Sunday, January 27, 2019

Darke County Update #5

[Editor’s Note: Some of the following could maybe be true, though I wouldn’t put any money on it myself.]

There’s an important expression writers use. Whenever you hear someone teaching writing, or talking about the process of writing, someone’s gonna say it: “less is more.”

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Down right contradictory. But it’s true. Less is more. Leastwise, it is if you’re not talking about cash or wearing clothes. I can testify about the cash part. Less is definitely not more.

As regards clothing, I think some of the young folks get confused about that expression. Maybe their English Composition teachers didn’t tell ‘em, “Hey, we’re just talking about writing. Adverbs, adjectives, the passive voice. Words. That sort of thing.” These young people appear to believe it has something to do with how much clothes one wears. Less is more, right? In any case, there’s some young folks givin’ that saying a whirl when they dress for school.

I was talkin’ to Claudette the other day. And it really did threaten to take most of the day. The conversation, I mean. Talking to Claudette mostly involves listening—it’s sort of one-way. Claudette is one of those folks you wish applied the “less is more” principle to her conversation. Was gonna say I wish she applied it to her yacking but being as how I don’t want to upset my wife, we’ll just stick with conversation.

Claudette always has plenty of conversation. I do believe that lady could talk the hind leg off a mule. When you run into Claudette, you don’t check your watch, you check your calendar.

As I was saying, I was talking to Claudette and she was sharing, well, prayer requests about her neighbors. Leastwise, that’s what she called ‘em. Funny how those prayer requests were givin’ me a lot of information that I had no business knowing and she had no business telling.

So I was trying to distract her onto safer territory. “Say,” I says, “did you know Melvin’s sow had piglets?” Which is true. Melvin’s sow really did have her piglets.

Claudette snorted, “Oh, tosh! Josephine told me that two whole days ago. But you probably haven’t heard that Melvin’s wife was shouting at him in their backyard yesterday. Josephine thinks we should pray for their marriage and I agree.”

Actually, Claudette, Melvin’s wife was shoutin’ at him because he forgot where he put his hearing aids and that’s the only way she can get his attention when he’s not wearin’ ‘em. Don’t you go tellin’ stories about Melvin and his wife. You want to pray for something, pray that he finds those hearing aids.”

She wasn’t interested in Melvin’s piglets or his hearing aids, so I decided I’d best figure out how to move on before she started telling me about Roy’s son getting kicked out of college for dropping a cherry bomb down the toilet. He’d probably have gotten off with just a warning, except for the dormitory bathroom he bombed was on the fifth floor and by the time they got the water under control the first two floors had flooded. I’d already heard that story from Josephine myself.

Well, she was warmin’ up to another tale and I could see the whole day passin’ right before my eyes if I didn’t do something quick. So I dug my smartphone out of my pocket and pretended to be texting Claudette’s latest prayer requests to my wife. But actually, I confess that I was really dialing my own number. I answered it when it rang and acted like it was my wife calling me home because my son accidentally drove over the neighbor’s mailbox. Which wasn’t true of course—I was just desperate to get away from Claudette. After I disentangled myself from the dear woman and was driving home it hit me that it was not a good idea to lie to Claudette. First because lies don’t please the Lord and they always come back to haunt you anyway. And second, because by the end of the day half of Greenville will be praying for my neighbor’s mailbox.

Less is more. Certainly true in this case. The less time I spend listening to Claudette, the more thankful I am.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Darke County Update #4

[Editor's note: Some of the following is probably true.]

Love Darke County. Darke has your typical mix of Democrats and Republicans. We love our politics, but at least we fight fair around here. Its not like some places I’ve heard about. Was talking to a fellow who just moved here from California. He said their Board of Elections back in San Fran delivers absentee ballots to the local cemetery. He told me that California people consider places like Darke County to be flyover country. I figure they surely must be right: whenever my wife and I go on a picnic during the summer, there’s always flies over us.

Darke County is the home of a lot of good folks. And a lot of really unusual good folks. I don’t mean that they are unusually good, but just good and unusual. Yes sir, we’ve got a strange bird or two in the area. Or three.

