Stop Me If You’ve Heard This by Chuck Thurston

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I have a friend who has done a lot of writing in various media. To establish his credentials as honest and grounded in reality, I have to point out that he does considerable technical and business writing. In a former life, though, he did script writing for TV shows. That will tend to lower the objectivity bar for many.

Now that he’s earning an honest living, he can look back on his earlier efforts with a critical eye. He told me some time ago that the rise of TV “Reality Shows” was because of a lack of good writing these days. It was far easier to get some interesting folks, put them in an unusual situation, give them a few instructions on what was wanted – and record the results.

The result can’t be entirely without direction, however. The characters are chosen because of their good looks, shapeliness, quirkiness, wiseassery, likelihood of drawing sympathy, etc.  In other words, most of the traits that would have gotten them selected for traditional TV acting roles – if there had been good writers producing these shows now.

The advertisements for these shows are designed to entice the viewer in much the same way that ads for traditional shows did – emphasizing the excitement, adventure and possible eroticism to be displayed.

My wife showed me an ad for The Bachelor in Paradise show, that said  “Ashley takes Jared to a hotel!”

“What could possibly be her motive for that?” she asked.

“Don’t read too much into it,” I said. “That hotel has the best breakfast buffet in town!”

 

 

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Spill Your Guts by Chuck Thurston

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confessing-online-jpg

I once read of a study that claimed Catholics were less likely to seek the help of psychiatrists or other mental health professionals, ostensibly because they had regular access to the confessional and could unload there. I sense that this outlet has been getting less action in recent years. The Catholic Mass – among several other religious traditions – routinely offers a group confession, so you can mumble about your transgressions under your breath and don’t have to hem, haw and blurt them out to another human.

Many years ago, mother told me that on one occasion when she was in the confessional as a young girl, she hunted her conscience diligently to find some little misdeed she could own up to so as not to waste her time and the priest’s. The priest tried a gentle prompt, “Have you taken the Lord’s name in vain?”

“No,” she replied. “But my poppy does all the time!”

The priest sternly reminded her she was there to confess her own sins, and not her father’s.

This is a new age, though. The need to confess hasn’t gone away; it’s now played out in public, and we feel obligated to reveal not only our own transgressions, but those of others!

My wife and I helped to form an outdoor camping and hiking group some years ago. One evening around the campfire, someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained that a Significant Other (SO) had done them dirt. That broke the dam and started a round-the-fire-circle of “She/He done me wrong” stories. Almost everyone had one or the other of these. Many had several.

Fast forward a few years and our large family clan is sitting around a dining room table after rain had washed out the deck party. Someone (probably after a couple of beers) complained a SO had dumped them. That started a round table of stories by dumpers and dumpees about times in their lives when they went through one or the other of these traumas. I had myself been dumped three times in my earlier years. My wife looked at me with narrowed eyes, and said, “Hmmm…I only knew of two of those…”

Well, I wasn’t going to stir anything up from the bottom of that pot. I told her I could give her the details later, and prayed she would forget about the remark. Silly me, as it turned out – but that’s another story.

All of these episodes got me thinking, though, and I saw the appeal of airing these things in public. If you have been the wrong doer or the dumper, you have to assuage your guilt or make a legitimate case for unhooking. If you have been done wrong or been the dumpee, you have to establish your undeserved treatment and certify your innocence.

sin-feeling

That was a more innocent time. Nowadays, many can’t go public enough for their vents. When my wife and I check out our groceries at the supermarket, I scan the tabloid covers and bring her up to date on the latest. “Kim confesses…,” “Justin reveals…,” “Katy accuses…”

Some people, in fact, invite this. Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s daughter, told her friends, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me!”

Facebook has augmented and amplified the old campfire and dining room circles and tabloids as the go-to place for sharing your grievances, admitting your wrongdoings and complaining about your treatment at the hands of others. Some of the revelations are fantastic; but why? Why on earth would you want to air this stuff to complete strangers? Even if the complaints are legit, they can’t possibly function as anything more than voyeuristic entertainment to those not closest enough to you to have first hand knowledge of the facts. You’d be better off hunting up old Father Michael if he were still around, and schedule some confessional time. You’re shoveling out Too Much Information, folks, to titillate and amuse other folks who have no inclination at all to empathize or help.

