John Graham was a journalist covering the police beat and city government for several years. During that time he also wrote a syndicated human interest column for both Thompson News and Brown News. Some columns are serious, some are humorous, some are personal, but all are a “Slice of Life.” It was his way to keep his sanity after dealing with government officials all day. Here are a few of them.

I’ve met the Devil
I’m civilized now
Hello Hollywood!
The worsh gets whiter on the line
I’m sorry, dear
Trust me. I know what I’m doing
Like one of my own kids
The faith of a Toyota station wagon
Texas invasion!
I believe in miracles – now
Going back home again
Time changes even Tim
They’re still my kids
Real entertainment
No more red pens

I’ve met the Devil
I’ve met the Devil. He is nine years old, stands four foot tall and wears a Girl Scout uniform.

“Hello Mr. Graham. Our Girl Scout troop is selling cookies again this year and I know how much you love them. Remember last year you bought sixteen boxes from me? How many boxes would you like this year?”

“Oh, I’m sorry little girl. I can’t buy any this year. You see, I’ve put on a couple pounds this winter. Metabolism problem. Gain weight easy you know. But now I can’t get into any of my clothes. So no cookies for me this year.”

“Kathy has you on a diet again?”

“You got that right, and she watches me like a hawk. So even if I bought a couple boxes of your cookies just to help your troop, and even if I threw them out without eating a single one – and I could do that you know because I‘ve got the will power. It‘s not like I‘m addicted to sugar. It‘s just my slow metabolism. But Kathy doesn’t understand, and being the good husband that I am, I don’t want to upset her. So no cookies for me this year.”
“Did you know we have our Shortbread cookies again this year? I know how much you like them with ice cream. Can I put you down for two boxes?

“No Shortbread cookies for me, little girl. Like I said, I’m on a diet. Nothing but vegetables and fruit. Now if you were selling carrots I’d be glad to buy a bunch from you.”

“All your neighbors are buying Do-si-dos this year. You don’t want to be the only one on the block not getting them, do you?”

“Sorry little girl, but I’ll have to pass. Do-si-dos are full of calories. One box will add an extra notch to my belt.”

“We have two types of peanut butter cookies, and I know how much you love peanut butter. Would you like a box of each?”

“No, little girl. As much as I love peanut butter cookies, they’re worse than Do-si-dos. I’ll be on the tread mill all spring working them off my hips.

“Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies are great, but the Peanut Butter Patties are my favorite. Can I put you down for a box? Kathy doesn‘t have to know you bought them. It will be our little secret.”

“Those Peanut Butter Patties are good, and I suppose one box of cookies wouldn’t hurt me. I could eat just one cookie a day and that wouldn’t put any weight on me. Slow metabolism you know. But Kathy can smell peanut butter breath on me 20 feet away, so I‘d better not buy any.”

“Remember how much you loved our Caramel deLites last year. Talked about them all summer. I can give you our ‘preferred customer’ discount this year. How many boxes would you like, Mr. Graham?”

“I remember those Caramel deLites. They were good, but like I said, I can‘t order any this year. Just to keep Kathy happy, of course.”

“We still have your favorite Thin Mints again this year, Mr. Graham.”

“Thin mints you say? I do love Thin Mints, little girl, but I don’t think I should. My diet you know.”

“But they’re called THIN Mints for a good reason. They’re low calorie. Won’t hurt your diet a bit. I think they’re made especially for slow metabolism people like you. Besides mint is like a vegetable. Good for you.”

“Like a vegetable, eh? But what if Kathy finds out?”

“She won’t smell them on your breath, Mr. Graham, and I won‘t say a word to her. Scout’s honor.”

“Put me down for two dozen boxes, little girl.”

I’m civilized now
Sometime during our first year of marriage, Kathy woke up in the middle of one particularly cold night when she heard a sound in the garage. “Get up and go see what that is,” she whispered to me from under the covers. “It might be a burglar.”

I figured it was probably just a raccoon trying to get into our garbage can and wouldn’t do us any harm, so I had my mind pretty well made up to ignore the noise and go back to sleep. But the first rule that men have to learn in marriage is no woman – nor her husband – ever gets back to sleep until she is completely sure whatever it was that invaded her home is gone.

So trying to be the good husband, and well aware that Kathy would never cook another meal for me if I didn’t at least see what it was that was making that noise, I headed for the unheated garage wearing nothing by my boxer shorts.
Three minutes later I scrambled back into bed with what I thought to be good news. “Just like I thought. Nothing but a coon.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” she demanded.

“Nothing,” I said, knowing immediately that was the wrong answer. So I headed back to the garage again, but this time I grabbed my shotgun out of the closet. “If that coon is dumb enough to wake up Kathy in the middle of the night, then he deserves to be put out of his misery,” I mumbled while I loaded the shell into the chamber.

Kaboom! I’m not sure if I actually hit that raccoon, but I do know that he never came back to our garage again. I also know that it cost $300 to replace the tool chest that I blew apart.

About 10 years later when we were living in Texas Kathy ran through the house screaming about some giant rat in the kitchen that had attacked her. “What are you going to do about it?” she yelled from under the covers in the bedroom.

Men may be slow, but even the worst of us finally come to learn that we can’t ignore our wives by telling them, “It was probably just a mouse.” Believe me, that only makes them madder.

So I headed for the kitchen determined to get rid of whatever it was that had invaded our house. But this time I was smart enough not to grab my shotgun. Only an idiot would use a shotgun in the kitchen. So I grabbed my pistol instead.

Sure enough. Right there in the middle of the kitchen floor was a rat just sitting there like he owned the house. “Any rat dumb enough to scare Kathy in the middle of the day deserves to be put out of his misery,” I said as I took a bead on him.

Bam! Bam! Bam! I fired off three rounds – more than enough to finish off even a Texas rat. The trouble was I’m not Annie Oakley and the only thing I shot was my kitchen cabinet. But then to make matters even worse, my lousy aim made Kathy so mad she threw her shoe at the darned rat and killed him dead on the spot.

So two weeks and $1,000 later when my new cabinet was installed, I got rid of my guns and humbly accepted the fact that Kathy was not only a better shot than me, but more civilized, too.

Like I said, given enough time and money to repair the damage that we do, men can change.

Hello Hollywood!
I’ve never been particularly fond of anything that came out of Hollywood. Maybe that’s why a couple years ago when my editor asked me to write a story about some local people who were trying to get a part in a Hollywood movie being filmed in Lebanon, I wasn’t too enthused.

