To Comma or Not to Comma?

Let’s talk commas. Yep, those little squiggles cause headaches for all writers. “When should I use one? When don’t I need one?” Writers almost lose their sanity when trying to figure out the answers. Here are a few rules that can be helpful.


1. A comma goes after all but the last item in a series of three or more. Some folks say leaving out the comma between the last two items and before the conjunction (and, or) is permissible. I’ve always instructed students to include it for consistency’s sake.

EX: Most teens enjoy movies, computers, cell phones, and video games.


2. NEVER put a comma before the word “because” when it comes in the middle of a sentence and begins a dependent clause.

EX: He was late because a terrible wreck blocked the road.


3. If a sentence begins with the word “because,” put a comma at the end of the words that go with it.

      EX: Because a terrible wreck blocked the road, he was late.


4. If a sentence calls someone’s name to tell him or her something, set that name off. The same rule applies for beginning a sentence with “yes,” “no,” “well,” and other such words.

       EX: Jim, bring your sleeping bag for the camping trip.

       EX: The problem with your solution, Mary, is that it ignores several economic factors.

       EX: Yes, the manager is in and will see you now.


I’ll add more comma rules later. These need to soak in first.

The last rule that I can give you is, “WHEN IN DOUBT, LEAVE IT OUT!” Omitting a

comma is never as bad as putting in one in the wrong place.


Cousin Charlie has always been a smart “feller.” He mixes an eye for the truth with a keen sense of humor. Here’s an example:

            My problem is I would rather sit out on my deck an listen to birds, specially the mockin birds, crickets, and watch the young rabbits play in the field out front. I even have a hoot owl that hoots some nights. Is there a support group, therapist or anything that can help me git back to sittin in my cliner watchin 4 to 5 hours of all this FINE programin on t.v. that i'm missin out on ever night?

            See what I mean? Charlie’s comments on Facebook sparked memories and imagination and hit the nail on the head as far how best to spend evening time.

            When we were kids, our mothers shooed us out of the house any day that wasn’t wet, snowy, or dangerously frigid. Kids in the neighborhood got together for games of softball, baseball, football, and basketball. No, we didn’t have fields or courts for those games. Instead, we marked the bases with a shrub or bare spot in the grass. Boys shot hoops on homemade backboards nailed to a tree or post. That meant we sometimes had to adjust shots to account for leaning goals or gusts of winds.

            Summer always drove people outside after supper. Heat from the stove made the house insufferable, and only a handful of homes had air conditioning. The rest of us had opened windows and box fans. Adults would sit outside either on the porch or in the yard. Children played tag or chased fireflies until adults rose from their adirondack chairs and herdes the kids inside for bed or baths.

            We all held on to the outside into late fall and began again in early spring. Yes, some of us wore coats or wrapped up in blankets in order to get outside. The confines of the house smothered us.

            Television programming was somewhat better a generation ago, I think. Of course, back then TV was still a relatively new thing and didn’t compete with DVD’s and the Internet. Our choices came from three networks and, on occasion, public television. As much as people longed for the entertainment that television offered, the fact that stations shut off at nights squashed it.

            Today, most people hole-up in their homes as soon as they arrive.  Adults are exhausted from a day’s work that includes lost time in traffic jams and ever-tightening corporate budgets that threaten individual employment. They enter the house and shut out the world.

            Kids have too many distractions. Who needs baseball, football, or basketball games with other children when they can play “imaginary” games against the best college and pro teams on their X-Boxes and Play Stations? When interest in those wane, young people can then turn to their social media over the computer or smart phones. Instantly, they hang out with friends without out ever leaving the house.

            Television has “gone to hell in a hand basket.” A few quality shows are aired over the hundreds of stations, but for the most part, programs concentrate on self-centered participants in unrealistic situations. “Jersey Shores,”  “Big Brother,” and “Bachelorette” are just a few of the asinine shows that stations offer. News stations are biased toward one side or another so much that the “truth” is hard to find. Even the once reliable station A and E includes “Storage Wars” and “Dog, The Bounty Hunter” in its schedule.

            It’s time that folks walked out of the house and turned off the television, computer, or any other device. That time spent talking, playing, or just listening is therapeutic. Young and old can take a deep breath and enjoy the natural things of this world. It might just make the things offered inside the house pale in contrast.

Tom Broberg Is Right

After posting a column on Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his Vice-President candidate, I received some expected emails and feedback. One, in particular, was valuable to me.

            Thanks go to my friend Tom Broberg. He has been a faithful reader of my blog since its inception. Now, Tom is a conservative, and more importantly, he’s a small business owner and has had ventures in publications and off-road vehicle merchandise. I respect him as someone who has plenty of guts and business savvy.

            After the Romney post, Tom plainly told me my blog was getting BORING. He correctly stated that I had inserted too much politics. You know what? He is 100% correct.

            For some inexplicable reason, I’m fascinated with politics. While I lean toward a more liberal viewpoint, I do see some merit in some points that conservative folks make. Listening to the debates, I am sucked into the fray and end up giving my opinion. It’s not a smart thing to do.

            Some of my involvement comes from my age. Folks in my generation follow in the footsteps of their parents and their parents before them. In too many cases, people become stodgy old farts. Tom’s evaluation brought to mind the fact that I’m a carping, less-than-pleasant person to be around when I dive into the political arena.

            I know better than to get in such debates. During my teaching career, I was warned to avoid discussions on politics, religion, and war. I didn’t listen then, and sometimes I found myself in some uncomfortable situations.

            I appreciate Tom Broberg’s honesty about my recent postings. I see my mistake and plan to return to writing about topics other than politics. The rest of you who might read The Common Is Spectacular are more than welcome to make comments on posts. Sometimes they are the things that set me back on the right road.

