t have.

          I pay that fee even though the boat hasn’t been in the water for three or four years. It rests on a pair of saw horses. I would use it but I don’t have a way to get it from here to there, and I’m not able to lift it by myself. But I’m not ready to concede that I won’t be able to use it someday, so I keep paying the registration fee for the stickers that shows the boat is lake-legal.

          When I went to pay the fee a couple of days ago, Judy informed me that new Federal regulations require that all boats have a verified … I thought at first she was saying I needed a chicken aboard because it sounded like she was saying the boat needed a hen.

But no, it has nothing to do with chickens. The federal law requires a valid and correctly formatted HIN. That stands for Hull Identification Number. The Kentucky registration form she printed out says, under “Vehicle Identification,” that mine has INVALIDKYHIN. (The way we talk, there’s no difference in hen and HIN. Pronounced correctly, there would be a subtle difference. For instance, you can tell the difference between net and nit.)

Judy told me to go home, see if the boat has a plate on it with a HIN, and if it does to do a pencil and paper tracing of it. I asked if a photograph would work and was told that it would.

Move several minutes ahead and you will find me and my son, Joe Ray, looking at the boat resting on the saw horses. Turned out that the boat has a little panel attached that shows model, serial number, and some other information, including the four-digit HIN. We took a photograph. The four-digit HIN turned out to be the same as the HIN shown on my boat title. I found that to be confusing since the state claimed my HIN is invalid. I went back to the courthouse the next day to clear it up.

A phone call to Frankfort cleared it up. The new law requires that a HIN must be 12 digits long. The 12 digits consist of the manufacturers identification code (MIC), the hull serial number, the date of manufacture, and the model year.

The state will send me a stick-on new HIN which goes over the original HIN.

I guess this helps identify boats that are being used in illegal activities. I need a HIN even if I promise not to mount the trolling motor onto the 30-plus-years-old jon boat, cross the ocean, and return with a load of undocumented refugees. SIGH. Too damn many numbers required today. I will refuse to have a personal identification number (PIN) tattooed on my arm if it ever comes to that, and it almost seems like that’s the way we are headed.

To wrap this up, I hate the sound of HIN. It seems so much harsher than the gentler PIN we use with our debit cards. And why limit it to the hull? Why not a BIN (boat identification number)? A SIN (sculling identification number)? Or even a WHIN (why have identification numbers)?

It almost makes me want to get rid of that old, dry-docked aluminum jon boat. Almost. Not quite.

Lovely letter from lady lawyer

 

January 9, 2017

 

          I wish every day would begin as buoyantly as this one. An e-mail from Julia, an attorney in Louisville, was delightful. Julia, and two other lawyers from that big city where the Cardinals make their basketball home, made a road trip to west Kentucky in April. They looked for and found Monkey’s Eyebrow during their 1,208 mile journey, but missed my yard signs. I suspect their navigating device’s voice led them up Palmore Road, and then had them turn left in front of Jim and Jean Meadors’ house.

          Julia gave me permission to post her letter here.

 

Mr. Culver,

I wanted to say hello from Louisville, Kentucky and let you know that I have thoroughly enjoyed your website and have taken great delight in reading your stories.  I am only sorry that I just found your website a few days ago.  I say that because in April of this year I took a road trip “out west” with Molly and Christy, two of my law school buddies.  Our seven-night road trip began in Louisville. Heading west, we eschewed interstates in favor of country roads and over the course of seven nights and eight days traveled 1208 miles exploring western Kentucky.  We stayed at bed and breakfasts and state parks along the way.  I know you can appreciate our adventure since you yourself “got your kicks on Route 66.”

Monkey’s Eyebrow was one of our destinations.  Had I known of you in April we most assuredly would have made a point to stop and visit with you.  You appear to me, by your website, to be the most official “un-official” ambassador of Monkey’s Eyebrow.  We did not stop by the Ballard Wildlife Management Area or the Barlow House (places you have promoted on your website).  But if we had stopped to visit you, our flexible itinerary probably would have adjusted itself to accommodate those recommendations, which I am sure you would have made to us in person.  We stopped at the Wickliffe Mounds, but it was too late in the day to take the tour.  We did however make it to the Cross at the confluence.

