Several thousand ducks and a smaller number of geese spend time at the Ballard Wildlife Management Area each winter.

You don’t pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger


April 21, 2020


I had to restock the Clear sparkling water, so it was off to Walmart very early this morning. I got there during little-old-man hours. The line moved quickly so I was inside the store shopping after just a few minutes.

One thing that surprised me was the significant number of shoppers who wore neither masks nor gloves. I kept wondering how many of them might either be spreading the virus or catching it.

A lot of people are not taking this pandemic seriously. I don't wish them any ill fortune, but I do wish they would be more conscientious, if not for their own sake, then for mine.

I was gloved with my prostate exam gloves and also masked, and I also took the small bottle of sanitizer from a pocket and wiped down my gloves a few times after picking up items. After I got home and put my stuff away, I washed my hands with soap and water and used Clorox wipes on the door knobs, refrigerator handles, and other surfaces that I touched. Maybe none of that helps, but I'm trying to be on Gov. Andy's good-guy list.

I bought some things in addition to water. I breathed a sigh of relief upon checking out (at a register staffed by a clerk) when I saw my total was $66.66. One less six and I would have been condemned to hell.

Erase History? Part 2


June 15, 2010


Earlier today I wrote a post for Facebook, under the title “Erase History?” It included a thread about the removal of statues honoring Confederates. Some people defend the statues, saying that removing them erases history. I am in favor of removing them.

Mowing from 9:30 until 10:55 this morning provided time to think about several things, while at the same time beating my rear end like someone with a sledgehammer hiding under the mower's seat. My yard has some very rough spots. The pounding is not good for my spine.

I pondered that post from earlier this morning, in which I stated an opinion that removing statues of Confederate leaders does not erase history. It merely removes or gets rid of a tribute to people who were traitors to the United States and thus became responsible for large numbers of deaths.

Here's information about the deaths I copied from a web page:

"Though the number of killed and wounded in the Civil War is not known precisely, most sources agree that the total number killed was between 640,000 and 700,000.

Union Civil War Casualties
Combat Deaths: Over 110,000
Other Deaths*: Over 250,000

Confederate Civil War Casualties
Combat Deaths: Over 95,000
Other Deaths*: Over 165,000

Most casualties and deaths in the Civil War were the result of non-combat-related disease. For every three soldiers killed in battle, five more died of disease."

Now that I've had time to think about it, I realize I was hasty in defending the removal of monuments to those Southern aristocrats who owned plantations and raised black angus beef cattle, which they sold or butchered, or used to pull plows in the ol' cotton fields back home.

Of course they deserve recognition for feeding the otherwise starving people up North.

What? They weren't owning black angus cows? They were buying and selling human beings who had dark skin? They were taking children from their parents and selling them to other white aristocrats.

Come on, that can't be true. We wouldn't be honoring people who did all that, would we?

I don't think enough history has been erased, or can possibly be erased, to make me forget that people owned, bought, bred, sold human beings like they were livestock.

I think I have learned that the Stephen Foster songs about Old Folks at Home and Old Black Joe may not be accurate depictions of the happy lives of slaves.

Please don't tell me that the lyrics to My Old Kentucky Home misrepresent the lives of slaves. Here's the way ol' Steve wrote the first verse:

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
'Tis summer, the darkies are gay,
The corn top's ripe and the meadows in the bloom,
While the birds make music all the day.
The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
All merry, all happy and bright:
By'n by Hard Times comes a knocking at the door,
Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

Surely those darkies were gay and the young folks happily rolled on the little cabin floor. Ol' Steve wouldn't have painted a false picture, would he?

But, if all of those bad images are true, why do we have statues honoring people who sacrificed thousands of lives of people from the North and the South so they could continue to treat people as property? Why are some people angry that other people want to remove the statues?

I get upset thinking about those things. I’m going to quit thinking about that kind of stuff and go watch Perry Mason reruns. But there won't be any reruns until 11 o'clock tonight. I think I'll just take a shower and try to wash away some of those images.

Horse and carriage, Age and Strange


June 8, 2020


Those two words don’t rhyme, but they fit together like a hand and nitrile glove worn for protection against coronavirus.

The ager you get the stranger are things you dredge up from your memory banks.

I was pouring water into my tea kettle this morning as part of brewing a cup of coffee in a French press, using Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe Coffee, medium roast beans, ground just prior to brewing.

As the water ran, I thought of a criticism put on an English paper by the only teacher who gave me a C in 12 years of school. I believe that was the only C. I know the teacher was Elise McAlister,  who had a B.A. degree from Western Kentucky College (years prior to it being named a university) and an M.A. in English from the University of Louisville.

I can’t remember if it was sophomore or junior year. I think it was a literature class, probably English literature as she was an English teacher.

I don’t remember if she was Miss or Mrs. McAlister. I do remember that she was strong willed, as I am, and I think we had some lively debates about things over which we disagreed. I didn’t dislike Ms. McAlister, and I did like arguing with her. I respected her and I think she respected me. I don’t know if she got as much pleasure from our arguments as I did.

Anyway, one day she handed back graded essays. I don’t remember what grade she gave my paper, although I’m sure it was lower than I believed it deserved, but I do remember that she wrote some comment on the paper which included the words, “purple prose.”

I didn’t know what purple prose meant and she wouldn’t tell me.

This morning, some 60 years after that paper was handed back, as water ran into the tea kettle, I thought of purple prose. My tea kettle isn’t purple and neither is my well water, so I don’t know what regurgitated that memory.

But finally, 60 or so years later, I looked it up. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it:

In literary criticismpurple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors.”

I wish I had just let the memory drop. In retrospect, I suspect (notice how those two words end in “spect” and, therefore, probably are some type of literary device) purple or some other color) I deserved the criticism.

Similar, except that I don’t run in any size


June 5, 2020


I was looking online at some shorts the other day. Mine seem to have shrunk during this stay-at-home situation and that's a problem because I wear shorts year-round.

There was a cautionary note below the chart where you pick the waist size.

It said, "These tend to run large."

"That's ok," I thought. "So do I."

Whaddya say? Is that a tongue twister?


June 5, 2020


Listening to Kentucky Public Radio as I drove home to Monkey’s Eyebrow today, I heard an interview between a news guy at Murray State University and a guest.

It confused me. They were talking about vegetables being canceled, how it is difficult to plan a vegetable in two weeks, how the guest is talking to vegetables, how some vegetables will be rescheduled. Stuff like that. It made no sense.

Then it dawned on me. They were discussing festivals. Festivals, not vegetables. Duh!

As I thought about it, I realized there is a good tongue twister there. Say "festival vegetable" fast. Pronounce all the syllables. I can't do it.

The stains of time


May 4, 2020


Age produces changes, mostly for the worse. There's some loss of function, both of body and mind.

I think one loss might be in steadiness. Food is more likely to drip or drop from a spoon or fork.

I glanced down this evening and noticed several stains on my T-shirt. I was surprised. I was mortified.

But it's not all bad. I decided that I could boil the shirt in a pan of water and wind up with a decent soup.

There also is a change in verticality.

I used to list my height as 5 feet 9 inches. I wore pants with a 29- or 30-inch inseam. A few years back I began noticing that even the 29-inch pants were too long.

At the VA Medical Center in Marion, Ill., late last year, a nurse asked my height. I told her I wasn’t sure because I thought I had shrunk.

She had me stand by the wall where there was one of those sliding measuring devices. I measured 5 feet 7 inches.

At that rate, If I live many more years, the shorts I wear most of the winter will be long pants.

Therapy: If I could do that …


Oct. 7, 2019


I am taking physical therapy for my neck.

Last week while I was lying on a mat with hot things around my neck, I wasn't really paying attention to the therapist working with another person. I vaguely heard the therapist say something to the man he was working on.

Later, I realized he was talking to a person who was standing, and he was telling him to push up onto the balls of his feet.

But when I first heard it, I thought I heard the therapist say, "Put your feet on your balls," and I thought, "If I could do that, I wouldn't need physical therapy."

That first version I heard was so much the better of the two.


Quirks along the way home


November 20, 2018


As my now 11-year-old daughter Bella and I drove home on Sunday after attending my brother Jeff’s memorial service the day before, at least three quirky things caught my attention.

At the Shoney’s restaurant off the Harriman exit on I-40 (the worst breakfast experience I have ever had at a Shoney’s, by the way), the server came to our booth midway through the meal and asked, “Did you find everything ok?” That’s not the first time I’ve been asked that, usually in a department store, but it was the first time that it struck me this way: I wanted to ask her, “Why, have you hidden some of the breakfast items?”

Same restaurant as we were leaving. A diner was standing, getting ready to move toward the breakfast buffet, and the server asked her what she wanted to drink. She said, “I will have water because ….” I didn’t hear the rest of the sentence, but it made me wonder why she thought she had to justify her choice of water. I am pretty sure I have done the same kind of thing.

And somewhere along Tennessee State Route 79 as we neared Adams, Tenn., I saw a small sign just off the road, and it read, “Keep your eyes on Jesus.” I smiled and thought, “Yes, and then you are quite likely to meet him face-to-face.”


(NOTE: Before his abrupt and unexpected departure on Thursday from the job of executive editor of the Paducah Sun newspaper, Steve Wilson had drafted his column for this past Sunday’s paper. He sent a copy of that column to me by email on Sunday. I asked his permission to post the unpublished column on my website because I think it discusses an important, if esoteric, point of criminal justice as practiced in the courts. My request was not at all influenced by his occasional mention of my name. Ahem. Ahem. He graciously gave his permission. I must add this comment: The Paducah newspaper, in my opinion, has achieved a diminished stature with Wilson’s departure. I don’t know him personally, but I read his column each Sunday and I came to believe he represented my ideal of what a newspaper news person should be.)


More than a matter of semantics   


November 19, 2018




I don't get a lot of email from Monkey's Eyebrow, the small, curiously named town on the northwest edge of Ballard County.

