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Character Interview – Ross Stevenson

from Smoke & Secrets

Ross kindly consented to answering questions and telling us a little bit about himself.

Q: What is your name and where are you from?

A: My name is Ross Stevenson, and I was born and raised in Sharpsville, Kentucky.


Q: Sounds like a small town.

A: About forty thousand people. Everyone helps everyone else, and this way of life seems to be dying. And it’s a shame. People are more real when they have to live close together.


Q: What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they've known you for a while?

A: I’ve pissed off more than one person in my life by not pulling any punches and not tolerating BS. People tell me I should smile more. And not cross my arms in front of my chest as much. As for people who’ve known me awhile, I hope they think I’m dependable and trustworthy, and I can be counted on when the sh— um, you-know-what hits the fan. And I can crack a joke. One joke per day, they tell me. Somebody evidently kept count. Probably Leo.


Q: Who’s Leo?

A: My best friend.


Q: We’ll get to him in a minute. But first, if you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do?

A: Get up early, go for a run with Burley, my dog, head to Lester’s for his gut buster breakfasts and diner coffee. Then I’d come home, either watch the game on TV—


Q: Big screen?

A: There’s another kind?


Q: Is that your joke for the day?

A: No. Seriously, is there a kind besides a big screen?


Q: What kind of game?

A: Kentucky basketball. There is no other game. And since my little brother is on the team, I never miss one. Anyway, either I watch a game or ride my bike on the back country roads, take a look at our crops, stop off for some pecans or whatever’s in season at the roadside stand on Highway 36.


Q: What kind of bike?

A: Triumph, 2009 Café Racer.


Q: Badass.

A: I’ve heard that.


Q: Then what?

A: Maybe visit an old friend, give his daughter a ride.


Q: On what?

A: The bike. She’s nine.


Q: Then?

A: Dinner with an old friend, probably a steak on the grill. A glass of wine or a beer and watch the sun go down over the stream in my back yard. A little more reading, then bed.


Q: Alone?

A: It’s not the worst thing in the world. My lifestyle requires me to get up early. But if I find myself with a beautiful woman at bedtime, that’s perfectly okay.


Q: Is that your one joke today?

A: Probably, and lame at that. The world will end if I crack another. Don’t tell Leo about this. He’ll give me sh—grief about it.


Q: Do you cuss?

A: Oh yes. Frequently. Just not in front of people I don’t know well.


Q: Because?

A: I was raised that way. Gentlemen didn’t cuss. Not where most people could hear them. My mother washed my mouth out with soap. Frequently.


Q: What do you read?

A: History, civil war and WWII, Grisham, Pat Conroy, Stephen King, Annie Proulx, Faulkner, Michener when I can get through it. I can’t always.


Q: What's your idea of a good marriage?

A: Affection, mutual respect, concern for the other person, intelligent conversation, love. If and when the right woman comes along, I will be willing to do anything to make her happy, even if she fights me on it. And lots and lots of really good, sweaty sex. I would worship a woman’s body as much as I would appreciate her mind.


Q: That’s aggressive for a man who considers himself a gentleman.

A: The two are not mutually exclusive. When I am interested in a woman, I let her know. As I said, no BS.


Q: How do you do that?

A: Strategically.


Q: Do you think you will find someone to marry?

A: I really don’t think so.


Q: Why not?

A: My lifestyle is hard on relationships. I won’t put a woman through what it takes to be with me.


Q: But you just said you let a woman know when you are interested.

A: Just because you ride the rollercoaster doesn’t mean you want to stay on it forever.


Q: What are you most proud of about your life?

A: Becoming my own man, regardless of what my father wanted me to do or what he thought. It’s a platitude but it’s not as easy as it sounds.


Q: What are you most ashamed of in your life?

A: I’m not going to answer that.


Q: You sure?

A: Yes. If I’m ashamed of it, it goes without saying that I’m not going to spill.


Q: If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick?

A: FDR or Winston Churchill, it’s a toss-up. When the world really needed true, gutsy leaders, they delivered. Adolph Rupp, the first great basketball coach at the University of Kentucky.


