“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.


White Boy Time

I grew up during integration and got bused in the 9th grade from the suburbs to Central High School in downtown Louisville.  I don’t recall any problems or issues except for getting caught hanging a dissected fetal pig in the stairwell.  But that had nothing to do with the racial tension of the times.  While there, I joined the wrestling squad with a friend named Paul.  Neither of us had ever wrestled.  But there we stood on the first day with our puny arms and legs jutting out of our singlets, the only freshman on the matt and the only white kids on the team.   None of that ever mattered; I had a ball that season.

Unfortunately, I had to practice every day with a senior named Marcus who introduced me to all kinds of takedowns and submission holds, as well as Jheri Curl.  (It was the 80’s, after all.)  Marcus had a very likeable manner, always quiet and unassuming while he wrecked me on the matt.  The funniest thing happened toward the end of each practice.  The team captain, Leonard, kept the clock and at precisely 4 pm, he would yell, “White boy time!”  This because Paul and I had to leave early to catch the TARC bus back the burbs.  Marcus would free me of whatever death grip he was working on at the time and the whole team always gave us a cheer as we left.

I count myself fortunate to have been raised in a home where color was never an issue.  Thank you, Mom and Dad.  I am blessed to have had experiences like the wrestling team and a stint in the army to show me a man’s heart and metal are infinitely more important than his skin.  So recently when my barber made an overtly racist comment to me after my third time in his chair, I walked out, determined never to return.  I really thought we were past that.


It didn’t take long to find a new barber shop nearby when I needed my next haircut.  I pulled in the crowded shopping center and walked through the tinted glass door, looking for a place to sign in.  By the time I got to the counter, I realized I was being stared at by about thirty people in the shop.  Ironically, I was the only white guy.  Kinda funny after the reason for my switch.  White boy time, again.

Time froze as it is apt to do awkward situations until a guy from behind the counter asked, “You want a cut?”

“What’s the wait?” I asked.  After all, it was crowded.

“About as long as it will take you to get in this chair,” he said.

It took about three seconds and I got a good cut from Bennie.  I’ve been back a few times.  Turns out he is from Ohio, grew up on the Reds and King’s Island like me and has a precious baby girl.  Nice guy, Bennie.  We have a lot in common.  I like talking to him more than the guy down the street.

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr Day.  I urge you to meditate on his brilliant I Have a Dream speech and other writings regularly and invite you down here to Atlanta to visit The Martin Luther King, Jr., National Historic Site.  It is a good thing to honor such a man.