It's usually weeks or even months in between the times I run into John Hammer, or rather he runs into me. The big hulk of a man doesn't come across as the type of guy who's out on the town very often. In fact, he's always reminded me a little of Big John from the Jimmy Dean song.

And since we just talked a week or two ago, I didn't expect to see him again for a while. So when he showed up at my office early last Saturday it was a surprise.

"Digging ditches," he started out.

"Huh?" came my witty reply.

"When's the last time you heard the phrase digging ditches?"

"Gosh, I don't know John. Probably been a while. My granddad and my dad used to say it."

"How did they use it?" he asked.

I had to think.

"I don't know, it was something about if they ever lost their jobs they could always go out and dig ditches."

"Sounds right," Hammer nodded. "When's the last time you heard anyone say that?"

"It's been a while," I admitted. "But John, no one really digs ditches anymore. Aren't there machines that -"

His head shaking told me I wandered off the path.

"Not the point, Timmons," he said. "There used to be a time when a man would do whatever he had to do to put food on the table, to provide for his family. Now, it's welfare and unemployment and free money."

"Hold on, John. It's not exactly free money. We all pay into the system with our taxes and that money's set aside-"

"Hogwash!" Hammer growled. "Maybe that's how it started, but the government pays people not to work now. It's too easy to sit back."

He shook his head. "Doesn't matter what the government does, it all goes back to you and me."

"I don't follow."

The look said that wasn't a surprise.

"The government only does what we allow it to do," he said slowly, kind of like he was talking to a child. (No comment, please.) "It's like I read in your paper the other day where the city is spending more than it's bringing in and is digging into its saving account to pay for labor. We were taught never to live beyond our means and yet the government does it all the time. Not the biggest point though."

I've got to admit, he had me hooked. "What is then, John?"

"The fact that your granddaddy and his daddy and damn near every American was willing to go dig a ditch if they had to in order to live within those means. Now, not only do most of us not live within our means, we sure as hell aren't willing to work as hard as digging ditches."

He started to walk away, but stopped. "Timmons, you've got a newspaper. Tell people that we can fix this if we want to. It just depends on how hard we want to work."



Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Wednesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be reached at ttimmons@thepaper24-7.com.