Category Archives: Personal

1975

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The early summer mist still blanketed the encircling cotton fields. Grandpa poured me a cup of coffee and then held the screen door open for me to slither through. Instead of sitting on the long porch swing, we both stepped down onto the cut railroad ties in front of the porch and sat. Grandma’s coffee was always hotter than the top of a wood stove. I was expected to respect the dangers of hot coffee. We could hear grandma inside, fussing with the skillet of salt pork, bacon, and sausage. When I was young and with my grandparents, vegetarianism was unimaginable. Later, as Grandma noted my love for vegetables, she filled my plate and bowl relentlessly with corn, mustard greens, and beans of every kind. After a few minutes, the smell of breakfast filled the damp air. All of our stomachs grumbled in anticipation.

Grandpa pointed with his right hand as a reddish grey coyote bounded through the periphery of the cotton field to our left. It stopped in the gravel drive, his head sniffing the air. To me, they all resembled foxes. After a moment, he turned and ran through the mist and across the road. We watched as the mist above him churned to mark his passage.

Grandpa sloshed the remainder of his cup onto the grass and stood up. Just as I stood up, Grandma hollered from the back of the house, “Woolly, come on!” Because of the way she talked, I found it hard to believe that she was calling him Willie; my young ears could not distinguish the subtle difference.

Grandpa shrugged his shoulders and took my cup and sloshed it into the yard, too, indicating we’d better get inside before the call to eat intensified.

Salt pork, sausage patties, bacon, and buttered toast greeted us as we sat at the table. It was Tuesday, but looking back, it was a morning for kings, one of many that summer of 1975. The mist of that early morning over forty years ago still swirls in my mind. I awoke this morning with it fogging my senses.

A Long List of Commentary (Best Read With Cough Syrup)

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I have a foster cat staying with me. It suffers from dyslexia. That’s what the shelter told me, although now that I think about it that sounds a little mixed up.
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I graduated from cooking school, but I’m still a really terrible cook, so my only employment option is to go work at Outback, Red Lobster, Buffalo Wild Wings, or MJ’s pizzeria.
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Also, it’s no accident that MJ’s is located next to a liquor store. Poor choices need immediate relief. *My apologies to those who like MJs as an eatery.
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As I found out this week, say what you will, but one of the best gauges of whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist is your state of mind between the time you get x-rays and you find out the results.
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After my exam, the doctor told me to stop drinking. I told him that I hadn’t been drinking, to which he replied, “Oh, then start immediately.”
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I’m not being snarky. All of us have ‘that’ friend who humblebrags about not drinking soft drinks. But he or she drinks alcohol. (Or smokes). In a recent informal poll, 100% of those questioned about this said, “WTF?” (But never where ‘that’ friend can see them doing so.)
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I was voted “Best Mom” in my knitting group. I’m not sure how to feel about this – and not just because I’m not in a knitting group.
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“No one applauded, though,” he said angrily.

“Well, it was abdominal surgery, Dr. Peters.”
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Best snark I heard yesterday: “Someone with purple hair or press-on nails shouldn’t be telling others how to behave like an adult in public.”

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I really enjoy the elf smoothing filters people are using on Instagram. I like that 19th-century photography and self-delusion have become acquainted.
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Niche and customized marketing are out of hand. After I ordered a coffee pot from Amazon, it arrived. They sent me the one with the ‘not-so-hot’ feature, based on my social profile.
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I returned to Walgreens this morning, which is evidently the adult equivalent of Chuck E. Cheese. A platinum-haired woman in front of me babbled incessantly on her cellphone as the clerk struggled to be polite and assist her. Even though she held the phone to her immense head of hair, I could clearly hear the strange masculine voice from several feet away. What should have been quick and painless stretched out to a couple of minutes. At one point, as the clerk tried to save the woman some money on her cigarette purchase, the cellphone goddess said, “Please don’t interrupt me. I’m talking to my booboy on the phone.” (She was definitely in her late, though well-preserved, forties.) As she walked away, we all shook our heads. “Keep a spray bottle next to the register and just spray them, like a misbehaving cat,” I told the clerk. The clerk, as well as the woman behind me, all laughed. The cellphone goddess turned to look back suspiciously as she passed the security bars on the way out. I think she suspected that we were laughing about her because based on her vinegar-based choice of faces, she was above it all. “Call me,” I pantomimed at her as she left, shaking her head. When I left, I noted she was driving an expensive Hummer, one customized and adorned with vanity plates. She was still on her cellphone, of course. I hope all is well with her booboy, a word I had only seen and never heard until this morning.
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Monday morning, I pulled into the dark parking lot of Penguin Ed’s. It was very early. I stopped to use the phone. A US Foods truck pulled up parallel to the building facade. The driver exited the truck, opened the rolling door and pulled out a long ramp. The building was dark, so I was interested in where he might unload and how much work it might be with a two-wheel dolly. I couldn’t see the driver very well from my vantage point, despite the quantity of residual light in the parking lot.

