Lulu can no longer jump up on the couch

15 Nov

“Whatever you do, please don’t get a little yippy dog, especially a poodle. I hate those things.”

Those were my last words to Michele, my wife, as I left on a three-day-trip, just before she got our miniature poodle, Lulu. Our daughters had finally worn us down. We had agreed to get a dog. More precisely, Michele agreed while I, outvoted and outranked, looked in vain under the couch cushions for my manhood. With the decision made, Michele wanted to surprise the girls with the dog when they returned from visiting their grandparents out of state.


Ozzie (on the left), RIP

I am not anti-dog. I am anti-taking care of them. We had a mutt named Ozzie for fourteen years. Ozzie was no great looker. One tooth always stuck out. He also had some poodle in him, but you couldn’t tell it, thank goodness. He looked like a small black lab, and he bounced off the floor like he main-lined Peruvian coffee. Ozzie caught Frisbees in mid-air, chased tennis balls until he exhausted the thrower, retrieved sticks, and could not resist eating his own poop. He was a DOG. But I remembered vividly the day we put him to sleep (without consulting him, mind you) and the loss we still feel.

I also remembered the hassle we went through any time we wanted to take a family trip. Michele opposed putting him in a kennel because, the one time we did so, she was convinced he had suffered lasting emotional trauma being caged with other dogs. We had two alternatives when we left town: Leave Ozzie with Michele’s parents or take him with us. Neither option was great because of Ozzie’s propensity for acting like an addict on a PCP bender. I didn’t want to go through all that again with a new dog.

When it became obvious I had lost that battle, however, I tried to retain the last crumbs of my dignity by laying down the law with the girls. I gave the traditional waste-of-breath parental speech:

This is not my dog.

It is not my responsibility.

I will not walk the dog.

I will not clean up after the dog.

I will not house-train the dog.

I will not feed the dog.

The dog does not belong on the furniture.

The dog under no circumstances will sleep in anyone’s bed.

My batting average on that list is .125 only because I did not have to house-train the dog. The girls had intermittent hearing loss which seemed to occur primarily when encountering tones in my vocal range. This malady is hereditary; their mother suffers from it, too.

We couldn’t buy any dog. We had to rescue one. Michele perused the milk-carton photos of pets on local web pages and made on-site visits. She had always liked wire-haired terriers. Instead, she fell in love with a poodle – an emaciated, ugly-ass varmint that looked like a rat with an eating disorder. When I returned from my trip to see what she had chosen, I said, “It’s a good thing you’re getting a dog, because we have a rodent problem.”

According to its records, the “dog” had been sent to a shelter because its elderly owner could no longer care for it. (Because the dog seemed to be afraid of the stove, we imagined her previous owner, cigarette dangling from her mouth, holding the dog while frying bacon.)

There was no long line of dog lovers waiting to adopt a rat-like canine with the breath of a zombie. The first shelter was prepared to terminate the dog with extreme prejudice when another rescue facility offered to take her. By the time Michele locked eyes with the so-called dog, she had been living in a shelter for quite awhile. Her hair was matted beyond saving, and she had been too scared to eat much. She had turned into a bony little bag of nothing. To call this dog butt-ugly would be an insult to posteriors.


The new %#$@!%@ dog

Just like Charlie Brown choosing the wimpiest Christmas tree, Michele decided that pitiful dog was the one for her. (This also explains our marriage.) It was love at first sight for woman and rodent. Despite the dog’s ugliness, the girls loved her, too, and named her Lulu.

Lulu quickly gained back a pound or two, which is a lot for a dog her size. Her hair grew to look like something other than the fur on a road-killed possum. She almost looked presentable.

Someone gave Michele a dog bed. The floor in the kitchen seemed like a good spot for it, but Michele put it on the couch in the den instead. It didn’t matter anyway, because Lulu jumped up on the couch anytime she pleased, as if it were her couch. The dog also got twenty or thirty blankets to keep her cozy. I did not realize it can get very cold in July in Kentucky, so Lulu also wear wears a coat. (I’m still searching for those testicles)

Daughter #2 wanted Lulu to sleep with her at night.

I said no.

Lulu began sleeping with D2.

However, Lulu knew who had rescued her. Michele was the center of her universe. The rest of us were only bit players who would pet her and scratch her belly when Michele wasn’t around. When Lulu could, she would sneak out of D2’s bed at night and sneak into our room.

“I forbid to have this mutt in bed with us,” I said. (I like to use “forbid” when I can.)

“I’ll keep her on my side,” Michele said. “You won’t even know she’s here.”

The situation soon worsened. D2 put up a blockade each night to keep Lulu in her bed. That usually worked, but D2 tired of having the dog in bed with her. This may be related to the fact that the girls only groomed “their” dog under the threat of parental violence, and Lulu often stunk like a junior high boy’s jock strap. Now, however, we owned a dog that was used to sleeping in a person’s bed.

“We can’t put her back in her own bed downstairs,” Michele said. “She’ll cry all night.”

“We won’t know until we give it a try,” I said, thinking of some way to work “forbid” into the conversation.

“No,” said my senior manager. “She’ll stay here with me.”

In other words, if I didn’t like it, there was a perfectly decent couch downstairs I could use—one with an empty dog bed on it.

For the record: any night I’m the only one home, Lulu sleeps in her own bed downstairs. She does not cry.

Lulu doesn’t do much. She doesn’t play with toys, fetch or explore our back yard. Unless I walk her, the only exercise she gets is following Michele around like a Taylor Swift stalker. Still, I began to respect Lulu a little when I discovered she really is a rat dog, though not in the way I first thought. We came home from a long Thanksgiving weekend to discover that a rat had gotten into our basement. Michele would not let Lulu go down there because she thought the rat would eat her tiny dog. But Lulu would not be denied. She got into the basement and dispatched the rat in swift, Chuck Norris-like fashion. She proudly displayed her kill on the basement steps while Michele screamed like a banshee.

The most important thing about Lulu is that Michele adores her. After a long day of the special hell that passes for public school teaching these days, Lulu can cheer up Michele like no human can. When Michele enters the back door, Lulu hops down from the couch to greet her. It’s the only time she voluntarily gets off her slacker butt.


Lulu, under the mistaken impression I will lift her up on the couch.

