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A profane family history

15 Mar

I was nine or ten the first time I heard my granddad pepper his speech with cuss words. I could still point out within a five square foot area where I stood in his barnyard when he let loose one of those forbidden four-letter words in my presence.  I had crossed some invisible line of male-dom where Granddad decided my tender ears could hear those words without catching fire. I don’t recall being overly happy to hear that good man use those words, but I got over it soon enough.

Soon after that, I crossed the swear-word line with my dad, too. He was his father’s son when it came to cussing, following certain unwritten rules: Never overdo it, never swear in a house, and absolutely never swear in mixed company, particularly around the saintly woman I called Grandma.

By the time Dad started cussing in front of my brothers and me, I was already a semi-rehabilitated swearer. It seems quaint now, but I had a habit of inserting “damn” in every other sentence when I was six. My parents warned me to stop before I got in big trouble, but they never took serious action. I didn’t get the cure until after I cussed in front of my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Kraft. In addition to missing recess, she ordered me to drag my desk outside in the hallway and park by the classroom door for a while. She wanted me to spend that time to consider cleaning up that potty mouth of mine. That was Mrs. Kraft’s worst punishment for scofflaws like me, boys who were on a direct path to reform school because “damn” had become our favorite adjective.

Spending a bit of time in the hallway wasn’t such a terrible ordeal, except my dear father was also the superintendent of our tiny school. He rarely had reason to walk down two flights of stairs from his office to the first grade classroom in the basement. But I had only been serving my hallway sentence for a few minutes when he came by.CCI03022011_00002

“I hope you’ve got a good reason for sitting out here,” he said.

I considered saying I had been given the honor of Hall Monitor, but we didn’t have such a thing in our school. Even if we had, my dad knew that responsibility wouldn’t be trusted to me.

“Cussing,” I said, without bothering with specifics.

Dad said nothing, but he shook  his head and walked away. I had embarrassed him. Damn, I thought. I’ll never cuss again.

For the most part, I didn’t swear much after that until I reached twelve or thirteen. That’s a monk-like period of abstinence for a boy who grew up around people who tossed around profanities with the same deftness Peyton Manning throws passes.

Even then, I never cussed around my father. Still don’t. When my brother Jeff and I were teenagers, Dad took us aside one day to sternly reprimand us for using a word that  offended our mother. He warned we had better stop using this particularly foul word immediately or there would be serious consequences.

“What word are you talking about?” we asked Dad.

“I’m not going to say it, but you know exactly the word I mean,” he said.

“No, we don’t.”

“Don’t play dumb with me. Just quit using it.”

If the word was so offensive that even Dad wouldn’t repeat it, it must have been a doozy. Because we didn’t cuss around Mom, the word had us stumped. It had to be so terrible that even Jeff and I didn’t know it was a curse word. Jeff and I pondered this question for many years until we finally decided the word that offended our mother was… mother. As in, “That bolt sure is one tough mother to get off.”  We must have used “mother” that way several times a day.

My dad says he turns forty-eight today. This is amazing considering that makes him younger than me. But he suffers from AOBD (Adult Onset Birthday Dyslexia), which causes him to invert the digits in his age, so I’ll give him a break. Anyway I hope he has a damn fine day and one mother of a birthday party.

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Random Thoughts at a Stoplight

28 Feb

Is it redundant to use my left turn signal if I’m already in the left turn-only lane? That’s like a double negative.20130301_081010

“I ain’t never seen nothing like that never in my life.” Quadruple negative. Nicely done, Ron.

I will not use my turn signal. I am a rebel. Rebel, Rebel. That reminds me of that David Bowie song. How old is he now? Seventy? I should Google him.

Now I can’t get the Bowie song out of my head. I’ll hum “Tequila.” It’s like methadone for earworms.

The time has come to buy new boxer shorts. Has underwear technology changed much in the past ten years? I should Google that.  Boxers? Why are they called that? I’ll look that up, too. No wonder I never get any work done.

What is the woman in the car next to me listening to? It must be a great song the way she’s moving. I’ll try to find it… Nope. Nope. Oh, she’s listening to that? I never would have guessed. She’s looks smarter than that. Maybe I’m mistaken. Ugh, she’s mouthing the words. Look away, Ron, look away.

Geez, this light is long. I should have turned off my car to save gas. I wonder how much gas I would save if I had. If I turn off my car, maybe it won’t start again. Then everyone will honk at me, and I’ll be embarrassed. Even the woman singing that song will scowl at me. I’ll leave it on.

