Monday, April 9, 2007

Rod has a blog!

It’s April… after Easter. We’re now well into spring, and it’s time to stop and reflect on the year so far.

I think my 2007 New Year’s Resolutions are going rather well so far, don’t you? (I mean, except for the one about losing weight.)

I’m talking specifically about my resolution to write a column for the newspaper each week. Here it is nearly a month past the vernal equinox, and I haven’t missed a week yet! By my count, this is my 12th installment.

Admittedly, they haven’t all been literary masterpieces: I’m not waiting for my mail each day to see if the Pulitzer folks need my full biographical information.

Nope, mostly just random ideas that pop into my noggin during the week, and I jot them down on a scrap of paper while I’m driving or a napkin at the Lizard’s Thicket, and which-ever napkin or scrap I find on Monday morning, that’s what I write about that particular week.

Still, I’ve been encouraged by the response. (Please keep that card or letter coming in!)

I put my email address in this column a couple weeks ago, to give readers the chance to offer feedback, and, since that time, I’ve been overwhelmed by the number of emails I have received from mortgage lenders, colleges offering online degrees, Nigerian princes who need someone to accept a money order for them, Dish TV, and a variety of sources for an unnamed prescription drug to remedy a certain dysfunction that I do not need…. yet!

I also occasionally get calls or comments in person about a recent topic, and sometimes, readers say my writing made them giggle. This brightens my day.

Last week I had two such calls. One told me that she laughed so hard that she had to take a break from work. (And that was just from looking at my picture.)

The second said I should collect all of these columns and put them into a book. She suggested that my writing was worthy of being published in an anthology if I added just a little to the existing columns.

It was very flattering. Still, I had to demur. I said, “Mom, I just don’t have time to write a book.”

But it set me to thinking: Maybe I should collect these little gems of wit, wisdom, and wise-crackery into a single place. And one word kept going through my mind…


A year ago, I didn’t even know what a “blog” was. I had heard the term for months, but I frankly didn’t know what it meant. I asked people my age, and they mostly didn’t know what it meant, either. So I asked a lot of younger people, and while they seemed to know what it meant, they couldn’t put it into words that I could understand.

“Dude, ya’know like, online, and surfing the web, and e-commerce/digital revolution/ myspace/ facebook/mega-ram/ kalamazoo/ yabba dabba doo, and ya’ know, like, ya gotta be down wid my homeboys in the crib…. Whatever!”

So I was clueless... until BOTH of my sons started writing Blogs of their own, and I started reading them, and gradually I figured out sort of what it was all about…. enough to know that these weekly columns could easily become MY blog.

Last weekend, I called RJ (Rod, Jr.), and told him what I was thinking, and asked how involved would it be to put my columns into a blog online. He said he would think about it.

Fifteen minutes later, I called to ask another question about it, and he said, “Too late, it’s already done.” And he emailed me this website:

Just like that! I have my very own blog.

Still, I don’t actually know how to do anything with it except read it. I’ll have to figure out the rest.

All of which set me to thinking… Are there others who don’t know what a “blog” is? Are there readers who are mystified by the whole internet/email thing, just as I once was? (and occasionally still am!)

So, just to be helpful, I’ve decided I’m going to write a user’s guide to the internet and technology.

If you’re internet-savvy, I hope you will check out my blog, or maybe send me an email about whatever’s on your mind:

And if you’re NOT internet/email/technology savvy, stay tuned to this column next week, when I will bring you up to speed with my own version of a user’s guide to the internet...

If I can find that scrap of paper next Monday!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Of the “Big Three” mythical childhood visitors – Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy – I’m not sure I ever really bought into the rabbit.

Even at the tender age of five or six, I think I recognized the contradiction of a bunny somehow magically laying colored eggs in a basket.

At my house – inasmuch as I was raised during the Leave-It-To-Beaver 1950’s with the rest of the Baby Boomers – the Easter Bunny actually went beyond the colored eggs to include a variety of candy products which would be readily available at the local A&P… but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure how a rabbit would get his paws on it.

Occasionally, the basket would also have other items: Play-dough, Slinky, Mr. Potato Head… once even a box full of Tinker Toys.

I was delighted with the haul of toys and candy-goodies: It was like Christmas and Halloween rolled into one. But, The Cottontail still didn’t add up in my five year old noggin. I don’t think I bought it for a moment.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “How about St. Nick and the Tooth Twink? Did they make any more sense?”Actually, they worked fine for me.

