So You’ve Moved to the Rural South

Congratulations! However, depending on where you’re from, there are probably a few things here that will come as a nasty shock to you. Here are a few of those things. Consider this as a guide. It is by no means exhaustive.

1. When you’re driving past your neighbors, you wave at them. This sends a signal that says “I am one of you, I belong here, I see you”. It also sends another, arguably more important signal that says “I promise not to scrape the left side of your F150 with the left side of my F150”.

2. Yes, everybody here drives an F150. Yes, every single one of those F150s is absolutely necessary (according to the owner).

3. The sweet tea is going to be sweeter than you expect. No matter how sweet you expect it to be, it’s going to be sweeter.

4. “Corn from a jar” means moonshine.

5. “Y’all” is a contraction of “You all” that means “You guys” or “all of you”. “Ya’ll” doesn’t mean anything, as far as I’m aware.

6. Mississippians WILL fight you if you say anything bad about Elvis.

7. Please stop making Deliverance jokes. We’ve heard them all. They’re not funny anymore.

8. It’s hot. It’s so, so hot. If you’re from a dry place, you don’t even understand what I mean when I say it’s hot. Every part of you will sweat and you won’t feel any cooler because the air is so full of water that no sweat will evaporate. You’ll just be hot AND sweaty. It’s basically a jungle. The windows fog up from the outside.

9. If you have a house with a screened-in porch, that screen is a blessing from God. Do not remove the screen to “let the air circulate through”. There is no air to circulate. There are a lot of mosquitoes, however, who are more than happy to check out your circulation. Which brings me to my next point…

10. How fast does the air move around in the summer? It doesn’t; that’s why it’s 92 degrees and 80% humidity at midnight…

11. … and it’s also 92 degrees and 100% humidity in the middle of the day! So if you’re from a place that maybe is a little less humid and you’re thinking of going for a jog outside, don’t bother. All the sweat-wicking microfiber in the world won’t save you when there is nowhere to wick the sweat to. Just go to Planet Fitness.

12. You can’t defeat the kudzu. It’ll come back next year. Save yourself the trouble and the Roundup exposure.

13. You also can’t defeat the insect life. A wasp or a beetle will get into your house eventually. Your best bet is peaceful coexistence, because paper wasps (the type you’re most likely to see) are not aggressive and keep other, nastier insects at bay.

14. There will probably be a pack of free-range dogs in your neighborhood, probably without collars. They’re friendly. Give ‘em a pat.

15. Seriously, wave at your neighbors. It’s rude not to.

16. A firework echoes, a gunshot doesn’t. This comes up more than you’d think. Except on the 4th of July, when you’ll hear both.

17. Opossums eat ticks and are nearly immune to rabies, so if you see one making its dumb little way across the road, please do your best not to hit it.

18. Deer hunting is actually vitally important to maintain the ecosystem. We killed off all the whitetail deer’s natural predators, and now there’s just too god damn many of them. Hunting permits are strictly controlled by the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department, and they give out enough necessary to maintain the deer population. If the deer population isn’t maintained, they outgrow their food supply and begin to starve. You may find it distasteful but trust me, it is way better than watching deer slowly starve to death.

19. The cooler you just bought has a ruler on top for measuring fish. See #18.

20. Sometimes our local politicians say terrible things. If this bothers you, you are welcome to:
a. Vote for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
b. Volunteer for a candidate that opposes the terrible politician
c. Write letters to the terrible politician telling him he’s terrible and should stop that
d. Run for office yourself

You are not welcome to:
e. Talk about how everybody who lives here is an inbred racist hick

21. Most importantly, please do not come here and think you’re going to magically change everything that’s wrong. Give the people here some credit. If there were easy solutions to the problems they face, they would have solved their problems themselves already. Life has its own pace here, and the problems in Appalachia and the South generally are deep-seated and far-reaching. You don’t have the magic solution to the opioid crisis, racism, wage stagnation, brain drain, economic inequality, generational poverty, chronic disease, environmental contamination, resource exploitation, or any other of the issues that are endemic to this area. It is at best insulting and at worst actively harmful to have a person who has zero understanding of this region and the people who live in it come in and insist that big changes need to happen and by golly gosh, he’s the one to make them. If you want to help, listen to the people here. Support them in their fight for justice.

