Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Nine Years Old

As I was nostalging about “the old days” recently, I decided that nine-years-old is the absolutely most perfect age of all.

When you’re nine years old, you can already read. When you’re nine, you can ride a bike. When you’re nine, you can play ball, and be a cub scout, and even try to build a tree house.

But you’re too young to have any real responsibilities.You haven’t reached “double-digits” yet. You’re not a teen-ager… not an adolescent. When you’re nine, you’re just a kid… but you’re the oldest kid you can be. (That’s not really true. I know some people who are, like, 54-years old, and they’re still pretty much kids… but that’s another story.)

I was dusting off the cobwebs the other day, and thinking back to when I turned nine years old. The year was 1962. (If you do the math, that means I’m now 54-years old.)

There was school… but it was not complicated. I got up every morning at 7:15, ate cereal, and walked out to catch the bus. Since I was one of the last stops on the bus route, all the seats were usually taken by the time I got on… so I stood up during the 10 minute ride to Lexington Elementary School… and it never occurred to me that I should have a seat.

When I arrived at school, I found my assigned desk, put my books onto the little shelf under the seat, pulled out some paper and started drawing pictures or doodling. I pretty much kept drawing all day long, unless we were told to do something that required writing.

I listened to whatever the teacher was saying most of the day, because ADD hadn’t been invented yet.

Although I was perfectly content half-listening to the teacher and drawing or doodling all day, there were two very bright spots in the school day: lunch and recess… especially recess!!!

At lunchtime we marched in line through the sandy parking lot to the lunch room… unless it was raining, in which case we marched in line through the entire building to reach the lunchroom… including walking by the sixth, seventh, and eighth grader’s classrooms, which was both thrilling and intimidating for a third grader.

At recess, the world opened up. Hundreds of kids descended on the out-of-doors. The younger kids stayed in the area of the sand-filled bus parking lot; but the older kids went down the hill to the playground bounded by the branch. When you’re nine, you can fit well into either group… the young kids or the old kids.

The highlight of recess, nearly every day, was seeing someone walking back into school soaking wet from trying to jump across the branch. Someone always tried. After all, we were admonished daily to “stay away from the branch” by our teachers, so how could we resist.

At the end of the day, the announcement came on the school loudspeaker: “Town children are now excused!”… and I knew there were only 10 or 15 more minutes before the bus-riders would be excused, too.

After another bus ride home – sometimes seated, sometimes not – I arrived at home and my real life began.

First, I would always help myself to another bowl of cereal. (You may have noticed that the highlight of lunch in elementary school is the march to the lunchroom, not the delicacies served when you got there.)

With my cereal prepared, I would find myself a seat on the floor in front of our one-channel, black and white TV and settle in for an hour or two of slapstick comedy: The Little Rascals, The Three Stooges, and lots and lots of cartoons. When you’re nine, you really enjoy cartoons.

The one channel our TV picked up was WIS-TV in Columbia, which means I tuned in to watch Jolly Jim and Chief Silly Horse, or later, Mr. Knozit. Once, my cub scout troop even made a trip to visit the studio, and we were ON the show!!!

After the cartoons were over, I headed outside…. either to my bike, to ride the neighborhood… or else to the woods at the edge of the backyard, to continue the construction of my fort. Some days it was both….the bike ride and the fort… just because that’s where my buddies and I ended up after riding bikes aimlessly for an hour.

About dark-thirty, it was always time to come in for supper. When you’re nine, you don’t think about where the food for that supper came from, you just enjoy it. Similarly, after supper was the bath – not a shower, a bath – once again with no thought of where the water for the bath came from.

Actually, when you’re nine, you don’t really think much about where anything comes from. Or about what the future holds, beyond maybe the next day… as in, “what are the consequences if I don’t do my homework?”

When you’re nine, you mostly don’t have a worry in the world. It’s the best age to be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Just a Few More Weeks to E-Day!

