by Mal Stylo and Jonah Begone

A handy planning tool for determining your schedule this year is the "Event-O-Meter." When you return home you may be too played out to know if you had fun at that event or not. So, simply bracket the group that best describes your overall assessment of the event. If an event seems to fall evenly between two categories, do yourself a favor and round down.

Remember, the Event-O-Meter is a flexible lifestyle management tool. Feel free to personalize it by adding some specific characteristics you remember about the event you've just returned from. Simply jot them down next to the broad categories listed below (using a pencil with the paint shaved off, of course).

The higher the score, the more effort you should make to attend the event (or one hosted by its sponsors) next year. If it rates 10 to 7, be there; 6 to 4, flip a coin; 3 or less, stay home for an evening of Spam sandwiches and "My Mother the Car" reruns.

Score and Description

10 - Just as it must have been: and nobody got hurt. The Federals win at least one battle. When you pull a five-dollar bill out of your wallet Abe winks at you and gives a "thumbs up."

9 - Same as above, but with light casualties: reasonably priced food and soft drinks. Abe smiles at you.

8 - Close to what it must have been like: the Hawaiian shave ice and tee-shirt stands are well separated from the camps and battle sites. You give Abe up for a Coke but at least you get four Georges back.

7 - Sort of what it must have been like: Battalion drill was restricted to less than two hours (per session). The battles weren't bad, but it's all Abe can do to get you a Coke and a steak-in-a-sack.

6 - It could have been like this (with some stretching of the truth): nylon and polyester uniforms are somewhat in evidence. Here and there a blanket has slipped off a beer cooler. Half the battles aren't bad.

5 - Barnum and Bailey's idea of what it must have been like: event videos available (to teach newcomers to the Civil War long after all of us are dead and buried). The "Official Reenactment Ballad" fills the air, and the campaign medal can be purchased for $9.95 about 20 yards from your tent. You're too embarrassed to pull Abe out of your wallet to see all this.

4 - The local historical society's idea of what it must have been like: Some schmuck with a CamCorder has the video rights. Half the army disappears into McDonald's on the march to the battle. Someone makes the "Why We Do This" speech. No campfires.

3 - It was never like this: the "Jolly Roger" is hoisted and the carcass of some poor animal is impaled on a stick in camp. There is no McDonald's within 50 miles. The tubby bearded guy making the "Why We Do This" speech is drunk. At least one member of the unit is missing in action.

2 - Like the dream you had after eating four slices of two-day-old cold pepperoni pizza: the flyer didn't even bother to say "Authentics Only." The guy with the only copy of the event scenario is on his way to the hospital suffering from heat prostration. Abe is making an obscene gesture.

1 - Like one of the rings of hell in Dante's "Divine Comedy": during the battle you see one of the teenage members of your unit looking down the barrel of a cannon. You've lost your campaign medal, and the guy who drove you to the event just got hauled away to the hospital with a sheet pulled over his face (and guess who has the car keys?). You see more paramedics than Federals.

0 - Like a script from "Freddy's Nightmares": at best boring, at worst deadly. M80s are tossed around. One of your guys directing traffic causes a multiple car accident. The sponsors want you to work up skits. You talked up the event to another unit and one of them asks, "Whose $&#!!@! idea was this, anyway?" In a final gesture of presidential disapproval, Abe offers you his tickets to Ford's Theater.