Santa? Well, it’s Christmas, and the whole world is abuzz for a couple of weeks with the Spirit of the Season. With that kind of build-up, anything’s possible. Plus, I actually sat on his lap a time or two, and saw him in parades. He was real, and I had seen him.

As far as the parts about sliding up a chimney, flying reindeer, and visiting a billion homes in a few hours, I just never thought about it. As a part of that Baby Boomer generation that would later invent the Sixties, I was already so self-absorbed that all I really cared about was, “I got mine, and I’m not really going to think about how the rest get theirs.” The tooth fairy, on the other hand, was never seen. But like clockwork, it slipped into my room, exchanged a bicuspid for a quarter (or a nickel if I happened to lose my tooth near the end of the month), and vanished unseen. Not a big deal. Whatever it looked like, I’m sure it had pockets full of change. Nothing remarkable about that!

The fact that I never actually SAW the tooth fairy was also meaningless. At the age of five, there were LOTS of creatures which I believed lurked about, waiting to slip into my room: monsters, boogeymans, goblins… and the tooth fairy. Made perfect sense to me.

But not the bunny. Never bought it, not even for a minute. It was Mom and Dad, pulling a fast one, just so they could slip me a basketful of goodies. I was onto them.

And, before I left for college, I told them so! I hope you have a Hippity-Hop-Hop-Happy Easter!

Shealy Makes “Best Dressed” List

I love a good April Fools gag.

Like the headline to this column. That’s a real knee-slapper.

If there’s one thing the news media has perfected, it’s pulling a fast one on the public for April Fools Day. Presumably, this is because they get a lot of practice the other 364 days of the year!

A small weekly newspaper can manufacture a hoax right along side the big boys. A good “gotcha” headline is a swell way to play a little practical joke on an entire town.

Over the years, we’ve published a few bogus headlines of our own. (Unfortunately, they usually have nothing to do with April Fools!)Some of these gags by the news media have become legends:In the May, 1990 issue of Golf Magazine, an article was published announcing that Augusta National had become a public course.

In 1998, Burger King published a full page ad in USA Today announcing the introduction of the “Left Handed Whopper”, to better serve the 32 million southpaws in America.

The April, 1998, issue of the New Mexicans for Science and Reason newsletter reported that the Alabama state legislature had voted to change the value of the mathematical constant pi from 3.14159 to the 'Biblical value' of 3.0.

In 1984, the Eldorado, Illinois, Daily Journal, announced a contest to see who could save the most daylight for daylight savings time.

I frankly always thought the best April Fools joke of all was the annual gag by the Charleston Post and Courier telling about that city’s upcoming cultural and arts festival called “Spoleto”… until, of course, I realized they were serious!That’s why April Fools Day isn’t really catching on with the new generation: It’s becoming increasing difficult to tell the difference.

Once upon a time, I could have gotten a giggle with “Hey, your shoe’s untied. Hey, your fly’s open.” But you say that to a high school kid these days, and they say, “Dude! What’s your point? Stop hassling me!” Or try the old standard of super-gluing a quarter to the floor. Like any teenager in the world is going to take the trouble to bend over for a quarter! “Hey!!! There’s a bug in your cereal?” Won’t work. They don’t eat breakfast anymore.

As a matter of fact, nothing you say is going to work, cause they all have those Music Players plugged into there ears all the time.

But, the fact is, I’m still a big fan of April Fools Day. I like a good guffaw. I enjoy a chortle, I relish a chuckle, and I appreciate a hoo-haw!!! (I, for one, believe a clever hoax is a thing of beauty, like a work of art, or a fine wine. Of course, I am in politics.)

Bottom line here: I like April Fools Day.

I’m happy Congress made it an official holiday, and directed all banks, post offices, government offices to be closed.

Enjoy your day off.

Isolated Thoughts...

1. Spring has sprung!!! Daylight Savings Time started last week, and Spring officially started this week. And my columns are going to be shorter, starting now.

You would think that with that extra hour and all, that I’d have more time to write these little gems of wit each week. Not so!The sun is shining, it’s getting warm outside, and there are LOTS of things to do which are more fun than sitting in front of this laptop.

2. I’m down a few pounds. Eighteen, to be exact, during an eight-week, eight-person competition which ended last week. Unfortunately, my business partner, Kirk Luther, was down 24 pounds, making him the winner of the contest. Tied for third place were Norman Agnew, Rod Shealy Jr., Mike Andrews, Bo McDonald, Terry Campbell and Rob Schoolmeester, each of whom lost… well, I can’t really say how many pounds they lost, but I can report that they lost “their dignity”!!!!

