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I Might Be A Redneck

March 31, 2017

I am a Texas redneck by birth. While others may get to say they are of Italian descent or maybe from Irish immigrants, or even proudly proclaim their Jewish heritage, I’m just a simple redneck. And further inquiry into my family background led to ancestors from remote regions of Kentucky, so I guess that makes me a hillbilly Texan redneck. My given name is Bob Earl…need any other proof?

Up until age 12 I had firmly planned to be a truck driver shipping oil (“awl”) cross-country, just like my dad, my uncle, and their dad (my pappy) before them. It was in my blood. It was my destiny. I’m thankful I became a sensitive artsy dude who loves to sing and draw and write. I am also thankful I lost my full-blown Texas accent when I moved out of the state for good at age 12.

Though I lost my accent (I can bring it back out at will, however), I can still spot a Texan by their first few syllables. Celebrity actors like Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew McConahghey are spot-on with their dialects (Ahright ahright ahright!).

I can also detect a big ol’ fake when I hear it in movies and on the telly. Actors are often cast and directed to speak a general “southern” accent, which usually ends up in some sort of exaggerated drawl that has no real facsimile of any regional southern dialect, of which there are a distinct many state-specific accents including:

  • Texan
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Louisiana Cajun
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama (thanks Forrest Gump)
  • Georgia
  • Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Kentucky
  • Virginia/West Virginia

Left out is the general midwest accent which I simply label as “lazy speak”. I know this very well because after leaving Texas I ended up in Montana. Montanan’s don’t think they have an accent and they’re right. Midwesterners just kinda speak lazy, like they don’t open their mouth and don’t enunciate, much unlike a southern drawl that uses modified vowels and consonant elisions.

I have also been fortunate to have been a tour actor where I have studied and mentally catalogued regional dialects (which has come in handy for a few acting projects). I find it fun and fascinating to try and peg a dialect when I hear it to the appropriate state or nearest region.

But as for Texas, particularly west Texas, I can peg ‘em dead to rights. Here’s a short list of phrases with phonetic spelling that are a dead giveaway for a Texan:

“ahm headin’ tuh Seb’m leb’m” = I’m going to 7-Eleven

Hahbaht them Cahboehs?!” = How about America’s favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys?

“Ah reck’n” = I suppose so

“slicker ‘n greased owl shit” = It’s very and slippery

“awl drillin’” = drilling for oil, also known as Texas Tea

“He’s crooked as a dawg’s hind leg” = that gentleman is up to no good

 “Don’ mess with Tyexas” = please do not say anything disparaging about my beloved home state

I miss Texas, or rather, “ah miss mah ol’ stowmpin’ grounds.”. It’s nice to get back and visit once in a while and unfold the old Texas drawl. But for now, “How ‘bout them Cowboys!”

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Fountain Pen Follies

January 28, 2017

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I have always liked pens. In my youth and college years I collected pens, much like now I collect books. (If you could see my bookshelves you would probably call me a hoarder.) Most of the pens I ever bought were used only once or twice, or never at all. I just liked how it looked. I even had a fountain pen or two. I tried using them and found them non-conforming to my writing style. None of the pens I collected made it through the many moves from house to house, town to town, or state to state. And I moved a lot.

I still have that fascination with pens. I now am more frugal and more particular with the pens I buy. I much prefer blue ink ball point pens. The 21st century has seen a staggering increase in gel pens and other roller ball pens. I can’t write with those. And here’s why.

When I was middle school age I hit my “writer” phase where I would write in spiral bound notebooks and journals a lot. I wanted my penmanship to resemble the seemingly perfect loopy, consistent, and somewhat flowery cursive that my female counterparts wrote on their papers. I practiced and practiced and found that my slightly right-slanted cursive always came out sloppy. So I modified my style to write sort of like a backwards left-hander. I’m a righty, but I curl my hand around so that my writing it straight up and down. But by doing so my pinky tends to rub and smear the lines I have already written.

With my kooky style I must be consciously aware of the type of ink I use so that it doesn’t smear. Gel inks are no good. Ball points are a must, and has to be of a more viscous ink that drys fast and doesn’t smudge. Fine point uses less ink so that is a must-have as well.

Fast forwarding past the 80’s into the 21st century during which hand writing all but disappeared into the virtual arena of electric keyboards and word processors, I am in a mental place where I like to write freehand again. Not that I could ever write an article or a novel all by hand, I still like to write holiday cards, journal notes, and morning pages a-la Julia Cameron and her Artist’s Way by hand. And I have found a new love for fountain pens. And let’s face it, there’s something cool and retro about an elegant looking writing instrument.

