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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

In 2009, I posted a story about being confronted by two armed local dudes while hiking to the Chattooga River in Northeast Georgia. It happened in 2002. The memory still gives me the willies.

That post focused on the incident itself, not the river or the experience of being there. That, I see in retrospect, was a serious omission.

I hope to fix that with the following story.

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The Chattooga River, the inspiration for the novel and film Deliverance, begins in North Carolina and flows south as the state line between Georgia and South Carolina. It passes through terrain that is mountainous, dense, fertile, and humid. The region gets the most rainfall in Georgia.

The Chattooga is designated a National Wild and Scenic River and thus is under federal protection. No development is allowed within 1/4 mile of either bank. The river corridor is pristine and spectacular — clean, green, peaceful, natural, invigorating. A balm for the spirit.

Chattooga country is a premier destination for whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing, hiking, backpacking, and camping. For boaters, the upper sections of the river* are relatively tame and forgiving, with exceptions here and there. But Sections III and IV at the lower end feature multiple rapids that will test your skills.

Section III consists mostly of Class II and Class III rapids, ending with Bull Sluice, a Class IV+. Section IV takes it up a notch with 10 rapids rated Class IV or higher.

The Chattooga abruptly fizzles out at Lake Tugaloo, the first of a series of reservoirs inflicted upon the Savannah River, which the Chattooga becomes downstream, as it flows to the Atlantic.

For me, kayaking Sections III and IV is out of the question, but I’ve rafted both several times commercially. Raft trips with the local outfitters are reasonably priced, reasonably safe, and great fun.

Over the years, however, most of my visits to the Chattooga have been to go hiking, and occasionally camping, in the magnificent mountain setting. My dog Kelly, and later her successor Paco, helped me explore numerous trails that lead down to and along the river.

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Kelly in 2000, ready for the day’s adventures.

From the headwaters down through Section III, Chattooga country has numerous dirt roads and trails, and you have good access to the river and the surrounding forest.

For example, the Chattooga River Trail follows the river corridor for 19 miles from GA 28 in the north (where Section II begins) to US 76 in the south (where Section IV begins).

But along Section IV, only a few roads access the river. And the handful of trails at river level are short and primitive.

For me, this always presented a problem. The upper Chattooga is terrific, and I’ve been there often. But it’s more crowded than Section IV. And the rapids aren’t as imposing as those on Section IV. And the terrain isn’t as steep and scenic as on Section IV.

I’m simply a bigger fan of Section IV.

On the map below, Section IV begins at point #1 and ends at the takeout on Lake Tugaloo, point #25. Note that only a few roads access the river in this 8-mile stretch.

Five Falls 1-2

Sometime in the late 1990s, by asking around and exploring the roads myself, I learned that the easiest route to the river on the Georgia side is via Camp Creek Road and Water Gauge Road, ending at Point #19 on the map.

(Point #22 at the end of Camp Creek Road is where I was confronted by the previously-mentioned armed local dudes. I decided not to go there again.)

At the end of Water Gauge Road, an abandoned dirt road serves as a trail down to the river, arriving at a spot just north of the confluence with Camp Creek. The river there is straight and calm and features a rare sandy beach.

I took the photos below in 2004 when I took Paco there to introduce him to the river.

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Five Falls 1-4

Paco liked it fine, as long as his feet could touch bottom.

A few years earlier, Kelly and I had visited that spot several times to go swimming. But each time we went, I had the same nagging complaint: just downstream, literally around the next bend, are the biggest and best-known rapids on the Chattooga: the Five Falls.

And there is no trail along the river to get you there.

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Five Falls — just around that bend to the left.

True, you are free to bushwhack downstream, climbing over rocks and wading where necessary. But trails were invented as a sensible alternative to that.

Then I got lucky. Someone at the visitor center in Clayton told me about a primitive trail that begins near the beach, climbs away from the river, crosses the adjoining hill, and drops back down to the river just below Five Falls.

The next weekend, Kelly and I went back, found the trail, and had an eventful day at Five Falls.

Details in my next post.

* From north to south, the Chattooga consists of six sections: 00, 0, I, II, III, and IV.

 

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Pudgy

Some dogs have a heightened instinct to protect home and family. We think of breeds such as Dobermans, German Shepherds, Boxers, Rottweilers, etc. as being natural guard dogs.

When I was a kid, I had a dog named Pudgy, a certified mongrel, who was in no way the guard dog type. But on one occasion, he surprised us. It happened over the Christmas holidays in 1952, just after my brother Danny was born. Pudgy was a puppy then.