But times are changing. Just recently, Lulu quit jumping up on the couch. She waits for someone to lift her up. If I’m the only one around, I laugh and say, “Good luck with that.” Still, I wonder if she has reached a certain age. We don’t know how old Lulu is. One vet guessed she was about four when we got her. Another said he was six or so.  Maybe she’s nine or ten now. It’s possible she’s a few years older. I know Lulu’s aging is on Michele’s mind. That’s reason I didn’t want to get another dog. I didn’t want to go through the aging stuff again. But for however long it lasts, and it could be many more years, Michele will be happy. And the rat population in our basement will remain in check.

Encouraging Ignorance and Suffocating Nuance since 1995

17 Oct

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. –-Hanlon’s Razor

If you know anything about the Steubenville rape case, you don’t need me to rehash it here. If you are unfamiliar with it, welcome back to Earth. How was your space flight? Like most people, I followed the case only superficially, but I formed my opinion anyway, and I was glad to see convictions in the case. It bothered me none that mud stuck to the town of Steubenville. It became synonymous with small-town culture that values its high school athletes above much else. I found it amusing that the hacker group Anonymous got involved by hacking personal information on some of those involved.

Now another case, with a few similarities, has grabbed the national and international media’s attention in Maryville, Missouri. I’m sure many in Steubenville are keeping their fingers crossed that Maryville will take their inauspicious mantle. I won’t outline or debate the facts of the Maryville case here – thousands of other imbeciles with no knowledge of the situation have that covered. However, this situation hits a little closer to home. My brother and his wife live there. My sister was born there. Two grandparents, many aunts and uncles, both parents and all my siblings graduated from the state university there. Even so, when I read the story early Sunday morning on the Kansas City Star’s web site, a small part of me thought, You deserve what’s coming Maryville. You brought this on by failing to push for prosecution. I had spent ten minutes or so reading a news story, and I believed I had enough information to draw a conclusion. That put me in the company of millions of other fools.

250px-Nodaway-courthouseWhen the the national media got hold of the story like a Rottweiler grabbing a shank bone, I read a few more media reports, which were mostly re-hashes of the Star story, as well as an earlier series by KCUR, a KC public radio station. I rarely view reader comments online because I tend to lose faith in human intelligence when I do. I did not have to read far before recurring themes emerged. Words like “inbred” appeared liberally. The sheriff of the town was tritely labeled as Barney Fife.

Here’s a comment from a St. Louis Post-Dispatch reader:  “There’s just something about the NW corner of Missouri. The people there have no concern for what is lawful.” There’s a broad-brush statement that deserves one in response: Everyone who submits ill-informed comments on news web sites is a certified jackass.

From the Los Angeles Times, a common comment: “What a bunch of freaking HICKS.”

No, they’re not hicks, though some may be brighter than others. They’re just regular people like everyone else. Good ones, bad ones, and mostly in-between ones. People who make mistakes just like the rest of us. No better, no worse.

I texted my brother, Jeff, a Maryville resident: “Let me know how it feels to live in the new Steubenville.”

So far, he’s taking it well. That’s in part because he does not own a TV, being a hick and all, and he has not seen coverage from CNN et al.  He said one of the largest employers in town, a customer of his construction business, shut down its computer system after Anonymous hacked another manufacturer. These companies are not the sheriff’s office, the prosecutor, or anyone connected to the story. They are companies employing hundreds of people, some of them likely unaware of the story before this week.

I began to realize how the actions, or inaction, of a few people can impact so many others.

Maryville is a good place, but not unique. Jeff says, “A lot of people here think this is a special town, but it’s no better or worse than anyplace else.”  Jeff should know. He lived for several years in Africa before settling in Maryville, and he has traveled internationally many times. I guess that makes him a well-traveled hick, contradictory as that may seem. He’s right, though. Don’t we think our communities are something special, as if other places have a higher percentage of nuts, lowlifes and buffoons? We believe we would act differently —better, of course — in crises. Just watch the next time there’s a catastrophe such as a tornado or earthquake. You’ll see a quote like this: “We’ll get back on our feet. People here in (town/city name) are tough, resilient.” As if people elsewhere were not.

If we live in a high population area, we assume our rural neighbors are ill-educated hillbillies. I am the only one of my parents and four siblings who lives in a city. Yet, I am the least educated of the bunch with my piddly bachelor’s degree. My parents live in a town of about 200 people. My sister lives in the country. My younger brother lives in a town of about 1,000 people. They drive trucks and go to church. They also listen to NPR, hold a range of views on social issues and worry about the cost of gas just like everyone else. Because they choose to live in rural areas, however, they are considered ignorant hillbillies who would, of course, let injustice reign in their communities because they know no better. (Disclaimer: I don’t equate education with intelligence; some of the highest-degreed individuals I’ve met are some of the dumbest. The converse is also true.)

Rural folks don’t get a free pass either. They can be just as guilty the other way. For example, I’ve heard several times how lucky a country resident is to live some place where they don’t have to deal with violence on a daily basis, as though we in urban areas can’t step out our front doors without ducking shots or feeling the crunch of used syringes beneath our Topsiders.

I suppose we have always been ignorant about our fellow humans, but the Internet brings it to the fore more readily. The Web delivers more information daily than we can consume in our lives, but it also allows us to demonstrate how little we know, particularly about each other.

We would like to think if we found ourselves in the same situation as Maryville at the time of the crime/incident, we would have reacted differently. We would have, by God, stood up and made sure the cops and the prosecutor did their jobs, even if we did not know all the facts or have any other direct involvement in the case. No, we wouldn’t. We don’t realize that Maryville is just like us.  No better, no worse, just human.

A major award: How I won a poodle with turquoise rump fluff

20 Sep

leglamp12I know how the father in A Christmas Story felt when he won the Leg Lamp. I, too, have won awards. My glory days are behind me, but I used to be pretty lucky at drawings. When I was a kid, the hardware store in my hometown had prize drawings at Christmas. (The store also sold toys; I got my first new bike there.) One Christmas, I won a ping pong set, which would have been a much bigger deal if my family had a ping pong table or any space to put one. We tried to use the dining room table, which did not go over well. Still, the paddles had many other inventive, if not abusive, uses. Ask Julie, my sister.

I was on a roll in those days. Around the same time I won the ping pong set, I also won a major award during a family trip.

