Sunday, May 9, 2010

A Little Info from Rod-Boy

Last week in this very space, I updated you on recent developments in my medical condition. Since then, a lot of folks have contacted me to let me know I’m on their prayer lists, for which I am truly grateful.

Back in August of 2008, when I first underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, I promised to keep you posted of my progress, much as my friend Jerry Fowler had done during his illness a couple of years earlier. He shared his personal battle with cancer each week, and helped a lot of people along the way.

In my column, I mentioned that I had not undergone any of the standard cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy, but instead had chosen the treatment route of “clinical trials”… still-experimental treatments which have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Several readers contacted me this week asking for more information about clinical trials, so I thought I would share my thoughts about this concept of dealing with cancer.

First, let me say emphatically that these are my ideas, not necessarily endorsed by the entire medical community. I want to share what I’ve learned in the last two years, because I hope someone else might be helped with this information, but I also want to make sure you know that the decision to pursue trials instead of the generally-accepted standard of care is simply one man’s opinion.

The fact is that only 2% of all cancer patients currently participate in clinical trials of experimental treatments. And many of those who do participate do so only as a last resort, only after standard treatments have proven unsuccessful.

To a great extent, cancer patients simply don’t know that these trials are available. Doctors can’t prescribe them, because they have not yet been approved by the FDA. In some instances, however, doctors will mention the availability of trials, usually leaving it up to the patient to follow through.

In my case, my good friend (and lifesaver), Dr. Oscar Lovelace, suggested that I contact Duke University to check into the availability of trials. My doctors as MUSC, knowing that certain standard treatments would not be suitable for me, also suggested checking on trials.

My decision to pursue this course was based on pure-common sense, as I perceive it. Most of these trials are funded by drug companies who are always pursing new and better treatments. I reasoned that it would be unlikely for a drug company to invest millions in a potential treatment which would be less effective than currently approved treatments.

In fact, many of these trials have shown high levels of success… double or triple the success rates of approved standard treatments, and often without many of the undesirable side effects.

None, of course, are sure things. But seeking treatments with higher percentages of success seems like pure common sense to me.

You should always consult with your doctor about these trials, but you can’t always depend on him to know about all the trials. No one does. There are so many different new trials starting each month at so many different locations that it’s simply impossible to keep track with all of them.

But, here’s the good news. There’s a great website which is designed to help people like you and me locate trials which may be suitable. The website is:

If for any reason you have trouble accessing the website, just send me an email, and I’ll be happy to send it back to you as a “link” that you can click on.

In all, the website lists over 8,000 clinical trials that are currently accepting participants.

Amazingly, this very useful website comes to us from the federal government: The National Institutes of Health. (It’s good that they do something helpful for cancer patients, to make up for the FDA being more of an impediment to them for so many decades. But that’s a story for another time.)

As I write this column, I am currently located in Knoxville, TN, where I will be for a few days to begin my second trial. By the time you read this, hopefully, I will be receiving the treatment, pending final results of a battery of tests tomorrow.
I hope this information may be helpful to someone within my readership audience. If it helps only one person live just one day of a fuller life, then I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to share it.

With cancer, no one knows exactly what works, or exactly how or why it works, or exactly which patients will respond to which treatments. Those answers are determined by a Higher Power.

Which gets me back to the prayer lists.

It’s the only thing I know of that DOES work 100% of the time, although not always in the way we want it to. But, regardless, it always works.

And to anyone who may be facing the challenges of cancer, as I am, I ask that you let me know about it, so I can add you to MY prayer list.

Because, believe me, I’m talking to Jesus many, many times every day.


You’re always welcome to let me know you agree, disagree, can’t make sense of, or simply don’t care about anything I’ve written here… or about any other topic that happens to be on your mind. You can email me directly at:

And, if reading it once just wasn’t enough for you, read it again online – along with previous columns -- at my modern-technology Electronic Internet blog:

Thursday, April 29, 2010

It’s Me Again, Jesus!

Last week, careful readers will have noticed, Yours Truly skipped his weekly assignment of penning this little column, which is something I try to accomplish each Monday morning. (Careless readers may not have noticed, because the usual space was filled in with a “re-run” from months gone by… just like the TV networks do!)

It was the first time I missed my deadline in over three years. I do not have a good excuse.

I guess, if I was a “dream-up-excuses” sort of guy, I could come up one. I was, after all, strapped down to an operating table, undergoing a bit of brain surgery.
But that’s really no excuse. I’ve undergone similar surgeries two other times in the last couple of years, and I managed to meet the deadline for my column both of those times!

So no excuses. I’ll try to do better in the future, although there admittedly may be some new challenges ahead.

Back in August of 2008, when I first underwent surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor, I promised to keep you posted of my progress, much as my friend Jerry Fowler had done during his illness a couple of years earlier. He shared his personal battle with cancer each week, and helped a lot of people along the way.

I guess I’m just not as disciplined as Jerry was, because, try as I might, I can’t seem to work my health picture into my column but once or twice a year. There have, however, been some recent developments, and I thought I’d share them with you.

I won’t try to give you all the background on the melanoma that I was first diagnosed with in 1983, or the recurrence in the summer of 2008 that briefly impacted my communication skills. I will instead refer you to this column, which is now posted online as a blog at (Just go back to August, 2008, and you can read all about it.)

When we last updated my condition here (last November), I mentioned that I had chosen the treatment route of “clinical trials”… still-experimental treatments which have not yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Although the my first round of trials -- an experimental vaccine designed to boost my immune system -- officially showed no response, there is some evidence that a partial response was achieved. In other words, some success, perhaps.

While searching for the next clinical trial, however, I was delayed by what appears to be multiple new recurrences of the melanoma in various areas: several spots in the lungs, where we already knew there was at least one large tumor; nine lesions in the brain, which were treated by gamma-knife last Monday at MUSC; and a number of brand new melanoma tumors in areas which do not appear to threaten any organs.
A biopsy of the large tumor in the lung, however, which had tested positive for cancer last June, suddenly came back negative, just a couple weeks ago. Hence, the possible partial success, perhaps.

As of now, I am scheduled to begin a new round of clinical trials next week. I’ll try to keep you posted better than I have been doing.

In the meantime, I am blessed to have no real side effects or disabilities, and am able to continue to work my normal schedule… with the obvious exception of last Monday, when I missed my deadline.

It’s also a good time for me to reflect a bit.

Given my several brushes with cancer, my odds of still being here are not good. In 1983, I was given a 35% chance of surviving five years. In 2008, my odds of making it through were described as maybe one in a thousand. And the couple of recurrences since then have been…well, let’s just say alarming to the technicians reading my scans. (You can always see it in their eyes!)

Still, here I am, starting on my next streak of writing a column every week for three years without missing a single one. I hope.

There are a few things I’ve learned through these experiences of the last two years.

First, none of the medical professionals and researchers can tell us what makes these cures and treatments work sometimes and not work other times. They’re striving to find out, but they just don’t know.

Secondly, a lot of really smart people – doctors, scientists, researchers – seem to think the “power of prayer” has a lot to do with it. I’m glad, because I think it has everything to do with it. When word of my diagnosis was revealed two years ago,

I was humbled by the number of prayer groups who helped me – friends and acquaintances, and total strangers alike. They prayed for me, and I assume that’s why I’m still here.