But a thoughtful message came last Sunday from Joe Culver of Monkey's Eyebrow in response to my column that day.

 I had written: “The lopsided re-election of Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon, who has been indicted on charges of drug possession and official misconduct, struck many people as hard to figure. ... The sheriff was helped by his positive reputation among Graves County residents. Several took to Facebook to express their support and remind people he is innocent until proven guilty.”

Culver took exception to the word "until." He wrote:

"Innocent until proven guilty. We have seen and heard that standard of U.S. justice over and over recently, particularly in the time leading up to the confirmation of nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice. 

"And every time I hear it, I ask myself what it implies. The word 'until,' I believe, implies that the defendant is guilty but will be treated as being innocent until that inevitable time that he or she is found guilty. I think 'unless' is a better conjunction.

“ 'Unless proven guilty' seems less incriminating than 'until proven guilty,' and suggests that the defendant might actually be innocent. I infer from 'until' that the defendant is guilty in fact if not in law.

"And I will continue to believe 'unless' is the correct choice until I am proven to be mistaken."

Culver, a Ballard County native who is now retired, has had an interesting career. He holds a law degree, worked as a reporter and managing editor of the newspaper in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and spent many years as a senior official at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and with the U.S. Department of Energy at its National Energy Technology Laboratory.   

My first reaction to his email, however, was to dismiss it as a small quibble over words written in the U.S. Constitution. But thinking about it further, I decided to check on the origin of the term and found it's not in the Constitution but is derived from court decisions affirming the presumption of innocence. 

I came around to agreeing with Culver. I think there is a difference between the two words and "until" can be taken to carry an implication that the defendant is guilty.

 I then put the question to some legal friends.

McCracken Circuit Judge Tim Kaltenbach said at first he's not sure "until" implies guilt and believes either word is acceptable. 

Then he checked the jury instructions set by the Kentucky Supreme Court, which include these two sentences:

"The law presumes the defendant to be innocent of a crime, and the indictment shall not be considered as evidence or having any weight against him.

"You shall find the defendant not guilty unless you are satisfied from the evidence alone, and beyond a reasonable doubt, that he is guilty."

The choice of "unless" in the instructions, Kaltenbach said, inclines him to think it is a better word than "until."

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham found Culver's email "insightful and thought-provoking."  He added, however, that most juries "would not discern the difference" between the two words.

Paducah attorney Mark Bryant, who has represented many criminal defendants, said similarly he believes most jurors would not reach their decisions any differently if they heard "unless" rather than "until."

But he said he prefers the phrase "unless proven guilty," and he will ask it be used the next time he brings a criminal case to a jury.

So I'm agreeing with Culver that the issue he raised is not simply semantics, and "unless" is the better choice of words.

Though it may make no difference to most jurors, it's a more neutral word that better conveys presumption of innocence -- a fundamental principle of the American criminal justice system.

"Until" can be heard to suggest it's only a matter of time before guilt will be established. "Unless" carries no such intimation.

As Mark Twain famously wrote, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Phonetics and Phlesh


November 11, 2018


A couple of interesting things to report from my visit today with an ophthalmologist.

First of all, he said everything looks good. That’s important information for diabetics.

I asked him the proper pronunciation of his speciality: OPH-THALMOLOGY or OP-THALMOLOGY. He said OP is correct. He said the H is silent. I wonder why that is.

I used his restroom. Old men with enlarged prostates never risk passing a restroom.

The restroom had one of those Xelerator hand dryers. You probably know the kind. They dry hands quickly with a powerful stream of air.

I’ve noticed every time I use one, the powerful air flow sends waves wrinkling through my hands. When I finish drying the hands, I always check to make sure the dryer didn’t blow my skin off, leaving me with flesh and bones.

Please don’t insult my lack of intelligence


November 6, 2019


Got two things in the mail this afternoon.

One envelope held a single sheet of paper. At top right in all caps was IMPORTANT INFORMATION ENCLOSED. Beneath that impressive headline were these words: For Ballard County, KY Medicare Recipients Only

The top left was "PERSONAL & CONFIDENTIAL” above my name.

Dear Joe, it started, “A review of public information suggests you may be eligible to enroll in a type of Medicare health plan* that could save you money on your out-of-pocket health care costs.”

I wondered about the asterisk. (You always should wonder about asterisks.) I looked down the front of the letter and then looked down the back where I found this near the bottom: “* This letter describes a general Medicare Advantage Plan ….”

A generic plan. Generic. A “Personal & Confidential” generic plan. That’s about as personal and confidential as that white label generic toilet paper you can buy in stores.

The other envelope was even more ominous. The return address was to “DATA OPERATIONS CENTER” in Kansas City. It declared itself to be IMPORTANT BUSINESS TO BE OPENED BY ADDRESSEE ONLY.

The address window had my name and address on paper cleverly designed to look like a check. I knew it wasn’t a check because no data center sends me a check. Neither does anyone else, for that matter. I needed a laugh, or maybe a reason to be pissed off, so I opened the envelope.

          It contained a check-sized document FOR KENTUCKY CITIZENS ONLY telling me I “may qualify for a state-regulated life insurance program to pay for your final expenses ….”

Further, I learned, “It is important that you learn how to qualify for this benefit … which is tax-free for Kentucky residents.”

In other words, burial insurance. All insurance is state-regulated. All burial insurance is tax free. I already know how to qualify for the “benefit.” I give them some information about myself and I pay them some money. It is important that I “return the postage paid card within 5 days” to the address in Jackson, Missouri.

These junk mails are designed to trick us old people, perhaps even frighten us to believe that we must respond to this “state-regulated” program.

I’m sure their lawyers have taken care that the wording isn’t criminal, but those deceptive letters sent through the U.S. Postal Service sure should be.


Just a slight misunderstanding


October 31, 2019


I was having physical therapy for my neck this past Wednesday at Premier Physical Therapy in Kevil.

Another person who seems to be there for therapy just about every day I am is a retired dietitian. She worked for several years at a school or schools in Florida.

          She and another person were talking. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop (shouldn't that be eardrop?) but I could hear them while I tried not to doze off and snore.

I thought I heard something in their discussion that was about my diet.

"Hey!" I said, interrupting their conversation, "That's the diet I'm on. The glutton diet."

Alas, I misunderstood. They were talking about glutens that some people avoid in their diets. Oh well, I might as well doze off.


How much does a portion weigh?


October 31, 2019


I have type 2 diabetes, along with some other medical conditions that the doctors claim I have so they can enrich the pharmaceutical companies.

My blood sugar runs high. Just about always. I eat too much.

It's not necessarily what I eat, but how much I eat.

The dietitians say I need to practice portion control. It's hard to do that because they talk in ounces while I talk in pounds.

I'm trying. For instance, I decided to cook a hamburger tonight -- or should that be hamberder -- I think hamburger is correct.

A pound of ground chuck was awaiting me in the refrigerator.

Instead of cooking the whole pound I cut it in two and fried a half-pound burger. A half-pound of cast-iron-skillet fried burger, one bun, two slices of a small tomato, a slice of onion and a couple of teaspoons of dill relish.

Is that portion control?


Does the word imply guilt?


November 11, 2018


A reference in Steve Wilson’s column today in the Paducah newspaper made me ponder again something I’ve pondered several times but haven’t written.

Wilson – who, by the way, is the redeeming executive at the newspaper – wrote “Five reflections on the election,” and did so in his consistently thoughtful style.

One of the five reflections regarded the re-election of Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon.

He wrote, “The lopsided re-election of Graves County Sheriff Dewayne Redmon, who has been indicted on charges of drug possession and official misconduct, struck many people as hard to figure. … The sheriff was also helped by his positive reputation among Graves County residents. Several took to Facebook to express their support and remind people he is innocent until proven guilty.”

Innocent until proven guilty. We have seen and heard that standard of U.S. justice over and over recently, particularly in the time leading up to the confirmation of nominee Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice.

And every time I hear it, I ask myself what it implies.

The word “until,” I believe, implies that the defendant is guilty but will be treated as being innocent until that inevitable time that he or she is found guilty.

I think “unless” is a better conjunction.

“Unless proven guilty” seems less incriminating than “until proven guilty,” and suggests that the defendant might actually be innocent. I infer from “until” that the defendant is guilty, in fact if not in law.

And I will continue to believe “unless” is the correct choice until I am proven to be mistaken.

Pull it!


November 1, 2019


I was having blood drawn at the VA clinic in Paducah this morning.

The veteran ahead of me had gone to the restroom to leave a urine sample. He had been in there a while.

The phlebotomist was getting ready to stick me when the man said something.

I didn't hear what he said but the phlebotomist answered, "Pull it hard!"

I started laughing. I thought the vet was having some difficulty trying to pee and she was giving him advice.

But she explained that the little door was stuck, the door you have to open to put your cup of urine inside.

I prefer my original misunderstanding.

Interesting ways to avoid the word “die”


October 10, 2018

In years past I saved what I thought were interesting obituaries I saw in newspapers. They were interesting to me in the ways they described how the departed had departed, in order to avoid saying so-and-so had died.

I haven’t been doing it lately, not for several years in fact, but I saw one today in The Oak Ridger that caused me to add it to the collection. I will post some of the ones I’ve saved, but will omit the names of the people.

The one today read, “(NAME) passed through the veil Sunday evening, Oct. 7, 2018, surrounded by many loved ones.”

On March 4, 2006, in a soaring departure, “(NAME), a resident of Chattanooga, flew away to be with the Lord on Friday, March 03, 2006 in a Chattanooga healthcare facility.”

Two things about that one. One is that in trying to avoid saying he had died, the obit had him flying away. I would like to have seen that. The other one is that the way it’s written, the Lord is in a healthcare facility. I hope He gets better.

I imagine there was no snoring on April 23, 2006: “(NAME) - a compassionate "70-something" woman from Knoxville, Tennessee, fell into peaceful sleep and left her earthly body behind on Friday night, April 21st.”

