the agonizing bystander

The hardest thing for a parent to do is to sick back and watch their children struggle. For all of the struggles that my family as a whole has endured my children have emerged relatively unscathed.

As a young parent, I stayed awake at night hoping that my children would never struggle in school, with bullying, or addiction or any other gremlin that would rob them of their happiness. I have known so many kids, my peers, and even their children, who were promising and well-adjusted kids until they crossed paths with that one force that eventually led to them dropping out, giving up or worse. It is a subject that I am well versed in.

When I was in 5th grade I was given a double promotion because I was breezing through my curriculum. My mother resisted the idea, fearing that such a leap would put me with kids much older and larger than me. I liked the idea and I entered a new school, we called it Junior High where I’m from. I was immediately the target of every asshole in the school. I was called names, slammed into lockers and my books were constantly knocked to the floor.
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Within the first full year of 6th grade, my grades plummeted. I was called “stupid” so many times I started to believe it. My parents, God bless them, didn’t pick up on the signs and I didn’t mention it. They were too busy focusing on the trainwreck that was my sister, who we had just adopted at 7, and all of the drama she could provide that the Nuns didn’t prepare us for. Long story short, my interest in school faded and I was a C student until it was too late to make a difference that any college would care about. Fortunately, I was a decent artist and got into college by means of my portfolio.

My oldest 3 children had a few scraps on the playground but nothing life-altering. They were taught that if hit, to hit back. They did and bullying was not an issue. Academically, they were solid and to my knowledge never had a taste for alcohol or drugs. My youngest, however, had to deal with some mean girls at an early age.

She began to come home from 3rd grade crying. Some of her classmates called her “the poor kid” and made fun of her clothes. One even went so far as to say “your father must not have a job”. I was particularly incensed at that one considering that I spent a lot of money I didn’t have so that she wouldn’t get a shitty crack like that.
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So we went the diplomatic route. We met with the teacher who could offer no help except to say that she knew it was happening but not in front of her. We knew the parents, all were wealthy high-profile families in town. Not particularly concerned about our own popularity my wife and I went to the Principal and asked for a meeting with them. It was granted and we all got in a room together, at which time all parents denied that their sweet little cupcakes would ever do such a thing. So I stood up and said:

“OK, I’ll make it easy for all the fathers in this room. If my fucking daughter comes home in tears one more fucking time I’m coming to your house. And then you’re going to cry”.

We were asked to leave. But it only took 2 school days to realize that it worked. Still, I will never forget the helpless feeling up to that point watching my little girl going through such a thing. It was heart-wrenching to see her cry because of heartless, cruel children. I was so very relieved that it never happened again.

I flashed back to those days last night. My little girl, now 16 has hada terrible patch of dry skin around her eyes. Red and swollen it really is concerning, She went to the Dermatologist yesterday and fortunately made a diagnosis and provided a treatment. But the caveat is no make-up. My daughter loves her make-up and to her knowledge, none of the kids in her new school have ever seen her without it. She told me she would have to go au natural for a week and her eyes, no joke, looked like a raccoon. With our shared hatred of the mean girls, I felt bad for her. Kids can still be cruel.

In addition, she was dealing with a mean teacher who refused to meet with her and explain why she had rejected a thesis topic, leaving her in a frustrated panic last night. That was something I could help her with. I told her to stand up for herself to the teacher and explain that she needs an alternative idea or an explanation otherwise she would go to the Dean of Academic Affairs. She kept refusing to do it until I finally convinced her to face her fears (she was afraid of this nasty teacher) or she would fail the assignment.

This may not all sound like much but I was on the phone with her for 2 hours last night and she went to bed very upset. I didn’t sleep well. I wanted to snap my fingers and make her rash go away, I wanted to storm into her classroom on a white horse and vanquish her enemy but I couldn’t.

She texted me at 3 to tell me that her face had almost cleared up overnight with just one dose of medication and that she gave her teacher the riot act and she now has a new topic and an extension. It worked out. I’m proud of her.

The world can have all the fun it wants with me. Just don’t fuck with my kids.

the other shoe

If you have been following me recently you will know that I have been doing some part-time work for a friend. It has been an overall good experience for me. In addition to having a little bit of money to play with it has also given my ego, in particular, that section that controls not feeling like a useless piece of shit, a boost. I would like to say that it has been an awesome experience but there a few downsides. For starters, it is 2 1/2 to 3 hours away depending on traffic. It is not without expense, it is at least a tank of gas plus food for 2 days which cuts into the overall “worthwhile” of it. It also requires that I stay with my friend who works there also for up to 2 nights a week. He and his wife are the ones who offered it in the first place, making this even possible and claim they enjoy the company but I feel like a burden. That’s the way I’m wired. I’m not paranoid, but I know that when I watch football and the players are in a huddle…yeah they’re talking about me.
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I also haven’t gotten too excited because let’s face it, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I fully expected a wrinkle and it came the week before last.

As I was leaving on Thursday I checked in with my friend and boss to let him know that I was leaving for the week. He turned to me and asked me to close his office door. Here we go, I thought, the other shoe.

“You’re getting expensive,” he said. “I want to help you out but I really don’t have it in the budget right now”. He looked upset, I knew that he was genuinely conflicted. I never actually considered this to be any more than a “we’ll see how long it lasts” scenario I played it cool. But inside I was a little miffed. I wanted to explain what I’ve been working on, the contribution I’ve made and the slew of compliments his CFO has given me. But I stopped myself.  Instead, I told him that I would only be available on Monday the following (last) week. I politely told him that if he doesn’t need me, just tell me and I’ll be ok. We left it that we would talk about it Monday. I managed to successfully leave his office without reverting to the old me.

The old me would have been reactionary, upset, filled with a sense of dread and lament wrong decisions made…both real and imaginary. That was when I was a slave to a -paycheck, in fear of harming my family, forced to “suck-it-up” for the benefit of others. I’m not that guy anymore because I don’t have that situation anymore. The new me doesn’t need the job, I just like the job. By choice or otherwise, I am now in a position where I can choose what I do for money and if it doesn’t work out I will find something. The bar is set pretty low but I it is oddly liberating.

I am also blazing a new trail in that I am using my knowledge of reading people. I know that Ben is happy with what I’ve been doing and he likes having me around. I know him enough to know that he can get creative if he wants in how he compensates me.

It also occurred to me that my work has and will speak for itself. I know, not think, that I have found a niche and have worked on an area of his business, with some solid success, that he didn’t even know he needed. He knows it now. So last Monday morning, early, I called him and told him that I wouldn’t be in. 6 hours of driving for 1 day was just silly. He understood. I sat back this week to see what would develop.

As of Friday morning, I had received 3 emails from the CFO and 2 texts from Ben asking me when I was available to come in this coming week. I simply responded Why, do you need me?

It seems he does.

Job and pride both intact, I think I like how the new me handled this one.

 

 

boycott

I have found that the less time I spend on Facebook the happier I am. With the exception of animal videos and inspirational memes, there is not much on there that interests me anymore.

I used to love FB. I reconnected with friends from High School, made new friends through pages dedicated to my illness, found a group of mountain bikers that became real, genuine friends and I really do enjoy just knowing what people are up to. It makes me feel close to them. But in our hopelessly divided world, all of that is outweighed by the negativity and outright hostility we are showing towards each other as we continue to shout in Caps, defend our positions and flatly refuse to accept the viewpoints of those who don’t think as we do. When a tragedy strikes, it is a thousand times worse.

I don’t know if it was school or at home but I know I was taught by someone that we don’t have to agree with each other. That it is ok, even encouraged to have a different view than another, but always respect their right to feel the way they do. It is a human, dare I say American ideal. As Americans we pride ourselves on the origin of our great nation; the escape from political and religious oppression, the notion of governing ourselves and creating a document that can be amended in the event that society evolves and something the drafters of that document never anticipated arises. We shout from the rooftops that you can do and say anything you want in this great land of ours because we are free! Respect and intelligent discourse will always prevail.

Not anymore.

We are no longer the land of the free and the brave. We are now the land of the loud and closedminded. We don’t listen when others speak, instead, we are merely planning our next sentence. How can you learn anything if you don’t listen to another voice? If someone disagrees with us we get angry and hurl insults at them instead of debating them intelligently and calmly. To make matters worse, we have the attention span of a gnat. Instead of researching things and formulating an informed viewpoint, we believe everything we hear and see online.

I love the saying everyone is “entitled to their opinion”. Sorry, you are not. An opinion is formulated and arrived at by study, life experience, intelligence, and wisdom. To say that global warming is real, for example, there are actual statistics on both sides of the issue that can be used to support your “opinion” and a proper debate could then ensure. To say that it is the fault of aliens dressed as Joan Cusack trying to kill penguins because they hate Tuxedos is just a stupid statement. And there are plenty of those.
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But even if you do postulate nonsense or common sense, the vitriol towards others, only strengthened by “keyboard balls” is making me sick. The hatred being spewed back and forth as tragedies strike and everyone digs in for battle armed with a sling full of arrows of “Idiot”, “moron”, “shithead” and “snowflake” to be shot at anyone who has the nerve to not think like them is sickening.

I don’t care who you voted for. I don’t care if you think guns shoot by themselves. I don’t care if you think the earth is flat. I don’t care that you think the president is responsible for an earthquake in Peru. Say something intelligent and be accepting of others or just put the keyboard down. Going on FB now just makes me sad and angry. There is some good content left but so much hatred.

I almost wish that grammatical and spelling errors, duck-faced selfies by women who are way too old to be doing them, vague posts fishing for sympathy or gratification and pictures of ugly feet on the beach were the only aggravating thing about FB. From now on, FB is something to scroll while I poop. A fitting finale for this post. Too bad I don’t have the poop emoji…

this could have been so much easier

One of the many things I enjoy about working again is that I was able to find something in my field of expertise. That is to say, anything involving the sale of something with wheels and a guy who sells it. I have done it all in the world of wheels from oil changes to repossessions and I love it all. When I began to help out my friend at his Powersports Finance company he soon found that there wasn’t a job in the building I couldn’t do (except accounting). Because I was to be part-time, he started me on some time-consuming projects that were taking too much time from his already overworked full-time crew. These tasks could be as simple as minor dealer issues, customer service calls or as complex as sorting out issues with local and state agencies. After cleaning up some small crises in my first week, he promoted me to a really fun one. I was to have a Motorcycle inspected and have a new Vehicle Identification Number assigned to it.

Having a new VIN# on a vehicle is a major ordeal. The entire history and pedigree of a vehicle are tracked by it. The state requires serious documentation from the owner in order to sign off on this task. As the lienholder, because we repossessed it, it is even harder. So I took my time to learn the exact process, what forms I needed to prove ownership, and what documentation I needed on hand to prove ownership. Over the course of the first week, I was able to gather all paperwork, pay all fees and gather all receipts and call for the appointment. Once the appointment was made at a local inspection station I would begin the process of coordinating how to get the motorcycle to them.

Between the initial attempt at making the appointment and actually completing it would take 2 weeks. It was a giant series of telephone tag and miscommunications (on the State Police’s part)until I was finally able to set the appointment for 10 AM Friday morning. time.

When Mike and I pulled in (Mike was helping me with the bike because it was very heavy) the trooper told us to park the trailer, unload the motorcycle and he would be right back. He then proceeded to get in his cruiser and drove off, after all of the efforts we had made to get there on time. He came back 15 minutes later with a cup of coffee. Mike was visibly pissed, I was containing myself for now.

Trooper Burns was a large, fit man with a grey buzzcut and a blank expression on his face. He began to ask me a series of questions that I had already answered, some of which weren’t even relevant. I kept my composure and explained my case again. Trooper Burns seemed to delight in being difficult but I stayed on point. At one point he told me to start the bike to prove that it runs, I told him there’s no need, it’s not a salvage inspection it’s a reassignment. He knew I had him and moved on. 15 more minutes of explaining our situation, how we came into possession and what we needed to be done he finally agreed to go online and do his due diligence. 30 minutes later he came out and said “This is the wrong bike”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“This is the wrong bike,” he said again.

I took a deep breath and patiently replied: “I heard that, please explain it to me”.Mike was facepalming in the background.

“This engine number is off of a bike recorded stolen in Florida. Can’t let you leave with it”. Now, this was not a completely unexpected turn of events but not ideal. We talked for a while about our options, what he was going to do next and when to contact him again. I went to shake his hand and he caught a glimpse of my Masonic ring. “I didn’t see that before…Good men the Masons. My brother and father both are members. I wish I saw that earlier I wouldn’t have given you such a hard time.”
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I paused, took a deep breath, and said,”Trooper Burns. As a Mason, I wouldn’t have needed to glimpse a ring in order to treat you decently. As a Mason, I would have been decent right out of the gate. This could really have been a whole lot easier”. I studied his face for a reaction, I think he understood me. “Show me the secret handshake,” he said as he smiled for the first time since we had met.