For example, I know one fellow that heats his home with wood. Insulates it with wood, too. On the outside. Must be something like R300 by now. He’s probably got twenty, thirty cord of wood stacked around his house, goin’ from the exterior wall to the very edge of his property. Sorta looks like one of General Anthony Wayne’s palisades.

Then there’s another boy I know that loves snow. A good friend. Has got him one of those self-propelled snow blowers that throws snow maybe sixty feet. Snowed last night, and this morning he’s out, throwin’ snow clear into the next neighborhood, plowing neighbor’s driveways, sidewalks, lawns, the street—anywhere there’s snow. He was enjoyin’ it too. I know it because his face was frozen into a grin.

And then there’s Eli, another friend. When Eli needs his family vehicle repaired, he takes it to John Deere. He’s the only guy I know that brings his groceries home on a twenty-foot flatbed. But if you want honest quality work done, whatever it might be, call Eli.

Sam likes guns. No, actually, Sam loves guns. I’ve seen his basement, and it’s not a basement, it’s a cotton-pickin’ armory. Sam could outfit every member of the 82nd Airborne with long rifles and handguns, complete with enough ammunition to invade a small country, like maybe Australia. I'm surprised Sam hasn't got an M1A1 Abrams parked in his front yard. Hmm, come to think of it, I've never checked his garage.

And then, of course there’s me. I’m diverse all by my lonesome. For example, I love running. Well, that’s not exactly true: I love to hate running. I love to hate running so much, that when I can’t run, I really miss hating it. Which makes me want to run. Even though I hate it. Like I said, I’m a one-man diversity crew.

I like to call what I do “running,” but in fact it’s just a jog. A slow jog. Okay, a really vigorous waddle. When you see a slow-moving ambulance followed by a couple of buzzards and maybe a lawyer or two, they’re probably following me on one of my runs, hoping for an opportunity. I don't take it personal. In any case, so far I haven’t given ‘em one.

Yeah, Darke County’s got it’s own collection of pretty unusual people. But it’s home and I seem to fit right in.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Darke County Update #3

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following could possibly be true.] [Or not.]

Best place for free exercise in Greenville is our large indoor mall. It’s got miles and miles of aisles. In fact, I’ll bet one lap around the inside is probably close to 3.1 miles—the equivalent of a 5k. Only problem is if you jog instead of walk you run the risk of bowling over shoppers. Besides, you’ll probably get stuck behind some little old lady with a slow cart. But still—it’s indoors and a lot nicer than running out in the weather.

Wait a minute, you object. Greenville doesn’t have an indoor shopping mall!

Sure it does. Right across the street from Krogers. If you squint your eyes just right, it sort of looks like one. If you squint a little harder, the sign kind of looks like “Mallmart” if you use just a tad of imagination. And it surely has the same outdoor features: massive parking lot with all the spaces near the entrance already taken, cars prowling around racing each other for spots recently abandoned by shoppers leaving, the obligatory eighteen-wheelers idling on the perimeter, an occasional pickup truck camper staying in the same place for two weeks.

And then on the inside, just think of the different departments as individual little stores. When you think about it, hard enough, it’s just like an indoor mall. Big enough for one, certainly.

Yeah, well, if it’s a mall where's the food court?

Cookie aisle, of course.

So anyway, I was at Mallmart doin’ my laps when I ran into Wilson. Literally. I was trying to jog the straight stretch between the Hunting Store and the Shoe Store. Poor Wilson popped out from the Seasonal Aisle and I sort of knocked him over, his cart over, and some guy I didn’t know. Bread and milk went flying, but thankfully the milk didn’t burst open. The stranger’s fall was broken by Wilson’s five loaves of bread—good for him. Not so good for the bread. Sorta flattened it.

Anyway, after apologizing profusely and picking up the stranger (who was more than a little agitated at me, not sure why) and getting Wilson set back on his feet, I tried to make a joke: “Fancy running into you here, Wilson.” He didn’t laugh, just kinda glared at me as he picked up his squashed bread. “So, what’s with all the bread and milk?” I asked.

“Snow storm coming,” he grumbled.