Farther down in the obituary, we are told she enjoyed nurturing her family and it mentioned her great cooking, including “her own rendition of an exceptional desert called Holy Smoke.” I’ve cooked some odd things in my life, but never a desert.

Probably no jealousy involved in this one on April 23, 2006: “(NAME) - age 89 of Knoxville, went to her Heavenly home on Thursday to be reunited with her only son, (NAME), her parents, and her husbands, (two names).”

I’ve often wondered how they will sort out the relationships with multiple husbands or wives.

A piscatorial death reported on July 8, 2006, was among the strangest ways to avoid dying: “(NAME) - age 47 of Knoxville went fishing in heaven, July 6, 2006.”

I’ve always been fascinated by the notion that everyone went to Heaven. I’ve never seen an obituary where anyone went anywhere else, Hell or Walmart, which might be the same.

Here’s an example on July 16, 2006: “(NAME) - age 79 of Maynardville, left his ragged body behind for a new one early July 15, 2006 to join his beloved daughter (NAME)-what a reunion!! His parents and 13 brothers and sisters also met him at the gate.”

This woman was more tired than I’ve ever been according to her obituary on Oct. 2, 2006: “(NAME) - age 88, of Knoxville. "I'm tired and I want to go home." God granted her wish September 29, 2006.”

Finally, apparently a real Elvis fan according to her obituary on Aug. 6, 2008: “(NAME) - age 60 of Knoxville passed away suddenly Saturday morning, August 2, 2008. She was Elvis Presley's greatest fan, and will finally get to sing a duet with him.”

Two choices, but I don’t get to pick


September 11, 2018


          I called my health insurance provider this afternoon because the good folks at my doctor’s office didn’t seem to believe me when I told them that the insurance covers shingles vaccine.

          The dialed telephone number reached a recorded voice message.

          The message thanked me for calling and told me I could either “speak or key in my responses.”

          The next words were “Please say yes if you’re calling about a new prescription ….”

          The message didn’t give an option of keying in “yes.”

          I spoke all responses because that was the only option.

          Things like this confuse me.

My friend Richard Crouch


August 15, 2018


A series of posts, comments and replies today caused me to spend some time thinking about my friend Richard Crouch.

We met when we were in the army, in the Headquarters Battery of the 4th Missile Battalion, 517th Artillery. We were in the Canal Zone to provide air defense to the Panama Canal and our bases. This would have been in the spring or summer of 1965.

I was the battalion’s public information specialist, working in what was designated as the S-1 part of headquarters. If memory serves, Richard was in S-2, which handled classified information. He could have been in S-3, and maybe any number of other esses. I wish my memory was a little, or a lot, better.

Again, I am depending on memory as I write. I recall that three of us who served in one of the headquarters esses submitted paperwork to be transferred to Vietnam. I think the form we used was the DA-1046 or maybe 1049. I was one of the three and Richard was another. I can’t remember who the third was.

My motive, and I believe Richard’s, was that if we were going to be in the army, we should be where we could provide the greatest service. In our minds, that meant Vietnam. (Today, I probably would not feel the same. I think that war was one of our national mistakes.)

Richard and the other soldier were approved for transfer to Vietnam. I was not. I spent the rest of my army service in the Canal Zone. In retrospect, I am proud that I offered to go into a combat area but thankful that I stayed in a safe place.

When Richard was transferred, he was trained to be a gunner in a helicopter. You’ve seen movies of those guys strapped in, shooting out of open bays. It was very dangerous duty.

Richard survived his service. He returned to the states physically and mentally whole. A lot of his comrades in arms did not.

I can’t remember what I was doing, maybe when I was driving to San Diego in 1974 for orientation to serve in the Navy, but there was a time when I drove to or through Missouri and spent a couple of days with Richard and his wife, Laurel, to whom he remains married. They have been married since May 1969. I think that is a significant achievement, certainly much better than my dismal record. I think Richard earned his living doing dry wall installation, and probably other things. He is retired now. He also was on the pro bass fishing circuit and I believe he still fishes in some of the tournaments.

Anyway, I am thinking of him today. We use the term “hero” much too loosely, I believe, but I look up to Richard as an American hero. He put his life on the line, literally, to serve his country. We are on different sides of the political/philosophical spectrum, with me on the liberal side and him on the conservative side. But we remain entrenched on the friendship side. I have great respect for him.

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.”

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.

Me at Guantanamo Bay, 1974

Christmas column from Guantanamo Bay


June 7, 2019


          You can credit – or blame – my sister Jeanne for these posts of columns I wrote in times long past. She found them in a box in daddy’s carport shop where he worked on radio and TV sets. Apparently he had saved most of the columns I wrote for The Oak Ridger and other publications.

I posted two from The Oak Ridger, the daily newspaper in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, a few days ago.

This one is from the Guantanamo Gazette.

I served in the military in both the Army and the Navy.

I was a public information specialist (71Q20, I believe, was the MOS number at that time) in the Army. I served in headquarters of the 4th Missile Batallion, 417th Artillery, in the Panama Canal Zone. One of my duties was to publish a battalion newspaper, or perhaps it would be more accurate to call it a newsletter. To the best of my memory, we typed it onto mimeograph stencils using manual typewriters and printed copies by turning a crank by hand.

The Navy called me a JO2 (journalist second class, E5), and later a JO1, journalist first class, E6. I was the editor of the Guantanamo Gazette at our Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was at that time, I was told, the Navy’s only land-based daily newspaper. We typed onto sheets of paper, probably using IBM Selectric typewriters, and sent them to the base print shop, where they were printed.

This is a Christmas column published on December 24, 1974. It is an example of how a writer can write to his or her audience, expressing what might be an emotion that may resonate with many of the readers but not necessarily something felt by the writer.

Here’s that column from almost 45 years ago:


A Christmas prayer

Christmas spirit works its miracle


We live in a time of one crisis and shortage after another.

Imagine for a moment that some great scientist discovered we had a “day crisis” …there just weren’t enough days to go around anymore. We were ordered to reduce our 365 day year to just two weeks, and there was a great national election to determine which two weeks we wanted to preserve.

I imagine that the majority of voters would pick the two weeks prior to and including Christmas Day, for what other period is as important to us as these few days.

It is during this handful of days that we live as we should live all year. Everyone is our friend. We have a hearty “Merry Christmas” for those we meet on the street, in stores, in our jobs and in our homes. We tend to forget that we don’t like this person or that person; we remember only the good times.

Family differences are forgotten as the kids crowd around the Christmas tree, shaking their presents in vain attempts to decipher the contents.

We hear Christmas carols on the radio, and maybe we even hum a few of them while we work.

We remember all the friends who are – or were – so important to us, and we send them cards to show we remember. We think of those who are no longer with us, think of them with a tough of regret that they are not able to enjoy this season with us.

We temper our joy with nostalgic sadness as we think of friends who are gone, or Christmases of the past, which also are gone.

But these moments of sorrow – or perhaps, respectful love – are an important part of the holiday spirit, a part which is overwhelmed by the happiness.

The real miracle of Christmas, and a miracle it truly is, is that the spirit of the season becomes a part of each one of us and causes us to live more nearly the type of life dictated to us by the man for whom the holiday is observed.

I remember a lot of Christmases. I still think about my own childhood Christmases when I would be up before the sun because I couldn’t wait to see what Santa had brought during the night. I remember the excitement of having Christmas dinner with all the family: aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. I remember the thrill and the chill of the snows which had a way of falling on many Christmas Eves.

Today, like most parents, I relive those memories in the excitement of my own children, who also are awake before the sun rises and whose faces mirror the joys I once felt. In fact, I still feel those same joys as I watch my children.

But, as wonderful as the joy of Christmas is, we shouldn’t devote all of it to Santa Claus and the pleasures purchased in stores by the money we earn. We also should remember the reason we celebrate the holiday – the man who was born to die for mankind on a cross.

We should remember that this is a religious holiday, and a time for prayer. For that reason, I offer to you readers this Christmas prayer of my own.

My Christmas Prayer

          God, we don’t talk very often, and I guess that’s my fault since You’re always ready to listen anytime I decide to talk with You. Usually I don’t think about talking to You unless I’m in trouble or I need something. That’s selfish of me, isn’t it? I’m surprised that You’re still willing to listen when I call for You.

          Today, I’m not asking for anything and I don’t have any problems. I just want to talk with You as one friend to another.

          First, thanks for being there when no one else could help, or everyone else was too busy to listen.

          Thanks for the wonderful family You’ve given me and for the many friends who mean so much to me.

          Thanks for what You do to mankind during this time of the year. I guess it’s too much to ask that this same spirit fill us all year long. That would be a big job.

          Thanks for the joy I see in the faces of the little children as they recite the story of Your son’s birth, and for the tears they shed when they read about His cruel death.

          Thanks for the love I’ve had from my parents and from my wife and children.

          And thanks especially for sending Your Son into this world to make it a better place for all of us, and for the hope for eternal happiness that His death gave us.

          God, that’s all for today, and I’ll try to talk to You more often, but if I don’t remember You before next Christmas, please don’t forget me.


Maybe better for the “fall” instead of summer


May 18, 2017


          I went on a brief fishing outing this morning at West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area to try out a new pair of fishing pants and a lightweight spinning rod and reel. I’m glad no one else was fishing where I was, or I would have been embarrassed.

          WKWMA is just a few miles up the road, toward Paducah. I don’t have a place to fish right here in downtown Monkey’s Eyebrow or its suburbs but there are some ponds and lakes not far from here.

          I called Tim Kreher at the wildlife management and asked him for some ideas about which of the ponds would be a more likely place to catch a fish. I didn’t care if I caught only small fish because I just wanted to practice casting with the new fishing rig, and when a person fishes with lightweight or ultralight tackle, even a small fish is fun to catch.

          He suggested a couple but seemed to emphasize the one known as Handicapped Pond. It has a wooden walkway that goes out into the water. He said people catch bluegill, but they tend to be small.