For some reason, I just knew he was going to fall, even though it rarely happens. US Foods drivers routinely work in sub-optimal conditions, often even when the businesses aren’t open. In my opinion, everything is done in the most unplanned and haphazard way. It’s not the driver’s fault, though, as he or she must figure out a way to avoid killing himself.

As the driver piled and transported several trips around the dark building, I marveled at how he managed to keep the heavy loads from tipping on the sharp incline of the narrow ramp.

The next trip, he swung around to allow the dolly to precede him. Boom. He fell off the ramp on the side closest to the restaurant, several feet from the ground, while most of the dolly fell and shattered on the side closest to me. The driver sat there for a moment, obviously stunned by the unexpected fall.

After a moment, he got up and walked around to pick up the spilled food and supplies.

There’s no moral to this story. I just wanted to share it.
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A controversial observation, one without much defense: it is hard for me to believe that there are large employers here in NWA which ban microwave popcorn but allow handguns on the premises. There’s a disconnect here that’s difficult to explain but easily recognized.
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Someone anonymously reported that I had illegally fled the scene of an accident on foot. When the officer rang my doorbell, he looked me over from head to toe. He sighed and said, “No way you fled on foot,” and left.
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As bizarre as it may sound, I’d rather pay extra federal taxes or burn twenties in the street than pay dues to an HOA/POA.
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Note: you know your spaghetti squash addiction is getting out of hand when you keep a hacksaw specifically to make it. If you don’t know what spaghetti squash is then your life hasn’t yet begun.
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CBS All Access is one of the worst TV packages ever devised. And calling a reboot of “The Twilight Zone” an original series makes my head hurt. I’ll bet it is going to be great – just not an original concept.
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For most people, 90%+ of identity is tied to geography and tribe, rather than choice. Reminding yourself of this will help you to ignore a portion of the nonsense people say and do.
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One of the most unbelievable things in modern tv shows and movies is that no one is sleeping with a box fan turned on. What are they, savages? A huge portion of the population sleeps with a fan on.
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Someone replied to one of my blog posts about Mondays and calculating my total days alive and said, “So you’re saying that your life is literally 14% Monday.” Yes, and if you live a good, long life you’ll experience about 4,000 Mondays before you croak. Happy Monday!
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For most of you, it’s likely that your name will die out. In my case, my name will live as long as the English language (and/or math) includes the letter “X.”
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I thought I knew it all until someone online told me I was wrong about sunsets: “Sunsets are observer-only events. Provided you could travel evenly around the globe, a sunset could last forever.” So, I’m stealing the idea.
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Obvious – Yet Unrefined Comments

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I have a few friends and family with addictions. Don’t we all?

A few others have legitimate health reactions to some scents and substances which trigger physical responses, especially perfumes. I once knew someone who had intense and immediate reactions to perfumes. Even in places prohibiting their use, she would suffer immensely in part because people insisted that perfume reactions were all imaginary. I’m not directly addressing this example because it belies a willful disregard for others. We all know that most of the scents we use aren’t for our own enjoyment; we often simply can no longer perceive them.  Anyone using perfume in an area in which they are prohibited is probably not the best person. The same is true for those smoking in public places.

While I understand the frustration of addictive exposure, I’ve noted that some people take their frustration a step further and lash out at those who still partake in the activity that is an addiction for some.

The problem with addiction is that it belies the blue car syndrome. Suddenly, because blue cars are our kryptonite, we focus on them. Their presence diminishes our lives. If you suffer from alcoholism, your entire life will seem as if it is awash in advertisements, users, and alcohol. Likewise, cigarette smoke will waft from a distance of fifteen miles to invade your nose if you have quit smoking or suffer from a physical reaction to smoke.

