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.  

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.

How to Start Your Day Off Right

Every man has oddities I suppose, and one of mine has always been the curious desire to avoid death by heart attack. Yes, after long and careful thought, I decided long ago I would rather not experience a cardiovascular quake on the scale of the “biggun” or “widow-maker.” Truth be told, the thought of my heart stopping just rubbed me the wrong way. 

Which is why on Saturday mornings, when all sane people are still asleep, I sometimes get up before the break of dawn and apply an anti-chafing salve to my inner thighs. Called Thigh Glide, it’s quite effective at ameliorating that slightly irritating feeling that you’re running with sandpaper between your legs. It’s only downside is it smells like lard, which is apparently very appealing to creatures with a strong sense of smell. 

Admittedly, running mile upon mile when nothing is chasing me is a strange activity to prefer to sleeping in on Saturdays. But sometimes things do chase me, which I’ll soon expound upon, and the point is I prefer running to a heart attack, not sleeping–which is a point I also tried to explain to the animal control agent.

The agent looked young, like he just finished basic law enforcement school. He wore beige cargo pants, with an above average number of cargo pockets, some of them clearly filled and weighed down with tools of the animal control trade. He had pepper spray holstered on his hip. He wore one of those little flimsy, plasticky blue FBI-like jackets, but instead the back read Animal Control Department. Needless to say, the agent had the appearance of an animal control authority, and thus I hoped he would soon go hunt down and apprehend the German Shepherd so I could go about my day and get a tetanus shot at an urgent care facility. Apparently, anytime a person goes to the urgent care with a dog bite, the doctors have to call the authorities.  Thus, enter the animal control agent.

ANIMAL CONTROL AGENT: “Did you do anything to provoke the dog?”

ME: “No, I was just running. It came charging at me from the front porch of a house. I tried to keep my head down and just keep moving, but it bit me.”

ACA: “Were you on the shoulder of the road or the road itself?”

ME: “I was in the middle of the road,  trying to flee the dog.”

ACA: “Can you describe the dog?”

ME: “German Shepherd. Brown and black, pointy ears, vicious temperament.”

ACA: “What did you do when it bit you?” 

ME: “I turned around and kicked it in the head. And then a person in a car stopped. He got out and started yelling at the dog and it ran back toward the porch. ”

ACA: “Do you know who owns the dog?”

ME: “Well, I assume, the old lady hollering from the front porch.” 

ACA: “Did she say if it had its rabies shots?” 

ME: “Yes, she said it had its shots.”

ACA: “Well, we still recommend you get a Tetanus shot in case of infection. And even though she said it had its shots, we’ll quarantine the dog for 14 days to verify it isn’t acting suspicious. If we notice any suspicious behavior, we’ll notify you, at which point you’ll need to get rabies shots.”

ME: “Great.”

ACA: “Last thing, I’ll need to take a picture of the bite.” 

It was at this point that the young animal control agent and I took our relationship to a whole new a level. I pulled down my shorts, and showed him the bloody bite marks of canine teeth on my inner upper (and I mean inner and upper) left hamstring, a region underneath bits of my anatomy that no man save a proctologist or undertaker ought to see.

I’ll spare you the picture of the bite. On a positive note, though, this happened several months ago, and the dog did not exhibit suspicious behavior, so I didn’t have to get rabies shots. Plus, I’ve nearly got all my anti-freeze saved up for a nice gourmet marinade on a expertly-selected, finely crafted dog food that smells a lot like lard.