          I don’t like to be in the direct sun, so when I fish or mow the yard I typically wear long sleeved shirts and long pants instead of the shorts I wear most all other times.

          Denim jeans are too hot and heavy. I went to Gander Mountain in Paducah where they have a going-out-of-business sale with up to 30 per cent off. I think the sale is a little misleading. It had been going on for several days when I went but the store seemed to be fully stocked. I asked a salesperson about that and he said the home office delivers a semi load of merchandise at frequent intervals. When you think about a going-out-of-business sale you suspect the store is trying to get rid of the merchandise, but in this case, at least, they are moving merchandise in from all over the place.

          I don’t remember what level of discount was on the Gander Mountain Guide Series pants I bought. Maybe 20 per cent, maybe 30. I got a pair of 100 percent genuine nylon lightweight fishing pants that repel at least some water and offer sun protection at a 50 spf level. (I originally wrote pdf instead of spf, but that sounded more Adobe Acrobaty than ichthyology.

          The pants have no belt loop, which is fine with me because I’ve worn suspenders since around 1987. The pants have an elastic band and some nylon tighteners with plastic pieces on the ends. The plastic pieces click into each other and they can be cinched as tight as a belt. Being in a bit of a hurry to fish, I cinched them up tight and drove to the fishing hole.

          Everything was fine until I got out of the Jeep, at which point the pants fell down to below my knees. There I stood in jockey shorts, a long-sleeved lightweight white polyester shirt, and a smile. Fortunately no one else was there to see the drooped pants and the drawers. Had anyone been there, I doubt if he or she would have noticed my smile. The droopy pants, white legs, and jockeys would have attracted the most attention. I would have been mortified.

          I pulled the pants up to just about my armpits and walked out on the walkway to fish. They fell down two more times. I pulled them back up. No one noticed, but I think some fish may have been laughing, if there were any fish in the pond. You couldn’t prove it by me. I caught a couple of pieces of pond weeds but nothing else. I came home.

          First thing I did, I dug through the few new pairs of suspenders in a box on top of Herman’s dog crate. I got the pair that has pictures of fishing lures, and I attached them to the fishing pants. I feel confident I won’t moon anyone next time I go fishing.

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.

Can you stop something that hasn’t started?


May 11, 2017


I wrote a while back about a sign I saw in West Virginia several years ago during Fire Prevention Week. It read, “Prevent fires before they start.” I commented that the only time you can prevent a fire is before it starts. After it starts, you can stop it but not prevent it.

I had the TV on this morning but – as is often the case – I wasn’t paying attention. A commercial was on and even though I wasn’t paying attention, I heard, “Stop 90 per cent of hair damage before it happens.” I don’t know what product was being advertised.

I thought about the statement. Hmmm. It is just the opposite of the “prevent fires” sign but I contend that it’s also wrong.

I don’t think you can stop something before it starts. I believe you may be able to prevent some future event but not stop it. The better, shorter and more accurate statement on the commercial would have been, “Prevent 90 per cent of hair damage.”

Thinking about Favors and other pronunciations


February 25, 2017


Driving to Paducah this morning with Bella so we could watch a movie, my mind did what it usually does: Wanders into questions that make no sense to think about.

It started with a question about that great but now-retired quarterback, Brett Favor.

He actually spells his name Favre, but he pronounces it Farv. I don’t know why the letters become transposed when pronounced. It probably has something to do with the linguistic origin of the name.

I’ve wondered more than once why his name isn’t pronounced Brett Favor (or Faver). I suppose it could be Brett Fav-Ree, but I think the E is silent so it should come out Faver.

If we want to switch letters with an R, how about we go to the river to watch the bagres drift by, or we cav-re a turkey, or we go into battle wielding a sarb (sabre).

Why do folks in Monkey’s Eyebrow and Ballard County and Kentucky and most of the free world say that the second month of the year is Feb-You-Wary? Why don’t we say that March follows Feb-Ru-Ary? Why do we tend to make the R silent and add a W?

Why in some places (around here for instance) do some folks call for help to change a flat tar, and worry that a far will destroy their house?

Why aren’t the musical groups at church called Cho-Ir instead of a Kwire?

Why do I ponder such things? Goodbye.

Too many ologists as we age


February 23, 2017


You know one of the worst things about getting old?

Never mind if you don’t because I’m going to tell you.

We acquire too damn many ologists.

Things may move along pretty smoothly through the younger and middle age years, but as we move into the senior status of our lives – what I call the “pajama years” because we spend much of our time lounging around the house in our pajamas – we start picking up an ologist here, an ologist there..

I have an ophthalmologist. I occasionally see a cardiologist. When I awoke from a heart cath procedure in October 2015 with some nerve damage in my right leg I was visited by a neurologist. I have been seeing a urologist. Based on images from a recent PET scan the urologist ordered, I’m going to see a pulmonologist and maybe an endocrinologist. I have had some sessions with a nephrologist.

Just too damn many ologists.

I suspect if we didn’t have all those ologists hanging around, we wouldn’t have so many health conditions.

During duck season, my good friend Danny Ryan and I were talking about the chances we took during duck seasons when we were young. We broke ice in flimsy wooden boats to get to a hunting spot. We shivered in sub-freezing conditions. We waded in frozen timber and frequently managed to get into water that was deeper than our hip boots protected us from. A lot of the boots we had back then weren’t insulated so our feet got very cold. We didn’t have good gloves, mostly we wore those brown jersey gloves.

Danny recalled that we believed if we overturned our boat during those ice-breaking forays, we could just climb back in and be okay. “We didn’t know about hypothermia back then,” he has said more than once.

I think it goes beyond not knowing. Because we assumed we could handle all the freezing that nature threw our way, hypothermia simply didn’t exist. If you didn’t put a name to it, it wasn’t real.

Today, they probably have hypothermologists to take care of reckless duck hunters. Name it and there will be a medical specialty to treat it.

Based on results of a very recent X-ray, the good folks at the Veterans Administration clinic in Paducah want me to get some physical therapy. I guess I’ll be seeing a physical therapologist. Is there such a thing? If not, there should be.

I’m about ready to stay away from all these ologists, wait maybe a thousand years and then spend my time with an archeologist.

Not here for a sex change


December 12, 2016


          I started to walk away. Having prostate surgery is one thing, changing sexes is a whole nother thing entirely.

          Going into the “Male Waiting Room” and seeing two doors, one labeled “Changing 1” and the other labeled “Changing 2,” was intimidating. I preferred remaining male.

          I’ll try to tell the story coherently.

          Let’s see. I think it started with a plan to remove my thyroid gland to see if the parathyroids would then become visible so they could be removed. Forget the thyroid stuff, change it to a heart catheterization and the reaming-out of a couple of stents that had been placed in the artery in 2008.

          Let’s not stop there. Add to it a scraped or pinched nerve, or a hematoma resulting from the heart procedure, and a right leg pretty much useless from the knee down for a period of a few months.

          And, insert somewhere into all of those a CT scan that showed an enlarged prostate and swollen or enlarged adrenal glands, and there you have at least the first part of the story.

          Being less than happy with the aforementioned circumstances, I vowed to forgo any future visits to the health system. (Why did it have to become a health system? I think I liked it better when it was just a hospital.) Instead, I decided to use my veteran’s benefits and get non-routine care through the Veterans Administration.

          So, I took myself, including my prostate, to the VA in Marion and talked with a urologist there. He discovered that the prostate was five or six times a normal size, but, because of some risk factors, the surgery could not be done at Marion.

          I was given a “consult” which put me back into the same health system I had vowed to ignore.

          But the referral was to someone who appears to be a competent urologist, who wants to run his own tests before doing any type of surgery so I decided to go along with it. His office scheduled a CT scan (with contrast) for me this morning.

          And that brings us up to today.

          In preparation for a check-in time of 7:15 a.m. – damn that’s early – I had to mix a bottle of contrast with a liter of liquid (no coffee, tea or milk, but sodas and juices and water are authorized) and drink it beginning at 5:45 a.m.

          I made it from Monkey’s Eyebrow to the Baptist Imaging Center in time for the appointment, even after having to stop along the way because the contrast acts as a laxative for some folks, but we won’t get into the clean-up procedure. Eventually I was ushered into that frightening Male Waiting Room with the doors where changes are made. A man wearing a hospital gown happened to walk into one of them. Sigh of relief. They’re for changing clothes, not sexes.

          I was called into a laboratory space where an IV was inserted. I asked why I needed that one as I already had consumed contrast, and the man explained that there are two kinds of contrast. The one taken by mouth with a liter of liquid is to highlight organs, and the one given by IV is to highlight blood vessels and urinary tract.

          All IVed up like a lamb – you know the song, mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat IV – I was ready to lie on the narrow bed of the CT machine for the few minutes it takes to do a scan. That was smooth and painless.

          I guess I’ll hear about the results of the scan when I go back to the urologist on Thursday. Meanwhile, I’m relieved to walk out the same sex as when I walked in.

Onion sex inhibitor


November 14, 2016


It’s next to impossible for aging people to have a love life during the cold months because of what I call onion sex, or perhaps more accurately, onion sex inhibitor.

You’ve probably never heard of that. I just made it up.

For some reason, as we get older we are less able to endure the cold weather, so we put on multiple layers of clothing.

On the rare occasion that passion strikes, by the time we peel off the layers – like the layers of an onion – we’ve gotten out of the mood, or sometimes all the effort just wore us out.

Can a dead person vote or run for office?


November 2, 2016


Sometimes, you just let yourself get silly.

The cast of characters in this silly exchange on Facebook includes Keith Lawrence, Tom Ryan and me.

Keith and Tom also grew up in Wickliffe. Keith became and remains one of Kentucky’s leading lights in the field of journalism. Tom retired from his position as associate professor at Jackson State Community College, where he inspired and instructed eager would-be accountants. I live in Monkey’s Eyebrow.

