Let Me Tell You How Petty My Problems Are

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI woke up yesterday morning feeling about as tired as I did when I went to bed the night before.

The same thing happened most days over the past week.

My mind has been in a whirlwind lately with a variety of preoccupations — lots of new aggravations and frustrations, along with some oldies but goodies that use my brain like a vacation home.

And for some reason, 2 a.m., is when the space between my ears thinks I should start thinking about everything all at once.

Throw in a couple of world problems I figure I can solve, and I become the general manager of the universe for the graveyard shift.

Yesterday ended up taking a different turn, however. When it did, I was forced to take a long, hard look at myself; and I quickly realized how little some of my problems mattered.

That’s because yesterday I learned something troubling about someone I admire and respect.

This person has endured some mysterious health issues for a few months now. Yesterday I found out his condition has progressed to the point to where he is being forced to quit his job while the doctors try and find out what is going on inside him.

This is an extraordinary young man I am taking about. He is much younger than I am. He is a man of God. He is a thinker. He is both a servant and a leader with a beautiful family Norman Rockwell never would’ve dared to attempt to capture.

For the record, I have complete and total faith this is only a temporary condition he must endure. That’s big coming from me, because faith is not my strong suit as is evidenced by the opening half of this column. But I believe it.

As I heard more and more about his situation, the smaller I felt.

I spent the rest of yesterday consumed by what he and his family are going through.

This gave me pause to look at myself. I spent plenty of time proverbially kicking myself in the rump for the pitiful outlook I can sometimes have when everything in my life isn’t 100 percent rosy, which is what I seem to expect.

Yesterday, I tossed each of my problems out of my head one-by-one by saying either “so what,” if such-and-such happens, or “so what” if it doesn’t.

With the proper motivation, that’s an easy thing to do. And yesterday — as unfortunate as it was — I had the proper motivation with plenty to spare.

Back when I was Mama’s overnight caregiver, I vowed never to take another moment for granted. Yesterday I saw again how wasting time worrying about the types of things I was worrying about is as big of a waste of time as anything can be.

Of course, I know me. I know full well all my little annoyances will come crawling back into my head soon enough like horror movie villains that can never be vanquished for good.

I also know that when they do, I am going to use my friend’s story as inspiration to do a better job at keeping things in perspective.

Sometimes Accidents Happen, Sometimes Not

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI ran across my polished rock the other day.

I’ve had it since I was 6 years old or so. It is one of my prized possessions.

It’s about the size of a golf ball in the shape of a pyramid. It is a shiny mix of colors — shades of brown, blue and ochre.

I got it on a trip we took to Texas to visit family. My parents, my grandmother and I piled into the 1969 Pontiac Catalina and headed west. We called it the Grey Pontiac. It had red plastic seats that would get scalding hot in the summer. They got especially hot on the Texas trip.

I played with toy cars in the rear deck underneath the back window all the way.

I don’t remember much of anything about the trip — except for the hot seats and the way I came into possession of the rock.

We stopped in a souvenir store somewhere along the way to stretch our legs and look around. I’m sure it was a place that sold toothpick holders, souvenir trivets and little statues of the Alamo.

I’m also sure we bought a few things.

Before we left, though, the shopkeeper came up to me holding a pretty, polished rock.

I don’t remember what she said, but she gave it to me for my good behavior and for not breaking anything.

Every time I see my rock, I think about that story. For some reason, that quick moment nearly 5 decades ago made an impression on me. I know it sounds silly, but it’s something I will never forget.

It’s unforgettable because it’s the only time in my life I’ve been rewarded just for standing there.

Fast forward to 1984. I was on a study tour to Europe with a dozen or so classmates and teachers.

One of the kids on the trip was an exchange student from Japan named Koji. We loved Koji. He was hilarious; he had a huge smile and was quick with a laugh. He spoke precious little English — except for using curse words. He was pretty fluent at that.

At some point during the trip, a dozen or so of us went into a touristy store.

It wasn’t long before the sound of breaking glass reverberated through the room.

As you can imagine, we all went silent. Then, we all looked at Koji, who lowered his head slowly.

