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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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?”


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


  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:


  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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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.

  “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.


  “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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 …


  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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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

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.


  “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.



  “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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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.


  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 the following Mondays. Contact him at

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 the following Mondays. That won’t happen for a while, but you can still contact him at

Coronavirus brings rude end to Holy Land Trip

  Travel is said to broaden the mind, but in the new world of the coronavirus it can test the patience and cause unexpected financial woes. 

  Long lines and security checks at airports have been frustrating travelers for years, and the virus has brought frustration on steroids. We were on final approach to Los Angeles on our way home to Boise last week when my wife got a text saying our flight to Seattle, then the virus’s U.S. epicenter,  had been canceled. We were supposed to have flown directly home from there. Instead, the text said, we would be flying all night and most of the next day, from L.A. to Spokane to Portland to Seattle to Boise.

  And that was nothing compared with what happened to Estella and Jim Warburton.

  And 48 of their closest friends.

  They should be in Israel now. They were supposed to have left a week ago today. The Warburtons were part of a group of 50 would-be travelers from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California and Virginia who were looking forward to a trip booked through the Boise to Bethlehem Holy Land Pilgrimage.

   For the majority, the trip represented a major expenditure. Many are seniors on fixed incomes. Most are in their 60s or 70s. The oldest is 82.

   Not all are members of the same faith, but visiting the places that figure prominently in Christianity was important to all of them. They also would have done charity work, helping needy orphans, while in Israel. They’d spent a year planning and paying for the trip, which they were looking forward to as a religious experience.

  “A lot of us do Bible studies,” Estella Warburton said. “But when people ask me why I believe the things I believe, I don’t know all the answers. I wanted to learn. The pilgrimage was going to be a way of reinforcing my beliefs.”

  The 14-day itinerary included many of the places central to Christian beliefs – Bethlehem, Nazareth, Calvary, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and others.

  “We were really looking forward to seeing all of those places,” Jim Warburton said. “We wanted to see the sites. We wanted to walk the places Christ walked. An experience like that makes you look at your values and the way you live your life.” 

  The pilgrimage, Estella added, would have been “a once in a lifetime thing. It’s not something you’re going to do again and again. And it can have such a big effect on you. You can read and watch all the videos you want, but when you get the personal experience it makes you more aware what you believe and why you believe what you do.”

  That, at least, was her hope.

  Until the trip was canceled because of the coronavirus.

  First Israel closed roads leading to many of the places the group planned to visit. Then restaurants and other businesses closed. Then Israel itself pretty much closed its borders. If their plane had landed as planned in Tel Aviv, they’d have had an unwelcome experience nothing like what they’d envisioned.

  “We were told that if we were to arrive in Tel Aviv we’d probably be isolated there and then isolated again back in U.S. for two weeks,” Estella Warburton said. “Then we heard that we wouldn’t even be allowed to get off of the plane, that we’d just have to turn around and come back.”

  A disappointment in more ways than one. In addition to missing out on the trip of a lifetime days before it was to have begun, there was the considerable financial impact of the cancellation – which they thought their trip insurance covered. 

   The cost of the pilgrimage was $5,200, or more than $10,000 per couple.  A lot of money for pilgrims on fixed incomes, but clearly they thought it was worth it. It was worth enough to a woman who had gone on a previous Boise to Bethlehem pilgrimage that she paid for it with one-dollar bills, tips she’d made working as a waitress.

  You don’t spend that many hard-earned dollars on a trip without buying travel insurance. Virtually all of those who had signed up for the trip had it. The cost of their policies varied, from a little over $300 to nearly $1,000. 

  Those who bought the insurance thought they were covered. Three of them were – up to a point. They’d purchased the most expensive insurance, which covered cancellation for any reason. They’ll get up to 70 percent of their money back.

  The others weren’t covered at all and will get nothing from the insurance companies. Their policies didn’t cover cancellation resulting from a pandemic.

  “That was somewhere in the fine print,” Estella Warburton said.

  To its credit, United Airlines will give the members of the group vouchers that will allow them to apply the cost of their airfare to fly anywhere United goes within a year of the date the flights were booked. They have until January of next year to use the vouchers.

 “Obviously, we’re very disappointed,” Jim Warburton said of the cancellation. “I wasn’t 100 percent surprised this happened with the way the virus is going, but it was still a shock. We’re hoping that when all this passes the tour can be rebooked.”

  That might happen; it might not. If it does happen, there are no guarantees that it won’t cost more. Some of the 50 might not want to go after what happened. Some might not be able to go.

  Their insurance companies won’t refund their premiums.

  Countless people are affected by the coronavirus. Many are sick; some are dying. 

  And some are making money off of it. 

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

A Life in a Few Kilobytes

Suggested headline: ‘A life in a few kilobytes’

  Scientists would disagree, but time doesn’t always pass at the same speed. Anyone who has had to sit through a boring meeting can tell you that it seems to take forever, while a  two-week vacation flashes by all too soon. 

  Day in and day out, time seems to pass slowly. But when you look back on events in your life, or the lives of people you know, it’s as if they came and went in a heartbeat.

  A recent email from a man who attended the same elementary school I did is a case in point. He wanted to know if I knew whether a former classmate, a girl named Teresa, had been in my eighth-grade class at our school. He said she had recently passed away and he was compiling information for a remembrance. 

  My guess, based on an event that happened later, was that Teresa most likely had been in my eighth-grade class. The event was a dance at the high school we later attended. My memories of that evening are indelible. It was as if it happened a few blinks ago.

  Teresa was my date for the dance. The reason for guessing that she had been in my eighth grade class was that I was painfully shy around girls then. A girl I would find the courage to ask to a dance would have had to have been someone I’d known for a while and in whose company I felt comfortable, or at least as comfortable a nervous, socially inept 15-year-old could be.

  An added bonus was that Teresa was a sweet girl who would let me down gently if she already had a date. Even so, it took forever to work up the courage to call and ask her. Over and over I  rehearsed what to say when she answered the phone. Time and again I dialed her number, chickened out and hung up. My older sister alternately encouraged me and berated me for inordinate cowardice.

  When the call finally went through and – a miracle – Teresa said she’d love to go to the dance, I almost disintegrated with relief.

  To lessen the chances of long, awkward silences on the big night, my friend Justin and I decided to double date. There was a small logistical problem with this scenario, however. Neither of us had our nighttime driver’s licenses yet. Our fathers, perhaps having been in similar situations in their younger days, agreed to drive us and our dates to the dance and home afterwards. One dad would take the first shift; the other would pick us up after the dance and bring us home.

  Three things still stand out about that night. Awkward dancing, (mostly mine); nervous small talk with Teresa, who couldn’t have been nicer, and the band that played at the dance. It was the first live band Justin and I had ever seen, and we were instantly smitten. Decades later, he’s still playing drums and I’m still playing guitar, and it all started at that dance.

  Every now and then through the years a memory of that night  would surface and I’d wonder, as a person will about friends long unseen, what ever happened to Teresa. We were never an item; the date recalled so vividly was our only date. But I remembered her fondly and was mildly curious to know what became of her. 

  The answer came as something of a bombshell. My response to the man working on her remembrance resulted in an email from him with an attachment containing what he’d put together about her. It was all there – her entire life – in a wafer-sized attachment at the bottom of my computer screen. It took ten minutes to read what was pretty much her whole life story.

  After graduating from our high school, she attended Portland State University for two years and was married two years later.  Two years after that, she and her husband moved to Arizona, where they spent a number of years running a doomed  amusement park.

  That was a surprise. I could have seen her becoming a teacher, a nurse, a doctor … But running an amusement park? 

  The park, according to Wikipedia, was “originally conceived as an Old West theme park in the mold of Disneyland. It “endured a series of closings, bankruptcies and ownership changes throughout the 1960s and 1970s, and was never a significant financial success.”

  Despite financial problems, Wikipedia went on to say, the amusement park “is still remembered fondly and held in high regard by locals who knew and frequented it in its heyday.”

  Teresa and her husband spent six years in Arizona and divorced. She spent 15 years in Oregon and Seattle working for a phone company, remarried and spent the rest of her life in Arizona and Washington. She had a daughter. She had been an honor student, a cheerleader and a prom queen. She played the cello.

  One of the last pictures in the remembrance is of her snow-covered grave, decorated with roses. 

  It was all there in that little  attachment, from her birth in Aptos, Calif. to her grave in Cle Elum, Wash. A life in a few kilobytes.  

  It doesn’t seem all that long ago since the night when we were shy, nervous kids at a dance.

  Life is so fleeting. In a way, that’s its cruelest joke. Time passes so quickly and is so precious. In a way, it’s all we have.

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

Newspaper closures, layoffs hurt all of us

And now it’s McClatchy.

This month’s news that the nation’s second largest news company has filed for bankruptcy was inevitable. McClatchy had been struggling for years and was the latest in a long line of bankruptcies, closures and layoffs that have plagued print publications in recent years. The once highly profitable newspaper industry has become a shadow of its former self.

McClatchy owns The Idaho Statesman, where I spent virtually my entire newspaper career. Gannett, the company that owned The Statesman for most of that time, also has fallen on hard times and recently was forced to merge with another media company. Experts have said the combined company could slash up to $300 million in costs, which could cost a lot of journalists their jobs.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but my fellow journalists and I were lucky to have experienced a golden age of the industry. It didn’t seem like it when we were going through it, of course. The hours were long, the pay modest, the deadlines relentless. We regularly grumbled about “feeding the beast,” newsroom slang for having to fill the space every day.

God knows we didn’t do it for the money. We did it because, among other things, we believed we were helping our communities by reporting things people needed or wanted to know, from the outcome of the big game to things our elected officials and business leaders were doing in our interest, or, more importantly, not in our interest. Nothing else was as important as the watchdog role.

It was a golden era because we had the resources we needed. Newspapers were making lots of money. That those who worked in their newsrooms saw relatively little of the profits mattered less than having what we needed to do the job properly — enough reporters and editors, enough logistical support, enough funding to do what was required.

That changed, of course, with the advent of the Internet. Cheap or free online advertising cut advertising revenue to a fraction of what it had previously been. Layoffs became epidemic. The number of employees at most newspapers is now a minuscule fraction of what it was at peak employment. It’s a credit to those working for them that they’re able to put the papers out at all.

This is vastly different from the days when newspapers not only had the resources they needed to do important stories, but to do stories on a regular basis that weren’t necessarily important but were great reads.

One of my early editors sent me on a two-week train trip around the country. My assignment was to do a story a day. One was about an elderly man in a small town in Arkansas who helped Ernest Hemingway save the manuscript to “A Farewell to Arms” from a fire.

That trip, that story, wouldn’t happen today.

Early in my career there, The Statesman sent another reporter and me to the Soviet Union for two weeks to write about what life was like on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

Those stories wouldn’t happen today.

A photographer and I went to Sicily and Albania to cover Idahoans involved in the Kosovo War. I spent weeks working on a series of stories that led to a corrupt state official going to prison, and the better part of a year reporting on two of Idaho’s Indian tribes. I was fortunate to be able to travel to every county in the state to write stories about the unique characters who helped make Idaho Idaho.

Few of those stories would happen today.

And far fewer newspaper journalists are doing what they do best today. The majority of those I worked with are now jobless or employed outside the industry. Talented reporters, photographers, editors and graphic artists, now working in everything from public relations to retail. A loss not just to themselves, but to the Idaho communities where they live. They were doing important work that made this a better place.

Now they’re doing whatever work they can find, in some cases entry level jobs. It’s happening everywhere. More than 2,000 newspapers, according to the Brookings Institution, have folded in the last 15 years. Cities across the country now have no local newspaper.

Do you LOVE local news? Get Local News Headlines in your inbox daily.

  Yes!  Include special offer & contest announcement emails

You may love your local newspaper; you may hate it. That said, how would your life be different without it? Sure there are other news sources. But for generations, it has been newspapers that have done much of the heavy lifting in reporting everything from national news to local stories about state legislatures, city councils, courts, schools, sports, arts, entertainment …

The plight of the newspaper industry isn’t just sad. It’s ominous. The founding fathers made freedom of the press the first amendment for an excellent reason. We need the free press, especially its watchdogs, to hold those in power accountable.

It’s no accident that one of the things dictators invariably do is smear the press or, worse, control it. They don’t like being watched. With the press discredited or in their pockets, they can get away with more.

I have never known a reporter who has written a fake news story. There are good and bad reporters, but at the very least every reporter I have ever known has made an honest effort to report the news as accurately as possible.

Why is it that almost anywhere you look, from your local paper to the big national papers to the network news programs, you see essentially the same facts reported? It’s because the reporters responsible are doing their level best to report news events accurately. They are rightly insulted by the term “fake news.”

Sadly, there are fewer of those reporters, and will be even fewer still. The thousands of dedicated journalists who have lost their jobs are working now as “spokespersons,” as ride-share drivers, as substitute teachers and stock clerks and waitresses.

We are less informed, our democracy less secure, without them.

The results of my request for readers’ opinions on a state legislator’s plan to make Standard Time year-round in Idaho were mixed. Six more readers said they preferred that to keeping Daylight Savings. Some wanted to keep both, and a few wanted to make Daylight Savings year-round. Seven states have approved legislation to do that, but it requires congressional approval.

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

Steinbeck's Monterey a 'Lifetime' Later

  Some places you remember for life. When I was seven, an uncle took my mother, sister and me to a beach lot he’d recently purchased near Monterey, Calif. There for only a few minutes, I made what must have struck him as a ridiculous request.

  “I know I’m just a kid, Uncle Bill, but please don’t ever sell this place to anybody but me.”

  That’s how beautiful it was. A cliff with a wooden stairway overlooked the blue Pacific and Uncle Bill’s 200 feet of beach. He sold it a few years later for $10,000 and thought he’d made a killing. Today, it would be worth millions.

  We spent several hours in Monterey that day, walking around town and looking at marine life from a glass-bottomed boat. It’s unlikely but possible that we bumped into one of the true-life inspirations for a character in John Steinbeck’s “Cannery Row,” which was set there and would later become one of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors.

  Fast forward a lifetime. It took decades, but I recently returned to Monterey and realized, not for the first time, that few things in life remain the same.

  The Monterey remembered was a relatively quiet place. Monterey Bay at the time of our visit with Uncle Bill was in its fading days as one of the most productive fisheries in the world. The fish were sardines. Fishing boats unloaded tons of them at the foot of a street lined with packing plants. In honor of the book, the street later was named Cannery Row.

  Overfishing and other factors ended Monterey’s run as the sardine capital of the West Coast.  Asked what had become of the once plentiful fish, late Marine biologist Ed “Doc” Ricketts, a town fixture, ruefully observed that “they’re all in cans.”

  Ricketts was Steinbeck’s friend and the inspiration for one of “Cannery Row’s” characters. Monterey in their time was smaller than Kuna. I remember it as a quaint, quiet little town. Now it’s a magnet for tourists. It’s neither quaint nor quiet.

  It’s done a first-rate job, however, of paying homage to its past – particularly to Steinbeck and Ricketts. Banners with their images and quotes from Steinbeck’s writing fly from poles lining the streets. Busts of them seem to be everywhere. Overlooking the harbor is a statue of Steinbeck and characters from the novel. His image and quotes from his writing are ubiquitous. You can’t visit Monterey and not be impressed by its tributes to him. 

  It’s not the Monterey I remembered. It’s changed so much as to be almost unrecognizable.

  But how many towns don’t change?

  The visit recalled one three years ago to another city unseen in many years. In my early twenties, I spent a year in Bremerhaven, Germany, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Those of us the Navy sent there considered ourselves lucky. The Navy was sending almost everyone else to Vietnam.

  It didn’t take long to fall in love with Bremerhaven. Like the Monterey of Steinbeck’s time, it was quaint. Quaint as in spires and turrets, winding, cobblestone streets, picturesque shops. You could buy a bratwurst and French fries for the equivalent of a quarter at vendors’ stands that dotted the downtown sidewalks and wash them down with a bottle of German beer, also a quarter.

  Bremerhaven today is a different place altogether. The train station, formerly graced by a spacious lobby with walls and a ceiling of hand-crafted, age-darkened wood, has been subdivided into small, faceless shops. A few of the cobblestone streets remain, but they’re  outnumbered by paved streets lined with characterless businesses.  

  The quaint downtown with its uniquely German shops has given way to a mall. Trendy stores, designer brands, hardly any shoppers. It was modern, efficient, sterile. Almost everything I remembered and loved about Bremerhaven was gone.

  Closer to home, change has been equally dramatic. Nampa and Caldwell have grown, developed and redeveloped significantly since my days as a Canyon County bureau reporter. Eagle and Meridian, once sleepy farm towns, have become bustling cities.

  And Boise? My father, who died in the 1980s, wouldn’t recognize it. Its downtown has been almost completely made over. The rubble and weedy parking lots he knew from the urban renewal era have given way to glittering new shops and buildings. New developments continue to pop up  everywhere.

  The alternative, of course, is stagnation. Some towns grow and change. Others die on the vine.

  But as we grow and change, we should make an effort to honor what is noteworthy about our state and its cities. Few places have done a better job of that than Monterey with its tributes to Steinbeck.

  Idaho could do a better job of honoring its literary heritage. Idaho authors have won Pulitzer Prizes, the National Book Award, and currently have the number-one fiction and non-fiction books on the New York Times bestseller list. A tasteful tribute to them would be a great addition to our capital city.


  As you know if you follow the legislative news, a bill has been proposed  to make standard time year-round in Idaho. As a lifelong Idahoan, I’m guessing that a majority of Idahoans would be opposed to that because they like Daylight Savings’ long summer evenings for outdoor activities. 

  What’s your preference? Do you favor A) Changing to Standard Time year-round, B) Making Daylight Savings Time year-round, or C) Keeping both Daylight Savings and Standard Time as they are now? Please email your preference to the address below. The results will be in my next column.

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

Noted musician's other passion? Clocks

Suggested headline:  Noted musician’s other passion? Clocks

  When John Hansen was a young man trying to decide what to do with his life, he got a student loan and spent the money on a guitar.

  “I was living in Pocatello then. I registered and started school at Idaho State University and bought a new Martin guitar. I played rock and roll covers in a band and eventually started working for a couple who would go back east and buy antiques. She died, and he was half blind so I started going with him on his trips to buy antiques.”

  Things have a way of working out. Hansen never did finish college, but he  ended up with two livelihoods. Most people know him as John Hansen the musician. He’s been a fixture at local venues forever. He’s recorded half a dozen albums, will have a new one out in the spring and has shared stages with musicians from Belinda Bowler and Rosalie Sorrels to Ramblin’Jack Elliott and John Sebastian.

  The John Hansen most people don’t know about is as different from a performing musician as a race car driver is from a banker.

  He’s a clock repairman and collector.

  “I loved the antique furniture we saw on those buying trips, and clocks fit into that category – with the added bonus that they were mechanical. They kept time; they chimed. That fascinated me, and I started collecting them.”

  Fast forward 50 years. Now 70, Hansen is still collecting. He has wooden clocks, metal clocks, porcelain clocks. He has clocks that are relatively plain and clocks so ornately beautiful and intricate that they qualify as works of art. He has miniature alarm clocks and grandfather clocks eight feet tall. When they all chime together, it’s like being surrounded by cathedrals on a Sunday morning.

  A native of Shelley, in eastern Idaho, Hansen keeps the clocks he likes best and sells others to collectors who prefer different kinds of clocks.

  “There are lots of different types,” he said. “Some collectors only collect China clocks with porcelain cases. There’s a whole series of canine clocks, and collectors who just collect those. There are bracket clocks, crystal regulator clocks, art deco clocks, clocks with wooden movements, Black Forest clocks, French clocks, German clocks, eight-bell clocks … I like swinging-arm clocks.”

  A swinging-arm clock is one with a tall classical figure, often a bronze sculpture of a woman, holding a swinging pendulum with a clock face on its top.

  Beautiful as they are, the value of antique clocks has fallen.

  “The prices of clocks have come down tremendously in recent years,” Hansen said. “Clocks that were $500 or so a few years back would be worth a couple of hundred now. It’s a great time to become a collector if you like them because it’s a buyer’s market.”

  Old clocks, like old cars, need to be repaired now and then. That required skills he didn’t have without going back to school.

  “I’d learned a little bit over the years about how they operated, but not enough to fix them. After running out of people to work on them for me, I decided to take a class and learn how to fix them myself.”

  The class was at the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors’  School of Horology in Columbia, Pa. (Horology is defined as “the art or science of making timepieces or of measuring time.”) Hansen’s original intent was to take the school’s introductory hobby course, but he found the art and science of repairing clocks so interesting that he signed up for the full curriculum – 13 courses over a period of seven months.

  “… It wasn’t hard for me at all. It was fascinating. I had this empty vessel inside of me that needed this information to go into it. It fascinated me to be able to address problems that were always mysterious to me before.”

  That was in 2002. His phone has been ringing ever since.

  “As soon as I came back, I had people bringing me clocks. Guys in the NAWCC’s local chapter recommended me to people. Then jewelry stores found me, and I started getting referrals from people who fix watches but not clocks. Other repairmen sent clocks they didn’t want to work on, and several repairmen retired. I’ve been busy ever since I finished school. I haven’t caught up yet.”

  We were sitting in the front room of his Boise home, talking clocks, when a customer knocked on the door. His name was Pete Darr. Darr had come to pick up a 90-year old clock Hansen had repaired.

  “John’s the only one around who knows how to fix old clocks,” Darr said. “There are other people who say they do, but that’s B.S.”

  Repairs vary from cleanings to replacing parts to making alterations.

  “If the bushings are worn, you have to take the clock apart and drill out the hole that it was in because it’s become egg-shaped instead of round. But then the hole is too big so you have to use a little brass bushing and …”

  This seemed an opportune time to tell him that my Navy mechanical aptitude score was so low that the recruiter didn’t want me anywhere near a ship, and that I understood about ten percent of what Hansen was telling me. He laughed and agreeably changed the subject to mistakes people commonly make with clocks.

  “People clean them with WD-40 without knowing it’s the worst thing you can do to a clock. WD-40 isn’t a lubricant; it’s a water displacer. It dries out, collects dust and hardens. When it dries with the dust it’s collected, it’s like cement.”

  “… Another misconception is that you can overwind a clock. You can’t. There’s no such thing as overwinding a clock. They’re meant to be wound all the way. If it’s wound all the way and it’s not running, there’s something wrong with it.”

  How much winding depends on the type of clock. Some clocks are meant to be wound once a day, others once a week, once a month or even once a year.

  I asked the musician/clock repairman which he prefers, fixing clocks or playing music.

   “Playing music is more fun than fixing clocks. Repairing clocks can be frustrating and tedious. But it’s really rewarding when you get something to work that hasn’t. They both have their satisfactions.”

  That said, he adds that technology has changed both, not always for the better. Streaming has changed the music business, often to the detriment of those who make the music, and the digital revolution has lessened the need for traditional clocks.

  “Analog clocks have really become kind of unnecessary. You just look at your phone to know what time it is. And there’s no such thing as, say, quarter to four any more. It’s 3:45.”

  True. The correct time is ubiquitous in the digital world. It’s convenient, but does it also mean that something once treasured is being lost?

  “Yes,” the man enchanted by clocks replied. “The beautiful sounds, for one thing. In the digital age, what you get is an electronic alarm or a horrible-sounding, computer-generated chime. With clocks there’s a plethora of different chimes. We’re losing that, and we’re losing the beauty of the clocks themselves.” 

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

Dear Reader: Why You Haven't Heard From Me

Tim Woodward

It’s an understatement to say that I am not a tech-savvy guy.

Part of this has to do with being born in the wrong generation. My kids and grandkids, who grew up with computers and the Internet, do intuitively what has me screaming at the device of the moment. I threw my smartphone across a street once. It landed in tall grass and wasn’t damaged, though part of me wished it had been.

Another part of it has to do with having the wrong kind of brain. I’m right-brained. Right-brained people tend to be creative and artistic, as opposed to left-brained people, who are better at things like math, science and mechanics. My wife is left-brained. She had to stop me once from pouring water into the part of the coffee pot where the coffee is supposed to go.

The IT people where I worked as a full-time journalist hated to see me coming. They had more important things to do than fix problems that didn’t seem to happen to anyone else — and are still happening. I’ll be typing, press a key a little too hard and a new and baffling window opens up. When I asked a tech about it, he looked at me as if I had frogs growing out of my ears.

The latest issue involves my hotmail account, the one readers use to email me with comments or questions. Its address appears at the bottom of my columns. For reasons I’m about to explain, a new one appears there as of today.

I enjoy hearing from readers and try to answer every email. It would be rude not to answer them.

That brings us to the problem, which is not entirely hotmail’s fault. It’s my fault, or at least it was in the beginning. An unusually long time had passed during which I hadn’t checked the hotmail account. Long enough that I couldn’t remember its password.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem. Resetting a password is easy, right? It takes seconds. Anyone can do it.

Unless it’s a hotmail password.

The first step in resetting a hotmail password is a request from Microsoft to verify your identification. Reasonable enough, except that the email address Microsoft wanted me to use is history. The alternative was to call or send a text — using a number I didn’t recognize and to the best of my memory had never seen before.

The third option was to enter a current email address. Microsoft would then send me a security code. It also asked me to type an eight-digit alphanumerical code, which seemed a bit obsessive. This was a simple request for a new password, not the codes for a nuclear launch.

The security code arrived promptly. From there it should have been a simple matter of entering it, creating a new password and getting on with the business of answering readers’ emails.

Wrong. The next hoops to jump through were providing my first and last names, my birthdate, the country where the email account was created, the state where it was created and the zip code.

Then came a request for passwords previously used, which was beyond annoying considering that the whole reason for doing this was that I’d forgotten the password.

A few days and some vigorous cursing later, I remembered the old password, entered it — and was asked to identify Microsoft products previously used!

They had to be kidding. All this to reset a password?

Next, Microsoft wanted the names of any of its products I’d purchased. That was followed by a request for email addresses of people recently contacted and — I am not making this up — the subject lines of my emails to them.

Most of the people recently contacted were readers, contacted only once. Remembering their addresses weeks later — let alone subject lines — would have been like remembering the phone numbers of childhood friends. The exceptions were a woman named Gayle, who had sent enough emails that I remembered her address, and a man named James P. Morden.

James lives in the Philippine Islands. Don’t ask me how he came to be reading columns on my blog there, but he did and started writing to me. We’ve exchanged dozens of emails and gotten to know each other reasonably well, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember his address. It had been weeks since I’d written him. Poor James probably thinks I’m mad at him, dead or have fallen off the planet.

Entering Gayle’s address and James’s name brought an email saying Microsoft would let me know whether the information supplied would be sufficient. This could take up to 24 hours.

You can imagine my relief when an email arrived saying that my request had been approved, clearing the way to create a new password.

Except that the new password didn’t work.

Repeating the process twice more didn’t work, either. The result in both cases was an email saying the information provided wasn’t enough.

Knowing my propensity for cyber blunders, one of my tech-savvy daughters gave it a shot.

Same result.

“I don’t believe it!” she said. “What else do they want? A blood sample?”

All this is a long way of saying, to paraphrase Chief Joseph, that from where the sun now stands I am done with hotmail forever. My new gmail address is shown below.

If you’ve emailed me and haven’t gotten a response, at least now you know why.

And if anybody out there has an email address for James P. Morden in the Philippine Islands, I’d love to hear from you.

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

My New Year's Wish? Stop the Robocalls

 My wishes for the New Year are pretty basic. Good health, the well being of family and friends, the usual stuff.

  And one unusual wish. Wouldn’t it be a great New Year’s gift for all of us if Congress passed the Robocall Bill this year?

  The Robocall Bill would allow telephone carriers to block calls with pre-recorded messages. As you know if you’ve gotten them (and who hasn’t?),  the relentless barrage of unwanted calls is beyond annoying.

   My wife and I estimate that roughly three of every four times our phone rings, it’s a call from a scam artist who thinks he or she has a perfect right to interrupt our lives. They call every day, often at the worst possible times. There’s no end to it: 

  “Hi, this is Nancy, your patient advocate. We have tried to reach you numerous times about braces that would alleviate your pain.”

  Granted, I do have a few aches and pains now and then. But how did Nancy know about them? And braces? What kind of braces did she have in mind?

  “Mostly I get headaches, Nancy. Would braces help those? Would they go around my head?”

  Nancy wasn’t listening.

  “… If we do not hear from you, you will lose your eligibility.”

  “Fine, Nancy. I’ll tell you where you can put those braces.”

   I could say that because “Nancy” was a computerized, pre-recorded  Nancy. The only place she would have put them was in her database.

  Calls from “specialists” are big these days.

  “Hello, this is Maya, and I’m a vacation specialist.”

  “Hello, this is Brooklyn, and I’m a travel specialist. Do you need help with your upcoming trip?”

  I was tempted to tell Brooklyn she could drive me to the airport for an early flight, but, like Nancy and Maya, she was just a recording. 

  “Hello, my name is Hanna, and I’m a hearing specialist calling on a recorded line. Now … can you hear me okay?”

  Hanna had a friendly, engaging voice, the sort of voice that makes you want to have a conversation with her. And she was a hearing specialist, so it made perfect sense that she’d ask if I could hear her okay. The catch is that the only thing she wants – and that any of the so-called specialists want – is for you to say yes.  It’s their reason for existence.

  Do not fall for this! They’ll use the recording of you saying yes to claim that you agreed to let them bill you for their hearing aids, timeshare, libido enhancers or whatever else it is that they’re selling. 

  I’m embarrassed to say I once made the mistake of saying yes to a caller who said a virus had infected my computer and he needed my permission to access it. It would be nice to blame the mistake on my befuddlement with his nearly incomprehensible accent, but the real culprit was my own gullibility. Luckily, my credit card denied his fee of several hundred dollars to fix the non-existent problem.

  One of the more novel calls is from an organization billing itself as the Hope and Prayers Ministry.

  “If you need an urgent prayer, press one.”

   If they call again, I’ll ask for an urgent prayer asking that Congress passes the Robocall Bill.

  A woman who identified herself as Kathleen from Microsoft called to say my IP address had been compromised in several countries and unless I pressed nine to change it my computer would explode.

  Kathleen didn’t really say that, or at least not all of it. I made up the exploding part. But she sounded sinister and threatening, as if at the very least she might come to my house and body-slam me.

  The telemarketers have a virtual armada of these recorded voices – Kathleen, Brooklyn, Maya, Roy, Janis, Brandi, Connor, Hanna, Robert, Naomi … And though they might be calling from Los Angeles, Chicago or some other distant city, the Caller ID on our phones displays a local area code. There should be a law against that, too.

  The variety of approaches they use would be impressive if they weren’t so infuriating: 

  “This is a Visa-Mastercard representative calling to congratulate you on your excellent payment history. You now qualify for an interest-free offer. Press nine to speak to someone in our qualifications department.”

  A call allegedly from East Glacier National Park claimed that a new life insurance benefit is now available in Idaho.

  “To see if you qualify, press one.”

  Another call warned that it was “the last courtesy call we will give you. To talk to a representative, press one. To talk to a shyster, press two. To skip the small talk and immediately send us a large amount of money, enter your credit card number.”

  Okay, I made up most of that one, too. One company, however, did ask for my credit card number. It wanted to charge me a monthly fee that would allow me to see my health-care providers and have the company pay what my insurance wouldn’t. The company seemed to be legitimate so I checked its website. Not one of my providers was in its network.

  For tips on how to avoid these sorts of calls, I spoke with Dale Dixon of Better Business Bureau Northwest and Pacific.

  The easiest way to protect yourself, he said, is not to answer the phone if it’s a number you don’t recognize. If you answer and hear silence, hang up. Don’t press one, nine or any other number. That confirms that you’re a real person and you’ll get even more calls. 

  “And never return a call out of curiosity,” Dixon said. “Scammers use call spoofing that makes it looks like it’s a local call just a digit or two off of your own. If you’re curious and call back, you confirm in their database that you’re a real person and they turn around and sell your number.

  “…You can ask your carrier about anti-scam tools that it provides. And there are settings on smartphones that will help. I have one that sends calls from anyone not in my callers list straight to voicemail.”

  Or, maybe we’ll get lucky. Maybe Congress will pass the Robocall Bill this year and we won’t have to worry about this anymore.

  That would be kind of sad for the likes of Kathleen, Brooklyn and Maya, though. They’d have to find another line of work.

  Picking pockets, perhaps. 

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