Look Sharp, Feel Sharp, Be Sharp

“Of the Seven Dwarfs, the only one who shaved was Dopey. That should tell us something about the wisdom of shaving.” ― Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All

The opening to NBC’s “Cavalcade of Sports” is playing in my head. If you have forgotten it or are too young to remember fear not, I’ll share it later.

It plays as I’m standing in front of a display of Gillette razors. In a moment I’ll move down the aisle and peruse the choices of shaving soap, lathers, and gels. I’m not sure why I’m contemplating shaving, something I haven’t done since I began to take blood thinning drugs. I’m afraid I’ll nick my turkey neck and bleed to death. I do use electric clippers to tame my beard and clear the skin I choose to leave bare.

I’ve worn some form of facial hair for fifty years. Mustache, beard, goat tee, even a brief period with mutton chops ala Civil War General Ambrose Burnside. Yes, it is from his odd choice of beard styles that we get the name ‘Sideburns.’ It comes from a corruption of his name. Burnside is also remembered for his slow reactions at the Battle of Antietam and his costly failure at the Battle of Fredericksburg. He joins the Earl of Sandwich and Lords Cardigan and Raglan in the ‘anals’ of history.

Off topic history lesson: The 4th Earl of Sandwich invented the sandwich to spend more time gambling. Crimean War vets Cardigan and Raglan are remembered for a sweater style Cardigan forced his men to wear and a sleeve style adopted by Raglan after losing his arm to a wound received at the Battle of Waterloo against Napoleon. Both Cardigan and Raglan, along with others, share the blame for the ill-fated ‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ at Balaclava during the Crimean War.

Back to topic.

My first attempt at growing a beard didn’t go well. My freshman year in college I decided to join the ‘hippie’ culture. Not really, from the second week of attending eight o’clock classes I decided to forego shaving in favor of an extra five minutes of sleep. By Christmas break I had a scraggly beard going.

To get home for Christmas break from Newberry College, I caught a ride to Chester, SC to meet my father and the first words from his mouth were, “Son, when you get home, you’re going to shave that beard.” No “Hey son, it is good to see you” or even a simple, “Hi.”

Having lived on my own for a whole four months I answered, “No, I’m not.” He put the car in gear and drove off with me running after him, waving frantically and yelling, “I’ll shave, I’ll shave, I’ll shave!” I did, too. “If you put your feet under my table you will abide by my rules!!!!” At that time, I was still putting my feet under his table even if it was from long distance.

I don’t quite know why I am contemplating picking up a razor again. I also don’t know why The Gillette March is playing in my head. Okay here it is. Just click on the link below.

NBC’s “Gillette’s Cavalcade of Sports” was a mainstay on Friday night TV from the middle Fifties until I began playing sports or dating on Friday nights. It primarily featured a boxing match, two burly men trying to beat themselves senseless and Gillette Razor or Blue Blade commercials. “Look Sharp…Feel Sharp…Be Sharp.” Somehow it translated to “Look Sharp and you’ll Feel Sharp, too!”, whether you were beaten black or blue or not.

As far as I know, my father shaved every day, even on his rare days off. My family was big on hygiene. He would never consider leaving work and running errands until first going home to bathe, shave, and don fresh clothes.  I, on the other hand, once wore the same pair of jeans twenty days in a row. I would have worn them on day twenty-one, but they walked out of my dorm room on their own. For those wondering, “I bathed often and changed my underwear.”

As a child, I remember watching him lather up using Barbasol or Burma Shave. A Gillette safety razor or Schick Injector Razor would be tested against his neck and if needed, a fresh blade exchanged, the old blade deposited in a slot in the medicine cabinet, the new one seated in the razor. Then scraping would commence.

An early Schick Injector style razor

As a child I couldn’t wait to begin shaving and as a septuagenarian, I wonder why? Over fifty plus years shaving age, five or ten minutes per day adds up. Not to mention those days when a styptic pencil was needed but unavailable and I exited my bath with bits of tissue paper stuck to bloody nicks when I didn’t take enough care or should have changed blades.

Yet, here I am, contemplating the un-contemplatable. Shaving my beard…or at least parts of it.

I bought a can of Barbasol and a package of Gillette’s newest technology. They are resting comfortably and unused under my bathroom sink. I did get as far as using the electric clippers on my turkey neck. I just couldn’t take the next step. I’m retired and my wife likes the “Grizzly Adam’s” look. She even liked my attempt at growing a ponytail and lamented when I chose to clip it off.

So. Do I really need to “Look Sharp?” Well, I’d like to “Feel Sharp.” Maybe I’ll just “Be Sharp” and shave my neck and see how that goes…or not.