Although I’ve personally never stopped talking to Jesus about it, I do notice that our chats become a little more fervent and frequent each time I get a diagnosis with a new set of challenges. I’m praying as hard as I can, but I sure do appreciate those extra prayer-words from others (because yours might be the one that works!)

Thirdly, whatever my future holds is okay with me. It’s a great life, and I love this life, but I’ve certainly had my fair share of it -- probably more than my share -- so when my time comes, it comes. In my prayers, incidentally, I always address that exact point: I simply ask Jesus to use me as is His will. If that means going to Heaven sooner rather than later, then that’s what I’m ready for. After all, it’s not this life that really counts… it’s the next one. I believe. I am saved. And I am ready.

If I’m sounding a little more prayerful than usual in my column this week, I hope you’ll understand. Skipping my column last week gave me extra time to reflect on this week’s message… and I decided to talk to a larger audience this week.


You’re always welcome to let me know you agree, disagree, can’t make sense of, or simply don’t care about anything I’ve written here… or about any other topic that happens to be on your mind. You can email me directly at:

And, if reading it once just wasn’t enough for you, read it again online – along with previous columns -- at my modern-technology Electronic Internet blog:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sing-along with Rod-Boy

Never let it be said that this little newspaper is a slave to tradition. Nay, far from it.

This little-ol’ community newspaper pushes the envelope on a regular basis. This little newspaper – specifically, yours truly, in this weekly column, the very one you are reading right now – is perfectly willing to take you places you have never been…. to seek out new worlds and new journalistic adventures… to boldly go where no man has gone before!

So buckle up. This week, I’m taking you on one of those newspaper joyrides, as we embark on the history-making, World’s-First-Ever, newspaper Sing-along!

Most of my closest of my friends recognize that I’m a big fan of sing-alongs. I’m inclined, on a moments notice, to whip out my trusty guitar any place, any time, and commence to crooning. Sometimes a modest crowd gathers around and joins in. Other times, they scatter like flies, and I’m left with my sing-along of one: my sing-along becomes a sing-alone!

So this is a big moment: We’re having a sing-along right here in the newspaper. First time ever. A history-making event. I think it can be done.

If this were radio, or television, or even the Internet, it wouldn’t be quite so ground-breaking of an undertaking. Heck, Mitch Miller did it every week when I was a kid. But not inside the pages of a newspaper.

Okay, here’s how it’s gonna work…

I’ll name the song, and you’ll be able to hear the tune in you mind. (We’re going to use very familiar songs that I’m sure you’ll recognize. From many years of actual, live and in person sing-alongs, I happen to know which songs most people know the best.) All you’ve got to do participate is nod your head back and forth in rhythm as you’re reading the lyrics to the song. (Finger wagging or foot tapping will also work.)

Or, if you want, you can move your lips. If you’re ready for the next step, go ahead and hum. And if you’re really out there, just let yourself go and belt it out… LOUD, so the other people in the office, waiting room, or restaurant can join in!

Now, put on your Happy Faces, and Sing-Along With Rod-Boy!

We’ll start with an old favorite that I’m sure you know, because everybody does:

“You Are My Sunshine!”
key of E for you folks with perfect pitch

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy, when skies are gray.
You’ll never know dear, how much I love you,
Please don’t take my sunshine away!”

Okay, we’ll stop with just one chorus. We don’t want to create any disruptions in the workplace. How did you do? Did anyone join in with you?

Okay, next, let’s move to a song actually from the most recent half-century. A little ditty by the Beatles:

“I Saw Her Standing There”
key of E

“Well, she was just 17, if you know what I mean,
And the way she looked was way beyond compare,
Well, how could I dance with another….. WOOOOOO…
When I saw her standing there?”

Tell the truth, did you shake your head when you got to the “WOOOOO”?

From the hit movie “Shrek”…. (and a few decades before that, from the “Monkees”)…. here’s a little ditty called:

“I’m a Believer”
key of E
(This time we’ll try the verse and the chorus!)

“I thought love was only true in fairy tales,
And for someone else but not for me,
Love was out to get me, that’s the way it seemed,
Disappointment haunted all my dreams…
Then I saw her face…. Now I’m a believer,
Not a trace…. Of doubt in my mind,
I’m in love… oooooooooh, I’m a believer,
And I couldn’t leave her if I tried.

If that one didn’t get your toes tapping, I’m pretty sure this next one will. It’s from the 1960’s, and if you were there, you’ll definitely remember it:

“The Ballad of Jed Clampett”
(also known as the theme to the “Beverly Hillbillies”)
key of E

“Come and listen to my story ‘bout a man named Jed,
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
And then one day he was shooting at some food,
When up through the ground came a bubbling crude…
(Oil, that is. Black Gold. Texas Tea.)

Now tell the truth. Even if you didn’t participate in any of the other songs, you had to at least say that last line to yourself, didn’t you? (Oil, that is…)

I could go on all day long with songs you would chime in to, but you really need to be getting back to work, instead of spending your whole day nodding, tapping, and moving your lips. But it was fun, wasn’t it? Maybe some other time we’ll sing a few more.

By the way, if you simply could not move yourself to tune in to a newspaper sing-along, you can perhaps visit my Electronic Internet blog ( where, with luck, you can actually sing along with me. I’ll be the one with the guitar, playing in the key of E… which, you may have noticed, is the only key I know!

And I you don’t sing-along, it will be a sing-alone.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Springtime in the Good Old Days

Since it was Easter Sunday, I went to church, as I always TRY to do… but especially on Easter.

Another thing I TRY to do when I go to church is NOT let my mind wander, which is pretty hard for me because: (a) my mind wanders pretty much all the time, and (b) I’m a Lutheran, which means our church service includes lots of chants and so forth, which provide extra opportunities for my mind to wander, no matter how hard I try to stay focused on the content of those chants.

This past Sunday, my mind did wander a bit, but at least it stayed on Easter stuff. For some reason, I found myself thinking about Dogwood trees, and the legend I remember from my childhood that the flower of the dogwood represents the Crucifixion. (If you look at a dogwood flower, you can see a cross, as well as four rusty indentions, which symbolize the nails.)

After church, my mind kept wandering. First, I recalled how as a young kid, in my tree-climbing years, dogwoods were my favorite, because they were easy, being low to the ground, and also have trunks that were twisted just exactly right for climbing upon by a six or seven year old.

Then, my mind drifted over to the other iconic flower of springtime in the South, the azalea bush, which seemed to grow everywhere when I was a kid. Next thing I knew, I was absorbed in full-fledged mind-wandering, daydreaming about Springtime in the Good Old Days.

From azaleas, I somehow jumped to the Sunday afternoons I knew as a kid. On the ride home from church, one of the three kids would always have the foresight to “call” the comics: “I got the funnies!” Somehow, it was as if calling for that section of the Sunday newspaper had the force of law. The caller, would, indeed, always be granted the right to choose from among the two sections of the comics that existed back then.

While we glanced at various sections of the newspaper, Mom would be in the kitchen getting Sunday dinner ready. It wasn’t until I was older that I ever realized other people called the noontime meal “lunch”, and “dinner” was the meal served in the evening, which I called “supper”.