Alcohol, caffeine, perfumes and scents, marijuana, tobacco, and many other things are ubiquitous. They simply aren’t avoidable, much to the chagrin of those with issues or addictions.

Good people don’t go out of their way to expose their usage to those with addictions or aversions.

Good people with addictions don’t vilify those who partake in the very thing that is their downfall.

It’s impossible to engineer our society or spaces in such a way as to eliminate addictive exposures for everyone.

The tentative ability to live our lives without purposefully infringing on someone’s debility is precarious.

Because the majority of people don’t have addictions or physical reactions to most substances, it is wrong to label those who partake as being deliberately rude. Most people want to avoid causing pain and discomfort in other people’s lives.

We can each do our part to maximize one another’s ability to live a full life. It’s unreasonable to demand that everyone else forego a pleasure because it might trigger someone with an addiction.  It’s equally unreasonable for those partaking to blithely insist that their enjoyment shouldn’t consider the needs of other people. The balance will always be imaginary and difficult.

The first step is to stop assuming people are living their lives without regard to other people.

Most people who smoke don’t smoke with the intention of diminishing another person’s enjoyment of life. The exposure of others is an unintended consequence of their choice.

I’m simply expressing my discomfort with the issue of vilifying those who inadvertently expose others to addictive triggers. I’m also acknowledging that the frustrations of trigger behavior is real and sometimes agonizing for those with addictions.

A Rose By Any Other Name

fart face.

*This story is true. Seriously. You will not be smarter after you read it.

Since I was on another visit to the doctor’s office, I chose a spot devoid of other people to wait. I assumed the wait would be long and wanted to be courteous. I just wanted to sit with my eyes closed.

Five minutes later, a woman of dubious appearance entered the vast waiting area and sat a chair away from me. I opened my eyes and nodded toward her. I’ll call her Liz for clarity. Inexplicably, she sat halfway across the otherwise empty chair next to mine. In her arms, she held a baby. Moments later, an elderly lady shuffled in and sat next to the first woman. Thus, all 4 people in the waiting area were now sitting in a space of 4+ seats, in a waiting room comprised of multiple large spaces.

Liz’s phone started going off immediately. I only noticed because she put it in the narrow space between her left hip and my right leg and because the volume was on maximum. It rang, playing a song worse than any song by Kid Rock, if that’s possible. Her phone rang twice and notified her a dozen others.

Another lady entered the waiting room area I was in and sat two seats away from me, leaning on the pony wall by the bathroom. A gentleman came in sat under the television across from the rest of us.

I should have moved but I didn’t really feel like moving. I certainly didn’t want to commit the social faux pas of giving someone the idea that I moved as a result of their presence. I won’t make that mistake again. Emily Post can kiss my butt.

Liz’s boyfriend Facetimed her and she answered. She immediately started demanding that he explain why he unfriended her on FB last night. He denied it. She shouted and demanded to know who he was texting. He told her he was playing a game. She offered him a bit of poetry disguised as profanity and he calmly replied, “Kiss my ass!” She coyishly told him she was at the doctor’s office and didn’t appreciate that type of language. Going for the point, he pointed out that accusing him of undefined misbehavior was the greater of offenses. Liz became embarrassed and hung up. I don’t think Dr. Phil has enough hours in the day to address what was going on between them. Jerry Springer could fix it in a few minutes, though.

Even though no one was listening, she proceeded to explain in graphic detail what the phone call had been about with her boyfriend. It was more than I ever needed to know. My Jerry Springer reference was apt. “Well, you know how it is, Mom,” she told the older lady next to her. Another bit of information explained.

Within seconds, Liz lifted her hip off the chair and farted, a harsh trumpet. She immediately looked toward her mom and made a face. She looked down at the little toddler in her lap and said, “Jamie, you shouldn’t have!” She turned to the lady to my left, the one leaning against the pony wall, and said, “It wasn’t me. I promise.” The other lady was mortified. I watched her body language after the gassing.

I made no move, nor did I bat an eye. It had indeed been Liz. The smell of old shoes, spoiled eggs, and weird fish filtered through the air. Because I had been swallowing the urge to cough, my need to immediately cough deeply overpowered me. I coughed five or six times, each giving me a deep, shattered-glass feeling in my lungs. The fart was simply too much.

When the coughing fit cleared, Liz was giving me the look. She said, “…um, hello?”

