Saturday, September 6, 2014

Carrot or Stick?

Yesterday the plumber confirmed we had a broken sewer pipe from when the gas company put in the new gas lines.. He told me I needed to try and get the city to fix it.. He warned me this would be a long process, and said I should have our lawyer contact them. The "committee of old dudes" who live on our street popped over to see what the hell was going on.. they too warned me about dealing with the city. They told me to raise hell and demand the city earn the taxes we pay. I chose not to do this. I called the city. Due to a bad connection I had to go down there. One of the public works guys came out and told me I needed to contact the gas company. He gave me two names. So I did, I called, and they said they'd look into it. I figured that was their way of giving me the runaround.

Today, Fred from the gas company came out to investigate. "Guilty as charged", he said. "We did work here. If it's broke it's on us." He left to notify the contractors who did the work. Within an hour he called and said they'd be out today to fix it... within an hour of that call he was here waiting for the backhoe to arrive. I was shocked, thanked him for being "johnny on the spot". He replied, "well, you were civil. If you would have yelled at me about it I probably wouldn't have worked with you. You can get a lot done if you're decent." From there he told me stories of people who were jerks to city workers and inspectors and were treated poorly because of it.. One guy was fined over 15,000 bucks for not filling out proper paperwork before tearing down his house. When the code enforcer showed up to tell him he needed to stop work immediately, the guy said, "who the fuck are you to tell me what to do on my property." That line cost the guy over 15,000 bucks, the code enforcer was just going to make him stop and get the proper permits, but after that he decided to fine him.

Our sewer line has been has been fixed. The contractors came out at lunch time and did it. In less than 24 hours of reporting it, the problem was solved. I never once had to raise my voice, or demand anything. They also have assured me any bills or costs from this will be reimbursed in full.. just goes to show you can get a lot further by not being a douchebag.. it's taken me 30 some years to get here, if only I'd learned this lesson a bit earlier in life...

You Can Earn Respect or Disrespect.

Being nine years old was no excuse for what I'd done.
It all happened at a grade school carnival. I'd left a booth, opened a paper sack, and saw my prize--a green toy with a yellow propeller. Not much, but it was mine.
A security guard stood by a hallway pole. His gut hung over his gun belt.
As I passed, he snatched my prize. He smiled. "What have we here?"
I stopped. "Give it back."
"Just a minute now."
"Give it."
He raised my prize higher, higher, and higher. I tried to reach it by standing on my toes. Once I jumped. Then I looked at his holster.
While he laughed, I took his gun.
He dropped my toy. "That's not funny, kid."
"You took my toy."
"That's different. I was just playing. Now hand over my gun."
I stepped back. "No." But after he frowned and held out his hand, I returned his weapon.
He wasn't through with me. "Don't ever do anything stupid like that again."
The guard never apologized for taking my prize, and I never apologized for taking his gun. I knew what I'd done was wrong but felt no shame.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

High School Flashback

There was an unusual kid in algebra. One day a couple kids were harassing him. I told them to knock it off. Then I started sitting by that kid in class. I don’t remember his name, but I remember this:
You know those afternoons when you couldn’t keep your eyes open? When you had to lay your head on your desk? He was having one of those. Eyes drooping. Head nodding. He put his head down in the center of his algebra text. And then . . . and then . . . a string of drool emerged from his mouth like a snake. It stretched, down, down, until it made landfall on his book. I looked around. His arm encircled his head, shielding the view. The slobber began to flow. It formed a viscous puddle, pouring into the binding. For forty minutes it flowed.
Nearing the end of class his eyes opened. Half-mast at first. Then they burst open WIDE, I presume from the wetness. But he did not move. He had to plan his escape. He had to extricate his face from the the spit-lake without drawing the attention of a single student. Still feigning sleep he looked down. He brought his fingertips to investigate. It was worse than he imagined. The size of a pancake.
After a moment of planning, in a single elegant move, he raised his head, swiped his face with his jean jacket sleeve, then folded the book halves together, gently. Drool squeezed out the top and bottom. He cleaned it with a surreptitious waxing motion of his forearm. His face — reconciling terror and resolve — panned the room. Three of us had seen it, I’d say. He could see that we had. But that it could have been us, well, it could have been. And we didn’t say a word.

Written by John Willis 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Land of the Free and other Lies

You took civics in high school.  Well, because they made you take civics in high school, but hey.  You know that you live in a democracy where everyone has a vote, the majority rule, and even if you’re born poor in a log cabin with a dirt floor, you can become the President of the United States some day.  And of course you believe this because your teachers, parents and probably even your pastor told you this.  But it’s a lie.

The truth is you are ruled and regulated by a slim minority who decide what they want you to do, and what they don’t want you to do.  This same minority decides things like how much you’ll pay in all kinds of taxes, what you can and can’t say, or hear, even if you can marry the person you love. 

And guess what?  That’s all your fault.  Yup.  Because it is a democracy, and you let the minority do this to you.  How, you ask?  By not voting. 

There are 10 million people in my state of Michigan.  About 75% are registered voters.  That’s pretty much 100% of the people who are eligible to vote.  But it is forecast that next Tuesday, the 5th of August, only 20% of registered voters will show up for the State’s primary election.  So if 51% of the people who vote that day decide something, it would be a little less than eight hundred thousand voters telling ten million residents what they’re going to do.  And that, my friend, is called majority rule. 

Bullshit, you say?  Well, try smoking in a bar in Michigan.  That right was taken away by this exact kind of majority rule a few years ago.  Land of the free.  Uh huh.

Before you toss that off with “It’s only the primary” you should know that a lot of the people who win their primary will be unopposed in the November election.  Also, ballot issues will be given a thumbs up or down next Tuesday.

What?  You say you didn’t even know there was an election next Tuesday?

Thank you very much.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Kind of True Story

Yes, this really happened.  It was just another ordinary day when you answered the phone.  The voice at the other end explained that she was a doctor; that you had given a blood sample to a donation bank, and now there was someone who needed a kidney, a man who was a perfect match with you.  And so after the procedure you eventually went back to work and he eventually went home, grateful to you for giving him a second chance at life.

But it didn’t end there.  A few months later you took another call, from someone you did know, asking if you’d seen the papers.  The man you helped had killed some people a time ago, and had just been charged.  He was going to trial, and could face the death penalty.

Then you felt like you’d been punched in the stomach.  Was all that sacrifice for nothing?  Endangering your own well being, and your family's, for what?

Well this is a kind of true story.  And it does involve you; and a man who killed a lot of people.  Except the man wasn’t a man, it was a corporation.  And the donation wasn’t a kidney; it was an eleven billion dollar bailout. Your tax dollars.  Our tax dollars.

Now the corporation is going to trial, and the result might be death, the bankruptcy we thought we helped avoid. 

I don’t know about you, but I feel punched in the stomach.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sometimes All You Need is a Little Perspective.

The bank teller had just finished helping a very grouchy customer.  It was a slow afternoon and the lobby had emptied.  He turned to the teller next to him and said, "Boy, I hope that guy pulls the stick out of his ass before he comes back again."  Without looking up the second teller replied, "Well, you'd feel like that too if your wife had just been in a car accident, and was lying in the hospital with half the bones in her body broken."

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Trust Among Strangers

It was the last day of the last ski trip I was to take in 2014, and I was skiing solo.  I’d recently been practicing the art of the pick-up, introducing myself to others in hopes that I’d find company on the slopes.  As it turns out, good skiing, like fine dining, is best shared in the company of others. 

It was about noon and I’d already been skiing the slopes of Snowbird alone for a couple of hours.  Not that I preferred that, but it was an uncrowded day on the slopes.  I stood waiting to take the next tram uphill and I let some space open up in front of me.   Two women seized the opportunity to fill that void and I couldn’t let their action go unnoticed. I spoke up; now it was my turn to seize an opportunity.  As we rode the tram skyward I started a conversation that helped secure a positive response when I suggested we ski together.

