Must have been a Southern thang

After finishing a morning of church, after clearing the dinner table and washing all the dishes, my two brothers and I saw Sunday afternoons as free time. Our parents saw it differently. Sunday afternoons, they said, was when people went calling. None of them were invited. They just showed up. This meant all the toys and games had to be hidden away in closets and drawers because whover dropped by was like a bootcamp drill instructor who would inspect the house–or so we were told.

So, we sat around in the freshly vacuumed living room waiting for the doorbell to ring. We read approved books that would look good if they were suddenly set down on the coffee table when guests arrived. No comic books. No dime novels. Nothing that had been banned in Boston.

Free Family Basic Cliparts, Download Free Family Basic Cliparts png images,  Free ClipArts on Clipart LibraryDing. “Oh Christ. it’s the Bakers and they brought their daughter Chrissy with them.” Every time the Bakers came over, Chrissy’s attitude was, “I don’t want to be here.” “The feeling was mutual,” I wanted to say, in fact did say it by pretending she wasn’t in the room.

Mr. Baker (George) asked me the same question every time he brought his rich Episcopalian family into our humble Presbyterian home while his wife Prissy made eye contact with any dust bunny she located.

“How’s school, Malcolm?”

What I said: “Fine.”

What he said: “Good, good, Chrissy’s going to be the valedictorian, lead cheerleader, the May queen, the student council vice president, and the apple of every teacher’s eye.”

What I I wanted to say when Mr. Baker asked about school: “Well, George, I don’t know because I got expelled several weeks ago after getting all the cheerleaders pregnant.” Then he would shout, “Hey, half pint, you didn’t miss your last period did you?”

I smiled just imagining the scene playing out that way. My smile faded when I contemplated a shotgun wedding and subsequently joining the Episcopal Church. Yet, it might have been worth it had it caused all the right people to shun us on Sunday afternoons so we could get on with our lives instead of sitting around pretending we were reading Faulkner and Shakespeare.

I never got lucky, either with Chrissy or stopping people from calling and ruining what could have been a wondrous Sunday afternoon of cowboys and and Indians or Monopoly. I hear that the good Lord rested on Sunday, but we were never allowed that option. The Bakers might ring the doorbell at any moment afterwhich we would lose an hour of our lives while they discussed ships and sealing wax with our parents. Or, if the Rays came over, it was cabbages and kings

Years later I read in the newspaper that Chrissy went to prison for proteting the Vietnam War in an unsavory fashion. The Bakers, bless their hearts, never mentioned it.



If your zip code is 94027, congratulations

According to online information, if you live in the Silicon Valley town of Atherton, you probably already know that the average cost of a house there is $7 million and that 94027 is the most affluent zip code in the country. Marketers, political pollsters, and online data dealers also know it. Everyone who wants your money or your vote knows where you live and wants to get to know you better.

We are always worried about data breaches on sites like Facebook because our personal information–zip code, address, shopping habits, etc.–is used by marketers in targeting audiences for advertising. As for Atherton, we shouldn’t be surprised that the town is both affluent and in California because the state has 91 of the United States’ most expensive zip codes.

My first thought is that I cannot imagine buying, much less living in, a multimillion-dollar house, that is, one that’s worth more than all of the houses in my neighborhood. Second, I see one reason California has a homeless problem: regular people with regular jobs cannot afford the housing costs, much less people below the poverty line.

I was born in the San Francisco Bay area, a place I could not afford to live now, and I found that when I identified California on Facebook as my home state, I ran into a lot of trouble in political discussions because people assumed I was not only rich and entitled but probably believed in absurd concepts like sanctuary cities. (I don’t.) So, I changed my Facebook “hometown” to the one in Florida where I grew up.  That stopped a lot of abusive, profiler-style comments.

However, it opened up other nasty remarks because most people know I live in Georgia now. The default view people outside the South have of a Georgia resident is that s/he lot only longs for the purported glory days of Dixie and the Confederacy, but is more likely than not a racist. This makes it difficult to have meaningful discussions on Facebook about politics, race, immigration, and similar subjects because I’m suspected of being a white supremacist until proven otherwise. That’s hard to do at a time when the politically correct belief is that all whites are racist whether they know it or not.

We used to worry about a future in which an oppressive “big brother” government controlled everything. The government already knows too much about us. Marketers probably know more. But the most dangerous thing is other people who want to take my state or zip code of residence and pair that up with everything I say or write and then compile that into a worthiness profile that tells them whether I’m with them or against them. The fact that I don’t know who “them” is doesn’t factor into the PC algorithms.

What a mess.


Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing


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Too poor to paint, too proud to whitwash

We don’t hear this much any more since most people see “whitewash” as a metaphor for covering stuff up, usually for unsavory reasons.

Actually, you can still buy whitewash, though those who need it often make their own.

To be flip about lack of money these days, one might say, “I’m too poor to pay attention.” Or, if you really mean you can’t paint your house, more people would understand “I’m as poor as a church mouse,” though that line has gotten a bit out of date because fewer and fewer people are going to church and those that do, don’t expect to see any mice there.