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Well, you’re not excused. There’s a baby here. This baby ain’t got no need to be exposed to what you have.” You can imagine the horrible sound of her voice attempting to be sanctimonious. The fact that she had just farted openly and triggered a coughing fit – and just discussed her sexual misadventures in the waiting room didn’t quieten her.

The gentleman seated across from me openly let his jaw drop open to the floor, like a waiting room Wile E. Coyote.

Because I wasn’t feeling well, I just whispered, “Everyone in here knows it was you who farted.” Arguing with her wasn’t going to bring back my dead nose hairs.

Incredibly, she said nothing else to me. The man across from me said nothing. He simply nodded and gave me a very small thumbs up.

The next few minutes were spent listening to Liz and her mom cackle on about the craziest assortment of subjects and Liz’ phone urgently telling her of important matters.

The nurse opened the inner sanctum door and recited a female name. Lo and behold, it was Liz’s mom who had the doctor appointment. Liz had come with the baby because she was bored. I only know that because she told the nurse while simultaneously berating her mother for walking slower than molasses.

The nurse tried to politely tell Liz that neither she nor the baby should go to the back. Liz insisted, saying she needed to hear the doctor tell her mom to lay off the booze. I winced. The nurse gave up her attempt at being reasonable.

As Liz went inside and out of earshot, the man seated across from me asked, “Did I hear that right? She got on to you for coughing with your mouth covered because she farted on you and she brought a baby here for no reason and went to the back with it after being asked not to?”

“Yes, that’s about it. I’ll add it to my list of reasons I’m ill if it’s covered by Blue Cross.”

The three of us in the waiting room shared a laugh.

“I hope you feel better,” the man told me.

“Me too. Otherwise, the next step for me is cremation.”
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One of My Earliest Memories

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One of my earliest memories is of me standing upright in the back seat of a black sedan. I looked up front to see my dad Bobby Dean driving and Elizabeth in the passenger seat. Dad was having an affair with Elizabeth. I didn’t know that or what it meant while I was experiencing it. Because of the fog of my memory, for the longest time, I convinced myself it was near Marianna. My mom insisted that there was no way for me to have remembered being in the car. She was angry that I had any such memories at all. I can only recall peering through the windshield ahead of me, toward an outcropping of rock. I sometimes strain to recall more of that day and where we went and to be able to observe the adults in the natural course of that day. Though it may be both a wishful and wistful thought, I know that my dad was happy on that day.
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I’m not sure that a return to that moment would maintain its veneer of happiness. I only know that being unable to recall the nuances of the trip elusively frustrates me. One of the other witnesses to the moment is still alive. I’m not sure whether circumstances would allow an honest recollection of our shared moment all those years ago.
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And so, it remains a milestone memory, a singular and almost solitary slice of my life.
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Of all the sublime moments in life, many of them fall under the umbrella of “Somewhere In Time” moments. Whether you’re a fan of the movie, or of the book on which it was based, “Bid Time Return,” the sensation of wishing to propel back and witness the world around a picture is bittersweet.
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I loathe the mechanics of photography, yet you’ll find no greater fan of pictures.
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While no fan of staged photography or still photos, I find that the exceptions are always exceptional in depth.
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Often, even when perusing the photos of strangers, my imagination overlays the essential ‘me’ into their captured moments.
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Observing. Remembering. We’re all traveling in time now, leaving behind a gathering accumulation of pictures for those who follow to scrutinize. If we are lucky, they’ll take the necessary time to struggle to remember the feelings we shared when the pictures were taken.
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The picture seen through the windshield of this photo is of my dad, standing shirtless on horseback.
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When you gaze back onto the past, it gazes back without accusation. I cannot, however, say the same for myself.
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Danger: Soup For Lunch

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I found myself being shaken violently.

As I opened my eyes, I felt the cold kitchen floor on my back. The overhead lights blinded me momentarily.

“Hey, X, wake up! What happened?” my wife asked me as she continued to shake me.

I raised myself to a sitting position, trying to clear my foggy head.

As my hands began rubbing my sore eyes, my wife said, “Be careful, you’ve got bruises under your eyes and on your face. Who hit you?”

I couldn’t remember anyone else being in the house with me. As I tried to process what might have happened, I remembered that I was about to eat a bite of lunch. I had gone to the cupboard, which we jokingly call “The Sarcophagus.”