Don Miller is a retired teacher and coach turned writer who self publishes at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1584wnM_B2zqveCoez2z0rXxysYi4JNkZRXwETiYsGSzxmsd4TjClfq5o

Smells Like Chicken

“But my heart’s running ’round like a chicken with its head cut off

All around the barnyard, falling in and out of love

The poor thing’s blind as a bat, getting up, falling down, getting up

Who’d fall in love with a chicken with its head cut off?”

“A Chicken with its Head Cut Off” by the Magnetic Fields

I’m prone to follow my thoughts as they fall into a rabbit hole, diving in to see what is at the bottom. I’m not sure this was a rabbit hole. It was more a black, iron kettle sitting on a fire, water rolling, and steam rising. At some point, I realized I smelled like chicken.

I was lying face-down on an operating table while my dermatologist removed the latest squamous cell carcinomas from my calf. This was the third or fourth in that location which joined the two on my ear, and a couple on the thigh of my opposite leg. That has nothing to do with the story exactly, but I wish I had kept up with my total number of stitches during my lifetime. Seems like I’m always cutting something or getting cut upon.

The calf had been numbed and the doctor’s touch was light. A little pressure he said, no pain. It couldn’t have been much pressure and there was no pain. I was just at the point of falling asleep when he began to cauterize the bleeders. It was the smell of my own toasting flesh and singed leg hair that brought me back and took me back to my childhood.

Back to a boiling black cauldron of water and the poor chicken that was about to give her all so I could eat a chicken leg for supper.

Periodically my grandmother, Nannie as we all called her, would begin a fire outside, under a big, black, iron caldron. As the water heated, she would pick up her ax and head to the chicken coop. Gothic chicken horror music should be playing in your head. A less than productive egg producer was about to die.

We were meat eaters, and the death of farm animals was a common occurrence. It wasn’t kept a secret from the children. There were no worries about our delicate sensibilities. We knew how the meat, fish, or poultry ended up on our plates. We had been warned about naming our animals, but I still found it sad when Bacon, Sausage or Henny Penny went to meet their maker. Sad until those pork chops or chicken legs hit the frying pan.

 I would follow my grandmother to the coop realizing a macabre sight was about to unfold.  I didn’t find joy in the occurrence, but I knew there was something odd about chickens with their heads cut off running about willy nilly before finally flopping over. I remember when I first studied the French Revolution. I truly wondered if King Louie XVI or his wife, Marie Antoinette, ran around like a chicken after their beheading. Truth, I kid you not. I was just a stupid kid.

After the beheading, Nannie would take the chicken and dip it in heated water for five or ten seconds and begin to pull feathers. If they were too hard to pluck, she would continue to dip the chicken into the water until she had supper plucked. Then she would dry the chicken and with a burning piece of wood, singe the pin feathers off before gutting and butchering. That was the smell triggering my memory.

The memory came when the smell of my own burning skin and hair hit me. The memory was as if I was there, sixty years ago. Not pleasing…smell or memory. The memory of frying chicken battered and turning brown in Crisco is a much better memory. I can smell it now and a Johnny Cash tune is running in my head. Or it might have been Kris Kristofferson.

“Then I crossed the empty street

And caught the Sunday smell of someone fryin’ chicken

And it took me back to somethin’

That I’d lost somehow, somewhere along the way”

I haven’t lost the memory of a chicken leg, crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside. The memory is quite pleasing. Colonel Harland Sanders, eat your heart out. She did more with chicken coated with flour, salt, and pepper and shallow fried in Crisco than any of your secret recipes.

From the Johnny Cash Christmas Show, 1978

***

Postscript: Except for the smell, everything went well. I got to add twelve stitches to my total and am recovering with just a bit of discomfort.

Don Miller writes in multiple genres, both fact and fiction, and combinations of both. His latest is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” which may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=TKS6SAC9M2I9&keywords=Pig+Trails+and+Rabbit+holes&qid=1647603975&s=books&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Cstripbooks%2C2247&sr=1-1

And Things Continue to Go Boom!

“Listen up – there’s no war that will end all wars.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

The first war in recorded history took place in Fertile Crescent in c. 2700 BCE between Sumer and Elam, two city-states in what was known as Mesopotamia. There is prehistoric evidence of earlier wars, but writing had not been invented prior to the invention of cuneiform so there is no record.  For five thousand years of recorded history, humans have been consistently good at killing each other and creating better ways of killing each other. Earlier wars were fought over resources, goods, or land. Throw in religion and ideology and one sees little has changed.

Somehow a cave man battles an Egyptian priest for the hand of a fair maiden. Alley Oop, the comic strip was founded in 1932.

From sticks and stones, to spears and swords, to sling shots to the invention of gunpowder, muskets, and cannon, galore. To Minié balls and rifled single shot rifles, to rapid fire weapons beginning with the Gatling gun and ending with…it hasn’t.

