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The Oxford Comma (and other pertinent affairs of the heart)

The Oxford Comma (and other pertinent affairs of the heart)

By Bill Stork, DVM

Throughout history journalists like Edgar R. Murrow, and in my time Walter Cronkite, were cultural icons. I had very little understanding of what was going on, but would not sit down to supper until Mr. Cronkite had summarized the chaos in Vietnam and signed off the CBS evening news "…and that’s the way it is.”

When he gave his final sign-off in 1981, I was 16. The void is as deep and wide as the final episode of Charlie’s Angels. I expect neither will ever be filled.

Some might say it is skill, or a lack thereof. I prefer to believe it is the full-time practice of veterinary medicine, baling hay, and a stout sense of small town community that has kept our journalistic renown confined to Jefferson and eastern Dane Counties, Wisconsin.

So compared to Murrow, Cronkite, and Koppel, I expect only a regionally adjusted measure of despair in announcing: there is a distinct possibility that this could be our final installment in the Lake Mills Leader, the Cambridge News, and the Deerfield Independent.

This announcement could be a bit premature, but there is a void to be filled. To portend to fill that void begs a bit of moxy.  In my defense, any semblance of bravado is evidence-based. The first printing of In Herriot’s Shadow sold in less than three months; I am choosing to gloss-over the fact that Don Grant, Scott Clewis, and my dad were responsible for nearly half. In addition, I ran into Dr. Clark’s father at her wedding. He’s read a few stories and “liked them quite a bit, hey”.

You may ask, “Why would you quit now?”

Before he was a stay-at-home father charged with the responsibility of delivering the family 2.9lb Pomeranian to the groomer for his first blueberry facial (which he prays daily will never surface at a service reunion or the Legion), Dennis Griffee was a highly decorated soldier and true American hero. His military future was sealed when he was a young boy. He watched small children surround his father in his uniform at liberation celebrations while growing up in Europe. Patrick Tillman was an all-pro safety for the Arizona Cardinals. After watching the twin towers fall in September 2001, he turned down millions of dollars in the NFL, to serve his country as an Army Ranger.

Unlike the men mentioned above, I do not to put my life on the line. Therefore, I stand quietly in their shadows. However, I am prepared for treachery.

Much like Griffee and Tillman, I’ve been: Called To Duty.

In a front page article of the Wall Street Journal on Friday October 2nd, Georgia Wells reported that, after personal hygiene, the second most important criterion in assessing a potential mate at on-line dating sites is proper spelling and grammar.

I choose to believe her article to some extent, because it brings me comfort. Long before Mittsy broke out the electronic red pen and patched up my 5th grade grammar, I had assumed my empty Inbox at eHarmony was solely as a result of my hairstyle. After several spirited exchanges about music, family, and bike riding, a trip to the altar seemed inevitable with “Snuggle Bug” from Cottage Grove. Then, I sent a picture.

My spirits were crushed in one sentence, “I was hoping for someone with hair”.

According to Ms. Wells, there coulda been more to it.

Subscribers to Match.com and OkCupid are besieged with profiles and responses written in text-talk, fraught with run-on sentences and spelling errors. According to the WSJ survey, 88% of women and 75% of men find proper sentence structure more important than good teeth. We all have our standards, but I became suspicious the grammar police were attempting to make their case by cherry-picking the data. If a man has a set of hands like a stone mason or biceps like Vin Diesel, and if a woman bears any resemblance to Scarlett Johansson in a sundress, then doubly identifying the subject of a sentence or using an improperly possessive preposition is not gonna leave them at home with a bowl of popcorn and Netflix next Saturday night.

As we have come to expect, I digress.

We are not here to dispute the validity of the Wall Street Journal. Whether algorithmically assisted or across the counter at the Kwik Trip, when it comes to affairs of the heart, there are countless variables.  We asses body fat, bench press, bowling scores, and dentition, but according to Ms. Wells, if we don’t know the difference between their, they’re, and there, then we could be resigned to the onerous “table for 1”. A travesty of epic proportions.

That is where I hope to apply the collective resources of Blue Collar Dollar Publishing. BCD publishing consists of Mittsy and me (contrary to what the IRS may believe). This being one of my more spontaneous wild hairs, she knows nothing of this venture. We can only hope she agrees, because without her we’re helpless. As I alluded earlier, I’ve written well over 100,000 words in the last 5 years, yet I would be terrified to take a 7th grade grammar test.

On the other hand, if I have a strength, it was eloquently illustrated in the construction vernacular by my dad: “Well son, if you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance, you can baffle ‘em with bullshit.” (“Creative non-fiction” per Barnes and Noble.)

As one of his 1500lb pet Herefords introduced me to the wall of his pole barn, Dave Messmer asked if I was going to be taking time off to write a novel. He had interpreted the previous week’s article in the Lake Mills Leader as a farewell. I withdrew from his cow, pronouncing her 6 months bred, and summarized the findings of the Wall Street Journal article, and my intent to try and help.

“Once we roll this thing out,” I borrowed a term I heard at a business meeting, “I expect the demand to be overwhelming.”

He shared my urgency, “Well, good luck man, I know guys who couldn’t write their own name but would do more for a perfect stranger without asking, than others might for their best friend on bended knee.”

It is those very men, Dave, who lend us purpose.

If I could apply the energy spent constructing the stories and images from In Herriot’s Shadow, and if Mittsy agrees to correct them, then we could ghost-write profiles. If just one blue-collar, solo Romeo who “just can’t quite put the right words together” could find “that special someone” to share a deer stand with, our purpose would be served.

Statement of intent: We are not above employing artistic license, but I’m in no hurry to get my Oak trees tee-peed by a disgruntled client. We may embellish to the point that a lonely-hearted client may be motivated to toss the empty Kwik Trip wrappers from his floorboards, iron his shirt, and scrape his Red Wings in order to get lined up with our propaganda. But we will not make a second string high-school quarterback into Tom Brady, or a past president of Rotary, Knighted by the Queen.

I would ask that you kindly hold your inquiries. We should wait for Mittsy to agree. Then we’ll have to practice. You see these women (and men) who are deleting the profiles of our hard-working brethren are doing so based on a letter designation from A+ to an F, after being filtered through a program called The Grade.

That’s right, there’s an App for that.

Then again, I reckon they’re doin’ us a favor.

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