Looking back, I realize that regular Sunday dinner at our house was an extravaganza: usually roast beef or chicken or cubed steak or pork chops, with more sides than you can imagine, including either mashed potatoes or rice with gravy, macaroni, rolls, iced tea, and usually three or four different vegetables.

I was never a big fan of the vegetables.

On one memorable occasion – possibly the most storied Sunday dinner in Shealy family history – Mom and Dad decided to exert their parental authority and insist that I not leave the table until I had consumed a portion of – YUCK – English Peas.

Hours after the rest of the family had left the dinner table, I was still sitting their, stubbornly refusing to budge.

Finally, after it occurred to me that my daylight/outside playtime was slipping away, I ate the dreaded peas: one at a time, swallowed like a pill, with a giant gulp of iced tea to wash it down. It took another half hour or so. I ate them all. But I didn’t taste them.

After daydreaming about Sunday dinners of years gone by, my mind somehow jumped to “catching fireflies”, which we did in the early evenings of the spring.

From there, my thoughts raced willy-nilly from image to image, recalling bits and pieces of springtime memories from circa-1965 – 1967, which would be approximately ages 12 to 14 for me. Here are a few of those glimpses I recall:

-- Counting down the days til summertime! School was bearable because the end was within sight: SUMMERTIME!!! So I sat in school during those springtime countdown days with my mind wandering… not unlike present day.

-- Walking to the drive-in movie. I was too young to drive. But on Wednesday nights, there were free coupons, and they didn’t care if you had a car or not.

-- Atlanta Braves baseball. In the mid-to-late 60’s, I was a big fan. I could recite batting orders and recount scores of games, and I kept up with how many games out of first place the Braves were. I knew the names like they were family: Hank Aaron, Clete Boyer, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou, Rico Carty, Phil Neikro… I knew ‘em all, and listened to every game on my transistor radio.

-- Walking to the corner store for a soda. In the springtime, as it started to get warm, investing 10-cents in a cold drink seemed like a good idea. Back then, the drinks were in bottles, in a cooler with a lift up lid and a bottle opener. Coke came up with the idea to put a contest under the bottle caps. Under each cap was a letter, printed either in red or black. If you collected enough caps to spell out “things go better” in red letters, you won $1,000. I remember digging through a lot of used bottle caps.

-- The Attic Fan! Air conditioning existed back then… but not at our house! However, we had a giant attic fan, which kept the whole house cool during the spring a summer nights. (Well, maybe by August it wasn’t quite getting it done anymore.) The good thing about the Spring was that the gnats and flies weren’t out in full force yet.

-- I think it was also along the same time – the mid-to-late sixties, in the Springtime – that I first discovered “girls”. Actually, I knew girls before, but previously, had viewed them mostly as just nuisances while us guys were trying to build a fort, ride our bikes, or play a game of baseball. Suddenly, however, I seem to have discovered girls in a whole new light. (Unfortunately, I simultaneously discovered that I was apparently the shyest boy in about five states.)

So, I spent part of my Easter afternoon daydreaming about Springtime in the Good Old Days. I hope you had a good Easter, too.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bauer’s Bold Solution

Regular readers of this weekly epistle know that I try to steer it away from all thing political, preferring instead to ramble on about topics as varied and mundane as the bi-weekly 25-cent crew-cuts I grew up with as a kid, to “Fashion Trends of the Aging and Overweight”… and lots of other topics in between. (After all, there seems to be enough politics floating out there without me weighing in.)

Readers also know that one of my long-time friends and allies is our Lt. Governor, Andre Bauer, for whom I have labored in each of his campaigns over the last sixteen years, and am supporting in his current race for Governor -- albeit in an unofficial, advisory-only role -- facts which I publicly disclaim on those occasions that I happen to venture over into the political realm. This is one of those occasions.

Andre has always been bold with his ideas. The very first bill he proposed – the day after first being elected in November, 1996 – was the law which now allows all senior citizens and working people to vote early by absentee ballot.

Eight years ago, he proposed the common-sense ideas -- such as Saturday hours and less frequent renewals -- which ultimately led to shorter lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. (Incidentally, it really worked. I went to the DMV two weeks ago to get a replacement license, and was amazed at the quick, efficient service. I was in and out in less than five minutes!)

And he regularly comes up with out-of-the-box, but commonsense, ideas to save tax dollars. Why not build ONE rest area in the middle of interstate highways, instead of two… one on either side of the road? Why not build all elementary schools from a single set of plans? Why not, instead of naming interchanges after politicians, let corporate sponsors purchase naming-rights, with the money going to help reduce taxes?

Ten years ago, when he proposed the idea of letting corporate sponsors kick in funds for various sponsorships, the news media scoffed. Last month, one of the state’s largest newspapers advocated that exact thing -- paid sponsorship ads on school buses -- as a way of plugging the holes in the state’s budget.

Andre Bauer is not afraid to offer bold, new solutions to problems facing our state.

Last week, however, he proposed the boldest solution of his life… a proposal that has already gained national attention, and could affect the future of every American.

Like many, many citizens across the land, Bauer was frustrated by the action of Congress last week in forcing government-run health care on the public, when, clearly, the vast majority of Americans opposed it. In researching the issue, he was advised that efforts to block the new law would not likely succeed. Lawsuits were likely to fail. Efforts to repeal the law would be vetoed by the President.

But Bauer, who is responsible for a provision asking that all high school students spend a brief period studying the U.S. Constitution each Veterans Day, was aware of an Article in the Constitution allowing the people to reign in Congress if it ever got out of control.

The framers of the constitution, in their wisdom, did not bestow ultimate authority in the Congress or the President. They bestowed ultimate authority in the PEOPLE. They foresaw that someday Congress could perhaps get out of control, as it now has, so they gave the people the right -- through their state legislatures -- to reign in Congress and undo whatever damage they’ve done.

Article Five of the Constitution gives the PEOPLE the right -- through the state legislatures-- to call for a Constitutional Convention of the people to propose an amendment to the Constitution, which then must be ratified by 38 states.

Last week, Bauer became the first official in America to call publicly for such a convention, for the limited purpose of prohibiting government-run health care and socialized medicine. He arranged to have a resolution calling for convention introduced into the SC House and Senate, and then contacted other state legislatures to begin the process of having the required 2/3 of the states do the same.

Writing to members of state legislatures across the land, Bauer said, “I believe this action, left unchallenged, is the beginning of the end of the America we know and love. The freedoms we have enjoyed in our lifetimes are being steadily eroded, and future generations will suffer the consequences. The time has come for bold action.”

A few detractors immediately criticized Bauer, worrying that a Constitutional Convention could “open the floodgates” to unwanted changes in our federal government. Bauer responded that those floodgates had already been opened by Congress, which is steadily eroding the basic freedoms that Americans have long enjoyed, and shows no signs of stopping.

“We need a Constitutional Convention to CLOSE the floodgates, and keep Congress from taking away every shred of freedom we enjoy” Bauer said. “Congress is out of control. The government is broken. The question is, who do we trust to fix it: the congress or the people? I trust the people!”