Let me begin by noting that my pal Jake, who has been with me for almost a year now, is my eighth* dog. Before him was Paco; before Paco was Kelly; before her were Dinah and Murphy; before them was Frederick the Bassett Hound; before him was Kimo; and before him was Pudgy.

Seven of them entered my life after I was an adult. Pudgy was the dog of my childhood.

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Pudge was a happy, lovable little guy. Technically, he was the family pet, but everyone understood he was my dog.

He was born to a litter of generic mutts at a neighbor’s house when my family lived in Falls Church, Virginia. I was seven years old, maybe eight.

I remember going to see the pups one cold evening with Mom and Dad. Snow was on the ground. The pups were in the garage in a blanket-lined cardboard box, wiggling and yapping. A kerosene heater was nearby.

To get you oriented, think of the movie “A Christmas Story,” which takes place in the late 1940s. Ralphie’s world in Indiana and mine in Falls Church were remarkably similar. The people, neighborhoods, schools, communities — all essentially the same.

That night in the garage, the dads chatted, and the moms fawned over the darling puppies. Then they told me to choose any pup I wanted as long as it was male. Pudge was the most active of the litter, and he was rather striking with a white body, black head, and tan eyebrows. He was my choice.

We named him Pudgy because he was round and plump. Most puppies are, but the name turned out to be appropriate. He grew up to be low to the ground and stocky.

A month or so after we got Pudge, a few days before Christmas, my brother Danny was born. Mom brought Dan home from the hospital right after Christmas.

Dad was a disaster when it came to cooking, cleaning, and other domestic tasks, but we got by, and we managed to assemble a crib in Mom and Dad’s bedroom. Mom took care of the baby and slept a lot. New routines took shape. Little Pudgy ran around joyfully, soaking it all in.

A few days later, the first relatives arrived to see the new baby: my paternal grandmother, universally called “Honey,” and Aunt Betty, who drove them up from Savannah.

I recall the scene well. After hugs all around, Honey set down her purse, removed her pillbox hat and veil, and asked to see the baby.

Mom and Dad escorted her into the bedroom where Dan was asleep in the crib. Honey tiptoed up to the crib and peered over the rail at Danny.

Suddenly, Pudgy shot out from under the crib and confronted my grandmother, barking furiously, bravely protecting the new human.

Honey hastily jumped backwards. I’m not sure if she and Betty even knew we had a dog.

“Wal-tuh?” she said with alarm. “Wal-tuh” is the Geechee way of saying “Walter,” namely her son.

As my grandmother retreated, Pudgy advanced, barking like a small fiend. One of us, probably Dad, scooped him up and tried to shush him. He was slow to calm down. His puppy growls were almost comical, like the purring of a cat.

With Pudgy restrained, Honey and Betty were able to see Danny properly. Dan, of course, had been awakened by the barking and was bawling robustly. The scene was chaotic.

Pudgy soon calmed down and was himself again. But over the next few days, he continued to object loudly whenever Honey approached the crib.

Curiously, his problem was only with my grandmother, never with anyone else, and only when she came near the crib. No one had a clue what was going on in his brain.

You had to feel bad for Honey. She was a dignified woman, very straight-laced and proper by nature. She was a fine person, but, as the saying goes, she was standing behind the door when the humor genes were handed out.

Honey’s default demeanor was serious and formal. I remember her as a matronly lady always clutching a hanky. I recall no evidence that she had a relaxed and casual mode.

Stella Ham Smith (Honey) at 201 Kinzie Ave., Savannah, Nov. 1951.

Which was a shame. It might have allowed her to see the humor in Pudgy’s behavior and laugh it off. Instead, she reacted with concern and bewilderment.

After Honey and Betty went home to Savannah, life returned to normal, if having a new baby and a new dog can be normal. For a while, Pudgy slept under the crib, presumably guarding Danny. He launched no more attacks.

In 1957, the Air Force transferred us to Europe, and Pudgy couldn’t come along. He went to live with my maternal grandparents in Suwanee, Georgia.

Naturally, he quickly bonded with them. And, when we came home from Europe in 1960, it was clear that Pudgy was their dog, not mine.

To my knowledge, the guard-dog behavior he exhibited in Falls Church never resurfaced.

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The Smiths suffering through a photo session, Falls Church, October 1953.

Pudgy had a good life in Suwanee as a country dog. Frank’s assorted hunting dogs lived in a backyard pen, and Leila’s cats were largely feral, but Pudgy was a pampered house pet.