Justin. Is there anyone over the age of fifty named Justin?  Is anyone under the age of seventy named Adolf? I bet there are some really old men who go by Addie or Dolf.

It would be terrible to have the same name as the infamous person in the world. If there was ever a super villain named Ron, I would change my name. I would go with Chi Chi. Nobody bad could be named Chi Chi.

My goodness, it’s that guy on the radio again. How much do I have to pledge next time to keep him off the air? Maybe I’ll have my own pledge drive just for that.

Do jeans shrink if you don’t wear them for a few months? They must. And boxer shorts shrink even if you do wear them. I’ll Google it.  fatjeans-6

My jaw is hurting again. What has it been? Three days in a row now? I hope it’s nothing serious. What if I have jaw cancer?  Oh, please, no, not jaw cancer. I’ll end up like Roger Ebert without the fame and fortune. What if I die from it? I should review my will just in case. I hope Michele has me cremated like she promised. She’ll probably dump the ashes in the trash bin. I’ll need to have a frank discussion with her about that. What if a super villain named Ron comes along after I die? My survivors will have to re-chisel the tombstone so  it says Chi Chi. I need to put that in the will, too. No tombstone for my ashes.

Why don’t they have recycling cans for ashes? Hmm. Maybe I could get the patent on that. I’ll trademark ReinCANation while I’m at it. Note to self. Google ReinCANation to see if it’s already trademarked.

A Viking funeral would be nice, but who would be my thrall? A short list there.

I wouldn’t want to be set afloat in the Ohio River. Beargrass Creek?  I’d get stuck in a jam of limbs and trash. Then all the overhead trees would catch on fire. There might be health code issues, too.  I need to Google that.

ChiChi

What I would say if advertisers would listen

8 Feb

Dear advertisers,

Just a few suggestions I ask you to consider.

First, I direct my attention to you, Local Business Owner. I ask you kindly to refrain from using your family in your commercials. I am sure your children and grandchildren have prodigious talents, and they will someday discover a cure for low-grade acne. However, being an on-camera pitch munchkin is not their calling. Your grandchild, the one with the slight slur and three-centimeter gap between his front teeth? No, the other grandchild. When he says “call our emergency repair line,” “emergency” sounds like a cross between “mercy” and “surgery” so that it sounds like “mercygery.” This does not make me want to hire you as a plumber.  If you are not willing to pay for a professional, why should I pay for one when my pipes leak?  Also, when your tag line says “simply the best,” I will assume the opposite.

And now for you, Company That Thinks It’s Clever to Use Talking Animals. Please stop. Talking dogs haven’t been a clever ad idea since 1950 when Mister Puffles spoke of the magical qualities of a feminine hair removal product. Also, why does the voice have to be so dull — so Middle American white guy? I imagine my dog would sound like Phyllis Diller after a hard drunk and a carton of Salems. That would be interesting to hear in a commercial. That would get my attention when you’re selling pork and beans. If you insist on using an Irish Setter that speaks, should it at least do so with an Irish accent? Just consider it.

0003700029753_AWhile discussing animals, why are bears trying to sell me toilet paper, Bathroom Tissue Manufacturer? (Who calls it bathroom tissue anyway?) Is it a subtle reference to the bear shitting in the woods? I will buy your toilet paper if you are honest with me, but primarily if it’s cheap. As long as it’s not prison-grade paper, I don’t care how soft it is. I have never held a piece of toilet paper to my cheek. That would be weird. In your commercials, just once show a human being on the toilet, but please don’t hold the shot too long. Have the person grimacing and maybe reading a Sports Illustrated. You  know, like real life.

Luxury Car Maker, this is a polite request to stop showing cars with big red bows at Christmas. Does Hallmark sell those big bows?  I’ve never noticed the big-honkin’ bow section at the card store. Yeah, we get it. The husband is awesome, because he surprised his wife with a new Lexus LS. And the rest of us husbands suck. If I surprised my wife with a new Lexus, she would say, “Who is the slut and how long has it been going on?” I’d like you to show the day after the guy gives his wife the car with the big bow, when she says, “Five-hundred dollar monthly payments? We’re still paying for that damn boat you just had to have.”lexus-ls-460-overview

While we’re talking about cars, Pre-Owned Car Dealership. You’re not fooling anyone. They’re used cars. You’re a used car dealer.