“Actors are too weird,” I complained. “Haven’t met one who was normal.” But arguing with an editor is like arguing with my wife. So I headed south to interview what I was convinced were a couple of people who actually thought a bit part in a movie really mattered in life.

“My time would be better spent having a root canal than talking to a couple of frustrated wannabe actors,” I grumbled to myself as I hit the interstate.

According to my editor the movie was called “Milk Money” and it starred Ed Harris and Melanie Griffith. Maybe if I was lucky, he said, I might be able to meet them, too.

Fat chance, I thought. But the more I drove and the more I thought about meeting Melanie Griffith, the more I liked my assignment.

By the time I got to Lebanon I had just about convinced myself the assignment wasn’t that bad after all.

“Maybe I could even try out for a small part, too. Why not?” I said to myself. “And why just a small part? Who knows, maybe I could get a speaking part. Hey, maybe even a scene with Melanie Griffith.”

When I pulled into downtown Lebanon where the movie was actually being shot, I just about had myself moving to Hollywood.

“I wonder what kind of scene Melanie and I will being doing together. Maybe there will be some sort of kissing. I hope Kathy doesn’t mind. But hey, it’s only acting.”

The mind can be a dangerous thing if left unchecked by reality.

Fortunately it didn’t take long for a little dose of the real world to bring me back to Ohio. When I finally walked onto the movie set, ready to start my new career, I might add, I was directed toward the second floor of an old building where all of us wannabe actors were crowded together waiting for a chance to audition for a part.

There was no air conditioning in the room, but no one seemed to mind. What’s a little inconvenience if it meant getting a chance at becoming a star?

Some people played cards to pass the time. Others practiced some imaginary script to themselves. Most just sat smoking cigarettes and staring at the door where every hour or so some 20-year old kid talking into a two-way radio would come in, look us over and then walk out without saying a word. I guess he was looking for extras for whatever scene they were filming.

Now I understand why they call an audition a “cattle call.”

“Hey, what about me?” I said half out loud every time the door opened. “I’m a journalist. I can add character to the movie.”

Didn’t help. I guessed they weren’t looking for character, at least not yet. So every time he left without giving me a second glance, I comforted myself by saying that maybe it was a good thing he didn’t pick me yet. Maybe I would get a better part, a speaking part. Maybe that scene with Melanie was still coming up.

I waited and I waited and I waited in that room for most of the night. By the end of the afternoon I was practicing imaginary scripts and by late evening I had taken up smoking to pass the time like everyone else.

Finally about midnight that same kid walked in again and said, “Sorry, we don’t need any more people.”

And that was it. No movie part, no scene with Melanie, no acting career, no move to Hollywood. Without even so much as a thank you I was ushered out of the building and given the bum’s rush back to the highway.

And I never even found those two local actors I was hunting for.

But that’s all right. I really didn’t want to talk to a couple of actors anyway. Actors are too weird. Haven’t met one who was normal. They really think getting a bit part in a movie really matters in life.

The worsh gets whiter on the line
There are some people you never forget. Dora is one of them.

I first met Dora in 1988 when we had just moved to Ohio. It was my first week as a pastor and I was trying to visit all the members in my congregation. She lived about a mile from our church in Preble County. It was an old stone farmhouse on a hill overlooking most of that part of the township. It wasn’t much of a farm, maybe 100 or so acres of land that had mostly been used to grow corn. It had been rented out for the past 10 years since Dora’s husband Delbert had died. Dora said he caught pneumonia from the grain dust while working in the silo. I don’t know if that’s possible, but she believed it and that settled it for her.

Dora and Delbert got married and then bought the farm just about the time the Great Depression started. I guess that was why they never complained about not having much. You can’t miss what you never had.

But as long as they had the land, they knew they wouldn’t starve. There was always corn to feed the cows and the hogs, and that meant milk to drink and meat to eat. And Dora’s garden gave them all the vegetables they needed. So even though they never had much money, I guess you can’t say they were really poor.

But in time Delbert sold the animals. “Too much work for an old man,” he told her. And then when Delbert died, Dora lost interest in the garden. There wasn’t much need to grow a lot of vegetables for just one person, she said.
But that didn’t mean she retired. Dora still worked hard every day. In the summer she tended to her flowers in the yard. But mostly she spent her time cutting the grass. With nearly 10 acres of it to cut, her days were spent on the old John Deere mower that Delbert had gotten just before he died. Dora was kind of a fixture in the township, going back and forth across her yard day after day, trying to keep it just the way Delbert had liked it. Every day that is except Monday.

It was a late October when I drove to her farm. A Monday. An early winter had set in that year and I had only been in the north for a few days, so I wasn’t used to what I thought was “this arctic Ohio weather.”
That’s why I was surprised to see her out in her yard struggling to hang wet laundry on the clothesline in a 30 mph wind.

“Morning Mrs. Larsh,” I stammered while trying desperately to sound casual. I was chilled to the bone just walking from the car. “I’m the new pastor at the church.”

“Knowed that,” she said never looking up from her laundry.

That was my first lesson about farm life. Nothing happens without everybody five miles in every direction knowing all about it.

“Mrs. Larsh, I was wondering….”

“Call me Dora,” she corrected. “Mrs. Larsh is what strangers call me.”
I guess that was her way of saying that she liked me.

“Dora, I’ve got a question,” I asked. “It’s almost November. The temperature’s got to be near freezing. Aren’t you cold hanging wet clothes on the line?”

“Sure, I’m cold,” she said looking at me like I had just asked the dumbest question in the world. “But it’s Monday.”
It took me a few minutes to figure out what she meant. Remember, until just a couple days before our meeting, I had been building houses in Texas. Monday was just another workday to me. But after she stared at me for what seemed like an eternity, it finally dawned on me that Monday was wash day for most farm folks. At least it was for Dora.

“I don’t mean to pry, Dora, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier if you had a clothes dryer? Then you wouldn’t have to be outside in this weather.”

“Got one,” she said. “My son bought it for me a couple years ago. Tried it once. Don’t like it.”

“I don’t understand,” I asked. “If you’ve got a clothes dryer, why in the world don’t you use it?”

“The worsh gets whiter on the line,” she said and it was clear, at least to her, that explained the matter completely.

Over the past 13 years I’ve had dozens of classes in theology, read several hundred books, worked for two newspapers and met a lot of very religious people. But to be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten better advice about living the Christian life than what Dora told me that day.