“How much is it?” he muttered to no one in particular as he looked at the broken whatnot at his feet.

We all got a pretty big kick out of it — everyone except Koji, of course. He was mortified. I thought he was going to cry.

I don’t remember if he paid for it, or if one of the professors did, or if we all chipped in and did.

Koji wasn’t behaving badly. He merely dropped whatever it was by accident.

It’s fascinating to me the way random events happen. 

Six-year-old me had a much greater probability of breaking something in Texas than 20-year-old Koji did in London.

Some accidents cannot be explained. Sometimes they just happen. Sometimes they don’t.

And when they don’t, if you’re in the right place at the right time, you just might get a rock.

The Positive Effect of the Internet Hoax

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI have always tried to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

That’s tougher than it used to be. With all the communication channels these days, I feel like I spend a great deal of time separating the wheat from the chaff.

To make matters worse, the explosion of social media has turned everyone into their own little reporter. We share the things that are important to us — much of which is worthless to our friends in the online world, but largely harmless.

My newest pet peeve, though, is when people share something before they confirm whether it’s true or not.

No, Bill Gates did not give that high school commencement speech. And he’s not going to give you money for forwarding his chain letter, either.

No, you can’t punch a shark in the nose to keep him from attacking you.

Naturally, I was a little leery when I saw where the World Health Organization had come up with new classifications for human aging.

Here is the new classification according to what I read:

• 0-17 years old: underage

• 18-65 years old: youth/young people

• 66-79 years old: middle-aged

  • 80-99 years old: elderly/senior
  • 100+ years old: long-lived elderly

After I read it, I suddenly felt better. I took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. I had a little more bounce in my step. I went outside and played with the dog.

I broke the rake handle while raking, for heaven’s sake. I was 17 again.

I wanted this to be true. I really did. It was going to make for some great column material. I had already come up with some 14-karat gold zingers, including one about Granny Clampett and her “rheumatiz medicine.”

Good news is hard to find these days, and I was going to be the knight in shining armor who brought you a nugget today. I was going to provide you with the inspiration to make you want to go out and break your own rake handle.

This morning I got my youthful self up and started searching to find some corroboration of the WHO story. Something this big would’ve certainly been covered in all the major newspapers.

After several minutes, I couldn’t find anything credible.

Then I thought maybe the report was released just as some huge news event happened and it slipped under the radar.

I thought I hit pay dirt when I did find a WHO report on aging. It was 233 pages long, but I delved into it. My eyes glazed over after a couple of minutes, though, because those scientists write like scientists. I resorted to entering relevant words in the search function and got nothing.


You may find this difficult to believe, but those crazy kids in the white coats in Geneva don’t consider me to still be a youth.

Maybe this whole experience has been an exercise in the old “age is just a number” argument.

I really did break the rake handle, after all. I really did go out and play with the dog.

I don’t need the World Health Organization to label me as a youth. I just need a little hoax to get me moving.

Look out, sharks, I may just punch one of you in the nose one day.

Sometimes We Can Agree on Right and Wrong

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comWhat is the difference between right and wrong?

This depends on your point of view. For most of us, the answer would lie somewhere among the Ten Commandments. They pretty much cover all the biggies. Although sometimes I wonder if Moses was so tired after bringing down the first ten that he forgot to go back and get the rest.

Across this big world of ours, different religions and cultures believe differently on what is good or bad, right or wrong. 

A hunter in a jungle in a remote corner of the world and a vegan in the freshman dorm down the street would certainly have different views on what to do with a bunny.

Or, we could debate all day whether it’s okay for a parent to steal if that is the only way he or she can feed their family.

There is seemingly almost nothing everyone on earth could agree on.

Notice I said almost nothing.

I can think of two exceptions.

Kim celebrated her birthday last week. Celebrate is a bit of a stretch. A couple of days before it, she ran across a card I had given her a few years before and told me I could just give it to her again. That was probably the nicest thing she’s ever done for me, but that’s beside the point.

 She got cards from several different people, but the one that stood out was the one with glitter in it which spilled out all over the carpet when she opened it.

