February 24, 2021

(NOTE: The following is a longer version of my “Small Talk” newspaper column published in the print edition of the Johnston County Sentinel’s Feb. 25, 2021, edition. I wrote the column at home over the weekend and found I had written longer than my weekly allotted space allows, so I had to trim it down some to fit. Here is the full-length version, live and in person… or something like that.)

It happened a long, long time ago now. I usually don’t like to talk about it; as a man much wiser than I once pointed out, there is all too often a lot of pain and suffering whenever we try to dig up the past.


But apparently I no longer have a choice. The events in question seem to have become the subject of rumors and wild speculation on the part of people who were not there, and thus are not in a position to give accurate testimony. 

Besides, it was precisely because of such pain and suffering that I reached the epiphany which became the guiding force in my life.

So in spite of any reservations I may have, it falls upon me to try and set the record straight once and for all. Whether you choose to believe it is up to you, I suppose, but your failure to believe will not make it any less true.

So what really happened was this:

There was this emperor, see, and he was parading down the street buck naked. Nobody else seemed to notice… or, if they did, they were choosing for whatever reason not to say anything about it. Which struck me as incredibly odd. Not to mention incredibly silly.

So I said something about it. 

Actually I said something about it more than once. Too many times, perhaps, and perhaps a wee bit too aggressively. I made no apologies for it then and I make no apologies for it now; it needed to be said, and since nobody else was apparently willing to do so I took on the mantle of responsibility for myself. 

Almost immediately, however, I found myself questioning the wisdom of that decision. 

Any hope I might have had that society would choose to reward me for speaking the truth was quickly dashed. The people did not wish to know the truth; they were far happier maintaining their careful constructed prejudices and long-held preconceived notions. 

And so I was cast out. Declared a pariah by a community that valued the illusion of comfort and security more than they did the peace of mind that comes with reality. 

This saddened me for, oh, all of about five minutes… just long enough for a Messenger to come down from On High and tap me on the shoulder. 

“Let not one wrinkle of apprehension furrow thy noble brow,” she said. “Sometimes the simplest way to show the world it’s wrong is to let it have its way.”

It was difficult to argue with that kind of logic. (Actually I’m sure I probably could have had I wanted to; but that would have been defeating the purpose, wouldn’t it?) 

So I willingly took my leave, tossing a swag bag in the back seat of my Volkswagen 411 hatchback and humming John Williams’ main theme from Star Wars to myself as I pulled onto Interstate 57 and made my way toward the distant horizon…

Three days later I found myself in the middle of the desert and nearly out of gas, money and any sense of belief that I knew just where I was going and why. So I turned off the car engine and walked away, my path lighted only by the moon and stars hanging there in the night sky. The air was crisp and cold, and in my solitude it seemed as if I could almost taste the universe. 

It reminded me of a corn dog from the state fair. I don’t know why…

I had walked perhaps a mile or two when, for reasons I can’t explain and probably would not matter even if I could, I was reminded of an old story from the 19th century that my father had told to me when I was but a wee nipper sitting on his lap, watching an old rerun of Route 66.

The story went something like this: The Truth and the Lie meet one morning in the center of town. They nod at one another on greeting, and then the Lie says to the Truth, “Isn’t it a marvelous day today?”

The Truth sighs, suspicious as always of the Lie because… well, because he was the Lie. But after a moment the Truth gives in and cautiously glances up at the sky - and sees that, yes, the morning truly is beautiful. 

So the Truth smiles and shakes his head in agreement, and the two of them begin walking along the street and commenting now and then about just how lovely the day is. Eventually they make their way to the outskirts of town, where they happen to come across the local swimming hole. 

The Lie looks out across the water and comments to the Truth, “Gee, the water sure looks nice today. What do you say we go for a swim?” 

The Truth, once again suspicious of the Lie, slips off one shoe and dips her toe in to test the water… and discovers that, yes, it indeed is very nice. So the two of them slip out of their clothes and jump into the water for a quick skinny dip, swimming and splashing and generally having themselves a pretty good old time.

But suddenly, as the Truth ducks under the surface of the water for a quick swim, the Lie rushes out onto the shore. Once there he grabs the clothes of the Truth, quickly puts them on instead of his own and runs away, laughing hysterically at the Truth for not being more vigilant against the Lie’s deceit and trickery. 

Furious, the Truth makes her way out of the swimming hole and runs everywhere in an effort to find the Lie and to get her clothes back. And the World, seeing the Truth naked, turns its gaze away and reacts with contempt and rage. At which point the poor Truth returns to the water to hide its shame. 

“And ever since that day,” my father had concluded all those years ago, “the Lie travels around the world, dressed as the Truth, satisfying the needs of society because the World seems to harbor no wish at all to meet the naked Truth.” And as I continued walking, I suddenly realized that I had spent most of my life on a seemingly futile quest to help the Truth get her clothes back…

After a while I stopped and looked up into the night sky, telling those stars what I believed and what I hoped for in life. I ruminated on the way I thought the universe ought to be, listing those things I felt were good and proper and expounding on the things that could be made better if only the rest of the world saw things the way that I did.

But the stars showed no concern for such things. They just hung there in place, fiery balls of hydrogen looking down and silently reminding me that I was nothing more than an animated valise of water riding on an infinitesimal speck of cosmic dirt spinning through an incomprehensibly vast expanse of nothingness. 