“Aha!” my wife exclaimed just I recalled randomly pulling out a can of soup to open it.

“Look, honey.” My wife held up a partially-opened can of soup as I turned my neck painfully to look.

It was a can of whoop ass.

Let’s Talk Trash!

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Important note: I realize that I’m not always the smartest person. Not only do I routinely jab my face with a toothpick, but I attempt to place glasses in mid-air where the side table isn’t, fail to duck my head in front of an immobile object, and insist on poking things to see if they are ‘hot.’

In my defense, I stopped sniffing hot glue, at least.

If you live in Springdale, you can read this and either roll your eyes with the federally-mandated “DUH” reaction, or you can admit that you’re like me, ignorant in more ways than should be humanly possible.

At the ongoing risk of sounding stupid, I didn’t know there was NO limit on trash volume for a residence in Springdale. Whether it was based on fact or not, I’d been told by more than one source that the containers were the weekly limit. Like the myth of the guy who actually likes vacuuming the living room, I simply believed it to be true. Shortly after moving to this side of town, one of the employees for Waste Management told me that customers weren’t permitted to leave trash outside the assigned container. Other than the “Aliens Are Real” patch on his shirt, he seemed credible.

A few weeks ago, a couple of issues aligned to cause me to question things. Other than my own confusion, I mean. Despite what I thought I knew, I was still hearing contradictory information about our trash service. I noted that other people were doing strange things about their trash because they didn’t understand there was no limit. For example, one neighborhood family was walking the curb on Monday to find partially empty receptacles to throw their overflow trash inside. While I own my ignorance, I take solace in the fact that I’m not the only bird brain hereabouts. Watching the shenanigans after Christmas convinced me. Note: it’s also possible that I unwittingly bought a house in a cluster of ignoramuses. I’ll take note during the 2020 census.

I contacted Waste Management to put an end to at least one small part of my vast ignorance. It turns out, everything they told me in an email was incorrect. Almost everything: they spelled Waste Management correctly in the email. Please forgive my humor and snark about it. I wrote to them and asked how to go about getting an additional container, regardless of cost. They wrote back and told me that a contract with the City prohibited such an arrangement. Before hearing back from anyone, I had compiled a fairly creative list of possible reasons for such a clause in a trash contract.

I followed up with both the Springdale Water Utilities and the Mayor’s Office. They were immensely helpful and answered questions I didn’t even know I had. And they said “yes” and “no” where it mattered, instead of hedging their bets. It was refreshing. I’ve yet to call, email or contact anyone in the City of Springdale without getting an answer. As you may or may not know, I wasn’t initially a fan of Mayor Sprouse. It was mainly due to his hair. Unfortunately for my previous opinion, he has always responded quickly and professionally in any matter I’ve been involved with, either for me or for other people. It’s a real pain to have to admit being wrong. Not about his hair – it’s still not “Mayoral,” but it is much improved. As to his follow-through, it’s been tremendous. Reading such straight-forward replies made me dizzy enough to consider vertigo medication.

Per Springdale’s agreement with Waste Management, you can put out any quantity of trash you wish to. If you fill your 96-gallon receptacle, all that is required is that you bag the overflow neatly and stack it with your assigned receptacle.

Waste Management must pick it up, regardless of volume. Those assigned to your route might frown if they note you’ve constructed a pyramid of trash bags towering above your container. They’ll still have to pick it up despite their displeasure. At no extra charge.

While it is possible that I am the only idiot to not know this, I’m willing to bet others might not know, either.

I wrote back to Waste Management to let them know they were still sometimes giving out incorrect information and requested a simple inquiry from within their company to discover why. After several days of waiting, they wrote back. Surprisingly, they admitted that I was right about both my questions and that they were changing their information and training methods to reflect the corrected information. They also said they now offer an additional bin, directly billed, at $7.50 a month. They also admitted that I could simply stack my overflow bags next to the bin, at no charge. Now that I know I COULD get another bin gives me a long list of fun, creative ideas to use such a bin – and none of them legitimate.

It’s a shame for Waste Management that they didn’t say “Yes” when I first contacted them. I’d have a bin from them at an extra cost. Their loss.

I hope that the family down the street never learns of this. I can now look out the front window and laugh at them as they scamper about like trash ninjas, seeking space in their neighbor’s trash bins. As for the neighbors who negligently throw things in the general direction of the bins they leave curbside for 17 days a week, I just bought a pallet of glitter bombs to decorate their grass. We’ll be a fabulous neighborhood.