The degree to which that is annoying is incomprehensible, regardless of whether you’re from the Burmese Jungle or you teach the young adults class at First Baptist.

I never thought I could write greeting card verses, but I could write ones for the cards that have glitter in them.

“Happy birthday, I hope you chip a tooth.”

“Happy birthday, here’s to the bottom of your foot itching while you’re wearing boots.”

“Happy birthday, your dog paid my azaleas a visit again last week.”

And of course, “Happy birthday, I know you like to vacuum. You’re welcome.”

My bags are packed, Hallmark. Call me.

But the exploding greeting card is merely first runner up.

As I announce the winner, let me set the stage for you.

It’s raining. It’s cold. You’ve been working all day, and it’s almost dark. Five minutes before you leave work to come home your child calls to tell you he has a science project due tomorrow that will require two pieces of poster board, five mailing tubes, duct tape, baking soda, vinegar and brown spray paint.

You’re almost out of gas to begin with. Then, you sit through three stop lights trying to make a left turn at rush hour. Finally, you reach the store parking lot; and through your tears you can see one vacant spot.

Victory? Not so fast.

As you head your car into the spot, you see it: a little soggy white ball of plastic and cotton all taped up and lying in a puddle right where you will step out after your front tire runs over it.

You instantly lose your mind. Your kid will flunk science.

Leaving a dirty diaper behind for someone else to worry about is wrong. It is not debatable.

I think we all can agree on that.

The Buttercups Say Spring is Coming

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comNever fear. Spring will come again.

I know this to be true because the buttercups in the front yard have sprouted. It is the most welcome sight I think I’ve ever seen.

Buttercups are the first natural sign of spring’s return. Sure, seed catalogs in the mail and swimsuits at Target happen earlier, but they are man-made. The buttercups are the real deal, and they didn’t sprout a moment too soon this year.

I’ve been cold since Thanksgiving. That’s never happened before, probably because I don’t think it’s ever been this cold for so long before.

Even the few breaks from the brutal cold we have had were either too short or too wet to do very much good.

It may just be me, but I think it’s also been windier than usual. I don’t even understand why we have that thing called the wind chill factor. If you ask me, when it feels like minus 6, it’s minus 6, period.

Our poor heat pump has run around the clock for weeks. I wept when I paid the utility bill yesterday. If you work for TVA, your job is safe. You’re welcome.

Of course, part of the problem with the utility bill was our water usage. Back on one of those minus 6 days our neighbor called to tell us our outside faucet on the front was spewing water.

I don’t know how long this had been going on, but I do know it had been long enough to form this big abstract ice sculpture which encased a couple of shrubs and part of the house.

The only thing that made it less devastating was the fact that it was so unusual to look at, I almost hated to see it melt.

I’m not sure how it melted. I guess it got up to 32.1 one day.

After Punxsutawney Phil’s dire prediction on groundhog day, I was afraid someone was going to assassinate him out of sheer frustration. I would never do that — I don’t think — but I would love to knock the smug look off of that guy’s face in the top hat who holds Phil up in the air after he predicts six more weeks of misery.

I’ll bet he owns Punxsutawney Heating and Air.

And now we have the flu epidemic to deal with.

I’m not sure a mustard gas attack would be much worse.

The cars in the parking lots at the walk-in clinics are stacked on top of each other, and the horror stories from the flu’s victims make me shiver.

I’ve taken so much vitamin C, I’m afraid one morning I’m going to wake up looking like Carmen Miranda in full regalia.

The other day I had to pick up something at the pharmacy, and I paid cash because I didn’t want to touch the keypad to enter my PIN. The whole time I was in there, I avoided the aisles with people on them like I was playing a big human version of Pac Man.

We passed around hand sanitizer at church Sunday morning. That’s a first.

Schools have been closed so much, they’ve all but used up their allotted snow days. Volunteers armed with bleach have gone in and sanitized all the surfaces.

It’s been a rough winter so far. We’re cold, we’re sick and we’re tired. 

Thank goodness the buttercups give us hope.

Culling the Bad Ideas off the List

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comWhenever I think I have a good idea for a column, I add it to my running list of possible topics.

