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Posts published in “Schmidt”

Sorry Mark


I have found Facebook (now, I guess, Metaverse) at times helpful. It kept me in touch with an few old friends and it let me know folks were looking for some lost dogs. But I have deleted my account.

You should too. Mark Zuckerberg has enough of our money. He’s one of the many billionaires, a new one is made every day. And I don’t remember sending him a dime. Maybe that’s how we get sucked into vile stuff. We swipe our card or click on “buy now” and they send an armored car to our bank.

It’s not armed security people robbing us, it’s more like the guys in Office Space who figured out how to round up the decimals and become millionaires. Back then, in the 1990’s, millionaires was a big as it got. Now we have a new billionaire every day. The worth of these folks (though it’s hard to consider someone with more wealth than I could accumulate in a lifetime as a “folk”) has more than doubled in the past year. And we, the sheep of the world, keep sending our money their way.
We just can’t see why they get the bucks and we lose it. They are so smart they can somehow tap into our measly median salary and then buy a rocket trip to space. All hail the job creators.

Do you happen to know what the median household income is in Idaho? If you ask Google (there’s some more rich guys who don’t charge you a penny) it’s about $56K. The same data mining site (who pays those guys to mine data?) tells us the AVERAGE (not median…remember high school statistics?) is $74K.

A little high school statistics reminder. The average is everybody added together, then you divide by all the people. The median is all the people lined up and you pick the guy in the middle. So here in Idaho, and in this country and the world, there’s a lot of us below average.

Do you happen to know what is calculated to be a living wage in Idaho? MIT has these calculations for you, but Google helped me find them and I didn’t have to send them any money. If you are a single adult with one child, or two adults, one working with one child, it’s right at $57K.

Back to high school statistics: half the folks in Idaho, if they have a child, are living at or below what is considered the living wage.

Some of these poor folks are spending too much money on their cell phone plans. Some should consider spending less on their car payments, and maybe trying to earn more. Maybe we should all be buying less beer.

But it’s a good bet, here in this beautiful state, most of these folks either don’t vote, or vote Republican.

I don’t. I sure wish it mattered.

And I don’t think Mark Zuckerberg will feel any pinch at all that I fled his Meta Morass. He’ll figure lots more ways to siphon off way too much money. Those “likes” and clicks and seconds you spend scrolling will go into their data mining machine and they’ll sell you to somebody who wants your profile.

Step off the carousel and walk around the park.

All the small-town local papers use Facebook in an attempt to drive folks their way. They require you to use Facebook, oops, MetaVerse, to comment of see their up-to-date postings. It may not cost them anything, it may be a service Facebook offers. Sorry, nothing is free.

I’m glad I’ve stepped away from the loud music and flashing lights. I think I’ll just walk around the park and say “hi” to the folks I meet.



If nothing else, this Covid experience has taught us a lot about how we all deal with uncertainty. I hope you have learned your own limits with the beast.

Medical training teaches us practitioners to pursue certainty. The fact of a diagnosis used to mean the certainty of prognosis was narrowed. We, the white-coated authorities gave the grim prediction to the patient of days, months, or years of life remaining. We could recommend treatments but hedge them with learned uncertainty that wouldn’t (we hoped) harm our position of authority.

Many things have eroded this authority, this modified Corona virus common cold is just the most recent. Many people suffered with ill-defined pain and fatigue and since we, the medical profession had found some cures here and there, we felt the pressure to continue to cure. Alas, the refrain of learning to “live with” the chronic condition is not a cure most seek.

Make no mistake, many things are very curable. Pneumonia still kills, but we have many drugs that can and do cure. When diagnosing cancer, it used to be we were like poker players, understanding the odds of when and where the disease was discovered, the ameliorating odds of our treatments, and then we, but really, the patient, played the hand dealt. Nowadays we have some incredibly curative treatments for the “Big C”. That game has changed for some.

But when COVID popped up, nobody knew the cards in the deck, or even the rules of the game. We had to discover them as the disease unfolded around us, taking some in the first wave, maybe less in the second, and now even less as it mutates and changes, as we so slowly modify, not our genetics, but our behavior in the face of it.

I took my granddaughter to the hardware store this weekend. She’s only three and unimmunized. Her mom, my daughter, an ICU nurse, has taught her to wear a mask in settings like this. Her mom has cared for many ventilated, critical, even dying patients. I’ve been to that store a dozen times in the past few weeks and didn’t wear a mask. I’m immunized and boosted. I keep my distance but feel pretty safe amongst those people I don’t see too often. But she wore a mask last Saturday, so I did too. I realized I was doing it to support my granddaughter. I didn’t feel like a sheep, though I had to take my glasses off as they kept fogging up.

This virus is evolving faster than we can calculate the odds. In the early wave of infections one out of a thousand infected would die from it. Those odds are now much lower, but the odds of getting the virus have gone up significantly. How do you want to play your hand? Maybe more important, how do you see this game as won or lost?

If you, unmasked and unimmunized surviving and your neighbor with the mask and shots dying means you win, then we might be a doomed species. I just don’t see life as a poker game with the pile of chips giving a sense of satisfaction, even glee. We humans have not easily grasped the concept that we are all in this together.

This uncertainty, this disease spreading silently among us, should be giving us an opportunity to show our character, our natures to our neighbors.

Medical training did not teach me to deny death. In fact, I had to come to accept suffering as a part of the human condition. But I found I needed to work daily to ease the pain, ease the suffering of my patients and myself if I was to have any peace in this world. I wish that for all of you too.

Watch out


Next week, Monday January 10th, 2022, the Idaho legislature will reconvene. I hope you are prepared with your billfold open, your purse ready and your children kept safe. Because I’m sure our duly elected representatives are chomping at their bits to send money our way.

They’ve not just hinted at it, but pretty much promised.

It makes sense. They are sitting on the biggest surplus this state has ever seen. But when you start to build something, and a state budget is an annual edifice the legislature must construct, it’s best to know what you can afford before you start digging the footings.

This mammoth pot of cash is really from two sources. Some is one-time COVID bonuses sent out from Washington DC where the politicians only concern is getting a TV interview or going viral on social media. So, when the pandemic hit, big money sloshed to the states and our wise leaders are sitting on about $885M they couldn’t figure out where to spend.

Do you remember the legislature last year getting its undies twisted about not having a finger on those expenditures? Their umbrage kept them in session FOREVER. But I guess they couldn’t see fit to send that money out the door to those deserving it, the waitresses laid off, the folks who can’t make rent, the small business owner who couldn’t open her doors.

Instead, they attacked mask mandates and public health districts. There were other attacks taking up their time too. Enough that they needed a special session.

But the other source of this huge pile of dough is not one-time, here today, gone tomorrow COVID bucks. Idaho has seen unplanned, unprecedented tax revenue growth. Sales tax income is through the roof, as is personal (not corporate) income tax revenues. So, we have been promised a tax cut. Don’t you love it?

Are Idahoans just rolling in dough, and the tax man has found our dropped quarters? Are we a high tax state and the tax man is siphoning our bank accounts? Just where the heck is all this unforeseen revenue rolling in from?

Maybe some of us are well off. I’ve heard some rich guy is buying up Teton County. But I’ll bet his accountants have figured a way for him not to pay taxes.

No, the sales and income tax revenue rising tide is probably coming from pretty regular folks. It’s just that Idaho is getting swamped with newcomers. Don’t you love it?

For the last five years Idaho has led the nation in population growth. Last year alone, between 2020 and 2021 Idaho added about 53,000 citizens. That’s about the exact size of a legislative district. Ask me how I know that bit of minutiae…

It’s not our birth rate. It’s not resettled asylum seekers. Its people who move here from other states. Ask anybody looking for a new home or a rental in the Treasure Valley. It seems, as states go, we have been discovered. Don’t you love it?

A little of the anecdotal evidence that there are a lot of newcomers comes from the folks testifying in the Capitol to our perpetual legislature. A lady giving testimony stated her residence as “Rathdrum, California”. Oops.

Another sign of newcomers is the recent warning from the Idaho Department of Transportation: DON’T PASS SNOWPLOWS ON THE RIGHT!! Most folks only do that once, but it’s a fair warning to new immigrants.

Idaho is booming while our nation stagnates. US population only grew 0.1% last year, the slowest growth rate since the Pilgrims. We have been discovered. Don’t you love it? So, let’s cut taxes and give all these newcomers a sense of well-being and let them know our boundless generosity. They’ll learn about snowplows soon enough.

Parting glass


Tis the dark and wintry season. By the time you will read this, the days will have gotten as short as they will get, and the sun will be coming back. We have snow up here on the Palouse, though it has been a mild December until now. I haven’t worried about the antifreeze in the old truck once. But winter has just begun. There’s still time for bitter cold.

I love the old Irish tune, The Parting Glass. I first heard it in the University of Idaho Administration Auditorium. Josh Ritter gave a small concert there some years back for Moscow, his hometown. He sang this song as his last encore, acapella. The mournful tune and lilting words struck me.

The lines that tug my heart, besides the tune:

But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

It brings to mind my friends and colleagues who have gone, parted and cannot rise for the parting glass.

It has been a year where maybe we are getting used to more death amongst us.
We have seen more deaths this year on Idaho highways than in any of the previous 15 years. Idaho Department of Transportation indicates about 40% of deaths in 2020 were attributed to impaired drivers. Should we be getting used to this?

The opioid deaths continue. Over 100,000 Americans died from narcotic overdose in the 12-month period ending last April, up over 28% from the previous year.

Idaho’s total won’t be finalized for a few months. Maybe we are doing better than other states at keeping our folks alive. Maybe not. I can’t get used to this.

Idaho saw a dip in our suicide deaths in 2021, at least when we had a count in August. The year before, 2020 Idaho had 430 suicides, a record. But the year end total has not been tallied. We can hope. I believe we can make some difference.

But then, there is the total number of deaths Idaho has seen this year, at a record rate. When tallied in November, Idaho’s death rate was 20% above what would be expected in a “normal” year for our current population, and there were two months left on the calendar to count.

Idaho has lost over 4000 citizens to COVID. Most elderly, many were nursing home residents, but some were young, even children, some even immunized, though the vast majority not. Should we be getting used to these losses?

But when you raise that parting glass, and wish joy to all, you can’t think of numbers, you remember faces and people and feel the loss; that we can rise, and they cannot.

When I think of their passing, that they cannot rise to hear my wish of joy and good cheer, I think of Jim, his sad smile, and more.

… of Sam with the sharp wit and more
… of Charley and his joy that he so happily shared and more
…Sande, so young, so wise and more

The list can grow long. It will grow longer as I age. Yours will too.

This is not to despair. It is but a simple truth. We live and we will die. But to live in joy and health our allotted years, is my parting glass wish to you, my neighbors. I work to this end daily.

So, raise your glass now and wish joy to your comrades, your loved ones your neighbors and friends. Our time grows short. Let us share it in joy.

Marriage counseling


Debbie Democrat and Ronnie Republican sat together on the couch in the counsellor’s office. They were both a bit nervous but were smiling.

“So, what brings you here today?” the gray-haired chubby man asked. His bushy eyebrows danced above and between his profuse ear hair.

Debbie offered, “We want to adopt a baby and the agency suggested we have your counsel, given our um, unique situation.”

The eyebrows danced again. “Unique?”

Ron rolled his eyes, but Debbie smiled. “They ask on the application forms for party affiliation now, you know, since our times can be so bitter. And it turns out we are, um, different.”

Here the eyebrows dived. “And just how are you two different, party wise?”

Ron smiled but his voice was biting. “Can’t you see, doc? I’m a Republican, and she’s a Democrat! It’s obvious to our friends.”

His eyebrows furrowed deeper, and he let out a long sigh. “And you want to bring a child into this tortured environment? Most the couples I meet with your problem are wanting a divorce.”

Ron snorted. “See Deb, I told you what he’d say.” Debbie smiled and laughed. Ron now sneered, “You snobs are all the same.”

Here the eyebrows shot up and his chubby cheeks flushed.

Debbie giggled and said softly to the counsellor “Don’t let him get to you. He tries to get everybody mad. That’s just his way.” She shot a hand over and squeezed Ronnie’s forearm. “We don’t know if he’s a snob, Ron.”

“Hell, I can see he’s a snob by those diplomas he’s got hangin’ there.”

The counsellor sat up straight. “I’ll let you know I attended-“

Debbie cut him off. “Ron is a journeyman plumber, and he would be a wonderful father. He can poke you buttons though if you let him.”

