Tuesday, December 29, 2009

2009, as I barely recall it!

As I noted a few weeks ago – we’ve reached not only the end of another year, but the conclusion of the entire first decade of the new millennium. (Wow, time flies when you’re living vicariously via a series of online websites!)

This week, nearly every newspaper columnist in America is writing a column along essentially the same themes: either the year in review, or the decade in review. I chose the year in review because it would require too much mental energy for me to go back and try to recall the entire decade. I’m too old for that level of remembering.

Frankly, I’m actually too old to remember a whole year, so I’m just including the highlights that I DO happen to recall at this exact moment, which is almost certainly a different set of highlights than the ones I will recall a couple hours from now.

Here are the highlights, as I hazily recall them:

Global Warming
-- There was a major meeting of all the world’s leaders in Copenhagen, to determine how to handle this looming crisis. US leaders committed $100 billion of our money, although they admitted having no idea where it would come from, or what it would be used for. Then, they returned to the nation’s capital to face the coldest, snowiest winter blizzard in history.

Swine Flu was given a new name: H1N1
– The Surgeon General told us to cough into our sleeves to prevent the spread of the virus, resulting in millions of neck injuries when old people like me expelled ferocious sneezes while our necks were craned sideways trying to reach our shoulder sleeves. The Surgeon General also advised us to forego traditional handshakes in favor of the germ-free “fist bump”. The fist bump, it turns out, only looks cool when young, urban street toughs do it. When the rest of us try it, we look sorta dorky.

The Recession -- The nation has been mired in a deep recession for the entire year. As for me, I started the year with basically no money, and ended with basically no money. When you didn’t really have any money to start with, you hardly notice a recession.

Tiger Woods
-- Somebody asked me a few weeks ago if I had been keeping up with Tiger Woods. I told him, no, at my age, it wasn’t really possible… but if I was his age and had his money, I’m pretty sure I could have kept up with him.

South Carolina On The Map
-- Wow! Mark Sanford’s “Appalachian Trail” and Joe Wilson’s “You lie” have brought us to the Big Time. Those who believe we have merely been subjected to ridicule by their actions are unaware of the modern axiom of marketing: “Celebrity is the coin of the realm”! Trust me: Mark Sanford and Joe Wilson are both marketable commodities: They are ‘brands” in the current-terms of media-speak.

Nobel Peace Prize
-- Get one free with every oil change!

Health Care Debate -- The Health Care Debate obviously consumed much of the attention of the nation for the entire year. Only thing is, it wasn’t really a health care debate: It was a government debate, dealing primarily with how much individual freedom and liberty the American people are willing to surrender in exchange for more government control and intervention. And it was a money debate, like many other government debates, trying to control how the money-pie gets sliced up. If it had actually been a health care debate, we would have heard discussions of words like “electrocardiogram”, “macular degeneration”, “paracentric chromosome inversion”, and “deoxyhemoglobin”… or at least words like “biopsy”, “osteoporosis” and “white blood count”. But instead, the words and phrases we heard during the health care debate, according a glossary from Reuters News Service, were “public option”, “Cadillac health plans”, “exchanges”, “single payer”, “trigger”, “opt-out”, “opt-in”, “bending the cost curve”, and “age rating.”

My Weight
-- For the umpteenth year in a row, I’m ending the year on a high note: I’m a Big, Fat, Giant, Hippo-Pig-Whale!!! My weight has finally exceeded even my massive ego!!! But, here’s good news: It’s time for out annual Kick-Off-The-New-Year-With-A-Weight-Loss-Contest competition. (If you’d like to join our pound-shedding adventure, email me at RodShealy@aol.com. By the way, in recognition of The Recession, I’m pretty sure our buy in will be $25 per person, instead of our traditional $100.)

Baby Boomers -- This was the year that baby boomers started reaching retirement age en masse, a trend which will continue for over a decade. Retirement will never be the same.

What I Got for Christmas
– For me, December 25th, 2009, marked exactly the 500th day since I underwent brain surgery back on Aug. 11, 2008. At that time, I was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor, and initially given a dire prognosis. The tumor was a recurrence of the same cancer – melanoma – from 25 years earlier. My odds of still being here for Christmas, 2009, were slim. (Being here was a great Christmas Gift! Knowing that I’ve made it 500 days is a Blessing Beyond Belief!!!)

As I reported at Thanksgiving, I was fortunate to be accepted into an innovative cancer research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, for a long-term trial in which I am currently participating. It’s a field of cancer research -- finding better ways to boost the body’s natural abilities to fight cancer -- which appears very promising for the future.

From time to time, as I promised back in August, 2008, I have updated readers on my progress. (See http://doingthefirst.blogspot.com/2009/11/much-to-be-thankful-for.html)
Within the next few weeks, I should have new scans, and a new update for you.

In the meantime, I continue to be thankful for my family and friends whose strong support has kept me positive and optimistic; and for the many, many people who said a prayer for me… and caused the miracle that allowed me to be here for Christmas, 2009.

Happy New Year! I’ll see you in 2010… and a whole new decade!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Has it been that long already?

Ten years. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already! But it has.

We survived the first decade of the new millennium!

As I was beginning to think about my annual Christmas gift-giving a few days ago, the thought occurred to me that we have, indeed, made it to the end of the first decade of the 2000’s! Well, almost. Another few days.

The new millennium was a big deal, you probably recall. It was the Mother of all New Years celebrations.

Do you remember where you were? I remember where I was. (I also remember where I was supposed to be.)

Some of you are probably wondering how thinking about my annual Christmas gift-giving caused me to think about the end of the decade. You’ve probably jumped to the conclusion that it’s been 10 years since I purchased a decent gift for anyone. Wrong. It’s been much longer.

Actually, I was contemplating, as I do most years, simply ordering custom-made T-shirts for my close friends and family members. For some reason, however, I always demure, usually over the same nonsensical notion: “What if they, for some unknown reason, don’t WANT a T-Shirt with my picture on it?” Silly me. What a foolish notion. Of course they would adore their own Rod-Boy T-Shirt!

But, again this year, I passed on the original concept, and started thinking instead about a T-Shirt with a Meaningful Slogan on it. The slogan that kept running through my mind, given the state of the economy and all, was “I Survived 2009”… which I thought would make a pretty swell T-Shirt.

And then it hit me: We’ve not only survived 2009! We’ve all survived this entire decade: January 1st, 2000 – December 31st, 2009. Ten whole years of the new millennium have slipped right by.

Do you remember computer geeks throughout the world preparing all of us for Y2K, the computer calamity that could have crippled the world if we had not been ready for it?

There was also an ongoing controversy over exactly when the new millennium actually began: Jan 1st,2000, or Jan. 1st 2001. While the 2001 advocates were technically, mathematically correct, it really didn’t matter, because the rest of the world was set to celebrate the onset of 2000.

I remember wondering in this newspaper column what name we would give to the decade. How would we refer to it? All the other decades were easy to say: The 90’s. The 80’s. The 70’s, 60’s and 50’s. Would we call it the 00’s, I wondered. Here it is ten years later, and I still don’t know what we call the decade we’re about to complete.

I can tell its been a long time, because 10 years ago, I actually had learned how to spell the word “millennium”, since it was used frequently during the big build up to Y2K. Now, however, I find myself needing to look up the correct spelling to write this column!

A lot can happen in 10 years. We went from Clinton, to Bush, to Obama during the period. Technology happened so fast that no one can really keep track of it anymore. We went from a booming economy to a recession. And speaking of “booming”, we baby-boomers all slid quietly into middle age. Okay, upper-middle age, maybe.

In the history books, I suppose, the period will be defined largely by the events of that day 20 months and 11 days into the decade: 9/11/2001. That day changed history. That day changed lives. And that day suddenly brought a sudden end to the excited euphoria and wondrous innocence that had ushered in The New Millennium. Just that quickly, the New Millennium came of age.

All in all, it’s been a heckuva decade. And it’s almost over… if you’re using the Jan. 1, 2000 calendar.

For the rest of the family, I’ve decided once again against the T-Shirts for Christmas.

But I think I will order one for myself:

Jan. 1, 2000 – Dec. 31, 2009: I Survived the First Decade of the New Millennium!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Overlooked traditions and under-appreciated icons

There must be hundreds of traditions of Christmas. Many of these customs have become so popular that merely mentioning the word conjures up vivid holiday images:

Reindeer. Holly. Mistletoe. Wreaths. Stockings. Elves. Sleigh bells. Jingle Bells. Silver Bells. Snowmen. Candy Canes. Fruit Cake. Caroling. Egg Nog. Candles. Icicles. Sugar Plums. Figgy Pudding. Poinsettas. Ornaments.

I think there are other perfectly-good traditions which have sadly been overlooked. They’re just as much a part of the Holiday Season, but for some reason, they’ve never made it to the big time.

This week, I’d like to correct that oversight. I want to mention a few of the other traditions of the holidays.

Here they are: Rod-Boy’s list of Overlooked and Under-Appreciated Traditions, Customs, and Icons of The Christmas Season:

The Attic. Twice-a-year, I visit the attic: Once to bring down the Christmas stuff, and once to take it back up for another ten-and-a-half months. Basically, these are the only two times of the year I ever see the inside of my attic. So why isn’t the attic a symbol of Christmas, just like the tinsel that’s scattered about all over the attic floor?

Hearing relatives snore. This, too, seems to happen at only one time of the year: the holiday season! Maybe its Thanksgiving afternoon, maybe Christmas, or maybe even New Years Day… but at my house, it’s a pretty good bet that at some point during the holidays, I’m going to get to hear at least one relative snore. (And it’s a REAL safe bet that my relatives are gonna get to!!!)

Lbs. – Gaining weight! Happens every year…because of all the goodies! But we focus on the yummy instead of the tummy. Truth in advertising: Wouldn’t it be better just to go ahead and anoint “blubber rolls” as an official custom of The Season. (And, by the way, can anyone tell me how “lbs” is an abbreviation for “pounds”?)

Batteries and extension cords. Tis the season of bright lights, musical toys, and dancing Santa bears. They all require batteries or extension cords to supply their kilowatt needs. I cannot recall a single holiday season in which I purchased neither batteries nor extension cords.