Keith started it with a Facebook post this morning., “Why should dead people lose their right to vote?”

Several of his loyal followers jumped in with comments, as did I.

I wrote, well, mostly this is what I wrote along with some added words: According to some amendment in the Constitution, I think number 35, “No person, living or in any other state of existence, who otherwise is qualified to cast a ballot in any local, state or national election, shall be denied the right to vote because of race, sex, creed, religious beliefs or lack thereof, country of origin, color of hair, state of life, including state of death, forthwith and henceforth. Nor shall such person, or the remains thereof, be required to present a driver’s license as a condition ipso facto secundum, prior to casting his or her vote. Go therefor and cast your vote upon the water.”

Tom Ryan jumped in, “Joe, can a dead person be elected president? Same for the Congress?”

I was driving. My first hurried response, tapped out after I pulled over for a minute, was, “Precedent is that some brain-dead folks have held those offices.”

When I had time to pull into a paved parking lot, I expanded on that answer: “No candidate for President or Congress, who has completed all steps necessary to run for office, shall be disqualified by death, insofar as expiration of life occurred no more than thirty (30) days prior to the election, inclusive and exclusive. Any loss of the status of being alive occurring more than thirty (30) days prior to the date of the election shall be deemed to be a disqualifying intervening event; provided however that if it can be demonstrated that said loss of life would not influence the candidate’s vote on any issue, the presumption of disqualification shall be overcome and deemed not to apply. In God We Trust, E Pluribus Unum, and Et Tu Brute.” That is from a six to three (6-3) Supreme Court decision.

        Maybe it’s the upcoming election. It’s driving everyone crazy.

Some like it hot … or at least room temperature


October 22, 2016


I had to fast for 12 hours before having blood drawn in Paducah yesterday morning, prior to next week’s appointment with the doctor.

Afterward, I decided to treat myself to pecan pancakes at Cracker Barrel. Usually I order the restaurant’s Sunrise Sampler breakfast which has biscuits and gravy; a piece each of ham, sausage and bacon; choice of eggs (my choice being no eggs because I have a psychological inability to eat them); baked apples, grits, and I think that’s all. And I usually have them give me a side order of biscuits and red-eye gravy. I know, I know, get off my back. That’s not a meal that should be ordered by, much less eaten by, an overweight type 2 diabetic with high cholesterol and two stents in one of his arteries. Or maybe they are in a vein; I can’t remember and I guess it’s not important that I remember because the stents and my heart know where they are. And I guess the doctor does too. But I order the meal anyway, and I eat it, and it’s damn good, but I don’t do that very often.

I like the breakfasts at Cracker Barrel. But the fine folks there do one thing that some other restaurants do, and I’ll get it off my chest right here and now.

If you’re going to serve butter, or even some chemical concoction that looks a little like butter, let it get a little warmer first.

Cracker Barrel pancakes are served with a scoop of butter or chemical atop them and that butter must have come directly from the freezer. If you expect it to melt onto the pancakes, be prepared to sit there long enough for the pancakes to cool off while the butter warms up.

The butter for biscuits comes in a little package that holds something less than one pat, and you try to find a corner so you can rip off the top of the package that had been sitting beside the bulk butter in the freezer. It’s almost a pointless task because there’s not enough butter inside for even the bottom half of a biscuit.

I like my butter or chemical to be at room temperature like I serve it here at Monkey’s Eyebrow so it can spread smooooothly. Not liquid like the rancid oil they call butter they squirt on popcorn at a movie theater, but smoooooth. You know what I mean.

The corporations must prove identity too


September 26, 2016


I got mail today in my mailbox beside Monkey’s Eyebrow Road from a company that claimed it was gathering information on behalf of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield. I have not heard of the company and I have no contractual relationship with it.

My health insurance is with the Federal Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, which is administered in Kentucky by Anthem. My insurance card says Blue Cross. Blue Shield. Federal Employee Program. In small print on the back of the card it says Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield – Kentucky. An independent licensee of the BlueCross and BlueShield Association.

I regard Anthem as a third party, a licensee. When asked about insurance, I always say Federal Blue Cross.

Nowhere on my card is a mention of a company by the name of Meridian Resource Company, which is the name on the mail I received.

I don’t deal with unknown companies, so I called the BCBS number on my insurance card.

After what felt like an interminable process of touching buttons to report my insurance number, the birthday of my daughter Bella, my zip code, whether I am a provider or a member, etc., and to press zero if I want to speak to a human being (who could be homo sapiens or homo lessthansapiens), I had to listen to music while a recorded voice periodically interrupted to tell me that all agents were busy but someone eventually would take my call. A voice that I think was human finally answered and asked how he could help. I don’t know why they ask that question; they know they won’t do anything without more information.

I told him that I had received the mail and did not know if it was a scam, but it didn’t matter because I don’t deal with unknown companies, even ones who claim to be fourth parties. Then he started asking for more information – my birthday, phone number, etc. – and I told him I was tired of answering questions so I was going to hang up, which I did.

The phone rang about 15 minutes later and it was a voice that sounded like the voice of the man to whom I spoke earlier. I asked him what his birthday was, and he said he couldn’t give out that information. I told him that in that case, I couldn’t talk to him, goodbye. And I hung up.

Damn these bureaucracies, whether governmental or corporate.

They demand all types of information, yet if they call they refuse to provide any. Why do they expect us to believe they are who they say they are when they demand proof of who we are?

For the protection of my privacy and my money, I want to be able to ask their birthdays and addresses and phone numbers and social security numbers. And if they say they can’t provide proof, to hell with them!

Poetry? How can you tell?


September 24, 2016


          Many people say they write poetry, and some even go so far as to claim that they are poets. Maybe they are. But I have trouble recognizing poetry these days.

          Starting in Wickliffe Elementary School, and maybe in Christine Travis’ class there, I loved poetry. Still do, at least some poetry. Somewhere among my books is one with the name One Hundred and One Famous Poems. It has a red velvety cover. I memorized several of the 101. Some of the ones I memorized were quite long, in particular “The Highwayman,” by Alfred Noyes.

          Another of my favorites, going back to when my grandfather was jailer and I was not big enough to read, was “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss. I memorized that one too. A child’s misunderstanding of the words is why I liked that one. The first lines in the second verse are, “Let me live in a house by the side of the road, where the race of men go by.” When someone first read that poem to me I thought it was “where the racer men go by,” and I pictured a bunch of jockeys on horses. Kids my age tend to love horses, so I loved the poem and especially that line.

          Both the aforementioned poems have things in common: They have a strong rhythm (meter) and they rhyme.

          As far as I’m concerned, poetry is best when it has both. If it has neither, it’s not poetry.

          Some so-called poetry consists of lines broken into different lengths, some of them starting at the mid-point of the line above. Poetry my ass. You can’t write a paragraph, then break it into uneven lines and claim it’s a poem. That’s my opinion and you can’t change it, so don’t try.

          So why am I ranting? While in the car yesterday, I listened to Garrison Keillor doing his Writer’s Almanac on public radio. He read what he described as a poem by Connie Wanek. The title is, “The Accordion.” I’m sorry, Garrison, but I didn’t recognize that as poetry. It sounded like you were reading a short story. For those sufficiently interested, here’s a link to it on the September 24 show:

          How easy it is to call something poetry.

          I decided to demonstrate that point by taking the opening lines of James Lee Burke’s recent novel, “House of the Rising Sun,” and alter them by adding line breaks. Here is how they appear at the beginning of the book: 

“THE SUN HAD just crested on the horizon like a misplaced planet, swollen and molten and red, lighting a landscape that seemed sculpted out of clay and soft stone and marked by the fossilized tracks of animals with no names, when a tall barefoot man wearing little more than rags dropped his horse’s reins and eased himself off the horse’s back and worked his way down an embankment into a riverbed chained with pools of water that glimmered as brightly as blood in the sunrise. The sand was the color of cinnamon and spiked with green grass and felt cool on his feet, even though they were bruised and threaded with lesions that were probably infected. He got to his knees and wiped the bugs off the water and cupped it to his mouth with both hands, then washed his face in it and pushed his long hair out of his eyes. His skin was striped with dirt, his trousers streaked with salt from the dried sweat of the horse.”

Now, a poem

          So, following my points above, let’s call Mr. Burke a poet instead of a novelist, and call this a poem by hitting the “enter” button several times and indenting some of the lines. (This probably isn’t fair because Burke is a wizard with words and his novels may be extremely long poems.) Here we go:

THE SUN HAD just crested on the horizon

like a misplaced planet,

swollen and molten and red, lighting a landscape

that seemed sculpted out of clay and soft stone

and marked by the fossilized tracks of animals with no names,

when a tall barefoot man

wearing little more than rags

dropped his horse’s reins and eased himself off the horse’s back

and worked his way down an embankment

into a riverbed chained with pools of water

that glimmered as brightly as blood in the sunrise.

The sand was the color of cinnamon

and spiked with green grass

and felt cool on his feet, even though they were bruised

and threaded with lesions that were probably infected.

 He got to his knees

and wiped the bugs off the water

and cupped it to his mouth with both hands,

then washed his face in it

and pushed his long hair out of his eyes. His skin

was striped with dirt,

his trousers streaked with salt

from the dried sweat of the horse.

This one is better

          As I read it, I like it better than “The Accordion.”

          Here’s my question: Is it part of a novel or is it a poem?

You can hardly tell the difference


September 1, 2016


By swapping just one damp letter for another you convert an erection to an election.

As far as the former is concerned, advertising promises but seldom delivers one that lasts four hours. I don’t think a four-hour one has ever been reported in Monkey’s Eyebrow. At Joe’s Place, one every four years is probably worth asking a Donald Trump writer to put some words together for a press conference.

And even if a one-sixth-of-a-day one is delivered, it comes with the command that you must seek medical attention. That’s kind of surprising because most men would see that as a wonderful sign of great health.