I half-expected Carl Sagan - or perhaps more appropriately, Rod Serling - to step out of the shadows and launch into a monologue about how everything I believed, wanted, dreamed of and hoped for was ultimately irrelevant to the universe-at-large. And how my expectations to the contrary were in some form or fashion the ultimately act of delusional arrogance and narcissism.

And yet, in spite of this evidence laid out before me, I continued to believe otherwise. I refused to be ground beneath the heel of an unfeeling, uncaring Universe. I raised my fist and shook it before those fiery balls of hydrogen and cried out: “Blast you, sir, I exist! I matter!”

And the Universe responded, “Aye, an’ so you say, laddie-buck. But your sayin’ so sure doesn’t instill within me any sense of obligation for your well-bein’, now does it?”

And it was in that moment that I at last understood and learned to appreciate just how important this God-given gift of free will can be, if utilized properly and to the utmost of our abilities. Of the importance - to use the parlance of the science fiction and comic book geeks - of using our powers for good, and not evil. Of our partnership in the Human Adventure, working together to improve the world for the betterment of all by ending hunger and pollution, fighting disease and poverty,  and making a positive difference in the lives of our fellow man.

Don Quixote called it “the impossible dream.” 

But what is a dream, if not a blueprint for action?

The rest, as they say, is left as an exercise for the reader…



January 28, 2021

To be honest, I still haven’t quite decided how I feel about the whole thing.

This proposed “Bigfoot Hunting Season” legislation that’s been filed at the state capitol, I mean. 

For those of you who may have actually missed the news (it seems unlikely, I know; but you’d be surprised, there’s always one or two): Oklahoma House Bill 1648 - filed last week by State Rep. Justin Humphrey (R-Lane) - seeks to establish a Bigfoot hunting season. The bill would direct the Oklahoma Wildlife C...

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A belated - but heartfelt - tribute to a dear friend...

January 14, 2021

Jim Graves holding a copy of his 2016 country music CD Corpus Christi, featuring cover art by my son Joshua - one of his first professional gigs as a photographer. (Photo by John A. Small)

It was late 2012 - I can’t remember now the exact date, only that it was a Thursday and I was alone at the old Johnston County Capital-Democrat - the newspaper in Tishomingo, Oklahoma, where I was working at the time - sitting at my desk and trying to dream up an idea for my column for the next week’s is...

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December 23, 2020

[NOTE: This is a new version of a traditional folk song collected from singers in Ireland, Australia, England, Canada and the United States and recorded many times over the years, perhaps most famously in the 1960s by the Irish Rovers as the B-side of their hit single “The Unicorn.” The original version described how a young man was tricked into committing a crime then sentenced for transportation to Australia, a common punishment in the British Empire during the 19th century; this new ve...

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December 9, 2020

It was the Friday that Leslie James, the manager of the Majestic Theatre in Eureka Creek, had been waiting for all summer: opening day for the Harry Potter And Percy Jackson Meet The Hobbits Of Alderaan, and if the size of the crowd that had turned out for the first showing was any indication of the turnout still to come it looked as if the movie would have little trouble making good on its promise of being the biggest blockbuster of the year.

Leslie was standing there in the lobby, smiling at...

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November 24, 2020

(Note: The following was published as Mr. Small's weekly newspaper column in the Nov. 26, 2020, edition of the Johnston County Sentinel in Tishomingo, Oklahoma.)

It occurred to me just now, as I sat down at my computer keyboard and began facing the task of writing a holiday-themed column for our Thanksgiving issue, that if there had ever been a year where I felt less like giving thanks it would have to be this year.

And yet, no sooner had that thought crossed my mind when I heard the voice of m...

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"All animals are equal, but Trumps are more equal than others"

November 12, 2020
Ran across a post a little while ago in which a friend’s observation that “the ‘radical left’ just wants everyone to have food, shelter, healthcare, education and a living wage” was met with a stern rebuke by an obvious Trump supporter who states that such ideals are “the same ideals that Vladimir Lenin used and ended up killing 60 million. Same views as the Nazis.”
(An aside: This right-wing tendency to lump Nazism and Communism together always makes me chuckle; the fact is t...

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Captain Church and the Case of the Counterfeit Coins

October 23, 2020

(Being an exercise in storytelling, inspired by the memory of a comic book story I read a long LONG time ago - with a tip of the fedora, by the way, to Atom Mudman Bezecny for providing me with the name of my protagonist.)

...Mrs. de Coverlet was pacing about her late husband’s study, trying - without much success - to collect her thoughts, when the butler walked into the room. “Madam, the police detective you sent for has finally arrived,” he announced.

In response, Mrs. de Coverlet look...

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October 19, 2020

It's weird sometimes how the human brain works... 

Some memories seem to forever reside right there on the forefront of your neural circuits, always ready to jump into the spotlight no matter how hard you might try to keep them securely under wraps. Others burrow themselves deep into the rabbit hole of your subconscious and remain hidden for years, patiently biding their time until something suddenly makes them decide to jump out and say, "Hi! Remember me?"

Case in point:

Over the weekend ...

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September 4, 2020

(The following review is based on an advanced readers' copy.)

Now THIS is Tarzan!

A few years back, in a review of one entry in the recent spate of new novels featuring the famed jungle hero that have been authorized by Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. over the past decade or so, I made the following observation: "As a life-long fan, I have long been of the opinion that even lackluster Tarzan tales are ultimately better than no new Tarzan tales at all. (I’ll be the first one to admit that some stori...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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