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Talking Tall

Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels has starred in so many local videos that some folks call them “The Sheriff’s Reality Show.”  Daniels is running for re-election, so his intended audience for the voluminous videos is typically Clay County residents and the 6 and 11 0’clock news.   But on Tuesday, June 30th he stepped up his game. In a videoed press-release to the entire nation, the sheriff appeared to be channeling Walking Tall tough-talking cowboy, Tennessee lawman Buford Pusser.

In his 3-minute video, Daniels, much shorter than Pusser, stood in a parking lot on a hot Florida day with his round body trussed up tight in a long-sleeved green uniform shirt, heavy with badges, bars, stripes, patches and emblems from his neck to his wrists. The sheriff wore his trademark tax-payer-purchased white cowboy hat and is flanked by 18 male deputies in short sleeves.  At a time when some law enforcement officers have been condemned for excessive force, Daniels vowed some excessive force of his own. As the perfectly choreographed music swelled, he promised the nation that should Clay County have an onslaught of protesters, rioters and god-less troublemakers, he would deputize gun-toting county residents to wage war against the desperadoes…if his deputies got outmanned or outgunned.

“If you come to Clay County and you think for one second, we’ll bend our backs for you,” strongly asserted Daniels,  “you’re sadly mistaken.”

Daniels was hailed a hero by numerous national news sources. Small and large affiliates gave him resounding atta-boys. On Twitter, Ann Coulter called him “Sainted Sheriff Daniels.” He was interviewed and saluted by Fox News’ Lou Dobbs.  The sheriff had the interview, along with accolades from other news sources, immediately posted on campaign and social media sites.

Perplexed, commenters on numerous county social media sites began virally scratching their head at the sheriff’s display. Clay County’s beautiful sleepy little community has cat-napped without any incidence of discord or racial disharmony that afflicted other communities. Residents were quick to point out that their county had elected a black sheriff. Yet, it appeared to some residents that the sheriff had issued a challenge to insurgents throughout the nation to come on down to Clay County for a shoot-out and a butt-whooping.

“This wannabe cowboy is overreacting to a problem that does not exist,” said Clay County resident Martin Borum.  “Now he may have just created a bigger problem.”

Less than 24-hours after Daniels national debut, North Florida news media released some disturbing news about the sheriff, which made his video performance appear an attempt to head-off-at-the-pass the trouble he knew was brewing.

The news was that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE)  had concluded their 13-month investigation into alleged illegal actions by the sheriff which happened on May 6, 2019.   The FDLE said they were turning over their investigation to Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson.  Nelson immediately bounced it back to Governor Ron DeSantis’s Office for reassignment. Nelson said her office had reviewed the FDLE’s investigation and Clay County assistant state attorneys may become witnesses in the case against Sheriff’s Darryl Daniels.

Daniels’ legal troubles traced back to a 2018 investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JS0).  The JSO was investigating crimes possibly committed by one of their young corrections officers, Cierra Lewis Smith. During the investigation, they accidentally discovered that Smith had been working directly under chief jailer, Darryl Daniels…apparently, in more ways than one. The investigation evidenced that Smith and Daniels, who was 27-years Smith’s senior, were involved in a long-term affair. By the time they got around to interviewing Daniels in the Smith investigation, he had been elected as Clay County’s top cop and just said “naw” to a request for an interview. Smith lost her job.

According to Clay County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) investigative notes, Cierra Smith said Daniels told her news sources had obtained the JSO investigation and the affair was going to be released. He told Smith he was going to tell his wife about the affair and told his girlfriend he would “stand by her.”

The sheriff did tell his wife. However, he left out a few details others might consider important.  He was still involved in a six-year affair with Smith and she was pregnant.

 Daniels set up a meeting with his pregnant girlfriend. When he saw his lover approaching their “usual” place, he phoned his deputies and said he was “in fear for his life” from a stalker.  Deputies arrested Smith.

Officers took Smith’s statement, which described the relationship in detail. A flail began.  After six hours, someone in Daniels’ command staff finally tossed the arrest to the State Attorney’s Office, who ordered Smith’s immediate release.  The SA’s office turned the investigation over to the FDLE.

Daniels’ wife filed for divorce. Nevertheless, the sheriff called a “Town Hall Meeting” and said his wife had forgiven him, they were once again together and the rest was nobody business. (The divorce remains open in the Duval County Clerk’s office.)  His girlfriend had a son, but would not name the father. Court records show the father had the records sealed so his name would not appear on the child’s birth certificate.

After the media hoopla about the sheriff’s affair and the arrest of his girlfriend died down, the sheriff’s video productions company was born.  Within his Public Information Unit (PIU), the sheriff created a veritable marking department, complete with high-tech equipment. The goods to be marketed was Darryl Daniels. 

The sheriff hired a new workforce, including Laura Shassberger, former Bureau Chief of Northeast Alabama at WHNT News 19.  One of Shassberger’s skills was as a videographer.  Daniels “rebranded” the sheriff’s office into his own image with new logos on new vehicles and uniforms, while he sound-proofed a new office…all at a tremendous expense to the taxpayers.

Daniels new Public Information Officers earned their salaries. In the sheriff’s videos, dudes with doobies were often transformed into major drugs busts on North Florida’s evening news. When the cameras were cold, the tokers went home with little or no charges.

In January 2020, six months into his new video series, Sheriff Daniels announced he would seek re-election. He began his campaign with little money in his coffers.  Most of the donations were from people within the CCSO.  Command Staff officers said they were told they and their wives should make $1500 donations each.  Disgusted, some officers retired and some said they sucked it up and wrote checks, according to officers who spoke on the basis of anonymity with Folio. 

In fact, Clay’s sheriff didn’t really need the campaign funds; the taxpayers were already financing Daniels’ own private campaign in the office of his PIU.  His videos, neighborhood walks and public appearances ramped up even more, culminating in his June 30 Cowboy Cop video to the nation.

After the FDLE and SA’s announcement on July 2, things weren’t going so well for the sheriff in his neck of the woods. While still being lauded nationally, most of his six campaign opponents were quick to point out in the news media the numerous flaws in his plans. Legally, they said, he could not deputize citizens. Opponents said other law enforcement agencies, along with the national guard would be the first and second line of defense for any issues that happened in Clay County and labeled his proposal a call for “vigilantism.”

“If I was under criminal investigation by FDLE, I’d want to change the subject too,” said opponent Michelle Cook.

The same day, Ben Frazier, Northeast Florida civil rights activist based in Jacksonville and president of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, demanded an apology from the sheriff. 

“His comments are incendiary and fan the flames of potential conflict, and unrest, in our area,” said Frazier. On Friday, July 3, Ken Jefferson, a respected black retired JSO officer and the News4Jax Crime Officer, said he believed the video was an example of a free political ad.           

“I think that’s a bluff more than anything,” Jefferson said. “It sounds good on the surface. You can’t have chaos among citizens. Citizens already have the right to defend themselves.”

In his video, Daniels  said “God was absent from…Black Lives Matter.”  By Friday afternoon, Black Lives Matters (BLM) was no longer absent from Clay County. Local prophesies came true.  A white man-bunned protester showed up on the busier streets in Clay County waving a BLM banner.

Over the weekend, Daniels released a “just kidding” statement in a much less public venue to locals saying he actually couldn’t deputize citizens.

“That would be a violation or dereliction of my duties as the sheriff,” he said. “That would also be a violation of state statute.”

Still out on county streets on Tuesday, July 7th, the flag waver was identified as BLM-Clay County leader Kevin Conner.  The waver is a soft-spoken polite young father in his early 40’s.  He prefaces questions and answers with “sir,”  “ma’am,” and “please.” Conner holds a degree from the Appalachian State University in North Carolina, and built a successful online marketing and sales company in the US and Canada.  He sold the US branch last year. 

The protester told Folio that his group came together to protest in Clay County because of the sheriff’s video.  “He was essentially saying the First Amendment is not welcome in Clay,” Conner declared, “He has clearly shown himself to be a serious threat to the very thing he swore to uphold, the Constitution.”

 Conner created the Black Lives Matter-Clay County Facebook the same day.  “I think Clay County is ready for BLM,”  he pronounced.

By Wednesday the numbers on the BLM-FB had grown with people joining from Clay County, Jacksonville and numerous states across the nation.  Conner posted that he had been in Clay County and had been treated with kindness and respect from Clay County officers.

But the peace would not last.

Thursday afternoon, Kevin Conner, along with two protesters and a woman who videoed the event, were at an entrance to a local Wal-Mart in Fleming Island.  A video was taken of Conner asking a white officer where the three could wave BLM flags.  The officer is cordial and helpful and shows Conner where the trio could safely and legally stand.  The video shows the three standing in the exact place the first officer had directed, when three CCSO vehicles pull up. A large black officer exits a truck. The Officer is Emmett Matthews.

It was odd that Matthews was there, remarked several Clay County Deputies, because the retired JSO officer works for the sheriff as a Community Affairs Officer.  Matthews doesn’t typically work the streets but always accompanies the sheriff in public appearances and is often seen at lunch with the sheriff and campaigning for and with him. Deputies refer to the big man as the sheriff’s “bodyguard.”

Matthews did not appear happy.  “You know you owe me lunch, don’t you?” he calls loudly as he exits his truck.  “I got called from MY lunch, ‘cause he in the road.” 

“We haven’t done anything wrong, right?” Conner asks as Matthews approaches.

“If the first thing you say, if you say you haven’t done anything, you probably have.” calls the officer. “There are a certain set of rules, you are either going listen or else I’m going to dismiss you.”

“Yes sir.  Sir, I’m listening.  I’m listening.”  assures Conner in his typical polite manner.

“If you want to talk to me like a man, we good.” warns the officer.

“Yes Sir.  Yes Sir.” answers Conner.

Motorists wave and honk, Kevin Conner waves back.  The video shows Matthews is clearly agitated at the loss of attention as more conversation ensues. Matthews tells Conner he can stand across the sidewalk on another grassy area, but Conner said the other officer told him it was private property.

The women step back as Matthews steps closer. After more conversation, surprisingly, Officer Matthews orders Connor to put his flags on the ground, pads his pockets and orders him to give his phone to another protester.  One of the women begins to cry as it become clear the officer is arresting Conner. 

“Yes sir, yes sir.” Conner complies.  “Why are you arresting me?”

Matthews does not reply.

“Why are you arresting me? What crime have I committed? I need you, please sir, to name the crime I’ve committed.” begs Conner.

Matthews orders him to put his hands behind his back.

“I will co-operate and put my hands behind my back.” promises Kevin Conner.

“You’re gonna do that anyway.” assures Matthews. “I’m gonna ask you one more time, then it’s resisting.”

Kevin Conner backs up and puts his hands behind his back and looks around as Matthews strapped a pair of soft-cuffs on his wrists.

“Do we know what crime has been committed…anybody, anybody?” Conner beseeches as he looks around. 

According to the video, Conner was arrested at about 12:34 p.m.  He said he was handcuffed and placed in the back of a CCSO vehicle driven by Deputy V. Terry.  Conner said the car was hot as the air-conditioner was on a very low setting.  He asked for water, but none was provided. The protester said Matthews stood laughing and talking to the two other officers and to people who stopped.  Then, Matthews was out of view for a while, possibly seeking the lunch he missed. 

Finally, after several hours in the back of the Terry’s hot county SUV, Conner said Terry got into the car and cranked up the air-conditioner as Matthews lead the two deputies to the parking lot in an office building off Hwy. 17.  Conner said the officers talked for about 30 minutes, while he sat handcuffed in the car, then the three headed for the CCSO, where he was finally booked and placed in a cell.

Officer Emmett Matthews arrested Kevin Ray Conner for resisting arrest, but his arrest report does not resemble the exchange in the video. Matthews noted the time of the arrest as 1:30, an hour after the time the video recorded it. The video showed he complied with every command and request from the officer and never approached the roadside. Yet, Matthews wrote in the short arrest report the “offender” refused to obey the officer’s commands. “The offender was asked multiple times to stay out of the roadway and to discontinue to obstruct the view of the turning motorist.  Again, the offender refused and continue to walk where he was told not to walk.”

The video began to appear on news media and social media sites throughout the area.   A go-fund-me page was started to get Conner out of jail.

It appeared Sheriff Daniels may have overplayed his hand.  Just after sunrise on Friday morning, renown barrister Civil Rights Attorney John Phillips rode across the Buckman Bridge to promptly spring Conner. Phillips was stymied at the arrest:

“He wasn’t arrested for walking out into a street or an illegal protest. He was arrested for resisting an officer without violence.” Phillips explained.  “In the video, you can hear the officer say clear as day, ‘If you don’t comply, I am going to arrest you.’ He immediately puts his hands behind his back.”

By Friday afternoon, a full-fledged BLM “Silent March” had been organized in protest of Conner’s arrest and slatted for Saturday morning at 10 a.m. on the corner of a busy intersection in Clay County.  On Facebook, Conner provided a video with detailed instructions to ensure the protest remained peaceful. 

The sheriff appeared to be marshalling his forces for the march.   Photos of Daniels’ SWAT vehicles, marked cars, unmarked cars and transports lined up ready for action were posted on local social media and on the BLM Facebook. Commenters on the BLM Facebook hoped and planned for peace, however after the arrest and the police brigade waiting, they doubted peace would reign.

Gawkers, perplexed and surprised by the strange activity in their small community, watched from a distance.  A small group of “Blue Lives Matter” stood across the street. About 100 marchers came to Clay County from local burbs, Jacksonville and points beyond.  Strangely absent was a police presence.  One marked car and several unmarked vehicles were scattered throughout several parking lots around the location.

The protesters were greeted by cheers and jeers from motorists, as some registered their feelings according to their choice of finger.  The protesters marched mostly silent carrying signs of protest, many of which were aimed at the sheriff,  along  their three-mile trek.  An  airplane pulled a large banner unobscured in the blue skies over Clay.  “Make #CCSO Clean Again-Dump Daniels!”

Despite the local blow-back from his video and the arrest of Kevin Ray Conner, Daniels seems intent to fulfill his plans to become the sheriff for one more term, then mosey on up to a congressional seat in Washington. Some or all of that may happened.

His boot-scoot into the nation-wide spotlight was a brilliant piece of public relations by his PIU.  It gave him a 10-point bump in the polls.  He is now 11-points ahead of Michelle Cook, his closest competitor. Although approximately 67% of the county is against Daniels, with seven candidates in the race, it may be hard for Cook to reach the sheriff’s percentages.  Nevertheless, none of the six candidates have expressed any desire to withdraw from the race. The sheriff can win the election on August 18 with only one vote.

Still, there are several burrs in the sheriff’s saddle bag of plans. Law enforcement officers from CCSO and the JSO say the sheriff calculatingly broke the law when he conspired to have his girlfriend arrested, then facilitated the arrest.  Officers say if a deputy under the sheriff’s command acted as the sheriff did, he would already be fired and arrested. Additionally, Kevin Conner said he is working with John Phillips on a civil suit against the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, as well as Daniels and Matthews personally.

Legal experts believe with COVID-19 there is little chance a State Attorney will convene a grand-jury trial for the sheriff’s misdeeds before the August 18th election. Nonetheless, if he is elected yet found guilty of a crime, he could be arrested and/or removed.  This would trigger another election, which will be a huge financial burden for a small county in the midst of pandemic.

Although some commenters on the BLM-Facebook have called for less-than-peaceful protests in Clay County,  Kevin Conner labors for peaceful resolutions.

“I believe any significant social change requires the movement to be both sustained and peaceful.” He insists. 

Clearly, Sheriff Darryl Daniels invited social unrest into Clay County, Florida with his coast-to-coast video. BLM videos have been produced and distributed across the US, with the sheriff’s provocative remarks as a lead-in as he plays a prominent role throughout.    Marches are taking place in the county and more are coming.  No one can predict what will happen in the once tranquil hamlet in North Florida.  But one thing is certain.  Despite his tall-talking promise, Sheriff Darryl Daniels will not be deputizing the gun-owners of Clay County, Florida.

The City Destroyable

In an ill-advised move to position Jacksonville as the bland new city of the south, the Curry administration adopted the slogan It’s Easier Here. I don’t need to tell you why that’s a horrible slogan—you are reading Folio, which means you are a functioning human. 

Some cities adopt slogans that unify, like Columbus Ohio’s cheeky Columbus campaign. Or uplifting slogans, like Orlando’s The City Beautiful.  These send a succinct overarching message to visitors, businesses, and citizens. It’s Easier Here is just a lie. 

May I suggest for Jacksonville: The City Destroyable. After all, it seems that City Council is determined to allow historic buildings to be demolished left and right, even as historians and preservationists sound alarms about their significance. 

The latest building to meet its fate, Kartouche as it is colloquially called, was demolished into a pile of bricks. Soon to be an empty field, the lot may someday turn into a gas station. Kartouche, like its few neighboring buildings in LaVilla, was home to performances by Black entertainers across decades. From Ludacris and Pharrell to Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, LaVilla’s storied past is being razed in favor of a corporate future. Moreover, Jacksonville’s Black history is being destroyed by its White leaders. 

While Ludacris and Pharrell may not be historic enought to warrant landmarking Kartouche, it’s hard to imagine needing to raze a building for a gas station, especially when there are empty lots throughout downtown, ready to be utilized. With the majority of its original buildings gone,  the history of Lavilla is now relegated almost entirely to plaques and the Ritz museum. 

Tourists and Jaxons alike often lament the lack of culture in Jacksonville. Those remarks aren’t always fair, but The City Destroyable is trying it’s hardest to make them true. When Curry promised on election night that we wouldn’t recognize downtown in four years, he was right. Being unrecognizable is the point. 

But don’t worry, I’ve heard there might be electric charging stations.

No Decline? Then stay online.

What started as a small Facebook group comprised of parents worried about the implications of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic has become a collective voice of opposition. With more than 3,100 members, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has been able to consistently share information and updates, plan rallies, and call for action.

The idea for the group began after the release of the Duval County Public Schools’ preliminary back-to-school plan on June 23. In response, Marla Bryant, a parent of an incoming DCPS, reached out to parents who have served on different DCPS task forces over the years and asked them for their thoughts regarding the plan.

“After texting back-and-forth about [the plan], we decided to do a Zoom call that Saturday morning. At that point, we decided to form the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, launching our Facebook page that Monday, June 29,” Bryant said. “From the start, we knew that we needed to band together and get like-minded people to also voice their opinions about returning to school.”

Through this approach, the group quickly grew in numbers and has harnessed attention from local and national media outlets, as well as sparked conversation with Duval County Public Schools’ leaders directly. Now one of nine founding group members, Bryant says she recognizes that there is likely no single solution to the return-to-school issue that will make everyone happy.

“I think the DCPS superintendent and school board are trying to do the best they can to make everyone happy, but in reality, there’s no way to do that,” Bryant said. “They want to deliver school in every form imaginable, so that people who have to turn to the brick-and-mortar buildings for a variety of reasons, such as home situations, can.”

However, Bryant said the group’s worry is that the children who do need to return to the physical school location will lose out in the end as they will become the most susceptible to the virus. In addition, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has partnered with another Facebook group formed by district teachers, Duval for a Safe Return to Campus, to help ensure their safe return to school as well.

Since holding their third joint rally last month, the latest called “A Day of Action Against Inaction,” Bryant says the group feels strongly that it has helped ignite change.

For example, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team advocated that Duval HomeRoom be extended to all K-12 students, and also urged district leaders to allow magnet school students to be able to keep their spots should they choose a remote option. Both requests were approved by DCPS. The group also had pushed for a later start date for school because of the now-cancelled Republican National Convention in Jacksonville; the district delayed the first day of school from August 10 until August 20. 

On Monday, the plan to reopen Duval County schools on Aug. 20 was approved by the Florida Department of Education.

“We’re really excited about some of the things that we’ve achieved, but there’s still more things that we want the district to do to make returning to school safe for everyone,” Bryant said. “We want 100% online instruction the first nine weeks, since our numbers [were] so incredibly high [in late July] and will continue to be over the next few weeks.”

Both groups are still calling for there to be two full weeks without any positive cases in Duval County prior to students and staff returning to school buildings and that masks be added to the DCPS Student Code of Conduct as part of the dress code violation for noncompliance.

Baking it Through a Pandemic

One year ago, Jen and Ray Ezenbacher decided to turn their favorite late night snack into a Jacksonville Beach small business, having never anticipated the challenges coming their way. Despite dealing with a global pandemic, the couple credits devotion to improvement and a supportive local community as to what has helped them survive.

Back in 2019, the Ezenbachers were simply thinking about how much they loved cookies, especially Jen’s. She grew up in a family that loved to bake, and was constantly testing recipes from friends. After meeting Ray, it turned out he didn’t mind being a taste-tester. As a married couple, homemade cookies with ice cream became their go-to treat. This mutual love of sweets got them thinking, why couldn’t they bake and sell their own cookies at the beach? Yet, as fate would have it, one day Jen passed by what appeared to be an empty shop on a corner of 13th Ave. N. Curious, she returned with Ray and a ‘for sale’ sign appeared out front. Before the property had even been officially listed online, they decided to pursue renting the storefront and Cookies and Creme was born.

“We had been talking about this idea, and it was like the very next day the big real estate sign was outside ” Jen said. “It happened so fast.” “We’ve let the business grow very organically since then. We didn’t force anything,” Ray added.

Once acquainted with their new space, locals began flocking in to check out the newest dessert spot in town. The response was great, but customers began asking if the ice cream was homemade in addition to the cookies. While it wasn’t at first, Ray decided he was going to learn the art of ice cream making - and not just from Google. Instead, he found a former ice cream shop owner to mentor him for a month. “He taught me the process of putting the ice cream together, building flavors and how you work the machine. Now all of our recipes are literally ones I’ve made up myself,” Ray said. “To be quite honest, most of the ice cream flavors I make from scratch are made on a whim based on what sounds good.”

Now able to sell both homemade cookies and ice cream, Cookies and Creme has developed a long list of repeat customers. Their most popular flavor is Cookies and Creme Extreme, made with ground up frozen cookies from the day before. Delicious and sustainable. Jen and Ray say they have worked hard to create a place where all ages can go, enjoy their products and “just be.” “The response has been overwhelming,” Jen said. “People have been so encouraging and supportive. They’ll even stop by just to check on us and ask how we’re doing if they’re next door getting gas.”

Although Cookies and Creme anticipated business picking up during the spring and summer months, the spread of coronavirus rapidly changed day-to-day business operations. Once bustling with playful kids and hungry patrons, the Ezenbachers say they were forced to use the virus as an opportunity to elevate their standards and ensure they could deliver their products in the safest way possible.

“It’s been scary and nerve wracking, but at the same time it’s comforting to know how unbelievably supportive the local community has been,” Ray said. “We have locals that come here fi ve to six times a week, buy gift certificates just to get them and genuinely support us. That’s incredible to me.” Since they already wore gloves and hairnets in the kitchen area, the onset of the coronavirus mostly meant shifting service to the door rather than from behind the counter. Everyone wears masks, everything is constantly wiped and sanitized and any employee who feels uncomfortable performing certain tasks is accommodated. Why? Because they say their shop is about more than just making a dollar, but about proving that they are a part of the community that truly cares.

“I think we just do a lot of things that are different from other ice cream-type places,” Jen said. “We wake up in the morning trying to just catch up with what happened overnight. We want to know what people are thinking, talking about and what they want.” Heading into their second year of business, Ray says that he and Jen are assessing business operations daily. Along with staying on top of all coronavirus- related mandates, they use a suggestion box and use online feedback to ensure that they’re doing all they can to promote happy customers and continued success.

“When we first opened I took on the motto ‘all you’re trying to do is get a little bit better everyday,’” Ray said. “Focusing on getting a little better each day is how everything has grown into what it has. Our business is growing and it’s cool to watch, but it’s even cooler to be a part of.” Through these efforts, Cookies and Creme has survived a pandemic in its fi rst year. Whatever comes the business’s way during year two, Jen and Ray are ready with the support of Jacksonville Beach.

“We appreciate the community more than they’ll ever know,” Ray said. “What you put out you always get back.” 

Dear Dumbs, Column 1

Dear Dumbs,

            My husband suddenly passed a few years ago to cancer. I loved this man completely. I have since met a new wonderful guy who just asked me to marry him. However, something strange happened during the proposal. I had never stopped wearing my wedding ring from my previous relationship. When he asked me to marry him, I froze because I had never removed that ring. I just couldn’t do it and he got pretty hurt. He slipped the ring back into his jacket, and drove me home. We’ve only exchanged a couple of awkward, meaningless text since then. What do I do now?

          Vee - in Orange Park

             Terry: Congrats on hooking up with the most clueless man in the world, Vee. How did this guy not notice that you’re still wearing your old wedding ring? I know I had to get Shari’s ring size before I went shopping. By the way, it’s 4 1/4. People thought I was Jeffrey Epstein.

            Shari: Vee - I’m surprised that you didn’t think about your ring, either. Most likely you knew the proposal was coming, as these things are rarely a total surprise.

            Terry: I just hope these guys share the same name. If you scream out the wrong one in a moment of passion there will be a divorce in your future. That being said, let’s try to get you back to square one. I can tell you want to be with him and I don’t feel that this is a lost cause.

            Shari: I agree it’s not a lost cause but both of you need to take some responsibility here.

            Terry: Good luck getting a guy whose heart is now in the back of his underwear to shoulder the blame. I agree with Shari though, this won’t move forward until both of you find a way to talk and hopefully laugh about it. But I think you need to make the first move. Remember, right now he’s still hurting because he’s out the 35 bucks he spent on a ring. That’s what I spent anyway. But that was 27 years ago.

            Shari: Okay, Vee, let’s be honest. It doesn’t sound like you’re ready to move on. And that’s okay. Maybe you’re not finished with your grieving. The new guy should not take this so personal. You love a guy that’s not available - like being in love with a priest. It’s just not gonna happen. You should ask the new guy to give you some more time (if he’s still around). If he cares for you as much as he professes, he’ll wait.

            Terry: I hate to say this, but it would be hard for anybody to date or marry a widow or widower. From his standpoint he’s in a no-win situation. He will never match up to your deceased husband. Ever. And you know that, Vee. If you want this to work, you better get used to pointing out all the great things he brings into your life. Apologize for your part in the worst proposal ever and promise him that if he ever asks you again that he’s your choice for the next phase of your life. On a side note, I think my wife has it for a priest now.

            Shari: Nope, not hot for a priest, I just finished watching Fleabag.

            Terry: Bottom line is that he’s hurt and probably a little embarrassed. However, you can save this if you want to. Reach out to him like I said and I bet all this will be behind you. Or, go to church and bag a priest. Apparently, that’s a thing.

       Shari: We will be thinking of you. Please send us an update. We would hate to choke on our first ever Dear Dumbs advice column.