22. WAVE AT YOUR FUCKING NEIGHBORS.

The Smug Alternative

Deena Boydd sipped a triple-cream latte and began her editorial for the next edition of The Jacktown Liberator. “The worst problem in the world today is a false sense of self-importance,” she typed, considering it a brilliant beginning for a piece designed to skewer her detractors, a legion of local journalists, politicians and businessmen, not to mention creditors. While the journalists and politicians had other ridiculous axes to grind, her creditors, she reasoned, simply did not understand that she was a woman on a mission and that their concerns over money betrayed their petty sense of the world while confirming her broader and certainly more legitimate world-view.

A knock on the door of her tastefully neutral and largely barren office interrupted her reverie. Before she could say “come in” the door was opened by a short, very stout young black woman with a scowl on her face.

“Hello, Arusha, how are you this morning?” Deena asked, beaming with false goodwill.

“I been trying to get that man on the phone you told me about, but he ain’t takin’ any calls now,” Arusha said. “They said he got your message and he workin’ on a response.”

Deena frowned. Not only did she hope that the man Arusha was referring to, who happened to be the chairman of the city council, would respond to her questions by 5 p.m., her deadline to the printer, but she was also frustrated at trying to encourage Arusha to adopt a more sophisticated approach when it came to contacting people. Deena needed to speak with others simply in order to give the patina of reliability to her otherwise fabricated news stories about the inner workings of the city’s administration, but she felt that at the very least she should put a good face on her trumpery.

Deena clinched her teeth, which Arusha interpreted as a smile. Smiling in turn, Arusha asked, “Do you still want to go to lunch with me and Syllis at that foreign restaurant? She said it’s expensive. You know it’s my birthday that day, don’t you?”

“I thought you were a Virgo,” Deena said.

“Oh, I ain’t a Virgo. I got two kids. Anyway, I gotta go. It’s my turn to clean the bathroom, and Mr. Tadd’s picky about that. I thought he was going to have to be put in the hospital that time he found that cricket on the window. He sure is jumpy.”

Arusha left, slamming the door. Deena gritted her teeth hard even harder. Her gaze wandered from the door to the mirror on the wall opposite her desk.

‘I still look good,’ she said to herself. Deena was 53, a bottle blond with rapidly graying roots. She had begrudgingly decided to approve of her expanding bulk, which she reassuringly found in keeping for a mature woman of what she considered significant social stature. For a decade, her publication had ridden the modest wave of a small southern city’s liberal sentiments. Deena knew that her vision of the city’s future was the only one with any reason or design; she alone had her finger on the true pulse of the city. She felt that she’d established herself as a distinctive voice in local politics, when in actuality most people only picked up her publication in order to find out what bands were playing in the local nightspots.

Another knock at the door signaled the arrival of her partner, Tadd Stuffer, a pale, untidy man who stooped, snuffled and continually dusted his shoulders with dandruff. “We have to talk,” he said, glancing nervously down the hall before he closed the door.

“What is it this time?” Deena asked.

“Payday is this week,” he said. “And we don’t have enough money to pay everybody.”

“How much do we have?” Deena asked. Tadd quoted a figure. “Well, that’s enough for you and me, and enough to put out two more issues before another payday. We’ll issue everyone else vouchers.”

“We did that last time,” Tadd pointed out.

“In that case, you know what you have to do,” Deena said. “Call your mother and tell her we simply need a few thousand to see us through this rough spot.”

“Deena, I’m beginning to think Mommie’s patience is wearing thin with our continual need for money,” Tadd said. “She’s well-off, sure, but she’s already spent over a half a million dollars keeping us afloat for the past eight years. I don’t think she’s willing to do it for too much longer. Of course, it might help if you were a bit nicer to her.”

“Why should I be?” Deena thundered, her normally pallid, flaccid features mottled with fury. “She’s the one who made life miserable for you all those years, putting you in that clinic with all those other pathetic losers when all that was wrong with you was the need for the love of a strong woman. Look at all the good I’ve done for you. She should be grateful for that alone!”

“Deena, listen to me . . . “

“No, you listen to me! You get on the phone to that gold-plated bitch of a mother of yours and tell her that if she doesn’t send us twenty thousand bucks today, I’m going to tell her exactly what went on with her husband and your step-brother when he stayed in the pool house last summer.