As it was, we took the trip navigator lady’s word (“that woman,” as I refer to her) that we had arrived at our destination “Monkey’s Eyebrow.”  We stopped at that moment on the side of the road, got out and took a picture of us standing in the middle of nowhere. (Note: They pulled off in the curve just past the Meadors house.)  The visit was a bit anti-climactic (but I was prepared for that based on what I had read.)   How we missed your sign I do not know.   If we had seen it, we would have stopped for a picture.

Had we stopped to meet you, it would have been so much more meaningful and memorable.   And I have wondered if you would have then written on your website about the time three “big-city” female lawyers stopped by for a visit on their way through Monkey’s Eyebrow. I hate that we missed the opportunity to meet you.  I only hope I can get that way again sometime sooner, rather than later, to meet the ambassador of Monkey’s Eyebrow!!

Among your stories, I enjoyed the “Onion Sex Inhibitor” and “Mirror mirror on the wall” (great picture!) and particularly liked and agreed with your observations in “Poetry? How can you tell?”  I am waiting for the right opportunity to use “Licks and ticks may need a fix, but dog hairs never harm me.” All the rest of your stories bring a sense of history and local color including your description of downtown Wickliffe back in the day.  Thanks for sharing it all.

Despite all the research I did prior to our trip, I inexplicably missed your site.  The reason I am finding it now is that I am writing an account of our trip for our family newspaper, The Pikes Speak.  I was hoping to embellish our visit to Monkey’s Eyebrow with some interesting fact about the place and decided to poke around the internet a bit.

I sent my travel buddies a link to your site, suggesting that in failing to meet you, we missed what might have been one of the highlights of our trip.  My friend Christy replied “I agree it would have been fun to stop and chat with this guy – unless he tried to get us to have onion sex.”

Best wishes to you from your newest fan in Louisville, Kentucky

Julia

Attorney at Law

The young man in my mirror.

Mirror mirror on the wall

 

September 17, 2016

 

          I look in the mirror in my Monkey’s Eyebrow house to make sure my fedora hat is placed just right before I leave the house.

The young face. The fedora sitting perfectly just above it.

I smile. The young man in the mirror smiles back at me. Good mirror.

It’s okay to leave now and go to Tractor Supply where that expensive dog food that Herman eats is on sale. Herman isn’t much account so I probably should stop buying Blue Wilderness for him and start getting some cheaper dog food, maybe some made from floor sweepings.

I stop in the dog food aisle and see that the kind I get, the variety in a copper-colored bag, is still too expensive but some $8 less expensive than normal.

I get two bags.

Time to check out. The young woman at checkout asks, "Do you need help with that?" Checkout people ask me that often these days. I don’t know why. They must not be seeing the man in my mirror.

They need to come to Monkey’s Eyebrow and look at the man in my mirror. Their eyes aren’t all that good, I think, but there’s something about my mirror that improves vision.

Separated from me by a counter, they aren’t seeing the young man in the perfectly arranged fedora. Instead, they must be seeing some feeble old man with two bags of dog food. A feeble old man who needs help getting back to his car with those two bags.

If I accept help, will the helper come home with me? If I can’t manage to push a cart to my car and then unload two bags, how do they expect me to get the bags from my car and carry them into my house? I guess they probably will ride to Monkey’s Eyebrow with me and help me unload the dog food. I hope they don’t expect me to drive them back to Tractor Supply, just this side of Paducah.

After he helps me unload the bags, he can come in and look at my reflection in the mirror. Then he will understand why I thought it was foolish to ask if I need help.

I wonder if I should make it a practice to take that vision-enhancing mirror with me when I go shopping.

Friends and neighbors gather at Arivett’s Store at Monkey’s Eyebrow in 1952. People in the photo are Johnny Minter, Woodrow and Morris Minter, Ples Arivett, William Gross Hayden and Claude Holt.

Why the name? What’s the name?

