“What the Hell?”

I was raised in a home with clean words. To be honest, I never understood the notion that a certain subset of words are “bad” while the others are not. Who gets to decide? I suppose it’s up the parents when you’re in a family. But boys love to muddy their hands in life’s gray areas and their tiny brains perk up when told something is wrong.

As for words, there was such allure when I heard one deemed naughty. The offending word simply had to be repeated. My recitation would start quietly at first – in the shadows of my room where the word bubbled out, tasting heavy and wrong as it escaped my throat. I would stand in front of a mirror practicing my elocution and intonation like a Shakespearean actor rehearsing lines. As I adjusted to the word’s weight and volume, at some point, it didn’t seem “bad” anymore. It was just a word. Inevitably, this word seeped out during normal conversation and I found myself on the wrong end of the word police. Yes, I’ve tasted soap a time or two.

I’ve raised my family in a home with clean words – we called it our little bubble. We’ve never had trouble from the kids; rules-followers who are like their mother. Sometimes a word has escaped when something heavy dropped on my foot, but I’ve mostly toed the line in the bubble – even though I still have a problem with the word-regime who decides such things.

But there are times in your life when June Cleaver-esque words such as heck, dang, and darn just aren’t strong enough. When events swirling around you are so far beyond comprehension that the only thing you can say is, “What the hell?”

“What the hell?”

I’ve woken up to such news a time or two in my life. Natural catastrophes or tragic events don’t cause this reaction. Bad things happen, I’ve come to accept that. Unfortunately, crime really doesn’t even surprise me anymore. This world is full of bad intent. No, what causes this reaction is the shocking revelation of the darkest side of humanity. People infused with hate cause it.

It’s all you can say when incomprehensible evil flashes across the news.

“What the hell?”

Are there really still white supremacy rallies? Where did the people with tiki torches come from? Who knowingly drives a car into people just because they disagree with him? What the hell is happening here?

This is all mind-blowing to me. I walked around in a funk all day trying to digest what I had seen and read. But I couldn’t. It’s like a brussel sprout: you can lube it up with all the butter you want and you’ll never get it down!

Hate of that scale is un-wordly. Hate like that doesn’t belong here and that is why “What the hell?” is the only way to describe it. Because that’s precisely where it comes from: hell.

Evil like that demands immediate condemnation, not flippant, non-committal words offered in 140 characters or less. There is a wrong side… and it’s obvious. I would like to propose a very simple definition: If you consider yourself superior to anyone because of a genetic difference, you’re on the wrong side. Actually, let’s make it simpler: If you consider yourself better than anyone…

 

Evil like what we saw last weekend can’t win, can it? We live in a democracy. We choose what wins by either accepting or rejecting its premise. In order for evil to win, we have to give it power over us. And now, I’m haunted by the obvious question, “Have we?”

 

***A disclaimer for my dear mother. Please rest easy. I’m only implying the use of the word as a curse. It’s just wordplay. A title tease to get people to read. I’m trying to cleverly use it in more of a Biblical sense – as in the opposite of Heaven.

 

The Town the Google Killed

There once was a humble little town called Lakanawaka.

A patient place. Never needed a stoplight. People just knew when it was their turn to go and didn’t mind stopping for an extra second if it looked like a neighbor was in a hurry.

A pleasant place. Six businesses lined Main Street in Lakanawaka: The First City Bank, Eckstal’s Grocery, The Rexall Pharmacy, Mick’s Auto-Garage, Loulla’s Beauty Salon, and Hank’s Television Repair. Old Hank’s been fixing TV’s since the fifties and he’s not gonna stop just because Amazon.com can replace them for less money than it takes to fix. A television wasn’t meant to be disposable, according to Old Hank. He’s got a large inventory of tubes and lots of time on his hands now that everything’s gone digital. But he’s hopeful. Things could turn. People could start yearning for a classic, snowy picture like they still buy vinyl albums.

A peaceful place. The little town believed in greenspace before Teddy Roosevelt learned to walk. There’s a park right downtown with tables where old men have been playing checkers for decades. They’ll stop to wave at you when you drive through – all but Horace Wakely. That old buzzard waits for the cars to pass so that he can fix the board as soon as you distract his opponent. Everybody knows he does it, but they figure it’s okay for Horace to win a game or two. He’s had it pretty tough since the war and all.

A safe place. Greenley Hardware has sawdust on its uneven wooden floor, a man who will cut glass while you wait, and a huge surplus of door hardware because people don’t need locks or deadbolts. In fact, the biggest crime wave in history was caused by a hole in Alvie Reed’s fence that let his goats parade around town eating everything that wasn’t covered.

It’s a nice town. Or was a nice town.

Lakanawaka, Alabama had the misfortune to be situated between the rest of the country and one of its most pristine beaches. Recently written up as a top-five destination in Sun & Screen Magazine, this beach was previously private and unspoiled by man. Easy to get to, you can take I-75 to I-10 west. Or you could hop on I-85 and then take a scenic route on Alabama 331.

 

But Google had a different idea. It all started when a crazy multi-colored car drove through town.

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Clyde Mosely was sitting on his porch when it cruised past and he swore it had an eye on top of it. Fearing an alien attack, he fetched his shotgun and went back to rocking. His gun was no match for the invasion of beachgoers that soon hit. They’re rally cry:

Re-routing…

When summer came, vans, cars, and trucks were pushing through Lakanawaka. With their luggage racks’ full, they looked like metal turtles, but they drove like hares because there wasn’t one impediment to slow them down.

The next town over, Lincolnton, was actually a more direct route. But they had a roundabout with city hall in the middle and nobody likes roundabouts. The citizens of Lakanawaka cursed themselves for that fateful day in 1957 when they voted 19-4 to keep the streets clear. Back then, they laughed at their neighbors having to slow down to get through town. Little did they know that sixty years later, those fifteen aye’s combined with one Google eye would doom their little town to destruction.

It was a nice town until the traffic drove everyone away. It was the kind of place that took you back to a day to when being off the beaten path meant something. But the beaten path has a heavy foot when it decides to reroute.