It happens from time to time, and it happened again the other day.
I was sitting in a booth at a restaurant, and, out of the corner of my eye, I could see someone at another table staring at me. Sometimes, it isn’t even a matter of seeing it. You can feel it.
A moment or two later, the woman got up and came over to my table. “Excuse me,” she said, “but are you Silly Me?”
I laughed and told her I was. We exchanged pleasantries and then she went on her way. I’m not even sure she knew my real name.
I have had times when I have been walking down the street and, as a car drove by, the driver rolled down his window, waved, and shouted, “Hey, Silly Me.”
When I worked at the Globe fulltime, I once received a letter addressed to Silly Me, Mason City, Iowa, with no street address on it, and the post office delivered it to me.
A bank teller has a coffee cup on her counter with a “Silly Me’ inscription on it, one of about 200 cups distributed throughout North Iowa when the Globe promoted my 40th year in newspaper work more than a decade ago.
So, yes, I plead guilty to being Silly Me and I am humbled by any kind of recognition, but I hope people pay more attention to the message than the messenger. That has been the only intent since Silly Me emerged nearly 20 years ago.
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SillyMe means Common Sense – if we don’t have it, let’s get it. It is a concept rather than a person. It began in the spring of 2002 when the federal government changed its requirements for the amount of radium allowed in drinking water. It lowered the maximum amount by a fraction of a percentage point – but that tiny adjustment put Mason City’s water system above the allowable level.
I’m oversimplying this but basically, the radium was connected to the amount of hardness in the water and all of that was connected to age of the city’s water pipes. After much study, city officials determined the best way to fix the problem was to build a whole new water system to the tune of about $20 million.
It occurred to me that there had to be a cheaper fix. If hardness in the water was the problem, what could be done about it? I called the city and learned we have about 11,100 water customers. Then I called the local Culligan outlet and asked what kind of a deal they could give me on 11,100 water softeners. I don’t remember the estimate they gave me – but it wasn’t $20 million. I wrote a column about it in March 2002 that began with two words: Silly me.
Since that time, Silly Me has looked at a wide variety of issues, including:
- The hypocrisy of selling beer at the Band Festival – an event that is supposed to be saluting youths;
- The scrambling around by officials in many cities to try to allow the shooting off of fireworks in their towns – resulting in a hodge-podge of ordinances without any uniformity.
- The apparent “bait and switch” of the Mason City Council when it switched developers on the River City Renaissance Project after voters had been led to believe another developer would be approved. Since that time, that other developer is once again negotiating to get the job.
- The episode 15 years ago when a man hired to find a new city administrator got so disgusted with the City Council that he refused to continue unless the council agreed to take a class on governing that he would teach. The council agreed.
- The saga several years ago in which it took the council seven months to decide what color to paint a new water tower.
There has never been a shortage of things to write about – and that brings me back to my original point.
It’s the message not the messenger that counts.