“Deena, you promised!”

“I’m sorry, Tadd, but this newspaper is more important than your ugly family history. We are here in this city to help bring about a change, to bring a people out of bondage, to make good the wrongs of a century, and you’re worried about a measly case of incest?”

Deena was red in the face, her disproportionate Rubenesque body heaving with emotion. “Call her. Now!”

Tadd stared dumbly at her tits, which she had begun to knead provocatively. She started to unbutton her blouse. “Close the door,” she said.

“Here?” Tadd asked nervously.

“Yes.”

Tadd closed the door and whimpered while Deena drew a big black latex phallus from a bottom drawer.

***

In an office down the hall, Parsley Horton-Hoopey was giving her husband a lesson in political correctness.

“Zeus, I thought we’d agreed to call it ganja,” she said. “Marijuana is just a vulgarity invented by drug lords who only sell this sacred herb for money. And while we’re at it, it’s ‘maize’, not ‘corn’, for Demeter’s sake.”

Parsley had only recently moved to Jacktown from the West Coast, where she had lived in the commune near San Francisco her mother had founded in the mid-Sixties. She had moved to Jacktown to live with her grandmother after a series of arrests for larceny, fraud and drug charges had made it clear that the State of California teetered on the state of barbarism. Parsley had charmed Deena with her tale of persecution and woe. Deena, always the champion of those she perceived as underdogs, took her to her breast (quite literally and quite often, usually when Tadd was bound in handcuffs) and made her a managing editor, which meant that Parsley was in charge of the contributing writers, who were one by one becoming more and more frustrated and alienated because of her incompetence when faced with a paragraph and her indifference in dealing with deadlines.

In addition to her job at The Jacktown Liberator, Parsley also worked for a successful online marketing firm from which she had been pilfering funds in steadily increasing amounts for over six months. She reassured herself that if she got caught, she’d just get Zeus, who owned a small restaurant in the city’s trendy Fondue district, to pay them off and everything would be fine, and of course Deena would fight tooth and nail to keep her managing editor out of prison and avoid a scandal, wouldn’t she?

“And Zeus, don’t forget we have to go to Amelia’s house blessing Saturday afternoon.” Parsley listened on the phone then exploded. “I don’t care if you have to open the restaurant at 5! We’re going to Amelia’s! I’m supposed to hold the Holy Laurel Wreath! Besides . . . (she cooed) I have a surprise for you . . . Remember that black teddy you liked? . . . I bought it, and I’m wearing it to the ceremony.”

She hung up the phone with a sigh. God, she got tired of pushing sex, especially her own.

***

Across town from the Liberator offices, in Jacktown City Hall, Mayor Henry Jackson was meeting with his public relations man, Moore Dimm.

“Well?” he asked.

Dimm fidgeted. “It looks like Boydd at the Liberator is sniffing around the Harris Street Project again, and this time she claims to have found the contractor files.”

“Impossible,” Jackson said.

“She’s been talking with Stevens,” Dimm said.

Jackson frowned. Ruben Stevens was a hotshot developer from Little Rock who had piloted several urban renewal projects such as the Harris Street Project in the past seven years. When Stevens first became involved in the project, he had recoiled in horror at the lack of progress as well as the copious evidence of waste, ineptitude and graft that had stretched to over twelve years. But he quickly realized that profit was to be made by playing ball with the Harris Street Revitalization Committee, which was steadily funneling fraudulently-acquired state and federal funds into dozens of outstretched palms, including those of the mayor and his top advisers.

Stevens himself justified this foray into graft by rationalizing that the project would be finished eventually, albeit at many times the cost of the original estimate, on a much lower scale and in a much greater amount of time. Once he had assessed the lay of the land, Stevens settled into a lap of luxury, cushioned by a plush downtown office staffed with lots of giggling interns of both sexes and a top-floor apartment in the city’s Fondue district, one block from the offices of The Jacktown Liberator, where his latest inamorata, Parsley Horton-Hooey, gave him quite possibly the best hum jobs in the known universe on her lunch breaks at the insistence of her boss, Deena Boydd, who saw in uncovering the corruption behind the Harris Street Revitalization Project a way to lend some degree of credence to her fabricated forays into legitimate journalism.