Romney Clone

Oh Boy! Mitt Romney chose a running mate…Paul Ryan. With a closer look at the guy, it’s not hard to understand why Romney chose him for the campaign.

            Born in 1970’s, he grew up in Wisconsin, earned a BA in Economics from Miami University-Ohio, and worked in the private sector for a brief time. By the mid-90’s he’d turned to politics for a living. Since that time, Ryan has focused on politics in one way or another. Like too many of our so-called “leaders” of both parties, he’s eaten from the government trough instead of from the private sector table all his life. In 1998 he won election to the House of Representatives at the age of 28, and since then, he’s never left.

            The man is known for his alternative to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and his own Roadmap for America’s Future Act. The alternative would have lowered the top tax rate to 25%, begun an 8.5% value-added consumption tax, and replaced Medicare benefits for persons born after 1975. His 2010 revision of the plan reduced income tax rates, eliminated taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest. It also abolished corporate, estate, and alternative minimum taxes. Social Security would have been privatized. According to columnist Paul Krugman, this plan would RAISE taxes for 95% of the population and lead to a $4 trillion loss of revenue over a ten-year period.

            Maybe it’s just me, but Paul Ryan seems to be the perfect companion for Mitt Romney. He also believes in maintaining every advantage for the richest in our country while slashing benefits and help for the rest of us. If only 5% are going to gain from Ryan’s plan, it’s obvious that the rich will get richer and the middle class will pay the bill.

            Reductions in Medicare and privatization of Social Security are other moves that cut off the feet of middle class Americans. We already have enough people in this country who each day must make a decision to eat or take medicine. Social Security is in a mess because too many times Congress has raided that fund to finance other programs and boondoggles. Besides, allowing individuals to invest current SS contributions in other financial programs is inviting disaster. The reason people have money in Social Security is because it’s taken before they can touch it. Too many people won’t save, and then our country will contend with millions who are retired with no means of income at all.

            Ryan has served as one of the Republican obstructionist in Congress who seems intent on grid locking this country to prevent a Democratic president from succeeding. Yes, the Democrats have their own grid lockers as well, but none of them happens to be running on a presidential ticket.

            Yes, Paul Ryan is an appropriate choice for Romney. He shares the same views on the economy. Ryan also wants to give all the money to the rich so that they can let it trickle down on the rest of us. Personally, I’m tired of being trickled on by the rich, or as some call them, the “job creators.” Still, Ryan is the ideal running mate. He even looks like the man who has chosen him, hair and all. Paul Ryan, he’s a real Romney clone.

Knoxville Icons--One Good, One Not So Good

I received an email recently that brought memories from my childhood flooding back. The individual who sent the message asked if I were kin to Red Rector, known for his skills as a mandolin player. In my reply, I told him that although we weren’t related, I attended college with Red’s daughter Anita and had grown up watching the man on “Cas Walker’s Farm and Home Hour Show.”
            Anyone who grew up in Knoxville in the fifties and sixties knew who Cas Walker was. He owned a chain of grocery stores that competed for the top spot in the area with White Stores. Cas ran commercials that, quite frankly, in today’s world would be considered politically incorrect. The most glaring example was the “Thump’n Good” commercial, aired with black child diving into a piece of watermelon. 
            Cas had a unique way of selling products on that show. He’d have a table lined with these specials and a sign indicating the price beside each one. Then Cas would use his middle finger as a pointer and tell the audience about each one. I always thought it funny that the man “shot a bird” at the television watchers and cringed when I saw the first joints of his fingers bent with arthritis.
            The show served as a place for a variety of things. He used the time as a platform. On one particular occasion, Cas talked about parking lot safety. He indicated that his employees had set up a plan to find people who were stealing in the store or grabbing pocketbooks in the parking lot. According to Cas, “security forces were going to jump on thieves, whoop the hell out of ‘em, and swear that you jumped on them.” In that two minute and fifteen second clip, he tells would-be thieves to come and jump him because “[he] isn’t afraid of any of them bastards.”
            The “ol coon hunter” also used his show as a place to air his political persuasions. The man never held back and frequently called those who opposed him scoundrels, no-goods, and a plethora of other derogatory names. Cas held the distinction as being the only mayor in Knoxville to be recalled after his 1946 election, but he was once again elected as a member of city council. Some of his most scathing attacks came when the city and county governments considered consolidation. Cas carped into microphones across the Knox County and Knoxville as he told viewing audiences the evils of such a merger.
            Not all was bad. Cas Walker aided many musicians’ careers. He is widely identified as the person who gave Dolly Parton and the Everly Brothers their starts as they appeared on his program. Others who made appearances included Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Bill Monroe, and Jim Nabors.
            Of course, the regular musicians that appeared on the program were stars in this part of the country. Bud Brewster was there, along with Red and Fred, and Honey Wilds. Red Rector was a studio musician blending in with the band. In years to follow, his fame spread, and he journeyed across the country and to other countries performing on his mandolin.
            No, I wasn’t kin to Red Rector, but I first met the man across a glass screen as he picked his mandolin with the other boys on the Cas Walker program. Cas did much for Knoxville, both positive and negative. He managed to rule politically for years and to sell groceries about which horrible stories concerning quality have been told. Still, he introduced Red to me, even if the musician wasn’t kin to me. I can still hear Red and the other boys in the band singing,
When you get the morning paper when it hits the street,
Cas Walker’s prices just can’t be beat.
Buy that Blue Band Coffee and you’ll want some more,
Do your grocery shopping at a Cas Walker Store.