 

September 14, 2016

 

          Several people claim they know the real story about why Monkey’s Eyebrow has its name. I mention a few of those “real stories” on the home page of this website. Undoubtedly there are some other “real stories” I haven’t heard.

          But there’s a perhaps bigger question than why is the name.

          What is the name?

          I write it as Monkey’s Eyebrow. That makes grammatical sense to me. And I think that’s how I saw it back in the late ’40s or early ’50s when I would visit Pod and Herman for a week or two in the summers.

But others write it as Monkeys Eyebrow, which sounds like more than one monkey. I don’t think monkeys share eyebrows so I don’t believe that could be correct.

And quite a few folks write it, and probably say it, Monkey Eyebrow. That one doesn’t make me feel comfortable. I suppose it could be right but it lacks the rhythm of having an “s” at the end. If I saw a community named Monkey Tail I wouldn’t even blink. There’s no reason I can think of to change it to Monkey’s Tail. Certainly I wouldn’t agree to Monkeys Tail. There is one big difference. A monkey has only one tail. If a monkey has eyebrows, I feel confident they would come in pairs. That may sound like a trivial difference but it shouts out to me that it is a major difference. That leaves out the plural form, as far as I’m concerned.

It’s fascinating that a community could have such an odd name and so many stories about where that name came from. It’s a name that has persisted for more than a hundred years. Well, maybe it’s not a name, but one or more of the three names have persisted for more than a hundred years.

Another interesting aspect to the community is that even though it has no city limits, its boundaries expand regularly as more and more folks from the vicinity say they are from Monkey’s or Monkey or Monkeys Eyebrow. Some of those residents live quite a distance from where the highway marker used to be placed to mark the edge of Monkey’s Eyebrow. We no longer have a highway marker. One reason is that it was something people liked to steal. The other reason is that the business and residential community is no more.

Now, houses are scattered between corn and wheat and soybean fields. We no longer have any dairy farms.

My house wasn’t actually in the town of Monkey’s Eyebrow. The town, anchored by Arivett’s store and gas station, was a few hundred yards away.

Everyone needs to be from somewhere so we and neighbors have always said we live in Monkey’s Eyebrow. To be honest, I’m proud there are getting to be so many of us. I think you live in Monkey’s Eyebrow if you say you do. As if by default, most of the folks in this area have said for years that they live in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

One who has gotten lots of attention most recently is up-and-coming country singer Kelsey Waldon. As her father told me today, she spent her first 13 years here, and is proud to let folks know that Monkey’s Eyebrow is her homeplace. I don’t know her but I’m sure that other Eyebrowers or Eyebrowians or Eyebrowites who know her and knew her back in those formative years are very proud of her. I hope she becomes one of the major country stars. Ballard County needs the recognition that would follow her stardom.

I plan to go to the county court clerk’s office one of these first days and dig through old deeds to try to pin down just how the community’s name was written in the earliest years. It should be an interesting bit of research.

Meanwhile, if you are anywhere in the vicinity – Paducah or St. Louis or Nashville or any other our other suburbs – drive by and maybe even stop and say hello. And be sure to check out the Ballard Wildlife Management Area, and the Barlow House in Barlow, and the Cross at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in Wickliffe, and the Wickliffe Mounds, also in Wickliffe.

All of us would love to see you.

One side of the sign in my yard

The whole world comes to Monkey’s Eyebrow…

Eventually, and just one or two at a time

 

August 5, 2016

 

          I walked outside around 11:30 this morning to see if I could get my old – 1993 vintage – Jeep Cherokee started. It acted like the battery was dead but I think the battery should be fine. Anyway, it wouldn’t – won’t – start.

          While I stared at the Cherokee’s engine, I noticed a small car parked at the end of the eastern part of the driveway. The reason I was staring at the engine is because I don’t know anything about engines. I can start and drive a car and sometimes I can cause music to play. That’s about it.

          A man and woman had been looking at the Monkey’s Eyebrow sign in the front yard. I didn’t see them because they were obscured by the large burning bush – I think that is what it’s called because the leaves turn very red in the fall; I haven’t heard any voices coming from it.