Those hideous holiday sweaters. (I personally also have holiday suspenders, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.) Starting with the color combination – bright green and bright red -- holiday sweaters are, by design, unflattering. In my case, however, it tends to be an improvement over my normal attire. Every year, friends and family alike encourage me to keep wearing my Christmas sweaters for an additional few months. As a bonus, they do tend to distract attention away from the holiday blubber roll… so you’ll understand when you see me wearing a Holiday Sweater in August.

Musically-gifted animals: Barking dogs and singing chipmunks on the radio. At Christmastime, apparently anything goes on the AM/FM airwaves. When the animals aren’t chirping their versions of the songs, we’re often singing about them, like the songs about an airplane-flying dog and, of course, the antlered Rangifer tarandus with a glowing nose.

Assembly instruction sheets. These don’t really affect my holidays anymore: it’s been a couple of decades since I had kids in the toy-assembly age range. And since I don’t, I can smile fondly at the memories… especially the ones at 3am on Christmas Eve… and the ones where they left two bolts and a hex-nut out of the package… and, I’ll tell you what tickles me most… the fact that, nowadays, I’m pretty sure all the toys are made in China, so the assembly instruction sheets are now written in a close imitation of the English language. Ho, ho, ho!!! That’s gotta be fun through those bleary 3am eyes!!! Assembly instruction sheets are a jolly good Christmas tradition… when you’re not the one doing the assembly!!!

Re-gifting. I think re-gifting has been given a bad rap. I see it as a noble tradition. Suppose you get a gift, put it on the shelf for 50 years, and then give it away. You would be parting with a precious heirloom. When I re-gift, I think of it the same way: parting with a precious heirloom, except this is better, because it’s still in like-new condition!!!!

Scotch Tape and scissors. I think this under-appreciated tradition is pretty much self-explanatory. (We’d all have a pretty hard time ripping the gift wrap to shreds it there was no such thing as Scotch Tape, wouldn’t we.)

Wondering if we’re going to have a White Christmas this year. A wonderful tradition, not to be confused with actually HAVING a White Christmas. I’ve never experienced the actual White Christmas…. because I’ve lived my entire life in Lexington County, South Carolina, where we can usually wear shorts or flip-flops on Christmas Eve. But that doesn’t seem to stop every person I know from wondering aloud, each and every year, if we’re going to have a White Christmas. GET A CLUE. It’s South Carolina!!!! Still, what a warm and wonderful holiday tradition, just to wonder aloud, so that all your friends can “ooooh” and “ahhhhh” and “I hope so!” like they’ve never even heard of the Weather Channel.

That’s my list. Now back to the attic for the clogging reindeers. (I just hope I haven’t misplaced those precious heirlooms.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Christmas Story that really happened

I think it’s hard for most of us to wrap our minds around The Christmas Story.

I’m not talking about the “Christmas Story” that we watch on TV every year… the one with Ralphie, who wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas, but keeps being told “you’ll shoot your eye out”. You know the one… he learns cusswords from his Dad, so his Mom washes his mouth out with soap; the gang dares a kid to touch his tongue to a frozen lamppost; the neighbor’s dogs eat the turkey; and Ralphie’s Dad wins a fragile, Major Award. It’s a cute movie.

I think most of us CAN relate to that Christmas Story.

It’s the other Christmas Story we have a hard time really relating to: The original one, with Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, laid in a manger.

We all know the story. We cherish the story. And the faith many of us carry with us for our entire life is based on that story.

Still, we have a hard time letting the reality of it sink in. It was so long ago, so far way.

I have developed my own theory about how the human mind treats fantastic, amazing, or incredible events from long ago or far away.

I had to develop my own theory, because I never really studied psychology. Okay. There was the one class in high school when I was a senior, but I mostly slept through it because I had gotten up early every morning to drive a school bus. And there was one course in college, but I dropped it because… well, the professor was too weird. It was the 70’s.

Consequently, I have no real formal schooling in psychology, nor have I read much about the topic on my own… so I’m left to develop my own theories, which, frankly, may have already been theorized by others. Or totally disproven as nonsense. I don’t know. I guess I should have stuck around and listened to my hippie professor.
My theory, however, holds that the human mind has a way of storing topics which humans can’t really grasp or deal with. The mind simply treats it the same as it treats story-book material, I believe. I gave it a name: “sub-fictionalization”.
Dinosaurs and cavemen, for instance. They were very real, of course, but I believe our mind often treats these topics like fiction. We think of them the way we think of a good movie or Disneyworld.

Similarly, we’re incapable of truly grasping other galaxies which are millions of years older than ours. So our brain simply files it in the “story book” folder as a way of coping with it.

Terrible disasters and wars and unspeakable atrocities perhaps fit into the same categories. If we weren’t there, and didn’t see it with our own eyes, or live it in person, the events just get filed away along with the “fiction”. It’s a good story, sorta like a Dickens novel. The Crusades happened. So did the Napoleanic Wars. And the Black Plague and the Holocaust. But since we weren’t there, we’ve only heard the stories.

The entire Bible, despite being the most authoritative historical account ever produced, is processed by the brain as simply a collection of stories. The ark and the flood, the lions den, the belly of the whale, are stored like fairy tales. Angels, along with cavemen and dinosaurs, are “sub-fictionalized”. (Remember, that’s my made-up word to go along with my made-up theory.)

After a while, we have a hard time separating miracles from monsters: miracles that really happened form the monsters that are the invention of a writer.

And, because it was so long ago and far away, the original Christmas Story, I fear, falls right into same category. We hear it. We learn it. We recite it. We make it the central focus of our annual calendar and the rituals of our lives.

But our brain still may have it filed along side Snow White and Pinnochio.

To make The Christmas Story even more difficult for us to grasp as truth, not fiction, we’ve built an entire holiday culture around it which WAS invented by the human mind: flying reindeer, elves that make toys, Frosty the Snowman, and, of course, Santa, up on the roof top.

All of which makes the wonder of that original Christmas Story fade back into our storybook file, along with The Night Before Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer.

Except, there’s a really important difference: that Original Christmas Story really did happen. Sure, it was long ago, and far away… but it’s still just as real as if it had happened last week in Myrtle Beach.

A Baby named Jesus really was born of a virgin. He really was the Only Son of the Creator of our entire world. He really was born in a manger.

Angels really did appear to shepherds watching their flocks of sheep. A star really appeared, guiding visitors from distant lands to visit the Christ Child.

He really turned water into wine. He really fed a multitude of people with two fish and five loaves.

He really healed the sick, the lame, and the blind, simply by willing it. He really brought the dead back to life.

He really walked on water.

And then, He really did let Himself be nailed to a cross to die, and didn’t try to save Himself as he had others. He really died. And He really rose from the dead.

And He really did it all for us.

It’s a wondrous, incredible, miraculous story. So wondrous, so incredible, so miraculous, that many of us simply file it away in the storybook file, along with the other things we just can’t understand.

But at least once a year, we ought to stop and try to think about that very real story.

The Original Christmas Story.

The one that really happened.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Check Your Calendar

One of the overlooked traditions of the holiday season is the annual arrival of a batch of new calendars for the next year.

I’m always intrigued by the new calendars. Most people, I think, just look at the pictures or advertising messages contained on the calendar, but I like to peruse the actual dates to see if there are any surprises in store.

It occurred to me this week in a moment of melancholy that calendars as we know them are on probably the way to becoming extinct, just like newspapers, phone books, paper money, and a whole host of other products. Thanks to technology, many items which are now printed will someday likely be only transmitted.

Calendar users are already a dying breed, I suspect. I myself keep a calendar book -- called a Daytimer -- in my back pocket to keep track of my upcoming appointments, but few of my peers still do. They all seem to use those berry-named devices. I must admit that the “alarm” function of these gadgets is appealing from time to time. While I am skilled, after decades of practice, at writing appointments on my pocket calendar, I find myself more and more frequently forgetting to actually check it to see if I have any appointments.

Because of my background as a printer -- a trait I share with Benjamin Franklin, along with a big, odd-shaped, balding head -- I probably pay more attention to calendars than most folks -- I’ve probably produced a few million of them in my time -- and therefore can claim a level of expertise on the subject. For instance, I know that there are always 365 days on a calendar, except for leap years, when there are…. I forget how many… I’ll have to check a calendar.

But I do know there are all sorts of calendars, ranging from the aforementioned pocket sized calendar books and wallet sized cards (and refrigerator magnets), to desk calendars, to stand-up calendars, to thick calendars where you turn the page every day, to large colorful decorative wall calendars, with a different picture on every page: -- red barns, snowscapes, covered bridges, sunsets, wheat fields and mountain ranges -- all corresponding to the month on the facing page. For instance, you show me a picture of leaves changing colors, and I can almost guarantee that you’re looking at September or October.

For decades, banks and insurance companies have given out free calendars to their customers. It was better than a card. It was an actual GIFT!

My favorite calendars of all time were the community birthday calendars sold by the Jaycees in my hometown of Lexington when I was a kid. Back then, Lexington was a small town, and everybody sorta knew everybody, so it was interesting to see a lot of their names listed on their birthdays.

Nowadays, you can buy calendars adorned with just about any topic you want: dogs, cats, classic cars, rock stars, sports teams, gourmet foods, and, of course, swimsuit models. Or, you can go to Kinko’s and get your own face -- or your relatives -- plastered onto a custom made calendar.

I don’t know who invented calendars, or when, but I’m pretty sure it was some really smart guy a lot of centuries ago. The Chinese seem to have an entirely different calendar, which doesn’t surprise me, since they have a WAY different style of writing, with little pictures instead of letters.

I think the Caesars had something to do with the invention of our current calendar, since Julius, Augustus, and Octavius all have months named after them. For years, I have been lobbying to have the name of the month of August -- named after Augustus Caesar, of little relevance to any currently living human being -- changed to the month of Elvis.

But, the problem is, I don’t know who exactly would be in charge of changing the name of a month. Congress, I don’t think, has ever weighed in on the topic. We just took the months, days, and dates invented by these ancient smart people, and stuck with ‘em, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, and… apparently, millennium after millennium.

