There are many challenges we face as Americans. Like terrorism and poverty and disease and the WB. We have plenty to help us through such maladies: security and charity and medicine and remote controls. But we have nothing to help us through the most difficult challenge of all – getting through a page-a-day calendar without reading ahead.

I could never do it. Because page-a-day calendars are either awesome or horrible. If it's awesome, I want to read ahead. And if it's horrible, I toss the thing by January 12th.

I have had many page-a-day calendars, and even more if you count the times I lived vicariously through my older brother. His first one was a joke-a-day, where most of the jokes are only called jokes by the people who market the calendar. Most of them went something like this:

Q. Why can't Captain Hook make eggs?

A. Because he's always trying to destroy the pan!

I just came up with that. Maybe I should sell horrible "joke" page-a-day calendars that mothers can buy for their sons because no son would buy it for himself.

The jokes, most of which were in the Q. A. format, were so bad I imagine that some of the pages contained an audible rim shot after each one. I remember one joke in particular that was so awful I scrawled "SUCKS!!!!" in huge letters on the back of the page. Except I was eight years old, and that is not something a mother likes her eight-year-old son to do. Though, as an eight-year-old, I didn't know what the calendar sucked, just that it sucked something.

My mother banned my brother from showing me any more of the calendar to prevent me from finding out what, exactly, it sucked. In retrospect, I am very glad she did because I developed a sense of humor, something I would not have done if I grew up exposed to jokes like this:

Q. Thank you for applying to work at the first national bank. What is your name?

A. Yake Yohnson.

Q. And where did you receive your education?

A. Yale.

That, incidentally, is that joke that I said sucked somethingorother. And while I didn't know what it sucked, I did know that the joke would have been funnier if they swapped the two questions so the punch line wasn't telegraphed so early. You hear me, joke calendar makers? An eight-year-old said you shouldn't telegraph your punch lines. He also said you suck.

My brother's next page-a-day calendar was much better. Though a "disease-a-day" calendar would have been better than the one he'd previously had. His next page-a-day was The Far Side, which is a wonderful thing and obviously a present from someone not closely related to us. I was so happy that my brother finally got a Far Side calendar that I tried to read through it all at once. He got VERY angry, and told me I was violating the page-a-day rules. I put it down and never touched it again, lest he report me and I get sent off to Yale.

After that, I finally got my own page-a-day: a baseball calendar. This, I was excited about; mom took a step up here. But she was duped – it wasn't REALLY a baseball calendar. Each day was merely a listing of baseball birthdays. I remember my excitement when I discovered that Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell were born on the exact same day. What are the odds that not only two all-star first basemen shared a birthday, but that a kid had so little of a life that he'd notice?

I don't know which baseball players I share a birthday with – probably because by September, I was very bored of not caring who had what birthday.

There were other attempts to buy me a good page-a-day, partially because I never purchased one for myself. But when I went to college, the trend stopped. Because in college, I'd constantly have to be reading two days at a time after I slept through the first one.

Last year, after I returned to a world that actually uses alarm clocks, my father bought me the best page-a-day he could – a Dave Barry calendar. Dave Barry, aside from being the best writer in the world, is the best writer in the world. And not only did I prevent myself from reading ahead, I even kept up with it most days. Right up until last week, when I finished it and the last page reminded me how to buy one for this year. I don't think I will though. Getting through 2003 was exhausting enough. I need a break. Maybe I'll use the time off to write my own.

The pan! Get it?