Mayor Jackson was unaware of the Horton-Hooey connection with Stevens, but Dimm had heard about it from one of Stevens’ interns, a muscular young blond who also happened to be sodomizing Dimm (as well as Stevens) on a regular basis. Modesty, as well as the First Amendment, of course, forbade him to reveal his source. It was enough for the Mayor to know that there was a potential breach of security, and as the polished bureaucrat he was, he immediately began making plans to seal it.

“Can we get one of Huntson’s boys to take care of it?” he asked, meaning could a shooting be arranged.

“No,” Dimm said. “Too obvious, and Huntson would want a bigger cut.”

Jackson frowned again. When he frowned, Jackson’s face changed radically from the benign, plump, smiling figure he presented in most public images. It became a dark, sullen and demonic cloud. “Well,” he said. “It looks like it’s time to play ball with Miss Boydd. Let’s put her on the team, okay?”

Dimm smiled, looking for all the world like one of those simpering puttis in a Renaissance painting.

(All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

On Heirloom Recipes

For a long time I was remiss about not getting recipes from someone when our lives were shared, particularly those relatives we all have who were known for making a dish that everyone remembers, most often for a pie, cake or cookie, but canning recipes ran a close second, particularly pickles, then there were sauces such as barbecue and Jezebel followed by casseroles, stews and breads.

I once felt as if those recipes were irreplaceable riches that had been swallowed by the maw of time, but that feeling has passed; now I’ve come to realize that this remarkable world does indeed go around, and those cooks who will be remembered are here with me now. If fact, we should all realize that getting recipes from others is important, perhaps even crucial in some larger scheme of things, and we must have them even if we have to beat the holy hell out of someone to do it.

It’s our duty as members of the human race.

Rankin County Barbies

Reservoir Barbie

“Rez” Barbie comes with mid‐life crisis Ken and an SUV with stick figure family depicted in rear window and Republican candidate bumper stickers as well as a mega church membership and directions to the nearest wine shop in Hinds or Madison County. Options include a black party dress and a Xanax prescription.

Flowood Barbie

Manufactured outside Rankin County, “Flo” Barbie drives a Chevy Tahoe with multiple private school stickers on back window. Options include a tennis outfit, an IPhone 6s with a permanent hand attachment, matching earbuds, a Shih Tzu and a Kroger grocery cart with pineapple.

West Pearl Barbie

This pale model comes dressed in her own Wrangler jeans two sizes too small, a NASCAR t-shirt and Tweety bird tattoo on her shoulder. She has a six-pack of Bud Lite and a Hank Williams Jr. CD set. She can spit over 5 feet and kick mullet-haired Ken’s ass when she is drunk. Purchase her pickup truck separately and get a Confederate flag bumper sticker absolutely free.

East Pearl Barbie

This tobacco-chewing, brassy-haired Barbie has a pair of her own high-heeled sandals with one broken heel from the time she chased beer-gutted Ken out of Brandon Barbie’s house. Her ensemble includes low-rise acid-washed jeans, fake fingernails and a see-through halter-top. Also available with pink trim mobile home.

Pelahatchie Barbie

This outdoors Barbie comes with her own kayak and Ducks Unlimited Ken as well as a Longleaf camo outfit, a pair of Merrell Reflex Waterproof Hikers and an L.L. Bean backpack. Options include a Browning Citori 725, a Magellan GPS and a pedigree water Spaniel.

Star Barbie

This anorexic teen Barbie comes with a revoked driver’s license, Stage Mother Barbie and an alcoholic closeted Ken. Options include an NYX Cosmetics Soho Glam makeup kit, skin tight Daisy Dukes, ten pairs of glitter high heels and a pregnancy test.

Brandon Barbie

This Barbie has jet black straightened hair, over-plucked, drawn-on eyebrows, a LOVE tattoo on her neck, skin tight jeans, a fitted tank top and fringed soft cowboy boots. Her Meth Head Unshaven Ken has a Yeti logo tattoo, an NRA tattoo, and a recently-added Trump tattoo. Options include a voicebox reocrding with “Come back here, you motherfucker!” and a traumatized Baby Ken.