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can’t paint your house, more people would understand “I’m as poor as a church mouse,” though that line has gotten a bit out of date because fewer and fewer people are going to church and those that do, don’t expect to see any mice there.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.