As promised, I’m going to break from the non-political tradition I try to maintain in this column to write a few words about the coming presidential election.

Normally, I stay away from politics here, in order to avoid any conflicts of interest, since I am occasionally involved in ongoing state and local political campaigns. (Also, it’s boring to me. I would much rather write about weight-loss contests; or new words I’ve invented; or my plan to have football, Frisbee, “horse”, and NASCAR added as events in the Olympics to make it fair for the American team; or how, as a youngster, I learned to water-ski behind a Buick because we didn’t own a boat.)

From time to time, however, I do weigh in politically, but always try to offer a disclaimer to let readers know of any potential conflicts which might exist.

Back in January, prior to our state’s presidential primaries, I spent a couple of weeks writing only positive things about each of the Democratic and Republican candidates running. I took the position that each of the candidates had certain merits, but those merits were often overshadowed by the mainstream media’s fixation on covering the controversial, the negative, and the process itself.

I am going to take the same approach to writing about Obama and McCain: putting on my bi-partisan hat to attempt to find good, solid reasons voters might have for choosing either of these gentlemen.

This week, however, I want to spend a few paragraphs simply making sure YOU and your neighbors participate, regardless of whom you might prefer.

While interest in the 2008 election seems to be at an all-time high – fueled largely by the fact that this WILL be an historic election, with either the election of an African-American President or a female Vice-President – there will still be MILLIONS of people eligible to participate who will not vote.

The first step is making sure you are registered to vote.

In order to vote, you must be registered at least 30 days in advance. That means by Saturday, October 4th.

If you have moved recently, you should re-register at your new address. If you have moved to from one county to another, you will not be able to vote unless you have re-registered. If you have moved INSIDE the same county but not re-registered, you should be allowed to vote for president, but it will be a hassle, and you will not be allowed to vote for local offices. So… even if you have just moved a few blocks, you should play it safe and re-register. And... make sure everyone else in your household has registered.

Anyone who will be 18 years old by Nov. 4th can register NOW in order to vote in the 2008 election.

You can register to vote by visiting your county voter registration board and completing an application, or by visiting the S.C. State Election Commission website – www.scvotes.org -- and downloading the mail-in voter registration application, completing it, and mailing it to your county board of voter registration. (The registration form can also be used to update your address and make other changes to your voter registration information.) If you mail an application, your local registration board will mail you a voter registration card before Election Day.

The second step is…. actually voting!!!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to wait until Nov. 4th to cast your vote.

Under current state law, almost anyone can vote in advance by absentee ballot. You can go to your voter registration office, where you will be allowed to complete and return an application and then vote on the spot… or you can request an application by mail, and never have to leave your home.

The law allows you to vote in advance if you: 1) will be working on election day; or, 2) are over 65; or, 3) will be out of the county on election day. (NOTE: You don’t need to be out of the county ALL DAY; nor do you need to be working all day… just any part of the day.) If you will be working, and simply prefer not to leave work in order to vote, you’re eligible to vote by absentee ballot.

Here’s a little piece of trivia: Do you know who changed the law to allow all working people and senior citizens the right to vote by absentee ballot?

If you said Lt. Governor Andre Bauer, you were right! But long before he became Lt. Governor. When he was first elected to the House of Representatives in Nov., 1996, he observed people standing in line to vote, sometimes for several hours, and others who went back to work without voting because they could not afford to miss that much work. The following day, as his first legislative action – even before he was sworn in to office – he drafted the proposal that would eventually become law, and arranged to have it filed as his first piece of legislation. Since that time, the number of people voting by absentee ballot has increased in every election cycle. (BOLD DISCLAIMER: I should mention, by the way, that the Lt. Governor is one of those candidates in whose campaign I am occasionally involved… just like I was mentioning at the beginning of the column!)

Anyway, I encourage you to take advantage of your right to vote by absentee ballot so you will not end up in a long line on Election Day… unless, of course, you enjoy long lines. They do tend to remind us of Disney World, don’t they? And I always end up seeing lots of people I haven’t seen in a while!