It reminds me of the story of the country preacher who was soliciting confessions of sinful behaviors from his congregation. A young lad of 8 or 10 stepped forward.

“I used some bad words I heard from my uncle,” he said.

“Ah, that’s truly shameful, boy. How else have you soiled your mind?”

“I seen some dirty magazines,” he said.

“Oh!” said the preacher. “The devil is at work here! Tell it, son!”

“And…and…Susie and I played doctor down behind the barn…”

The preacher, sensing that he was homing in on real pay dirt, pressed forward. “Tell it all, son! Tell it all!”

“Well, once,” said the boy, “I screwed a chicken.”

The preacher groaned. “I wouldn’t have told that, boy…”

“Spill Your Guts” is excerpted from Chuck Thurston’s latest book – Senior Scribbles Bathroom Reader – to be published later this year.

 

 

Cracker Crumbs by Chuck Thurston

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nyoka

When my brothers and I went to the Saturday matinees at our local theater in the 40’s we could look forward to a news reel – usually an update on WWII activity – a cartoon, a comedy and a serial – all before the main feature, almost always a cowboy movie.

The serials were very formulaic, but always fun. Every episode would end with the hero in some dire situation that seemed impossible to get out of. We would have a week to speculate on just how he could save his hide. The following week’s episode would begin with a short clip of the predicament he was left in – and his miraculous escape.

One of my favorite serials was “Nyoka, The Jungle Girl.” Nyoka ran around the jungle and desert in shorts and safari jacket and carried a pearl handled revolver. She was a tough and resourceful girl.

In one episode, Nyoka and her male companion are captured by indigenous evil doers of an indeterminate sort (jungle inhabitants, robed Arabs and oily mercenaries all show up at one time or another) who have tied them to a stake encircled by a ring of fire. Outside of this fire ring, snapping crocodiles are licking their chops. The chief evil doer gives an evil laugh and announces to the hapless pair: “When the fire goes out, cracker crumbs!”

Whaaat? Cracker crumbs? Cracker crumbs? We left the theater astounded. In what fiendish torture could cracker crumbs possibly be used? This was a totally new twist to us and we puzzled over this until we sat in the theater the following Saturday and watched the repeat of the predicament Nyoka and her buddy had been left in. We leaned forward in rapt attention as the insidious villain taunted the couple with a repeat of the week before: “When the fire goes out, crocker comes!”

Of course…crocker referred to the waiting crocodiles who would certainly come when the fire died down. We never admitted our confusion to anyone else, but for many years it became an inside joke amongst us. “Oh, yeah…sure…that’s as clear as cracker crumbs!”

 

 

The Root of all Believable

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The Root of all Believable

“I don’t care too much for money…” John Lennon sang, but that’s easy for a member of the Beatles – who was rolling in it – to say. “Money can’t buy me love,” he adds, but that’s not entirely true, and just adds insult to injury for us of modest means. Money can buy you all kinds of companionship if you’re not very picky, although my wife has pointed out that companions are like wine: money will allow you to pick good ones over the cheap types you used to hang out with.

As it turns out, even if you are not looking for love outside your significant other, money might be needed to stay in the game. When my doctor wrote my first prescription for performance enhancing pills some years ago, he said, “I bet you never thought you’d be paying for sex, did you?” He paused, and then thoughtfully, “Of course we always have, you know…flowers, dinner, drinks, theater…”

Mae West hit the nail on the head: “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor – and rich is better!”

We don’t play the lottery regularly, but now and then as our supermarket purchases are being checked out, I glance at the customer service desk and see it’s manned. I check my wallet, find a single or two and buy a ticket. At home, along with an evening glass of a lower-priced wine, we play the popular game of what we’d do with a multi-million dollar prize. After we have factored out allowances for kids, grandkids, other close relatives and favorite charities we examine our own pipedreams. New car maybe…better wine, for sure…move to a big house in a gated community or restore our 30+ year old house and stay in a neighborhood we like? Pretty tame stuff, really. Maybe it’s just our lack of imagination. I’m sure we have friends who could suggest several ideas – probably even offer to help us realize them. I’d pick those pals carefully, though.