Legislators in other states have now joined Bauer’s call for a Constitutional Convention. To happen, two-thirds of the states (34) would have to officially call for it. Congress would then set the time and place. The people of the individual states would choose their own delegates. After an Amendment prohibiting mandatory socialized health care was passed by the convention, it would only take effect if it were ratified by ¾ of the states (38).

A Constitutional Convention is a bold solution. We’ve only had one before. At that one, which was in 1787, the participants were Ben Franklin, James Madison, George Washington, George Mason, Alexander Hamilton and a lot of other names you would recognize.

They were very smart men, and in the Fifth Article of the Constitution they crafted, they saw fit to include this provision giving the people the right to over-rule an out-of-control Congress should it ever become necessary.

I think that time has come.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Counting on You!

I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that the Census Bureau has designated April 1st – April Fools Day – as Census Day 2010.

Could it be that the joke’s on us?!!!

“No, Ma’am, we’re not going to share your personal information with anyone.”

“No, Sir, the White House will never have access to the data you give to the census-taker.”

“We absolutely guarantee that there is no politics whatsoever involved in the Census Bureau.”


I don’t recall there ever having been as much consternation with the census as there is this year for the 2010 census. (Of, course, I’ve only really been around for a few of them. For all I know, there could have been widespread misgivings when T. Jefferson, that wily son-of-a- gun, set out to conduct that first one in 1790.)

But I do know there seems to be some angst about this one. I figure it’s a combination of things.

Frankly, lots of folks, myself included, took note when one of the first actions of the Obama White House was to grab oversight of the Census Bureau. Call me a cynic, but that smelled a little fishy to me. And, taken along with the FedGov takeover of the banks, the health care system, and a piece of the auto industry, it sends up a red flag. (Of course, that’s probably only because I’m an actual American.)

Politics aside, there’s also a fairly healthy general skepticism anymore about giving out any personal information, period. This whole Internets fad that Al Gore invented has opened up a giant new can of worms regarding identity theft and abuse of personal information.

I’m encouraging folks to be cooperative with the census folks, and provide the answers to the seven basic questions being asked. Here in South Carolina, there’s a lot at stake.

For instance, if our actual population matches up to the population estimates which have been predicted, The Pimento State could gain a whole new congressman… giving us seven instead of six… which, arguably, could be a good thing.

Just think… if we get an extra Congressman, next time Joe Wilson blurts out “You lie”, the new guy could chime in, “And how!”

More importantly, the new South Carolina vote in congress could be the one vote needed to repeal the government-run heath care bill that, unless repealed, probably spells the end of American freedom as we know it.

If you DON’T cooperate, here’s what will happen: Nothing, most likely, to you personally. But the census taker will get the information about you and your household the best way he can, mainly by snooping around to your neighbors, and asking them a bunch of questions about you.

So, skepticism, cynicism, and just plain ornery stubbornness aside, I’d like to offer the following information as a public service. (“As a public service” is unusual territory for me. Normally, I just blather on about whatever nonsense happens to be on my mind. So, “as a public service”, I have turned to the Better Business Bureau, and the actual United States Bureau of the Census, for the following helpful information.)

From the BBB:

During the U.S. Census, households will be contacted by mail, telephone or visited by a U.S. Census worker who will inquire about the number of people living in the house. Unfortunately, people may also be contacted by scammers who are impersonating Census workers in order to gain access to sensitive financial information such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers. Law enforcement in several states have issued warnings that scammers are already posing as Census Bureau employees and knocking on doors asking for donations and Social Security numbers.

The big question is - how do you tell the difference between a U.S. Census worker and a con artist? BBB offers the following advice:

• If a U.S. Census worker knocks on your door, they will have a badge, a handheld device, a Census Bureau canvas bag and a confidentiality notice. Ask to see their identification and their badge before answering their questions. However, you should never invite anyone you don’t know into your home.

• Census workers are currently only knocking on doors to verify address information. Do not give your Social Security number, credit card or banking information to anyone, even if they claim they need it for the U.S. Census. While the Census Bureau might ask for basic financial information, such as a salary range, it will not ask for Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers nor will employees solicit donations.

• Eventually, Census workers may contact you by telephone, mail or in person at home. However, they will not contact you by e-mail, so be on the look out for e-mail scams impersonating the Census. Never click on a link or open any attachments in an e-mail that are supposedly from the U.S. Census Bureau.

From the Census Bureau:

More than 140,000 U.S. Census workers will count every person in the United States and will gather information about every person living at each address including name, gender, race, relationship, date of birth, and whether the respondent owns or rents his or her home.

Census information, such as household size, must be accurate as of April 1. Census forms have actually been mailed out to 90% of the homes during March.

By law, the Census Bureau may not release or share information that identifies individual respondents or their household for 72 years. That’s the year 2082.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution requires the decennial headcount we call the census. You could look it up.

The normal census form is six pages long, and requires two pages to be completed and returned. Some homes, however, may have received a longer form: the American Community Survey, which the Census Bureau also collects. It's mailed to 2 million households, and asks dozens of questions about topics such as education, commuting, ancestry, citizenship, disability, military service and housing costs and conditions. None of these topics is included in the 2010 Census form. The Census Bureau asks you to complete and return the 2010 Census form AND the 2010 ACS form if you get both.

The 2010 Census asks just seven questions about each person. The standard form — mailed to 90% of households — comes on a folded sheet of paper equivalent to six standard pages. For households of up to three people, your answers will fit on just two pages.

From Rod-Boy:

In the first census (1790) they counted 3.9 million inhabitants of the nation. The most recent census (2002) recorded a population in excess of 281 million. I’m guessing 308 million this time. (Some of the experts have predicted 310 million… but I’m guessing a couple million illegal immigrants have now headed back home, figuring the economy there has got to be better than it is here.)

Here are some other good numbers for you: There are an estimated 6,810,094,425 people in the world. The universe is believed to be 13.7 billion years old. There are an estimated 200 billion, billion stars in the solar system. There are 41 calories in a medium-sized grapefruit. And there now are 1,217 words in this column – that’s 5,904 letters – which is 417 too many! Time for me to say, “See you next week!”

Monday, March 22, 2010

I’m waiting

Among the many totally unimportant, genuinely insignificant subjects upon which I consider myself to have some level of expertise is the subject of “waiting rooms”.

I’m not saying I’ve spent more time in waiting rooms than anyone else. I probably haven’t. I’m just an average Joe when it comes to my actual, personal waiting room experiences.

But I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more time actually studying on waiting rooms than most folks.

For instance, have you ever made a list of different types of waiting rooms? I have.

Before you go off saying, “Wow! Rod-Boy’s really gone over the edge this time!” let me try to explain.

As publisher of this little newspaper – and a few others – I noticed many years ago that a lot of folks seemed to report on items they had read while in such-and-such a waiting room. There was an abundance of newspaper-reading going on in waiting rooms, I realized. Indeed, it occurred to me that waiting rooms provide a unique block of time for many people to read… somewhat of a rarity in our modern-day, never-enough-time, busy, busy lifestyles.

Consequently, our little community newspaper made it a mission to make sure all local waiting rooms were stocked with a few copies each week, for the reading pleasure of the waitees. (It also didn’t hurt any that waiting-room newspaper readers very frequently seemed to come across advertisements of interest, to which they often responded, pleasing the local business-owner who had purchased the advertisement, and revving up the entire economic cycle which fuels the newspaper industry.)

Hence, I have become somewhat of a “waiting room” authority, even to the point of maintaining not one, but several different lists of waiting rooms: doctors offices, dentist offices, barber shops, beauty shops, karate lessons, dance lessons, oil change, car wash… about 30 frequent varieties of waiting rooms in all! And we try to keep them all stocked with your favorite little weekly community newspaper.

Along the way, I’ve made a few observations about waiting rooms. Some of these observations have come from careful study and analysis. And some of them have come from being stuck in waiting rooms for hours at a time.

-- As I age, I find myself spending a lot more time in waiting rooms of a medical variety, and a lot less time in hair cutting establishments. Go figure.

-- Here’s another thing I’ve noticed: When you see one of those signs that says “Ring Bell for Service”, don’t believe it. It’s been my experience that the lady behind the window usually gets a little irritated whenever anyone rings that bell.

-- While this week’s newspaper is generally the very best reading material you can hope to find in any waiting room, there are usually some other excellent reading choices as well: a collection of sports magazines from several years ago; a variety of promotional brochures; and a children’s puzzle book, usually with a number of missing pages.

-- I think sitting in a waiting room is a lot like standing in line at a ride in Disney World… except that, when you’re standing in line at Disney, you can easily tell how close you’re getting to your turn, because the line keeps moving and they post signs telling you how many minutes left in line… but in a waiting room, you don’t move closer, you just keep sitting in the same place, so if you want to find out how much longer, you have to go ask the lady behind the window “how much longer?” again, to which, ironically, she reacts exactly the same as if someone had rung the bell. Also, at the end of your wait, you get a blood sample or a haircut, instead of a ride on “Space Mountain.”

-- I have estimated that, at any given point in time, there is approximately
0.3156 % of the population currently in a waiting room. This has to be a drain on the economy, sapping 0.3156% of the Gross National Product each year. Given that there’s a captive audience/market in waiting rooms everyday, couldn’t we devise some sort of industry to take advantage of this untapped workforce? Maybe knitting sweaters? Cell phone telemarketing? Earn money addressing envelopes?

-- Various types of waiting rooms dictate different levels of socialization. Medical waiting rooms, for instance, are generally very private: not much interaction among the waitees… very little chatting, no hand-shaking at all, due to that whole “communicable disease” thing… and who wants to hear about somebody else’s aches and pains when you have your own? Karate class waitees, on the other hand, are very social… chatting away about their cute little karate kids. And hair cutteries… wow. The chatter never stops!

-- I think “waiting rooms” is a nice name for them. It sounds better than calling them “holding areas” or “containment zones”.

-- Fancy restaurants have the best waiting areas. They call them “bars”.

-- I miss the EZ listening that they used to always pipe into waiting rooms in the old days. Nowadays, if anything, there’s a TV on in the corner. And there is such a thing as too much Oprah.

-- I have more I could tell you about waiting rooms – lots more – but I gotta go now. They just called my name.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Sports Column

Regular readers recognize that I rarely write about sports.

I like sports, but I just don’t often write about it. I figure there’s plenty of sports writers out there -- approximately eleventy gazillion of them, by my tally – which is plenty enough to cover the sports scene.

I’m much more likely to write about obscure notions from the recesses of my mind. Like alliterations, for instance.

If this were one of my typical columns, I would have already pointed out that the first sentence contained quite the alliteration: regular, readers, recognize, rarely, write. How often do you see an alliteration like that?!!!

But this is not my typical column. This is my rare, almost never seen Sports Column. (Unless you count the Winter Olympics that I recently wrote about three weeks in a row… but I don’t count that because, you know, it’s the Winter Olympics, with curling, ice dancing and so forth).

This sports column is about real sports, American sports, the sports we all know and love – football, baseball, basketball, golf, and NASCAR – where they don’t have to repeat everything in French after they say it the first time… and where the opening and closing ceremonies are held in parking lots with tailgates open, like they should be.

Let’s start with football. Now there’s a real, American sport! I know its over for the year…ended about a month ago with the Super Bowl… but we never got a chance to discuss the most important parts of the game: the halftime show and the Super Bowl ads.

Here’s a quick quiz: two questions about the game, and two questions about the halftime show and the ads. Think fast, and see how quickly you can answer the questions…

First two questions: Who won the Super Bowl, and who was the MVP?

Second two questions: Who performed at halftime, and what was your favorite ad?

I’m guessing the answers came a lot quicker for the questions about the show and the ads than they did about the game.

For the record, “Who” did perform at halftime… and MY favorite ad was the Betty White spot.

Now on to baseball, our national pastime. It’s early March, so Opening Day is just weeks away. You can always tell when it’s getting close, because you start seeing reruns of all the baseball movies: Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, The Natural, The Bad News Bears, Angels in the Outfield, A League of Their Own, and, if you’re lucky, some of the real classics from back in a time when all the games were day games, a time before steroids, when the only way you saw a game was to go to the ball park. This week, I saw Bull Durham on, so it can’t be long. I love baseball. I’m a red-blooded American.

Basketball. It’s time for March Madness. Basketball is the sport which is actually culminating its season along now… except for the pro teams, which I don’t count, because it seems to me they play for about 16 months of the year anyway. But the countdown to the Final Four during March…. Now, there’s some exciting sports action. And, basketball, let us remember is a bonafide, American invention.

NASCAR. This is arguably not a “sport” at all in the sense that there’s no running, jumping, kicking, throwing, catching, tossing, hurling, diving, blocking, tackling, shooting, dribbling, boxing, wrestling, hitting, pushing, shoving, or tug-of-war – plus, they seem to be letting the girls compete with the guys these days – but we’re still counting it because, not only is it an American invention, but its also a Southern concoction, with its roots right here in the Carolinas. And, it don’t get much more exciting than watching the finish of a good, close race at Darlington. We’re a few weeks into the season, and, try as they may to turn it into a just another corporate-sponsor promotion marathon, it’s still a pretty good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Which bring us to golf. Another televised sport to watch, and another way to spend a Sunday afternoon…. IF you need a good, long peaceful nap!

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why millions of people sit in front of the TV and watch a round of golf. Could it get more boring?

Granted, I am personally the world’s fourth worst golfer, runner up only to one guy who’s missing several required body parts, another guy who plays with the aid of a seeing-eye dog, and a five year old girl who is actually still in kindergarten. I don’t even try any more… and the last time I did try, it was extremely dangerous for everyone standing anywhere near me.

Still, people watching golf on TV is one of civilization’s most bizarre and unexplainable phenomena, right up there with alien visitation, crop circles and the mysteries of the tomb of King Tut.

If people will sit in front of the tube for hours watching golf, then I think I have an idea for a great new sport that will thrill them: “The Ten-Feet in Ten-Years Slow-Motion Walk”. I don’t have the details worked out yet, but I’m envisioning another sport with the exact same action-packed adventure and thrill-a-minute excitement of golf.

Okay… that’s my sports column. I’ll probably go back now to writing about things I know more about, like “vegetable colors”, “dangling participles”, and “Fashion Tips for Octogenarians”… and leave the sports columns to the professionals.

