The Beltwide Cotton Conferences is a combination of family reunion, industry pep rally; smaltzy display of new products (and old ones shined up to look new), an orgy of heavy eating, free munchies, all the Kool-Aid (yeah, right) you can drink, and a veritable honey hole of story ideas.

Never plan on enough sleep, enough exercise or enough self-control to keep your mind alert and your body fit. If you don't have bags under your eyes by day two, you're not working hard enough.

We have hospitality rooms, receptions and dinner with business acquaintances and then more Kool-Aid until the wee hours of the night, when we crawl into bed after requesting a 5:30 wake-up call so we can make the 6:00 prayer breakfast, which I'll need in abundance.

My feet hurt and I've only been here 12 hours. The bed's too soft; the pillow too hard and the slacks that fit perfectly at last year's conference evidently shrank over the summer. By the time I get home, they probably won't button.

Fortunately, Atlanta has a number of boutiques in the downtown area where, for merely half a year's salary, I can get re-tailored, perhaps something in plaid since my wife is not here to provide some semblance of style to what I can only claim to be a severe lack of good taste and severely challenged sense of fashion.

Last evening we ate at one of the city's most unique restaurants, an old church that was probably de-sanctified, or whatever they do when a church becomes a for-profit place of business. The duck was superb, the sea bass marvelous, the aged California Kool-Aid just the proper combination of understated elegance and piquant aroma.

The orange sorbet provided a refreshing finish to cleanse the palate, followed by a hot cup of decaf. (I don't know why I bother with the decaf since indigestion is going to keep me up all night anyway.)

This morning I ran into an old friend, the man who introduced me to my wife, just about 22 years ago. I see him at this meeting every year. And I always let him know that after 21 years of matrimony, he's still my friend.

I look for folks from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Most try to avoid me since I'll beg them to pose for a picture in the most uncomfortable position I can think of. Occasionally I find someone who has not been a photographic subject before and he agrees to cooperate.

I look for farmers, some of whom I've known for 20 years or more. A more recent acquaintance grabbed me and said his wife told him to hug my neck if he saw me. He did. I would have preferred the hug in person but you can't be choosy.

This is a good place to get a handle on what cotton farmers are thinking about the coming crop. They don't think much of it this year. My friend said yield last year was way down and price was awful. He's almost ready to hang it up and play golf.

But we'll find positive stories, new products, new technologies and better ways to do things. That's what these conferences have been about for many years. And that's why I keep coming.

In spite of all the food and other consumables I'm forced to endure.