A Farewell To Mark

With mixed feelings I say goodbye to my first writing home, in the same week my column appears for the first time in Kendallville Mall. I’m going from a weekly to a monthly, but otherwise you’ll get pretty much the same stuff in the new “Slightly Off The Mark” … like it or not.


When I started this column I was a green, snot-nosed kid, which was probably just allergies. Maybe a virus. Today I take medicine and always have Kleenex nearby, so I think I’m a better person, or at least more hygienic.
            Today it’s twenty-three years later, and this is my last humor column in the New Era, Churubusco News, and Northwest News. It’s the end of what was once a—ahem—new era, and I’m poorer for it.
            I’m also grateful that the papers’ new owners have allowed me this chance to say farewell to you, the readers, the people who shared my ride of child-rearing, home maintenance, misbehaving pets, and exploding lawn mowers. This has been my best job ever, and if I’d had a choice I’d probably have gone on doing it until they pried my cold fingers from the keyboard.
            This is my love letter to you, the readers, and a thank you to the crews of the three newspapers that made me feel wanted all those years. Love letter is just an expression, by the way, so don’t expect chocolate … or jewelry. Definitely not jewelry.
            I sent articles to the New Era for a quarter of a century, everything from accident reports to features to movie reviews. In February, 1991, they began printing my humor column, and later it also appeared in the Churubusco News and Northwest News. Back then I had more hair, less weight, and no gray.
Let me grab a calculator … taking into consideration the occasional reprints and my poor math skills, we published over 50 columns a year. That’s 1,150 columns, each up to 1,000 words long, although they were getting shorter. That’s one million, one hundred fifty thousand words.
            My last novel clocked in at around 60,000 words. So I wrote 19 books worth of “Slightly Off The Mark” … 14 of them good books. Including the five actual books I’ve written, that’s more words than J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Myer combined. Not that I’d combine them.
            That doesn’t include over two dozen columns that remain unpublished. Paranoid of missing a deadline, I wrote two or three new columns whenever a vacation approached. I’d write even more as winter neared, fearing I’d fall into a cold weather funk and lose my comic edge. Some would say that effort didn’t help.
            While I look for writing opportunities elsewhere, I’m also putting those unused columns together into a book, which you could say is my present to the readers, along with that love letter. Except you’d have to pay for it … it’s a paid present. It’s like getting something from the government for “free”. Here’s one last book plug, then: those unused columns will be the nucleus of a book entitled, yes, “Slightly Off The Mark”. You’ll be updated on that at my blog of the helpfully same name, and at my www.markrhunter.com website.
            Meanwhile, I’ll still be around. I’m still an Albionite, and love this area, and I’m not going anywhere pending a retirement somewhere south. Unless I get hired by Hawaii Today as their resident beach reporter, of course. It would be tragic, but a guy’s gotta write.
            Meanwhile, it’s easy to forget that the Albion New Era has been around since—wait for it—1872. Yeah. The Churubusco News and Northwest News also predate my connection with them. Small town newspapers are the backbone of the people, people. Okay, actually backbones are the backbone of the people, but newspapers are the backbone of a community, right up there with schools, volunteers, and the gossip grapevine.
            What I’m saying is that these newspapers have changed before, they’re changing now, and they’ll change again sometime in the future. My column was part of the great circle of newsprint, fertilized with ink, and the analogy pretty much falls apart there … but in its absence I hope you’ll continue to support your local newspaper (and buy my books, cause, you know—always be closing).
            Who knows? Maybe, like that guy in Halloween, I’ll pop up again when you least expect it. I mean, in a less scary way. I’m still doing press stuff for various organizations, after all.
            Take care, good luck, and farewell. As for me, I’ll do just fine. After all, as I said at the end of my very first column, in 1991:
            “Well, why not? I just made a whole column out of columns, didn’t I?”

Introducing my new old column

            Emily’s working hard to get the “Slightly Off The Mark” book ready to go before Christmas, but meanwhile … there’s my new job to announce.
            My weekly humor column, orphaned after being dropped from its former newspapers, will now appear monthly in the Kendallville Mall. A go-to place for local ads and coupons, Kendallville Mall is also changing its direction, to feature local and Midwest writers in a kind of monthly feature setup. There’s a good possibility I’ll also be part of Julie Scher’s growing efforts in the area of internet video and social media services.
            In other words, someday sooner than you think, you might be watching my column. Imagine the possibilities! I leave it to Julie to give you more information on that as it develops, but meanwhile the Kendallville Mall’s Facebook Page is here:
            Check there to get lots more information about what they do, and watch for me in your mailboxes (which isn’t creepy at all), or at places such as the box outside Albion Village Foods. Support those who support me! My column will appear on my blog a week after it’s in Kendallville Mall.

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Book signing-if you happen to be nearby

Just in time for Christmas shopping, we’re having a book signing Monday, November 17th, at the main branch of the Noble County Public Library in Albion. We should have copies of all my books there, especially the latest one, The Notorious Ian Grant—which will be at a reduced price compared to retail.
The library is at 813 E Main St in Albion, and we’ll be there from 3-6 p.m.—and maybe a little later if there’s interest. Buy a book there, bring a book in, I’ll sign whatever’s put in front of me unless it’s by someone else, which would be a little crazy.
There will be copies not only of my new book but of Storm Chaser, The No-Campfire Girls, and Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights: A Century Or So With The Albion Fire Department. I think I still have a few copies of My Funny Valentine, too; sadly, Storm Chaser Shorts is available only as an e-book, and I don’t think we’ll have Slightly Off The Mark ready in time.
Hope to see you there! Here’s the Facebook event page address:

Great Fires Aren’t Good

This column did get printed in time for Fire Prevention Week—it’s just late getting online. But really, shouldn’t something like this be all year round?
Meanwhile, the new publisher has allowed me to write a farewell column for the newspapers I’m no longer employed by, so you’ll see this once more … maybe twice.


            The National Fire Prevention Association would like to point out that, if your smoke detector is not working, it won’t work.

            Sure, it seems obvious. But it’s also obvious that if sprinkler systems aren’t installed they don’t put out fires, safety belts that don’t get used aren’t safe, and people who stay in Washington, D.C. turn into blithering idiots. And yet we defeat sprinkler laws, don’t belt up, and reelect blithering idiots, so sometimes the obvious needs saying.

            This is why we have Fire Prevention Week, which is a week during which we try to stress preventing fires. Fire Prevention Week is always nearest October 9th. That’s the historical date of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, which took place in 1871, was indeed in Chicago, but really wasn’t all that great.

            “Great” is a term used for fires that get so out of control that they get weeks named after them. The NFPA has devoted itself to keeping fires from turning great, and the best way to do that is to keep them from getting out of control. It’s counterintuitive, but they would not then be called “good”.

            More importantly is to keep people from getting killed in a fire, which is the job of smoke alarms, which are just like smoke detectors except with fewer syllables. A working smoke alarm cuts the risk of dying in a fire in half. You don’t have to be Captain Obvious to see the value of that.

            Here’s the fun part, though, and by “fun” I mean “tragic”: When talking smoke alarms, you always have to stick in the word “working”. In 23% of home fire deaths, there were smoke alarms—but they didn’t work. Why? Sometimes they were old or damaged, but usually the batteries were dead or missing.

            “Honey, the batteries in the camera are dead.”

            “I’ll just take some out of the smoke detector. Don’t worry, I’ll remember to put them back.”

            Sure you will. Stop at the dollar store and get more for the camera, you schmuck.

            But even if the batteries stay in, there’s no guarantee they’re working. Batteries go dead from time to time, and dead batteries lead to dead people.

            Thus the idea of changing them twice a year, when Daylight Savings Time comes and goes. Whine all you want about springing forward and falling back (and you will … you will), but it’s a great reminder to put in a good set of working batteries. If the old ones are still good and you’re particularly cheap, put those in your digital camera. Sure, there’s a chance they’ll go dead and you’ll miss catching that UFO hovering over your house, but the little green men are going to steal your camera and make all the photos blurry anyway, so why bother?

            In between changes, you should test your smoke alarm batteries every month. This is about the same rate at which a major celebrity gets arrested. If you’re really paranoid you can check them every few days, at the rate a minor celebrity gets arrested.

            If the smoke alarm is more than ten years old, replace it. If you can’t remember how old it is, replace it. If you can’t remember how old you are, have someone else replace it. And yes, if it doesn’t work when you test it, replace it. Thank you, Captain Obvious.

            There was a time when experts recommended installing a smoke alarm on each level of the home and outside each sleeping area. They now say to install one inside each bedroom, in addition to the others. By my estimation that would mean five smoke alarms in my house. If you count every room my dog sleeps in, that would mean nine smoke alarms, or more if you count each spot as a separate bedroom.

            That may seem like a lot, but I’ve long had a suspicion that my dog smokes when we’re asleep. Have you ever seen hairballs burn? Not pretty.

            Can’t afford a smoke alarm? Yes you can. You, put down that beer. You, put down that cigarette. You, put down that game controller. And you, put down that—oh, man. Dude, close your curtains! I can’t unsee that.

            Yes, you can scrape up the money to save your life. I did a quick internet search, and found smoke alarms for sale ranging from twenty to less than five dollars. I wouldn’t necessarily go for the cheapest ones, but you can cover your entire home for less than the cost of that 20 inch flat screen TV you want to mount in your bathroom.

            On a related note, you do not need a flat screen TV in your bathroom. We’ll talk electrical safety in a future column.