I guess NOT tinkering with it is the best plan, because if we start, who know what we’ll end up with. If we change “August” to “Elvis”, what’s to stop us from changing “October” to “Obama”? Could changing “February” to “Favre-uary” be far behind?

Where would it end? “April” to “Oprah”? “May” to “Miley”? “December” to “DonaldTrumptember”?

Not that it matters, because I’m pretty sure technology will soon prevail, and the calendars of the past will go the way of rotary dial phones, analog TV, and 45 RPM records.

We’ll still be able to find calendars hanging on walls… but mostly as nostalgic decorations, the way you might now see an old wooden crank phone hanging in someone’s den.

The times, they are a changing. And you don’t need a calendar to know it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Much to be thankful for

Excuse me for the grammatical error in this week’s headline: I ended with a preposition! I tried the correct version – “Much for which to be thankful” – but it just didn’t feel right. Nor did the error seem very important, when considered in the context of the “big picture” scheme of things.

And the big picture is what I am writing about this week as Americans pause to celebrate Thanksgiving. Because, in the big picture, we do indeed have much for which to be thankful.

True, times are tough. We are mired in a serious recession, and many feel great uncertainty about the future of our nation.

Despite these challenges, however, we still enjoy a standard of living and quality of life unparalleled in the history of mankind. Living at this particular place, at this particular time, is a privilege for which 99% of the people who have ever inhabited the Earth would gladly trade places.

We are thankful for living in the land of opportunity, where our free enterprise system allows each of us to raise ourselves up through our own individual efforts, to benefit from our own hard work, creativity, and perseverance

We are thankful that we have the freedom to speak out and try to change the policies with which we do no agree, and even to elect new leaders. We are each free to become as involved as we choose to be, and to make as much of a difference as we wish to.

We are thankful for the freedom to worship as we choose, to put our faith and our futures in the hands of our Maker as we choose, without interference.

And we are thankful that these freedoms are protected. We may profit from our efforts, speak out to make a difference, and practice our faith without oppression or threat of retribution.

There are billions of people in other lands who are also suffering from the global recession, but do NOT have the freedoms to do anything about it… so, in the big picture, all Americans have much to be thankful for.

In addition to these blessings of liberty shared by all Americans, I personally also have many, many other blessings for which I am thankful.

For example, I’m still here… and healthy… which I can only count as a miracle.

In Summer of 2008, many readers will recall I was diagnosed a cancerous brain tumor, and initially given a dire prognosis. The tumor was a recurrence of the same cancer – melanoma – from 25 years earlier. My odds of still being here for Thanksgiving, 2009, were slim. My odds of still being here and being healthy were even slimmer.

At that time, I wrote in detail about my condition, and promised to keep readers posted of developments. Thanksgiving seems to be a good time for an update.

For the better part of a year after my brain surgery, I remained free of any recurrence. In late June, 2009, however, scans detected growth of tumors on one of my lungs, which biopsies revealed to be melanoma.

A month later, a regularly scheduled MRI revealed new, very small tumors on the brain.

Since my 2008 surgery, at the advice my doctors I have undergone scans every couple of months in order to catch new tumors as early as possible. It worked! Within weeks of the new discovery, I was able to undergo stereotactic surgery at MUSC to eradicate the two small brain tumors.

Similarly, catching the tumors on the lung early has allowed me a variety of treatment options, including participation in experimental clinical trials, which is the route I chose to take. Ultimately, I was fortunate to be accepted into an innovative cancer research program at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, for a long-term trial in which I am currently participating. It’s a field of cancer research -- finding better ways to boost the body’s natural abilities to fight cancer -- which is VERY exciting to me, and appears very promising for the future.

My most recent scans indicated that the tumors on my lung appear to have stabilized.

So, as promised, this is an update of my medical condition. If you’re keeping score, I’ve now had four separate occurrences of cancer -- starting with one in 1983 that I shouldn’t have survived, according to the doctors -- and overall, the odds have been something like 1,000 to 1 against me. But, to date, I have no symptoms, no side effects, and no impairments whatsoever. I’m not just alive… I’m healthy! (I could add that I’m “completely normal”… but, frankly, I’ve NEVER been exactly what anyone would refer to as “normal”.)

Am I thankful this Thanksgiving? You betcha!

I’m thankful to be here. I’m thankful for the doctors and nurses and other medical professionals who have found ways to keep me healthy -- from MUSC in Charleston, to Moffitt in Tampa, to Lovelace Family Medicine in Prosperity, SC… and lots of places in between. I’m thankful for my family and friends whose strong support has kept me positive and optimistic. And mostly, I’m thankful for the many, many people -- including entire groups of people I didn’t even know -- who said a prayer for me… and caused a miracle.

In the big picture, I have much to be thankful for.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tis the Season

Over the years, I’ve worked with several hundred candidates running for various offices… I can’t say for sure how many, because I lost count a good while back (around the same time I started forgetting their names).

A lot of new candidates, I’ve noticed, start thinking about running for office -- or decide to run for office -- during the holiday season... between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

It makes sense. There are the family get-togethers and Christmas parties where the topic of conversation can easily turn to politics. And there’s always planning for the New Year, including resolutions, where items which have been lingering at the bottom of the Things To Do list (like “run for office”) get pushed to the top.

As a result of these combined factors, during the next few weeks, a lot of new candidates will decide to toss their hats into the ring of politics.

It’s a good thing. I’m ready for a whole new crop of ‘em.

Don’t get me wrong. The elected officials we have now are not bad people. I like many of them. Some are friends of mine.

But I think of my elected officials sorta like I think of my underwear. No matter how comfortable it may feel, I still want to change it every once in a while.

Now more than ever, we need new blood in government… at ALL levels. Americans like to vent their frustration on Congress, but the fact is that each local elected official – school trustees, county councilmen, legislators – can have a far more direct impact on your life than your Congressman.

Due to the tough economic times we are currently facing, all governments are facing more serious challenges than normal. Some of the folks occupying those offices seemed incapable of solving the old problems, much less new problems that now need to be solved with less money.

My solution to meeting the challenges facing our local, state, and federal governments is a simple one: Elect old people.

After nearly four decades of helping elect candidates – hundreds and hundred of ‘em -- to almost every kind of political office, I have arrived at one very firm conclusion: Old people make the best elected officials. (Note: I am referring to those who are already Old People when they are first elected, not to those who get elected when they are young, but hang around in office until they become old. Those Old People are better known as “Career Politicians”.)

There are some obvious reasons Old People make the best elected officials.

1. They’re retired, therefore they have no conflicts of interest with their careers. (Most elected officials are still in the middle of their careers… and, when confronted with a decision, they always come down on the side of their own personal interest. If they didn’t they probably wouldn’t have their jobs the next day.)

2. They have experience: a whole lifetime of it. Sure, those young politicians often have that eager-beaver energy and enthusiasm… but nothing beats experience. (Don’t believe it? Think about leading an army in wartime. Who would you choose as the best leader? A young, energetic hot-shot Lieutenant right out of officer’s school? Or an old grizzled General with decades of military action?)

3. They have time to devote to the job. Listening to constituents is important for elected officials. Old people love conversation.

4. They’re not as likely to be swayed by political gamesmanship. Unlike most politicians, they’re more interested in the next generation than the next election.

5. They’re automatically term-limited. Term limits, a concept which is immensely popular with the public as a way to eliminate career politicians, will never be voted into law… by the career politicians. But, with Old People, the problem tends to solve itself. How long can they really stay in office?

I offer these benefits of electing Old People to office for a reason. As we head into this holiday season, you may very well find yourself conversing with someone who is thinking about running for office. If it’s an Old Person, by all means, encourage them. (Or maybe, you yourself are an Old Person thinking about moving “run for office” higher up your Things To Do list.)

Let me quickly add a disclaimer: There are no absolutes. There are plenty of young or middle-aged people who do a great job in office. Similarly, there are some Old People who, once they get in office, give Old People a bad name. ( I would also note that, while the Old-People-are-better theory applies well to politics, it does NOT apply to many other fields: pro athletes, stock car racers, rock musicians, etc.)

I hope you’ll join this new political movement: New Blood, Old People in 2010.

Monday, November 9, 2009

A touch of fever.

Some years back -- actually starting before I embarked on a career in the community newspaper business -- I published an occasional tabloid called “Gamecock Fever”… a jovial little journal which was distributed to tailgaters before each USC home football game. (Extraneous Publisher’s Note: I used the word “career” very loosely in the preceding sentence.)

Gamecock Fever was mostly light-hearted and nonsensical, featuring good-natured ribbing at each week’s opponent, as well as opposing school’s coaches, mascot, home state, and the entire population thereof.

Actually, we simply took some standard Arkansas jokes, and rewrote them each week to apply to whatever school we were playing: old standards like, “How do you get an Arkansas graduate off your porch? You pay him for the pizza!”; and, “How do we know the toothbrush was invented in Arkansas? If it was invented anywhere else, it would be called a ‘teethbrush’!”

Anytime we played a school from West Virginia, however, they always seemed to get a little sensitive about these jokes… especially the ones about marrying their cousins.

Each edition of “Fever” also contained a healthy helping of “Clempson” jokes, which I felt was my patriotic duty as an American. Plus, being a lifelong, born and bred resident of the Pimento State, swapping Carolina and Clempson jokes back and forth is a tradition… a way of life! So how could I not poke a little fun at “Moo U.”?

We occasionally even took a good-natured poke at ourselves, and our coaches and athletic directors, because, after all, we were the long-suffering Gamecocks, and it helps to have a good sense of humor when you’re a Gamecock Fan. (Or, as we occasionally, put it, a “Lamecock” Fan!)

Through the years of Coaches Joe, Sparky, Brad, Lou, and that other guy, we were there in the parking lots, keeping them on their toes, and giving the opposing coaches locker room fodder. Except to us, they were Coaches “MoJo Morrison”, “Sparky Wouldn’t”, “Brad FSNot”, and “Loose Boltz”. Along with Athletic Directors “Don King Dixon” and “Mike McGee McGoo”. They were public figures, and it was all in good fun.