And the world will be a better place.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sloppy Handwriting

If you are one of those readers who believe me to be without fault, you are wrong. (Also, you are in the tiniest possible minority of people... probably a minority of one.)

I hate to burst the fantasyland bubble you apparently have never left for your entire life, but I must shatter your illusion: I do have a fault. One very serious fault: Sloppy Handwriting!

I actually know when it started. In first and second grade, I actually received kudos for my handwriting. Of course, back then, the writing was all in “block” letters: printing, it was called.

But then, along about the third or fourth grade, we were introduced to a concept called “cursive” writing…. and it was all downhill from there.

I really didn’t mind having bad cursive penmanship, because neat, flowing cursive writing always seemed a little girly to me. So I went to the other extreme. And now, all these years later, I find myself with handwriting so bad that even I cannot decipher it.

Normally, I would not bother you by telling you about my clumsy, fat-fingered handwriting. But in this case, my awful penmanship has a direct impact on your life. Here’s how….

Nearly every day, I have new, exciting, creative ideas for my weekly column. Unfortunately, even though I may be long on creativity and excitement, I’m a little short on memory. So quickly I forget those ideas… UNLESS I write them down.

So I DO write them down. Every time I have an idea for my column, I jot a note on a scrap of paper… usually on a Waffle House napkin, on the back of a business card, or on an old envelope which once contained my chance at millions in the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes.

I then stuff those scraps of paper into one of my nine pockets (four pants, two jacket outside, two jacket inside, and one shirt), where it stays for a week or two… until its time for laundry. It is then that I unfold those various and assorted gems of wit only to discover, to my utter disappointment, that I cannot read whatever it is that I have written.

When that happens, the scraps usually go into a box or a drawer or a file folder, where they languish forgotten for months, even years, until I come across them and try once more to decipher them.

Sometimes, I miss badly, and end up writing Totally Unintended Columns.

Once, I meant to write a column on “Why I’m a Republican”, and instead published 800 words entitled “Warts on a Rutabaga”.

Another time, my intended topic, I believe, was “I Remember First-Grade Friendships”… but, instead, I accidentally wrote on the topic “I Resemble Fred Flintstone”

It’s all because of Sloppy Handwriting.

This week, I’ve unfurled a few more of those scraps of paper to see if I can guess what I was trying to write. It’s really hard to tell sometimes, because, in addition to Sloppy Handwriting, I also suffer from Fuzzy Headthinking… meaning I could have jotted down just about anything!

This is what I think some of my old notes say:

-- “I miss Saturday morning cartoons”. I’m guessing I got that one right, because I really do miss them. I’ve missed them for about the last forty years. (If you do the math on that, it means that I watched Saturday morning cartoons until I was sixteen!)

-- “How will we know when the recession is over?” Will there be a buzzer? A bell like when school lets out for the day? Maybe a final gun, like at a ball game? Or a checkered flag, like NASCAR!!!

This wasn’t on the crumpled napkin, but I also think it would have been helpful if there had been an alarm of some sort to let us know the recession was coming, like they do for a storm, or a tsunami, or when the river rises.

-- “One dozen eggs, a gallon of milk, loaf of bread, cheerios, scope, toilet tissue (not single ply).” Upon closer inspection, this crumpled scrap of paper probably was not one of my column ideas.

-- “Only 298 more shopping days ‘til my birthday.” Gift idea: pocket tape recorder for making notes, because I can’t read my own handwriting. Scratch that. I also can’t understand most of the things I mumble into a tape recorder.

--“Pick up dry cleaning. Get haircut. Return movies.” Again, the wrong scrap of paper. I hope I remembered to return the movies, because this appears to be a really old scrap of paper.

-- “Belly-button lint.” One of life’s mysteries, to me, is where belly button lint comes from. In fact, I think I could devote an entire column to the wonders of the belly button, and the marvels of the lint therein.

-- “Wearing your pants tucked into your socks”. I remember, as a very small child, being thoroughly confused each morning as I tried to dress myself. Ditto, shirttails. Tucked in, or hanging out? I think I recall confusing the two: tucking the pants into the socks, but letting the shirt hang out.

-- “Muffle lightsocket banana smushy Einstein”. Or at least that’s what it looks like to me.

-- “That’s all, folks!” I wonder if I should start using this slogan to sign off of my column each week, like Porky Pig. Also, I wonder if there’s a way a newspaper column could have a theme song. If so, I would like that Looney Tunes song.

I miss Saturday morning cartoons. And I think it’s starting to affect my work. That, and the sloppy handwriting

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Isolated Thoughts and Random Observations

There are a few things which have been on my mind lately that I need to get off my chest.

Which, of course, makes no sense… if they’re on my mind, why do I need to get them off my chest?

I wonder how that expression came into existence: getting something “off your chest”.

Okay. Let me start over. I have a few random observations and isolated thoughts to share this week. And perhaps some questions which have been perplexing me.

First is this: What’s the difference between “hot chocolate” and “cocoa”? I don’t know. To me, they’ve always been interchangeable. Is there a difference?

Next thought: The massive Toyota recall.

I heard an interesting conspiracy theory the other day. The suggestion was that “the government” was putting the squeeze on Toyota to help sales of GM products, which are now owned by “the government”. What silly, nonsensical idea will the conspirator-theorists come up with next? That the FDA is withholding approval of some drugs because they’re in the pockets of the drug companies? That the SEC had been tipped-off about Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme years before it blew up, but had failed to take action? That the government has a giant, off-limits, top-secret military installation in the Western United States where it researches extraterrestrial life? Where do these guys come up with this stuff?

Back to Toyota: I saw a TV ad for the company over the weekend, where they appear to be trying to put the public-relations damage from this recall behind them. The slogan of their new ad campaign is “Toyota: Moving Forward.”

Now, I don’t claim to be an marketing genius… but wasn’t that the problem that caused the recall? The accelerator would stick, and you couldn’t stop moving forward? Is “Moving Forward” the only slogan they could come up with?

Text messaging: I’m usually not one to trounce on the few remaining individual liberties we still enjoy, but I make an exception with “text messaging while driving”. I’m happy the state legislature is getting ready to make it illegal, because it’s not safe, and the victims tend to be young kids – teenagers and so forth – who simply don’t know any better. They’re the ones who do most of the text messaging, and they’re the most inexperienced drivers.

I saw a bumper sticker that said: “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while driving if you’d like to meet him.”

New thought: Lately I’ve been cleaning out some old boxes in storage. I like it. It gives me a chance to revisit decades gone by. Most of my old boxes contain records, documents, notebooks, and other assorted paperwork. My favorite boxes, though, are the ones that contain “stuff”… not just paper. The non-paper objects are always in a box by themselves, and it’s usually a VERY random assortment of stuff: badges from a trade show; sunglasses; scotch tape; old cassettes; ketchup packets; a harmonica; an envelope full of glossy pictures, from back in the days when we had to send film in to be processed; lots of ink pens and batteries; a Nixon button; birthday cake candles; Magic Markers, usually dried out; potholders; a flashlight; an assortment of knobs; and a pocket calendar from 1989, just to name a few items I found.

The contents of the “stuff” boxes in storage closely resembles the contents of the “stuff” drawers in the kitchen, the den, and the basement, except from a decade or two earlier!

