A Missive from Shelby, North Carolina, to New York, New York.

Dear New Yorkers,

Please be advised the following letter is official correspondence from Shelby, North Carolina, –City of Pleasant Living, Livermush Capital of the World, home of the Earl Scruggs Bluegrass Museum, and seat of Cleveland County–home of the Cleveland County Agricultural Fair, Cleveland Community College, and a sasquatch named Knobby. 

This letter hereby notifies you that Shelby is providing sanctuary to a citizen of New York. At least, we think he’s a New Yorker. He does not say “yall” or speak proper English. We suspect his upbringing is to blame. He refuses to relocate to the park, which he calls “the pahk.” Currently, he lives beside the main intersection in Shelby for the whole world to see. We suspect we have a genuine homeless person on our hands. 

Our records indicate this is the first case of homelessness in Shelby. Of course, at minor intersections, we have a few panhandlers holding signs, but everybody knows they live in nearby trailer parks and make meth. Our citizenry can spot a meth head a mile away–skinny as a rail, snaggletooth, and of caucasion descent. We refrain from providing these lost souls pocket change, lest they spend it on more pseudoephedrine and paint thinner. We do provide free livermush biscuits to help them put weight back on. As far as we know, livermush biscuits cannot be manufactured into any known illicit substance, though we have seen some reports of THC-tainted livermush from afar. Generally speaking, our drug manufacturing is less sophisticated than big-city outfits.

(As New Yorkers, you may be wondering about livermush, a southern delicacy best fried. It’s made of pork liver, corn meal, miscellaneous hog parts, with a little sage thrown in. Most people eat livermush for breakfast, but it’s gaining wider acceptance as an all-day food.)

We request open lines of communication between our two great cities on the issue of homelessness. We know New York is infested with homeless, rivaling only San Francisco. Although we’ve been caring for your homeless man with biscuits, he is obese, colliqually-known as “fat,” and some citizens fear we’re putting him at risk for diabetes and high-blood pressure. So far, we have also provided him a tent, beach umbrella, Laz-E-Boy, and kitten. A delegation from the city chamber even offered a bus ticket back to New York, but he refused the charity, citing the affordable housing crisis in your city. Not to brag, but we have no affordable housing crisis; a full-sized farmhouse here rents for less than a broom closet in New York. 

Honestly, we have grown fond of your refugee. He has taken on the pseudo-official role of town mascot. Of course, he believes he is a secret agent working for the government. At one time, a few locals thought he was a liberal spy sent by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC). But, as far as we can tell, he has no no political inclinations. 

Your recommendations on how to address homelessness would be greatly appreciated. Although we agree to provide sanctuary to your homeless man, please avoid referring to Shelby as a “sanctuary city” because of the stigma associated with that two-word combo in the South. 

In the not too distant future, leaders from our great city intend to visit. We will bring biscuits with organic livermush since New York is full of hipsters. We hope this small gesture will help heal the rural-urban divide.

Warm regards,

Wilbur Dedham

Mayor of Shelby, NC

Never Walk Behind Pepper

For those who’d like to donate to a worthy charity, may I suggest the MFTTF, the Misfit Farmer’s Tractor Tire Fund. All contributions go directly to my bank account, which has been depleted this summer by the disintegrating structural integrity of rubber on my farm. It’s got to the point that I now look at the Amish’s horse-drawn implements with envy, and I have a lifelong fear of horses. 

Of course, my wife dismisses equinophobia. Years ago, when we purchased her old family farmstead, she was actually excited that Ringo, a Missouri Foxtrotter, was thrown in for free and ridiculed my general life philosophy that “All horses should be feared, and free horses should be feared always.” 

Haunting me were childhood memories of my cousins’ lunatic steeds: Red, Pepper, and the pony (I forget the pony’s name, though its memories are largely the most traumatic). But I do remember the pony rearing and galloping full speed toward a barbed wire fence with my wailing cousin atop. She looked like a miniature Annie Oakley. At one point, her cowboy hat, attached by chinstraps, fully deployed like a parachute and was the only thing slowing the runaway pony. Soon thereafter, my cousin toppled off the side, and the pony skidded to halt in front of the fence, which at that point was the best possible outcome.

I’m not sure whatever happened to that pony—I lost touch with it after it nearly killed my cousin, but I suspect it was probably donated to another family who needed a good free pony.

Unlike the pony, Big Red and Pepper occasionally proved trustworthy enough for excursions outside their pasture. Though I have no particular horror stories of Pepper, the frequent warning “Never walk behind Pepper” still reverberates in my mind. So much so, the pepper shaker stays hidden in a cabinet, lest I walk past the kitchen table and flinch. 

Once, my family took Pepper and Big Red on a horseback-riding trip to Sugar Loaf Mountain. Sugar Loaf was really more mound than mountain, but being in the coastal plain where everything was flat, the abnormal increase in elevation achieved mountain status. I viewed much of the surrounding countryside while performing a full split atop Big Red who was intent on wandering wherever he pleased, his jockey experiencing too much paralysis to control the reins. To continue his journey unencumbered, Red eventually reared up and dropped me off on a pine tree. 