In that moment, I am always convinced I have come up with the idea that is going to lead to the masterpiece, which in turn will most certainly lead to me getting picked up by the New York Times or some similar international publication.

When I record one of these nuggets I may chuckle out loud, or purse my lips and nod my head with great satisfaction of the riches it will bring. I might feel a tug at my heart because I know it may touch someone on some profound level.

Then on Monday morning when I sit down to try and hammer something out, I sometimes revisit the list if I don’t already know what I’m going to write.

What looks like a box of chocolates in my mind sometimes turns out to be a collection of sow’s ears.

I am constantly amazed by how bad it is. Here are some examples.

“Saving the world one parent at a time.” Usually, I at least remember what my note means. I have no idea whatsoever why I wrote this. I can’t even make up anything funny about it.

“Jesus or hell. Knoxville. Extrapolate.” Back when I was in school at UT, one of the overpasses on the interstate had Jesus or hell spray painted on it. I always thought Jesus was up there shaking his head the way he so often must do.

I’m not sure why I felt the need to remind myself to extrapolate.

“Parallel parking. Time wasted.” Thanks to the Mighty Prius, I am the king of parallel parking. If you turned a milk crate on its side, I could stick that little buggy in it. I am so proud of my newfound superpower that it has become a family joke.

I have no idea what the time wasted part meant.

“Tennis heroes becoming not relevant anymore.” This was going to be one of those “back in the day” pieces. I got the idea after seeing Chris Evert working as a TV commentator during a tennis match.

The last time I saw Chris Evert, she was playing.

Whether it’s sports or music, I always have to resist the urge to write from a nostalgia angle. This morning, I read the list of Grammy nominees from last night’s show, and that was depressing because I knew virtually none of the artists.

Someone named Childish Gambino was nominated. I couldn’t figure out how to make “who on earth is Childish Gambino” funny, so I moved on.

I often look at the news on Monday mornings hoping to find some current event I can make fun of. That hasn’t worked well for me lately, because most current events are so absurd already, I can’t do much with them.

Here’s the last one I’m going to subject you to: “Pizza thrower. Bank teller.”

This was going to be my take on jobs I don’t think I would be very good at. 

Right now, I’m sure you’re thinking I would probably be better at tossing dough than I am at writing an entertaining column.

I’m sure the New York Times would feel the same way.

Apologies to my Wife and her Hair Stylist

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI have some very, very bad news.

It turns out we have a disco ball after all.

I ran across it as I was putting something away in a closet in the room that used to be my office before it was our music studio. Currently, it’s the room “where everything gets put.” I am trying to make it useful again, but that’s beside the point.

This closet gets very little use. We had to sacrifice it a couple of years ago when our water heater played out, and we had to put our new one in there because we couldn’t find one that  would fit where the old one went.

Sometimes I think our house was built around its appliances, but that’s also beside the point. Obviously, I’m not in a real big hurry to get to the point.

Besides the water heater, this closet contains two shelves. They are impossible to put anything big on, because the natural gas vent pipe leading from the water heater to the roof runs right up the middle.

Among other things, those shelves are where I keep my stadium cup collection, four boxes of 35-year-old shotgun shells and a few other odds and ends.

Unfortunately, it’s also where we keep our disco ball.

You know in horror movies when someone opens a door to a closet to find a severed head, and the background music suddenly turns to a minor key?

That disco ball was my severed head. It’s a shame we don’t employ an organist.

This movie began back last fall when Kim’s hair stylist asked her if we had a disco ball she could use for her granddaughter’s birthday party. I don’t know why she asked us. Maybe she she thought we looked like we could still do The Hustle.

When Kim got off the phone, I said, “Why did you tell her we had a disco ball? We have a strobe light; we don’t have a disco ball.”

“What happened to it?”

“We never had one.”

“Are you sure? I think we do.”

This continued off and on for the next day or so — the way these conversations tend to do — before either I convinced her, or she got tired of trying to convince me. 

Regardless, we gave her the strobe light to use for the party, because — by cracky — we don’t have a disco ball; we never did.

I’ve been married a long time, and I obviously haven’t learned a dang thing.

