Sunday, December 25, 2011


I think way too much effort is spent on being politically correct when it comes to wishing somebody a happy (fill in the blank with the holiday of your choice) when the end of December comes.

Are we afraid of offending someone, or afraid of being offended ourselves?

I celebrate Christmas -- always have, and, I assume, always will. I wish people a "Merry Christmas" this time of year. I remember the anniversary of the birth of my savior Jesus Christ and it's only coincidence that the holiday is also known for Christmas cookies.

That doesn't mean I'm forcing anyone to actually HAVE a merry Christmas if they don't want one. They can still enjoy their own Hanukkah or Kwanzaa if they celebrate those holidays instead. Heck, they can even have a miserable Christmas if they would prefer not to have a merry one.

I am just trying to share the celebratory spirit of my own holiday. I wouldn't take offense if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, or even Happy Boxing Day. I'd like it even better if the boss gave me all of those holidays off, but that's not likely to happen.

So if you celebrate a holiday other than the one I am, feel free to share your own greeting of happiness with me. I'll wish you a Merry Christmas right back. Isn't sharing what it's all about this time of year, regardless of what holiday you are celebrating?

Have a happy one, whatever you choose to observe! That's what the holidays -- and America -- are all about.

Friday, October 7, 2011


I've got to readjust my sleeping schedule.

Once again, I set the clock radio to go off at 6:30 a.m. so I could get up for work, figuring listening to the local radio station was a lot more pleasant way to wake up than the shock of that dreaded buzzer.

Maybe not. First thing I hear is the news -- and it certainly isn't good news. This guy's dead; this child is kidnapped; the economy is in the toilet and they are marching on Wall Street. What happened to a little motivational good news that might prompt me to feel good about life and actually make me want to rise from my slumbers?

Instead, I just pulled the pillow over my head as I dreaded getting up and facing the day.

As both a feature writer and an editor, I am always looking for some good news to write about or place on the page to offset the bad. Laying out pages in the newspaper, I look for fun stories to balance out the grief ... but sometimes I can go through the entire AP wire without coming up with anything. I know it's like any good novel and conflict makes for an exciting story, but come on, people. There must be something good happening out there.

Maybe I should plan getting up so it's not on the half-hour and right at news time, or maybe it's time to put that old clock radio back on the buzzer setting.

It can't be any more harsh than the news.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

New Year's Resolutions Fail!

Now that the three-quarters point of the year has passed, I am evaluating my New Year's resolutions and realizing that I really haven't done a good job of fulfilling my obligations to whatever New Year's fairies oversee that stuff. But I did get the most important one accomplished -- getting Gabby off to college. Even though I had to go back a week later to bring her home for a funeral. I think it was a good learning experience for her, especially when she arranged the train ride back to save me from the three-and-a-half hour return ride to Niagara University.

I'm sure I'm in good company among people who make promises to better themselves at the beginning of the year, but then fail miserably. Let's skip right over the weight loss thing and examine the "more positive outlook in the workplace" resolution -- with only a couple of slips and one major blowout, that might be my second closest-to-accomplished resolution. I think the "Attitude Adjustment Seminars" (aka wing nights) with my co-worker buddies have helped that one. Sipping a beer and eating wings with the boss makes for a happy work environment when we get back to the office, I think. I prescribe that for anyone feeling the workplace blues.

Well, I suppose I still have three months left to lose my age in pounds by my next birthday, and it's only a pound every other day. And if not, there's always another New Year's Eve right around the corner to make new (or remake the same old) New Year's resolutions ...

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I just got home from my annual visit to the incredible -- and this year newly-revitalized -- Madison-Bouckville Antique Week here in Central New York. After spending several hours pouring over the displays featuring just about everything I've ever owned, the question paramount on my mind is: If these things are now antiques, does that make me one too?

The second thought that keeps coming to mind is how rich would I be now if I had never opened these items and could now sell them all for the asking prices they have them tagged?