Faith is like our “worsh.” It gets whiter when we let it hang out in public.

I’m sorry, dear
I knew something was wrong Saturday morning when I heard Kathy banging dishes and cabinet doors well before daybreak.

By the time I stumbled into the kitchen to see what was the problem, the look on her face made it was apparent I was in trouble.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. From a man’s perspective, that’s a logical question, but apparently it was the wrong question.

“You know what’s wrong,” she shot back as she slammed the door shut on the dishwasher. “It’s Saturday!”

Sensing impending doom I did an emergency checklist in my mind of anything even remotely possible that I might have forgotten. Nothing came to mind. But after 26 years together I knew it would be futile to plead innocent.
“I’m sorry,” I said trying to act like I had even an inkling of what it was that had her so upset.
“Sorry for what?” she demanded.

“Sorry you’re mad at me,” I answered half out loud. Wrong answer.

“Today is February 15. The day AFTER Valentine’s Day and you didn’t get me anything.”

Knowing that I would have to do some fast talking if I ever wanted to have peace in my life again, I opted for the morality defense.

“I didn’t get you anything because I respect you too much,” I said.

I then preceded to explain that the roots of the holiday go back 2,000 years to Rome. Every spring the Romans would hold a fertility celebration by raffling young women to the highest bidders. In fact, at one point the emperor even banned marriage because of it.

“The truth is I love you too much to be part of such a pagan holiday.” Hey, desperate situations call for desperate answers.

“Yes, but the Christian priest Valentine changed that,” she shot back. “He defied Rome and secretly married young lovers.” Obviously she had been reading her church history too.

“But he was executed,” I argued, sensing a similar fate for me if I didn’t come up with the right answer soon.
So then I tried the “it’s-only-a-fake-holiday-to-make-the-florists-rich” defense.

“Did you know that $618 million is spent on roses just for Valentine’s Day? Just think how many poor people that much money could feed,” I argued.

“But you just spent $450 last week on tools for yourself,” she countered without missing a beat. “If every man in the country used the $6 billion they spend on tools and gave it to helping the poor, we could wipe out poverty in one day.”

By this time it was apparent that Kathy was too emotional for a rational discussion of the facts, so I pulled out my big gun.

“I didn’t buy you anything for Valentine’s Day because it’s covered by the 30-day rule.”

I knew I had her with that one because she didn’t say anything. She just stared at me with this blank expression. So to be polite I tried to explain what it meant.

“There’s a rule, I think it might even be in the Bible, in fact, that a men don’t have to buy a gift for their wives if they just bought something for them in the past 30 days. And since we just celebrated out 26th anniversary three weeks ago, I’m covered.”

“Oh yes, our anniversary. That was when you turned on the furnace for the day so that I wouldn’t have to bring in as much wood for the stove as I normally do. The last of the big spenders. That’s what you are.”

“Hey, gas isn’t cheap you know.” Like I said, desperate men say desperate things.

Knowing that I was just about three seconds from having my last rites given me, I went for the ultimate defense that a man can only use when he sees that life as he knows it is quickly coming to an end.

“I’m sorry, dear.”

“Sorry for what,” she demanded.

“Sorry for being a man,” I answered.

Trust me. I know what I’m doing
I just paid about $60 to fill my gas tank and it reminded me of the time 25 years ago when oil was embargoed and prices went through the roof. Kathy and I were living in Michigan then, and like everyone else, we were frantically looking for ways to cut our heating bills. Kathy said the best way was to lower the thermostat, but I told her I had a better way.

“We need to look at alternative fuels.” I said. “That way we can stick it to OPEC for good.”

My first thought was solar heat, until I remembered that we were living in Michigan and the sun didn’t shine more than three or four days there all winter.

That’s when I decided to build a fireplace.

“Free heat,” I told Kathy when I shelled out $600 for a do-it-yourself fireplace kit. “Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

A week later when I finally had my “one-day project” installed, I realized that it needed to be vented two stories to the roof – another $400.

Of course, Kathy complained about the extra cost, but I was convinced it was just a minor setback compared to the money we were going to save.

“Trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

A week later when I finally got the vent pipe together and the fireplace working, Kathy said something didn’t look right. I needed to build a brick hearth and a wall to encase the fireplace. That meant $300, but I was sure I could still get my money back in fuel savings by the end of winter.

“Hey, trust me. I know what I’m doing,” I calmly assured Kathy when she complained about the money I was spending.

I was all set to start my first money-saving fire when I realized I didn’t have any wood. I had been so busy building my fireplace that I didn’t have time to go to the country and get wood. So I had to buy a trunk-full from the convenience store on the corner for a small fortune. This time I didn’t tell Kathy what I paid. Why tempt fate?
When I finally lit my first fire and started to calculate how much money I would save by the end of winter, all Kathy could say was, “I feel a draft. Why is cold air coming from the fireplace?”

That’s when I realized I needed glass doors and a blower for my fireplace to really make it efficient. That cost me another $400.

Thus far I had about $1,900 invested in my fireplace – about three times what I estimated I would have to spend, but I assured Kathy that should be the end of it.

“Trust me,” I said trying desperately to calm her. “I know what I’m doing.”
When I finally drove out to the country to get my first load of free wood, I realized I had another problem. Wood doesn’t come pre-cut. So I had to write a $500 check for a chain saw so that I could finally be in the money-saving business.

“Besides,” I told Kathy, “I could always use a chain saw for projects around the house.”

After I had cut a truck-load of wood, it dawned on me that I had another problem. My car wouldn’t hold more than a couple pieces of wood at a time. I figured it would take about 20 trips to carry home enough wood to heat my house for a week. That meant I would spend all my heating savings on gasoline.
I did some quick calculating and I decided the best way to save money was to buy an old farm truck for around $1,000.

“Sure, it will take me a little longer for my fireplace to pay for itself,” I told Kathy, making sure I was standing far enough away so she couldn’t throw something at me. “But trust me. I know what I’m doing.”

But the more I thought about buying an old truck, the more I realized there would be all sorts of repairs I’d have to do to keep it running. That’s when I decided the best way to save money was to buy a new truck.

“Don’t think of it like a $15,000 purchase,” I told Kathy. “Think of it like a $15,000 investment. In the long run it will actually save us money.”

Technically that was true. But what I didn’t tell her was that it would be about 150 years before my fireplace paid for itself.

Fortunately, our marriage survived that oil embargo and my alternative fuel fiasco. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean the high cost of gasoline now doesn’t still irritate me. In fact, I’ve been thinking about getting one of those new hybrid cars. You know, the ones that use electricity as well as gasoline. Sure, it will cost a lot for a new car, but I figure in the long run it will actually save money in fuel cost. Trust me. I know what I’m talking about.

Like one of my own kids
It was 16 years ago when we got Sprite. He’s our dog. Catherine was just five years old and Chris was six. I had just started attending the Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas. I guess you could say it was my first step into the ministry. Catherine was going to the pre-school in the church, when one day a teacher showed her this scrawny little puppy no more than two months old that someone had dumped in the parking lot.

“Would you like to take him home, Catherine?” she asked.

How could I say no?

Don’t ask me how he got his name. The kids came up with it and somehow it just fit him. Sprite is more or less a fox terrier. But since he was abandoned, it was obvious he didn’t come with much of a pedigree. So whenever people ask me what’s his breed, I never had the heart to say he was a mutt. So I just say his daddy was a traveling man. It sounds kinder.

I never thought Sprite would be with us all these years. From the beginning he had the wanderlust. I’ll bet I caught him digging under the fence in our back yard at least once a day trying to get out and run the neighborhood. That’s probably why he came home one day with a buckshot hole in his side. Somebody didn’t take kindly to him digging in their garbage, I guess. He survived but it didn’t stop his wanderlust much.

When we moved to Ohio a couple years later and he took to chasing cars, I knew that would probably do him in. Even when my neighbor ran over him and broke his leg, that didn’t slow him down any. In spite of the cast he had to wear for two months, he still tried his best to hobble after that farmer every time he drove by.

Even as he got older and gave up on chasing cars he still loved to wander around Greenville whenever I left the screen door unlocked. I’d get mad and threaten to boot him back to Texas when he finally came scratching at the back door, but he’d always nuzzle up to me, tail between his legs, and I’d forgive him.

Kathy and I never planned to grow so attached to Sprite, but after 16 years he was just like family to us. In fact, I think I learned to be a better father because of him. Like a lot of kids, Chris and Catherine went through some pretty tough times in high school. Like Sprite, it seemed they were trying to dig under every rule we had in the family. That’s when I started doing the same thing with them I did with Sprite. I kept them on a pretty short leash for a while. I figured if I could get a wanderer like him to behave, then it just might work for my kids, too.

So now when Chris or Catherine calls to say how well they are doing, and mostly when they say they love me, I have to give Sprite the credit. He’s the one who taught me how to keep them in line.

The kids were always close to Sprite. I guess it was because we had moved so much since we left Texas. They never really did get used to all those changes. It’s hard to make new friends every couple years. Maybe that’s why he meant so much them. He was one of the few stable things in their lives.

I remember a lot of times when they were having some problem at school, or they were mad at me because I had grounded them for something they had done, they always went to Sprite for comfort. On more than one occasion I’d come home and find one them just holding the dog without saying a word. He just made their world feel a little safer for a while.

I used to think that I wasn’t that attached to Sprite. After all, he was just a dog. But when the kids went to college a couple years ago and Kathy was at work most of the day, Sprite and I would spend a lot of our time together. I guess all those changes were hard on me, too. That’s why Kathy would sometimes come home and find me holding Sprite without saying a word.

But the past couple years we noticed that Sprite started to change. I guess it was about the time the kids went off to college. Mostly he slept all day. The vet said he was just getting old. But two months ago when he picked up an infection, the vet said there wasn’t much he could do for him. He could keep him alive with the medicine, but it wouldn’t be much of a life.

Kathy and I talked a lot about what we were going to do with Sprite. I said it wouldn’t be hard for me if he died. After all he was just a dog, I told her. I lied.

Last week I took Sprite to the vet for the last time. I held him in my arms while they gave him an injection. In less than a minute he was dead.

I’d like to tell you that it didn’t bother me. After all, he was just a dog. But the truth is he wasn’t just a dog to me. He was like one of my own kids. I cried the whole way home.

Through the years our family always had a ritual of sorts when I came home at night. Sprite was always the first to greet me at the door, then Kathy would come to give me a kiss, and finally the kids would give me a hug. The kids are grown now and on their own and Kathy works late a lot of the time. Damn, I miss that dog.

The faith of a Toyota station wagon

There are some things in the Bible that I would like to change to make the meaning more understandable. Like faith, for example. The Bible says all we need is the faith of a mustard seed. A mustard jar I understand, but what’s a mustard seed? From my perspective, it would make a lot more sense if it said all we need was the faith of a Toyota station wagon. Let me explain.

After three years working seven days a week going to seminary and pastoring a church, I was burned out. So I planned a trip to West Texas where I could hike the desert country. That was always how I used to unwind when I was in the construction business in Texas and I hadn’t done that since we moved to Ohio. More important, I was hoping to use the time to renew my faith. That’s why I was hoping to go alone.

“It’s not really a vacation,” I tried to tell Kathy and the kids. “Think of it like a spiritual retreat. A discipline sort of thing. No place for a family.”

It didn’t work. “We need a vacation, too,” they insisted. So they loaded our Toyota station wagon from the floor to the ceiling with enough gear for 12 people for two months and we embarked on what soon became our vacation to hell.
It was somewhere west of Little Rock, Ark., and well past midnight when steam started pouring out from under the hood and every warning light in the car flashed on. When the tow truck driver finally arrived two hours later, he wasn’t carrying a gun and he didn’t actually threaten me, but when you’re stuck in the middle of the Arkansas wilderness and a fellow who looks like he had a part in the movie “Deliverance” says it’ll cost $200 just to tow your car to the only garage in the area, and it happens to belong to his cousin Bubba who just did 10 years in prison for manslaughter, you beg him not to hurt your wife and kids while you hand him all the cash in your wallet.
On the bright side, Bubba was able to get our car running again. The only trouble was he charged me enough to ship the darn thing back home for my mechanic to fix it. But like I said, this was Arkansas and you don’t argue with a guy who opens beer bottles with his teeth.

When we finally arrived in San Antonio, we had another problem. Every time we turned the wheel, there was this awful rubbing noise coming from the axle.

“It’s the CV joint,” the mechanic said.

“What’s a CV joint?” I asked.

“Give me your credit card number and I’ll show you,” he answered.

Three days and $500 later we learned more than we ever wanted to know about how temperamental a front-wheel drive system can be.