“You planning on eating all five loaves by yourself?” Wilson is a confirmed life-long bachelor. Tends to the cantankerous side, which could explain his single sojourn.

“Just want to be ready,” he muttered as he retrieved the four gallon jugs of milk.

“The forecast is for flurries, Wilson. I don’t think you’re gonna get snowed in.”

“You never know. So what are you getting ready for, the Olympics?” he asked sarcastically, eyeing my running shoes.

“Nah. The Ansonia Firecracker,” I answered.

“That’s six months away, genius. Don’t you think you could wait a month or two and run outside when the weather’s better, rather than knocking people over in here?”

“Just want to be ready,” I said, winking at him. “Well, I’d better, you know,  run along.”

“Maybe you oughta walk,” he said over his shoulder as he pushed his cart toward the snow shovel store in Mallmart..

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Darke County Update #2

[Editor’s note: Some portions of the following are probably true]

Took the car to Splash & Dash on Saturday (not my Dakota—that whole truck would probably disappear right down the drain if I ever dared wash it). Drove away feeling wonderful--like I’d had a shower. Might have something to do with the fact that several of the windows weren’t closed all the way.

If there is another town on planet Earth, other than Greenville, that has a Splash & Dash car wash, I surely don’t know what it might be. Never seen one before I moved here. Haven’t seen one anywhere else since. Love it. It’s another advantage to living in Greenville, and you can add it to last week’s list of local cultural attractions: we have the world’s greatest car wash.

But I’m not talking about dirty cars this week. Want to talk about signs. I always figured the whole point of signs was to communicate something—and if I’m not mistaken, the whole point of communicatin' is to communicate. If you get my drift.

Ever seen this sign? 

Now what exactly does it communicate? Says that I need to limit my Dakota to 20 mph during restricted hours (which in principle is no great problem, seeing as how the last time I exceeded 20 in that wonderful truck was when I got out and pushed). But I’m curious. What hours are restricted? Am I supposed to know? Did I miss this lecture during driver’s education? Well, that's probably an unfair question.  My driver’s ed had more to do with whether I was drivin' a two-horse or four-horse team, and the proper way to park at a hitching rail.

Anyway, do those restricted hours change during a two-hour delay? Or during the summer? Or on Saturday?

How about this sign?

When children are present? What does that mean? What if they are a hundred yards away in the playground—does that count as present? Does present mean when they are sitting in the building? Does present include when two kids are strolling down the sidewalk on Sunday afternoon? And if they're not present at that point, what are they? Absent?

Does present mean when the traveling-all-scholastic nerf-ball team is unloading from the buses at midnight after their return from Columbus, where they just won the state championship?

Only good thing about these signs is that I’m thinkin’ so hard, trying to figure out what they mean, that I have to slow down anyway. I can’t think and drive at the same time. Leastwise, that’s what my wife tells me.

Seems like somewhere (else, not Greenville) I remember seeing signs that say, “Speed Limit 20 when lights are flashing.” Now that would probably do the trick. I think even I could figure that one out.

Ever seen this sign north of Walmart?

Speed limit 35? 

Why? Ain’t nothing there but fields!

Now this here is my favorite speed-limit sign. It’s located on northbound Greenville-Celina Road just north of the flashing yellow light.

There’s no sign there!, you object.

Um-hmm. That’s why I like it.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Darke County Update #1

[Editor's note: some portions of the following are probably true.]

Wasn’t from anywhere till I moved here, mostly because I was from everywhere. Moved around a mite. Now I’m from somewhere and have been for fifteen years. Admittedly, it’s a somewhere that’s nowhere as far much of the world is concerned. Greenville is typically a waypoint, not a destination, on most people’s GPS. But Greenville’s fine by me. It’s home.

Fellow was showing me around ‘fore I moved into town. Said there was no place in Greenville more than five minutes from any other place in Greenville. Sounded to me like he was apologizing, but I took it as one of its selling points. I don’t like big. Far as I am concerned, Dayton can stay thirty minutes south. Don’t want it here.

