Author Archives: G. S. Feet

Where Are The Children?


red coatI don’t write political leaning posts as a general rule. I try to stay as apolitical as possible, for my mental health as much as anything because watching the state of our country today played out on the news is as anxiety producing an activity as one could participate in. Sometimes, however, an exception comes along and I cannot, in good conscience, stay silent. The current situation at the US-Mexico border is one of these exceptions.

Since at least early May, the US Border Patrol, under orders from the US Department of Justice, headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has implemented a so-called “zero tolerance” policy to those crossing the border illegally. In and of itself, this policy would not have sent me to the computer regardless of what I think. What has happened as an unintended (I hope) consequence of this policy, however, is the forced separation of over 2,300 children from their parents at the border.

The children taken from their parents range in age from middle teens all the way down to eight months old with fully two-thirds of them being what the government is calling “tender age” children meaning they are under twelve years old. I can say, with proof and without hyperbole, the United States government is taking babies from their families who cannot speak, walk, or in any meaningful way care for themselves.

Factions exist in this country that do not see a problem with this policy. A Fox News broadcaster this morning made the statement that separating families was “not a problem.” His reason? “They aren’t doing this to people in Idaho; these are children from another country.” Of course, he is right; these children are from another country.

I also had a person post on my Facebook feed the self-evident advice of “If they don’t want to be separated from their kids, they shouldn’t come to America illegally.” Many commenters supported him and agree with his assessment of the situation.

At what point did we become a nation that strips children away from their families? When did we start taking infants out of their mothers’ arms? As a country, we have fought wars to keep other countries from doing the exact same thing, and if this were taking place somewhere like China -which in all likelihood it is to some extent — we would see impassioned speeches on the floor of both chambers of Congress and it would not take long before a nation doing something so soulless would — at the least — be facing stiff sanctions from the United States.

Now we are the ones doing the separation.

When did we stoop so low?

slavesActually, this action is not without precedent in our history. For 300 years we took black babies from their mothers’ arms and sold them without compunction to others. For over a century, we took Indian children from their homes and families and sent them to places like Carlisle Indian School where white teachers tried to “save the soul by killing the Indian” in the boys and girls. We have proven as a country we are not above doing what we are now doing; it hides like bad code within our country’s DNA in places we don’t like to talk about in “nice” company.

indiansThe public is rallying behind these children. Pressure mounted so much on the White House to do something that our notoriously truculent President Trump went against his iron-fisted immigration policy and signed an Executive Order legally stopping the forced separations. Yet, when questioned closely, a least one White House aide said, on record, the separations were likely to continue anyway because of nothing less than inertia. The Department of Justice doesn’t seem intent on stopping any time soon.

Even if they did, even if from this moment forward not a single child more was separated from his or her family, what about the 2,300+ who are already in tent cities, warehouses, and former Wal-Marts across the nation? I deliberately avoided the phrase “in the system” because no “system” is serving these children.

I serve in my church’s nursery. I hold babies for an hour or so each week so their parents can worship without worry. Before I get that baby, the parents have to provide fingerprints — which are kept on file — and a photo id to a ten member team whose only job is ensuring the safety of the children we get. Once the parents submit their fingerprints and are identified by the Welcome Team, the parents get an entry slip. They bring that slip to me in the baby room and give me the slip and their baby. Halfway through the service, a member of the Welcome Team comes around and visual checks each child against the entry slips and against the class list they print off once the service begins. At the end of service, the parents submit prints and id once again and are issued an exit slip. They bring me that exit slip and once I verify they are who they say they are, they get the baby back. We haven’t lost one yet in 25 years even though we have had more than one attempt made to take a child under our care.

THAT is a system, folks.

No one in either the Trump White House or the Department of Justice, when questioned about the eventual reunification of these 2,300+ children with their families has provided a shred of a plan as to how this is to be done OR WHEN this is to be done. Keep this in mind, the parents are in detention centers around the border in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, but in many instances their children have been flown or bussed as far away as Miami, Florida; Richmond, Virginia; and New York City, New York. These children in many cases are THOUSANDS of miles from their families. Some of them have not spoken to a family member even on the phone for WEEKS.

These children are in centers and foster homes scattered all across the country like so many feathers from an exploded feather pillow. How are we supposed to believe our government is competent enough to have kept up with every single child over those great distances and has the ability and wherewithal to match each child up with the proper family? Our government loses track of people and things every day. What are the odds of at least some of these children NEVER seeing their families again?

I realize plenty of people don’t see a problem. Many agree, openly or tacitly, with the Fox News anchor who says these are other countries’ children. More specifically, these are brown countries and black countries children, and who really cares about them anyway? I know more than one person who feels the world has too many brown and black people in it already.

What would you do if it was YOUR child?

What if YOUR eight-month old infant was taken from you and sent a thousand miles away in the company of complete strangers? What if you miss their first steps? Or their first words? Who is raising YOUR baby? What is standing between YOUR baby and neglect? Abuse? A pedophile? Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

Ask yourself this chilling question: With things as up in the air and lax as they are at present, how hard would it be for human traffickers to get their hands on many of these babies and small children who some people already think we don’t have to worry about because “these aren’t our children; they are from another country?” We see stories every month of babies snatched by traffickers from their mothers’ grocery carts with the mothers standing right there. Who is going to stop them from taking a child no one is really even looking for?

Call and email your Congressmen and Senators. Get even more pressure on the government to put these families back together while everyone has a reasonable chance of getting back to the right place. Deport the illegal immigrants if that what has to be done, but in the name of all that is holy, put the families back together before this situation gets any worse. death-of-the-girl-in-red


#TBT: Daddy’s not the Cadillac Kind

These boys sang my life story.

These boys sang my life story.

I wrote this for Fathers’ Day five years ago. With Fathers’ Day coming up Sunday, I thought I would rerun it and maybe Daddy will see it. Hope you like it.

Driving home from supper last night, Budge and I heard Confederate Railroad singing their hit song, “Daddy Never Was The Cadillac Kind.” Now the boys in Confederate Railroad wrote the two songs that perfectly sum up my relationships with my parents. Mama’s ringtone from the day I was able to get mp3 ringtones was “Jesus and Mama” by Confederate Railroad; they wrote that song for me and her, they just didn’t know it. Then Daddy fits just perfectly with “Cadillac Kind.”  In the second verse of the song, the narrator is describing how he told his Daddy about buying a nice big new car. In his words, “Daddy asked how I bought it; I told him on credit, and Daddy just smiled, I’ll never forget it.” That brings to mind one of the most memorable conversations I ever had with Daddy and, this being Father’s Day, I thought I’d tell it as an interlude in my beach recollection.

So here’s what happened. I was eighteen and fresh out of high school in fall of 1989. I’d already abandoned my plan to go to Clemson University with some friends of mine and instead was working at Advance Auto Parts and planned to start classes at Greenville Tech later in the year. Each of those items is worth a story in its own right, and maybe I’ll tell them one day, but for now, suffice it to say I was in the grip of new car fever. For the last few months, I’d parked Marilyn — my ’69 Chevelle SS that would pass everything on the road but a gas station — and started driving a little Ford Fiesta, which is another story worth vignette. In any event, I was through with used cars and wanted to buy something new, so one Friday afternoon, I picked up my check from Advance and went with Mama to what was then Crossroads Chevrolet between Mauldin and Simpsonville.