One was given to me as a gift a few years ago. It is Italian made and I have never found an ink cartridge that fits. Recently I bought a cheap Zebra V-301 which has surprised me with how durable the pen is, and how smooth of a writing tool it is. I’m also impressed with this fountain pen ink as it dries fast and doesn’t smudge like I thought it would with my kooky writing style. I like it so well that I went & bought what I thought were universal ink cartridges for my Italian model. Nope. They were Shaeffer cartridges and only fit Shaeffer pens. Well, says I, why not get a Shaeffer model fountain pen to match? So I found a nice, sleek matte black Schaeffer VFM model which I thought I could slip a cartridge inside and write away. Nope. Seems the cartridges fit all Shaeffer pens EXCEPT this model. Gah!

Ok, so I fall back on my trusty 21st century technology and Google my pens to find out what ink cartridges will fit. Turns out there are dozens and dozens of different pen manufacturers and about as many types of ink cartridges. My research landed on what I hope are the right cartridges for the right pens, including my trusty Zebra. So with Amazon Prime delivery I will know in two days if I will need to continue my search for properly and correctly fitted fountain pen ink cartridges, or if I will finally toss them out the window and stick with my trusty Bic accountant fine point. And if all else fails, at least I can still type 80 words per minute…with no smudges.

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The Belt of the Gods

June 15, 2016

bolo

My life has been changed forever and it is all due to a new belt. More specifically, an elastic stretchy belt.

I have always worn a belt, for two reasons, mostly. First, my lineage is that of a Texas redneck. We wear leather belts. With big belt buckles We just do. Don’t question it. Besides keeping pants above the waistline I’ve never figured out the real reason. Some men are well shaped and don’t need a belt to hold up the jeans. The Texan belt, I figure, is purely decorative with large, shiny buckle to draw attention to our crotch area.

Texan men even wear belts around our necks. That’s right; instead of a formal men’s long or bow tie, we wear the famous “bolo” tie which is essentially a belt around the neckline with a smaller decorative buckle.

Second, and the most obvious reason, is to cinch our trousers around our hips so they don’t fall down. In my 20’s and 30’s a belt wasn’t really necessary for that purpose. But now as I am now the age of mumblemumble I find that my britches tend to sag due to a curious barrel shape my body has taken in my middle parts. Let’s just say that my 20-something six-pack is now a keg. Therefore, a belt has been an unavoidable and fundamental element to my daily couture.

My belt of choice has been a simple, thin, plain, black, leather belt. It works for work. Discrete. Fashionable. Easy to store. But alas, after a hearty meal or the day following an earnest evening of brew tasting the usual belt setting embraces my waistline with much restraint and groaning protest.

Recently I was introduced to the stretchy belt.

And there was much rejoicing and sounding of trumpets and jamming of saxophones and melting of faces with electric guitar!

Hallelujah! This $20 little piece of elastic braided belt is a gift sent by the gods of growing waistlines. No longer do I have to loosen the leather strip another notch after a Thanksgiving feast. I can cinch it up tight enough to hold up the sinking, slipping britches, and when I sit properly in a chair the elastic flexes so I do not feel that burdensome hip pinch.

It feels good to breathe. It really does. And the remorseful act of sucking in the gut to prevent permanent and indented “belt waist” is a thing of the past. Thank you, gods of the growing waistline, for your generous favor to beer-bellied fellows everywhere!

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Coffee Armageddon

June 14, 2016

Yugo-Keurig

Our coffee machine is busted at work. And guess who’s in charge of coffee. That’s right, yours truly. I had no idea that a coffee-less office could be so uptight. I should have expected it, though. The pure outrage and sinister intimidations I have received from coworkers experiencing caffeine withdrawals is paramount to road rage on an epic scale. Within the last two days since the coffee Armageddon I have been threatened with at least one of the following if I don’t repair the machine or replace it post-haste:

“I hope you step on a Lego!”

“I will dress you as lettuce and feed you to the snails!”

“I will delete your hard drive!”

“I’m gonna rip off your cajones and boil ‘em in motor oil!”

“Listen up you little spazoid, I swear to everything holy that your dead ancestors will cry when they see what I’ve done to you!”

Boy, do they reeeeally want some coffee. But I don’t take any of it personally.

Let me back up and first explain that our office coffeemaker is a Keurig. The Keurig design, though convenient and offers many delicious choices of flavors for single cup pours, turns out to be the Yugo of coffeemakers. If you aren’t familiar with the Yugo, it was a former communist Yugoslavian designed car from the early 1980’s that appeared to have been manufactured at gunpoint. It started as a big hit for economic size, price and fuel efficiency. But it was soon recognized as an unimaginative eyesore and didn’t take more than a simple drive around the block for owners to realize the car was a disastrous and dangerous monstrosity just waiting to break down, fall apart, or worse, blow up at the worst possible moment.

