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Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

The Thinker

I have a contemplative chipmunk.

Or rather, living near my house there is either a chipmunk or a family of them prone to striking a contemplative pose and holding it for an inordinate amount of time.

When my wife and I first moved to High Point, in the backyard we found a pretty chunk of gray-and-white-striped granite roughly the size of a human head. My wife moved it to a corner of the back deck. The next morning, she looked out to find a chipmunk perched on top of the rock simply staring out at the yard.

Every morning, the chipmunk returned. And each time, it remained on that perch, not moving, for a long while.

When the weather turned cold, it disappeared, but in the spring it came back — or it and others came back. Sometimes the chipmunk on the rock looks a little smaller than usual. Maybe there is a young chipmunk mimicking a parent’s perching.

Whether there is one or there are more, whether it’s learned or just in the nature of chipmunks, the behavior is the same.

The critter gets up on the rock and just looks across the yard — not unlike the way I sometimes sit in a chair on the deck and look out across the yard, silently staring as my mind wanders. Sometimes I think about yard projects I want to get to, some short-term, some for next summer, or the next. Sometimes I simply wonder at nature, looking up into the trees, the setting sun still lighting the highest leaves stirring in the breeze as the darkness starts to deepen down below. Sometimes I worry about money or work or myriad choices I’ll never be able to undo even if I discovered during my rumination an alternative I would have preferred. Sometimes I just stew.

Sometimes I look at that rock and wonder what the chipmunk thinks as it looks across the yard.

Is it planning lunch?

Thinking about digging a new extension for its burrow?

Wondering whether Mrs. Chipmunk will be feeling frisky later?

Worrying about the neighbor’s cat?

Maybe it’s just absorbing a moment’s peace.

Or perhaps it is just trying to figure out what the big, white-headed beast keeps staring at across the yard, and why it won’t just stay inside its brick cave and leave the deck to its rightful owner.

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Let me first say that if offered a reward or prize for saving High Point from icy catastrophe in Thursday’s winter storm, I will decline it.

I am gratified that my actions may have prevented widespread damage and electricity disruption, along with the human misery that would accompany that, but it would be wrong to seek or accept any reward.

No, my actions were prompted by no heroic intent but instead by my desire to avoid looking like an idiot for the second time in less than a week. Saving the city was a happy byproduct.

When the previous ice storm hit last weekend, the power in our neighborhood went out around 8:30 a.m. My initial thought was that my wife and I could stay with my stepmother because she has gas logs, so her house would stay warm even though her power was out too.

She told us, “Come on over.”

But as we began to gather our things, she texted a reminder: Her house gets its water from a well, so no power means no pump and no water. If we came, we would have to bring containers of water to flush the toilets.

This altered the calculus.

Maybe it would be better to just add layers of clothing and stay in the growing cold.

Then I slapped my forehead. Though we had lived in the house since June, somehow I had forgotten an element of the room.

“We have a fireplace,” I said. “Let’s just build a fire.”

The previous owners had left some firewood beside the house. Happily enough, they were under cover and were dry, so I set about building a fire.

As the flames gradually grew, I saw a few curls of smoke rolling up past the mantle into the living room, but once the fire was full and hot, everything appeared to go up the chimney.

We set up a table near the fire to play Scrabble while waiting for the power to come back on.

Gradually I noticed the room growing a bit hazy. Some smoke continued drifting into the room.

After a couple of hours, the amount of smoke started to worry me. I set up a ladder by the smoke detector.

I grabbed a towel, opened the front door and started waving smoke out the door.

After a minute I thought it looked like smoke was rolling thickly off the porch. Turning back toward the fireplace, I saw smoke pouring into the living room toward the front door. I had made things worse.

The hallway smoke alarm went off, and then the alarm’s control panel in the kitchen started screeching.

I scrambled up the ladder and removed the smoke detector from the ceiling to run outside with it as my phone rang – the alarm company checking to see what was happening. I grabbed the screeching control panel as I answered the phone and went out the door.

“No,” I said, “the power went out and we built a fire in the fireplace, and we have some smoke in the house.”

Back inside, I looked around the thick haze and felt panic.

Had I ruined the house? Would we have to hire a disaster mitigation company?

We decided we would just have to let the fire die on its own.

So we sat in the smoke and kept playing Scrabble. I tried to focus on the board. Any glance around renewed my panic.

Gradually, the air cleared. The next day, we cleaned out the fireplace, and the house no longer smelled of smoke.