3. I didn’t win the lottery again this week. One reason I didn’t win is, of course, because I didn’t play… but that’s only a small contributing factor.

I was, however, a big lottery LOSER this week. That’s because I tried to buy a soft drink at a convenience store. It took about five minutes, because I was in line behind two people who were playing the lottery.

Am I the only person who finds it very annoying to wait in line behind lottery players who always seem to carefully pick their numbers, check their card, buy another ticket, and recite the Greek alphabet backwards WHILE I’m waiting to pay for a Dr. Pepper?

4. You may not know this, but I am the inventor of two words in the English language. The words are “ar” and “teafill”.

“Ar” means the same as “and/or”. You see that phrase a lot, so I thought there ought to be a word which means “and/or”. I chose the word “ar”. It has not yet been included in Webster’s Dictionary, but I’m holding out hope.

“Teafill” is my word which means “tea refill”, a phrase that I seem to use a lot. It’s a good word. Webster’s should definitely pick up on this one.

If I had to choose one of my words to be included in Webster’s, I’d pick “ar”, because it would be a very helpful word when playing Scrabble.

5. This week, I’ve decided to include my personal email address in the column: I’m pretty sure that somebody out there would like to offer an opinion about one of the columns I’ve been writing: agree, disagree, tell me I’m stupid, tell me I’m a bad driver, tell me to change my picture… anything at all.

I can handle pretty much anything, because I have a thick skin.

Although not quite as thick as it was eight weeks ago.

Global Warming

Since every other news medium in the world seems to be talking about “global warming” these days, I thought I would offer my two-cents worth, too.

Here’s my take on global warming:I believe in it.

Of course, I also believe in just about everything else, including extra-terrestrial life, ESP, mind-over-matter, ghosts, various JFK assassination-conspiracy theories, time travel, alien abductions, the Atkins Diet, multi-level marketing, chain letters, the spirit of Christmas, the planet Pluto, the forgiveness of sins, the possibility that Elvis may still be alive, and a national championship for Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks during this decade. That’s just about everything you can believe in… except Feng Shui. (I don’t believe in Feng Shui. You gotta draw the line somewhere.)

Anyway, I started believing in global warming a while back when I heard former VP Al Gore talking about it. He made me see the light.

I decided a long time ago that whenever Gore talks, I’d better listen. After all, his invention, the Internet, turned out to be a pretty good thing… seems to be catching on! And, it was his wife, Tipper, that first alerted me that rock music had gone downhill. I turned on the radio a while back, and boy, she was right! The rock music was awful: mostly guys talking real fast… so fast that you can’t understand them… and they seem to have left the music out of the music. Tipper was right! It’s awful.

So naturally, when Al started warning us about global warming, I started thinking about it seriously for the first time. And, lucky thing I did, because I think I’ve come up with the solution. Now, try to follow my logic…

Everyone suddenly agrees that global warming is an actual for-real phenomenon, probably because they’ve read or seen it in the news enough times to be brainwashed. That’s a big breakthrough. (A decade ago, most people didn’t believe it, because the liberal wacko tree-hugging environmentalists DID believe it, so it couldn’t possibly be true. But now that Al Gore believes it, everyone else does, too.)

However, there appears to be two distinct schools of thought on what’s causing the global warming: man versus nature.

One group believes the human race has caused it by our aerosol cans and exhaust emissions.
The other group asks “how arrogant can we be” to believe that we have enough clout to even make a tiny dent in the natural order of things. They remind us of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, and say it’s simply the natural order of things.

For argument's sake, I’m going with the first group, because if the second group is right, why bother? (Also because Al Gore is with the first group.) The scientists say that the fluorocarbons contained in aerosol cans and freon and other refrigerants were a major cause of ozone layer depletion, which was a major factor until recently. But, the scientists say, the government fixed that problem. By raising taxes on the bad stuff. Probably when Al Gore was in office.

So now the remaining problem seems to be exhaust emissions. Humans – and I sometimes include myself in that group – use lots of energy, for things like manufacturing, transportation, food preparation, and watching “Deal or No Deal” on the electric television. Most of this energy comes from burning small chunks of the earth – oil, coal, etc. -- which causes exhaust, which ultimately rises into the atmosphere… and then I’m a little fuzzy on what happens…. But it’s not good, whatever it is.