As far as culture goes, we’ve got Memorial Hall, the Darke County Courthouse, a great library, and the finest traffic circle this side of the state line. And where else will you find the birthplace of Lowell Thomas, the shootin’ range of Annie Oakley, and a Maid Rite all in one little town? Okay, Thomas was born in Woodington, but it’s real close. A hair more than five minutes away.

Speaking of Thomas, did you know he moved to Victor, Colorado when he was eight, and spent some time there as a gold miner? And did you also know that the whole mining district around Victor—which includes Cripple Creek—is still producing gold to this day? Been thinking about following in young Lowell’s footsteps. But I digress.

So I was sitting in my trusty Dodge Dakota at the stoplight at Aldi’s. For about two hours. Or so it seemed.
That is the slowest stoplight in Darke County—which is quite a feat, I might add. I was trying to make a left from Shawnee and head north. Decided to turn off the truck to save gas while I was waitin’ on the light, when it finally turned green. Somebody had to wake up the driver behind me. Fell asleep waiting on that light.

Traffic in Greenville is never much of a problem. Might have five cars or so build up at the light at McDonalds during the height of rush hour. More of a problem are the folks who persistently refuse to use the middle turn lane for their left turns, and instead come to a full stop in the traffic lane, waiting for a golden invitation to turn left. Wonder what they think that middle lane is for?

And then there’s Jezebel. That’s what I call the light at Krogers. Always turns red when I approach it, even when there’s no one on the side street. Always turns red. Doesn’t matter time of day or night. Doesn’t stay red long, just long enough to get its two cents in, I suppose.

Greenville is now on the green-energy map. We have acquired three lovely wind turbines. Whirlpool says those turbines are there to power the factory, but I have a different theory. The green folks have never allowed City Hall to control the goose situation at City Park, geese being more important than people after all. So the wise folks at City Hall approved those wind turbines, as long as they were placed in the main goose flyway. Figured that it might cut down on the population a mite. The greens couldn’t hardly argue with wind turbines, them being green energy and all. Kind of placed ‘em in a catch-22. That’s my theory anyway.

One last thing. Heard rumors that when Mr. Brown turned on his Christmas lights this year, the generator on turbine #2 went up in smoke. Don’t know if it’s true, and I reckon they fixed it. My lights still dim, though, when he turns on his display. Gotta love those lights. It’s the only part of Greenville visible from the International Space Station. Kinda puts us on the map. We are definitely somewhere.

And that’s the news from Greenville.

Review of Story Craft, by John R. Erickson

Erickson is the author of the popular Hank the Cowdog books, of which I have read none. Yet. Now I want to. I became aware of Story Craft on the pages of World Magazine, and added it to my Christmas wish list, a wish happily fulfilled.

Part One is a fascinating memoir, detailing Erickson’s journey of becoming a writer. He developed a highly disciplined approach to writing daily, stuck with it through over a thousand rejections and some number of (still) unpublished novels, and finally found success submitting stories to magazines. Erickson then decided to self-publish in the days before print-on-demand and Createspace. What I drew from this section of the book is how unlikely it is that I will ever see financial success as an author. Those are just the cold, hard facts of the publishing world. This would have discouraged me—except for Part Two.

“Faith, Culture, and the Craft of Writing” is the title and subject matter of Part Two. This is the best part of the book. Erickson approaches culture, writing, and art from a straightforward, unadorned West Texas philosophical perspective. He examines what makes good art good (beauty, structure, content, justice, and often humor) and anchors his thinking in the Christian worldview. He is decidedly opinionated (and admits it), but I find his opinions decidedly biblical. It was in Part Two that I heard most clearly the call to keep writing, no matter whether I am ever “successful” at getting published. This section of the book contains tremendous encouragement for the Christian artist to be true to the call, the vocation, without getting overly caught up in the reception of his work—or lack thereof. Erickson’s basic message is that if God has gifted you to write, then write.

Erickson offers twenty specific tips on writing in Part Three, some of which you’ve heard before (don’t use too many adverbs, don’t write in the passive voice), some of which are practical (have a skill that will support you), and some of which are a plea for preserving the culture (don’t write anything that will shame your mother).

This is an excellent and encouraging book for aspiring writers. The most valuable part is his philosophy on art and culture expressed in the second section of the book. Highly recommended.