Some years ago I hired a contractor for some work and enjoyed his company well enough to have a beer or two with him when the workday was done. When he found out I was a writer, he suggested that I might be interested in his story.

“I made a million dollars and lost it,” he said.

I told him I didn’t think his story was that unique – that lots of people have made fortunes and lost them.

“I’ve done it three times,” he said.

I happened to be acquainted with him during one of his financial troughs, but not long after, he divested himself of his property and holdings, and was probably back to seven figures after those deals. He headed for Florida. I wished him well, but if his karmic sine wave holds true, he is probably cutting bait on some fishing wharf in the Keys by now.

 

Chuck and Heidi Thurston live in Kannapolis, NC. You can find their books on Amazon and help make these their happy years by buying them. The lottery thing hasn’t worked out so far.

Code Yeller by Chuck Thurston

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Code Yeller

A few years ago, my wife and I volunteered to man a booth at a health and nutrition fair. Our bunch was pushing the value of fruits and nuts. After we had done our shift and our replacements had taken over, we wandered around to see what other good advice was available.

Not far from our booth was one that dealt with air quality. A young lady was passing out literature and answering questions, so we dropped by to see what we could learn. How are things in our neck of the woods? Not very good, it turns out.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg region, with its million plus population, is just a few miles to our southwest. In this area a million population probably translates into about twenty million vehicles once you total up cars, pickups, motorcycles, trail bikes, ATVs, various watercraft and riding mowers. Our prevailing winds in this latitude are from – wouldn’t you know it – the southwest. In 2011, the EPA ranked Charlotte as the 10th smoggiest city for the second year in a row.

“But, there is a nearby area just as bad!” our young lady chirped. “Rowan County!” In fact, in 2011, Mecklenburg County was ranked number two in health risks from criteria air pollutants and Rowan was ranked a respectable 4th in the state!

Now wait. Rowan County is just to our north. Big parts of it are bucolic fields and woodlands. There are probably as many cows as people. How could this be? Well, the roaring traffic’s boom from I-85 traverses the county on the east side and I-77 does the same on the west. It is a geographic bowl where stuff tends to settle, it is downwind of Charlotte – and there are all those cows.

And we poor citizens of Cabarrus country are right in the middle of this. We never used to pay a lot of attention to the Air Quality Index until Heidi began having problems with asthma. Even after that diagnosis, we didn’t think that we would have to worry until the AQI got into code red. We have since decided we aren’t going to spend a whole lot of time outdoors once it reaches yellow. That is occurring more often these days and a good part of the summer air is…lousy. What to do?

gas-mask

Heidi has been putting a wet washcloth over her nose and mouth to make the journey from house to car and car to supermarket. She keeps it in a plastic bag in her handbag. I told her that it might be handier if I just brought her a gasmask she could use for these short treks.

“They look terrible,” she said.

“We could decorate it – kind of like hockey goalies do their face masks. Might even give you a little air of mystery.”

“It would scare the great grandchildren,” she said. “They’d be fine with a wet washcloth.”

I hadn’t thought of that.

Chuck and Heidi Thurston (cough) live in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Their books can be found on Amazon (hack, hack). They are currently working on new projects when time and oxygen allow. (hack, cough).

 

 

A Sermon For The Mellow by Chuck Thurston

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I took a couple of English courses in college requiring I write poems, and I wrote quite a few. An instructor remarked at the time: “Your poetry is very personal.” This was not a compliment. He explained that my efforts were poems with little meaning to anyone but me. They were sound in structure, but narrow in expression. It represented a view of my personal life and conflicts, but not in a way that illuminated it for anyone else. I was doing little more than writing irate, self-aggrandizing editorials with a rhythm and rhyme scheme.

I was then a young married father, with all of the associated struggles. I had a good job, but knew I would find my level in it sooner or later, and it wouldn’t be all that high. The war in Vietnam was turning into the horror many had feared. The Peace Movement was burgeoning. The skirmishes for civil rights had begun. Smoke was in the air and it wasn’t all gunpowder or tobacco. I was an angry young man. Worse, I bought with unquestioned agreement, into almost every extreme pronouncement that complimented my own resentments. I had become what can easily turn into that most dangerous of humans – The True Believer.

Believers of one stripe or another have been around as long as humankind. That’s a good thing. Belief precedes experiment, which precedes verification, and well – it’s the only way we ever gather the facts on anything. Scientists call it a hypothesis. Copernicus woke up one morning and said to himself, “Gee, I believe the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around!” He was, as it happened, a great mathematician and developed a heliocentric model that made sense. Let me extemporize on that a bit. Copernicus couldn’t prove his belief – but no other mathematical model made sense to him. Those who believed otherwise went to great lengths to construct models that were torturous in their description of how things worked. These models did, however, jibe with the religious dogma of the time. Although Copernicus got away with it, Galileo, born almost a hundred years later, took most of the heat for this hypothesis – almost literally; he was threatened with death at the stake if he didn’t recant. This threat came from – you guessed it – True Believers.

Now there is nothing wrong with true belief on its face. And there is nothing wrong with an enthusiastic and impassioned defense of it. In their time, humans have given unquestioned obeisance to Paleolithic superstitions, Bronze Age myths and legends, Hebrew tribal laws, prophets, shamans and cultists, medieval alchemists, mystics, psychics and self-proclaimed wizards. All of these authorities have vestigial form today, and we have upped the ante with media-fueled baloney by the megaton. You are free to believe any of this you want. Be my guest.

If it were left at that, people could go merrily on their way chasing Bigfoot or hunting down the Appalachian Devil Monkeys. But a lot of True Believers don’t want to leave it at that. True Believers have harassed and taunted women and gays; True Believers have killed, with routine nonchalance, young people who made romantic attachments their families didn’t approve of; True Believers have flown airplanes into skyscrapers; True Believers have concocted bogus evidence to justify inciting wars. Like the old geocentric model makers, True Believers have warped new insights or observable evidence to match their convictions. “If you don’t like the diagnosis,” said the quack surgeon, “we’ll retouch the X-rays!”

I once attended a religious ceremony where a man officiating told me that I was cursed if I did not believe as he believed. I would, he assured me, roast in perpetual torment after I died, unless I adopted his particular beliefs. He did not actually say that he had placed a curse on me, but it wouldn’t be putting too fine a point on it to interpret it that way, if you ask me.

Well, I didn’t believe that for a minute, and would have told him so, but held to manners I had learned at mother’s knee – a lack of which apparently did not trouble him. His position, to be sure, was met with murmurs of approval from a sizeable part of those in attendance – troubling in itself. The rest sat on their hands along with me and accepted their damnation with polite demeanor. He graciously invited anyone troubled by his pronouncements to meet with him after the service, where we would be set straight. I demurred.

The world has become infected by TBs. Countries are torn apart by factions settling scores for perceived slights perpetuated centuries ago. Politicians embrace their way or no way. The Age of Chivalry is dead and the Age of Civility is evaporating. Statesmanship is moribund. Progress is deadlocked because negotiation and collaboration are dirty words.

My cafeteria lunch mates and I used to have heated discussions on the day’s hot topics, and great philosophical issues. There were always a couple of TBs in these groups. I represented a puzzling anomaly to them. I confessed to a profound curiosity about our whereabouts in the hereafter, but no real ideas on whatever might take place or whoever might be going wherever.

“But Thurston, you have to believe in something!” I was told.

Note: TBs often express things this way; to which I say “Why?”

 “It isn’t just a belief,” I told them. “I know for absolute certainty what happens to us when we die!” This always made them hoot. “We will all be recycled,” I said.

Now you can’t argue with that – and they couldn’t. I’m not talking about that spiritual component. I let the TBs work that part out, and keep it to themselves when they do; but – if every atom in our bodies isn’t sentient, then certainly some critical mass of them must be. We’ll find out one way or another in eight billion years or so when the Sun runs out of fuel and that big fusion bomb implodes and gobbles up its planetary children. Think of that. Assuming we ourselves haven’t incinerated everything by then, our urns or caskets will be atomized and the contents will be off on another adventure. I believe, with no evidence to back it up – Jeez, I’m not a TB, after all – that those contents will accrete again, gravity being what it is, and who knows? Not me, not you, not even Stephen Hawking – who has his own views on it, but is smart enough not to advance them as gospel.

I like the way Richard Feynman put it, “I am a universe of atoms, and an atom in the universe.”