          They came into view and walked toward me. I walked to meet them, with a smile on my face because I knew they would be tourists. Mostly it’s tourists who stop and take pictures at the sign. I like to smile at them.

          And they were tourists. They were tourists who had come the long way to Monkey’s Eyebrow. They started from Italy when it would have been much closer to start from Paducah. I guess they started from Italy because that’s where they live.

          Both of them struggled with English, struggled even more than Ballard Countians. He was more comfortable with English than she was.

          He told me they had married recently and were on their honeymoon. They had some sort of guide book. It was written in Italian and it featured Donald Duck characters. I believe the characters were visiting various places in America, including Monkey’s Eyebrow. From here they planned to go to Louisville – Lewis Ville, as he pronounced it.

          I pointed out all the Monkey’s Eyebrow highlights, mostly soybeans this season, and told them about the history of the community and showed them where the Arivetts had a store close to where Jim and Jean Meadors live now.

          I was wearing a Monkey’s Eyebrow T-shirt. She asked where she could get one. I told her I had them made and I had a few in bags in one of the outbuildings.

          I dug one out, sold it to her and gave her a Monkey’s Eyebrow cap and a copy of my book. (You can buy your own copy of it from amazon.com. Characters by the bushel: My love affair with Monkey’s Eyebrow.”) I had to explain what a bushel is.

          I told them that instead of going directly to Lewis Ville, they should drive past the Ballard Wildlife Management Area, through Oscar and Barlow, and then visit the Cross at the Confluence on the bluff at Wickliffe, overlooking the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. I also recommended a stop at the Wickliffe Mounds. She was an archeologist, so there is a good chance they followed my recommendations.

          Most of the tourists who stop here are from the states. I’ve had others from other countries, but not a lot of them.

          I wish I had more to offer, maybe a little gift shop or something, or even a drink machine. I wish I had a nice motel or bread and breakfast so I could encourage folks to do more than just drive through the area or their way to Paducah where they rent a room and buy meals.

          I wish Ballard County had more to offer that would draw money from tourists.

          Meanwhile, I’ll chat with the Italian honeymooners and others who stop here. They stop and go. They go somewhere else.

Monkey's Eyebrow in 1954 when there were a store and residences

The Arivett Family of Monkey’s Eyebrow

And Other Settlers of the Area

 

June 2010

 

(Note: This is based on conversations with Evelyn Hook Arivett and Leroy Arivett on May 21, 2010, and on some e-mails from Evelyn and her daughter, Wilma Hook Romatz, who lives in Michigan.)

 

          Ples and Irene Wildharber Arivett and Ples’ brother Brad weren’t the first people to own a business at Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky, but their businesses and their presence in the area are inextricably linked to the history of this small community that sports one of the most unusual names in the United States.

The name is frequently featured in atlas listings of unusual names; it has been the subject of at least two features on National Public Radio, and is featured in two books by author Mark Usler, who came to Monkey’s Eyebrow on May 21 to launch his new book, Hometown Celebrations.

The Arivett name itself is also a bit unusual in that it is consistently spelled Arivett, but is pronounced three different ways within the same family. Most of the members of the family and the people who live in the area pronounce the name as Everett, but Evelyn Arivett Hook, daughter of Ples and Irene, pronounces it as it’s spelled, Ar-i-vett. Evelyn’s younger brother, Leroy, who lives near Chicago, pronounces it Ar-vett, without the “i” sound.

          Evelyn Arivett was born at Monkey’s Eyebrow in 1920, the first of four children born to Ples and Irene. Horace, who ran a store at Bandana and who died in Bandana a few years ago, was next. Then came Leroy, and finally Harold, who lives near Atlanta.

The family’s roots in Monkey’s Eyebrow stretch back into the 1800s.  

          The Wildharbers and Goodleys, Irene Arivett’s family, came to Ballard County in 1903 from Henderson, Kentucky. Ples Arivett’s sister, Maude, told Evelyn that when their great grandfather, Jesse Beeler, came to Ballard County from Tennessee in the early 1840s it was nothing but wilderness. For many years, he and his children all lived in houses along what is now called Monkey’s Eyebrow Road, or state route 473.

