Life of Hardin in Paraguay

Laugh as you travel through life with Josh Hardin.

Location: Spring Hill, TN, United States

Josh Hardin began writing in high school and published his first novel when he was twenty-two. He won an EPPIE award for his mystery novel "The Pride of Peacock." His non-fiction work includes "The Prayer of Faith", a book aimed at making personal prayers both powerful and effective. He has traveled widely and taught a summer philosophy course at the International University in Vienna. Hardin grew up in Tennessee and moved to Paraguay in 2006. He moved back to Tennessee in 2008.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 6

Aren’t the Trees Lovely Today?

While poring the backlogs of correspondence, the editors discovered this gem, to which they have asked me to respond:

Why all the sarcasm? I just don’t get it. There’s always some sarcastic comment about the people on the bus, or the people at the grocery, or people anywhere. It sounds like you’re mad at the world all the time. Why don’t you write positive things? It might make you happier.


Let me make one thing clear: I am not mad! And it burns me up when gentle readers fail to see the humor and human commentary in a well-written, barb-laden, socially-aware article composed with tongue placed firmly in cheek. There are many subtle layers to sarcasm, irony, and satire that, when wielded properly, peel back the layers of the human condition in a way . . .

But forget all that. We shan’t go into it. Instead I will give the readers what they want. To wit:

Aren’t the trees lovely today? Their leaves have finished their annual transformation, a fall festival of explosive brilliance, a yearly ceremony to signify the end of summer, a final celebration of life when the foliage spends its last stores of energy in brilliant display before it falls dormant and brown o’er the winter. But only for winter! for it is a short rest, until the spring thaws and summer sun bring forth new green shoots. New life!

Just the other day I traversed an old byway--an ancient path carved by the leather-shorn feet of squaws burdened by precious papooses; by marching braves on the warpath; by the hooves of the passing fauna of the woods passing to and fro to gather food. Forgotten once, the path lay dormant in its own winter until new men paved it for use, traversed it with their own cargoes, then forgot it once more. It stands now as a memorial to those old days, a tunnel of colors--yellows, oranges, greens, in all shades, even living brown!--painted only by the brush of the Master Artist. Splashed across His canvas, stretched across the highway, aglow in the fiery rays of the sun, it called to me, lifted me above mere mortal ken and into the warm embrace of the ethereal plane.

What a glorious building is Nature! What a dazzling display of power, of mind, of inspiration, of beauty unparalleled by man’s miniscule powers of vision and creation. And yet, not so small. For has not God given man a portion of His own mind to create, to design, as a father also passes on to his children?

See the cabins set back in the woods along the road. Man designed them, built them using the happy marriage of thought and toil. With materials given by the trees and the land he built homes for his children--shelter, warmth, provision. Made from the forest, these same crude houses are also become part of the forest, part of the landscape, part of the grand painting that is life!

Soon the colors will fade, will take rest in the purity of white. The winter snows! But life remains. In the vibrant greens of the snow-laden cedars and firs. In the hoary wisps of smoke that carry the woody incense of life skyward. In the silent stalking of the fox, the scurry of the forest hare, the rumbled snoring of the black bear . . .

This could go on for pages. Normally you only hear this stuff from the lips of some love-struck fool and his first girlfriend, but I repeat it here for the benefit of the above correspondent and other like-minded readers. Happier? Debatable. Funny? The “World of Blissfully Happy People” is nice to watch sometimes, but funny it is not.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 5

Blessing or a Curse?

It is a fine line between precious natural resource and a plague on mankind. Many of the most lovely, the most useful, the most uncommon, the most sought-after commodities become a scourge and a curse for that very reason. Men want them, and will do almost anything to get them. Take gold, for instance. Now at a record high of $1,100 an ounce. On seeing this, normal, calm, rational men transform into raving, wild-eyed, blood-thirsty, gold-feverish lunatics who will kill for just the touch of a nugget. Many a man has spilt his blood and that of his fellow man for gold.

Take another such naturally occurring substance: curly hair. Apply to it the same questions. Precious and sought-after natural resource? Or bane of man’s existence? As with many things, it depends on who asks, and how they look at it.

For young and dapper gentlemen between the ages of ten and seventeen, it is most certainly a bane. It refuses to be tamed, refuses to lie down, refuses to simply not call attention to itself at a time when boys just begin to realize that girls are paying attention to them and wish they wouldn’t if it means noticing that shock of wooly overgrowth that springs wild from their scalps. And so the only viable option is a process known as “scalping,” a drastic but necessary measure.

Once a young man reaches a more mature age, where the girls have a suitably more mature viewpoint on the matter, naturally curly hair is possibly the most valuable asset a man-about-town can have. It needs neither comb nor brush, and at the proper length takes less than two minutes of preparation. It knows what to do and does it; and no matter what it does (so it appears) it becomes an irresistible attractant to the opposite sex. This is partly due to the fact that all girls want naturally curly hair and spend hours fixing it to look right if they have it, and hours making it look like they have it if they don’t, and partly (and more importantly) due to the fact that it just looks this good and any guy man enough to wear it must be some kind of dude. The result is that they can’t keep their hands out of it.

HOWEVER (!), this effect does not wear off. As long as the hair is curly, it will attract women of any age with irresistible force. No matter if she is two or ninety-two, the female must and will run her hands through it. This is fine and lovely, up until the point that said curly-topped male has his own wife. Then his curly hair is worse than dynamite. She (his wife) has access; but be aware, young man, that others (not his wife) will without fail attempt to gain a touch of the now forbidden fruit. This is not all their fault. It is a reflex, an instinct, a hard-wired response too strong too resist. Allow this at your own peril!

A not-isolated example: A woman of experienced years (her hair was white and permed) spoke to me one day. “Oh, your hair is just so pretty.” And her hand, of its own accord, reached out to tousle it.

I replied: “Yes, but I have hardest time keeping girls’ hands out of it.”

Her hand snapped back to her side and continued to twitch, as though it were an effort to control it. Yet I had saved her (and myself) from the dangers of a jealous wife.

And so I put it to you. Naturally curly hair. Precious and sought-after natural resource? Or bane of man’s existence?

Who says it can’t be both?

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Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 4

Safe Halloween Tips

As this paper’s circulation expands and its number of readers increases, it also receives more and more letters to the editor. A small number of these are in the manner of adoring fans; a larger number are from readers offering not-so-adoring constructive criticisms (who are entitled to their opinions since, at the moment, we still allow freedom of speech in this county) that the Editors certainly appreciate and would appreciate even more if they would keep them to themselves; and then there is the tiny number who write in to seek wise counsel. This last section has grown to the point where the Editors feel it is their duty to address the needs of the public, and have thus hired an advice columnist to answer the questions of a thoughtful populace.

Our new columnist is Mr. Ray Clapp. He is a retired freelance plumber with over thirty years experience dealing with people. Here, in his first installment, Mr. Clapp will address a letter that could not be more timely. (The opinions of Mr. Clapp are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this paper.)


by Ray Clapp

Dear Ray:

I am the mother of a six year old and a four year old. I don’t like Halloween and have put off taking them trick-or-treating. They have begged and begged and so my husband and I are going to take them this year, but I am very concerned. What do I need to do to keep them safe?

Harrowed Halloween Mom

Well, Mom, I don’t know why you’ve waited so long let the kids out on Halloween. Other than Christmas, Halloween is the highlight of a kid’s year, what with the candy and all, and honestly I’d say keeping them in is pretty close to mental abuse. But anyway, I’m glad you’re sending them this year, so here are a few common sense tips to make Halloween enjoyable.

  • Be sure to send a cell phone with them. Modern technology makes Halloween safer than ever.
  • Give them a curfew. You’ll probably say nine, Mom, but I’d give them until ten. Halloween only comes once a year, after all.
  • Don’t dress them in dumb ghost costumes. Nobody likes them, and they may trip on them if they have to run after pulling a “trick” because somebody didn’t give them any candy but gave them a dang penny or toothbrush instead.
  • Speaking of “tricks,” be sure and send some t.p. and eggs with them if necessary. They probably won’t need them, because most people like to give out candy, but you never know.
  • Also, if they wear something black and not too baggy, like those skeleton suits or maybe even some type of pirate outfit, they can run faster 1) away from houses without being seen and 2) to get out of the way of cars without tripping.
  • Send some type of weapon with them in case they meet a weirdo. With so many kids around, most goofballs will stay away, but you never know when one might be brave. I recommend something from around the house and easy to handle, like a pipe wrench.
  • Be sure to check their candy when they get home. Your kids are first-timers, so they don’t know about the nasty orange-and-black peanut butter cheap-o candy some people give out. There might be something said for letting them make their own mistakes on this, but I’d just as soon save them the trouble. Weed out the crap.

Above all, Mom. Don’t worry and don’t baby them. Halloween comes natural to kids, so just let them use their common sense and they’ll be fine and you’ll have a happy Halloween for the whole family. Just don’t eat their candy when they get home.

Ray Clapp

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Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 3

Something New

The human animal astonishes all those who gaze upon it; and his need always for something new is one of those little eccentricities which make people look at each other (or themselves) and scratch their heads. What is this fascination with having something new?

Marketing gurus understand this urge. At the least, if they don’t understand it, they know how to manipulate it. They put the fancy new products right in the aisles of Wal-Mart and Target, where you can’t help but walk over them. They know that if they have the new line of blenders, of juicers, of automatic coffee makers, off to the side in their proper place, they won’t get noticed and no one will buy them unless they actually need one and go looking.

BUT! . . . But if they dangle them out in front, make you trip right over them, you realize, “I need that new Cuisinart. I am sick and tired of that old one; pushing its old, boring buttons; plugging in its old sticky cord that has six year’s worth of chocolate syrup and peanut butter residue gummed up on it. I need a new one!”

It often does not matter what that new thing is. We get excited anyway, so long as it is new. On Christmas morning, at birthdays, at weddings, we open presents, we complain when we get socks or ties or garlic presses--but we’re still happy that we got something. We opened something new! It was better than opening nothing at all!

Just the other day, I ran out of toothpaste. So I bought two more tubes, on sale for a dollar each (new is even better on sale). When I got home I put them next to the old, almost empty tube. The next morning faced me with one of the most difficult dilemmas of my life. I had this old, worn-out, squeezed down, beat up, crinkly, tube of toothpaste; and this wonderful, shiny, full, smooth, tube of new toothpaste. Joy of joys! Something new! But I still had the old. I stood with the old tube in my left hand, the new tube in my right hand, and faced myself in the mirror. I don’t want this old beat up tube. I want this new tube. It’s New! Eventually my miserliness won out, and I squeezed two more day’s worth of brushing from the old tube. But it was difficult.

Sale papers recognize this phenomenon. Never am I so happy in life as when I miss a Sunday paper and forget that “something I don’t know about but absolutely need” might be on sale today. When I happen to see the paper, I can’t help but pore over the ads. How pitiful I am once I have seen all the new things of which I was unaware, but thence having seen, must have but cannot afford.

Last Sunday my wife carelessly left a JoAnn’s circular on the table. You might as well leave out a loaded gun. My eyes could not turn away. Just look! NEW: Straw Bale or Indian Corn, 9.99 each. My choice! NEW: Cinnamon-Scented Pine Cones. Take me away! NEW: Floss Bobbins. What is it? I don’t know! But I must have it now. NEW: Gaudy purse handle things! Of course I’ll need a new purse to go them. And finally, fifty percent off a NEW Clay Conditioning Machine. Add textures to clay, soft metal sheets, and some design paper. I have not yet lived!

There should be a Betty Ford Clinic for this sort of thing, but there wouldn’t be enough rooms, and everyone would check out once the newness wore off.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 2

A Translation Guide for Civil War Battlefield Brochures

A visit to a Civil War battlefield is an excellent way to spend a breezy summer afternoon. At the least you exercise your legs and soak up some history. (Take note, kids: You can procure extra credit with your history teacher if you take her a brochure and discuss why such-and-such battle changed the outcome of the whole blamed war.)

Your main guide at each park is the aforementioned brochure. These are acquired in each park’s Visitor’s Center. Inside you will find a map of the park and a brief description of the battle. Read the description, but know that all of the writers went to the same school on the same day. They have a formula they use and just add facts to the proper blanks (like a MadLib, only not funny). Until you learn to interpret brochure-speak, you might become confused and think you have already visited a particular park. In order to encourage the proper treatment and understanding of “Our Late Unpleasantness,” I draw your notice to the following points.

Thing to Notice in the Brochure #1:

Without exception, according to the brochures, every battle is “one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.” They all lay claim to that distinction in some way. Some are the bloodiest single day. Some are the bloodiest en total. Some have the highest casualties on the Union side; some have the highest casualties on the Confederate side; some just have the highest casualties all lumped together. Don’t let this confuse you. They were all bloody. Roughly as many Americans were killed in the Civil War as in all other U.S. involved conflicts combined.

Thing to Notice in the Brochure #2:

The lead-in for every description begins with a short recount of the soldiers camped out on the eve of battle. They all end with this line: “For many of those who slept that night, it would be their last.” The author who penned that line never wrote anything further of note, but he is now safely retired and continues to draw an excellent stipend from his royalties.

Thing to Notice in the Brochure #3:

Every battle had a plot of ground that was more hotly contested than any other. This has a name, usually along the lines of “the Devil’s Den,” “the Slaughter Pen,” “the Bloody Angle,” “the Hornet’s Nest,” etc. They are all gruesome and descriptive. Again, don’t be confused if you find six different “Bloody Ponds” and eighteen “Hell’s Half-Acres.” You are not necessarily at the same park.

Thing to Notice in the Brochure #4:

Every battle was a crucial point of the war. Had the outcome of any battle been reversed--had the South won Shiloh, had the North won Chancellorsville--the war would have ended right then. Somehow every battle turned out just as needed to prolong the thing another year or two.

You may also see the oldest standing memorial of some sort-or-other at a number of parks, the largest mass grave, the longest row of massed cannon, etc., etc., according to the brochures. Be assured, the battles were all distinct. The soldiers didn’t fight in one spot, pack up, and stage the battle again the next state over. So read something about each battle before you go--preferably by Shelby Foote or Bruce Catton--and use the brochures for the extra credit mentioned above.

And watch out for ticks. The brochures don’t mention tick fever being a problem during the war, but it certainly is now.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Life of Hardin Vol. VI, No. 1

You Get What You Pay For

You get what you pay for. That is true. Mostly. (Except that the phrase is grammatically incorrect. You cannot end a sentence with a preposition; i.e., for. It should read--if the person who first coined it had any grammar training or respect for the English language--”You get that for which you pay.”

But that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well, and the person who first let it slip more than likely uttered it in a moment of frustration and despair after he had passed up the thoroughbreds at the name-brand horse dealer and purchased, instead, the half-price nag with no return policy and no warrantee from the livery stable down the street. Said nag then whinnied and keeled over dead on the way to the ranch, breaking the new owners’ leg and pinning him under her dead carcass for an hour and a half in the hot sun.

“You get what you pay for,” he uttered as his neighbor, who happened to pass by at that moment on his way to borrow a cup of sugar dragged him out from under and wrapped a splint around his leg. We will forgive him his grammar error in the moment of weakness. So . . .)

You get what you pay for. That is true in the same way most adages are true: It is a good rule of thumb. Sometimes you get more than you pay for, if you have planned and looked, and finally find the name brand that should cost you X but instead will only cost you 1/2X at the moment. Then you get more than you pay for.

Getting more than you pay for is a good thing. Except when it comes to restaurants. Nicer, more expensive restaurants, to be specific. They know the saying as well as you. They know that people expect to get what they pay for, and so if they are going to charge double, they had better make sure they have satisfied the proverb. And food, after all, is food. If it is pleasing to the palate and satisfies the hunger at eight dollars, what more can be done to add to that--to make up the difference and give you what you pay for--at sixteen dollars. So they try too hard.

Take my own example. I was treated* to a meal at a nicer restaurant (by nicer I mean every meal on the menu is over ten dollars and they turn out the lights on you and expect you to eat by feel). I ordered chicken fingers, which I normally do, and a salad. I got what was paid for. The chicken was good. The salad was good. But there was something more to it. It stayed with me longer than a regular three dollar side-salad. It stayed with me leaving the restaurant. It stayed with me in the car. It stayed with me that night when I arrived home. I tried to chase it out with water, with milk, with ice cream, with Tums. But it would not go. It was not a three dollar salad, it was a nine dollar salad, and intended to live up to its price tag. It stayed with me in bed, asleep, and woke me in the morning. I finally drowned it with coffee. It could not live through that.

So beware. You get what you pay for. It is advice to buy quality, but it is also a warning. Don’t pay twenty dollars for something that you should have bought at Chik-fil-a for six.

*I am grateful to those who treated me, and this article does not indicate ingratitude toward their generosity.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Life of Hardin Vol. V, No. 4

Vultures Everywhere

“Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” They have gathered around me. I have felt the dark wind from their feathers, smelt the putrid stench of rotting flesh from their hooked beaks, for over a week as they circle above me.

Okay, so not real vultures. But a reasonable facsimile. I am leaving this country, Paraguay, and moving back to the U.S. Like any moving day, my wife and I are having a sale. Or were having a sale. It is over. It is all gone. Still the vultures gather.

We ran an ad in the paper for six days. For sale: washer and dryer, stereo, treadmill, television, DVD player. Priced to sell. And how. We got calls before the paper hit the streets. The first day it ran, a man called for the television. He came by, paid cash for it, then bought the DVD player and stereo at the urging of what we thought was his daughter (turns out she was his concubine). The next day we sold the treadmill and the washer/dryer. That’s it. Nothing left. Yet the calls still came in a flood.

“I’m calling about the advertisement in the paper.”

“The one with the t.v. and all?”

“That’s the one.”

“Yeah, it’s all sold.”

“All of it.”

“Every bit of it.”

And then, every single call continued in some way similar to this.

Caller: “That’s a shame. I wanted the belt (meaning treadmill).”

“Yep, it’s gone.”

“Was it nice? Was it clean?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, was it new? Was it a deal?”

“What do you care? It’s sold!”

Then some of them continued this way.

“Well, do you have anything else?”


“Do you have anything else to sell? Don’t you have another stereo? Or television? Housewares? How about home decorations? (A man asked that one.)”

The men who came to buy the treadmill saw the television ready for delivery. “That’s already sold?”

“Yep. All gone. Hundred and fifty dollars.”

“What a deal! It’s gorgeous. What a shame. You don’t want to sell it to me? What about that other stereo there? Want to sell it?”


“What a shame? You sure?”

And so on. We cancelled the ad after the second day, then fled the house. We returned after six hours. Our caller ID showed 36 calls. We got a buzz on the apartment phone. Someone was downstairs. She wanted the washer. “How did you get this address?”

“Señor Alfonso gave it to me.” (The guy who bought the t.v.)

“We told him the washer was sold.”

“Can’t I just come up and look at it? Don’t you have something else to sell?”


I started to get ugly about it. People called. I told them it was all gone. They asked, “Was it pretty?”

I said: “Oh, man, it was beautiful. Used maybe twice. Had all the paperwork. Not a speck of dust on it. I would have lowered the price for you. And it was already a deal! What a shame!”

People called. They asked: “Don’t you have anything else for sale?”

I said: “Well, I’ve got a couple of commodes. Got some used light bulbs I won’t be taking with me. Half of an overripe banana I didn’t eat. I guess I could sell you the paint on the walls.”

I actually didn’t say that. Somebody would have taken me up on it. But I did think about running another add: ALL SOLD--the washer and dryer, stereo, treadmill, television, DVD player. All great deals. Too bad. So sad. Don’t call this number anymore.

But I didn’t. And the calls have stopped. So if you want any of that stuff IT’S ALL GONE SO LEAVE ME ALONE!

Life of Hardin Vol. V, No. 3

On and Off-Broadway

As a rule, I do not care for musicals. I can’t put my finger on just one little thing about them that turns me off. Is it the air of artsyness? The disjointed necessity of breaking into song at various intervals? The annoying mediocrity of the songs themselves, which are rarely catchy, have hard to remember melodies, and lyrics forced to conform to the story whether they are good and rhyme or not?

Oh, no! I’ve lost my ring!

--You’ve lost your ring?

Yes, lost my ring.

--He’s lost his ring! He’s lost his ring!

I do not know where I may find it! My wits have come up to their brink--

--Perhaps you dropped it in the . . . commode.

So on and so forth. I can’t put my finger on just one thing. Whatever it is, I am not a fan of musicals. Oh, there are exceptions to every rule. Astaire-Rogers. Singing in the Rain. The Sound of Music, although I have seen it through once in 25 years. But I tend to know whether I will like one or not if I hum the tune to one of the songs later, or if I can make up new lyrics to the song.

For instance, this little classic from Annie (“I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here”): “Cecille will pick out all your clothes,” becomes, “Cecille, be sure to pick your nose,” or possibly, “Cecille will take off all her clothes.”

From The Sound of Music (“Maria”): “How do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?” turns into, “How do you catch a (insert euphemism for gas) and paint it green?”

Those are the types of things that make a musical more enjoyable for me. Now, on to a comparative review of two recent musical productions to which I had tickets. One is a little show called Into the Woods, a Tony® Award winner by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine. The other is Spamalot, a current Broadway show based on the comedy of Monty Python.

The production I saw of Into the Woods was performed in a small municipal theatre in Paraguay sponsored in part by the Embassy of the United States. The performers were Spanish-speaking English students from a local English school. Understandably, I did not expect much. However, the performance was enjoyable. The sets were adequate. The performers had very little accent (except for Little Red Riding Hood, who, while very energetic, could not carry a tune in her little basket, and whose main function in the show was to jump around while not bursting out of her dress. She could not sing, but was very entertaining). The direction was excellent. The acting was not good enough to win awards, but not bad enough to notice it being bad. Although I did think the play was over after Act I, I must admit a pleasant time was had by all, and the performers received a standing ovation. (But for the life of me I can’t recall a tune from any song in the show.)

Production number two was to take place on Broadway, in Manhattan, the capital of stage musicals. I never saw it. The doors to this musical and all musicals on Broadway were closed because of some argument over how many people it takes to raise a curtain.

So, when I compare both musicals side by side, the winner is Spamalot. The producers were kind enough to close the doors and not let me see it at all, which is the best thing a musical has ever done for me. That, plus I received a refund for two tickets, which I will use instead to pay my entrance fee to DisneyWorld. Mickey does not go on strike.

Life of Hardin Vol. V, No. 2

My True Love Gave to Me . . .

Christmas grows each year. The dinners increase in size and number. The presents increase in expense. The number of trees in a house goes from one to two to three or more. Likewise the aftermath--the flotsam and jetsam of wrinkled wrapping papers and ribbons, the broken ornaments, the wring of evergreen needles pooled beneath the tree, the cascade of elation and excitement--mushrooms each year. We are left like the child on Christmas morn, sprawled on the floor amongst the bright remnants of toys and boxes and paper, stuffed to the full with Christmas cheer and Christmas ham, to recover from it all. Sometimes it takes an afternoon nap. Sometimes it takes weeks of convalescence.

However, though it may seem Christmas revelries grow larger each year, that is not necessarily so. Once upon a time, the actual Christmas festivities were not held only on December 24th and 25th. They began on the 25th and ran all the way to Twelfth Night, January 6th. Imagine what it would be like if we had to celebrate Christmas every one of those 12 days.

We need look no further than the popular song to see what we would have to put up with.

• The 1st day - a partridge in a pear tree. Nice enough, and a gift that keeps on giving in the form of a fruit-bearing plant.

• The 2nd day - turtle doves. Hopefully they come with a cage.

• The 3rd day - French hens. Why are French hens better than any others?

• The 4th day - calling birds. Already a dangerous trend emerges. Must each successive gift be larger than the last?

• The 5th day - gold (or golden) rings. My wife has pointed out that any time a man sings, it is “golden” rings, and any time a woman sings the rings are actually gold. Although I’m not sure “golden” precluded the rings being pure gold, I can see the necessity of conserving resources to buy presents for all these twelve days.

• The 6th and 7th days - geese a-laying and swans a-swimming. More fowl. One of these true loves certainly has a fowl fetish. It is a foul fetish for fowl, and one of the two true loves needs to put a stop to it. The girl has collected a barnyard full of cackling birds, and I would not want to spend my 12 days of Christmas anywhere near, what with the poop and feathers and calling birds and all.

• The 8th day - maids a-milking. It makes no mention of the cows, so the question is, what are they milking, or are they simply deranged?

• The 9th day - ladies dancing. Precursor to the modern dance troop, now popular at sporting events. Probably the earliest cited example of a gift giver giving something they actually want for themselves.

• The 10th day - lords a-leaping. More deranged people. Obviously running out of ideas. Today when we run out of ideas we give gifts from the “executive line” that Penney’s and Sears have on their Christmas display tables, like AM/FM letter openers and universal remote/corkscrews.

• The 11th and 12th days - pipers piping and drummers drumming. I have no doubt these were given to drown out the sound of the birds.
There is also some debate as to whether the true love gave one set of each gift, or a new set each new day. Either way it sounds exhausting.

So you see, we have it not so bad as it seems nowadays. It could be much worse. Though I am just now recovered enough to look back and reflect on my holiday frivolity, I do not have to worry about throttling a lord a-leaping or wringing the neck of a goose a-laying or a calling bird for supper. My turkey leftovers are long gone.

Life of Hardin Vol. V, No. 1

Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot

The power went off this afternoon. There was no storm. There was no lightning. No giant albatross crashed into a transformer. No atomic sea monster (e.g., Godzilla) arose from the Paraguay River to chew the power lines.

It just went off. Poof.

Back home this would not be a big deal. Go outside if it is daytime. If it is night, light a candle. Read a book. Go to bed at 9 o’clock.

Not here. Not in Paraguay. Not in a country often called the “Green Hell.” When the power goes off here in the middle of January, you sit, in the dark, and be very, very still.

Just this week I left the frigid 40 degree weather of Tennessee and stepped off a plane into the 105 degree, 90% humidity of Asuncion. That was in the airport. That was before I even peeked my head out of the shade to test the sizzle of the sun. I rushed to a car and turned the air conditioner on. I rushed from the car to my apartment and turned on the wall-mounted A/C. It’s a good one. It can bring the temperature in my living room down to 72 degrees--if it is after 8 at night and I close the doors to the other rooms.

The only fault of this air conditioner is that it doesn’t work when the power goes out. The indoor temperature climbs five degrees in the next five minutes. In thirty minutes 80 degrees will be a memory. In an hour the mercury scrapes ninety, and I will be in a shirtless pool on the tile floor.

How does anyone get anything done in this? It is impossible to eat. Food loses flavor. Stomachs lose their appetites. I choked down my supper just to give me the energy and will to make it through the night. But I didn’t enjoy it.

No one moves. The barefoot beggar children never venture from their shady trees next to the road. Coins are molten at that temperature. Pedestrians linger in traffic, walk in the road if there is more shade, immune to the imminent threat of death. Better a few moments of cool respite before eternity than a languishing torture before. I myself, in the dark at my dinner table, try to breathe as slowly as possible for fear I might work up a sweat. I don’t blink at all.

It is too hot to think. That is evident. No thoughts occur here between the months of December and March. I am not even sure I am writing this at the moment, or if I only imagine it in the waking stupor of heat stroke.

It is too hot to bathe. Pool water smolders like a boiling pot. Cold showers are a sauna. I watered a plant on my balcony and watched it wither and die the moment the water scalded its roots.

It is too hot to have children. It is too hot to conceive children. But that gets done here anyway.

Now if you will excuse me I must go and mop the kitchen floor. It seems my wife just melted. I hope the freezer is still cold enough to solidify her again.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 27

A Foot By Any Other Name

We are smack dab in the middle of football season yet again. Both of them. American football has had the teams of the National Collegiate Athletic Association raving out of control for over two months now, with no ranked team safe from an upset. The NFL is up in arms arguing over whether a team can still complete a season undefeated. And South American soccer--better known as football in every country in the world besides the U.S.--is, as usual, playing every game with a complete regiment of police in riot gear guarding the gates.

Yes, I know. Another article about soccer. But I still wrestle with this phenomenon. It is so bound up in South American culture it is impossible to escape. I gave it every chance to grow on me. Like watching Citizen Kane a second time. Like eating an extra piece of cantaloupe. Like buying another goldfish when the first dies in two days. I just can’t do it.

There really is not much to it. Twenty-two people run up and down a huge, well-groomed pasture and try to boot a ball into a net so huge it should be impossible to guard, and yet score maybe once a game. It is an exercise in practiced futility. It is like eating tapioca pudding with a fork. White rice with chop sticks. Gruel with a coffee stirrer. I think that is why they need S.W.A.T. teams at every contest. Eventually you get tired of sucking gruel and stick your face down in it, then sling it all over the kitchen until someone older and more mature comes in to restore order with force.

Not that they don’t try to spice it up. They say they have plays, but they are all variations of two things: 1) Pass the ball to me and I’ll kick it in, or 2) Kick the ball in when I pass it to you. They make up arbitrary rules like don’t run in front of the other players, don’t use your hands, and don’t kick people. None of this fools me. I know a track meet when I see it, even if the runners have to kick a ball, can’t decide which way to run, and never get to the finish line.

Of course soccer players say the same things about football and basketball and baseball. Basketball I agree. The only wrinkle there is the dribble and the hoop, but it is mainly soccer for tall, coordinated people. Baseball is in a league of its own, and is not bad-mouthed so much as it is gaped at and held in awe. Football, however, receives much of the criticism, mainly because it carries the same name.

It should not be called football, so I have been told on many occasions. You don’t even have to kick the ball with your feet. Soccer you can only kick the ball with your feet. That is real football.

To anyone who says this, I quote this scripture: “Cast out the beam out of thine own eye.” Football was popularized and named in England. And though the word “foot” has zero meaning in Spanish, they continue to say “football.” This is the same thing as if an American were to call baseball “phblat.” It signifies nothing, therefore Spanish speakers have no grounds for arguing for the moniker of football. If they called it piebol, then I could see it. (Pie means foot in Spanish, but is pronounced pee-yeah).

Here is my wisdom. We cut the name in half, kill it so that neither game can have it, and rename both with more apt descriptions. We’ll call American football throwball, or catchball, or runball.

And we’ll call soccer boring.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 26

Does a Body Good

It’s funny, the things you take for granted when you do without them for a while. Usually it’s a little thing. Take, for instance, milk. I love milk. I used to drink milk like some people drink water. I could go through a gallon myself in a couple of days. Strong bones. Strong teeth. Good for you.

Now I’m not talking about that skim milk mess. That is not milk. It’s nothing more than white colored water. I’m at least halfway convinced they just fill the jug from the tap and add a little white coloring, then make a fortune off of it. You won’t find any calves drinking that watery knock-off. They’d spew it from their mouths. No, I’m talking about good ol’ two percent. Real cow juice. Stuff that coats as it goes down. Sticks to the glass. Got enough body to it to wash down about anything. I can’t see how we don’t have more choking deaths each year, people trying to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and washing them down with skim. It’s a health hazard.

It’s also funny the little things that really get under your skin. Those little things that are okay at first, but they’re just ever so slightly different. After a while they just drive you completely mad. Take, for instance, milk. The milk situation in Paraguay is in a sad state of affairs. First off, there is no two percent. You have a choice of whole, or skim. Now I am not against whole, but I can’t drink it often. It’s a treat once in a while, when there’s a swallow left after making ice cream. And my views on skim have already been made public.

Second--and this is the worst part--the milk does not come in a jug. It comes in bags. Bags! One liter bags. You have to cut the top corners of the bags and pour them into a pitcher. I can go through a liter by myself in a day if the urge hits me. I am sick of pouring a new bag ever time I turn around. I don’t want to have to clip the edges of a sack of milk every time I want a drink. I want to peel off that little plastic rim, take off the top and drink.

I am not sure why they insist on putting the milk in bags. My only guess is that a bag is closer to an udder and makes you think the milk is fresher. They even have big, huge billboard advertisements with cows on them, standing up showing their udders. The caption reads: “The most fun part of the cow.” (I have recreated the advertisement below. Really. This is exactly what they look like.)

I like milk, but I am not ready to belly up to an udder. That may be fine for young cows, but not for me. I just am not to that point. Nor do I want to have that sensation, which is the only good reason for these udder-bags. I do not want my milk straight from an udder. I do not want the sensation of having my milk straight from an udder. Although it may very well be the most fun part of a cow, I do not want the chore of milking an udder (or an udder-bag) every time I eat a chocolate chip cookie, or a piece of chocolate cake, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I just want my milk in a nice, two gallon plastic jug. It’s just a small thing. But you know how these small things can wear on you.