My family took summer vacations in which all six of us would spend a week together on an excursion to the Rockies or some other great American destination. We considered a trip successful if it did not result in threats of infanticide. We traveled in a pickup with a camper on top. Six people in a camper little bigger than a tomato can. Oh, the fun we had. I still have bruises from fights my brother and I engaged in while riding in the loft above the truck cab. My parents warned us before we left home that they would turn around and go home at the first sign of fighting. And if we thought they were kidding, just try them. Yes, we would see who was laughing then. And we better wipe that smirk off our face, Mister, if we didn’t want it wiped for us.

Sometimes we made it fifty miles into a trip before my brother Jeff and I started whaling on each other. Julie encouraged it because she knew we otherwise would turn our attention to her. My younger brother Robert got to ride up front with Mom and Dad. We still hate him for it. The parents never made good on their threat to turn back, but Dad, who never drank, slowed the truck to a crawl in front of a few liquor stores. He also parked in front of a gun store once and wept quietly, but we don’t bring that up at family reunions.


A artist’s rendering of a Dreamer with “happy” campers.

We had a Dreamer camper that we bought in Des Moines. It replaced another Dreamer camper we had that was even smaller. In true seventies style, the interior of the new one was all turquoise Formica and blond plywood. The year we got the new camper, we took it to Bowling Green, Kentucky for a Dreamer convention, which is just as exciting as it sounds—a bunch of people with Dreamer campers either coveting or turning up their noses at other Dreamer campers.

We stayed at the campground connected to Beech Bend, which was an amusement park of questionable repute. (I’m sure it’s much better now.) Besides talking about all things Dreamer, campers (the human kind) were entertained by so-so comedians and bad country music acts which made the one-hour trip north from Nashville. I was more of a Jackson 5 aficionado in those days, so the music was not to my tastes. The best part was at night when we went to the amusement park where I became a bit of a Skee Ball pro. That’s also where I saw my first drunk vomiter, and it was impressive.  A couple of guys walked along the midway and one of them hurled without breaking stride, like it was something he did every night. Perhaps it was.

Beech Bend, a classy place if ever there was one, also had a drag strip.  Every day, the convention organizers made announcements and put on little shows there. They also held drawings for special prizes like game tickets at the amusement park, a meal at Sizzlers and such. I wanted those amusement park tickets to feed my growing Skee Ball addiction. One day, out of hundreds of Dreamerites, my name was called. As I made my way down the aisle, I sensed the envy of everyone in the crowd. What had I won? Perhaps a free hamburger at McDonalds, a new GI Joe or a nifty set of Hot Wheels cars? If I wasn’t so lucky to get something for myself, it could be something my parents could use, such as a set of barbecue tongs and mitts. I descended amid the noisy applause of my fellow campers, and I could sense the heat of Jeff’s eyes drilling hate holes in my back. I always won things, he said, while he never did. He hadn’t gotten over my winning the ping pong set.

When I made it down to the bottom of the grandstands, the announcer presented my prize: a huge stuffed animal—a white and turquoise poodle. Dow chemists had yet to perfect fake fur that was soft to the touch. This faux canine had all the cuddliness of forty grit sandpaper. And it was ugly. Ugly and girly. No twelve-year-old boy, not even a Jackson 5 fan, should be seen in public with a fru fru stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff. What if a photographer from the Bowling Green newspaper had been there to document the handoff?  Missouri boy accepts gift meant for a girl, the caption would say. I wanted to say “no thanks” and return to my seat. But this was, after all, something I had won. One did not turn down something that had been won fair and square, even a stuffed poodle. I accepted my prize and climbed the steps to my seat as the crowd again applauded. This time, however, their applause was meek, and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

My parents looked embarrassed. Jeff smirked. I was too ashamed to be seen holding the white and turquoise monstrosity any longer, so I handed the dog to seven-year-old Julie. Oh, the delight in her eyes. Her older brother had finally given her a large, beautiful stuffed animal (made of questionable material that may or may not have been toxic to human touch). He really did care, she thought. This was proof of a benevolent God.

No. As soon as we returned to the camper, I took back the dog. “I just gave it to you to hold for awhile,” I said. Julie cried. Jeff smirked more. My parents had bigger issues to deal with than who should possess an ugly stuffed poodle. I didn’t care. I had won the thing, and I was going to keep it.


It was MUCH worse than this.

And I did, for awhile, in the room I shared with my two brothers. Eventually, though, I came to my senses and gave it to Julie permanently. Perhaps my conscience overpowered my immaturity. Or maybe I realized how stupid the dog looked in my bedroom next to football items. If a stuffed poodle with turquoise ears and rump fluff sounds like something you’d like, I’m sure it’s still out there somewhere. Its material certainly was not biodegradable. I don’t think it would burn either. If it did, the fumes would kill you.


P.S. Buy some books, will ya? I got a kid in college.


Simple Ways to Pass Time in the Country

9 Aug

In the city, we have many entertainment options, such as whether to watch Real Annoying and Vacuous Housewives of Hoboken or spend thirty minutes with Honey Boo Boo. On really good days, we may go to Target and Home Depot. We have Krispy Kreme and White Castle. We are cultured. Still, entertainment decisions in rural America are more complex than you may imagine, such as what type of food product to shoot from a small cannon. More on that in a bit. First, here’s a short list of my activities during a recent visit to the folks in northwest Missouri.

–          Shucked sweet corn.

–          Got mistaken for younger brother Robert six times.

–          Made plans for local bank heist knowing Robert would be blamed.

175–          Went for run on gravel road.

–          Got chased by wet, burr-laden dog during run.  

–          Made peace with dog.

–          Yelled “Stay!” fourteen times as dog followed me 2.5 miles back to parents’ house.

–          Put dog in dad’s truck and returned it to its home.

–          Drove out to prairie to look for bison.

097–          Spotted what were either bison or large brown cows.

–          Argued with 84-year-old father about why he didn’t tell me when he needed help around the place.

–          Put wheel on hay baler.

–          Directed dad as he backed hay baler into shed.

–          Helped dad get baler in cockeyed position so that it was stuck halfway in shed.

–          Hooked log chain to second tractor to pull baler free.

–          Promised dad I would not help him anymore.

–          Went for another run.

–          Took different route to avoid dog.

–          Surprised to find dog waiting in yard of different house.

–          Realized I had dropped off dog at wrong house the first time.

–          Yelled at dog as it followed me back to parents’ house.