So here’s my solution. What if we stop burning chunks of the earth? Wouldn’t that help? (Especially those chunks we buy at exorbitant prices from people in certain Middle Eastern nations who then use those profits to finance Holy War on America!!!)Here’s the good news: It’s possible. It can be done… without causing ANY disruption in our economy or our lifestyles, without shutting down a single factory, restricting our transportation, or raising a single tax to stop consumption.

And the answer is so simple, it’s been right in front of us for decades: Quit stalling, and develop our nuclear energy sources.

Al Gore, I’m with you on stopping global warming. And I’ll be listening out for you to tell the rest of the world that nuclear energy is the way to do it!

Jerry Fowler's Next Challenge

I was in shopping in K-mart Sunday afternoon when my phone rang. (You are probably assuming I was shopping to update my wardrobe, but actually, I was simply buying paint.)

It was my close friend Jerry Fowler calling. We hadn’t talked in several weeks, but over the last few years, we’ve stayed in touch quite regularly, working together on matters of business, marketing, politics, networking… you name it.

Jerry is well-known here in the Midlands for his real estate brokerage, as well as his weekly radio talk-show. He has boundless energy, and one of the most-positive attitudes of anyone I have ever met. He’s an achiever.

Years ago, I knew his name, like many others, from his aggressive marketing. His name seemed ubiquitous. (“Ubiquitous,” incidentally, is our Big Word of the Week.) My first personal contact, although indirect, came in the late-1990’s when Mom and Dad had a much-too-large home on the market for the better part of a decade. Finally, after almost giving up on ever selling it, they called on Jerry Fowler, who did what no one else had been able to do: He sold their house!!!

Fast forward to 2003: I, along with others, helped talk Jerry Fowler into running for a seat on the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board. As it turned out, Jerry was a natural vote-getter, and turned out to be one of the positive forces on that board.

His campaign for school board is when I really got to know him. Since that time, we’ve worked together on a number of projects.

Turns out, we have a lot in common. He’s a successful businessman, and I’m a businessman; he usually starts working each day early in the morning, and I usually finish working early in the morning; he has lots of friends, and I have lots of relatives.

Actually, I’m constantly amazed at the sheer numbers of friends and acquaintances he knows personally. In addition to his thousands of loyal radio listeners, Jerry touches hundreds of local businesses each week through the local networking organizations he has fostered.

In short, Jerry Fowler is just a first-class, top-notch, full-of-life, super-positive person.

Which is why it stunned me to hear him tell me on the phone that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer… advanced lung cancer which appears to have spread from elsewhere.

It seemed like bad news… but Jerry didn’t sound like he was delivering bad news. Instead, he sounded full of positive energy, as usual.

“I know it’s going to be a big challenge,” he said, characteristically. “I want to face it with a positive attitude.” Then he took it a step further.
“More importantly, I want to use this opportunity to do something positive for other people,” he explained. “I want to tell my story, step-by-step, as I face these upcoming challenges, and maybe it will somehow help others overcome obstacles they face.” He asked if I would help him put it into words. I told him of course I would, because, frankly, his positive attitude is contagious. It does seem like a good idea.

So this is a beginning. Starting today, we’ll be helping Jerry tell this new chapter in his story, along with, I’m confident, many other newspapers, magazines, publishers, etc. who will join in spreading this valuable lesson: facing a challenge with a positive attitude.

And I’m certain we’ll be updating you regularly on Jerry’s progress for many, many years to come.

Status Report... Sort of!

We’ve reached the halfway point in our eight-person, eight-week Publishers Invitational Weight-Loss Contest, so I thought I’d give you a progress report.

In case you missed it, I, along with seven other locals, have each wagered One Hundred American Dollars on our ability to lose more weight during the contest period than any of the others.

Our first weigh-in -- the beginning of the contest period -- was some time around the middle of January. (It was sort of a delayed New Years Resolution thing.) The contest ends at noon on Friday, March 16th, with a final weigh-in to determine the biggest loser. Whoever has lost the most weight in eight weeks walks off with all 800 smackos… or waddles off, as the case may be. (There are, after all, some very large chassis involved here. Any two of us combined are the rough equivalent of a Volkswagen. The whole gang of eight, jumping up and down at the same time, would register a 3.2 on the Richter scale... in Burma!!!!)

