Friday, May 27, 2022

Insight: A comedy of miscalculations

By Ed Pierce Managing Editor

A recent conversation I had with my wife prompted a memory from years ago that I’ve tried hard to erase from my memory bank. It wasn’t very funny at the time, but in looking back now, all I can do is laugh. 

In late October around 1988, I was working a 2 to 11 p.m. shift as a reporter at a newspaper in Albuquerque. When I left my home that afternoon for about a 40-minute drive into work, I left my jacket at home because the temperature was in the high 70s and the sun was shining.

My car’s gas gauge showed one quarter of a tank, more than enough to get me back and forth to work and this day was payday, so if I needed to get gas, I could go to the Safeway store on my lunch break and cash my paycheck and stop for gas on my way home that night.

As fate would have it, I made my miscalculations that day and it turned out to be one of my worst days ever.

First, I did pick up my paycheck, but a breaking news story kept me busy during my shift and I was unable to go to cash my paycheck on my break. I neglected to remember that the gas gauge in my Buick Regal always registered more gasoline than what was in the tank. And I had failed to check the weather report and driving home that night and it began to snow as I drove home without a jacket.

About 20 minutes from home, my car ran out of gas and there I was, in the middle of nowhere without heat in the car or a way to start the car with the gas gauge sitting on empty. To top it off, all I had was my paycheck, I didn’t even have money on me to get any gasoline, although I did recall I had $10 in rolled quarters on my dresser at home.

After sitting and shivering in the car for 15 minutes with my emergency blinkers flashing in the dark while I watched the snow falling, a soldier in uniform stopped and asked if I needed help. He was kind and offered to give me a ride all the way home but said he was running late, and that he couldn’t take me back to the gas station once we arrived at my house.

By now it was close to midnight and the snow had stopped. I put on my boots, a warm coat and hat and placed the roll of quarters in my pocket.

I called a friend of mine who lived nearby and asked him if he could give me a ride to get gas and then back to my car. He told me that he normally would do it, but couldn’t this time as his wife was pregnant and they felt she was going to have to go to the hospital at any minute to deliver the baby

So, having no choice, I grabbed my gas can and started walking about a half-mile or so back to an all-night gas station on the highway near my home.

I put $2 of gas in the gas can and then waited for somebody heading north who could give me a ride back to my car. As luck would have it, an old 1950s Ford pickup truck with three oil workers sitting in the front seat stopped for gas while I was waiting there.

The driver said he’d check with his co-workers about giving me a lift back to my car. All three of them conferred and then one of them asked me “How much money do you have?”

I told them that I only had $8 in quarters, and they reluctantly agreed to take me. I handed them the quarters, but since there wasn’t room in the cab of the truck, I had to ride in the open bed of the pickup.

It was freezing cold back there as light snow continued to fall. As their truck neared within 50 yards of my car on the other side of the highway, one of the back tires on the truck suddenly blew out, leaving them now stranded in the snow because they had a flat tire and no spare tire to replace it with.

I took my gas can and walked across the highway to put gas in my car as the oil workers tried to figure out what to do about their flat tire. My car started right up, and as I was ready to leave, one of the oil workers walked over and asked if I could give them a ride back to the gas station so they could buy a can of Fix-A-Flat for their tire.

I asked him, “How much money do you have?” They said they only had the $8 in quarters as they had spent their remaining money on gasoline back at the gas station. I told them to keep the quarters and gave them a lift to buy the can of Fix-A-Flat and then back to their truck.

All things considered, it’s a day I’d rather forget. <         

Andy Young: Getting lucky, and then passing it on

By Andy Young

Recently an after-school meeting took me to a library in a town where I neither work nor reside. When the afternoon’s business had concluded I packed up my gear, eager to get home and relax. But then I saw something near the building’s exit that stopped me dead in my tracks. 

It was a cart of used books available for purchase at the cost of a mere dollar each.

I am constitutionally incapable of walking past a used book sale. I don’t necessarily buy something every time, but despite my ongoing efforts to downsize, when it comes to reading material (especially cheap reading material) I simply cannot resist at least having a look. Me not checking out that book cart would have been the equivalent of Cookie Monster refusing a snickerdoodle, Winnie the Pooh turning down a honey pot, or a preening politician running for office seeing a TV camera and sprinting off in the opposite direction.

Buying the book that I did turned out to be exceptionally fortuitous, because when I opened it up there were two one-dollar silver certificates, circa 1935, lying there between pages 128 and 129.