His end came abruptly when he was about 13. I was home from college for the weekend, and Mom had asked me to stop at Leila’s to pick up some tomatoes.

When I backed out of the driveway, I didn’t know that Pudgy was under the car. He wasn’t run over, but he took a blow to the head that left him dazed and staggering. He was glassy-eyed, gasping for air.

I put him on the passenger seat and zoomed off toward the vet’s office.

On the way, suddenly, he snapped out of it. The old Pudge was back, relaxed and normal.

But it didn’t last. By the time we got to the vet’s office, he was in distress again, rigid, his breathing labored.

He died overnight at the clinic.

Pudgy was a good boy, loyal and faithful. A delightful friend. A credit to the family.

I still miss him.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky) and Pudgy, June 1956.

Pudgy and me, 1955.

* Actually, I had a ninth dog, but only for about three days. When Deanna and I got married, she had a poodle named Loser. Loser always hated me anyway, but he went bonkers over the new living arrangements. After he bit me a few times, Deanna gave him to her grandparents.

 

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The expression “May you live in interesting times” supposedly is an old Chinese curse. It’s considered a polite way of wishing someone ill, owing to the fact that interesting times usually involve strife and unpleasantness.

For America, “interesting times” accurately describes the entire decade of the 1960s. And in my case, it started with a bang.

In January 1961, when I was a freshman at the University of Georgia, a major brouhaha erupted in Athens when UGA was ordered by a federal judge to enroll its first black students. I wrote about that in some detail here.

A lesser brouhaha, one that barely made the national news, occurred in Athens not long after that. I’m referring to a series of protest marches to desegregate a popular local restaurant.

The restaurant was the Varsity, a beloved fast-food joint that had been an Athens institution since 1932. Owing to the time and place, it was open to whites only. A bit of background to set the stage.

In 1928, businessman Frank Gordy opened the original Varsity drive-in near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. The business was an immediate success. The day he opened, Gordy had 300 customers. By the end of the 1930s — a Depression economy, mind you — Gordy was a millionaire.

It’s the burgers, the chili dogs, and the fries, people. Varsity food is fast food, not health food by any stretch, but it tastes great. And, incredibly, it tastes exactly the same today as it did when I had my first meal there in 1960.

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In 1932, Gordy opened a Varsity in Athens. It was located downtown, across the street from the UGA campus.

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It remained there until 1962, when a larger building with loads of parking was built on Atlanta Highway. That location is still in operation today.

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The closing of the beloved downtown Varsity was traumatic, and it took a while for Athenians to warm to the new location. But they did, and the Varsity has remained popular with students and townies through the years.

The desegregation of the University in 1961 prompted the black community to address the irksome fact that the Varsity did not allow black customers in the restaurant. Ironically, most of the employees were black.

In my student days, it never registered with me that the Varsity was white only. Yes, the place was a sea of white faces, but Athens was a college town in the 1960s, perpetually awash in white faces.

I was a liberal Democrat then as now, and I agreed that admitting black students to the University was the right thing to do. But in other ways, I was just an oblivious white kid.

Not until years later did I learn that the downtown Varsity only served African-Americans through a walk-up window on the sidewalk.

The new Varsity on Atlanta Highway didn’t even have a walk-up window.

In 1963, taking a cue from the successful lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina, Athens civil rights activists began marching on the Varsity in protest. Sometimes the marches were peaceful, sometimes they weren’t.

Protesters regularly were arrested and hauled away, but the city usually released them immediately. Prisoners in jail have to be fed, clothed, and looked after. That costs money.

Reportedly, the largest and most contentious march happened in the spring of 1964. And, yes, I was there to see the fireworks.

At the time, I was a senior, set to graduate in June. Everyone knew about the protest marches, and we had heard talk that the Varsity management was weakening, fearing that the negative publicity would affect business. That would never do.

That spring evening, a friend said he heard that the KKK had arrived at the Varsity to protest the protesters. Immediately, we went to see for ourselves.

We arrived just after dark. The black marchers had gathered under the trees on the south side of the building. Between the protesters and the south entrance stood 15 or 20 Klansmen in white robes and pointy hats. Only a few wore hoods that covered their faces.

Earlier, heated words were exchanged and a few bricks were thrown, but the police had made no arrests. Everyone — protesters, Klansmen, cops, and onlookers — stood around more or less quietly, waiting for what came next. The mood was calm, but tense.