Carol and Jean are high-energy retirees, both seventy-somethings with lots of spunk.  They've stayed mentally and physically active well beyond the point at which they gave up their careers as flight attendants.  After just a few runs, Carol was ready to call it a day.  Jean, however, suggested she’d stay on for a few more runs.  What followed was a full afternoon skiing some of the most demanding slopes on the mountain.  With Jean in the lead, I left the map in my pocket.

I was enjoying Jean’s company, and I never stopped to consider that this person was a total stranger to me, as I was to her.  We got acquainted through the usual banter of where we live, what we do (or did) for a living and my picking Jean’s brain about how to best prepare for retirement.  As we concluded our last run of the day, Jean mentioned she’d lost her ride home when Carol left and she’d have to catch a bus.  Without considering how inappropriate it might sound, I offered to drive Jean home.  “Do that and you’ll earn a dirty martini as a reward”, Jean said.  Within the hour we were sitting in Carol’s kitchen as Jean mixed up what she claimed would be the best martini I ever had.  It might have been premium ingredients or a world-class recipe that made that martini taste so good, but I like to think it was the company.  I offered to take us all out to dinner but Carol said she’d rather cook and invited me to stay.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  Total strangers just hours before and now an invitation to enjoy a home cooked meal with my new friends.

It’s true, skiing and fine dining are best shared with great company. 

Submitted by Dr. Steven Blaine, PhD

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Birthday Boy

When our children were in school my wife and I got involved with an exchange student program from Mexico and Central America.  We hosted students, not for the entire school year, but for six to eight weeks over their summer vacations.  Some of the students enjoyed themselves more than others, but all in all everyone seemed comfortable living with our family.

I remember one trip to the airport and greeting our student.  It was the boy’s birthday. When we met him at the gate we were surprised.  He was from Mexico, but he had red hair, fair skin and freckles. 

As we went to collect baggage we saw other families gathering up students.  One family came over to speak to us and it came up in conversation that it was our student’s birthday.  Everyone in that family turned to my youngest son, the one who looks like me, with dark hair, brown eyes, and olive skin, and wished him a happy birthday.  He was embarrassed but we laughed it off and started home.

Stopping at a restaurant for lunch, we explained to our waitress that we had a Mexican exchange student with us and that it was his birthday.  Again, she turned to my youngest son and wished him a happy birthday.  At this point I think both boys were pretty uncomfortable with the obvious assumption that Mexicans all have dark complexions. 

After having about six students over the years, I can tell you we never saw another student with red hair or freckles, but we did discover that wherever they come from, people have much more in common than they realize.  Most of our students had two parents who worked.  Father’s enjoyed things like hunting and fishing.  Mother’s liked to shop and cook.  Free time was spent visiting with extended family.  The children enjoyed bicycling, going for walks and joining in family chores.  One boy liked to hunt and we ate squirrel one night.  One girl was very sad that we didn’t have a mall in our town, a place of only about a hundred families.

I can tell you something else.  Stereotypes hurt.  They hurt the one who embraces them the most, because preconceived notions limit your thought process.  It’s as if you were trying to thread a needle with a baseball mitt on.  Leave yourself open to possibilities.  Five year olds can play the piano.  Eighty year olds can dance.  And red heads can come from anyplace!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A Tale of Two Peninsulas

Many people from outside of Michigan don’t realize how large our state is, or that we have two peninsulas.  Driving from Detroit to New York City is about the same distance as driving from Detroit to Ironwood, our state’s westernmost municipality.  Both trips run about 600 miles.  On our southern border Michigan abuts three other states, Ohio, Indiana, and Wisconsin.  It’s that upper peninsula that abuts Wisconsin.  Our westernmost counties lie in the Central Time Zone. And Ironwood?  Ironwood is actually west of Saint Louis. Missouri. 