What I went to get!

What I went to get!

I knew exactly what I wanted and it was sitting in the showroom when we walked in. It was a 1990 Chevrolet Camaro IROC Z-28, smoke grey with factory tinted windows, t-tops, and high pro v-8 engine. Sticker price was $22,999.00, which was a ton of money in 1989.

I pointed to the car when the salesman walked up and told him that’s what I intended to buy. He opened the driver side door, got me seated, went around and got in the passenger’s seat, handed me the keys, and I was off on my first test drive ever. Five miles of curvy roads and one carsick and extremely pale salesman later, we were back on the lot and then in his little cubicle. I filled out a mile of paperwork and signed my name to hundreds of forms. Mama didn’t have to sign anything. I was so proud. He said it would be about two hours before he could give us “a decision.” So we went to eat lunch.

Right here, I need to explain something to y’all I’m not really proud of, but it is a fact of my existence. I suck at all things financial. Growing up, I never learned to save because we never had enough money around to have anything left over to save. I didn’t get an allowance, if I was with Mama, she bought what I needed or wanted if she had the money and if she didn’t, I did without. It’s where I picked up a phrase I use to this day to answer someone saying, “I want X or Y.” My answer is “People in Hell want ice water too.” If I was with Daddy, it was the same way. So I just never learned how to handle money well. I knew people got paid on Thursday and it was their job to spend it all because I figured if anything was left the next Wednesday, they’d come back and get it. I’m serious about this. To this day, if I’m not constantly vigilant, I can go through a pile of money of any size like poop through a goose and have a ball doing it. I lived with Mama and Mama’s budget was the same as what I use today. It’s called the Pile Method. You get paid, put the money in the bank, and sit down with a checkbook and a pile of bills and write out payments until the money or the pile is gone. Some weeks the money won, most weeks the pile won. To this day, I do that with only a little variation. So again, I suck at all things financial.

After lunch, we went back to the showroom where the very somber faced salesman sadly gave me the news that GMAC Financial had refused my loan application on the Camaro. I was heartbroken and he almost got to see a big boy bawl. I wanted that car so bad I could taste it. He saved the day, however, by telling me he HAD gotten me approved for another vehicle. He took the lead and showed me, at the very back of the lot, the vehicle I would drive off the lot with that day. It was a 1989 Chevy S-10 Cameo EL pickup truck — base model, sticker price $7999. Now when I say “base model” I don’t mean “no power windows” or something like that; I mean it didn’t have a RADIO — just a hole in the dash covered by a blockoff plate. No power steering, no power brakes, no NOTHING. It was a 4 cylinder 5 speed manual drivetrain and it DID have A/C, but only because GM wouldn’t ship a car below the Mason-Dixon Line without A/C and expect to sell it.

And what I got.

And what I got.

I paid $200 down and signed my name to a loan agreement of $184 per month. The salesman handed me the keys, I kissed Mama on the cheek, and took off in my new ride to show Daddy what a big boy I was. Daddy had just gotten home from eight hours at Laurens Glass Plant. He was sitting in the shade of his workshop shed and stood up when I pulled into the yard. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe I was 18, which made Daddy 38 years old. I walked up the hill and asked him how he liked “my new truck!” He looked at it thoughtfully for a long moment, then turned and the conversation progressed like this:

Daddy asked me, “How much was it?” I told him, “$7999.00.” He nodded.

Then he asked, “What’d you put down on it?” I told him, “$200.00.” He nodded again.

Then he wanted to know if Mama had co-signed with me and I proudly told him she had not; I was grown and making my own way in the world. I thought I was doing well and was smiling like a bloodhound pooping peach pits. Then Daddy asked his next question.

“What’s your payment?”  “$184 per month, sir!” That brought a wince, but the next few questions almost got me killed.

“How many months?” “Um, I don’t know?” Frown.

“What’s your interest rate?” Again, I had to say “Um, I don’t know?” That wasn’t the right answer.

“So, you just bought a truck? No idea how many payments? Don’t know the interest rate? Do you have the paperwork you signed?” I just nodded. “Go get it.” I went and got it and when I brought it back to Daddy, he sat down in the door of his workshop and read over everything, which was the first time anyone but the salesman read those papers. Apparently, he found the payment schedule AND the interest rate because he looked up at me.

He didn’t look angry, he didn’t even look upset. The best way I can describe his face was the way Jackie Gleason’s face looked during this scene in Smokey and the Bandit. He said, “You are paying $184.00 for SIXTY months. That’s FIVE years, son.” I didn’t know what to say. He continued, “You are paying 16% interest! You are basically buying that truck on a credit card!” Once again, I didn’t have any idea what to say. He finished up, “You just saw a truck you wanted and the man got you in it however he could. I wish you had come to me, son, and we could have gone together.” You may notice a pattern here, but I still didn’t know what to say. Finally, Daddy just smiled the same exasperated smile Budge says I use with her sometimes and said, “C’mon. Take me for a ride in your new truck.”

Twenty-five years later, I know the interest rate of every loan, credit card, and savings account I have and it’s all because of one conversation. I also know why Daddy was so aggravated about the interest rate. See, he bought his and Teresa’s house they live in now during the height of the Jimmy Carter administration. Daddy paid 17% interest on that house and it made him hate interest in all its forms; think about that the next time you hear a commercial for refinancing at 4%!

That’s my Daddy.

Happy Fathers Day to all the daddies out there and y’all be sure to keep your feet clean!

Love y’all.

#TBT: Speak Softly and Carry a Frying Pan


I just passed my 5th Mother’s Day without Mama. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately so I decided to repost this from not long after she first passed away. It’s still one of my favorite stories about her and me. Ironically, my grass needs cutting right now and I don’t want to do it anymore than I did then. It’s originally from May 10, 2013. Hope you like it.

As I face my first Mother’s Day without Mama, I thought I’d tell y’all one of my favorite stories ever about me and Mama. I have been known to embellish my tales, but this one is the absolute truth.

I was sixteen and as a byproduct of such a sage and wizened age, I knew everything about everything and if you didn’t believe me, all you had to do was ask. Mama was 34 — a year younger than my Budge is right now. We were living in “The Little Barn,” which was our name for the 1960-something vintage trailer we called home for several years. It pretty much was a barn, no central heat . . . no heat at all in the back of the house where my room was . . . and no central air, just a window unit mounted in the wall in the living room. The carpet was hand-me-down from my aunt after she’d changed rugs at her place. It was a sight for sore eyes and it rocked like a sailboat in a hurricane when the wind blew, but it was home.

This is what I cut grass with .  .  .  no lie.

This is what I cut grass with . . . no lie.

Anyway, this particular day was a Thursday right around this time of year. I remember it well because the grass needed to be cut and that was my job. I never particularly looked forward to cutting our grass because my instrument for mowing our 3/4 acre lot was a 19 inch bladed push mower and it was decidedly not self-propelled. This was also in the days before wonder drugs like Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra had been invented. I’ve chronicled my battle with hay fever before in these pages so I won’t go into great detail now, but suffice it to say by the time I finished cutting all that volunteer fescue with my Fisher-Price toy lawnmower, I could either endure the rest of the day sneezing and itching or take two Benadryl capsules and slip into a coma. But I digress.

It was a Thursday and I had three things propelling me towards my doom: my new ’79 Mustang, a newly upgraded drivers license, and daylight. A few years later at Clemson University, weekends always started on Thursdays, but a young man tearing out the door after supper on what was still a school night then was severely frowned upon in Mama’s household.

I had one hand on the doorknob with visions of picking up Robby and just wandering around the countryside telling lies, going a little too fast around curves, listening to loud music, and hoping to catch a glimpse of that elusive creature — the beautiful teenage girl. Mama was washing the dishes from supper and at that moment, she was cleaning out the 12″ cast iron frying pan (or skillet to you yankees among my limited readership) she’d used to fry my favorite breaded okra with earlier in the evening. She had just placed that hunk of pig iron on the stove eye where it lived when she noticed me still in “school clothes” and fixing to walk out the door. She turned back to the sink and as she did, she asked me a question — a simple question really — that would change my estimation of Mama for the rest of my life. She said, “Son, where are you going?”

I could have answered with any number of phrases, the absolute truth being best, that I was going to get Robby, put a few hard Community Cash earned dollars worth of gas in the car and drive around wasting time and daylight. That’s all I had to say and the evening would have simply progressed on. Unfortunately, I was sixteen and a boy. I also possessed one of the smartest mouths in three counties and I had a delightful talent for opening it at the wrong time and letting it say the wrong thing. Tonight, my smart mouth shoved my much less bulky good sense out of the way and blurted one word, “OUT!”

Mama paused in her dishwashing and visibly tensed, but she almost immediately went back to the suds in the sink and her back asked me a second innocuous question, “Okay, and when do you plan on being back?” Once I let my mouth off its rather long chain, it had a tendency to overdo things so I missed the chance to have a pleasant evening when I replied with yet another one word answer, “LATER!”

Again, Mama tensed up. I learned later on that weekend that I had just used the same intonation, phrasing, and even voice patterns my Daddy used when he and Mama were dating and later on when they were still married and he was off to do some mischief. Mama HATED that “Out; Later” nonsense coming from Daddy. She didn’t like it any better coming from me, but what happened next is what sealed my fate. She had again started washing the dishes and softly, without turning around, she said, “That’s funny, son. Now really, where are you going and when do you plan on being back? It’s a school night.”

Gentle reader, have you ever had an out of body experience where you have seemed to stand beside yourself as you did something unbelievably stupid and your astral self is screaming at your physical self “Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!” But your physical self just plowed right on through that big red mental STOP sign up ahead? Well, that’s how I felt when I spoke next.

I was sixteen and basically grown — in my own eyes — and I had a car Daddy had bought me so Mama had no business telling ME — A MAN — where to go, do, and be back. As Daddy had famously told her himself on more than one occasion “No damn woman is going to tell me what to do.” So, I spoke again and very nearly paid for my words with my life when I said, loudly with all the confidence of a teenage boy who feels ten feet tall and bulletproof, “IT’S NONE OF YOUR (horrible expletive I’d never used in front of Mama deleted) BUSINESS WHERE I’M GOING OR WHEN (second horrible never used in Mama’s presence expletive deleted) I PLAN TO BE BACK! I’M A GROWN MAN!”

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

In the right hands, deadly weapon.

As God whom I serve is my witness, I didn’t know that little woman could move that fast. In one smooth, swift motion, she pivoted on her left foot, snatched up that cast iron frying pan in her right hand, and stepped and threw a sidearm cookware fastball that would have made Kent Tekulve blush with shame it was so perfect. I never saw it coming until it was too late to do anything about it. That heavy hunk of iron spun a few times between me and Mama and — mercifully — struck me right in the solar plexus with the lip instead of the handle. If the pan had rotated another half turn, we wouldn’t be having this conversation because I’d have been skewered by an iron handle.

The force of the blow staggered me backwards and I caught my knees on the arm of the sofa, lost my balance, and sprawled backwards, arms flailing, to land flat on my back after cracking my skull on the coffee table on the way down. As I lay there in a dazed stupor with my head and chest throbbing while my feet still twitched in the air on the sofa cushion like a mosquito on a date with DDT, I heard the refrigerator door open, something get removed, and footsteps coming towards me. Before I could clear my head at all, Mama slung the contents of the ice water pitcher all over my face and upper body, causing me to sit up and split my forehead on the bottom of the coffee table as I rose.

As I sat spluttering and breathless, Mama put her face millimeters away from mine, which was good because my eyes were having trouble focusing, and said very quietly and carefully, “You will never speak to me in that manner again; do you understand?” I could only nod my most vehement, impassioned assent. Then she said, “When you get your breath back, you get up, change clothes, and go cut the grass, yes?”

My pride was soaked and my head and chest were pained but that skinny bundle of good sense had whipped and hog-tied my smart mouth for a change so all I could croak was, “Yes, ma’am,” as Mama nodded and walked off.

I love her still and God knows I miss her.

Love y’all as well, keep those feet clean, and as you honor or remember your own mothers this Sunday, if you’d say a prayer for me, I’d certainly appreciate it.

#TBT: I-85 Take Me Home To The Place I Belong!


It all started with a simple high school baseball game.

I originally posted this back in April 2012. I had lunch with Robby not long ago and thought it’d be a good time for a rerun.

This post is the direct result of a memory jog brought on by reading about some random high school baseball playoff. Looking at the box score of a couple of schools I’ve never heard of took me back to one of the most confusing nights of my life that also just happened to involve a high school playoff game . . . sort of.

As Kid Rock so eloquently puts it, “It was 1989 (technically, 1990), my thoughts were short, my hair was long . . . ” My alma mater, Laurens District 55 High School, was playing for the State 4A Baseball Championship against Lancaster High School. My long-time best friend, Robby, asked me to go to the first of the three game series with him and we watched the Green and Gold dismantle the Bruins at Laurens’ stadium. The second game was the next night in Lancaster and Robby asked me to go to that one as well.

At that point, Robby and I managed to maintain what was left of our grade-school spanning friendship. He hadn’t been home from his freshman year at college long  when the playoffs in question started. He’d gone off to Clemson University while I had chosen a girl over my education and stayed home — which is another story for another time — and gone to Greenville Tech. (Spoiler alert: I came to my senses and rectified that situation in the fall of ’90.) So we agreed to meet at his house the next night about 4 and make the three hour drive to Lancaster in time for the game.

Now if you look at the relative positions of Lancaster High School and our home town of Gray Court on a map of South Carolina, you’ll probably start to wonder how in the world it can take three hours to make such a seemingly short trip. The answer — as an old man once told me — is simple, you can’t get there from here. What I mean is, then as now, NO road worth driving connects Gray Court and Lancaster. What’s more, you never ACTUALLY reach a town in the course of the entire trip there. You always “head towards” a town but make a turn before you get to the town limits. For example, in the first leg of the trip, we “headed towards” Union, but turned before we got there in order to “head towards” Chester. The upshot of it all is what looks like it should take 45 minutes to an hour of hard driving takes 3 or more hours of winding country roads through one of the most desolate areas of my home state.

Our chariot for the evening’s events. Robby’s looked almost exactly like this one.

We made it to the game without a hitch, riding in Robby’s high school graduation present – a frost white 1989 Chevy Beretta. It was a beautiful day full of  bright spring sunshine. Once there, we watched as Laurens was handed its hind-quarters on a silver platter by a pitcher named “Pep” Harris who would eventually play for the Cleveland Indians and the California Angels. The boy was “throwing bb’s” as the baseball expression goes and he made our visiting team look sickly and anemic, which future major league pitchers often do to their high school competition. I got to shake his hand before Robby and I packed up and headed home.

Here’s where the fun began.

See, this was in my younger and less responsible days when I preferred the company of my dear uncles James Beam and Jonathan Daniels over lesser forms of entertainment. Robby shared my love of the “family”, though his preferences ran more towards Messrs. Bartles and James. In any event, we had brought along several “family members” on this particular adventure and by the time the sun went down, most of those dearly beloveds had gone on to a new place of residence. In short, we were a bit less coordinated for our trip home than we’d be on our trip out.

We did fine until we were “headed towards” Chester. Then, for reasons that aren’t completely clear even now, we went UNDER a bridge that we were supposed to go OVER. That would have been trouble enough, but what with our relative lack of thought processing compounded by a joyous rendition of the ENTIRE AC/DC discography played on one of the first in-dash CD players I’d ever seen, we did not notice our mistake for nearly an hour.

When we realized we should have long since reached Union, we started looking for road signs. We were on a two lane road in the middle of the boondocks. Road signs were at a premium. Now two 19 year old guys are not lost so long as there is gas in the tank; they are merely taking the scenic route, so we weren’t worried. The fuzzy effects of our erstwhile uncles had worn off so we were in full possession of our outstanding senses of direction. We reasoned that “home” was to our left, so the very next intersection we found, we turned left. After spending twenty minutes on that road, we figured we must not have turned far enough left so at the next crossroads, we hung another left.

We started to feel this way after midnight.

After twenty more minutes of driving through scrub pine and cotton in the desolate northern borderlands of South Carolina, we came to another crossroads. At that point, a glance at the fuel gauge told the two of us we were dangerously close to getting lost. Unfortunately, we had not the foggiest idea where we were since this was well before a future POTUS Bill Clinton opened up the GPS system for civilian use. I hate to admit it, but we resorted to flipping a coin. The coin chose “right turn” and five minutes later we were at the chain link locked gate of an abandoned cotton mill. After throwing that particular quarter over the aforementioned gate, we headed back the way we came on what amounted to a left hand turn.

About ten minutes later, our luck changed somewhat. After two and a half hours of roaming around aimlessly in the dark, we saw our first road sign. It read “Charlotte 35 miles.” Somehow, we had managed to wander to within 35 miles of the largest city in North Carolina. We were no less than 270 degrees in the wrong direction. Undeterred, we now had knowledge, somewhat anyway, of our position. We still needed to keep going left. At the next intersection, we did. Twenty minutes later, we came to an intersection with a sign pointing off to the right reading “Charlotte 45” above some other places I’d never heard of and I’ve lived in this state all my life.

Now at that point, Robby — ever the stubborn optimist — wanted to turn left again. One glance at the dash, however, told me we were now SERIOUSLY close to being lost so I said, “Temp, let’s go to Charlotte.”

Click to enlarge!

He looked at me like I had two heads and asked, “Why do you want to go to Charlotte? We need to get home.”

I replied, “I KNOW. That’s why I think we should go to Charlotte.”

He said, “Why?” I asked, “Do you know where we are?” He shook his head then said, “But what good will it do to go to Charlotte? That’s even further from home.”

Finally, exasperated, hungry, tired, and my throat sore from imitating Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, I said, “I KNOW THAT DAMMIT, BUT I ALSO KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW THE HELL TO GET HOME FROM CHARLOTTE!!!!”

We turned right and headed towards Charlotte.

Along the way, about ten minutes later, we crossed a road with a sign reading “SC 92”. Before I could say anything, Robby had already slammed on the brakes and did a half doughnut turn onto that road. Two hours and a seedy gas station stop later and we were home because Robby knew what I did . . . SC 92 dead-ends onto SC 14 and SC 14 is also Main Street of Gray Court.

So the moral of the story? Don’t hang out with your “uncles” then try to drive . . . or navigate either for that matter, but if you do and you end up on the backside of nowhere, head for Charlotte because I-85’ll take you to I-385 and I-385’ll get you to Gray Court where you can stop at Mama’s and have her call me and I’ll come and try to get you home.

Love ya’ll and keep those feet clean!

Great War Wednesday: Kaiserschlacht


German Stormtrooper carrying the MP18, an early submachinegun.

Since the Race to the Sea ended in 1914, the Great War on the Western Front had stagnated into grinding, muddy trench warfare. Attack and counterattack over small pieces of no mans land had added no appreciable territory for either side. In March-April 1918, both sides were roughly in the same positions they had been in when movement became too deadly four years before.

The main reason for the lack of movement was the lack of sufficient numbers of troops available to storm across the bullet swept no man’s land and land an attack on the enemy that would endure the immediate counterattack. If one side could get a local, massive superiority in troop numbers, theoretically it could steamroll the other side and get movement going again.

The Entente Powers were about to get their massive local superiority vis a vis the numbers of doughboys streaming across the Atlantic Ocean bound for the trenches. Once the human potential and industrial might of the New World landed full scale on the shores of France, a German defeat was only a matter of time. It looked as if Germany was done until a miracle happened — the Russian Revolution and formation of the Soviet Union took Russia out of the war entirely. For the first time in four long years, Germany had what it had hitherto only dreamed of, a single front war.

The end of the war on the Eastern Front made the 50+ divisions formerly used to fight the Russians available for action on the Western Front. Germany wasted no time packing all those men and their supplies onto trains and started steaming west as fast as the locomotives could go. It was a puncher’s chance, but maybe it would be enough. Germany was launching the Kaiserschlacht or “Kaiser’s War” but it has become known as The Spring Offensive.

The Spring Offensive was a series of attacks by the newly reinforced German lines up and down the Western Front, but mainly concentrating in Belgium, close to the original path of attack from 1914. The first and strongest attack was codenamed “Michael” for the archangel who legend says leads the Heavenly Host. On 21 March, a massive bombardment, the largest of the war, unleashed more than 1.1 million shells over a 150 mile front. Then a new type of German unit began streaming out of the German trenches to slam into the reeling Entente lines.

Germany had learned a great many lessons in the four years of the war and one was the value of movement. They, and the Allies, learned that the real problem was movement was one could only go so far before overrunning supply lines at which point the attack would fizzle out and break against a farther line of trenches like a weak ocean wave. The German Stormtrooper units were supposed to solve that problem.

The Stormtroopers were the handpicked best of all the German troops available on the Western Front. They were not going to be dependent on supply lines because they were going to carry their supplies on their backs. The general, greatly simplified, idea called for Stormtroopers to press the attack directly behind the artillery barrage. Rather than rank upon rank of troops trying to storm an entire line, these troops would run through relatively small openings in the opposite lines and fan out in the rear. They were looking for high value command and control centers to attack and leaving the bypassed front units to be mopped up by regular troops coming later.

In a show of force that ominously foreshadowed the Wermacht Blitzkrieg twenty-two years later, the Stormtroopers hit the lines around the Somme River and broke through with precision attacks aided in some places by German armor. The attacks worked. All up and down the attacked front, the Entente forces gave way and were relentlessly pushed back. Once again the German army was on the move and had as its destination Paris. The Germans knew they couldn’t win a war of attrition anymore, but they thought if they could break through to Paris or at least close enough to the French capital for the French to feel the pressure they could possibly force the French to sue for an armistice and Germany could hold on to its territorial gains in the East and the West.

For a time, the plan worked. The holes did get punched and the infantry did follow up. Unfortunately, it couldn’t last for the same reason all the other offensives throughout the war had ultimately failed — the Stormtroopers could only carry so much on their backs and sooner rather than later, they ran out of supplies to continue the surge forward. Once that happened, the lines once again began to solidify. To make matters worse for the Germans, the Allies, once they realized what was happening, would simply evacuate low importance areas along the line and pull back. For example, the British mostly abandoned the Somme territory, giving back what had been won at such high cost in 1916, but which was now deemed expendable. As a result of Allied withdrawals and German surges, the Germans gained relatively great amounts of territory, but most of it consisted of “bulges” in the lines and a bulge required more troops to defend than a straight trench line and Germany’s initial troop superiority was fast beginning to wane.

In the end, the German tide broke against Allied defenses once again, albeit at a much higher tide that the previous four years, but still not as high as Paris. For all Germany’s gains, her army was a spent force. Six months of the Spring Offensive cost the Germans a million men killed, wounded, or captured — men they had no way of replacing. On the other side of the trenches, the doughboys were arriving in force and what they lacked in skill, and they certainly lacked skill, they made up for in enthusiasm and, most importantly, sheer numbers. Germany had lost the momentum and she would never recover it. Now, the next move was the Allies.

Not many more episodes of Great War Wednesday to go. It’s hard to believe it’s been four years since Belgium stood strong, but the last few months of the war would be far from easy. Germany wasn’t about to give up what she had won without a hard fight.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean!

Anxiety vs. Depression — A Primer


I have been enduring one of the worst stretches of anxiety and depression since I was in high school. Lately I couldn’t cast Expecto Patronus if my life depended on it. The dementors would just have to take me. Budge assures me it is not, in fact, THE worst since I haven’t been hospitalized but I think I probably could have been sent to the psych ward two or three times in the last seven weeks were it not for the fact I refuse to ever voluntarily give up my freedom to a doctor’s whim again. If I am ever hospitalized again, it will be with a warrant, a straitjacket, and several large orderlies. It may help some people, but it just terrified me. So, I’ve been thinking — analyzing my condition and rather than just a single side of my mental health coin showing up, the last seven weeks have been categorized by mental “coin flips” and it seems the coin is always in the air and I have no idea or control over how it lands. I can only hope for it to land on the thin edge because that edge is where normal, calm, relatively happy days exist.

In the process of analyzing my current situation, I realize just how isolating these conditions are. I don’t think people are monsters. They want to help me, but they have absolutely no idea how. It leads to a lonely existence, especially when I’m alone most of the time anyway. Another thing I’ve noticed is how interchangeable in some people’s minds the concepts of anxiety and depression are. While the two are intertwined in many subtle ways, they do have their distinctions and, as the old adage goes, the devil is in the details.

Depression targets motivation and self-worth. When I’m depressed, and I don’t mean just in a bit of a funk, but really manifesting clinical depression, I have a hard time standing up. The first thing I have to do every morning is make the decision to get out of bed. I literally have to urge myself to stand up, cut the light on, and start the day. Depression becomes the “why bother” disease. For instance, take laundry, which we all agree is a task everyone has to deal with unless he is a nudist. A rational thinking person will look at a pile of laundry and she may think, “damn, I don’t want to do this laundry!” However, her motivation kicks in and she begins to think of all the reasons why this needs to get done now as opposed to later. Depression looks at laundry differently.

When I’m depressed, I see a pile of laundry as an insurmountable challenge. I think, “there’s no possible way to get all this sorted, washed, dried, folded, and put away.” Then the “why bother” kicks in, as in, “why bother doing laundry at all? As soon as I get one load done, two more will take its place. It’s not like I go out anyway, so how dirty can these clothes be? I just want to go back to bed.” Then, depression’s second insidious attack begins — self-worth. The laundry sits there in a pile and you can hear a voice in your head saying, “you’re pathetic! If you’d just man up and do this shit when you get a load together instead of waiting so long you wouldn’t have this problem! You know what? You’re right, go back to bed, you don’t deserve clean clothes anyway. People who DO stuff deserve clean clothes. Losers can wear the same things again.”

It’s a devastating one-two punch. First, you have to fight just to get up the momentum to take care of a task only to have your mind screaming at you just how worthless you are for not getting the task done already. It can be about ANYTHING, too. Right now I can name off a twenty-five item list of things that need to be done around the house. Just looking at the list in my head makes me tired which triggers the idea of “why bother?” After all, nothing you need to do will actually be done because grass grows and bushes grow and oil in cars wears out so no matter what you do, you’re going to be stuck. See, a rational person sees these tasks as a part of life; a depressed person sees them as almost punishments and of course you have the peanut gallery in your head screaming, “You bloody loser! You have the worst looking yard in the neighborhood and you deserve it! Losers don’t get clean yards OR clean oil! Just sit there and cry like a baby . . . it’s what you deserve!”

Another characteristic of depression, at least for me, is a seething, roiling, barely contained anger bordering on rage. I don’t know where I heard it but someone said “Depression is anger turned inward.” Whoever they were, they knew what they were talking about. I’ll just sit sometimes and think about throwing my phone through the wall or something along those lines. At times like that I feel like I am a single giant exposed nerve with no skin and the environment is scrubbing me with sandpaper. I’m never mad at anyone but myself though because I always think I should do better, or should have done better. I was a bit of a cutter when I was in high school and it actually was quite soothing, but the world is hard enough on teenagers who self-harm, it’s down right ferocious on middle aged men who cut themselves. We’re supposed to know better.

Anxiety works in an entirely different way. Anxiety is the “What If” disease. A rational person knows if he wants to eat he has to go to the grocery store, but a person dealing with anxiety sees the trip as nothing less dangerous than a trip to the headwaters of the Amazon. What if you have a panic attack? Remember, you had one last time and had to hurry out of the store! Anxiety is usually much more talkative than depression. It’s a constant chatter of “why hasn’t anyone called you? Is it because they hate you? Did you offend someone without knowing?” Sometimes it’s all about the future, “Oh dear, you know what could happen if we do X! We can’t do that! It’s too much risk.”

That’s another difference between my depression and my anxiety. I can only speak for myself, but depression is much more past focused and backward looking while anxiety is almost exclusively future oriented. One way I’ve analogized them is two huge, dark oceans, the Ocean of the Past and the Ocean of the Future and they swirl together in a maelstrom until they crest and break with unendurable force on the Beach of Now. Anything on that beach is going to get crushed: plans, hopes, dreams, normalcy itself, all drowned in a tide of voices.

Depression looks towards the past. Sometimes it can look almost telescopically into the past. It’s not unusual at all for me to agonize over things that happened to me as a child or bad experiences I had in high school. Most of all, depression expertly hunts out mistakes. If you screwed up, no matter how big or how small, a bout of depression WILL find it and like bamboo under fingernails push on the soft, tender spots of your psyche until it bleeds, and it’s accompanied the entire time by the chorus of “you idiot! How could you do something so undeniably stupid! No wonder you’re in such a sad state; you’ve never made a right choice in your life! Just look at all the people you hurt; look at all the damage you caused! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!”

Anxiety, on the other hand, peers into the future and it never, ever likes what it sees. Anxiety also like to do its talking at night. You’ll just be lying in bed planning to go to sleep when you think, “Wonder why my arm has been hurting so much lately? Is that related to why my hand is shaking? Have I got Parkinson’s Disease? Am I going to die? What happens if I die? Who will take care of Budge?! Budge . . . did she check her sugar enough today? Did you make sure she didn’t eat gluten? What if she dies? You’ll be all alone! You’re going to DIE ALONE!”

Sometimes, they team up with depression dredging up some awful pain from the past and tossing it like a downfield pass to anxiety who says, “Ah yes! Remember this bit of idiocy on your part? What’s going to keep you from doing it again? You know every time you open your mouth something stupid comes out? This is just proof. I’m just going to have to make sure we don’t go anywhere or do anything that might cause a repeat of this mistake.” Of course, depression piles on with “That’s right! Stay home! Stay in the bed! You don’t deserve to go and do because you’ll just screw it up!”

Those “voices!” Now when I say “voices” please understand I’m not “hearing voices” in the classical schizophrenic sense. I’m just anthropomorphizing my thoughts. I will say sometimes though it can feel like the voices actually are screaming. It happens at my lowest and when they start pounding on me and I’m in tears and near the fetal position, I have entertained the one way to shut them up entirely . . . but so far I’ve always managed to claw out of such darkness. Honestly though? I never come back from the edge for myself. If it was just me, I’d have punched my ticket a long time ago. Someone’s always needing taking care of though . . . Mama, Granny, Budge – of course. I always come back.

The amazing thing about dealing with anxiety and depression is the amount of expertise you encounter. For example, one of my favorites is have someone say, “You know, there’s nothing really wrong with you? It’s all in your head.” Awesome! Thank you random person or perhaps family member. I have a board certified psychiatrist and a board certified psychologist who would disagree with you, but thank you for letting me know a mental illness is, in fact all in my head. I do hope the irony is not lost.

Another great healing balm is “You just need to get out more and face the world! Face your problems head on!” Again, I appreciate the sentiment and as soon as I uncurl myself from the fetal position and cut the lights on so I can put some unstained clothes on, I’ll get right on that!

The worst, however, is to be a Christian and suffer from depression and anxiety. You get a whole different batch of advice and well meaning helpful hints. Let me just list some of the things other Christians have said to me over the years when I’ve been stupid enough to talk about my depression and anxiety in front of them:

  • If you prayed enough you wouldn’t feel this way.
  • You can’t possibly be a REAL Christian because REAL Christians don’t have mental illnesses . . . . they’re of the devil!
  • If you just focus on Jesus instead of yourself you’ll be fine and it’ll all go away.
  • You don’t need all those medicines; prayer is the answer.
  • You must not be very close to God. He wouldn’t let you suffer like this! (When I get this one I always want to say, ever read Job, asshole?)
  • Real Christians don’t think about suicide because suicide is an unforgivable sin!

That’s just some of the more common pieces of wisdom I’ve had sent my way by well-intentioned believers over the years. It’s not as bad now that I’m in a different church but, no offense, growing up Pentecostal with a mental illness, it’s a wonder I made it out alive.

So that’s it. That’s what I’ve been dealing with the last several weeks. Hopefully you got some information out of it that will help you connect with someone you know who’s struggling with depression or anxiety. Maybe you are one of the brotherhood / sisterhood yourself and you came across this post at a low point. I hope you know you aren’t alone and let me leave you with two pieces of advice that have sustained me through many long dark nights of the soul:

  • Suicide, no matter HOW tempting it can be at times, is ALWAYS a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
  • It’s ALWAYS a temporary problem because you’ll get past the hump or you’ll eventually die and it’ll be over then, but be sure to follow Item 1.

Love y’all, I mean that, it’s not something I just use as a tag line. Not enough people love each other so when I close with “Love y’all” I’m not just talking to hear my brains rattle. Anyway.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day 2018


Today is, once again, Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day. In honor of the day and the special people it recognizes, I’m reissuing this post from 3-21-2012 about one of my favorite people ever. Drew is out of high school now and I’ve lost touch completely with him but I hope wherever he is, someone is cleaning his glasses and he is happy because he was a great person and I still miss him.

Downs BannnerI’m not at all a politically correct person . . . just ask Budge or spend ten minutes around me, but I am so glad that the term “retard” is now a sure-fire ticket to a PC beat down by anyone around with an iota of sense. One of the things I miss most about being in education is the chance to interact daily with the “special students.”I’m no fool or naive and I know these children can be difficult to deal with at times, but more often than not, they are the sweetest and kindest group of children in any school. At my last position as librarian here in the Upstate, I was blessed to have met Drew. Drew was born with Down’s Syndrome, which is medically called Trisomy 21, which further means he has THREE copies of his 21st chromosome instead of the required TWO. As a result of his genetic condition, Drew has easily recognizable features including a slightly webbed neck and a mildly enlarged, slightly protruding tongue.

Without fail, Drew would come in to the library with the rest of his class after lunch. More often than not, he was sporting a smurfy tongue and blue Kool-aid smile from nose to chin thanks to his predilection for blue raspberry slurpees from the cafeteria. The dark blue of the slurpee stains were a complement to Drew’s sparkling blue eyes behind the glasses that were forever slipping down and teetering on the end of his button nose. Instead of sliding them up his face with a knuckle to the bridge, he would grasp one of the lens and place them back on a more useful part of his face. As a result, his glasses stayed a greasy, smeary mess and I often wondered how he could see out of them at all.

Having me clean his glasses after lunch became a favorite routine of his and if anyone else tried to help him out by clearing away a layer or two of grime, Drew would stop them and say, “Mr. Wham. He clean them in a minute.” Of course, “a minute” was anywhere from immediately to the end of the day, but it didn’t matter. I cleaned his eyewear once at the beginning of the year and that was it . . . I was the windex man.

Meet my buddy, Drew. If this precious expression can’t put a smile on your face, you might not be breathing.

Now somewhere along the line, Drew had come to equate affection with sitting in one’s lap. While I’m sure this was cute and easily accomplished when he was a young fry, by the time I met him, he was about 4’6″ tall and about . . . well, 4’6″ around. He was pudgy, almost always happy, and determined to sit on my lap. Aside from being inappropriate, my poor knees wouldn’t hold him. So, after a lot of wrangling and “no Drews” and even a tear or two, we came to a compromise. He would sit cheek by jowl with me on the couch by the reading center and lean his head on my shoulder while I cleaned his glasses. It was inevitably the highlight of my day.

I miss Drew and the rest of his class. They are all in high school now. Laura works in the library there and she keeps me posted on how he and the rest are doing. So far, he’s not had many bumps in the road, but people tend to forget that he’s a boy in his late teens, Down’s Syndrome or no, and that means hormones are raging. He loves the ladies, and that’s been a matter of work this year, but he seems to be adjusting. I’m glad he’s happy because he always managed to put a smile on my face.

So today is Down’s Syndrome Awareness Day. It’s 3 – 21 – 12, which mirrors the fact that Downs causes 3 copies of chromosome 21. If you know one of these precious children, give him or her a hug for me and help them keep their feet clean.

Love y’all.

Great War Wednesday: Goodbye, Russia


Traktat_brzeski_1918On 3 March 1918 in the small city of Brest-Litovsk near the border of modern Poland and modern Belarus, Russia the Soviet Union took their ball and went home from World War I. The new Soviet Union was in a bitter civil war and really couldn’t afford to keep fighting a war that essentially went against their Communist principles anyway. The treaty itself is interesting, but first, a tiny backstory.

Vladimir Lenin was in exile in Switzerland because the Tsar of Russia wanted to kill him. Lenin had been sent out of Russia for all sorts of speaking and writing against the oppressive tsarist regime. Now he was in Switzerland on the sidelines. Then, German General Erich von Ludendorff had a brilliant idea to destabilize Russia even further than the shaky government already was. He packed Lenin and 32 other staunch Communist agents into a sealed train and sent them into Russia. It was like injecting an already sick person with Ebola. The end of Russia came swiftly.

Lenin hated the war and all it stood for so he promptly started working to get the Soviets out. Essentially, they immediately stopped fighting any offensive action and most defensive action. Talks began with Germany and the rest of the Central Powers on how to bring peace to the Eastern Front. After two months of back and forth, the two sides signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The treaty looked like a disaster for the Soviets. Under it, they agreed to give up massive amounts of land. They relinquished all claim to Poland, Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and a vast region of land in the southern Caucasus Mountains. The rest of the treaty wasn’t any better for the Soviets. They lost nearly a third of their best producing farmland and literally almost all of their coal mines in one stroke of the pen. Lenin, now titular head of the Soviet Union, recognized the detrimental effects of the treaty but famously ordered his representative to sign the document saying, “you must sign this shameful peace in order to save the world revolution.” Lenin still had hopes Communism would sweep over the world. How’d that ultimately go for you, Vlad?

The other Triple Entente members were devastated by the treaty. They lost their only bulwark on the Eastern Front. Essentially, the Eastern Front no longer existed. What’s more, Lenin and the Soviets had their hands on all the secret behind the scenes deals Russia had made with France and Great Britain. Most of those documents detailed exactly who was screwing whom out of what once the Allies won the war. The middle east especially found out how they had been lied to with predictable results among an infuriated populace.

In an even more practical sense, the treaty imperiled the entire war for the remaining Allies. With Russia gone they lost huge quantities of badly needed grain for bread and coal for ships at sea maintaining the blockade of Germany. Even worse, with the Eastern Front gone, German troops by the long trainloads began arriving near the Western Front. It had taken four years longer than von Moltke’s original plan for the War, but Russia was now knocked out and Germany could throw everything it had at the Western Front. The result would be immediate and became known as the Kaiserschlacht or the Spring Offensive. The war in the trenches of the West was about to get a lot more mobile very quickly.

Still the treaty did have one positive effect on the Allied powers. Peace rumblings had spread in France and Great Britain as the war slogged on and the public grew tired of lists of casualties, scarce resources, and the incessant drain on the treasuries. Brest-Litovsk shut all that up pretty nicely. The treaty showed the Allies what kind of treatment they could expect if they abandoned the fight and tried to hammer out a peace with Germany on mostly German terms. The idea was terrifying.

Even though the Brest-Litovsk Treaty was abrogated by the Treaty of Versailles, it still had a lasting effect on relationships and foreign policy in Europe that eventually led to the Cold War. Germany and the Soviet Union never trusted each other following the treaty and that situation would lead to the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty in 1939 which Nazi Germany used to buy two years to prepare for Operation Barbarossa, the massive invasion of the Soviet Union.

As for all the annexed and ceded land, the end of the war settled that quickly. Once Versailles replaced Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Union was no longer bound by the terms of the land cessions so the Baltic States, most of Finland, Ukraine, and pretty much everything but Poland were invaded by Soviet troops and the area of the USSR which ruled for 70 years until the collapse of Communism in 1989 was set. Russia was gone and in her place was a much more intractable nation, as time would show.

Not many more Great War Wednesdays left as the war enters its final act 100 Years ago in 1918, but until then, love y’all and keep your feet clean.

Why I Haven’t Written A Book


indexFor years, people have gotten to know me, listened to my stories, and inevitably one or two of them come to the same conclusion and say the same thing: “Man, you should write a book!” So far, I haven’t written the book so many people seem to want, but I’ve got my reasons.

First, I don’t know what book to write. An old saw among writer types is you should always write what you know. Write what you’ve lived. I can’t say I don’t have a wealth of interesting enough source material. My problem would be organizing it all and cutting out enough of the parts to make a cohesive narrative. I could do several narratives. Hell, I could write at least a novella on the somewhat complicated relationship I’ve had with Daddy over the years. Another book length tale could be told about the adventures Mama and I had when I was growing up. That one would have chapters like “McDonalds,” “Church,” and “The Wilderness Wanderings,” Speaking of church, if I were so inclined, my journey to and subsequently in faith would appeal to a Christian book publisher. So coming up with something to write isn’t the problem. The problem is what to put in and what to leave out, and so much of the strands all run together and weave with one another. Of course, I could just “write my life” but only the people who’ve been closest to me over the years would believe it was memoir and not a straight out fantasy novel. That brings me to another reason I haven’t written anything yet.

I enjoy people liking me. More than anything in this world I have an unreasonable desire to be loved. It’s not exactly natural and at times it borders on completely strange, but the wish for a whole lotta love lies at the root of who I am and a book might damage that. See, the reason Thomas Wolfe wrote his final novel You Can’t Go Home Again was in large part because of his first novel Look Homeward Angel. People realized he was writing about them and often not in the most flattering of terms. He was writing what he lived and some people took exception to it.

I’m afraid I’d end up in the same boat.

I’ve got memories of some great people and some characters I’ve known along the way, but what if I don’t remember something the same way they do? Wolfe ended up being functionally disowned by his family because some of them didn’t like the way they came out in the novel. I have precious little family left and even though I can’t think of anything I might deliberately write to offend any of them, I might. I swore years ago when people first started suggesting I write my life that I wouldn’t write anything until my precious grandparents had passed on. I know nothing I would say would offend them, but I didn’t want them . . . especially Granny Wham and Granny Ima to read about some of my “adventures.”

So it’s a risk I’m leery of taking. I don’t want to disturb any feelings, I don’t want to unnecessarily wake any sleeping dogs, and to be absolutely honest, I don’t want to lose anyone from my life because of something I might say in writing.

Finally, I just don’t feel up to the monumental task of “getting it done.” I’ve tried my hand at writing short stories and I’ve got a chapter or four of some fantasy novels stuffed in my filing cabinet, but a book — now that would be an undertaking. I don’t know if I’ve got the emotional strength to press through and finish. First I’d have to conquer the blinking cursor and anyone who’s ever tried writing knows what I’m talking about. That white page with the little blinking cursor is possibly the most intimidating thing in the world. It just sits in the top left corner and blinks — daring the would-be author to make words spill out of it. I don’t know if I can defeat the blinker.