I guess it was tense enough to make me thirsty, because I excused my way through the line of Klansmen and went inside to get a drink from the water fountain. No problem, I’m white.

As I passed them, one Klansman pulled back his robe to reveal a holstered pistol on his hip, as if to say: look here, boy, I got me a gun.

I was genuinely embarrassed for the guy. Personally, I think being a Klansman identifies you as a mental midget and a detriment to society. Being a Klansman who flaunts a weapon to a passing teenager further identifies you as an obnoxious jerk.

Somehow, the situation that night remained calm. The protesters occasionally chanted, and the KKK guys watched in silence. Then the protesters walked in single file back to a nearby church, where the march began. Then the Klansmen left, then the police, then the onlookers. The Varsity was back to normal.

A month or so later, I graduated from UGA and left Athens to begin a new adventure in the Air Force in exotic New Mexico. The Athens Varsity was rarely in my thoughts.

But, indeed, not long after I departed, the restaurant saw the error of its ways and opened its doors to all paying customers, regardless of skin tone.

Nowadays, when I stop there for a chili dog fix, I observe that most of the employees are either black or Hispanic, and of the customers, a few black faces might be peppered among the white.

But in truth, the Varsity never became a big thing for black people in Athens. Maybe they don’t like the food.

No matter. What counts is they have the choice.

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Since I moved back to Georgia in 1979, I’ve lived in five different places around Atlanta and Athens. And the one constant since my return has been regular trips north into the mountains to go hiking.

There was a time when I took multi-day backpacking trips, but that practice evolved into the more civilized pursuit of dayhiking. Over the years, I’ve been on many hundreds of hikes in the mountains and foothills of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Tennessee.

For any given hike, my route to the mountains depended on where I lived at the time and where I was headed. By now, I’ve probably driven 90 percent of the roads, county, state, and federal, in the northern third of Georgia.

Sometime in the early 1990s, on my way north, I came upon an intriguing road sign that compelled me to stop and take a photo.

Bates Motel Road

It appeared to be a legitimate, official road sign, not a joke. The story behind it was a mystery, of course. All I could do was accept it as a humorous oddity and take the photo.

When I got home, I made a print and put it on the refrigerator. I also saved it as a .jpg and filed it away on my desktop.

But the novelty eventually wore off, and for the next couple of decades, I gave Bates Motel Road little thought.

But then, not long ago, a curious thought popped into my head. That photo of the Bates Motel road sign — where, exactly, did I take it?

I remembered the setting clearly, but I couldn’t recall the location. It could be anywhere in half a dozen counties in the North Georgia foothills.

For a while, when I drove north to go hiking, I made it a point to take different routes, hoping to find the elusive sign. No luck.

Then it dawned on me to look online. I Googled the words, Googled the image. I checked Google Maps and Google Earth. I searched various counties for “Bates Motel Road.”

I did all that and found nothing. Zip.

Why, for Heaven’s sake, could I find no record of any kind? Has the road been renamed? Was it bulldozed to make way for a subdivision? The subject bugs me greatly whenever I think about it. Which, lately, is often.

When you consider how many roads must exist in North Georgia, the odds are pretty slim of locating Bates Motel Road by searching randomly. It’s a needle-in-a-haystack situation.

Inevitably, the elusive road reminds me of the story of Brigadoon, the fictional Scottish village that is nowhere to be found except when it reappears for one day every century.

Then there is the 1957 movie “Raintree County,” a Civil War-era melodrama that takes place in the fictional Raintree County, Indiana. Essentially, it’s “Gone With the Wind” with Montgomery Clift in the Clark Gable role.

In the story, Raintree County is named for a romantic local legend that, hidden deep in the forest, is a magnificent Golden Raintree planted long ago by Johnny Appleseed. Find the Raintree, the legend says, and you will learn the secret of life itself. The locals consider it a nice fairy tale.

I remember the movie mostly for its ending. As the main characters emerge from a swamp after a dramatic climax, the camera pulls back to show the Raintree looming behind them, shining in golden splendor, still undetected. The End.

My road sign doesn’t qualify as magnificent or splendid. Just elusive.

And undoubtedly looming just out of sight.

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A needle-in-a-haystack situation.

 

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Well, we have happy news in the Smith family: my son Dustin is officially retired from law enforcement. He served 20 years in the business, first with Family & Children Services, then with Athens-Clark County PD, then with University of Georgia PD.

