KENT WARD

‘Just see the ball and hit it’

Posted Feb. 10, 2012, at 3:18 p.m.

When asked where they find their inspiration, newspaper columnists rarely care to expound on the matter, believing that the genesis of ideas — like the making of meatloaf down at the local greasy spoon diner — is a mystery probably better left unexplored.

“The last thing I want to be smart about is where my ideas come from. People don’t ask [syndicated columnist] George Will where his bow tie comes from. It is just there when he needs it,” explains humorist Roy Blount Jr. in his book “Now, Where Were We?” published by Villard Books. “It was not my idea, in the first place, to be the kind of person to whom ideas come. Some people get eczema. I get ideas.”

He then launches into a long and convoluted story about finding himself seated next to a beautiful French woman on an airplane flight. In striving to represent America as a good ambassador, he gets overly animated in his conversation with the lady and spills his drink on himself. Three times.

So much for American savoir-faire.

When he attempts to apologize, the woman turns her back to him “as squarely as an elegant back can be turned in such close quarters.” She is now committing her attention to some loser across the aisle who is munching on a candy bar dipped in a soft drink.

Crestfallen, Blount recalls a conversation he had overheard earlier in the Atlanta airport, one guy saying to his pal, “The way she ignored me, you’d think I was a tree stump.” The line inspires him to contemplate the makings of a sad poetic lament about the French beauty, fate, unrequited love and opportunities missed. Back at work, when he sits down to write, the resulting column practically composes itself.

“So there you go. Now, when people ask me where I get my ideas, I cite that example, and soon they change the subject,” he explains.

Blount claims to feel about writing the way a struggling designated hitter in baseball once told him he felt about batting: “I think too much at the plate. I ought to be just stupid up there.” When it comes to cranking out columns his mantra is “Just see the ball and hit it.” Good advice to writers it is, although often easier said than done.

When there is no elegant lady at hand to ignore a columnist as though he were a tree stump, thereby providing fodder for a column, he must work with what he has. In the northern climes, that can be something as commonplace and unsexy as ice.

Here in the winters of the Real Maine in recent years, ice has become a major irritant for the natives. Ice on the driveway. Ice on the car. Ice on the shrubbery and sidewalks. And most aggravating of all, ice buildup on the roofs of buildings.

There has been no shortage of bold ideas from sidewalk superintendents for solving the problem. Forget the hatchet and the chainsaw, one might counsel over coffee at the local gossip shop — all you need for the job is a pry bar, industrial-strength ice pick and a roll of official State of Maine duct tape.

An ice pick is OK if the aim is to ventilate your attic, another advises. But to eliminate a major ice buildup one must attack with ice auger and a good supply of boiling water. Plus the wife’s hair dryer as backup, and maybe a prayer to the Almighty. And on it goes.

Having heard my fair share of hare-brained schemes for the removal of ice in all the wrong places, I’d have to say that the most original way to “git ’er done” was described by a hometown character known for his laid-back outlook on life.

For eliminating ice buildup on the shed roof, the man once assured me, nothing beats a high-horsepower garden tiller. Been using one for years to do the job, he claimed, and “it works slicker than hell.”

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door, we have been promised. I believe my late friend went to his grave having discovered the better mousetrap of all down-home do-it-yourself ice-removal projects, and I pass his recommendation on to readers as a possible solution to their rooftop ice jam woes.

No need to thank me until you get the contractor’s estimate for the new roof job.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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