A couple days later, the forecast of another ice storm loomed, but this one was supposed to be much worse – up to a half inch of ice. Maybe even more than that. Trees would buckle everywhere.

I didn’t want a repeat performance of my errors.

Given the age of our house, our fireplace probably originally burned coal, which I once was told meant you could burn a Duraflame log in it but not wood. When I went to the store to find one, it seemed many other people had a similar idea. But I tried other stores and eventually found a box of logs. If the neighborhood was without power for a couple of days, we still would be able to keep warm.

I changed the order of the cars in the driveway so the four-wheel-drive vehicle was in the back.

And Thursday morning I lit a burner on the gas stove (the ignition on the stove is electric, so you can’t light it after the power is out) and kept it on low. Now if the power failed we could heat soup.

We were as ready as we could possibly be for a catastrophic ice storm.

Naturally, nothing much happened. Some ice, but no catastrophe, and it melted by mid-afternoon.

As long as I hold on to the box of logs, I expect the city will make it through the rest of this winter with no significant ice-related outages.

You’re welcome.

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Seeing is believing, but if believing required seeing we would have no churches.

When you buy a car, you don’t require that the dealer take the car apart and demonstrate how each element of it functions before you believe it will drive.

Do you understand how your flat-screen TV works?

Your cellphone?

A colleague recently wrote about losing a relative to COVID-19. The relative had a terminal form of cancer, but COVID-19 quickly took away however many months she would have had left. My colleague wrote of her frustration about people refusing to wear masks, which studies conducted during the months of the pandemic have proven can sharply limit the spread of the virus.

But one line she wrote about why people find it difficult to stick with the strict precautions that public health officials call for caught me short: “I know it’s hard. The last eight months have felt like a dystopian hellscape, our sense of reality warped by a disaster in slow motion.”

I told her I thought the reason it has been difficult is exactly the opposite – the world does not appear to be a hellscape or a disaster. If we went outside and brimstone were falling from the sky, we’d go back in to get our asbestos umbrella – “The scientists say we’ll catch fire if we don’t keep an asbestos umbrella with us at all times!”

The reason it’s hard to get people to change their behavior from what they were doing every day until this past spring is that everything looks exactly the same as it did a year ago. Unless you personally have known people who suffered extreme complications from COVID-19, the danger of the disease can seem remote. It’s hard to keep up your guard day after day when nothing happens to you.

A recent letter sent to The High Point Enterprise questioning whether the pandemic continues to rage through society said, “Doesn’t the definition of ‘pandemic’ include ‘excessive deaths’? I’ve yet to see bodies stacked on the roadsides.”

It is statistically evident that the United States is seeing “excess deaths” (that’s the term to Google). The number of deaths from all causes each year normally falls into a certain limited range, but a research letter published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in October reported that from March 1 to Aug. 1 the number of deaths in the U.S. was 20% higher than that normal range – that’s more than 225,000, of which only 150,000 officially had been attributed to COVID-19.

And you don’t have to look far to find recent news stories documenting the toll that the current surge in virus-related hospitalizations is taking on health care workers across the country – but unless those workers are part of your immediate family, you do have to choose to look.

Among the statistics that the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services publishes on its website, and updates every day, is the number of state residents hospitalized for COVID-19. Many county health departments, including Guilford’s, do the same. On Friday, 166 Guilford residents were hospitalized.

But the bodies are not stacked by the roadside.

Perhaps if this pandemic were like the 1918 Spanish flu, and one of the groups hardest hit was young children, there wouldn’t be so many skeptics. The emotional wounds would be more open and raw and distributed across the population.

No one would demand to see children’s bodies stacked like cordwood before believing there was a problem.

No one would think of suggesting that the deaths of a few hundred-thousand children was acceptable, as Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested in the spring about the deaths of seniors from COVID-19: “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’”

But, at least so far as we know in the less than one year scientists have had to study the disease, COVID-19 does not have serious effects on most children.

In fact, most adults who are infected feel no effects or have mild symptoms, and even most infected seniors recover.

The issue, though, has never been that you personally were likely to die if you caught this disease. If that were the only risk, you would be well within your rights to not wear a mask and even to offer to deep-kiss any willing stranger.

But with this highly infectious disease, when you are infected you may not know it, so if you take minimal or no precautions, you easily infect other people. They then infect other people, and so on, and so on, and eventually the virus reaches someone whose health is fragile, but you will never see it. All you see is that the number of deaths went up yesterday, and you don’t believe you could have had anything to do with that.

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Life advice: At some point as you get older, you should not try to lift a lawnmower by yourself.