But, unfortunately (or fortunately in the opinions of 97.3% of the people who are not me), Gamecock Fever went away a few years ago. The Gamecock Tailgating Tradition Since 1985 (except for one year we forgot) has now slipped our minds for over half a decade!

So ever since the Old Ball Coach showed up at USC, he hasn’t had our little Tailgating Toilet Tissue to bolster his team. The last time Spurrier showed up in Gamecock Fever, he was the head coach of the Gators – the very same Gators who are currently ranked Number One in the Nation, and who are coming into Columbia this weekend to take on the Gamecocks. At that time, we honored him with this limerick:

There once was a ball coach named Spurrier,
Who wanted his team to go hurrier,
So he yelled, whined, and screamed,
Like a girl at his team,
Now his win-loss record is blurrier!

Of course, that was back in the days when he still tossed his visor and won national championships. And he was the enemy. Now he’s on our team. We love the guy. But he’s mellow.

And maybe because Spurrier has mellowed out a little, we, the Gamecocks, seem to be suffering from that old Mid-Season Chicken Curse again -- the cursed roost-ah… just like we used tah. We start off strong, but finish a little weak. And with Numero One FLA on their way to town, things don’t look good.

Probably, it’s a Spurrier thing… but we can’t help wondering: “What if the Gamecocks are sliding back into mediocrity just because we stopped publishing “Gamecock Fever” each week? Could it be our fault?

We can’t take that chance.

So, while I can’t magically produce an entire issue of Gamecock Fever in time for this weekend’s game against the Florida Gators, I can use the remaining space here for a little taste of Fever… and toss a few NCAA College Football insults in their direction before they come clobber our brains out.

It’s Cocks versus Crocs at Williams-Brice… and here is OUR welcome to the visitors:

Q: What do you call a Florida graduate who lives in a $400,000 house?

A: A butler.

Q: What do you call a gorgeous woman on the arm of a Florida fan?

A: A tattoo.

Q: Why do Florida graduates stick their diplomas on their car bumper?

A: So they can park in the handicapped zone.

Q: Did you hear about the Florida student who was a poor speller?
He paid $50 to spend the night in a warehouse.

Q: Why do Florida fans spend so much time staring at containers of orange juice?

A: Because the label says “concentrate”.

Q: How many Florida fans does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Four. One to change the bulb, and three to stand around talking about how great the old bulb was “back when Spurrier was here!”

Okay, I’ve done my part. Now its up to the players. Go Cocks! Gig the Gators!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Nothin’ could be finer!

If you believe the national pundits, it’s been a rough year to be a South Carolinians. (I don’t believe them… mainly because I’m not even sure who or what a “pundit” is.)

Ever since our Governor captured international headlines on the first full day of summer with his make-believe hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we seem to have endured a steady stream of punch-lines. Late night comics could just utter the name of the state – “South Carolina” – and their studio audiences would break into giggles.

But, you know the old saying: “He who laughs last…”

And last week, we may have gotten the last laugh, when the aircraft manufacturer for the world, Boeing, chose our state for its newest manufacturing facility… a move which will likely put food on the table for over 4,000 South Carolina families -- and probably not just food, but prime rib and lobster -- at a time when the rest of the nation is scrambling for table scraps.

(Gratuitous publisher’s note: I’m understandably proud that two gentlemen I worked to help elect were key players in putting the Boeing deal together: Berkeley County State Senator Paul Campbell, former boss at Alumax, and the Senator with the strongest background in manufacturing, was the key inside leader of the final negotiations; and North Charleston State Representative Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the SC House or Senate and now a candidate for Lt. Governor, originally got the Boeing ball rolling several years ago when he was Chairman of Charleston County Council.)

There were lots of reasons Boeing chose South Carolina, but one really big one: our people.

For all the abuse we may take for our shortcomings, Boeing decided, as many others have, that South Carolinians are good, solid, hard-working people... the kind of people they could depend on to build good, solid, dependable aircraft for the world.

We’ve known it all long.

South Carolinians are some of the best people you can find anywhere in the world. Hardworking. Friendly. Patriotic. Faithful. Compassionate. (And I’m not just making idle chit-chat here. I can back these claims up with near facts.)

Compassionate, for instance. A couple months ago, USA Today published a chart of which states were the most charitable, based on giving their time and money. South Carolinians, for all our reported income deficiencies, showed up among the top 10 most giving populations.

Patriotic. For years, South Carolina has been ranked as one of the very highest percentages of military veterans. Our people have historically offered themselves to defend our nation at a greater rate than most any other state.

Faithful. We are the buckle of the Bible Belt.

Friendly. Southern Hospitality was born here in South Carolina. We are consistently ranked among the friendliest people in America. We’re not afraid to walk up to stranger and say, “Hey, y’all.”

Hard-working. South Carolinians have always hungered for the opportunity to earn a good decent living. Given that opportunity, we work. We work hard. We’re dedicated. We’re proud of our work ethic. Consequently, Boeing decided that the folks in the Lowcountry – some of whom had worked on our Naval Ships for generations – were the right people to now build the next generation of aircraft.

So, South Carolina landed a giant industrial development, one that will jumpstart our economy, and have untold spinoff impacts. A lot of our leaders worked together to make it happen, and they all deserve some credit for making it happen.

But the real credit should go to the hard working men and women of South Carolina who have made our state the only place I would ever even think about living.

Y’all can keep laughing if you want to… but we’re laughing best.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Sleep is King: An extra hour!!!

Regular readers of this column know of my long-standing love/hate relationship with that ingenious innovation of modern man called Daylight Savings Time.

This weekend, we will once again conclude the annual practical joke we play on ourselves. DST is a harmless hoax, because we’re all in it together.

For my part, I hate it in the spring, but I love it in the fall...or at least I love or hate the specific nights when it starts and ends each year. That’s because, in the world of Rod-Boy, sleep is king. (Naps are nifty. Snoozing is super-duper. Dozing is dandy. And the Sandman is simply swell.)

I lost an hour of precious sleep in the Springtime… but this weekend, I’ll get it back. A whole extra hour of sleep. I’ve been looking forward to it for weeks.

Up until a few years ago, DST was always an April to October occurrence. But the good folks in the United States Congress, realizing they had legislated the only thing in history which actually seemed to work, and was okay with most folks, put their heads together and said, “It ain’t broke… let’s fix it!” “If nearly seven months of DST is working for us,” they wondered, “then wouldn’t nearly eight months work better?”

So we now have our extra hour each day starting in March instead of April, and ending in November instead of October.

Turns out, the end of Savings Time will be right smack dab in the middle of the World Series this year. (The extra hour of sleep will come in very handy for those folks who don’t get enough sleep watching our National Pastime’s most exciting games of the year.)

I was watching Jay Leno a few nights ago, and I saw a comic who apparently shares my fascination with Daylight Savings Time. He did an entire bit on the subject, which puts him in my league, if only in distant second place. (For the record, this past spring, I wrote three different weekly columns on the topic of Daylight Savings Time.)

I didn’t catch the comic’s name, because Leno comes on at 10pm, so, naturally, I was drifting off to sleep. (The mere fact that I was watching Leno makes me old… and old people can go to sleep at 10pm if they want to.) The comic, however, had done some research on the topic, and had determined that, from the beginning of Daylight Savings Time many years ago, if you total all the hours we have saved, we have now saved over 16 years. We ought to start spending some of it, he said. I like the way he thinks.

(It just occurred to me that Jay Leno could be the big winner with the end of Daylight Savings Time, since his new early time slot will all of a sudden be late again!)

As much as I will enjoy the extra hour of sleep, I’m still usually disoriented for a few days each Spring and Fall when the time changes, as I suppose most people are. Consequently, after the November 1st time change, we’re likely to have a nation full of disoriented people two days later… which is ELECTION DAY. Thousands of state and local governments will hold elections on November 3rd. It can’t really be a good idea to disorient the entire population while they’re trying to decide who they want as their leaders. On the other hand, it could explain a lot.

My biggest personal challenge with Daylight Savings Time is being forced to change the time on all the clocks twice a year. Once upon a time, it was much simpler. You just went to each of the three or four clocks in the house, and wound it backward or forward an hour. (When the big hand went around one time, the time was changed by an hour.)

But clocks don’t “wind” anymore. They click. Or blink. Or flash. Or glow. Or reset themselves. But they don’t wind.

And these days, clocks are everywhere. Radio. TV. Computer. Phone. Car. VCR. DVD Player. Microwave. Ink Pens. Alarm System. (And a whole host of newfangled gadgets I see kids with but I’m not sure what they are… but they mostly seem to be called fruit names, like apples and berries.)

Clocks are everywhere, and none of ‘em work the same as the others. You have to figure out how to reset the time on each and every one.

It was hard enough resetting all the clocks when we sprang forward in March and got an extra hour of daylight.

But now I gotta figure out how to set all those clocks in the dark!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mismatched Perspectives

It got a little nippy earlier this week, so I did something I hadn’t done since way back in March: I wore socks.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I haven’t worn socks in my regular daily routine since March, but I have worn ‘em for “dress-up-in-a-suit occasions”… like church or weddings (although, I must admit I don’t wear socks every Sunday like I should.)

Most days, I’ve been wearing flip-flops. That’s one of the advantages of living in the South. And not having a real job.

When the temperature dipped a few weeks ago, I traded in my flops for docksiders and Adidas… but still I didn’t feel the need for socks.

But then finally, this week, my feet were feeling a little frigid… so it was time to visit my sock drawer. Which caused me to start contemplating socks.

It’s not the first time I’ve sat around contemplating socks. I think about socks a lot. (Probably more than most people.)

As I wrote one Thanksgiving, I believe the “sock drawer” is an indicator of how much average Americans have to be thankful for, inasmuch as many people in the world don’t have access to a single pair of shoes, let alone a pair of socks to wear inside the shoes… and certainly not a whole drawer full of socks that average Americans take for granted.

Anytime I find myself nostalging back to the good ole days, invariably my mind lands back in the Sock Hops of the 50’s. Those were great socks. Bobby socks!