181–          Put dog in dad’s truck again and returned to its correct home, maybe.

–          Told dog I would see her next time I was in the area.

–          Met uncle for breakfast at Square Deal cafe.

–          Offered to pay.

–          Paid $8.62 for both of us.

–          Bragged to everyone that I only paid $8.62 for two breakfasts.

–          Drove an hour west to have lunch with older brother Jeff, who was renovating space for a new GameStop.

–          Remained patient as Jeff ran around like chicken with head cut off.

–          Had lunch with Jeff at grocery store.

–          Texted everyone I knew that I was having lunch at a grocery store.

–          Made smart comment about how of course Jeff forgot wallet as he always does.

–          Wondered how many wallets Jeff had lost in his life.

–          Paid for lunch.

–          Visited apiary.

–         Rode with nieces as they four-wheeled around their grandparents’ property.  183

–          Nearly soiled boxers during ride.

–         Played cutthroat croquet.

–         Suspected mother of cheating during croquet.

–         Shot potato gun.

About that tuber weapon: A childhood neighbor and friend of Robert (I’ll call him Bruce for this story) recently married. He and his wife received a potato gun from her father. Because what else would a loving father give his daughter and her new spouse?

Potato guns require three items. 1) a potato (are you writing this down?)  2) a fuel source such as Aquanet and 2) a means of ignition to spark the Aquanet. Bruce says the potato gun can shoot a hole through a ¼’ sheet of plywood from twenty or thirty yards. I will take his word for it. Bruce prefers russets. I have no idea how Reds or Yukon Golds would perform. I would imagine certain types of sweet potatoes could put a big hurt on a target. If you want to fire buckshot, try frozen tater tots. I do not recommend hash browns.


When my brothers and sister gathered at my parents’ house with their families, Bruce texted to say he was dropping by.

Did I want him to bring the tater gun?

Is a bear Catholic?

A little explanation about my parents: The last I checked, they were alive. But they already have a burial plot. And a tombstone with their names on it. Perhaps they don’t trust their children to properly memorialize them, so they have memorialized themselves. The cemetery is across the road from their house. The graveyard’s newest section was formerly a hay field on their property. Their gravestone sits in this new section, no more than 200 feet from their front door. My parents can step outside every morning to see their grave site. Beats watching a repeat of Sportscenter, I guess.


Two hundred feet is also well within range of a well-manufactured potato gun. And a gravestone with “Harold Dee Smith” and “Joyce Elaine Smith” etched on it (death dates TBD) makes a pretty tempting target. I’m not saying I shot at the grave stone, because I’m the good son. However, some of the bad seeds in the family did. Julie, my sister, took the first shot, because she has no moral center. But she overshot the marker by a good fifty feet. Even the third generation took aim at Granddad and Grandma’s stone. No one hit the mark, but a few taters landed within a few yards. Let me stress again that I did not endorse or otherwise encourage this activity. And if anyone says otherwise, I’d like to see the footage of it.  IMG950224

You may think there is something inherently disrespectful about shooting potatoes at the grave stone of one’s parents. You are mistaken. Dad watched and laughed. Also, it’s tradition to plant flowers around grave stones. Who is to say one method of planting is better than another? Why does a shovel have to be involved? Why only flowers? My mother is partial to peonies. The grave sites of many of my ancestors are surrounded by these flowers. In coming years, it may not be peonies that grow around my parents’ grave site, but there will be plants. And as we enjoy a few baked potatoes, we’ll toast my mom and dad.


P.S. My happy running buddy. 


Try my patented method of lawn equipment repair (in 50 easy steps)

13 Jul

Introducing the Ron Smith method of lawn repair™

When Daughter #2 mowed the back yard several weeks ago, the rear left wheel fell off the push mower.  It was irreparable. This allowed me to put my patented lawn equipment repair system into practice. Should you find yourself in similar circumstances, I invite you to try this efficient approach.

  1. Curse aloud at the news the mower is broken.
  2. Wonder if it is possible to continue mowing with only three wheels.
  3. Decide it is not feasible and instruct D2 to finish “mowing” lawn with weed trimmer.
  4. Withhold judgment when lawn, following aforementioned weed trimming, looks like it has been strafed by a Grumman Hellcat.
  5. Order replacement wheel online. (Some repair technicians may be tempted to examine broken part before finding replacement. This is known in equipment repair trade as “cutting corners.”)  Wheel
  6. Because delivery charges are more than replacement part, order additional parts as well, “just to have around.”
  7. Note that it costs several dollars extra to have replacement wheel shipped within one business day.
  8. Opt for regular delivery, which is nine to fourteen days.
  9. Fail to notice that promise is to ship part in nine to fourteen days, rather than to deliver in said time frame.
  10. Sit back and watch grass grow to record heights as it rains every day.
  11. Host major family event at house.
  12. Call Search & Rescue when two relatives are lost for hours in backyard jungle.
  13. Rejoice when new wheel arrives sixteen days after order placed.
  14. Realize you did not think to confirm that push ring that keeps wheel on axle would be included with order.  Pushring
  15. Determine 92-cent push ring is not included.
  16. Confirm that push ring is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  17. Look at lawnmower closely for first time.
  18. Realize other rear wheel is about to fall off, too, which also is not one of parts ordered “just to have around.”
  19. Excoriate self with epithets.
  20. Drop by Home Depot next day to find something that might work as push ring. (Note: Under no circumstances measure wheel axle first as this also would be considered “cutting corners.”)
  21. Buy two sizes of locking washers because they kind of look like push rings.
  22. Try each locking washer on wheel to confirm neither fits.
  23. Say aloud to no one, “Of course they don’t fit.”
  24. Say other things you can’t repeat in polite company.
  25. Briefly consider amount of duct tape necessary to keep wheel on.
  26. Fail again to measure wheel axle for appropriate size.
  27. Drop by Home Depot again.
  28. Buy two more items that look somewhat like push rings.
  29. Try both items on wheel and determine they do not fit.
  30. Conclude it might be good idea to measure wheel axle this time.
  31. Make special trip to Lowe’s to avoid embarrassment of being recognized by Home Depot workers.
  32. Buy every size of lock cap in store.
  33. Determine that one of locks caps fits the wheel axle.
  34. Do little dance of joy.
  35. Take two more days to get in “right frame of mind” before tackling yard, which looks like Amazon rainforest.
  36. Begin to mow lawn.
  37. Amazon-amazon-rainforest-33125135-1600-1200Determine wheel works fine, but other rear wheel is wobbly, and, worse, mower is now stalling.
  38. Curse the sky.
  39. Remember parts ordered “just in case.”
  40. Remove motor housing.
  41. Find nothing obviously wrong.20130622_142225
  42. Install all just-in-case parts anyway.
  43. Try again and get same results.
  44. Cry.
  45. Pout.
  46. Peruse condo ads in real estate section.
  47. Desperately hope mower just needed some air, and begin to mow with motor housing off so motor can “breathe.”
  48. Observe lawnmower die.
  49. Get brilliant idea.
  50. Make trip to neighborhood hardware store for one final part.



