Welcome to What I've Learned So Far...

Guitar MikeWelcome to the online home of Erma Bombeck award-winning humorist Mike Ball. Mike's column is a syndicated weekly feature that pops up in newspspers all over the United States. If your local paper doesn't carry What I've Learned So Far... call or email the editors, give them a link to this site, and tell them to get with it! We also have readers from around the world who subscribe online. Join them - it's free! 

And if you want to meet Mike, check out the Schedule Of Appearances for a book signing, concert by Dr. Mike and the Sea Monkeys, or writer's workshop near you.

USA TodayIn another life, Mike is the founder of Lost Voices, a nonprofit group founded to bring creative writing and roots music programs to incarcerated and at-risk kids. He was recently named USA Today Kindness Community Hero for this work.

Nobody's Angels, Nobody's Fools

On Saturday, October 6, at the Towsley Auditorium at Washtenaw Community College, the sixth annual Concert for Lost Voices will feature the music of Josh White, Jr., Kitty Donohoe, Reverend Robert Jones, Peter Madcat Ruth, Mustard's Retreat, Jen Cass and Mike Ball. Proceeds from this Concert help fund Lost Voices' efforts to help rescue some of the most vulnerable children in our society.


You can hear it in their voices, sometimes off-key, sometimes wobbling with a tremolo of fear, sometimes styled after some singer they have long admired. You can hear it through the giggling bravado of children struggling to show a veil of courage on stage in front of their peers. You can hear it in the words that they would never dare say in any other place or time, words that express feelings lurking in the deepest recesses of their not-quite-adult souls.

It's the sound of young hearts crying for help.

Down to the Sea On Pontoons - Part III


In Which the Perfect Boat Doesn't Actually Sink

When we last left our heroes, Harold and Mike, they were about to launch their newly restored pontoon boat, which we’ve come to know as "Harold & Mike's Scow." As we pick up the action, Harold is riding to the DNR site with the truck pulling the boat trailer, while Mike is setting off to meet him astride his trusty Sea Doo...

Even though it was a nice warm day in May, the water in the lake was still pretty cold, so I stopped at the house to put on a wet suit. Then I uncovered and dry-fired the Sea Doo, cranked it down off the hoist, checked the oil, hopped on, started the engine, and idled halfway across the lake to warm it up.

In other words, it took me quite a while to get moving. So long, in fact, that I was surprised that I didn't run into Harold and the Scow coming the other way.

The reason for this became clear when I cruised into the cove near the launch and found Harold sitting aboard the Scow, gazing at the puffy clouds in the sky and looking relaxed, drifting silently toward the middle of the lake. I came alongside, killed the engine on the Sea Doo, and said, "What's up?"

"Nothing much," he said. "Say, just out of curiosity, were you working on the pontoons last night?"

"Yes." I nodded humbly, basking in the glow of a job well done. "I chopped away at those suckers until nearly midnight."

Down to the Sea On Pontoons - Part II


In Which I Chip Crud Off the Perfect Boat

In our last installment, my neighbor Harold and I decided to buy a pontoon boat together. If you’ve never seen a pontoon boat, what we’re talking about is basically a motorized patio floating on a couple of giant aluminum cans. We had come to the conclusion that a pontoon boat might serve as the ideal platform for, among other things, the sun-drenched and leisurely consumption of alcohol.

Our story left off just after we brought our “new” boat home using a trailer we didn’t entirely know how to use, resulting in two pontoon-esque furrows all along the 37.5 miles of back roads between here and Grass Lake, MI. It was October, so instead of popping the boat right into the lake we went ahead and put it in “Dry Dock” - four cinder blocks in a big garage.

Harold was an expert woodworker, so he right tucked into making new solid oak table tops, complete with recessed drink holders, for every horizontal surface on the boat. He also knew how to fine-tune the engine, grease the lower unit, beef up the wiring, patch the carpeting, touch up the paint, and repair the stereo system.

Down To The Sea On Pontoons - Part I

In Which We Find the Perfect Boat

There are some people who say that Pontoon Boats are just for deaf old men in sans-a-belt slacks. To that I say, “What? Speak up!”

One of the fondest memories I have of my first year living here on the lake was one fine day toward the end of the summer when I stood next to my neighbor Harold, gazing at a couple of youngsters being pulled on a rubber tube behind a speedboat. As we watched the kids being pounded to mush and enjoyed their blood-curdling shrieks of terror, Harold turned to me and said, “You know, we ought to go in together and buy a used pontoon boat.”

I nodded, squinted at the sun glinting off the lifeless body of a child who had been hurled off the tube, grabbed hold of the polyester sans-a-belt slacks that at that moment had materialized on me, hitched them up tight under my armpits, and said, “You know, that sounds like a great idea!”

And so on that momentous afternoon nearly twenty years ago began the great adventure of the lake-going vessel now generally known around these parts as the “HMS,” or “Harold & Mike’s Scow.”


Subscribe to What I've Learned So Far... RSS