Mostly, though, I spend time contemplating socks because I’m frequently looking for one of them to match the other one. It’s not unusual for the sock segment of my morning getting-dressed ritual to take longer than all the other segments combined, including brushing my teeth and combing my hair!!

Ultimately, the socks always win. More often than not, I give up, and end up wearing mismatched socks, which is actually okay with me, because I don’t spend much time looking down at my feet, so within a minute or two of donning the uncoordinated socks, I’ve totally forgotten it.

I figure, what’s the big deal. After all, if I’m wearing socks, it’s a safe bet that I’m also wearing long pants, so the socks are only visible for about a half-an-inch underneath the cuff… sometimes, not at all.

Long ago, I figured out a really simple way to make people completely overlook my mismatched socks: Wear mismatched shoes!

Anyway, while I was contemplating socks this week, a few mismatched thoughts crossed my mind:

-- Socks are the only item of clothing that have a Major League Baseball team named after them. And actually, there are TWO teams, although they both abbreviate their names as “sox”… probably because it got a little embarrassing to them once they realized they were competing with such ferocious mascots as Tigers, Braves, Giants, and Cardinals. (Well, not Cardinals so much.)

-- Socks is one of the most popular names for cats. And, once again, you rarely hear of a kitty named “Pants”, “Shirt”, “Hat”, or “Cumberbund”.

-- When you go to the beach, you can easily spot the Northerners because of the socks. Black socks with Bermuda shorts is NOT a Southern thing.

-- The late Michael Jackson, The King of Pop, single-handedly revived the fad of white socks with black shoes. He made it look cool. Unfortunately, most of his millions of imitators simply look dorky.

-- If you Google the phrase “smelly socks” (on the Electronic Internet which Al Gore invented) you will find over 60,000 websites which mention that phrase. Don’t ask me why I know this.

-- The only one of those 60,000 websites which appears even remotely useful is the one which suggests vinegar, borax, or sudsy ammonia as possible remedies for smelly socks. Don’t ask me why I know this, either.

-- Here’s good news. Although holes occasionally occur in socks, the part with the hole is ALWAYS covered up by the shoes… so it’s always your little secret. (Note to self: Remember not to eat at those Japanese restaurants where they make you to remove your shoes.)

-- In 55 years, I have NEVER thrown away a pair of socks. I have, however, reassigned some single socks to other duties.

-- White tube socks are the best. Although they are frequently mismatched – short, long, stripes at the top, no stripes – nobody ever knows it, because all they can see under the cuff of the pants is white!

As much as I may disdain wearing socks in the summertime – and I do, because I have been told they do not go well with my flip flops – I love ‘em on cold winter nights AFTER I kick my shoes off. Walking around the house in sock feet is one of life’s little pleasures.

At least it’s a pleasure for me. Everybody else in the house keeps offering me vinegar and Borax.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More FREE advice… (and well worth it!!!)

I’m always stunned when I’m invited to speak to local groups or organizations. It happened twice last week. (I usually just assume they have some sort of betting pool: Will he wear socks? Will they match? Will he remember to comb his hair? Will he forget his name?)

I’m even more amazed when people ask for my advice. Of course, usually these people are only pretending to ask for advice, as an entre to asking for money. But, sometimes, even after they realize that I’m broker than they are, they still ask for advice!

Any time I’m asked for advice, I dish it out, fairly comfortable that no one’s gonna actually listen to my opinion anyway. Why would they? I’m old, tired, broke, worn-out, over-weight, crippled, hard-of-hearing and rapidly deteriorating: losing my hair, my teeth, and my memory. I dress shabbily, eat like a five year old, and have the social skills of a gnat. What is it about this picture that would compel anyone to say: “Here’s a good idea! I’ll ask HIM for advice!”????

Still, I sometimes get asked, so I feel compelled to comply. (Keep that card and letter coming in.)

There’s already some pretty good advice floating around out there in the cosmos, if you just know where to look for it. I recommend starting with really famous dead people, like Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln.

Franklin, it seems, did little more than sit around all day making up advice to give to people: “Early to bed, early to rise… blah, blah, blah.” It’s sound advice. Boring, but sound.. He wrote entire books of sound advice, much of which, I suspect, was borne of his own personal mistakes. “Never fly a kite when it’s lightning.” Experience is the best teacher.

Lincoln’s advice was plain and simple. He offered gems like: “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Good advice. Plain and simple.

Bill Cosby’s not dead, but he offered good advice… about giving advice. He said: “A word to the wise ain't necessary - it's the stupid ones that need the advice.” Cosby’s smart. Of course, most dentists are smart.

While these famous people, both dead and alive, offer pretty swell advice, it sometimes seems a little over-reaching. Healthy, wealthy and wise are lofty goals… but most people I know need more practical day-to-day advice, like how to make the gas pump come on… or what’s the best color of shoes to wear with your lime-green leisure suit.

So, to help the masses along the way, I am today unveiling:

Rod-Boy’s 21 Axioms for Life
(Free advice, and well worth it!)

1. Time is NOT money. Time is time. But a lot of people TRADE their time for money. Ergo, the old (but incorrect) adage: “Time is money”. Of the two, time is actually worth a lot more than money.

2. Don’t sweat the small stuff. And there ain’t really much big stuff.

3. Wear happy shirts.

4. Always remember you're unique, just like everyone else.

5. Remember half the people you know are below average.

6. The sooner you fall behind the more time you'll have to catch up.

7. There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count & those who can't. (That’s not actually advice. It’s just an observation.)

8. Be nice to your kids. They get to choose your nursing home

9. It may be lonely at the top, but you probably eat better.

10. Wear happy shirts.

11. The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.

12. If you ever need to make a list of anything, try to make it end up at exactly 21 items… because I think 21 is a lucky number. (Even if you have to include some of the same items more than once!)

13. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

14. The severity of the itch is inversely proportional to the ability to reach it.

15. Whenever possible, use words like “axiom”, “inversely” and “ergo”

16. A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort.

17. Hard work pays off for your future. Laziness pays off now.

18. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal the neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

19. Never miss a good chance to shut up.

20. Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.

21. Wear happy shirts.

That’s it for this week. I’m done. (See Axiom 19.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

We don’t need no educashun

Next month, we’ll be celebrating American Education Week, and, of course, I’ll be all “Rah, Rah!! Hooray for schools! Yeah, teachers! Go, team!!!” like the vast majority of the rest of the public. But first, I have a few things I want to get off my chest.

I distinctly remember questions being raised back during my school days about our curriculum. Specifically, the questions posed, about once a week, were: “Why do we need to know this? What good is this going to do me? How will I use this knowledge in the future?”

While plodding through the poetry of Byron, Shelley, and Keats for instance, we tried to figure out a point to it all. Most of us just couldn’t see these ditties -- classics that they might have been -- factoring into our future earning potential.

How to figure the hypotenuse of a triangle, as another example, seemed like fairly useless information.

And diagramming sentences never made a lick of sense to any of us from day one.

The question of “why do we need to know this?” was generally posed mostly rhetorically, since school-aged kids back then understood very well that they had no say-so in anything. Consequently, the usual answer to these musings – “Because I said so!” – was generally sufficient.

Occasionally, however, some of our more passionate teachers would attempt to explain that, although we couldn’t understand it now, we would, in the future, realize the reason for it and be thankful we had learned these things. (And, once, a teacher told us we need to study all these things in case we were ever selected to appear on a game show like Jeopardy.) But mostly, our mentors just allowed as to how “in our future” we would find this knowledge useful and meaningful.

So, now I’m old -- 55 years old, to be exact -- and I’m still waiting.

I’ve had about a half-dozen different jobs, operated three different businesses, published five newspapers, and done a whole bunch of other things… but I still haven’t figured out when Beowulf is going to come in handy.

Sine and cosine. Tangent and cotangent. Secant and cosecant. Even back then I understood that these things would probably be useful if we were gonna be rocket scientists. But, as it turns out, not a single member of the Lexington High School Class of ’72 actually DID become a rocket scientist.

Not that I’m not thankful for the education I received. I am. And, while the Palmetto State may have ranked near the bottom of the nation all those years ago just as we do now, we all came through it pretty well.

But, as a point of advice to prepare today’s youth for the jobs of tomorrow, I might offer the education professionals a bit of guidance:

Instead of trying to teach all of them the formula for rotating a parabola on its axis, you might want to train some of them to smile when they say, “Would you like fries with that?”

Now, just in case you too spent countless hours studying random topics which you have yet to put to good use, let’s have a little game show of our own: a contest!!!

Read back through this column, and see how many of each of the following you can find:
1. Dangling participles
2. Split infinitives
3. Misplaced modifiers

Send your answers to me by email (rodshealy@aol.com).

First response with the most correct answers wins a trip to Rhodesia (a country I studied in the seventh grade which, apparently, doesn’t exist any more!)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I’m a Gamblin’ Man

I’m undeniably a gambling man. Like most other people who decide to go into business for themselves, I do a little high-stakes gambling every week… you know, like gambling that there will be money left at the end of the week so I can get a paycheck. Most weeks, I lose.

I also gamble on a variety of other things.

Politics, for instance. I spend a lot of time grooming candidates for public office, in hopes that, on election day, they’ll get at least one vote more than their opponents.

And driving. I’m a really bad driver, mainly because, due to my increasing age and the accompanying absent-mindedness that seems to go along with it, my attention is rarely on the road where it should be. Instead, I’m usually somewhere else entirely. Anytime I drive, it’s a gamble.

And cooking. Mostly, the cooking I do involves tossing a slab of meat on the grill. It’s a major gamble whether or not I’ll remember the meat before its burned into charcoal. (See “increasing age and accompanying absent-mindedness” above.)

I do NOT, however, gamble on sports.

It’s football season, and sports gambling is in full swing. But not for me. Believe it or not, I’ve never bet on a sporting event.

We’ll, that’s not entirely true, because in grammar school, we always bet each other five dollars on the outcome of the USC vs. Clemson game. Only, we never paid off the bet, nor were we expected to, because none of us had ever even owned a five dollar bill, much less squandered one away in a bet. To us, “betcha five dollars” was simply a figure of speech… certainly not intended as a promissory instrument of any kind.