Jewelry Store Chains, I hate you. Sorry, I got carried away there. Still, I would love you to produce a commercial like this: Open on wide shot of jewelry store, glass display cases glistening with diamond rings. Young man enters store and scans the array. Cut to helpful store clerk, who asks, “How may I be of service?” Young man hesitantly approaches ringcounter. Camera angle reveals he is covered in blood. Customer pulls small, blood-soaked bundle from his pocket and unwraps it to reveal severed finger.  Customer says, “I want to surprise my girlfriend with an engagement ring. Can you size it?” I still wouldn’t shop at your store, but you would have my unwavering admiration.

Just a quick word to you, Household Cleaning Product Manufacturer: Would it kill you to show a man with a mop once in a while? I do all the mopping in our family, because my wife still  hasn’t forgiven me since I surprised her with the Lexus.

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The third reason I’m slightly less stupid than I was a year ago

5 Feb

There is every accounting for taste

I didn’t like the latest movie version of Le Miserables, even though it will win 23 Oscars, including “Best Musical Number by an Aussie during a Suicide Plunge.”

So sue me.oscar-statue

I much preferred the 1978 version with Anthony Perkins. Because it was a TV movie, it wasn’t up for an Oscar. If it had been, it would have nailed “Best French Accent by that Guy Who Stabbed Janet Leigh in a Shower.” It was a pretty small field of nominees that year.

MV5BMTIzMTE1OTYwNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODM4NTc0MQ@@._V1_SY317_CR3,0,214,317_I know what I like. You know what you like. “Vive la difference,” as Jean Valjean might have said/sung when his hair turned white in a few minutes’ time. (That’s in the book.)

The 2012 version of Le Miz is a good movie. It just ain’t my cup of tea. The director of the latest Les Miserable shouldn’t care what I or anyone else thinks of his movie as long as he believes it is good—and he can still pay his mortgage on the Tuscan villa.

A year or so ago, when I was much younger and more unsure of myself, I equated the character of my writing with the feedback it received. Positive feedback foreshadowed my entrance into the pantheon of literary greats such as Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Paris “I wrote the title myself” Hilton.

More, um, ambivalent feedback nearly spurred me to give up writing in favor of stick-figure drawing. Nine people could react positively, yet one person could say “meh,” and I believed I had  failed. Worse was when the story idea didn’t interest them enough to give the book a shot. What could I have done, I wondered, to lure or please that one reader? Or those ten, or one hundred, or one thousand readers?

Taste is a slippery creature which changes not only with each person, but within each person. I might watch the musical Les Miserable a year from now and love it (OK, a bad example). Some who like my writing one day may be left cold by it the next. What’s the point of worrying about what anybody thinks?  (This is where I explain that was a rhetorical question.)

In the past year, I’ve re-learned that quality is a nebulous concept that means little in the creative arts. Personal taste is more important. To the individual, taste dictates quality. Otherwise, we would not have so many book genres and sub-genres, such as Dystopian Erotica, Cozy Eighteenth Century French Mysteries, Christian Romance with a touch of Horror Suspense, or Gay & Lesbian Family Saga. When someone says, “That’s a good book,” they mean “I like that book.” Unless they’re a book critic or a high school language arts teacher, they are not saying the sentence structure was superb, the grammar was impeccable, or the story arc was magnificently presented. They mean it affected them in a positive way.

That’s good enough for me, when and if it happens.

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P.S. I have a few little books you might enjoy here.

Hanford and Beulah are still here

30 Nov

Threshing Oats near Kewanee, Illinois. Source: The Library of Congress

Late in the evening on Thanksgiving, after much of the family had left and a handful of us remained, my dad told a story from his childhood.

Dad was born in 1929, the same year of the Great Stock Market Crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.  In the early thirties, farmers in the Midwest were affected by plunging commodity prices and more. Chinch bugs and grasshoppers wiped out entire crops. A crippling drought hung on for years. Many farmers lost their land to the bank. Dad’s parents, Hanford and Beulah, were no different. Their neighbors lost their farms back to the bank and moved away. Soon, Dad’s family would lose theirs, too.

As The Grapes of Wrath described, families and persons headed west in search of any job that would allow them to survive with a drop of dignity. Beulah’s brother and his wife were among them, leaving northern Missouri for Idaho where they would live the rest of their lives. It was the norm in those days.