Kudos to Waste Management and the everyone at the City of Springdale for listening and helping me out. Waste Management gets kudos because they listened to me when I asked them to review their internal procedures and FAQs to help out my tribe of ignoramuses.
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Silence Is Seldom Rewarded

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It turns out that the story I wrote regarding my dad and Oct. 23rd, 1993 might end up being ‘the’ thing.

A torrent of people wrote to me after reading the story in other places, wanting to know the rest of the story or asking questions about Bobby Dean – or the history of the place I once called home. I’ve done my best to answer them. My dad would get a laugh from the idea that so many people, almost all of them strangers to himself or his hometown, might want to read about his life. He would also struggle to understand that it would be his younger son who valued nothing of his contribution until it was too late who would ultimately be the culprit responsible for softening Bobby Dean’s character. I opted to shed myself of his name and yet the residue of his shadow eternally lurks just behind me.

Better writers, better singers, and better historians might recount a more compelling tale; from their absence or application of effort, however, they’ve yielded the floor to me. I don’t know what writer’s block is and I seldom let the undertone of misbehavior break my pencil. Our lives are all stories, even as we fail to see it or wish them to be unwritten.

For anyone who has looked past my imperfect and stubborn way of writing and reached out to me to let me know they found something of value in it, I thank you. I still believe that our lives and the internet would be more understanding if everyone could find a way to share stories, even those tempered by our lesser natures.

It’s maddening and rewarding to find an audience out in the sea of strangers on the internet, in the place allegedly most hostile to sharing one’s life or story.

This picture is of my dad in a moment brimming with happiness. The house is now a hunting lodge off of Highway 49. I’m not sure what music might have been playing in the background, but Schlitz beer was powering the occasion. Dad, whose dance moves ran the gamut between A and all the way to B, danced with glee in front of his friends. It’s worth noting that Bobby Dean would have never danced in front of other men had alcohol not been involved. Delma Lee, the wife of one of dad’s friends, snapped the picture. She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. Her voice was as supple as a whispering angel, one with a drawl long to reach across the room and cause people to listen.

It’s still difficult for me to believe that dad wasn’t even 30 when this picture was taken. 25 years after his death, people who never shook his hand or cursed at his antics are thinking about his life. It’s a romanticized version, of course, but the majority of our memories are culled from the husks of things that many times should remain at rest or fuzzy with the passage of time.

X

Airlifted To Payment

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In the last few days, another accident near Springdale started the same conversation about needing a Level 1 Trauma center here in Walmetro. (It’s a reasonable nickname for this area, don’t you agree?) I enjoyed reading the teeth-gnashing commentary on social media news sites. I’m pretty sure that about half the locals misspelled the word “trauma.” I’m not a big freak about spelling like some of my other weirdo friends, but it is worth noting that someone needs to tell everyone that the ED isn’t for erectile dysfunction. (Unless you have taken 16 tablets of Viagra mistakenly. Or on purpose, too, I guess.)

I don’t want to be airlifted anywhere. If I am airlifted against my will, the paramedics should use me as a human bomb. I’ll allow you to drop me onto any local Walmart, where low, low prices won’t be stymied by a falling corpse. (May commerce live forever.) Just leave the door open as you fly over and give me a directional push: no one will know. I’ll just drop in. If the paramedics can drop me through one of the roof skylights, they should get extra points for effort.

A couple of times when I was young, I survived, even on the occasion I might have been technically dead for a bit. During that episode of “Frighten Grandma,” I lived in the middle of nowhere in Monroe County and the only reason I’m here is that some milk or ice cream truck miraculously went by.

The other time, I lived here in Northwest Arkansas, back when no roads came here on purpose and the word ER meant that everyone hoped someone was on duty (and sober) if he or she accidentally shot their own face off. I came out of that one with 160+ stitches. I’m not even sure anyone in NWA knew what a helicopter was back in those days unless they were James Bond fans or Vietnam draftees.

Historical fact: until the 1970s there were literally no roads to get to Springdale. They didn’t want us getting in or out. True story. *True-ish. Okay, it’s totally false, but we’re living in a post-truth period.

Since then, the medical community here has developed to such an extent that it’s difficult to imagine the necessity of being airlifted anywhere. Whether we have a Level 1 Trauma center is immaterial to me. As long as the billing department is operational, I’m sure I’ll get all the required attention I need.