The eyebrows softened and he settled down again into his well cushioned chair. He took a breath and asked Deb, “And what do you do?”

“I work at the Public Radio station.”

The counsellor nodded and jotted a note. The eyebrows shot up and he looked at them both squarely. “Don’t you have arguments?”

Here Debbie flushed and Ron rolled the eyes again. “Of course we do. He doesn’t rinse the dishes before he puts them in the dishwasher and it dries me crazy. But what couple doesn’t?”

“I mean about politics. How can you share the same home?”

Ron took a deep breath. Debbie looked down at her hands. Ron started. “It’s like this doc. I know I’m right. And she thinks she’s right. And we talk about things, but we know, in the end we want to make a good home.”

Debbie added. “We understand that our differences aren’t as important as our love for our home and our marriage.”

The counsellor leaned forward. “Don’t you argue over the last election? Stolen? Insurrection? Voter fraud? Authoritarianism?”

Ron whirled over to Deb. “See, I told you, this jerk was just going to try to get us fighting!”

Debbie laughed. “Yeah, you did say that. Maybe he is.” And she turned to the counsellor with a twinkle. “You wouldn’t want to do that now would you?” The counsellor thought she might have winked at him.

Eyebrows cleared his throat. “It is critical that you both understand the enormous obstacles your child, should you proceed with this adoption, will face. We live in times where trust is broken, where the political parties are almost at war with each other. How can a child thrive in such an environment?”

Ron threw his head back and exhaled, like he did when the other guy made a tough shot on the eight ball. Debbie winced and her smile dropped to a straight line.

“Of course we know that doc. We don’t need you tellin’ us that.” Then he reached his hand out and touched Deb’s arm. “But this woman will be the best momma in the world.”

The heart of Idaho


When I was young, in my grade school days, my parents brought me and my sisters to the very western edge of this state. My grandfather’s ranch was just one ridge over from the Snake River, along the Wildhorse River. It is mountainous terrain, just south of the Seven Devils, all up and down. But there were benches here or there where they could put up a haystack or two of loose hay to sustain their small cattle herd through the winters. They made enough to pay off the property. I didn’t know how hard the existence was at that young age, but I do now. No one works that hard anymore. I don’t.

I came back to Idaho to live in 1977, though I didn’t know it at that time. I came to help my step grandmother survive on her parents’ homestead. Grandpa Henry had died from a stroke. It was a 110 acre “retirement” ranch with a half dozen horses, five or six cows, too many chickens. It had good water, no phone, no electricity, and a 3 and a half mile “driveway” that climbed 2000 feet from the end of the county road in the canyon below.

But I couldn’t live like that. I learned, painfully, that I needed to be around people. If I had been a true survivalist, a real “prepper” for the coming apocalypse, I might have relished that setting and its isolation.

So, I made the investment to be a small-town doctor, where I could tend to people’s ailments, their worries, their pains and maybe even their death, or the death of a loved one. And by joining a community, hearing their stories and their suffering, I found the heart of this state.

In those days I had no idea how big Idaho is. I thought the 3 ½ hour drive to the town of 500 where we got Jeep parts was big enough. But in my years since I have learned there are homesteads and canyons like Wildhorse throughout this leftover landscape.

So, when folks argue we need less of each other and more of just ourselves, I understand and agree with the sentiment, to an extent. But we still need each other. I thought I could do it all too, for a while. I figured out how to replace the clutch on the TD9 before there was a YouTube video for that. But when I popped the track off the crawler on the steep sidehill above the barn, I needed help.

Gerald came up from Midvale. After a hearty lunch that ended with cream and raspberries, he sidled up and told me how to get that track back on. Then he drove it down to level ground and showed me how to adjust the tension so it wouldn’t pop off again.

There is no doubt we humans need each other. Sure, we could all do better doing for ourselves, but we are here to help each other.

Government should not usurp self-reliance. I’m not sure it can. I hear from farmers getting government checks how folks need to pay their own way. University professors, with government grants, think they know all the answers. But that farmer and that professor both saw problems and looked around for a solution. The government aid they got hadn’t crippled them.

I saw a 47-year-old sheet rocker in the clinic today. He came to see me because a year ago I said I thought I could help him with his drinking. He can’t sleep at night now. He wakes up at 2AM thinking of the 11 relatives he has lost in the last year to Covid. His health insurance, Medicaid, paid the cost of the visit.

We need to help each other. In whatever way we can.

Public and personal health


I spent seven years trying to learn how to treat individual patients. The first few years were devoted to learning the anatomy, the pharmacology, the body systems, and their intimate connections. Then I got to work with patients. As a medical student, I was usually the fourth or fifth person to ask this poor wretch their history, their symptoms and then the last to ineptly examine their body and try to make my own conclusions about what was wrong and what needed to be done.

Three more years of residency taught me to sleep when I could and manage my time while honing these patient evaluation and treatment skills.

Then, when I went out into the real world of clinic, community hospital and billing insurance the real education began.

All this training was focused on my individual treatment of the individual patient. I learned to do my best for my patient.

Something drew me (it’s a long and funny story) to be a county coroner. My training of anatomy, pathology and human behavior helped me a lot, but the deceased was not my patient (though sometimes they had been). I was working for the county, the public, the voters since I sought to be elected to this position. But those many investigations: the suicides, young and old, the poverty, the isolated mentally ill, the child deaths pulled me to look at the bigger picture of health.

I asked for some research from the state to understand where people in my county were dying. It turned out about 25% died in the hospital, about 25% at home or on a highway and about half the deaths in our county occurred in nursing homes. This was at a time (twenty years ago) when 80% of deaths nationally were in a hospital. It has now dropped to about 60%, yet almost 80% of people, when asked, say they would rather die at home.

I asked our hospital to study the deaths that occurred there. Of the deaths that were in the hospital, most came in with an acute event (stroke, heart attack, pneumonia) and were made better in a day or two, but then declined. Most the deaths had family in attendance and were accepted, supported.

These questions, and the answers I got made me feel pretty comfortable with our community care. All doctors want to reduce deaths, but we all know it is inevitable. When I was in training there was no such field as Palliative Care, though Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, On Death and Dying had been published many years before.

In the first three years in the coroner job, I had three dead children, killed by one of their parents. I spent a few years studying child abuse and how to prevent it. We instituted universal child death investigations and reviews for our county, back when Idaho was the only state that did not have such a policy. We developed a program to help new moms who might feel overwhelmed.

When a doctor sees a patient in the office, there is a clear expectation that the doctor is treating the patient. But the home (or lack of it); the family and friends (or their absence) often become part of the treatment concern. The circle of care often must be broadened to better understand the disease, and the treatment.

So, when public health departments started getting flak from the state legislature this last session, I wondered, just who the heck were they mad at? Who do you want making recommendations to policy makers about public health decisions?

I got my answer when The Ada County Commissioners chose their doctor for their public health board.

If you want some crazy treatment for what ails you, you have the freedom to shop around and find some doctor to support your whims. But public health is for everybody, not just those that agree with you.

Waning means forever


It seems the immunity provided by the Covid immunization diminishes over time. Now we are talking boosters.

So, does this mean the immunization is worthless? No, but that’s beside the point for vaccine deniers. The freedom to choose trumps consideration of risk, for themselves or their neighbors.

The vaccines greatly diminish the risk of hospitalization and death. In Idaho, in the last 6 months approximately 90% of hospitalized patients have been unimmunized. Similarly, the folks dead from this illness are mostly unimmunized. But as we are seeing that protection wanes.

So, the proudly immunized may soon be humbled by this painful biology. The arrogant unimmunized soon may be dead and not around to gloat over their “victory”. What a silly fight.

This waning immunity makes sense if you’ve ever had a cold. Covid, the disease caused by the Corona SARS 2 virus is not just a cold, but it is from the category of viruses that cause colds, Corona viruses. Colds affect the upper respiratory tract, runny nose, cough, congestion, feel lousy for a few days, then go back to work. Covid can quickly get down into the lower respiratory tract, the lungs, and when they fill with fluid, you won’t be getting the oxygen you need to keep your organs alive. These are very different diseases even though from similar viruses.

Ingenious, huh? Makes you think…

So now that this virus is amongst us, we are trying to figure out how to prompt our immune systems to respond. That’s where immunizations come to play. Oh, and the mask mandates and isolation techniques are a part of figuring this out too.

We are also figuring out how to work these problems through politically and culturally. That might be the true test of our species, not our immune responses.

The fact that this virus usually just makes us mildly sick has trained our immune systems to lose their awareness for it over time. It is a perfect medium for now slowly killing a lot of us. And it is. About one in a thousand who contract the virus die from it.

Idaho, this great, wide, tall oddly shaped state has seen just that in the last year. Idaho deaths are 20% above what would be expected on “normal” years. Our death rate from Covid is a little above the one in a thousand, but not a lot.

None of you would spend much at the casino on 1:1000 odds. Does that mean you should walk around unimmunized? Only if you don’t trust the shot. And many in Idaho don’t.

So, the virus isn’t winning, it’s just making a dent. A twenty percent bump in death rate is acceptable, isn’t it? Since we have seen such a growth in statewide population, this just means there might be a parking space available, right?

Some are happy to gamble their 1:1000 odds and see no need to immunize. They mock the mask wearers and rail against any mandates. Those that have immunized resent the choice of the unimmunized and blame them for the ongoing waves of infection. Is this the way we are going to see our neighbors now?

The winning and losing question will be decided not by the death toll, but in what we as a community learn from this. The virus obviously learned, either in a bat or in a Chinese virology laboratory, how to make us sick and some of us die. And the virus is now learning how to infect faster and spread its genes farther.

If we as a country learn from this to distrust our neighbors and resent the choices they make, we soon won’t need a virus to be killing us.

Governing or grandstanding


I remember my high school football days fondly. I remember that first freshman football touchdown I made and as I circled across the endzone I flipped the ball to the back judge who had both hands in the air and the whistle in his mouth. He had to interrupt what he was doing to catch it. I apologized, then lined up for the extra point.

Nobody spiked the ball back then. We didn’t have dancing in the endzone or sack celebrations or first down jubilations. Any such demonstration would have been considered unseemly if not unsportsmanlike. It was about moving the football down the field with force and humility. I assure you we wore helmets, but it was 50 years ago.

But football and politics have changed over the years. We indeed did have a movie star as our governor in California then. And he went on to be a US President. Reagan really could deliver a line. I thought the Republican party brilliant for embracing his skills.

But politics and governing, though hopelessly entwined are separate skills. The brash word or offensive remark can harm one’s credibility in negotiations that are based on trust.

So, you just have to wonder whether our Idaho elected leaders are trying to govern or grandstand this week in Boise.

The legislature has its own style for endzone celebration. First, they made sure the game wasn’t over last spring, at the end of the longest session in their history when the House refused to adjourn and instead “recessed”. The Senate did adjourn, but they are taking the lead from the House, I guess since they are returning to Boise this week too. Whether any of this conforms with the Idaho Constitution is questionable but spiking the ball in the endzone wasn’t illegal until it was.

For what purpose do these prima donnas gather to spend our money at Boise watering holes? Er, I mean, convene at our Capitol?

The Senate says they want to make sure they are putting money into a legal fund to fight President Biden’s dubious vaccine mandates. It doesn’t matter I guess that the Idaho Attorney General has already joined many other states in such a lawsuit and that a federal judge has placed a stay on Biden’s executive order. They want to put taxpayer money into a fund to pay private attorneys. They must feel some sense of urgency since they actually could be doing this in January.

But the House (who never adjourned) are the ones calling the Senate back to do their bidding. Usually, the Idaho Senate doesn’t take orders from the House, but I guess times have changed. The even conservative and reserved Idaho House has teed up some thirty bills. And they could be about anything. We’ll find out as the week goes on.

If they chose to vote on anything, pass anything, and if our governor chooses to sign it, they will all be on shaky ground. As I said, they aren’t following the rules for their conduct laid out in the Idaho Constitution.

But grandstanding on the taxpayer dime is not the sole province of the legislative branch. Our executives, both the Governor and his Lieutenant, have reached into public coffers to fund trips where they hoped they could spike the ball. Both went to Mar A Lago to kiss the ring of our former President, hoping for his endorsement. Only the Lieutenant got the ball; Brad came up empty. And we get to pay for this.

I vote for people to represent me and work to make our state healthy. We got no real property tax relief last session, just a last-minute casserole that has crippled rapidly growing cities and not eased the annual tax bill from the county.

Next time you go to the polls, consider voting for an offensive lineman. They do the work and don’t dance in the endzone.