As Mike and I drove out of the lot, empty trailer and all he said “Brass Balls, man. You’ve got Brass Balls.”

“No, he knew I was right. He has a tough job and deals with a lot of assholes. What he didn’t recognize is that I’m not one of them. Now he knows.”

“So, tell me about this ring…”

 

 

 

 

 

A life of moderation

The other day a dear friend of mine posted on Facebook “thinking that a life of moderation is the way to go this year”. Several “likes” later I commented “Works for me”. Many would go on and agree with she and I. I can’t speak for their reasoning but as for myself, I live the simple life because I was forced into it. A year ago, I had a lot of stuff. Now I don’t. Apart from not having everyone together anymore, I am happier in many ways. I am free of the worry brought on by increasing costs of living and shrinking incomes. I don’t need to work more for a bigger house to find room for more stuff. More stuff that didn’t make me happy, didn’t fulfill me or give me any sense of lingering purpose, other than to live long enough to pay for it all. I never would have voluntarily given up my stuff because my family needed it. But now, I am free of it and looking for the real meaning in, not of, life.

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey
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Jim Carrey turned a few heads when he made this comment. Some thought that he was mocking people with his wealth, that he was another rich celeb that wanted us to feel bad for the problems of the rich and famous. He wasn’t. He was simply pointing out that every thing in the world is not enough if you are not at peace with yourself. I am related to a walking and talking example of this.

When I first began dating my wife in the early 90’s I learned that her Aunt was married to a local Real Estate Mogul, nicknamed “The Condo King”. At the time we began dating the “King” had recently fallen from Grace. He was jailed for multiple counts of fraud, influence peddling etc., and sent to prison. Not before, nice guy that he was, he hid all of his money in his girlfriend’s name leaving his wife and 2 kids with little. The oldest son would go to jail soon after for working with Dad. It was a big shock for them but they would survive. They downgraded from living in an actual castle to a modest condo. The Aunt had a Real Estate license also so she could work. Little Suzie, whose Batmitzvah was a $50,000 event starring Debbie Gibson, painted her face white and hid in her room for a whole year in shame.

I met the aunt shortly after at a pool party. I knew the whole story of course but I had promised not to say anything. I was doing pretty well until the Aunt began to openly complain about being forced to drive a *gasp* Camry (a brand new one, mind you). This snotty snippet forced me to blurt out, “hey, tell you what, it’s a lot nicer than my car. Poor you.” I was promptly pinched hard enough to draw blood. Fuck her, I didn’t care. She was a snob, so elite she had no idea what the rest of the world lived like. All she cared about was money and without it, she was lost. For ten years this went on. Fortunately for them, she married another millionaire, the Princess daughter married a guy who owns 10 shopping malls and is part owner of the Miami Heat, and the son is now his own version of the “Condo King”. But are they happy? I think it’s all they know. They know that they were miserable without the money. Maybe that’s their “Happy”.

My favorite episode of The Twilight Zone is “A nice place to visit”. A petty criminal is shot by police while fleeing a crime scene. Visited by a man in a white suit and offered to go to a special place, he assumes he is going to Heaven. When he arrives, he finds that everything goes his way. He wins at gambling every time. When he flirts with a woman she falls for him. He wins at everything. It became so easy it was boring. He approached his friend in the white suit and said “I don’t belong in Heaven, see? I want to go to the other place.” The man in the white suit then delivers the whammy: “Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!!”
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All of the stuff in the world is meaningless if it doesn’t provide quality. Only quality can create happiness.

Having everything I want is one thing. Wanting everything I have is entirely another. Sure, there are things that I want that I don’t have. But I don’t need anything. And when I do, the need will be different than before. I will likely want a smaller, more practical and maintainable model of whatever it is. Enough to satisfy the need, but not enough to be a slave to it.

I never reached the pinnacle of success financially, but I did do pretty well for a long time. I recognize that money is a necessity. I don’t fault or in any way resent those that have more than I. I can only speak for myself when I say that the quest for more always created less satisfaction and more aggravation. Once you’ve reached the peak of one mountain, you look for another, higher one. It never ends, that’s what Jim Carrey was speaking of.

I want an endless pile of Real, of Quality, and Genuine. Everything else is just stuff and I’ll take that in moderation. I’ll miss it less when it’s gone.