The latter, however, never seems to end. The next campaign starts immediately after or even before the victor is declared, which prompts the opposing party to announce its plans to totally obstruct the term of office of the winner.

Both parties (okay, I know there are more than two but for now only two have a real shot at winning an election) don’t even wait for swearing-in day; nothing hates a vacuum as much as an election and the campaign leading up to it.

The election process generates plenty of anger and misinformation but no warning, yet its results can be far more hazardous to your health and they inevitably last for more than four hours. Don’t you think elections should come with some kind of warning too?

(And in the former there's a chance someone may get screwed but in the latter someone always gets screwed.)

Erection. Election. I can hardly (pun?) tell the difference.

Oh, did you notice my reference in the first sentence to “damp letter”?

I did that for you people who love language and sounds and grammar. In the English language, letters R and L are known as “liquid consonants.” I’m not going to explain that. Look it up. You’ve got to do some of the work for yourself.

Who is that youngster ... er, that old man?

As long as he can remember!

August 23, 2016

Willie Garner wrote a very complimentary – probably unjustifiably complimentary – review on Facebook of my book. Here’s what he wrote:

“To all my Ballard County friends. I finished a book last night that brought back a lot of fond memories of my childhood. The title is ‘Characters by the Bushel. My Love Affair with Monkey's Eyebrow.’ Written by Joe Culver. I admit that I am not acquainted with Mr. Culver personally, but have heard of him for as long as I can remember. This series of essays brought back many fond memories from my childhood, and caused this old, crusty curmudgeon to laugh uncontrollably.  If you haven't read this book, I highly recommend you do so. You can purchase through Amazon. Thank you Joe Culver for the stories you wrote and to remind me of so many acquaintances from my childhood.”

Wow! What an amazing review. But wait a minute.

“…but have heard of him for as long as I can remember.”

Surely he is thinking about some old man. That can’t be me. As long as he can remember?… Hey Willie, it was only a few years ago that I got out of high school. Why, I had a birthday just a couple of days ago and I became only … only … only 73!

That can’t be right can it! What happened to those years between 18 and … gulp … 73?

Maybe “as long as I can remember” is right after all.

“Keeping up” along the aging way


August 19, 2016


Here’s one way to mark the changes as men age. (Today being when I became 73 years old is probably why I thought of this.)

In the later elementary grades, we sat in those school chairs with the arm on the right that extended into a writing desk, hoping hoping hoping the teacher wouldn’t call us up front to write on the blackboard because we had perpetual erections.

In the later years when we become a whole different kind of senior, we take Viagra hoping hoping hoping to achieve an erection, especially one that lasts four hours or more.

What was the message?


August 16, 2016


I just read a story in the Local/State Briefs panel in today’s Paducah Sun newspaper about a Bowling Green, Ky., man who tried to stab his father to death during a service last Sunday at a Baptist church in Bowling Green.

According to the story, the 21-years-old man told officers he was “moved by the message” before the attack. Apparently he pulled out his pocket knife and stabbed his father in the throat, trying to cut his jugular vein.

It doesn’t say what the message was. Maybe Abraham and Isaac, and maybe the man can claim self-defense.

Watching news and shaking my head


August 12, 2016


          I was watching campaign discussion on TV tonight and was reminded anew why I am so disappointed in the big-time reporters, columnists, analysts, and the other expert opinion proclaimers that want to influence us and sway our thinking.

          My disappointment stems as much from listening to those in the spoken media – radio and TV – as in the written media: Newspapers, magazines, bloggers.

          How can such people, who should be so articulate, be such stumbling, bumbling speakers?

          They hem and haw. They throw in “I mean” and “you know” with approximately the same frequency as athletes.

          It is hard for me to take them seriously. If they have to struggle so much to speak a paragraph, do they have to struggle equally to generate a reasonably cohesive thought?

          I think some of them seem intelligent when I read their words. I think most of them sound much less than intelligent when they have to speak extemporaneously.

          The radio and TV types do very well when they are reading scripts. Of course, politicians who speak by reading teleprompters or who have memorized the words others have written seem to know their business, too. But listen to them when they are asked a question that requires them to go off-script.

          People here in Monkey’s Eyebrow and its suburbs speaker better than many of the professional talkers.

          Did I read something one time about the dumbing down of America?

What kind of weasel is that?


August 11, 2016


I have written several times about my perception that some news outlets use inappropriate “weasel words.” (I casually define weasel words as “cover-your-ass words. They are words reporters throw in to help defend against libel suits.) In some cases, the addition of one of those words produces a false statement.

A story in today’s Paducah Sun newspaper contains what I will call a double weasel (you’ve heard of double negatives) to make it redundantly clear that it is not the paper making accusations.

Here’s the second paragraph of the story about two men having been arrested on drug charges after a traffic stop:

“According to the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department, deputies stopped a 2002 Ford pickup on Interstate 24 after they allegedly noticed a passenger in the vehicle consuming an alcoholic beverage.”

So, you ask, “Where is the double weasel?”

“According to” is one and “allegedly” is the other. Both are used to make it clear that the officers, not the newspaper, made the accusation. But … the second one is not needed and actually is false.

Here’s why it’s false: Let’s examine my fictional version of the police report on this incident.

“We were proceeding in a routine manner well within the speed limit eastbound on Interstate 24 when we allegedly noticed a passenger in the vehicle consuming an alcoholic beverage.”

Do you see what’s wrong? The police would not have written “allegedly” into the report. The reporter lied. The reporter could have written, “According to the McCracken County Sheriff’s Department, deputies stopped a 2002 Ford pickup on Interstate 24 after they noticed a passenger in the vehicle consuming an alcoholic beverage.” That makes it clear they are reporting what the police alleged.

The reporter could have made it a triple weasel (is that a figure-skating routine?) by writing “…consuming an allegedly alcoholic beverage.”

We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds


August 7, 2016


There’s a story in today’s Paducah Sun about a Kevil teenager being arrested after leading police on a 30-mile chase. Kevil is in Ballard County. I think it’s a suburb of Monkey’s Eyebrow.

Here’s the second paragraph:

“Troopers said they were in the area investigating a vehicle stolen out of Tennessee when they observed a suspicious car traveling on U.S. 60. They tried to stop the Blue Toyota Avalon.”

Tell me, please, what in the hell is a suspicious car.

My guess is that any car with Texas tags, especially if it’s driven by someone who looks Hispanic, would be regarded as suspicious. We all know that those Texas cars probably are loaded with drugs.

This one, because it was driven by a white person and it probably had Kentucky plates, must have been suspicious for another reason. Maybe it had a Hillary Clinton bumper sticker.

A political statement I can support


August 1, 2016


In today’s Paducah Sun, there’s a story about the feud between political parties related to the death of an army captain killed in Iraq. He was of the Muslim faith.

The American captain’s family, many members of the Democratic Party, and the party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, have condemned remarks by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Candidate Trump has stood by his remarks and many Republicans have ignored demands that they denounce him.

According to the Associated Press story in today’s paper, candidate Clinton told Republicans on Sunday, “This is a time to pick country over party.”

I endorse her statement, but probably not the meaning she intended to convey.

I think the statement applies to both major parties. Frankly, I’m unhappy with both of them. I think whichever party we back, we’re supporting rich over poor and middle class, corporations over people, war over peace, and status quo over meaningful change.

To be or not to be registered in a party


July 30, 2016


I registered to vote as a Democrat in 1961. I continue to be a registered Democrat but I’m thinking of changing my status to Independent. Most folks around Monkey’s Eyebrow and the county it anchors are registered as Democrats, even though many of them align more closely with the Republican Party in their political leanings.

I am made increasingly uncomfortable by the political system, which, in my opinion, notices me only when it’s time to send e-mails asking for money or when an election is approaching. I barely have enough money to take care of my needs; I certainly don’t have enough to influence any candidate. Some people have bundles of money. Which of us is likely to have any influence over policies?

I’m not sure that my vote has any meaning. Revelations and accusations about how voting is manipulated make me leery of the process before I vote and then I wonder what happened to my vote after I cast it.

There is seldom a confluence of politics and honesty.

And whom do I vote for? Not necessarily the candidate of my choice but a candidate that one of the major parties has chosen to be on the ballot. That should be okay because, in theory at least, the members of the parties had a selection process that allowed them to pick their preferred candidate. But then I remind myself that the parties are private organizations and they can change the processes at will. In Kentucky, for instance, the Republican Party changed the process to determine how to allocate its presidential nominating votes; the party did it so that Rand Paul could run for president and senate at the same time. Instead of having a primary, the party had a caucus. This was a way around Kentucky election rules that allow a candidate’s name to appear only once on a ballot.

But let’s speculate that the primary and caucus process produces the candidate that party members actually want. Really? Certainly at the national election, we tend to be influenced by what the candidates say about how they feel about issues. But the words they say are carefully crafted by professionals. Are we voting for the candidate or for the candidate’s writers? Even gestures are carefully planned. For instance, do you actually believe that Hillary Clinton’s “thumbs-up” gestures are spontaneous movements? I find it worth noting that her husband, who remains a very popular Democrat, used that very gesture almost as a trademark. Mrs. Clinton, who has very high unfavorable ratings, seems to be trying to delude voters into believing that they will be voting for Bill’s third term.

If I want the aroma of what the politicians and their writers promise (actually they rarely promise anything, they just weasel around and make it sound like they care about us), I’ll drive to where some good Ballard County folks have dairy cows or beef cattle. The smell there is similar, but more honest.

One of the pundits on evening TV pointed out a few weeks ago that in a normal election cycle, neither of the party’s chosen candidates would have a chance. Both have high negative unfavorable ratings. By the way, my personal opinion is that Donald Trump should rank pretty high on the demented scale.

So, if we vote, we have a choice between two candidates whom most people don’t favor. Oh sure, there are others on the ballot and we can even write in a name, but doing that has no effect on the election or on the parties.

