A reader named Debbie threw down the gauntlet.
''Watch it with the gauntlet,'' I yelped. ''You nearly smashed my toes.''
Debbie jammed her hand back inside the iron-plated glove. ''The crazy thing keeps slipping off. Anyway, I'm issuing you a challenge - I dare you to write a column tying together a shoe sale, a snake and a straw.''
I backed up. It's dangerous standing so close to falling gauntlets. ''It so happens that I do have such a story.''
Well, as I told Debbie, it was a beautiful spring morning, the kind of day when dandelions and yard sale signs pop up all over.
I was driving along, daydreaming about baseball, when I saw a hideous lamp resting like a gargoyle at the edge of a table full of clothes and mismatched dishes. The horrid thing looked to be a swirl of sunburnt oranges, shriveled limes and rotted bananas.
Perfect! I'd had the misfortune of being invited to a wedding. If I gave the happy couple that monstrosity, no one would ever ask me to one of those blessed events again.
I whipped the car to the side of the road, leaped the ditch, and entered the yard sale fray.
''How much for the lamp?'' I asked a lady who resembled the lamp.
''Can't you read? It's $25, just like it's marked.''
''I've got, let's see, $6.32.''
''Now it'll cost you $30, smart guy. Keep it up, and it'll be $40. It was my great-granny's, you know.''
''Ah, Granny's fine. She just couldn't stand the sight of the thing.''
I scanned the tables for some other likely gift. I dodged around a yard-saler flipping through a wad of blouses while she sipped a Coke through one of those green curly-swirly straws. A collection of worn-out bowling shoes lay scattered across a patch of lawn. They were marked 50 cents each, and went well with the lamp.
The happy couple didn't bowl. So I figured two sets of shoes that nearly matched would work just as well as the lamp at getting me banned from weddings.
Just as I was about to match a set of shoes, a garter snake slithered from behind a tree, swished through the grass, and slipped into one of the shoes. I snapped around to alert the keeper of the yard sale, and smacked right into the curly-swirly straw lady.
''Watch it,'' the lady yelped. ''You made me drop my straw.''
''Safer than dropping gauntlets,'' I said.
Her eyes never leaving the rack of jeans she rifled, the lady reached for the curly-swirly straw. She came up with a curly-swirly garter snake instead.
Things weren't too bad when she dipped one end of the snake into her Coke. But when she tried to draw drink through the other end, the excitement level shot up faster than a thrown gauntlet.
By the time all the screaming, jumping and flinging of tables subsided, I was able to buy the ghastly lamp for only $3. I had to glue it back together before the wedding, but I think it improved its looks.
And that, I told Debbie, is what happened with the shoe sale, a snake and a straw.
Debbie rubbed her iron glove. ''It'll do, I suppose. But I bet your readers can do better.''
''I guess we'll find out. Throw down the gauntlet.'' I jumped out of the way.
---- Take the challenge. Send your story of a shoe sale, a snake and a straw to Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or to the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook.