Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood hungry for fatback and good ideas

Tie Rod and Slemp live so far back in the hills that the Episcopalians handle snakes. They were recently embarrassed by the revelation that the snakes being handled in mountain churches were so ill-fed and weak that they could hardly bite.

It is one thing for our political leaders to tolerate hungry humans, but not feeding your rattler or your copperhead enough mice to be able to obey God and bite somebody of insufficient faith is an outrage.

Tie Rod and Slemp's people will have to get by with $36 a month less food stamps, which translates into beans without fatback on the last 10 days of the month. Tie Rod calls them legumes. Mountain people who used to eat Hamburger Helper now will have to rely on Helper Helper. If a man had a hunk of bologna in coal country, he would have to climb a tree to eat it.

But all that is coming to an end because of SOAR — the jobs summit Gov. Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers are holding next month.

Almost any problem in the mountains can be solved by some catchy initials, like D.A.R.E and UNITE, which got us off pills and onto meth and heroin. Slemp says that the upcoming SOAR conference will consist of a bunch of people without a single idea what to do to provide jobs getting together to share those ideas.

Tie Rod always wanted to be somebody, but now he knows he should have been more specific. Being specific, he reckons, will be the post-coal job problem for SOAR, a gathering of the people who caused the problem and who are now assembling cliches about working together, and vision, but who may end up teaching miners how to rent a U-Haul and find the Powder River Basin.

The conference steering committee was designed, as all things are in Eastern Kentucky, to eliminate anybody suspected of being a liberal or who thinks that shaping our Appalachian region might just as well involve leaving its shape the way it was for 10 million years before TNT.

Tie Rod will sign up and present his grand scheme, which is for us to use our skill in raising fighting chickens staked to barrels to raise vultures instead. There is a shortage of vultures in Mumbai, India, where they are valuable to eat the bodies of dead Parsees, who are not buried, but exposed on an iron grating on what is called a Tower of Silence. The problem is that dead bodies in India contain so many antibiotics that the dead are killing the vultures, and that is not the way it is supposed to be.

Tie Rod says that Eastern Kentucky has a lot of experience with vultures, but mainly corporate ones. He will believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.

Slemp thinks our future lies in the tattoo industry, but only ones with pictures that don't require us to spell words, or maybe for those who like stray apostrophes. There are only about two dozen people east of Winchester left without tattoos, but a great many of them lack a neck tattoo, getting one of which is a surefire way to never have to work again.

Slemp believes in reincarnation and wants to come back as Dolly Partin's guitar. He thinks that if we can find a large breasted genius, name her Molly Martin and start us a park for people who want to see highwalls, orange water and Mars-like deserts, we can turn Eastern Kentucky into Gatlinburg Lite.

The native music of East Kentucky could be featured and that would surprise KET. Of course, we would have to call the new park Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, after the guy who took Daniel Boone's place on the highway signs.

It could be that the only concrete idea SOAR will have for the economy of Eastern Kentucky will be to pardon disability attorney Eric Conn.

Reach Larry Webster, a Pikeville lawyer, at websterlawrencer@bellsouth.net.