So, in review: Step One, make sure you’re registered; and, Step Two, make sure you vote… in advance if it makes a difference.

I’ll be back soon to talk about Step Three: Making Your Choice!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Housecleaning Hodge-podge

House-Cleaning Hodge-podge

As promised last week, I will be writing about the Presidential candidates later this month… putting on my non-partisan hat, and trying to give good, solid reasons for voting for either of the two, just as I did back when there were a dozen candidates in January before the primaries.

This week, however, before I turn my attention to the weighty business of choosing the next leader of the free world, I have a little housecleaning

to attend to

to take care of

to deal with.

(I was trying to get rid of the dangling participle… but I’m giving up. You’ll have to just deal with it.)

Just a few things on my mind I want to mention…

First, I want to pause to acknowledge the anniversary we observe this week: It’s been seven years since the 9/11 attacks changed our world.

Most of us lived through that dark day by watching news reports that left deep and lasting impressions… impressions that inflamed our patriot spirit.

On that day, President Bush said, “Terrorists attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

Passage of time dampens those memories. But it’s important that we all maintain the knowledge that the battle started on that day continues, and will continue for many years to come. We cannot allow ourselves to be lulled into false complacency. America is engaged in a war we didn’t start, but must finish. And, that’s why -- in addition to honoring the heroes of 9/11 – it’s good that we observe the occasion each year and refresh our memory of that dark day.

Now on to a less weighty matter – or more, depending on your point of view…

The Weight Loss Olympics is over: We have a winner… and it is not ME.

Regular readers of this column know that 15 Fat Guys started a competition back in July – a seven week weight-loss competition. We each put $100 American dollars into a pot with the winner taking all.

And the winner was Northeast Columbia resident Don Gowrys, Store Manager of Michaels Arts and Crafts on Harbison Boulevard. Don initially weighed-in at 381.2 pounds, but lost a whopping 40 pounds in seven weeks!!! He says he did it with a simple balanced diet and exercise… but I’m suspicious. (Incidentally, he beat Yours Truly by 29 pounds!)

Honorable mention in the weight loss extravaganza went to Robert Wessinger and Rod Lorick, each of whom lost 25 pounds during the 49 day contest period.

The rest of us were mostly in the teens. We didn’t set any records, but we still ended up 10 or 15 pounds lighter than we started.

Next item –

This newspaper is planning to bring back an old feature: community columnists – the locals who contribute a few paragraphs each week or so about goings-on in your own neighborhoods or social circles.

We’re currently looking for the folks to fill those slots, and you might be one of them. If you’re interested in a new hobby – writing your own short column about the people you know every week or so – shoot me an email, and I’ll pass it on. My personal email is: RodShealy@aol.com

As promised a few weeks ago, I want to update you on my own medical condition.

In July, you may know, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, which turned out to be a recurrence of melanoma from 25 years earlier. Surgery in early August was successful in removing the tumor, leaving no further indications of the cancer. While there is a very real possibility of a future recurrence, my doctors have now advised against any therapy -- chemo or radiation -- at this time, opting instead for a program of monitoring, with an MRI scheduled every two months. This way, the doctors believe they will be able to catch any future growths early and “zap” them at that time. So, the bottom line is this: I’m doing GREAT! I’m back at work – although only 8 to 10 hours a day – and feeling stronger every day. And, once again, I am deeply appreciative of all the cards, letters, calls and emails of support, and the many, many prayers that, I am certain, resulted in this very good news. I thank you.

One last thing, which I found recently on the Electronic Internet:

Can you read this?

fi yuo cna raed tihs, yuo hvae a sgtrane mnid too. Cna yuo raed tihs? Olny 55 plepoe out of 100 can. i cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg. The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno't mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whotuit a pboerlm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Azanmig huh? yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!