Flying machines dropping hellfire and brimstone on innocents, to the latest ultimate weapon, nuclear bombs delivered by ICBMs or cruise missiles. Every generation has its ultimate weapon. I am sure there is a new one just beyond the horizon. Setting our phasers to stun is not an option.

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
― Albert Einstein

Einstein’s quote recalled the movie “On the Beach” and the novel it was based upon, Nevil Shute’s Cold War, end of the world drama published in 1957. It had it all. Love, hate, stalwart heroes, brave and beautiful heroines, gallows humor, and the death of all mankind. There was no one left to use the sticks and stones. Only the cockroaches armed themselves.

Cover of the Shute novel

I believe a better quote might be, if in fact, there is anyone left….

“War does not determine who is right — only who is left.”
― Anonymous

Gahan Wilson ~ artist | Playboy ~ publisher

The Fifties and Sixties were rife with fear of instant incineration or an agonizing death from radiation sickness. To say the Cold War influenced my outlook on life would be like saying that the Grand Canyon was a hole of middlin’ size.

1950s/60s Bomb Shelter

Duck and cover drills, “In case of nuclear attack” alerts, nuclear escape routes, advertisements for fallout shelters, movies like “Fall-Safe” or the later, “The Day After”, and books like “On the Beach” had profound effects. And who could forget the ’62 Cuban Missile Crisis and a glut of “brush fire” wars or policing actions. I worried about “mutually assured destruction” and searched for a red star every time a large aircraft flew over my head.

Jim Davis Art. Also, published in Playboy The caption reads, “Go ahead and putt…it will be a few minutes before the shockwave gets here.” Golfers….

I was a part of a generation of school-aged kids who were sold the bill of goods that sitting under our desks with a book over our heads would somehow save us from a nuclear fireball and that it was “better to be dead than red.” Our parents and teachers swallowed the lies too.  Civics was more propaganda than learning how our government was supposed to work. Despite the movie “Dr. Strangelove” I never learned to stop worrying and love the bomb and found other reasons to distrust world leaders.

Peter Sellers as Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove

As I read the latest news from the Ukraine, watched all the pundits telling me what we should do with Russia, especially those on social media who traded their “contagious disease” credentials for “international relations” ones. Fielding nuclear threats from Russia and threats de jour from Communist China, North Korea, or Iran, I realize that history is not only repeating itself we also maybe writing its final chapters.

Rodney King’s lament rings in my head, “Can’t we all just get along?” We haven’t for any length of time in our recorded history. Why would you think we would suddenly change?

I don’t believe that the world is anymore broken than it once was. It became broken when the first tribe picked up sticks and stones and rushed to war against another tribe. The only change is our weapons are no longer sticks and stones. Lest I forget, as I listen to the Trumps, Putins, Xi Jinpings, The Ayatollah, Jong-uns, and others, it is our voices that might be the most dangerous. Words matter despite what the old saying might tell us.

The motivations are the same. Land, safety, ideology, and religion. Water will soon be a motivation if it is not already. With the world’s vast natural resources, people starve, die of thirst, die of disease because we believe it is more important to possess than to share. We would rather allow food to rot than give it away. We would rather go to war than be benefactors. Too many national leaders have the attitude of a cuckolded lover, “If I can’t have it, no one else will.”

To the politicians of the world, beware of what you wish for. We are in dangerous times, and I don’t believe duck and cover drills, or a turtle named Bert can save us.

Source: http://www.flickr.com / x-ray_delta_one

I guess I would be remiss if I didn’t add one YouTube Video. It is from another era but quite real for millions of us.

Edwin Starr’s War.

***

Don Miller normally writes on more uplifting subjects. His author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1U1r59lqC_LpyqJ_duYRx-g4WH71O3bSLVbF9ql_4MFz_Pq-oy13IWkuc

His latest is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes”, more musings from a slightly insane Southerner.

Spinnin’ Plates…?

“Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.
― Orson Scott Card, Alvin Journeyman

I have a memory of speeding us home from MYF to claim my front row seat. The seat was in our living room, in front of a black and white RCA TV. Ed Sullivan was coming on and could not be missed. Every Sunday evening at eight we expected, “A really big shew!” The night of my remembrance was The Beatles, but I remember many other acts with dimming clarity. Some more than others and some that have become metaphors in my dimming brain.

Ed Sullivan

My memory was triggered by another memory, which was triggered by a conversation. A simple comment I made about the complexities of life. A comparison to an incomplete story, incomplete because the story had too many moving parts. Too many spinning plates wobbling as I try to bring my story to its conclusion.

From the conversation a rabbit hole opened, beckoning me to fall in and I obliged it. Slide on over Alice, I’ve come to join you. Set a place for me at your tea party preferably next to the Mad Hatter. We have much in common, especially our insanity.

