The truthful answer is four


Old Bob Bigbottum was holding court with his over-caffeinated gang of graybeards at the Slurp-n-Burp the other day when the entire passel talked themselves smack into a brick wall.

Making a phone call. Old Bob, showing the mental quickness that made him the ranking ratchet jaw, had the solution.     

“Let’s just give Mr. Smarty Pants a jingle,” he said as he unholstered his cell phone.

A wireless surf of the net (Bob always was a telephone wizard) washed up the number he needed. As he dialed, Bob signaled Beulah for refills all around.     

“Hey there,” said Bob when the connection connected, “I’m Bob and from what I read in the newspapers you’re quite the cabbage” – he palmed the phone momentarily to wink at his buddies – “so here’s my dilemma: how many times in a hundred years are there five Sundays in February?”     

Several seconds of cellular silence ensued.     

“You still there?” quizzed Bob as his gaggle began to giggle. “Say, are you deaf or just dumb or both?”     

Do you know? The insult pried loose a reluctant reply.     

“Uh huh. So you don’t rightly know,” needled Bob. “Well maybe you can help on something else then. The boys and me plan on wastin’ the rest of the mornin’ drinkin’ coffee before goin’ over to the elevator for day-old donuts and a little flirt with the gals. What’s the price of beans gonna’ be when we get there?”     

Bob sucked in some coffee and sighed. “OK, so if I’m hearin’ right, you don’t know that either.”     

Suddenly Bob sat up, nodding here, then there. Once or twice he mumbled, “Right, but …” and was cut off before he could complete his defense.

Second chance. That never happened much to Bob and the boys began to mutter. Sensing a coffee klatch coup, Bob rallied.     

“Now hold it right there. No, I’m no economist, but I’m a thinker and right now I’m a thinkin’ I’m wastin’ my cell phone minutes talkin’ to you.

“But, hey, I’m fair,” he quickly added, “so let me give you another chance. Can you and me agree that we’re in a fix right now?     

“What I mean is our beef exports are dead because of mad cow, our chicken exports are dead because of Evian – what? … right, avian – flu, and I see in the paper that nearly all the seed I’ll buy will be GMO stuff whether I want it or not.     

“On top of that,” Bob rolled on, “my school district’s broke, my county’s broke, my state’s broke and Washington’s broke. ‘Bout the only thing not broke is my tax bill; it’s growin’ faster than the pile of half-lies told by the politicians.       

Many issues. “What’s more, my grandson tells me there won’t be band or basketball at his school next year; my daughter just lost her job at Big Box Groceries because she asked for medical benefits and my wife says gas is $1.69 a gallon, milk’s $3 a gallon and I can tell you for a fact that a glass of beer at the Corner Tap just went from $1 to a $1.20.”     

Bob’s coffee mates marveled at his command of food and fuel facts. The worshipful moment was broken only when Jimmie rose to use the facilities.

Bob, however, stared Jimmie back into his chair.     

“I could go on,” Bob said, “but answer me this: I’m tellin’ you the truth, ain’t I? We live in a great country but we’re headin’ for trouble if we don’t start telling the truth, right?”     

Bob listened for a moment, then said, “Thanks, that’s the answer I was looking for. You’re right. Bye.”     

What’s the answer?, bleated Jimmie.

Four. “It’s four,” said Bob. “This century there will be four Februarys with five Sundays. It happens once every 28 years; the next time will be 2032.”     

Whoa, clamored the coffee cadre.     

“And,” Bob added solemnly, “he said without truth there’s no justice and without justice there’s no democracy.”

Silence descended. To no one’s surprise, Bob was the first to regain his equilibrium.

“Well,” he announced, “we’ll worry about that one tomorrow. Where’s Beulah?”

(The author is a freelance ag journalist who lives in Delavan, Ill. He can be reached via e-mail at: Read his columns online at

© 2004 ag comm


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Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children.