Why in the name of John Travolta did I not just look for it before grandly proclaiming that we didn’t possess one?

Looking back, it seems so easy.

Kim proofreads these columns. I always need for her to say she likes them, and she always does. Sometimes she’s more enthusiastic than others, but she won’t be lacking for enthusiasm this time.

I almost hate I didn’t find the disco ball before Christmas. I could’ve wrapped it in a box with a tag saying “The Keys to Your New Jaguar,” and she still would’ve been ecstatic.

After she finishes needling me about this, I may hang up that disco ball and break out an old Bee Gees album.

Nah, by the time she finishes needling me about this, I will be too old to even remember The Hustle.

If We Are Evolving, We’re a Work in Progress

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comOh, Charles Darwin, I hate you missed this one.

I don’t see much on the news that surprises me anymore. But today, that changed when I heard about the social media sensation among teenagers called the Tide Pod Challenge.

In case you don’t know, Tide Pods are little pillows of liquid laundry detergent inside a plastic bag. I guess the plastic dissolve in the washing machine; I don’t know.

Apparently, teenagers are videoing themselves eating the pods and posting them, of course, on social media.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, 40 exposures to liquid laundry detergent pods by 13- to 19-year-olds were reported during the first 11 days of this month. This is 20 percent of the number of occurrences in all of 2017. 

I’ll do the math for you: last year, 200 teenagers — and future Darwin Award winners — ate laundry detergent.

The poison control folks went on to say that more than half of this year’s incidents were deliberate. Last year, only 25 percent of the baby-powder-scented snacks were scarfed on purpose.

That means last year, of the 200 incidents, 150 were by mistake.

How on earth does someone who is at least in middle school eat a little sack of laundry detergent on purpose, much less by mistake?

I’ve got some bad news, Tommy Teenager. Brittany Bodacious isn’t going to start like-liking you because you Snap-chatted yourself in the laundry room munching on soap.

Whether you believe in evolution or not, you’ve got to hand it to Darwin for his theory of natural selection when viewed through the lens of the Tide Pod Challenge.

I cruised over to Tide’s twitter page, and saw where they tweeted: “What should Tide PODs be used for? DOING LAUNDRY. Nothing else.”

 Right below that was a re-tweet of someone’s blog titled “Laundry Safety Tips for Teens.”

Isn’t that beautiful.

Laundry safety for teens used to mean Tommy made sure he didn’t leave any contraband in his pockets before mom went through them while filling the washer.

I really didn’t think we needed to tell kids not to eat detergent, but since we do, maybe we should be proactive and put out some similar warnings.

Don’t put fire ants in your ear.

Take the ketchup out of the bottle before eating.

Open the sliding glass door before exiting.

Keep your eyes open while driving.

Use an oven mitt before removing the cast-iron skillet from the oven.

Do not hold the chainsaw by the chain.

Did I miss any?

I didn’t even get to ladders.

Of course, we’ve already got ladders covered. I always wondered who the fool was who led to ladder factories requiring those big yellow “this is not a step” warning stickers on the top. Whoever it was, I’ll bet he had laundry detergent on his breath.

If I had it to do over again, I would go to law school. I don’t believe there will ever be enough attorneys in the world to keep up with the lawsuits that will result from people being able to cash in because they hurt themselves doing painfully stupid things.

On the other hand, maybe this discredits Darwin’s theory of evolution once and for all, because if we’re videoing ourselves eating soap, we haven’t evolved very much.

The New Millennium has been Up, Down and Sideways

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comCongratulations on another anniversary of being Y2K ready.

It seems like just yesterday we were crossing through the 19 on our checks and replacing it with 2000. We’ve seen a lot since then.

Without a doubt, the biggest watershed event of this still-young millennium was the 9/11 attacks and subsequent war on terror. The list of terror attacks around the world since then is long and bloody, underscoring the eternal global clash between cultures. 

We have been subjected to way too many mass shootings since Y2K. Las Vegas is the deadliest and most recent. But we will never forget the Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Charleston, and seemingly countless others.

I think it’s strange we can all agree we have a terror problem, but we can’t agree on whether we have a gun problem.