          “Maudie was quite a colorful character too,” Wilma Hook Romatz, Evelyn’s daughter, remembers, “chewing snuff and spitting into a Calumet baking powder can. She had coal black dyed hair, and a huge diamond ring and red-painted nails.  Her language was equally colorful.”

          According to Evelyn, “Aunt Maudie said she heard that her grandpa had a whole trunk full of confederate money and her grandma kept trying to get him to change it. He refused, and lost everything after the Civil War was over.”

         John William Arivett, Ples Arivett’s grandfather, was born in Virginia but moved to Ballard County in the 1860s. He lived to be 98 and was married three times. He lived in Wickliffe when he died in 1940.

The business history of Monkey’s Eyebrow goes back to before the Arivetts opened their first business, which was a gristmill. A man whose last name was Ray had Ray’s Store at the bottom of the hill, down in an area which some folks call Old Monkey. Later, Guy Borden ran the store. Ples and Irene Arivett lived in a house near that store, on the south side of the road. There are no buildings there today. The area is covered with trees.

Several families lived in the area. Before the road was paved, the old road made a 90-degree turn to the north, opposite what is now Palmore Road, then it curved back toward the west, behind where Jim and Jean Meadors live now. The Arivett Store and most of the residences were northwest of the Meadors’ house. The buildings are no longer there.

Charley Waldon lived across the field (no paved road then) south of the store in the white house where Imogene Alexander lives now.

A family of Beelers lived down the road. Evelyn’s grandfather, John Wildharber, at one time owned the farm due east of the old road, a farm later owned by a Graves family and then by Herman and Pod Tilley, a part of which is now owned by Joe Culver.

According to Evelyn Hook, Wildharber came here from California, lived here two or three years, and then went back. He played in a band, When he came here he built a box that his bass fiddle would fit into. He put the box on the back of the car and brought it here with him.

The house where Charley Waldon’s family lived – where twin brothers Dot and Tot were born – was previously occupied by a family named Moss. Evelyn remembers playing with their daughter, who was about her age.

Some other families who lived in the area were Redferns, Crabtrees and Yanceys. “And there were Turners who lived down there. They used to sell watermelons. Sand Ridge grew the best watermelons,” Evelyn Hook recalls.

“There used to be some Laniers who lived down there. Judy Magee was a Hayden, and when you go by the game reserve entry there and you go on down to that curve, the Haydens lived in the house just on that curve. That’s where Judy and her sister grew up,” Evelyn said.

There was a small school “right over there in front of where that antenna is,” Evelyn said, pointing to the WPSD TV tower. “There used to be a building that was still there. I don’t know if it still is, I haven’t been down that road for a while. The building was still there even after they built that antenna out there.

“It was called Graves School. I would say 25 or 30 children went there. It had been built for a two-room school but we used only one of the rooms. If it was good weather we’d play outside, but if it was bad we could go in there, in the other room, and play games or whatever.

“The teacher that we had was real good to read to us. We used to have box suppers and she would use the money that we made from the suppers and other activities to buy books and things to entertain the kids. I love books still, and I’m sure I got it from her. Her name was Laura Lee Holt.”

The Monkey’s Eyebrow children went to high school at Bandana. There were no school buses then, but Howard Owsley, Joe Owsley’s dad, took a two-ton flatbed truck and converted it into a bus. It was closed in, with benches around the walls and a bench down the middle. It also had windows.

“He charged us 10 cents a day,” Evelyn recalls. “He would take us to Bandana and then pick us up at the end of the day. There were 15 or 20 people who rode it. He started at Needmore and drove all around the area picking up children.”

Before he built the gristmill which he and his brother Brad ran, Ples Arivett worked in California twice. He also worked on Dam 53 when it was being built, when Evelyn was about four or five years old. The Arivett family lived at the bottom of the hill then, in a house just past Ray’s Store.