Now you would think two major breakdowns in one trip would be enough for any one family. Not us. Two hours west into the Chihuahuan Desert the car quit running again. A midnight call to the El Bandito Towing Service and a guy named Manuel Costo Mucho Dinero promised he could have us back on the road in no time. All it would take would be the keys to our home and the birth certificate for our first born. But on the bright side, I was able to practice up on my Spanish while he was working on our car.

I learned, for example, that “Esto es un robo” means “This is a robbery.” Not the sort of thing I had much need to say back home, but it was getting to be a common phrase the longer our vacation lasted.

But that wasn’t the end of our car troubles. Just when we thought we had replaced every part on our car, the air conditioner gave out. When that happens in Ohio, it’s an inconvenience. But when it happens in Texas in August, it’s a crisis. So it was back to the shop for another two days.

This time, however, when the mechanic was done and I automatically reached for my wallet, he shook his head. “No charge, senior,” he said. “You are a priest. It is free.”

I tried to tell him that I wasn’t Catholic, but he said it didn’t matter. “Usted es un hombre de dios.” “You are a man of God.”

To be honest with you, after living in filthy garages by day and flea-ridden motels by night for the past week, I didn’t feel much like a man of God. But in the middle of the West Texas desert, here was this stranger, someone from a different church and even a different culture, yet he was encouraging me to keep my faith in God.

That’s not the end of the story either. Even though we had more than $2,200 in car repairs, we actually came out ahead by the time we finally got home to Ohio. When all our friends in Texas and in Ohio heard about our troubles, without us ever saying a word, they just pitched in and paid everything for us.

Now whenever I’m going through a particularly difficult time and I’m struggling in my faith, I just read that verse on faith again, but I read it the way I can understand it. “If you have faith as small as a Toyota station wagon, nothing will be impossible for you.” It makes a whole lot more sense to me now.

Texas invasion!
I like to think of myself as a pretty good husband. I don’t mean to brag, but I fix whatever it is that Kathy says needs fixing around the house. I mow the lawn. I make the bed in the morning. I do the laundry. Every year I remember Kathy’s birthday and our anniversary. I even support Kathy’s career.
She is the manager of a McDonald’s restaurant, so every chance I get, I try to make sure that her restaurant has plenty of lunch business.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve gone off my diet. A chicken sandwich is good for you, right? And I figure the diet Coke cancels out the fries, so I get to have lunch with my wife on a regular basis without any of the fast food guilt.
Well, I was enjoying my McDonald’s lunchtime with my wife last week when I happened to see an article in the newspaper that someone left at my table that really caught my eye. “Texas town uneasy after polygamist sect moves in,” the headline read.

Having lived in Texas for years, I know that whatever happens there is always bigger than life, at least when Texans get done telling the story. So what could be more interesting than a story about polygamy in Texas?
It seems that people from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – a renegade group of Mormons from Utah who still believe it is their God-given right to have as many wives as they can afford – bought 1,700 acres near the little West Texas town of Eldorado and moved there.

Needless to say, the native Texans haven’t been this nervous since Santa Anna invaded the territory in 1836.
“It’s kind of frightening,” one local mother of two teenage daughters said. “We’re a small enough town that if they wanted to, they could just take us over.”

Of course, it didn’t help when one polygamist fellow offered the media what he thought to be a reasonable justification for his group‘s unorthodox lifestyle. “Why should just one wife have all 12 of my kids when six wives can have two kids each?”

Fortunately, no lynch mobs of angry Texas feminists have been gathering outside the FLDS compound, but the sheriff has spent a lot of time and money in Utah investigating the group.
To be fair, those Texans do have good reason to be nervous with religious cults such as this. Eleven years ago the FBI invaded the Branch Dividian compound in nearby Waco and 80 members of the group and four federal agents were killed.

Even the local librarian has gotten into the fray. Since no one within 1,000 miles of this conservative Baptist community has even the foggiest idea what polygamy is, her two books on the subject have become must-read for everyone in town.

“The more you hear about them, the more scared you get,” she warned.

I don’t mean to make light of the concerns of the good folks in Eldorado who seem convinced that their God-fearing, monogamous families will somehow be brainwashed by the Utah polygamists living nearby. Nor do I want to belittle their worry that life in their part of God’s country where-everyone-is-welcome-as-long-as you’re-like-us will somehow come to an end, but before they storm the FDLS compound in their pickup trucks and send the heathen invaders back to whatever Communist country they came from, all they have to do is talk to any happily married man – like me, for example – to know they have no worries about some polygamist ideology leading their men folk down the adulterous path to perdition.

Like I said, I don’t mean to brag, but I fix whatever it is that Kathy says needs fixing around the house. I mow the lawn. I make the bed in the morning. I do the laundry. Every year I remember Kathy’s birthday and our anniversary. I’m not complaining, but it’s a full time job just taking care of one wife. So even if it were legal to have two, three, or as that FDLS guy suggested, six wives, who were willing to bear whatever number of children we deemed was God‘s will for us, I don’t know of any sane man who has the time or the strength to do all the chores that come with living in a household filled with women – and I can guarantee you no man alive can even come close to remembering six birthdays and six anniversaries all in one year.

But on the other hand, Kathy said if polygamy ever becomes legal in Ohio, she might consider having a couple more husbands, especially if any of them can cook.

I believe in miracles – now
We Americans are a practical lot, especially those of us here in Darke County. We take pride in being realistic. Just give us the facts. That’s why we don’t put a lot of stock in miraculous cures. Doctors, yes. Medicine, yes. We even believe in prayer – as long as it’s accompanied by good doctoring. But not genuine miracles.

Even though I’m a pastor and I believe all the miracles I read about in the Bible, like most Christians, I like to think I have a practical faith. I’m not one who looks for miraculous cures for every illness that I come across today. They only happened in the Bible times, right? But something happened recently that has changed my mind – and my faith.
When my oldest daughter Analisa was eight months pregnant with her second child, she noticed that something was wrong with her baby. There was nothing specific she could point to, nothing obvious. Just a premonition. Something only a mother can have.

An ultrasound was done the next day. Although it was inconclusive, there were some indications the baby may be hydrocephalic – water on the brain.

She was living in Juneau, Alaska, at the time, so her doctor had her fly up to Anchorage to see a specialist. Maybe the ultrasound was wrong, she said. It happens.