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 25

If I Was a Poor Man

I never gave much thought to the idea that I might be homeless one day. I never had to worry about it, or ever doubted that I would have a roof over my head, food to eat, and a good pair of fingernail clippers. Lately, however, I have given myself over to a fair amount of worry about it.

There are many people in Paraguay who live with little or no shelter from the elements. Their meager income results from either begging at street corners or washing car windshields with dirty rags. I see them every day, scores of them. I never knew so many destitute existed in the world. My hometown had a total of one that I ever knew. No one knew for certain his real name. Some guessed it was Douglas Kirkpatrick, but we all called him Cool Breeze. He refused to take any handout. If you offered him a ride, he would curse at you and say if he wanted to ride, he would buy a car. It is a wonderful country where the homeless can buy cars if they want.

However, after leaving that environment for this, I began to see just how easy it might be to become homeless. I got worried. I looked up numbers. Some estimates put the homeless rate in South America at 50%. Statistically, either I or my wife should be homeless. I also began to worry just what caused homelessness. Was it genetic? My father at one time wanted to be a hobo. Though he claims he idolized the freedom and travel of a hobo, I still say it is a fancy way to say “bum.” Might I one day be seized by this same urge to ride rail cars and smoke the stubs of cigars with a toothpick?

At this point the circumstance feels too possible to ignore. Accordingly, I have given much deliberation to what I would do. First, I think I would live in South America. The United States has too many job opportunities, and homelessness is given a bad name because of it. South America is not that way. It is much more respectable. Also the climate in South America is more conducive to being homeless. Without a house it would be difficult to find warmth in times of cold, and therefore I would find the warmest climate around, maybe right on top of the equator. Many homeless, I believe, have already discovered this, as indicated by the large numbers of them on the southern continent.

Next, I would prioritize my life. Warmth being taken care of, food would come next. I have heard a number of people complain about the hygiene habits of the homeless-- they don’t take baths, they don’t use deodorant, they have bad teeth, they just don’t take care of themselves. I feel it is not so much a question of self-hygiene or self-respect as it is one of priorities. With limited funds, food is priority one. You can’t eat a stick of Old Spice deodorant, and I would rather be smelly than hungry. Along with the food I would buy hand sanitizer. I have to eat, and I can’t do that if my hands are grubby. Any money I had left over would then go to a toothbrush and toothpaste so that I could continue to eat, then to toilet paper, then to clothing when needed (although my ingenious decision to live in the tropics lessens the need for much clothing), and so on, down the list of hygiene articles.

That’s about it. Pretty simple. But I do think I would take Cool Breeze’s suggestion and buy a car. I think I’d get tired of walking, and it would keep my shoes from wearing out.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 24

The Truth of Inconvenience

Ten years ago cell phones were a fad. They were big and expensive. People carried them as a sign of prestige. Now we can’t do without them. We can find anyone, anywhere, anytime. Convenient.

Fifteen years ago microwaves were a luxury. If you could afford one, you could cook supper in 15 minutes. You could re-heat leftovers in 10. You could make popcorn in 5 without a fireplace. Convenient.

Twenty years ago VCR’s beat out Beta machines. Beta was inconvenient. They couldn’t record. A VCR could record any television show. You didn’t have to be in a certain spot at a certain time. You were free of network schedules. You could watch what you wanted, when you wanted. Convenient.

We are a people trained to convenience. We make things that we don’t have to monitor, that can do the job faster, that can do it now, the moment we decide, because later we’ve got something else to do. We make things that will let us do what we want, when we want. Then we make things that let us do all those things faster to free us up even more. We make conveniences more convenient. We trump a VCR with TiVo. We trump a cell phone with an iPhone. We trump Blockbuster with On-Demand movies. We trump On-Demand movies with the VUDU set-top digital movie box that puts over 5,000 movies at your fingertips. We’ve even trumped the convenience store with Wal-Mart.

What inconvenience will be cured next? Eating? Sleeping? Going to the bathroom? Birthing babies? Paraguay’s already solved that one. Everyone schedules C sections. The maternity ward is packed full every Saturday morning with happy moms, dads, and doctors who didn’t have to get up in the middle of the night, and squalling babies who came out too soon. Then they feed the kid, pierce its ears if it’s a girl, and stick it in an incubator until puberty. You don’t get more convenient than that.

But we’ve made things too convenient. We can no longer use inconvenience as an excuse. For example. Then, in the age of inconvenience: “Could you take out the trash?” “Later. I’m watching the game.” Now: “Pause it with TiVo and take out the trash.”

Then: “What do you want to watch?” “It’s raining, so the antenna is only picking up CBS. I guess we’ll watch I Love Lucy.” Now: “We’ve got over 5,000 movies to choose from. Which one do you want?” “I don’t know. Which one do you want?” “I don’t know. You pick.” “I can’t decide. Just get what you want.” “I don’t know what I want. What do you want?” Ad nauseum.

The worst. The phone rings. “I’m sorry. He’s indisposed at the moment.” Now: “Sure. I’ll hand him the cordless.”

The problem is, we’ve convenienced ourselves right out of convenience. We’ve gone too far, hit the wall, turned around, and gotten right back into inconvenience again. Why do I want to eat re-warmed, soggy pizza? Why do I want to read the summaries of 5,000 B-movies when I could just watch “Star Wars” again? Why do I want to be found on a cell phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even if I’m at the movies or reading in the “library”? The answer is I don’t. Yet I spend my time keeping up with these conveniences, and I no longer have an excuse to just sit and do nothing. Everything is so convenient that I can get up and do it right now. We’ve eliminated inconvenience. And that’s what I call inconvenient.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 23

Notes on a Surgery

--I guess I’ll have knee surgery. So what if it’s been nine years since I tore my ACL? I didn’t have the time before. I’m finally tired of putting this thing back into socket. Besides, it’s cheaper here in Paraguay. The question is how to find a doctor.