P.S. If you think that’s good advice, try this book of wisdom.

Fourth of July in the Fireworks Capital of the World

4 Jul

Poorboys2We have a soggy Independence Day in Louisville, which will make the Old Fashioned 4th brought to you by Cialas and Propecia a   little damp. I don’t mind if I have to skip the fun. Independence Day in Eagleville, Missouri (fireworks capital of the world, yessiree) set a high standard.shelton

Here’s how a typical Fourth went:


Ignore fatherly suggestion to arise as the day is already half over.

Explain to father that it’s a holiday, for God’s sake.

Listen to father admonish you for taking the Lord’s name in vain in the house, dammit.


You have not arisen, so father arrives with a cold cup of water to pour on your face.

Call father all sorts of names, though under your breath, because he is a large man who could squash you like a bug.

Listen to him explain how the grass won’t mow itself.

Express opinion that it would be pretty cool if it would.

Listen to father say for hundredth time that work is something to take pride in.


Stumble into kitchen where mother is already preparing the homemade ice cream mixture for that evening.

Ask why not just buy ice cream at the store, because it tastes better anyway.

Mother expresses opinion in so many words that you are spoiled and she can’t figure out where she went wrong.

You have a stinging retort, but keep it yourself. Though mother is smaller than you, she could squash you like a bug.

Mother asks you and your brothers if bedroom is clean.

Ask her definition of “clean.”

She does not find this amusing and slams a sauce pan on the stove. It is a sturdy Paul Revere saucepan, and it has been slammed many times before.

You scowl, and she tells you to quit looking at her like she’s an ogre.

Mother warns there will be an inspection of the room later that day.

Wonder aloud what difference it makes as only relatives are coming tonight for the cookout, and none will venture upstairs.


After a very long and leisurely breakfast consisting of two bowls of corn flakes with enough sugar to sweeten three Cokes, you and Jeff begin to mow the lawn.

It is a large lawn that can take more than an hour to mow if done correctly. It will take you about twenty minutes.

Father appears to make his usual pronouncement that if something is worth doing right, it’s worth doing right the first time.

Roll your eyes.

Hurry to finish mowing the lawn so you can mow the “ball field.” Your backyard abuts the school track, and you have adopted the track as your play area.

After mowing the yard, use the mowers, on their lowest settings, to cut base paths in the grass. This job takes half the day because you want the field to be as pretty as Wrigley Field.


Father is in a good mood and gives twenty dollars to buy fireworks. This is the first time you’ve been allowed to buy the family fireworks without parental supervision. You have already bought a lot of Black Cat firecrackers and smoke bombs, but this is different. The entire success of the family cookout is at stake. The Huttons, who run a gas station and tire store, set up a large fireworks tent at the interstate exit every year.

Twenty dollars will buy a ton of fireworks, though twice that much would be better should some purchases be duds. There is a science to buying fireworks. First, you want to have enough money to buy the grand finale, the big doozy that will blow away all the others. You have already learned from experience that this is not necessarily the largest firework for sale. Still, the largest ones are quite tempting. Selecting fireworks is always a gamble. Some of the smaller, cone-shaped fireworks can be monumental for their size. Sometimes, though, they’re a disappointment. Choose carefully and buy fireworks in the order they will be set off. Sparklers are first.


Return home with a paper sack filled with explosives.

Father expects you to help churn the ice cream. The family has an electric ice cream maker, but he insists the hand-cranked ice cream tastes better. He is, of course, crazy.

Your sweat generated while churning the ice creams helps salt the ice.

Father is never satisfied with the ice cream. It always needs a few more turns, a little more ice, a dab more salt.

Mom has made chocolate and peach ice cream mixes.

Do not try the peach ice cream, because you are philosophically opposed to ruining ice cream with fruit.

Later, the adults at the cookout will go on and on about how wonderful the peach ice cream is. Worry that next year your mother will make only fruit-flavored ice cream.


Guests arrive. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

It’s time for baseball.

You don’t have enough players to form decent teams, but years of improvising have made it possible to play.

Fifty feet down the left field line is a cow pasture. Anything hit over that fence is an out.

Anything hit over the outfielder’s head is an out.

Anything hit hard is an out.

You have to use ghost runners because there will only be three people on each side.

You will expend more energy playing baseball than you did mowing the lawn and churning the ice cream.

You will not notice the irony.


Now that everyone who played baseball is dripping with sweat, it’s time to eat.

The deviled eggs don’t last long.

Skip the slaw and the potato salad, opting instead for a plate full of potato chips with a dab of baked beans and a hot dog.

Make that three hot dogs.


Time for fireworks.

The small kids are handed the sparklers, which signals to the adults that the serious stuff is about to begin.

Everyone watches the little kids twirl their sparklers, hoping they’ll tire of it quickly.

The sparklers create excitement for about three seconds before even the little kids grow bored with them.

Every child is admonished for the fourteenth time by every adult not to drop the sparkler wires on the grass.

There was that one kid in that one town who carelessly dropped his sparkler wire. A couple of days later, when his dad was mowing the lawn, the blade shot the sparkler wire right into the kid’s gut. He died on the spot. We don’t want that to happen to us, do we?


 Father is not ready to let you set off the fireworks yet. That is his job. He takes it seriously. He also takes it literally.

After the sparklers and before the roman candles, he instructs you to find an empty sixteen ounce pop bottle for the bottle rockets.

Also, bring out a two by two section of plywood as the launching platform.

Father sets off a few bottle rockets.

You wish you could help. You would tie together the fuses of several rockets and set them off at once. With luck, some would come toward the crowd. That would add some excitement.

The roman candles are predictably unpredictable. Some have the full complement of eight bursts, some fewer. One splutters and falls on its side, sending a feeble fireball toward the crowd sitting in lawn chairs.

As the show moves up the line to bigger and better fireworks, the crowd oohs and aahs at appropriate spots, just like they do with the same fireworks every year. Everyone jokes again about the propeller firework that Uncle Royce lighted one year that went straight for mother’s leg. It never gets any less funny, though mother doesn’t laugh as much about it as she used to.


The grand finale.

The rocket you spent thirty percent of your fireworks money on is lighted. Will it be a dud or a beauty? It’s somewhere in between, not much to look at, but noisy enough to scare any dogs or cats that are already cowering in some dark corner wondering why the apocalypse comes every year at the same time.


Everyone heads home. Tomorrow, you’ll have to pick up the trash from the spent fireworks. But tonight, you’ll go to bed sleeping in the dried sweat of your day.

Happy birthday, America.


Cheap clothing, pirates and Keynesian economics

20 Jun

I sifted through tons of email recently, and I realize a lot of the questions recur. Therefore, I’ll share my answers here should these same questions be causing you sleepless nights.

Dear Ron,

My teenage daughter drives me bonkers. She keeps using “Me” rather than “I” to start sentences. Just today, she said, “Me and Jill are going to Forever 21.” Arrgh! No matter how often I correct her, she still uses “Me.” I don’t know what to do.

Apoplectic Mom


Dear Apo-Mom,

You’re worried about grammar when your daughter shops at Forever 21? A part of her soul dies – plus a Bangladeshi textile worker or two – every time she transacts business at that store. (See also Abercrombie & Fitch.) Still, you asked a straightforward question, which deserves a feeble answer.

Your daughter is a pirate. This is the only way to explain such a sentence structure. The Pirate Speech Code of 1793, still in force today, requires its members to use “Me” at the front of at least half of all sentences. “Me” should be used liberally elsewhere in the sentence as well. Here’s a typical pirate statement:  “Me britches is a bit tight today, Matey. Methinks me should switch to Cobb salads before me thighs begin to look like tree trunks.”

If you’re still in doubt, it’s also well-known that pirates supplement their wardrobes at stores where the average customer age is thirteen and the employee age is sixteen.

To maintain your sanity, as well as your relationship with your daughter, try to show some solidarity. When the next Talk like a Pirate Day comes along, start a few sentences with “Me.” Better yet, do so while browsing the clearance table at Forever 21. It will bring the two of you closer together.


Dear Sir,

I gather from that last letter you do not take grammar seriously. I suppose you also have no qualms about ending a sentence in a preposition.

Grammar Cop

Dear Grammy,

I am so happy about that up which you have brought. Strict grammar is not something of which I would ever take lightly. There are no sentences of which I can think that would sound better if the preposition were at the end.  I would agree that high standards of grammar can be hard up with which to live. However, I am committed to meeting those standards upon which others have devoted their lives.


Dear Mr. Smith

As a Neo-Keynesian, I have a real issue with Post-Keynesian economics vis-à-vis the concept of a full employment rate. I posit that if we adjust wages and enact more rigid price controls, full employment is possible. What do you think?

Not my real name

Dear NMRM,

Why yes, I would be happy to show you a picture of my lunch.


That’s not what I asked about.


Look! A kitty!



Mr. Smith,

 Where do you see yourself in ten years?

 Human Resources Manager

Dear Human,

The same place I see myself now, in the bathroom, where the mirror is. I don’t want to put a mirror anyplace else. That would be more than I could take. I caught a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror at a clothing store recently. I was on my way to find the store manager to alert her to the disheveled old fart who looked a little suspicious, if not completely creepy. Then I realized it was me. It frightened me to think that’s what others around me see every day. (I am sorry to all of you.)  I don’t mind the mirror in the bathroom because it takes my eyes a little while to focus in the morning, and I can’t see myself clearly. I occasionally miss a spot or two when I shave, but I just tell my wife it’s a new look I’m trying.


Dear Bad Person,

I am outraged by your earlier reference to Forever 21. I buy all my tanks and bustiers there. When they disintegrate a week later, I go back to get more. I would be lost without my favorite place to shop, plus I keep countless textile workers in Asia employed at five rupees a day. I demand an immediate apology. If not, I will see to your immediate firing from whatever job you hold, if it is even possible for the likes of you to be employed.

Outraged Forever 21 Fan


Dear F21F,

I am truly sorry that you’re outraged.

That’s not a real apology. I’m still outraged.


If you or anyone like you was in any way offended by my earlier comments, it was not my intention to offend. If my comments were misconstrued to be offensive, I apologize for that occurrence of misconstruing.  I hope my future comments will be judged on their own merit, on face value, and will not cause needless offense to certain individuals or groups who may be sensitive to such things.


P.S. …. I just had a thought on which both post- and neo-Keynesians might agree: If we didn’t demand someone get fired every time we’re outraged/offended, perhaps that would solve the unemployment issue.

The shameless truth of high school graduations

7 Jun

I am the father of a fresh high school graduate. If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend a commencement lately, do not panic. I will give you the experience now.

2:40 pm The commencement begins in twenty minutes here at Freedom Hall in Louisville. The crowd, a couple of thousand family members, is relatively low-key and quiet. It’s a lot like the crowds at University of Louisville Cardinal basketball games, which used to be played here.

A few people feel the basketball vibe and try to get the cheer “C-A-R-D-S” going. Instead, “CARDS” reminds dozens of parents they forgot to buy Hallmark cards for their graduates. Some hurry for the exit.

Even though we arrived twenty minutes early, we re are approximately 1.3 miles from the stage. I text Daughter #1 (D1) to let her know where we are sitting. I hear her phone beep in my wife’s purse next to me. Using my keen deductive skills, I determine my daughter will not receive my text. My wife looks at the message and ponders what our daughter is trying to tell us. We are not a very bright family.


That’s my daughter, the one in white. There, in the next to last row.

3:00 pm The processional has started on time. This is a good sign. I’m trying to get a good photo of D1, but the lighting in the hall is weird. Everything looks a little blurry. Maybe it’s only my contacts. Since every third student is a slender Asian-looking girl with long brown hair, I may take a picture of the wrong graduate. Perhaps no one will know.

3:04 pm Six cops loiter near the back of the arena. They are prepared to quell any instance of  trouble. You know how a gaggle of math and science geeks can easily riot when they smell freshly-pressed diplomas.  Chaos worse than a calculator sale at Staples.

3:19 pm  It has taken nineteen minutes for all the students to process. My entire commencement didn’t last that long. This is going to be a long ceremony.  I order a sleeping cot online from Amazon. Even if I opt for free shipping, it should be here in plenty of time.

The graduates sit at the far end of the arena. The girls wear white gowns and the boys wear red.  They sit so that the red gowns form an “M” for Manual High School. Depending on where you sit, it could look like a “W” or a Sigma symbol. From where we sit, it looks like a melted peppermint.

I’m glad I wore a jacket. It’s a little cool in the hall. In case you didn’t know it, this—the Kentucky State Fairgrounds—has more air conditioned space than any other state fair. The State Fair Board promotes this fact every year at fair time because it sounds better than saying, “Sorry. We don’t have butter sculptures like the Iowa State Fair does. But we do have three chickens and a Holstein heifer.”

3:25 pm We obviously don’t talk about grades much at home because I have just learned D1 is a valedictorian. We have this in common because a valedictorian spoke to me once. I believe she said, “You rode the short bus, didn’t you?” This school has 113 valedictorians–all with perfect GPAs. There is one salutatorian. Slacker.

Since “valedictorian” literally means the person who gives the farewell speech, I guess we’ll hear 113 goodbye speeches. I hope Amazon delivers my cot soon.

3:31 pm School administrators and students make speeches generously peppered with quotes. Updike, Twain, Thoreau, Covey… By the end of this ceremony, I’ll be the only writer who hasn’t been quoted.  Unless… In the sage words of Ron D Smith, “Man, my butt is getting sore.”

3:47 pm It’s now time to hand out the diplomas. At least, they’re handing out diploma covers. There are no diplomas inside the cases. It’s a sham perpetuated every year at this time by the diploma industrial complex. They make you think you’re getting a diploma, but it’s only a letter saying final grades haven’t been entered, yet. The school also checks to see if the student owes anything. CNN should do an exposé.

Before the diploma covers are distributed, the class historian will make a short speech. She is telling all of us to shut up when our graduate’s name is announced. Seriously, she says. Don’t yell. This is a solemn event and the class doesn’t want all that noise. Families and friends are supposed to stand when their graduates are called. Seriously, the historian repeats, don’t yell. She is naive. These students haven’t listened to their parents for years. The tables will now be turned.

3:55 pm We’ve made it to last names that start with B. For the most part, the audience is respectful, with a few exceptions. Reaction pretty much falls along ethnic lines. The Hispanic families are most quiet, mainly because they’re not present. They are on their way to their second jobs. Because my family is mixed, we will have a combo reaction when D1’s name is called. Some of us will stand quietly, just proud that our graduate made it through high school. Others in our group will remain seated, too busy collating medical school brochures according to national rankings.

4:07 pm  Ace thinks he will have to go on the run again. A mysterious guy with a Russian accent has come to this Podunk Arkansas town… That’s not part of the ceremony. It’s in the book I’m reading as the announcer reads off the F names.

4:11 pm We’ve made it the H’s. I’m having hunger pangs. Must have food. Where are the vendors like at the basketball games? How about some pretzels at least? They’re missing a big opportunity to make a killing. Note to self: Set up “side business” at next year’s graduations.

4:20 pm  Hmm. I’ve never noticed that mole before. Should I have it checked? I’ll do the lick test. Oh, it’s just a chocolate smudge. When did I have chocolate? Two days ago? What does a chocolate plant look like? Is it brown? I’ll Google that.

4:32 pm  D1 gets her diploma cover. I think it’s her anyway. She’s too far away to tell for sure. I’m proud of somebody up there, whoever it is.

4:55 pm  The graduates are beginning to recess. I tell D2 that, see, she’ll get to have recess in high school, too. In fact, it’s the last thing she’ll do. D2 scowls at me. She does not think I am funny. Just like her sister.

Time to go. Another school holds its ceremony immediately after ours. I sell my cot to the highest bidder.


A letter to the naïve doofus I was at eighteen

23 May

On the anniversary of my high school graduation:

Dear Ronnie,

First of all, why are you still going by “Ronnie?”  Have you noticed your friends are called Tom, Rob and Rod? They switched from Tommy, Robbie and Rodney in fourth grade. Unless you’re planning a career in professional baseball or bluegrass music, “Ronnie” has to go. If you still hold out a sliver of hope for pro sports or music, here’s a reality check: Your career Little League batting average was .137 and you sound like a constipated capybara when you sing. So it’s off to college you go, and you better be “Ron” when you get there.

Speaking of college, you were wise to avoid the disco era. Well done.  I congratulate you on being one of only three people not to buy a Bee Gees album. Bee_Gees_154.jpgDon’t worry. You’ll hear about punk and new wave very soon. Hang in there during this period of disco balls and oxymoronic soft rock. But the album Rock and Roll Over by Kiss will not go over well on your dorm floor, especially played on an eight track tape deck.kiss Sorry, that’s just the way it is. You will encounter audiophiles for the first time who play their music on high-priced turntables and actual reel-to-reel tape decks.

Your first roommate will be heavy into Styx. Even typing that sentence so many years later leaves me a bit unsettled. Other than the single Lady, you are unfamiliar with the musical output of this band. Don’t worry. That will change. Your roommate loves progressive rock, and Styx helps him relax as he does his Trig homework. You will soon know every song on every Styx album. Sorry, but the seventh one will come out your freshman year.  Also, your roommate will inform you that Carry On Oh Wayward Son was not the best song on the Kansas album Leftoverture. In fact, he will let you know that it was the worst song on the album. You will silently nod and take his word for it, because you don’t know any of the other songs on the Kansas album. You will decide fairly soon your freshman year that progressive rock is not your thing. (Except for a few weeks when you date that girl who loves Rush and is obsessed with their drummer. You’ll be a prog rock fan then. Oh, yes you will.) You will stow your opinion on Emerson Lake and Palmer and similar groups until you get a new roommate your sophomore year. By then, Darkness on the Edge of Town will be your antidote. (You will have a lot of roommates, by the way. You may want to do a little soul searching on that.)