But it wasn’t. More tests in Anchorage confirmed the hydrocephalus. But worse yet, they also showed the baby had several other major deformities. Not only did she have a severe cleft palate, but it appeared that just 15 percent of her left arm had developed normally. And worse still, he said she had a tumor on her brain stem.
At best, the baby had just a 20 percent chance of survival. And even if she survived, her brain would more than likely be severely underdeveloped. We were told the best we could hope for was severe retardation. A vegetative state worse than death.

The doctor recommended further tests be done in Detroit. There was a neonatal neurological hospital located there. One of the best in the country. He told her this was the best place for her to give birth to such a severely deformed baby.

Needless to say, we were all devastated by the news. We had been preparing for new life to come into our family and now we had to prepare for a death.

Faith comes easy when everything is going well. But when the bottom falls out of your life, faith is pretty hard to come by. “Why would God allow a terrible thing like this to happen,” we all asked not really expecting an answer.
Of course, we prayed. We all prayed for the baby to be born whole. But if I were to be honest with you, I don’t think we really expected it to happen. That would be too much to ask of God. Miraculous cures like that don’t happen today. That’s not realistic. So mostly we prayed for the strength to get through what we all expected to be the worst time of our lives.

A team of specialists was there when the baby was born. Each doctor was trained to treat each of her deformities. They were all prepared for the worst. So was I.

When my kids were born my only concern was whether it was a boy or a girl. But what do you say to someone who knows her baby will probably die? Nothing. We just prayed.
Sometimes I hear people say we need faith for a miracle to happen. But I didn’t have much faith that day. But yet a miracle did happen. When the baby was finally born, there was no deformed arm, no cleft palate, no misshapen head, and no underdeveloped brain.

Analisa named her Hannah. It means “grace” – God’s gift.

They still live in Alaska so I haven’t seen Hannah for more than a year. Analisa would often call me and tell me how well the baby was doing. Hannah is two years old now, and even though she has had surgery to install a shunt to help drain excess fluid from accumulating on her brain, Analisa kept reassuring me there was no hint of any problem with her. No retardation.

“She acts like any other healthy two-year-old acts. A miracle,” she kept telling me.

But in the back of my mind I still had doubts. Like I said, we Americans don’t put much faith in miraculous cures. To be sure, I needed to see Hannah for myself before I would really believe that a miracle took place.

Well, last week I saw firsthand what Analisa has been saying for the past year. She and Hannah spent the week with us and as I watched her run through our living room tearing up everything in sight, any doubt that I had was erased with every giggle she uttered, and especially when she jumped into my arms and cried, “Grandpa.”

So do I believe in miracles? Absolutely. I held one in my arms this past week.

Going back home again

Some of my best memories growing up were those Saturday trips to the Northville Cider Mill in October.

Northville was only about 20 miles from where we lived, but it could have been a different planet as far as I was concerned. We lived in one of those tract homes that were built almost overnight after World War II. For my parents and millions like them who had grown up in the overcrowded slum housing of the cities during the Depression, these cracker box houses must have seemed like a country paradise. And they may have been for a time. But soon we were surrounded by strip malls, fast food restaurants, and the constant blare of traffic as a whole generation of people turned the countryside into a rural version of the slums they had left behind.

But every Saturday afternoon in October, right about the time the first frost was in the air, my dad would pack the family into our green 1957 Chevy station wagon and we’d drive to the Northville Cider Mill, salivating the whole way there.

Rumor had it that the mill was built before the Revolutionary War. Some said General Washington had once hidden there from the British army. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that’s probably not true, but to an awestruck city kid on his first trip to the country, I would have believed just about anything I was told about the mill.

But mostly what I remember was the smell. I swear you could smell apples being cooked with just the right amount of cinnamon for miles down the road from the mill. And that was mingled with the aroma of burning logs in the fireplace inside the mill where we would sit for hours around huge country tables and savor our cider.

But what I remember most of all was that it was just so peaceful. There were no televisions or radios blaring. No neighbors yelling at one another. No cops were ever called because some drunken idiot threatened another drunken idiot. And most of all, for a couple Saturdays in October my mom and dad got along with each other, too.

Maybe that’s why I have also loved the fall season so much. It was the one time of the year that seemed peaceful to me, at least for a time. And it was all because of the Northville Cider Mill.

In time I left home for college. My folks eventually divorced and when my mother sold the house, I lost track of that old mill. But like one of those forgotten memories of childhood that somehow resurfaces when we have our own kids, after more than 20 years on the road, I finally went back to the Northville Cider Mill. It was a Saturday afternoon in October and I thought maybe, just maybe I could give my family a glimpse of what a 10-year-old kid’s view of heaven can be.

Driving into town I rolled down my windows trying to get my first whiff of the boiling apples. And maybe, I told the kids, if they really concentrated, just maybe they could smell a taste of cinnamon in the air, too.

But nothing. “Maybe the wind is blowing the wrong way,” I told them. “But keep trying. We’re almost there.”

I was wrong. The mill was gone…at least the mill that I remembered was gone. Oh, the old building was still there. But it was closed up now. Instead, right along side it was this new plastic and glass eyesore that looked like a thousand other fake food places around the country.

The old wooden picnic tables where we would make friends with all the strangers we met were gone. Instead there were plastic tables hardly big enough for a family to crowd in. “More efficient use of space,” the manager told me when I complained.

The fireplace was gone, too. “Too dangerous,” the manager said. “Someone might get burned and sue us.”

Even the apple cooking vats were gone. “We ship the cider in from Oregon now,” the manager said proudly. “So I can keep my costs down.”

“But this isn’t my cider mill,” I cried. “This is a McCider mill.”

It seems that for most of this past generation we have been hell-bent to tear down everything traditional for the sake of profit or convenience. Success was measured in terms of what we could count, measure and own. I can’t help but think that’s why voter turnout has gotten so low these past elections. It’s inconvenient to take time to vote, and it even more inconvenient to take the time needed to make an informed vote. And so what we are left with is just an easy chair commitment that does nothing but complain about our government, yet does nothing to better it. McPatriotism.

And it’s no better in the church. Nearly everyone says they believe in God, but less than a quarter of us show up at his house on Sunday. And when we do go to church, we spend more time looking at our watch than the Bible. McWorship.

But I think Sept. 11 has changed a lot of us forever. Who was the first person you called when you heard about the four plane crashes? Your stock broker? Your boss? Or your family? Flags are flying everywhere now. And church attendance is up, too.

Maybe it’s not too late for us. Maybe we can go back and regain the best of our traditions again. I know I am.