People will say to vote for this candidate or that candidate and often they say to do so because the other one would be a disaster. So, we are left with a choice between bad or worse. I don’t want that kind of choice. I expect the parties to offer a choice between good and better, or even between better and best.

So, what are the consequences of deciding to flip the bird at both major parties by registering as an independent voter?

In Kentucky, that means I would not be able to vote in the primary. I would not bemoan that loss because I no longer believe that my vote is worth anything in national elections. I effectively would not be able to help pick candidates for local elections because here in Monkey’s Eyebrow, the intellectual center of Ballard County, the Democratic Party dominates local elections. Much of the time there is no Republican candidate, which means that the Democratic Party primary effectively determines who will hold the respective offices. There are exceptions, but they are rare.

I would still be able to vote in general elections. That would not count for much in local elections if offices are uncontested, but usually there are contested races for regional, state and national offices. Maybe my vote would count for something there, maybe not.

I’m pretty sure my vote would mean something if I could wrap it in a million dollar donation. But the best I could do is tape a quarter to it and that won’t even buy a cup of coffee, certainly not any influence on what laws are passed.

A matter of timing


July 28, 2016


There’s a story in today’s Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel about a man being released from incarceration:

“A state appellate court is setting free a Morristown man deemed criminally insane 26 years ago because he believed Jesus commanded him to slaughter his father and stepmother.”

He heard voices a few thousand years too late.

If he had done it a few thousand years earlier, he could have become a book in the Bible.

Loyalty at what price?


July 22, 2016


We had one of those one-second power outages this afternoon. Usually that's what we get when we have a loss of power here at Monkey’s Eyebrow.

I noticed that my printer's "alarm" light was on and the message panel displayed that I had a B200 error.

I called Canon. To the company’s credit, it has a tech support group I can understand.

I've had to call two or three times before. They always have me do the same thing: unplug the printer, push the "stop" button a few times or the on/off button. Plug it back in. That usually works. It didn't work today.

The tech support guy said I need to get a replacement printer, but not to worry because they have some sales and a loyalty program with some great prices for replacement units, so he would transfer me.

The loyalty program guy told me that the replacement unit for the printer was an MX922 and he gave me the discount/loyalty price. While he was telling me about that model, I looked it up online and saw that I could buy the same printer from someone other than Canon for about $25 less than the price Canon quoted.

I told him that wasn't much of a display of loyalty. He seemed to think I was foolish for my lack of willingness to be a loyal customer who would pay Canon more for the unit than I could buy it elsewhere. He mentioned the peace of mind I would enjoy because of buying directly from Canon; I thought about the piece of wallet Canon would enjoy.

I opined that I thought loyalty was a two-way street: Canon would reward me for my loyalty with a lower price than I could get elsewhere and I would therefore continue to buy Canon products.

I told him I was disappointed that Canon's loyalty program was that customers should bend over and let Canon shove the product up .... Well, you get the idea.

He said I didn't need to talk like that and I said Canon didn't need to have a loyalty program like that.

I'll buy a different brand that does the same stuff for a lower price. I may wait until one of those home shopping channels is selling printers.

What’s wrong with health care?


July 14, 2016


          Here’s a tough question.

As they say on stupid quizzes on Facebook, ninety-five per cent of you will get this wrong. Or 87 per cent will not repost this … as if reposting that crap will have any effect on anything.

          I visited a specialist today and while waiting for him to show up I came up with the answer. Actually the answers. More than one.

          First part of the answers is: The health care profession is a business. What’s the focus of the business? Profit. That’s what. Profit is the focus of all businesses.

          When you go to your doctor’s office, you will see more notes posted on the glass panels and walls about payment than about health care: “Payment is due before service is rendered.” “You must know what services your insurance covers. We won’t tell you.” “We no longer give monthly samples of medicine. If you can’t afford it we’ll help you fill out a form to get payment assistance. If your request is rejected, tough shit.”

          Doctors must earn generous compensation for their service and for all the years they spent in school and in the poverty and stress of being an intern. I find no fault with that. Most complaints about our doctors have to do with long time spent on our asses in waiting rooms, and with the interactions with check-in staff and the billing departments. Doctors must have too many patients in order to make a good living, especially with the payment restrictions of Medicare, Medicaid and most private insurances. Also, there are lots of people wanting to see doctors, especially the good ones.

          Here’s Part B: My primary care physician knows me and spends quite a bit of time with me. We talk. And he’s very good. Specialists have too many patients and commitments to sit and talk. They always seem rushed. They look at their watches. They don’t seem to listen. “How do you feel?” “I feel awful, and I probably won’t live out the week.” “Okay, that’s great, come back in a year if you’re still alive.”

          Most of us don’t see specialists often enough to establish a relationship. If they are surgical specialists, they want to operate. That lint in your navel probably requires abdominal surgery.

          Now for Part C: Most of the specialists to whom you are referred are employees of the hospital in whose medical buildings they practice. I don’t trust that. Are they loyal to me or to the hospital that writes their checks? Some hospitals won’t let specialists who are not part of the hospital payroll see patients there.

          Finally, Part D: Hospitals and medical buildings or pavilions or whatever they call them are too damn big.

          The specialist I saw today is an employee of and has office space in Baptist Health Systems in Paducah. Used to be Western Baptist Hospital, but hospital is too trivial a name for these humongous health systems.

          I guess I feel healthier walking into a health system than into a hospital. If I go to a hospital I must be really sick. Not necessarily so sick in a health system.

          I walked around in two or three wrong buildings before I found his office.

          They need to start issuing Garmins at the door to help patients find the right place to go.

Thoughts while taking a shower


July 7, 2016


Various places in the bathroom are conducive to the thinking of odd thoughts. The shower/bathtub is one of them. There are others, or at least one other, but I won’t mention it this morning.

Three things that occupied my mind this morning as I showered.

  1. Don’t shower during a storm. This is mostly for folks who live in the country. It has nothing to do with getting crispy toasted by a bolt of lightning. This rule is because the power often goes out during storms and country folks who have wells lose their water when the power goes out. That’s awkward when you’re covered with soap suds and your hair is bubbling from the shampoo.

  2. I need to look around and see if anyone makes shower curtains that have a long section that fits over the transfer bench I’ve been using ever since my right leg got messed up during a heart cath procedure. Not that huge puddles form on the bathroom floor, but there is some leakage. I think the leakage is from the shower and not from me.

  3. Now I have absolutely no idea where this one came from: Do any of you remember the song (and even the dance), “The Hucklebuck”? I started humming that song in the shower and thinking the words while humming. I remember it probably from back in the very late ’40s to perhaps the early ’50s. It may have been featured on that TV show, sponsored I believe by Lucky Strike cigarettes, “Your Hit Parade.” (Anyone remember the folks who sang on that show? Snooky Lanson, Dorothy Collins, Russell Arms, Gisele MacKenzie.) According to Wikipedia, “The Hucklebuck (sometimes written The Huckle-Buck) is a jazz and R&B dance tune first popularized by Paul Williams and his Hucklebuckers in 1949. The song became a crossover hit and a dance craze, in many ways foreshadowing the popular success of rock and roll a few years later. It was successfully recorded by many other musicians including Lucky Millinder, Roy Milton, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Chubby Checker, Bo Diddley, Otis Redding, Canned Heat and Coast to Coast.”

And those are my shower thoughts for the day.

So, what is normal?


July 10, 2016


I had occasion to call my credit card company this afternoon. A recorded message answered, telling me, “We are experiencing higher than normal call volume. Your estimated wait time is four to six minutes.”

Did you ever call a business and get a message like that?

Okay, here’s my question. Some companies use that type of answer as their standard recorded message.

How long does “higher than normal” last? For instance, if you had been receiving 50 calls a day but over the last several months or years you are getting 75 calls a day, doesn’t that mean that 75 is now the normal volume of calls?

In other words, stop using that as an excuse for inadequate customer service.

And I know that was the credit card company’s standard message because an agent answered immediately after the message played.

Elvis Never Said “Think You Very Much”


July 2009


Have we changed the way we pronounce some of the letters, has the toning down of regional accents produced new sounds (if y’all know the answer, please tell me), or is it just that dotage is playing evil games with my hearing?

I had to go to the bank the other day because I couldn’t find my bank card. I think I probably left it in an ATM the night before. Is that another sign of slippage?

The very nice lady at the bank was efficient and soon handed me a new card. I thanked her, using an appropriately southern drawn-out long A sound: Thaaank you.

She responded not quite in kind. It sounded like she said, “Think you.”

I realized when she said it that I’ve heard many other people express their appreciation by thinking me or whomever it was who did something to be thinked for. But on those other times I didn’t made a note to remind me to write about it.

Maybe thinking people is a phenomenon of youngspeak, that destruction of language by our youth which started with those attractive-but-inarticulate young people in California who munch on kiwi fruits and mispronounce words. It grew virally into a pandemic fueled by text messages, the rules of which apparently require that no word be spelled completely or accurately.

But the bank lady, who was sufficiently attractive that she may have moved from California – and now that I think about it she almost certainly did move from somewhere else because she had all her own teeth – was not a young person in the age range that we normally associate with young people. She was probably in her 30s or early 40s (still is, as a matter of fact, which makes we wonder why I used “was” in this sentence), but whatever her age and point of origin, I’m pretty sure she thinked me.

I’m thinkful that my hearing is getting worse so that I don’t have to hear all the other pronunciation decline.

I also notice more people talking too fast. In Ballard County when we were growing up, people weren’t so rushed that they couldn’t take their time to say a sentence at a relaxing pace that didn’t set the listener’s nerves ajar.

There was no need to rush. We didn’t have fax machines and cell phones and instant messages where everything has to be said and done right now. We could actually wait for a letter to be written at point A and be delivered to us days later at point B. We could give a few minutes for a peaceful sentence to be said.

Everything happens so immediately today that I guess people don’t have time to talk.

More than once I’ve told someone, “Please slow down. You’re speaking faster than I can hear.”

Speaking of cell phones, I’ve said before and maybe written here before that we don’t have to worry about government or anyone else taking away our right to privacy.