(The Madison-Bouckville Antique Week festivities is about more than just shopping for bargains on old stuff -- you can also eat your way along Route 20) 

A trip to this antique capitol of the world is a blast into the past for me. I love looking at and reminiscing over all of those old toys I had as a kid, although the prices they are now asking for them blow me away. Even those old plastic cereal freebies that we had for a day before losing interest in them and then tossing them out are now big bucks. I did save some of my old toys for my own kids, and still cringe at the thought of the day we had my vintage Planet of the Apes treehouse set up on the living room floor when Gabby as a toddler fell and wiped the thing out. That's probably why the stuff is so pricey now -- we never appreciated the investment value of our toys back in the 60's and 70's like they do today. So we usually trashed the stuff.

(Get your stinking paws off my Planet of the Apes toy collection!)

Tallying up the prices I saw today marked on that Planet of the Apes collection comes to somewhere around $500. Playing with it as a child back in the 70's and then again with my kids in the 90's -- and maybe even another generation soon to come, since I managed to salvage the treehouse thanks to some glue and a couple of dowels -- is worth well more than that to me. So when the grandkids are old enough, I'm sure we'll get it out again. Hopefully they will be able to appreciate it.

I certainly would never think of selling the beloved apes ... we have many more years left to play with it! And that's worth a heck of a lot more than any $500.

People from out of town might not know how close we came to not having an antique event this year, nor just how great it was that so many people came together to keep it going. The organizers of the main weekend show bowed out after last summer's event and the field was sold, leaving the hometown dealers who count on it to bring them buyers wondering what they would do. But local merchants John Mansino and Jim Dutcher stepped up to the plate and hit a home run by organizing the Madison-Bouckville Promotions group of antique dealers and restaurants to keep this going. My hat's off to all of you for keeping the crowds coming to Route 20, and for keeping my trips of nostalgia alive!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Tonight I was supposed to be hosting another enjoyable Sherrill Summer Concert, welcoming a couple hundred area residents out for some fun and sun and the music of the Easy Money Big Band at the Reilly-Mumford Memorial Park gazebo.

Instead, I met with a couple hundred area residents at that same gazebo to pick up candles for our memorial walk to the home of Lauren Belius, the six-year-old murdered by her mom's live-in boyfriend a couple blocks away this morning. The youngster was killed in front of her two siblings, including her twin sister.

Today could be the day the world officially went to hell for me.

What could possibly possess a grown man to stab a child to death? And how was it that this monster was welcomed into their home?

The possibility that nobody saw this coming boggles my mind. Are we to think the mom never had an inkling of the danger this evil creature posed to her children?

As a divorced dad of three daughters who has since dated women with daughters of their own, I have seen that there has always been the utmost scrutiny on both the actions of my ex-wife's new husband towards my girls, and on myself as well from the ex's in my girlfriends' lives. And rightly so. In fact, I welcomed it -- it showed that people cared about my kids and I always felt that took precedent over covering up for me if it seemed I might injure a child.

So how does something like this just happen out of the blue?

They say there's a lot more to the story that will come out in the future. I'm not sure I want to know any more. All I know is the is a new angel in Heaven and a monster off the streets of Sherrill.

Sadly, it happened a few hours too late.

RIP Lauren Belius. You go to a far better place than the one you left today.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Holding my first grandchild Olivia for the first time yesterday was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences ever. It has been more than 16 years since my youngest daughter was born so it's been a while since I've had a newborn in the immediate family, but it feels a lot different this time. I think it is the passage of those years and all the experiences in between that cause that feeling; after two decades of raising three daughters I feel much more insightful now about what it means to have a new baby in my life.

The big thing that impresses me the most about this new life is the total blank slate she is born with. Here is a baby that has every opportunity open to her in the world; there have been no doors closed or bridges burned in her life. There is an absolute purity to Olivia -- she has never done anything wrong nor caused anyone any pain (OK --maybe her mom Amanda might argue that one).

What do babies dream about? We watch her sleeping and know something is going on in there because of her facial expressions -- both happy and sad, and some downright disgusted -- but what is she thinking about?

I have never seen a baby so alert at not even a day old. I have her on video checking out her surroundings, when she actually turns to look when the doctor enters the room. What kind of a shock must that be after some nine months in a womb to be able to look around and hear unmuffled sounds?

--check back for more to come --

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Since we just placed three separate Osama bin Laden stories on three pages of tomorrow's paper, the questions raised by the writers of those articles are heavy on my mind.

Number one is President Obama's announcement that they would not release a photo of bin Laden with a bullet through his head. For a change, I agree with the commander-in-chief -- do we really need to see that gruesome depiction of the violent death of a terrorist? I don't think so. It's always been my experience that a morbid rubbernecking interest in seeing something gross results in a feeling of regret afterwards when I realize I didn't really want to see it to begin with. And then it becomes all I can think about and scarred in my mind. So I for one don't need to see any picture of a dead bin Laden. I trust the president when he said bin Laden's dead.

Number two is the whole celebratory atmosphere in the festivities going on as people revel in his demise. I understand this to a certain level -- here is a heinous killer responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. But aren't we stooping to his level by dancing in the streets chanting? Isn't that what the terrorists and their supporters did the day the World Trade Center fell? It's a relief that he is off the face of the earth, even as we tread lightly in the apprehension of a possible retaliation, but I don't think an out-and-out party is called for any time a human being, no matter how evil, meets his or her death.

Number three is the likelihood that bin Laden was unarmed when the SEALs killed him. So what? He has proven his danger to humankind and Americans in particular. I don't care if he was cuddled up in bed wearing bunny slippers and wrapped in a blanket watching cartoons; he deserved to die. And if I ever find out who the SEALs were I would shake all of their hands. (If any of you heroes stumble upon this blog I just have to say thanks and job well done!)

Number four is the folks who say bin Laden is not really dead, and the whole thing is just a ploy by President Obama to earn ratings points with the American public. Are you serious? Stop and think of what a gamble that would be. Sure, right away that big victory would -- and has -- given him a renewed shine in the political arena. But take a step beyond the moment to consider what would happen when it was revealed bin Laden is still alive? That rating would nose-dive in the opposite direction. Love him or hate him, President Obama is way too smart to take a chance like that, especially with so many people just champing at the bit for him to fail. No way would he take that risk.

Of course, this is all just my humble opinion and I'm sure not everyone will agree with me ... so feel free to respond with your own thoughts.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Taking my high school senior daughter Gabrielle on visits to college campuses brings me back to my own college days.

Whenever we take these tours, certain stops along the way take me on a flashback to my four-year tenure at St. Bonaventure University from 1982 to 1986. Visiting their campus libraries reminds me of my work study job at the Friedsam Library front desk (I defy anyone to have ever had a better work study job!) Their bookstores take me back to the days of shopping for the best bargains in textbooks and rarely finding anything I would consider a "bargain." Seeing their dorm rooms beams me back to our own "Sickbay," manned by three nerdy Star Trek (The Original Series, since it was the only one they had back then) fanatics who watched the 1 a.m. repeats from our triple bunk beds every night.

The campus media was a great experience, and in many ways more strict than the real world soon to come. Over the years I wrote stories and drew pictures for the newsletter for incoming freshmen, the yearbook, the newspaper, the alumni magazine and the poetry publication -- plus a work study position my freshman year as managing editor of something called the Biblical Theology Bulletin that I barely remember at this point other than that the title looked good on my resume.

The newspaper was probably my biggest claim to fame, as the editors were renowned for their harsh rewriting of our work. I remember when I finally got to the status where they would run my stories unchanged -- I really thought I made something of myself then! And when our advising communications professor had a story he wanted covered, he told the editor to assign it to me. That was quite a pat on the back ... maybe not as cool as getting paid, but rewarding never the less.

Seeing today's students' modern computers brings a chuckle as I think about the antics we employed as some of the earliest "hackers" on our own stone age-yet-state-of-the-art-for-the-mid-1980s machines. Nothing malicious, mind you ... just in good fun, like the time we sent a non-ending spooled greeting to our buddy that flashed over and over on every screen in his computer science room during his class. It's a good thing my kids don't read my blog because I always tell them I didn't do anything but study in college.

Of course, the most important part of college is broadening your social skills. When it came to meeting the ladies, there wasn't anybody on campus with a better vantage point than myself manning at the library front desk. That's because I had that magic button  that could instantly lock the exit turnstile so I could play security guard and check backpacks for possible stolen books. And then prod for a name and number. I also had control of the PA system, so it wasn't unusual for Seymour Butz to get paged to the front desk for a phone call. And we really did have a Mike Hunt in our class, so we often had fun at his expense.