Leroy Arivett recalls that his father would get up very early in the morning and walk the five miles to where they were building the dam. Because he left before daylight, Ples would carry a lantern. Evelyn said he would walk down to where the wildlife refuge is now, cross a lake and go over to where the dam was. Evelyn says she was born in 1920 and that would have been around 1925.

“And then we went to California in 1926,” Evelyn remembers. “My dad and my uncle were working out in the oilfields. I guess the oil company owned houses and rented them to the people who worked for them. We lived out there in a mountainous area and my dad wouldn’t let me go to school because he said you’ll have to ride the bus and there’s all those winding roads. He was afraid for me to ride the bus. So I didn’t go to school until I was seven years old after we moved back.”

They lived in Paducah for about a year or so and Evelyn’s first year of school was in Paducah. After that, she finished grade school at the Graves School at Monkey’s Eyebrow. That school remained active until it was consolidated with Bandana.

She went away to college at Murray State in the fall of 1938 and I didn’t move back.

The Arivetts did some farming in addition to running their businesses. Wilma taped a conversation with her uncle Horace a few years ago when he talked about the time they raised acres of sweet potatoes during the depression, thinking that they could sell them and make a little bit of money.  They found it was going to cost more to ship them than they would get, so they brought them back home and ate them all winter. Horace said he still couldn't look at a sweet potato years later.

The Arivetts’ first business enterprise at Monkey’s Eyebrow was a gristmill operated by brothers Ples and Brad. Evelyn says she was always fascinated with the machinery at the mill. They had a tractor chassis in the back part of the mill. It had a big drive shaft that went all the way across and the motor would run an assortment of pulleys and belts. It had a crusher that crushed the corn and there was another grinder that made meal.

“The mill made a lot of meal,” Evelyn says. “My dad usually did that. The Yopp Seed Company in Paducah would buy bags and let my dad fill them up with meal and they would take them back and sell them with Yopp’s name on the bags.”

About a year after they built the grist mill they started putting groceries in the front part. When Evelyn was about 12, in the early 1930s, the Arivetts built a frame building to house the store, separate from the mill.

There was a set of scales between the store and the mill.

Farmers would weigh their loaded trucks before the corn was ground. They would weigh them again when the trucks were empty. The difference was the weight of the corn.

Evelyn remembers that the store had about anything that you would want to buy, except meat because there was no electricity to run a cooler to keep meat.

Later, after the Arivett brothers dissolved their partnership, Ples tore down the frame building and built a new store of blocks in the same location as the first store. Those stores were on top of the hill, a location some people call “New Monkey” to distinguish it from the Ray’s Store that stood at the bottom of the hill. With the advent of electricity, that store was able to sell meat.

The Arivetts ran that store until around 1955 when they retired and moved to Bandana, where Horace already had a store.

By the time the uranium enrichment plant was being built near Kevil in the 1950s, there were 14 people living beside or around the Arivetts’ house and store in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

When the state of Kentucky acquired several of the lakes in the area, Ples fixed up rooms to rent to hunters. “He was always looking for ways to make more business,” Evelyn says.

Evelyn moved away in 1938 to go to college at Murray State. She married Harold Hook in 1942, and they lived in McCracken County, but came back to Monkey’s Eyebrow often to visit her family.

She and Harold had a store for about three years in Camelia, where the road from the Paducah Airport intersections with Highway 62.

Ples Arivett died in 1975, and Irene lived until 1999. She was 96 years old.

 

Comments from readers


          Here are some comments from people who have read this article:

          Billy Lanier: “The Laniers mentioned in your article were my grandparents, Wallace and Alice Lanier. New Hope Baptist Church sits on land given by my granddaddy.”

          Mary Helen Hicks: “The Barnhill family are the ones who lived closer to Monkey’s Eyebrow and raised watermelon, right in front of Mrs. Redfern. Their son is my brother-in-law, married to my youngest sister.”

          Ava Magee Siener: “How nice. I go to read about the Arivett family and come across a mention of my mother, Judy Magee.”

          Jeanne Culver Thorpe: “This is a great article. I love the genealogy.”

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© Joe W. Culver