Natural disasters are nothing new either, but they are becoming worse and more frequent. A quarter of a million people in 14 countries died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Roughly the same number died in the Haiti earthquake 6 years later.

Closer to home, endless powerful tornadoes and hurricanes have battered the US in the past 18 years. In 2017 alone, hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria killed hundreds and caused billions of dollars of damage in the US and Caribbean.

We believe scientists when they tell us a hurricane is coming, but some of us roll our eyes when they tell us what’s causing it. I don’t understand that either.

On the lighter side, the new millennium meant the end for Pluto as a planet, which makes me wonder which other parts of my third grade education will become obsolete. 

Facebook and the smart phone were born since 2000, and the phenomenon of publicly documenting everything from our lunch at Denny’s to the view from our balcony in Panama City shortly followed.

I guess it’s debatable whether those are good or bad things, but in the sake of balance, we’ll put them in the good column.

I don’t think of myself as a techie but my favorite thing of the 21st century so far is google. The mere thought of having the knowledge base of the entire world at my fingertips still blows my mind.

My second favorite new thing is the digital camera. I can now instantly see a bad photo I shoot instead of waiting three days.

Fashion has changed a lot lately. The flip-flop came into its own in the 21st century. Of course, so did crocs. Torn jeans cost more than not-torn jeans; and jeans that look muddy are the most expensive of all.

Tattoos and body piercings became mainstream. It’s not my thing, but to each his own, I suppose.

Streaming video and audio services have transformed the way we consume media. Series like Twilight and Harry Potter got kids in the habit of reading again.

The 2000s have already given us some notable firsts in sports. Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, the Cubbies won the World Series, and Peyton Manning became the first NFL quarterback to win a Super Bowl playing for two different teams.

That’s a lot of stuff for 19 years, and I barely touched on politics.

You see, something good has already happened to you this year.

Who am I to Say What’s a Waste of Time?

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comBack in my days of working at a financial institution, we had to adhere to all types of regulations.

Compliance took lots of time. Some people — never me, of course — thought it was all a big waste of time.

We had to send people to classes, endure government examinations, verify we had all the fine print right and buy computer programs to make sure our calculations were correct.

One computer program we used calculated what is called the time value of money. 

The time value of money is an economic theory based on the premise that a certain amount of money is worth more today than the same amount of money is worth tomorrow.

For instance, theoretically having $1,000 today is better than having $1,000 tomorrow, because if you have it today, you can invest it today and start earning interest on it.

I thought about this concept when I overheard two young adults talking about their black Friday shopping experience.

They were thrilled — giddy, almost —  at their conquest in the wee hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

They saved $12 on a video game, and they only had to wait in line for an hour and a half to pay for it.

Essentially, they traded an hour and a half to save $12. Trading time for money is essentially like working for someone.

In this case, their wage was $8 an hour.

That $8 an hour only accounts for one person, though. Since they both stood there like lemmings all that time, we can divide their earnings in half for a grand total of $4 an hour for each person.

Don’t get me wrong. I sometimes waste time. It’s easy to get caught up mindlessly watching a television show or playing around on the internet and look up 5 minutes later to see that an hour has passed. 

I try to avoid it, though. And at the very least, I try to be cognizant of when I’m doing it.

It probably gets magnified when we become more in tune with our on mortality as we get older.

We’re all different, though. I realize my idea of wasting time is probably different from yours.

Those two kids who spent 90 minutes of their lives only to buy a video game they will spend countless more hours playing with isn’t my idea of good time management.

Of course, they’ve got a lot more time left than I do, so I guess they can afford to burn a little of it.

Who am I to talk? I was pretty good at Pac Man back in the days when we had to wait in line forever at the arcade for our turn to play it.

Normally, that would’ve been my big finish, but I want to take a moment to thank you for reading my column for another year. I appreciate your emails, and I love it when you see me out somewhere and tell me you enjoy reading it. You all keep me going.

I also want to thank the editors and publishers at the newspapers who give me some space every week. Your job is harder than it has ever been, and I am honored to be a minuscule part of it. Keep fighting the good fight.

In 2018, I will try not to be a waste of your time.

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