I would be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about the Winter Olympics. I wrote about the games last week, but I feel I should at least say a few words this week.

Luge. Curling. Skeleton.

There! I’ve done my duty. I’ve said a few words about the Winter Olympics… although I can’t begin to tell you what those words mean.

Now, “football” and “NASCAR”…. Those are a couple of sports words I DO understand… because they’re AMERICAN words… so it’s a pretty safe bet they’ll never be used in conjunction with any Olympics.

No matter… we’re winning the medal count anyway!

Last topic: Spread the word to any young brides to be you may know. Elsewhere in this newspaper, you will see a promotion for a Free Wedding Giveaway. Times are tight, and weddings can be a little pricey…so a local wedding venue – The Mitchell House – has come up with the idea to give away a complete wedding to a deserving soon-to-be wed couple! Their rules say the contest is open to anyone who serves the public in their job: the military, law enforcement, teacher, EMS, fire department, etc., in appreciation for their service. So see the details inside this newspaper, and spread the word to any young couples you may know.

Okay, that’s it for this week. Thanks for letting me get these things off my chest, off my mind, and off my plate for another week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter Olympics, eh?!

I know Canada, our neighbor to the north, is our best buddy and all… and I’m rootin’ for our best allies and pals to do well in the competitions… but, I gotta tell you: their Winter Olympics show is a snoozer.

I know they tried hard in their opening ceremony…. but they’re just not known for their pageantry, like the ancient Chinese were back in the Summer of Naught Eight.

The Chinese had their flowing, multi-colored robes, their exotic dragons, and about a gazillion people, because lots of people is their number one product. And fireworks. They invented fireworks.

The Canadians, on the other hand, had clogging, bad poetry, and totem pole imitations.

While the Chinese had an endless supply of highly-disciplined young Madam Butterfly Dancers, the Canadians had to rely on a few old lumberjacks.

Still, the opening ceremony was the best part! The Vancouver games went downhill from there. (Get it? Downhill.)

Maybe I’m just a Southerner through-and-through, and thus reject all things Northern, like snow and ice.

But I gotta tell you… most of these Winter Olympic events are foreign to me.

Curling, for instance. What’s that all about?

And how do snow-skiing and shooting rifles fit together into one sport?

A lot of these sports seem to be very similar: just riding some sort of sled downhill! I don’t think you find these kind of gravity-enhanced events in the Summer Olympics.

I’ve always said that the Olympics, in general, seem to be a bit biased against America. The selection of sports -- summer or winter -- has never really favored the USA.

Baseball, for instance, gets one Gold Medal, while judo accounts for 14 Golds and fencing accounts for 10. Shouldn’t baseball have separate events -- and separate Gold Medals -- for pitching, batting, fielding, home runs, bunting, and base stealing. (For that matter, separate Golds for right-handers and left-handers, the same way the judo events are broken down by weight categories?)

Basketball, too, should have different Gold Medals for shooting, dribbling, blocking, passing, three-pointers, free throws, and jump balls. Also, I think there should be a separate event for “horse”.

And, frankly, basketball should be in the Winter Games, because it’s a winter sport. It was invented so kids could come inside out of the cold during the wintertime. The Head Honchos of the Winter Olympics -- the guys who make the rules -- seem to have conveniently overlooked all the winter sports that do not rely on snow, ice, or gravity.

Bowling, for instance. There’s a winter sport that Americans would fare right well at, I’ll bet. And billiards. And Guitar Hero.

Just because we Americans have sense enough to come in out of the snow and ice, don’t hold that against us. (Well, at least Southern Americans have enough sense to come in out of the cold!)

If they insist on including only the outdoor sports, they ought to at least broaden their horizons a bit.

Snowball fights. That would add some pizzazz to the Winter Olympics. And I’ll bet we could bring home the Gold every four years.

And spice up the figure skating a bit. Let all the teams get out on the ice at the same time, and turn it into a bit of a Demolition Derby. Last team standing wins!

First of all, the wipe outs are already the most exciting part. This way, there would just be more spills, and thusly, more excitement.

Secondly, it would solve the judging dilemma that seems to dominate figure-skating. As it is now, the judges seem to play politics with their scoring. Changing to a “last man standing” event solves that problem.

Here’s my last suggestion to help improve the Winter Olympics:


Can anyone explain to me why there’s not football in the Olympics, winter or summer? Does that seem fair to us?

The Super Bowl was just one week earlier, so adding a little football to the Olympics seems like a natural.

And if for some reason football doesn’t work…. NASCAR!

Either one will be fine, and either one would help add a little balance to an occasion which is currently a little too….. how do we kindly say? …. European! (That seems nicer than calling it “French”!)

Here’s an amazing statistic about the Winter Olympics: NBC reportedly paid $2.2 billion for the rights to broadcast the 2010 Vancouver Games!!!

That seems like a lot to me.

But I’m glad they did. Because, for a couple of weeks, anytime I want to catch a nap, all I’ve got to do is switch it on!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Big Four

This week marks the final installment of everyman’s Occasions Which Best Not Be Overlooked. I thought I should dust off some advice I first offered three years ago, because, by now, there are a whole new crop of innocent young males entering a world ruled by females who can benefit from this advice.

It’s Valentines Day. Neglect/overlook/forget it at your own risk

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

Let me repeat.


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

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

Here are my helpful tips about Valentines Day:

1. Do not forget Valentines Day.

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

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

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

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

6. Do not forget Valentines Day.

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

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

9. Ditto tattoos.

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

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

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

13. Do not forget Valentine’s Day.

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

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

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

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

18. Do not forget Valentines Day.

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

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Guest Column from Cuzzin Bubba-Boy

Cuzzin Rod-Boy wuz a mite bizzy lass week, so he ast me to rite hiz noospaper collum fer him, wich, naccherally, I'z mor than delited to oblije with.

He sed i cud rite abowt ennytheng I wonted to.

So i thowt i'd jest rite abowt regalur, ole everday, dull stuff, like he duz

Yue no, plane old dull stuff like, watt he had to eet fer brekfass… ar like thangs he useter do wen he wuz a yungun…. ar like stuff he rememburs frum wenn he wuz in skool.

Reel dull stuff, like dat

Uf corse, I culdnt rite much abowt skoolin, sense I ditten do enny acktual skoolin… butt thin, Cuzzin Rod Boy ditten do a hole hekkuva lot uv it, neether.

I reckon I cud rite abowt rasslin gotes, wich iz sumthin I’me pretty gud at… but dat wud be way to xsiten to be in Cuzzin Rod-Boy’s noospaper.

Naw, I probly auwt to jus keep it az dull az possibul, lke he duz.

I cud rite abowt Grown Hogg Day, sense its rat’cheer in Febrewerry. Trubble iz, I dawnt no verry much abowt Grown Hoggz. Da onliest Grown Hogg I no ennytheng abowt at awl iz sawsige. But I dawnt no nuthin abowt no uther kine uv Grown Hogg.

Uf corse, dat mite be okae, to, cawse I’m pretty sur Cuzzin Rob-Boy dawnt no a thang abowt mose uv da stuff he rites abowt.