There is not a scheduled mid-contest weigh-in, so there’s no way to know for sure who’s in the lead until the final day. Still, I thought I’d try to give you a little update on our weight-loss efforts thus far. So I called each participant to ask for a status report.

Since some of the other contestants – certainly not me -- try to engage in a bit a psychological warfare to demoralize the opponents and boost their own chances, I can’t count on them to give the most accurate data available. Among the eight, incidentally, are some of the Midlands’ most well-established prevaricators. Adding to the likelihood that the reported weights might be somewhat inaccurate is my personal opinion that at least two of the contestants don’t know how to read a scale -- or tell time -- having lost interest in math long before reaching double digits in elementary school.

So, for what it’s worth – you be the judge – here are their responses:

The reigning champ, Kirk Luther, Business Manager and partner at The New Irmo News and Lake Murray News, who originally weighed in at 233.4, now claims a weight of 205.7. Impressive, if it can be believed.

Mike Andrews, the Tune-Up King from Bob Andrews Motors, who tipped the scales at 272.8 to start, now claims a weight of “right around 250”, keeping him the statistical favorite to win this competition.

Norman Agnew of Agnew Lake Service fame, a two-time top-ten finisher (in an eight man contest), started the contest at 261.0, and now claims to weigh 285. How could this be? Is this the immediate impact of his recent engagement to be married? I don’t think so. More likely, this is just an example of his famous “mind games”. We’ll see.

Barely moving the scales at all at 196.0 at the original weigh-in – and the only sub-200 contestant – the gutsy contender from Carolina Wings: Rob Schoolmeester. When I asked for his current weight, he said, “Yeah, right!”

Terry Campbell, Insurance Executive Extraordinaire, initially weighed in at 239.0, and should have been able to calculate his 0% odds of winning. Learning from this mistake, he apparently has now learned not to take my phone calls at all!

Bo McDonald, local ad executive with the Mustard 'n Relish Group, entered the contest late at 209.8 (and a one-week, 2-lb handicap), now says he’s “down three”. With the handicap, that would be either down 5 pounds of up 1 pound, because we never really specified which way the handicap worked.

My second generation writer and political consultant, Rod Shealy Jr., started the contest at 222.6, which was already at least 30 or 40 pounds down from last year. He announced from the outset that he would be trying to win with a strategy of regular exercise instead of diet – a very foolish decision. Apparently, that strategy is not working out too well, because when I called and said, “This is Dad, how much do you weigh now?” he said, “Dad Who?”

Now as for me, the almost-certain eventual upset winner of the entire contest – who started off at an astonishing 243.8 – hard to believe isn’t it… I carry it so well -- I’m proud to announce that my weight after the first four week of dieting is (see page 45)

The Big Four

This week marks the final installment of everyman’s Occasions Which Best Not Be Overlooked.

It’s Valentines Day. Neglect/overlook/forget it at your own risk. (Actually, this probably would have been more helpful information if I had written it LAST week, since V. Day will probably be over by the time you are reading this.)

Valentines Day is the fourth of what I refer to of The Big Four: Christmas, Anniversary, Her Birthday, and Valentines Day. Those are the four times a year when – if you are a married male, or anything even resembling a married male – you are obliged to offer your wife/girlfriend a gift or some other carefully selected token of your affection.

Let me repeat. Obliged! It is not optional; it is mandatory. It is required by the unwritten rules of the universe that gifts shall be provided on each of these days, lest unspeakable forms of punishment rain down upon he who does not follow the rule.

After more than three decades of experience, I feel qualified to offer a few tips on the observance of Valentines Day to the less experienced. Hopefully, someone reading this will benefit from my past experiences, and perhaps, avoid the pitfalls of being a male on a day that is all about females. Here are my helpful tips about Valentines Day:

1. Do not forget Valentines Day.

2. When I say “do not forget”, I mean “do not forget to buy a gift”.

3. A card is not a gift. (In grade school, I specifically remember the whole thing being about exchanging little Valentine Cards… but somewhere along the line, that was changed by the females.)

4. Cash is not a gift. Or a check.

5. A pizza cut in the shape of a Valentine is not a gift.

6. Do not forget Valentines Day.

7. “It’s the thought that counts” does not apply to Valentine’s Day, or for that matter to any other of The Big Four. It’s actually the monetary value that counts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

8. When purchasing a gift to be engraved; a) you must order well in advance, and; b) do not accidentally engrave the wrong name.