Frankly, there is more empirical evidence to support my scenario than there is the fiery pit described by the proselytizer mentioned earlier.

I eventually returned to poetry after I got over the idea that I had to write angry stuff. I couldn’t begin to match up with Sassoon, anyway: “He’s young; he hated war; how should he die/ when cruel old campaigners win safe through?/ But death replied: ‘I choose him.’ So he went,/ And there was silence in the summer night.”

Whooo! No competing with that! I had to set my sights much lower and settled on doggerel. In fact, I discovered that I didn’t have to knock much polish off of my serious stuff to drop down into this stratum. I whacked out a few lines and thought myself pretty good at it! This would be my poetic niche!

The Lightning Bug

 The lightning bug with logic smug,

Lights up the summer skies,

To find a mate and procreate;

Those clever little guys!

 

The logic here is very clear,

To all who empathize.

So, don’t be coy, dear girl and boy;

It pays to advertise!

Now look – my light verse does not mean that I am glib about the woes of the world. I know full well there is suffering and hunger. Humans can rationalize anything, and a lot of TBs have rationalized cruel responses to ideas they can’t make themselves believe. Don’t join that crowd. One amazing feature of our great gift of free will is the ability to hold several opposing views in our brains at one time without going nuts. Hang out with me for a while.

Here is my belief for this day: It is beautiful outside. I believe I will get a good cigar out of my humidor, give myself a healthy pour of something red, sit out on my deck for an hour or so and ponder all of this. You’re welcome to come over and join me. You can pass on the stogie and choose the booze if you want; or maybe light up a cheroot and pass on the vino. You can bag them both and bring your own iced tea. I don’t believe you’ll be cursed any way you go.

Postscript: The air quality code was green, so my wife joined me on the deck. I didn’t get in an hour of private ponder, but she sat upwind of me, had a glass of wine and the company was welcome. Oh, and later that evening, I came across an article by scientists who have lowered the sun’s time to extinction from 8 billion to around 5.8 billion years. We don’t have as much time left as we thought.

Post-Postscript: A Sermon for the Mellow will be in Chuck Thurston’s next Senior Scribble – “The Bathroom Reader: Your Results May Vary.”  He should have it out by the end of this year if the wine and occasional cigar don’t get him first.

 

The Escape Clause by Chuck Thurston

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We sometimes had to make decisions we weren’t entirely comfortable with in the large corporation I worked for. We would usually hedge our bet a little by discussing a Plan B. What to do if our first actions don’t work out as we hope? I call this the “Escape Clause.”

I recommend this approach to all young men who are newly wed or contemplating getting there soon. It could save you a lot of heartburn. Let me explain the traps you can get in and how you can quickly extricate yourself.

I have a little glass of port almost every night before I go to bed. Port is a nauseatingly sweet red wine, but I drink it to help me to get to sleep. In fact, when I once told this to a friend, he asked me, “Are you having trouble sleeping?”

“Well, duh…not since I started drinking a little glass of port before I go to bed!”

But back to Plan B. My wife occasionally joins me in a before bedtime drinkee-poo, so I usually ask her as I am getting my own if she would like something also. Last night, I was about to ask her what her choice would be, when I had a sudden insight. “I bet you would like a little Drambuie, wouldn’t you?

She said “Why…yes!” so I went to the “likker locker” and got the bottle out. It was nearly empty – just enough left for one or two small drinks. Here was my Plan A and how it almost got me in a world of trouble, and how a Plan B quickly saved my hide:

Plan A: I said, “I am going to have to get a bottle of Irish Cream – it is much cheaper than Drambuie…”

Plan B: “…but you are worth every penny of an additional expense, Dearie!”

Even before that Plan A statement had left my mouth, I knew I would be in trouble if I left it hanging out there. In fact, she had turned her head toward me, and that look was beginning to form. I was saved by my swift execution of the Escape Clause! Young married fellows – cultivate this skill! I had to learn it the hard way over many years – I pass it on to you as a public service. You’re welcome.

Chuck Thurston frequently finds himself ub-dubbing and escape clausing  for something or other.  He has chronicled many of his adventures in two books “Senior Scribbles Unearthed” and “Senior Scribbles Second Dose,” – both available on Amazon.