When Dad was five or six, a transient showed up at the farm east of Washington Center, Missouri.  Nearly eighty years later, Dad remembers the man distinctly. His name was Charlie Osmon. He could not speak clearly, he did not bathe regularly, and all he wanted was a chance. Hanford and Beulah, themselves barely hanging on, had little to offer, but Granddad hired Charlie as a farm hand for fifty cents and room and board. That’s fifty cents a day. Fifty cents equal eight dollars and change today. Sometimes, Hanford could not afford to pay Charlie.

Hanford was about thirty; Beulah was younger. They had two small boys and a hard life. Compared to Charlie Osmon, however, they were fortunate. Hanford and Beulah could have told Charlie to head on down the road. Who would have blamed them? But they opened their home to a smelly, odd stranger, giving him a chance to catch his breath. They walked the walk.

Like many people my age, I saw glimpses of the impact the Depression had on my grandparents —  two-inch squares of foil, gum wrappers and rolls of string knotted together and squirreled away for some future need that never materialized. Through Dad, I may have gotten something more.

Charlie Osmon experience had a great impact on my father. It showed him that even the poorest among us deserve to be treated with as much dignity as the richest. He learned to look past a person’s appearance and social status to see them as fellow humans.  I hope he passed that on to my siblings and me, even if we didn’t realize it. Maybe it’s even carried down to my daughters, who never knew Hanford and Beulah.

What impresses me most about the story of Charlie Osmon, however, is how typical it was of that time. I’m confident many families have a similar story somewhere in their family trees. Either they had someone like Hanford and Beulah, or they had someone like Charlie Osmon, a person willing to work hard when given a chance, a person willing to go to great lengths to save his self-respect.

We still carry the DNA of Hanford, Beulah and Charlie.

Perhaps Charlie made it all the way to Oregon or northern California where he found work that sustained him. Or maybe he preferred an unfettered landscape and stopped for good in Nebraska. I hope there are Osmons out west somewhere, good people who have heard the story told and retold of how their ancestor showed up at the door of poor dirt farmers in Missouri, and how he found that door open to him.

I hope Charlie Osmon had a chance to do the same for someone else down the line. I think he would have taken it.

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My ten-hour career as a movie extra

19 Oct

Parts of the movie 50 to 1 are being filmed at Churchill Downs.  The film is about Mine That Bird, which won the 2009 Kentucky Derby as a long shot. I thought the film could use my help, so I signed on as an extra. This is the story of my day, most of it true. 

8:20 a.m. An email from a production assistant last night tells me to show up at the race at ten-thirty, but I get a call asking me if I can come in early. Probably, I say, but I don’t commit. Is Hollywood already rubbing off on me? I’m wondering if they need me for a love scene. If so, I’ll do my best.

8:50  I arrive at the track and fill out my non-union voucher. I’ll be paid eight dollars an hour. I thought a love scene would pay better. Should I be hurt that they don’t check the box that says I have a special talent?

9:15  The wait begins. What I’m wearing (blazer, pink shirt, pink tie) gets blessed by the wardrobe woman, but she asks me to ditch the argyle sweater vest. I thought that was my signature piece.

9:23  That was quick. I’m not in a love scene, but I’m not too heartbroken. Along with a hundred other extras, I’m put in the grandstand, where I’ll play the very important part of First Guy in Fourth Row.

9: 25 Wait. Is that William Devane just a few feet from me? He’s like my co-star now.  Uh oh. They’ve positioned me behind a sweet woman wearing what must be the largest hat in the history of Derby-dom. No one will see my face in this movie. Perhaps that was by design. 

9:35  Wait a minute. This is a singing scene? I didn’t sign up for this. We have to sing My Old Kentucky Home in entirety. I do my best, but I think Second Woman in Third Row is little off tune. Still, we do just one take, and the director is  happy.

9:59  Second Guy in Eighth Row is getting on my nerves. He thinks he’s hot stuff because he played the part of Third Decapitated Man  in a Stallone movie.

10:23  Three takes so far on this shot. The only thing the camera can possibly see is my midsection. Need to do some ab crunches. I also realize I forgot to put on a belt. We’re in the box behind Bill (I can call him that now) Devane and his “family.” A crew member has given me a beer to hold in this shot. Sorry, Mom.