About your chosen major of journalism, which you have had your heart set on for years. Consider this: Your parents have taught you to mind your own business, and prying into other people’s affairs is just plain rude. That pretty much defines the role of a reporter, doesn’t it? Good luck with that. And when that fledgling news operation CNN posts openings for news writers at your journalism school, maybe you shouldn’t voice the opinion that a national news outfit on cable will never succeed.

You’ll turn eighteen in a few days. In addition to all those cards from aunts and uncles, you’ll receive one from that girl you have a crush on. Inexplicably, you’ll think she’s sending you a card just to be nice. You’re too stupid to realize she’s sending you a very clear message, almost literally. This will not dawn on you for about twenty-five years. Such ignorance will be a recurring theme in your young life. You are a fool. Sorry to be so blunt, but the evidence is overwhelming from where I now sit.

I know you’re really excited to let your hair grow when you leave home, because your dad hates long hair and never allows it to cover your ears. You look forward to having cascading tresses, just like George Harrison.George If you have to, you’ll stay on campus during holidays just so your dad won’t make you cut it. Here’s the thing. The preppy era — with short hair — is arriving. You just don’t know it yet because you live in Eagleville, Missouri where “prep” refers to the process of warming a Guernsey’s udders before morning milking. Because you’ll become a preppy, don’t spend any more money on bell bottoms and polyester print shirts, Ronnie. You’ll just throw them away when you discover overpriced Lacoste shirts. lacosteYou’ll spend a lot of money just to have that little green alligator on your chest. And that denim jacket with the Woodstock patch on it? Unless you’re the bassist for The Grateful Dead, get rid of it.

You know how you say you won’t attend a high school reunion until you can come back in a Mercedes with a blonde on each arm? You will keep that promise, but maybe you should adjust the rules a bit. Maybe the car starts with an M? Instead of a Mercedes, perhaps you meant a Mazda. You’ll have one of those for awhile until someone rear ends it when your five-year-old daughter sits in the back seat. Don’t worry, she’ll be OK, but the car will be totaled. You’ll replace the Mazda with a Maxima. Maybe that’s the car you meant? You had a Malibu for awhile, too. In fact, you’ll own just about every M car but a Mercedes. And about those blondes. You’ll marry a Japanese-Filipino, and there’s not a lot of blonde hair in that gene pool. There’s still hope, though. At your fiftieth high school reunion, you could be escorted by two Norwegian home health aides named Stefan and Lars who keep your spare adult diapers for emergencies. Maybe one of them will drive a Mercedes.

Still, you’ll be lucky. You’ll fall in love a few times, and stay in love once. You won’t win any Father of the Year awards, but your kids will make you proud every day. You’ll never be rich or famous. But you won’t be infamous either, so there’s that. In all, life will turn out even better than you expected. I’m actually kind of excited for you.



Thirty bits of advice about horses

3 May
Isabel & Gdad

My dad, daughter and Beezlebub’s Beast

Because it is the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, and because I live about ten minutes from Churchill Downs, I will share my vast expertise on horses.

First, my résumé:

My family had ponies as pets like other families had cats and dogs. Unlike a tall guy named Shorty, there was nothing ironic about the name of Mischief, our Shetland pony. She was Satan minus the cloven hooves. When I was six or seven, Mischief decided one afternoon to plop down without warning for a rest. Normally, I would not have denied her that privilege, except I was riding her at the time. Still in the saddle, my left leg was pinned beneath her. As I began to lose the feeling in that part of my body, I smacked Mischief’s neck and kicked her with my free leg. The beast would not budge. Buzzards had begun to circle by the time my brother came to rescue me.

After that, I decided I could find better ways to spend my time, and I was largely successful for several years in avoiding saddles and bridles. Then my grandfather, a horse nut, invited the family to join a saddle club. My dad and older brother loved horses and readily agreed. I wanted no part of it, preferring to spend my time in ways other than repeatedly riding a large malodorous animal in a figure eight formation. Plus, everyone had to wear matching turquoise shirts. Fat kids like me did not look good in that color. I didn’t look good in a cowboy hat either. Come to think of it, I didn’t look good in much of anything in those days. But my mother enticed me to give the saddle club a shot by promising to take me to our area’s only public swimming pool at the end of the summer. I did not like swimming any more than I liked horses. cx_milkshakeBut the pool’s snack bar had frozen MilkShake candy bars, which were impossible for a chubby kid to resist. Riding in the saddle club that summer had a coolness factor roughly on par with a crocheted toaster cover, but I survived. I have ridden horses several more times since, each time swearing it would be the last. I have kept my word now for more than ten years.

A few things I have learned:

  1. Horses are smart.
  2. They know they’re smarter than humans.
  3. But their willpower is weak.
  4. Even though they know you’re luring them with oats so you can halter them, they can’t resist.
  5. But they will hold a grudge (see galloping too close to a tree below).
  6. Horses know you don’t know what you’re doing.
  7. They know even before you get on them.
  8. Like when you improperly cinch the saddle.
  9. Or examine the bit and ask, “Where does this thing go?”
  10. When you grab the saddle horn, they say “Rookie! This will be fun.”
  11. They don’t actually say that, but they think it.
  12. Horses can’t talk, after all.
  13. They can smell fear.
  14. When they smell fear, they develop an urge to gallop.
  15. It’s much easier to take off in a full gallop if they rid themselves of you.
  16. If it seems they’re running dangerously close to a large tree, you are not mistaken.
  17. Their intent is to scrape you off their back.
  18. It’s best to jump/fall off before you reach the tree.
  19. It’s going to hurt either way.
  20. There’s  no cool way to fall off a horse.
  21. Forget what you’ve seen in cowboy movies.
  22. gra79-10intlIf you ride in a group, horses will talk about you with the other horses.
  23. They will not say nice things.
  24. Horses will hold their manure, waiting until the most embarrassing moment to release it.
  25. For example, when you trot by that cute girl you have a crush on in eighth grade.
  26. Or in the yard where you’ll have to mow later that day.
  27. If you want your horse to gallop, it will not.
  28. It will go as slowly as possible.
  29. Until you’re ready to turn back toward home, that is.
  30. Then the horse will run so fast it could out run a Derby champion.


P.S., If you have a penchant for Norwegian literature that’s a little bit about horses and a lot about human relationships, read Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. It’s an aged man’s unsentimental look back at a turning point in his childhood.