Before the Mackinac Bridge was opened in 1957, people had to take a car ferry to get from the lower to upper peninsula.  Each fall, when deer season would approach, cars lined up for miles as hunters from southern towns and cities waited for their turns to get across.  So you might figure that there would be a little rivalry, maybe even some animosity, between the residents of the upper peninsula, the Yoopers, and the residents of the lower peninsula.  Ever since that bridge was built, we who reside in the lower section have been called Trolls, because we’re from “below the bridge.” 

One winter I was traveling across the upper peninsula for business.  From where the bridge empties into Saint Ignace, I took state route 2 west.  There are towns every so often for the first part of this trip, until you pass the town of Iron Mountain.  After that point you can drive hours without seeing anything man made other than the highway itself.  It was in this stretch, with dark approaching, that I noticed a car parked on the side of the road.  I hadn’t seen anyone else for a long, long time and wondered where the driver was on this freezing evening.  Eventually I came to a cross road with a little store, a combination grocery and gas station.  I stopped to use the rest room and buy a snack.  The owner was an older man who worked alone.  I casually mentioned that there was a car abandoned by the side of the road a ways back east.  “Yeah” the owner acknowledged.  “He was here.  Outta gas.  Wanted me to close and drive him back.”
Well, I suggested, if he’d of stood out front with a gas can in his hand, the first person driving east would have picked him up.  “Yeah,” he admitted, “But I wasn’t going to tell him that.  He was from below the bridge.  He called the State Police and they came and drove him back.”  A State Trooper heading east had passed me, so I felt relieved that the stranded driver was safe.  I paid for my stuff without indicating my own appellation and drove off into the darkness, still a long way to travel before I slept in Ironwood that night.

Years later I received some advice I’ll share with you here.  If you ever travel to Michigan’s upper peninsula and a resident asks you where you’re from, just tell him you live in a little town south of the Soo.  

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

That's the Way We've Always Done It

I was visiting with a friend over tea and a piece of pie this morning.  We were venting about pet peeves. This friend was saying that the stupidest reason a person can giving for doing anything is, "That's the way we've always done it."

Well I had to share this story.  It was Easter, a long time ago, and the wife and I were guests at my sister-in-law's home for supper, along with the rest of their family. When sis got ready to put a boneless ham in the over she cut off each end and placed it in a roaster.

Upon seeing that move, I asked why she did it, why she cut the ends off.  She said she didn't know, that was just the way her mom had always done it.  My wife said that she also did it, and for the same reason.  But now I had piqued their interest.

The girls went into the living room and asked their mother, "Why did you always cut the two ends off the ham before you baked it?"  Mom replied, "Well, my pan was smaller than the one you have, and that was the only way I could get it to fit."

Monday, March 3, 2014

If I Should Die

When Laura was a young girl she spent several years in fear of her life.  It was her mother's fault; she'd told Laura that if she didn't go to the bathroom, she was going to die.

Laura tells me that she suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, and children of Aspergers often miss the subtlties of language.  Her mother had noticed Laura making that "have to go" face while she was playing, but not taking time to make a trip to the bathroom.  So mom told daughter, "If you don't go to the bathroom, you can die."

Without any further explanations Laura became quite anxious about dying any time she became constipated, which can also be a symptom of her condition.

Eventually Laura studied life science in school, and when she better understood the digestive process, both her misunderstanding and her fear were aleviated.

But for about five years she says the worst part of her daily acitivities was going to bed where she was compelled to recite, "Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray The Lord, my soul to keep.  If I should die before I wake..."

Shared by Laura Cushing

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Old Fashioned Courtesy

My wife and I like to visit different places and experience other cultures.  On one trip we had a double treat, because after our tour of that new place, we got to spend a few extra days with some people we knew there.  Vic and Melinda had retired back to Vic's homeland.  They lived in the capitol city with about a million other residents, but in an outlying neighborhood.

