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Unprompted: Roscoe and the Deplorables 

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Roscoe didn’t like to argue, he preferred to fight.

Roscoe often said that anything worth arguing about was worth “fittin’” about. “Fittin’?” Yep. That’s how Roscoe pronounced “fighting.” For Roscoe the past tense of fight was fit. It’s possible that Roscoe and his brother Sherman were totally illiterate, but they didn’t need to read and write — they were great Sheetrock hangers.

For a few years I was with them, hanging 4-by-12-foot pieces of wallboard to make a living. Later I learned to finish the drywall, but the Roscoe years of hanging the stuff were my most memorable.

Roscoe came from a remote area of West Virginia, an obscure holler near Logan. The first day his brother Sherman came to work with him he commented that Huntington was the biggest city he’d ever seen. Sherman decided that there was a big wide wonderful world out there and he vowed not to return to Logan. He found a cheap apartment in Huntington and became a city boy.

We went to work early each day, even when the temperature was below freezing. Lifting Sheetrock in that kind of weather was brutal, but it didn’t seem to bother Roscoe and Sherman. They were accustomed to pain. We’d break for lunch, sit around on the floor of the house we were working in, eat our bologna sandwiches and drink Mountain Dew. If encouraged, Roscoe would talk.

He would tell stories of the fights he’d seen and participated in. Sometimes we sat for up to two hours, eating bologna sandwiches and listening to Roscoe’s tales. He never told the same one twice — there were just too many fights to talk about. I found it difficult to understand that on Saturday night Roscoe and others like him would go out drinking knowing that they would end up in a fight before the night was over. It was just what they did. A Saturday night without a fight would be wasted. While normal people might take in a movie or ball game, Roscoe would fight.

Roscoe was actually a mild-mannered fellow, not loud or bellicose, not inclined to exaggerate. I knew that from the details of his stories. But he was strong as an ox, and though his face bore the scars of what he did Saturday nights, apparently he walked away from his fights having punished anyone foolish enough to mess with him.

So why do I think of this now? For me, it’s a reminder that no matter what our station in life there’s a subculture out there that doesn’t see things as you and I do. Its members may strike us as deplorable, but is that fair? They live among themselves and make decisions based on nothing more than they know. Some of them grow up drinking moonshine and fighting.

At Christmastime Roscoe would bring me a quart of his best stuff. I thanked him warmly but never drank it. I’d lost a good friend to bad moonshine and that memory was all I needed to know the stuff could be dangerous.

We learned recently about millions of people who were described as deplorables. That word is redlined on my computer screen because there’s no such word. But it’s a nonword worth thinking about. Everybody knows deplorables. They live on the fringes of where you and I live. They don’t discuss international politics because they don’t care about or understand it. Their answers are simple: If people fool with you, kick their ass. It’s a mindset, a culture that’s far removed from understanding intricate concepts but one that is more widespread than we might think.

There are millions of hardworking, God-fearing deplorables among us, and this year, like none in recent memory, they are speaking out. They are blasting their message across the country that they are not deplorable — you are.

Truth is, all of us are deplorable to somebody. As one who was foolish enough to hang out on television for several years I learned that while some people liked me, others found me absolutely deplorable. I’m not sure who was right, but … it’s just not worth fittin’ about. S

Gene Cox is an author and inventor who recently retired from a 35-year career as a television anchor in Richmond. Connect with him at letters@styleweekly.com, or on Twitter at genecoxrva.

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