Keepin’ It Real with Cam Marston

Keepin' It Real with Cam Marston

Weekly Commentaries and Videos

Keepin’ It Real with Cam Marston are weekly commentaries airing at 7:45AM and 4:45PM on Fridays on Alabama Public Radio since 2018. Each tells a story designed to deliver motivation, inspiration, or humor. The commentaries have won both state-wide and national awards.

The Keepin’ It Real with Cam Marston videos are 26 short (3:30s+/-) videos designed to deliver motivation, inspiration, and awareness around important workplace topics. Workplaces utilize the videos to build teams, develop a positive and inclusive workplace culture, and become a common conversation topic for employees, teams, and workplaces. The videos are branded for the organization and each video comes with a Learning Supplement to help team leaders debrief the video.

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Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On September 30, 2022

Of Ants and Airlines


I had a seven hour delay home back from Dallas last week. While I waited, I finished the biography of Alabama-born biologist Edward Wilson and began applying Wilson’s research to the problems I was experiencing with the airline. 

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Let’s talk about ants. Not females, like Aunt Martha. But bugs. Ants create complex colonies where every one of them exists to support the growth and safety of the colony. Ants can’t help it. It’s not their choice. They’re driven entirely by instinct. No ant finds food and considers keeping it for themselves. They turn and tell the colony and then lead the colony back to the food. This instinctual, non-selfish, altruistic behavior is the reason for the species’ remarkable success.

I learned this reading the biography of biologist Edward Wilson on a flight one week ago today that was ultimately delayed seven hours trying to get from Dallas to Mobile. Wilson has deep Alabama roots. He may not be the most famous person from our state, but he may be the most influential. His achievements are remarkable, and he is, clinically speaking, a bad ass.

Wilson also said that selfishness has value, too, but only in individuals. A selfish person will win against an altruistic person. But selfish groups will fail.  Altruistic, non-selfish groups, will grow, they’ll succeed. They’ll eat and breed and survive and thrive.

Ants don’t have a choice in the matter. But people do. And our bias, our instinct, is towards individual selfishness. We must work to overcome this instinct, bond as a group, and become altruistic. It’s hard, but it works.

We’ve seen this play out on grand stages. I listened to Nick Saban discuss the loss of the national championship a few years back because some of his players played selfishly as they were thinking about their NFL draft position.  

And we see this nationally, as our once unselfish nation has moved towards selfish goals and selfish politicians. As a result, no one can deny that our nation, once described as the shining light on the hill, is dimming.

Now, I’m a workplace consultant and I can’t help but try to apply these lessons to what I experienced on last Friday’s flights. I read about one airline who has begun a new way to compensate flight attendants in a way that benefits the attendants. The airline finds ways to help their passengers, their pilots, their gate agents and on and on. That’s the airline I fly the most and I’ve had zero issues on my nearly forty flights this year. Zero.

And two of my three flights on this current airline this year have had significant delays. Are they selfish? I don’t know them well enough to know. But it sure appears so. All of Wilson’s research on selfish groups and their demise played out in front of me over those seven hours of flight delays. And I wish someone could get this message to their CEO and send him outside to study ants.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.  

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On September 16, 2022

The Buddha (AL Public Radio Pledge Drive)


 

On this week’s Keepin’ It Real, Cam Marston tells us about the Three Poisons and the three good things taught to us by the Buddha.


About 2500 years ago, the Buddha listed the three things that bring unhappiness. They’re referred to as The Poisons and these things, he essentially said, will put you into a pit that’s very hard to get out of. My take on it is this: any harm caused between humans comes from these three things. What are they? They’re Anger, Greed, and Ignorance. I can say, with confidence, that any harm I’ve done to others has come from one or more of these emotions, feelings, or attitudes – I’m not exactly sure what they are. All the oldest religions and philosophers that I’m aware of say much the same thing – anger, greed, and ignorance brings bad stuff. That’s certainly part of the messages I get on Sundays.

Thankfully, the Buddha also provided an antidote – they are compassion, generosity, and wisdom. Any goodness between humans comes from one or more of those three. The three poisons and the three good ones are written on my office white board so I can remind myself from time to time to do more of those on the right side of the white board and do less of those on the left side. It’s nice to boil down so many of life’s complexities into two simple groups of words, though actually living them is a completely different story.

It’s fascinating that these ideas were written 2500 years ago and remain highly relevant today. I sit in an airconditioned room, typing on a computer that’s capable of umpteen thousand calculations per millisecond or something like that, we’ve put a telescope in space a million miles from earth that’s trying to take a picture of the beginning of the universe, I can poke at my phone and a pizza shows up at my house, yet our modern society can’t shake the same problems Buddha was addressing 2500 years ago. In some respects, we’ve come such a long way as a species yet, in others, we haven’t moved the needle in 2500 years.  

The APR fund drive has only been going on for two days now, though it may feel like 2500 years for us regular listeners. And the challenges facing APR are the same challenges we hear about a couple of times each year. Funding for the station comes through listener donations.

Last month I sent APR money to be used towards a matching grant during my morning and afternoon Keepin’ It Real broadcast. My challenge to you is this – If you enjoy my Keepin’ It Real commentaries, toss a little money towards the station. I did. The station needs your help to keep going.

And, I think the Buddha would agree, your donation shows your compassion, is an act of generosity, and reflects your wisdom. It won’t guarantee you a spot in heaven or enlightenment or whatever, but it might help. And I know some of you that are listening, and frankly, you could use some help.

I’m Cam Marston, and I’m just trying to help APR keep going.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On September 9, 2022

Old Cap


On today’s commentary, I share a little bit of my family’s history and, maybe, a bit of my family’s future.

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My grandfather, George Allen wrote a weekly column in the Mobile Press Register from 1967 to 1975. He was chief of the Seafoods Division for the Alabama Conservation Department. He proposed the column after the many unsafe boating practices he witnessed. After about a year his columns meandered into personal stories and memories. The paper let him keep going. And even after moving to Atlanta, the Press-Register kept his columns, called Adventures with Old Cap. He died in 1979. I was about ten. I remember him but we never really connected.

In 1986 for Christmas, I received a collection of his Old Cap columns which my uncle had painstakingly gathered, retyped, and bound. It’s next to me as I write this, Post It notes tagging my favorites stories, old family photos pressed into the binding, and my own early writing folded and included between pages, hoping my grandfather’s writing talent would somehow osmose into my early stories. Reading the stories, I feel a slight connection with him. He references me as a baby in some of them, which brings a smile each time I read them.

My grandfather’s oldest child was my mother. Mom had a column in the same newspaper in the eighties and early nineties. Hers focused on professionalism, business etiquette, and customer service. She also did short local TV and radio broadcasts at different points in her career focusing on those same topics. My mother died about six months ago in early March. Lots of the kind notes I received said that my mother will live on in me, like, I suppose, my grandfather lived on in her and now in me through her. At the time it all sounded like mystical mumbo jumbo.

Singer songwriter John Hiatt asks this: “Is it true we are possessed by the ones we leave behind, or it is by their life we are inspired?” I think it’s both. And that’s partly why I write and record these commentaries. It’s hard to put into words how much I enjoy doing them and why. It’s been a complete surprise. I feel the spirit of my mother and my grandfather as I write. The family tradition makes me feel like I can and, to a degree, that I should write them. And, like I said, I can’t quite explain how much I enjoy it. I get to express myself, tell stories, and I’m keeping the family tradition alive.

Friday afternoon my phone rang. It was my college daughter from Oxford, Mississippi. “Dad,” she said, “I just got out of class and I had to tell someone what just happened. I turned my paper in on Monday and today the professor read it to the whole class. He said it was so good he had to read it and is going to try to find a publication in town to print it.”

A lump formed in my throat, and I smiled so big. So did my mother. So did my grandfather.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On September 2, 2022

Teaching a Teen to Drive is a Right of Passage that All Parents Can Relate To


My wife and I have done this twice before and we can do it again. I think. 

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A ballistic object is defined as something that behaves like a projectile. However, when you and I refer to a ballistic object we usually mean something that goes fast and when it hits something else it causes lots of damage. Ballistic missiles come to mind.

A car can become a ballistic object. They can go fast and if it collides with something else the damage can be awful. And mature drivers know this, and self-preservation keeps their automobile ballistic object running safely and under control.

However, I’m writing this in my head while in the passenger seat of my car, my feet pressing against the floorboard, hands grabbing for anything secure, and my mind racing: “Should I grab the wheel? This has to eventually get less scary, right? I just gotta survive, show confidence, and find things to compliment.” Behind the wheel is my fifteen-year-old daughter.

A rite of passage for every teen is learning to drive. A rite of passage for every parent is teaching a teen to drive. No amount of handling a car in an empty parking lot or on a dirt road prepares a teen for their first merge onto a busy interstate at 65 miles an hour. Nothing prepares the parent for this, either. No amount of explaining that hand over hand is the best way to turn the steering wheel can make a teen understand that it’s safe to accelerate out of a turn and unsafe to accelerate into one. Only the horrifying feeling of the car being nearly out of control teaches that. And the parent feels it, too.

In my yard one early one morning many years back, I watched a car come slowly around the corner and run right into my mailbox. From the passenger seat came a man who began apologizing profusely. His face a combination of embarrassment and anger. Behind the wheel was his fifteen-year-old daughter. They were driving quiet streets early in the morning to teach her to manage the car. He’ll have the mailbox repaired Monday, he said, and he’s very, very sorry. I smiled, told him my day was coming, and not to worry. He thanked me, embarrassment still all over his face, and they drove away, still way too far on the right side of the road.

Well, my day is now. It’s    right now. It’s right now. My wife and I have already done this with our two older children. We can do it again.

My daughter pulls into the garage. “How did I do?” she asks. “Better,” I say. “Much better.” It’s the truth. She climbs out. I stay put, and in climbs her twin brother.

“Let’s do this!” he says, a little too full of energy for my comfort, throws the car into reverse and starts rolling. “Stop!” I say, “Look over your shoulder and at the back up camera before the car even begins moving.” And it begins again. My feet pushing holes in the floorboard.

I’m Cam Marston, just trying to Keep it Real. Have a wonderful Labor Day weekend, everyone.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On August 26, 2022

Rush


Some tactics used by masters of propaganda back in some dark times are still in use today and remain very effective.

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Leni Riefenstahl is known today for her savvy efforts at creating Nazi propaganda during World War II. She constructed images that deeply influenced the masses. And today, many organizations who are hoping to gain followers, whether they know it or not, copy her manipulative techniques.

Big bold colored banners placed in highly visible places showing the symbols and emblems of their group. Pictures of frenzied crowds wildly cheering their leaders who stand waving, smiling, showing quiet confidence, their expression saying, “you should want to be with us. We’re the powerful. We’re the influential.” It’s incredibly manipulative.

I am, of course, talking here about sorority rush. My daughter arrived on her campus a week before rush began to assume her role as banner committee co-chair. Her team worked until the wee hours every morning painting the banner for use the follow day which was then hung from her sorority house’s balcony. Mind you – there were no rush-ees on campus.

The sorority sisters gathered on the house lawn in front of the banner late each afternoon. They wore costumes in the theme of the banner – Disney, Wizard of Oz, the Circus – for the sole purpose of taking pictures to post on Instagram. They were hugging each other, cheering, horsing around while laughing and smiling gratuitously. From what I saw, their goal was ten million pictures each day. The banner was then removed, crumpled and thrown in a corner, and the process began again for the next day.

Meanwhile on Instagram, the freshman females were stalking – figuring out which sorority looked most fun, which had the prettiest girls, which one they should aspire to. This whole tableau was done by each sorority to try and get an edge. They wanted to be the “cool” sorority. The leader. They wanted the freshman girls to want them so that sorority could have the “pick of the litter,” so to speak.

It was exhausting my daughter said. And bear in mind, rush hadn’t started. The next week, when the freshman arrived, the intensity escalated.

This manipulative persuasion campaign, this carefully manufactured veneer, yielded a bumper crop of new best friends for my daughter’s sorority. It was a raging success. Bid day squeals, heard from far away, have become an Instagram meme, like 5000 car tires simultaneously skidding to a stop. It’s insanity. But, I loved hearing about it.

Those long hours, those late nights, and those friends working together forge the long-lasting friendships and memories my daughter and her friends will share. They’re the stories they’ll tell and retell throughout their life. Whenever people work together for a common goal and sacrifice to achieve it, a bond is created. My daughter told stories of the work she and her friends did. What I heard are the memories she’ll relive over and over again.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On August 19, 2022

No Offense


Take no offense. It’s just that simple. Just don’t.

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Years ago, my father-in-law hit a poor golf shot. It wasn’t what he had intended but the ball went forward and ended up not far from the pin. He said to me, “Cam, that shot is called a son-in-law.” “Oh, really?” I said, “Why is that?” “It’s called a son-in-law,” he said, “because it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind but, it’ll do.”

I have laughed at that for ten years or more. He delivered it perfectly. I remember thinking “I could choose to be offended, but I’m going to decide to not be offended and, instead, laugh. It was a joke. It was at my expense. I know the man likes me and, dang it, it was funny.” That was the first time I realized I have the choice to be offended by things or not. Being offended or not is in my control and has always been in my control and until that day, I didn’t realize that it was a decision. It was up to me. And, if you’re the type of person who offends easily, realize this – you can choose to not be offended by things and, wow, how much nicer the world becomes when you make that decision.

My wife tells a similar story. Her realization came at a bible study when the leader said about something controversial, “I’m going to choose to not be offended by it.” My wife says she remembers thinking, “Wait a minute! You mean it’s my choice to be offended or not? I have control over this?” Later she told the bible study leader that one comment changed her life. Pretty cool stuff.

The communication apps on my phone are buzzing as my kids are back in school and parents and teachers and coaches and administrators are struggling to find their routines and communicate with everyone about what needs to be done and which parent’s turn it is to do this and that and all that. Lots of quick communications. Tons of messages. Lots of messages being repeated many times over for the ones who missed them the first time around. Lots of words flying through cyberspace without the benefit of context or the benefit of tone of voice or facial expressions to help us understand the messages which can easily be lost or completely misunderstood without those things.

And in the process, some folks might interpret something incorrectly and allow themselves to be offended. Because that’s what it is – they’re allowing themselves to be offended. I see it daily – we all see it daily. Offence is a big part of the news cycle. Offence thrives in social media. You’ll have the chance to be offended many times before this day is over. Do yourself and me and the rest of the world a favor: Choose to not be offended. Just let it go. When you feel it building up, just drop it. It’s awesome.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On August 13, 2022

First Day of School


Friday is yet another first day of school. We will get the kids to pose on the front steps like we always do.

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It’s 6:30am Wednesday morning. The house is quiet except for the non-ending, dripping rain that’s been a part of this very wet summer. In twenty-four hours, this kitchen will be buzzing. Tomorrow is the first day of school and my kids will return to their morning rituals that we’ve known so well for so many years – making lunches, packing backpacks, gathering clothes for practices, and looking for shoes that were accounted for last night but somehow, overnight, have been “stolen.”

My wife and I have taken a picture of our kids on their first day of school every year since our oldest daughter, now a college sophomore, started Kindergarten. The kids lined up and smiled for the camera. Their faces were full of excitement for their older sister as she started school. They leaned towards each other, hugging and holding hands. Tomorrow there will be only three of them in the photo – their sister has returned to college -, and they’ll wear different expressions as they’re forced to pose for the same picture yet again this year. They’ll not be leaning into each other; they’ll not be holding hands. They’ll say, “This is so stupid. Can you please hurry. We’re going to be late.” My wife and I will force them to stand there – asking for a smile is redundant – and then proudly post the picture just like parents everywhere do these days.

Looking back on the old photos, I’m sentimental about those days. We had little kid problems then. Now we have the challenges typical of teenagers. Back then we hoped their teachers would send them home with a smiley-face sticker and a good behavior report. Now we’re lucky to learn anything about their day at all. We used to hear about their friends, and they’d show off their artwork at the dinner table every night. Now we schedule family dinners four or five days in advance due to busy schedules and we have to remind the kids that they’re required to be there.

Tomorrow I’m playing pickleball with my father and his buddies right in the middle of a busy workday. I already feel guilty not working but down the road I won’t remember working on a Thursday. I will however, remember, saying, “I’m sorry, Dad, I’m just too busy” to the many times he’s already asked me to play. He’s eighty-five and tomorrow at lunch I’ll be his playing partner.

He’ll show me off to his friends like he always does with my brothers and me, and he’ll tell a little bit of my story and hug me and smile. He’ll quietly think back to the days when I was much younger and wonder where time has gone and how much longer he and I have together. Just like I’ll have done tomorrow morning as I watch my kids walk from their first day of school picture, climb in the car, and head away.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On August 5, 2022

Cannonball


Sometimes I quickly conceive a brilliant idea and quickly make plans to execute that idea and I realize I’m smarter than I give myself credit for. 

___________________

Several years ago, I arrived at the neighborhood pool early one morning to swim laps. It was a habit I had gotten into that summer and the week before, my buddy Josh and I had talked about our workouts – how we warm up, how we keep track of laps. Stuff like that. I was going to try some of his ideas and it was early that day, but someone was already in the pool, putting in their work – head down, strong kicks, big  flip turns.

I put my towel in a chair, put my googles and my pennies – which I use to count sets – in a neat little pile at the end of an open lane at the edge of the pool. I started stretching and took a look at the other swimmer. It was Josh. He has an unmistakable balding pattern that was clearly visible in the water as he headed down his lane towards me. “Oh,” I thought, “this is going to fun.”

When Josh made his flip turn, I had backed away so he wouldn’t see me. I kept stretching and by the time he was headed back towards me and got close to the end of the pool, I took four or five running steps and I launched and tucked into the tightest cannonball an unlimber, middle-aged man could tuck in to. My launch was high, my angle was perfect, my timing was perfect, and I rolled slightly backwards to hit the water on the small of my back to make the biggest explosion possible right next to him. I saw a hole in the water form around me. I saw the water rise up on either side of me and then cave in back down on top of me, and I felt that wonderful concussion one feels when the water slams down on you after executing a flawless cannonball.

It must have thrown Josh ten feet in the air. I imagined him air born, mid-stroke, staring wild-eyed through his goggles wondering what in the world had just happened. Who did this? I heard big drops of water still hitting the surface and as I came up and I was gasping for air because I already laughing.

Most events in my world take careful and deliberate planning. But every now and then I have a quick and brilliant idea and I throw together a quick and brilliant plan that works flawlessly and I surprise myself at how well I’ve done. I tell myself that I’m smarter than I give myself credit for. Usually when I rush things, things go wrong.

Josh stood up, looked at me with his mouth wide open, ripped his googles off and…it wasn’t Josh. It was someone I had never met before. Someone I didn’t know.

I just stood there. I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t form a word. And I finally just muttered “Oh. Sorry,” and swam away as fast as I could and didn’t stop swimming until he had finished his workout, left the pool and I had seen him drive away. It was awful.

Quick planning did it to me again.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep it Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On July 29, 2022

“Do You Have a Dog Voice?”


It’s a rediculous question I ask when getting to know another couple. Their answer tells me a lot. . .

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When my wife and I meet new couples, there’s always a series of get to know you questions. “How did you two meet?” is a standard one. “Tell me about your children” is another. But a question I enjoy asking that tells me most of what I want to know about a couple is this: “Do you change your voice when you talk to your dog?” “Do you have a dog voice?”

If the couple say that they don’t have a dog, or that they only have cats, or that they don’t have a dog voice, I’m going to be on the fence about whether these people are worth getting to know. And I understand if you feel my position is an extreme rush to judgement over a silly “get to know you” question. And you’re right. It is. But there’s something about dog people and their admission to having a dog-voice that makes me think “These people are just the right kind of crazy.”

I can tell when any member of my family is talking to our dog, Lucy. Each one of us has a distinct “Lucy-voice” and no two are the same. Lucy, of course, does not care what voice anyone uses so long as it leads to attention or a scratch or food or a walk.

A well-known part of Presidential polling is that Presidents, or Presidential candidates, who have a dog get increased favorability ratings because of the dog. People tend to like Presidents who have dogs. Remember the number of times Joe Biden was pictured with his beautiful German Shephard, Champ, during his campaign? Those two were all over the media and that was no mistake. Champ got votes for Biden. According to an article on the Huffington Post, dogs make voters think, “He seems like a guy I could have a beer with.” And there’s probably some truth to that.

According to that same article, the first president in over 150 years who did not have a dog was the same guy who orders his steaks cooked well-done and then covers them in ketchup. You can guess who I’m talking about. Amazing what these preferences tell us about people, myself included.

At dinner the other night, I asked my dog voice question to a couple we’ve been friends for a while. They did not answer Yes to the dog voice question, they immediately began talking in their dog voices about their dog. They didn’t think about it, they didn’t hesitate, they instantly replied in their dog voices and begin telling us about their English bulldog, Louise, and how they talk to her and how they treat her and on and on.

My wife joined in talking about our dog, Lucy, using her dog-voice and the three of them talked for a while about their dogs, using their dog voices the whole time.

I observed. I said nothing. And I thought, “Now these people – including my wife – might just be on the other side of crazy.”

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just trying to Keep It Real.

Check out this episode!

Keepin' It Real - Podcasts
Posted On July 22, 2022

Turn Off the Lights


I say it all the time: “Turn off your lights when you leave your room!” It’s yet another way I’ve become my father. 

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I heard myself say it and I could hear my father’s voice coming out of my mouth as it happened. “Please turn off your lights when you leave your bedroom,” I said to my teenage son. “There is no need to leave those lights on if there’s no one in there. Ceiling fan, too. Turn it off or I’m taking money out of your allowance.”

I remember as a child my father saying this to me. As I’d leave for my walk to school every morning, my parents would pester me to turn off the lights. They’d remind me that electricity costs money and replacing light bulbs does, too. I’d shake my head and roll my eyes and wish my parents would worry about things that really mattered, not about light bulbs and a little bit of electricity. One of my neighborhood friend’s father worked for Alabama Power back in the day and I remember the father telling me that the cost to run an one-hundred watt light  bulb for a day was about fifty cents or something like that. And I’d remind my parents of that as I made a huff about turning around, going back into my bedroom, and turning off the lights.

Well, I have now become my father in yet another way. I now remind my own children, and one child in particular, to go back and turn off their lights when they leave their room. Whatever light is on, if they’re leaving their bedroom for any reasonable amount of time, turn it off. It’s a waste of money, I say, to light an empty room. Besides that, the power rates are higher in Alabama than average and the LED bulbs that I buy to replace the old bulbs cost a good bit more, too. These new LED light bulbs are impressive with how little electricity they use and how long they’ll last, by the way. It’s somewhat strange to know that at my age of fifty-three years old I’m buying light bulbs that could very well outlive me. I tell my children that these light bulbs are the only inheritance they’ll get from me so treat them well. These light bulbs will be my memory.

However, my urgings and reminders and pestering and threats do little to get my kids to turn their lights off. Nothing I do or say works. My wife reminds me that they’re teenagers and their brains are full of hormones and random thoughts and confusion and it’s just a jumble in their heads at this age. She says I need to give them a break. My reply is that there doesn’t appear to be anything at all going on in their heads these days if they’re incapable of simply remembering to turn off their lights.

Which is, I’m guessing, exactly what my father said about me about forty years ago.

I’m Cam Marston and I’m just Trying to Keep It Real.

Check out this episode!

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