10:40  My most important job is making sure the Bud Light label doesn’t show on my bottle. We’ve been repeating the last three lines of My Old Kentucky Home in this shot. We’ve done five takes, so far. I’ll be hearing the song in my sleep.

12:23  It has now been explained to the extras in my box that we have bet on the wrong horse in this race, but we still believe he can win. I hope I have the acting chops to express the proper disappointment when the time arrives. Again, because my face will not be visible thanks to the large hat in front of me, I will  have to rely on my hands to pull off this feat. I’m also excited for the attention the beer bottle will receive.

12:30 p.m.  Bill D. seems like an affable chap. So are the extras around me. There must be something about being an extra in a movie that attracts companionable people. I’m sitting among extras veterans, who have appeared in other movies, plus some “what the heck” types like me. 

1:59  Lunch time. I asked where I could find my trailer. Someone pointed me to a horse trailer. I only used seven dollars of my ten-dollar voucher for lunch. The three dollars left over make me a paid actor.

2:55  Bill just dropped the f-bomb at the end of the scene. We’re pretending to be watching the end of the Derby race, tracking a sign that is matching the horse’s pace. Bill, who plays Mine That Bird’s owner, said his horse was too #!@$& slow.  Everybody laughed. Bill and I may share a beer later, but not the one I’ve been holding in my hand all day.

4:00 I just nailed my big scene, the one that will put my name on the lips of casting directors everywhere. I walked up a set of stairs just as the winning owners of Mine That Bird were walking down. I’m sure they’ll cut the scene before they get to my part, but I’m okay with that. I’m a professional.

4:10 Wardrobe change. I’m switching the pink shirt and tie for a blue shirt and tie. I’m sure that’s enough to make me look like an entirely different person.

4;53  My second bag of Cracker Jacks. Do I even like Cracker Jacks?

6:00  This isn’t fun anymore. Lance, a young guy I had just shared a shot with, had a seizure and fell a couple of steps onto the walkway. It scared everyone, including the crew. They have paramedics at the track, so he got help quickly. It was also nice that some of the extras were nurses. Lance is lucid now, but he says he has no medical problems that he knows of. They’re taking him to the hospital. Everyone cheers as he’s carted away.

6:45  One last shot and it’s a wrap. I check out at the desk, and I’ve made about eighty dollars including some overtime. It was fun, but I’ve scratched that itch. Here’s praying for Lance.

aka Third Guy Walking Up Steps

And if you thought that was good, check out this.

Twenty-Five Things I Don’t Want to Write

4 Oct

The following needs no introduction, but I’ve written up a short list of things I try to avoid when writing anything other than a grocery list.

  1. I don’t want to write that something needs no introduction and then introduce it.
  2. I’d like to be an emcee who says “this next guest needs no introduction,” and then walk off the stage.
  3. The dictionary defines nausea as “extreme disgust; loathing; repugnance.”
  4. It nauseates me when a written piece begins with a definition.
  5. Let’s get this one out of the way early: I don’t want to over-exclaim. I loathe exclamation points! They make me nauseous.
  6. I don’t want to write “nauseous” when the correct word is “nauseated.”
  7. I’d rather not be too anal about the difference between “nauseous” and “nauseated”.
  8. On a related subject, did you know the correct spelling is “adviser” rather than “advisor?”
  9.  Again, I don’t want to be anal about stuff no one else cares about.
  10. And what’s the deal with asking questions in the middle of a list?
  11. If I write a novel about a murder, I won’t call it a brutal murder.
  12. “Brutal murder” strikes me as redundant.
  13. I mean, is there a nice kind of murder?
  14. I suddenly remember that when I finish writing  a novel, I need to do Ctrl F to delete all references to “suddenly.”
  15. That word doesn’t belong anywhere except in a nostalgic piece about an old sitcom starring Brooke Shields.
  16. I do not feel wistful for Brooke Shields sitcoms, especially ones co-starring Kathy Griffin.
  17. I think semi-colons are a bit pretentious; honestly, I’m never sure how to use them correctly.
  18. “Honestly” always reads like I’m lying.
  19. Was everything written before that point dishonest?
  20. There I go, asking questions again.
  21. I don’t want to write anything with a zombie…
  22. Archer…
  23. Or wizard in it. Other writers have that stuff pretty well covered.
  24. I’ll stick with my little stories about regular people.
  25. I could always change my mind on that.

 

P.S. To see how well I’ve done so far with this list, check out my books here, here and here. Please. I have a daughter starting college soon.