Another fact: if you experience trauma, they always cut your pants off first. It’s not to give you better medical care, as you probably learned on episode 12,367 of Grey’s Anatomy; rather, it’s so that they get to your wallet first.

Let’s be honest about this anyway: it’s likely that if the medical crew discovers it’s me needing assistance, they’re likely to play a round of golf before getting around to transport me. Ever since the infamous incident wherein I recreated the Alien stomach-burst, the paramedics put me on ‘the list.’ (I think they aren’t sci-fi fans.)

I’ll take my chances, especially now that I’ve lived over half a century.

If I am to die, I’ll take a slight risk with the local medical talent here. I don’t want to be in some miserable hospital away from home, imposing a burden on the few people crazy enough to be interested in my early demise. (Not hasten it, I might add, even if they seem to be in a betting mood.) Having spent a lot of time in hospitals, it is important that you understand that they are misery factories for family and friends. The burden and expense of being away from home is completely objectionable to me.

Before you ask, yes, that means I’m willing to roll the dice with my life a little bit if it means that the locals get a stab, so to speak, at me first. Driving through Johnson is a risk and I’ve mostly survived that.

Keep this in mind if something unexpected happens to me. Keep the helicopter for someone else. Feel free to drive me 140 mph down the interstate if you wish, jumping hell and high holler. Everyone needs a little practice driving the ambulance, so let the new guy Jimmy give it a try if you pick me up. An escort by Roscoe P. Coltrane might be nice, too.

While this might have made you chuckle, I’m writing in all seriousness.

Death is no laughing matter unless you’ve made plans to be buried in a jack-in-the-box coffin. I recommend that everyone at least ask their preferred mortuary if they offer such a thing. If only for the laughs.

We have world-class medical facilities here. Don’t fly me anywhere, unless I’m already gone and someone needs my liver – or he/she answers to the name Hannibal Lecter.

A Living History Focused In a Moment

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In the early evening of Saturday, October 23rd, 1993, Bobby Dean stood by the tan surface of Highway 49, in a community sometimes called Rich. He watched as the last glimmers of the sun reflected from one of the windows of the fellowship hall of the Lutheran church across the state highway. The church itself had no front-facing windows, something that always drew his attention. Due to Bobby Dean’s connection to farming in the Delta of Arkansas, he knew that the official sunset was technically 15 minutes ago, slightly before 6:30. Like so many from that part of the state, he didn’t need a calendar or weatherman to predict the weather for him.

It was a warm day for eastern Arkansas. Not that Bobby Dean typically wore a jacket, but on this day, he had left his grease-stained jacket on the hook in the garage all day. The day had turned out to be perfect, rising to the upper 60s. The gas pumps were busy for most of the day, then activity tapered substantially as people headed home to eat before either venturing out again of staying home to watch the world series or Hee Haw. In the last ten minutes, only two cars had passed. Neither had stopped, probably on their way to Helena or Tunica. The casinos had recently put their footprint on the area and Highway 49 was quickly becoming a rapid corridor to find them. Locals argued relentlessly about whether they’d bring life back to their area or further drain it.

As the last car passed, Bobby Dean had been inside the station, closing the old register, the kind featuring mechanical rolling numbers. For no particular reason, he looked out one of the two wide front windows and saw the Reverend from Our Savior Church pull out on to the highway and point his vehicle toward Brinkley. As was his custom, Bobby Dean instinctively waved at toward the departing pastor, unsure whether the preacher could see his silhouette inside the station. Much to the surprise of many, the preacher and Bobby Dean had become well-acquainted. He performed Bobby Dean’s remarriage, as well as his funeral. One of Bobby Dean’s jokes was that remarriage technically could be considered to be a funeral, depending on one’s perspective.

As Bobby Dean looked to the north and south, the highway lay silent, its straight strip of asphalt pointing the way to wide expanses of farmland and house dotted along its perimeter. The tilled-under fields now waited, dormant and marching toward winter lifelessness. For those who admire such austere landscapes, it was meditative. Bobby Dean was certainly no one to ascribe to such silly words. To him, it was simply peaceful.

A younger Bobby Dean had lived in Northwest Arkansas and a short time in Indiana. He resided in Pendleton Correctional facility in Indiana as well, for his part in a robbery of a truck stop off of U.S. Highway 20. His heart always beat strongest in Monroe County. He was anchored to his wild youth, his family, the soil, and the freedom that such wide open spaces always presented to those willing to live inside them. Unfettered freedom and wide stages often led people like Bobby Dean to run wild.

He took an unfiltered Camel from his front shirt pocket and lit it. The smoke filled his lungs. As he exhaled, it formed a small cloud near him. The day’s light breeze had weakened. Bobby Dean always smelled like a blend of one or more of gasoline, oil, cigarettes, dirt, mints, and whiskey. Those who knew him could often read his potential behavior based on the prevalence of one scent over the other.

Looking back at the small church across the highway, he recalled that he had remarried there only 8 months prior. Strangely, it reaffirmed where he’d started: married to Carolyn and living in the small farming community. Carolyn would undoubtedly be at home just a bit up the road, near Cypress Road. The last time Bobby Dean ran this service station, the United States was celebrating its bicentennial and he and Carolyn had lived in a trailer almost touching the rear of the gas station. For a second, Bobby Dean wished they still lived behind the station. He could imagine the scent of freshly fried catfish in hot oil, the shouts of people congregating, and time before family began succumbing to inevitable biological frailty. His weariness enveloped him. His dream of coming back here to live and to work was realized but his bones were weary. Bobby Dean’s idea of a metaphor was the type found in Louis L’Amour westerns or demonstrated in the slitted, watchful eyes of Clint Eastwood.

Tonight, his demon fed by whiskey would not rear its head. Lately, Bobby Dean could not sustain its aftermath. His hard life was dealing out hard consequences. His namesake son, X, had surprised him last weekend with a visit. Bobby Dean had been driving his pickup along Highway 39, heading toward Monroe. His son had pulled alongside him in his roommate’s borrowed car, hogging the entire road. Carolyn was in the passenger seat, smiling like an idiot and shouting. “What’s up, #$%#$%#$%$@#$ ?” Bobby Dean had shouted back, laughing. He pulled over so everyone could exchange greetings and cleverly-worded obscenities as they laughed. Bobby Dean managed to salvage a few normal moments with his son during that visit until the urge to drink overwhelmed him. Like so many, he had no way of knowing that it would be his last chance to build a narrow bridge back toward his son.

He finished his cigarette, dropped it to the pavement, and smashed it out with his boot. Bobby Dean turned and walked over to the three gas pumps. He leaned against the outside pump, watching.

The October sun had disappeared entirely. The edge of the highway and all that surrounded it now lay in a blanket of time and silence. Waiting.

38 days later, Bobby Dean walked his last step.

His bones now rest in Upper Cemetery along the same highway, near one of the areas where Cypress Creek and its thick, muddy waters crest near the road. If you drive by at night, you can hear Bobby Dean’s shouts trailing behind you. You’ll fight the urge to floor it without knowing why. Instead, you’ll roll down the window and listen more closely. Tilled earth, smoke, and whiskey will greet you. It’s my hope that you’ll find only the wild, enthusiastic side of Bobby Dean as you pass; may his violent undercurrent forever be at rest.

If you drive the highway to visit the area where the station once stood, you’ll find the small church still patiently marking the days of its members. The station, though, is long gone. In April of 2009, someone removed the subterranean gas tanks. Not long after, the building was gone. Now, as you pass, you’ll note almost no remaining footprint for the gas station. The two telephone poles which once aligned with either end of the property still stand, along with a very narrow strip of pavement. The rest, however, has surrendered to the relentless fertile soil of the Monroe County landscape. The last couple of times that I passed where the station once stood, I resisted the urge to stop and stand in the field there. I couldn’t be sure that time itself wouldn’t grab me and whisk me back to a distant decade, trapping me in nostalgia.

I fear that the entire area might be slipping into non-existence, reverting to a time before railroads, lumber, and commerce; one inhabited by natives.

I fear that Bobby Dean might be dissipating, too. He’s been dead for over half of my life and I’ve survived this place longer than he did.

Each of us only survives in actuality as long as a living soul still remembers us.

Somehow, I received the curse of being the historian of the family. Despite my untrustworthy memory, the only honor I can bring to the history of those who preceded me is to hold my hand aloft and swear to tell the unflinching truth. Some facts slightly disjoin in my retelling, without a doubt.

The mood and temperament though? These are my promises kept.
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