Time changes even Tim
Last Saturday I was invited to the Catholic Men’s Conference in Cincinnati. Although I’m not Catholic, we share a lot of beliefs in common. And besides, it’s good exercise for me to spend all day constantly getting up and down for the liturgy. I’ll bet if I attended these conferences regularly, I’d lose 10 pounds.

The best part for me at events such as this is the inspirational speakers, godly men who motivate me to be more committed in my faith. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Bishops Carl Moeddel and Robert Muench, congressional chaplain Fr. Dan Couglin, Senator Connie Mack, and Judge Tim Phillips – Tim Phillips?

“That can’t be the Tim Phillips I knew in college,” I said to half out loud when I read the bulletin. These speakers are all godly men, men who have committed their lives to benefit others. The Tim Phillips I knew only dedicated his life to having a good time every weekend.

I met Tim when I was junior in college. He was just a freshman, but we took an instant liking to one another, mostly because we both had the same attitude toward discipline and hard work – something to be avoided at all costs.
Case in point. I remember when the girls from the neighboring dorm came over one night to sing Christmas carols in front of our dorm. Most of the guys all stood at their windows and listened politely. They even applauded after each song. That was the Christian thing to do you know. But not Tim. He grabbed a box full of water balloons he had been saving for just such an occasion and pointed me toward the roof. Just when they started singing “It came upon a midnight clear,” we let go a barrage of water missiles that sent those girls screaming across campus in all directions.
Later that year Tim and I were sitting in my room bored to death when he came up with the idea of breaking into the college chapel and stealing all the song books.

Chapel was required every morning, but Tim and I both hated to go. “Can’t have chapel without songbooks,” he said as he ran across campus in the dark.

All the college buildings were always locked at night, but Tim pried open a basement window of the chapel and for the next two hours he and I carried 1,500 songbooks to the men’s room where we stacked them in front of the urinals. But not content with just disrupting the singing and the urinary habits of all the men on campus, he decided to give everyone something to really talk about during chapel. He ran back to the dorm and retrieved a bag filled with underwear. He and I then spent the rest of the night throwing briefs, bras and panties in the air until they all caught on light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. I didn’t ask him where he got the women’s underwear. I figured it was best if I didn’t know.

We would have gotten away with it, but Tim forgot that his mother had put his name on all his underwear so he wouldn’t lose them at college. So when the custodians finally got all the unmentionables down from the lights, he and the dean got to know one another quite well after that.

Speaking of the dean, Tim was never particularly fond of him. So one night when he saw the old man walking in front of the dorm, Tim decided to say hello to him in a special way. He stood in front of the window, dropped his pants and bared his backside to him.

Up till that time there was no category in the discipline book for mooning the dean, but when the next year’s edition came out, it was added in under “Unforgivable sins.”
But the one incident with Tim that has always stuck in my mind was the night he dared me to streak across campus. Remember, this was the 60s and it was quite popular to run naked in public. Ray Stevens had a song about it, and some fellow even streaked across the stage during the Oscar presentations on live television. Like I said, it was the 60s.

In spite of all that, I was more than a little nervous about the idea. But Tim went around the dorm and took bets that I was too chicken to streak across campus. “I’ll even let you do it after dark,” he goaded.
So when the pot reached $50, against my better judgment I agreed. I figured since it was already nearly midnight, there would be no one who would see me anyway. I thought it would be an easy $50.
I was heading around the first bend of my run when Tim pulled the campus fire alarm causing every dorm within a mile radius to empty into the streets. Let me just say that I earned every dime of that $50 for the next two hours while I hid in the briar bushes behind the science building buck naked in 25-degree weather.

So what in the world could Tim Philips have to say at a Catholic Men’s Conference? Plenty actually. “Time changes us,” he told the 9,000 men. “But mostly God can change us.”
As much as I appreciated listening to Archbishop Pilarczyk, Bishop Moeddel and the other church leaders, the truth is that I was most impressed with Tim’s speech. I figured the very fact that he was speaking at a religious service and the songbooks were still in place and there wasn’t a single piece of underwear hanging from the lights was tangible proof that God really can change people.

They’re still my kids
I used to think that when my kids turned 18 and were out of the house, my parenting days would be over. Not so. I still do a lot of parenting, but I’m just more subtle with it. The bottom line is they will always be a top priority in my life. That’s what parenting is all about.

I remember the day I first learned that lesson. It was a couple years ago when both my son and daughter were attending Newton High School in Miami County. It’s a small school, about 180 students in all four grades. Most of the kids had been together all of their lives. Even some of their parents grew up together. So it was a pretty tight community where everyone knew everyone and everything about them.

Unfortunately, there are times when you don’t know all you should about someone – someone like Jason. He was 17 years old, a sophomore, and from what I could tell, doing well in school. He played on the junior varsity basketball team and was headed for the varsity squad the next year. He had a steady girlfriend and seemed to be well-liked by everyone.

Both my son Chris and daughter Catherine knew him well. In fact, Chris played ball with him and Catherine dated him once or twice. They weren’t close to him, but they were friends.

One day Chris called me from school and said Jason shot himself that morning. He was dead.

I spent the next day trying to figure out what happened. It seems Jason had been depressed for several months. Repeatedly he had said he didn’t like the way he looked and that he had no friends. At times he would even say he had nothing to live for. Then a few weeks prior to his death his depression got worse. So bad, in fact, that his parents hid all the guns they had in the house.

Jason’s depression climaxed when he stayed up most of the night arguing with his parents that he couldn’t live another day. Somehow he found one of the guns, ran out of the house with his father chasing after him, and went into the woods and shot himself in the head.

Why? That’s the question asked by everyone who knew him. That’s also the question I have been asking myself ever since that day. What would push a child like Jason to destroy himself? He appeared to have a family who cared for him, plenty of friends, and no indication he was using drugs. Why?

I still don’t have an answer, and I probably never will. But I do know that it has caused me to reassess a lot of the things I thought important in my life, especially my family.

Like most parents, a lot of my conversations with my kids are usually in the negative. “No, you can’t use my credit card.” “No you can’t go to Florida on spring break.” “No, you can’t pierce your nose,” and on and on.

Raising kids today – particularly during adolescence – can be like labor negotiations between General Motors and the UAW. They ask for more than they need – I offer less than they deserve. Then after a lot of arguing, we compromise somewhere in the middle.

The problem is that the haggling can become a contest of wills, and in the process we can lose sight of what’s really important – our relationship.