An anuther thang: Hav yew evur notised how he jess goze on an on an on abowt thangs, jumpin arouwn frum paje to paje. Sumtime, I need to take a lil nap bfour I can finnish reedin his hole collum. He rites like dere aint no tomorror. Like I aint got nutthin bedder to do dan reed a hole dangd buk evree dangd weke.

He nedes to larn wenn itz time to kwit.

Mebbe I can teech him sumthin by settin a gud xsample.

So, dis iz Cuzzin Bubba-Boy sayin, “By, yawl!”

Friday, February 19, 2010

The happiest day of the year

Last Monday was the happiest day of the year for me. At least the happiest day so far.

Maybe Tuesday was happier, but I can’t know for sure until it happens.

Although you’re probably reading this column on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, it was actually written on Monday. In the world of weekly newspapers, we observe “deadlines” a few days before the newspaper is actually printed and put on the street.

And I use the word “deadlines” very loosely.

In the world of weekly newspapers, deadlines are actually just guidelines. We hope to have everything in place by the deadline, but if a big story occurs afterwards, or an advertiser really needs to get an extra ad in this week’s newspaper, the deadline goes out the window.

And I use the words “big story” very loosely.

In the world of weekly newspapers, a “big story” usually isn’t that big: the garden club holds a bake sale; the school crossing guard writes somebody a ticket; or Old Lady Griswold’s cat gets rescued out of a tree by Deputy Fife.

I digress.

The point is, this column is being written on a Monday, as is my custom, for the newspaper that you’re reading now, which was published for a Thursday.

Earlier this morning, we gathered at the local Lizard’s Thicket for our regular Monday newspaper staff meeting, and Annette, our veteran Account Executive observed that Monday, January 25th, had been designated as the most depressing day of the year!

We talked about it.

We decided that experts who make such distinctions probably took a number of factors into consideration:

First, it’s January, and it’s cold and dreary.

Next, the bills are all due now from Christmas, which was exactly a month earlier.

Also, it’s the last week of the month, which means everybody is running out of money.

And on top of that, it’s a Monday.

So, it was easy to see why the experts – psychologists, psychiatrics, sociologists, and the like – had figured that Monday, January 25, 2010, was likely to be the most depressing day of the year.

Except for one thing: None of us felt the least bit depressed!

I asked around the table, and nobody was depressed. We were all in pretty good spirits, except for one case of the sniffles.

So I got to thinking: If the rest of the world is depressed today, but we’re all happy, then we really have a big advantage over the rest of the world. We should be, not just happy, but SUPER-happy!

So, we decided that the Most Depressing Day of the Year for everybody else should be the Happiest Day of the Year for us!

This incidentally, is not unlike the Rainy Day rule that we’ve adhered to for years.

Long ago, I observed that rain actually doesn’t hurt. It may dampen you for a bit, but it doesn’t hurt you. So, back in the days when I was a door-to-door salesman, of sorts, I kept my appointed rounds on rainy days in spite of the drizzle. And I realized that I did real well selling on those days because: a) lotsa folks were impressed that I was dedicated enough to be slogging through the rain; and b) nobody else was, so I didn’t have any competition on rainy days.

Upon that realization, I came to view rainy days as special gifts: days when I would have a competitive advantage because I understood that you don’t actually melt if you get rained on. Other people may have woken up to rainy days in a dreary mood; but rainy days always made me happy!

So, for years, our entire staff has subscribed to the theory that rainy days are GREAT! (Although occasionally, when it’s coming down in buckets, I do hear them quietly whispering that perhaps Rod-Boy has gone off the optimistic deep-end.)

And now – YIPPEE -- we’ve discovered we have the final Monday of January each year to add to our collection of special happy days.

That’s why it’s Monday, January 25th, 2010, and I’m having my happiest day of the year.

At least until Tuesday.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Main Streets, Dirt Roads, and U.S. 1

During yet another of my recent wistfully nostalgic moments – a more and more frequent occurrence as I get older and older, thus accumulating additional years of memories to be wistfully nostalgic about – I was pondering the main streets and dirt roads of yesteryear.

We still have plenty of main streets and dirt roads, or course, but not like we used to.

I can still recall the Main Street of my hometown – Lexington, SC – from when I was a young’un. (It was a lot like the Main Street we all know from TV’s Mayberry.) Folks wandered from store to store, stopping along the way to visit acquaintances they bumped into. Shopkeepers occasionally spent the afternoons sitting on benches or stools out in front of their shops, usually with friends hanging around just to chat and pass the time. (This was before air-conditioning, so sitting in the shade outside was usually preferable to the fan-cooled inside. And, they had usually rolled out their canvas awnings in the morning to provide the shade.)

Once a week or so, at age nine or ten, I’d hop on my bike and pedal the mile or so from my home to the stores on Main Street (which in early ‘60s Lexington lingo was referred to as “going up the street”.) Sometimes I’d have a dime or so to spend, which worked out nicely, since I usually landed at Dodd’s Dime store. Sometimes I was penniless, which was also okay, cause it was fun just to look around.

After my weekly afternoon Cub Scout meetings, held a block away, I had another opportunity to just wander over to Main Street and hang around until Mom or Dad came to pick me up. There weren’t any cell phones back then, so you’d think that locating me would have been a problem. But it wasn’t. They would just come park somewhere on Main Street – which was really just a block or two – and somehow, we’d find each other pretty quickly.

There are still Main Streets in lots of towns. But I don’t think kids today have these kinds of Main Street experiences.

I doubt if many parents would consent to their nine-year-olds hopping on their bikes and pedaling “up the street” for a couple of hours.

I also think a lot of kids today probably aren’t familiar with dirt roads.

Not that dirt roads are anything special… but it seems a shame that you have to drive a good ways out of town to even see one any more. When I was a kid, half the people I knew lived on dirt roads.

Since the population is now centered in cities and towns, I’ll bet the majority of young kids have never even seen a dirt road, much less ridden their bikes or walked barefoot on one.

At a young age, we learned to keep your bike toward the middle of a dirt road. If you ventured over toward the edge, you would invariably bog down in the soft piles of sand that accumulated on the shoulders of most dirt roads. Also, there would be a little mound of soft dirt right in the middle. But, if you kept it in one of the two paths where the tires continually ran over it and kept the dirt packed and hard, you could do some good bike riding!

Walking barefoot was another matter. In that case, you might be perfectly willing to trod along the soft dirt on along the edge, because it felt a lot softer on your feet.

Back in the hot summertimes of the early 60s, kids quickly learned to walk in the light-colored sand instead of the hard, packed, dark-colored dirt. Hot! Hot! Hot!

I grew up living on a highway: US 1.

I assumed that, because it was numbered “1”, it was the best highway in America. Or the longest. Or the first.

I was never quite sure why it was named Highway One, but I figured there was some superlative significance to it.

Today, US 1 has changed drastically from what it used to be, just like Main Streets and dirt roads have changed. Once upon a time, it was a proud highway, a major artery stretching from the Maine to Key West, and people travelling from the big cities of the North to destinations in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia or Florida often found themselves on U.S. Route 1. And the Mom and Pop restaurants, gas stations, motor lodges, fruit stands and truck stops along it thrived.

But no more. Now the mighty Interstates have taken over.

And the U.S. Route 1 I knew as a child is a thing of the past… just like Main Streets and dirt roads.

The kids of today are missing out.