Apparently I passed that point sometime in the past year.

When I needed to take the mower in for service last summer, I hoisted it solo into the back of my SUV without any trouble.

But last weekend, I hoisted the mower solo to drive it from Lenoir to mow the incipient meadow in the front yard of the house my wife and I bought in High Point two weeks ago.

This time, there was some trouble.

As I lifted the mower I felt a muscle in my back complain. I don’t speak fluent muscle, but the complaint seemed something along the lines of, “I’m too old for this crap and I’m done.”

I got the mower into the SUV, but the rest of the packing I had to do without the help of that muscle.

I coughed, and the muscle threatened me.

Almost every step I took, the muscle grumbled.

And the muscle continued grumbling during the nearly two-hour drive to High Point.

As the day turned to evening, the muscle stiffened its resolve, meaning it not only wouldn’t help me move around the house but it fought me. I walked like the old people in the Bugs Bunny cartoons I watched in my childhood – bent over, holding one hand on my back. If I’d had a cane or walking stick, it would have been helpful.

Finally, I went to bed and was able to sleep – for a while. But the muscle’s constant complaints woke me.

And because our house in Lenoir has not yet sold, we barely have any furniture, and the muscle refused to help me rise from the mattress on the floor. Once I rose, I could not bend over to pick up my socks.

It was a work stoppage. A boycott.

Somehow I got myself showered and dressed for work.

The muscle grew more cooperative as the day went, ceasing the boycott, and we are back on speaking terms again.

But I’m worried.

For now, we are splitting our time between High Point and Lenoir. The grass in both places refuses my request to temporarily stop growing. There may be more mower transport yet to be done. I won’t try to lift it on my own again, but what if the muscle balks anyway? What if there’s another boycott?

Looking ahead, there’s a larger worry. I’m not getting any younger, and what if the muscle has sympathizers? Next time more than one muscle might boycott.

My entire body might unionize and demand better working conditions – i.e., no more working conditions.

That would be unacceptable. I might have to hire some union-busting goons. Things could get ugly. There might be violence. I’d be caught in the middle, literally. Any blood that would be spilled would be mine.

Everyone tells you it sucks getting old.

No one says you will find yourself quietly negotiating a careful labor agreement with your own muscles just to keep walking upright.

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Some people change residences frequently, not only renters but home buyers. A woman once told my mother she never lives in a house longer than three years “because then you have to clean it.”

Then there’s my wife, Jane, who hates moving. Early in our marriage she declared that the next people who moved her would be a local funeral home.

We are now in the middle of buying and selling a house for the third time in the 21 years we have been married.

When we moved to Richmond, Virginia, in 2001, the only thing about the house-hunting process that had changed since I first bought a house as a bachelor four years earlier was the advent of online listings.

When we moved to Lenoir in 2013, the one new wrinkle was the ability to digitally “sign” all the sales documents needed in Virginia while we were on a computer in Lenoir.

But now?

The process of buying and selling a house — each separately but especially both together — has been transformed into a nightmare of text messages, emails and automated phone calls, all of which seem to be added onto instead of replacing the regular calls and emails that previously went between a buyer/seller and the real estate agent.

The day our house went on the market, my phone “blew up.” I had heard other people use that phrase, but I had no firsthand experience. My phone had never done it before. But, boy howdy, now I have experience.

Each time someone wanted to schedule a showing, I received both a text and an email requesting confirmation.

If no one confirmed it quickly, I received a phone call asking about it.

Once the showing was confirmed, I received both a text and an email showing it had been confirmed.

When an agent rescheduled, the entire cycle repeated. If someone canceled, there was another round of texts and emails.

After each showing, we received texts and emails showing the “feedback” provided by the agent for the person who saw the house, which usually was an email mostly full of questions that had not been answered.

On the house-buying end, we both receive automated emails requesting various documents, and if a couple of days pass we get reminders that we have not provided particular documents.

Our agent uses a website that tracks all the tasks that must be completed by either her or us, and each time she writes in that a task has been completed we get emails telling us that she has updated the timeline. The timeline is a wonderful tool, and I applaud it, but it’s yet another series of notifications that trigger my phone to buzz or bong or hum.

All of this piles stress on top of the ordinary stresses of moving plus the added anxiety of a worldwide pandemic.

If Jane and I live to complete the move to High Point, I feel certain she will not declare this time that the next people who move her will be a funeral home.

Mine will be the body they will carry out because she will kill me if I ever want to move again.

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With Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order at least somewhat eased as of Friday evening, I know what many of you in North Carolina, and those in other states similarly starting to “reopen,” are thinking: What are we supposed to do now?

The answer can be found within one of the lines of criticism directed at Cooper by his opponent in this fall’s election, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. After Cooper announced the limited loosening of restrictions on businesses, Forest issued a statement that said in part, “He does not believe that North Carolinians have enough self-control, restraint, or common sense to act responsibly in a world with COVID-19.”

No matter how you plan to vote this fall, if you want to know what you should do now with the limited freedom of movement that fits under Cooper’s Phase One guidelines, look to Forest’s statement: Show self-control, exercise restraint, display common sense, and act responsibly.

Upon reading that, those of you who interact with the general public regularly probably feel a sense of impending doom.

A different quote applies here. In the 1997 movie “Men In Black,” about the secret government agency that deals with extraterrestrial visitors to Earth, actor Will Smith’s character asks why officials don’t trust the public with the truth because “people are smart.”

Tommy Lee Jones’ character replies, “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals, and you know it.”

That may be too cynical and overly broad, but if there were not a nugget of truth to it then no one would ever be crushed under a stampede of Walmart shoppers on Black Friday, political advertising would contain no falsehoods, and scammers would have to apply for welfare.

Ever since the stay-at-home order and social-distancing guidelines first were issued, there have been complaints about some businesses and people who were not complying. And they are correct, it’s not hard to find people ignoring all social distancing guidelines.

The number of positive tests for coronavirus continues to rise in part because some people do not take the threat or precautions seriously. Even if the governor had left his orders unchanged, those people’s behavior would not be affected — just the way that anti-littering laws don’t stop some people from throwing their McDonald’s wrappers and leftover fries out the window in front of you on the highway.

The best thing you can always do is be the best kind of person you know how to be, the kind of person your parents would be proud to see on television.

That doesn’t mean you have to wear a hazmat suit to the gas station.

It means having the sense to know that just because you feel fine doesn’t mean you haven’t been infected, so if you’re going someplace where you’ll probably be pretty close to people it would be a good idea to wear a mask of some kind to help reduce the risk to other people as well as their risk to you.

It means having the sense of history to realize that the last pandemic this extensive, the Spanish flu, lasted two years, not two months, so we will have to adapt our behavior for the long term, not revert to our old habits and go “back to normal.”

There’s another quote that applies. In “The Andy Griffith Show,” Sheriff Taylor scolds someone who is not displaying common sense, “Act like you got some smart.”

Show self-control, exercise restraint, display common sense, and act responsibly.

Or you can boil that down to something even simpler and easier to remember, something that I tell myself all the time — but don’t often enough heed — especially when it comes to interactions with other people:

Don’t be stupid.

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At long last, I found how to make time slow down.

But like the dog that finally caught the car it was chasing, I don’t know what to do with myself. Who needs all this slow-moving time? Take it back. You can have it.

Now I’m ready for time to speed back up again.

We all notice by our mid-30s that as we get older time accelerates. Each year goes by more quickly than the last.

By the time I turned 50, it seemed I barely was able to grow sick of mowing the lawn in the summer heat before frost hit, the leaves turned and I had to wear heavy coats again. Winters once seemed like a long, tedious parade of putting on and taking off heavy coats, but in recent years even the coldest weather has become almost tolerably brief because spring arrives so quickly. Almost. But spring departs barely after arriving, like a coworker who hates to be left out of a party but doesn’t like socializing.

Facebook serves up “memories” that feel recent but were posted a dozen years ago by a version of me that had mostly brown hair, which makes me think about how close I am to retirement age. Can the next dozen or so years really go even more quickly than the past dozen? It seems like a long way off, but back when I was 42, 54 seemed a long way off.

I thought it would go on like that endlessly, each year adding acceleration on top of the previous year’s speed like an ion engine building momentum in space until eventually I would whoosh effortlessly into the void, barely noticing as death arrives and passes quickly behind me.

But then came the coronavirus, and instead of speeding into a void it feels more like I have careened into a giant, moist sponge cake with thick, creamy icing. I’m embedded in it and can’t extract myself.

Last weekend on the radio a news reporter said it was the beginning of the third weekend since Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home order took effect.

“What?!” I said. “That can’t be right.”

Two weeks? We had been cooped up mostly at home and locked out of many of our favorite businesses for a lot longer than that … hadn’t we? I checked the calendar.

Nope.

This is now the fourth weekend, not even 28 days yet.

But it feels like the fourth month.

Time has slowed to a crawl. My sense of the passage of time is now more like it was when I was 6. Inside my head, I’m whining, “But I haven’t been able to go out just to have a beer in FOREVEEEEEEERRRRRRR.”

I’ve seen memes on social media saying every day is like the movie “Groundhog Day.” We wake up and everything is the same, no matter what we do, because our options are now so limited.

I understand the frustrations of those protesting the stay-at-home restrictions.

But I also understand the limitations of the health care system to deal with a sudden influx of severely ill patients. There simply isn’t much room. Ask around. Fewer people than would fit in your living room would be a major crisis.

So when my inner 6-year-old whimpers, “How much longer is this going to taaaaaaaaaake?” my inner adult answers, “It takes how long it takes, now behave or I’ll pull this car over and GIVE you something to cry about!”

I’ll just have to take a beer out of the refrigerator, go sit in a corner upstairs, sulk and stare out the window, thinking about all the things I can’t do.

It feels like I’m grounded. We’re all grounded. It feels like it will never end.

My inner adult eyes the sulking 6-year-old in the rear view mirror.

“I know it feels like a long time,” the adult says. “I promise you we’ll go out when it’s over. Whatever you want.”

The 6-year-old rolls his eyes and half-heartedly answers, “Oh, OK.”

But to him the road ahead looks like a Kansas highway. It stretches on and on toward a distant vanishing point on the horizon.

My inner adult knows we are in a slow-motion race on that road. The prize is a healthy community, and it doesn’t go to the ones who get to the end first but to the ones who get the farthest without running anyone off the road. It’s harder than it sounds.

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They say only the good die young.

I wonder, then, what sordid deeds Mr. Peanut must have committed in the nearly 104 years before his recent death.

Yes, if you haven’t seen the TV commercial, Mr. Peanut is dead.

He and two men were riding in the peanut-shaped Nutmobile – the Planters answer to Oscar Meyer’s wienermobile, I suppose – when it headed for a cliff. They jumped out just as it went over the edge, and they found themselves hanging like Wile E. Coyote from a branch over a deep canyon. As the branch began to break from their weight, Mr. Peanut let go, sacrificing himself and plunging to the canyon floor, where the wrecked Nutmobile lay.

Looking down, one of the two men said, “Maybe he’ll be all right.”

And then, just to eliminate all doubt, the Nutmobile exploded.

That commercial is a teaser for another commercial that is scheduled to run during the third quarter of the Super Bowl.

Officials at both Planters and VaynerMedia, which created the commercial, swear that the character is dead, so presumably Mr. Peanut will not emerge from the flaming wreckage as an intact but roasted peanut. The Super Bowl commercial reportedly will show his funeral.

Maybe viewers will be introduced to Mr. Peanut’s progeny at his funeral, or much of his extended family, and one or more of them will take up his mantle.

Actually that’s probably exactly what will happen. There is no chance in the world that Planters is going to just give up using such a well recognized symbol.

Perhaps VaynerMedia hopes to do with Mr. Peanut’s family something similar to what KFC has done with Colonel Sanders since that character was rebooted in 2015. Now there is not just one Colonel, not just one image based on a real, historical person, there is a different Colonel played by an entirely different actor for every product or deal KFC offers. There’s even a female Colonel (at least just the one so far), played by country singer Reba McEntire when promoting the introduction of “Smokey Mountain BBQ” chicken. (My favorite is the Extra Crispy Colonel, played by deeply tanned actor George Hamilton.) It’s endlessly adaptable.

So maybe now, instead of the one Mr. Peanut with his unchanging monocle and top hat, there will be a whole family of Peanut characters, each with his or her own appearance and personality suited to the various Planters products. And whenever Planters introduces a new one, they’ll just roll out a new member of the family.

I just hope that the depiction of the funeral includes some dark character in attendance who will tell us Mr. Peanut’s naughty secrets, maybe a “second” family from a tryst with Miss Cashew, petty thievery, major stock holdings in Nutella and JIF, or forbidden passions, such as a late-night habit of snacking on peanuts – cannibalism! What would be the worst Mr. Peanut could have done in 104 years?

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Friday morning came.

I hate it when that happens.

I’m happy when the end of the work week is near, but by Friday I am tired of getting up in the dark for the fifth straight day. Sometimes my first thought when I wake is that it’s Saturday, I forgot to turn off the alarm, and I can stay in bed. Then the stark, terrible realization hits that, no, it’s really Friday, and I really need to get up.

This time, when my alarm went off I knew for certain it was Friday, and I grudgingly got up in the dark and went to the dresser to put on my exercise clothes.

My wife, still in bed, mumbled, “I’m going to sleep a little longer.”

I stared across the room at the bed for a moment.

Then I went back and climbed under the covers.

Her alarm then went off, and she turned it off and lay back down.

An hour later, I woke when she got out of bed.

I stayed put and pulled the covers up. She closed the bedroom door and went downstairs to get ready for work.

I couldn’t get back to sleep, though I tried for 20 minutes. When I finally got up, got dressed and went downstairs to the kitchen, I started looking through the News-Topic when I saw a note my wife had left next to my seat the previous night explaining what she needed to do at work on Friday.

“I can’t sleep in,” the note said. “Don’t let me sleep in.”

As the saying goes: I had one job.

I am not usually the half of our marriage who is relied upon to keep to a schedule, but it’s horrible when the times arise that I am relied upon and fail.

To be fair, she left the note after I already was asleep Thursday night. She just assumed that, as usual, I would be up first.

And it worked out. She got up early enough on her own that she was not running around like a chicken with her head cut off trying to leave the house on time.

But it could have ended badly.

What if she hadn’t awakened on her own? The only thing that woke me was her getting out of bed. If she were relying on me, we might have slept until it was light out.

She might have been late, and when she’s rushing around because she’s late she tends to forget something – maybe just her earrings (I say “just,” but she feels half-dressed without her earrings), but sometimes she forgets her phone, or the key to her office door, or even her wallet.

Because of my job, on any given day I may or may not be home first in the evening, and most Saturdays I work at least part of the day, complicating plans for going to see movies or making day trips. We’re going to have a very short Thanksgiving holiday because of an unexpected staff vacancy requiring me to be back in Lenoir, just in case.

Anyone married to a journalist comes to expect the unexpected in this way. The hours are, to some extent, reliably unpredictable.

That makes it all the worse when the one thing I do with great regularity – wake at 5 a.m. to start the coffee, read the paper and watch “SportsCenter” – does not happen the one time that she is counting on it.

“I failed you,” I told her.

She laughed and kissed me.

I dodged the bullet this time. But there will be a next time. I know there will.

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Business North Carolina magazine recently voted downtown Lenoir’s motto as the best in the state.

I had thought that “Together We Create” was a great motto the first time I read it, blending both the area’s focus on the arts and the city’s manufacturing legacy, so it is nice to see it win acknowledgement from the high-powered marketing and communications experts who did the judging for the magazine.

To be fair to most of the rest of the state, though, it seems that most places didn’t have a motto in the running. The magazine says “roughly 20” entries were received, and from those it selected the top five.

And it would seem that many of those that were sent in don’t exactly sing. The motto voted fifth-best was “Well-centered.” I can imagine the session that came up with that:

Group leader: “What does our town have to brag about?”

Member one: “Well, we’re kind of smack in the middle of everything.”

Member two: “The schools are OK. Well, my nephew isn’t, but I think that’s on him.”

Member three: “The meth use seems to be dropping.”

Leader: “Let’s go with the first.”

Maybe most of the towns around the state don’t have a motto. That could be on purpose. Adopting a motto can be a perilous thing. The chances are very good that the motto will come in for ridicule.

I remember nearly 20 years ago when I was living in Winston-Salem and that city adopted the motto “O! Winston-Salem: Now that’s living.” The city spent $65,000 for that, according to an article in the Winston-Salem Journal, but few people liked it, and it mostly faded away.

It didn’t help that around that time a doctor in the city made national news for a medical treatment he developed for women that turned out also to have a genital-stimulating side effect.

Most elected officials don’t want to spend taxpayer money to come up with a motto that everyone may hate anyway.

So in the spirit of the “infinite monkey theorem” – which says that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type any given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare – here are some free suggestions for county and municipal officials around the state to consider.

“You could do worse.”

“Our town appears on all quality maps.”

“What you see is what you get.”

“You may not like us now, but wait until you get 20 miles down the road.”

“If that’s your attitude then just keep driving.”

“Misery loves company.”

“At least as honest as the median town.”

“Most likely above average.”

“Better than you’ll remember.”

“Better than good enough.”

“When it’s time to settle, we’re the place.”

“Wake up and smell the coffee.”

“When your dreams fade, we’ll still be here.”

“Keeping up appearances.”

“Closer to paradise than you deserve.”

“Few regret staying.”

I’ll keep working on the list. They may be terrible, but at least no taxpayer money was spent to produce them.

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