How the ‘Windy City Fixer’ Rescued Me from Blog Hell

Tim Woodward’s new columns will alternate with previously published “Woodward Classics” for the duration of the pandemic.

  The benefits of information technology are incalculable, allowing us to do in seconds what once took hours or days.

  I’m thankful for it every time I need to look up the meaning of a word or find a synonym. Instead of running downstairs to grab a dictionary or thesaurus and spend time flipping pages, I click on their online versions and have the answer instantly. The same is true for looking up phone numbers, addresses, places to dine, shop, etc. 

  In my early days as a reporter, we wrote our stories on typewriters and glued the stories’ pages together.  They were edited with pencils and carried to the composing room to be painstakingly laid out on pages and carried to the press room. Depending on the length and complexity of the story, the process took part or all of a shift.

  Now it’s all done with a few clicks.

  But has technology really made our lives better? Made us happier?

  Forever in my memory banks is the image of a reporter who lost a story she was writing due to a technological glitch. Not just any story; it was a major project that she’d been working on for weeks. She’d interviewed dozens of sources, taken scores of pages of notes, agonized over every word. Her story would have been the lead story on that Sunday’s front page. 

  She and her editor were reviewing the finishing touches when she pressed a key and – poof – her story was gone.

  The IT folks were called, to no avail. There was nothing anyone could do. The story into which she had poured so much of her time and hard work was gone for good. I’ll never forget seeing her slumped over her desk, tears streaming down her face, inconsolable.

  Though they may not be that traumatic, we’ve all had our share of technology related meltdowns. A couple of years ago, I got so mad at my SmartPhone that I threw it across a street. Luckily, it landed in some tall grass and wasn’t damaged.

  That said, there have been times that I’ve wished it had been. I’d have replaced it with a simpler phone and probably been happier for it.

  All of which is a long way of getting to my latest cyber casualty and  an explanation of how it happened, specifically for readers of my blog.

  Especially those who have been leaving me angry messages.

  I started woodwardblog.com about five years ago for readers who had moved to other parts of the country but wanted to keep up with my columns. I posted them a day after they were published in the newspaper, and, through a process that remains a mystery to me, the blog automatically emailed them to subscribers. Subscribing was free, and even if you didn’t subscribe you could access years’ worth of columns.

  Until a couple of weeks ago.

  That’s when I discovered that the company that hosted the blog also hosted the website for my classic-rock band, the Mystics. Like many musical groups around the state and the nation, the band hasn’t been playing much during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the company’s fees for hosting the site increased significantly. 

  Deciding it wasn’t worth it to keep paying them, I called to cancel the website. Only then did I learn that the company also hosted the blog.

  “I always thought they were two separate companies,” I told the person who answered. “If it’s the same company, why do they have different names?” 

  I didn’t understand his explanation, which wasn’t surprising. I understand very little of what comes out of the mouths of computer geeks. I am absolutely certain, however, that at no point did I say I wanted to cancel the blog.

  So you can imagine my surprise, to put it mildly, when it vanished. Instead of the usual posts and familiar options that normally appeared when I entered my password, a baffling array of unfamiliar and confusing information appeared. Thinking it was a glitch that could easily be fixed, I called the company again.

 “There’s a problem with my blog,” I told the woman who answered. “It doesn’t come up when I enter the password.”

  “That’s because your blog has been canceled,” she replied.

 This was followed by a long silence while my wife administered smelling salts.

  Not really. I made that up. But it wasn’t far from the truth. My heart may have actually skipped a couple of beats.

  “My blog is canceled? Why?”

  “Your blog and your band’s website were on the same contract. When you called to cancel the band website, the entire contract was canceled.”

  It would have been nice if someone had explained that at the time.

  “I don’t want the blog canceled! It had hundreds of subscribers! It had my newspaper columns going back years! There’s no way to get it back?”

  “Sorry.”

  I briefly considered making a voodoo doll with the company’s name on it, then thought of someone who might actually be able to help.  

  Of course! Zack! 

  Zack is the computer expert who helped me start the blog in the first place. He lives in Chicago now, but one of my daughters had his number so I called and told him what happened.

  The man is patently a miracle worker. It took a while, but Zack got the blog back. He got back all the posts, all the subscribers, even the band website. And he moved it all to a different company that will charge a fraction of what the old one did. Subscribers will be happy to know know that they can access the blog the same way they did before.

  So they can stop making voodoo dolls with my name on them.

  This column will be posted on the blog tomorrow. If you subscribe, I’d like to hear from you, especially if you run into any glitches.

  If so, no worries.

  I have a fixer in the Windy City. 

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted – hopefully! – on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Subscribers: Here’s why you haven’t been able to log in

A couple of weeks ago, I decided it wasn’t worth what I was paying for the Mystics Band website with the band not playing during the pandemic so I called the hosting company to cancel it. Until then, I had no idea that the same company also hosted woodwardblog.com. (That part of the company went by a completely different name.) When it canceled the band’s website, the company – without telling me – also canceled my blog. That’s why you haven’t been able to access it.

The good news is that, thanks to my “fixer” in Chicago, everything is back – both the blog and the band’s website at themysticsband.home.blog. You should be able to access them again now, the same way you always have. Apologies to those of you who were inconvenienced.

The full story will be told in my next Idaho Press column, this Sunday, and will be posted on the blog the following day.

The cyber gods willing. — Tim

Whatever Happened to Normal Clothes?

(My current columns and older ones will alternate from now on during the pandemic. This one originally was published in The Idaho Statesman in 2007.)

  Expect to see me any day now in shorts with legs roomy enough to accommodate a small family.

  On my feet will be shoes Bozo the Clown would have envied.

  Beneath the shorts with legs the size of pup tents will be the ultimate indignity – a thong.

  That’s what we’ve come to in men’s fashions.

  Fashion has always been dictated by young people, of course, mainly teens and twenty-somethings. And that’s fine. They’re the ones who look best in clothes anyway.

  But why should the rest of us have to wear what they do?

  It hasn’t quite reached the point that there is nothing but young people’s clothes on the market. Department stores still carry men’s dress suits, for example. You’ll find just what you need if you’re scheduled for a bar exam or trying out for a seat on the stock exchange. 

  Other normal clothes for men, however, have become harder to find than a Democrat in the Idaho Legislature. I’m not exaggerating in saying that the situation is almost as bad as it was in the 1970s.

  In the ’70s, it was virtually impossible to find any item of clothing other than socks and underwear that didn’t look as if it had been pilfered from the set of “Disco Fever.” My wife has a picture of me tottering around in platform shoes, checkered bell bottom pants and a shirt with puffy sleeves and a collar big enough to use as a dinner napkin.

  It wasn’t as if we wanted to go around looking like roadies for the BeeGees; there wasn’t a choice. Regular clothes were all but non-existent. And it’s hard not to think we’re headed down that road again.

  Men’s summer shorts, for instance. The legs reach below the knees and are baggy enough to hide a watermelon. Elephants don’t have legs that big. They’re okay for teenagers, I suppose, but for the rest of us they look ridiculous. Show me a sorrier fashion statement than a gray-haired geezer dressed like he’s trying out for the Black Eyed Peas.

 Normal jeans are losing the fashion battle to what I’ve come to call junk jeans. I’ve always gotten rid of my jeans when they ripped. Now they come pre-ripped, pre-ripped-and-stitched-back-together, pre-faded, even pre-stained. You have to look for jeans that don’t look like they’ve been soaked in crankcase oil. They look like a mechanic used them to mop a garage floor.

  To my undying gratitude, a store where I went shopping recently had two pairs of “retro jeans” in my size – no rips, tears, fades, spots, patches or stains. I bought both of them, in the way that you snap up rare and valuable items fortuitously discovered at a yard sale.

  No such luck with shoes. Men’s shoe departments these days look like storage closets for Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey. What law says that walking shoes have to have stripes, spots and geometric patterns in gaudy, fluorescent colors?

  Department shelves once stocked with sensible underwear now feature displays of … thongs!

  Really now, the percentage of men who actually look good in thongs has to be miniscule. Brad Pitt in a thong is one thing. Your Uncle Howard is another. For the life of me, I can’t imagine buying one, let alone wearing one.

  Shirts? No problem if you like checks or stripes. The racks have been cleared of virtually everything else.

  It’s true that fashions come back. Most of the casual shirts in stores today look exactly like the striped and checkered shirts that boys of the Baby Boomer Generation wore to grade school. They may be the height of fashion, but to me they look old fashioned.

  Fashion will always be for the young, but can’t the fashion gods throw at least a few crumbs to the rest of us? All I really want are some plain shirts in a nice fabric, some pants that don’t look like they came off a rack at Jiffy Lube and some sensible, comfortable walking shoes. Is that too much to ask?

  Maybe it isn’t. I was actually able to find a few things like that the other day at a store in an outlet mall. They were on clearance, marked down to half price.

  Maybe it was a coincidence, but the place was crawling with guys dressed just like I was.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Guitarist Russ Martin – 1953-2020

(My current columns and older ones will alternate from now on during the pandemic.)

  One of the most unforgettable musicians I’ve ever known has played his final note. 

  A friend for many years, Russ Martin died at 67 of ALS, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. 

  He was one of the most vital, most alive people you could hope to meet. His enthusiasm for life, his passion for music, his twinkling blue eyes and the smile that lit his face like a light on a dark stage … no one who knew him well will ever forget those things about him.

  We met more than 30 years ago. I was getting into playing in a band again after a long layoff and contemplating some lessons to knock the rust off when a flyer in a window caught my eye.

  “Lessons with Russ Martin,” it said. “Play guitar. It’s the most fun you can have with your pants on.”

  He was teaching then at the old Musicians Pro Shop in North Boise. The shop’s owner introduced me to the man behind the flyer that had made me laugh. He was slender and slightly built, with a full beard and sandy hair that fell to the middle of his back. He looked like a combination of Robert Plant and John the Baptist.

  “You’re interested in some lessons?” he asked.

  “Right. It’s been years since I played much. I have a lot of catching up to do.”

  “No problem,” he replied. “We’ll have you gnarly in no time.”

  So began a friendship that would last the rest of his life.

  My band began to disintegrate not long after that. One by one, its original members wearied of rehearsing and quit. The group Russ was playing with also was nearing its end.

  “You wouldn’t by any chance be interested in joining our band?” I asked him.

  It seemed like a long shot. All but one of the members of his group were professional musicians. The members of mine were all amateurs. I expected a polite thanks-but-no-thanks, but he surprised me by suggesting that the groups combine.

  “You and I could be the guitar players,” he said. “We’d have your bass player and my drummer and singer. And we’d definitely use your group’s name. I’ve been looking my whole life for a band with the right name for me, and the Mystics is perfect.”

  There was, in fact, something almost mystical about him. All that was missing were a turban and a crystal ball. 

  The new band’s original lineup didn’t last long. Within a few months, I was the only amateur left. Musicians came and went, but Russ remained a constant for 15 years.

  Guitar players often hate each other. It’s a competitive thing, an ego thing. It was never that way with Russ and me. He was so much better than I was that there was never a question of competing. Instead, we bonded over a mutual love of the instrument, perusing guitars and amplifiers, buying increasingly better and more expensive ones. We loved guitars in the way some people love hot rods or golf or fly fishing.

  It’s fair to say that he was a bit of a loose cannon when it came to details. We’d boarded a plane to Seattle for a concert one weekend when he surprised me with a rueful admission.

  “You know the Robben Ford concert we’re going to – the one tomorrow night, May 16?”

  “What about it?”

  “I got mixed up. It was actually on April 16.”

  When we wanted to order T-shirts with the band logo, he told me to check out a shop called Seven Seas T-shirts. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find it. Its actual name was Two Oceans T-shirts.

  “There’s a new restaurant coming to town,” he told me one day. “It’s called Pepper’s.”

  The correct name:  Chili’s.

  His sense of direction, or lack of it, was notorious. On road trips, we’d sandwich his car between those of other band members so he couldn’t get lost. He did anyway.

  On a trip to North Idaho, he escaped the sandwich, made a wrong turn at New Meadows and drove most of the way back to Boise,  arriving at our destination six hours after everyone else. Another wrong turn took him over icy Galena Summit in the wee hours of New Year’s Eve. We were about to call the State Police when he turned up the following afternoon, having been rescued by a sheriff’s deputy.

  His playing compensated for these lapses, and his innate charm made it difficult to get angry at him over them. He could charm anyone, and virtually everyone who knew him loved him. 

  We didn’t see much of each other after he left the band to play with an old friend from his formative years. He’d played with us longer than any other group, but he seemed to want to make a clean break.

  Still, my old friend kept a place in my heart. When word came of how sick he was, I went to see him. He couldn’t walk or speak. He  communicated by pointing to letters on a board. He was on heavy duty pain meds and a feeding tube and had lost more than a third of his body weight. A shell of the vibrant person he once had been.

  My last visit to him was with one of my daughters, who had grown up with him. He looked at her and slowly, agonizingly, spelled “U R beautiful” on his board. He died not long after that.

  I like to think he’s at peace now, smiling that thousand-watt Russ smile, his eyes twinkling, playing like an angel on the guitar of his dreams.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com

Surprise! You’re in Airport Hell

(My current columns and older ones will alternate from now on during the pandemic. The “Woodward Classics” originally were published in The Idaho Statesman. Many are humor columns. In times like these, we need humor.)

  I’m writing this in the Spokane airport. I don’t ever want to see the Spokane airport again. Or any other airport.

  It’s 5:30 a.m. I’ve been traveling for 39 hours and counting. I’ve had seven hours of sleep in the last 48, and if anyone says “fogged in” again I’m going to set my ticket on fire and hitchhike home.

  The trip began in Florida, where a friend and I went for a wedding. We skipped dinner after the wedding to drive to the airport for an early flight home the next morning. This proved to be a serious error. Except for a tuna fish sandwich in Florida and a taco in Houston, we’ve been living on airline peanuts for two days.

  It looked like such an easy trip. The itinerary said we’d go from Fort Lauderdale to Houston to Los Angeles to Boise. My friend, who lives in Coeur d’Alene, would spend the night in Boise and fly to Spokane the next morning.

  The itinerary, however, was deceiving. It was all but erupting with surprises. The first was Orlando, which wasn’t on the itinerary or even mentioned until we boarded the plane.

  The second surprise happened in Houston. That’s where we learned that our plane was continuing on to L.A. without us. We could have stayed on the plane and taken off within minutes, but for some unknown reason we’d been booked for an LA. connection almost four hours later. It was at this point that we began to suspect our travel agent was the same person who synchronizes Boise’s traffic lights.

  The third surprise was yet another unannounced stop. After watching the wind blow in Houston for hours and flying to L.A. to catch an alleged direct flight to Boise, we instead were bound for … Reno.

  It wasn’t on the itinerary, either.

  It was also fogged in.

  Skimming over the mountains above Reno in turbulence on a foggy night may be some people’s idea of adventure, but it wasn’t mine and it definitely wasn’t my friend’s. He was so nervous he looked like he could spontaneously combust,.

  We circled and circled and circled some more, waiting for an announcement that we could skip Reno and continue on to Boise. The announcement, however, brought surprise number four.

  Oakland.

  The Reno passengers deplaned in Oakland, leaving seven of us with our personal 737 to Boise. It was kind of nice, actually.

  Until surprise number five was announced. 

  Boise was fogged in. We were going to Spokane.

  My friend was delighted. That’s where he wanted to go all along. He’d been booked to go there from Boise the next day. Instead, he could pick up his car at the Spokane airport and drive  home to Coeur d’Alene a day early.

  I, on the other hand, would spend four hours tossing and turning on a bed in an airport hotel and get up at a shudderingly  early hour to catch a 6:45 a.m flight to Boise.

  Except that Boise was still fogged in. The 6:45 flight was canceled, the 10:15 flight was canceled and the next flight wouldn’t be until evening. By then the fog could be even thicker. I could be in Spokane until spring.

  I’ve been “flying” for two days and counting. My itinerary, the actual one rather than the airline’s cunningly condensed version, reads like a travel brochure – Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, Houston, L.A., Reno, Oakland and Spokane – where I may perish. The airport restaurants were closed when we landed last night and were closed again this morning.  I’m hungry, my back aches, my eyes burn. If I ever get home, I’m going to write the airline a letter telling it what I think of its sneaky way of throwing in cities that aren’t on the itinerary. 

  And on future trips, I’ll be driving. It might not be as safe as flying, but it’s faster.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in the Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

What Will Our New Normal Be?

  If in March someone had said it would be October before I wrote another column, I’d have guessed that I’d been in an accident or suffered one of the worst cases of writer’s block in history.

  A pandemic never would have occurred to me.

  It’s good to be writing for you again. It was fun reprising some old columns while new ones were suspended, and it was great to hear from readers who said they enjoyed them, but now it’s time to get back to work. The suspension isn’t entirely over – new and old columns will alternate for a while – but it’s a start. 

   What a different world it is from the relatively innocent one that existed when the pandemic began. My wife and I were in Mexico when news broke of what was yet to be declared a pandemic. Fearing that travel between countries would be prohibited, we thought our biggest worry would be getting back home.

  Once that happened, we thought everything would be okay. We’d be safely home in a country with the resources needed to deal with whatever was coming. And what was coming didn’t seem to be all that serious. The president assured us it would all be over by April.

  The reality, of course, was that life as we’d known it ceased to exist. Businesses we thought would always be here closed for good. The homeless shelter where my wife and I volunteered told us to stop. No more volunteering, no columns to write. One gig after another for the band I play in was canceled or postponed. A previously busy life became a challenge to fill the hours. 

  I re-screened a door, built a planter box, did some painting. My wife cleaned drawers, closets and cupboards, made cookies for the mail carrier and trash haulers. We set personal records for numbers of books read.

  My home office is now an online learning center for my grandson. The desk where I previously worked is strewn with school books, tablets, pencils and markers.

  The pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people.

  Some donated their stimulus checks to workers who had lost their jobs.

  People made and donated face masks, prepared and delivered meals to those who otherwise would have gone hungry.

 Moving demonstrations of support for medical workers warmed hearts at hospitals throughout the country.

  Entertainers did free, online performances to lift our spirits. Good-hearted citizens in every state and virtually every county have been responsible for myriad acts of random kindness. 

  Simultaneous with these acts of selflessness were acts of despicable behavior:

  People hoarding toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes.

  People not only refusing to social distance or wear masks but assaulting those who urged them to do so. A man wiping his nose on the sleeve of a store employee who asked him to wear a mask. Another man breaking the arm of a store employee who asked him to leave the store for not wearing one.

  Protestors burning masks, demonstrating against precautions meant to protect us all.

  Is this who we are? Is this the country we loved and thought we knew?

  We’ve always thought of ourselves as a civilized society. Are we only one epidemic, one stroke of fate, away from being less civilized than we thought? Who’d have thought six months ago that we’d see people stealing toilet paper from other people’s grocery carts and spitting on people who ask them to wear masks?

  Medical professionals tasked with caring for the victims have to wear masks and face shields continuously through long, grueling shifts. And wearing a mask to pick up a few things at the grocery store is too much to ask of the rest of us?

    In seven months, we’ve lost almost three times as many Americans as were killed in the Vietnam War. 

   Who’d have thought seven months ago that we’d be worrying about the security of our elections and even the possibility of a civil war?

 Here’s hoping we’re better than that. I for one think and hope we are. And every so often, something happens that sustains that hope. 

  I was in a checkout line at a grocery store a few weeks ago when a small, seemingly insignificant incident served as a reminder of the way things were before we became so divided that we have trouble even speaking to one another.

   Everyone in the store that day was wearing a mask except for a family in the checkout line behind me, a couple and their small daughter. We didn’t glare at each other or exchange angry words. Quite the opposite, in fact. The man was wearing a T-shirt that made me laugh.

  “You can’t scare me,” it said. “I have two daughters.”

  I told the man I liked his shirt.

  “Thanks,” he said. “It makes people laugh. Especially people with daughters.”

  “I have two daughters myself. They turned out great. Yours probably will, too.”

  For all I knew, he could have been one of the protestors who burned masks at city hall. But for that fleeting, welcome moment of connection, we were on the same page, enjoying a laugh together about something we had in common. It might not seem like it during this turbulent time, but there are far more things that unite us as Americans than divide us.

  America has long been known as a beacon to the world for its democratic ideals. A force for good and a counterweight to the evils of authoritarianism. We are living history now, and it isn’t clear what kind of country this will be once the history is recorded. What will the new normal be? Will we follow the path of divisiveness and hatred or that of civility and respect for one another and the principles made this country great?

  Will our democracy survive? 

  What path will we choose in November?

  Here’s hoping it’s our better angels, not our worst, that get us through this.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

The Mayor is Going Where? To Sell What?

(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman. Many are humor columns, slightly modified, from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  No one can ever accuse Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne of a lack of salesmanship.

  The mayor is planning a trade mission to Taiwan, where he said he will be “looking forward to opening doors for local businesses to expand into new markets. … We must become more aggressive in promoting the sale of local products other than agricultural goods.”

  Kempthorne is one of nine mayors chosen by the U.S. Conference of Mayors to visit Taiwan, courtesy of a Chinese industrial association. To make sure their honors stick strictly to business and don’t engage in a lot of male-oriented frivolity on the junket, the association also is springing for their wives to accompany them.

  A news release about the trip didn’t address what struck me as a pretty obvious question. 

  What kind of Boise products will the mayor be plugging in Taiwan?

  To find out, I called his office. My call was referred to the city’s economic development director, who said it was “a matter of analyzing what they need that we produce.”

  Specifically?

  “I’m sure one of the things he’ll discuss will be wheat.”

   Wheat?

  Of course! Never mind that the mayor said we need to promote products “other than agricultural goods.” Boise wheat is legendary, so well known that he couldn’t not promote it in Taiwan. 

  It’s always mystified me that Boise is known as the City of Trees when by all rights it should be the City of Wheat. Everyone knows that Boise wheat is known and coveted throughout the civilized world.

  Once Kempthorne corners the lucrative Taiwanese market, Boise wheat will be even more famous and sought after. Look for fields of billowing wheat to spring up all over town. Vacant lots and backyard gardens will explode with amber waves of Boise grain.

  So much economic development could come from the mission that it could be the beginning of a bold new era for the state’s mayors.

  Consider the potential. If the mayor of Boise can go all the way to Taiwan to sell wheat, anything is possible.

  The mayor of Meridian, for instance, could fly to Hawaii to sell water towers.

  One of the Hawaiian islands has the wettest spot on the planet. The Hawaiians need places to put all that water, and Meridian is at least as well known for water towers as Boise is for wheat, so it’s a natural. Meridian’s mayor would be so busy selling water towers that he wouldn’t have a single minute to waste on luaus, surfing or other amusements. Taxpayers could rest assured that it would be all business. 

  The possibilities are endless:

  The mayor of Lewiston could go to Australia or the British Isles to sell seaports.

  The mayor of Hagerman, known for its fish hatcheries, could sell trout to Norway.

  The mayor of Sun Valley could sell ski lifts in the Bahamas.

  The mayor of Pocatello could pitch potatoes in Ireland.

  The mayor of Jerome could spend months in the Virgin Islands, tapping the lucrative Caribbean Tupperware market.

  Or, the mayors could stay home and run their cities.

  But how much fun would that be?

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

The Paint Can from Hell

 (My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Someday in a better world, people will have alternatives to the things that frustrate us today.

  They’ll have conquered gravity, achieved world peace and outlawed robocalls.

  If they’re really lucky, they’ll have found an alternative to paint.

  This occurred to me after cleaning up a paint spill the other day.

  And I hadn’t even been painting.

  The paint was left over from a room painted months earlier.  Normally I take old paint to a hazardous-waste truck at a fire station, but this particular can was all but empty when I put it in the trash. It couldn’t have contained more than a thimbleful of paint, which appeared to have dried up.

  Appearances, of course, can be deceiving.  

  During the night, one of the neighborhood dogs had knocked over our trash can. The “thimbleful of dried-up paint” had come out, leaving a mess of shocking proportions on the sidewalk. 

  Have you ever noticed that when you’re painting something and have a small amount of paint left, it’s never enough to finish the job? Just try spilling it, though. What won’t cover a square foot on a wall will make a stain the size of a wading pool on your new hardwood floor. 

  Wondering how such a small amount of paint could cover such a large amount of sidewalk, I began the cleanup. After half an hour of repeated blotting with paper towels, vigorous scrubbing with a wire brush and high-pressure spray from a hose, the sidewalk almost looked normal. 

 Late for work by then, I took the can back to the garage to dispose of later. That’s when I noticed that the can had a crack in it and had leaked paint on both the driveway and the garage floor. A trail of paint that would take even more time to clean up.

  This was the moment when one of my daughters arrived on the scene, perhaps drawn by the sound of spirited cursing.

  “What’s wrong? she asked

  “This # )%! paint can! It was almost empty and now it’s spewing paint like Old Faithful. If it was food instead of paint it could end world hunger.”

  Offering to help, she picked up the can and watched in dismay as it dribbled paint all over her new pants and jacket. 

  Where was it all coming from? True, the paint obviously wasn’t dried up, but the can really had looked empty. 

  “Stay here,” I told her. “I’ll go inside and get more paper towels.”

  That meant walking down the sidewalk and across the front porch, through the entryway, and into the kitchen. 

  By now you may have guessed that in addition to being nearly everywhere else, there was paint on the bottoms of my shoes. 

  And the the porch, the entryway floor, the kitchen floor …

  All from a supposedly empty can of dried up paint.

  That night, I made a deal with God. If I ever put another paint can in the trash instead of taking it to a fire station, He can strike me dead.

  Outlawing robocalls and conquering gravity would be great. Achieving world peace would be even better.

  But in a really perfect world, there won’t be paint.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

The Montana Merchant Marine

(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Credit Robert Kelleher with the bizarre idea of the month

  Kelleher is a candidate for governor of Montana. His idea is the kind of story newspaper columnists pray for.

  He wants to start a Montana Merchant Marine

  The man is serious. He actually wants landlocked Montana to invest in merchant- marine freighters.

  Imagine the headlines.

  “S.S. Bozeman sinks off Nebraska coast.”

  The only thing that separates Kelleher from true genius is that he’s running for governor of Montana and not Kansas.

  You have to admire a person with that kind of courage. Selling people on the idea of sea-going freighters in Montana must be about as easy as selling lighthouses in Oklahoma. 

  Montanans do not have a consuming interest in freighters, barges, tankers or other marine vessels. The closest thing they have to a seaport is Lewiston, which as everyone knows is in Idaho.

  As I understand it, Kelleher’s strategy is to use a newly formed Montana Merchant Marine and a rehabilitated railroad to ship grain to Asia. This supposedly would cut by a third the cost of shipping Montana grain to the Far East. 

  The plan, obviously, poses a potential threat to Lewiston’s port and Idaho’s grain shipping.

  With this in mind, I’m hereby proposing a counter offensive. If Idaho is to prevail against Kelleher and likeminded Montanans with nautical ambitions, it has but one course of action.

  We should start a navy and take them on.   

  Think about it. Idaho has been taking it on the chin from Montana for years.

  The best example is Yellowstone Park. When the park was divvied up, Montana and Wyoming got all the geysers, all the entrances and all the souvenir shops. All Idaho got was a miserable little corner, without a single mud pot, geyser or tourist restaurant.

  The most humiliating thing about the relationship between the states, from an Idahoan’s standpoint, is the way Montana and Idaho are perceived by much of the rest of the world.

   In books, movies and television programs, Montana is portrayed as Big Sky Country, a land of towering peaks and alpine splendor, a state where sophisticated eastern tourists sip whiskey in mountain lodges after catching trophy trout.

  Idaho, also blessed with towering peaks and alpine splendor, is thought by everyone east of the Mississippi to be a flat, unvarying expanse of potato fields. A Midwesterner once told me, with a perfectly straight face, that Idaho is nothing but potato fields, that it shares a border with Iowa and therefore has to be flat, and that anyone who knows anything knows that Sun Valley is in California.

  It isn’t fair. Montana gets all the glory while Idaho is the butt of potato jokes.

  With a navy, that could change overnight.

  For starters, we’d print up some catchy recruiting posters:

  “Join the Navy and see Idaho.”

  “Damn the spuds. Full speed ahead!”

  Artists would jump at the chance to sketch aircraft carriers crossing the Camas Prairie.

  Once our destroyers were operational, we’d steam over and claim our fair share of Yellowstone Park. If Wyoming gave us any trouble, we declare war on Rock Springs.

  Imagine the looks on Montanans’ faces when our fleet docked outside the stadium for the next Idaho-Montana football game.

  If anyone protested, we’d mine the harbor at Billings.

Tim Woodward’s column runs every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@hotmail.com.

Idaho-Iowa II

(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic so we decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. This one is a followup to one the ran two weeks ago, on the confusion between Idaho and Iowa.)

The scene: a service station in South Carolina.

 Georgia traveler – We’ll be home soon. Where is your home?

  Idaho traveler – Boise, Idaho.

  Georgia traveler – Well now! I don’t rightly know if we come through there or not. We come through St. Louis.

  Idaho traveler – You probably didn’t come through Boise then. It’s about 1,600 miles from St. Louis.

  Georgia traveler – It is?!

  Idaho traveler. Yes. It’s less than a day’s drive from the Pacific Ocean. Idaho isn’t anywhere near St. Louis. It’s part of the Wild West.

  Georgia traveler (backing up, checking for six-shooters) – Start the car, Billy Ray! And don’t make any sudden moves.

  The story, with modest embellishments, is true. It happened to Idahoan Betty Burke. The Georgians, of course, were wondering whether they had come through Boise, Iowa. An astonishing number of Americans are convinced that there is a Boise, Iowa.

  And a Des Moines, Idaho, a Coeur d’Alene, Iowa, a Sioux Falls, Idaho …

  No offense to Georgia, but the state of geography appears to be in serious trouble there. Lynn Adams of Red Oak, Iowa was traveling through the Peach State when one of its residents asked the inevitable question:

  “So, where do you call home?”

  “Iowa,” she replied

  “Iowa, let me see now. Wait, I’ve got it! That’s the one up there by Washington and Oregon, isn’t it?”

  In 1989, the Idaho Falcons soccer team toured the now defunct Soviet Union, competing in its republics of Russia, Moldavia and Ukraine. It was the first time a U.S. amateur soccer team had been invited to play in the Soviet Union, and the Idahoans were justly proud to be representing their country.

  Until they arrived at the stadium in Moscow for their final game. Among the spectators there was a Russian high school student with a large, hand-painted banner: “Go, Iowa!”

  No one could persuade him that the names of the two states weren’t interchangeable.

 Idahoan Lyman Larson decided to have some fun with the confusion. His contribution: an “Idawa” postcard.

  “Why do Idaho and Iowa have such an identity crisis?” he asked. “What is it that makes a person confuse them? Is it their geographic proximity, renowned rivers or perhaps their famed agricultural products? In honor of confused fellow countrymen everywhere, I designed the appropriate postcard. It is my hope that it will simplify that confusion. Or just simply confuse.”

  The postcard pays homage to “Idawa, the Gemeye State.” (Iowa is the Hawkeye state.) Larson’s Idawa map looks like Iowa’s with Idaho’s panhandle jutting from its northern border. Its capital is Des Boise. Idawa is the home of “Famous Corntatoes,” and “a Pacific Midwest paradise bordered by the mighty Snake and Mississippi rivers.”

  Indianan Patricia Roderick married an Idahoan in Idaho and took him home to Indiana to introduce him to her fellow Hoosiers at an open house.

  “In northwest Indiana, an open house is a popular way to celebrate events,” she said. “I circulated continually as a good guest of honor should and spoke with at least five people who asked, ‘So, how do you like Iowa?’

  “Being ignorant of the Idaho-Iowa connection at the time, I kept wondering why people would ask me how I liked a state I had only passed through. This experience was my first inkling that the two states might be interchangeable in people’s minds.”

 When she returned to Idaho from Indiana, she “hadn’t been back at work two minutes when one of my co-workers asked, ‘So, how was Iowa?’”

  Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin discovered the pitfalls of name identification during his 1992 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Harkin was one of the few primary candidates who actually campaigned in Idaho. On a campaign stop in Boise, he told his audience that the problem was bigger than any candidate.

  “I go all over the country,” he said, “and I’m invariably introduced as Sen. Tom Harkin of Idaho.” 

  Late Idaho Sen. Frank Church claimed to have the same problem in reverse. People outside Idaho thought he was from Iowa. 

  There has never been a president from Idaho. Iowa has produced one, Herbert Hoover.

  The father of the Depression.

  Idaho probably took the rap.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Idaho is Not Iowa – or Ohio, Indiana …

(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Idaho and Iowa are states so different from each other it would seem impossible to confuse them. 

  Idaho is mountains, irrigated farmland and desert. The definition of an Idaho rainstorm – a lot of wind, a lot of dust, a few drops and it’s over – is pretty accurate. Idaho has the nation’s largest wilderness outside of Alaska and more than 150 peaks higher than 10,000 feet.

  Iowa is flat, a Midwest prairie with abundant rainfall and cornfields that seem to stretch forever. Its highest point is Merrill Sterler’s hog lot, elevation1,670 feet.

  The states are separated by a distance greater than that separating New York and Georgia. One is so flat that people in Sioux City contact those in Dubuque, 300 miles away, by standing in the road and waving. The other is so mountainous that if pounded flat, according to some authorities, it would be the largest state in the nation. One is famous for corn, the other for potatoes. Products not noted for striking similarities.

  There is no compelling reason for people to confuse Idaho and Iowa, but it happens all the time. Most of the mixups are funny;  some border on the unbelievable.

  At least one person – a professional pilot, no less – actually moved to Idaho thinking it was Iowa. He discovered his 1,500-mile error too late and has been an Idahoan ever since.

  In Hawaii, a prospective thief was foiled by a geographic blunder printed on his checks, drawn on the First National Bank of Iowa, in “Boise Iowa.”

  He was in good company. In a golden moment from his reporting days, former network news anchorman Tom Brokaw ended a newscast with a panoramic sweep of the mountains of the Boise Front and the words, “This is Tom Brokaw reporting from Boise, Iowa.”

  Not to be outdone, fellow NBC anchor Deborah Norville transplanted Boise to Iowa on the Today Show.

  The Boise, Iowa syndrome has been the undoing of countless mail order customers, including a couple who reported that “it took months to get our order. The company kept sending it to you-know-where. When we told them we were from Boise, Idaho, they asked how far that was from Council Bluffs.”

  About 1,400 miles, give or take a spud cellar or two.

  Idaho is home to numerous ski resorts, including Sun Valley, the nation’s first. Iowa’s terrain is more conducive to lawn tennis. The difference in terrain, however, wasn’t enough to stop The Wall Street Journal from moving Sun Valley to the Hawkeye State or the journal of the American Association of Retired Persons from plugging Iowa ski packages,

  No one is immune. Harper’s, Time, The New York Times, even the president of the United States have succumbed to Idaho-Iowa confusion. An alarming number of Americans, apparently including some in the White House, believe that all four “I” states are in a neat line in the Midwest. Thus we have a hundredth-birthday card from President George Bush to a resident of Emmett, Idaho, mailed to the resident’s correct street address in “Emmett, Indiana.”

   Indiana is the state second most frequently confused with Idaho, closely followed by Ohio, which doesn’t start with an “I” but has a similar sounding name. This was the inspiration for the old joke about the Idaho woman who was visiting the East and was told, “My dear, I’m sure you won’t take offense if I tell you something you ought to know. We pronounce it Ohio.” 

  The University of Iowa does a brisk business in T-shirts sporting the words, “University of Iowa, Idaho City, Ohio.”

  Some people not only have no idea where Idaho is, they don’t even know it’s a state. When I told a Chicago cab driver that I was from Idaho, he looked at me as if I was from another planet.

  “It’s out west,” I told him, “but a lot of people confuse it with Iowa.”

  He laughed heartily.

  “Iowa?” he exclaimed, practically splitting. “How could anybody confuse Idaho and Iowa?”

  “I don’t know, but it happens a lot. Sometimes they confuse it with Indiana or Ohio, too.”

  He laughed so hard the cab shook.

  “I don’t believe it!” he said. “How could people think Idaho was Indiana or  Ohio?”

  “Beats me.”

 A pregnant pause. Then …

  “It’s part of California, isn’t it?”

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Who is Called What

Suggested headline: Who is called what where 

(My regular column is suspended during the COVID 19 pandemic, but we decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many will be humor columns. In times like these, we need humor.)

  One of the surest ways to annoy Boiseans is to call them Boizeans.

  People tend to be touchy, according to a recent Smithsonian article, “about what other people call them. Call someone from Indiana an Indianan and you will be reminded in no uncertain terms about the word Hoosier. North Carolinian is often acceptable, but not to diehard Tarheels. In Utah, folks prefer Utahn over Utahan.”

  Formal rules exist for deciding who is called what where, but they are far from foolproof. If the name of a place ends in y, for example, the rule says to change the y to an i and add an. This works well enough for, say,  Kansas City (Kansas Citians), but transforms people from Albany, N.Y. into Albanians. 

  Exceptions to the rules vary from place to place.

  Do people who live in Hamburg, Germany go by the rules and call themselves Hamburgers?”

  Yes.

  But are residents of Tobago, in the West Indies, Tobaggans?

  No.

  The rules, in other words, tend to be ignored more or less at will. Local preferences are commonly used for countries and states. Everyone knows that someone from Scotland is a Scot rather than a Scotlander, and someone from Indiana is a Hoosier.

  But what about lesser known places such as small towns in Idaho? Idaho has towns that even some Idahoans haven’t heard of, so it isn’t surprising that not everyone knows what to call the people who live there.

  Dalton Gardens, for instance. Is a resident of Dalton Gardens, in North Idaho, a Dalton Gardener?

  And what about Marion, south of Burley? Are people who live there Marionettes?

  To carry it to fanciful extremes, what about Dingle, in southeastern Idaho? Are people from Dingle Dinglelings?

  The rules are silent about that one. 

  Residents of Paris, France are Parisians, but what about residents of Paris, Idaho? A strict interpretation would make them Parisites.

  Inhabitants of Stites, in north-central Idaho, would go by the ungainly appellation of Stitesites.

  The applicable rule (adding either ites or er to names ending in consonants) would produce Kelloggers, Rexburgers, Rathdrummers and Heyburners.

  The results can sound pretty silly. Consider, for example, Sweet, Idaho. Sweeters or Sweetites would sound ridiculous, especially when there is an appealing alternative:

  Sweeties.

  By stretching the rules only slightly, citizens of Eagle would become Eaglets. People from Grangeville could ominously become Grangevillains. Declo would be the home of the Declones.

  Basketball would be the logical sport of choice for the Lakers, namely residents of Bear, Hayden, Spirit and Mud Lakes.

 The rules, or lack of them, raise some intriguing questions.

  Are people who live in Bliss Blissters?

  Are the males of Hagerman Hagermen?

  Are there Marsingers who can’t sing?

  Idaho has so many places with so many possible variations of what to call the folks who live in them that the state might want consider consider hiring a consultant. An expert who could help decide the best names to use.

  Someone from Council, perhaps. A Councilor.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Idahoans at Disasters

(My regular column is suspended during the pandemic, but we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  The nuclear accident at Chernobyl has highlighted a startling fact about Idahoans.

  The startling fact is that Idahoans have a remarkable sixth sense for impending disasters.

  Whenever disaster strikes, regardless of the circumstances or the remoteness of the location, an Idahoan is almost certain to be there. 

  It happens almost every time. No matter how unpredictable the tragedy, no matter how distant the location, at least one Idahoan will be in just the right place at just the right time to represent the state and relay a breathless, first-person report to a waiting world. 

  Think about it. How many world-class disasters, calamities, catastrophes or crises in recent years have failed to be detailed in eyewitness accounts by Idahoans?

  There haven’t been any. Or, if there have been, they were second rate and not worthy of an Idahoan’s attention.

  The latest to uphold the tradition is Hank Birnbaum, of Sagle, Idaho. Birnbaum was one of six American college students who were in Kiev, Ukraine, a short distance from the site of the horrific reactor meltdown at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant.

  Most Americans had never heard of Chernobyl prior to the accident, let alone been there, but Birnbaum had strategically positioned himself within a few miles of it. When the meltdown occurred, he was ready and waiting to observe and be interviewed,

  “Kiev is calm,” the canny Idahoan told an anxious world watching on television. “When we left, everything seemed to be going on normally.”

  Except for the glowing hair, of course.

  Birnbaum’s account was reminiscent off the 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania nuclear emergency, which Boisean Teryll Lynn Schasse described in a dramatic telephone interview:

  “You don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “They said the worst thing that could happen is a rainstorm and a thick cloud cover that might cover us with fallout. I’m looking out of the window right now. It looks like rain to me.”

  Two days later, Schasse was back in Boise, answering questions from reporters and providing Idahoans with an up close and personal perspective on the nation’s worst nuclear accident.

  The most surprising thing about Idaho’s role as supplier of commentators on the world’s disasters is that the odds against it happening are almost overwhelming. That a state with a population smaller than that of the Seattle area would have a personal emissary to most of the great upheavals of our time defies logic, yet it happens regularly. It makes no difference where the crisis occurs, how few people are involved or how minuscule the chances are of an Idahoan’s being there. One invariably is.

  The Iran hostage crisis, for example. When the U.S. embassy in Tehran was stormed by militants, Idahoan Henry Lee Schatz, an agricultural attache, was just down the street. Schatz avoided being captured by the militants, but was forced to spend three months hiding from anti-American mobs. He also was one of six Americans who provided a bright spot in the hostage crisis by escaping from Iran on forged Canadian passports.

  After being questioned by the media and meeting with the president in the oval office, Schatz returned to Idaho, where he modestly told reporters that he was “just in the right place at the right time. Or maybe the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s all.”

  But it wasn’t all. The next hostage crisis involving Americans in the Mideast was last summer’s hijacking of a Trans World Airlines flight in Lebanon. Sure enough, an Idahoan not only was there but was in the cockpit!

  For 17 days, the world watched as the plane’s crew and passengers were held hostage by Shiite Muslims. A key figure in the drama was flight engineer Christian Zimmermann of Cascade, who was quoted at length about his role in the ordeal and went on to write a book about it.

   Though seemingly partial to manmade crises, Idahoans are no less adept at witnessing natural disasters. When an earthquake destroyed parts of Mexico City last fall, Saul Zamora of Gooding was in the thick of it, ready to observe and answer questions from journalists.

  It’s an established fact, of course, that whenever a dam collapses or a volcano erupts, an Idahoan will be on hand to collect big bucks from the news magazines by photographing the event with a cheap Kodak camera. It happened at the Teton Dam disaster, the Mount St. Helens eruption, you name it.

  So why are Idahoans always on hand for calamities?

  The answer is obvious. We need the exposure. It’s one of the few ways we have to avoid being confused with Iowa.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

National Nude Weekend

(Though my regular column is suspended during the COVID 19 pandemic, we’ve decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many will be humor columns. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Every day, America’s newspapers receive multiple news releases. Most are of marginal value, but every now and then one of true significance comes along.

 Imagine my excitement upon receiving a news release about this week’s National Nude Weekend. It isn’t often I get a chance at a big story like that.

  By the time you read this Sunday morning, National Nude weekend will be in full swing. So if you aren’t dressed yet, you might want to wait until Monday.

  The weekend is described as a “celebration of nude recreation, sun and freedom by all nudists coast to coast … Throughout the country, nudists-naturalists have planned outings and events in observance of National Nude Weekend, whether they be at privately owned nudist parks or on traditionally recognized nude beaches.”

  Clothing is optional during National Nude Weekend.

  In other words, it’s okay to wear clothes to church this morning.

  A promotional pamphlet accompanying the news release said there were “more than 1,400 clubs, parks, resorts, beaches, lakes and other recreation areas throughout the United States and Canada where you can experience a new and more natural way of life (assuming you’re interested, of course). Join the millions of other people throughout the country who have discovered the joy, freedom and relaxation of the ‘clothing-optional’ lifestyle.”

  To learn more about the weekend and the joys of the clothing-optional lifestyle, I called the nearest representative of the American Sunbathing Association. His name is Basil. Basil, who lives in San Francisco, claims that there are “50,000 card-carrying nudists in the U.S.” I asked him the obvious question, where they carried their cards, but he was not amused.

  Basil is 40 and has been a nudist since he was 14. That’s how old he was when his girlfriend and her parents invited him to spend a weekend at a nudist camp. He’s heard all the jokes.

  “That’s the whole point of National Nude Weekend, to educate the public,” he said. “We want the public to know that we’re people just like everybody else.”

  Though this would seem obvious (I know of no instance in which a nude human has been mistaken for anything else), the clothing-optional groups are going to considerable trouble to make their point. Activities are planned throughout the country, including radio and television appearances.

  Television?
  “Right,” Basil said, “For example, a group of us recently appeared nude on the Sally Jessy Raphael Show, a nationally syndicated program out of St. Louis. It went over very well.”

  It probably didn’t hurt Sally’s ratings, either.

  In addition to radio and television appearances, outings are being held at some 1,400 nude beaches and resorts in the U.S. and Canada. I asked Basil if any of them were in Idaho.

  “Just a minute,” he said, “I’ll go get the book.”

 Seconds later, he was reading from something called The World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation.

  “There are quite a few in Idaho,” he said.

  He named several in the Boise area, adding that there was “even a listing for skinny-rafting the Salmon River.”

  The guide’s editors may know a lot about nudism, but they sure don’t know much about rural Idaho, hardly a bastion of liberal views when it comes to things like traipsing around in the altogether. 

  The last time I was at one of the “nude beaches” listed in the guide, two cowboys were sitting on a cabin porch spitting tobacco. A sign over the door said “no guns allowed,” no doubt intended for the armed regulars who frequent the place. As a journalist from the “big city,” I felt lucky to make it back to my car without someone taking a potshot at me.

  And I was wearing clothes. 

  “In Central Idaho,” Basil continued, “there’s Robinson Bar.”

  Robinson Bar? Home to Carole King, the singer who passionately defends her privacy? I wonder how she’d feel if she knew her secluded retreat was listed in The World Guide to Nude Beaches and Recreation.

  Basil and I concluded our conversation with a subject that may seem trivial, but acquires added significance in the case of nudists.

  Sunburn.

  “It really isn’t that much of a problem,” he said.

 “We do go through a lot of sunscreen, though.”

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

Woodward's Tips for Dealing with Skunks

Suggested headline: Woodward’s tips for dealing with skunks

(Though my regular column is suspended during the pandemic, we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

  Spring must be here. Buds are swelling, crocuses are thrusting their heads through the soil and evenings are fragrant with the springlike aroma of …

  Skunks.

  Yes, friends, the scourge of spring is upon us. In some places this isn’t a problem. Where I live, it is the problem. Skunks consider my neighborhood their personal sanctuary.

  As a public service to those who may have to confront them but have little knowledge of how to avoid the horrors of being sprayed, the following is offered as advice on how not to deal with a skunk. Rest assured that the author has researched each of the techniques and can vouch for their reliability:

  1.  Do not leave doors open to the house at any time during skunk season, roughly spring through October. While some experts suggest deliberately leaving doors open to lull skunks into a sense of false security, I cannot recommend the procedure for anyone lacking a backup house.

  I thoughtlessly broke this rule in the wee hours one morning while taking a letter to the mailbox. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

  The letter was important enough that upon waking in the middle of the night and remembering it hadn’t been mailed I got up and ventured outside to the mailbox with it. It was a warm evening so I wasn’t wearing a whole lot, but it was 3 a.m. Who would see me at that hour?

  Walking back from the mailbox to the house after putting the letter in the mailbox, I was surprised to see a dark figure lurking on the sidewalk. A dark, sinister, hissing figure. The hours when most of us are sleeping are, of course, the time when nocturnal skunks are at their menacing best.

  I remained calm, except for one small scream. This frightened the skunk, which immediately reversed course and boldly headed for the front door I had carelessly left open. Barring a quick counterattack, the skunk would be inside the house within seconds. 

  What to do? Luckily, a visit from any skunk, let alone one about to waddle into your house, gives a person an adrenalin rush. Blessed with insufficient time to think about it, I sprinted down the sidewalk, leaped over the skunk and bolted into the house just in time to slam the door in its face.

  It had to have been a strange sight, a man wearing nothing but his Fruit of the Looms, hurdling over a skunk in the dead of night.

  At least there wasn’t anyone around with a camera.

  2.  If you think a skunk is in your house, do not attempt to rout it with a baseball bat. I realized this while attempting to rout a skunk that proved to be a Batmobile under my son’s bed.

  Yes, as a matter of fact, I did feel a little silly. The experience taught me a valuable lesson however. When routing a skunk, the weapon of choice is not a baseball bat. A better option is an attack dog, preferably one you never want to see again.

  3.  If you have a dog as a pet, do not under any circumstance allow it to establish visual contact with a skunk. This will trigger a chase impulse the dog is powerless to resist.

  Our dog Molly, after being sprayed by a skunk and scrubbed almost to the point of hemorrhaging, saw another skunk the very next day and almost broke the door down trying to go outside and get sprayed again. So much for the myth of canine intelligence.

  4. Do not waste time bathing a pet sprayed by a skunk. It doesn’t work, at least not very well. The only thing that does work well is time. Lots of it. 

  Another option is to immerse the pet in tomato juice, followed by treatment with a product specifically designed the remove skunk odors. Then give the pet to someone you don’t like very much.

  5. If the worst happens and a skunk actually does get into your house, get rid of it immediately. The house, not the skunk. A house sprayed by a skunk is the ultimate in lost causes. If you’ve been up close and personal with a skunk, you know this. If not, trust me.

  This is what you do:

  Do not disrupt or frighten the skunk in any way. Get the family out of the house, go to a neighbor’s house to borrow a phone and call a Realtor. Have the Realtor put the house on the market immediately, priced for a quick sale. Do not mention the word “skunk.”

  With luck, the loan will close before the new owners discover your secret.

  This concludes Woodward’s tips for dealing with skunks.

  Have a nice spring.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

A Textbook Woodward Vacation

(Though my regular column is suspended during the pandemic, we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor.)

Suggested headline:  A textbook Woodward vacation

  Readers ask if my vacations are really as bad as they sound in my columns. The question is administered with varying doses of skepticism, as if no one’s luck could be that bad. To put an end to this misconception, I kept a diary of the two-week vacation just ended.

  Day One – Cool and cloudy. We drive as far east as Idaho Falls. A convention is in town. By the look of the town, it’s either clerks or undertakers.

  Day Two – Cold and windy. We leave Idaho Falls and drive to Yellowstone Park, where the weather provides a change of pace. Snow is blowing sideways without ever touching the ground. The man at our motel informs us that Yellowstone’s famous bears are gone, shipped out for causing traffic jams and otherwise being hazardous to humans. Our daughters are crushed.

  Yellowstone’s mountain passes are closed by the unseasonable storm, prohibiting travel through much of the park. We take in some geysers and mud pots and enjoy a Yellowstone dinner, tubes of red dye masquerading as hot dogs.

  Day Three – An endurance-driving marathon takes us to a place called Wolf Creek, Mont., in time for the evening fishing. Younger daughter is all but consumed by mosquitoes. Except for carnivorous insects, nothing is biting,

  Day Four – Rising early, we try the morning fishing. Older daughter loses favorite doll in waist-high grass, I ruin new shoes in mud, wife falls in river. Fish aren’t biting. We give up on fishing and drive to Glacier National Park, where the weather and scenery are reminiscent of the Himalayas. Wife loses makeup kit.

  Day Five – Older daughter wakes up with chicken pox, courtesy of younger daughter, who just got over them. We decide to stop having so much fun and drive to relatives’ house in Everett, Wash., where the patient can recuperate in comfort.

  Do you know how long it takes to drive from Glacier National Park to Everett, Wash., with a sick kid in the car? Forever. We arrive at 3 a.m. via the North Cascades Highway. There are higher, foggier, more treacherous roads than the North Cascades Highway, but none come to mind. The fog was so thick my wife had to get out of the car and walk the center line because it was all but invisible to me behind the wheel,

  Day Six – Everett greets us with a typical western Washington morning,  rain between the showers. Mark Twain said this part of the country was the only place he knew where a year comprised nine months of winter and three of late fall. Worse, I’m getting sick. A cold, or maybe the flu coming on.

  Day Seven – Daughter’s condition is improving; mine is in decline. In  addition to the above-mentioned symptoms, I’ve developed a nasty case of conjunctivitis and am rubbing my left eye raw. In a driving rain we head south to visit some other relatives, who invited us to spend the weekend with them at their cabin on Puget Sound. By the time we arrive, I’m so sick  it’s all I can do to climb the stairs and fall into bed at 8 p.m.

  Day Eight – Steady rain. Fishing, crabbing and oyster gathering are canceled by wind and whitecaps, This is largely irrelevant, however as it now seems certain that I have a nasty case of the flu. My head and muscles ache; my temperature is 102.

  The day’s one moment of excitement is provided by Missy, the relatives’  poodle. Missy is afraid of children. Rather than submit to our daughters’ affectionate advances, she dives off of a balcony, landing on rocks ten feet below. In contrast with my flu, which has largely been ignored, this is seen as a first-rate medical emergency. Consideration is given to dropping everything and driving an hour to the nearest vet.

  Day Nine – Father’s Day. I awake on the front porch of the neighbor’s cabin, having been displaced by the grievously injured Missy, who has taken over my bed. (Missy eventually was diagnosed with nothing worse than a minor bruise.)

  Stepping into the shower, I notice red spots on my neck and chest. My flu isn’t the flu at all. My daughters have given me the chicken pox for Father’s Day.

  Days Ten through Thirteen – There is a numbing sameness to these bedridden days. Those who know about such things have gone out of their way to inform me that chicken pox is much harder on adults than  children, a claim I’m in no position to dispute. I have 177 pock marks on my chest and stomach, 122 on my face. There are pock marks in my ears, my nose, my mouth. I can’t shave or brush my teeth without a blood transfusion, cannot be seen in public without evoking horror. I am the world’s ugliest human,

  Day Fourteen – Bright sunshine. I am well enough by this time to pack my suitcase and bid farewells to the relatives, who extend sympathies on the vacation. They do not invite us to return any time soon. It’s already Saturday. Half of a two-week vacation flashed by while I regained a semblance of health.

  Day Fifteen – Hot. By far the nicest weather of the trip. Nothing like a twelve-hour drive in a heat wave to put the spring back in your step. I’m still pock-marked and stay out of sight as much as possible but am spotted at a service station by two teenage girls.

  “Did you see that guy?” one of them asked the other.

  “Yes! Ooh, yuck!”

  I’d been trying to think of just the right words to describe our vacation.  Those were the ones, exactly.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog,com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

State-of-the-Art Confusion

Suggested headline:  State of the art confusion

(Though my regular column is suspended during the pandemic, we’re running some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally were published in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many are humor columns from the 1980s. In times like these, we need humor more than ever.)

   Try buying a stereo these days.

   I did. My first stop was a department store. The clerk had just transferred from draperies.

  “What do you have in tape decks for around $200,” I asked him.

  “Huh?”

  “What do you have in cassette decks for about $200?”

  “You mean a deck that plays cassettes?”

  “Now you’ve got it.”

  “Okay. Well, we have some right here, and some under there and some over there.”

  “How much do they cost?”

  “Oh, all different prices, I guess. How much do you want to spend?”

  “About $200,” I said for the third time.

  “Oh.”

  Silence.

  “Can I look at some?”

  “Well, I guess. I mean it’s all right with me if you really want to.”

  I selected several models in the right price range. They had shiny panels and pretty colored lights.

  “Is this a good one?” I asked the clerk.

  “Yeah, it’s a real good one.”

  “How about this one over here?”

  “It’s real good, too.”

  “And that one over there?”

  “Real good.”

  “Which one is best?”

  “I don’t know. There’s one thing I can tell you, though.”

  “What’s that?”

  “They’re all real good.”

  The next store sold nothing but stereo equipment. The display room was so dimly lit it seemed almost solely illuminated by lights from the electronic equipment. Red, green, blue and amber lights winked from control panels that competed for space on ceiling-high shelves. Two young men stood in the center of the room, nodding solemnly as they discussed the relative merits of various components.

  One of them was the salesman. These days you need a technical dictionary and a second mortgage just to communicate with a stereo salesman.

  “I’m interested in a tape deck,” I told him. “Is there anything you particularly recommend?”

  “I have no idea,” he replied. “It all depends on what you want and what you want to do with it. Are you into tubes or transistors?’

  “Well, all I really want to do is play a few tapes. What’s the difference?”

  “Well, if you’re into high sustained power levels and peak energy transients, tubes are for you, especially if you have a variety of impedances. If you’re into true state-of-the art, though, you want transistors.”

  Not wanting to give the impression of a man who didn’t know what he was into, I narrowed my eyes, nodded sagaciously and asked to hear some music. This would get me off the hook and buy time to find someone who spoke English.

  The salesman put on a tape that sounded like a combination of Igor Stravinsky, Frank Zappa and the latest Chinese nuclear blast. When it was over, I discretely removed my hands from my years, asked for some brochures and went home.

  My ears were still ringing that night while I studied the brochures.

  They didn’t speak English, either.

  A couple of days later, I went back and sought out a different sales person for an opinion on one of the models described in the brochures.

  “I don’t really know much about that one,” he said. “But for only a few hundred dollars more you could have the Stereo 8000.”

  “What’s that?”

  “The Stereo 8000 is the most discerning state-of-the-art system made,” he said in a condescending tone. “It has phenomenal bandwidth, infinitesimal harmonic distortion and delivers a million watts per channel. With the right adaptor you can use it to run your motorcycle.”

  “I don’t have a motorcycle.”

  “It doesn’t matter. We had a guy in here the other day who’d been using his to play sounds beyond the range of human hearing at volume levels you wouldn’t believe. He said he’d been driving the neighborhood dogs out of their skulls.”

  “What would anyone want to do that?”

  “I have no idea. we get all kinds in here.”

  I told him I was a dog lover and asked to hear the system described in the brochure. He flipped a bank of switches and put on a tape.

  “That sounds great. How much does it cost?”

  “The power amplifier is $400, the preamplifier is $300, the deck is $350 and the speakers are $400 each.”

  I quickly added up the cost of the components. They were worth more than my car.

  “Of course we’re running the system through an extra set of bass speakers, a quadrophonic sound unit, a mid-range driver and a high frequency blaster. They cost extra, but just listen to that sound! So pure! So airy! So .. ethereal! You don’t get that with just the basic system.”

  I thanked him and went home to talk it over with my wife. We like to make life-altering decisions together.

  “You should hear the stereo I listened to today,” I said. “It sounds ethereal.”

  “How much does it cost?”

  “Well, if we sold the car and used our savings we could handle it.”

  “Sell the car! How would we go anywhere? How would we get to work?”

  “On our new motorcycle.”

Tim Woodward’s column runs every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwarblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

A Thank-You Note to Readers

Thanks to all of you who wrote to say you were pleased that The Idaho Press is re-running some of my old Statesman columns during the pandemic.

Two readers had questions. One wanted to know when the first re-run, about ridiculous directions that accompany some of the products we use, originally was published. I don’t know the exact date or even the year. I retyped it from a book that was published in 1988. My best guess is that that column was published in the early 1980s.

The other reader wanted to know why I’m not writing just for the blog until my regular columns are back in The Press again. One reason is that an occasional break from deadlines provides time to add ideas to the file for future use. Another is that it’s giving me more time to work on a memoir I’m writing. For now the memoir is scratching my writing itch, and the break has allowed me to get more done on it in a few weeks than I had in months.

Thanks to all of you for your kind words. I just finished typing up the next rerun, another oldie that had me laughing in the re-reading. We need humor at times like this. It will be in The Press on Sunday May 3.

— Tim

Do Not Do What?!

Though my regular column has been suspended during the pandemic, we’ve decided to run some old ones I thought readers might enjoy. They originally ran in The Idaho Statesman early in my career there. Many will be humor columns. In times like these, we need humor more than ever. – Tim

  Most Americans believe they belong to one of the best educated and most intelligent societies in the world.

  They don’t.

  This revelation came to me during a recent shopping trip.

  Silly me, I’d always thought that the people of the one of the greatest nations on earth were capable of making it through the day without outside help. There would always be those who would have trouble concentrating and breathing at the same time, of course, but the population as a whole had struck me as being of at least average mental ability.

  It took that shopping trip to make me realize how wrong I was.

  The source of my enlightenment was my daughter’s new hair crimper. The directions that accompanied it included the usual safety warnings – “unplug after using, keep away from water, do not leave unattended,” etc.

  Then, the thunderbolt.

  “DO NOT CRIMP HAIR WHILE SLEEPING.”

  They couldn’t be serious. What kind of pinhead would try to use a hair crimper (or any other electrical appliance) while sleeping?

  Presently it occurred to me that they were in fact serious. If you think about who writes safety instructions, it makes perfect sense. The people who write safety instructions are lawyers. Their job is to assure that every conceivable hazard is addressed, getting manufacturers off the hook in case of a lawsuit.

  So, somewhere in this country is a firm of well-educated, successful, presumably bright attorneys who believe that there are people witless enough to injure themselves while trying to crimp their hair while fast asleep. Worse, they think there are enough of them to justify warnings in safety manuals.

  Curious, I checked out the directions for some other household items.

  The directions for my electric razor were relatively conventional – unplug before cleaning, do not use with defective plug, etc. – with the exception of number two:

  “Do not use in the shower.”

  Of course! Who hasn’t experienced a frantic desire to jump in the shower with an electric razor, turn on the razor and shower at the same time and be transformed into a memorial fountain? I’ve suffered from this obsession for years. Only superior willpower allows me to rise above it.

  The same goes for the package of silica gel I found in a shoebox. Printed on the package were a skull and crossbones and the words, “Do not eat.”

  It’s a good thing that warning was there or I’d have devoured the package and its contents on the spot. Silica gel is one of my favorite delicacies, along with floppy disks and styrofoam packing balls.

  My favorite set of directions came with a portable radio. The first instruction: “Read instructions.” Next, “Retain instructions.” Having read and retained the instructions, the owner is advised to “heed instructions.” Then (just in case), he or she is warned to “follow instructions.”

  A presidential contender recently was quoted as saying the country “lacked direction.” 

  He must not be able to read.

Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com.

So Long – Until All This is Over

  One by one, the things that comprise normal life have slipped away from us.

  Businesses and churches have closed, jobs and incomes have been lost. The life we knew just a few short weeks ago has become a fond memory. 

  We can’t even buy toilet paper.

  The one thing we do have plenty of, those of us still lucky enough to be healthy, is time. Things that once kept us busy, so busy we sometimes complained about them, have given way to searching for things to fill our days.

  The first thing we lost was the freedom to come and go as we please. My wife and I are in the at-risk age group. No longer could we go see friends, visit our children or even run to the store for a loaf of bread without the fear of being exposed to an illness that for us could be fatal.

  The shelter where we volunteer more or less booted us out. Services were reduced; younger volunteers would carry the workload.

  With barber shops closed, no more haircuts. By summer I could look like Ozzie Osborne, 

  My band and another classic rock group postponed a dance that would have meant hundreds of people in close quarters. No dance, no more getting together to rehearse for a while.

  And, starting now, no columns to write. Because so many businesses have closed, newspaper advertising revenues have taken a huge hit. People who work full time at The Idaho Press have taken a pay cut, and many of the paper’s local columns, this one included, are being suspended.

  I’ll miss writing those columns for you. It’s what I’ve done for most of my working life. It’s a big part of who I am, and writing them has been one of the joys of my life. But we’re all having to give up things we love now, so no complaints. A break will give me time to recharge, to work on a memoir I’m writing and do things I’ve been putting off for months or even years.

  My wife and I have called friends unseen in too long to catch up and make sure they’re okay. I installed a dimmer switch that had been waiting for months, unopened in its package in the garage. After procrastinating literally for years, I cleaned out a venerable roll-top desk and found some long lost treasures. Subjects for a future column, perhaps.

  Our kids and grandkids have shopped for things we needed and come to our house to deliver them and to visit – outside, of course, practicing social distancing. Just seeing their faces again lifted our spirits.

  My granddaughter Kelsie came up with an idea to pass the time during the long days of self isolation, and my daughter Jennifer, her mom, turned it into a game. Her hours at work have been cut, so she has the time. She and her family are finding fun things to do every day, based on letters of the alphabet.

  On the first day, letter A, they “rode to Albertsons and bought foods that start with A. We did acrobatics and art. … We ate almonds, apples, arborio rice, asparagus and avocados. We finished the day watching ‘Anime.’”

  I’m not that creative, but if I get bored enough reading and walking the dog I might alphabetize our DVDs.

  None of this is meant to make light of the situation in which we all find ourselves. Obviously, we’ve never faced anything like this before. It’s killing people in a way unknown in our lifetimes, and when it’s over some of us won’t be standing.

  We can only hope and pray that those in charge of controlling it do the right things, that most of are still here when it passes, and that those who are hoarding or ignoring social-distancing guidelines will stop acting like idiots.

  That does it for me, at least for a while. Stay home if you can, stay well. I’ll miss you. And I’ll look forward to writing for you again when life returns to something approaching normal.

Tim Woodward’s column normally runs every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. That won’t happen for a while, but you can still contact him at woodwardcolumn@gmail.com