Child psychologist Dr. James Dobson said adolescence is like the return of the space shuttle to earth. Communication is fine until it hits earth’s atmosphere. Then for a time there is just silence, and you have no idea how they are doing. Yet Houston still tries to reach them, no matter how frustrating the silence may be. Then finally they pass through the hot zone, and there’s a message they are okay.

The same is true with our children. Communication was fine when they were young. But as soon as they entered the teenage years, everything goes silent and we have no idea how they are doing. Yet we still try to reach them, no matter how frustrating the silence may be. Then one day, sometimes it’s after high school, sometimes it’s when they get married, and even sometimes it’s much later, when they become parents, too, they pass through the hot zone and there’s a message – they’re fine.

We had a saying when I was in the construction business. “There’s no perfect house. And if there was, you couldn’t afford it.” The same is true with parenting. I gave up on being perfect about two hours after Chris was born. At this stage of the game, I’m just glad to be there when they re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.

One thing I learned building houses was that it was critical to make priorities. Find out what is most important and take care of them first. Jason’s death showed me how important my family is to me. Up to that point in my life I had spent most of my time and energy focused on the future, planning one project after another. But it became clear to me the only project that really mattered in my life was the one I was already building – my kids.

Now I still don’t let them use my credit card, go to Florida on spring break, or God forbid, pierce their nose, but I do try to listen to them a little more. No matter how old they are or where they may be living, they’re still my kids.

Real entertainment
Now that spring has finally arrived I thought it would be a perfect chance to try a more Spartan lifestyle for a change. After being snowed in all winter with nothing to do but watch television until my IQ dropped 10 points, I figured the change in weather might be a good time for a change in lifestyle too.

Like a lot of people, I tell my friends I only watch television a couple hours a week. “Mostly PBS,” I say. But the truth is I watch as much junk as everyone else does.

No, I don’t watch Jerry Springer in the morning, but when evening comes I watch comparable stuff.

Oh, I start with the best of intentions. “I’ll just watch the news,” I tell Kathy. But Dan Rather leads to Judge Judy. “It’s court news,” I tell myself. Then that leads to Seinfeld. Intellectual comedy, you know. Good for the mind. And by 11 p.m. I’ve worn out the remote by watching a half dozen sitcoms, three news shows and a couple movies all at the same time.

I think it’s a man thing actually. There must be something in the male brain that allows us to flip through a dozen channels in 30 seconds and actually be able to follow the plot of each program.

But you know you’re a TV addict when you do all that with programs you’ve already seen three times because you think there might be something you missed that would make the show worth watching again.

“But now that the temperature is into the 70s on a regular basis, I thought it was a perfect time to kick my habit cold turkey. No TV at all. No Dan Rather, no PBS, no Jerry Seinfeld, no Drew Carey, no 60 Minutes, no Friends, no Frontline, no Simpsons, no National Geographic, no Judge Judy. Nothing but blank screen.

Although I thought I might have to get my entertainment fix at Blockbuster Video, the truth is I had very few withdrawal symptoms. In fact, it was actually pretty easy. I filled my time doing all the things I had promised myself I would do “as soon as my program is over.” I read all the magazines I had been buying but never had time to get past the cover. I read books that I had forgotten I had bought. I even made a serious dent in Kathy’s “to-do” list that I had been ignoring for years.

But mostly I spend my time sitting on my front porch. That’s because there was one more convenience that we gave up when we moved to our new house. It was built in 1879 and the only air conditioning we have is a lot of open windows.

Even though I like coming into an air conditioned room on a hot day as much as the next person, the truth is I’ve always hated being shut off from the outdoors. With an air conditioned house there is no fresh breeze blowing through the curtains, no smell of flowers or a mowed lawn, no sound of birds chirping in the yard. It’s just so sterile behind closed windows.

But with no television to keep me indoors, I spend most of my evenings doing what people have been doing on hot evening for centuries. I sit on my front porch for hours on end and watch some of the best entertainment possible. I get to know my neighborhood by just talking to people I happen to see.

I learned that 16-year-old Homer wants to start his own lawn mowing business because he hopes to be a millionaire someday. Daniel is repairing a classic Corvette in his garage. Bob’s daughter and grandkids are living with him. Donnie wants to be a Marine when he gets out of high school. Jim’s two kids love baseball. And Robbie’s cat is lonesome because his neighbor’s cat moved away.

I watch squirrels run through the yard, listen to dogs barking, and most of all I smell the flowers just breaking through the ground on the evening breeze. I don’t know of any reality television program that can compare with all that.

No more red pens
I have good news for all the kids who started school a month ago and are just now realizing that you will actually be tested on all the stuff the teacher has been droning on about in class, but you thought it was “too boring” to pay attention to.

Teachers won’t be marking your papers with red pens any more. “It’s just too harsh,” eight-grade teacher Debbie Levin told the Boston Globe. “I will use purple or green, but never red. I think it’s very demoralizing for a child to have written a creative paper and to have it marked up in red to show that it’s awful.”

And Levin’s not the only one who feels that way. According to Paper Mate pen spokesman Michael Finn, red pen sales are way down, but purple pens are up 10 percent. He thinks purple is better because it’s a “friendly color.”
Even the experts are getting into the discussion. Leatrice Eiseman, who is the director of Pantene Color Institute in New Jersey, and I know this is hard to believe, but she has actually written six books on color, says teachers are switching to purple grading pens as “a way to soften the blow.”

There’s a deep psychological reason for this, she says. Seeing red raises blood pressure, causes adrenaline to flow and makes the heart beat faster. “When people saw red, they knew danger was attached.”

Now let me get this straight. If I sleep through eight weeks of English lectures, don’t turn in a single homework assignment, and haven’t the foggiest idea what the difference between a noun and pronoun might be on the midterm exam, Debbie Levin is worried that marking a big, fat F – that I fully deserve I might add – on the top of my paper might seem “too harsh.”

And Leatrice Eiseman wants me to feel all warm and fuzzy about failing my tests, even though I can’t get into college, get a job, move out of my parent’s house and become a tax-paying adult one day without at least a minimal knowledge of the language that three-fourths of the world speaks fluently.

And best of all, the Paper Mate pen company wants me to think that an F is actually a “friendly” experience.
I can just imagine how this teaching psychobabble would have played out in my high school 40 years ago.

“Hey, Bubba, whaddit you git on yous English test?”

“I gotta F, but she dun it wit a green pen, so I feeled good about it.”

“Yuh,me two. Those red pens the teach used befor jus made me feel so bad – specially when my old man got holt of me. But now he thincs um doon good.”