Nope, we’re giving it away. It amazes and disturbs me how many people, and not just young people, will have very personal conversations in public over those cell phones. And everyone can hear those conversations because for some reason we talk louder when we talk on a cell phone, probably not trusting the handheld device to deliver the message without some extra oomph on our parts. Hey people out there, if you’re reading this, be informed: I don’t want to hear your phone calls.

Why is it happening? Why do what should be private and personal discussions become public soliloquies?

When our society crumbles, if there are any sociologists or anthropologists who survive, they will be able to trace the downfall to the advent of cell phones, just as Sonny Robinson of Dayton, Tenn., in a conversation with me some 30 years ago declared that we could trace the beginning of the downfall of our economic system to the day when bankers began wearing polyester suits.

What about a Fortunate Accident?


June 8, 2007


Yesterday (today being the day I’m writing this) I got a call on my cell phone. The screen said the caller’s ID was unavailable.

I don’t dodge calls so I answered anyway.

Turns out the call was from a representative of a financial company with which I’ve done business. The caller read from a script.

After the first sentence, it was obvious this person had intruded into my cell phone in order to sell me some type of insurance that would pay all my bills.

She was telling what it would do for me. She started a sentence, “If you should meet with an unfortunate accident, God forbid, this will ….”

I interrupted.

But first ... have you noticed that when anyone says “God forbid,” he or she is trying to sell you something? It might be a product, or it might be merely a point of view. But it is a sales pitch.

“If ‘something should happen to you,’ God forbid ….” Two things stand out in that pitch. One is that the salesperson is avoiding the concept that you might die. “If something should happen to you” is avoidance talk for “When you die.” Second, it’s a sales pitch. “God forbid” always is a sales pitch.

Now, back to the story:

“But what happens if I meet with a fortunate accident?” I asked her.

“What do you mean?” she stammered.

“Well,” I said, “you were about to tell me what I would get if I should have an unfortunate accident. I want to know if I also receive benefits if I have a fortunate accident.”

“I don’t understand what a ‘fortunate’ accident’ is,” she said.

“Well, I’m not sure I do either,” I continued, “but you said that whatever you’re trying to sell me applies to an ‘unfortunate’ accident, God forbid. When you use an adjective in that way, it’s because you’re singling out a particular type of event that’s covered. That implies that the opposite kind of event might not be covered. For instance, if you offered insurance that covers ‘natural death,’ it would be reasonable for me to assume that it does not cover ‘unnatural death.’ Therefore, when you start out talking about an unfortunate accident, I can only conclude that the fine print contains exclusions so that if I should have a fortunate accident, you would try to get out of paying for anything.

“Now that I understand that you’re trying to cheat me out of benefits before we even do business, I don’t want to talk to you any longer.”

And I hung up

When you don’t call your own shots


May 3, 2019


Addiction must be a terrible thing.

That statement represents an assumption. I’ve never been addicted, so I don’t know firsthand how difficult, how almost impossible it is to sever the bonds between a person and a substance.

I have, however, seen and lived through direct evidence of the toll on a person when a substance is calling the shots. The person isn’t making the decisions, the substance is making them.

I have two sons in the Ballard County jail. One has a problem with alcohol, the other with drugs. I have a daughter who has struggled with drug issues for a few years, but it seems that she finally is on the right path after a year-long residential treatment program. I’m proud of her for the turn-around. I have another child who has had problems stemming from drugs. And I learned recently about a half-brother of whom I was unaware, who also got into drugs and apparently couldn’t get out.

Regionally, it doesn’t help that we suffer from druganoia (that’s mixing the word “drug” with the word “paranoia”). We may have good reason for it. It seems that almost every day we read in the local paper about someone being arrested for possession or manufacture of crystal meth. I can’t tell if our authorities look upon use as being the equivalent of making the drug and making a living selling it.

I do see two aspects of the drug trade – and I include in that term “trade” the manufacture, distribution, sale, and use, along with the law enforcement – that bother me.

One is that, in my opinion, it encourages police officers to create reasons to stop vehicles they suspect of containing drugs, reasons such as failure to signal a lane change. How many times have drivers failed to signal a lane change in the view of a police officer but weren’t pulled over? How many other such offenses are used as excuses? We read about the times drugs are found and we see those really awful mugshots of the people who were arrested. How many of those types of stops do we not read about because the officer didn’t find any drugs?

The second is that the reaction to drug use frequently is to jail the offender. Jail doesn’t treat the addiction. An addict can be in jail for a year, two years, and still have the craving for that to which he or she is addicted.

Which brings me to my son’s appearance in court this morning. He had filed a motion written by pencil on a sheet of notebook paper asking for shock probation. I’m not sure what falls under the term of shock probation, but he had been in touch with Emily Garrison, the alternative sentencing worker in the Department of Public Advocacy in Paducah. Ms. Garrison is the most responsive state employee I’ve encountered, by the way. Without a couple of days, she had found a faith-based, long-term (one year as a resident) rehab program which agreed to hold a bed for my son. I believe that would have been the best opportunity he’s had to sever that bond with addiction. I sat in the courtroom in an optimistic mood.

My optimism was unwarranted. The focus was on my son’s record, not on the opportunity he had to escape the jail environment and perhaps reach his potential as a productive free member of society. Perhaps. No guarantee, I concede. The several certificates he had earned for programs he completed to help prepare him for success outside of incarceration carried no weight. The letters from officials who were impressed with his efforts to change didn’t amount to a hill of bean. I deliberately wrote “bean” instead of the plural “beans.” The past overwhelmed the possible future. I guess that’s not a surprise. The past is a fact, while the future is only a possibility.

I was surprised that the commonwealth attorney was not prosecuting. I asked someone to tell me who the woman prosecutor was. It turns out she was the commonwealth attorney’s wife, who is the assistant prosecuting attorney. Both appear equally ruthless, wanting the harshest outcome they can get. Must be nice for a family to have two nice state salaries.

I learned today that my son’s unwillingness to waive a right was held against him.

And I learned that a jailer’s spelling error in writing his name also became a negative issue. It became an alias, an alias of the jail’s creation, not his.

Live and learn and weep, I guess.

I am disappointed, but realistically, not surprised.

As long as we cringe in fear over drug use, as long as pot-smoking officers arrest pot-smoking civilians, as long as property seizures enrich law enforcement agencies, as long as local jails are paid to house state prisoners, as long as we prefer incarceration to rehabilitation, that’s how it will be.

I wish we could find a solution that would eliminate the criminal aspects of drug use, that would be a disincentive for organized crime and for trailer-based meth-cooking operations. It should be clear to everyone that our decades-long “War on Drugs” is a war that can’t be won.


Jail costs and funding by inmates


May 5, 2019


Having heard reports that when a jail inmate on a work program goes out to perform work for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the jail gets paid $7.25 an hour per inmate, and the inmate get paid 63 cents a day, I decided to see what I could find online. I don’t know if the amounts I cited above are accurate, but the inherent unfairness of the amounts drove me to see what I could find.

I am going to post links to two reports. One is a story from the New York Times in the year 2000, and the other is a fascinating study of Kentucky jails published in 2005.

I recommend you look at both. The study is very long. You can do what I did: Skim through it and stop at places that interest you.

According to the report, jails are supposed to offer certain programs to inmates. I guess Ballard County got an exemption on that.

I have written about the fact that the Ballard County jail gets 28 per cent of every dollar that is deposited in an inmate’s account which he or she can use to purchase food items and clothing from a company that has a monopoly on inmate supplies.

The study found that the average jail’s profit from the commissary account is more than $35,000 a year.

There is a paragraph related to prisoner work programs that I will quote. The county and state avoid a lot of salaries by using the cheap inmate labor, and that translates into fewer jobs that must be filled by employees who would get salaries and benefits. The paragraph says: “In addition to trash pickup, there are numerous other work activities that save state and county governments millions of dollars each year. Considering the work activities listed below that jail inmates across the state are performing every day, one has to wonder if overcrowded jails with their endless supply of free labor has, for some counties, become sort of an ad hoc community work program ….”

Here are links to the two reports I mentioned:

Don’t they know it’s the end of the world…

With thanks to Skeeter Davis for the title


October 10, 2010


I spend way too much time thinking about things that cannot be resolved by thinking about them.

Here’s this morning’s head-acher.

Many evangelical Christians believe Donald Trump was sent by God to be the U.S. president so he could cause the end of the world, which is something they claim they look forward to. That could be, I suppose, because I think the Bible says that Satan will bring about that worldly ending the evangelicals want, and some people compare Trump to Satan.

I don’t know what the Christians think the end of the world is. I believe it has something to do with Jesus reigning over those who have not been condemned to an eternity in Hell. I think some of them see it as a great reunion of family and friends and neighbors who have been dead for years or centuries.

I have trouble reconciling the apparent Christian joy for the end of the world with what I observe in daily life. Here’s what I mean.

Some Christians hope and pray for the end of the world, which, as far as I can determine, means the end of all life as we know it. That would include their own mortal lives.

Many obituaries these days contain statements that so-and-so has gone to Heaven to be with his dearly departed wife and maybe some of their children and other close relatives and friends who pre-deceased him. That implies a belief that death brings an immediate journey to Heaven. I assume everyone goes to Heaven because I have never seen an obituary that claims so-and-so went to Hell to be with his loved ones.

But many people who profess to be devout Christians post requests on Facebook or they ask their preachers to ask in church for prayers because they have some awful disease, or they are having surgery, and they want to be healed or want the surgery to be successful. That implies, I believe, a desire to put off reunions with those loved ones who are already dead. In other words, they are afraid of the death they talk about in glowing terms when it’s an abstract way to talk about walking on streets of gold.

It seems contradictory to me, but that’s probably because I have a finite mind incapable of pondering infinity or infinities. Can there be plural infinity? Damn! That’s something else that’s going to distract me.


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© Joe W. Culver