On our first day the four of us took a walking tour of the nearby market and shops.  Everywhere we went our hosts called the people we met by name, and were also greeted by name themselves.   We stopped at a coffee shop and met the owner, who was the only person working. She brought us menus.  I picked mine up but Vic quietly suggested we would get the best treats if we asked the woman what she recommended.  I later found that this was because every food stuff was brought in fresh daily.

When we walked down by the supermarket Vic greeted a disheveled man by name and received a personal reply.  He introduced us to John, and explained that when you went into the market, John would make sure nothing happened to your car.  People were tipping John small coins.  I smiled and said that in the larger cities in the U.S. this took place too, it was a racket.  If you didn't pay, your car would be scratched.  Vic looked mortified.  Oh, no, he explained, as he tipped John.  It's not like that.  Melinda asked what happened to Steve, the man who used to have this job. Vic told her that Steve had been offered a better job helping a carpenter.  Since Vic had tipped John, even though we'd arrived on foot, I surmised that there was no actual job, only kind hearted  assistance from people who wished to help John while preserving his dignity through the appearance of work.

The next day I struck out to take a walk on my own.  To my surprise, even though they had no idea what my name was, I could not pass anyone on the sidewalk without being greeted, or at least acknowledged by a nod of the head.  One man who passed me from the rear even paused as he overtook me to smile and wish me a good day.

There was one person I saw who was not being greeted.  He was standing in his front lawn shirtless, watering the grass with a garden hose.  As men and women walked past his home they acted as if they saw nothing.  I had read that it was considered impolite here to appear in public shirtless, unless you were at the beach.  But rather than anyone clucking their tongue or giving him nasty looks for violating their social custom, they politely refused to notice at all, and simply went about their  business.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Anonymous Friends

       I met a nice lady in town, but I forgot her name. She forgot mine as well. We still recognized each other in passing. Our greetings rang fondly, and the illusion that we were strangers disintegrated. Mid-hello, we experienced our discussion on forgetfulness again. We felt like we were reunited refugees. Once, we gutted our past together and displayed the innards. Then, we doctored them with laughter.

         The specifics escape me, but I know this: hyper honesty dove forward, before our hesitation could calculate the jump. Somewhere, we exchanged our names automatically, but our ears listened to our joined fogginess instead.

         I was her son without the discipline.

         She was my mother without the responsibility. 

         We’re friends minus the buildup.

        Kinship’s engrained, and often reserved. A friendship’s already activated, when 
worlds dissolve by shared words. Life’s just a reference.

“What’s your name again... again?” And she laughed. 

Submmited by Steven Leonardo Clifford

The Doctor and Cocaine

When we were young my wife and I belonged to a group of people who liked to cook and who held rotating dinner parties.  Once in a while we would be the hosts, other times we went to someone else's home.  We met an eclectic group of people, as the guests were never the same twice in a row.

We met a retired doctor once; a man who was at the same time elderly and in the prime of his life.  He told us about the "good old days" when he went to med school, and took cocaine to cram for exams during "all-nighters."  I had heard that during another time in history, Coca Cola actually contained cocaine.  This man had grown up when using cocaine wasn't illegal and was often used as a stimulant.

He went on to tell us about his first practice.  He moved to a rural village which I won't name here, although he told us where it was.  In his first six months he had seen numerous patients with deviated septums, that is, a hole in the membrane that separates one's left and right nostrils.  In med school he had been trained that this was the number one indicator that the patient was abusing cocaine, snorting so much that it was burning a hole through the septum.

His puzzlement wasn't in the condition, but the patients.  This was a farming community and the people lived a simple, basic life that might involve a little drinking but surely not cocaine abuse.  He went on to tell us that after a couple more months he figured the mystery out.  Gesturing to his nose with his index finger he indicated that the people hadn't burned a hole through their nose, they'd simply picked their noses over and over until they'd picked right through them!