I don’t oppose wagering on ballgames. I think it should be legal, if that’s what you want to do. When I’m on a cruise or at some faraway destination, I have been known to light up a casino or two. (I should point out that I’m not a high-roller. I usually start small… and end up smaller.)

But sports betting lost me when I discovered what they called “the spread”. To me, “covering the spread” had always meant what I did with the strawberry jelly on top of a layer of peanut butter and a slice of bread. But now, it suddenly meant a “point spread”: my team not only had to WIN… it had to win by a certain number of points.

“So let me get this straight,” I remember asking myself, “If the Gamecocks win by 3 points, but the spread was 4 points, even though they won, I would lose my bet?”

Then I said to myself, “Self! You don’t want no part of that!”

It got worse.

As I investigated further, I discovered that lot’s of times, the “point spread” was not just a number, but it was a number and a half. For instance, they would say, “The Cowboys are a 5 ½ point favorite” or “The Falcons are a 4 ½ point underdog”.

I’ve watched a whole lot of football games in my 55 years, but I have never seen a team score half-a-point.

But then a light went off, and I figured out exactly what was going on here: It’s a money-making scheme!!! That half-point, I’m guessing, is sorta like everybody betting on those red or black spaces on the casino’s roulette wheel, when all of a sudden – KERPLUNK – the little ball lands in the green slot, and everybody who bet on red or black loses! I think it’s the same principle.

The point of betting on the game, I’m told, is to make it more interesting. I always thought that’s what the cheerleaders were for. Just sit closer to them, if you want it to be more interesting!

At my age, I probably don’t need ballgames to be too much more interesting. It couldn’t possibly be good for the heart.

Imagine the strain the following football game scenario could place on my cardiovascular system:

WHAM! My team intercepted a pass with 11 seconds left and runs it back 87 yards for the winning touchdown! BLAM! But they didn’t cover the spread, so I just lost the thousand bucks I bet! SLAM! The cheerleaders don’t know the games over… they’re still out there shaking their all-overs to the rhythm of “Beat It.”

Instant heart attack, except for….

SHAZZAM! Due to my increasing age and the accompanying absent-mindedness that seems to go along with it, my mind has wandered to a recent documentary I watched on The History Channel, and I’ve completely missed all three of the preceeding events, avoiding the heart attack and likely saving my life.

Now I wonder if I can persuade my bookie that “betcha a thousand dollars” was just a figure of speech.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

People Watching

Can you remember when we all lived in the land of “Leave It To Beaver” and Mayberry?

If you can remember those simpler times – as depicted in TV Land – you’ll recall that many a lazy afternoon was spent sitting on the bench in front of Floyd’s barber shop… just watching the people of Mayberry amble about.

Those days are pretty much gone, mainly because Main Streets don’t seem to exist any more, at least not the kind of Main Street where people walked from store to store down the sidewalk. Main Street has been replaced by Wal-Mart and the mall. If you enjoy people-watching, as I do, nowadays you probably do it at the mall.

The first time I can really remember people-watching was in church when I was just a tot. At St. Peters Lutheran Church in Lexington, on the first Sunday of each month, the service included Communion, which involved every adult member of the church lining up, and easing their way to the altar in groups of a dozen or so. Since I was about five years old, I didn’t yet quite grasp the whole “forgiveness of sins” thing, so I focused on watching the people walk up to the front of the church… the same people, month after month, year after year. By the time I was seven, I could recognize everybody in the congregation.

And by the time I got to college, I had developed somewhat of a hobby out of people-watching. As I recall, I spent most of my entire sophomore year sitting on a bench in front of USC’s Russell House people-watching, instead of attending class.

Nowadays, as a sometimes-political consultant, it’s actually my job to watch people, and study their habits… except we call the people “voters”. Still, it’s people-watching, and I enjoy it.

Politicians, of course, need to do more than watch people. They need to walk up to them, introduce themselves, and shake their hands. Believe it or not, that talent doesn’t always come naturally for politicians. I often need to show them how to do it.

The problem, I think, is that we, as a society, don’t interface with each other as much as we used to. We may watch people, but we rarely talk to strangers.

Just as technology has evolved, so have our relationships with our neighbors. The coming of the automobile nearly a century ago made us more transient, and less likely to know our neighbors. A half-century ago, the innovation of back yards took us away from our front porches where we could see people walking by. And then, TV forced us indoors instead of outdoors, and air-conditioning made that move permanent. Now, for some people, the Internet is taking away any reason to EVER leave the house.

Consequently, many people find themselves more isolated than ever from actual human contact. And that’s a shame. It diminishes our quality of life.

One of the joys of being the publisher of community newspapers is the endless opportunity it gives me to meet new people. From my earliest forays into this business, back when I spent my days selling advertising, I considered it my job each day to go out and meet new friends. And I did!

In my freshman year of college – the year I actually attended classes – my sociology professor told of an informal experiment whereby you would show up early at the movie theatre, when only one couple had already taken seats, and proceed to take the seat immediately next to the seated couple… instead of any of the dozens of other rows which were empty. The reaction, of course, would always be awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes the original couple would move to different seats.

It’s a strange reaction, because, as animals, we are by nature drawn together, into tribes, much like herds of elephants, packs of wolves, flocks of geese, or schools of dolphins. But somewhere along the way, we seem to have erected some sort of artificial walls around ourselves.

While you might not be inclined to go out and just introduce yourself to new people willy-nilly, I would nonetheless encourage you to at least engage in healthy people-watching, which I figure is the next best thing: the mall, the zoo, at a ballgame, the beach or lake, on a cruise, tailgating, at a concert, the post office, at a flea market, or in a restaurant.

Or, if you can find one, on a bench in front of a barber shop on Main Street.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fun With Last Week’s Headlines!

Set a spell... take your shoes off. Let’s pause to have some fun with a few of the nation’s biggest headlines from the last week or so.

Headline: “Sanford says he won’t resign.” Over and over and over he’s said it. It’s actually getting boring, reading that same headline again and again. Of course he won’t resign himself. The state legislature is going to have to resign him. (Or make him an offer he can’t refuse… in whatever language they speak on his planet.)

Headline: “Williams outburst shocks nation.” Serena Williams, the professional tennis standout, shouted out inappropriately, stunning the viewing audience.

Headline: “Wilson outburst shocks nation.” Joe Wilson, our own Congressman from South Carolina, shouted out inappropriately, stunning the viewing audience.

I’m envisioning a new reality TV show, where Wilson and Williams travel around the country, bursting unannounced into solemn occasions and stately events. The point, each week, would be to guess which outburst we’ll see: Wilson’s “You Lie!”, or William’s “Guess Where I’m Gonna Put This Tennis Ball.”

When I first met Joe Wilson, he was the college advisor to the Teen Age Republicans, of which I was a member. We were both destined for politics, but at the time, the level of our involvement was selling donuts to delegates at the State Convention. As I recall, Joe taught us the phrase that pays: “Would you like to buy a box of donuts, please?” (Only now have I realized that our donut sales would have been vastly improved if I had refused to take rejection, but instead countered every polite “No, Thank You” with an explosive, in-your-face “You LIE!!!” Spontaneously, of course.)

Headline: “Leno’s new show premieres.” While it’s certain to be a hit, Jay still doesn’t have the edgy comedy of Letterman, who last week gave us: “Top Ten Joe Wilson Excuses.”

Headline: “Lack of vitamin D increases your risk of death.” That was the actual headline. But I don’t believe it. It may alter the time-table, but it doesn’t increase your risk of dying.

Headline: “Cash for Clunkers” etc., etc. Okay, so the program which required older cars to be traded in and junked probably jump-started the economies of the big automakers. But it really couldn’t have been very good for the 50,000+ small businesses devoted to automotive parts, maintenance, service and repair… and the employees who make their livings working on…. OLDER CARS!!!.

Headline: “Disneyworld to expand.” The Magic Kingdom, etc., etc., is doubling its size. I can’t wait to go back: That’s twice as many lines to stand in!!!

Headline: “Sharks invade Cape Cod.” This headline caught my attention, and when I saw the true-life “Jaws-like” TV news account, I was really shocked. What I saw was hard for me to believe: Those Yankee swimmers actually think that’s a real BEACH! (Don’t ever show them pictures of our Grand Strand.)

Headline: “All You Can Eat Buffet”. This was not a news headline…. It was a headline in an advertisement. But it caught my eye, as it does every time I see it. It’s as if I’m drawn to that particular phrase. I seem to take it as a personal challenge. I’m always like… “Oh, yeahhhh???? Well, we’ll just see about that!!!” Chomp, chomp, chomp. And 6 to 8 pounds later, the buffet always wins…. But at least it knows it was in a fight!!!

Headline: “Fun With Last Week’s Headlines.” Whoa!!! That’s weird... sorta freaky… like déjà vu all over again….like the twilight zone… a different time and place… a parallel dimension… a whole other world, a different galaxy.

And look! There’s the Governor!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wee all make misteaks!

It’s true. Wee all make misteaks! (Some of us, with more regularity than others.)

I learned a long time ago to admit my mistakes. I’m very good at it. I’ve had a lot of practice.

The last time I accidentally made a GOOD decision was in the ninth grade, when I accidentally signed up for typing class, instead of taking Latin, as had been recommended by my counselor. Oops. (But since I’ve pretty much spent the last 40 years typing words for a living, that mistake turned out okay.)
The earliest mistake I can remember is when I fell out of the car at four years old. I opened the door while the car was zooming down the highway. Oops!

The next few years were chock full of mistakes (and when I say “the next few” I actually mean “the next 51”.) A few stand out:
--The brushed suede tuxedo I wore to the prom in high school. Oops!
--Completely forgetting to go to any classes for an entire semester and flunking out of college my sophomore year. Oops!
--Forgetting to put anti-freeze in the 1954 Chevy. Oops!
--At 18 years old, casting half of my first-ever vote for Agnew. Oops!
--Selling my old Mustang convertible for $200. Oops!
--Forgetting to keep oil in the 1966 Ford Falcon. Oops!
--Forgetting where I left the used station wagon I had bought a month earlier, and never seeing it again. Oops!
--Leaving my little sister at a rest-stop on the Interstate Highway in Florida, and not missing her until about 60 miles later. Oops!
--Every time I have ever tried to cut my own hair or trim my own beard. Oops!