That’s what you get with a Keurig.

The Keurig was designed to be a convenient way to make a single cup of coffee. Oh, but you can only purchase and use the expensive licensed K-cup coffees along with the machine. Oh, and did I mention that the expensive machines are made to be disposable? That’s right, gang. If a Keurig fails or malfunctions (which they often do. Just read the reviews.) there are no repair shops available. Coffee machine repair technicians (and this is a real, honest job, folks) have emphatically stated that the Keurig has no replacement parts, and it is more expensive to repair than to simply replace a Keurig machine. Ergo, they are disposable contraptions.

Which brings me back to my dilemma. No Keurig – no coffee. Also, no manager or CFO around this week to approve a new purchase of another disposable machine. So, I guess I’ll have to endure the sad, pathetic threats of my co-workers for another 3 or 4 days. In the meantime, I’m headed to the 7-Eleven down the block for a nice, cheap cuppa joe.

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Bake Mouth at 450 Degrees

April 26, 2016

Scalding

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has burned the tongue from a hot cup of coffee, or a bite of burger hot off the grill, or maybe a bit of overdone potato. But have you ever scalded your mouth from something steaming hot? I mean fresh outta the oven at 450 degrees?  So hot you can even see the steam rising? Scorched to the point of dripping, ruined flesh?

Uh, me neither.

Oh alright…I did it.

One major problem of extreme hunger is impatience. Any 5pm on a weekday is happy hour somewhere. We had intel that a great new little restaurant just opened up and had a fabulous happy hour prices on delicious food. I’m all about cheap and delicious, so off we went.

I’m a sucker for a delicious dip, so I had to order the cream cheese artichoke heart dip. Prepared fresh and baked at 450 degrees, it went straight from the oven to the table right in front of my hungry, impatient mouth. Ah, dinner time! I knew it was hot, sure. So I blew on it a little, and shoved a chip-full of it right in.

The attempted caress of air used as a stop-gap cooling method didn’t work. Nope. Not at all. With extremely poor etiquette that would cause Miss Manners to blush and glare, I expelled the offensive scorching fragment of hell right back onto my plate. But it was too late. The damage was done. At once I felt hanging chads of flesh clinging to the roof of my mouth. My tongue felt like a summer day on the Sahara. And only mass quantities of ice water soothed the burn.

Dinner wasn’t nearly as delicious after that. But it didn’t stop me from eating it after an appropriate cooling period. I learned my lesson: when the directions say ‘let sit for 5 minutes before eating’, it’s for your own damn protection.

So if this happens to you, feel free to adopt my impromptu methods below to assuage the incinerating oven that is now your mouth.

After the burn:

  1. Let Someone Know

It is important to inform the fellow diners and restaurant employees of the emergency. Do like me and with an open scorching mouth yell, “AAAAAHHH!!! GAHHH DAAANG!!! ‘AAASSS HAAAAAWWWT!!!!”

  1. Apply Ice Water

To begin immediate relief, use copious amounts of ice water. Splash the remaining 10-12 ounces of ice water from your glass inside your gaping mouth. Don’t worry about getting water on your outfit. It will dry. If possible, perhaps through the aid of your dining partner since you now cannot speak, request a trough of ice water be placed in front of you.

  1. Avoid Crunchy Foods

After the burn, it is wise to avoid crunchy foods. Do not eat that tortilla chip that came with your scalding artichoke dip. It is now a shard for which to pierce your sensitive pie hole.

  1. Eat Plenty of Ice Cream

As a form of recompense, ask the restaurant for a dish of delicious, sweet ice cream for desert. At least three scoops. Eat more when you get home. And be sure to stock up because ice cream will be your only meal for the next few days.

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That Time I Forgot to Shower in the Shower

April 14, 2016

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This morning I was a little groggy when I woke up. And when I say ‘groggy’ I mean 1-1/2 sheets to the wind. Yesterday my back decided to seize up on me with a spectacular muscle spasm that ran the length of my back just left of the spine. I was down for the count. Even missed an audition. But these things happen. And I am prepared for when it happens (because it has happened before) with a standby prescription for muscle relaxers (thanks again, doc). I’m pretty sure the instructions on the prescription label say not to take the pills with alcohol, but I try not to pay attention to the pesky directions. So I had a beer with my cyclobenzaprine. Then another beer. Right after that second beer the ‘prine kicked in and I stumbled up the stairs, found my way to the bed, and collapsed on the pillow followed immediately by a bunch of “Zzzzzzzz”.