First Doctor visits
--This doctor knows what he’s doing. But I don’t think he wants me to know what he’s doing. He keeps saying, “We’ll cut you open. We’ll cut you open.” Don’t I have other options? What about acupuncture? Herbal remedies? It’s like pulling teeth to get any info out of him. Is he a spy or something?
--Second visit. What’s his secretary trying to pull? She charged me an extra ten dollars this time and told me it was the same as last time. Oh, yeah? We’ll here’s the receipt from last time. What do you think about that? I thought that’d change your mind. What do you mean change? Is that the only reason you overcharged me? Because you didn’t have change?!? I want a second opinion. AND a second secretary.

New doctor
--This place is nicer. Doctor tells me everything. And his secretary says every visit is a flat rate of 20 bucks.

Getting ready
--Found a cane. Got a nice big ball of stone on top of it. I’ll be the terror of the streets. See if anybody tries to wash my windshield now. I’ll knock ‘em out.
--This is crazy. I’ve got to buy my own surgical screws and rent the surgical tools.
--My conversation with every place I call about the screws: “I want biodegradable screws. I don’t want titanium. I don’t care if everyone else here uses them. I don’t want my knee to be a weather barometer for the rest of my life.” Achy=rain. Creaky=fog. Stiff=cold’s a comin’.
--Found a place with the screws. But I just saw the delivery box for the surgical tools wrapped in a rag that’s been stuck in the top of an oil can.

--I scream when the nurse comes in the room and tell her not to hurt me. I scream when he hangs up the saline bag. I scream when she produces an IV needle. I keep my mouth shut while she shoves it in. It’s boring in bed. I’ve got to do something to entertain myself.
--She shaves my knee. No cream. No soap. Dry. Dry as a bone. She uses some razor I’ve never seen. It doesn’t nick me once. Why don’t they sell it for faces? Gillette probably lobbies to keep them off the market.
--I have my wife write “WRONG” on my left knee with a Sharpie. The nurses think I’ve tattooed it.
--Off to surgery. Flat on my back. Can’t see where we’re going. They really should put pictures on hospital ceilings.
--Surgery’s not so bad. I can’t feel my legs. I keep looking up to make sure they’re there and they keep pushing my head back down.

--Quit pumping that pain killer in me! I don’t want to be a junkie. After I bark at the first nurse, they don’t give me any more pain meds.
--Middle of the night. They didn’t send me home, so in protest I climb out of bed and wander down the hall. The nurse at the station asks, “Where do you think you’re going?” “I’m walkin’ here!”
--The nurses keep coming in wanting to give me a sponge bath. They never offer me any money, so I turn them down.

Home again
--Not so bad. As long as the swelling keeps going down the knee moves and feels fine. But I can’t get it wet yet.
--Surgery’s a breeze. The hard part is showering your backside while keeping a leg stuck straight up in the air.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Life of Hardin Vol. IV, No. 22

The Better Part of Valor

Mark Twain said that the human race is a race of cowards. I feel confident that he never visited Paraguay. Had he done so he would have excluded the Paraguayan from his sentiment.

Like any human being, a Paraguayan has a number of character flaws. Lack of courage is not among them. This is historically demonstrated in the statistics from the War of the Triple Alliance (1866-1870). In this war Paraguay fought against Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay at the same time. Three-forths of all Paraguayan men died in the war because they were too courageous to stop. A monument to their courage now stands at the gateway to the capital city: a Paraguayan soldier sprawls dead at the feet of a Paraguayan woman and a Paraguayan boy with rifle in hand. The engraving declares, “We will fight on.”

We need look no further for the continuing evidence of this courage than the Paraguayan pedestrian. He takes his life in his hands every day without the slightest twinge of cowardice. When I cross the street here, I wait for the change of lights and then scamper toward the other side like a Southern squirrel. It takes a good five minutes for my heat palpitations to stop.

A Paraguayan pedestrian has no such trouble because his heart knows no fear. He strolls across the street like the Pink Panther. He does this with the light or against the light. It makes no difference to him. The metal behemoths that bear down on him might as well be a flock of butterflies. The Paraguayan is confident that the cars that hurtle toward him will either stop or simply break down before they can do him any harm. He never speeds his gate, never breaks into a desperate run for the safety of the sidewalk. In fact, he rarely looks to see if cars are coming or not, but walks headlong across a lane and thereby proves his worth. The only notice a Paraguayan can give to an oncoming car is one tiny disdainful glance over his shoulder once he is halfway across the street. Any more than this and he will be branded a coward and blackballed.

This same courage is displayed by the street corner vendors. They dance in and out of traffic with their baskets of fruit, often standing between two lanes as cars roar away from a stop light. Even as the vendors sit on the curb they display their courage by hanging their bare legs a good three feet into the nearest lane while they face the opposite direction. Cars swerve around them. And if their legs ever twitch, their vending license is revoked and they live forever in shame.

This is no false bravado that wilts in the face of real danger. I have put it to the test. When a Paraguayan crosses in front of me at his leisurely gate, I often rev my engine, blare my horn, and aim as close to him as I can to test his mettle. Never once have I been rewarded with even a surprised glance. But I am certain I have aided many a young man to prove his mettle in front of his peers.

I feel no shame in saying I do not have the courage of a Paraguayan pedestrian. No one can have that kind of valor and live long. Alas, he has no discretion, and I have it in spades. He is a glorious creature, but I will be here long after he has vanished from the earth.