Around here, the in-box is always an adventure


One thing I can say about my readers: they’re not shy about writing me concerning something I’ve opinionated over in this column.

A few weeks back, for example, a frustrated John, from Hazlet, asked me where I get the ideas for my columns. I should point out that John has suggested several ideas for columns over the years, which I haven’t used, because they were sort of boring. But since he seems a decent fellow, who’s a regular reader and can’t figure out why I’d write about misplaced turkey giblets (my idea) instead of noisy but endangered pond frogs (his idea), I suppose he deserves an answer.

I’ve never written about the process involved in this kind of writing before, but here goes: desperation is a great motivator.

It’s not as easy as you’d think to come up with material every week you hope some people will read. Some weeks, it’s a no-brainer and there are issues you just have to write about if you want to retain your columnist’s license. John Merla and all those Operation Bid Rig politicians were good for several weeks of columnizing.

Some weeks, there’s an issue that grabs my interest, like credit cards, overdraft fees, distracted drivers or miserable customer service.

Some weeks, I just try something I hope will make somebody smile. There’s enough rotten stuff in the world these days that it can’t hurt to lighten up once in a while.

But some weeks, I’ve got no idea what I’m going to write about until it’s two days past deadline and I’m staring at a blank computer screen. Let me tell you: for a writer that’s the definition of desperation. That’s why I write little Post-it notes about things that might make interesting tidbits in lean times and stick them all over the house.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, I had four separate notes with one of these phrases on each: Lee Ho Fook, Punch Dub, Sarah Palin, Tiger Woods/sex rehab. Luckily, I was able to remember why I’d written the notes at clinch time, and the result was the column that appeared the week of Feb. 24. I also had a note with the phrase “Shoot, Luke! The woods are fulla pigeons!,” but I have no idea what it meant.

When it comes back to me, you’ll read about it here, but I suspect it might have been that I always wanted to use the punch line to that old joke in a column. No, I can’t remember the joke.

• • •

A few weeks ago, I included a trivia quiz in my column. After noting that one of the men’s short-track racers from Korea was named Lee Ho-Suk, I said his name sounded very like a character in a Warren Zevon song (Lee Ho Fook). I asked what the song was. Lots of you responded and got it right.

Audrey, from Upper Freehold, was one of those. She said, “My husband and I have been singing that song every time Lee Ho-Suk skates — nice to know we’re not the only demented ones who made that esoteric connection. Enjoyed your article. Now, we’re gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein. Ah Oooooh!”

For those of you who don’t know, the Zevon song from the trivia question is “Werewolves of London,” and the verse goes, “I saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand/ Walking through the streets of Soho in the rain/ He was looking for a place called Lee Ho- Fook’s/ Gonna get a big dish of beef chow mein/ Ah Ooooooh! Werewolves of London!”

That there’s some po’try, chillun!

Zevon, one of the greatest songwriters of my generation, died in 2003, after giving us such memorable masterpieces as “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.” Gosh, I miss him.

• • •

Last week, I wrote about the federal regulation of those greedy bank overdraft fees, and used as illustration a young man who had been charged $175 in fees on overdrafts totaling

$31.66. Readers had lots of their own horror stories. Paul’s was a bona fide puckerstopple. After an automatic payment left him 3 cents overdrawn, he said his eyeballs nearly popped out when he saw the size of the bank fee for that overdraft. It was $80! And as he said, “That’s like a million when you’re out of work as I am.”

Is it any wonder the government finally had to step in?

Not everyone agreed with me, however. Bill, from Marlboro, said, “Obviously, you are an individual that (sic) thinks one should not be held accountable for one’s own ignorance and stupidity. Instead of wasting you (sic) sympathy on the young man with the non working (no hyphen) computer (no comma) maybe he would have been better served by your (awk) showing him how to keep track of his balance with a pencil and paper.

A couple of things, Bill. First, if the young man of my acquaintance ever finds himself in need of a nag (and not a very nice one at that), I’ll be sure to put him in touch with you. Second, when you’re accusing other people of ignorance and stupidity, make sure you’re using the King’s English accurately. Grammar and punctuation count! Screwing up a snarky accusation like that is like misspelling intelligent.

• • •

From the Department of Small Town Life: I live in East Brunswick, but I visit the little community of Milltown almost every day (watching out for the speed traps). And the thing about doing your business in a small town is that it’s hard to keep certain secrets. I see my jeweler at the post office, my pharmacist at the grocery store, my plumber at the gas station and my doctor eating non-heart-healthy food (hot dogs) at the football game.

And yesterday, I saw the wife of my dentist at the pharmacy, with several boxes of marshmallow Peeps in her cart, those candies you only see at Easter time.

I noted wryly that I hadn’t eaten a Peep in years, on account of all that sugar being bad for my teeth, and she immediately started making bogus explanations about why she had to buy them, even though she didn’t want to. I didn’t believe any of her stories, though. She was just flat busted. And she didn’t even offer me a Peep.

Gregory Bean is the former executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at