9. Ditto tattoos.

10. A tattoo is not a gift. (If it is a sufficient gift in your world, ignore everything I’ve written so far, and keep doing it your way. You’ve got things figured out a lot better than I do.)

11. If, at the last moment, you realize that the gift is not big enough (based on monetary value), you may be able to disguise that by stopping into the local supermarket and purchasing a very large box of candy, arrangement of flowers, and huge oversized card to go along with your chintzy gift.

12. One of those cute little stuffed animals might also help if the gift was really chintzy.

13. Do not forget Valentine’s Day.

14. If you DO forget Valentine’s Day, check yourself into some sort of clinic. (It will NOT be an acceptable excuse for forgetting, but you’ll be in a clinic for awhile, and you won’t have to hear the non-stop verbal abuse you’re going to be getting for the next six weeks.)

15. Jumper cables are a gift, just not a very good one for Valentines Day.

16. Things that sparkle and shine ARE gifts, almost always. We males don’t understand WHY they are gifts, because they really serve no useful function, but for some reason, they’re gifts.

17. Valentines Day is all about the female. Remember these words forever.

18. Do not forget Valentines Day.

Again, I’m happy to have shared just a bit of my wisdom of the years with you. And maybe some young buck WILL benefit from my experiences, and avoid the pitfalls of being a male on a decidedly female day. And the world will be a happier place!

The Spirit of Competition

As I was watching the Super Bowl last Sunday – the game, the half-time show, the celebrated high-dollar ads – one thought kept running through my mind:“ Wow, I sure am hungry!”

That’s because I’m a couple of weeks into somebody’s hare-brained idea for a weight-loss contest, and I really haven’t had anything good to eat in… well, a couple of weeks.

Actually, I think it was MY hare-brained idea. For some unknown reason, I thought it would be a good way to help me keep my New Year’s Resolution to lose a few pounds. What was I thinking?

Now that I’ve come to my senses, I realize fully that a weight-loss contest was a dumb, stupid, idiotic idea. No, worse… it was an INSANE idea, obviously dreamed up under the influence of something mind-altering.

Now, however, it’s too late to do anything about it, because now I’m LOCKED into this eight week ordeal… not by a written contract, nor by a verbal agreement… not even by the meager $100 wager than I and seven others have placed into a winner-take-all pot. Now I’m locked into this dumb, stupid, idiotic, insane weight-loss contest by one of nature’s most unyielding forces: Male Macho Stubbornness!

There are eight of us, locked in a fierce battle of wile and willpower, pride and perseverance, strategy and stick-to-itiveness. Sure, there’s a short stack of $100 bills involved, but that’s hardly the point. It’s all about the pride.

So, for eight weeks, ending on Friday, March 16th, we’ll all be suffering through pizza commercials to test our will power. The biggest loser, total pounds lost, gets the loot. Winner takes all.

In case you’d like to participate vicariously in this Preakness of the Plump, here are your choices of horses:

Weighing in at 233.4, Business Manager and partner in this very newspaper, the reigning champ, but Not Necessarily Expected to Win Again: Kirk Luther.

Weighing in at 239.0, an Insurance Executive Extraordinaire who should have been able to calculate his 0% odds of winning: Terry Campbell.

Tipping the scales at 272.8, the statistical favorite for this competition, the Tune-Up King from Bob Andrews Motors: Mike Andrews.

Starting the contest at 261.0, of Agnew Lake Service fame, a two-time top-ten finisher (in an eight man contest): Norman Agnew.

Barely moving the scales at all at 196.0 – and the only sub-200 contestant – the gutsy contender from Carolina Wings: Rob Schoolmeester.

Coming in late at 209.8 (and a one-week, 2-lb handicap), local ad executive with the Mustard 'n Relish Group: Bo McDonald.

Already down a few at 222.6, and trying to win with regular exercise instead of diet – very foolish – is my second generation writer and political consultant: Rod Shealy Jr.

And, of course, the eventual winner of the whole shebang, coming from a slim, trim, well-carried – possibly even svelte – 243.8, yours truly.

I publish the other seven names here in hopes readers will offer them encouragement, especially during the dark weeks ahead when they painfully observe their own daily weigh-ins seemingly stuck in neutral while The Eventual Winner is shedding pounds like an exotic dancer. It’s sure to be discouraging for them, and in the spirit of sportsmanship, I would ask you to offer them words of hope…. just to keep it interesting.

And I’ll be sure to keep you posted on our progress.