Q: Anybody else?

A: My brothers. I don’t see them nearly enough.


Q: What is the best classic film?

A: Force Ten from Navarrone.


A: Classic car?

A: 1970 Chevelle SS. Awesome engine.


Q: Do you think you've turned out the way your parents expected?

A: No. Maybe my mom, but certainly not what my dad had hoped.


Q: What do you believe about God?

A: He values mercy and doing the right thing.


Q: What do you suppose God thinks of you?

A: I hope God thinks that I do what I can to help people, that I’m dependable, that I do what I think is right regardless of the consequences.


Q: Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't done?

A: Ride my bike on the highway known as Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina. Three hundred and eighteen curves in eleven miles. That would be a challenge. And amazing.


Q: What would happen if you did it?

A: And didn’t get my butt killed? I’d buy everyone in the bar at the end of it a beer. And then ride it again.


Q: What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it?

A: When my mother died. I was fourteen, my brothers even younger. Dad became bitter and withdrawn, and he never really came out of that. I had to become a parent to my brothers for awhile. I resented him for that. What did I learn? Life isn’t fair. You deal.


Q: Tell me about your best friend.

A: Leo? Leo Diamond. Half Baptist preacher’s son, half Jewish mother’s boy. As sarcastic and jaded as they come. He wants you to believe that he believes in nothing and that nothing is sacred. Not true. Not even close. And a better friend you’ll never find. Just don’t tell him I said that. He’ll crow about it for weeks.


Q: How did you meet?

A: First grade. He put dish soap in the drinking fountain and blamed me. I punched him. We both got sent to the principal’s office. Mrs. Dunn was big on “talking things out.” We sat there for half an hour not saying anything. Finally we discovered we both liked Transformers and mayonnaise sandwiches, and that was it. He’s been my best friend ever since.


Q: Who spoke first in the principal’s office?

A: Leo did, of course. He never is at a loss for words.


Q: What do you like about him? What does he like about you?

A: He’s the cynic where I’m a bit more optimistic. But he still lightens me up. He’ll tell you the apocalypse is coming and crack you up while he’s doing it. He always has my back, as I have his. What does he like about me? I’m steady and honorable. And I make him look funny because I’m the straight man. And I think he thinks I’m too uptight and don’t cut loose enough. He thinks I need to get laid more.


Q: Do you?

A: This is one of those “have you stopped beating your wife” questions, isn’t it?


Q: What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone?

A: Put a truckload of manure in a guy’s Porsche convertible. Leo helped.


Q: Why did you do it?

A: He tried to cheat my dad in a business deal. He was a real tool anyway. Never did get the smell out of his car. He had to trade it for a Honda Civic.


Q: What would you like it to say on your tombstone?

A: Loved by some, respected by all.


Q: Describe your ideal mate.

A: Sweet, warm, intelligent, always sees the humor in things, caring, must love children and must love dogs. Hopefully loves basketball, but not necessary. Pretty would be great. Curvy. A lot of women are too skinny.


Q: What are you most afraid of?

A: An illness or an accident making me unable to make a difference and becoming a burden to those I love.


Q: What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?

A: My family, those I love. I value honesty above all.


Q: What do you like best about yourself? Least?

A: My perseverance and my feet. They’re too big.


Q: Another joke!

A: No, my feet really are too big for the rest of me.


Q: You know what they say about men with big feet?

A: We’re not even going there.


Q: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

A: I’m very frustrated. I want to get rid of the business I inherited, but the process is slow and complicated, and many people depend on me for their livelihoods, so I owe them something. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. It’s not a good place to be.


Q: What’s the most scandalous thing you own?

A: A pipe.


Q: What kind?

A: Next question.


Q: Are you lying to yourself about something? What is it?

A: That I don’t care if I ever find a mate.


Q: What did you have for breakfast?

A: When I’m in Kentucky I have country ham with red-eye gravy, eggs, grits and homemade biscuits.


Q: Sounds coronary-worthy.

A: Oh, it is. That’s the beauty.

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