Taht’s all fro nwo. I’ll be bcak nxet weke!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Choosing our President – Part Two

This week, I’m writing about politics, which I normally do NOT write about in this column. So let me start with a disclaimer: I am a sometimes-Republican.

Being a sometimes-Republican is very convenient. It’s a win-win. Because I am a sometimes-Republican --as opposed to an all-the-time Republican -- they (the Republicans) don’t have to always accept responsibility for anything I may say or do… which they appreciate, I’m sure… and I don’t have to own-up to everything THEY do… which is increasingly convenient for ME!

When I last wrote about the process of choosing our next President, it was way back in January, in the weeks before the South Carolina Presidential Primaries.

At that time, you may recall, there were still more than a dozen candidates – six or eight for each party – and I took an unusual approach to writing about them. I tried to give good, solid reasons to vote for each -- reasons that each might make a good President -- as opposed to the negativity which most media-types tend to inject into political campaigns. (If you missed those columns in January, you can, of course, still find them on my blog: www.doingthefirst.blogspot.com)

Now it’s time to take another look at the 2008 Presidential Election.

We are now two months away from the November 4th election. The next nine weeks will be an exciting time in American history.
The primaries have come and gone, we’ve made it to the National Conventions, and both parties have officially chosen their slates.

We now know for sure that 2008 will be an historic election: a barrier will be broken. America will either elect an African-American or a female to one of the top-two offices, President and Vice-President.

Both campaigns kick off their dash to the finish line with their National Conventions: week-long TV productions which allow them to say anything they want to about themselves or their opponents.

National conventions weren’t always just big shows. Just three decades ago, they were actually un-scripted events, designed to choose the party nominee. Delegates were free to vote for the candidate of their choice, and we actually did not know who the nominee would be until the votes were cast at the convention.

During the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, however, most states started holding primary elections, to let voters give delegates instructions on casting their votes at the conventions. Nowadays, thanks to that string of primaries, the nominee has been decided long before the convention gets here, and the entire event is used to promote the nominee, rather than to determine the nominee.

Twice, I served as one of those delegates. The second time, in 1988, I was there with instructions from the voters to cast my vote for George H. W. Bush. The first time, in 1984, we were there to nominate Ronald Reagan for a second term, so there was no other Republican candidate. “There”, incidentally, was Dallas in 1984, and New Orleans in 1988.

(At the 1984 convention, I also served as a member of the national Rules Committee, a position I used to stop a rules change which would have decreased the voting strength of all Southern states… but that’s a whole ‘nother story. I also, those days, was the chairman of the STATE rules committee of the GOP, a position I used to create our state’s Presidential Primary as a permanent fixture. But that’s a ‘nother ‘nother story. And, it was back before I became a sometimes-Republican.)

My biggest and best memory from those two conventions was this: On the final night of the Reagan convention, Ray Charles closed the evening with his version of “America”… with about 20,000 Republicans singing back-up…to this day, one of the highlight moments of my life. It was a great show. Even back in 1988, the National Parties had already started turning the conventions into Bigtime TV Productions.

There were other great memories, also. The conventions were always week-long opportunities to develop lasting friendships with a hundred or so fellow Palmetto-Staters… which is always a good thing. But, at the end of the day, they are mostly just well-produced shows: a four-night TV commercial.

Still, they’re probably a better source of information about the candidates, the parties, and the issues than our other leading sources of information: paid 30-second ads, the nightly news, and the internet.

I’m not sure many voters care about the two candidates’ records or real positions on the issues. Also, I suspect most voters have already determined how they will vote this year.

Still, during the next few weeks, I’m going through the same exercise I tried back in January. I’m going to try to give you good solid reasons to vote for BOTH tickets. I’m going to try to say good things about both candidates and their running mates, just as I did when there were more than a dozen candidates in the race.

I am predicting an all-time record-breaking voter turn-out for the November 4th Presidential Election: more people going to the polls to vote than ever before. I just want to do my small part to make sure they know what they’re doing when they get there. Stay tuned.