For the next week or so I was perpetually energized. Hyper-aware of all the great things (and people) around me, I couldn’t stop sharing my good fortune. It was a time of ceaseless opening doors, helping with small tasks, and reminding others of how important they were to the world in general and to me in particular.

But euphoria doesn’t last forever. After all, if it did, what would be so euphoric about it? As my elation over my good luck gradually wore off, I began having troubling second thoughts. Those two one-dollar bills most likely hadn’t been left in the pages of that book intentionally. I pictured someone somewhere haunted by the disappointment of having mislaid those two silver certificates they were going to gift to their grandchildren, or heartsick over having lost two silver certificates their own grandparents had given them decades ago.

But how to make things right? Running an ad asking if anyone had lost two potentially valuable silver certificates wouldn’t have accomplished much, aside from flushing out some integrity-challenged individual(s) who’d read “Did anyone lose two potentially valuable 87-year-old dollar bills? If so, please call to arrange to pick them up,” as “Who wants two potentially valuable 87-year-old dollar bills, for free?”

There was, I concluded, really only one correct course of action.

The following week I went back to the library, explained the situation, and turned in the bills, telling the librarian the story on the off-chance someone came to the desk wondering if anyone had by some coincidence found two old dollar bills in a book that had been donated to the library for sale.

I hope that whoever lost those bills comes in one day in the slim hope that the book they gave away is still around, finds out that it isn’t, and then, after disappointedly going to the desk to relate their sad tale, is rewarded by the librarian reaching into a desk drawer, producing the two 87-year-old bills, and handing them back to their rightful owner.

And if they go unclaimed? Well, there are worse things to do with found money than using it to purchase some useful item for the library itself.

Or perhaps that librarian could do something else.

She could surreptitiously slip those bills into another book, where they’d remain until such time as a random person discovers them and has the sort of week I (and by extension those around me) just did. <

Friday, May 20, 2022

Insight: Fascinated by the magic of storytelling

David Stollery, left, and Tim Considine were the stars
of 'The Adventures of Spin and Marty,' a serial that
aired during the "Mickey Mouse Club" on television
in the late 1950s. COURTESY PHOTO  
By Ed Pierce

Managing Editor

It’s probably not a coincidence that I became a storyteller after many of my formative years were spent with books, movies and watching late 1950s television serials.

I can vividly recall sitting on the floor of my parent’s home watching many black and white TV programs that prompted me to think and imagine and uncover the mystery being told.

One of my favorites was of course, the Mickey Mouse Club, but it wasn’t because of its star, Annette Funicello. Instead, I loved the old-fashioned serials that were shown, including “The Adventures of Spin and Marty” and “The Hardy Boys.”

The first series of “Spin and Marty” consisted of 25 episodes lasting 11 minutes each. The plot was about two boys, Marty, a wealthy orphan played by David Stollery, and his friend Spin, an athletic and popular young man played by Tim Considine.

The boys became friends at a Western ranch called the “Triple R” under the oversight of ranch counselor Bill Burnett, played by Harry Carey, Jr.

Each carefully scripted “Spin and Marty” episode was created by veteran screenwriter Jackson Gillis, the writer behind many of the “Perry Mason” and “Columbo” mysteries of the 1950 and 1960s.     

The serial was such a hit with kids that a second season of 23 episodes called “The New Adventures of Spin and Marty” was made with Funicello and Disney star Kevin Corcoran (Old Yeller) as the mischievous “Moochie.” A third season featured Mouseketeer Darleen Gillespie.

There was plenty of Western music and songs and the writing for “Spin and Marty” held my attention and always prompted me to think about what would happen next or who the bad guy might possible be until the next episode aired.

Another Mickey Mouse Club serial that I followed was “The Hardy Boys” which tied in with the book series I was just starting to read at the time. A neighbor of ours was going to college and gave me all his old Hardy Boys books, and I read each one several times over.

Like “Spin and Marty,” one of the stars of “The Hardy Boys” serial was young actor Tim Considine, who portrayed Frank Hardy. His brother Joe Hardy was played by Disney actor Tommy Kirk.

The first “The Hardy Boys” serial consisted of 19 episodes running 15 minutes each and it was called “The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure” although from having read the book, I knew it was based on the first Hardy Boys novel called “The Tower Treasure.”

A second serial featuring the Hardy Boys was called “The Mystery of Ghost Farm” and it was an original story that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

When no further “The Hardy Boys” serials were made I asked my father if I could write a letter to the producers of the Mickey Mouse Club suggesting what book could be turned into a third season. I mailed the letter to Walt Disney Studios in Hollywood but never heard back from them. 

Years later though I did receive an autographed photo of actor Tim Considine in the mail when I sent him a fan letter for his work as the eldest brother Mike on the CBS-TV comedy “My Three Sons.”      

Mickey Mouse Club aired other serials, but none captured my attention as much as “Spin and Marty” and “The Hardy Boys.”

There was another Mickey Mouse Club serial I watched called “Corky and the White Shadow” about a 12-year-old girl named Corky portrayed by Mouseketeer Darlene Gillespie, her father played by Buddy Ebsen, and her dog, White Shadow. Ebsen was a widowed dad and the town sheriff and was filmed on a ranch in the San Bernadino Mountains of California.  

I don’t remember much about watching another late 1950s television show for kids called “Shirley Temple’s Storybook” but I do recall that one particular episode of that series truly frightened me.

It was based upon the Washington Irving tale “Rip Van Winkle.” Not sure if that story is still read by students in school but it was about a villager in upstate New York before the American Revolution who meets some mysterious Dutchmen who are playing nine pins or an early form of bowling, drinks some of their liquor and falls asleep in the Catskill Mountains for 20 years, thereby missing the Revolutionary War and not recognizing the world he has awakened to.

My mother had given me the companion book of stories and fairy tales from the television show for Christmas and I remember how intrigued I was by how the story unfolded. What scared me the most was how at the end of the story Rip Van Winkle tells the village children that the sounds of distant thunder that they are hearing are the Dutchmen he met playing “nine pins” up in the Catskill Mountains.

To this day I can still see the imagery of those Dutchmen bowling when I close my eyes and that’s something that’s stuck with me for more than 60 years just from watching one episode of a long-ago television program.

Very effective storytelling in my opinion and prompted my interest in writing that persists to this very day. <

Andy Young: Stop visiting me already!

By Andy Young

Earlier this month I re-learned some valuable lessons, and appropriately enough did so during National Teacher Appreciation Week. 

Lesson one came one morning when some anonymous appreciator(s) dropped off three industrial-sized plates of cookies to the faculty mailroom at the high school where I teach. The trays contained a mountain of chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter cookies, plus some mysterious ones containing M&M’s, coconut, or perhaps a bit of both.  

I quickly calculated the total number of cookies, then divided it by the amount of people on the school staff (minus the 90 percent of my fitness-obsessed colleagues I estimated would forego having any) and grabbed what I estimated to be my share: six pancake-sized, chocolate-chip-laden gems. Showing admirable self-control, I only scarfed down three of them before heading to class. 

Those cookies were every bit as delicious as they looked. They also contained about 5,000 calories each, which probably explains why I found myself in a sugar-induced coma less than an hour later. I couldn’t even look at my lunch that day; not only was I not hungry, it was hard to see anything when I was asleep at my desk, head on a pile of essays I was supposed to be grading but was unconsciously drooling on instead. 

Lesson number 1: too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. 

Flash forward to the next day: school has let out, and I’m checking the mailroom just to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything vital before leaving for home. My mailbox was empty, but….one of the previous morning’s three cookie trays was still there, and atop it, beneath some plastic wrap someone thoughtfully used to cover the remaining treats, was one impossibly enticing cookie.

Selectively forgetting the previous day’s gluttony-induced paralysis, I was also momentarily troubled by the thought of perfectly good food being thrown away when there are people starving on other parts of the globe.

Attempting to stave off guilt, I snagged the one remaining cookie. Having claimed the moral high ground, I took a bite, and after some tentative but determined chewing, confirmed it was every bit as tasty as its previously consumed brethren of the day before. But on the second chomp I hit something concrete-like. Not wishing to lose a tooth on any foreign object, I used my tongue to nimbly separate the rock-hard mystery item from the remaining cookie. Using two fingers to gingerly remove the disgusting, slime-covered object from my mouth, I tossed it into a nearby trash can so it wouldn't puncture someone’s foot or flatten a tire if it somehow ended up on a public thoroughfare. 

Lesson number two: items obtained for free are generally worth their exact purchase price.

Ten minutes into my drive home I became aware of a gap between two back teeth that I hadn’t previously been aware of. A few moments later I realized the rock-hard object I had skillfully avoided cracking a tooth on was not, as I had originally thought, a fossilized M & M, but rather a tooth itself. And a very expensive one at that; it had been a replacement for a no-longer-extant part of my original set of choppers.

The third lesson I gleaned from this unfortunate experience: sometimes one needs to say goodbye to certain eagerly anticipated childhood visitors.

Don’t get me wrong: I still love having Santa come down the chimney on Christmas Eve, and I welcome the Easter Bunny’s annual spring visit as well.

But at this point in my life, I really wish the Tooth Fairy would just leave me alone. <

Friday, May 13, 2022

Insight: Party like it’s 1975

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Next week marks an anniversary for me as 47 years ago I wrote my first published professional article for a newspaper. On May 16, 1975, I was assigned by United Press International to cover the world heavyweight championship fight in Las Vegas, Nevada between the challenger, Ron Lyle, and the champion, Muhammad Ali.

It seems like an eternity ago as so much has happened in my life and career since then but celebrating 47 years as a print journalist is certainly a milestone that not many are able to reach. I attribute my career longevity to lots of luck, some wonderful mentors, and having been blessed with an opportunity to tell some exceptional stories through the years.

In celebrating my career anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to look back at some of the news, events and newsmakers taking place during this week in May 1975 at the start of my career.

Gasoline was selling across America for 57 cents a gallon. Electronics manufacturer Sony announced the creation of a new video cassette recording system it called Betamax.

The game show Wheel of Fortune made its debut as part of the NBC daytime television lineup.

The top movies of May 1975 are “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” with Ellen Burstyn, “Breakout” with Charlles Bronson, and the Academy Award winner “The Godfather Part II” with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. On television, the top-rated show is “All in the Family” followed by the ABC miniseries “Rich Man, Poor Man,” and “Laverne and Shirley.” 

The pull tab ring for aluminum cans is discontinued by American manufacturers after a series of injuries and deaths caused by people who swallowed the metal tabs. Gerald Ford was serving as the U.S. president.

Newly released products on the market included the Mood Ring, a jewelry item which contains a thermochromic element or a mood stone that changes colors based upon the temperature of the finger it’s worn on, and the Ford F-150 pickup truck.

For three consecutive weeks, the song “He Don’t’ Love You (Like I Love You)” by Tony Orlando and Dawn tops the popular American music charts in May 1975. The top country song during that same time period is the crossover hit “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by B.J. Thomas.

The top bestselling novel of May 1975 is “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow and the first issue of “Soldier of Fortune” magazine is on sale at newsstands across the U.S.

Gourmet jellybeans are introduced in America by the Herman Goelitz Corporation. Original flavors are licorice, lemon, grape, root beer, cream soda, green apple, tangerine and very cherry. The company was rebranded in 2001 as “Jelly Belly.”

The “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun” jingle is introduced to the American public in a television commercial for McDonalds in May 1975. The minimum wage for American workers was $2.10 an hour.

Milk was priced at $1.57 a gallon in May 1975, while eggs cost 70 cents for a dozen and ground beef was 99 cents per pound. A 1.05-ounce Hershey’s chocolate bar was 15 cents, and a 12-ounce box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes was 45 cents.

Pillsbury acquires Totino's frozen pizza for $20 million in May 1975 while Wally Amos introduces his “Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies” for the first time to American consumers. A Kentucky Fried Chicken “Family Bucket” meal containing 15 pieces of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and six rolls was selling for $4.90.

The U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez and its crew were seized by the Kymer Rouge Cambodian forces and held for three days before being freed during a daring rescue by U.S. Marines.

The Milwaukee Brewers held first place in the American League East baseball standings on May 16, 1975, leading the eventual A.L. champion that year, the Boston Red Sox, by four games. The Los Angeles Dodgers were in first place in the National League West standings by five games over the Atlanta Braves and 5.5 games ahead of the eventual N.L. and 1975 World Series champion, the Cincinnati Reds.

The top selling automobiles in America in May 1975 are the Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Ford Granada, the Chevrolet Chevelle, the Chevrolet Nova and Chevrolet Monte Carlo and the AMC Pacer.

The theme park Busch Gardens officially opened in Williamsburg, Virginia with television personality Ed McMahon on hand for the dedication ceremony.

In women’s fashion, platform sandals, mini dresses and turtlenecks for layering were the top trends, while men were wearing bell-bottom and wide-leg pants, platform shoes, vests, long collared shirts, turtleneck sweaters, and leisure suits. For full disclosure, I wore a new brown plaid leisure suit when I interviewed Muhammad Ali before his knockout of Ron Lyle in Las Vegas.

Yes, May 1975 turned out to be a memorable month for me that I will not ever forget. That was truly a different world than the one we live in today and in many ways a simpler and less complicated way of life.

In looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now, but I wouldn’t change a thing about how my life or career turned out. <

Andy Young: Survey says...

By Andy Young

It’s unsurprising that I view certain things differently than many students in the high school English classes I teach do. I’m more than three times as old as any of them, so it’s only natural we have differing opinions on a variety of issues.

Some of those differences are directly attributable to our respective ages. For example, I’m mystified by the attraction many young folks have to tattoos, reality TV, vaping, and various social media platforms, the vast majority of which I probably still haven’t heard of.

But not all of our differences are generational. This is prom weekend at my high school, and I’ll freely admit I don’t understand why so many people consider it such a big deal. But I didn’t get it when I was a high school senior, either. What I did comprehend back then was that attending the event would have set me back more than two weeks’ worth of take-home pay from my 40-hour-per-week summer job doing manual labor at a local apple orchard, and I just didn’t see how putting on an uncomfortable outfit and carefully eating an overpriced meal (so as to not get any stains on said rented ensemble, which I would be sporting for perhaps three hours) would be worth the investment.

My views on the prom weren't shared by many of my high school classmates at the time, and thanks to a voluntary, three-question survey I constructed and distributed to students in my Grade 12 English classes late last month I now know for a fact that my prom-related opinion isn’t the prevailing one today either, since 50 of the 59 Kennebunk High School seniors who returned the questionnaire intend to attend this year’s event.

I also wondered about the future of print-edition high school yearbooks, given that nearly every young person today is more than capable of preserving virtually every visual and oral high school memory on some sort of electronic device. But there’s good news on that front for the companies that publish such things: only seven of the responding seniors said they wouldn’t be buying this year’s yearbook, as opposed to 50 yeses and two “I don’t knows.”

But not every established adolescent practice lasts forever. Class rings, another tradition that I don’t understand today any more than I did when I was in high school, are apparently going the way of sundials, quill pens, and buckboards. Three students responding to the survey said they had bought a class ring, but nearly all of the 56 “No!”s were resounding ones. “They’re ugly,” “Not worth the money,” and “500 bucks for a ring you’ll wear five times and then stick in a sock drawer? No thank you!” were three of the milder responses from those asked to elaborate on their decision to forego school-related jewelry.

Most of today’s teens aren’t any more rebellious, lazy, disrespectful or reckless than we were at their age. It’s indisputably true they’re attracted to instant gratification, but so were the rest of us as high schoolers. One obvious difference, though: thanks to cell phones and other societal changes, instant gratification is far more readily available today than it was four-plus decades ago, and thus potentially more addictive.

At their core kids today are just the same as they were half a century ago: they’re in a hurry to become adults, or to become what their perception of an adult is. More accurately, they’d like to have adult privileges without any adult responsibilities.

Which, come to think of it, sounds pretty darn attractive to many longtime actual adults (including this one) as well! <

Friday, May 6, 2022

Insight: Acceptance can lead to resilience

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor

Like many others, for a good part of my life I have tried to fit into a mold or attempted to be someone that I am not. Realizing that fact and accepting my strengths, weaknesses and limitations has always led to personal growth for me and a better understanding about what makes me happy.

I’ll share a few examples to illustrate my point.

When I was sent to Germany while serving in the military in the 1970s, I was the lowest rank that a U.S. Air Force enlistee could be, an E-1 Airman Basic without a single stripe on my uniform. Assigned to a unit where the lowest ranking person other than myself was an E-4 Sergeant, my name kept coming up for the tasks nobody else wanted.

I removed and dumped waste from Port-A-Potties, cleaned and scrubbed toilets, walked the flightline picking up trash in the heat, mopped and waxed floors, and shoveled piles snow and ice from walkways during blizzards.

But one day I was handed a push broom and ordered to sweep the street in front of unit headquarters and all the nearby sidewalks. As I swept the asphalt, I asked myself if I was just being told to do something just to keep me busy. The longer I swept, the more I grumbled to myself and bemoaned my fate as the lowest ranking person at the site.

Just minutes after I finished, an Air Force staff car turned the corner and parked in front of the headquarters building. On small flags attached to the front two bumpers of the staff car were stars, indicating that a general was visiting with our unit commander.

After the general had left, the first sergeant sent for me and told me that the general had remarked how nice the unit grounds looked and that our commanding officer was pleased with my sweeping work.

That evening I had an epiphany that changed the arc of my military career. I thought that if I simply accepted that I didn’t have to know everything in advance  and had confidence in my superiors, my job would be a lot easier. I stopped questioning every little thing I was asked to do and soon I became an E-2 Airman, and then an E-3 Airman First Class, an E-4 Senior Airman, E-4 Sergeant and eventually an E-5 Staff Sergeant.

Acceptance played a significant role in my accomplishing that and growing as a person as I assumed greater responsibilities the higher in rank I became.

I once worked at a newspaper as a copy editor for a section editor who severely lacked any resemblance of social skills or empathy for others. Over the span of five years, even though I sat inches away from him at an adjoining desk, not once did he ever say to me “Good Morning, Nice Job, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, Hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving Day, Congratulations on getting married,” or even a simple “Hello.”

What I did hear from him was plenty of cursing when things didn’t go his way, how much he despised his job, how he couldn’t wait to retire, and why he deserved every penny of his salary. But instead of complaining about him, I accepted my role, did my job to the best of my ability, and sometimes I had to do his work too when he was gone on vacation.

His desk was always a mess and his leftover lunch bags, stacked-up newspapers and correspondence frequently spilled over onto my neat and tidy workspace, creating an embarrassing situation when a co-worker would stop by my desk to discuss an upcoming page layout or article. I would apologize for the mess and move on.

One day I was called into the department editor’s office and told I was being promoted to that section editor’s position and he was being transferred to another section. That news was surprising but was confirmation that acceptance had helped me gain a promotion. It led to me going on to becoming an editor for another newspaper, and later being chosen to lead several daily and weekly newspapers as their top editor.   

Acceptance can mean many things to many people, but for me, I can say that it assisted me in being comfortable with who I am and knowing that how I feel about my place in the world plays a major part in how happy and resilient I can truly be.

I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes along the way, but I’ve never been afraid to fail. Deep down inside, I’ve always possessed the confidence to believe that no matter what, things will be OK and accepting that inevitability has led to better things for me professionally and personally.

In practicing acceptance, I’ve had to acknowledge many uncomfortable parts of myself, my emotions, my thoughts, and my past. But letting go of all that can be freeing in many ways and ignite a spark in us in ways a lot of us never expected to achieve or accomplish.

Acceptance is about trying to be real rather than trying to be perfect and that’s a great foundation for anyone and for any age. <

Andy Young: I eye bad grammar, thinking May may be the best

By Andy Young

May may be my favorite month of the year.

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound quite right. Have I just inadvertently violated some arcane rule of sentence structure?

I’m not sure where I got the impression that starting an essay (or a sentence, for that matter) by repeating the same word or sound is bad form. Maybe it was from some grammar book, although that’s pretty unlikely, given the number of grammar books I’ve ever read from cover to cover (zero). 

The idea of avoiding beginning a sentence by using the same word twice (or with consecutive homonyms) was most likely planted in the recesses of my still-absorbent brain years ago by some well-intentioned teacher. That information has lain dormant for decades, brought back to life only because of the oddly discordant sound this opus’s opening makes when read aloud.

But why obsess over obscure (and possibly imaginary) grammar rules when there are other issues to resolve? Is May considered a terrific month based solely on its own merits? Or is the general affection for it (at least in the northern hemisphere) based on the anticipation of the months people know for certain are going to follow?

Certainly, the fifth month of the year has much to recommend it. For openers, there’s May Day, Cinco de Mayo, and Mother’s Day. And then there’s Memorial Day, which for Americans is both a festive and solemn occasion. 

That three-day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, but also serves as a tribute to all those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that those of us still extant in the 21st century can continue pursuing life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness with minimal interference from those who’d deny us such privileges. 

Teacher Appreciation Week and Nurse Appreciation Week both fall in May, and in my only slightly biased opinion everyone should not only sincerely appreciate people who ply their trades in the fields of education and health care, they should do so every day.

(Full disclosure, this column’s writer is himself a member of one of the two groups of public servants referenced in the preceding paragraph and has availed himself of the services of the other group on numerous occasions.)

May is chock full of other less-known days that are worthy of celebration, like National Endangered Species Day (May 20), National Armed Forces Day (the 21), and Peace Officers Memorial Day (the 15). It’s also fraught with less prominent occasions, like Walnut Day (May 17), Turtle Day (May 23), and the mysterious National Shrimp Day (May 10). Is this intended as a salute to shellfish, or to small people? Perhaps it should be designated to honor both these too-often-underappreciated groups. 

May is historically significant, too. New York’s Empire State Building opened on May 1, 1931. Roger Bannister ran the first sub-four-minute mile on May 6, 1954. Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president on May 10, 1994.

John F. Kennedy was born in May, as were Florence Nightingale, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Sally Ride, Malcolm X, Queen Victoria, Stevie Wonder, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Andre the Giant, Bob Dylan, Salvador Dali, Tina Fey, Rob Gronkowski, Harry Truman, Mr. T, George Carlin, Bono, Pope John Paul II, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, just to name 20.

That repeated word thing is still bothering me, though.

Eight ate at the octagonal table? Bill Bill for the broken window? Our hour of need is now? Fax facts, not lies? Half the milk spilled; what a poor pour?

None of those sound right, either.

May might be my favorite month of the year.

There. That’s better. <

Bill Diamond: Distracted driving puts us all in danger

By Senator Bill Diamond

The pandemic brought with it many surprises. One trend that caught many of us off-guard was the increase in dangerous driving and traffic fatalities, despite the fact that fewer drivers were on the road.  

As I write this, Maine has already seen 39 traffic fatalities this year, up from 29 at this same time last year. While there are many factors at play in these accidents, reckless and distracted driving play a part in too many of the accidents that take someone’s life.

April was Distracted Driving Awareness Month, and I was honored to be invited by AAA to join them at an event to spread awareness about the dangers of distracted driving. 

For a long time, we’ve known that operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol was a threat to the safety of everyone who uses our roads. 

What we’ve come to learn too well in the past 15 years or so is that distracted driving is also responsible for much of the property damage and many of the terrible injuries and deaths on our roadways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one in ten fatal accidents involves distracted driving, and the number is higher for non-fatal crashes that still result in injuries.

In 2009, I sponsored a bill that created 
Maine’s distracted driver law, which added additional penalties for drivers who committed a traffic infraction, drove to endanger or were involved in a car accident while driving distracted. 

Our thinking at the time was that defining distracted driving and adding these penalties would work to make our roadways significantly safer. Unfortunately, it did not.

It quickly became clear that there was one specific activity many drivers were engaging in that took their attention away from the road: Texting while driving. In 2011, I sponsored a bill that 
prohibited texting while driving, but it was difficult for law enforcement to determine when a distracted driver was using their phone for texting or was distracted by their handheld device for other reasons. Drivers pulled over for suspected texting often claimed to be dialing a number to make a call rather than sending a text. Once again, we could see that we had to take additional action.

In 2019, we finally passed a law I sponsored that 
fully prohibited the use of handheld phones and devices while driving. In the years since we first started addressing distracted driving in Maine, our phones had come to occupy much more of our attention than ever before. Our phones allowed us to send and receive emails, update social media accounts, check the weather, watch TV, do our banking, read the news, and much more – any time, any place. For too many drivers, the distraction proved much more than they could handle, and their inattention was putting Maine lives in danger.

The steps we’ve taken to make our roads safer have been critical, but even with these laws, it’s still every driver’s responsibility to keep their attention on the road while driving. Over the ten-year span that I’ve worked on distracted driving legislation, I have spoken with many survivors of distracted driving accidents, as well as the families and friends of victims who sadly did not survive their encounters with distracted drivers. 

Innocent people – adults and children – are tragically killed and injured every year due to distracted drivers. When these tragedies occur, the person responsible – the distracted driver, if they were lucky enough to survive the accident as well – regrets their actions and wishes they could take it all back. But it’s too late.

Driving a car is one of the most dangerous activities many of us will ever engage in, yet we do it every day without a second thought. Today, I ask you to remember the serious responsibility we all have as drivers to drive safely. It’s important we remind each other – just as we did with the seatbelt law decades ago – to put the phone down and pay attention. 

And, as anyone who has driven with a child knows well, if we teach our children today that driving hands free is very important, they will remind us tenfold – that way, we all win, and the next generation is even safer.

As always, I’m here to help however I can. You can send me an email at or call my office at 207-287-1515. You can also sign up for my regular e-newsletter by visiting <