It was a lot of good times, some not-so-good times, a lot of work and a little fun now and then when I could sneak it into my busy schedule.

And the college visits will continue as I get to do it all again with my youngest daughter, high school junior Samantha. I would have thought it would get easier as time goes on, but it actually seems the other way around ... it's harder as I get closer to that empty nest day. But I see other people living through it, so I know I will too, even if the girls refuse to let me go to college with them.

I think it would be fun, except for the going to classes and taking tests and writing papers parts. I'm getting too old for that stuff.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Now that we are nearly to the half-way point of the year, let's take a look at how those New Year's resolutions I made for 2011 are doing.

Hmmm ... not so good.

There really wasn't too much out of the norm on my resolutions list for 2011. Basically they were all the same old resolutions I've broken every other year, just with a new, although short-lived, commitment at the start of 2011 to actually persevere and accomplish them this time around.

Luckily, there are still seven months left before the year is over. Still plenty of time to lose my age in pounds by my next birthday (I'd be there already if I was a few decades younger, but hey, at least I haven't gained any weight this year. It was a trying winter). I can still work on cleaning out more of the clutter from the bachelor cave. I can still try to keep a more positive attitude in the workplace.

It seems like there were a few more, but I guess those already have me overburdened with striving for personal improvement.

Stay tuned as the year winds down to see if I can reinvigorate myself to stick with my goals for 2011 ...

Friday, April 8, 2011


I was feeling pretty old the other day.

As I was checking Facebook to keep up on the antics of my FB friends (some would call it stalking; I call it staying informed), I saw the birthday announcement of one of my beloved coworkers, a peer and a friend who has both motivated me and inspired me in our time working together.

Then I noticed the announcement included her age ... and it was half of my own. So as I'm feeling like the old man at the office, at the same time I started thinking about the things she, as well as the rest of the mostly younger crew I work with, have missed out on.

Way back in the day -- we're talking 1983 for anyone keeping score -- I started working at a newspaper so different from the one we have today that we might as well have carved our stories on stone tablets. I submitted freelance stories to the Oneida Daily Dispatch while attending college, and back in those days we had no computer word processing apparatus, no Internet, no digital photography, no electricity (just kidding there, folks). For the young people of today who take this for granted, I say to appreciate what you have because it hasn't always been there! I've been through those dark ages and we didn't know what we were missing.

I often chuckle when I click either "cut" or "paste" as I write and edit. Back in my formative days, we actually had to cut using an Exacto knife and paste using, well, paste. There wasn't any of this clicking a magic button to accomplish the chore like we do now. I always love highlighting a headline or paragraph and clicking a force-fit key or commanding the type size leading to shrink, because we used to have to actually calculate the exact length of a headline by multiplying the number of characters by their sizes and write it to fit that amount of space. And letters aren't all the same size, so that always was a trick.

Our classes at St. Bonaventure University circa the early to mid 1980s offered the cutting edge of technological opportunity back then ... knowledge that right now has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the methods of today. But I suppose there is no such thing as a worthless experience (at least that's what I tell my daughters as they prepare for their own college careers) because that training was invaluable at the time, and did set the ground work for the never-ending learning that continues. Heck, I just finished editing pages for tomorrow's paper, and I still learned new techniques tonight.

It seems like every time I learn something new, it's outdated shortly thereafter. It's like a new car that depreciates as soon as you drive it off the lot. I've gone from the manual typewriter and typesetting with leaden letter pieces to computer-generated pages; from rolls of black and white film that held maybe 24 to 36 pictures to a digital camera that can hold darn near 4,000 color photos and even videos. Who would have thought when I was a kid filming those silly 8 millimeter home movies that today I could shoot a news or music video, post it on the paper's website, and have it potentially seen by people all over the world. And that does happen ... because I can track where they are being seen and it's incredible to find all the foreign lands listed as audience sources.

I thought I was quite the modern writer when I started this Internet blog, but then we started Tweeting shortly afterwards. Even before that cooled down, we started texting breaking news. The newspaper's website is now the first place to look for the news, and the actual newsprint edition is second. Every time I learn something new, it seems days later I have to learn something else newer -- but the educational opportunities the new technologies offer is also something I don't take for granted. Don't tell my bosses, but there are a lot of people paying good money taking classes to learn the stuff they teach me here for free. Plus they pay me!

Of course, as I marvel at the technological advances of today, I have to wonder what my kids will see when they are out in the working world in a few more years. How long will it be before they look back on the wonders of modern science we use today as old fashioned machinery of times gone by?

Saturday, March 12, 2011


DISCLAIMER: All references to this being a horrible experience and the worst work day ever were written and spoken before the tsunami in Japan last week. I guess now in retrospect my day wasn't really so bad after all ...

It always seemed like every time we heard about the local schools closing for a snow day, we always wondered when we would have a snow day off from work.

As they say, be careful what you wish for, because it's never as much fun as the fantasy.

On March 7, 2011, that day actually came to pass at Kime's Home Center in Oneida Castle, N.Y., where I work as the assistant manager. I knew it was going to be a snowy day so I went in early to get the parking lot plowed out before any of my fellow employees or our customers arrived, but the scene that waited for me at the store seemed unreal.

Beyond a towering six-foot wall of plow-dropped snow, the parking lot was a huge mass of white stuff that rose up past my knees as I tried to get through to the plow truck in the lumber yard. That truck didn't make it far. The heavy weight of the snow -- some two feet fell overnight, and the drifts in places topped three feet deep -- overwhelmed the poor truck and it quickly got stuck just short feet outside the building.

Meanwhile, the plows cascaded the streets and I knew I had to find a safe haven for my own car, so I walked back through the frozen tundra and drove to the nearby grocery store parking lot to find a place to park it for the day. The car already stuck in the entrance to that parking lot told me to try again elsewhere. The shopping plaza across the way wasn't any better; I drove in and could see nothing but a huge glare of white through the windshield. It wasn't long before I felt that sickening sensation of the wheels getting bogged down and stopping. I had driven directly into a three-foot snow drift.

The silver lining to this snow cloud is a kindly shopping center employee named Chris who came over to lend a hand, noting he himself had been stuck in the lot since midnight. So then I decided the safest place to park was back home in my own driveway, so I drove back there, left off the car, and hiked the 2.2 miles through the snowy roads back to the store. I stopped on the way to check on the parents and then to help a family get unstuck from their own driveway, kind of passing on the good will Chris showed me. It turned out to be a good call, because after they were out of their snow jam, they told me the were on their way to a funeral that morning.

It wasn't long after getting back to the store that the telephone started ringing, and I started taking orders for curbside delivery. I had shoveled a path through the snow, officially measured at 22.5 inches by the local weather plotters with the drifts even higher, a snowfall they said we hadn't seen in one storm in 17 years. There wasn't any other service available since nobody could get in the parking lot! I just hope nobody continues to expect that ... and apologies to the truck driver who showed up intending to make a delivery. There wasn't any way our fork lift tow motor was getting through that!

Yeah, that roof rake I sold the lady might just have saved her house that day, making the whole adventure worth while!

Sunday, February 27, 2011


I just realized I never completed this two-parter, leaving all of my faithful blog readers hanging impatiently awaiting the word on how my un-Valentine's Day outing went.

In case you've forgotten, I organized a night out for some fellow V.D. orphans since I'm really not in the position to entertain a more serious relationship right now. We planned a grand time at an area V.D. dinner party, and as usual I was going to do a story on it and call it work, but then Old Man Winter came along with an ice storm and curtailed our plans.

So I sat home and watched a video on the computer. Yeah, I know ... I should have made up a better story. Like many of my evenings, fact doesn't often match the fun of fiction.

Stay tuned as I expect to actually get out and around in the spring! And then the adventures will really start anew...  

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


My meeting with young Michael Muessig of Madison, N.Y. and his family was a tide of conflicting emotions -- while it was a time of real joy and excitement, it was also an event overshadowed by a cloud of tragedy.  

Jan. 23, 2011 was a festive occasion at the Oneida N.Y. Walmart, on a par with maybe only the annual Black Friday furor. No, it totally beat out the excitement of that pre-Christmas shopping day, because how often do you walk in on a red carpet with cheerleaders at the door and a band playing just inside the entrance?

Not to mention several hundred old and new friends there to greet you?

That was the scene as 11-year-old cancer patient Michael arrived in a limousine for his Make-A-Wish Foundation sponsored shopping spree.

Asked what he wanted for his wish from the Foundation, Michael decided on a spree of $1,000 to spend at the store. When he arrived, however, he found that original wish had multiplied several times over.

(Michael Muessig, 11, shops the Oneida Walmart in Jan. 23 in his custom-decorated electric shopping cart.)

That expected $1,000 spree quickly escalated to more than $4,000, as Walmart personnel presented funds they raised on their own, plus folks from Michael's school added in their own donation well-wishes.

(Walmart store manager Steve Stanton counts out gift cards for Michael before he starts his shopping spree.)

There might not have been any happier kid on the planet during the few hours he rode around the store in his custom-decorated electric shopping cart, wearing his brand new Colgate University hockey jersey and hat. That attire came in handy, as he was surprised in the electronics department by a visit from the hockey team members themselves.

The players gave him hugs and encouragement, and left everyone around them feeling their genuine compassion for the youngster.

(Members of the Colgate University hockey team join Michael in making his wish come true.)

Surrounded by family and helpers from the store, Michael cruised around filling his cart and several others behind him as he checked off items from his list. The excitement was infectious; for a short time, the hundreds of supporters surrounding him with their love made his grim prognosis momentarily not quite so important.

(Walmart staffers took the time from their store duties to assist Michael in his shopping, showing him to all the items on his list.)

The reality of Michael's condition soon came back with a vengeance, however, and this morning, less than a month since his Walmart visit, the Madison Central School 6th-grader passed away. He leaves behind his parents Dana and David and his three siblings Damien, 10, Ethan, 8, and Alyssa, 5.

(Top photo: Michael with mom Dana; bottom: Michael with dad David, brothers Damien and Ethan, and sister Alyssa.) 

The spirit shown in the youngster that afternoon should be a lesson to everyone. He never let his illness get in the way of his Walmart fun. Michael rode that cart with pride, enjoying every minute and not thinking about the few weeks he might have left. So, too, did all of those people around him empathize with the festivities. They didn't dwell on his condition -- they put that aside for the moment to share with him the adventure of living his wish-come-true. 

If there was ever a message to live for the day, then that was the one delivered by Michael Muessig that afternoon at Walmart. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Ah, it's almost Valentine's Day -- time for flower buying and card sending and candy gifting.

None of which I will be doing this year.

Is it because I refuse to buy into the corporate mentality surrounding the holiday as perpetrated by the Money Man, in just another commercial attempt to make me empty my wallet? That's something I can do easily enough without the M-Man's help.

Or maybe it's just that I'm single, and have been for some time now, so I don't have a recipient for any of that aforementioned boondoggle giving. Well, I always say if I was a woman I wouldn't date me. It could be because I'm really not all that good at sustaining relationships (yes, I can admit it!) and I have the divorce papers and lawyer and child support bills to prove it. What the heck -- if I was a woman I wouldn't marry me, either, so I certainly don't blame my ex. Plus her new hubby is pretty cool.

But I look around at these people getting all upset about not having a loved one on Valentine's Day and that's what I find really sad. I say, turn the event into some "me" time. Take that cash you might have put towards an expensive night on the town and blow it on something just for yourself. Even better, you can do what I'm doing ... find some other Valentine's Day orphans and get together for a night out.

Thanks to the social outreach of Facebook, I put out the invite to all my FB friends to join me, and actually got a few women and even a guy to respond (and I shudder to think of whom I have the most in common with out of those friends ... Roy, I love you too but just not in that particular way). Plans are coming together for a fun Monday night out with my buddies, including my buddy-recently-promoted-to-my-boss, so stay tuned.

I could be the making of a Valentine's Day evening to remember, just without any hanky panky. If I was a woman I wouldn't ... uh, never mind.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I was just checking my blog stats, where it records how many people hit my site, where they come from, and what keywords they are searching for that direct them to Hot Scoops.

In sincere empathy, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to all of the horndogs who are sent to my review of the Barenaked Ladies concert at Turning Stone Casino last month when they type in their search for "naked ladies." I'm sure nothing I have to say here is as exciting as a little full-frontal exhibition, so feel free to move along -- I won't take offense.