I can tell you from experience that the muscle relaxers do their job extremely well. While I ignore advice to avoid alcohol (it’s just a ‘guideline’, really, isn’t it?), I certainly do not operate heavy machinery. I sleep the sleep of 10 babies with that tiny little pill.

Evidently I wasn’t too wasted to set the alarm for the usual 5:30 am wake up call. I still needed to get to the old J-O-B this morning, so I smashed the alarm, sat up in bed, and rubbed the sleep off my face. The bathroom is right next to the bed but I remember leaning this way and that way, nearly falling down but somehow managing to remain upright. I turned the water on and stepped in the shower, and the next thing I remember was stepping out and toweling off. All routine. I do this every morning, right?

After dressing and eating a healthy bowl of granola, I’ve got the news on and though, “hmmm, why isn’t my hair drying?” I thought perhaps I may have used some hair conditioner and failed to rinse. I’ve been known to do that before. More than once. But I don’t usually use conditioner. Eh, thought I. Must be humid today.

So then I’m in the car on the way to work and my hair still is combed back on my head. It’s short hair so it dries fast. This shouldn’t happen. I run my hand through my hair and think, “it is a little greasy. Maybe I did use conditioner. But it’s like I didn’t even wash…..”

Then it hits me: IT’S LIKE I DIDN’T EVEN WASH MY HAIR. Or my entire body for that matter.

I then gathered enough recollection to remember the shower scene: I stepped into the shower, spun around a few times to get all wet, stood there with the warm water running down my back for a few minutes, then I turned off the shower and got out. No soap. No shampoo. I may not have been clean, but at least my back spasm was gone and I got some sleep.

So I’m usually the first one to get to work. No one else was around. I ran to the kitchen area, switched on the coffee pot (top priority, of course), looked both ways to be sure no one is there, and I proceeded to dunk my head under the faucet and give a little scrub of the follicles with the hand soap. A quick paper towel dry and my hair is once again springy and poofy, and not looking like a 1960’s greaser. It worked. And no one knew about. Until now. Now you all know, so don’t tell my boss.

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WRESTLE YOUR INNER CRITIC

February 23, 2016

ScreamWhat’s your fear about writing? Are you afraid you’re not creative enough? Afraid, perhaps, that people will think your story is ‘stupid’? Afraid of constant and repetitive rejection that accompanies your novel submissions?

There’s a lot of fear and anxiety inside a writer’s head. And I’m no different. I have a lot of what some writers call, ‘good starts’. But I don’t seem to finish a long-term project. I’m at least halfway through a decent novel, with plenty of scenes planned out and even a great finish in mind. But when I boot up the word processor I look at my story, change a few words, and say to myself, “eh, I’m just not feeling it today” and shut it down.

Why? When I am past the point of no return on a passable first novel and it’s downhill the rest of the way, why do I put on the brakes? Yup, it’s fear.

I’m afraid of a lot of things, including the three things up top. I’m afraid that I will have wasted time finishing something that will never see another set of eyes. I’m afraid of putting it out there and getting the piles of rejection cards. And, frankly, when I try to open my inner creative side, my inner editor just body slams it to the canvass, brushes his hands and sneers over the top of his pretentious spectacles, just daring me to get up.

Well, I can get up. I’ve done it before and sailed past the blockade. Then I stop and do it all over again. An endless cycle. But what can writers do that will consistently get past that big, mean inner editor and doubt monster? Here are a few thoughts:

Walk

Get out of the house and walk. Or even take a stroll on a treadmill. A bit of exercise gets not only the blood flowing, but the creative juices flowing as well. While on your walk, ponder what comes next in your story. Think about ‘what if’ situations. Without that dreaded blank paper or screen in front of you, it’s a good time to let creativity flow.

Freestyle

Forget your story. Only for a while. Start some freewriting where your inner editor is not allowed to take part. This is also a good point to plug your daily pages as directed by Creative guru, Julia Cameron.

Read

Reading can also help free your creativity and get your inner-editor on board. Pull out your favorite author and get into it. Since I mentioned her above, I would also suggest reading any of Julia Cameron’s books about creativity. Her motherly and calm demeanor really puts a reader into a creative mind frame that is great for spilling output onto paper.

Blog it

That’s right, blog about it like I’m doing now. It’s your chance to arise from the canvass, turn on your inner adversary and pile drive HIM to the canvass. Then lock him in a cobra clutch while I transition to a dragon sleeper and put him out of his (and my) misery. I feel much better now. I’m going to write my book.