Organizations that are frugal often say they spend both sides of a penny. I’m not necessarily frugal, though I’ve spent a lot of years trying to spend both sides of a penny. I’m not sure what I’ll say when the government finally gets its way and stops making pennies.

I could start saying, I’m so broke I don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. That probably won’t scan too well since few people answer the call of nature that way anymore–which is just as well.

Perhaps it’s more modern to say my income has often been below the poverty line. Most people don’t know what the poverty line is (it’s $12,760 for a single person) other than it’s not enough for providing the better things of life. (A digression: when Obamacare first came along, my wife and I weren’t allowed to sign up because our income was below the poverty line. What a shock. I would have thought that that group would have been given first priority. )

My friends always thought I was probably raking in the big bucks because for most of my working life, I worked for computer companies. The trouble is, technical writers were always the first to go when the company needed to cut costs. After we were shown the door, the companies forced their programmers to write the documentation, and I think THAT is the main reason for the saying, “Nobody reads the documentation.”

My wife and I both grew up in families that had to spend both sides of a penny. My wife always told people that one reason people in the south eat a lot of biscuits and gravy is because a meal built around that is cheap and filling. My mother grew up in the midwest, so we didn’t have biscuits all that often; what we did have was meatloaf padded out with a lot of breadcrumbs or oatmeal. We had salmon croquettes so often that I can no longer tolerate them; my wife had them often, too, and still likes them. She won’t eat meatloaf and I won’t eat croquettes.

My parents were happy that I liked seafood, so living in Florida was a good thing. I also loved (and still do) hushpuppies. They taste great, are filling, and inexpensive to make. My parents would never eat mullet, a fish most Floridians considered a baitfish.  I loved it. Still do. I suppose in the old days, people might have said, “Too poor to eat pompano, too proud to eat mullet.”

I was blessed by the Gods who knew my financial future to love a lot of cheap food. Except salmon croquettes–or crab cakes either, for the same reason (we could catch all the crabs we wanted, but then we ruined them with breadcrumbs.)

I’m not whitewashing this because being broke isn’t as much fun as it sounds even though southerners have a lot of humorous ways of describing it—like, “I was so poor I couldn’t jump over a nickel to save a dime.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the satirical mystery novel “Special Investigative Reporter.”



Lots of people talk ‘funny’ – get over it

Why do people constantly say “Southerners talk funny.” Worse yet, when we’re portrayed on TV shows, our accents are twisted into caricatures that don’t sound real.

When it comes to “talking funny,” you people in North Dakota, Maine, NYC, and Boston really shouldn’t be pointing fingers at us. But here’s the thing, even though y’all talk funny, I don’t assume you’re stupid. Sure, some of you are: I mean, let’s face it, everyone in the South sure isn’t a rocket scientist even though we have more of those per capita than the rest of the nation.

The South is blamed for a lot of things, so saying that we talk funny and are ignorant is just another way to libel everyone on this side of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I thought of all this after reading a writer friend’s post from the Florida Panhandle. She and another writer friend heard two men at an adjacent table in a cafe talking about books. They were impressed and thought, how refreshing, a conversation that’s not about football. The men caught there eye on their way out, and when my friend said she hadn’t meant to eavesdrop and loved their discussion, and then said she’s a writer, the men scoffed and said, “We never read anything Southern.”

If that’s true, they’re missing some of the best literature on the planet. But their comment is typical of the kind of slander those of us in the South are getting tired of hearing even though your accents make it sound almost like gibberish.

I don’t have a Southern accent unless I want to have one. When my family moved to the Florida Panhandle when I was in the first grade, my speaking patterns were already formed from life in the northwest. So, I can talk to all kinds of bigotted people and they have no clue I grew up and still live in the South. Sometimes they ask me where I was born. I say, Berkeley, California, which is true, and since that place is ground zero for all the strange things going on in California, they nod approvingly and treat me like a god. That’s when I wonder if I know enough hexes to smite them.

I once walked into a store somewhere in London and tried out my Southern accent to see what would happen. “Oh, God,” she said, “you must be from Glasgow.” I said that I was from the U. S. “Probably Boston,” she said. “Bostonians talk funny and don’t like our tea.” It never occurred to her that I came from the purportedly illiterate redneck region of the U. S. However, it was refreshing to be slandered for somebody I wasn’t.  I said, “Dinnae gimme ony trauchle aboot cuppa,” and she gave me a free cup of tea. (I’m of Scots ancestry and everybody thinks we talk funny.)

Sometimes, people think accents are variously quaint, vibrant, and a joy to hear. Sometimes, they think accents are a sign of stupidity. Same goes for the place you live. Some day, perhaps we’ll be viewed by others as individuals rather than the denizens of a region where people “talk funny.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Lena,” a Florida Folk Magic set in the wondrous panhandle where he grew up.