As you can imagine, his work involved risks and challenges that were downright ugly. Now we all can rest easier about his physical safety and emotional well-being.

Dustin plans to focus on his new business, Sporting South Photography. Check out his website.

On Dustin’s last day with UGA PD, his wife Leslie posted this on Facebook:

“Today, Dustin retired from police work after 20 years. The first picture is from his ACC Police Academy graduation and the second is from UGA.”

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“He has served his community with dedication, loyalty and professionalism. He has made life-long connections and lost a brother. Thank you to everyone that supported him and prayed for him throughout his career.”

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“He will begin a new journey with sports photography, that we hope will give him renewed focus and success, and maybe a little less stress.

“Congrats to you Sgt. Smith! Enjoy your next chapter in life.”

The lost brother Leslie mentioned is a fellow officer, Buddy Christian of ACC PD, who was killed in the line of duty a few years ago.

Dustin’s police career was filled with superlatives. He was not only a crackerjack officer, but also the kind of person you want to see in law enforcement: intelligent, empathetic, and compassionate. He recognized the importance of the work and the obligation to do it well.

That was apparent when he was named the Honor Graduate of his class at the Police Academy. It was apparent again when, in his first assignment on patrol in a section of Athens with a large Hispanic population, he went the extra mile and took Spanish lessons.

In time, Dustin was assigned to the Domestic Violence unit, a notably stressful job. But he was good at it, and Athens PD kept him there, even after the work began wearing him down and he asked for a reassignment.

Eventually, he was moved to Investigations, where he excelled again. In recent years, owing to his skills and years of experience, he ran the UGA PD Training unit.

Dustin told me some years ago that one of the toughest aspects of police work is knowing that half the people you contact on a given day hate your guts.

He probably wasn’t exaggerating. He had to deal with the worst people, on their worst behavior, often in the worst parts of town. As the cop confronting them, he was the enemy personified.

That’s why he and I see Athens differently. To me, Athens is the UGA campus, the special vibe of the downtown, the stately old neighborhoods, the Botanical Garden.

Dustin remembers rundown neighborhoods where a shooting, stabbing, or beating just happened. He thinks about dealing with drunk and belligerent frat boys and working on Saturday when the Bulldogs have a home game.

Maybe now he can get acquainted with a more positive side of the city.

Anyway, the page has turned, and Dustin starts his new life as a civilian.

And he promptly marked the occasion by making a delightful video that, in my humble estimation, knocks it out of the park. I can’t get enough of watching it.

https://rockysmith.files.wordpress.com/2019/03/a-day-in-the-life.mp4

That’s my boy.

 

 

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Robert A. Heinlein (1907-1988), the “dean of science fiction writers,” was a stickler for scientific accuracy in his fiction. No surprise for a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and an engineer. Science was in his genes.

In 1952, Heinlein published a story in Galaxy Magazine in which he predicted where science, technology, and society would be in the year 2000.

Most of the predictions were misfires, not that you or I would have done better. But Heinlein was gutsy enough to go on record.

Here is what he wrote.

———

So let’s have a few free-swinging predictions about the future. Some will be wrong but cautious predictions are sure to be wrong.

1. Interplanetary travel is waiting at your front door — C.O.D. It’s yours when you pay for it.

2. Contraception and control of disease is revising relations between the sexes to an extent that will change our entire social and economic structure.

3. The most important military fact of this century is that there is no way to repel an attack from outer space.

4. It is utterly impossible that the United States will start a “preventive war.” We will fight when attacked, either directly or in a territory we have guaranteed to defend.

5. In fifteen years the housing shortage will be solved by a “breakthrough” into new technologies which will make every house now standing as obsolete as privies.

6. We’ll all be getting a little hungry by and by.

7. The cult of the phony in art will disappear. So-called “modern art” will be discussed only by psychiatrists.

8. Freud will be classed as a pre-scientific, intuitive pioneer and psychoanalysis will be replaced by a growing, changing “operational psychology” based on measurement and prediction.

9. Cancer, the common cold, and tooth decay will all be conquered; the revolutionary new problem in medical research will be to accomplish “regeneration,” i.e., to enable a man to grow a new leg, rather than fit him with an artificial limb.

10. By the end of this century mankind will have explored this solar system, and the first ship intended to reach the nearest star will be a-building.

11. Your personal telephone will be small enough to carry in your handbag. Your house telephone will record messages, answer simple inquiries, and transmit vision.

12. Intelligent life will be found on Mars.

13. A thousand miles an hour at a cent a mile will be commonplace; short hauls will be made in evacuated subways at extreme speed.