The memory of Ed Sullivan led me to the memory of a tuxedo clad man with a bad haircut running hither and yon attempting to keep bowls spinning on dowls and plates spinning on the table the dowls sat on. As their spin began to slow, the plates or bowls would begin to wobble. The tuxedo clad man would run first to one and then to another while carrying a tray with glasses, eggs, and cutlery that he would perform ‘amazing’ tricks with while keeping the bowls from crashing to the floor.

The tuxedo clad man was Erich Brenn. His act was pure circus, but it reminded me of the circus that life has become for so many. Spinning plates have become a metaphor for life.

I’m retired. Life doesn’t get much simpler. Life is so simple my biggest struggle is to remember what day of the week it is or what time of day it might be. As simple as it is, I still remember and long for simpler times. What about those who now find themselves spinning plates in the Twenty-First Century?

Both my parents worked in the Twentieth Century. Shift work in a cotton mill weave room. Sometimes my dad would ‘work over’. An extra four hours here and there. Even working over he was always home in time for supper, the evening meal in the South. They owned their home, made payments on a new car every four or five years, and there was always food on the table. I never wanted for anything that was needed. Admittedly there were disagreements over what was ‘needed’.

They had time to have a life outside of the heat, humidity, and lint of a weave room. The job ended with the closing of the huge, sliding doors that separated ‘in there’ from the ‘out there’. They didn’t carry the job home with them…at least in their heads. They might have been bone weary, but they weren’t mind numbed. They didn’t have to work two or three jobs to make ends meet. They had money to put away for a ‘rainy’ day.

They had time, an irreplaceable commodity, to smell the roses. Time to do chores, work a crossword puzzle, paint by numbers, go to choir practice, or host the Canasta Club or just watch TV. Time to be parents. Time to do nothing if they wanted. What happened?

The modern world happened. Life morphed into something that would not be recognized in the Fifties, Sixties, or Seventies. Life has reverted to the early days of the Industrial Revolution…to the Great Depression, long hours as pay hasn’t kept up with cost. The Greatest Generation should be shaking their heads in disbelief. Life now resembles Erich Brenn’s spinning plate novelty act.

Today, many families of four can’t survive on one salary, are stretched to survive on two, can’t own a home, are forced to keep a ten-year-old vehicle running for five more years. In many cases, they are working multiple jobs and still making decisions on which bills to pay, which meds to take, living from paycheck to paycheck, one calamity away from being thrown to the curb. One disaster from living in their car or a cardboard box. Spinning plates.

This was before Covid, before runaway inflation, before soaring gas prices, before more rumors of war in the Ukraine turned out not to be rumors. Life is hard for this newest generation and looks worse for the next. Forget saving for a better life, saving for a house or college for their kids. It’s hard to save when catsup soup is the soup de jure.

I wonder how many more plates are being spun…or shattering as they fall to the floor.

I worry about my daughter, son-in-law, and grandbabies. They are lucky and I hope they realize it. I’m sure some days they wonder too. I’m sure they must make tough decisions. They both work, have good jobs, and both are home for supper. Sometimes my electrician son-in-law works side jobs but most days he’s doing taxi service to one practice or another. They sound much like my parents.

They are great parents. They amaze me. They put their children first…sometimes to their own detriment. I worry they are wearing themselves out sprinting in the rat race of life. No chance to slow down and smell the roses. Spinning those plates. They can call on family members when the schedule spins out of control, or when life adds a plate to the table. So far, no plates or bowls have come crashing down. Still, I worry.

Many young parents don’t have the support to soften the blow of falling bowls and I am sorrowful. Many grandparents who were once the support system still must work, still spinning plates themselves.

Spinning plates shouldn’t be a metaphor for life…yet it is. It is a metaphor for the fear many experience. One broken plate from going bust.

My parents had a dream their ‘baby boys’ would have a better life than they did. A better life was the same dream their parents had and a dream I had for mine. For some that dream was realized. For others, the deck was stacked against them from the beginning and has become dog-eared over time.

We keep being told that the American Dream is still alive. All you must do is work hard. I think that is a lie and for the coming generations that dream may be a nightmare.

***

As madly as we spin plates, I can’t help but point out that at least I’m not having to manufacture and use Molatov cocktails, and my grandchildren are not having their blood type sewn onto their clothing by their parents. I’m not living in a makeshift bomb shelter with a pet in my lap. To my Ukrainian friends, known and unknown, Любов і удача. Love and good luck.

Image is from https://wordwranglers.blogspot.com/2016/02/spinning-plates-and-shiny-objects.html

Don Miller’s author’s page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR03_CNDnl9zP1PUcuPq3gRcw2MxMBnxKv6-Xb07S_k4BEx3dP81Yk912HY

Don Miller’s newest offering is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes”