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Opinion & Columns

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Progress Report

Have you ever thought about the march of progress? For many millennia, our ancestors lived much the same way. You could die, be brought back to life 10,000 years later, and discover nothing had changed. Food was still wormy and rancid, tools were still made of rocks, folks still walked everywhere, and the Cubs were still losing. Then, a rapid series of developments dramatically increased the rate of human progress: the domestication of animals; the forging of metals; the shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture; the emergence of written language, eventually followed by the printing press, which permitted the dissemination of ideas, which inevitably led to the computer chip, which culminated in our generation’s greatest invention, the battery-powered pepper-grinder.

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Close Shave

One of my first writing gigs was a magazine column called “Perspicacity.” Nobody, including me, knew what this meant, although the dictionary defines “perspicacious” as having acute mental vision or discernment. My job was to apply such selectivity as it related to new stores, i.e., discover them and tantalize readers with a sparkling yet reliable description. I don’t know if I came to love shopping because of the column or loved the column because of shopping, but since 1979 I’ve enjoyed the quest.

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Extreme Prejudice

I recently turned 51 and spent some time on my birthday thinking about the habits I’ve cultivated over the years that have enhanced my life. Probably the most useful habit has been developing a heroic list of prejudices. I’ve made up my mind about a lot of things and am not likely to change it in the 24.1 years the government tells me I have left. These prejudices have been formed after much experience, save me time and trouble, and have been proven right time and again.

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Gone Tomorrow

I miss the phone book. A lot. I realize this makes me sound like Andy Rooney, who proclaimed everything was better the way it used to be, but I am who I am. Old—not Andy Rooney old, at the time of his death, but up there. Set in my ways. Resistant to change. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept two phone books—the white and yellow pages—in my bottom desk drawer, the one deep enough to accommodate the weight without rolling off its hinges.

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January 2012

I have not been to my favorite restaurant in, oh, 20 years or so. Too long, I know. Just haven’t been in that part of Virginia. But I remember the eatery as vividly as anything else from the early 1990s.

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Furry Tale

Last summer, when family troubles landed me down in the dumps, I decided I should have a little joy in my life. I got an urge, not unlike the longing a woman gets when it’s time for another child: that stirring deep inside that is at first un-recognizable but slowly gels into actual thought, and, finally, action. I wanted—no, needed—another cat to take the place of my beloved Scooter, who died, cancer-ridden, deaf, and blind, at the age of 21.

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Attention, Subjects

Every now and then, I think how better off America would be if we had a dictator instead of a president. I realize the nations of the world are shedding their dictators right and left, but a first-class dictator can work wonders for a country, cutting through the red tape, deporting annoying people, and eliminating the mess and expense of regular elections.

Annual Report, Indianapolis Monthly, December 2011
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Annual Report

Thirty years ago, Lady Di married Prince Charles, Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were born, and gas cost $1.25 a gallon. That same year, Dallas was the top TV show, President Reagan fired 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, and somebody introduced the term “Internet.”

Back Home Again, Indianapolis Monthly, December 2011
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The Red Menace

It is difficult to be objective about someone you’ve known all your life, but allow me to relate, in as dispassionate a manner as possible, my well-founded suspicions of Santa Claus. From the photographic evidence available, it appears we first met when I was 5 years old. The encounter took place on the square of my hometown, in front of the Danville State Bank, in early December of 1966. Though he introduced himself as Santa Claus from the North Pole, I would later learn his real name was Vernon McClure, and that when he was not engaged in identity theft, he operated the town’s dime store. Deception is not the basis for a positive relationship, so Santa and I were off on the wrong foot from the get-go. I would soon discover  that Mr. McClure falsified his identity in order to generate business for his dime store, a violation of the public trust from which I have still not recovered.

Wrong Turn, Indianapolis Monthly, November 2011
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Wrong Turn

On March 9, 1922, the writer E.B. White, unemployed and with few prospects, packed a Model T Ford and drove across America, reaching Seattle in mid-September. He stuck mainly to roads, except in the prairie states where roads were not yet built; there he took to the open fields. He did this before any reliable system of support—gas stations, hotels, restaurants, and road signs—had been established. Twenty-nine years later, Holiday magazine asked White to make the drive again, writing essays about America along the way. He made it as far as Galeton, Pennsylvania, before turning back, disenchanted and missing his wife. Holiday went to Plan B, which was John Steinbeck, who took the trip in 1960 with his poodle and wrote Travels with Charley.

Tall Order, Indianapolis Monthly, November 2011
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Tall Order

Dear Governor Daniels,

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No End in Sight

This past spring, a radio evangelist named Harold Camping proclaimed that the world would end on May 21, 2011. No one got too worked up about it except for a handful of his followers who, as the date neared, quit their jobs, sold all of their earthly belongings, and waited for God to carry them to Heaven, which God didn’t do. There were many reasons to be skeptical of Harold Camping’s prognostication, chief among them the unlikelihood that God would use a radio evangelist to send the message. It didn’t help that Harold Camping had erroneously predicted the Rapture on two previous occasions.

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Pride and Prejudice

Back in 1981, I wrote a cover story for this magazine entitled “Indy’s Inferiority Complex.” I believe the editor stole the idea from another Midwestern city, and by that I mean Columbus, Ohio, a place that allegedly suffered from the malady. My task was to conjure up reasons why we here in the Circle City thought we sucked.

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The Old College Try

When I taught first grade—before the Earth cooled, in 1969—I instructed 90 6-year-olds to read and write, add and subtract. Along the way, they also learned to cut with scissors and refrain from bonking each other on the head with their science books. In return, I learned to buckle boots, make tissue-paper flowers,  and achieve some sort of primordial order on the playground.

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In the Doghouse

Not long ago, I was speaking with a local sage, who in the course of our conversation said, “It takes a lifetime of work and wisdom to build a good life, but only one decision, hastily made, to undo it.” While I can’t recall every activity and decision that contributed to my good life, I do remember the precise moment and event that precipitated my fall—Sunday, Aug. 8, 1999, at 1 p.m., when I purchased a devious rat terrier of dubious origin.

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