I’ve never been on a horse since, but at this point horse shoes seem a lot cheaper than tractor tires.  

Keeping Track of a Lost Nut

YouTube should be banned. I spent five minutes watching a man perform a small engine repair, which inspired me to waste three hours trying to attempt the repair myself before I finally realized I had better just load up the trailer and fork over cash to someone more competent in Briggs and Stratton mechanics. This was yet another blow to my pride. I’ve already surrendered basic auto repair over to others and now I can’t even fix my own lawn mower. 

I’d like to think I could have fixed it myself if I had the proper tools and time, but who am I kidding? If I had the proper tools, I would have spent half a day searching for them because apparently all my tools go on vacation just when I need them most. For instance, I spent nearly thirty minutes on my hands and knees searching through the grass for a ⅝ hex nut that I thought I had dropped. Really, it was just living the high life and sunning on top of a wooden fence post. I had put it on the fence post so I wouldn’t lose it, but that only works if you remember that you put it there. 

The problem is I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a brain for details. Never have, never will. In college, one of my dorm mates could watch any run-of-the-mill movie once and then recite large portions of dialogue, word for word, back to you a year later. Meanwhile, if I watched the same movie, I would have forgotten nearly everything about it within hours, no alcohol needed to perform that feat. I mean, I’d remember the gist of the movie, like who lives or dies or falls in love, etc, but details like dialogue and characters’ names would be lost to me. 

And thus it is with my repair efforts. I often know the gist of how to repair something, but distilling the gist down to nuts-and-bolts details is where I go awry, hence the unneeded search and rescue mission for the lost nut chilling on the fence post. 

Thankfully, opposites attract, and I married a woman who lives and breathes details and plans and schedules. She more or less keeps track of the lost nut that is me and tells me the important details of day-to-day life that I need to know. In return, I cut the grass each week (at least when the lawnmower isn’t broken), take out the trash, and occasionally load the dishwasher. 

Sometimes I think her color-coded daily planner is her first love, but I can’t complain too much. If she didn’t love me a little bit, I figure she would have poisoned me years ago, likely by sneaking a daily planner into my hands to cause anaphylactic shock. 

The Menace of Modernity

If there’s one universal truth to life, it’s that whenever you’re trying to carry something into your locked domicile, like a squirming baby or the ten bags of groceries cutting off circulation to one hand, then your keys will be in the opposite pocket of your free hand. Then you’ll have to attempt the awkward cross-body pocket plunge where your right hand enters your left pocket or vice versa. 

Despite all the advances in technology, no one has yet figured out a way to eliminate this uniquely modern problem. Fifty-years ago, did Andy or Aunt Bee have to worry about spraining a wrist while digging around in an opposite pocket? No, residents of Mayberry didn’t need to dig for keys cause no one locked their doors. Five-thousand years ago, did cave people worry about dropping a child on the ground while excavating the contents of an opposite pocket? No, their loin cloths didn’t have pockets, plus their caves didn’t have doors. 

It just goes to show you the unintended consequences of our technological advances. Sure, locks may help protect personal property and prevent incursions from robbers or in-laws who live next door, but just think about all the time you waste in a lifetime fumbling for keys in your pocket. Cavemen may have had a life expectancy of 23 years, give or take, but at least they didn’t waste half their lives performing mundane modern activities: like looking for keys, cutting grass each week, staring at a computer, and standing in line at the DMV or post office or gas station while people buy scratch-offs. 

Instead, your average cave person could probably just sit back and smell the bat guano after a pleasant day foraging for berries, all in the comfort of a spacious cavern, no house payments to worry about or cave doors to lock. 

Summer of the Cow

I hate this time of year. You can hardly get around because all the backroads get clogged up with news vans parked on the roadside. Yep, every summer the media around here goes bonkers. You can more or less set your calendar by it: Around July 4th, you’ll see the first helicopters circling over pastures, getting fresh footage of cows loafing for the nightly news. Sometimes they’ll film a whole herd grazing a hillside, which is sure to spike ratings for the lead story, “Farmer Gored by Killer Bull: Second Attack in Two Weeks.” Sometimes they’ll even get shots of cows stampeding toward the feed bunk, in a so-called “feeding frenzy.” And when they’re really desperate, they’ll get a closeup of a steaming cow patty, as evidence that cows have been recently grazing the area. 

Of course, the only thing this media-hype does is put a damper on our tourist season. In fact, last year I didn’t see a single tourist swimming in any local farm ponds, likely for fear of cows grazing the shores nearby. To try to re-attract visitors, Ed Johnson built a hydraulic Loch Ness Monster for his farm pond that surfaces every three hours and snorts steam, but even that gimmick hasn’t been able to drive tourists back into his pond water.

And that’s a real shame. It’s as if people don’t realize that cows are mostly harmless bovines. On average, they only kill twenty people in the United States per year, which is merely eight times higher than the number of people who die each year from shark attacks worldwide–and when was the last time you saw a news story on shark attacks? It’s a double standard if you ask me.