Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter." Similarly, if it were left to me to decide on a winter without hockey, or hockey without winter, I'd actually lean toward a Thrashers-Wild tilt.

Who doesn't miss the NHL?

This has been a miserable eight weeks -- worse than the dark autumn of 1993 when Fox aired "The Chevy Chase Show" -- and my therapist, a fellow hockey fan and Krispy Kreme aficionado, suggested I keep a journal of how I have filled all these empty nights so that one day I might better understand the hurt.

Day 1. Commissioner Gary Bettman announces the NHL is locking out players. Fearing the worst, I go to the library and check out "Gone With the Wind" and "War and Peace."

Day 8. I take a date to Applebee's -- a friend who just got out of prison told me the crispy orange chicken skillet is to die for -- and our waiter, somewhat to my surprise, is Sergei Fedorov.

Day 12. You know, I live in L.A., so I'm twice as put out as the next hockey guy.

Day 17. I remember I was working at Taco Bell or Big Boy -- I guess this would've been the late '70s -- and management also locked us out (actually, they just locked out me and my buddy Vic), but, as I recall, it had nothing to do with a salary dispute.

Day 23. The good thing about the American Hockey League, you get to see Norfolk, Bridgeport, Grand Rapids, Rochester, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, plus there's a generous per diem!

(Column Intermission: Timmy Chang -- yes, our Timmy Chang -- is now the NCAA's all-time career passer, with 15,303 yards, after completing 26 of 42 passes for 285 yards in Hawaii's 34-23 victory over Louisiana Tech. If you ever get to see a Chang pass in mid-flight, it will remind you of Manet's "A Bar at the Folies-Bergeres," only with laces.)

Day 31. In the cab line at LAX, there are four out-of-work, moonlighting Zamboni drivers. As luck would have it, I get one of them -- I save money because my fare is off the meter, but, man, that's a slow drive home.

Day 34. I turn on "Hockey Night in Canada" and see an Indiana Jones movie. That's like walking into a jewelry store and seeing a fishmonger.

Day 35. Lonely and destitute, I call Barry Melrose. Luckily, for both of us, he screens his calls.

Day 38. While at the video store to rent "Slap Shot," I run into Emilio Estevez, who insists I get "D3: The Mighty Ducks" instead.

Day 42. One-third of NHL players are now playing in Europe. I believe it was former Flyer Dave Schultz who once said, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

Day 44. To fill the NHL void, the University of Victoria decides to add a course called, "Hockey Literature and the Canadian Psyche." It's a three-hour class, with two 15-minute breaks and a penalty box.

Day 45. Bettman tells Canadian sports network TSN, "I say this -- and I hate when I say it -- we lose less money when we are not playing." In other words, if the NHL stays idle until, say, 2010, by that point it will be in the black!

Day 49. The NHL cancels the All-Star Game scheduled for Feb. 13, casting into doubt my annual NHL All-Star Weekend sushi barbeque/bowling-and-gin-rummy/miniature-golf-and-mime dinner-and-slumber party that culminates with the ABC game telecast.

Day 51. I guess I could start reading one of those books, but I'd hate to be 25 pages into something when the NHL season could resume.

Day 54. I get into a brawl with an 8-year-old while playing air hockey at a local arcade.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Can you explain the media's fascination with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis? Having him "miked" isn't too suspenseful -- he just keeps repeating the same stuff over and over. (Tom Czerski; Pittsburgh)

A. I'm not here to defend TV producers or Ray Lewis, but I seem to recall that many, many years ago they'd stick a mike in front of Charo and all she would say is, "cuchi, cuchi!" and, well, that was worth a lot of money.

Q. Considering he is getting old, is out of shape and works about five minutes per week, what is the main difference between Jerome Bettis and yourself? (Paul Martin; Dayton, Ohio)

A. Boy, it's a tough crowd.

Q. I am considering an investment in a pay-per-view venture that would allow subscribers to listen to ESPN poker broadcasts but substitute any commentary by Couch Slouch with interludes of Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem. What do you think? (Paul Buch; Andover, N.J.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley. In pennies.

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