In my defense, during the same half-century I was making these mistakes, there were lots of other mistakes happening that I had absolutely nothing to do with. For instance,
--Leisure suits, Oops!
--Milli Vanilli. Oops!
--Pet Rocks. Oops!
--Pleather. Oops!
--Disco. Oops!
--Windows Vista. Oops!
--“Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”. Oops!
--Giving the Nobel Prize to Al Gore. Oops!

You will notice a lot of my mistakes have involved cars. Automotive mistakes are certainly among my top categories of mistakes. That’s because I know very little about cars. This is unfortunate, because a speeding automobile is one of the worst places to make a mistake. Recognizing my tendency to make mistakes, and my total lack of understanding of all things mechanical, I have taken steps to drastically reduce my car-related mistakes. I now drive 35 MPH everywhere I go, and my mistakes cause less damage.

To try to curb my other mistakes, I’ve categorized them into groups, and come to a major realization: I make more mistakes doing the things I do more often, and fewer doing the things I do less often. For instance, I make fewer mistakes during gardening, home repairs, aerobics, cooking, etc., because I don’t do ‘em much. (Actually, I do cook occasionally, which usually results in multiple mistakes… but I don’t even count mistakes with food. I figure that’s what ketchup is for!)

My most frequent mistake categories include

a) dressing myself, because I do it every day, which provides a lot of opportunities for errors. Oops!

b) listening and/or remembering: major goof-ups, multiple times per day. Oops!

c) Nigerian princes I met on the Internet! They are SO convincing. Oops!

d) song lyric mistakes, which occur every time I try to sing. (I have actually developed a method of hiding those mistakes, using a combination of humming and mumbling. It’s like ketchup for lyrics. Note: Yodeling does NOT work; it tends instead to accentuate the mistake. Oops!)

e) social graces; CRIPES!!!

f) Business and finance; you know, stuff like banking, investing, paying taxes, saving money, making profit. Oops! Oops! Oops! Uh Oh! Oops!

To top it off, I’m in the newspaper business. Each and every week, I publish pages and pages of words -- somewhere between an estimated 150,000 to 250,000 words each week… which means 150,000 to 250,000 chances for typographical errors each week. Oops!!!!

As I said earlier, I learned a long time ago to admit my mistakes. Last week was one of those mistakes, as it happens.

An advertisement contained a very minor error: There was nobody selling BBQ Porn for Labor Day.


Monday, August 31, 2009

What it was was benchwarming!

High school football is a tradition throughout most of the South.

There was nothing more exciting to me, when I was a young kid, than the Friday night ritual of going to watch the Lexington High School Wildcats play, in a stadium that used to be next to what was once Hites Restaurant, behind the former location of the town water tower. By the time I was eight years old, I was playing football every day in my front yard, imagining myself one day playing for those Fighting Wildcats.

Preparing myself to one day join that varsity team, I diligently practiced running, passing, punting, kicking, blocking and tackling any time I could gather up a few friends. Turns out, I should have saved my energy and just practiced sitting… because the position I mostly ended up playing was “benchwarmer.”

Officially, I played guard and tackle in high school. But in my case, that meant “guard the water bucket, and tackle anybody who came near it!” I had all the athletic ability of an over-stuffed sofa.

Even back then, however, I was the eternal optimist. Whatever I undertook, I undertook with passion. Even benchwarming. Hence, the birth in 1970 of what we called “LBU”: the Lexington Benchwarmers Union.

During our junior year, it became apparent to a handful of us that we were destined to ride the bench for the entire year, so we embraced it with pride. We developed the proper techniques for sitting, kneeling and standing on the sidelines, so that we could pass on our expertise to future benchwarmers. We learned the best tactics for staying warm when the weather turned chilly… a common benchwarmer hazard, since you never work up a sweat. We took turns watching the game and taking naps on the bench. And we learned how to rub grass and dirt into our uniforms during the pre-game warmups to make it appear that we had actually played in the game.

We were the finest group of benchwarmers LHS had ever seen.

While I can’t reveal the full identities of my fellow LBU members – after all, they may at this very moment be regaling their grandkids with tales of their high school athletic heroics – I will say that they had very common last names like: Shealy, Sharpe, Sox, Satcher, Smith. (For the longest time, I thought the coach had somehow obliterated the “S” section of the team roster, presumably by dripping tobacco juice on it, and never called us into the games because he couldn’t read our names. I discounted that notion, however, as Sharpe, Sox, Smith, and Satcher’s names were all eventually called into action, leaving me as the lone undisputed captain of the benchwarming unit.)

Looking back, I think my problem was simply that the coaches had me pegged for the wrong position on the team. Defensive tackle is probably the wrong place for a writer/humorist. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the Defensive Coordinator, Coach Hogwartz, was really looking for the “creative type” at all.

(On a side note, in addition to being a member of the team, I was also the sports editor of the high school newspaper… and the sports page of the fall, 1970, edition coincidentally featured the benchwarmers instead of the team!!!)

By my senior year, things changed. But only slightly.

In addition to having the athletic ability of an over-stuffed sofa, there had also been a bit of a communication problem, I discovered.

For years I had heard my coaches saying things like “put some leather on him”…. “crack some leather”… “I want to hear some leather pop”. I had no idea what they were talking about until I finally discovered that apparently, 50 years earlier, helmets and other football pads had in fact been made of leather. How could I have known? This was typical of what seemed to be a general disconnect between the coaches and me.

Then one afternoon at practice, the head coach accidentally said something without a wad of tobacco in his mouth, and I understood him for the first time in three years. He said, “Shealy, why didn’t you hit that guy?”, which I had always misinterpreted as “Sweetpea, waddle donkey Hitchcock fly?” (… which always started my mind wandering, staring off blankly into space wondering what he meant, while the other players were running willy-nilly all around me.)

Now that I understood what he was saying, I did it. I smacked the other guy. And, for the first time, it occurred to me that just running toward the other team with my arms flailing wildly, as I had been doing since fourth grade, did no good whatsoever. And seemed to exasperate my coaches.

Running into that guy, like the coach had asked, changed my football career. The coaches shifted me from defense to offense, and made me a blocking lineman, which largely consisted of me “getting in the way” of the other team. My job was to make sure the opposing players ran into me instead of running into any of my teammates who were authorized to touch the football. (I was sternly instructed never to touch, or even come within five yards, of the football.)

Getting in the way of the other team was easy. I had been getting in the way my whole life. I was actually quite good at it. Probably one of the phrases I was most familiar with was “you’re in the way”.

Unfortunately, in the third game of my senior year, I got in the way of two guys at the same time. Actually, my knee got in the way of the two guys – two BIG guys, coming from two different directions – and ended up lying on the ground beside me facing a totally different direction than the rest of my body.

After a brief hospital stay to put my knee back together, they let me out and gave me a pair of crutches.

I rejoined the team, and hobbled back over to the sidelines -- back to the bench -- where I felt a home… and concluded my football career proudly watching Sox, Smith, Satcher, Sharpe and the rest of my benchwarming buddies from the previous year compete for the conference championship!!!

Friday, August 28, 2009

This is really, really funny

Oftentimes when I write my column, I try to be funny. I mention this because a lot of my regular readers have suggested recently that I should occasionally add humor to my column.

Let me re-phrase that: “a lot of my regular reader”, I should have said.

And instead of “suggested recently that I occasionally add humor”, I should have said “asked me if I’m still writing a column occasionally, because I quit reading it years ago, because your jokes are so lame.”

Come to think of it, her exact words were: “The 1950’s called. They want their jokes back!”

Other times, however, I succeed in being very funny, even hilarious… but it’s usually when I’m not trying to, but instead, just telling true stories from my life. (The true stories which seem to get the biggest chuckles, incidentally, are: [a] my attire; [b] my finances; and [c] my automotive and mechanical skills.

(Oh, and I forgot [d] my age, weight, looks, and personality.)

So, I decided to do better. For the last few weeks, I’ve started paying particular attention to the most humorous shows on TV to try to determine what makes them funny. As it turns out, they’re not that much different than my column: the late-nite comedy shows are sorta lame… but the nightly news is a hoot (thanks mostly to our own Governor.)

Consequently, I have given up on the vast wasteland of television, and gone directly to the newest, greatest source of humor in the world: The Electric Internet!!!
Several times a day, one of my many friends will “forward” me an email which makes me LOL (which is an Electric Internet abbreviation for “Laugh Out Loud”).

Let me re-phrase that: “Several times a day”. That part is okay. But when I said “one of my many friends”, I should have said, “Mom”; and when I said “forward me an email”, I should have said, “accidentally hits the ‘reply all’ button” so that I see a list of several thousand people who have already forwarded the joke, complete with date/time stamps, dating back almost to the 1950’s, from whence came the joke!!!

But there are also some REALLY FUNNY jokes on the Electric Internets, if you just know where to look.

To find the funniest ones, I always go to this website: www.jokesrejectedbylatenightTVhumorwriters.com

Let me give you and example of the jokes I have found on the Electric Internets. Here’s one:

Three old guys are out walking. First one says, 'Windy, isn't it?' Second one says, 'No, it's Thursday!' Third one says, 'So am I. Let's go get a beer.'

Now let me give you a sample of Rod-Boy’s Homemade Jokes and Humor:

Question: How did the Scottish man meet his demise?

Answer: Kilt.

Okay, now that you’ve heard both kinds, which did you like best?!!! Which was funniest?!!! Which one really cracked you up and made you roll on the floor?!!!


Okay, if that’s the way you feel, I’ll just give you a few more jokes from the Electric Internet, and be done with it:

Did you hear about the blonde who returned a scarf to the store because it was too tight?


A Sunday school teacher was telling her class the story of the Good Samaritan. She asked the class, 'If you saw a person lying on the roadside, wounded and bleeding, what would you do?'

One little girl gave an honest answer: 'I think I'd throw up.'


Bumper sticker of the year: 'If you can read this, thank a teacher -and, since it's in English, thank a soldier!'


Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.


A man was telling his neighbor, 'I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me four thousand dollars, but it's state of the art. It's perfect.'

'Really,' answered the neighbor. 'What kind is it?'

'Twelve thirty.'


Emily Sue broke her ankle and Bubba called 911. The 911 operator told Bubba that she would send someone out right away.

"Where do you live?" asked the operator.

Bubba replied, "At the end of Eucalyptus Drive."

The operator asked, "Can you spell that for me?

There was a long pause and finally Bubba said, "How 'bout if I drag her over to Oak Street and you pick her up there?"


Did you hear about the $3,000,000 Alabama State Lottery? The winner gets $3 a year for a million years.


Morris, an 82 year-old man, went to the doctor to get a physical. A few days later, the doctor saw Morris walking down the street with a gorgeous young woman on his arm.

A couple of days later, the doctor spoke to Morris and said, 'You're really doing great, aren't you?'

Morris replied, 'Just doing what you said, Doc: 'Get a hot mamma and be cheerful.''

The doctor said, 'I didn't say that. I said, 'You've got a heart murmur; be careful.'


There you have it: a few of the funniest jokes in the world, Fresh Daily from the Electric Internet. But don’t expect me to make a habit of including Actual Humor each week.

Okay, gotta run now: The 1970’s called… they want their clothes back.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Meet My Facebook Friends

Last week, I gave you a brief lesson on the Internet fad called Facebook, primarily for the benefit of my fellow Old People, who, like me, grew up in the age before computers, and frankly, are having a difficult time adjusting to the World in which we currently find ourselves.

Now that we all basically understand how Facebook works (like an old telephone “party line” that everybody in the world can listen in on, except with words and pictures instead of talking), I will follow through on my promise to introduce you this week to a few of my Facebook Friends. (Facebook Friends are what we call those acquaintance with whom we’ve mutually agreed that its okay to listen in on each others “party line” conversations.)

My Facebook Friends can be divided into a very few categories:

First -- and my favorites -- are my old classmates from the Lexington High School Class of 1972, give or take a few years. I’ve reconnected with a number of these old school chums who I haven’t seen since… well, since 1972!!! Every time I am “friended” my another member of the LHS Class of ‘72, I swell up with a sense of inner-pride, knowing that yet another one of us actually learned to read and write, despite numerous predictions to the contrary.

The next group – and probably the largest – is my relatives. They don’t get much choice. They HAVE to be your friends. And since I had a grandmother with eleven brothers and sisters, and a grandpa with fourteen, I’ve got relatives falling out of trees. When I started signing up my relatives as Facebook Friends, the Facebook Overload Alarm sounded.

Then there are the people I work with, or formerly worked with, along with business clients, customers and vendors. These are the contacts which could actually be useful from a profit standpoint. I only have about two of these.

Social friends are another big category. In reality, I have about a kazillion social friends… except for the part about actually remembering their names. Since you need to know someone’s name to become their Facebook Friend, I only have about two of these, too.

Next category: Real Estate acquaintances. I seem to know a lot of people who sell real estate, and they all seem eager to be my friends. I think they’re expecting me to be homeless any day now.

Jim Smiths. I have a couple of actual friends named Jim Smith – which it turns out is the most common name in America, therefore I have about 50 Facebook Friends named Jim Smith, none of whom are the ones I actually know.

And the last major category: People I don’t really know… but I do now, because they’re my Facebook Friends. I have loads of these… even some from foreign countries, which should not be a surprise, because I also seem to know a few members of the Liberian royal family, and they all want to give me money via email.

So that’s a rundown of my Facebook Friends (which I will now start abbreviating as FBFs.) Now, what do I do with ‘em, you may be wondering. That’s where it gets interesting. Every so often – maybe once an hour, maybe once a month – you write a “status update”, telling your friends what you’re doing right now, or just got finished doing, or maybe are fixin’ to do.

Frankly, this has always seemed like a bad idea to me. I might not want the entire free world to know what I’m doing right now. So, instead, I fill in that blank with whatever nonsense happens to pop into my mind: “I fear gerbils”, or “You ain’t nuthin’ but a hound-dog, crying all the time”, or “Time for Tootsie Rolls”, or “Where does bellybutton lint come from?”

Most of my “status updates” leave my FBFs wondering.

Others, however, take their “status updates” very seriously.
Here are some actual “status updates” from my actual FBFs over the past few days. (The names have been changed to protect the indecent.)

Very often, a FBF will list as his or her status that he/she is “about to go for a jog.” Many times, this report comes early in the morning… even before 7am. Whenever I see that, I immediately delete those people as FBFs. We don’t belong in the same club.

Similarly, other FBFs feel the need to broadcast it every time they mow the lawn, paint the house, organize the garage, clean the gutters, haul off the garbage, or change the oil. Delete, delete, delete, delete, delete! It’s people like that who give people like me a bad name.

A recent update informed my that an old classmate of mine, Elmer Snodgrass is “going to the Piggly Wiggly.” If I were going to list that as the main event of my day, I would instead say “Rod-Boy has no life.”

A former co-worker posted that Peggy Sue Overstreet “is stuck in traffic on I-26”. I thought to myself, there’s probably a traffic tie-up due to a wreck caused by somebody trying to play with their Facebook while they’re driving.

Shannon Marie Blonderhair “is heading to Atlanta for the weekend”, another report said. Good luck on having any stuff left at your house when you get back, since you just broadcast to the world that there’s no one at your house on Saturday night!!!

Johnny Ray Rednickerson “can’t wait for State Fair”.

Bubba Lewie Loudmoutherson “is getting ready to watch America’s Got Talent. I hope the magician wins.”

Henry Clay Withersmith “just had pork chops, macaroni and cheese, and collards for lunch.”

Emma Lou Goodness “is listening to the rain.”

Gary Lee Hankerchiefton “is studying for a test I have to take for work”.

Sarah Lee Bakerpie “wants her kids to learn to clean up their rooms”.

On and on and on it goes…. Intimate glimpses into the day-to-day lives of my friends, acquaintances, relatives and some people I don’t know who actually might live on other planets. It’s Facebook. It’s all the rage these days.

As for me, I think I’ll not bore my friends (or embarrass my relatives) with the details of my day. I’ll probably just continue to report on my daily life as it exists in my mind.

Rod-Boy “is trying to finish his weekly column so he’ll have time to mow the lawn, paint the house, organize the garage, clean the gutters, haul off the garbage, and change the oil before the rain comes.”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Facebook Friends

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Internet phenomenon called Facebook, even if you are “Old People” like Yours Truly.

To most of the Young Folks, keeping up with the latest Internet fad is easy. It’s second nature. They grew up with the Internet. They understand how to use the Internet. They get it.

But to us Old People, it doesn’t come so easily. It pretty much has to be drilled into us before we even come close to catching on. There’s too much, and it moves too fast. We can’t keep up. And if we TRY to keep up, it makes us dizzy, and we end up having to take an extra dose of our medication….or an extra afternoon nap.

Most of us Old People first learn about these new Internet innovations after they’ve caused some trouble, forcing the National News Media writes about them. Many times, they’re a factor in some sort of violent crime, even murder.

I never knew there were websites that taught people how to make bombs until some wacko used a bomb made from Internet instructions to blow somebody up! But then, I read about it in the National News Media.

After a website is connected to a murder or two, the whole world hears about it. And, if you believe everything you read, these websites are killin’ people: MySpace seems to have killed some people; Craigslist is reported to have killed some people; and now, Facebook is said to have killed some people. (It should be noted, however, that GUNS do not kill people… criminals do!)

Anyway, because of all their notoriety, lots of new Old People have now heard of these Internet websites. But, for the most part, the Old People still don’t have a clue what they really are.

So I thought I would offer you a bit of explanation about Facebook, in which I happen to be a participant, so therefore I am qualified to explain it – one Old Person to another. (If you are reading this column in a your local community newspaper, incidentally, the odds are very strong that your are an Old Person. Remember this fact: Young Folks read the Internet; Old People read newspapers. It’s true.)

So, pay attention, Old People – and elbow the Old Person sitting beside you to wake ‘em up – while I explain the Facebook Friends phenomenon:

1. It’s a computer thing. (If I’ve lost you already, stop reading, and go back to reading your newspaper.)

2. It’s on the Electronic Internet, also known at the World Wide Web. While the Internet is still a mystery to most Old People, I have invented a way of explaining it that most Old People can understand: Think back to the old days of the Telephone, and remember what was know as a “Party Line”. Now just imagine that everyone in the whole world is on the same party line… except instead of talking, we’re sending each other words and pictures. That’s the Internet…the World Wide Web.

3. Now, to understand Facebook, think of a Telephone Answering Machine. When somebody calls you, if you don’t answer, they get a recorded message from you, and then they leave a message. Facebook is just like that on the Internet, ‘cept, once again, instead of TALKING, it’s just written words and pictures… and when a friend tries to contact you on the Internet, instead of leaving a voice message, they leave their message in words and pictures.

4. If it’s a Party Line with everybody in the world on it, other people would get to see all your messages, right? Wrong! That’s where your Facebook Friends come in handy. Facebook allows you to choose the people you will allow to read your messages and see your pictures. Those people are your Facebook Friends. You can ask anyone whose email address you happen to know to become your Facebook Friend… and if they accept, you will now be listed on each others Facebook page as Friends… and you’ll be able to keep up with each other by checking in from time to time.

Now that you know what all the hubbub is about, I’ll invite you to become my personal Facebook Friend, with all the rights and privileges accorded thereto, herewith, whereas, hither, thither and yon.

And, now that you understand the essence of this Internet fad, next week I plan to introduce you to a few of my Facebook Friends, and tell you what they’ve been up to lately. They’re characters, they are. A hoot.

That’s all for this week. It’s 2:00pm already… time for a nap before I eat supper at 3:30 pm…. like Old People do.