I don’t know if I can keep the tears back long enough to get the thoughts on paper. I’ve had some good times in my life. I’ve actually had some wonderful times in my life and I’ve had a few absolutely transcendent times in my life, but those aren’t the most interesting ones. People seem to enjoy tragedy over comedy and anyone who doesn’t believe me should compare the number of times Macbeth or Othello is performed by troupes to the instances of The Taming of the Shrew or A Midsummernight’s Dream.

I’ve got tragedy. I’ve got tragedy in spades. Between mistakes I’ve made that ended up harming other people to the times I’ve been on the losing end of something, I can do tragedy. I can do tragedy people will read and want to tell other people about, but to do it, I have to relive it long enough to wring it out of the little blinking cursor, and I don’t know if I can type through tears well enough.

In the end, the question remains — will I write a book? My honest answer is I don’t know for sure. I actually want to, but the reasons above have thus far kept me from my writing desk. Maybe I’ll break out and pour out the words on the page and end up with something worth reading. Of course, I could finally write the book so many people have wanted me to write only to have them read it and say, “Geez, this is awful!” Then I could reply, “Well, I told you so.”

In the meantime, know I love y’all and keep those feet clean!

How Can We Stop School Shootings?


question-mark3aThis latest school shooting in Florida has hit me hard. I was once a high school English teacher and later on, a middle school librarian. The first five years I taught, we never heard of a student going into a school and gunning down classmates. Then came April 20, 1999. Columbine High School erupted in gunfire as two students brought guns to school and killed 13 people before killing themselves. “School Shooting” entered common American lexicon. Nothing has been the same since.

I don’t teach anymore and while I miss that career mightily, one aspect I don’t miss is the existential dread of wondering when was it going to be my school’s turn. When were my students going to look to me as gunshots rang out? When was one of my students going to snap and bring a reckoning down on our school? I don’t miss that helpless feeling that crouches at the bottom of every teacher’s heart: “What happens when it’s us?”

That feeling lies there because the sad, simple answer to my titular question is a terse “We can’t. We cannot stop school shootings.” I fear that ship has sailed for a few tragic reasons.

First, we can’t stop school shootings because we can’t pass any meaningful gun control laws in this country. This depressing fact doesn’t matter, however, because even if our politicians miraculously put aside their differences and ignored the tidal waves of money some of them receive from the gun lobby, it simply wouldn’t matter. Passing a law, any law, has zero effect on behavior. Legislate that people cannot chew bubble gum and honest people will give up their Bubble Yum.

Unfortunately, another segment of society will cram every stick of gum possible into their mouths. Laws only affect lawful people. Pass a law forbidding anyone under age 21 from owning a firearm and we will prevent exactly zero school shootings because the people who deign to follow such a law aren’t going to shoot up a school anyway. As long as we worship the Almighty Dollar in this country, an underage person who wants a gun can get one . . . someone angry enough to kill his fellow students will find a way to get money and turn that money into a gun.

More gun control laws will not stop school shootings because they will only affect those willing to abide by the laws and by definition, this excludes school shooters.

Some people feel banning “assault weapons” like the AR-15 and its clones and derivatives will end the problem. It won’t help. Just for clarification and to appease any gun nuts who read this, the term should actually be “assault ‘style’ weapons” or guns modeled on military arms. A true assault rifle would be something like the US Army’s M-4 carbine, itself a descendant of the Vietnam Era M-16. Both are fully automatic weapons. Pull the trigger and they will fire til the magazine is empty.

The truth of the matter is banning AR-15 style rifles will only send shooters looking for other weapons. Several semi-automatic handguns have magazines which hold twenty or more rounds of ammunition and these handguns are much easier to conceal and so easier to get into a school, especially a crowded school area, than a rifle. The Ruger 10/22 is a .22 caliber rifle which can be outfitted with magazines up to 100 rounds and at schoolyard ranges, a .22 Long Rifle round is every bit as lethal as the 5.56mm round the AR-15 uses.

So let’s ban all guns! As long as the Second Amendment remains enshrined in the Constitution, that’s not going to happen. Even if it were repealed by some miracle, the bloodshed and division of the country attempting to collect the now illegal guns would entail makes such a possibility deadlier and less palatable than risking school shootings.

Some people have even gone so far as to advocate arming our school teachers. This is a preposterously, unthinkably terrible idea. It is not difficult at all to get a concealed carry permit in most US states. Theoretically, any teacher could get such a permit and, if the laws were changed, be allowed to carry a weapon into the classroom ostensibly to confront and repel a school shooter.

Again, this is a horrible idea. To get a CCP, a person has to sit through a class and then shoot a paper target at a range. To repel a school shooter, a teacher would have to kill someone — possibly someone they know and have tried to help before. Let’s set aside for the sake of argument the problems like victims getting caught in the crossfire or teachers simply missing their targets and hitting innocents. Just focus on one thing; any teacher carrying a weapon MUST be ready to KILL another human being.

Understand, the school shooter has made up is mind. He is here to kill as many people as he can or maybe just mark some specific names off a list. He’s made his choice and confronting him will only put a teacher in the direct line of fire. This is not a pistols at ten paces duel or a gunfight on Main Street out of a Clint Eastwood movie. To take out a school shooter who has already started killing, you don’t confront him or tell him to put down his weapon. You get behind him or outflank him and shoot him in center mass or the head until he falls down dead. If he never sees who shot him, so much the better.

Teachers are not wired up to do that. Teachers, not all, but most, are nurturers. They got into teaching to HELP people, not KILL them. Taking someone’s life will trying not to lose one’s own life is an incredibly difficult choice to make and execute. Hesitate an instant and you die and maybe all the students you are trying to protect. When it comes to actually killing a student, I honestly believe 99 out of 100 teachers are going to hesitate or freeze up and become a casualty. It doesn’t mean teachers are weak or cowardly . . . not everyone is a killer. Soldiers must be trained to kill. Overcoming the aversion to taking another’s life is one of the first things trainers in the military have to overcome. Teachers aren’t meant to kill and putting them into a situation where they have to deal with that choice will not go well.

So does this mean we abandon hope of stopping school shootings altogether and just live in fear? To a certain extent, yes. Practically speaking, absolutely. The only way to effectively stop school shooters is to get them before they start. Schools as they are now are what military and law enforcement people call “soft” targets. They need to be hardened. Schools need metal detectors at every entrance. During the day, schools should be under lock-down conditions. No one in the hall means no one gets shot. No unlocked doors means no one sneaks in. Ban bookbags. Amend dress codes to ban baggy clothes and jackets that make it easy to conceal weapons. If the students raise hell, if the parents raise hell . . . show footage of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora’s movie theater, Las Vegas’ concert, this latest shooting in Florida, etc. Make them answer one question: “Would you rather be fashionable or would you rather bleed out on the floor of the cafeteria with a bullet in your spleen?”

I fully realize none of that is going to happen though. In fact, give it two weeks or so and everyone is going to go back to business as usual . . . until the next preventable school shooting takes place.

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.