14. A major objective of applied physics will be to control gravity.

15. We will not achieve a “World State” in the predictable future. Nevertheless, Communism will vanish from this planet.

16. Increasing mobility will disenfranchise a majority of the population. About 1990 a constitutional amendment will do away with state lines while retaining the semblance.

17. All aircraft will be controlled by a giant radar net run on a continent-wide basis by a

multiple electronic “brain.”

18. Fish and yeast will become our principal sources of proteins. Beef will be a luxury; lamb and mutton will disappear.

19. Mankind will not destroy itself, nor will “Civilization” be destroyed.

Here are things we won’t get soon, if ever:

— Travel through time.
— Travel faster than the speed of light.
— “Radio” transmission of matter.
— Manlike robots with manlike reactions.
— Laboratory creation of life.
— Real understanding of what “thought” is and how it is related to matter.
— Scientific proof of personal survival after death.
— Nor a permanent end to war.

———

Fascinating stuff.

To me, the lost opportunities represented by the failures of the first and 10th predictions are particularly painful. Not to mention stupid and counterproductive.

Just as the space program was gaining momentum in the 1960s and early 1970s, the politicians — the conservatives, of course — crippled it by cutting NASA’s funding.

In time, the Space Shuttle replaced the Moon landings, and then the Shuttle was retired, too. Now, here we sit, hoping SpaceX can do something.

Heinlein would be steamed, too.

Heinlein quote

 

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Friends, I am truly jaded when it comes to fads.

To be clear, I’m referring to fads, not trends. Beanie Babies and pet rocks were fads; electric cars and ebooks are trends.

These days, when I learn of a new craze or obsession — the latest sensation in attire, style, or whatever — my reaction is either a chuckle, a sigh, or an eye roll.

The only reason something clicks and is deemed cool and exciting is that, for a brief time, people have a chance to feel cool and enjoy the excitement, right? We all know the novelty will wear off and the mania will fizzle.

Consider the many fads that came and went in recent times. Bellbottoms, drive-in theaters, fallout shelters, ant farms, tie-dyed clothing.

Zoot suits, leg warmers, eight-track tapes, Rubik’s cubes. Members Only jackets. Break dancing, yo-yos, hula hoops.

The Twist. The Macarena. Bermuda shorts. Mom jeans. Overalls with one strap dangling.

Nothing wrong with a shared enthusiasm, mind you. But, wow, fads sure do lean toward the dopey and pointless.

What, you ask, brings me to opine that embracing the next new thing is dopey and pointless? Simple. I was thinking about myself back in the day, when I was young and foolish, too.

Back in high school, I was — you can trust me on this — a hip and savvy dude. I knew what was happenin’, and I put much energy into following the fads du jour.

Note, for example, how I rocked the epitome of cool in those days, a flattop haircut. Not to mention this stylish tweed blazer.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), about 1959.

Before long, I advanced to a glorified flattop — AKA a Detroit, AKA a “flattop with fenders.” That baby was flat on top and long on the sides, tapering to a handsome ducktail in the back.

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When I went away to college in the early 1960s, the times were a’changin’. Flattops were becoming passé on campus, so I heeded the call to go preppy. It was sort of the astronaut or folk singer look.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), freshman year in college, 1960-61.

By the time I graduated from college, the hippies were in ascendance. Long hair was the new thing for men.

But not for me. Alas, I went immediately from college into the Air Force, which tolerated no longhairs. I was obliged to keep the preppy look.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), Cannon AFB, NM.

By the time I was a civilian again, I was married with kids and working 9 to 5 in an office. Becoming a longhair would have been ill-advised as a career strategy. Thus, for a goodly time, the only variation in my hair style was the length of my sideburns.

Eventually, I got tired of worrying about whether my sideburns were the fashionable length of the moment, so I grew a beard.

Walter Allan Smith (Rocky), 12/25/1984.

That was in the mid-1980s. I haven’t shaved since.

Also, to be honest, a sobering personal reality was becoming obvious in those days: the signs were undeniable that male pattern baldness was in my future. Being a longhair probably wouldn’t be in the cards anyway. Nature can be cruel and without pity.

So can some people. My dad, who kept a full head of hair to the end, found this turn of events greatly amusing.

Anyway, as a result of how the hair thing worked out for me, I bypassed half a lifetime of men’s coiffure fads.

I say that with no regret whatsoever.

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And, hey — don’t get me started on skinny jeans.

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